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Thursday, March 23, 2017
Text: Cardinal Daneels at launch of CASE
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 Cardinal Daneels gave the following talk in Westminster Cathedral Hall last night at the launch of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation. May we still hope? In every street there is someone who is depressed concerning our times and no day passes without at least one newspaper headline containing discouragingly bad news. There is so much war and violence, genocide, unemployment, crime and terrorism and great ethical confusion. A sort of existential angst hangs in the air. May we still hope? Mankind wishes to fight back. But do we always choose the right weapon? Often we become cold, business-like, cynical or even indifferent. The real solution lies elsewhere. It is hope. But what precisely is hope? The Gospel unabashedly preaches hope and trust. There is a good God who has made promises. And God fulfils these promises. He has sent his Spirit as consolation. Such a message must sound incredibly naive to many. Many people say: what are Christians talking about when they speak of hope? Christians appear to believe in fairy tales and in miraculous solutions. Perhaps our Christian speech is sometimes too naive, too pacifying and too otherworldly. Do we not sometimes too easily gloss over the anxieties of our time? Do we not too easily say: "Everything will be all right." The image of true Christian hope then suffers from such a superficial and pacifying idealism. But it suffers just as much from stimulation to action and dynamism: "Do your best and God will take care of the rest!". Finally, equally incorrect is the assertion: "If you would only pray more, then you would not be so full of doubt and so lacking in courage. It is because you are a lukewarm Christian that you have problems". PART I: THE LANDSCAPE The landscape in which daily live is indeed not always cheerful. It seems to be a long winter when it comes to hope and joy. A depressive society? There is a book titled: "Saying No to a Depressive Society". The author asks himself: "are we, after the 'industrial society' and the 'leisure society', not now perhaps entering the 'depressive society'?" Many indeed complain that they are running on empty, are exhausted and have given up: they have seemingly lost their vitality. It has been known for some time, however, that the economic crisis is not only to blame. Much more has happened: even if the economy is sick and the world order unjust, it is mankind that is sick and has lost its way. "The times are not bad", says Augustine, "we are the times." Society has lost confidence in itself: it is floating helplessly like an astronaut in his spaceship who grabs hold of anything solid he can find. The gravity that emerged from the great religious ideals in Europe has disappeared. We at first tried to fill these up with other profane ideologies: Marxism, liberalism and capitalism. But all of these -isms also are no longer effective. What remains is the question everyone asks: "How can I be happy?". People are searching for an anchor point and for meaning, but there is no longer a great and universal social or religious project. The crisis of interiority It is primarily the inside of the person that is a mess. Due to the disappearance of ideals and projects, humankind has fallen in on itself: narcissistic and consuming. The idea that care must be exercised for the whole of society is foreign to many. That there are values ­ sometimes very fragile ­ that must be honoured and protected is a need that all too quickly is lost from sight in our society. Thus there is a great inner emptiness, loneliness and dejectedness. People become overwhelmed with problems: how can I possibly solve them all? Then they waver between overconfidence and discouragement. Too much is asked of the individual and he or she must handle it alone. Furthermore, many traditions have also disappeared upon which the person could lean for support: we are no longer sheltered in a history in which we can safely insert ourselves. Those who have no one to support them, no fathers, no mothers, no heirs, fall victim to their emotions and becomes anxious. Aggression against oneself There is often no longer a project in which one can invest his or her energy. And all of this suppressed energy must find an outlet somewhere! This energy is then often directed against oneself or against one's surroundings. And suddenly violence is born. This violence is directed against society, but also often against oneself: in this regard, the figures concerning suicide are telling. Even the intoxication with the easy-going sexuality of the 60s and 70s has vanished, though for some, sexuality still remains a refuge from loneliness. But sexuality is then directed only at the other as a mirror image of oneself. Purely consumptive sexuality thus reinforces narcissism and loneliness. "My truth is the truth" Dogma has received bad reviews in the press. It is synonymous with narrow-minded authoritarianism and intellectual dictatorship. It kills thinking and disvalues personal experience. Everyone must find his or her own truth. No one can impose it. But is it really the case that dogma petrifies? There are after all a series of objective truths and ethical rules. Think of the forbidding of incest that appears in all cultures. If we throw all of these objective truths out the window then this is not liberation but a step toward slavery: that of race, numbers, power and passions. The availability of a storehouse of thoughts and guidelines makes human society liveable. This is not an expression of fundamentalism. Why should we be ashamed of where we came from and who are parents where, of tradition and faith? Those who throw their intellectual or moral family tree in the fire, will be forced to sit around the tower of Babel and feel just how great confusion can be. There are truths and values that precede us: they are a building like a temple that we must enter respectfully, full of fear and thankfulness. We are neither its architects, nor its owners, but only its stewards. Mankind is not the source of truth and value: it is only their guardian. Perhaps one of the causes of the 'depressive society' is this: we have crowned ourselves the owners of the truth and the creators of values. The drama of youth The first to suffer the effects of this are the youth: they have to deal the most with despair. Often they hear from others that they have no future: no job, no security, no safety. The youth also suffer the most from emptiness and loneliness. They often have almost no one they can confide in: no parents, no teachers, no one to care for them: only their own 'pairs'. Yet it must be said that in the recent past a powerful countermovement has been present among a significant minority: youth looking more and more uninhibitedly for truth and values, even to religion. They have completely outgrown the complex of the 60s. PART II: FALSE GUIDES In their journey our contemporaries are looking for guiding lights. But often these are no more than birthday candles that are blown out with the smallest breeze. They are short-term therapies. Self-medication Many seek help for their discouragement at the drug counter: the reaching for medicine has taken on alarming proportions in our time. Furthermore it often here concerns self-medication and this can become a social disaster. What is behind this? Undoubtedly a sort of self-centredness and narcissism; when someone is dislodged from the consoling social fabric, from the security of a tradition and of faith, then he or she must drift about. Finally, exhausted, they give themselves over to a third party: medication. It releases them from the responsibility to reflect and exert effort: medication has taken over this responsibility. The same can be said for alcohol and drug use. They are again a symptom of a depressive culture. Their purpose is to help the person, but without the effort of their own will. Physical compensation Sometimes persons look elsewhere. They say: "If thinking no longer provides an outcome, then perhaps through my feelings, my imagination and my body". Weeklies and magazines are full of recipes for happiness, but without exception they are situated at the level of psychology and physicality. They all fall under the category "enjoyment". Each path to happiness that might require reflection, self-control, effort, conversion or searching for a more spiritual and ethical life, is here carefully avoided. Or if there is an allusion to spirituality then it is situated in the area of esotericism and techniques for automatic salvation. Conversion of the heart and the inner person is not considered. Dreams There are other escape routes. A noteworthy phenomenon is that of replacing the entire Christian legacy of images, stories, rituals and customs with a parallel world of visions, divine warnings and appearances, all sorts of new and strange worldly wisdom and tricks designed to make one happy. One dreams of a sort of 'universal religion', unattached to any one founder or to one church, without all too rigid doctrines or moral standpoints, without an official hierarchy or mandated ministers, free of obligation. Such a view is New Age and all of its satellites. Is this genuine hope? Or is it simply the projection of ones own desires and needs in ones imagination? This 'universal religion' has as a special characteristic that it seldom or never requires effort and conversion on the part of people; it also knows no sin. The person enters paradise in a luxury coach. Is this hope or a mirage? Escaping the sects A much more serious deviation is that of all manner of sects. In his book "The City of God", Harvey Cox announced ­ years ago ­ the end of religion and the era of total secularisation. In a new book twenty-five years later ­ "Fire from Heaven" ­ he distances himself completely from his earlier view. He expresses it quite strongly: "The Church opted for the poor, but the poor have opted for the sects". He now asserts that we are standing at the end of both modernity, founded upon science and technology, and classical religion. Two new successors are waiting in the wings: fundamentalism and what you could call the experience freaks. The fundamentalists are zealous, imperturbable and passionate believers, completely convinced that they are right and thus that the others are wrong. They live from traditions and rites and declare them to be eternal. Experientialism, on the other hand, is completely built on emotions and experience, on feelings. To believe is to feel. They impose no fixed doctrines and no rituals. They transmit only a kit with the equipment and tools enabling you yourself to go to work. Sometimes this is mockingly referred to as 'cafeteria spirituality' or 'religion a la carte'. They are also very pragmatic: does a religion satisfy you here and now? Then join! Cox predicts that the experientialists will win. The future, he says, clearly lies with mysticism. The time of Christ and hisfixed message and morals is gone: now the free wind of the Spirit is blowing. Is this sufficient ground upon which to hope? PART III: THE SOLID STEP OF HOPE No, Christian hope is something else. Theology of hope is a recently explored terrain for theologians. And in preaching and spirituality, Christian hope is often a wasteland. The French poet Péguy speaks of 'the little sister of hope between her two big sisters: faith and love'. While faith is indispensable and love the greatest, perhaps for our times hope is the most necessary. But what then is Christian hope? The heart of human existence Hope is not located somewhere at the edge of human existence: it is its heart. If it is hit, the person dies. In what way? The person is a being composed of desires, who continually and eternally wants to realise himself or herself. But just because of this, people feel that they are finite and they constantly encounter the borders of death. Their spirit knows no borders, but their body limits them in time and space. They cannot be everywhere and most especially, they will not last forever. They thus feel caught between 'being trapped in the temporary and yet open to the infinite'. People know that within the boarders of earthly existence they will never be able to realise what they most desire. Thus they can do nothing other than hope: that is the way the human person is made. Or they must accept themselves as a being split in two with great desires and few possibilities. There is no solution within reach to this 'schizophrenia'. Either the person is absurd, or he or she must be able to hope. Utopia and hope Non-believers must of course also deal with this. Before the Renaissance there was hardly a problem here. There was no talk of profane hope; all hope was located precisely in the Christian message. People naturally hoped in a Christian way. But the situation has completely changed in the meantime. People came to talk of a 'utopia', which is a sort of profane and secularised version of Christian hope. Hope is set free from God and must thus only be borne by one's own efforts. The person must now be responsible for his or her own hope, given that it no longer can or may come from elsewhere. Marxism made itself a master of this concept of utopia and also set out to realize it concretely. Marx said: 'despite everything, there will come an ideal and classless society in which all will be happy. But we must realise this rationally ourselves'. But is this utopia really hope? In any case it runs aground against the shoals of death, for which Marxism has no answer. A fundamental problem thus remains unresolved. An answer must come from elsewhere. Humankind cannot itself answer its 'congenital' questions. This is indeed the way that Christianity understands hope. A bringer of hope will come: the Messiah. He will fulfil the promises and realize hope. This is called 'eschatology'. The alternative to utopia is the belief that God himself intervenes in human history ­ freely and completely unforeseen ­ free and undeserved. Hope is not made by us, it is granted: there is a promise that we will live on after death. The Christian then stands in 'astonishment'. That does not remove the responsibility to also work at building up the world, but he or she is not the victim of overconfident and overheated projects. All human endeavours are valuable, but relative. In short: Christian hope rests not on people but on God's promises and on God's power: "If the Lord does not build the city, then people build in vain". We hope because something hopeful has happened However, do we really have reasons to hope that God will oblige us? Or is this simply a construction of our mind? Are we not confusing our dreams with reality? If there is one thing that is clear in the Bible it is this: God fulfils all of his promises and He is cause for hope. After all, Israel's hope did not rest on a gamble, or on a vague desire, or on a deceptive projection of one's own hunger for happiness, or on myths and fairy tales. Israel's hope rested on facts: God had already realised hopeful things in the past. At the origin of all hope in Israel lies the exodus from Egypt. This is not a fabricated story or pure literature. It is a fact: God used "signs of wonder" to lead "Israel out of Egypt" (Genesis 22: 17). Above all these promises, looms the great promise made to Abraham: God promised him a land and "descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Genesis 22:17). The prophets All the prophets also speak and act in line with this: they are the heralds of hope. They fan the Messianic expectations and keep the fire of hope burning. But they also guide this hope. Firstly, they point out that Israel must not rely on herself for fulfilment of the promises. Israel must not rely upon 'horse and chariot', on military power or a treaty with Egypt. Only trust in the 'naked' word of God can save. Hope is exclusive. There is a second correction made by the prophets. Israel must also not blindly invoke God's intervention in the past and thus save herself the trouble of conversion. Hope is also built upon following the law and upon the virtuous life. Hope is spiritualised. There is a third correction: God did not promise only external prosperity. He promised rather peace of heart, a new heart that adheres to the Law of God completely and effortlessly. God promises inwardness and conversion. He liberates not only from external shackles, but also from the inner slavery of sin. Hope becomes interiorized. Finally, it becomes more and more clear that God's promises are not limited to current history and to our present life here on earth. The promises also concern another life, 'a new heaven and a new earth'. And not for Israel alone, but for all to whom Israel reveals the true God. Hope becomes universal. This represents four important corrections to hope in Israel on the part of the prophets The Resurrection of Christ: the final promise is fulfilled The final enemy of humankind is death. For liberation from this, we hope most. Disappointment here removes the foundation from all other hope. If this promise is empty, all other expectations are illusions. "We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus (Acts 13:32 ff.). Here and only here does Christian hope find its definitive foundation: thus it is rooted in a fact: Jesus has been raised. This was not proclaimed as a dream or as a mythical story: it is a fact witnessed by reliable witnesses. "We have seen Him and ate and drank with Him ". Christian hope rests entirely upon facts and upon the pure powerful action of God. What Christ has done, will also happen to us: because He did not remain with death, we will also escape its claws. Through Baptism, says Paul, we have become one with him: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." (Romans 6: 3 ff.) Through Baptism, Easter has also occurred in us: we have "escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!" (Psalms 124: 7) PART IV: POINTS OF RECOGNITION How in our fearful times can we remain hopeful and experience it deeper and deeper every day? How will the world be able to see that we are people of hope? In what does the 'spirituality of hope' consist and what are its ingredients? Two temptations We want first to arm ourselves against two temptations: that of the reckless trust in the new and that of the lack of imagination. Those who only desire to live from the future and from their own new realizations, apart from all wisdom and the past that has been transmitted to us in faith, are quickly without memory. They do not know that many paths were already trodden without success. But they try them yet again. This leads to painful disappointments and demotivation. Revolutionaries without memory often end up in the liberal camp first, and in the conservative camp later. They experienced too much false hope. But the opposite is also possible and there is the temptation to a lack of imagination and the dream that one can live without taking risks. Here one forgets that not everything has been done for us, but that there is always still much that has not yet been tried. In every future there is so much that is beautiful that has yet to germinate. Then there is too little hope. Keeping watch and praying There is actually only way to exercise hope: prayerful keeping watch. The silent sojourn with God in an attitude of expectation is the best exercise of hope. Throughout the Bible prayer is described as keeping watch, attention for the return of the Lord. The psalms are a Book of Lamentations, of the expectation of justice, of protection for the pious, of forgiveness of the sinner and for patience in time of trial. Prayer is also patiently suspending oneself between the past and the future. Because those who pray take the Bible in hand and plunge into its memory: "he mediates upon the great things God has done". To pray is to consult ones memory and to feed it. But prayer is also to look forward with burning heart to the days to come, to the return of the Groom. 'Marana tha'. Prayer is expressing gratitude for all that is behind us but also delving into the promises that have yet to be fulfilled. For a culture (and a Church!) in depressive times, can there be a therapy as efficient as that of prayer? Engagement There is a second way to exercise hope: engagement. Hope never materializes when people never engage themselves, make no decisions and never choose. A culture without hope is never tempted to make a commitment, to choose, to decide something. A sort of indecisiveness dominates our society and the Church: with respect to marriage, to a life-long commitment, to promising fidelity for all times or completely and for all times dedicating oneself to something. For this there or some more or less acceptable explanations. But there are also less pretty, underlying reasons for this indecisiveness. There is a sort of narcissism that does not know how to loosen itself from caring for ones own comfort, from the need for watertight guarantees, from a mentality to take out insurance for everything. There is also something in our times concerning the experience of time: no one can wait; everything must be immediate. Time is our enemy. We will have to learn to make it our ally, in expectation that we will again become sensitive for an article of faith that has completely disappeared: the Providence of God. When will we again see that God takes better care of us than we do for ourselves? Hope anticipates Hope repairs the damage and offers protection. Hope does not throw in the towel. It tries to repair the mistakes of the past and it also cares for the here and now. But hope especially looks ahead: it works preventatively. But where is this prevention situated in our time: where lie the guarantees that our hope will be fulfilled? In the first place, in schools and families. Should we not be investing more there if we want our hope to be justified? Is the lack of hope in our time also often not due to the fact that parents and educators all too often give up and become discouraged? A prophetic call needs to be loudly shouted: "Help the parents and the teachers." Everything that does not get done at home or in school, later becomes a liability to society. PART V: THE BOOK OF THE APOCALYPSE And in the Church? Is there also hope for the Church? You do not have to look too closely to see that hope there is often also missing. Why can't it go well again for the Church? You might ask yourself this when you hear the critiques that originate from church people themselves. Of course there are reasons for this: internal tensions, the critique and the discomfort, the tiredness and the pushing back of the Church and religion to the domain of the private, decreasing attendance on Sundays, the decreasing number of vocations. Yet In the history of the Church there have been reasons for depression many times. But there were always people who stood up to turn these around into joy. A fascinating example can be found in Catherine of Sienna. Raymond van Capua, her confessor and spiritual director, returned from a preaching trip completely discouraged. He had seen too many sad things: a Church and a clergy in decline, neglected and abused, persecuted: in ruins. It was too much for him. He had to tell it to Catherine: "All of this had no other effect than to fan Catherine's desire. She did feel the pain of God being insulted, but in addition she had the great joy to be able to trust and to hope. That everything should now be turned over to God to allow the possibility to help these ailments" (Dial. c. 1). The Bible is full of 'words of encouragement', especially from the mouths of the prophets. Isaiah has written an entire book with this theme: "The Book of the Apocalypse". But in the New Testament there is a book that treats how one survives in fearful times: The Book of Revelation. It is a book full of images and visions. According to some, a book full of spectres of what is to come. But it is much more a book written as encouraging reading for a Christian community during a time of persecution. Much more than a book about fear and death, it is a book about hope. What does the Seer of Patmos have to say? Who directs the course of events? Who directs the course of events, asks John? Those who do not believe will answer: fate, chance and fatalism. Those who believe, give another answer: Christ, says John, directs the course of events: "Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands." (Revelation 2:1). It is Jesus that walks between the tormented churches: He guards them, He protects them, He judges evil and rewards good. The Apocalypse says that Christ removes the fatalism from history; He controls the spiral of evil and violence in the world. Nothing is fatal since He is the Lord of all history and the universe. Much of our depression in the world and in the Church derives from the fact that we are not able to read this book. We only see the outside of history. But those who read the Apocalypse receive in their hands the key to world history. "The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." (Revelation 5:5). The seven churches The Apocalypse begins with seven letters to seven churches. They are threatening letters to the seven Christian communities in Asia Minor. They are also letters to us, because the seven churches are still standing. Each of the seven churches has its good side. Each has an aspect in which in which it must undergo conversion; finally each receives a separate promise. The letters appear to be written for today and to us. Firstly there is the Church of Ephesus (2: 1-7). It is a Church that is functioning; seen from the outside it is even blossoming. It is full of apostolic zeal, enterprising, persevering and watchful; it does not succumb to the siren song of sects and false prophets. But it stands accused regarding "abandoning the love you had at first." It is a church that accomplishes much good, organises much, works hard and is reasonable. Everything works well enough. But it is cold and suffers from interior emptiness. Where have the exciting times of its beginning gone? The affectionate inwardness, the naivety that dared to take risks? The uncalculating love, the spirit of prayer? The joy? Churches like this exist still today. There is also the church of Laodicea. It has it worse: It is a church that no longer hopes. It is neither warm nor cold, but lukewarm. It has, so it seems, everything, but it is self-sufficient and lukewarm. It no longer even knows that it might need to undergo conversion. It is a self-sufficient church and for it is reserved the strongest critique: "I will spew you out of my mouth" says Jesus. This church must stop relying on itself. It must return to Jesus: "come, buy from me", He counsels it. Then there is Smyrna, a poor church. It has no honour roll of good works. Its only virtue is being poor, powerless and persecuted. It does not rely on itself. It has nothing to be proud of. It is the only one of the seven churches that receives no reprimand. It is a church that is so poor and awkward that, humanly seen, it seemingly has no future. But it is the genuine church of the Eight Beatitudes. It receives the richest promises: have no fear and it will receive the crown of life. Finally there is the church of Philadelphia. Like that of Smyrna, it is persecuted and is very weak. "I know that you have but little power", says Jesus. But is has one great strength: it clings with all of its being to the Word of God and it trusts in it. It lives from the pure Word and will make no compromises. It did not water down the Gospel with 'common sense', it has honoured it and accepted it in all of its radicalness. To it is promised wonderful fruitfulness. The seven churches are still standing today The seven churches are still standing. There are churches in which all is operating well at the level of organization, with impeccable management, overflowing in planning and organization. But where is its culture of prayer? Self-sufficient churches also still exist: they are rich and rely on themselves. They are neither warm nor cold, but business-like and pragmatic. They imagine that they are rich but they are very poor. Because they buy everything from themselves: they are their own supplier. There are also poor churches such as that of Smyrna, persecuted and criticised, without means. But they trust in Christ and indeed the worst has not happened until now. To these churches much is promised: faith and great apostolic fruitfulness, the strength of a temple column and the full revelation of God's secrets. There are also churches like that of Philadelphia whose only point of support is the Word of God. They hardly have the Eucharist and the Sacraments. They may hope for a great future. The martyr as icon for hope The image par excellence of the person of hope is the martyr. He or she, as person, has nothing more upon which to rest. Only 'God remains their rock and fortress'. Eye to eye with death, all self-reliance disappears. The martyr can do nothing more. They must give themselves up completely. The only thing from which the martyr can live is hope: divine hope that can only find support in God. Without this pure and radical hope in God 'that can even call forth the dead from their graves' he or she is lost. Thus the martyr is more a child of God's grace than a hero. They receive their martyrdom; they do not perform it. They are not heroes. But if they hand themselves over to the God of hope, they also are set completely free and are saved. There are still martyrs in the church; they do not always shed their blood. There are also 'white martyrs'. They are those that dare to speak up in the gulags of our society, who steadfastly continue to believe in Christ, even when they are mocked and ridiculed, those who resist the impulse of racism, exclusion and marginalisation, and the slogans of public opinion. It is they who always forgive, even when much has been done against them and who must return good for evil. They are the 'beautiful witnesses' - their name as 'martyr-witness' says it all - they are the icons of hope in the Church and in society. As long as they are there, hope will never die. + Godfried Cardinal DANNEELS Archbishop Malines-Bruxelles
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