15 July 2015

Here I am?

St. Bonaventure
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

Moses finds a bush burning in the desert. The bush is burning, but it is not reduced to ash. Both surprised and curious, Moses wants to know why the bush is not consumed by the fire. As he approaches this “remarkable sight,” a voice calls out, “Moses, Moses.” Hearing his name spoken in fire, Moses stops, screams like a scalded camel, and runs home in terror! When he tells the story of the flaming shrub, no one in his family believes him. After years of therapy, Moses concludes that the whole incident resulted from dehydration, low blood-sugar, and a deeply embedded sub-conscious fear of vegetation. He resumes his work as a shepherd and avoids contact with anything that might be called bramble, hedge, or scrub. He dies a very old man secure in his well-managed anxiety around wilderness foliage. How do you react to God's voice flaming out at you? Do you scream and run in terror? Or do you follow the real Moses' example and answer, “Here I am”?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recalls the difficult process of writing his second dissertation, a work on St Bonaventure's theology of history.* He writes that one of his readers had rejected his thesis because of its modern research methods and radical theological conclusions regarding the nature of divine revelation. What was so radical about the future Pope Benedict XVI's views on revelation? The young Ratzinger argued that divine revelation is “the act in which God shows himself. . .” Is this a fine distinction that only a German theologian could love? Not at all. From this distinction, Ratzinger concludes that God's Self-revelation must be witnessed by someone in order to be a revelation at all. He writes, “Where there is no one to perceive 'revelation,' no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed.” For our future Pope, the perceiving subject of divine revelation is the Church and the Church's understanding of God's revelation is contained in tradition. Because of this “dangerous modernism,” Joseph the student was sent back to his desk to try again. Despite this setback, he won his doctorate. And he won the argument.*

My fictional Moses, the terrified shepherd, chose to flee God's revelation and rationalize his encounter with the fiery voice of the shrub as a product of physical ills and psychological trauma. Perhaps we can forgive this fantasy version of Moses b/c we might be tempted to follow his example! Fortunately, the real Moses, upon hearing his name called from the fire, approached the bush and said instead, “Here I am.” Moses surrenders his courageous heart to this world's most dangerous message: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lives and He has a job that needs to be done. Because he bravely stepped forward and answered to his name, Moses is sent to free God's people from slavery in Egypt. And like any of us given a similar task, Moses says, “What?! Me!? Who I am to do this work?!” 
As the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, we are each called by name and sent out to do the work of freeing God's people from slavery. This might be the literal slavery of child-trafficking or forced prostitution. This might be the slavery of poverty or political and religious oppression. This might be the slavery of individual disobedience and personal vice. Whatever face slavery wears, the chains that bind are held fast by sin and the fear of death. Liberation for slaves begins when they are told that the Pharaoh of Sin is powerless, his armies defeated, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has commanded him to “let My people go.” Liberation for the slaves arrives when they receive this revelation and begin to live lives freed from Pharaoh's rule. Where the dignity of the human person is violated by sin, the message of freedom in Christ must be announced. And when this revelation is received, it must be lived. Not only by the one who hears it but by the one who speaks it as well.

Who am I to do this work? Who are you? If we say to the burning bush—wherever it may appear—“Here I am,” we become ones sent to announce freedom from sin in Christ. First, we are called, then we call. First, we are freed, then we free. We become exactly who God calls us to be. And who is that? Christ dying on his cross for the salvation of the world.

* Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, pg 108.


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