Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Message of Pentecost

   "The Kingdom of God is within you." The Gospel's heart-beat can be heard in these words. Two worlds draw near each other, the borders are blurred, the beyond becomes the here and now. Every believer, taking part in the Liturgy, has this experience: "Now all the heavenly powers invisibly with us do serve." However, these eruptions of "the wholly other" mean that hell is also in our midst. In spite of the clarity of this idea, the same term is applied to many situations in life. We hear of the hell of an unhappy love, the hell of married life, the hell of the presence of others, the hell of oneself. Hell in a human face forces itself upon our intimacy, becomes a familiar element, well-known but terrifying. The titanic power of rejecting God is the ultimate human freedom. Freedom has been willed as such by God, that is, without limits one scarcely dares to say it, is the hell of his love, the heavenly dimension of hell, the desolate vision of our endless repetition of the action of Adam or of Judas, fleeing into the darkness of solitude.
Hell is nothing but the separation of man from God, our autonomy excluding God's presence, and we know this hell very well. It is the hell of all those who in despair, explore Satan's depths. Not all the wrong is on Adam's or Judas' side. They have acted thus because of their ignorance of the graces of Pentecost and because of the lamentable absence of true witnesses. An acidic pessimism eats into the roots their lives, making them indifferent and impermeable to grace. From the hell of their hearts they hurl toward an empty heaven their despair and blasphemies. The satanic paradise of the proletarian regime produces the poison of an enormous boredom. This technologically sophisticated empire abandons us to ourselves, an abandonment equal in vastness to interplanetary space where rockets take the place of angels and where the thunder of God's wrath is beginning to rumble.

   It is no longer possible to reduce faith or atheism to a "private affair." Our time is indeed the age of universalism-the catholicity of the Kingdom or of the anti-Kingdom. The beyond, sacred or secularized­, is posited in the apocalyptic dimensions of our existence. It excludes any middle ground and implacably obliges us to choose between two totalitarian systems-"God is all in all," or "God is nowhere.”

   Present-day science is no longer a dream. As a dream, it has been magnificently realized, and beyond all expectations. Its rapid progression is becoming unpredictable. It is going beyond laboratories of scientists, and it is indispensable in any meditation on being, the existence of man and his destiny. It is neither theology nor philosophy that is changing the face of the world. It is science. Cybernetics and automation are providing the human brain with a marvelous complement. They allow very exact forecasts to be made which concern us all. Power over biological processes and over space, plant in human consciousness the seeds of a new spirit of prophecy. By an effective solidarity, all men find that they have a common destiny with its own risk.

   Humanity risks being reduced to rationally conditioned, predictable gestures, with its critical faculties, cunningly controlled or inhibited. A balanced interaction between material progress and spiritual growth seems more and more problematic. An existence that has broken away from God is built on the refusal of God. Science, good in itself, risks finding itself set up entirely against God. The Antichrist of the Legend, by Vladimir Soloviev, presents himself as a great benefactor of humanity, as an accomplished scientist, offering as bread the miracles of technology and peace.

   The situation of the modern world calls upon the Christian conscience, questions it and accuses it. If Communism exists, it is because Christians, unfaithful to the Gospel, have not been able to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. If present-day thought has such an accent of despair and emptiness, it is because Christian hope has lost "the consolation afforded by the Scriptures and is no longer on the plane of the divine promise. If abstract art exists, it is because figurative art no longer represents anything, for it incarnates no spirit and radiates no light. Surrealism arises only where we have lost the flame of things and the secret content of simple reality. The feats of technology, according to Revelation 13: 13, only parody the flames of Pentecost. In the midst of an infernal existence, man feels himself abandoned in complete solitude. Sheol signifies a place of darkness, and hell, in Greek, the place where one does not see, where no glance meets that of another. Hell knows no vis-à-vis, no meeting face to face. It is a place where there are "the tears of the victims with no one to comfort them”.

   Here the message of Pentecost is seen in all its breadth. Speaking for all, Christ cried: "Why hast thou forsaken me?" This cry shook the foundations of hell and moved the heart of the Father. But the Farther who sent his Son knows that even hell is his domain and that “the door of death" is changed into a "door of life." Even infernal despair is touched by a hope that it formerly contained, and it is not for Christians to despair. The hand extended toward Christ never remains empty. The fourth Gospel shows us Judas holding out his hand. In placing in it the Eucharistic bread,7 Christ made his last appeal to evil, to night at its darkest. Judas' fingers closed over the immolated Lamb. Judas went out and "it was night." St. Augustine has this to say: "He who went out was himself night." The night received him and hid his terrible communion with Satan. Satan is Judas. But Judas carries away in his hand, which is that of Satan, a fearful mystery. Hell keeps in its heart that morsel of bread. Is this particle of light not the faithful and exact expression of the words, “the light shines in darkness"?. The gesture of Jesus shows the last mystery of the Church: she is the hand of Jesus offering the Eucharistic bread, addressing her appeal to all, for all are in the power of the prince of this world. The Light has not yet dissipated the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome the invincible Light. We are all in the ultimate tension of divine love.

   On this level we find not the denial but the exigency of hell, which comes from human freedom. Confronted with God, who forces no one to love him, hell bears witness to our freedom to love God. This freedom engenders hell, for we can always say: "May thy will not be done," and even God has no control over this decision.

   "Hell is other people," Sartre declares. A Christian can say: “The destiny of others is my hell." The Father has given all judgment to the Son of Man, and it is "the judgment of the judgment”, the judgment crucified. "The Father is crucifying love, the Son is crucified love, the Holy Spirit is the invincible love of the cross”. This invincible power shines forth in the out-pouring of the Spirit whom every baptized person receives. While those in despair explore the depths of Satan, the Gospel calls upon believers “to move mountains." Perhaps this means for us to move the infernal mountain of the modern world and its nothingness toward the dazzling light of Pentecost and its new life: "I have today set before life ... and death." The “night” of the Western Church's mystics, and “the abandonment by God" of the Eastern Church's spiritual teachers, refer to the descent into hell. For the one who is attentive to the world, experience of hell is immediate.

   When we confess in the Creed that "I believe in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Catholic Church," we mean "in the Holy Spirit who descended on the Church at Pentecost," and this is Pentecost perpetuated and the Parousia* begun, in action, in history. This time does not withdraw us from the world but it lightens the weight of the world, making us more joyous by the breath of the Spirit. It is in our world of television, guided spacecraft, supersonics, interplanetary journeys, in this world that is at once atheistic and believing, heavenly and infernal, but always loved by God, that we are called to the miracle of faith. Like Abraham of old, we start out without knowing where we are going or why; but we know that we bear in our hearts a flame of fire, and we can only repeat the spirited words of St. John Climacus: "I go forward singing to you ... ".

* Parousia is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit, in theology it refers to second coming of Christ.

   Evdokimov P., Ages of the Spiritual Life translated to English by Sister Gertrude (1998), St Vladimir Seminary Press, Crestwood, U.S.A.