Blog Template Theology of the Body: February 2010

Monday, February 08, 2010

Go Saints!

(It seemed apropos to renew this post today)

Catholic scholar Paul Griffiths once delivered a lovely lecture on friendship, and it was beautifully done; the speaker’s remarks were clear, and effective, and structured, like a Scholastic disquisition ought to be- definitions and procedures clearly delineated, the relevant distinctions made, categories bounded. He was going on about whom Christians might be friends with, and how. To his great credit (I think), Griffiths made one of the distinctions that I go nuts over; when prodded by a beautiful question about the depths of the human heart and the paradigm of the outpouring of Jesus, he gestured to the difference between the nature of ontologically functional friendship (we find people who look the same, act the same, and talk the same to be our friends, as though we had been configured for one another) against the more juridical nature of love (it seems to be that we attribute worth freely to the strangers whom we desire for God’s sake, compensating for their defects by bearing their burdens, teaching them to speak our language, calling things that are not as though they were, so that we might find a place to dwell in God, in them).

But when our speaker described reciprocity and symbiotic status- blending as necessary for friendship, I think that he was thinking more about transactive covenants all along; he must have been. He spoke of equity and a kind of calculation in our friendships of a certain kind, but it seems to me that there is something much more spontaneous about Christian friendship. Timid Abraham is called the friend of God long before God endows the little guy with the means to enter into symbolically equitable covenant with the Creator of the universe. The same is true for the ridiculous David. God Incarnate, with the cattle on a thousand hills, calls His friends from the social and economic situations of the illiterate fisherman and the wily tax collector. He, in unapproachable light, is the friend of sinners. Heck, I think God may have called even me to be His friend. Perhaps it is because Christian friendship is constituted by the one, ever intermediate, and truly free Personal God that Christian friendship cannot be construed in terms of equitable exchange and moderated growth. After all, it’s the gorgeous hint of utterly attractive and unpredictable holiness that the baptized ultimately desire and are drawn to in one another. It’s the wild and crazy Holy Spirit who stirs our hearts to reach out to whomever He likes. It is Him whom in all these we love.

If what we believe about the Christian life is true, then each of us has got a Christ-shaped dent within, on which a slow simmering fire is set both to burn and to throw sparks into the slow simmering fires of other hearts, a colloquy not so much of moderated conversation, but of inevitable warmth, and wind, and light. Even in his own measured discussion about the difference between the proper enjoyment of God and the loving use of people, with careful regard as to when, and how, mode and manner, Augustine catches his breath: “moreover, love itself, which binds men together in the bond of unity, (has) means of pouring soul into soul, and, as it were, mingling them one with another. (De Doctrina Christiana Preface vi.) …Thus, I’ve always thought that the gist of Jesus’ response to The Relevant Query was that we should not ask “what is the correct method for evaluating who my neighbor is?” but rather, “how fast can I get to him?

If this is so, Christian friendship is (it sounds trite) pure gift, particularly in its inequitable freedom. I’m thinking of the communion of saints as a model. We are never alone; Scripture says that the members of the church triumphant watch us rather like star-struck fans, (Hebrews somewhere) eagerly waiting for our reunion with everything that they’ve got- how long, Lord? (Revelation somewhere). We may have very little to do with them. And yet they, with the holy angels, are given to us; and it is by them, through Christ our Lord, that we are ever watched and heard and waited for. There is nothing of equity in this arrangement; we are little people mysteriously mucking through a vale of tears, they are heroes and martyrs who can see the face of God; we are delighted with our current loves and losses and perhaps we don’t spare a thought for loving those invisible strangers who have gone before, though they rejoice to attend to us. This too is the love of God- who did not spare His own Son, and, in freely giving us all things, calls us to fellowship in the perfectly inequitable community of His friends.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Aquinas and the Mission of the Christian University

Sacred doctrine derives its principles not from any human knowledge, but from the divine knowledge, through which, as through the highest wisdom, all our knowledge is set in order. (Summa Theologiae 1)

My husband and I attended a panel discussion on the topic described above, last night at the University of Dallas.  The panelists struggled to do theological justice to their ideas, and ended up landing on what seemed to be the only cogent point of departure: the changing demographics in American parishes (read: a vocation crisis with regard to the priesthood and a wonderfully surging Catholic population from the Southern hemisphere, which sometimes awkwardly encounters we Northern Catholics who have to endure a modern identity crisis that is commensurate with our dearth of priests). Let's just say such treatment of such an important, and really lofty topic left a lot to be desired. The real question presented to the Christian university just does not seem to have to do ultimately with how to reconcile magisterial teaching with good social justice, as one dichotomized speaker proposed.

I would have vastly preferred if one of the panelists had democratically reached back beyond number crunching to the thought of one of the Church's canonized saints and doctors. Aquinas is unequivocal when he describes the vocation of Catholic learning: It all has to do with God, and what God knows, and what God has graciously deigned to teach us. Having clearly established how and why theology, as the study of God, can take its place among the other sciences and disciplines on campus, Aquinas rolls the whole enterprise into one coherent whole: "objects which are the subject matter of different philosophical sciences can yet be treated of by this one single sacred science, under one aspect precisely, in so far as they can be included in revelation. So that in this way sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science, which is one and simple, yet extends to everything." (Summa Theologiae I.3. ad 2) In other words, Aquinas assures us that in as much as we know anything- who and what we are, who and what the Church is, how to fix the world's problems- our knowledge merely a participation in God's own perfect knowing, of all things, of the ways in which they are ordered and connected, since He willed and made them all. And it is this recognition which provides for us the means by which we, in obedience, might "take every thought captive to the glory of Christ." (II Corinthians 10) 

In other words, the Church has the truth because God Himself has handed it on.  Furthermore, this truth is comprehensive.  The dichotomized questions have a point of reconciliation, not only in their resolution, but in the ultimate quandry which is common to every aspect of human enquiry: what must I do to be saved

(The solution, of course, is not so much that we will "do" anything, but that God in His mercy will show something of what He knows about Himself to us who consider Him, in all His gracious effects, in the university.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Wedding

My husband and I were joined in the sacrament of marriage on the Feast of the Holy Family, 2009. 

To celebrate my (hopeful) return to this little blog, I am making available a link to a slideshow of some of our photos, here. The celebration was everything we could have hoped; a glimpse into the joys of Heaven that the Church makes tangible here and now, particularly in and through her families, who in each and every Christian household display a microcosm of the whole joyous throng. This is the meaning of the domestic church: the life of the Christian family cooperates with the God who renews His creation and His Church, and as such utters a robust refusal to enter the shadows of death and diminution. 

My wonderful husband and I hoped to make this enactment of Christian life manifest in the small details of our celebration- lots of children, vibrant music, the joy of the Incarnation at Christmas, and little hints of fruitfulness. We entrusted ourselves and our lives together to our Lord Jesus Christ.