|Table of Contents|
|Man's Hope for Eternal Life|
|I. Hope as the Base of Human Existence|
|II. Man's Hope for a Happy Life<|
|III. Hope and the Question of Man's Freedom|
|IV. Hope and the Traps of Human Suffering|
|V. Hope and Prayer as a Language of Faith|
|VI. Man's Hope for Eternal Life|
The pope defines prayer as a "school of hope". This presupposes the existence of prayer as a kind of "institution", which can be also referred to as a "place" of man's conversation with God. Prayer can be described as a border-situation quite similar to the one described by the once influential German existentialist and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers (cf. Jaspers 1932). He recognized death, fighting, suffering and guilt as "border-situations". They are worth mentioning, because Pope Benedict XVI discusses the problem of suffering and death in the context of the Christian teachings on salvation in his encyclical letter. He begins his discussion with "prayer" and "solitude", which can also be treated as elements of border-situations.
Prayer can be described as a theological "place" or as an existential "situation". I will try to merge the two perspectives and show their complementary meaning. The Pope writes: A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. He next describes it in terms of a "situation": When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nr 2657, qt. in Encylical, n° 32).
In Jasper's conception of "border-situations", in principle no one listens to a lonely, abandoned or needy man. He is left alone, as both the speaker and listener, as an isolated being that has to disappear, and do so with no hope for salvation whatsoever. Admittedly, for a great psychiatrist and doctor of the human soul, his analysis of border-situations seems inhuman. Man would speak to no one and would aim his words directly at nothingness and accept it, just as any believer accepts the existence of God.
The border-situation, as Jaspers views it, would be a manifestation of heroism in the face of nothingness, and at the same time it would propagate nothingness, or negatively - despise it. This would result in an attitude directed against oneself. Man, having such an attitude, would have to act against his own humanity and freedom. Benedict XVI (followed by all Christians) views the problem differently and could not accept the situation of man being directed towards nothingness, "being-towards-death" (cf. Heidegger 1927). This German predilection for the "love" of nothingness has been overcome in Christianity.
Solitude in the world does not provide an alternative for the "I" or nothingness ("I" or no one)", as it would result from existential philosophy. In Christianity, the "I" can always find another "I", if not a particular man, then the person of God. Therefore, it is only in a theological sense when man meets God, that solitude is a positive border-situation. Man can do it in the simplest way - by conversing with God, which creates a transcendent bond of the human "I" with God, manifested in the Word and Word-Reality (cf. the theory of Logos in the philosophy of Heraclitus or in the theology of St John and Philo of Alexandria).
Prayer as man's words to God and God's words to man creates new border-situations, which he has to cross while feeling desperately lonely, as well as in normal, everyday situations, when he believes that he is living in love. It is only when man does not know methods of transcendent communication (prayer) that he can be "condemned to complete solitude". But anyone who prays is never totally alone (Encyclical, n° 32), for by directing his thoughts at God, he transcends the borders of his solitude. Prayer realizes his expectations or needs, helping man maintain his meaning of life and build hope for God's answer.
Prayers are thoughts of man who transcends his solitude in an active way, without descending into the hopelessness and powerlessness of nothingness that a lonely man is surrounded by. Man without a transcendental addressee or man, whose spiritual letters are returned to him with a note "unknown addressee ", falls into despair. Yet, if the addressee is known, even despair becomes hope. The example described by Benedict XVI of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who spent 13 years in jail, 9 years out of which he was in a complete isolation, proves it right. His book entitled "Prayer of hope", in which he described prayer's influence on a political and religious prisoner in a border-situation, is a profound testimony of prayer's saving power.
Benedict XVI writes: During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude. (Encyclical, n° 32). A border-situation, which the Pope refers to as "the nights of solitude", can be a school of prayer, a way of faith, hope and love. The utter solitude of man is perceived as an extreme threat for his existence. Let us remember the words of Christ, full of pain, on the cross: my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt 27:46) and the later words of giving in to God's will - of reconciliation with God's will in solitude.
Prayer has the capability to move from man's heart to God's will, from man's desire to God's fulfilment. Prayer has the capability to transcend the state of nothingness and reach the state of grace and salvation, which is comprised in God's will. Prayer can be described as a school of salvation in hope for God's love and grace. This is what St Augustine does when he defines prayer as an "exercise in desire" (cf. homily on The First Epistle of St John). It is not the very heart of man but his whole soul (Gr. psyche) that is the source of man's love for God. Ancient philosophers (e.g. Plato) distinguished three parts of the soul: noetic - reason, thymic - feeling and epipathic - desire. In this conception, the feeling part was responsible not for love but for courage.
In his classification of human characters, Aristotle pointed out to the fact that people can be either of a small or of a great heart. There are many more of the first kind, very few of the latter. Maybe this is what Benedict XVI has on mind when he writes: Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched (Encyclical, n° 33). Christianity changes the vision of man and changes the understanding of anthropology by identifying desires with the needs of the heart. It established a correlation between the theological anthropology of Judaism and the philosophical anthropology of Ancient Greece. The postulate of "expanding desires" merges the two visions in the theological Christian synthesis.
By referring to St Augustine, Benedict XVI reminds us of the transformation process of the heart of a Christian who is already under the influence of the revelation: By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him] (Encyclical, n° 33). St Augustine reveals how "desire" must be transformed (education) in order for it not to be only reduced to a desire of advantage, power or even freedom. This is about a change of "desire" that should, apart from "courage", expand towards "love". And not only towards one's own love or the love of one's neighbours, but also towards the love of God.
The gift of God's love is not the only gift and it is always returnable, because with it, man also received the gift of freedom. The two gifts compete with each other for priority in the human soul. Man's existential task is to establish an agreement, reconciliation and harmony between them. Hence, the choices we make are characterized by ambivalences that disturb our peace of heart and destroy our hopes of meeting with God in love and freedom. Man is often faintly aware of the possibility of the heart's transformation, because it is simply separated from his consciousness. It is only through education, initiation and thinking about God that it can be realized As well as through merging the "Divine thoughts" (prayer) with the feeling of the love of God and man.
There is one more reason behind expanding one's desire towards God's love by changing the human heart. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13) (Encyclical, n° 33). Prayer is aimed at "things to come", at hidden, remote or unknown things. It is like a magnet of the soul that attracts other spiritual things and modifies man's life situations. To see other things that are beyond the present perception is an exercise in seeing the spirit and God that are beyond human perception. Prayer is a practical exercise in being able to see eternal things. Behind them and in them is God's realm, which becomes open in prayer, in the conversation of man and God.
Apart from the postulate of expanding human desire beyond present perception, Benedict XVI puts forward the notion of "purifying" and "filling" the heart as a means of its strengthening in the function of faith, hope and love. In his description, he uses two opposing symbols, known at every great feast: "honey" and "vinegar". Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey? (Encyclical, n° 33). Purifying the soul from vinegar is connected with the metaphor of removing emotional and sensual acids from the soul, the latter being a consequence of the former.
The heart symbolizes a vessel of the soul that can be filled with either honey or vinegar. What it is filled with determines the type of sensitivity and sensations the heart experiences as the subject of the human soul. The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined (cf. In 1 Johannis 4,6: PL, 35, 2008 n, qt. in Encyclical, n° 33). Suffering produces vinegar in the human heart and it also cleanses it of it, working homeopathically. According to the Ancient Greeks, the heart freed from vinegar awaits the elixir of the gods', or, as Christians believe, God himself.
Benedict XVI elaborates on the symbols of vinegar and honey as two components that fill the human heart. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others (Encyclical, 33). Purifying our souls and bodies from vinegar is liberating ourselves from the spiritual and physical contractions. It takes place with the expanding of the soul's (heart's) susceptibility for the presence of another person. In other words, it is a condition for the anthropological transcendence of the borders of one's own "I" towards someone else's "you" (through God's "You"). Thanks to it, a Christian discovers that he or she is God's child and is thus not alone, having brothers and sisters who, like them, are children of the same God. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father (Encyclical, n° 33).
Expanding the heart in prayer is connected with discovering the anthropological or social son/daughter - father/mother relation, and in the theological dimension — recognizing one's own status of childness as a pleasing state that discovers God for us as the common Father of the whole world and all the people on earth. This cognition has a saving capacity, it creates hope that solitude is just a situation and not an ontological state which denies the worthiness of any interpersonal relations. Discovering that we are the children of God and that God is our Father raises hope, because it goes beyond an ordinary natural relation and is not the subject of direct perception. But it reveals itself in prayer, man's conversation with God.
Prayer is a practical theology of man's conversation with God in the name of individual and common good. But prayer also has a sociological, psychological and even psychopathological dimension. An example of a psychopathology of prayer is addressing God with requests aimed to harm other people or requests for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God (Encyclical, n° 33). Man can be filled with both true and false desires and hopes. Benedict XVI concludes: To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well (Encyclical, n° 33).
Benedict XVI presents two types of prayer and analyses their differences. One is positive and the other is negative. The first is a request for common good, whereas the other - for one's own good and wishing another person wrong. One is based on magnanimity” (Gr. megalopsychia) and the other on mean-spiritedness, being „small-souled” (Gr. oligopsychia) or "small-hearted" (Gr. oligothymia, mikrokardia). According to the Ancient Greeks (cf. Aristotle) a little, shrunken heart of man is philopathic, prone to evil, loving and believing in evil and putting its hopes in evil. This is not just the quality of a small group of people but a constant, repetitive and persistent state. Mean-spiritedness is the starting point and teachings of good based on true hopes are needed. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God (Encyclical, n° 33).
The soul and mind, desires and hopes are often shaped under the influence of dramatic situations and the stress of life. They are infected with and controlled by mistakes, lies and guilt which we do not recognize ourselves. But who can discern his errors?, asks the Psalmist and, addressing God, prays: Clear thou me from hidden faults (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Man thinks that his consciousness is completely functional, that he can assess his behaviour and that nothing can be hidden from him. Yet, Greek philosophy and theology, as well as Judaic theology and psychology prove that it is not necessarily the case and that man can suffer delusions of absolute innocence.
Rarely does Benedict XVI in his encyclical letter formulates judgements, in which he suggest that man "must" do something. It is an encyclical on the freedom of the will and the theological love of man. However, we "must" learn that we cannot pray against others (...), we must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them (...) and learn to purify our desires and our hopes (Encyclical, n° 33). This obligation makes us aware who man is, whose nature is split between good and evil. The outstanding Swiss psychologist and anthropologist Carl Gustav Jung referred to the spiritual obligation of discovering one's own guilt as "the integration with the shadow". Such integration is a basic (primary) condition for man's personal and spiritual development (his individuation).
C. G. Jung's approach to the problem of spiritual development is Protestant, Benedict XVI's is Catholic. Though in a different way, the two approaches reveal the same problem - how can man discover himself in his actions. Shadow integration, i.e. recognizing the evil in oneself, allows man to get to know the truth about himself, and the lack of it leads to the path of evil. Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is (Encyclical, n° 33). Recognizing one's guilt alone is not enough to mend and expand one's heart. Further steps are needed: recognizing one's double identity, one's spiritual leaders and the ultimate discovery of God.
The process of spiritual development full of crises („individuation” in Jung's terms), which consists of confronting lie, guilt and sin (the "Shadow" in Jung's terms) and recognizing them in oneself, can lead to confronting God, and later on, to integrating with Him. This integration frees man from the false and distorted image of himself. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion (Encyclical, n° 33). We could reverse Benedict XVI's statement and say that if one cannot recognize his own distortion, he is not able to recognize God, and no hope and no salvation are possible for him. For in such a case there is no possibility of reuniting with the highest divine power of love and Good, the power being a cure for human power of hatred and Evil.
Benedict XVI states that for man to act in a positive way, he needs to be conscious of both good and evil. This consciousness can save, since it allows man to head towards faith, in hope and love of God, and to resist the temptations of evil. This is possible because (the Pope adopts a more personal style here) my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself (Encyclical, n° 33). To attain the positive state of our spirit is not possible without going through border experiences, negative situations that can be and should be transformed by man and move towards Good.
The true Christian prayer should be purifying, personal and theocentric. For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God (Encyclical, n° 34). It is important to stress the "I-God" and "I-the living God" relations here, since in Jung's protestant conception of human development, discovering God can be identified with discovering one's own "Ego". In Catholicism, it is the discovery of the "living God". Either way, the same process of purification is at issue, but the point of moving from "I" to God is described in different way. Benedict XVI expresses a parallel thought, merging the Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic points of view on the spiritual development of believers.
Man who prays to God tries to address his human "I" to God's "You". He encounters, however, numerous hindrances in experiencing his faith, his hope and love. To get help in overcoming these difficulties, a believer can refer to his Tradition, to the collection of liturgical prayers and prayers of the finest practitioners of his faith. The human soul must be constantly enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly (Encyclical, n° 34). A liturgical prayer holds a special position, since it is performative and makes manifest what one is asking for at the very moment of praying.
Participation in liturgical prayer and the Eucharist is participation in the mystery of the fundamental transformation of the human soul. It is connected with freeing oneself from sins and guilt and opens our soul to the voice and resolutions of God. This is why every Christian ought to pray, for by doing so, he learns faith, in hope and love, especially in the mystery of the Eucharist prayer. Proper prayer is purifying, it creates a transcendent realm that cannot be discovered or created in any other way. Benedict XVI illustrates it with the example of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, imprisoned for 13 years, who at times did not have the strength and capacity to pray in his own words, thoughts and emotions.
In a situation when the oppressed, suffering, imprisoned, ill and powerless body and mind of a Christian fall silent, the canon of prayers he learnt as a child emerges to help him. This is what Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, tortured physically and mentally, experienced: in his book of spiritual exercises, [he] tells us that during his life there were long periods when he was unable to pray and that he would hold fast to the texts of the Church's prayer: the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the prayers of the liturgy. (Testimoni Della speranza, Citta Nova 2000, 156 n, qt. in Encyclical, n° 34). Prayer purifies the human soul of emotional toxins, it heals wounds that our neighbours and we ourselves have caused.
The purifying function of payer is connected with the expansion of consciousness that allows to establish I-you/You relations. Prayer expands one's self by someone else's you or the transcendent You of God. This relation clears other relations of man. The man-God relation is widely discussed in the so-called philosophy of dialogue, elaborated on by Jewish theologians of the mainly biblical approach (e.g. Martin Buber or Emanuel Lévinas). As Bp Marek Jędraszewski puts it: For Descartes, cognition was guaranteed by the truthfulness of God, for Lévinas - by the Other. The Other is not, obviously, infallible, as God is; hence a danger of mistake or even falsehood appears together with it. However, with the revelation's content, he who reveals appears, and he appears with his face revealed (Jędraszewski 1990: 147). Prayer is a search for the face of another man or of God. It is possible through directing one's face towards the face of God, through which we find our own image and the image of God.
Prayer reflects the primary dialogue relation which encourages us to talk to others. They become our partners in dialogue thanks to God. This is how the theological relation — the theological prayer and conversation - is established. It is a condition for the public relation to be established. It reinforces all personal relations and makes them wide open to God and our neighbour. Praying must always involve this intermingling of public and personal prayer. This is how we can speak to God and how God speaks to us. In this way we undergo those purifications by which we become open to God and are prepared for the service of our fellow human beings (Encyclical, n° 34). Not only does theological prayer introduce us to faith, in hope and love, but it also the beginning of our practical service to God and our neighbour. God's thought (prayer) transforms into action which finds fulfilment in creating the bases of Christian hope.
If prayer has the power of purifying the soul and uniting it with other souls as well as with God, it gives hope. We become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others. Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the „perverse end”. It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God. Only in this way does it continue to be a truly human hope (Encyclical, n° 34). Society and individuals, if stimulated by hope, become open to God and thus to salvation — at the beginning it is partial and connected with one's present everyday life, and later it is eternal.
Prayer is work for the human spirit to fight its way to God through the limitless spaces of the world. Therefore, prayer transmits the spiritual hope of man in his thoughts, speech, feelings and ideas, which find their fulfilment in actions. Prayer as the search of hope can start in any moment of life and in every situation. Some people have particular predilections for certain styles of prayer, depending on their temperament, situation, talents etc. People gather in prayer to strengthen its force.
Prayer that almost everyone practices is prayer "through action", "through work", "through deeds" that allow one to live with dignity, self-value and a sense of meaning of life. They complement actions with prayer. Benedict XVI writes about this, connecting the problem of action and suffering as places for learning hope. In establishing this link, he refers to the biblical dictate of work which the first people fulfilled for God. From then onwards it has been connected with suffering. Work as approached here (in connection with prayer) does not condemn man to perdition or damnation, but it is a spiritual therapy, a theological pedagogy which is meant to make life better and maintain it at the appropriate level.
In medieval monasteries work and prayer were connected (e.g. in the Benedictine formula - ora et labora). To be more precise, we shall stress that the Pope uses the notion "action", and not "work", as John Paul II used the notion "deeds". Therefore, the very idea of work in the Bible can be understood in many different ways. Not all actions save man and give him hope. Human praxis is an element of human nature, thus the lack or limitation of it degrades man and lowers his position in society. Where there is no possibility of individual and social action, the number of social pathologies, suicides and killings rise and a sense of hopelessness and sadness in life predominates.
Man's actions express his abilities, interests, talents, efforts and possibilities. In actions and their effects one can discover not only the image of oneself, one's "I", but also, most importantly, the bases of the world created. Benedict XVI stresses the fact that: All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action (Encyclical, n° 35). It is a hope to maintain life, for its consolidation and development or embellishment, for helping oneself and others in the changing natural conditions of life. The Biblical metaphors of action revolve around gardening, farming and fishing. They make spiritual action (prayer, meditation and contemplation) complete.
Two types of actions appear in the Bible - before and after sinning. The former is connected with joy, love and freedom, the latter - with suffering and difficulties, which is why it is called work. There are both positive and negative aspects of work. It reminds us of the hope for salvation, but can also serve as a punishment. The Pope states that through our own actions we strive to realize our lesser and greater hopes, to complete this or that task which is important for our onward journey, or we work towards a brighter and more humane world so as to open doors into the future (Encyclical, n° 35). There is always a life hope in every action. It can be either individual, social or existential.
St Augustine gave an explanation of what action is in the theological sense. It is numerous actions and practical achievements that give hope for a "better life": Think of (...) —all the arts of craftsmen, the tilling of the soil, the building of cities, the thousand-and-one marvels of various buildings and undertakings, the invention of so many symbols in letters, in words, in gesture, in sound of various kinds, in paintings and statues; (...) the great number of books and records of every sort for the preservation of memory and the great concern shown for prosperity; (...) the power of reason and thought, the floods of eloquence, the varieties of poetry, the thousand forms of mimicries for the purpose of entertainment and jest, the art of music, the accuracy of surveying, the science of arithmetic (...). These things bear the mark of greatness and they are characteristically human (St Augustine 1978: 100-101). These actions express many human hopes, but there exist hopes that destroy or limit these hopes too.
Negative actions change positive hopes into their opposites, which harm the individual and their neighbours. This is possible when "little hopes" are eliminated by "little misfortunes" and when there is no proper theological context of hope for them. Apart from successes, we need to experience many misfortunes in life that can be treated as a maliciousness of fate or a type of "negative hope". Unless, however, as Benedict XVI stresses, we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance, our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world's future either tire us or turn into fanaticism (Encyclical, n° 35). Misfortunes contradict the little and great hopes of man who directs his life at salvation and at present and eternal happiness.
The need to experience the saving power of one's own actions and the transcendent powers is a permanent part of human nature and personality. In the notion of felicity there is something akin to fulfilment, to the fulfilment of the self through action. To fulfil oneself is almost synonymous with felicity, with being happy. But to fulfil oneself is the same thing as to realize the good whereby man as a person becomes and is good himself (Wojtyła 1979: 174). The notion of felicity comprises a hope that being oneself is possible through actions directed at one's own good and at the good of others. Achieving good is almost synonymous with achieving hope capable of saving.
A lack of fulfilment in action lowers the moral level of man and weakens him physically and psychologically. It destroys the existential bases of life and marginalizes or even ruins his identity. We have seen failures of great social projects, great historical defeats, the tragedy of wars and fights, natural and historical disasters, e.g. the loss of independency, or sociological disasters (e.g. ethnic cleansing, pathologies of social life etc.). These evoke despair and destroy hope, which changes the collective character of actions. Collective actions???? are destructive, passive or active and turn into a kind of suicidal reaction or revolutionary fanaticism which seeks passionately for immediate ways of rescuing the complete loss of collective hope.
Great and small social and political systems, as well as religious or areligious systems express premises, conscious or unconscious suggestions of life, which is supposed to be better than present life. Great utopias, including those that remained in theory as well those that were attempted to be to put into practice, had at their basis empty promises as well as realistic ones. Many people followed them, just as today many people follow the promises of better earnings, fame or power. This permanent motif of possessing is presented as a condition for better life. "To have more" is being identified with the conviction "to be more". It has been so from the beginning of the world that the perspective of having has been exchanged for the perspective of being. This perspective is, so to speak, inborn, inherited and it determines many of man's actions. The end of the life hope depends on the success and favourable or unfavourable twists of fate, but it affects everyone in a specific way.
Experiencing a crisis of hope causes disappointment when one's life and plans are destroyed, limited or devalued. The need of a quick compensation arises for the lost illusions and efforts invested in things that are not going to happen. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope (Encyclical, n° 35). In the long run, life without hope is not possible, and one needs to seek it in other places, projects and actions. Sometimes these are projects of an ultimate retreat from life (isolation, suicide), a life of make-believe (in isolation or illness) or a life against others or even against oneself (fighting everything and everybody). Such actions contradict the good of our actions, and in most cases, the saving power of man.
Paradoxically, the most dramatic misfortunes in seeking and realizing our hopes refer us beyond the present, tangible and measurable, to a sphere of the invisible, to the transcendental realm. There, one can find eternal hope which does not yield to any changes and twists of fate and time. It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for (Encyclical, n° 35). Defeats, personal and collective disasters open or activate the transcendental sense of man, who can and should address the forces beyond him that keep him alive and bring faith through hope and love.
Benedict XVI has no doubts that it is the indestructible power that is the essence of great hope; it is not a power of fight, conflict or violence, but a power of love that relieves pain and suffering and that repairs the mistakes in our actions. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere (Encyclical, n° 35). Stagnation and disintegration, surrender and resignation, physical and psychic numbness, a lack of action — are all indications of lost hope. Heading forward, spiritual wandering, looking ahead and not back — are a condition to escape the hopelessness which accompanies many of life's misfortunes. Human nature is split. It is both positive and negative, open to sadness and joy, to action and inaction.
In action, man can either experience an increased sense of his self, experience "being more", or he can feel he is going through a process of increasingly losing himself, forgetting about himself and his existence. He can have a feeling that what exists, refers to action only, hence e.g. workaholism. This type of engrossing in what one does and how he does it can have negative consequences in identifying the religious sphere with the areligious one. Work and all human action may, in consequence, be worshipped. The world man builds in hope that his life will become "better", can unconsciously come to be treated as holy, by mistaking one's fantasies of "man's kingdom" for the revelation of the "Kingdom of God".
Identifying one's self and fate with actions of other people has its limits, beyond which man encounters the actions of God or nothingness. Certainly we cannot „build” the Kingdom of God by our own efforts—what we build will always be the kingdom of man with all the limitations proper to our human nature. The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope (Encyclical, n° 35). In most parts of the world, man no longer thinks in the ancient categories of "kingdoms", but in categories of culture, republics and countries, though the problem remains the same. What remains unanswered is the question of how to organize personal and collective life, how to act to live a good life in the world that is still being disintegrated, destabilized and demoralized. How to maintain individual and collective hope for "a better life" in this situation?
In various contemporary conceptions of action that are derived from the philosophy of Aristotle, it is assumed that action is cumulative and that once earned, goods and values remain forever, and those that follow are just an addition that can multiply those already possessed. This cumulative, linear thinking leads to a conviction that it is enough to collect or earn a certain amount of goods, then share them, and by doing so, achieve the state of happiness. This is a psychological, sociological or economical model of understanding goods which are substitutes for hope or even, not infrequently, for actual salvation here on earth. Such salvation is symbolized by consumption, by wealth and power, and a man who has them sometimes feels he is blessed by God.
In conceptions oriented at spiritual or material goods, actions of the poor, socially excluded people are treated as if they were cursed and forgotten by God. And sometimes the "blessed with wealth", the people of action and power treat them unfavourably and discriminate against them. But even the great disproportion, discrepancy and inequality in possessing material goods on earth does not translate into man's inequality in the theological dimension. God is the lord of the poor and rich in the same degree. Benedict XVI underlines this point strongly. And we cannot—to use the classical expression—”merit” Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something „merited”, but always a gift (Encyclical, n° 35). Neither poverty nor wealth condition God's love; they are border states or situations that vanish in contact with God. Faith, through hope and love, compensates all earthly inequalities and equalizes them with the appropriate measure - the same for everyone.
Let us not have illusions: idleness, sloth, theft, invasion or economical war as actions of man who wants to save himself at the expense of others is one thing. But poverty, which is systemic, resulting from neglect, injustice or scarcity, connected with an individual's or society's position in a given historical time and political system, is another thing. They diversify people's actions independently of their individual or collective will. In this situation people find themselves in the position of objects and victims. And they cannot be subjects, heroes of their own deeds and history, where God also has a part in determining fate. This is shown, e.g. in the tragic fate of the people of Israel, who never lost their spirit of action, enterprise and faith in God's power.
Yet, there are people and nations that can feel disinherited from the heritage of God's love. They either do not know it, or have a false image of it or simply cannot act in accordance with God's revelation and bear no responsibility for it, although they live in conditions that are an insult to the knowledge revealed to us by God. One's personal situation, various local and global factors can limit our access to Christ's revelation. This does not absolve those who know Christianity's message already - those who are aware of the value of "heaven". However, even when we are fully aware that Heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it will always be true that our behaviour is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history. Benedict XVI gently adds: We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good (Encyclical, n° 35). We also have to remember about the border-situations that give the word "we can" its dramatic meaning. In a particular situation it can be both positive and negative.
To be able to do something on our own or in a group, we need a pre-existent force as a source of human "possibilities" of acting, having hope and faith. Wishful thinking or childish ideas about one's possibilities, limiting oneself to the feeling of omnipotence and living a life that is only in agreement with one's own projects and plans — are not sufficient. What is needed is the power of a model of action, based upon the example of Jesus. Neither people of wealth and power nor the helpless and thus poor are capable of showing the Christian models of salvation. The real models that portray the entire power of the revelation and salvation are set by saints who by living among people, even in the most devastating conditions and fate, lead others to act appropriately and give their own and God's hope of salvation.
The deeds of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta among people disinherited culturally and economically, serve as a contemporary example of "holy actions" flowing out of the gift of love, She was beatified by Benedict XVI's predecessor, John Paul II as an example of acting in border-situations among people who rarely knew the Christian revelation and learnt it through her deeds and the deeds of missionaries she guided in India for many years. Everyone is free to step onto the path of acting for the sake of faith, hope of love and salvation. But it is usually the "saints" who are the first to do it, who as "God's helpers" contribute to the saving of the world (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9; 1 Thes. 3:2). People's actions have not only an economical, social and medical dimension, but a theological one as well, which is a reference of man's actions to God's actions. God gives man the chance of returning to the situation when the creation was filled with His goodness and joy.
Man's love of God after the first fall (sin) can have both a positive and a negative character. Man's negative love of God is about the fact that man unconsciously identifies himself with God (known as overidentification) and views himself as God, an alternative God with the power to make anything happen, to realize his ideas as well as to possess and manage all the world's goods. The very word "all" (Gr. pan) implies this type of man's overidentification with God, which changes him into the Übermensch (cf. F. Nietzsche). It poisons his consciousness with the delusion of power and divinity, which come not from God but from his own delusions, dreams, expectations, false hopes etc. The illusion of being "the other God" or "the alternative God" usually finds its naïve expressions in the need of power over others, the passion of controlling other people's actions, thoughts, emotions and consciences, in bigotry and clericalism, in all forms of self-deification under the banner of faith and love of God.
Within the analysis of man's activities, we can also find a negative type of religious action, a psychopathology of faith as a malpractice tendency in faith, e.g. doing it for pleasure, to have control over others and over the world, even over God. Such "poisoning with faith" (pseudo-faith) causes serious harm and gives rise to sectarian or belligerent behaviour — all this in the name of imaginary "purity" or a repair of faith that is in fact a sign of personality poisoned with delusions. Not only does it have nothing to do with the Christian Revelation, but it has also nothing to do with a healthy sense of faith whatsoever. Such attitudes should be treated, disillusioned in the process of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy.
Every now and then, "defilement" and "toxins" which poison the doctrine of religious love and the practice of faith enter the paradigm of Christian faith, which evolves as man's cognition develops and increases the availability of its revelation. Once in a while, the teachings of religious conduct should be cleansed of this poisonous tarnish. We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future (Encyclical, n° 35). Remorse is a real antidote for the erroneous conduct in faith. The Catholic approach to the health of the soul and faith is the same as the Protestant one, put forward by the world-famous Danish existential theologian, Søren Kiekegaard: If man seeks the Kingdom of God, he must start from remorse (Kiekegaard 2000: 263).
Benedict XVI is extremely alert about the importance of protecting the pure sources of faith, needed to maintain spiritual faith. God's love of man and the world is a true source of life and a true purpose of salvation, which should not be contaminated with anything. Due to man's faults and the loss of the sense of God's love, we vanish in the turmoil of misunderstandings and worries that result from false messages on faith and from misconduct. Yet still, we can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose (Encyclical, n° 35). The aim of man and his actions is to return to the primary love of God who, through it, creates every being and maintains their existence, development and the change of the world.
The Christian sense of hope is test for man's endurance, his pains of existence, falls, misfortunes, sickness and death and calls for to develop omnipresent love. At the same time, the test introduces us to the cognition of eternal things. They cannot be learned through ordinary actions which reveal only external and partial things or phenomena. A profound cognition that brings the creation closer to the Creator takes years and epochs, whole eons. It requires inspired, persistent and repeated actions, controlled by the most outstanding minds and hearts of researchers, overseen by God's power. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces (Encyclical, n° 35). Hope rests in human actions which reflect actions of God and His creation.
Benedict XVI distinguishes different projects of religious and secular salvation. The Christian project of salvation comprise four possibilities:
1) salvation "through faith",
2) salvation "through hope"
3) salvation "through love",
4) salvation "through freedom".
In the first part, these possibilities were discussed in the context of modern projects:
1) salvation "through progress",
2) salvation "through science",
3) salvation "through work",
4) salvation "through social revolution".
Benedict XVI includes prayer, action, suffering and the Last Judgement as ways of "learning and practicing" Christian hope.
The Pope shows how actions and creations of minds, hearts and hands of man correspond to the actions and creations of God. They are turning points of reference to one another.
A personalistic approach to action was presented by Benedict XVI's predecessor Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens. Further development of the theology of action and work seems necessary. The short formulation presented in the encyclical Spe Salvi is an encouragement to elaborate this significant issue. Action in the context of hope and love is a path of human life yet to be explored. It requires both specialist and theological expertise.
The Marxist view on work and success, which, though based on false assumptions, was so successful worldwide. It should be re-examined and so should other treaties on the ethics of action, such as Tadeusz Kotarbiński's Praxiology. An introduction to the science of efficient action. He managed to cover the technical and axiological aspects of human actions in a way similar to Christian axiological views, even though he propagated atheism and treated religion just as a significant part of culture.
Apart from John Paul II's encyclical Laborem exercens we have another study on work from the Christian perspective in Poland. Its author is Rev. Czesław Bartnik. Yet, in the light of the new encyclical letter by Benedict XVI, we must once again study the actions of man, their ambivalent nature and orientation towards the ultimate aim, i.e. salvation. We must redefine the relations of man to nature, the universe and other people who, though driven by God's Caritas, sometimes treat their actions as a battlefield, destroying the ecological order on earth and in outer space.
Influenced by false philosophical doctrines of action, there has been an excessive intervention in the human body. This has questioned the entire axiology of action which has accompanied the European people and the world for the past two thousand years bringing harmony into contradictory elements of being. Man's actions always need a theological perspective; otherwise they change into its opposite, changing the act of creation into an act of destruction. On the highest level, man's action reflects God and thus brings hope for dialogue, reconciliation and salvation.
Benedict XVI's has a positive stance on the ambivalence of human actions. The Pope believes in the positive meaning of our actions and, above all, in God's promises connected with them. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God's promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad (Encyclical, n° 35). The aspect of promise is an element of every action we perform; it has both a material and spiritual, physical and metaphysical character. To capture the unity of human action, which is divided, split and sometimes broken on earth, we need to refer to the highest power, the power that acts both in the world and in man, the power of God.
Copyright © by ks. Jerzy Lewandowski
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