53. FUTURE IN HOPE From the faith experience

Created: Friday, 23 November 2012 Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014

53. FUTURE IN HOPE
From the faith experience

1. God´s word enlightens not only the past, but the future too. God is “the first and the last” (Is 44, 6). From the faith experience we live the past as a God´s gift and the future in hope. This is neither the fruit of speculation nor a philosophy. Really are “things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Co 2, 9), “so then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, what is old has passed away; look, what is new has come” (2 Co 5, 17), world and man find their consistency and hope in the meeting with Christ (Col 1, 17; Acts 4, 17)
2. Nevertheless, the so called “newest” (“last things”) are very old. Really they are bad news, they frighten the people: “death, judgement, hell and glory, have them always in your memory” and, there is also the purgatory, which has been presented like a small hell. Sometimes, when someone, dies, a desire arises: “be in glory”, but it does not go furthermore. Not only resurrection is not announced any more, what means an evangelic fraud, but we are even charged for it: masses and more masses.
3. The old tradition of the newest is taken in by Joseph Ratzinger in his Eschatology (2007), which was published in 1977 and that he considers plainly up to date. The Pope shows his worry, centred “in the sense of Jesus´ teaching” (p. 16), over our life after death. But, is this so? Or, rather, following the old Pharisee tradition and ecclesiastic, the papal eschatology presents the Marta’s syndrome (Jn 11, 24), it is to say, he leaves resurrection for the last day of history, when Jesus announces it for the last day of life?
4. Ratzinger initiated the teaching of Eschatology in 1957: “I dared to begin with the thesis –still rare by that time – that has, at last, imposed themselves in the catholic field. The more I looked into the questions, the more I penetrated into the sources… the more clearly I was seeing the internal logic of the ecclesiastic tradition”. Twenty years later, in 1977, the distinguished theologian places himself as follows: “To day I am confronted by the general opinion, but in the inverse direction in which I was in my first attempts” (p.19).
5. For centuries, says Ratzinger, Eschatology “has occupied the last place of the theological treaties”, “it has been sleeping the dream of the just”. Lately, “as a consequence of the historic crisis of our time, it has become the centre of the theological thinking”. The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar described this change as a “meteorological front” in our time theology (Eschatology, p. 24)
6. ¿How has this change taken place? Jesus message eschatology (from the greek “ésjaton”, that means “end”) was progressively discovered. Jesus announces with authority the end of this world that passes by and the arrival of the kingdom of God. For centuries, the eschatology became displaced to the end of history, when it really is a present time dimension. This generation, says Jesus, looks like that of Noah (Mt 24, 37 – 39) and that of Lot (Lk 17, 28 – 29): it lives back to its own end. Jesus´ words apply to every generation. The end is personal and no transferable: “By then there will be two in the field: one is taken, the other left” (Mt 24, 40). Jesus liberates from the “fear to death” (Hb 2, 15), announcing the resurrection at the last day of the life.
7. For Ratzinger this change is not positive, it is “a consequence of the historical crisis of our times”, a storm, which joins the increasing crisis of the European civilization: “This sudden attention to the tones and sub tones of the New Testament joins the increasing crisis of the European civilization. The new stance is related to the sinking conscience that hounds more and more the spirits from the end of the XIX century, as it could be done by an imminent earthquake of world proportions. This collapse conscience received the first tragic confirmation with the first world war and was wearing out and boring through little by little the up to then dominating liberal theology”, “by then theology changed to existentialism”, after that “a stronger and of a higher realism way of thinking came: Marxism” (pp. 25 -26). Really, what the Pope calls (kind of hurting) sudden attention to the tones and sub tones of the New Testament is the fruit of the council inspiration that comes back to the sources and that is especially necessary in crisis times. Without an adequate Bible knowledge, any theologian goes out of tune.
8. In the preface of the new edition, the Pope says: “the crisis related to the tradition, which grew virulent in the Catholic Church from the Vatican II on, led to try to build a faith strictly from the Bible itself and out of the tradition”, “it was then explained that resurrection took place at the death” and “in many places, the liturgical action of petition for a dead was called the celebration of resurrection” (pp. 14 – 15)
9. Today, says the Pope, Eschatology could be completely written as a discussion “with the theology of the future, of the hope of liberation”, “no talk takes place about heavens or hell, purgatory or judgement, death or soul immortality”, it is said that “in the official christianism the eschatological message is deeply corrupted”, “Eschatology history is an apostasy history”, it has gone “from a hope practice to a doctrine of the near death time”, “ it has been a long time since attention is called to the existing contrast between the Maranatha of the first times of the Christians and the Dies irae  o the Middle Age” (pp. 27 - 28)
10. The generalization that Ratzinger makes of the post council Eschatology is not just. A deep revision is really needed, coming back to the sources. In the first Christian prayer, Maranatha (Ap 22, 17), appears the desire of the coming of Jesus. In the “Dies irae” medieval the fear to judgment is present. The fear to the judgment is a feature of the medieval and pre council religiosity. That one who believes in Jesus does not fear judgment. “That who believes in him, will not be judged” (Jn 2, 18). Besides, the future does not arrive by itself; we must prepare it with our own hands. Hope in God does not eliminate the believer’s action towards a more just and human world. God´s word opens history to a way of liberation.
11. How were things before the Council? Protestant theologian Oscar Cullman (1902 – 1999) wrote in 1962: “If we ask today to a normal Christian, being catholic or protestant, intellectual or not, what says the New Testament about the individual luck of man after death, the answer, with few exceptions, will be: Soul´s immortality. In this manner, this opinion represents one of the biggest mistake of christianism”
12. “The idea that to think in that manner, says Ratzinger, has been a mistake that introduced itself with a surprising speed into the believer’s communities, not giving any new specific answer in its place”, “the idea that it is not biblical to talk about the soul has imposed in such a way that even the new 1970 Roman Missal suppressed in the funeral liturgy the term soul, disappearing also the ritual of burial”
13. “The crisis, says the Pope, was evident thereafter the Vatican Council II, in which, under the impression of a total innovation, the continuity of the tradition ruling up to that moment went into the abandoned sphere of the pre council. So, the impression that is was necessary to outline again the christianism in all the fields arose. In this manner the pending questions that there were also in the field of the eschatology, acquire the impetus of the strength of the elements, that almost without any effort, took out the structured collection of tradition”, “even the missal of Paul VI only dares to talk shyly here and there about the soul, while he avoids as far as possible to articulate the idea”, “one factor that had a deep repercussion surely was the ample capitulation of those in charge of the liturgical reform before the new terminology” (pp. 288 – 289)
14. What to say about this? In first place, the ecclesial ruins were there, from centuries ago. In second place, the earthquake tremor came, the crisis that the council clearly detected, the “deep and accelerated changes” of the contemporaneous world (GS 4). Fortunately, in that situation arrived the Council: “There was a man sent by God called John” (Jn 1, 6). Besides, it was necessary to answer to the fall of the all synthesis of faith, which was an evident fact. And new answers, new syntheses have been given, which – no doubt – the Pope should know.
15. “The idea that the resurrection takes place in the moment of the death, says Ratzinger, has imposed to such a point that it is mentioned also in the New catechism for adults (Dutch catechism)”, “such ideas have imposed at the end almost completely taking over the whole theological conscience” (p. 138), but this consensus is “full of logic cracks and faults” (p. 131). Nevertheless, is it not Pope’s logic, the ecclesiastic tradition logic (Thomism), the one that is sinking without remedy? Is it not the one collapsing with roar? That tradition does not belong to the world that passes by and is judged by the burst of the kingdom of God? Should it not be judged in the light of the Gospel?
16. With his Eschatology (1977) Ratzinger acknowledges himself “confronted with common opinion”, that comes back to the sources and that places resurrection the last day of life. Now, as Pope, it surely is not like that already. For many, his position, leaving resurrection for the last day of history, means a setback, a scandal, within the good news of the Gospel: “the dead resurrect”, “they are like angels”, God “is not a God of dead, but of the living ones”, “for him all are alive” (Mt 12, 24 – 27)
17. Some positive aspects. The Pope assumes the Teilhard de Chardin dynamic vision about the world, distinguishing between the essential and the outdated, what goes away and what stays through the diverse changes, even through death. Besides, he resolutely rejects “any naturalist interpretation” of the resurrection; therefore, for him the resurrection is not the corpse reanimation. At the same time, he claims its realism.
18. Nevertheless, the Pope believes too much in the possibilities of Philosophy, a Philosophy “slaved to the theology”; in this matter he manifests himself Thomist and medieval. He assumes Marta’s syndrome without discernment, in spite of Jesus corrective words. At the bottom, he seems to ignore Gospel innovation. He rests burdened by the old pharisaic and ecclesiastic tradition. We say it again and again. Before like now, Marta’s syndrome is much extended; “I know he shall resurrect the last day” (Jn 11, 24), at the end of history. Marta knows what she has been taught, pharisaic doctrine, which (of course) does not comfort her too much. But Jesus announces her, in present, Gospel innovation: “I am resurrection and life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies he will live; and everyone who is alive and believes in me, he will never die” (11, 25 -26). For us is the following question too: “Do you believe this”?
19. The Pope overlooks a Gospel passage so meaningful like this one: “I tell you the truth; a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live”. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be judged” (Jn 4, 25. 28 – 29). In this context, if the time has arrived (we already are in it), the “last day” (6, 54) is the last day of life and not the last day of history.
20. Certainly, says Jesus, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in the Gehenna”. Nevertheless, for Jesus there is not an intermediate situation between death and resurrection. In any case, it is “saint and pious” to pray for those dead (2 Mac 12, 45), Jesus prays before his friend Lazarus tomb (Jn 11, 42). But he announces the resurrection, already, in present time, and he denounces those “who devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." (Lk 20, 47)
21. In Lazarus parable (Lk 16, 19 – 29), Jesus talks about a definitive situation: “In Abraham’s bosom”, “in hell”. Even more, the rich and Lazarus are represented in corporal state, a difficult thing to understand before resurrection. In Jesus dialogue with the good thief there is not an intermediate situation either. Nothing about the last day of history (there is not a longest term), this very minute! You will be today with me in the paradise” (Lk 23, 43). And Esteban says when dying: “I see the open heavens and the son of man who is standing to the right of God” (Acts 7, 56). He is seeing the glory of god, what more can we ask for?
22. The “most difficult text” says Ratzinger, is this: “For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens…” (2 Co 5, 1 – 10). “None of the many exegesis of the text, says the Pope, satisfies entirely” (p. 146). The text is, really, very simple. What it is difficult is to turn it around, to oblige it to say what it does not say. It is sung in the liturgy: “The life of those who believe in you, Lord, does not end, it is transformed. And when our earthly house is dismantled, we acquire an eternal house in heavens”. And this is the prayer for the one who just died: “Grant him that, as he has already shared Jesus Christ death, he may also share with him the glory of resurrection” (Eucharistic Prayer II) According to Vatican Council II, “the rite of funeral must express more clearly the paschal sense of the Christian death” (SC 81). Death is also a “step”, only a step, “from this world to the Father” (Jn 13, 1)
23. In case of discrepancy between Scripture and tradition, the Pope rests with the tradition. He defends the tradition over the Scripture, in spite of Jesus saying: “The Scripture can not fail” (Jn 10, 35). He does not express “the paschal sense of the Christian death” with clarity, as the Council requests. He seems not to value council inspiration, which comes back to the sources and that is necessary precisely amidst the crisis affecting the Catholic Church. Therefore, papal Eschatology looks like another return, a pre council return of the present ecclesial odyssey. It shows up a deep nostalgia of a world that has definitely gone away
24. It is necessary to say it clearly. If we really want to go through the renovation and unity paths, two council main objectives, every Christian confession must revise their own tradition in the light of the Gospel. We too, “the teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it” (DV 10). Obviously, to undertake such a revision at maximum level, a new council should follow. It is just and necessary
* Dialogue:
- From the experience of faith we live the future in hope
- The so call “newest” (“last things”) are very old, bad news
- Pharisee and ecclesial traditions coincide
- Jesus announces the resurrection already, at the moment of death, and denounces to those who devour the goods of widows on the pretext of long prayers.
- It is necessary to revise tradition in the light of the Scripture.