Thursday, April 26, 2007

"An event born of an encounter"

“When I encountered Christ, I discovered my humanity,” this is an important if somewhat opaque sentence. Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice, writing in the Fall 2006 issue of Communio (Vol XXXIII, Num 3), in addition to Cardinal Bertone in the link to Deep Furrows, makes this sentence a little more accessible. Of course, to really access this statement, we must have an encounter with our resurrected and living Lord.

"Such a small proportion of those who have been baptized as babies [I would add those who were baptized at any age] take the trouble to figure out the true nature of Christianity: an event born of an encounter. It is perfectly right and proper, and indeed crucial for maturity in faith that we should cultivate an awareness of that 'particular moment' in our own life when our baptism became real to us through an encounter with the Christian event. There is a moment in the life of all Christians, just as there was for the first Christians (think of Peter, Andrew, James, and John on the shore of the lake [Matt 4,18-22; Mk 1,16-20]). For many it will have coincided with a clear perception of a personal vocation. It is most important for every believer to go back to the moment when [s/]he had this experience of an encounter with the event of the Person of Christ. I am not talking about a mental or devotional exercise, but about the concrete possibility of grasping what is at stake when we talk about Christianity. After Confirmation, so many young people drift away from the Church because they do not consciously have this crucial experience of a personal meeting with Christ. A Christianity that is reduced to ethics or pure theory, a Christianity that is not event, does not interest people. The reason is basically the same as what Camus suggested when [writing] about love in his Notebooks: 'You have to encounter love before you encounter morality. Otherwise it's agony. It's not by force of scruples that a person becomes great. Greatness comes to a person, if God wills it, like a beautiful sunny day'" (pgs. 320-321).

"It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day

"Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case"


  1. I posted the Bertone quote because something has just happened to me that helps me understand it. Monday I had a rotten day at work and afterward I engaged in the usual self- justification. But something nagged me and I realized that I wasn't facing my humanity completely - there was a particular weakness I overlooked. When I turned toward my humanity, I realized that Christ was there with greater tenderness toward my human situation than I have for myself.

    I've been doing CL for 4 years and this has never happened before.

    The precipitating event was reading something from the last Traces. Traces #3 2007 has a center insert with notes from a CLU talk by Fr. Carron, "Looking on the Human Within Us with Sympathy" (and it's not been posted to the online archives!).

  2. Fred:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. "Facing [our] humanity completely" is difficult, overcoming our self-justifications and even our rationalizations is no small task. In fact, we cannot do it unaided.
    These words of yours also help to make the sentence less opaque, thanks again.

  3. The Moment you realize you are forgiven...and every moment after that.

    "You've been all over
    And it's been all over you"

  4. I think the event born of an encounter beckons us beyond forgiveness, but what happens after we have realized we need a Savior and accepted God's forgiveness. Picking up yet another U2 song, the problem with the born again schema is that one remains "stuck in a moment."

  5. Forgiveness to obedience. Obedience to experience. Experience to Christ's church.
    Christ's church to Christ.

    It sounds backwards I know. I wouldn't call it stuck though. ;)

  6. Thanks for the elaboration. It sounds neither backwards nor stuck!

  7. More like 24-hr surgery. :)

    The truth sort of grows on you, doesn't it?

    Peace be with you!

  8. My friend, David, wrote this in my comment box. I am transferring it here:

    david has left a new comment on your post "Encounter.":

    A couple things strike me. First, the question to one's self as to when one's "baptism became real". Cradle Catholics do not come to Christ as the Ethopian or Saul did. For us, the experience must come after one has achieved the "age of reason". N'est-ce pas? Second, there is the statement that one's humanity is discovered at the time that Christ is discovered. This reminds me of Ratzinger's assertion in his "Introduction to Christianity" that faith comes from without as a question to which we must respond. It is not self-examination or a "plumming of the depths" as is a philosophic inquiry. Faith is a "proposition". This leads me to the reflection that my faith is nurtured and realized by the most basic cues from the world. In reading the words, "when I discovered Christ, I discovered my humanity", I am challenged to accept this as true. If I accept it and assert it, then my faith grows and my baptism becomes a bit more real.

    Posted by david to Vitus Speaks at 12:00 PM

  9. Thanks, Alex:

    I would respond by quoting von Balthasar:

    "Faith is a movement of the entire person away from himself, through the gift of grace; thereby he lays hold of the mercy of God given to him in Christ--in the form of the forgiveness of sins, justification, and sanctification. In this movement away from himself man has done all that he, through grace, can do; he has done all that God requires of him. Since his intention is to leave himself, without reservation, and hand himself over entirely, this movement implicitly contains all the 'works' that he will eventually do. They are not some second entity beside faith; if they are performed in a Christian spirit, they are only forms in which faith expresses itself."

    I would question whether the conclusion that faith is a proposition is a definitive conclusion that can be found in Ratzinger's Introduction. He may be considering the proposition that faith is a proposition, but I am quite certain that is not his final conclusion on the matter, especially given the on-going philosophical inquiry and dialogue about the ontological status of propositions. But for Ratzinger, like with Balthasar, like with Don Gius, Truth is not even a proposition, but an experience of an event, a person. Since faith is a theological virtue and a response to truth, conceiving of faith exclusively or primarily as a proposition seems odd. Of course, if one were to state the proposition of faith it would be nothing other than: "Jesus is Lord"

  10. I would question whether the conclusion that faith is a proposition is a definitive conclusion that can be found in Ratzinger's Introduction.

    Good point. Ratzinger did not say that faith is a proposition. He said that faith is that which moves us to assent to the proposition. The Baptismal vows are what he is looking at: Do you believe? (x3) I believe (x3); the call and response, the you who calls and the "I" that responds. He points out that there is no faith outside of "we": "God wishes to approach man only through man" and therefore it cannot be done without community. But, you're right, what I wrote was not what Raztinger had written.

  11. "faith is that which moves us to assent to the proposition."

    Indeed! Thanks David!

  12. Below is a response to David's first comment that I posted over at Vitus Speaks. I hope that it can clarify things a bit more:

    My baptism (and later my confirmation) were real enough to me as a child. I do remember when I lived in l'Arche that my baptism and confirmation came alive again in a mature form.

    What happened? Jean Vanier had taught me two signs of my humanity: solitude and community (have you read Carron's "Looking on the Humanity Within Us with Sympathy"?).

    Verifying these two signs, then, formed me in the human question that Christ answers. In JTE, Don Gius lists just 4 signs of humanity (signs that have been diminished in our day), but there are many more. In a similar way, there is infinitely more to Jesus Christ than is mentioned in the chapter on Him in JTE (and more than is recorded in the Gospels).

    Our humanity prods us to cry out for Jesus Christ who deepens our humanity.


  13. My baptism (and later my confirmation) were real enough to me as a child. I do remember when I lived in l'Arche that my baptism and confirmation came alive again in a mature form.

    Thanks for the clarification. I've read most of the article "Looking on the Humanity...". At yesterday's C&L meeting, we were discussing what it is that keeps us here; why we make the choice to remain committed. For me, the question of faith is inevitable in such a discussion. Also, I do not remember my baptism. My faith has come to me from other people and it would have completely died out if it weren't for others. Ratzinger, in his book, indicates that this should come as no surprise: faith is a gift that is transmitted to us through the community that first recieved it. In a way, it can work like this: those who recognize their own powerlessness make themselves available to hear the call. Christ calls to them through the community, his Body.

  14. I might be beating a dead horse, since this post hasn't been commented on since 2007. But I liked the post. I have been studying Aquinas in school this semester, and there is one thing that may help in response to the assertion: "faith is that which moves us to assent to the proposition."

    To me, this way of putting it makes it sound like faith is a stubborn opinion. "I just believe." Aquinas says that faith is a type of knowledge, though indirect (like Giussani says!). In faith, it is the will that assents to the truth of a proposition since there is no direct evidence for the intellect to perceive. The proposition assented to is then held by faith. One does not "see" the truth although one knows it; and nevertheless the intellect is not satisfied. The goal of the intellect is to see the truth of things, and thus in faith it is restless. This is fascinating; even in scientific knowledge, the intellect does not remain restless, because assent by the intellect in light of evidence quells the intellect. This is not the case with faith. In this sense, faith sparks the seeking of understanding, the broadening of reason.

    Hope this is remotely useful.

  15. Francis:

    I agree with all the good points you make. For me (I am not writing on behalf of Giussani, Scola, or Aquinas) propositions are not what I have faith in, it is Jesus Christ. Of course that faith needs expression in language. Hence, the need for propositions. A propostion, no matter how well it expresses truth, is never the object of faith.


God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34 No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked...