10 September 2011

Firm Foundation or Total Collapse?

NB.  I have a lot of really good reasons why this homily is so bad. . .unfortunately, none of those reasons rise to the level of a decent excuse.  Oh well. . .

23rd Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Blackfriars, Oxford U.

Just in case you aren't keeping up with the latest fashions from Paris and New York, I thought you should know that foundations are out. I'm not taking about undergarments here or makeup but rather the sorts of foundations that purport to “hold up” our humane efforts toward exploring, describing, and explaining our world—that is, foundations like reason, God, reality, language, that sort of thing. Somewhere along the way, back in the early 60's, someone—no doubt, someone French—decided that “founding” the truth of our various claims to know stuff about the world was just slightly less embarrassing than wearing white socks with sandals. Can anyone who claims that their knowledge of the world is based on a sound foundation be taken seriously? No. No more seriously than someone who rinses mushrooms before the saute or pairs a winter fruit with a summer cheese! Now, of course, the arguments against foundationalism are more complex and serious than I'm letting on. However, the essential attraction of anti-foundationalism is less about its rational appeal and more about the alleged liberty it confers on the hearts and minds of its followers and the stamp of trendy approval that that alleged liberty imparts. Without a foundation, without foundations of any kind, the human heart and mind is supposedly freed to create, re-create, adapt, evolve, transfigure; to do and to be anything that the imagination can conjure. Attractive idea? Oh, yes. But remember, “When the river burst against [the house built w/o a solid foundation], it collapses at once and is completely destroyed." 

While some have been busy these last few decades or so dismantling the literary, philosophical, and theological traditions of the West—all sturdy suppliers of foundational materials—, the destructive force of the flooding river has only increased in strength. That's right. The storm hit; the waters started to rise; the dams broke; and rather than turn to the time-tested solutions found in God, reason, and revelation, some of us belly-flopped on the first wave in and try to ride the tide, all the while claiming that there is no danger, no destruction, no imminent collapse of culture. There can't be any danger b/c there are no foundations upon which to make such outrageous claims about the “truth.” Just narratives, texts, perspectives, and feelings—all fleeting, always in flux, unstable by nature, and one no more true than any other. 

Some of our contemporaries in the Church have bought into an anti-foundationalist version of the faith. The historic Christian faith is just a set of stories we tell one another, a set of literary texts we use to motivate ourselves to be better people. But can a 21st century Christian navigate a healthy course to real holiness w/o a rock-solid foundation in Christ? Of course not! Listen again to Paul writing to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The Word becomes Flesh, a man like one of us. An historical event. An historical event with a divine purpose, to save sinners. Yes, there's a story to tell and a text to dissect and a couple of different perspectives involved in the retelling. . .but we are telling, retelling, and dissecting an event. An event that makes our salvation possible and establishes a large piece of the foundation for our faith. Without this piece, without the incarnation, there is no Christ for us to be perfected into. The river floods its banks, bursts the dams, and our houses collapse and are completely destroyed. And why? B/c we built them—and our faith—on ground w/o a firm foundation. We listen to Christ, but we do not obey. We hear and do not act. Why would we call Christ “Lord” and then refuse to obey him? How exactly is he our Lord if we cannot/will not obey his commands? The firm foundation of our holiness is obedience to Christ—that is, listening to his Word and acting on his Word. There's nothing trendy, fashionable, or even all that practical about this sort of obedience. Unless of course you consider life everlasting in the presence of the Most High practical.

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