19 February 2008

Spe salvi, 4

Just when you though I'd forgotten about Spe salvi I'm back at it. I'll try to continue posting a bit each day until we get to the end.

In the fourth paragraph of his encyclical on hope, Pope Benedict XVI discusses what he terms an “informative” and a “performative” vision of Christianity. In the United States of America, we might term these Christianity of the “mind” and of the “heart,” respectively.

The Holy Father asks:
Can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened
his heart be for us too not just “informative” but “performative” – that is to
say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope
that it expresses (4)?
This is a serious question for each of us, one well worth considering. Will the hope that we have in Jesus Christ change our lives so that our very lives will bear witness to the reality of redemption?

The temptation is all too real for us to be “informed” by the Gospel but not affected by it. We see it especially in the seemingly ever-growing number of people who know about Christ but do not know him.

How many in our own families know about Christ but not know him? What will we do to help introduce them not to the facts about Jesus, but to Jesus himself?

Of course, there is also today the ever-growing reality of people who do not even know about Christ. Ask your person when Jesus lived and see how many can tell you? It is a truly lamentable situation and one that must quickly change through the witness of those who lives are marked with hope, whose hope becomes “performative.”

Turning his thoughts again to Saint Josephine Bakhita, Pope Benedict XVI recalls that “Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed” (4).

If Christianity did not bring a social revolution – contrary to the claims of no small number today – what did it bring? It brought something heretofore unseen. Says the Holy Father:
Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an
encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus
an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which
therefore transformed life and the world from within (4).
The Christian Gospel is not one of exterior social or political revolution, but of internal spiritual revolution. Christianity unites people in ways that political situations and systems never can. Christians, “by virtue of their Baptism they had been reborn, they had been given to drink of the same Spirit and they received the Body of the Lord together, alongside one another” (4).

The interior revolution brought about by Christ helps us see that our home is not here on earth, in this world, but is in heaven. Consequently, the “present society is recognized by Christians as an exile; they belong to a new society which is the goal of their common pilgrimage and which is anticipated in the course of that pilgrimage” (4).

The penances that we perform during Lent are to help us detach from the things of this world and to become attached, as it were, to things of heaven, our true home. The “performative” vision of Christianity always leads to heaven, to union with Christ.

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