Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner, S.J.
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Saturday, June 25, 2005Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner, S.J.
Zaccheus Press, out of Bethesda, Maryland, has again reprinted a classic Catholic work that reopens our eyes to what we have always before us. The latest book from this small, but high quality press, is Our Lady and the Church by the German Hugo Rahner, S.J. (1900-68)--not to be confused with his more famous brother, theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., who, unfortunately, became a dissenter after Humanae Vitae and made a complete hash of Christology (but those are topics for another occasion).
Originally published in 1961, on the eve of Vatican II, it is a small, easy-to-read, but deep book of 135 pages. It is a small jewel of what is called ressourcement--the theological movement prior to Vatican II which deeply influenced Vatican II by calling for a return to the sources of Catholic faith. Hugo Rahner returns to the sources by reading the Scriptures with the eyes of the Fathers of the early Church. No less than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger endorsed this book as a "marvelous work [which] is one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century." Renewal of our faith and liturgy is a long task. Reprinting classic, faithful books of high quality is an important part of that task. It is good that Zaccheus Press and others like Sophia Institute Press undertake this intellectual apostolate.
In the beginning of the book, the author hints at the problem that all of us face in recovering the depth of meaning of the doctrines and piety of Catholic tradition. The great theologian Romano Guardini is quoted referring to how the words of the saints from another era can "sometimes seem to us but empty phrases" (p. 4). H. Rahner also points to the "dry lack of feeling" we may have to different forms of Catholic devotion (p. 5). Returning to the sources gives us again the depth of what the saints and Fathers wrote about so passionately; we re-read with renewed faith from a new informed depth. In the service of renewal, Hugo Rahner lets us read the Scriptures again with the fervor and devotion of the Fathers of the Church and so to find Mary once again at the center of salvation history.
And so H. Rahner proceeds to methodically explore the thesis that he summarizes in the Foreword: that "Mary and the Church are two, yet one single mother." Mary physically bore Christ; the Church gives birth to Christ in each of us through the gift of faith in baptism. Thus, the Church is also, in this sense, Mother of Christ. "Each is mother, each is virgin. Both conceived by the same Spirit, without human seed" (quoting the Latin Father Isaac of Stella). And so, throughout the book, Hugo Rahner shows how what Scriptures say about the Church can be applied to Mary, how in fact the great image of the Woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12 refers to both Mary and the Church (see Ch. 10).
In contrast to abusive feminist interpretations, the author also ties the Old Testament's feminine image of divine wisdom or sophia to Mary and the Church by referring to the Christian East's tradition of icon-painting--another "source" which we are to make use of as John Paul the Great so urgently requested (pp. 132-34).
And, of course, as emphasized by Vatican II, Mary is our mother, the mother of the faithful. The author captures this ancient truth by quoting Augustine:
"Mary is indeed the mother of Christ's members, that is, of ourselves. For it is by her work of love that men have been born in the Church, faithful men who are the body of the head, whose mother she was in the flesh."
H. Rahner, p. 51 (quoting Augustine).
In our religion, there are no orphans: each of us always has a Mother. Because of Mary's "yes" to God, "the floodgates of God's grace upon mankind" have been opened (p. 51). That is why Mary is mediatrix of all graces (see pp. 129-31). H. Rahner underlines this truth by emphasizing the Marian character of our baptism in which we first received the gift of grace. For the baptismal font that gives new birth to us through the Holy Spirit is "symbolized in the birth, which overshadowed by the Spirit, gave us the Redeemer born of the Virgin" (p. 65). The "old theology of baptism" views the baptismal font from which we are reborn as the womb of Mary (pp. 65-66). To deeply understand Baptism and being born again, we cannot do without Mary. Protestants, please take note.
And not only baptism. Even evangelization is unavoidably Marian in character. The author notes that the evangelizing Christian "becomes the 'mother of Christ' also in the sense that he builds up Christ and brings Him to birth in the hearts of his neighbors" (p. 84, later quoting Gregory the Great in support). As we become "other Christs," Mary is our mother; but it is also true that, as we evangelize, we are also "other Marys" who give birth to other Christs (cp. p. 58 referring to quote from Origen).
For those of a more "pentecostal" or charismatic bent, H. Rahner makes clear that Pentecost itself is also a Marian event:
Mary's presence at Pentecost is the last view we have of her in the writings of revelation . . . . (Acts 1:14). . . . . Here indeed [at Pentecost] is fulfilled in all mankind what was begun in the heart of the Virgin at the instant of the Incarnation: in the sanctuary of the immaculate heart, in her innermost being, . . . , in her spotless womb, when the overshadowing grace of the Holy Spirit came in . . . . [I]n her heart was performed in secret, what now at Pentecost is open to the gaze of all mankind. The heart of Mary is the original upper room, where redeemed mankind is gathered.H. Rahner, pp. 99-101.
Yes, to understand fully the fundamentals of biblical Christianity, such as baptism, new birth, evangelization, the descent of the Holy Spirit--not to mention the core truth of the Incarnation of the God-Man Himself, we must turn to Mary. Biblical Christianity is Marian in character. The Marian aspect is like a vein of gold embedded in biblical revelation. The early Fathers, those closest to the Apostles and their immediate successors, those present at the springtime of the new faith, affirmed it. So in ecumenical discussions, Mary is not a matter to be pushed aside to avoid controversy: Mary is at the heart of the faith.
Let me end with a more immediately personal image: Mary as our constant intercessor before her Son. Here, the author turns to the famous scene at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-11). As H. Rahner states, "Mary is ever present, and ever voicing the needs of the nations: 'They have no wine' " (p. 57). We invoke Mary in our prayers so that she can intercede before her Son. This invocation is not a Catholic invention or projection into Scripture. Rather, this invocation is a call to the one whom God Himself chose to be the essential instrument of the Incarnation and the one who was the first to call on Jesus to perform the first sign of his saving ministry. To ignore Mary is to ignore God's revelation. Let us not replace that revelation with our own blueprints. We go to Christ through Mary because God Himself has chosen to place her at the strategic center of the faith.
Friday, June 24, 2005New Prayer Asking for Intercession of John Paul the Great
The Zenit news service has published the English translation of a new official prayer from the Diocese of Rome seeking the intercession of John Paul the Great at this link. Start praying!
Spanish Senate Rejects Gay Marriage Law But Lower House Can Still Pass It
In an anomaly of the Spanish constitutional system--an anomaly, that is, in the eyes of those used to a very different American system, even though the Spanish Senate has now rejected the Socialists' proposed gay marriage law, the Spanish lower house of parliament can still pass it because the Senate vote is considered non-binding (see Spero News story). But, in any event, the good news is that another sector of Spanish society has rejected this radical proposal in the heels of the massive pro-family demonstration in Madrid on June 18th (see Catholic Analysis post below for June 21st). In addition, the media is reporting that for the first time the Socialist government has agreed to meet with the organizers of the Madrid pro-family demonstration.
What is the lesson here? Take a stand. The tides of political correctness are not inevitable. Peaceful resistance and protest make a difference. There is nothing to lose by proclaiming the truth. What might have happened if way back, in the wake of Roe v. Wade in 1973, Catholic bishops and others had called for a massive march on Washington to protest the new decision? We do not know because, to my knowledge, no such massive pro-life march ever occurred in 1973 [I invite readers to correct me if they know differently].
St. Ignatius Loyola points out, in his Spiritual Exercises, how the devil flees if we stand firm. The apostles refused to be muzzled in the face of persecution and declared that they must obey God, rather than man in the book of Acts. As Christians and Catholics, we are called to resist evil by witnessing to the truth. Earthly success is not guaranteed, as we all know. But we do know that the truth is a seed that is guaranteed to take root and eventually overpower all lies.
So, in a sense, it is better to say that earthly success is indeed guaranteed--but that success may ultimately be seen only in the "new earth" promised in the Scriptures. Marx told workers long ago to unite because they have nothing to lose but their chains. The Scriptures tell us to unite and proclaim the truth because we have nothing to lose but lies. There is no reason not to witness to the truth. It is the distinctive Christian way of resisting evil.
Thursday, June 23, 2005Resources for Courage
In skimming through a recent collection of existentialist thought (Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino, The Modern Library, 2004), I was astonished again, after many years of not reading the existentialists, of how traumatized they were. Kierkegaard writes of a lonely suffering, Sartre and de Beauvoir reject any loving commitment to each other, Camus stubbornly wills meaning in the face of the absurd. With that cultural backdrop, it is no surprise that the West is still beset by anxiety. We assume that we can make our own courage out of our own personal resources. What the experience of the existentialists is really telling us, in my opinion, is that fear is the appropriate rational response to life. And, if all we have is ourselves as resources, then the Christian must agree.
But, of course, for the Christian, we are not alone. We do not need to squeeze courage out of our meager and always inadequate personal resources. For the Christian, courage is a gift that requires only trust in divine providence. That trust is in fact the great "leap of faith"--with that trust we can step forward into the deep, like Abraham, the prophets, and the apostles. It is a matter of taking risks, small and large, with trust that God who is mercy will eventually tie it all together for our good. So, in an age of great fear and anxiety, masked by many with frenetic activity and distraction, the Christian offers the only resource capable of yielding daily courage: divine providence, but not the vanilla divine providence of other theists but rather the divine providence of the Gospel which is expansive mercy for each hair on our heads.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005The Deadly Duo: Contraception & Abortion
One prominent argument used today by those who approve of the morality of abortion--which unfortunately includes many who call themselves Catholic, including some confused clerics--is that the embryo, although most would admit is indeed a form of human life or potential human life, is not a "person" at least prior to implantation in the uterus. As a result, these abortion defenders claim that the pre-implantation embryo is not entitled to the same level of protection as the post-implantation embryo.
The same confused abortion apologists--including one Catholic priest who wrote a letter to the editor one or two years ago in a major Detroit newspaper--will trot out the historical argument that even St. Thomas Aquinas thought that the embryo did not become human until "ensoulment" supposedly about one month after fertilization or conception. What such unreliable guides to history will usually not tell you is that, regardless of the primitive state of medieval science that St. Thomas inevitably relied upon, the Church, including Thomas, always condemned abortion, at any stage of development, as a mortal sin against life. As theologian Benedict Ashley, O.P., points out the Church's condemnation of abortion does not depend on when human life or personhood begins--it is enough that there exists a serious risk of murdering a human; and, in addition, the Church condemns interrupting the development of human life which is a matter belonging in the hands or "dominion" of God only (Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology [Alba House, 1996], p. 298]. Yet, Ashley does add that today the "only view that is [indeed] scientifically probable" is that human life does begin at fertilization (Ashley, p. 298; original emphasis).
What I want to focus on is on the above-mentioned argument that abortion is gravely wrong because it interferes with God's dominion over life--because this argument is the point where we clearly see the intimate partnership of the contraception mentality and the abortion mentality. In contraception, we are precisely taking dominion over human life out of God's hands and into our own hands. Instead, of respecting the fertile and infertile periods that are God's plan for procreation, contraceptors disrupt, attack, and radically revise the natural tempo of fertile and nonfertile periods. In other words, contraceptors attack God's dominion over procreation.
Once you accept this contraceptive mentality, then it is easy to defend abortion as much the same thing. The abortion defenders can then say that the pre-implantation embryo is not human or, although human as some admit, not a "person" entitled to protection against murder and so to kill the pre-implantation embryo is simply an extended form of "contraception" which prevents reproduction. The contraceptive logic which empowers us to attack God's plan of alternating fertile and infertile periods leads directly to the pro-abortion logic that wrongly empowers many to attack the early embryo. It is all about power and control by the strong against the weak, by the strong who seek to replace God's plan for procreation with their own arbitrary agenda. That is why contraception and abortion are the deadly duo of the Culture of Death.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005Massive Pro-Family March in Central Madrid
On June 18th, there was a massive march in the center of Madrid, Spain, in support of traditional marriage between one man and one woman. The crowd was certainly in the hundred thousands and may even have reached as high as 1.5 million. The word from people on the ground was that the crowd was indeed massive and unprecedented in Spain. This area of central Madrid consists of broad avenues and plazas--I can personally testify to that. The crowd was indeed massive.
But the socialist government in Spain is a radical government that has decided to push to make Spain the most socially radical nation in Europe by legislatively enacting full-blown gay marriage. To those who remember history, it is all quite eerie. The same leftist radicalism led to the bloody and cruel Spanish Civil War in the late nineteen thirties. Again, we have a similar left-wing pattern seen in other nations, including the United States: instead of focusing on the economic well-being of workers, the focus is instead on the social/cultural innovations that are obsessively popular with the bourgeois intellectuals (or rather pseudo-intellectuals) who actually dominate leftist politics. Pushing through gay marriage is easier than wrestling with budgets and education. Ideological pandering to special interests replaces serious governance. The socialist government has already discredited itself. I predict that their tenure will not last long.
And so this radical socialist government went out of its way to deemphasize media coverage of the demonstration and to attempt to stage diversionary events. But, as others have noted, the internet has a way of getting around the manipulations of governments that are insecure about popular discontent that is highly embarrassing to their self-image. The romantic socialist image cultivated by the elitist socialists can't bear to face the reality of populist protest in the streets by ordinary people against their radical policies.
Here are two links that give information that many in the mainstream media here and abroad don't want you to see about the Madrid demonstration--the links are courtesy of a regular U.K. reader. The first link is from Spero News, a Catholic internet news service originating in Spain whose protagonist is Madrid resident and writer, Robert Duncan. The second link is the "smoking gun" containing photos showing the massive size of the march that the socialist government wants to downplay. The photos appear on a blog run by a Catholic priest, Padre Jorge Salinas. Again, internet and blogs are at the forefront of exposing leftist whitewash and deception.
As you look at the colorful photos on the Spanish priest's blog, you will see the demonstrators carrying signs and placards in Spanish and even in Catalan (Catalonia is an autonomous region of Spain where Barcelona is located).
Here are my translations of some of the Spanish banners and placards: "The Family Does Matter" (apparently the most common slogan); "Marriage is not the same as gay union"; "God is Solidarity--John Paul II"; "I am a child, not an experiment"; "What joy! We are a majority!"--and my personal favorite: Nada sin Dios meaning "Nothing without God." The true Spanish nation and genius took to the streets on June 18th.
¡Viva España! ¡Viva Dios!
Monday, June 20, 2005Genocide Should Equal Regime Change
Webster's defines "genocide" as "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group." Vatican II listed genocide, along with abortion and euthanasia, as a "crime" against life (Gaudium et Spes, 27). And, of course, in World War II, we witnessed the Nazi holocaust which set out to eliminate Jews, Slavs, and other groups, along with perceived political opponents which included even Catholic clergy in places like Poland. In addition, the Nazis carried out genocide by euthanasia aimed at disabled members of their own German nation.
After that searing experience, plus the forgotten genocide of Armenians by Turkey, the Stalinist mass murders, the murders arising from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and, more recently, the genocide in Cambodia and the genocide now ongoing in the Sudan, you would think that the international community would have long since made it clear to all regimes everywhere that genocide means regime change. One bright spot was the military intervention in Bosnia in the nineties to put an end to the infamous "ethnic cleansing."
Yet, recall the tremendous resistance toward regime change in Iraq, although the regime had carried out the genocide of Kurds in northern Iraq, plus many other systematic mass crimes against the lives of its own people. I recall a new post-war Iraqi diplomatic representative to the U.N. undiplomatically making it clear in one of his first appearances at the U.N. that his people did not appreciate the years of abandonment and indifference by the international community to the bloodthirsty regime of Saddam Hussein.
But it is not only Iraqis that must wonder at international indifference, bordering on crass selfishness, toward genocidal regimes. Certainly, the people of Sudan must be wondering. And so are many Cubans. Is it not a form of genocide for a dictator to create such oppressive conditions, over decades, that thousands risk life and limb crossing the Florida straits in rafts, small boats, and even, as recently featured in the news, a converted taxicab? Isn't that a passage of death comparable to the passage of death suffered by Africans in the slave trade? Yet, many politically correct circles in this country still view Castro as a "romantic" tropical revolutionary. T-shirts and posters with the image of the murderous Che Guevara still adorn many a college campus. Many Cubans consider that their country has gone through its own type of holocaust for the last four decades. Many other nationalities and ethnic groups can tell a similar story.
Students of history must wonder why, in the wake of all these holocausts, both past and current, the U.N. has not made clear to all regimes everywhere: genocide means regime change. The question then becomes how. Economic sanctions in many cases will either not work or even worsen the genocidal conditions of the population at large. So, the hard reality is that in many, if not most, cases only military force will put an end to regimes mad enough in the first place to practice genocide. Certainly, direct military overthrow will not be feasible in all situations, as in the case of nuclear giants like the former Soviet Union and China. Yet, the question of genocidal regimes is one that many have to ponder--many who live in the comfort of Western countries where genocide is not a live threat: are we willing to declare that genocidal regimes must go, even if military pressure, whether applied directly or applied indirectly through containment, is ultimately necessary? Such a declaration seems long overdue. Now, that would be true international law, a genuine and authentic rule of law among nations. Historians of the future will wonder what took so long for the international community to announce such a policy of mercy toward the helpless captives of mad regimes.