Sunday, April 12, 2009

Urbi et Orbi--Easter 2009

Following a long tradition, the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church delivered an Easter message--Urbi et Orbi; Easter 2009. While much of the Western press coverage focused on the usual--hopes for peace in the Middle East and the like, the address, understood as a whole, was meant to convey more than a simpleminded statement of political hopes. For its richness, and for its expression of the values framework within which the organized Catholic Church will pursue its theological, social and political work, the message--Urbi et Orbi, is worth study.

Benedict spins an intricate discourse from a simple premise: “Resurrectio Domini, spes nostrathe resurrection of the Lord is our hope.” Urbi et Orbi, supra. In this he proposes a conceptual framework in a state of potential, like the fist several verses of Genesis--hope for individuals and humanity through personal and aggregate reconstitution within the parameters of a divinely driven system in which God has directly intervened in history, confounding the division between faith and reason, the physical and spiritual planes. This is condensed into the lens of faith and reason through which the resurrection acquires meaning for believer and non-believer. The touchstone is historicity as a gateway to faith.
Indeed, one of the questions that most preoccupies men and women is this: what is there after death? To this mystery today’s solemnity allows us to respond that death does not have the last word, because Life will be victorious at the end. This certainty of ours is based not on simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact of faith: Jesus Christ, crucified and buried, is risen with his glorified body. Jesus is risen so that we too, believing in him, may have eternal life. This proclamation is at the heart of the Gospel message.
Urbi et Orbi, supra. But mere historicity is uninteresting in itself. It is the connectivity of this particular historical connection between the world of humans and the divine that begins to reveal its importance. "The resurrection, then, is not a theory, but a historical reality revealed by the man Jesus Christ by means of his “Passover”, his “passage”, that has opened a “new way” between heaven and earth." Id. Here a reminder of a different historicity, connecting Resurrection with the older covenant between God and the Jews. This is a message that Benedict has elaborated elsewhere:
Because of that growth in trust and friendship, Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the deep spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial (zikkarôn) of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan. . . . Christians and Jews share this hope; we are in fact, as the prophets say, “prisoners of hope” (Zachariah 9: 12). This bond permits us Christians to celebrate alongside you, though in our own way, the Passover of Christ’s death and resurrection, which we see as inseparable from your own, for Jesus himself said: “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4: 22). Our Easter and your Pesah, while distinct and different, unite us in our common hope centered on God and his mercy.
Benedict XVI, Message to the Jewish Community on the Feast of Pesah, April 14, 2008. But this connectivity does not merely look back to the "ancient" and unbroken covenant with the Jews, but also forward to the great threat that modernity poses to the Church.
The proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection lightens up the dark regions of the world in which we live. I am referring particularly to materialism and nihilism, to a vision of the world that is unable to move beyond what is scientifically verifiable, and retreats cheerlessly into a sense of emptiness which is thought to be the definitive destiny of human life.
Urbi et Orbi, supra.

Fiat lux! The Resurrection is now posited as a bookend to the start of the world in the first verses of Genesis. And in that bookending, Satan is born as well--a creature of darkness, that which has not developed in miracle of creation--now in the form of unbelief. This is an old enemy of Benedict, on which he has written extensively. See, e.g., See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, Instruction On Certain Aspects Of The "Theology Of Liberation" Aug. 6, 1984 ; Larry Catá Backer, Fides et Ratio: Religion and Law in Legal Orders Suffused by Faith, Law at the End of the Day, July 30, 2007; Larry Catá Backer, Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, Law at the End of the Day, September 12, 2006. Again, Benedict uses the well worn formulas of binaries--life/death, light/darkness, fullness/emptiness, reality/illusion--to emphasize the reality of faith over the illusion of science without faith. "If we take away Christ and his resurrection, there is no escape for man, and every one of his hopes remains an illusion. Yet today is the day when the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection vigorously bursts forth, and it is the answer to the recurring question of the sceptic." Urbi et Orbi, supra.

These binaries find physical expression in Saul of Tarsus, known to Christians as Paul--and also a moral.
Let us look at this great evangelizer, who with bold enthusiasm and apostolic zeal brought the Gospel to many different peoples in the world of that time. Let his teaching and example inspire us to go in search of the Lord Jesus. Let them encourage us to trust him, because that sense of emptiness, which tends to intoxicate humanity, has been overcome by the light and the hope that emanate from the resurrection.
Urbi et Orbi, supra. And thus we return to the theme, the possibility of a unity of the ultimate binary--that between the divine and humanity.
If it is true that death no longer has power over man and over the world, there still remain very many, in fact too many signs of its former dominion. Even if through Easter, Christ has destroyed the root of evil, he still wants the assistance of men and women in every time and place who help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love.
Urbi et Orbi, supra. And it is at this point that historicity, and the union of the human and divine comes to its inevitable political message:
Africa suffers disproportionately from the cruel and unending conflicts, often forgotten, that are causing so much bloodshed and destruction in several of her nations, and from the growing number of her sons and daughters who fall prey to hunger, poverty and disease. I shall repeat the same message emphatically in the Holy Land, to which I shall have the joy of travelling in a few weeks from now. Reconciliation – difficult, but indispensable – is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My thoughts move outwards from the Holy Land to neighbouring countries, to the Middle East, to the whole world. At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty, of disturbing climate change, of violence and deprivation which force many to leave their homelands in search of a less precarious form of existence, of the ever-present threat of terrorism, of growing fears over the future, it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope.
Urbi et Orbi, supra. These are not merely political conflicts, but religious ones as well. See, Larry Catá Backer, Law: Benedict XVI and the Constitution of Political States, Law at the End of the Day (June 30, 2007). They suggest that values and not politics, might serve as the basis for resolution. And they also suggest that globally representative institutions producing such values--including the Catholic Church--ought to be at the forefront of the resolution of such conflicts between light and darkness. See Larry Catá Backer, Ecce Homo: Reflections on Benedict XVI's Careful Comments to the United Nations, Law at the End of the Day, April 19, 2008 ("It seems that political legitimacy requires an adherence to legitimate substantive norms, which may only be derived from those universal truths beyond the reach of individuals or even communities of the faithless. Only faith communities can legitimately provide those norms--a notion echoed elsewhere by the faith communities of Islam and institutionalized in constitutions from that vary in form from that of Saudi Arabia to that of Iran.").

And thus meaning comes around to itself. "Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra! The resurrection of Christ is our hope! . . . . She communicates the hope that she carries in her heart and wishes to share with all people in every place, especially where Christians suffer persecution because of their faith and their commitment to justice and peace. She invokes the hope that can call forth the courage to do good, even when it costs, especially when it costs. " Urbi et Orbi, supra. The simple proclamation is unveiled as a condensed expression of a meaning in which the Church continues to call its faithful to a values bases global political task. Just as the Church's cosmology is deeply rooted in the belief in the historical reality of the paradox of human divinity, so its values and politics reflect that core framework. Even the simplest statement, then, can be layered in meaning. Though whether the faithful will approach that political task in light or darkness, even on the Church's terms, remains always to be seen. Eric Gorski, Obama Notre Dame Visit Stirs Catholic Debate, AP March 28, 2009.

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