Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

B16's Address to Youth, Pt. 2

Picking up where we left off last time:
Para. 10: Our Holy Father places freedom in its proper context, rooted "in the truth of the human person". This is really the only functional and defensible definition of freedom available to mankind. What other definitions are proposed by our culture? They all seem to be variations of "the ability to do what you want, until you step on someone else's toes". The obligation is subordinated to the desire. But, by rooting freedom in an eternal truth, the privileges and obligations of freedom are subsumed in the same concept. This is brilliant, but also quite subtle. And he also demonstrates a keen awareness of the purpose of freedom: a free and gratuitous gift of God, but one meant to enable us to become drawn up into the life of divine and transcendent love. This is the realization of true freedom, paradoxically in a surrender of the self. When we think about it, however, it makes a lot more sense than might initially be thought. Think of people who would be called "liberated". You know the type: licentious, boorish, dismissive of any and all convention. They sleep with whomever, they smoke anything that burns, they wander about aimlessly looking for kicks. Freedom? Hardly. Slavery? You bet. And the worst part is, we are, in a very real sense, our own best jailers. Such people are enslaved to their passions, their desires- they are in thrall to sex, to drugs, to money, to whatever tempts them. Real freedom must have this sense of obligation or connection to some transcendent truth, or it really is just another blind for the serfdom of sin.

Para. 11: The imagery of light is carried through here to a truly poetic degree. Jesus' incarnation truly is a moment of light- the Magi and shepherds follow the light of the Star to the Light of the World. And this light, which comes into the world, leaps up in sudden brilliance again in the Blessing of the Fire and the Exsultet during the Vigil of Easter. This ties together the whole liturgical year, and the whole of Christian life. We don't just mark disjointed holidays- they are intimately and intrinsically connected. This gets into the idea of Catholic identity again, if subtly. We are presented not with a series of simple festivals which are celebrated for different reasons without any unifying concern. Rather, we participate in one glorious and continuing mystery.

Para. 13: His Holiness' Four Points: Personal Prayer and Silence, Liturgical Prayer, Charity in Action, and Vocation.

1) Personal Prayer and Silence
This ties into something I ranted about earlier on here: the lack of personal devotions. I may have actually cast that more in terms of the lex credendi, but it fits here as well. It seems that American Catholics have the charity thing down pretty well. What has been removed almost completely from Catholic life as it is displayed today is the sense of private devotion and prayer. This is, I think, an unintended consequence of an otherwise good part of Vatican II. One of the efforts, as I understand it, was to re-emphasize the centrality of the liturgy as part of Catholic life. This is truly wise. But it was carried through imperfectly: prayer became that "Sunday thing", saved for the weekends or perhaps before a really important test or interview. And it is true that God speaks to us and comes to us in a truly remarkable way in the Eucharist, no debate there. But what was lost is a sense of the consistent presence and work of God in our lives. This is what His Holiness wants us to take back. Silence is also an important component here. I can remember a very sad story I've heard of a person who "prayed and prayed and prayed" and really got quite theatric about it. Begging God to show Himself, to remove doubts, etc., to speak to her. Well and good: but how is God to get a word in edgewise? This is not meant to disparage God or imply that He is any less omnipotent, or to question sufficient grace. But if we ask someone for something, don't we always wait to hear their response? We don't say "How is the weather today is it raining is it sunny is it cloudy is it hot how hot is it why aren't you talking to me why don't you answer me don't you care that I want to know why won't you even speak to me you don't love me I hate you you abandoned me YOU DON'T EVEN EXIST!!" This prayer is ironically focused on self. It is a poor surrogate for real prayer. And it's a difficult balance to strike, but an important one.

2) Liturgical prayer and 3) charity in action have, I believe, been well-address in other posts here. Needless to say His Holiness' insights and plans here are of critical importance. Again, I'll have to cut it off here for now, as that's enough commentary from me for one evening, and I've got etwas Deutsche Hausaufgaben zu schreiben.

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