Saturday, December 01, 2007

Spe Salvi

Benedict XVI put out his newest encyclical on November 30, and it's well worth reading.

Brief summary of the encyclical:

Paul says, "In hope we are saved" (Rm. 8:24). What can justify that?

The Christian faith is not merely informative but performative; it doesn't merely make things known, it makes things happen, because Christian faith involves hope, and the one with hope lives differently, with a new life.

The hope that is redemption is life with God; a good example is St. Josephine Bakhita of Darfur, and this experience is discovered as well in the early Church.

Human beings live lives in a sort of paradox; we want life to continue, for us and for our loved ones, but we don't want merely to live indefinitely. We know and yet do not know what we want, and reach out for something out of our reach. We use the term 'eternal life' to describe this 'unknown' that we want, something that would not merely be interminable but life in its fullest and most proper sense.

Christian hope is not individualistic but social; the known unknown that we seek is to be numbered among a people. But there is an idea that hope is selfish rather than social. We find the reason for this in the foundations of the modern age, in which the disturbing step is taken of trying to find salvation in a union of science and technological practice. Faith became faith in progress, and hope, which is intimately tied to faith, became perverse.

Technological progress must be matched by ethical progress; calculating reason must look beyond itself and direct the will along the right path; fully human freedom requires the convergence, based on something else, of various kinds of freedom. The point put simply: man needs hope, so man needs God.

Institutions, however important, cannot guarantee the moral well-being of the world; even the best ones can only function when people are motivated as a community to assent freely to the social order. Thus we cannot definitively establish the world of good will; free assent must be constantly won over to the cause of good, so every generation in a sense begins anew. Yet it is also the case that ever generation must make its own contribution to those institutions for good and for freedom that can serve as a guideline to the next generation.

We are redeemed by love; in Jesus Christ we can say, "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). This love is life, and it is communal life, for it is union with the one who gave Himself for all. Loving God, we participate in His justice and love for others. We see an example of this in the life of St. Augustine.

How, then, may we learn and practice hope? First, through prayer, prayer that is both personal and guided and illuminated by the great prayers of the Church and the saints in the liturgy. Second, in contexts of action and suffering, we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to good, and courageously place ourselves on the side of good even when it is difficult to do so. St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh provides a useful example of this; and perhaps it would be judicious to revive, moderately and reasonably, the practice of 'offering up' the hardships we experience. Third, by faith in the Last Judgment, which is a faith in the ultimate justice of the order of the world; God's judgment is hope because it is both justice and grace. And fourth, by taking Mary as our sea-star (stella maris) of hope in our journey of faith.