Sunday, June 1, 2014

Justice and Truth - Where Else?

"It is only truth--or dogma, to give it its other name--which can make prayer efficacious, and impregnate it with that austere, protective strength without which it degenerates into weakness. If this is true of private prayer, it is doubly so of popular devotion, which in many directions verges on sentimentality. Dogmatic thought brings release from the thralldom of individual caprice, and from the uncertainty and sluggishness which follow in the wake of emotion. It makes prayer intelligible, and causes it to rank as a potent factor in life. If, however, religious thought is to do justice to its mission, it must introduce into prayer truth in all its fullness." [Guardini, Romano (2012-02-05). The Spirit of the Liturgy (Kindle Locations 185-191). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.]

A friendly "poke" got me to pick up this Guardini classic which I had enjoyed reading years ago in Bonn, when I had access to a then new edition in German paperback of his opera omnia. This first chapter, on "The Prayer of the Liturgy", balances off truth against emotion and insists that one of the distinctions between private prayer/popular devotion and public liturgy, is the necessary adherence of Divine Worship to the fullness of truth. The Byzantine Liturgy speaks of worship as being perforce "rational". Guardini cannot see liturgy in any other way.

This got me thinking about a lot of things, but brought me to or renewed me in a firm conviction, which I would gladly share with you. The fundamental, developmental crisis in the life of the human person has little to do with "sexual awakening" but rather is centered on grasping justice and truth as central to living life to the full. When I was much younger there was a common mode of expression which described a wild young man as having been "hit hard by puberty"... utter nonsense. The passage from childhood or childishness to adolescence and on to adulthood takes place, certainly, I guess, hormonally, but more significantly with the awakening to the categories of justice and truth. One spends the rest of his or her life trying to sort out the vagaries of that all for us who are not pure spirits. Love might be the greatest, but we experience it in deed (justice done) and in truth.

When Pope Benedict spoke about the tyranny of relativism I think that perhaps also he was referring to the death of a growing perception of the demands of justice and truth in the life of a youth. If you don't catch and jealously guard from childhood that marvelous flame, not stolen by Prometheus but gifted to us by God, you are lost or at least foundering in desperate hope of a latter day conversion. As Guardini would say, you end up caught in ...the thralldom of individual caprice, and from the uncertainty and sluggishness which follow in the wake of emotion. Granted, not being angels capable of singleness of purpose and timeless commitment, we end up fighting all our lives to remain faithful to the demands of justice in adherence to the truth which comes to us from God in His Church, but even so we are far from lost.

When some of my favorite authors speak about restoring Catholic culture, I think that means identifying much of so-called contemporary culture as inimical to justice and truth. To step away from the uncertainty and sluggishness which follow in the wake of emotion is our duty and for parents and teachers our only worthwhile endowment or gift to the charges entrusted to our care by God's Will and Providence. I don't know what it means to say someone was "hit hard by puberty", but I do know the tragedy of depriving a child of his or her innate and needs be cultivated sense of justice in faithfulness to the truth which comes to us from the God Who so loved the world as to give up His only Son for our salvation.

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