Thursday 23 April 2015

Seeing God, Making God Visible.

The saints are the true interpreters of holy Scripture The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out.
Pope Benedict XVI

The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough. In order for man to become capable of perceiving God, the energies of his existence have to work in harmony.
Pope Benedict XVI

The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI can accurately be described as an intellectual or, at any rate, an academic. Anyone who reads his books (and you really should) can have no doubt that he has a formidable mind which he feeds by wide reading and nourishes by deep reflection upon what he has read. He is then better placed than most of us to know that by the intellect alone we cannot see God. His life and work also stands as an eloquent and elegant refutation of the lie that Christians must abandon their intelligence in order to embrace their faith. Our discursive, cogitative, enquiring mind forms part of our God given personal apparatus as it were and so must play its part in our search for and encounter with Him but the part must not be substituted for the whole.

What does that mean exactly? To be a human is to be more than a pure intelligence. To be fully engaged in human life is to involve our whole selves, our 'energies of existence.' If we do not love or feel compassion or understand things with our heart then we are not using every part of ourselves, we are attenuating ourselves. It is unwise to believe or feel or do anything which our intellect cannot give consent to but the mind alone does not provide us with a powerful enough motivating force to actually do or to dare very much in life. It is an inadequate definition to say that a Christian is a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary. It needs to be added that a Christian is a person who has a loving relationship with God through Jesus (and if they are wise a loving relationship with Mary also.) So what Father Benedict is saying is that to see God with all the fullness possible to us we must use all the humanness that has been granted to us, that is mind and body, emotions and feelings, soul and spirit, everything. The more we look the more we see and that looking is more than just thinking.

When we engage our whole selves in the relationship with God then all that we are becomes capable of being transformed by Him through that relationship. Each of us recognises from personal experience that simply knowing something to be true with our minds is not sufficient to decisively affect our conduct. Indeed whole industries are built on the fact that our desire for chocolates or shoes has more power over us than our knowledge that we need to buy considerably fewer of these things than we actually do. St Paul put it like this 'With my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.' (Romans 7:25)  To see God is to immerse ourselves in Him through prayer, the sacraments, reading the Scriptures, living in communion with the Church community and in love with all our neighbours. He is both within all these things and more and transcendent to every created thing so that no true perception of Him can be anything other than multidimensional and experienced through all of our faculties.

Which brings us to 'totally transfixed.' What the Holy Father is referring to are those saints who respond to an insight which they have had of God, found in the Scriptures, and reflect it in the way they live their lives. That is, having seen God themselves they seek to make Him visible to others through the things they do and say. The 'energies of their existence' have worked in harmony to bring about clarity of vision but this is not a purely self centred thing because the energies of their existence continue working in order to share that vision with the world. The two commandments cited by Jesus; 'Love God and love your neighbour' are simply different faces of the one commandment 'be transformed by God.' When with all the energies of our existence we see Him then these same energies can be put at His disposal to do His work in Creation and that work is always a labour of love and service, above all to the weakest and most vulnerable.

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