The Historical-Theological Context of the Medjugorje Apparitions
Date: November 10, 2005 , Originally published November 10, 2001
Author: Dr. fra Tomislav Pervan, OFM
Category: Theology reports
Content of the article
The New Understanding of Faith: Faith as the Fruit of Experience
At the same time that we had student unrest on the scene at the end of the sixties, we meet with unusual manifestations in the field of religion. We could almost call it post-modernism. Youth are filled with enthusiasm for Jesus, Jesus People communes and the musical expression in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar were created. As a person, Jesus is attractive. His divine attributes are stripped away. He is wrenched from the Church. Jesus yes - Church no, is the slogan on the lips of many. The council did its part regarding a greater personalism in the Church but also regarding a greater personalism in the act of faith. The image of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ was prevalent up to the Council. The idea and term People of God prevailed in the Council, while the dogmatic constitution on the Word of God, that is, about Revelation, expressly says the following in talking about faith: "The obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26; 2 Cor 10:5-6) must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, making "the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals," and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him. Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and "makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth." The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood (Dei Verbum 5).
If that is compared to what was said at Vatican Council I, then there is an essential difference. In recent times, we are the witnesses of a turning around in the understanding of faith. The problem is no longer believing in dogmas, in truths of the faith, and acceptance of them in our lives, but the problem is one of religious experience. That element of experience is dominant in almost all religious questions and problems. The elements and moments of experience have become, we would almost say, the condition for someone's readiness to believe and to put one's confidence in someone, that is, one's heart (lat. credo = cor do). As if it had become an unwritten law: Give me your experience, show me your experience, and then I will believe you. That could consequently be reduced to a problem, which is particularly actual today. Namely, all the way up till now the fundamental rule for the transmission of faith was the mediation of a certain deposit of faith, information of the faith, and religious contents. However, information - no matter how complete - always carries with it some shortcoming. It is losing its foundation and basis particularly in the contemporary spiritual situation. There is nothing that one could or should prove to our contemporaries because they are mature and grown up. They are no longer in the state of immaturity. Even Jesus did not do his signs and miracles in order to prove something to someone, but to introduce and lead people into the mystery of his person and mission and into the mystery of confidence and faith.
That is why it is necessary, and it is being done in Medjugorje, to pass over from an instructional model of transmission of the faith to an inspirational. Namely, the Spirit of God is active in individuals, and the individual opens oneself to what the Spirit is inspiring. One might mention here the example of the theologian K. Rahner. At the end of his life, near the threshold of eternity, he complained about the frozen, winter season in the Church, about the cold church. By this, he was probably thinking about the directions of restoration in the church itself, the frozen theological fronts, the winding down of the ecumenical movement, and the far too weak echo of the Council itself and modern theological thought in the public at large. But even under the winter snow and frost the germs of a new spring are hidden. New life is being generated and spring is gradually awakening. That is why the same Rahner could have been correct in saying that a believer, a Christian of tomorrow, and of the next century will either be a mystic or he will be no longer. By what right does a Rahner say that? Faith and prayer, that is, scientific theology and mysticism are always inseparable. There is not one without the other. The internal meaningfulness and confirmation of this statement originates from the very fact that only mystically deepened faith can give a man an inner sense in the search for his own identity, a man who carries with himself his existential fears and troubles. Are we not confronted with the syndrome of reincarnation, which essentially is just the fruit of an unsuccessful search for personal identity? In such a constellation we have a mystical response, that is, a mystical epoch as a response, as the path to a personal goal. Again, in this case the path is the goal itself, that is, the goal is the path.
In the centre of all mysticism stands Paul's thought which neither theology nor spirituality has adequately treated, namely, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). The Christianity of tomorrow must not, nor may it remain in its own vestibule. It must penetrate to the core of its possibilities. The more that happens, the more strongly its image is changed, and the more it is directed toward its mystical form. According to that then, Christianity becomes a religion of hope, freedom and peace, and above all then of the overcoming of existential fears, since modern man is surrounded by fears, in his life energy he is bound up, incapable of accepting himself and his future, and he lives with his back turned toward his future. It is impossible to help him with initiatives that would move him to endure the challenges of the present and to turn himself toward the future with confidence and trust. Already the philosopher of existence, Karl Jaspers, said that the fear of life in the heart of modern man, that is present today in so great a measure as never before, has become man's atrocious companion. Fear is the unambiguous characteristic of modern man. It is an acid eating away at every joy of life and the will to live. Therefore, faith is the only true antithesis and antidote to such a fear because faith anchors us in the reality of God present in history, while fear takes the ground out from under our feet. Frightened man is hanging over the abyss of nothingness. Such a fear has as its fruit also the impossibility of authentic communication among people because one who is in fear, is not capable of articulating his own state and trouble to another. For the frightened man his words stick in his throat. The last word, actually the summary of Jesus' entire kerygma in John's Gospel in the farewell discourse of Jesus, says: "In the world you shall have fear, but do not be afraid. Have confidence because I have overcome the world ..." (cf John 16:33).
This modern man, the seeker of God, needs the faith of the witness, and not intellectual arguing or argumentation. He cares more about the testimony of those who have learned by experience rather than of those who learned something by heart. Faith is not transmitted so much in an intellectual manner as it is by the witnessing of those who with their life and suffering give faith a new meaning and credibility. That is obvious particularly in the former communist bloc where faith proved to be stronger than the so-called scientific socialism just by the witness and humility of the suffering in whose life the hope and promise of faith became visible. That faith is not a resignation or withdrawal, that is, retreat into irrationality before the dangers of the practical mind, but it is courage to be, boldness toward essence and being, and the prophetic call and swing toward the wide open spaces into which the total reality around us is calling. On the one hand, today aversion to reason, science, and technical rationality are all the more widespread, and, therefore, it is of extreme importance to emphasize the essential logicalness of our faith so it would be a reasonable worship and sacrifice (cf. Rom 12:1), a living synthesis of the whole man, and not the fruit of an irrational leap into the unknown. In itself, the mystery is not irrationality, but the extreme profundity of the divine mind into which we cannot penetrate with our own finite human eyes. That is why St. John can also say: In the beginning was the Logos, that is, the creative Intelligence, the power of divine recognition that bestows meaning and is the beginning of all things. It is up to man to discover the traces of that divine Intelligence and to develop and interpret the meaning of things and of created reality in that direction.