Saturday, 9 April 2011

Pope Benedict XVI: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reflecting on the Gospel story of the resurrection of Lazarus, Pope Benedict XVI writes in his Message for Lent 2011 (the added emphasis is mine, and does not appear in the original):
On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11: 27). Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.
An item reported by Independent Catholic News earlier this week, London: Irish Stations of the Cross in Holy Week, has been prompting my thinking (again, my emphasis added):
The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain (ICB) will lead a special Stations of the Cross with a social justice theme during Holy Week at Our Lady of Help for Christians' Catholic church in Kentish Town, north London on Monday 18 April at 7pm.
A fussy comment, in which there is some truth, would be to say that the idea of a "theme" for a celebration of the Stations of the Cross is contradictory - by definition, the "theme" of such a celebration is the crucifixion and death (and, in some places, the resurrection) of Jesus. So a mind set which seeks to insert into a celebration of the Stations of the Cross a theme "from the outside", a theme that does not arise from within the nature of the Stations of the Cross itself, is an inauthentic mind set. The language of the Independent Catholic News report is written as if this is the type of mind set involved - though that may not in fact be the reality of what the Irish Chaplaincy are in fact doing.

Less fussily, the Stations of the Cross has in recent years shown itself to be a devotion capable of a quite lively and powerful renewal in the life of the Church. It is an example of a tradtional (in the best sense) devotion being given a new life through a genuine updating. One can think of the meditations written for the annual Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome each Good Friday, the celebrations of the Way of the Cross that from a part of World Youth Day and, here in England, Boyce and Stanley's Born for This. This being the case, there is no reason why a set of meditations for the Stations of the Cross should not relate the Stations to their meaning for, or reference to, the contemporary circumstances of those who pray the devotion. That will mean that aspects of "social justice" may be reflected in the meditations.

What has exercised my mind, though, is the danger that the reference to social justice or to any element of relevance to the particular situation of those who pray them in the meditations can express a reduction of how we see the saving work of Jesus carried out in the events that we mark in the Stations of the Cross. There is a danger that the universal work of salvation, of victory over sin and the devil, of victory over my own individual sin to which I can gain access through the Sacraments and life of grace in the Church, is presented just as an action of, for example, "social justice". It is such an action, but it is also more.

The resolution of this danger, at least at the level of theological understanding, appears to me to lie in the principle of analogy, and this is what has been exercising my mind over the last couple of days. The idea of analogy can be approached from the notion of "analogy of being". But Pope Benedict's reflection for the fifth Sunday of Lent suggests rather that it is an "analogy of faith" that provides the correct answer to the question of how the events marked in the Stations of the Cross should be related to the daily experience of those who pray the devotion. [The definitions below aren't particularly Catholic, but give the idea of what is being said here.]
analogy of being (analogia entis)

The theory, especially associated with Thomas Aquinas, that there exists a correspondence or analogy between the created order and God, as a result of the divine creatorship. The idea gives theoretical justification to the practice of drawing conclusions concerning God from the known objects and relationships of the natural order.

analogy of faith (analogia fidei)

The theory, especially associated with Karl Barth, which holds that any correspondence between the created order and God is only established on the basis of the self-revelation of God.

No comments: