9 November 2008 - Fr Terry Tastard

 Theologians have a nice phrase they used for describing how God has come into history. They call it the scandal of particularity. It would be easy enough to talk in general terms about what God is and what God does - God is love for example. But such general statements do not challenge us sufficiently. The scandal of particularity is that God comes into history to make himself known. Yes, God could be known in many times and places we think, for example, of how God could be known through nature. But to reveal himself truly, God had to become known through particular events, at particular times, in particular places. And so the scandal of particularity is that God chose the ancient people, the Jews, to reveal himself to the world. He bound himself to them and drew them into his purposes. The scandal of particularity went further: God then came to us in the supreme revelation of the Messiah, the Christ, the one who was among us a fully God and fully man. Without God taking risks by entering into history in this way, his revelation would never have been full and complete.

Yes, but why is this a scandal? The word originally meant a stumbling-block. St Paul uses it in this way when he writes, We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (1 Cor. 1.23). It is a stumbling-block that God is to be found among a particular people, and indeed, in one particular and utterly unique person. Some might prefer to believe in a God who could be confined to lofty and elevating statements. If you can remember the Sixties, for example, you may remember the Desiderata, that began: 'Go placidly amid the noise and haste.' Lovely, if rather vague stuff, that no one could really take exception to. Alas, what begins in generality usually ends in vagueness, for the same document ends: 'Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.'

Well, yes, but is it enough? Could you build your life on such stuff? The scandal of particularity has God coming among us, addressing us in Christ, encouraging us, inspiring us, forgiving us. The very fact that God has been among us in history, at a particular time and place, somehow makes it possible for God to speak to us now in every time and place. The challenge to believe is greater, but somehow the message is immeasurably deeper.

Today the Church keeps the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. This commemorates the church of St John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome. In its own quiet way, this building is part of the scandal of particularity. God gave us his presence among us in Christ. Christ gives us his presence still, in and through the Church which he called into being. The Church is Christ's continuing presence and witness throughout the world. In its fullness, the Church must have the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome leading it, guaranteeing that the Church will continue to teach the fullness of salvation. If God loves us, could it be otherwise? We are not drifting in time and space, but rather, loved by God into eternal life, loved by God where we are and how we are. In the scandal of particularity God loved mankind enough to engage with it, and his love, and his engagement, continue to this day. As the sign of that we have the Church universal, and the church local. God is still among us in time and place. The universal ministry of the pope helps to hold us together. It helps us to be faithful to God who in Christ has reached out to us and who, through Christ in the church, reaches out to us still. Each Catholic church is a symbol of this and especially St John Lateran.

Correction: In last week's Reflection a statement was attributed to Mother Teresa that should have been attributed to Dorothy Day. Apologies.

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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