Thursday, 15 November 2012

Amazing mechanisms

Crab Nebula

During this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI has started a series of sermons on the Creed, with the latest focusing on how one can come to know God. He starts out by emphasizing that God respects each person’s freedom and that, instead of us having to look for Him, He seeks us out and makes himself known to us. Nonetheless, Benedict picks out three sources for finding signs of God and exhorts believers to “[a]lways be ready to respond, but with gentleness and respect, to anyone who asks you for the hope that is in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15) The Gospel needs to be communicated “joyfully, feeling it to be [one’s] own, through a life truly animated by faith, marked by charity, service to God and to others, and capable of radiating hope.”

The three sources of signs of God’s presence that Benedict puts forward are: “the world, man and faith”:
1. The world. “[D]azzled by the glitter of worldliness,” we are in danger of becoming blind to how the universe can fill us with wonder. Instead, “contemplat[ing] creation, its beauty, its structure” leads us to discover its “amazing mechanisms” and patterns that can lead to an intuition of the “Beautiful One” who is behind them. Benedict quotes Einstein here as saying that the laws of nature “reveal such a superior reason that all rational thought and human law is but a very insignificant reflection by comparison” (The World as I See it). This is not to be taken naively as: look at nature and you’ll instantly believe in God. That is not what Benedict means, nor would that respect our freedom. Instead, the point is: look around you, contemplate the beauty and intricacy of the universe, instead of just getting sucked into the consumerist rat-race, and you might discover God. This is not proselytism (with the emphasis on freedom and on it being up to God to call people, instead of saying that they ought to make the first move, or even be made to make it!) - his advice is good regardless of what you think about the likelihood of God’s existence and is very clearly mirrored in the mystical traditions of all religions and of contemplative practice outside religion.

2. Man. Benedict here quotes St. Augustine as saying: “God is closer to me than I am to myself” (cf. Confessions, III, 6, 11) and “truth dwells in the heart of man” (True Religion, 39, 72). “The ability to stop and take a deep look within ourselves and read that thirst for the infinite that we carry within” is at risk of being lost “in the noisy and distracted world in which we live.” Again Benedict basically says (to paraphrase him): “Don’t take my word for it - just give yourself a chance to reflect about yourself and the world you live in and I believe you will see signs of God’s presence.”

3. Faith. Here Benedict argues that looking at those who believe is a hint about God’s presence too:
He who believes is united with God, is open to His grace, to the power of charity. So his existence becomes a witness not of himself, but of the Risen Christ, and his faith is not afraid to show itself in everyday life, it is open to dialogue that expresses deep friendship for the journey of every man, and knows how to bring the light of hope to the need for redemption, happiness, and future.
This echoes Archbishop Williams’ recent words on what holy people are like and again underlines the “self-noughting” of those who truly believe in God and their friendship with and openness towards all. Benedict proceeds to spell out misconceptions of faith as “illusion, escapism, a comfortable shelter, sentimentality” and instead contrasts them agains what it is: an “involvement in every aspect of life.”
Finally, Benedict concludes with a call for all Christians to purify themselves and make themselves “conform to” Jesus also so that others may rid themselves of a misunderstanding of Christianity as a “mere system of beliefs.” Instead:
Christianity, before being a moral or ethical value, is the experience of love, of welcoming the person of Jesus. For this reason, the Christian and Christian communities must first look to and help others to look to Christ, the true path that leads to God.