Friday, August 10, 2012

Where is God?

Some of the more upright and honorable among my readers will have to forgive me this one, but I'm going to side in this one with Father Barron who puts Woody Allen and St. Thomas Aquinas in the same camp for a moment in responding to the old question: "What makes the world go round?"

In Vol. III, Creator Spirit, Explorations in Theology (Ignatius Press, 1993), Hans Urs Von Balthasar entitles part of a section of this tome labeled "Crisis" as follows: "Forgetfulness of God and Christians". I like many things about Von Balthasar, but there he says something I cannot abide just because I don't think it is an accurate perception of the world in which we live. Others can judge between us or judge whether it is not just that things have so much changed in the decades which have passed between our writing. Anyway, here's the quote:

 "But where the question is missing, where there is no mediation by philosophy between science and theology, the dialogue between the world and Christianity becomes impossible. Let us once again make the point clear by means of the reproduction of the situation within the Church: if it is already such a burden (often scarcely tolerable) for the layman who is genuinely concerned and asks existential questions to have a clergyman (who knows all the answers in advance) give him information about God on Sundays, then it becomes possible to understand why the world one day felt that it had been sufficiently informed by Christians about God and said so, and why the world has become sick of asking the question that is canalized into the stereotype catechism questions and finds the equally stereotype answers lying ready in advance." (page 322)

Where in the world does this scenario play out? I just don't know! Any child knows that the "catechism" a Christian might "thump" at a world with "existential questions" cannot be other than a life reverently lived which can challenge the other, yes at times, but which is usually there not so much as any sort of a challenge or confrontation but rather as something gracious and wise more suitable for embracing (hence my reference to Father Barron's movie review). It's like in courting, when the young man (with or without his "existential questions") decides that his will to share the rest of his life with the young woman in marriage, head over heels in love with her for who she is, implies a life and faith choice for him who sees her Christian witness as progress in comparison to the way he has been living. The question of God, if you will, receives short shrift perhaps by comparison with times long gone but only because we let ourselves be too impressed by the wind and the waves (read: media, technology, contemporary sophistication, 3D movies, as you like).

I just finished Gogol's little literary masterpiece "Taras Bulba" which, while giving voice in the novel to many people's lip service to religion both Orthodox (Russian Cossack) and Catholic (Polish), actually says more about the beauty of men in the context of the utter folly of the Cossack reign in a chaotic and generally raucous warrior's paradise. The tragedy of Taras' life which takes not only his own two sons but hordes on both sides of the fight into his own self-destructive embrace has no room for "existential questions". With a less than profound bow in the direction of Von Balthasar, I have to ask myself if anyone really asks existential questions or takes umbrage at a Sunday sermon which indeed talks about God. People are caught up in the whirlwind of the created and never catch their breath long enough to contemplate the Creator and Redeemer.

I think Von Balthasar must have known that but for some reason he did indeed write what I quoted above. I am sorry but the issue has never been one other than good old-fashioned idolatry: replacing God with whomever or whatever, be it a person, a thing or a life-style. Before the golden calf in the desert, Israel utters absolute folly and cries, "Here, O Israel, is your god who brought you out of the land of Egypt!" The issue is one of forgetfulness of the one true God, not of existential earnestness but of mind-numbing distraction.

In this upcoming (and very soon!) Year of Faith, we the community of believers indeed need to thump our catechisms, to brush up on the faith and learn once again and take to heart our basic prayers. We need to allow ourselves to be fed, to hang on God's every word to us in Holy Scripture. From ignorant to informed is only a partial description of what is at stake. We're back to good old question No 1 of the Baltimore Catechism: "Why did God make me? He made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in Heaven." YouCat and the CCC say the same with contemporary verve and footnotes. Knowing God, I cannot help but love and serve Him. Heaven-ready, then, I reflect His glory in this world for all to see and embrace. I, we as Christians, as Catholics, become, OK, yes a challenge to the world's idolatry, but we also become prophets like Hoseah, called by God to entice His adulteress first love back to faithfulness and thereby to limitless joy.


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