Sunday, November 9, 2014

Faith, experience, ideology

Given that today Roman Catholics throughout the world observe the Feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica in Rome, which is the Mother Church of Christendom, I went in search of something I posted on a different blog a number of years ago only to find that I copied it over here to Καθολικός διάκονος shortly after I posted it there (see "Faith and memory on the universal Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran"). Prior to Morning Prayer today I prayed the Office of Readings, something I don't do very often. The second reading for the office for today's feast is from a sermon by St Caesarius of Arles.
My fellow Christians, do we wish to celebrate joyfully the birth of this temple [the Temple of the Holy Spirit that is our bodies after Baptism]? Then let us not destroy the living temples of God in ourselves by works of evil. I shall speak clearly, so that all can understand. Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins
That, indeed, is what we might call a good, old-fashioned sermon that gets to the heart of the matter by taking seriously the mystery, that is, the Paschal Mystery, we are called to live. In other words, St Caesarius made a judgment according to the criteria of divine revelation, which is what makes what he said then relevant now.

For those who might be unaware, St John Lateran is the Roman Pontiff's cathedral church as Bishop of Rome. It is the oldest of the four major papal basilicas in Rome (the other three being St Peter's, St Paul Outside the Walls, and St Mary Major).

St John Lateran Basilica

The other post I came across that seemed more than fitting for today's feast, as well as for my forty-ninth birthday, which is coming up on Tuesday, the feast of that glorious saint and holy bishop St Martin of Tours, I entitled "each of us knows in his own experience when he judges it." I wrote this reflection more than five years ago (18 August 2009) in light of the Spiritual Exercises for the year of Communion & Liberation: From Faith, the Method. This explains why some of the references are a bit dated. So, with just a little editing, here it is:


There is a difficult passage near the end of the final Assembly at this year's Exercises [2009 Exercises], the one about following the experience of a person and not of the person per se. It is not difficult to comprehend. Rather, it is difficult because it is all too clear and runs counter to my inclinations. I have had the experience of a person saying, doing, being a certain way that moved me, that changed me and who has turned around and become very off-putting to me. This confuses me because it causes me to call the authenticity of my experience into question. I remember when Ted Haggard's sins were revealed, his meth use and consorting with a male prostitute. It made many question whether their being moved through him toward Christ was real. So, the question remains: Is it the person, or the Spirit? This is not a question that someone can answer for anyone else. This is what Carrón had to say about the charism given to Giussani and our experience of it:
Father Giussani communicated an experience that he had to us, and this is true even if tomorrow I betray it. It is true and will always be true, because what makes for a correspondence or not is not what I say or what Father Giussani says, but is what each of us knows in his own experience when he judges it. This is why one follows the experience of another, which he communicates to you as best he can, gropingly. We do not follow the person because of [his personality] [the translation as it appeared in the English booklet of the Italian word "personalismo", was "a personalism"], because the boss said so. This is not human; it is not human! But if he is communicating an experience to you that he is having and if you are interested in learning, following that person means following the experience that he is having, in such a way that you can make it your own. And it will remain yours even if he would betray it. I do not want us to repeat Father Giussani’s sayings (or mine), but I want that this be our experience, that it become ours, because when we want something we want it to become ours, as we wanted what the mathematics teacher taught us to become ours. Do you not want this? Father Giussani says this when he explains obedience: obedience is following until, at a certain point, one is following himself, struck by the experience that another has had, because he is so entirely one with himself that, in the end, he follows himself, struck by another’s experience. If we do not do this, we keep on repeating the sayings of Father Giussani, but we will not have the experience that he has (italicizing emphasis mine- From Faith, the Method, pg. 64)
Papal cathedra in St John Lateran

It was interesting to watch the dynamic at the Green Day concert I went to the other night [16 August 2009], it made me think about what Alice Bag wrote about her discussions with Darby Crash regarding music and fascism. Green Day is certainly not fascist and I saw Billy Joe Armstrong as having an awareness of the potential and not pushing it too hard- the potential is there, just as it is in CL, or in the church writ large, it seems to be an all too human tendency to drift toward ideology, which I employ to mean wanting a pre-conceived system of iron clad certainties all packaged up and ready for purchase, like everything else in our consumer society. This is an emotivist reduction: I have my ideology and you have yours and our choosing them is just a matter of preference and/or pre-disposition having little or nothing to do with my experience or yours and certainly nothing at all to do with correspondence. I guess my point here is that to follow the charism given to Giussani is not to follow Giussani, but the experience communicated to me through him, through Carrón, through Albacete, through Fred, Sharon, Suzanne, Alex, Greg et al., making it my own through my experience, which is my unique path to destiny.


In light of all this, it bears noting that it was 25 years ago today, 9 November 1989, that the Berlin Wall was breached and torn apart. In his still relevant book, A Turning Point for Europe?, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, writing in the wake of that momentous event, noted, "The Church's first task in this area is to keep alive in fidelity to her holy tradition, the basic criterion of justice and to detach it from the arbitrariness of power" (60). This fidelity to holy tradition is the faithfulness to the experience that not only spawned, but continues to constitute, that is, make, what we revere as "holy tradition," which, in turn, makes us.

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