Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Participation in Christ.

Participation in Christ through friendship with Him is the foundation of Christian attitude. It is through an active relationship with Christ that Christian attitude develops.
A mature Christian attitude is one in which the whole of the person's experience is formed by his or her relationship with Christ. Growing in this relationship, making way for this relationship, is the central interior focus of the baptised person. It is here that the moral struggle, the work of conforming one's life to Christ, is embraced. 
For the Christian, the moral struggle is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, drawing us to the new life of grace, drawing us to the truth of our real identity. For the secular person, the moral struggle is merely a burden - something to be entertained only if the rewards envisaged outweigh the means.
From the outset, Christian attitude is involved with the Church. The enrichment of a person's life by consciousness of Christ and the Redemption is not due to human intervention, resourcefulness or planning, but is an involvement of the person in something greater. It is not I who give form to faith, but that awareness of the Faith (proclaimed by the Church) and a lived experience of Christ (which is the Church), forms my faith and my experience of life - Christ forms the lived experience of my life. As I live my life, it is Christ who I experience, not just myself.
In the secular ascetic exactly the opposite is proposed as the case: my subjective experience forms the way in which I experience life. I am the content of my life.
Having said this we can see that maturing in this foundational aspect of Christian attitude really is the most important dimension of the Christian life. All our encounters with Christ are here seen in relief as necessary and, in some sense, urgent. We need the Sacraments because we need our experience of life to be formed by Christ; we go to Mass to be changed by Christ. We seek Him in prayer to pursue and develop our relationship with Him. We desire an inclusive openness to Him so that our fallen human nature will no longer claim rule over us. And we seek a level of discernment in which our spirits can remain open to the prompting of His Holy Spirit. Christian attitude happens when one allows one's life to be invaded by the power of the Redemption.  

Monday, 29 April 2013

Participation through friendship.

In the last post I said that the essential and foundational dimension of Christian attitude is friendship with Christ, a relationship which forms us in the divine life.
Human friendship is a spiritual bond between persons, which leads not just to a certain sharing of life, but also to being in some way transformed by the other person; we are influenced and formed by our friends.
God intends something far greater for us through friendship with His Son; He desires communion with us. The journey towards communion is set in motion through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts that there might be a spiritual bond between us and His son, Jesus. The activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives produces a response, something which genuinely indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit in us; this response is the desire to change.
At its very foundation then, Christian attitude differs from secular ascesis, for whereas the Christian realises that there is something not right with him, that he needs to be changed, the secular person is led to conclude that it is the culture which is faulty and must change to accommodate him.
After receiving this first gift of the Holy Spirit the Christian person is led to engage with Jesus Christ such that he enters into a relationship of friendship with Christ, allowing Christ into his life and trusting in Christ's presence and influence in his life. Friendship with Christ develops over time in such a way that the Christian person, in allowing the Christian attitude to develop, comes to swop his centre of gravity for Christ. The Christian person knows that, from now on, his relationship with Christ is the very best place in which to lead the rest of his life.
In contrast with the Christian attitude the secular ascetic seeks to arrive at fulfilment on its own. The secular person invariably has human friendships, in which he invests something of himself. But as an autonomous free individual, the surrendering of that unrepeatable personal 'self' cannot be envisaged. The secular ascetic prevents the person from establishing himself within a life-changing relationship with Christ - unless/until the Holy Spirit is able to reveal to the person an openness to the life of grace.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


Pope Benedict taught the Church so much about "participation"; man's participation in the divine life, through faith, through the openness of the human person, through the Liturgy, through the Scriptures, a dynamic brought about by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on humanity. Only through this gift do human beings participate in the Redemption. "Participation" then, characterises Christian attitude.
Karol Wojtyla in Sources of Renewal speaks about five attitudes of the Christian; "participation", he says, is the first and most formative Christian attitude. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we participate in the life of Jesus Christ. In Him, rather than in us, the Redemption has been fully accomplished, and in His life, rather than in ours, is the fullness of what it is to be human. The reality of our lives take place in Him. Being apart from Christ means that we live our own individual lives, lives which are a part of fallen humanity and in which the tendency of independence is always present.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, in Baptism, we are joined to Christ. Now the full potential of our lives is possible, precisely because it has been lived by Jesus Christ. The Christian life then, is not our personal human lives lived now with a Christian 'flavour', but is the actual Risen life of Christ and our access to it, our entry or participation in it. Christian attitude is formed in each one of us through the consciousness which we have of this mystery. We have exchanged the living of our own independent human lives for the life of Christ, which takes us up, confirming and building our personal identity, but essentially (ontologically) our lives are no longer simply our own because now we live in Christ. We have been given a new life. At the end of our earthly existence our fallen human lives will come to an end and, in God's mercy, we will then live the life of Christ in an unencumbered and perfect way in Heaven.
Christian attitude then, flows from our knowledge of Christ, not merely an informative knowledge, but a personal and intimate knowledge. Friends know one another, to an extent. Spouses know one another in a fuller way. Knowing Jesus Christ however, has more potential. No one is more accessible than He, no one is more open than He, no one is more self-giving than He. Unlike Him, we are all exhaustible, to one degree or another; we get tired, bored, or find that we have nothing more to give. Indeed, friendship with Jesus Christ is the most transformative human experience, and Christian attitude continues to flow out into Christian witness, as it has done since day one.
In comparison with "participating in Christ', secular asceticism teaches the possibility of establishing your life on the autonomous self; free, resourceful and decisive. The secular ascetic overlooks the fact of a fallen human nature, suffering and death; it also overlooks the fact of Revelation and the witness to grace; it overlooks the testimony of history. "Try it, you'll like it", it declares as it urges us on the dehumanising road of self-affirmation. It is an ephemeral project. The life of Christ has always been, it always will be; He is inexhaustible, the progress He leads His followers in keeps getting better.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Opening up to Christ.

In his book, Sources of Renewal, Karol Wojtyla understands the Second Vatican Council's overall intention to have been one of enabling the men and women of today to have an increasingly full participation in divine truth; that consciousness of the Redemption be the very hinge and basis of human life.  
In his seminal work, Introduction to Christianity, the then Cardinal Ratzinger shows how Revelation impacts on the human mind or the human heart (or both), leading the person to incorporate all the human faculties - heart, mind and will - in responding to God's plan for us in Christ. In other words, that however grace enters the human person, it leads the the person to make the fully human response of faith.
The Christian then, is the person who embraces the Redemption as the fullness of the meaning of human life; that the Redemption becomes, for the Christian person, the essential formative basis for the development of the intellect, the virtues and the whole of the person's life.
In this light we can see that Christian attitude, and its formation, concerns the way in which the Faith is integrated into the person; the way in which the person allows him or herself to be enriched by Christ. Christ radically establishes human life upon Himself and renews it in the Redemption. How then do I allow this tremendous work of grace to take place in me? This is what we call "Christian attitude".
The essential ingredient in Christian attitude is the response that we make to God's self-revelation to us: offering ourselves to God, surrendering to Christ, or as the Council Decree Dei Verbum (no. 5) puts it, by "a free commitment of [our] entire self" to God.
Here we touch upon the most important dimension of Christian attitude and, before moving on, we need to look more fully at this free engagement with the person of Jesus Christ and His liberating impact on our lives.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Another pause for thought.

My recent posts about attitude/ascesis also bring to mind the presence of the secular ascetic within the Christian person, and in coming to a greater awareness of it, to seek to undo it so that we might be more disposed to Christ - so that we might be more converted. I think, for instance, how the secular agenda of the mass media is so formative of our approach to life and to particular human affairs. A recent example of this has been a news item about the 'right to die'. The media's focus on this issue is so manufactured that this 'right' is made to appear so genuine, and that the real duty to care, to support and to love, on the part of individuals and society, is not only forgotten but, in some way, eradicated by the media's presentation.
An increased awareness of the presence of secular ascetic in our culture also enables us to respond to it in a more self-giving way. In other words, the presence of the secular ascetic calls us to a greater compassion and a greater gift of ourselves to the mission of Christ in the world; not condemning secular people, but offering them Christ, and offering them to Christ - seeking that they might likewise be overwhelmed by grace and be free in Christ.  
Thirdly, in writing these posts I have, to some extent, been challenged about what words to use. We need a new vocabulary - one which witnesses to the presence of grace in the new secularising culture in which we live. Christians obviously share the same vocabulary as secular people, but meanings change and nuances arise; Christians need to claim a vocabulary which is genuinely expressive of truth and the mystery of faith in today's context, and which exposes the emptiness of the secular use of language. For instance, 'caring for one another' contrasts directly with 'right to die', 'solidarity' contrasts with 'independence'. 
I'll look next at the formation of the Christian attitude.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Attitude and morality.

I said that before going any further I would look at the foundation of the moral life, since morality is also something which flows from anthropology and spirituality.
The foundations of Christian morality and attitude parallel each other; the Christian moral life then flows out of these foundations, the moral life being shaped by Christian attitude. What I want to do here is to briefly compare Christian and secular morality. In order to do this I need first to describe classical morality; the moral life which was handed on to the Western world by Classical antiquity and embraced by Christianity.
Morality concerns that which will lead to my good (and avoidance of evil). Morality then, involves movement, change, growth, from where I am now, to where I should be. Thus, morality envisages the good that I should seek, the attainment of that good, and the means to achieving that good. Classical antiquity identified the good that I should seek as happiness, the attainment of that happiness as fulfilment, and the means to achieving it as virtue (with law as a pointer or guide).
The Christian life is a radical renewal of morality; the good that one should seek is friendship with God, which one discovers through an encounter with Christ. The attainment of this good is salvation (communion with God and one another), and the means to achieving the good is grace. 
Compared with Classical morality, the Christian life represents a radical renewal of humanity. Objective morality for our forbears, which was the good which I should seek, is now Christ. Subjective morality, which was understood as the growth of my humanity, is now my transformation by Christ. And the means to me achieving the good, which was virtue and the guiding hand of the law - human resourcefulness, is now in grace. Christ is the unique means to human flourishing.
The essential ingredient for the Christian moral life is the encounter with Jesus Christ, who sets a new life process is motion; life in the Spirit. Moral endeavour does not now spring from the Christian, but from Christ. Goodness – the person becoming good – is not the fruit of human effort, but is the fruit of grace.

Secular morality is a misnomer; it merely looks like morality but is, in fact, not a moral system at all. Secularism replaces morality with law. Secularism, which insists on ideological relativism, refuses to acknowledge objective truth. So, it is unable to consider the good that the person should seeks. To do this would align the person with objective truth. Instead, secularism asks, what do you desire? This seems to indicate that one's desires are attainable. But, says secularism, you must remain within the law; do whatever is legal but don't disturb the public order. Or, if need be, we can change the law so that your desires can be acknowledged - so long as public order is maintained. Law then, is presented as the arbiter of morality. In fact, in secular culture law replaces morality. However, this is not all, for secularism has set the human spirit on a quest, a quest governed by law, which now acts as a constraint on my desires. What "secular morality" amounts to is actually a struggle for self-affirmation. "Secular morality" presents an extremely demanding way of life in which I am expected to take control of every situation, and in which life presents an unremitting series of choices. The whole burden of life falls on me. 
Moreover, the secular ethic, which cannot/refuses to see Christ, says that the Christian life is just a set of rules. This understanding of Christian morality - a rule book without grace - has become the popular understanding of Christian morality for many of the baptised also. This tells us that we have much to do in order to re-establish baptised people on the foundation of Christian morality. This foundation is the encounter of the person with Christ, and that which takes place in that encounter - the radical transformation of the person in grace, out of which the Christian moral life flows; a life lived on the basis of the reality of God's love revealed and given in Christ.
It is the transformation of the person by Christ, which is essentially the gift of a new life - life in Christ, life in the Spirit - that shapes the way that the Christian person now undertakes his or her life; the way we live a formed Christian life.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Where are we up to with all this.

What I have been trying to do is to set Christian attitude (classically know as asceticism) in relief, and to show it in contrast with secular asceticism. Ascetical theology is a part of Dogmatic theology and has become somewhat forgotten in our age.
Two books really got me thinking about this subject: Dietricht von Hildebrand's magnum opus "Transformation in Christ"; it is he who refers to this dimension of the Christian life as "Christian attitude". And Karol Wojtyla's book, "Sources of Renewal".
Up to now I have been speaking about the nature and foundation of Christian attitude, which flows out of the Christian identity of the person - Christian anthropology, and which takes root in the person through their relationship with Christ - the Spiritual life. Anthropology and Spirituality then, are the foundations of Christian attitude.
It is obviously important for me to speak about the way in which Christian attitude is formed and grows, and about the concrete practical ways in which our Christian attitude is expressed and leads into our daily Christian living. I will get on to this soon, but before that I should post on the moral life, the foundation of which is also the foundation of the Christian attitude. After that I will get into the practical stuff.
To sum up what I have said so far in all these posts in which I have compared Christian attitude with secular asceticism, I would say this:
Western culture today has lost sight of the relationship which God wishes to have with us, and has placed material things and worldy endeavours in its stead. Our age seeks to live from self-enlightenment and says that the "Great Mystery" (God's plan for humanity to live in communion with Him) is not necessary today. The secular ascetic embraces self-focus as an unremitting and soulless struggle with my desires. Christian attitude is a yielding of self before a Mystery which is far greater than me, and which moves me by love.
What is that makes so many people see the secular life as so attractive, we might ask!

Friday, 19 April 2013

The undoing of the secular ascetic within us

Another way of looking at the importance of ‘Christian attitude’ is for the undoing of the secular mind in Christians and for the renewal of the Christian life. Without a lively appreciation of the Christian attitude it so easy for Christians to think with the secular mind: what obligation-driven purpose is calling me to respond, how is the culture calling me to think or act, how can I fit in with or what are my obligations to the secular culture?
Such an ascetic as this actually inhibits and seems to make redundant the Christian attitude of receiving, responding to and relating, immediately, here and now, with the presence of the Risen Christ. The Christian attitude seeks to be more aware of how great is the gift, how wonderful the way in which I am loved by Christ, how can I love Him?  It is an attitude that seeks to embrace the concrete reality of my life in the light of my relationship with Christ. Not to be led by the culture, but to discern my response to it in the light of Christ. That ability to receive Him, respond to Him, and embrace the relationship I have with Him, can so easily be occluded if I don’t have an appreciation of, and a desire for the formation of my Christian attitude. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Why all these posts on asceticism or attitude?

Because asceticism or attitude refers to the way in which we personally engage with grace, or in default of that response, the way in which we embrace a life-style. It represents the way in which our interior life is formed and how it subsequently directs our concrete way of living.
In terms of the Christian life, we speak on the one hand of “the faith”, “the truths of faith”, the doctrine about Christ, the doctrine of Christ and His Church. And on the other hand, we speak about our actual Christian lives – what we do, the way in which we live out that faith.
These are the two expressed elements of Christianity yet there is a third element: that interior place where nature and grace meet, and in which my personal and unrepeatable subjectivity is formed.
Christian attitude looks at how the reality of Christ, the presence of the Father and the gift of the Holy Spirit actually make their encounter with me, and me with them; how I actually engage with grace. This engagement with grace, which takes place in my interior, my subjectivity; my consciousness and my conscience, comes to involve my heart, my mind, my will, so that my whole person, my whole life is involved.
Put it very simplistically: what you see is the Church presenting the Christian faith and then you see me trotting along to Mass on Sundays. But what has taken place within me, that the way in which I live my life, in some way, mirrors that presentation of the Gospel?
Asceticism is an essential element of Christianity – it is the human interface with the Divine, which I am calling in these posts “Christian attitude”. If we don’t have an appreciation of Christian attitude, then the Faith and the way we live it can come to seem disconnected; faith and life can appear as two separate entities. In some way, it is a failure to appreciate Christian attitude that has led many baptised people to live as practical pagans.
Secular asceticism is analogous to Christian attitude, only in this instance the interface is not so much with the Divine, but either with myself, or with those ‘representations of reality’ that I allow to impinge on me. This is the precise dynamic of secularism: the secular mind places the self as the enlightened and enlightening subject.   
Secular asceticism is aligned with solipsism, but since secular culture is so strong, its philosophical identity with solipsism is not adverted to. 
The human interface in secular asceticism has the same essential structure; that of the human person – that we are set up (by God) to receive, respond and relate, but the secular mind, instead of allowing that human structure to function, instead channels human energy either into self-fixation or into activity which is valued precisely because it provides a stimulus. Secular asceticism is then, aligned with the neurotic component of human life; it represents a deformation or wounding of human subjectivity. Everyone is neurotic, to a degree, but the secular mind inhabits this component of life more unselfconsciously. Christians generally live their neuroses more evidently, as they wrestle against them through the impact which grace has on their lives (eg. St Peter, St Paul, St Mary Magdalene, St Augustine, St Therese, St Teresa Benedicta), revealing the converting and transforming power of the Lord, who enables the person to receive grace, respond to grace, and inhabit the relationship (with Him).
So, to speak about “Christian attitude” is to shed light on the foundations of our Christian lives as we actually live them, and to point us to a fuller embracing of Christ and of the real possibility of our reaching full stature in Him.