April 17, 2009

Fr. Cantalamessa's Response to Anti-God Advertising Slogan

I've started going through the Holy Week homilies and messages, and this from Fr. Cantalamessa was striking:
One of these challenges [to the faith]... has become a publicity slogan plastered on public transport vehicles in London and other European cities: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

The most striking element about this slogan is not the premise, "God doesn't exist," but rather the conclusion: "Enjoy your life!" The underlying message is that faith in God keeps you from enjoying life; it is an enemy of happiness. Without it there would be more happiness in the world! Paul helps us answer this challenge, explaining the origin and meaning of all suffering, starting with Christ's suffering.

Why "was it necessary that the Christ suffer so as to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). This question receives what might be a "weak" answer, and in a certain sense, reassuring. Christ, revealing the truth of God, necessarily provokes the apposition of the forces of evil and darkness, and these forces, as happened to the prophets, will lead to his refusal and elimination. "It was necessary that the Christ suffer" would then be understood in the sense of "it was inevitable that the Christ suffer."

Paul provides a very "strong" response to that question. The need is not of the natural order, but rather the supernatural. In the countries of historic Christian faith the idea of suffering and cross is almost always associated with sacrifice and expiation. Suffering, it is believed, is needed to expiate for sins and placate God's justice. This is what has provoked, in the modern world, the rejection of every idea of sacrifice offered to God, and in the end, the very idea of God.

It can't be denied that we Christians have possibly exposed ourselves to this accusation. But we are dealing with a mistake that a better understanding of St. Paul's thought has already definitively clarified. He writes that God has preordained Christ "to serve as an instrument of expiation" (Romans 3:25). But such expiation is not applied to God in order to placate him; rather it is applied to sin to eliminate it. "It can be said that it is God himself, not man, who expiates sin. … The image is more like that of removing a corrosive stain or neutralizing a lethal virus than that of anger that is placated by punishment."[2]

Christ has given a radically new meaning to the idea of sacrifice. In it, "it is no longer man who exercises influence on God in order to placate him. Rather it is God who works to make man stop hating him and his neighbor. Salvation does not start with man asking for reconciliation; rather it begins with God's request: "Let yourselves be reconciled with God" (1 Corinthians 2:6).[3]

...Through his death, Christ has not only denounced and conquered sin, he has also given new meaning to suffering, even to that which does not depend on anyone's sin, like that of the terrible earthquake that recently hit the neighboring Abruzzo region. He has made it an instrument of salvation, a path to resurrection and life. His sacrifice exercises its effects not through death, but rather thanks to the conquering of death, that is the resurrection. "He died for our sins, he rose for our justification." (Romans 4:25): the two events are inseparable in the mind of Paul and the Church.

It is a universal human experience: In this life pleasure and pain follow each other with the same regularity with which, when a wave arises in the ocean, a trough follows a crest and pulls down the shipwrecked sailor. "Full from the fount of Joy's delicious springs Some bitter o'er the flowers its bubbling venom springs."[4] Drug use, the abuse of sex, and homicidal violence, all provide intoxicating pleasure in the moment, but lead to the moral dissolution, and often even the physical ruin, of the person.

Christ, with his passion and death, has inverted the relationship between pleasure and pain. He, "in exchange for the joy which was placed before him, submitted himself to the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). No longer is it a pleasure that ends in suffering, but rather suffering that leads to life and joy. It is not just a different order of events; it is joy, in this way, that has the last word, not suffering, and a joy that will last for eternity. "Christ risen from the dead will die no more; death no longer has power over him" (Romans 6:9). And it will not have power over us either.

This new relationship between suffering and pleasure is reflected in the way in which time marches on in the Bible. According to human calculations, day starts in the morning and ends at night; in the Bible, day starts at night and ends with daytime: "It was night and it was day: the first day" says the story of creation (Genesis 1:5). It is not meaningless that Christ died in the evening and rose in the morning. Without God, life is a day that ends at night; with God it is a night that ends with day, and a day without a sunset.

So Christ did not come to increase human suffering or preach resignation to suffering; he came to give meaning to suffering and to announce its end and defeat. That slogan on the bus in London and in other cities is also read by parents who have sick children, by lonely people, the unemployed, refugees from war zones, people who have suffered grave injustices in life. I try to imagine their reaction to reading the words: "There's probably no God. Now enjoy your life!" How?

2 comments:

Gregg the Obscure said...

"The underlying message is that faith in God keeps you from enjoying life; it is an enemy of happiness."

People know that the existence of God implies the Natural Law. The culture is gung-ho against the Natural Law to the point of asserting that happiness can best be found in contravening the Natural Law, generally through wanton sexual depravity and/or wholesale slaughter of the unborn or infirm.

"Drug use, the abuse of sex, and homicidal violence, all provide intoxicating pleasure in the moment, but lead to the moral dissolution, and often even the physical ruin, of the person."

The culture insists that, like contracepted sex, nearly any momentarily pleasurable action (tobacco use being the most prominent exception) can be completely free of its natural consequences.

Unfortunately, delaying the natural consequences of an act generally results in worse consequences down the road.

TS said...

The culture insists that, like contracepted sex, nearly any momentarily pleasurable action (tobacco use being the most prominent exception) can be completely free of its natural consequences.I think, esp. with tobacco use, it's more along the lines of either:

a) a willingness to gamble, since some people have no health effects (my grandpa smoked for sixty years without a problem).

Most people are far more willing to gamble than me. You see it with out close to the margin they live with respect to debt, not to mention the popularity of Vegas and bingo and horse races. People are also willing to gamble with their salvation even.

or

b) The collection of momentary pleasures garnered from smoking and accruing over a lifetime, are worth more to some than a potentially shorter lifespan. (Again, potentially shorter, so the willingness to gamble is seen.)