Rest as Renaissance
All the love of the “law”, nourishing and cherishing, was directed towards one thing, the Sabbath. As the day of rest, it gives life its balance, its rhythm; it sustains the week. Rest is something entirely different than a recess, an interruption of work, entirely different from not working.
A mere recess is something essentially physical, worldly and ordinary. Rest is something essentially religious, part of the atmosphere of the divine. It leads towards the mystery, towards the reason from where every commandment comes. It recreates and reconciles; it is the rest through which the soul reclaims itself, the soul drawing breath – the sabbatical part of life. The Sabbath is the image of the messianic. It speaks of creation and of the future; it is the great symbol, as the bible says: “a sign between God and the Israelites”, or as in a quote from the Talmud: “the parable of eternity”. In the Sabbath lies life’s great opposition to the end, the continual renaissance.
Translated from: Aus: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)
Thoughts from a cluster of cells
Zoological theology is coming: No religion has the absolute truth; God’s image is just a cluster of cells.
Had Adam been content with one of the animals as a helper, – world history would have directly landed where it is today.
The historical Jesus was delivered to the gentiles; the Christ of faith to the scholars.
Freedom means that I may harm myself. Salvation means l live in such a way that others do not want to harm themselves.
Faith is always the thanks of someone who escaped.
The mystery of the servant
Nowadays servants only exist in the slightly gaudy German Heimatfilme (homeland-films) of the past decades: They inhabit valleys in the Alps or isolated alpine pastures and grind away as dependent workers under the heel of their capricious farmers. The “servant of God”, whose figure appears in the book of the prophet Isaiah multiple times, has little in common with these characters.
There the figure of the servant of God remains obscure. Is a historical figure meant, a single person or maybe the people of God as a whole? That the text talks about a mission “to the nations” suggests the second interpretation: to be a light that shows the way. This servant in the world is Israel as a people in the service of God. Its task? Showing how God wants this world to be. How peace among people is possible. What a just society is. Its contract? The covenant. Its strategy? Letting its life be shaped by God’s commandments down to the last detail. acb
He said to me, you are my servant, in you, Israel, I show my glory. For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Who truly understands Jesus?
Jesus and his gospel can only be fully understood through Jewish thought and feeling, for this reason maybe only by a Jew. Similarly, his words in their entire capacity and sound are only heard if they are reverted to the language he spoke.
A commandment that was completely fulfilled would be merely a human charter. God’s commandment is a commandment leading out towards the future that has its mission “for all generations”, as the bible says. There is its promise, its life that becomes life; there is something messianic in it. All of creation has its future, as an old Jewish parable says: “The idea of the Messiah was already present in the creation of the world.”
Translated from: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)
Thoughts from the hammock
The bible exegetes detect an “excess of promise” between the expectations of the Jewish prophets and the reality in Christianity. They find great words. But through omission they evade the question whose fault it is, God’s or our laziness.
Nowadays all statements and solutions from the past are relativized: they are all transitory and subjective. As if the monkey that became man had only been capable of using reason since 2019 and only taken his responsibility seriously since Greta.
We, like misanthropes, discover the selfishness and thirst for glory in and behind the actions of our contemporaries. Jesus too saw through people and read their hearts. But he loved them anyway.
About the longing of the coastlands
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is about Israel. God’s pleasure in His servant renews Israel’s vocation. A good 500 years earlier, Isaiah poetically described the image of God’s servant, on whom God bestowed his spirit.
It summarizes what God has planned with His people: Israel is not there for herself. The coastlands wait for her teaching. The people of the covenant are destined to be a light for the nations. That is why it says that God’s servant does not quench the dimly burning wick, but reignites it. hak
Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow dim or be bruised until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. I, the LORD, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
Ever since we’ve had two legs and came out of the thicket of the jungle, since we explored the wide horizons in the savannah and the starlit sky stood open for us, probably early on in our sapiens-history, we did not want to be dead after death.
So, very early on we searched for religion, and gods, and a place beyond, an eternally beautiful home after our often short, arduous life, accompanied by violence. The afterworld became our solace, priests emerged and took on the task of guiding the way to eternal life.
A pipsqueak on earth, Israel, quits this circus of religion. Heaven is astonished. God grows fond of Israel; he wants to live among the people. “He comes down.” Israel receives the Tora. It turns the earth into paradise, people become neighbors.
Over a thousand years Israel grumbled: “The burden is too heavy.” “We too must be like all the nations.” And they build the most beautiful of dwellings for their God, the temple. God’s people live in captivity, under occupation. Israel prays, screams, hopes for a Messiah who saves.
Yes, and once again God descends, becomes man, becomes a Jew. The Israel of the twelve is coming. “Divided tongues as of fire … on each one of them (Acts 2.3).” God’s spirit descends, stays with the twelve.
The Church grows, becomes large, bears fruit, becomes powerful. The Christian power conquers the world of religions. Priests become the guide towards eternal life. So, like we used to, we have a religion directed towards the beyond.
The centuries of the European enlightenment also clarify our Christian religion. We are rid of God again. The conversation about God is dead. Dumb, deaf, blind, it doesn’t survive the murder of God’s people of this world, the Jews.
“Everything was over forever.”
The testaments are still down. And modern biblical studies are helping. There is new talk about the people of God in secular communities: “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
Israel’s wisdom teachers knew that it is worth it to conduct life in accordance with the vocation God preconceived, with the help of wisdom. However, this wisdom cannot be found at anytime and anyplace, but in a particular location.
In the collected wisdom of the people of Israel, meaning in Jerusalem, it became accessible. That is why the three wise men have to first go to Jerusalem to find the way to the Messiah. That is also why Jesus’ life is inseparably connected with this city: from there he obtained his own wisdom and there he ultimately bore testament to it. ruk
Wisdom sings her own praises, among her own people she proclaims her glory. In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, in the presence of his host she tells of her glory: “Then the Creator of all gave me his command, and my Creator chose the spot for my tent. He said, ‘In Jacob make your dwelling, in Israel your inheritance.’ Before all ages, from the beginning, he created me, and through all ages I shall not cease to be. In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion. In the city he loves as he loves me, he gave me rest; in Jerusalem, my domain. I struck root among the glorious people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.
In early post-new testament times the rumor was deliberately spread that Jesus of Nazareth was the child from an affair between a Roman legionary and a Jewish girl called Mirjam.
His stay in Egypt, which Matthew talk of in today’s gospel, was also denunciated accordingly: There Jesus supposedly adopted the Egyptian priests’ art of magic, so as to take his contemporaries by surprise with his superhuman abilities. What about the son of whom Matthew said in view of Jesus: “Out of Egypt I called my son”? Initially that was a phrase from the prophet Hosea (11;1); and he meant the people of Israel. But in the creed we say of Jesus Christ: “He came down from heaven”. How does all that go together: “my son” in the singular from (Jesus) and in the plural form (the people)? The son of a family in Nazareth and the Son of God from heaven? – The Holy Family was not necessarily an idyll. ars
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”
In the bleak midwinter…
At the end of November 2019, a public debate took place in Trieste’s town council on whether the distinguished holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, also “Senator for Life” in Rome, should be awarded honorary citizenship. One member of the council vigorously opposed this because “Segre has said that Jesus was a Jew and that offends me as a catholic.” Jesus is the Son of God after all, he adds.
Christmas is not the right time to be offended. Maybe then Paul’s realization with all its consequences will seep through, that God sent His Son, “born of a woman, born under the law“ (Gal 4;4). ruk
He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
Matthew narrates Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective. He has to learn that God’s breakthrough in history is natural and unnatural at the same time. If everything happened within the bounds of habit and possibility, how then should God’s great desire, His tangibly awaited presence in his people, succeed?
Maybe Joseph’s hesitation stems from the intimation that he will be the father of the child, which through him is “descended from David according to the flesh” (cf. Rom 1;3) and simultaneously belongs entirely to the Holy Spirit and His preternatural plans. tac
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
At the end of the prologue to his opus magnum “Jesus of Nazareth”, which is dedicated to the synoptic childhood stories, Benedict XVI. uses “waiting word” as a key phrase, especially in view of the prophet Isaiah.
He introduces it to show the oneness of the Old and New Testament. Beyond that, as a bridge to illustrate and prove how in the ensuing story Isaiah’s open-ended prophecies unexpectedly became newly concrete. On all four Sundays in Advent the first reading is taken from Isaiah. And in the gospel John has his disciples inquire of Jesus from prison: “Are you the one?” He says neither yes nor no. Instead, with a quote from Isaiah, he invites them to report to John what they can see and hear: the blind regain their sight and the lame walk. Advent: Expecting something great, bringing it to pass and thus updating the “waiting word”, which is no mere word of man. ars
The wilderness and the parched land will exult; the Arabah will rejoice and bloom; Like the crocus it shall bloom abundantly, and rejoice with joyful song. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen hands that are feeble, make firm knees that are weak, Say to the fearful of heart: Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; With divine recompense he comes to save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened; Then the lame shall leap like a stag, and the mute tongue sing for joy. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning flee away.
Talent for freedom
“Modern society is an abstract society that constantly requires us to act rationally” – at the expense of our emotional primeval needs. But that is the price for humanity.
What Karl Marx denies categorically, Karl Popper defends passionately: Politics are possible. The process can only be the never-ending chain of trial and error and new trail. On account of his Jewish heritage, among other things, he had a wide-awake sense for the dangerous political tendencies of the time. Already in 1927, six years prior to Hitler’s successful grasp for power, he is convinced “that the democratic bastions of Central Europe will fall and a totalitarian Germany will start a new world war.” A realization as clear as glass. Three years before his death Karl Popper concluded his lecture on “Freedom and Intellectual Responsibility” with these words: “We have to search for the objective truth in all modesty, critically feeling our way like the beetles do. We can no longer try to act like the omniscient prophets. But that means: We have to change.”
Translated from: Thomas Schmid in Die Welt (German Newspaper) from September 17, 2019 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the death of Karl Popper, Der Mensch hat die Begabung zur Freiheit
Change of direction
In other words, belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.
Such an attitude is certainly to be attained only by what the language of the Bible calls “turning back”, “con-version”. Man’s natural inclination draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He has to turn around inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his own interest by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural inclination. He must turn around to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance to the natural inclination, there can be no belief. Indeed belief is the conversion in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it; and because our inclination does not cease to point us in another direction, it remains a turn that is new every day; only in a lifelong conversion can we become aware of what it means to say “I believe”.
From: Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (1968)
Joy to the world
Recently, in an exam in her catholic religious education class, my daughter had to answer the question under which circumstances Jesus would be born today.
I assumed that a birth in a refugee camp was suggested with eventually a successful appearance as advocate for the disenfranchised and disinherited. Like other students, who attend mass more or less regularly, my daughter lacked the imagination for an elaborate answer. The grade was bad and I didn’t know any better either. Maybe I should have just asked the teacher what he meant. Either way, I couldn’t get the issue off my mind. Later the story of Jesus’ appearance before the high inquisitor came to mind, as told by Dostojewski: Jesus surprisingly comes to 15th century Seville during the time of the inquisition. He is identified and the high inquisitor detains him. During a long speech he explains to Jesus why his renewed coming disturbs the operations of the Church. fls
In the books of two prophets, Isaiah and Micah, a great vision is passed on. The peoples will set out for Zion because they want to get to know the paths of Israel’s God. But how does this stream of peoples start?
There is no mention of appeals to Assur or Syria. Because at first it is not the peoples who must do something. Rather the time of the plowshares and pruning hooks begins with a few people from the house of Jacob. They decide to set out and take the first step themselves: Right away they start to walk their paths together according to God’s teaching: “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” hak
This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it. Many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
What’s the deal with all this drama? – with video clip
One might think that the theater has become redundant: Why exchange the comfort of your own four walls for a hard chair, sandwiched between the theater audience?
Why let yourself in for a performance, when thousands wait behind the screens at home? Whatever for “boards that mean the world”, when hosts of thinkers and researchers have accumulated an amount of knowledge over millennia that is hard to grasp? At least by today, don’t we know what the world means anyway? To all those who, following such considerations, no longer have need for a visit to the theater: congratulations, one less hardship! To all others the following may be recommended: The prologue to an evening of theater from the summer of 2019 in the park of the Günter-Stöhr-Gymnasium – with the participation of many associated with the school and the Integrated Community. Viewable anytime, quite conveniently, perfectly fit for the screen, whenever, wherever, just as you like. saw
New – Theologica No. 7: Ebrei e Cristiani
That is the sentence written on the advertising banner of the book “Ebrei e Cristiani” because Pope em. Benedict’s contribution in the periodical Communio last year spurred the Judeo-Christian dialogue unexpectedly.
The book was presented at an event on May 16, 2019, hosted by the Chair for the Theology of the People of God at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. The speakers were Rabbi Arje Folger, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Prefect of the Papal Household and Benedict XVI’s secretary, and Elio Guerriero, the editor of the book. Theologica No. 7 gives an account of the speeches at the event in German.
You can find further information on content and ordering details here.
Living in the between
The church year is drawing to a close. The liturgical texts embrace this atmosphere, but quite unlike current end-time preachers.
“See that you not be deceived, do not be terrified”, it says in the gospel. Back then the destruction of the temple was deeply unsettling; doomsday scenarios like earthquakes, plagues, famines and wars walk alongside history to this day. The predicted climate catastrophe adds a nuance to this list. But all that is not the end. We are living in the between. What are steady coordinates? For the prophet: the “day” the Lord comes and the sun of justice rises over Israel. For us: the “day of the Lord”, when we welcome His arrival in the assembly of the Church. For Paul: working, also manually, to earn a living. And at the same time gathering as many Jews and pagans, men and women as possible. “See that you not be deceived” – “it will not immediately be the end”. Those who endure shall not lose a single hair, despite oppression and hostility. ars
For the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.
For you know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
Image loss and description lust
Plato’s allegory of the cave criticized the confusion of the things our senses discern with reality: We are chained up in our cave and do not see real life, but only its shadow on the wall.
Peter Handke commented on the conundrum as follows: “For many only what is broken can be called reality” (translated from “The Weight of the World, Journal 1977). Unabatedly he described the universal image loss of modern times: forgetting and confusing standards, overloading instead of beholding. The things and traditions cannot speak through that anymore. To him it was about salvation, and in “Crossing the Sierra de Gredos” (in German titled “Image Loss”) he called it “the comet’s tail of the world’s survival, sweeping over the entire earth”. The language of world-images is more than a moral religion; it is creation’s answer to the question of what can save us. “Theology is physical, too”, Handke once said in an interview.
Translated from (German): https://zettelsraum.blogspot.com/2019/10/peter-handkes-beschreibungslust.html
When man looks beyond the present day…
There are two experiences of the human soul in which the meaning of his life takes on for a man a vital significance: the experience of mystery and the experience of commandment; or, as we may also put it, the knowledge of what is real and the knowledge of what is to be realized.
When a man wants to be certain of his existence, when he therefore listens intently for the meaning of his life and life in general, and when he thus feels the presence of something lasting, of some reality beneath the surface, then he experiences the mystery: he becomes conscious that he was created, brought into being – conscious of an undetectable and, at the same time, protective power. He experiences that which embraces him and all else. He experiences, in the words of the ancient metaphor in the Blessing of Moses, “the arms of eternity”. And when man looks beyond the present day, when he wishes to give his life direction and lead it toward a goal, when he thus grasps that which defines his life and is clear about it, then he is always confronted with the commandment, the task, that which he is to realize. The foundation of life is the mystery; the ways of life is the revealed.
From: Leo Baeck, Commandment and Mystery, in: The Jewish Philosophy Reader (translation of the original text published in 1921/1922)
Powerless and yet indestructible
Is it possible to see martyrdom as something other than religious fanaticism? “There are values which must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is more than mere physical survival”, Pope emeritus Benedict wrote.
The seven sons of the Maccabean mother defend the word of God, which represents the highest value, but is powerless in their situation in front of the king. They sacrifice their life for this. The sons’ impressive courage does not stem from religious fanaticism, but from their identification with the laws of their fathers, which indestructibly unites them with the creator of life. tac
It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.” After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put forth his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely stretched out his hands, as he spoke these noble words: “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disregard them; from him I hope to receive them again.” Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s spirit, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing. After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of mortals with the hope that God will restore me to life; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
Cave canem – Careful, it might bite!
Vital vigilance in the face of the enemy, which in the Catholic Church is consistently directed inwards as well, sometimes hits the righteous wrongfully and sometimes the wrong ones righteously. John Henry Newman, who was canonized October 13, 2019, was regarded as highly dangerous by well-meaning servants of the catholic cause.
Monsignore Talbot, Pope Pius XI.’s secretary, warned Cardinal Manning, the Archbishop of Westminster, in a letter: “Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England.” Maybe Talbot sensed an even bigger threat than Newman’s intellectual independence. The current canonization has rehabilitated Newman somewhat, but the papal secretary’s assessment of him ennobles him to this day. If you take Newman seriously you understand the secretary’s fear when Newman says, for example, that faith is “not the cause of order, as it happens to be now, but the cause of disorder, as it was when Christ came and his Apostles preached“. ses
The unmistakable hand
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Apparently he was a little on the short side and, what’s more, someone who could not gain sympathies from his fellow countrymen as a tax collector for the detested Romans. Luke relates how the story continues for Zacchaeus, and for Jesus too:
Jesus finds someone who receives him gladly – Jericho, where Zacchaeus’ house is, is the last stop before he will enter Jerusalem. There he will be rejected. Zacchaeus proves himself to be a true son of Abraham. What would someone have to be on the lookout for today, if they wanted to “see Jesus”? He wanted to look for lost people like Zacchaeus and win them over for the joy in God’s story since Abraham. Although one has to expect that the ones not lost will not understand that he is drawn more towards the last ones. ars
He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Sören Kierkegaard, the great Danish theologian, said of himself: If he ever came to faith then he would only ever ride through Copenhagen four-in-hand.
Paul – at least in the tradition of the author’s second letter to Timothy – sees his faith journey in a similar light. Nothing can be taken for granted; faith is not something you are just born with, it is a fight, a conflict, a struggle. Two athletic paroles stick out: compete and race – both pictures from the Greek arenas Paul knew, ball games, foot races, horse and chariot races, qualifying contests. There are also defeats and disappointments. This is how the early Church sees Christianity. Only: The opponent doesn’t stand on the other side of the field or the court. He lives in one’s own heart, where the decision for God and His people has to be made; he stands in the midst of Jesus’ disciples. acb
For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Living in community – Letters to the Oratory
Consider what is implied in the word “community”. To live in community is not to be simply in one house; else the guests of a hotel form a community.
Nor is it to live and board together; else a boarding-house is a community. Priests living in a chapel-house or presbytery, with each his own room, and a common table, and common duties in one church and parish, do not therefore live in community. To live in community is to form one body, in such sense as to admit of acting and being acted upon as one. An Oratory is an individuality. It has one will and one action, and in that sense it is one community. But it is obvious that such a union of wills and minds and opinions and conduct cannot be attained without considerable concessions of private judgment on the part of every individual so united. It is a conformity, then, not of accident or of nature, but of supernatural purpose. It is not everyone who has the gift of living with others. Not every holy soul, not every good secular priest, can live in community. Perhaps very few men can do so.
From: John Henry Cardinal Newman, Letters to the Oratory about the call to the Oratory of St. Philipp Neri (1856)
One weekend in the mid-eighties the Süddeutsche Zeitung (a German newspaper) was only published as a skeleton edition due to strike. In it a longer statement by the publicist, well-known humanist and agnostic Dr. Gerhard Szczesny was printed, about his exit from the SPD (social democratic party), which he had been a member of for a long time. Due to the special circumstances this step found little recognition.
That was completely different thirty years earlier. In 1958, during the time of restoration through the Adenauer-era, he published a polemic, “The Future of Unbelief. Contemporary Reflections of a non-Christian”. He protested against the restrictive and forced minority role of non-Christians in a Christian-dominated society; against Christianity’s monopoly and power claims to the truth: “To us it seems unbearable that in a civilization claiming to be the home of true intellectual freedom the non-Christian has to act like a thief in the night” (Future of Disbelief). Sharp-sightedly he diagnosed Christianity’s insupportable monopoly and power claims to the truth. He lost his job at the Bayerischer Rundfunk (a Bavarian radio station). In 1961, together with Fritz Bauer and Alexander Mitscherlich among others, he founded the “Humanist Union” and one year later his publishing house ”Club Voltaire – Yearbook for the Critical Enlightenment”. In 1968 he wrote the preface to Joachim Kahl’s “The Misery of Christianity: A Place for Humanity without God”.
In the same year of 1958, in which he made public his position as a post-Christian agnostic, who wanted to establish a humanism on the basis of the achievements of the enlightenment, Josef Ratzinger wrote in the Catholic journal Hochland: “Since the Middle Ages in the West the Church has more or less been identified with the world” – a state Szczesny found to still be dominating everything – “today, this identity is only an appearance, which hides the true essence of the Church and the world” (The new Pagans and the Church) . This appearance Szczesny criticized and in that respect they both agreed. Which consequence did Ratzinger draw from this analysis? In 1968 he published his lecture series on the Apostolic Creed, which he delivered in Tübingen in front of an audience made up of all faculties, titled “Introduction to Christianity”.
At the beginning of the 70’s the Integrated Community came into contact with Gerhard Szczesny. He had been made aware of them through Peter M. Bode, who had reported on an exhibition put on by the Community in Munich and at the end had invited people like Gerhard Szczesny and Heinrich Böll to engage with these apparently unusual Catholics. He accepted. After the first meeting he wrote: “It was the first time I had really felt comfortable, that is easy and normal, in a community of people who explicitly want themselves to be understood as Christians.” One time he commented: “I know how the coffee in church houses tastes – with you everything is so different.”
In 1977 a few people from the Community – a number of secondary school teachers were among them – made the decision to open a private secondary school. They were looking for encouragement because the ministry of education was not exactly thrilled with the idea given the conditions in Munich at that time. Gladly and out of conviction they both agreed to be named next to each other as friends of the Community in the initial brochure. Inspired by these two very different persons, people from the Community wrote up the following as guide line of the school project and the community: “In the Community two traditions that seem to exclude each other have merged into one way of life: Christian tradition and modern criticism of religion and society:”
During the funeral service for Gerhard Szczesny at the cemetery in Grünwald – the relatives had asked the Integrated Community to arrange it – Gertraud Wallbrecher said: “To us Gerhard Szczesny was a teacher because he challenged us relentlessly to be what we always wanted to be: a community that acts like and treats each other like those that once wrote the New Testament 1900 years ago.”
485 years after Brexit
It is a macro-historical sensation that after barely half a millennium of separation of England from the Roman Church a successor to the throne from this royal family, Prince Charles, honors the Catholic canonization of his fellow countryman in Rome: John Henry Newman.
After all, Newman is England’s first saint who has not also suffered martyrdom since half a millennium. And over the centuries the English Crown has made no insignificant contribution to the martyrdom of Catholic saints.
With regard to the island’s rapprochement to the continent, Church history is a bit of a half century ahead of the political history, as it was in the history of separation. ses
Fragment on Holy Scripture
According to its form, its rhythm, its cadence: a book from the night of the times. That is true, and at the same time the reader of our times, today, can read his own story in the bible, book by book, unlike in any other book:
he can discover it there, then understand it, then face it. The reader is the tragicomical hero of all the biblical stories; not just of the stories, but also of the love poems, like in the Song of Songs, and of the cries for help, like in the Psalms, over and over again. You, reader, have lived the first moment of color in Eden, and you will witness those black and blacker last moments, your mouth full of vinegar (and worse), where you will cry out with the question, why your so to speak omnipotent Father has abandoned you. Hence for the reader the bible is a terrifying, dangerous book: He is forced to see what his true situation as a mortal is, deep down. Lost son, who feels safe because his Father has forgiven him for once – even prepared a feast for him. But after, on the cross, where is he, my Father and his promised feast? The bible can awaken sheer horror in its reader: ah, this lunatic, who thinks he is God, immortal; that sniveler, who in distress boasts of the omnipotence of his Father to his adversaries, and of how He will come to the rescue at any moment; this so-called Son of God, who dies like a stray dog – I am all of that, I, who am reading this. You, who read the bible today: Beware, danger of death! Or danger of life? Ensouling danger? Inspiring danger, since that night of the times? Healing danger? Danger of salvation?
Translated from: Peter Handke, Langsam im Schatten (1992)
Of words and Christians
A pastoral letter might be full of truth, a homily bearable. Ultimately, that impresses no one. And even if the Christians possessed the wisdom of the dear Lord, it would be nothing to write home about, if what they are saying cannot also be seen.
That's why the worst thing that can happen to the Church is not just a heresy, but the lack of life lived according to the gospel. The worst heresy is to claim to know the truth, but then to not do it. What are people supposed to think of such a truth that only exists in books?
Günther Krasnitzky (1939–1987), cited in: Gerhard Lohfink, Rudolf Pesch, Ludwig Weimer (Ed.), Die Feier des Sonntags A
There never was an age in which the Church contained so many untrue members; that is, so many persons who profess themselves her members, when they know little or nothing about the real meaning of membership, and remain within her pale for some reasons short of religious and right ones.
For instance, to put one question on the subject,—How many supporters of Christ's holy Catholic Church do you think would be left among us, if her cause were found to be, not the cause of order, as it happens to be now, but the cause of disorder, as it was when Christ came and his Apostles preached?
From: Cardinal John Henry Newman, Sermon at St. Mary’s in Oxford (31 May, 1840)
Once again the sweet poison of the Nazi ideology of a life unworthy of living is pervading ethical discourses. And it does not spare pious circles either. As long as they think of Christianity as being about the personal eternal wellness of the soul, life must be a feel-good bath.
How convenient is the old pagan idea instilled into our minds that you can pull the plug at any time before you start to feel chilly. The Netherlands, our liberal neighbor, bluntly mirrors the culture of a good death as a matter of course. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt reports that the parliament of the Netherlands was worried about a slight decrease of euthanasia numbers in 2018. The numbers of the governmental “Regionalen Toetsingscommissies Euthanasie” had shown that in 2018, for the first time since 2006, a drop to merely 6.126 killed people had been recorded. Even so, that is 17 a day. Dutch media suspects that doctors apparently are refusing requests of people with a wish to die more often ever since a doctor was prosecuted for it for the first time. But the chairman of the state commission reassures: He sees no danger for a change of heart amongst Dutch doctors. After all, in the first quarter of 2019 the number of cases has already risen 9% over that of 2018’s first quarter. That is why his impression is that assisted suicide is “implemented correctly”. Apparently, neither was nor is anyone disconcerted about the fact that already in the year 2015, according to official statistics, many hundred people suffering from dementia, namely exactly 431, were killed without an express wish to die.We have the exact numbers thanks to the Netherland’s open way of dealing with the topic. Here in Germany the estimated number of unknown cases is likely higher, considering how widespread the well-meaning ideology of a life no longer worth living is. anm, ses
More than calories
For as long as we can remember people have resolved conflicts during meals. The shared meal is able to achieve what a conversation alone often cannot: Create trust, bring about peace.
Nowadays historians and sociologists, cultural scientists and psychologists are getting to the bottom of the power of a shared meal. They analyze the order of courses and investigate its effects on diplomacy; they test eaters psychologically and eavesdrop on families at the dinner table. The researchers’ results show how important this age-old cultural technology is – and how worthy of preservation. “If we do not eat together, we lose security and protection”, says the psychologist Marshall Duke. “The shared meal is the backbone of human relations.”
Translated from: DIE ZEIT, Nr. 23, August 1, 2019
Climax of the impossible
Do you believe in paradise?
Because I want to believe in it.
The new controversial film “Climax” by the outrageous Argentinian director Gaspar Noé, where a group of young people, to whom dancing means everything in life, play the main part, begins with interview excerpts showing similar world views. After their last rehearsal together, when they are dancing and celebrating together boisterously, each one by themselves, surrounded by the others in turns, a phenomenon is expressed that the director has observed in societal development since the introduction of the pill: “How people are encouraged to feel lust and not depend on others anymore. But also how people are becoming ever more lonely. They are no longer part of a group, but compete with the rest of the world.” Completely unrestrained the celebration of the dancers, whose drinks were spiked with LSD by an unknown person, ends in chaos. Every form of fear and insecurity of the individual is exponentiated many times over leading to reciprocal brutality. The film closes with the words in capital letters: “Life is a collective impossibility.” Thinking the unthinkable, what would life be as a collective possibility? heg
What's wrong with the world
Self-awareness is being aware of the discrepancy between idea and reality in oneself, but a far cry from being aware of sin. For with sin the issue is not this discrepancy.
In self-awareness man measures himself with a human standard because the idea is something human. In the awareness of sin his reality of existence and life is confronted with Jesus’ and thus is measured with a divine standard.
The more awareness moves deeper, away from the surface of the mathematical, the more it turns into the knowledge that everything in this world and this life is far from all right, into the knowledge of the lost paradise; but really only into knowledge of the one standing outside in front of the closed gates – the knowing ones are always outsiders of life. And precisely through this deepening it exacts its last turn: from the objective that still exists, even with the knowledge of lost paradise, to the subjective, where the reason why paradise was lost is realized. The one who knows stands on the mountain like Moses and sees the Promised Land in front of him – but he is denied entrance. Only love and the word can save man from his loneliness.
Translated from: Ferdinand Ebner, Das Wort und die geistigen Realitäten (1919) – The Word and the Spiritual Realities
To the Pilgrim People of God in Germany
“Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.“ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 26).
That is why the imminent process of change cannot respond exclusively by reacting to external facts and necessities, which are for example the strong decrease in birthrates and the aging of parishes, that prevent us from envisioning a normal change of generations. Objective and valid causes would however, if they are regarded separately from the mystery of the Church, promote and encourage a – positive as well as negative – merely reactive approach. A true process of change gives answers, but at the same time it presents challenges that stem from our Christian life and the very own dynamic of the evangelization of the Church; such a process requires a pastoral conversion. We are called to take up a stance that has the goal to live the gospel and make it transparent by breaking with “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness” (Evangelii gaudium, 83). Pastoral conversion reminds us that evangelization has to be our most important guiding principle. Evangelization lived like this is not a tactic of the Church to reposition herself in today’s world, nor an act of conquest, of dominance or territorial expansion; it is not a “retouching” that brings the Church in line with the zeitgeist, but makes her lose her originality and her prophetic mission. Neither does evangelization refer to the attempt to retrieve habits and practices that made sense in other cultural contexts. No, evangelization is a path of the discipleship as an answer to His love, who has loved us first (cf. 1 Joh 4:19).
I want to stand by your side and accompany you with the assurance that if the Lord finds us worthy to live this hour, he has not done that to humiliate or paralyze us in the face of challenges. On the contrary, He wants His word to challenge and ignite our heart once more, as He did for your fathers, so that your sons and daughters could prophesy and your old men dream prophetic dreams again (cf. Joel 3:1).
Translated from Pope Francis’ Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany, June 29, 2019
Paths out of hardship
The classic Jewish reaction to catastrophe is renewal of life. It is part of the mentality of the people of Israel to preserve the memory of its story of success and suffering, so hope for the future arises from it.
Pointedly one could say: Israel’s looking back brings it forward. Memory is the key for the future of the people of Israel. As the test took place, so also will salvation happen. The past catastrophes have undoubtedly devastated the Jewish community, but in a paradox way also strengthened her. A Russian folk tale expresses this inner-Jewish movement and dynamic well:
When Napoleon came through a small Jewish shtetl during his expedition against Russia, he wished to see the synagogue from the inside. Coincidentally this day was the 9th Av and the Jews sat on the floor in the dark, lamenting and praying. When it had been explained to Napoleon that the reason for their lamentation was the destruction of the temple, he asked: “When did this happen?” “2000 years ago”, they told him. When he heard this, the emperor commented: “A people that is able to preserve the memory of its land for 2000 years will surely find the way to return home there.”
But let us not forget one thing at this point: This is not an automatism. The fasting and remembering of the past alone is not enough. Because hate and strife have lead to the loss of the temple. The fasting must be accompanied by daily interaction of the children of Israel with one another in truth and peace, if it is really supposed to come to a change from sad to renewed happy days.
Translated from: Jüdische Allgemeine, 18.07.2019, arcticle by Rabbi Salomon Almekias-Siegl