Tag Archives: Vatican II

Rahner and the Mysticism of Everyday Life – January 8, 2016

In the mid-20th century a movement arose among certain German and French Catholic theologians to reform the Neo-Scholasticism in Catholic thought and teaching. (that is, the 19th century, modern-era revival of the original medieval Scholasticism, ie, the influence of St.Thomas Aquinas’ writings in theology and philosophy.) This loosely based movement of Catholic theologians became known, and criticized, as the Nouvelle Theologie, or the “New Theology.” They themselves, however, generally preferred the term Ressourcement, or a “return to the sources.” The main thrust of the movement was to develop a theology by returning to the original sources of Scripture and the Church fathers, a positive theology, to not shun the modern world, to have a more critical attitude towards Neo-Scholasticism, and to anthropologize theology. Some of the theologians often associated with the movement included 20th century Catholic luminaries as Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Jean Danielou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Karl Rahner. Their ideas became a strong counter-balance to the well-entrenched neo-Scholastic ideas of the 19th century Catholic thought. Moreover, their movement and their ideas carried a strong impact in the writings and reforms enacted in the Second Vatican Council. For that reason alone we should seek to understand their origins and impacts upon modern Catholicism in the post-conciliar world, a post-mortem analysis if you will. Yet, even though they had great influence in the Church Council and were among the preeminent Catholic theologians of the 20th century, they were not without criticism. Critics, such as French Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, accused them of not “returning to the sources” but of starting a “new theology” disguising within it the errors of Modernity, Relativism, and Positivism. This criticism is not without merit. Pope Pius XII even issued an encyclical in 1950, Humani Generis, “The Human Race,” primarily in response to and criticizing the Nouvelle Theologie and warning against the dangers of Modernism’s influence upon theology. Nevertheless, many of the reforms promulgated by Vatican II were influenced by their ideas, which liberalized and modernized many aspects of the Church and the liturgy; focused on Ecumenicalism and the call to holiness for the Laity. Following Vatican II, the Nouvelle Theologie movement basically broke into two camps of divergent ideas, one more progressive and one more traditional, the spirit of which are still at work.

Karl Rahner is typically bunched into the more progressive camp. His primary body of work is his vast 24 volumes of “Theological Investigations.” Yet, as great as a Catholic thinker that he was, not all of his ideas or theological writings are considered orthodox, in fact, just the opposite. Some of his theological notions have been spurned as a watering down and a trivializing of orthodoxy, and been outright rejected. He is often criticized for theories such as the Transcendental-Anthropological Method and Anonymous Christians, that some argue relativize the truths of Christianity. He also studied under the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and was influenced by his Existentialism. In his own defense, Rahner claimed to absolutely not contradict the Magisterium of the Church at all, but simply, he tried to view it in a new light. For better or for worse, he had a tremendous impact on the Council and the post-Conciliar world of Catholic thought. [As a note, this article is in no way an endorsement of all of his views and ideas.]

On the other hand, there are certain aspects of Rahner’s writings that are appealing, such as his emphasis, in line with Jesuit Ignatius spirituality, that God can be found everywhere in everyday life. As he wrote, God can “come to meet us in the streets of the world.” Harvey Egan referred to this as Rahner’s “mysticism of everyday life.” He referred to Jesus Christ as the primordial sacrament (“Ursakrament”), and the Church as the basic sacrament (“Grundsakrament”). Yet, according to Rahner, grace is everywhere. Again, this is an area that he has been criticized for by traditionalists. This “uncreated grace” manifests itself throughout history and is at work with mankind everywhere. He says, “The simple and honestly accepted everyday life contains in itself the eternal and the silent mystery, which we call God and his secret grace, especially when this life remains the everyday.” The sacraments themselves are the explicit, ecclesiastical and historical manifestations of this sanctifying grace through the person of Jesus Christ. They are still decisive, efficacious acts for the salvation of the individual. The Church sacraments are the “epiphanization” of the sacraments of everyday life. He views the sacraments and the liturgy as specific manifestations, of this grace found everywhere, as the climax of salvation history.

Rahner believes these should not be seen as isolated interventions of grace into our lives but symbolic expressions of this “liturgy of the world,” that is, God’s continual self-communication everywhere and our free acceptance of it. According to Rahner, the liturgy of the Church is the real symbol of the liturgy of the world. In this sense, God can be encountered in the banality of life, in its repetitious cycles, and every day routines, or in his words, “is seen by man in his dreary existence only through a haze, obscured by the banal ordinariness of life.” In this, Rahner concludes, we Christians, must become “mystics” of ordinary life, partaking in the “experiential grace” of the absolute mystery of God. Even the “most common small things” has the “imprint of the eternal God.” He continues, “People who place their small time into the heart of eternity, which they already carry within, will suddenly realize that even small things have inexpressible depths, are messengers of eternity, are always more than they appear to be, are like drops of water in which is reflected the entire sky, like signs pointing beyond themselves, like messengers running ahead of the message they are carrying and announcing the coming of eternity..” The mysticism of everyday life encompasses even the most humble of actions, such as working, eating, sleeping, sitting, walking, laughing, etc. Every moment of every day has the potential to be an encounter with God. Rahner considers this the “more excellent way” of love that St.Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13, where love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor.13:7) To Rahner, there is nothing profane in the ordinary, but when we surrender in everything to the mystery of God, His Spirit will be with us in our everyday life. So, whether you appreciate his writings or think he borders on heretical, Rahner at least beautifully captures the idea of living with God and for God in our everyday existence.

What follows are excerpts from one of Rahner’s meditations called “God of My Daily Routine.”

“I should like to bring the routine of my daily life before You, O Lord, to discuss the long days and tedious hours that are filled with everything else but You.”

“Look upon us men, who are practically nothing else but routine.”

“What will become of me, dear God, if my life goes on like this? What will happen to me when all the crates are suddenly swept out of the warehouse? How will I feel at the hour of my death? Then there will be no more “daily routine”; then I shall suddenly be abandoned by all the things that now fill up my days here on earth. And what will I myself be at that hour, when I am only myself and nothing else?   My whole life long I have been nothing but the ordinary routine, all business and activity, a desert filled with empty sound and meaningless fury. But when the heavy weight of death one day presses down upon my life and squeezes the true and lasting content out of all those many days and long years, what will be the final yield?”

“..the genuine yield of my ungenuine life will be only a few blessed moments, made luminous and living by Your grace.”

“That’s why I now see clearly that, if there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the very middle of my ordinary daily life. If I should try to flee to You by any other way, I’d actually be leaving myself behind, and that, aside from being quite impossible, would accomplish nothing at all. But is there a path through my daily life that leads to You? Doesn’t this road take me ever farther away from You? Doesn’t it immerse me all the more deeply in the empty noise of worldly activity, where You, God of Quiet, do not dwell?”

“Do I come into Your presence just because this life has revealed its true face to me, finally admitting that all is vanity, all is misery?”

“O God, it seems we can lose sight of You in anything we do. Not even prayer, or the Holy Sacrifice, or the quiet of the cloister, not even the great disillusion with life itself can fully safeguard us from this danger. And thus it’s clear that even these sacred, non-routine things belong ultimately to our routine. It’s evident that routine is not just a part of my life, not even just the greatest part, but the whole. Every day is “everyday.” Everything I do is routine, because everything can rob me of the one and only thing I really need, which is You, my God.”

“But on the other hand, if it’s true that I can lose You in everything, it must also be true that I can find You in everything. If You have given me no single place to which I can flee and be sure of finding You, if anything I do can mean the loss of You, then I must be able to find You in every place, in each and every thing I do.”

“Thus I must seek You in all things. If every day is “everyday,” then every day is Your day, and every hour is the hour of Your grace. Everything is “everyday” and Your day together.”

“Only through Your help can I be an “interior” man in the midst of my many and varied daily tasks. Only through You can I continue to be in myself with You, when I go out of myself to be with the things of the world.”

“It is only the love of You, my Infinite God, which pierces the very heart of all things, at the same time transcending them all and leaping upwards into the endless reaches of Your Being, catching up all the lost things of earth and transforming them into a hymn of praise to Your Infinity.”

“In Your love all the diffusion of the day’s chores comes home again to the evening of Your unity, which is eternal life. This love, which can allow my daily routine to remain routine and still transform it into a home-coming to You, this love only You can give. So what should I say to You now, as I come to lay my everyday routine before You? There is only one thing I can beg for, and that is Your most ordinary and most exalted gift, the grace of Your Love.”

“Touch my heart with this grace, O Lord. When I reach out in joy or in sorrow for the things of this world, grant that through them I may know and love You, their Maker and final home. You who are Love itself, give me the grace of love, give me Yourself, so that all my days may finally empty into the one day of Your eternal Life.”

Laborers in the Vineyard (the Vocation of the Laity) – October 23, 2015

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; “and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’” (Mt. 20:1-7)

God is calling each of us to work in His vineyard. Just as the landowner in the parable hires laborers, so too, Jesus says to us, “You also go into the vineyard.” The vineyard, of course, is an allusion to the world around us. God is the landowner, and we are His potential laborers. And, what is God’s work in the vineyard? Jesus Himself answers this saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29) Later on, just before His final Ascension into Heaven, Jesus gives the “Great Commission,” telling His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) The work Jesus commands us to do in the vineyard is to spread His Gospel, the Good News, to the whole world. We are to herald the Kingdom of God. This is the universal mission of the Church. Christianity is not confined to any one region, or to any one people, or to any one time, but the Gospel is meant for all. Our labor in the vineyard is to evangelize all peoples for the salvation of souls. This is the harvest. From the time that Jesus spoke those words, 2,000 years ago, till now, it is estimated that approximately fifty billion (or 50,000,000,000) people have lived. Today alone, the world has over seven billion (or 7,000,000,000+) people. Now, that is a lot of grapes! As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Mt. 9:37) And so, we see in the parable, the landowner keeps coming out to the marketplace in the hours throughout the day each time to call for more laborers.* It doesn’t matter what “hour” we are called; whether in the early morning or in the late afternoon, whether early in life or late in life, God is calling us just the same, now, at this hour, urgently, “You also go into the vineyard.”

“You” is, in fact, us. The vast majority of “us” are the lay faithful of the Church, or the laity. In a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Pope John Paul II, addressed the vocation and the mission of the laity in the document, Christifideles Laici, or “Christ’s Lay Faithful.” It explains the “unique character of their vocation” to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.” (CL 9; LG 31) We, the lay faithful, are to live the Christian life in the midst of the world by bringing our spiritual values to our temporal surroundings. We need not recoil from the world or embrace all aspects of it, but should live out our Christian vocation in whatever state we find ourselves. The Exhortation says the lay faithful “contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven.” (CL 15; LG 31) God has assigned us an insider job! We are Christ’s leaven sprinkled throughout the “dough” of the world, specifically into the particular areas and communities that He has sent us. By definition, yeast is to have an “altering or transforming influence.” Jesus Himself compared the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast in making bread, saying even though only a little yeast was used, it “permeated every part of the dough.” (Mt.13:33) And, so it is with us. The laity is to have a transforming influence, like yeast, upon the whole world. Jesus also proclaims us the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” (Mt. 5:13,14) These are strong words showing the unique dignity of our vocation as Christians. We would do well to remember the great significance Jesus placed on His disciples. The laity is called to shine that significance and that dignity in the people around us by fostering a “Christian animation of the temporal order.” (CL, 36) This call is even more urgent today. In the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People”), the Council recognized the great need in modern times for an “infinitely broader and more intense” lay apostolate. (AA, 1) Before Jesus would come to a town He sent pairs of disciples ahead of Him to preach to them and prepare them. (Lk. 10:1) So too, “It is the Lord who is again sending them [us] into every town and every place where He Himself is to come.” (AA, 33) We are His messengers still, sent to prepare the way before Him.

God sends us into the vineyard to work for the salvation of each person. Each of us is “unique and irrepeatable.” (CL, 28) We have distinct identities, character, and actions, which, in total, will never be repeated again. Each of us is unique in the history of the world. There will never be another one of you.  We have a unique and irrepeatable contribution to make.  We were all a distinct and individual thought in the mind of God before our creation. As the prophet said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5) God calls us personally by name. The Church exhorts, “from eternity God has thought of us and has loved us as unique individuals. Every one of us He called by name, as the Good Shepherd ‘calls his sheep by name’ (Jn.10:3).” (CL, 58) We receive our dignity as individual persons from Him, for this is the image of God within us. The personhood (“I”) in our consciousness, our minds and souls, is derived from the personhood of God (“I Am”). Thus, our dignity as an individual person is our “most precious possession.” (CL37) It is for this reason that the Church fulfills her mission in the world primarily through the person and in service to all humanity. (CL, 36) All human life is precious. And so, part of the way the laity evangelizes the world is in upholding our basic human rights and promoting a culture of life, not death. The laity must evangelize on the unique, unrepeatable, and inviolable dignity of each person as an image of God; in short, with an authentic humanism. (CL, 38)

Man is important because of our foundational dignity in Christ. He is the source and the primordial sacrament. Jesus references this when He says, I am the vine, you are the branches,” and “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn.15:5) We are unique and irrepeatable, but we are also, in some way connected as one with Jesus as part of His mystical body. The Church recognizes the “extraordinary and profound fact that ‘through the Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion to every person.’” (CL 36; GS 22) This is an under-appreciated fact of our religion. Because the infinite God became man, we are now connected in our humanity back to God through the human nature of Jesus Christ. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” (ie, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) refers to this unity between God and Man, via the Incarnation, in the human nature of Jesus Christ. It says, “Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare.” (GS, 22) Christ, the Son of God, has lived the same human existence as us in the ordinary conditions of life. The magisterium teaches that the laity can “through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with Him.” (AA, 4) We can live in unity with Christ by living out our vocation in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. As the Word of God entered human history, He recapitulated everything in Himself. (GS, 38) So, by gathering up “all things in Him” (Eph.1:10), Jesus sanctified and redeemed human nature. We, the laity especially, can achieve holiness by living “above all in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.” (GS, 38) Our daily activities are actually occasions for us to join ourselves with God. (CL, 17) Christ ennobled the dignity of work by using the labor of His hands in the carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth. When we offer our work up to God, through faith, it is ennobled in association with the work of Christ. (GS, 67; CL 43) In our work, in our leisure, in our sufferings, and in all of our activities, we can unite ourselves ever more intimately with God in our every day lives. Each day is another opportunity to work for the plentiful harvest in the vineyard. And so, here now again, we the lay-faithful, must follow that resounding call of the Lord echoing through the centuries, “You also go into the vineyard.”

*There is an interesting juxtaposition of the hours of calling the laborers matching the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Common Priesthood of the Faithful – 18 August 2015

Do you know that you are a priest? Many of us Catholics are unaware of our own priesthood. Yet, this office of priesthood was conferred upon us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and later again, reaffirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Of course, most of us are far more familiar with the first aspect of the Baptismal rite. That is, when we are immersed into the baptismal water, or the water is poured over our heads – and we’re blessed three times in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By this sacred rite, we are made into “a new creation” (Rom.5:17), our sin forgiven, and “grafted into the paschal mystery of Christ.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6) For as Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) However, there is a second aspect to the Baptismal rite, in which we are anointed with the holy chrism oil. Then, as the holy unction is applied to our heads, the priest or deacon prays over us, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His holy people, sharing everlasting life.” And with that anointing, we become sharers in Christ’s threefold offices of priest, prophet and king. In particular, a share in the eternal priesthood of Christ is stamped upon our souls. This is not a metaphorical or allegorical priesthood, but a true priesthood; Christ’s priestly character is indelibly marked upon our souls. We should absorb this idea to the very core of our being: You are a priest!

The priesthood of the faithful is not an obscure idea. The Magisterium itself spells out the priestly nature of our Christian vocation. The Catechism refers to the “whole community of believers” that “through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation” are “consecrated to be ..a holy priesthood.” (CCC 1546) We, as Catholics, are definitely use to thinking of a strict separation of powers between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the laity; the former, with priestly powers, and the latter, without. Part of this is from the emphasis, and perhaps over-correction, by the Church and the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and the Protestants of the 16th century rebelled, of course, against the Catholic hierarchy and the validity of the Sacraments, among other things. In defense, and rightly so, of Apostolic succession, the Priesthood and the Sacraments, some of these ideas, such as a priestly community of believers, were somewhat forgotten. Now, centuries later, this is part of the spirit of Vatican II in trying to recover these long-faded notions and empowering the laity. Documents such as Lumen Gentium, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” and later, Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici, or “The lay Faithful,” are attempts, partially, at retrieving this common priesthood of the faithful.  Of course, this idea goes back way beyond the Middle Ages too. It goes all the way back to the Apostles and the Bible itself. Even St.Peter, the chief Apostle, passionately implores us as if we could hear him now, “..and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.2:5) Later, he again tries to impress upon us, and emphatically so, the ontological nature of who we truly are, “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..’” (1 Pet.2:9) This is unequivocal and direct. It should really shake us to our foundation, and awaken us from any stupor that there’s nothing special in being a Christian. We should remind ourselves often of our dignity through Christ. Clearly, this was not a foreign concept to the Apostles then or to the Magisterium now. It is a consistent dogma understood throughout the history of the Church: all baptized believers are priests of Christ.

But then, what does it mean to be a priest? And how do we, as the laity, exercise this common priesthood today? The Protestants of the 16th century clearly committed a grave error in dismissing the ecclesiastical priesthood. As the saying goes, they threw the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, they gutted the Church to undo some Clericalism. Yet, in a sense, as bad as that is, they helped to restore, perhaps indirectly over time, the charism of the lay faithful. Now, there are two participations – which we Catholics understand to differ, in essence – in the one priesthood of Christ: One being the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests; and the other, the common priesthood of the faithful. The ministerial priesthood is at service to the common priesthood by building up and leading the Church, and administering the Sacraments. Moreover, the ministerial priest, by virtue of Holy Orders, acts “in persona Christi Capitis.” (CCC1548). That is, Christ Himself – in the priest – is present to His Church. Yet, we the laity, are also priests. We participate in both the one, eternal priesthood of Christ as well as the salvific mission of the Church. But, how to do this? As the New Evangelization is calling us, we have to rediscover, if you will, the way the first apostles and disciples lived this common priesthood. As priests, we are to offer praise and sacrifice to God in intercession for ourselves and for the salvation of others. We are to be charitable. And so, in a very real way, we can offer mediation for the sins and unbelief in ourselves and members of our family, our friends, or really anyone in the world, or in purgatory for that matter. Our lives should be a dynamic interaction of presenting ourselves to God through holiness, prayer and sacrifice. St.Peter’s instruction should be our mantra; to be a “royal priesthood,” by building up ourselves as “spiritual houses,” and offering “spiritual sacrifices.” This is the key to our common priesthood of the faithful.

Bearing in mind the priestly nature of our Christian vocation as well, St.Paul exhorts the Romans, “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Rom.12:1) We should consecrate our ordinary, daily lives to God. We should offer up all that we do each day as a sacrifice to God on behalf of ourselves and for each other. The Magisterium again points the way. Lumen Gentium and the Catechism exhort the laity, “For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (LG 34/CCC901) Our priesthood is a priesthood of the ordinary. Our sacrifices are spiritual ones, offered up and borne within the daily routines of our ordinary lives. The beauty of the priesthood of the faithful is that we can carry out our sacrifices in the midst of whatever situation we are living in. Our priesthood does not require an altar or a temple per se, but only the simple moments of our ordinary lives, consecrated within the temples of our bodies and souls. Our family life, our jobs, our commutes, our joys, our stresses, our relaxation, even our simple actions, walking, breathing, all can be consecrated and offered to God. As many as the varied activity of a person’s life – no matter how small or how mundane – so can be offered up as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. We can exercise our priesthood in cooking dinner and cleaning the house. Indeed, we should consecrate to God all of our activities for the whole day – each day – starting first thing in the morning and until we go to sleep. Our priesthood is simple. It’s lived out in the ordinary implements and raw materials that we find in each day in the midst of the world. But, in order for our priestly actions to be efficacious they must be united with the one, true priest, Jesus Christ, and His life and culmination in the sacrifice of the Cross. For as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches… because without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We simply must offer the intention of living these – our daily lives, actions, thoughts, deeds – for God.  This is the mission of the laity, in the common priesthood of the faithful, to unite our lives – wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing – with that of Jesus Christ, and by virtue of our priesthood, offer up ourselves as spiritual sacrifices. In this way we can build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and plead for the salvation of others. For as the Magisterium teaches, “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” (LG34/CCC901)