22 November 2014

Notes on Fundamental Anxiety, the Divine Presence, and the Mission of Christ

[Delivered in a Christology class for high school seniors this past week.]

1.  Material prosperity, entertainment, comfort, medicine and distraction remove the necessity of God from the ordinary person’s life.  This is the Death of God.  Not a literal death, but the Death of the necessity of God in ordinary people’s daily experience.

2.  Suffering forces us to confront the question of the meaning of our existence.  Any time we are forced out of our secure bubble of distractions and worries and start to realize how contingent and impermanent the things we value are, the problem of the Death of God becomes present to us.

3.  Fundamental anxiety is the experience of the absence of a ground for the meaning of our daily existence.  Once you have this experience of fundamental anxiety, you are forced with a choice: (1) accept the utter meaninglessness of life as presented to you in your anxiety, (2) throw yourself back into distraction and forget the groundlessness of your existence, (3) search for something that would ground the meaning of your life and make sense of existence.

4.  Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist, captures the different responses to Anxiety in his novels The Brothers Karamazov and especially Crime and Punishment.  Blessed Henry Suso, a 14th century Dominican Mystic captures the experience of anxiety and the Catholic response to it in his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom

5.  God offers us a solution to the problem of anxiety and the meaninglessness we encounter in our ordinary daily existence.

6.  The presence of meaning in ordinary life is based on a few factors: (1) the extent to which a particular context or set of activities is directed toward some value that you already hold (2) the extent to which the activity or circumstance holds out the possibility of some unknown hope that you hold.

7.  Meaninglessness comes when an activity or circumstance holds no clear relation to any value you hold, and does not suggest any hope of some future good, or when the circumstance is not directed to anything at all.

8.  Fundamental Anxiety is an encounter with the large-scale question of the direction and value of your life.  In anxiety we are confronted with ultimate questions about what values and hopes our entire lives are directed toward.

9.  If, then, there is any answer to the question raised by fundamental anxiety, we have to discover an object which grounds the values and meaningfulness of human life as whole, without itself raising further problems about its own direction or meaningfulness.

10.  What attributes would an adequate answer to the meaningfulness of human life be? 
It would have to be the underlying source of all value.  It would have to have value not because of someone’s choice or judgment, but in itself, absolutely.

11.  It would have to exist, as a real entity, and not just as an idea present in the human mind, and its existence would have to somehow be decisive for the existence of everything else.

12.  It would have to be one, radically singular, in order to prevent the possibility of a new set of dichotomies or choices which would undercut it decisiveness as a solution to the problem of meaning.

13.  These characteristics (intrinsic and absolute goodness, oneness, and an essential relationship to all of existence) are sufficient to identify this thing as God.

14.  As Catholics, we believe not only that God is the ultimate answer to the question humans naturally have about the meaning of life and the source and purpose of all existence—we also believe that God is radically present in everything that he has created, and that his nature can be discovered indirectly through his works.

15.  Fundamental to Catholicism is the idea that God’s presence is discoverable in the world to those who look beyond the contingency and limitations of ordinary things and seek out their ultimate value and meaning, beyond their finitude.

16.  We will used the word "sacramentality" (borrowed from the Rahnerians) to refer to the fact that we can find transcendent meaning and value through all things because all things reflect God’s nature and are created by God, and refer to God as their perfection. (The goodness of God is what makes the goodness of every other thing good.)

17.  Sacramentality leaves open the question of how we can encounter or reach God directly when the ordinary things in life only approximate or indirectly point toward his goodness.  God is infinite; creatures are finite.  God is utterly perfect; creatures are imperfect.  God is eternal; creatures change.

18.  As Catholics, we believe that God himself has made himself present in Creation in a radically personal way, so that we don’t just know him indirectly by what he has made, but directly as a person with whom we are in a relationship.

19.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate or primary expression of God in the created world.  Jesus, by his life, teachings, and works, shows us who God is personally, because he himself is God.

20.  The purpose of Jesus Christ’s mission wasn't just to heal a few people in 1st century Palestine, or to have some really profound conversations with people, or even to express love.  Jesus’s Mission was to open up a path by which humans can approach God and become children of God, i.e. participants in that ultimate goodness and purpose for which and by which the universe was created.

21.  Jesus perpetuates his ministry by establishing a Church.  The Church is a visible institution made up of the followers of Christ, founded on the grace merited by Christ on the Cross, and united by one common faith, by the same sacraments, by the same prayer and liturgy, and by the same authorities.

22.  The Church exists to perpetuate the mission of Jesus Christ: to hand on the teachings which he gave to the Apostles; to administer the sacraments he instituted to give us grace; and to gather and govern the community of Christian faithful on earth.

23.  The Seven Sacraments were instituted by Christ as means by which God can draw humanity into a direct bond with him.  Each sacrament works to establish or deepen the relationship we have spiritually with God.  The Sacraments redirect our way of understanding and willing, beyond the ordinary, toward God.