Experiencing God in our Marist context
On Thursday 2nd February, 2017 at our Marist Centre in Sydney, members of our Marist Association's Pastoral Team and our Mission and Life Formation Team came together for some time to listen, reflect and share together.
Ballarat Catholic priest and senior lecturer in Systematic Theology at the University of Divinity, Fr Kevin Lenehan had been asked to speak with us. He began his presentation by inviting us to consider this 1606 painting by the Italian master Caravaggio, titled 'Death of the Virgin'. It represents Mary soon after she died and now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
Kevin suggests in this painting Caravaggio is responding to the Council of Trent's request for artists to be more direct and communicable, drawing viewers into the life of their faith, rather than simply seeing people gazing motionless into heaven, a stance typifying the restrained art of the medieval period. In this painting, we see Mary's body bathed in the light of the resurrection. We see first hand, a mystery.
Kevin then spoke about how we might understand such mysteries. Whereas the first Vatican Council suggested we use reason to know God, typical of the rationalistic period in which the Council took place, here we see mystery as revelation, as 'communicating God', as proposed by Dei verbum, the Second Vatican Council's 1965 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. This document outlines the nature of divine revelation, how it can be transmitted, interpreted and experienced in the Church and in each of our lives today.
Mystery speaks, continued Kevin, through word, through text and through the enfleshment of the word in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fullness and mediator of revelation. Poignantly, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor observes that the conditions of faith have changed, with our contemporary culture being in an immanent place and no longer looking to the transcendent.
In 1913 Protestant theologian, Karl Barth wrote on Paul's letter to the Romans. He highlighted the fact that by now, we understand that we cannot explain God. Hence, today, we see God's revelation particularly present through worship and through personal testimony. God's revelation is ongoing, becoming concrete, only if it is heard. For us, God's revelation depends on our capacity to receive it. Our privilege is to respond to this initiative of God. Real transcendence often takes place through meeting another person.
Kevin concluded by suggesting that for revelation, we need both the interior disposition and the outer word articulating the content of the Christian faith.
I found Kevin's presentation most inspiring. It leads me to reflect on the implications of this contemporary understanding of divine revelation. I am assisted by a text a Marist colleague, Joe McCarthy recommended titled Always Discerning by Jesuit Joseph Tetlow. While the Jesuits teach us so much about the practice of discernment, we need only think about Mary to find another inspiring discerner.
What are the implications for our Marist life and mission? I propose three:
1. We are steeped in a rich Catholic tradition of faith seeking understanding. Often this is more a rational than an experiential activity. Perhaps we Marists, by pondering Mary, can develop a truer balance in our discernment, by paying more attention to the experiential.
2. Community offers a valuable place for revelation to be shared. With the 'hurly burly' of everyday living, whether at home or in the workplace, we can learn to understand the best environment for such dialogue to take place. Perhaps we can even talk with each other about this process of revelation.
3. Each of us is invited to listen to our hearts, to feel the emotions that emerge and to strive to understand the mystery that may be unfolding. This very personal experience may be one that others experience too.
I invite you to share your response.