Friday, February 15, 2013

“The life of men is made up of many and varied activities. Deep in the heart of men is the longing, fitfully glimpsed and but half realized, to gather up all these strivings into an intense pursuit of one all-embracing objective worthy of the toil and tears and devotion of the human heart.  Such is the half-shaped dream; but the reality is a picture of heaped-up activities, where the trivial jostles the less trivial, and the less trivial elbows the important things, and there is no unity of design, nor any intensity of single, concentrated purpose.”-Karl Rahner, “On Prayer

            During this time of lent we are reminded of our brokenness, and dependence on the love of God.  It is often easy, as Rahner points out, to find ourselves worrying over that which does not matter and caring little over those things which matter the most.  In this way we become broken and fragmented in various number of activities which occupy our day; trying to search for that which is meaningful in that which lacks meaning and neglecting that which give meaning to that which lacks meaning.  The reason we lack the one object which is worthy of the human heart is because we fail to look at the goal of the human heart, which is to rest within the love of God.  This consists in nothing less than responding to the love of the cross with our own gift of self.  “You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” (St. Augustine, Confession 1).  This is the ultimate goal of the human person, to love God with his whole being, “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is your God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). 

            When we begin to integrate this love for God, which is only possible after we recognize God’s love for us, it fills every moment of our day with meaning and purpose. The purpose is to express the fruits of love that flow from the cross, recognizing it as a gift to all.  Sometimes this dependence can harden up our hearts for we desire to save ourselves, to give ourselves our own purpose and fulfillment.  In short we desire to make ourselves into gods.  This leads us to trying to absorb the other into our being instead of giving ourselves to the other.  This attitude fills the heart with vices which do not belong to our nature. 

“Pride for instance—even pride apes sublimity, whereas you are the only God, most high above all things.  As for ambition, what does it crave but honors and glory, while you are worthy of honor beyond all others, and eternally glorious?  The ferocity of powerful men aims to inspire fear; but who is to be feared except the one God?  Can anything be snatched from his power or withdrawn from it—when or where or whither or by whom?  Flirtatiousness aims to arouse love by charming wiles but nothing can hold more charm than your charity…Sloth pretends to aspire to rest but what sure rest is there save the Lord?  Lush living likes to be taken for contented abundance, but you are the full and inexhaustible store of a sweetness that never grows stale…Envy is contentious over rank accorded to another, but what ranks higher than you?  Anger seeks revenge, but who ever exacts revenge with grater justice than yourself?...Sadness pines at the loss of the good things with which greed took its pleasure, because it wants to be like you from whom nothing can be taken away.” (St. Augustine, Confessions).

As St. Augustine points out in this passage, no matter how we act, we must either conform to the will of God and find rest within him by recognizing who we are, or we must turn away from God and attempt to take his place.  This is because we are made in the image and likeness of God and we cannot escape the reality of participating with God or attempting to become gods. 

            When we decide to become gods ourselves the human heart begins to feed upon itself.  “It becomes like the welter of vanities, a sour well of bitterness and despair, a prison from which there is no escape.” (Rahner, On Prayer).    Some modern philosophers say that this is the dignity of man, a life of despair as if they were to say, “I shall calmly despise my whole existence because it does not make me a god.” (Rahner, On Prayer). 

            The dependence of man on God and on others is not something that degrades man but something that exults his nature. “there is nothing degrading about dependence when it takes the form of love, for then it is no longer dependence, the diminishing of self through competition with others.” (Benedict XVI).  We are not in competition with God, but we are to unite to Him.  When we think of ourselves in competition we become full of pride and we love our own ego in replace of God.  We try to make others love us by making ourselves dominate and fulfilled within ourselves and by doing so we invoke others to love our characteristics, not us in our entirety.  Also we block love off because to accept love is to respond to love.  Without humility we cannot respond to love because our pride will keep us from expressing vulnerability necessary to open our heart to love.  Therefore our attempt to make others love us through pride is in vain and leads us to internal isolation.  “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn. 12:24).  It is within this realization of dependence that the power of God can well up within us.  Even within the situations we find difficult to pray within or difficult to have faith, we must all the more cry out “Lord I believe help my unbelief or Lord my heart is heard, please soften it.”  There is nothing insincere in this humble admission of one’s own weakness.  It is only an invitation to the power and love of God.
Karl Rahner (left) and Joesph Ratzinger
(right), also known as Benedict XVI, at the Second Vatican Council together.