The staff and volunteers of the Albacete Forum wish you a Blessed Easter! As Pope Francis reminded us during last night's Easter Vigil, "He is not here... he is raised! And he awaits you in Galilee. He invites you to go back to the time and place of your first love and he says to you: Do not be afraid, follow me." For your further reflection during this holy season, we share a short selection from an Easter homily that Monsignor Albacete delivered in 1993.
We would be wrong to think that those who believe without seeing have greater faith than those who have seen. Faith is always faith in the Unseen; otherwise it would not be faith! Those who believed in Our Lord did not believe because they saw Him; after all, Mary Magdalen saw Him and at first she did not recognize Him! The disciples on their way to Emmaus saw Him, and they did not recognize Him at first either. It is not enough to see the Risen Lord in order to believe in Him. Something more is required: first, Our Lord has to reveal Himself, that is to say, He has to offer us the opportunity to recognize Him, better, He has to offer us the gift or grace of recognition. And second, we must have the interior dispositions that will allow us to accept this gift, and those interior dispositions are themselves a gift from God! The "advantage" of those who have not seen Him and believed must refer to something else; it cannot be a matter of greater faith...
A revealing encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ takes place through the mediation of something external to us, something which is the fruit of the faith of those who have faith. Those who come to believe in Him this way are "blessed," or "fortunate," more so than those who first saw Him, precisely because those who come later have at their disposal the testimony of the former ones. They have at their disposal the Tradition of believers, the Tradition of the Church, embodied in Sacred Scripture.
Lorenzo Albacete, Easter homily, April, 1993.
As the celebration of the birth of the Savior approaches, we offer this selection from an article Msgr. Albacete wrote for Traces magazine in December, 2001.
Advent is the season of desire. It points us to Christmas. Christmas is the appearance of the new, of the unimaginably “more.” Christmas is the revelation of the Eternal Father, the Eternal Origin. The Incarnate Son, born on Christmas Day, is the “revelation of the Father and of his love” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). The Eternal Son made flesh bears the imprint of the Origin. But because they cannot bear origins, ideologies cannot grasp the mystery of Christmas.
Without an identity grounded in a true origin, the “I” is mortally weakened, wounded. It can no longer defend itself from the power of those with the resources to build a future according to their will to power. It is not “God” that is dead in such a world. It is the “Father” from whom all origins (all paternity and maternity) proceed that disappears.
As the revelation of the Father and of his love, Christmas, the Incarnation and our share in the Son’s sonship, is the Event that redeems the human “I,” the human reality.
What happened at Christmas is what allows us for the first time to say, “Abba, Father, through the motherhood of the Church, the motherhood of Mary, Mother of the Son.” Thus all ideology is destroyed, and we are set free to be free.
The Christmas liturgy exclaims, Beata viscera Mariae Virginis quae portaverunt aeterni Patris Filium (Blessed the womb of the Virgin Mary, that bore the Son of the Eternal Father). And we pray, “Come Holy Spirit! Come through Mary!”
Lorenzo Albacete, "Christmas: A New Beginning," Traces: Communion and Liberation International Magazine, no. 11, 2001
Today, we give thanks to the Lord for you, the supporters of The Albacete Forum! As people finish their Thanksgiving meals and stores begin to open with early Black Friday eve bargains, we offer this short Albacete reflection courtesy of ilsussidiario.net.
I wonder what the sharks in the sea are saying today about us humans.
I have in mind the sharks that appeared in a New Yorker cartoon some weeks ago. (I tried to save the page on my iPad but I really don't know how to use this instrument so I saved the entire issue on my New Yorker library and now I can't remember which one it is.) In any case, the cartoon showed two sharks looking for something to eat and one of them says to another: "Why is it that when they (humans) eat a good meal they are said to be just eating but when we do it they say we are on a feeding frenzy?"
If those sharks were looking at TV news this Thanksgiving extended weekend they certainly would be angry after seeing the frenzy of which we are capable.
At least the sharks were eating for their survival, the mobs on TV were hoarding up on big flat screen TV sets, the latest Apple products, magic refrigerators, etc. and the buyers were not satisfied with one item of the same product. I saw an elderly lady carry off three television sets in her almost already full shopping cart. Scenes like this were repeated mega-store after mega-store, in downtown and uptown, in shopping malls and strips.
This year the crowds were larger and larger because the traditional shopping bargains season had been extended from the day after Thanksgiving Thursday (Black Friday as it is traditionally called). Instead, the stores opened at midnight or even earlier, and the shoppers had to cut down on the time set apart to rest and give thanks to God, relatives and friends for all we have received from and through them, inviting as many as can do it to join in the preparation and consumption of the Thanksgiving turkey. Instead, many were thinking about those iPhones waiting at the superstore.
Now, I have never been accused of being a Puritan and I don't intend to become one. I envy the lady who was able to grab those phones and television sets, but I am too lazy and tired.
Still this year I felt that this shopping frenzy was a troubling revelation of a profound spiritual wound, a wound in our hearts that doesn't allow us to recognize what really can make us happy. Indeed we have lost our sense of the importance of the Sabbath, of Sunday, of worshipful celebration.
A Jewish friend of mine told me that, when his Jewish friends say that they must ignore the Sabbath in order to maintain a good standard of living for their elderly parent, wife and children, he invites him to his house to join him at his Sabbath meal. Then he takes them around his property that goes all the way down to the banks of the Hudson where you can see his pier and boat. Back in front of the house he shows them his two luxury cars and he says: "as you see the Sabbath, which I celebrate every week, has not hurt my standard of living."
Our concern for the world around us would be much easier if we were to regain respect for the Sabbath.
Lorenzo Albacete, "Thanksgiving/Human Feeding Frenzy", ilsussidiario.net, November 28, 2012
For what is it all about, this New Evangelization? What is really new about it? Is this still another pastoral trick, along the lines of all those "new" old products: the new toothpaste, the new soft drink, the new taco? Do we really have anything new to say? Should we?...
It is true that God seems to be making a comeback; and that "religion" has once again become fashionable. But is it the religion of the Biblical God? Of course not. That God seems to exist only in the mind of religious fanatics and psychological deviants. The fact is that what Feuerbach said last century still holds. The witness given by Christians, he said, was the testimony of a "great lack," a great need, an absence. They longed for the past that was gone forever. They lived, he said, "from the alms of centuries long gone by...."
Indeed, this may not correspond to your pastoral experience. There are still places where the situation is not as critical, where God still is perceived as a living, personal reality. But for how long?
For example, the collapse of Communism does not necessarily mean a victory for our God. Actually, communism had preached the existence of an absolute, of a god, namely Communist Man himself. Consider these words of Feuerbach again, who influenced Marx: "I do not say absolutely: God is nothing, the Trinity is nothing, etc.; I only show that these mysteries are not what theological illusion thinks. They are internal mysteries, and not external; mysteries of nature, and not of an external being ... (God is) the idea of the species conceived of as an individual." Revelation, he said, is summed up in these words: Homo homini Deus (from "The Essence of Christianity").
The ideology of atheist humanism is not dead; it has simply gone further than its communist phase by eliminating the god of the communist man. For the moment, it is being hampered by the emergence of the unresolved nationalistic and ethnic conflicts which communist dictatorships had suppressed, tied as they are to religion. It is also threatened by the strengthening of the Islamic consciousness. But with the help of science and technology at the service of consumerism, atheist humanism may overcome this latest set-back.
It would be a great mistake to believe that the people assigned to your pastoral care cannot fall victim to the way of thinking of atheist humanism. The culture of electronic communications makes it very difficult to protect ourselves. In any case, the cultural proposal of atheist humanism does not identify itself as such. The term itself is passé. Religion is tolerated, even welcomed in the new order, re-defined, of course, to serve its purposes. We shall have to understand this well, for it is at the heart of the blindness of many Church leaders to what is happening. It still gives them the illusion that they matter, that they have something to contribute.
The encounter between faith and this way of thinking is taking place at the level of language. It is a matter, as the novelist Walker Percy observed, of the "evacuation of the sign." "Words have been deprived of their meaning," Percy explains through the crazy priest in "The Thanatos Syndrome." The same words are used: love, justice, peace, spirituality, religion, God, man, family, and so forth. But they no longer mean what they once did. They mean less. Percy compares it to the devaluation of money: a hundred-dollar bill looks the same as it did ten years ago, but it is not worth nearly as much. As a symbol or sign of resources at our disposal, the devaluation is an example of the "evacuation of the sign." The crucial words that express how we experience no longer mean as much as they once did.
Another American Catholic novelist, Flannery O'Connor, wrote extensively about this problem. In one particular essay with great implications for the current debate on medical ethics, O'Connor pointed out how "tenderness" or "sentimentality" has taken the place of faith. "In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility, and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less," she wrote, "they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror" ("A Memoir of Mary Ann," in "Mystery and Manners").
This is an important observation. "Theory" has replaced fact. What does not fit the ruling theory is not acknowledged to exist; it is not even seen or perceived. That is why so many are unable to perceive the personhood of the unborn child or the terminally ill. "Theory" cannot account for what is unique and unrepeatable, what does not fit its expectations or prejudices. In the name of compassion or tenderness, wrapped in theory, the unborn and the terminally ill are killed. "Tenderness leads to the gas chambers," she said, a sentence repeated verbatim by Walker Percy without realizing that she had said the same thing. (Of course, it is the application of the technological and scientific way of thinking to all areas of reality that has led to the replacement of the unique and unrepeatable by "theory," for science cannot see the unique and unrepeatable, and technology is oriented to mass production, to large numbers.)
What does this imply for the Church, entrusted with the proclamation of the gospel, the gospel based on the Incarnation or embodiment of an absolutely unique and unrepeatable Word, the Word of God? Christianity is, above all, a "language event." It is about the embodiment of a Word, therefore about a meaning-full sign or symbol. What can we do then, if words no longer signify?
"Could you preach?" the psychiatrist in The Thanatos Syndrome asks the crazy priest. "Preach...," he answered, "no, no... because it doesn't signify." The psychiatrist asks him what he means. Does he mean that the words of the sermon and of the Mass no longer mean anything to people? Why? The priest replies: "Do you think that it is possible that words could be deprived of their meaning?" "What words," asks the doctor? "Name it!" says the priest, "Any word. Tom, USA, God, Simon, prayer, sin, heaven, world." The psychiatrist offers the explanation that perhaps the people have stopped believing in the things the words signify. But the priest answers: "It is not a question of belief or unbelief. Even if such things were all proved, if the existence of God, heaven, hell, sin were all proved as certainly as the distance to the sun is proved, it would make no difference...to people! To unbelievers and so-called believers...because the words no longer signify...the words have been deprived of their meaning."
In his book "Introduction to Christianity," Cardinal Ratzinger recalls the description of the pastoral situation given by Harvey Cox in "The Secular City." Cox compared our predicament to that of a circus clown in a new town who realizes that the town is threatened by an approaching forest fire. He runs into the town to warn the people without wasting the time to change his clown outfit. As a result, the do not take his warning seriously. They laugh. They think it is part of the circus propaganda. Our situation, comments Ratzinger, is actually worse. It is not just that our outfit, our "garb", our external appearance leads modern people to misinterpret our message. What has happened is that the people do not understand what the message is all about! Our words no longer signify. Following Cox's example, it is as if the people in the town did not even know what a fire was, or better, what they understood as fire was not what the clown had in mind.
This is the pastoral situation, I repeat, that led to the Second Vatican Council, and in the light of which we should consider and interpret is teachings. Pope Paul VI, whose approval gave to the Council its validity, said this clearly in his talk at the end of the Council's last session. In it, he also outlined the pastoral response of the Church. It was to be the "spirituality of the Good Samaritan," he said. Like the Samaritan, the Church appears as an outsider in the modern world. Still, it is only this outsider who will come to the help of wounded man, not its religious and political leaders. This has been the proposed pastoral agenda of the Church since the council, all the way to John Paul II's insistence that "man is the way for the Church." The Church will encounter the present age at the level of the discussion of what it means to be a human person.
But how? What language is the Church to use? How can it find the words to be understood? Part of her pastoral mission, therefore--at the heart of the New Evangelization--is the redemption of language itself! This is to be done, I propose, by the RETRIEVAL of the fundamental human experiences which our basic words express. It is a matter of "filling up the sign" with the experiences which the gospel words. And this is what we propose to do with our meditations this week: to retrieve the experience at the basis of the doctrine of the Church concerning what it means to be a Catholic priest. For the agenda proposed by the Council has been impeded by the discovery that the "mentality of theory" had also made great inroads within the Church itself. So much of what appeared to be the impressive edifice of Catholicism turned out to be as Feuerbach and others observed. And in spite of all kinds of post-conciliar programs and efforts, it continues as such, covered up now by Church activism. If the New Evangelization is not to be one more fruitless slogan, it has to start at this fundamental level of the retrieval of the foundational or defining Christian experiences. Nothing can be pre-supposed except what we proclaim in the first reading of the midnight mass for Christmas: "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly lusts, and in the present age to live sensibly and righteously and piously, expecting the blessed hope and appearance of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are eager to do what is good." (Titus 2, 11-14).
Lorenzo Albacete, from a retreat for priests, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1993
At first sight, the meaning of the parable just heard is obvious. Among the chosen people of God, its representatives declined the Invitation to celebrate the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. Some even killed those who brought them the invitation. As a result, the King, God, invited the gentiles, the outsiders, and many indeed accepted. Still, among these there are some that are not fit to be at the celebration. Those will be thrown out.
That's it, as far as it goes. The interesting question is what does it mean not to be "appropriately dressed" for the celebration? It is a matter of a wedding garment. Presumably the King had provided the opportunity for all to wear a wedding garment and this one person must have refused. What does the wedding garment stand for? That is the key, of course, to the meaning of the parable for us. How do we know we have not turned down the wedding garment?
One reason for the guest not to put on the wedding garment provided by the host is because he obviously saw no need to change from what he was wearing. Going along with the image of the parable, we could say that this one guest (who like all the others was not expecting the invitation) was dressed in a manner he thought was suitable for the celebration. In this case what Our Lord is saying is that even this outsider, who had no reason to expect the invitation, had such a high opinion of himself that he thought he was ready just like that to attend the wedding of the King's Son, and so He is warning us gentiles that the extension of the invitation to us does not mean that we can just come in as we are; that we have to change into the way of being present that is provided to us with the invitation.
And indeed, we know that is the case, for as St. Paul reminded the Romans, all have sinned, and all are deprived of the glory of God. The invitation to salvation comes with, or is itself a grace, a grace which empowers us to respond and makes us fit to enter into God's kingdom. It is like the wedding garment that the King provided to the guests who had not expected the invitation.
To understand this let us return to the parable. What we have to realize is that the comparison between the kingdom of God and a wedding feast is more than just a metaphor which could be replaced by another. "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who made a marriage feast for his son," the parable begins. This is a statement of remarkable depth. The "kingdom of heaven," that is, the world of God, the world of God where He lives, His own "private life," so to speak; as well as the world, our world, as God intended it when He created it, this world is the setting of the marriage feast prepared by the Father for His Eternal Son. We have here the answer to one of the most difficult questions that we could ever ask. Why was this world created? We believe it was created out of nothing, ex nihilo, as the doctrine states. I wonder if you have ever considered what an astounding belief this is. It is not astounding because it reveals God to be all-powerful in a way that we can't even imagine; the most stunning aspect of this doctrine is not the power of God that it affirms; the most profound question concerning a creation out of nothing is not "how," but "Why" was this world created. This is perhaps the most important question that could ever be asked: why is there being, existence, and not non-being, non-existence? Everything in our lives will be affected by the answer we give to this question. In this parable, Our Lord gives us the answer of Divine Revelation: the world, the universe, the cosmos was created because the Father willed to prepare a marriage feast for His Son. This universe was created for Jesus Christ; it is the expression of the Father's love for Him. It was created so that He could unite to himself forever men and women who would be his brothers and sisters; who would share His sonship, who would partake of His glory, "the glory of an Only-begotten Son full of grace and truth (Jn. 1,14)," (gloriam quasi Unigeniti a Patre, plenum gratiae et veritatis, as we end the Last Gospel at this Mass). In the Bible, this union of God with humankind and of Our Lord with His Church is seen as a wedding feast, the wedding feast of the Lamb. The world was created for this purpose; we were created for this purpose.
Now we can understand the need for a proper garment. The garment is our identity. We can only enter the kingdom if we have put on the Identity of Christ, the one for which we were created. This is what St. Paul tells us in today's Epistle: "Put on the new man, which has been created according to God in justice and holiness of truth." To put on the wedding garment, therefore, is to "put on Christ;" it is to be "conformed to His image," better, to be "re-conformed to His image," since sin has distorted this image in us. The need to repent from our sins and set them aside is therefore not simply a matter of morality, of obedience to a moral law for which we are rewarded with the kingdom of heaven. Once again we discover this important point: the Christian life may not be reduced to morality. The Christian life is about living the Identity of Christ in us. This is the purpose of the sacraments with their unique graces, to bring about this transformation of our identity. And so this is the purpose of this Mass and this holy communion; the Mass is not something just to be heard, or attended, or celebrated (however you prefer to express it), nor something only to be offered as if to pacify God; the Mass is a way, a form of life to be lived. We are here to be clothed with the garment that is Christ. Only then will we be able to enter the kingdom. And we must be wearing this garment outside this Church, in the world. For the invitation will come when we least expect it. And we know the consequences!
Lorenzo Albacete, Homily for a Tridentine Mass, October 18, 1992.
Why was the affirmation of a right to bear arms seen as necessary to defend the rights listed in the First Amendment…?
Were the founders worried about a counter-revolution? Organized and fought by whom? Or perhaps they realized that a Government elected democratically could turn tyrannical and violate the rights of the people affirmed in its constitution…
The problem with this way of defending human rights is that it is based on whoever holds the most deadly power, as the Second Amendment sees it. Indeed the only other way of defending these human rights is encouraging the dialogue that will help citizens see that these rights originate in man's relation to God as reason can grasp it when its scope of analysis is not reduced by ideologies of power sustained by violence.
In this country the debate about gun violence has dominated a large part of the public discussion (this past) week, but both sides can only refer to the problem of violence in the country… in terms of power to attack vs. power to defend…
Lorenzo Albacete, from "Sandy Hook and the right to bear arms," ilsussidiario.net, February 6, 2013
The purpose of a dialogue motivated by faith is not the discovery of a “common ground” between different or conflicting opinions. Rather the purpose is the common love for truth and the deepening of the bonds of solidarity that this devotion to reality creates. The first moment of such a dialogue is an affirmation of the value of the quest itself.
This was clear in the Pope’s speeches during his visit to the United States. In his meeting with followers of different religious traditions at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC, the Holy Father praised the United States for its respect of religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is not a problem to be overcome; it is a reality in the human quest for truth. From this perspective, dialogue expresses the conviction that such pluralism does not mean that there is no ultimate truth or that we will never be able to know it with certainty. Dialogue requires confidence in its success!
Indeed, faith in Christ is a form of knowledge that comes to know truth in Him. Faith allows us to recognize Christ as the Incarnate Truth, and it inspires us to seek to know Him more and more. It’s like falling in love with someone—you seek to discover the one you love in the contacts he or she has with other people. We have encountered the truth in Christ, but precisely because of this certainty, there is so much we want to know. The Holy Father spoke about the ardor with which faith propels our passion in reason’s quest for truth. This determination not to give up in the search for truth is one of our main contributions to the dialogue.
Lorenzo Albacete, from "Toward an Authentic Dialogue," Traces: Communion and Liberation International Magazine, no. 7, 2008
I think that it is possible to speak of a “value field,” a “judgment field” or a way of being field” associated with every person. Our own field determines how we look at things, what we consider good or bad, beautiful or ugly, just or unjust. In a sense we can say that each of us is a value field. The moment something or someone comes to our awareness, it “feels” the effect of our field, that is, it will be judged or valued by us. We will say, not immediately perhaps, but often using the characteristics of our field, (applying our “field equations” as it were) we will say: “I agree, I disagree, I like you, it is wrong, it is fair, etc...”
Everyone has a field, everyone has a reason for living, everyone has reasons for doing as they do, for hoping as they hope, for judging as they judge. To say that things have no meaning is contradicting because such a statement is in itself more meaningful to you than to say that there is meaning—just like the man who says “there is not law” without realizing that that is much a law as any other.
So you see, this mystery is inescapable, it is always present, we cannot hide from it. It is, in fact, almost a field itself. A field which judges us, which is present in all that we do or think. We are silent before it, because we know it is greater than us. And yet, it is an attractive field. The force, which we feel when we become aware of this field, is a force of attraction: it is a call that leads us on and on without ever exhausting itself. But we are not objects, we are persons. Therefore, the call of this field is a call to a person—for only two persons can truly call each other.
Lorenzo Albacete, from "The Existence of God," St. Catherine's Parish, Wheaton, Maryland, December 12, 1967
Recent times have been marked by devastating tornadoes and other natural disasters that have stunned the American people. Amidst the issues discussed and questions raised in the news media’s coverage of all this horror, the ultimate question was bound to arise in its many forms. Why? This is how Pope John Paul II put it in the first book ever published by a Pope, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, published (1994):
This question "is the source of recurring doubt not only in regard to the goodness of God but also in regard to His very existence. How could God have permitted so many wars, concentration camps, the Holocaust? Is the God who allows all of this still truly Love, as Saint John proclaims in his First Letter? Indeed, is He just with respect to His creatures? Doesn’t He place too many burdens on the shoulders of individuals? Doesn’t He leave man alone with these burdens, condemning him to a life without hope? So many incurably ill people in hospitals, so many handicapped children, so many human lives completely denied ordinary happiness on this earth, the happiness that comes from love, marriage, and family."
It seems a list that could go on forever.
All of these questions were asked in recent weeks, even by representatives of the secular media. These, of course, had no answers, but who can blame them? Public officials dealt with the question by referring to the new formula about their "thoughts and prayers" to be elevated to an unidentified god. Some of the suffering victims continued to affirm their faith in God, even in Jesus Christ. And, in a way, it was moving when they did so before the sympathetic and in some cases patronizing gaze of the anchors and reporters. The suffering proclaimed their faith, but it seemed to require the silencing of a critical mind. The Protestant split between faith and reason was so clear to me, and so painful.
Here then is the John Paul II’s treatment of the question. Of course, it is not an answer, because the question touches a Mystery that exceeds our capacity to understand it, as Job learned. Still, this line of thought may be useful: "Stat crux dum volvitur orbis (The Cross remains constant while the world turns)."
That is, the drama of the defeat of Satan (of evil in this world enthroned in fallen nature) becomes present as time moves on toward eternity. John Paul II writes that “we find ourselves at the center of the history of salvation.” In us, the freedom of the spirit and the processes of nature are inexorably bound. In fact, in creating this kind of “free” creature, the evil resulting from our free initiatives disturbs nature, and the evil caused by natural processes reaches our inner life. Indeed, God has put Himself under the judgment of man and the history of salvation currently taking place in our world is in fact the history of our continual judgment of God.
"Could God have justified Himself before human history, so full of suffering, without placing the Cross of Christ at the center of human history?" "Love desires to justify Himself to mankind," explains the Pope. "He is not the Absolute that remains outside of the world, indifferent to human suffering." He shares the destiny of man fully. The divine omnipotence, the omnipotence of His love is shown when He descends into hell and brings to it an anticipation of His Easter victory. He is the measure with which we must judge the suffering of the world.
Lorenzo Albacete, "While the World Turns," Traces: Communion and Liberation International Magazine, no. 6, 2013
My proposal to you is this: something has happened in our society, our country, our world such that there has been a change in our experience of what it means to be a human person. More precisely: our experience has been diminished; an aspect of it that was there is no longer there! It has been suppressed. (Do not be deceived by our growth in awareness of human rights, of the rights of individuals. Maybe there has been such a growth and this is very good. But I suggest to you that persons may have more rights acknowledged today than in the past, but personhood itself has been diminished. It no longer means as much as it did before. Something terrible has happened, and that is what lies behind our problems.)
What we have, then, is a failure in awareness. There are aspects of the life of persons of which we once were aware but are not any more. All the people who support euthanasia and assisted suicide are not evil. (The same goes for abortion.) Oh yes, some are and some will always be. As I said, that is not the problem. The problem is not really a moral problem at all! No one is saying that we were better morally in the past, when no one thought about the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide or abortion. In so many other areas (take slavery, for example, and other forms of legalized racism) people today exhibit a better moral disposition than before. The problem is at another level, to repeat, the level of awareness, of experience. There has been an impoverishment in our experience of the meaning of personhood.
In order to explain it let me turn to a theatre play, to a drama. Actually, it is the story of a real person. This man, called Adam (that was his name in real life!), suddenly discovered the extent of the misery in which so many people in his city lived. The experience overwhelmed him and from that moment on it tormented him not to know how best to respond to it. He was an artist, a painter, very well established in society, very successful. He thought about and discussed the situation with his friends. He considered giving everything he owned to the poor. He thought about using his influence to speak for them and demand recognition of their plight. He thought about possible economic and political solutions to the problem. He was even strongly attracted by revolution. One of the characters in the play with which he discusses the problems is called "The Other." According to the playwright, The Other represented "pure intelligence," namely, the ability to formulate problems logically in order to solve them. The Other keeps insisting that Adam is not acting responsibly by considering all kinds of dramatic emotional responses to what is, in fact, a social problem to be dealt with intelligently through analysis and logical solutions. Adam is convinced that is not enough. On one occasion Adam sees a destitute man by the lamp post and when he points him out to The Other, it turns out that The Other cannot see him! He's not interested in him! He's "gone past him," he says. Adam then suddenly makes an important discovery: Intelligence can deal with ''the poor" an abstract category, but it cannot even see a concrete, unique, unrepeatable poor person! Intelligence cannot grasp concrete persons. For Intelligence, persons are simply individual samples of a larger category with which it can deal both to understand and to solve problems. Intelligence goes "past" the concrete person present before it at a precise place and moment in order to worry about the generality, the abstraction! Adam, realizing this, says that he is glad to be free from "the tyranny of intelligence."
Going back to our topic, I suggest to you that our problem is this: we are living under the tyranny of intelligence. We have lost the ability to perceive the presence of a concrete, unique, and unrepeatable person. We "go past" the concrete into abstractions, generalizations, "problems" to be analyzed and solved. We have reduced our thinking to what can be grasped in such a way that technology can provide solutions to problems. That which once was held to be only a way of knowing applicable to certain situations has become our dominant, indeed our only way of knowing! No one denies the value of the scientific way of knowing which must abstract and generalize in order to understand and make problems solvable through technology. The problem is that this way of knowing has become the only one we have. And remember, persons are invisible to this way of perceiving reality. Only that which can be a replaceable part of a larger grouping is perceived; the rest is ignored; it is not even seen.
Lorenzo Albacete, from "Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the Tyranny of Intelligence," Lecture date and location unknown.
In certain circles I’m known as a mystic. (Well, actually, one person thought I was one.) A few years ago I went to lunch with this person who thought I was a full-blown mystic and I was feeling depressed, down, sad, nervous, afraid, worthless, exhausted, paralyzed, and finished. I told her and she said: "You are going through the dark night of the soul."
"That can’t be," I said. I explained that in terms of "mystical stages" I had not even approached the moat of the Interior Castle, and that I was lost in the plains hundreds of miles away from Mount Carmel. She, however, said the dark night felt like that.
And so went our lunch conversation to the amazement of the people at the table next to us who heard everything. When I finally got home that night I checked my mail and found a letter from a friend whom I had not heard from in years. My friend said that he had won a little money in the lottery and wanted to thank the Lord by sending me a cheque "for my private charities" (namely me!). A cheque for one thousand dollars was enclosed.
I immediately felt wonderful, excited, happy, confident, bold, refreshed, energetic, and daring. I called my lunch friend and told her I had discovered a new mystical stage, the one in which I was at lunch. It was the dark night of the wallet. Now I had surpassed it, I said, wrapped in the brilliant light of wealth.
I remembered this when I read the Catechism’s introduction to the Our Father.
One usually associates advanced prayer with all kinds of weird emotions and trances characteristic of so-called "mystics." And yet, the greatest mystics of the Catholic Church have always said that in prayer it is impossible to surpass the Our Father, for it is the prayer that surpasses all, the Lord’s own prayer!
Now I find that quite an amazing thing. Just think of it: the prayer taught to us by Jesus, taught to us by Him Who is the Eternal and Pure Word from and to the Invisible Father, the prayer taught to us by Him Who is Light from Light, true God from true God, contains a petition for those who hunger - not for Truth, or the Good, or the Beautiful, or the Immortal, or the Eternal - but for bread, for earthly food, which we must have "this day" or we will die. I really like that!
Here is the heart of the Mystery of the Christian faith: Verbum caro factum est, the Word was made flesh, mortal flesh, flesh and bones. The Word became a fact (factum) of this world. And henceforth, the highest, most sublime, most "spiritual," prayer of all concerns our needs in this world, the needs of the flesh.
How different this is from the escapist and otherworldly ethos of "religious souls" not bound to earth by the historical fact of the Incarnation. Indeed, the "dark night of the wallet" is acknowledged in the Our Father (the dark night of having nothing with which to buy food and clothing and pay rent so as to live a decent life on this earth) more than any "dark night of the soul" (the absence of the Eternal Presence).
Sure, the main petition of the Our Father is the glory of God, the praise of God (sanctificetur Nomen Tuum), the establishment of the rule or kingdom of God, the realization of His will: but all of this "on earth as it is in heaven." The Eternal Son prays that earth be turned into the heaven where His Father is!
But human life on earth is not only a matter of eating. There is another aspect of earthly, daily life without which it becomes subhuman. It is our need of others, life in companionship with others, with friends, our need for acceptance and love. And this too is His petition as taught to us. He teaches us to pray that we experience forgiveness and mercy so that we can extend it to others and heal the wounds that hurt human friendships and life together.
And yes, there is that ever-present threat. Everything seems so fragile, so uncertain. One terrible but very brief moment, a second, and it is all over. Tragedy strikes, and life seems no longer worth anything. This is the greatest of temptations: the temptation to despair, to give up. We cannot live without hope. And so the Lord’s prayer includes that too: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
And nothing else is asked for, because nothing else is needed to make of this our earth a good home for our flesh and bones, the "groaning of the present age." No wonder the Lord said that those who think that progress in prayer is a matter of adding more and more words are wrong. His prayer is so incredibly brief, so simple, so basic, so innocent even, that it can be learned and said by a little child. And that is indeed the point, isn’t it? Unless you become like this child you cannot enter the kingdom. It can also be said by the poor and the tired, who have no energy and no resources for programs in “spirituality.” That is why, as the Catechism reminds us, the Our Father is “the summary of the whole gospel."
One last point: divine life is communicated to us sacramentally, that is, through realities and events in this world, “in the flesh.” It makes sense, therefore, that the Our Father, as the prayer of the flesh, be an integral part of our sacramental life. That is why the rites of the “sacraments of initiation” contain the “handing on of the Lord’s prayer," and it occupies an important place in the Eucharist.
Lorenzo Albacete, from an article on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, date and publication unknown.
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