Saturday, April 20, 2013

God and man, man and God

I have not decided whether or not to add to Pope Francis' book, co-written with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth, which was originally published in Spanish back in 2010 as Sobre el cielo y la tierra, to my immediate reading list. I did appreciate John Allen's useful overview of the book's content, which he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter: "Book indicates pope is a moderate realist." Having been corrupted from a very young age by philosophy, I had to chuckle at the title and remind myself that the qualifier "moderate" as used by Allen is not intended to be applied to Papa Francesco's "realism," but that he is both moderate and a realist, maybe to push the envelope a bit, his moderation arises from his realism.

Especially in light of something I did not quote, but also read last night in Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross, I was struck by something written by then-Cardinal Bergoglio, but first back to Chesterton.

At the end of the seventh chapter of Chesterton's novel, which segues into the exchange between Turnbull and MacIan I quoted extensively in my previous post, the two protagonists have an interesting exchange prompted by MacIan's insistence on asking a slightly inebriated farmer to settle their dispute, something not about the nature of man, but about what I might call practical anthropology, to which both men appeal:
And the old man went on wildly singing into the night.

"A jolly old creature," said Turnbull; "he didn't seem able to get much beyond that fact that a man is a man."

"Has anybody got beyond it?" asked MacIan.

Turnbull looked at him curiously. "Are you turning an agnostic?" he asked.



"Oh, you do not understand!" cried out MacIan. "We Catholics are all agnostics. We Catholics have only in that sense got as far as realizing that man is a man. But your Ibsens and your Zolas and your Shaws and your Tolstoys have not even got so far."
We could substitute fashionable thinkers of our day for Ibsen, Zola, Shaw (who was a dear friend of Chesterton)- Tolstoy still has some resonance- but who, like the majority of those mentioned by Chesterton, will be unknown or little known in a hundred years. Here is what Allen wrote that reading Chesterton in the evening caused me to remember: "Francis expresses a healthy skepticism about claims of healings, revelations and visions, saying that God is not like Federal Express, sending messages all the time. The real tests of supernatural phenomena, he says are 'simplicity, humility and the absence of a spectacle' -- otherwise, he said, we may be dealing with a 'business' rather than the presence of the divine."

In one of his increasingly popular homilies (from last Thursday) delivered at the early morning Masses he enjoys celebrating at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, this same Begoglio said- "We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit. We believe in persons and when we talk to God we speak with persons' who are concrete and tangible, not some misty, diffused god-like 'god spray' that’s a little bit everywhere but who knows what it is."

I think this also speaks to those who seem to want to reduce the Eucharist to a cheap magic trick, who seek to evade the inescapable fact that, on the whole, the only empirical evidence the bread and wine become Jesus Christ "body, blood, soul, and divinity," are the lives of those of us who partake of it, both individually and corporately (that which makes us the Body of Christ), which is as Jesus intended it.

Even during His earthly life and ministry Jesus' own attitude towards miracles was ambiguous at best. So maybe I am not done reflecting on the Church. It is better to remain open to what is placed before me in reality. Both Bergoglio and Chesterton insist that we encounter God by simply attending to reality as it presents itself to us, taking it in according to the totality of factors that make it up, which we do by remaining open and not being bound by our preconceptions one way or the other.

I wrote about some of this before for Il Sussidiario: "Chesterton on the intolerance of friendship."

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