Speaking of Kierkegaard, Kafka once said, "His demonstration goes hand in hand with an enchantment. One may shun the demonstration and enter the world of the enchantment, or shun that of the enchantment and pass into the world of logic, but one may also stifle both together, insofar as they have become a third element, namely living enchantment, a destruction of the world which, far from destroying it, constructs it."
This third element, in Kafka's thought, was no doubt mystical theology in its most negative form. For us, though, it will simply be spontaneity naively recovered after reflexion and its poetic extension. To enter the Kingdom, it is necessary to be like little children (Matt. 18:3), but never forgetting Saint Paul's "when I became a man, I put away childish things"(I Cor. 13:11). The spirit of childhood and the rejection of childishness are both equally necessary.
It is difficult to believe in God when God is a desert. Solitude with God brings peace, solitude away from God is dessication. Solitude in the midst of a crowd is often so unbearable that one is ready to do anything in order to escape from it. Even God is then something we have recourse to and "use" as a "means". Not God at all, but his falsified image. That explains why, rejecting for me that degradation, he withdraws. The "means" fail. Then God is God. He is never so much so as when I "lack" him. But that is very painful. It is painful for him too. He suffers in making me suffer. If he hurts me, he hurts himself. Yet being hurt in having to hurt me is his joy. It is the price of union. If I turn away, either from a silent standing before his absence, or from an unenthusiastic performance of my task as a person, I wound him with another kind of wound. Suffering from the hurt he causes me by love, he suffers still more from the hurt I cause myself by lack of love. Hurt in another, more fearful sense. But his beatitude is unchangeable. "God is hurt by nothing," said Angelus Silesius, "he has never suffered, and yet my soul can wound him to the heart." There lies the paradox of the transcendence, which I must never cease to affirm, and which transcends itself in the vulnerability of love.
Father and Spirit were no passive spectators of the torture of the Son. Their love was in action by absence and silence. They stood at a distance, mute, in order to abolish all distance and all communication which might have prevented the perfection of the union. They suffered in making the Just suffer. Hurt in having to hurt him, Easter and Pentecost testify that it was for the Three the highest joy, not for a space of time, but eternally.
Far from the heights, in those places not far from the quagmires where walking is heavy and slow, the desert is intermittent. Any wound is slight, quickly healed. The quantity of gratuitousness is minute. The suffering of God is then his patience. I being what I am, he has to restrain himself from emptying me out. He awaits the hour. That is the "longsuffering" (macrothumia) Saint Paul mentions (I Cor. 13:4).
I have to believe that "within the meanest miser, at the core of the prostitute and of the filthiest drunkard, there is an immortal soul which is devoutly occupied in breathing and which, excluded from the daylight, practices nocturnal adoration." Even within the socialite, or within the crooked businessman, selfish, vain, and calmly in league with blatant inequalities, I have to believe that there is "a sacred point saying Pater Noster." That is more difficult than believing in God and in his Christ. If I seriously want to pray for all these, and without condescension, I must think (sincerity here is a grace) that I am worth no more than they. I must also, with the eyes of faith, "see" the Spirit, who is in me more I than I, who is in all those more they than they, joyful and "grieved" (Eph. 4:30) at the same time.
What does it mean to "love in God" those whom "in humanity" one cannot love? It means desiring that in God the joy increase and the grief decrease, and that so, within me, because of God, human sympathy come to light and antipathy fall into night. Because of God? Am I going to hear here the old reproach, blaming christians for not loving people for themselves? My reply is that people are loveable in themselves and for themselves when the face of God, who created them in his image and in view of his likeness, is close beside them, radiant with joy.
The highest beatitude is the most desirable, that corresponding to the noblest and finest quality of the soul. But while it is the joy of loving, beatitude is also a suffering of loving. My weakness would prefer to separate the two, dismiss the suffering and possess the joy. It is not possible. I pray that God will give me some inkling of how suffering is in him one component of beatitude. At least like a distant perfume, or like a faint note breathed out of Eden, or like one of those "night drops" that Gregory of Nyssa mentions, which "refresh the spirit with thoughts fine and dark." It certainly seems that the mystics, in their most arid of deserts, at least sometimes and for a split second breath that perfume, hear that note, feel that freshness. It is enough to make them desire only God and to love as He loves.
When God creates, eternally for him, now for us, he knows that his Luxuriance becomes a desert, his Splendour a night, his Beatitude a cross. The essence of christian spirituality is to live in the duty of the present moment that Paradox. That is what one is in danger of forgetting when, declaring oneself a christian, one refuses to share one's bread. Bread is a symbol. It is really a question of justice. There are cases where what justice demands is obvious. There are others where the intellectual efforts required to discover concretely its conditions are arduous, complex, and long. Therein is the cross of Christ. It is beautiful to celebrate it liturgically, it is more urgent not to displace it.
The People of God expects its priests to exemplify in their lives that "coincidence of opposites" which makes man like God. There is no reason why the priest today should not strive to do so, as in times past. This manuscript found at Salzburg dates from the Middle Ages:
A priest must be
At the same time great and small,
Noble-minded as if of royal blood,
Simple and natural as if of peasant stock,
A hero of self-mastery,
A man who has striven with God,
A source of sanctification,
A sinner whom God has forgiven,
In control of his desires,
A servant of the timid and weak,
Who does not bow down before the mighty
But bends before the poor,
His Master's disciple,
Leader of his flock,
A beggar with hands held wide,
A bringer of countless gifts,
A man on the battlefield,
A mother to comfort the sick,
With the wisdom of age
And the trust of a child,
With both feet on the ground,
Made for joy,
Acquainted with grief,
Far from all envy,
A friend of peace,
An enemy of sloth,
Faithful for ever...
So different from me!
"When I was in the factory," wrote Simone Weil, "...other people's unhappiness pierced my flesh and soul... There I received for ever the mark of slavery, like the sign the Romans used to brand onto the foreheads of their most despised slaves." There are millions of slaves, in every milieu, every place. The powers that oppress, be they people, things, or institutions, are sophisticated. The masters are more slave than the slaves, the selfishness that inspires the exercise of their power being the most despotic of all powers. They endure more within themselves than they make those without endure. Whence a universal slavery of humanity, whom God "has called to freedom" (Gal. 5:13). Some lines from Baudelaire find their way into my prayer: "We have seen everywhere... The boring sight of immortal sin... Man, the tyrant, stuffed, bawdy, hard and grasping, Slave of the slave and trickle in the sewer... The poison of power wasting the despot, And the people in love with the numbing lash." My task is to liberate these and those, according to what I am, and what I can do. If God were not in me Force of liberation, I would not believe in him. What have I to do with an idol?
Christ in Gethsemane drained the cup of slavery to the very last drop. "By his incarnation," wrote Father Pousset, "he destined himself to be a slave. He took "the condition of slave" (Phil. 2:7), not only amongst others, but also towards God, as a malefactor. Christ lived out his relationship of love with the Father in the mode of the relationship between a slave and his master. This is the mystery of the agony." For one moment, Jesus ceases to desire what the Father desires, without ceasing to be ready to "endure" the Master's will. "He took upon himself our condition and really took our place: he experienced the limitation of the creature and the resistance of our negative wills, for our way of being in relationship with God when we are sinners is to be obliged and forced to obey; even when we bend our resisting wills, we are in the situation of slaves before their master. That may not be the last word on our relationship with God, nonetheless it passes by there when God's hand tightens on us and sin emerges." But this master- slave relationship is experienced by Christ only to be surpassed. He is the Son: he at once responds, not to the will of the Master, but to the Father's desire. Through the master-slave relationship, he "restores the loving relationship of Father-Son, but in living it out." The Resurrection is the sign of this victory: the Father declares, not in words but in act, that the Son has made him known as he is.
If the Son suffered himself to be the obedient slave, what shall we say of the Father who consented to appear to him as the commanding Master?
From Simone Weil:
"It is not joy and grief that are opposed, but the various species of each. There is a joy and a sorrow that are infernal, a joy and a grief that heal, a joy and a grief that are heavenly."
"Do not seek not to suffer, or to suffer less, but seek not to be reduced by suffering." If such an integrity is possible for us, how much more for God!
"Beauty: a fruit we behold without stretching out a hand. Equally, an unhappiness we behold without drawing back."
"Poetry: ... a joy so pure and undiluted that it hurts. A pain so pure and undiluted that is soothes."
"I spent ten days at Solesmes... I had splitting head-aches; every sound hurt like a blow; yet an extreme effort of attention allowed me to get out of this wretched flesh, to let it suffer on its own, hunched in its corner, while I found pure and perfect joy in the incredible beauty of the singing and the words."
If I had been nailed on the cross with Christ, my side against his side, my hands against his hands, my feet against his feet, the same nails piercing him and piercing me, our bloods mingling in one blood, would it have hurt as much? Yes, surely: love does not prevent lacerated flesh from thrilling with pain. Would I have cried out? I do not know. But what a transmutation! Now, it is a hundred million people who are crucified every day, on every continent! If they knew Christ, they might perhaps say, or try to say, with Saint Bernard: "The faithful soldier does not feel his wounds, when he lovingly contemplates the wounds of his king." But I cannot propose this "consolation" if I know myself to be in league with those who nail their brethren to the cross.
It is not true that the dialogue of opposites is the sign of human finitude. It is constitutive of the perfection of God. Our finitude is much more manifested by the insufficiency or the perversion of our dialogues. We little know how to "imitate God" (Eph. 5:1). In certain sectors of the church, people are proud of a superficiality that is considered a factor of equilibrium, and that is, in fact, a factor of division. People harden into dualisms the dualities of which the real is composed, and that leads them to reduce their scale, and not recognize their full depth. So it is that people set reflection and action in opposition, giving the preference to the latter against the former. Marx, whose name is taken by more than one, insisted that each was inherent in the other, and there is one union bulletin that remembers that, printing on the front page of every issue "No action without reflection, no reflection without action." Similarly, people will adapt to the ebb and flow of rationalism and fideism, without realizing that they themselves are responsible for these alternating, ruinous forms of unilateralism, insofar as they continue to make do with a completely superficial manner of conceiving the problem of the relationship between reason and faith. Or again, they will opt for one particular, either individual or collective, despising the universal, unless, in the name of the group or community, and under the cloak of reacting against an individualism which is indeed fatal, they completely forget the individual person, their responsibility, and their freedom.
In the end, if we are not careful, we are brought up against two antithetical monsters: a theology with no pastoral concern, or a pastoral concern with no theology. Within each, especially the latter, dualisms are reborn and flourish. False dialogues instituted, and even institutionalized, at an infantile level, yield the bitterest of all fruits: the impossibility of any dialogue. Sterility, division, alienation, passion, all kinds of excitation, confusion: the so-called "crisis" is not overcome; it is made worse.
In order to dialogue deeply with other people, there must first be serious dialogue with oneself. It is at the heart of the individual person that the dualities have to be unified. Fraternal encounters, and they are undoubtedly one of the graces of our time, can nourish silent meditation; they do not take its place. The same Holy Spirit leads out into the desert and gathers into community.
From Paul Claudel:
"Shameless, oh our God, oh Father and Mother of Israel, such as you show it to us, your way of being impassible!"
"Advance, Israel! Forward, People of God! It was not for you that rest was made, nor delight in the half-way house. God ahead of you suffers from all those mysteries with which he is full, and of which you alone can relieve him. How much longer still, through what cruel oppositions, are you going to refuse him that pure Virgin He asks of you, in whose womb he is burning to take flesh? How much longer still are you going to refuse Him the cross to mount? How much longer still, says God, are you going to make Me wait for that omnipotent word that you know full well I shall be unable to resist? that priceless syllable that since the creation of the world I have been asking of your lips, purified: Fiat!"
"The loving God who is hurt and who cries out."
"The lance in Longinus' hands went farther than the heart of Christ. It opened God, it passed into the very midst of the Trinity."
Ivan Karamazov, talking with Aliocha, recalls the legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller: "A traveller, starving and frozen, arrived one day, begging him to warm him; the saint stretched out on him, took him in his arms, and began to breathe directly into the wretch's festering mouth, infected with some horrible disease." How little I am moved by the certitude I have that the mouth of God is eternally pressed against my purulence. Purulence is not too strong a word. It is used by Ignatius of Loyola, and by Fenelon, too. I am as sure of the stench of my breath as of the nearness of the breath of the Spirit. Yet my grief is dry. This dryness is bitter to me, but the bitterness itself is scarcely perceptible, and I only just dare offer it in token of gratitude. Ivan Karamazov says he is convinced that Julian "did this with an effort, lying to himself, with a feeling of love dictated by duty and by a spirit of penitence. For a man has to be hidden before he can be loved; once he shows his face, love disappears." Other characters in Dostoevski speak the same language: Stravogine in The Devils, Versilov in An Adolescent. They are right, and Saint Bernard thinks like them: "I know, a perfect knowledge of one another cannot be gained in this life; maybe we should not even desire it. If, truly, in the heavely dwelling knowledge nourishes love, here below it might do it a disservice; for who can boast of the absolute cleanliness of their heart? Then very quickly there would be both shame for the one known, and an unpleasant surprise for the one knowing. There will only be happiness in knowing one another when there is no more defilement." The warning is timely: the modern taste for community, religious or secular, has to be clear-sighted if it is to remain healthy.
"If you knew your sins, you would lose heart!" Jesus Christ knows them with a perfect knowledge. Yet "I love you, he says, more ardently than you loved your defilements." The gaze of God on me is really a kiss. Poets, without any religious sentiment, have sensed the power of the image: "Kissing with the eyes forms and colours," says Rene Char. This divine kiss is at the same time a kiss of creation, of divinization, and of pardon. A kiss moistened with tears. Is that anthropomorphism? Let those who wish prefer the anthropomorphism of dry cheeks. Personally, my choice is made. If a mother whose children are suffering were to say, "I am so happy in my husband's arms that the pain of my sons and daughters does not affect me," nothing could be more unhappy for her than such a happiness. If this were to be God's position, it would be the absolute unhappiness. The unhappiness of being God.
From a fourteenth-century Indian mystic:
He came in search of me.
The night was dark.
Heavy clouds encircled the sky.
He came by this solitary way,
soaked with the rain.
I was there with my friends
And was playing with my childish toys.
Alas! I did not go out to meet him,
But he came, he stayed beneath the trees,
Soaked with the rain.
Quoting this text, Father Georges Morel writes, "when we say that God is passible, that is not projecting onto him our own helplessness, it is a trembling step across the threshold beyond which it at last appears, as something flagrantly obvious, that vulnerability pertains to his essence, although we can indicate nothing of it except an imperceptible trace."
Can I believe that the Three Persons who are One in being and in act, in love and in beatitude, are not also One in suffering? If my thoughts go sliding off in that direction, Nestorius is in wait for me at the bottom of the slope, and even the Docetists. For in that case the temptation becomes very strong to deny that Jesus is the Word.
But I read in Saint John: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son" (Jn. 3:16). In giving his Son, the Father in some sort gives more than himself, since, as Father, he is only by and for the Son. It is Jesus who hands himself over, but it is also the Father who hands him over. The Spirit is the kiss uniting the crucifying Father and the crucifed Son.
In meditating on this mystery, obviously I avoid, despite certain awkward cliches, imagining an offended God who somehow "demands", so that justice shall be done, a compensation in spilt blood. "Demand" has no meaning if, in handing over the Son, the Father is crucifying himself. Each of the Three Persons is both crucifying and crucified. The cross of Jesus is at the heart of a love eternally in the form of Sacrifice. It is identically the Beatitude of the most One God. For love would not know perfect joy if it were not faithful to itself through to the end.
The Spirit is the gentle light, or the explosion of joy, on the faces of Father and Son whom he unites while keeping them distinct.
If anybody says that hell is a reality, they are claiming to have information about the beyond which christians do not have. Hell means damnation, and nobody knows if there are any damned. Hell is, and that is quite different, a real eventuality inscribed at the heart of human freedom respected without any cheating. In one and the same indivisible act, God creates, offers his own life to be shared, invites reception of it. An absolute respect is interior to that act. Love would not be love, if it manipulated freedom in order to obtain reciprocity at all costs. Forcing to love is not to love. What can God do but suffer, if man commits the very roots of his being in a conscious and stubborn egoism? Here we touch an extreme where the intelligence hesitates, perplexed and disarmed. If damnation is for man a terrible eventuality, how much more so for God? Why think only of me? or of us? and so little of Him? Strictly speaking, dogma does not inform, it summons to an inner attitude: hope in the form of prayer. I hope for all people, without a single exception, no matter how monstrous in the eyes of the universe; I hope for God, too. I pray God for all; I pray him too for Him.
A prayer of Kierkegaard, to obtain the understanding of the silence of God:
Never permit us to forget that you also speak when you are silent; give us too that confidence, as we await your coming, that you keep silence out of love, as you speak out of love. So, whether you are silent or whether you speak, you are always the same Father, the same fatherly heart, whether you guide us by your voice or raise us by your silence.
On Easter Day 1943, Emmanuel Mounier wrote to his wife: "Whether God is felt or not is secondary. Still, it really hurts when you scarcely feel him."
"It really hurts!" Here is the expression of tenderness that witnesses to the fact that Mounier's solid indifference to feelings and emotion did not hide in him some kind of lukewarm ness towards the living God. He saw God in people and events, he was with him in the day-to-day achievement of his task, but he loved him as Himself, that Other addressed as "Thou". He was a man of prayer and of meditation as much as of action.
Is it the flesh or the spirit that moves us to act? In many cases, without our knowing it, instinct is the strongest motivation. Love of others is then a form of self-love. The portion of generosity mingled in it does not survive beyond the threshold of disappointments. As soon as there is failure, we draw back. Mounier indicates the standard of discernment.
A person who is not suffering only half helps a person who is suffering. We all feel this vaguely, hesitating in times of trouble to turn to neighbours who are happy and satisfied. Because, although neighbours, they are not near. If an emergency demands it, we resign ourselves to the gesture, but our heart is not in it. There is a lack of accord -- ad cor. When the strings of two violins are well tuned, in accord, if one vibrates the other sings. But condescending pity, even translated as spontaneous and generous help, does not touch musically the soul of one in trouble.
God affects us musically. Grace vibrates. "Lord, have pity" is ambiguous. What we are invoking is a heart throbbing with pain.
There is nothing to dispense us from wanting greater justice and working towards it, even if reflection and experience reveal that it is, and no doubt always will be, ambivalent. It is a very tight knot that unites religious depth with social and political action. It demands great patience, in both senses of the word: courage or energetic reaction in the face of difficulty -- upomone (I Cor. 13:7) -- and longanimity or meekness in the long-term -- macrothumia (ibid. v.4). But patience deteriorates if it is not quickened by impatience. Healthy patience is impatience maintained and overcome at the same time. The spiritual root of this impatience is that love which could never come to terms with the incredible slowness of men in building a human world. But deeper still, at the root of the root, lies the impatience of God. When love is infinite, impatience with evil is infinite too; and the patience no less so. These contraries, inherent in each other, are in eternal dialogue.
When great violence reigns supreme, all kinds of imperialism, both bloody and disguised, brutal actions or latent states, disorder proclaimed or established, then people at large are astonished by God's patience and are scandalized by it. For very many, this is a sufficient reason for not believing. If we only knew how intense, on the contrary, is God's impatience! In order to overcome it, he needs nothing less than an infinity of love. If it were permitted to imagine various levels of divine love. you might say that a lesser love urges our Father to intervene, and that a stronger love persuades him to withdraw into silence and absence. This silence is the most mighty word, and this absence is the most immediate presence. To doubt it, we must first have lost all sense of the dignity of our freedom. If God creates it, it is not so as to petrify it and substitute himself for it. The task is ours. It must be fulfilled in impatience and patience.
The unity of suffering and beatitude is God's secret. Saint Teresa of Lisieux glimpsed it and desired to participate in it. A desire which was, already here below, a beginning of fulfillment. No doubt most of us need a lengthy journey through the Bible, speculation, and poetry, before we are able to appreciate the matchless candour with which she expresses, in words that are unvaryingly simple, what the Schoolsmen have termed the "coincidence of opposites". The gift of wisdom surpasses that of intelligence, more still that of knowledge:
"I have reached the point where I can no longer suffer, because all suffering is sweet to me."
"The thought of heavenly happiness causes me no joy, and I sometimes wonder how it will be possible for me to be happy without suffering. Jesus will doubtless change my nature, otherwise I shall miss suffering and the vale of tears."
"I have found happiness and joy on earth, but uniquely in suffering, for I have suffered much here below... Ever since my first communion, ever since I asked Jesus to change for me into bitterness all the consolations of the earth, I have had a perpetual desire to suffer. Yet I did not think to make it my joy; that is a grace that was only granted me later. Before, it was like a spark hidden beneath the ashes, and like the flowers of a tree that are to become fruit in due time. But seeing my flowers always falling, I mean giving in to tears when I was suffering, I used to think with astonishment and sorrow, `But there will then never be anything but desires!'"
"The angels cannot suffer, they are not as happy as I am. How surprised they would be to suffer and feel what I feel! Yes, they would be really surprised, for I am surprised myself!"
"I cannot think much about the happiness awaiting me in heaven; only one expectation makes my heart beat, the love I shall receive and the love I shall be able to give."
"I could feel that in that direction my soul was new. It was as if musical strings had been plucked for the first time which had been forgotten till then."
These texts, for those who know how to read them, do not contradict "the constant murmur of the heart" (Ps. 19:15):
"There is joy which is strongest."