The problem of moral evil—the most tragic of evil's forms—is also addressed in the Bible, which tells us that such evil stems not from any material deficiency, but is a wound inflicted by the disordered exercise of human freedom. In the end, the word of God poses the problem of the meaning of life and proffers its response in directing the human being to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, who is the perfect realization of human existence. A reading of the sacred text would reveal other aspects of this problem; but what emerges clearly is the rejection of all forms of relativism, materialism and pantheism.
The fundamental conviction of the “philosophy” found in the Bible is that the world and human life do have a meaning and look towards their fulfilment, which comes in Jesus Christ. The mystery of the Incarnation will always remain the central point of reference for an understanding of the enigma of human existence, the created world and God himself. The challenge of this mystery pushes philosophy to its limits, as reason is summoned to make its own a logic which brings down the walls within which it risks being confined. Yet only at this point does the meaning of life reach its defining moment. The intimate essence of God and of the human being become intelligible: in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, human nature and divine nature are safeguarded in all their autonomy, and at the same time the unique bond which sets them together in mutuality without confusion of any kind is revealed.(97)
81. One of the most significant aspects of our current situation, it should be noted, is the “crisis of meaning”. Perspectives on life and the world, often of a scientific temper, have so proliferated that we face an increasing fragmentation of knowledge. This makes the search for meaning difficult and often fruitless. Indeed, still more dramatically, in this maelstrom of data and facts in which we live and which seem to comprise the very fabric of life, many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning. The array of theories which vie to give an answer, and the different ways of viewing and of interpreting the world and human life, serve only to aggravate this radical doubt, which can easily lead to scepticism, indifference or to various forms of nihilism.
In consequence, the human spirit is often invaded by a kind of ambiguous thinking which leads it to an ever deepening introversion, locked within the confines of its own immanence without reference of any kind to the transcendent. A philosophy which no longer asks the question of the meaning of life would be in grave danger of reducing reason to merely accessory functions, with no real passion for the search for truth.
To be consonant with the word of God, philosophy needs first of all to recover its sapiential dimension as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life. This first requirement is in fact most helpful in stimulating philosophy to conform to its proper nature. In doing so, it will be not only the decisive critical factor which determines the foundations and limits of the different fields of scientific learning, but will also take its place as the ultimate framework of the unity of human knowledge and action, leading them to converge towards a final goal and meaning. This sapiential dimension is all the more necessary today, because the immense expansion of humanity's technical capability demands a renewed and sharpened sense of ultimate values. If this technology is not ordered to something greater than a merely utilitarian end, then it could soon prove inhuman and even become potential destroyer of the human race.(98)
The word of God reveals the final destiny of men and women and provides a unifying explanation of all that they do in the world. This is why it invites philosophy to engage in the search for the natural foundation of this meaning, which corresponds to the religious impulse innate in every person. A philosophy denying the possibility of an ultimate and overarching meaning would be not only ill-adapted to its task, but false.
82. Yet this sapiential function could not be performed by a philosophy which was not itself a true and authentic knowledge, addressed, that is, not only to particular and subordinate aspects of reality—functional, formal or utilitarian—but to its total and definitive truth, to the very being of the object which is known. This prompts a second requirement: that philosophy verify the human capacity to know the truth, to come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adaequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred.(99) This requirement, proper to faith, was explicitly reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council: “Intelligence is not confined to observable data alone. It can with genuine certitude attain to reality itself as knowable, though in consequence of sin that certitude is partially obscured and weakened”. (100)
A radically phenomenalist or relativist philosophy would be ill-adapted to help in the deeper exploration of the riches found in the word of God. Sacred Scripture always assumes that the individual, even if guilty of duplicity and mendacity, can know and grasp the clear and simple truth. The Bible, and the New Testament in particular, contains texts and statements which have a genuinely ontological content. The inspired authors intended to formulate true statements, capable, that is, of expressing objective reality. It cannot be said that the Catholic tradition erred when it took certain texts of Saint John and Saint Paul to be statements about the very being of Christ. In seeking to understand and explain these statements, theology needs therefore the contribution of a philosophy which does not disavow the possibility of a knowledge which is objectively true, even if not perfect. This applies equally to the judgements of moral conscience, which Sacred Scripture considers capable of being objectively true. (101)
83. The two requirements already stipulated imply a third: the need for a philosophy of genuinely metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth. This requirement is implicit in sapiential and analytical knowledge alike; and in particular it is a requirement for knowing the moral good, which has its ultimate foundation in the Supreme Good, God himself. Here I do not mean to speak of metaphysics in the sense of a specific school or a particular historical current of thought. I want only to state that reality and truth do transcend the factual and the empirical, and to vindicate the human being's capacity to know this transcendent and metaphysical dimension in a way that is true and certain, albeit imperfect and analogical. In this sense, metaphysics should not be seen as an alternative to anthropology, since it is metaphysics which makes it possible to ground the concept of personal dignity in virtue of their spiritual nature. In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.
Wherever men and women discover a call to the absolute and transcendent, the metaphysical dimension of reality opens up before them: in truth, in beauty, in moral values, in other persons, in being itself, in God. We face a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation, a step as necessary as it is urgent. We cannot stop short at experience alone; even if experience does reveal the human being's interiority and spirituality, speculative thinking must penetrate to the spiritual core and the ground from which it rises. Therefore, a philosophy which shuns metaphysics would be radically unsuited to the task of mediation in the understanding of Revelation.
The word of God refers constantly to things which transcend human experience and even human thought; but this “mystery” could not be revealed, nor could theology render it in some way intelligible, (102) were human knowledge limited strictly to the world of sense experience. Metaphysics thus plays an essential role of mediation in theological research. A theology without a metaphysical horizon could not move beyond an analysis of religious experience, nor would it allow the intellectus fidei to give a coherent account of the universal and transcendent value of revealed truth.
If I insist so strongly on the metaphysical element, it is because I am convinced that it is the path to be taken in order to move beyond the crisis pervading large sectors of philosophy at the moment, and thus to correct certain mistaken modes of behaviour now widespread in our society.
84. The importance of metaphysics becomes still more evident if we consider current developments in hermeneutics and the analysis of language. The results of such studies can be very helpful for the understanding of faith, since they bring to light the structure of our thought and speech and the meaning which language bears. However, some scholars working in these fields tend to stop short at the question of how reality is understood and expressed, without going further to see whether reason can discover its essence. How can we fail to see in such a frame of mind the confirmation of our present crisis of confidence in the powers of reason? When, on the basis of preconceived assumptions, these positions tend to obscure the contents of faith or to deny their universal validity, then not only do they abase reason but in so doing they also disqualify themselves. Faith clearly presupposes that human language is capable of expressing divine and transcendent reality in a universal way—analogically, it is true, but no less meaningfully for that. (103) Were this not so, the word of God, which is always a divine word in human language, would not be capable of saying anything about God. The interpretation of this word cannot merely keep referring us to one interpretation after another, without ever leading us to a statement which is simply true; otherwise there would be no Revelation of God, but only the expression of human notions about God and about what God presumably thinks of us.
The same can be said about our lives. Following Christ demands a change, a 'redoing' of our lives. We may lose friends, even relatives, due to our 'ordering our lives' in the light of Christ. It isn't easy and many times things look worse before they look better. Before St. Francis became the beloved saint we know today, many thought him a madman. He lost his family, his father brought him to court, before he found other 'brothers and sisters' who traveled with him.
Our Lord told us of this; "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first" (Mark 10: 29-31).
St. Paul even referred to this: "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done" (1 Corinthians 3:11-13).
G.K. Chesterton wrote that it isn't that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but tried and found difficult.
In this age of instant gratification, we forget how difficult, but worthwhile, it is to work at something. Is this so odd? Can one hope to find a good job if they don't 'train' for it? A high school student can hardly walk into a Fortune 500 company and expect a great job simply because he feels it's owed him. He has to work for it, train for it.
Our Holy Father spoke of 'training' for a Christian lifestyle in St. Louis, and training entails pain, sacrifice, etc. Again, this is nothing new. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).
St. Paul is speaking of the constant and ongoing 'training' one goes through as a Christian. No one can speak to any player, on either team, who played in the Super Bowl, and find they just 'fell' into their positions. They worked hard and long in their skills. Building up their strength on boring, repetitive exercises. Honing their skills, etc. It wasn't 'easy' to be a professional football player. Nor is any 'job'.
"...there is no branch of teaching, however humble and easy to learn, which does not require a master..." (St. Augustine). Our 'training' is forever, and ongoing. We won't finish it until we attain our goal, eternal joy with God in Heaven. "...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3: 10-13).
Our Lord said as much; "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay every man for what he has done'" (Matthew 16: 24-27).
This sacrifice is going to entail pain of some sort, no doubt about. Many will tell us that this 'sacrifice', this 'work' is unnecessary; that God loves us, and will save us, regardless of what we do. We've heard this before as well. "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, He said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:7-10).
Are we mere rocks, children of God in name only, or the living sons and daughters of God? Just as the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and obstinate sinners attacked and persecuted Christ, so we will be. The pain we suffer may be heavy. However: "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24: 9-13).
From the person who improves his home, the student who improves his knowledge, the athlete who trains for a prize, and the Catholic who 'trains' for a Christian life, pain comes, sacrifices are made, but the rewards are well worth it.
As Christ tells us, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7: 13-14).
Pax Christi, Pat
As Cardinal and Archbishop watching over his flock of one and a half million Catholics, he has stressed spiritual renewal and has been very active in pastoral ministry, visiting not only parishes and schools, but state hospitals, prisons and non-Catholic churches, temples and synagogues in addition to conducting a weekly radio call-in show to keep in touch with the people. He is one of the most ardent pro-life prelates, serving as an advisor to the Bishops' Committe on Pro-Life Activities. He is also a member of the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and was formerly chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs. He also has Curial experience having previously served membership in the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes and currently a member of the Pontifical "Cor Unum", the Pontifical Council for the Causes of Saints, the Pontifical Council for the Clergy and has lent invaluable expertise to the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People which he actually had a hand in helping develop with his input back in 1970 at its inception before he set up a similar Diocesan level council in Brooklyn a year later.
While Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilaqua was born in the New York and heads the Archdiocese of Philadelphia his colleague Cardinal John J. O'Connor, who we'll cover in future installments alphabetically, was born in Philadelphia and heads the Archdiocese of New York. Both men are in their seventies and Cardinal Bevilaqua is very comfortable as shepherd of the vast Philadelphia Archdiocese. He will turn 76 this summer. It is highly unlikely he would be considered because of this, but, as most Philadelphia Catholics will tell you, Rome's potential loss will always be Philly's gain. Though he serves as Archbishop, he is still on the books as a practicing civil lawyer in the New York, Pennsylvania and the Supreme Court. Because he knows the law so well, he is a stickler for upholding the laws - especially the Laws of God.