Saturday, 30 March 2013

What have we learned?

Time to sum up the past six-and-half weeks with Tischner czyta Katechizm, as Lent approaches its end. The book offers a perspective on how faith has been seen down the ages, and how the Catholic Church has shifted its stance on many issues of dogma. In particular, the new catechism, published in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, has modernised the Church, yet opened up a potentially destructive rift between the liberal wing (of whom Fr. Tischner was clearly a member) and the traditionalist tendency.

What have we learned? What new insights has the book brought me? More questions than answers...

Capax Dei: the notion that we are capable of God - open to God's love. Big question for me: it seems from the book that not everyone is capax dei. And indeed, Fides quaerens intellectum, the dictum of St Augustine of Hippo - faith seeks understanding. Fr. Tischner suggests that Augustinian thinking stood behind the Reformation, hence the old Tridentine Catholic catechism is light on St Augustine. Fides quaerens intellectum, works the other way - God seeks those who seek God. "He has the right not to want to be followed by stupid people," he says, a sharp attack on those who believe blindly and seek not to understand. It was a not-so veiled attack on the nationalistic, politicised form of Catholicism that was just beginning crystallise around Radio Maryja in the mid-90s and today stands as the biggest threat to the Church in Poland.

The Second Vatican Council was a belated reaction to the Copernican revolution, to the Reformation, to the evolution of democracy. The catechism that stemmed from it was less Church-centric, and more man-centric - this is one of the central themes of the book.

Metaphors I found useful: Fr. Tischner says that the spiritual journey is like walking up a mountain; you should never stop on the journey to admire the landscape, thinking that to be an absolute, because every step further up the mountain gives you an enhanced view. The path to Absolute Good is never-ending; God bids us to keep climbing ever higher and higher. "What you see, what you can see, what you will see, depends on how high you have climbed", says Fr. Tischner.

Not much in the book about the Holy Trinity (only a handful of passing mentions), nor about the nature of Satan (I suspect that Fr. Tischner, like St. Augustine, does not believe in the devil other than as the absence of God).

My understanding of what the Church means by the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ has been enhanced by the insight that God's consciousness resides within them after the Liturgy of the Eucharist during Mass. A better understanding, though not a conviction.

Reading the book in a detailed way prompted me to look up on Wikipedia many of the saints and philosophers that shaped Christian thinking over the centuries. St Augustine, St Francis of Assisi, St John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Edmund Husserl.

Fr. Tischner is also good (as someone who's never married or had children) at talking about the notion of the drama of life as a trial; how we are to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune within the context of redemption and God's love for us.

Dialogue is all important to Fr. Tischner. The new catechism expects us to engage in dialogue, to seek shared dreams, to understand what the other side is praying for and working towards, rather than seeking out heresies and differences between ourselves. Prayer as a meaningful dialogue with God is discussed in the book, although Fr. Tischner takes it for granted that the reader understands from first-hand experience the way prayer works.

Revelation - according to the Church, there's been only one - Christ's revelation on the Cross, His sacrifice, which gives us the opportunity of Redemption. No more Saviours, no more Messiahs. And this across a Universe of billions of galaxies and billion billion solar systems. For tens of billions of years. No more miracles. Not too sure on this one, I'll say diplomatically.

The chapters on society, democracy, social justice - I felt these should be outside of the scope of the Church's interests, but nonetheless, Fr. Tischner's expositions on these issues were enlightening, if only to see how much of the temporal matters to the spiritual.

More tomorrow from me on, in particular how I view God. In the meanwhile, at this stage I humbly give thanks for having had the opportunity this Lent to take on a spiritual rather than purely bodily journey. I have grown personally and gained much spiritual insight, for which I am truly grateful.

This time last year:
Ealing in bloom - early spring

This time five years ago:
Swans pay us a visit

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