Friday, April 29, 2011

I never thought I'd find an argument for monarchy compelling ...

... but this one from @johnthelutheran, also expressed by @zugzwanged, makes a lot of sense: constitutional monarchy depoliticises head of state and says we are not /defined/ ultimately by politics. We Americans invest a lot of symbolic power in the presidency (note: I have not read the linked book) and it might be useful to redirect that towards someone who fulfills a more explicitly symbolic function, i.e., has no actual power. Also, the things that unite Americans tend to be abstract ideas. It's always easier to unite around an actual person.

John also argues that monarchy is a good reminder that life isn't fair. [UPDATE: I misrepresented John's point here. See comments.] I see his point, but - believe me - I have plenty of opportunities to be reminded of that fact in our present political configuration.

Not that I expect (or even want) a constitutional monarchy in America. It's just an interesting thought experiment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ben Myers' six types of reading

Based on Ben's typology, the majority of my reading is binge reading, though sometimes I binge on topics rather than authors. If it wasn't obvious already I've been reading about the Christian response to poverty lately.

I dearly hope he continues making these videos.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jesus accepts his failure and abandons himself to the Father

On the cross Jesus finally abandons himself to the Father. His life work has ended in failure. It looked very optimistic at first: the crowds gathering to hear all those attractive things they needed to hear and received with such enthusiasm, but now all that has collapsed. His followers have deserted him, the foremost of them has disowned him, he has been arrested and condemned, the crowds who once listened to him are now howling "Crucify him, crucify him". The whole attempt to form a little community of friends based on himself and, through him, the Father's love, one in which people could relate to each other in love and mutual forgiveness instead of domination of submission, has been a complete failure. Nevertheless, his mission was not to be a world leader but just to be human and accept the consequences of being human, which culminate in defeat. He accepts his failure and refuses to compromise his mission by using the weapons of the world against the world. It is his Father's mission and it is for the Father to bring his own purposes out of Jesus's failure. Jesus knows he is not going to live to establish the Kingdom. He did not transform the world; the colonial society went on as before; the same kinds of bitterness and meanness and hatreds went on as before. In death on the cross he handed over all the meaning of his human life to the Father; this is his prayer. The Father has not accomplished his will through any success of Jesus; Jesus is left with nothing but his love and his obedience, and this is the prayer to the Father to work through his failure.

Herbert McCabe, "Good Friday: The Mystery of the Cross", God Matters, pp. 99-100.

Go to Dark Gethsemane

At our Maundy Thursday service we sang "Go to Dark Gethsemane", one of my favorite hymns. The recording below includes the final, Easter verse, which we didn't sing of course. (So stop after verse three unless you want to be a liturgically incorrect cheater.) The phrase "turn not from his griefs away" has been with me all day. This is the value of moving slowly through Holy Week rather than rushing straight into Easter. We watch the process unfold. He suffers before our eyes. And, as the hymn says, the events not only show us our sin and God's love, but they form the contemplation of our own lives.

Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

See Him at the judgment hall, beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall! O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn of Christ to bear the cross.

Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes; Savior, teach us so to rise.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Remembering the poor on Maundy Thursday

Much of what follows is a riff on Gustavo Gutierrez's chapter "Memory and Prophecy" in The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology. My contribution is a rather poor attempt to connect it to Cavanaugh's thought, the Offertory, and the meaning of Maundy Thursday.

The memory of God - and our inclusion in it - is a major biblical theme. God repeatedly tells Israel that the covenant will not be forgotten. In one of the most memorable passages of the Bible, God says through Isaiah
Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
Not only are we included in the memory of God, we are called to remember as well. But this memory is more than a simple recollections of events; it is the basis of action. Thus we have the prologue to the Ten Commandments: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The remembrance of the saving acts of God is the foundation of our religious lives and the model for how the redeemed community should behave toward strangers, the poor, etc. (cf Deut 5:15, 15:15, 16:12, 24:18).

We see the same thing in the New Testament. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34). And at the heart of the Eucharist, the central act of the Church's life, are the words, "Do this in remembrance of me".

Christians are, like Israel, commanded to remember the poor and outcast - for we were once one of them. This is not limited, however, to the spiritually poor. In Galatians 2, Paul tells the story of the meeting in Jerusalem where he presented himself as the apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter, and John - the pillars - accepted Paul's mission with the instruction that he should remember the poor, which he did by taking collections.

Ideally, we do the same today by using a portion of our offerings for the aid of the poor and disadvantaged. It is significant that the offertory is a part of the Eucharistic liturgy. We bring our money to the altar as part of the same liturgical movement in which we bring the bread and wine to the altar for consecration. It is also significant that in the early church (or so I've been told) a portion of the bread and wine brought by the worshipers was put aside for the poor. The remembrance of the poor is thus included in the Eucharistic liturgy.

But not only there. Today is Maundy Thursday. There is some debate about the meaning of the word "maundy". Is it derived from mandatum, meaning command, the first word of Jesus' "new commandment" to love one another? Or is it derived from the "maundsor" baskets in which was collected alms for beggars? Either meaning points to the remembrance of the poor - the first as described above and the second more directly. In fact there survives to this day a "Royal Maundy" service in the CoE, in which the monarch distributes "Maundy money". Originally the monarch not only gave money to beggars but washed their feet. Unfortunately, the coins now distributed are collector's items and no monarch has actually washed anyone's feet since the 17th century.

The remembrance of the poor is also a part of Eucharistic theology. William Cavanaugh has shown us that in the Eucharist the divisions between you and me, between what is mine and what is yours, are broken down. We become food for others. "Those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking our own damnation."

On this Maundy Thursday we remember the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. As Luther said, "We are all beggars." But let us also remember the materially poor, whom we find included at the heart of our worship.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Howard Thurman on the rise of hatred

According to Howard Thurman (in Jesus and the Disinherited), our hatred is normally taboo. But occasionally (as in a war or national crisis) it "provides for us a form of validation or prestige". Thurman, for example, "noticed a definite rise in rudeness and overt expressions of color prejudice" after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. These times also serve to illustrate the way in which hatred arises.

"In the first place, hatred often begins in a situation in which there is contact without fellowship, contact that is devoid of any of the primary overtures of warmth and fellow-feeling and genuineness." It has often been observed that hatred of a certain person or group dissolves once the hater comes to genuinely know the hated.

"In the second place, contacts without fellowship tend to express themselves in the kind of understanding that is strikingly unsympathetic. There is understanding of a kind, but it is without the healing and reinforcement of personality." Not all understanding is sympathetic. There is a kind of understanding "that one gives to the enemy, or that is derived from an accurate knowledge of another's power to injure". Understanding without fellow-feeling may contain pity but never sympathy. "I can sympathize only when I see myself in another's place."

"In the third place, an unsympathetic understanding tends to express itself in the active functioning of ill will."

"In the fourth place, ill will, when dramatized in a human being, becomes hatred walking on the earth."

A current example of this process is Islamophobia. Those who are most clearly guilty of this are people who have no real fellowship with actual Muslims, or if they do it is not a relationship of sympathetic understanding. Some of them do have enough knowledge to quote bits of the Quran (often with no apparent awareness that the Bible contains troublesome passages as well). And some of them merely say, "All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11". This is fertile ground for hatred.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Rich get richer! Poor get poorer!

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.
"Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" by Joseph Stiglitz

The average income of the four hundred richest Americans (measured by AGI) has increased while their average tax rate has decreased:

More tax charts from Mother Jones magazine and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

As life gets better and better for the rich, the poor continue to suffer.

The World Bank has warned that rising food prices have put the world's poor "one shock away from a full-blown crisis."

Tax preparers are targeting the poor with their usurious refund anticipation loans.

Debt collectors using harrassing and threatening tactics have decided that the risk of violating federal law is just the price of doing business.

The Indiana Senate has voted to defund Planned Parenthood as part of a larger abortion bill - even though abortions are only 3% of their business and are funded by private giving. If this is signed into law we can expect more unplanned pregnancies.
Without Planned Parenthood, [Gayla Winston of the Indiana Family Health Council] said, there would be no clinic south of Monroe County and east of Dubois County where a woman could get free birth control pills.

A 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health policy nationwide, found that 31 percent of Indiana women who need contraceptives have those needs met. That's 10 percentage points lower than the national average.
I am a pro-life Christian, but defunding Planned Parenthood is a blockheaded thing to do. Many poor women use PP as a primary provider.

Dan Horan, OFM, on being willfully ignorant concerning the conditions of the poor:
"I just don’t want to know" is not a legitimate or justifiable excuse. It is a reflection of the sin of willful ignorance, because, although what you don’t know may not hurt you, it most certainly hurts others. We have an obligation, a responsibility as members of the human family and the Body of Christ to learn about both the “joys and hopes” as well as the “sorrows and anxieties” of the people of the world. And we should then, aware of suffering in the world, work to bring about justice and alleviate suffering in whatever way we can.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"The hungry cannot wait; the heavenly feast is now."

William Cavanaugh contrasts the market and the Eucharist in the closing pages of Being Consumed (pp 97-98):
Adam Smith's economy underwrites a separation between contractual exchanges and gifts. Benevolence is a free suspension of self-interested exchange. As such, benevolence cannot be expected or even encouraged on the public level, because the market functions for the good of all on the basis of self-interested consumption and production. Benevolent giving freely transfer property from one to another; nevertheless, it respects the boundaries between what is mine and what is yours. In the eucharistic economy, by contrast, the gift relativizes the boundaries between what is mine and what is yours be relativizing the boundary between me and you. We are no longer two individuals encountering each other by way of contract or as active giver and passive recipient. Without losing our identities as unique person - Paul's analogy of the body extols the diversity of eyes and hands, heads and feet - we cease to be merely "the other" to each other by being incorporated into the body of Christ. In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient. We are neither merely active nor passive, but we participate in the divine life so that we are fed and simultaneously become food for others.

Our temptation is to spiritualize all this talk of union, to make our connection to the hungry a mystical act of imaginative sympathy. We can thus imagine that we are already in communion with those who lack food, whether or not we meet their needs. Matthew [in chapter 25] is having none of this: he places the obligation to feed the hungry in the context of eschatological judgment. Paul, too, places neglect of the hungry in the context of judgment. At the eucharistic celebration in Corinth, which included a common meal, those who eat while others go hungry "show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing" (1 Cor 11:22). Those who thus - in an "unworthy manner" - partake of the body and blood of Christ "eat and drink judgment against themselves" (11:27, 29). Those of us who partake in the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry may be eating and drinking our own damnation.

The Eucharist places judgment in the eschatological context of God's in-breaking kingdom. There is no gradual, immanent progress toward abundance that the market, driven by our consumption, is always about to - but never actually does - bring about. The Eucharist announces the coming of the kingdom of God now, already in the present, by the grace of God. Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium affirms the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist in these terms: "In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims. ..." In the Eucharist, God breaks in and disrupts the tragic despair of human history with a message of hope and a demand for justice. The hungry cannot wait; the heavenly feast is now. The endless consumption of superficial novelty is broken by the promise of an end, the kingdom toward which history is moving and which is already breaking in to history. The kingdom is not driven by our desires, but by God's desire, which we receive as the gift of the Eucharist.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Consuming and being consumed by the Eucharist

In Being Consumed William Cavanaugh argues that consumerism is more about shopping than owning. Contented ownership is antithetical to the pursuit of novelty essential to consumerism. Like religion, consumerism preaches a sort of transcendence and promotes a sort of community - but a transcendence and community without a shared telos, or end.

The Eucharist turns consumerism upside down. We do consume in the Eucharist, of course, but we are also being consumed. "St. Augustine hears God say, 'I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me.'" We are "absorbed into a larger body."

We also become food for others. Cavanaugh cites Matthew 25, where Jesus says that whenever we serve another, we serve him.
What is truly radical about this passage is not that God rewards those who help the poor; what is truly radical is that Jesus identifies himself with the poor. The pain of the hungry person is the pain of Christ, and it is thus also that the pain of anyone who is a member of the body of Christ. If we are identified with Christ, who identifies himself with the suffering of all, then what is called for is more than just charity. The very distinction between what is mine and what is yours breaks down in the body of Christ. We are not to consider ourselves as absolute owners of our stuff, who then occasionally graciously bestow charity on the less fortunate. In the body of Christ, your pain is my pain, and my stuff is available to be communicated to you in your need, as Aquinas says. In the consumption of the Eucharist, we cease to be merely "the other" to each other. In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient; we are simultaneously fed and become food for others.

The Augustinian Amanda Palmer. Also, metal keeps you sane.

According to William Cavanaugh, Augustine believed our desires were socially formed, not simply internally generated, and are often unclear to us. Not only "I don't know what I want", but also "I don't know why I want what I want".

Amanda Palmer probably wouldn't thank me for describing her as Augustinian, but her "In My Mind" does in some way describe this understanding of desire. (In fact, I'm struck by the song's echoes of Paul in Romans 7.) Palmer resolves the tension by self-acceptance, i.e., the person she is is the person she wants to be. That's not a particularly Augustinian resolution, but there's truth in it.


Lee links to a great Atlantic article by James Parker ("How Heavy Metal is keeping us sane") which begins - of course - with Black Sabbath:
Black Sabbath created heavy metal. We can say that with a satisfying kick-drum thump of certainty. Cream was heavy; Hendrix and Led Zeppelin were heavier still; in Japan, the Flower Travellin’ Band was shockingly heavy; but Black Sabbath, from Birmingham, England, was heavy metal. No joy here, nor any wisp of psychedelic whimsy. From the first note, this band sounded ancient, oppressed, as if shambling forward under supernatural burdens.
Parker uses "Lord of this World" to illustrate this. But if you want my opinion, there is no more terrifying song than "Black Sabbath". Ozzy's screams are chilling:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Schillebeeckx wrap-up

I've finished reading Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God but I'll be thinking about it for some time to come. It's full of such rich theology. You need to find a copy and take your time with it.
"You have shown yourself to me, Christ, face to face," says St. Ambrose: "It is in your sacraments that I meet you." it is by the sacraments that we journey toward our final goal - the sacramental way is our hidden road to Emmaus, on which we are accompanied by our Lord. And even though we are not yet able to see him, we are conscious of his concealed presence near us, for when he addresses us through his sacraments, our hearts, intent upon his word, burn with longing and we turn at once to Christian action - in the words of the Evangelist, "Was not our heart burning within us whilst we spoke in the way?"
Image: Edward Schillebeeckx by David Levine

Private charity could never replace government anti-poverty programs

Now and then a conservative will say that if only the government would give us back our tax money we could care for the poor more efficiently than it could. Christians, specifically, point out that biblical commands to care for the poor are given to individuals, not governments. (I believe that statement is wrong in several ways, but that's not my concern in this post.) I think this idea can be soundly dismissed by looking at what we actually do with our charitable donations.

A Center on Philanthropy study determined that 30% ($77.3 billion of the total $252.6 billion) of our charitable donations go to meet the needs of the poor. Here is how it breaks out by charity type:

The study broke out all giving into the categories you see in the chart. Then it determined what portion of each category was directed toward the poor. All giving in the "helps meet basic needs" category was focused on the poor. The researchers were unable to determine what percentage of giving to the arts was focused on the poor. The rest of the categories ranged from 18% to 25%.

So when we have money to give to charity we give it for the benefit of the poor 30% of the time. How do we direct most of our charitable giving? If you make $200,000 or less per year, which is 97.8% of the population, it is overwhelmingly to religious operations. If you make over $200,000, it is split more evenly between arts, education, health, and religious operations.

Some more facts. Medicaid spending in 2009 amounted to $373.9 billion. Spending on various safety net programs (EIC tax credit, cash payments like SSI and unemployment insurance, in-kind assistance like food stamps and housing, child-care, and energy assistance, etc.) totaled $482 billion in 2010. This gives us a total of $855.9 billion, or 6.5% of GDP. Charitable contributions have averaged 2% of GDP since the 1990s (figure from the CoP study). This means that in order to cover the costs of Medicaid and the various safety net programs charitable giving would have to increase fourfold to 8.5% of GDP, assuming we redirect 100% of our tax savings into private organizations that perform equivalent services.

Do you think that is likely - especially given that we only direct 30% of our charitable giving to the poor? This also does not take into account the losses through administrative costs that would result from moving from government programs with strong buying and organizational power into multiple private organizations. There's just no way. Claiming that it would work is utopian in the extreme, which is odd since conservatives are supposed to be the anti-utopians.

If the argument based on human nature doesn't convince you then how about one from history? In 2006 Obama proposed some changes to the allowable deductions for charitable giving. In response, the Center on Philanthropy released a study examining the effect the change in tax policy could have on giving. They determined that changes in the overall economy and/or in personal income had a greater effect on levels of charitable giving than did changes in tax rates (which, presumably, would be what would change if the federal government dropped Medicaid and the safety net programs).

When you give people money back through tax cuts they will spend it in any number of ways. The best that could be hoped for is that government could devise some incentive (though income tax deductions, perhaps) that would redirect the money to benefit the poor. I'm certain, though, that most of it would be spent in some other way. But even if some incentive structure could be devised, why bother? Spending it through the present system of taxation is at least as efficient as devising some complex incentive program to make sure the money is still being spent to help the disadvantaged.

As I was putting the finishing touches on this post, The Lead posted a link to a study (pdf) showing that faith-based initiatives do not actually increase faith-based groups' involvement in social ministries. (Faith-based initiatives, you recall, were attempts to prove that faith-based institutions could serve as alternatives to government run safety net programs.) This seems to show that private organizations are limited in their effectiveness as providers of safety net services.

I have no doubt that most conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, who want to dismantle the welfare state and replace it with networks of private institutions do indeed want to effectively help the poor and disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the evidence against this idea is overwhelming.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Republicans' budget would harm the poor, sick, and elderly

The following is a letter I submitted to the local newspaper. Ezra Klein's blog and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities have been particularly helpful here.

The Republicans' proposed 2012 budget would harm the poor, sick, and elderly - but benefit the rich [also see this post].

Medicaid would be converted into block grants. Currently, Medicaid costs are shared by the federal and state governments. As costs increase or decrease, funding increases or decreases. Converting it into block grants would mean that the federal government would give a chunk of money to the states at the beginning of the year. If costs increase due to a flu epidemic, for example, or if more people need Medicaid due to recession, there would be no increase to the grant. The grant would be indexed to inflation, but health care costs increase at a much higher rate than inflation.

In short, if claims increase, if we go into recession, or if health care costs rise faster than inflation, then the state would have to pick up the increased costs - which means they'll either come up with the money or cut benefits. Benefit cuts would disproportionately harm the disabled and the elderly because, while children and adults constitute 74% of the enrollees, it is the elderly and the disabled that account for 67% of actual Medicaid expenditures.

The budget proposes the same for SNAP, aka food stamps.

It also proposes the privatization of Medicare for the next generation of retirees. Because of Medicare's buying power it is much cheaper than comparable private insurance options. Under the Republican budget, there would only be a selection of private options, meaning the elderly would either have to pay higher premiums or receive lower benefits.

But there's good news if you're rich or a corporation: The Republican budget would lower the top individual and corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.

How's that for a "path to prosperity"?

See also:

"Chairman Ryan Gets Roughly Two-Thirds of His Huge Budget Cuts From Programs for Lower-Income Americans"

"Medicaid Block Grant Would Shift Financial Risks and Costs to States"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My (and the Reformer's?) confusion about ex opere operato

Schillebeeckx's discussion of ex opere operato has me confused. He says the Reformers opposed ex opere operato because it was too much like magic, that it laid an obligation on God, and that it endangered appreciation of the free mercy of God. This, he says, is a misunderstanding of the doctrine, though there were some popular notions afoot that make it an understandable mistake. But I thought the Reformers' problem with it was that it denied the necessity of faith.

His definition of the doctrine sounds acceptably Lutheran to me (the not-even-amateur theologian):
Put negatively, the significance of the sacramental efficacy ex opere operato is that the bestowal of grace is not dependent upon the sanctity of the minister, nor does the faith of the recipient put any obligation on grace; Christ remains free, sovereign, and independent with regard to any human merit whatsoever. Put positively, ex opere operato efficacy means that this act is Christ's act. ... In the Church's ritual symbolic act, not only are Christ's prayer and worship really present in visible and sacramental form, but really present also is the infallible response to this prayer, the effective bestowal of grace.
Obviously if you haven't read the book you can't comment specifically on it. But to any readers who are familiar with the doctrine: Is Schillebeeckx definition adequate? If so, were the Reformer's objections to ex opere operato the result of a misunderstanding?

UPDATE: The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to say the same thing:

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

1128 This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God." From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.
I suppose it all depends on what you load into the opening words, "celebrated worthily in faith".

UPDATE 2: Schillebeeckx later distinguishes between fruitful and unfruitful sacraments:
The sacraments are signs of Christ's redemptive act in its actual grasp of a particular individual. For this reason, even when on account of the recipient's interior dispositions a sacrament remains (probably only for the time being) fruitless, every valid sacrament achieves a certain fruitful effect. It cannot be an empty sign, for even in such a case it is still a sacramental prayer of Christ and his Church for the person receiving it. And precisely on those grounds a sacrament can, as it is said, "revive." If, however, the personal power of supplication of the recipient is joined with the power of the ritual supplication of Christ and his Church, so that the outward sign which the recipient makes is not a fiction with regard to his inward dispositions, then the outward sign by that very fact becomes an effective bestowal of grace, and in consequence its full significance is also realized.
So personal faith is not nothing - but it does not affect the power of the sacrament. Even a sacrament received without personal faith "achieves a certain fruitful effect" and can "revive". Still not sure what to make of this but this distinction clarifies it somewhat.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Schillebeeckx: Sacraments are the visible tokens of Christ's love

One man's inward act of will with regard to another man only becomes a completely human reality with meaning for the other man when this inner intention has been manifested in an external act. Only in the expressive word or gesture does a human intention directed to some other person received its perfect meaning. Now as man Christ is the mediator between God's love and ourselves. Consequently his mediation takes place through human acts, through loving saving acts of will which find their full expression in an expressive and loving gesture. The specific expressive "gesture" of Christ's saving love is his exalted and glorified body, the established sign of the victorious redemption. It is in the Church's sacraments that Christ wants to make this expression of love visible within the sphere of our earthly life and earthly world, which through our human activity is made into an extension of our humanity. In this way material things of the world around us are taken and humanized through our own proper corporeality: that is to say, in a union with our own bodies they become an expression of our spiritual thoughts. [Schillebeeckx is here referring to his earlier discussion of the universal impulse of humanity to create symbols that express religious thought or feeling.]

We find something of the same kind in Christ, who through his glorified body takes up material things of our human world into a dynamic unity with his risen and active body. I hope I may be forgiven for drawing a likeness between the sacred sacramental event and present-day jazz, but perhaps the coherence of the sacramental whole can best be suggested by means of the image of a drummer. Just as when a drummer is playing he is extending himself through all his bodiliness into the instruments grouped about him, so that these instruments dynamically participate in the expressiveness of his rhythmic movement, making but one total movement which, arising from within the drummer, flows through the rhythm of his body, of his beating hands and stamping feet, and produces a varied harmony of percussion - so too the heavenly saving will of Christ, through his glorified body, makes one dynamic unity with the ritual gesture and the sacramental words of the minister who intends to do what the Church does.

It is only when a person's love is manifested in some telling and appealing gesture, through which it becomes possible for me to enter into this love, that I become personally confronted wit this love for me. The flowers which I have an agency deliver to friends overseas on their wedding day are to them the concrete present of my love and friendship; the concrete interpretation of my love; love in a form that is visible. This, but in infinitely greater measure, is the case in the sacraments too. For the proof Christ gives us of his love is not turned into a lifeless thing. It is not merely an indication of an absent love which nevertheless in the indication somehow becomes present. The sacramental proof and token of love makes a living unity with the human saving will of Christ in heaven. Because this is a personal act of God the Son - even though done in human form - it transcends time and space, and therefore in the literal sense of the word, like the soul in the body, becomes incarnate in the outward rite.
Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, pp 76-77

The no-fly zone lie

Don't you love being lied to?
Some of the United States’ partners have acknowledged that the initial descriptions of the intervention in Libya no longer apply. "What is happening in Libya is not a no-fly zone," a senior European diplomat told reporters, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity. "The no-fly zone was a diplomatic thing, to get the Arabs on board. What we have in Libya is more than that."
"In Libya mission, war blurs humanitarian focus"

About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.