Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Moments of the ultimate"

We're nearing the end of yet another year of grace. The end of each liturgical year is one way of reminding ourselves that the end will come. This end-of-time will happen for each one of us when we die and occur in a definitive way when Christ the King returns in glory.

The season of Advent is perhaps the strangest of all the liturgical seasons, a time we penitentially prepare to commemorate the Incarnation of the Son of God as a babe in Bethlehem, who, "for us men and for our salvation... came down from heaven," to welcome Him anew into our hearts, and to be reminded of the fact that He will return in glory.

In a certain section of his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen writes about the time Bonhoeffer spent among the Benedictines of Ettal, just outside on Munich, the time during which he wrote his book Ethics, which was assembled and published only posthumously. Schlingensiepen writes with great clarity aboout the chapter of Ethics concerning the "ultimate" and the "penultimate":
Can faith - and that doesn't mean 'the memory of past faith, or of repeating articles of faith,' but rather true faith - be 'realised daily and hourly'? No, during this life there are only 'moments of the ultimate'. God lets human beings live in the penultimate. But they must always be on the lookout, throughout the length and breadth, for the ultimate. The 'penultimate' is life as human beings live it in a 'time of God's permission, waiting and preparation.' Even the person of faith lives in this 'penultimate', and for Bonhoeffer it... meant that, even when one had to live in such a terrible time as the Second World War, it was perfectly all right to enjoy one's life and happy times spent with friends, but knowing that there is an ultimate time that judges and breaks off the penultimate
Typically, in preaching and in catechesis, we refer to this as living the tension between the already and not yet.

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