Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: The Mystery of Easter, Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Finished reading the paper given by the then Cardinal Ratzinger to the Sacred Heart Congregation in 1981, on 25th anniversary of the encyclical Haurietis aquas. There is relevance for seeking and finding Christ in the present moment, as well as rationale on why a spiritual order has merit in our times and any time period. I will share the notes I took while reading, as included in Behold the Pierced One (Ratzinger, Joseph. 1986. San Francisco: Ignaitus Press).

By introduction, the author [now Pope Benedict XVI] explains that a crisis of the forms of nineteenth century piety was under way not long after the encyclical of Devotion to the Sacred Heart was written in 1956. Emphasis was being placed rather on the model of the Roman orationes (prayers) which restrain feelings and subjectivity and promote sobriety of expression.  The theological bent was to "steer entirely by Scripture and the Fathers, fashioning itself equally strictly according to the objective structural laws of the Christian edifice" (47). Following Vatican II, such devotions all but disappeared in the wake of what was mistakenly considered invalid by the liturgical changes and mind set.

The 1956 encyclical of Pope Pius XII on Devotion to the Sacred Heart answers many questions raised by those opponents of what was considered emotionalism, scripturally unfounded devotion, and mysticism. But from the beginning the Bible "represents the mystery of God in the metaphors of the body and its world" (52).  "...Body is the self-transcending movement toward spirit, and, through the spirit, to God. Beholding the invisible in the visible is the Easter phenomenon" (53). In John 20:26-29, Thomas touches the wound in Christ's opened side. In touching, Thomas "recognizes what is beyond touch yet really touches; he beholds the invisible yet really sees it."

So the connection of body and spirit, and of Logos, Spirit and body is presupposed. And here is introduced not only the basis of the Easter mystery, but also the connection of "Logos, Spirit and body, making the incarnate Logos [Word, Christ] into a ladder [stairway] which we can climb as we behold, touch and experience" (54). 

"...Man needs to see, he needs this silent kind of beholding, which becomes a touching, if he is to be aware of the mysteries of God. He must set his foot on the ladder [stairway] of the body in order to climb it and so find the path along which faith invites him....We could put it like this: the so-called objective spirituality, which is based on participation in the liturgy, is not enough. 

"The extraordinary spiritual depth which resulted from medieval mysticism and the ecclesially based piety of modern times cannot be abandoned as obsolete (let alone deviant) in the name of rediscovery of the Bible and the Fathers. The liturgy itself can only be celebrated properly if it is prepared for, and accompanied by, that meditative abiding in which the heart begins to see and understand, drawing the senses too into its beholding" (54).

He cites Ephesians 3:18f.: "that you...may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge..." (55). So as early as the Fathers, theologians understood that reason has its limits. This Scripture led to the concept "docta ignorancia; thus the mysticism of darkness comes about where love alone is able to see (55).

We are invited to "enter into a spirituality involving the senses, corresponding to the bodily nature of the divine-human love of Jesus Christ....spirituality of the senses is essentially a spirituality of the heart, since the heart is the hub of all of the senses, the place where sense and spirit meet, interpenetrate and unite" (56). 

For our effective transitioning, we could say that those seeking Christ in the present moment, desiring to climb the "ladder" or "stairway" will do so by entering Jesus' heart, via a spirituality of the senses. Also, the matter of Christ's suffering, God's suffering, is addressed. Origen defined the norm of interpreting God's suffering: "When you hear someone speak of God's passions, always apply what is said to love. So God is a sufferer because He is a lover..." (58).

"Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a spirituality of heart to heart; in that way, precisely, it is an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter, the mystery of suffering, is of its very nature a mystery of the heart. Theology faced with a technological rationalism which pushes man's emotional side to the irrational periphery and allots a merely instrumental role to the body....
Similarly, the neglect of a meditative, contemplative spirituality in favor of an exclusive, community-based activism has produced a wave of meditation [new age movement] which largely dissociates itself specifically from the Christian content, or even finds the latter a hindrance" (60).

(Continued on next post)

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