Saturday, May 29, 2010

Knowledge and Communion

I'm busy this weekend, finishing up some articles and trying to spend some time with family on a holiday (national) weekend. And I have to mow. And in the midst of it, busily looking forward to next week, which is one of the crazier weeks of our year. Here's the rundown: Monday is Memorial Day (of course). Sophie is turning 11 on Tuesday. Will is turning 6 on Friday. And on Saturday Avery will receive her first Holy Communion. Her final two practices for receiving the Blessed Sacrament are, drumroll please, on Sophie and Will's birthdays. So it's going to be crazy. But crazy good. I don't know yet if we'll postpone birthday celebrations and take care of it all on Saturday or shift the birthday celebrations to different dates, but it will work out. The kids enjoy having their birthdays spread out over several days anyway.


There's an article/post that has been rattling around in my brain for over a week now. I'm not going to link to it here because it would be offensive to many, as it was - to some degree - to me. It's rather harsh concerning the Evangelical idea of one's necessity to having a "personal relationship with Jesus." But partly because of it I've been re-evaluating my previous notions on cultural Catholicism, religion per se and the like - on knowledge and the Faith. I'm not so sure ignorance is always such a bad thing. What does it really matter whether my children can recite the books of the Bible? On the other hand, I know that knowledge is often not a good thing. I was raised in an environment where Scriptural knowledge is power - and there's something terribly perverse and manipulative about that. There is a knowing that's good, of course, as we come to know God and be known by him, but that knowing can happen perhaps more in our homes and everyday life and even in a cultural Catholicism or in "religion" than in our ability (as we think of it) to properly exegete the Scriptures, to know the Scriptures by chapter and verse, or to even know a particular teaching is found in the Scriptures. Does it matter more that I know the arguments surrounding justification and where my church community stands on such arguments or that I am justified? Does it make a difference whether I read that I must love my enemies or that my Church teaches me to love my enemies? I'm not saying that the Scriptures have no place. Certainly not! But I am saying that we often imagine that every Christian must have a grasp of them that is unnecessary for a pipe-fitter or stay-at-home dad or mathematician, or that it is somehow not enough for a Christian to simply hear God's Word in Liturgy - even though hearing is how the early Church, which many of us so desire to emulate, received the Scriptures; hearing is how most Christians throughout history received the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with simply hearing the Scriptures.

That being said, is it good to be able to have the Scriptures in my home, important for me to read them? I think so. But only for the purpose of seeing Christ. The Scriptures are iconic. They are not for the purpose of lording something (an idea, a doctrine, a view of science) over another believer. They are not ever for the purpose of discovering who is Christian and who is not. They can never show us something contrary to what has been faithfully passed down to us by the Church. They proclaim Christ, who shows us the Father. And the Spirit reveals it to us - not as something new or different or never-before-thought-of, which is nearly always of the devil, but as freshening as and in the humility of a summer rain. The Scriptures should never be, as they often have been to me, an ammunition depot. The Scriptures should never be a place where I am elevated above my brother or my sister. The Scriptures should never teach me anything other than to love my enemy and my neighbor. If I learn something else from them, I have mis-learned or mis-read them. The Scriptures will never teach me anything contrary to "God is love." If I have learned something other from them, I have mis-learned or mis-read them.

It is enough to find Christ in Liturgy, to participate in his life there. We hope and pray that many are given special vocations to go and do and be something extraordinary for God. To truly become saints in their vocations. But sainthood can be found in being ordinary too, thanks be to God. In quiet and simplicity. In giving alms and in praying. In fasting. In attending Liturgy. In raising children. We too must become saints, ordinary saints living in ordinary time. Sainthood is found in my vocation and not in another's. It is found in becoming nothing rather than in the desire to do something. Becoming a saint is communion with God - indeed that is salvation. It is not necessary for a saint to have memorized the Psalter or the Gospels or to be able to defend the faith. It is enough to know Christ. To know him in field and flower. To know him in Liturgy. To know him in obedience and love. To know him in the dishes that need washing and the floors that need sweeping. It is enough to know Christ.

I heard a story once, and my memory of it has faded - so forgive the errors of my recounting - of a monk who while reading the Scriptures, stopped abruptly, and closed them. He had read that he must love his enemies and refused to open the Scriptures again. When he was asked why he would not read more of the Scriptures, his response was that until he had learned to obey the Scripture he had read, it was unnecessary (and perhaps foolhardy) for him to read any more. There is something illustrative in this story for us, something that we have lost in our elevation of the importance of knowing the Scriptures.

It was St. Jerome who said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." But I do not think he meant what we think he meant, framing it as we do. Knowledge is a tool. It is not knowledge that we seek, it is communion. Knowledge serves communion. When it ceases to serve communion and life, then it becomes a wicked tool bent on wicked purposes.

1 comment:

Fred said...

beautiful post, and worth the wait! I believe Thomas Aquinas said that knowledge needs communion with the object - but then he was thinking of a deeper knowing than is usual for us...