Lenten Reflection from His Holiness: Fifth Sunday

Once again, I ask for your forgiveness as I am almost a week late in getting this reflection up. Regardless, I do want to say a few things regarding this last Sunday’s reading as His Holiness puts it in his 2011 Message for Lent. Here is what he says:

On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11: 27). Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.

There are a lot of important themes in this brief synopsis that Benedict utilizes in much of his theology: belief, hope, and faith and the future. For Benedict, let it suffice to say that man’s belief in Christ changes absolutely everything. Belief in Christ, in the Triune God of Love Who is the definitive source of our being, is an orientation of existence that faces truth, meaning, purposeful direction. Such a belief gives the subject a great and saving hope: that the future is not void, that there is Someone who embraces the entirety of human existence and the whole cosmos so that creation may, together with Christ, be brought into that Triune exchange of divine life and love. God answers the mystery of death, and He does with His own through which death becomes life: “Dying You destroyed our death.” So human history is salvation history, and not just that but a specifically romantic story, too. God is akin to a hopeless lover: He is so positive about and faithful to each one of us. One can think of the great epic poem, Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. God refuses to give up on us and does everything to find us, and when He does, how great will be the divine kiss of His Son as He sends us in the Spirit to love  and praise the Father.

Without an authentic belief that is rooted in such a powerful love story, human culture is void. I think that this is what Benedict suggests. It is void because without God, without Him who is superabundantly excessive, there is no place for otherness. Culture becomes an abyss for the Ego. And at that point, the Ego reflexively enfolds upon itself and, in my opinion, dies. The human person exists within a realm where otherness is critical for growth. I need you. It is not enough to suffice within my own self-reflexive ego. What I need is another: someone else so that my ego can unfold (not enfold!) and experience the created world created by the all-good Creator God.

Jesus Christ is the purest example of the other. He, the Incarnate Word, is the unfolded reality of the triune current of divine life, and He opens Himself up–physically–on the Cross, for others, becoming a cocoon for human ascent. He opens Himself up so that there is a haven for each of us, a locus, so to speak, of divine food which is nothing other than the divine Son’s human flesh. He calls us to Himself, the cocoon in Whom man may hatch into the divine life of God.

“Do you believe this?” He asks each of us. For Benedict, the answer to this question can never be a mere proposition: I believe that x, y, z. On the contrary, man’s “yes” is an existential credo: I believe, and in this belief am willing to lose my ego so that I become transparent–that the Other in whom I believe may shine. I believe, and in this belief open myself up so that I become one of yours. I believe, and in this belief hand over to you everything that constitutes me, so that when others encounter me, grant Lord, that they may see you, hear you, touch you, smell you, taste you. I believe, and in this belief I humbly and undeservedly ask to be taken into Thy wounds of your Son, so that through Him I may be taken into You. I believe, Lord, and in this belief I trust in you and in you alone. Belief constitutes the struggle to turn away from everything and face God alone.

Belief in the God of Jesus Christ is communion. “Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him.” An authentic Christian belief is totally relational. I cannot believe by myself. I need God, and that implies that everything through which God operates is important to me because it all manifests some sort of theophany: creation is not unlike a sacramental sign of God. The believer only turns away from everything so she can more properly experience the reality of everything. I am missing something elemental in every experience if I am living without God.

Lastly, just as Christ awoke Lazarus from the grave, so God calls every human person of the tomb of one’s ego-realm: another form of a grave–specifically one which has no future, but is void of life itself. On the contrary to that grave, God takes us to a Cross that points toward Heaven. It is the sign of ultimate meaning, ultimate value, ultimate reality: that God loves us, each one of us infinitely more than the next one, and in that love invites us into Himself to experience life and love.

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