Monday, May 31, 2010

What is the Law?

I've been thinking about law in the context of Christian existence lately.

The clearest and most helpful definition of law is from Msgr. Luigi Giussani's At the Origin of the Christian Claim:
A law is nothing more than the description of a stable mechanism. Man, too, as such (a being with a conscience and a will) is a fundamentally fixed mechanism. The so-called moral law describes this fundamental stability.

On what criterion will man establish this law of his action? In order to describe a mechanism, we must first consider its function, its objective. Now, since the 'I' is destined for totality, its law is the giving of itself to the totality. For outside of the awareness of the totality, man will always feel imprisoned or bored" (94, emphasis mine).
Giussani goes on to say that
"We can observe two factors of human dynamism as defined by the Christian heritage: instinct and consciousness.
a) Instinct. This is what I find 'already there,' what determines, attracts, stimulates me. It is precisely by this that man is introduced to service to reality, by a whole series of data which he cannot avoid.
b) Consciousness. This attraction, this stimulus, must have an end. Therefore, the second factor is consciousness of the proper goal of this bundle of instinctiveness. [...] Ordering one's instinct toward the goal (which is to say, the whole) is the fundamental gift of self to the whole, the so-called 'duty,' whose essence, then, cannot be but love, which is self-surrender. [...] But giving oneself is not human unless it is to a person. Loving is only human if one loves a person. The 'whole,' in the final analysis, is the expression of a person: God ('Thy will be done'). Hence, any duty is consciousness of God's will ('Thy kingdom come'). Man's acting in the world, at its most conscious level, is prayer" (94, emphasis mine).
Humanity and the Law
"In practice, man is incapable of living, in all its completeness, the great Dependence that is his truth and its projection in life as a gift of love and service. [...] instead of ordering himself to the whole, he strives to order the whole to himself; he strives to take for himself and instead of loving, he exploits. [...] A person does not have enough energy for self-realization and the more attentive and conscious a man is, that is, the more he is capable of humanity, the more he realizes that he cannot live up to this humanity.
In his Letter to the Romans, the cry with which St. Paul ends his observations is the same human cry to which Jesus Christ is the answer: 'Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:24). This cry is the only starting point which enables a man to take the proposal of Christ into serious consideration. If a man cares nothing for this question, how can he understand the answer?
To be myself, I need someone else: 'Without me you can do nothing' (John 15:5). Jesus taught us that whoever accepts his message of salvation cannot avoid facing himself with sincerity, cannot avoid being realistic in his consideration of man. [...] man cannot realize himself unless he accepts the love of Another – Another who has a precise name who, independently of your will, died for you [...] 
This redemption is not accomplished automatically. It is essential to accept the help Jesus Christ offered to us and to collaborate actively with him. This happens in a love that is free." (95-96, emphasis mine).
What is Freedom?
"To arrive at a definition of freedom, we must observe our own experience. When we satisfy a desire, this prompts within us an impression of freedom. It is in the total dimension of our fulfillment that freedom will be realized, according to its entire nature, as capacity for total satisfaction. Freedom is the capacity for the infinite, the thirst for God. Freedom, then, is love, because it is the capacity for something that is not us: it is Another. 
During man's lifetime, freedom's entire goal is not attainable. Freedom is becoming. The objects freedom encounters are only anticipations, reverberations of the end. The more intense the life of freedom, the more attractive are things of any kind. But since no object is adequate to freedom's openness, it is never fully engaged. Here lies the possibility for freedom to make its choices when it is still not fully itself, because it is engaged by inadequate attractions. Now, either freedom manages to approach its end or, since it strives inexorably to attain what satisfies it the most, stops at whatever fulfills it at a given moment, and in this way, it contradicts itself because it is made for completeness. [...] Normally, man alone cannot resist temptation for long. Jesus Christ is the being who will continually give him back the power to choose well – to be free: 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free' (John 8:31)" (96-97, letters marking subsections have been omitted, emphasis mine). 
What is My Experience of the Law?
"When I was in college, the Protestants had a good crack at me. I went to a magic show sponsored by evangelicals and a couple of them met me the next week to tell me that I was like Timothy and they were like Paul (I must say, that was a real 'who are you?' moment!). Over a period of months I hung out with them and never stopped asking questions — until they asked me to leave. After that I found the Catholic Newman Center and hung out there (not finding answers to my questions either but also not being run off for asking them). Eventually I left college on academic suspension because I had never learned the discipline needed for school.
I knew that I could not attain discipline by my own efforts but I intuited that if others depended upon me I could learn it (see, for example, the novel Emma). So I spent a year living with l'Arche in Washington, DC. L'Arche is a federation of Christian communities where mentally handicapped people and others live together. During that year I had a week-long retreat with Jean Vanier, who is a lay Catholic. Vanier preached on the Beatitudes twice a day, and so I came to understand the good news of Jesus as an adult" (excerpted from a comment of mine in the blogosphere). 
Some comments. Raised Catholic, I had the experience of a 'beautiful day' in my childhood. My parents were the face of Christ to me (I remember being perhaps 10 and realizing that my dad was the way for God to give me so much goodness in life. And I remember also that I did not think he had to be perfect in order to carry out this task). I remember a religion teacher who shared the powerful witness of her life with us. I remember hearing the Gospels preached in Mass. I ventured into the world with the enviable certainty of one who has seen. Both Catholics and Protestants would advocate for self control, but self control was not in my capacity (and anyway, there's nothing uniquely Christian about self control). During this time, I was learning my incapacity to realize myself, my incapacity to fulfill my purpose in the totality of life. Somehow, I knew that others were needed for me to be free of this incapacity. I'm still learning this. Not only others, but others who live because of the one who is the face of the infinite: Jesus Christ.
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