The Holy Spirit and the Modern Imagination

To understand the Holy Spirit’s role in the Church, we must first understand what the Holy Spirit is and how it is apart of the Holy Trinity. Then we can apply these things to its role in the Church. This insight will point us towards how it combats the modern imagination, specifically the anthropological reduction.

Ratzinger describes the Trinity as three persons in one. This can be understood as one Being with three Natures. The Father and Son in the Trinity necessitate each other, with the Son revealing the Father to us through his Incarnation and death on the Cross.  Ratzinger also goes on to say that it is impossible for a simple “twofoldness” to exist alone. When there are two persons, there can either be no unity with two distinct beings or unity with the two dissolving into each other and not “genuinely” being two. However, the Father and Son do not become one in which they melt into each other. They remain distinct because of love. Therefore, the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the love between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is in all of us. It is the universal binding force that unifies the work. The Holy Spirit moves and inspires us towards action.

The Holy Spirit has a special bonding role within the Church. It is the unifying force within each one of us that binds us together. The Holy Spirit dwells within each of us as an advocate. It is self-giving and an active movement of our will to be in a relationship with God. It is through the Holy Spirit that the Church is propelled forward in faith to deepen our relationship with God and better understand our vocations. We learn that vocation is about the present rather than the future. If we are propelled to say yes in the present rather than worry about the future, we will find ourselves standing at our vocation eventually.

The Holy Spirit combats anthropological reduction because it propels us towards God and takes the attention off of ourselves. In a world centered around selfish desires, the Holy Spirit takes our mind away from worldly desires and moves it towards the ultimate divine desire, love. We realize that we are a part of greater movement than ourselves, the movement towards salvation. It is in this realization that we come to take the focus off our individual needs and look towards something greater, the kingdom of heaven. The Holy Spirit motivates us to look beyond ourselves to the grander movement towards God, perfect love.

The Sonship of Jesus Christ and the Modern Imagination

The Son is the release and handing back of himself, which is basically what sonship means. It is through the sonship of Jesus and his Incarnation in which the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” that God reveals the Trinity to man and lights for us the path to the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is an integral part of the mystery that is the Trinity. Through his sonship, Jesus reveals who God is as the Father. The true meaning of fatherhood, according to our faith, is the responsibility for one’s child that does not dominate him but allows him to become his own independent self. This requires that the father not totally subjugate the child to the father’s own priorities and goals. It also means accepting the child as he is without questioning. The responsibility of father is to desire that child come to the realization of his innermost truth, which can only be found in the Creator. The child must accept the status that he is a child. In this way, Jesus accepts that he is the Son and recognizes his innermost truth in the Creator, his Father. It is through Jesus’ sonship and the Incarnation that we are made aware of God the Father. Ratzinger says that “Jesus lives in an uninterrupted prayerful communication with God, which is the foundation of his existence.” He also goes on to say that it is impossible for a simple “twofoldness” to exist alone. When there is two, there can either be no unity with two distinct beings or unity with the two melting into each other and not “genuinely” being two. However, the Father and Son do not become one in which they melt into each other. They remain distinct because of love. Therefore, the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the love between the Father and the Son.

The humanity of Jesus is a result of his obedience to God. It is said that we can never enter the kingdom of heaven unless we are like children, meaning obedient to God and sharing in a relationship with Him. A child possesses nothing and is completely reliant on others to survive. In this way, we are called to have nothing and rely totally and completely on God for everything. God reveals himself to us through Jesus. The only way we can understand is if Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Jesus, as The Son, shows us the way to God. We are called to have a relationship with God that Jesus had.  It is through Jesus’ resurrection after his death on the Cross that his human existence is brought into the trinitarian dialogue of eternal love. It is through the Incarnation of Christ and his sonship that God reveals to us the Trinity.

Jesus’ sonship fights against modern imagination, specifically anthropological reduction. We are not simply called to be good people and focus our attention on bettering ourselves. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and having a prayerful relationship with God the Father. It is through this relationship that we grow closer to God and the kingdom of heaven. It is because of Jesus’ sonship to God the Father and his incarnation that we are given the path to salvation.

Session 5: The Credibility of Love

According to Balthasar, Christian revelation is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, but can be pinpointed on love. I guess my less than stellar reading comprehension scores are finally starting to haunt me.

There are two approaches to understanding Christianity that are somewhat united: personalism and the aesthetic sphere. Personalism basically says that we cannot understand the love God has for us as anything other than a miracle because we cannot possibly master the intellectual freedom of God. God is outside our realm of comprehension, so any action towards us is considered a miracle due to our finite knowledge. The aesthetic sphere “represents a third, irreducible realm next to that of thought and action. In this case, we are able to grasp the idea of something even though the true nature of the idea remains hidden to us, such as that of a miracle. In this way, we can have a limited idea of what something is without fully comprehending. The connection is made through eros, the chosen place of beauty in nature. What we love is wrapped in glory and whatever we see as glorious can only be perceived through the “specificity of eros.” It is through the realm of revelation that “Logos expresses himself as Love, and thus Glory.”

Logos (Jesus) reveals himself as “gracious love” and therefore “glory.” When we encounter the love of God, we discover what “genuine love” really is, but also come to understand that we are sinners and cannot possibly possess true, infinite love. These two points show how we only possess imperfect love, but are able to grasp the idea of unconditional, perfect love. This is made evident through the Passion of Christ. God chose Jesus to carry the cross because only perfect love could say yes to the burden of humanity. If God wishes to reveal His love to us, this love must have something the world can recognize. He says that “the inner reality of love can be recognized only by love.” In order to do this, we must have some sort of minute idea of what love is. It is because God radiates love that the light of love is found in the heart of man. It is in this kindling in our hearts that we are able to recognize the love God has for us. “The seed of love lies dormant within us as the image of God.” No human can come to understand the love of God without his free gift of grace, Jesus. But in order for man to fully  understand God’s love, he has to receive and answer that love. Man must make a conscious effort to reciprocate the love he receives. The better our relationship is with God, the better we will understand the revelation that is love.

Session 4: Escapism through Sex and Alcohol

College is a time of newfound freedom that most adolescents have never experienced. With no parents constantly telling them what can and cannot do, adolescents are finally free to experiment and do whatever they please. This freedom is often times overly abused and can lead to major problems, whether it be through harmful physical or emotional side effects.

I am a bit of an exception to this idea. I have a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis, in which I have constant stomach pain do to what I like to refer to as perpetual heartburn. Because of these circumstances, I am unable to drink alcohol. I do not even drink the Blood at Mass because even small amounts of alcohol cause later pain. And having a girlfriend, I remain faithful to her and respect the teachings of Catholicism in terms of my sexuality, however hard it may be. So I have not really experienced the effects of having this newfound freedom.

However, I have seen the after effects for several of my friends from abusing both alcohol and sex. One was picked up in an ambulance and stayed the night in the hospital due to pretty bad alcohol poisoning and another kept ruining his relationships with friends due to random “hook-ups.” This freedom has only gone on to cause a lot of pain and suffering in many cases. Sex and alcohol play an important role at Notre Dame like any other college campus. All you have to walk around campus on a weekend night and listen to the music blasting from form rooms, hear the loud voices from rooms, and watch people to stumbling out of dorms at 2am to know ND is somewhat normal. You can go to just about any dorm or off-campus party you want with the intention to hook-up or get drunk. While many students know their limit and have some sense of control, others do not.

Many adolescents drink to hide their insecurities. They just want to get along with others and have fun. In doing this, they are seeking the approval of their peers. Flanagan does a great job of showing this in her work. She talks about how college students don’t know how to get attention and will do anything to get it. This is a good explanation as to why college students often times throw themselves out into the party lifestyle. Sometimes colleges student just want a release from schoolwork. Why not? A fun night off is perfect for getting your mind off school. Even boredom can lead to drinking, according to Smith. Sometimes its just a fun way to pass the time. A little fun never hurt anyone……

Session 3: Consumerism

This is probably one of my favorite commercials because it really catches you by surprise the first time you watch and leaves you smiling. The ads both shows desire and a Catholic response to that desire.

The Coke commercial manages to sexualize Diet Coke by having a good looking guy  coming out of the ocean wearing a bathing suit while a woman opening a Diet Coke watches. In this scene, the woman is clearly seduced by the man. Then in a radical turn of events the viewer finds out the man is a priest and he goes over to bless the girl with condensation on the can. Probably my favorite part of the commercial is the look of awe and happiness on the girl’s face when the priest blesses her. This shows through the priest that our one true desire is God. It was like she had discovered what she was truly meant to desire.

Vincent Miller writes about how consumer desire is composed of two fundamental dynamisms: seduction and misdirection. Seduction is the “evocation of dispersed pleasures” that are like an “undifferentiated horizon of potential fulfillments.” Misdirection is “the systematic association of other needs and desires with commodity objects and the result channeling of the drive to fulfill these needs into acts of consumption. The commercial utilizes both seduction and misdirection. The woman is seduced by the good looking man and the seduction is misdirected because she feels the need to fulfill her lustful desire when that is not what she truly needs.

Miller talks about how human nature hinges on the “endless seeking of fulfillment in more objects.” It is amazing how a majority a commercials we stumble across are directed at our fallen human nature. These people trying to get us to give into our desires know that we can never be fulfilled and use this knowledge to their advantage. It is impossible for us to find fulfillment because we are constantly seeking it in the wrong things. Earthly things cannot grant us eternal happiness. They only leave us yearning for more. We can only achieve perfect fulfillment through God and eternal salvation. In this way, we are called to rise above our earthly desires and understand our ultimate true desire is that of God.

Session 2: Religious Imagination of Adolescents

Christian Smith discusses what religion is to adolescents in his works Soul Searching and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. He presents a somewhat dark picture of the state of religion in adolescent life and why this is happening in today’s world. All of a sudden, we are no longer obligated to fall under a specific religion. Rather, religion seems to fit around us in whatever way is convenient to us. In this way, an adolescent’s religion is left entirely to his or her imagination… yet little imagination is actually employed. A very bland, all-encompassing religion Smith refers to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the the result.

In Soul Searching, Smith talks about therapeutic individualism, amongst other themes.  It “defines the individual self as the source and standard of authentic moral knowledge and authority, and the individual self-fulfillment as the preoccupying purpose of life.” Anything experienced by the subject is considered the base of anything morally right or good. This is very different from various faiths where self-sacrifice and unselfishness are key aspects. The moral decision making process is no longer based on what is externally acceptable, but on what “feels right.” Therapeutic individualism can even be considered a reaction to the institutions of modern public life that are impersonal and strictly structured. We no longer seek out religious institutions with set rules, restrictions, and beliefs. Now we seemingly select a set of beliefs and and feelings that are convenient and work best for us. Smith also ties this into mass-consumer capitalism. Capitalism promotes a certain moral order, which fosters “particular assumptions, narratives, commitments, beliefs, values, and goals.” As Americans are redefined by capitalism, religions is also slowly molded. This is because religion becomes just another consumer product that satisfies people’s desires, relating back to the selfish characteristics of therapeutic individualism.

Having been raised in a strong Catholic setting, I have been “institutionalized,” so to speak, most of my life. However, often times I find myself trying to base my faith around what I feel is right based on socially acceptable ideas. Often times it takes a hard hitting homily at Mass or particularly powerful talk for me to realize these thoughts and feelings I may have are not necessarily in line with Catholic teaching. They are just things society has found acceptable and seem convenient to me. So even as a practicing Catholic I find myself lured by therapeutic individualist ideas.

Smith also adresses the disconnect between adults and adolescents in today’s world. Throughout most of human history, children were integrated into adult living. They took on important responsibilities as soon as they were able to contribute. In ancient times that meant doing things from simple chores to helping with hunting and gathering. This translated to medieval times where boys were apprenticed at a young age. In today’s society, the adolescent goes through further disconnect due to child labor laws from the industrial era. These laws were created to separate children from the harsh adult world. Along with the rise of suburban culture, emphasis on education, and development of cars, adolescence became a whole different phase of life. Whereas children in ancient times were integrated into the adult world as soon as they could be of any use, adolescents are now not a part of the adult world often times until they are in their mid 20s. This has a strenuous effect on adolescent religion since religion is often considered an adult affair. This extra developmental time causes adolescents to simply write off religion as something they will address later in life.

In Smith’s work, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, he finds that the typical American adolescent has succumbed to a generalized religion. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism can be summed up in five ideas: 1) A God exists who created the world and watches over us. 2)God wants people to be good as is taught in the Bible and most religions. 3) The central goal in life is to be happy and feel good. 4) God is not involved in personal life unless He is needed. 5) Good people go to heaven after death. This is a hybrid religion that is based off of numerous other religions and is attractive to young people because of its convenient nature. Smith finds this religion to be a highly socially functional religion, yet lacking from a sociological and theological perspective.

Smith finds that most adolescents are distant from the “adult affair” of religion and hold very generalized beliefs. While I would not characterize my thoughts on religion as even remotely close to these, I do recognize that many teenagers fall under these findings. I acutely remember one of my religion teachers in high school asking all the students in class where they were in their faith lives. One of my friends simply said, “I honestly do whatever. I just don’t care about it right now, maybe in a few years.” This roughy summarizes Smith’s discussion on adolescent religion.

Session 1: Jean Mouroux on the Christian experience

According to Mouroux, the essential principle to the Christian experience is “faith that works by charity.” The Christian experience perfectly embodies both faith and charity together, with the final goal of entrance into Heaven. It is a lifelong journey in which we constantly try to deepen our relationship with God through acts of charity spawning from our faith.

The two types of faith, uniformed and informed, keep their essence and ontological structure. Either way, both are gifts from God and are not inherently bad. Uninformed faith is a grace our merciful God has bestowed upon us sinners. In a way, this sort of faith defines what Christians are trying to overcome. This faith is “an imperfect act, which awaits its perfection by charity.” Uninformed faith implies a bond of hope with God, formed by imperfect love. Someone with an uninformed faith may believe in God, but does not let their actions reflect their beliefs through works of charity. The act of informed faith is the  combination of faith with charity. In this way, faith reaches its “natural state.” This faith is the end in which we are granted eternal salvation from God.

It is through charity that our souls are transformed. Charity makes salvation immanent in the will by making man unselfish so that he can fully give himself to God. We lose interest in ourselves when we focus on acts of charity for others. In the act of becoming unselfish, we actively live our faith in our daily lives, allowing us to come into full communion with God. It is through charity that our faiths are made fully active.

Mouroux is fascinated by the connection between faith and charity. Charity is completely based on and guided by faith while faith is improved and shaped by charity. So while one can have faith without charity, charity is rooted in faith. St. Leo the Great writes, “Charity gives faith its vigor and faith gives charity its strength.” He also refers to Jesus saying, “And if I should have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” These passages perfectly state how faith and charity play off one another. Both faith and charity perfect each other in their mutual relationship.

The Christian experience is dynamic. While our goal is to continually grow closer to God and achieve eternal salvation, we will never perfectly know God. The experience is not just a simple objective, it is a lifelong journey in which we will experience ups and downs in our relationship with God.