Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Sacramental Relationship With Reality

In our last School of Community meeting (Communion and Liberation Movement), our leader, quickly and in passing--I almost missed it--referred to, "A moral relationship with reality rather than a sacramental relationship with reality." And I seized on the latter phrase.

Despite my Catholic education and independent reading, I have always had the most difficult time intellectually comprehending the concept of a Sacrament. It was always taught to us in the most abstract way. However, I realize that at an intuitive level, I have always had a sacramental view of reality, including compared to most other Catholics, though within me the sacramental view has always been in conflict with the moralistic view.

When I read where Luigi Giussani wrote that the Medieval period was the greatest time in human history, it knocked my brain out of joint.  Life in Medieval times was primitive, full of suffering, and filthy. Most people were illiterate. Science and medicine as we know it did not exist. Neither did democracy--the ordinary people were at the mercy of those in power.

But, from Giussani, I have learned that, for medieval man, God was the center of everything. His religious orientation was that relationship was primary, with morality being derived from relationship, the honoring of the relationship. All of reality was positive. Things in themselves were not bad. Actions were judged as good or bad according to the purpose--how you use something, including yourself or other people.

The forces of humanism beginning in the 1300's (the shift from God to man as the center of all things, and from love to success as the most important goal in life) followed by the renaissance (naturalism, nature as the guiding spirit, the most transcendent entity), and then by rationalism (man is not enlightened by the inner light of God but rather his own reason and conscience, without God in the picture) had the effect of disconnecting and distancing man from God and reduced religion to moralism--making morality the point of existence rather than relationship. 

Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz were the modern rationalist philosophers, but the genesis of rationalism was actually Martin Luther before them. As a result, reformational/classical Protestantism has a more highly moral relationship with reality. By contrast, classical Catholicism--medieval man--had a highly Sacramental relationship with reality. Of course, in modern times, despite what the Catholic church teaches theoretically, Catholicism has become highly moralistic in practice, more so in America than Europe, due to the influence of Protestantism.

Descartes is famous for saying, "I think, hence I am" of which a better translation would have been "I have consciousness, hence I am. " An alternative Christian anthropology would be N.T. Wright's, "I am loved, hence I am," or the Biblical, "God made man in his own image and likeness." The subtle difference is that Descartes proclamation is self-referential and self-empowering, while the two Christian ones I just stated refer outside of one's self.  I did not make myself; therefore, something else must have made me.

Luigi Giussani quoting Henri de Lubac quoting Teilhard de Chardin:
Everything in this world, things and events, and human relationships, had for Pere Teilhard a sacramental character. ... For the Christian whose eyes are open, there is nothing in the world that does not make God manifest. Everything in the world can lead to God, the "ultimate point" upon which everything converges: everything and, more particularly in the first place, what constitutes our constant daily portion -- work. And this does not mean only the (humanly speaking) specially privileged work that makes a man feel the he is "making history," ... or, again, makes him feel that he is helping to raise higher the continually growing structure of science. It means all human work without distinction, from the humblest household task to the most spiritual activity. In this order, no instrument is specially favored: God is at the tip of my pen, my pick, my brush, my needle, of my heart and of my thought.
A sacrament is an outward sign of an inner reality (or higher or transcendental reality). To medieval man, the universe was a sacrament, a sign of God. The medieval saint saw God in all things.  I need to think about the sacramental view of reality.  It has the look and feel of corresponding much better to my "I" and to what a human being is, as opposed to the relatively moralistic teaching and environment with which I was raised.