April 5, 2009

On the frontier...

....To come at the answer to this we may hark back to Catholic theology itself, which is sacramental. That is, the Church, in keeping with the whole scriptural rendering of things, teaches that in the realm of salvation the physical world has not been huddled offstage, so to speak, but has been swept in, along with the whole creation, to the precincts of the holy, so that physical things (bread, wine, water) may become the very points at which the unseen and eternal touches the seen and temporal.

It is a natural religious tendency to huddle the physical offstage: hence the great appeal of all forms of gnosticism. We mortals like to think of ourselves as "spiritual", which of course we are; but in our eagerness to think thus, we often blithely jump out of our flesh-and-blood selves and talk as though we were pure spirits, disembodied. The poor flesh is left on one side, both in our imaginings and in our religious exercises. For nonsacramentalist Christians, it is permitted to sit or stand perhaps, since how else shall we dispose ourselves for religious gatherings. We may speak and sing and listen, since these activities indicate what is in our thoughts and our hearts, but let us not kneel or bow or make physical gestures like the sign of the Cross, or sprinkle things with holy water and hail our olfactory nerve-endings with incense: all of that is too heavily physical, and we know that the physical has been set aside by the New Testament.

No says the Church. No says the Bible. No says our humanity. The New Testament was inaugurated not by the Word of God arriving through the ether, but by that very "Word" arriving and lodging in the womb of a woman.nd then this coming of the Word to us proceeds on its way with a Visitation, when its cousin, also in the womb, leaps in recognition, and with a Circumcision, and hunger and fatigue and tears, and finally thorns and flogging and Crucifixion.

Very physical, this New Covenant. But of course then things rise to a pure spirituality surely? Yes, if we mean by this that a New Creation is now inaugurated. But if we mean that all is now restricted to thoughts and spirits, and the human intellect and will, then no. A body comes back from the dead; whatever this body is, it is not a phantom. It has wounds, not illusionary wounds; and it can eat..... The very words real and physical and literal are "born again", so to speak, when they appear in this New Creation: but they are not empty metaphors. They summon us to the mystery that presides over this frontier between the seen, as we are accustomed to it, and the unseen, which reaches beyond our mortal imaginings.

And it is on this very frontier that Christian gathering for worship occurs. It matters that the people—embodied men and women and children—show up...
From, On Being Catholic, by Thomas Howard Posted by John Weidner at April 5, 2009 5:18 AM
Weblog by John Weidner