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FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 1 of 7 LOVE, KNOWLEDGE, AND PRACTICE: WITNESSING WITHIN THE CHURCH TODAY Around a week ago, I e-mailed Father Leavitt that I had finished a draft of my commencement talk--a serious talk lacking any jokes. He immediately e-mailed back: "Tell the story of your first meeting with Ratzinger!" Well, the one thing I learned as a student here at St. Mary's, some might claim it was the only thing, if the Rector recommends or even suggests something, one had better do it. In 1964 I went to Münster after three years here, I had been a couple of weeks in Münster when a fellow a graduate student, a German Dominican, asked me to translate for two visiting American Dominicans who had set up a meeting with Ratzinger. I agreed and wanting to make my best impression I put on the only suit I had: a black one: When we met, Ratzinger addressed me as "father." I corrected him (obviously, he was not yet infallible) explaining that I was not a priest but a layperson. He replied that in a German university anyone wearing a black suit and tie would be considered a priest. It was the custom in for German university priests not to wear Roman collars, but just a black suit and tie—as he himself was dressed. Therefore, I could say that the first thing that I learned from Pope Benedict XVI in Münster was: "How to dress for success as a layperson in a German University?" (But I only got a non-black suit two years later, when Elisabeth, then my fiancé, told and forced me by going with me to the store, when I had scholarship interview to go to.) The interview itself was interesting. The two American Dominicans would ask a question in English, I would translate, Ratzinger would answer in German, and I would translate. At one point, one of them asked: Did Jesus have a beautific vision in the womb of Mary? Ratzinger looked startled and before I could translate turned to me and asked in German: Did I understand that question correctly. I nodded affirmatively. He then answered in Latin with a quote from FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 2 of 7 Occam: miracles are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. Obviously, he knew more English than he let on—and not just the difference between American and German dress codes. Commencements are a time of joy not only for the graduates and their friends who are here, but also for the parents and friends who are absent and yet a full of pride and joy. They are proud of your achievements for they know the sacrifices and dedication that enabled you to graduate today. They know the love that moves you to a life that gives testimony to God through the practice of your ministries. Some of your will move on to priestly ministry, others will move on to a teaching ministry, and others will move on to many diverse ministries. Tonight, the words of the Rule of St. Benedict come to mind. Though intended for an abbot, these words apply to anyone who takes up a ministry in a Christian community. The Rule of St. Benedict states: “Therefore when persons take up the name of Abbot, they ought to govern by a teaching that is twofold: that is, to show all that is good and holy more by deeds than by words." (Chapter 2) And today, it is applicable to everyone that we come in contact with our diverse ministries and not simply the divisions within the monastery. In preparing this talk, I was reminded of a panel discussion that took place at Harvard Divinity School several years ago. The Catholic students at Harvard had asked some Roman Catholic theologians to address to the question: Why I am a Roman Catholic? They asked Father Bryan Hehir, the acting Dean at Harvard, Professor Lisa Cahill from Boston College, someone from Weston, and myself. On the panel, I gave a theoretical answer that was also very personal. For me, the personal was indeed the theoretical reason and real foundation. My answer was: it was the outstanding testimony and witness of priests to whom I owed my commitment to Catholic Christianity and my ministry as a theologian. I related the influence of a young priest, who during release time from public school inspired me by his example to become interested in ministry. I related the influence of high school Latin teacher, Father Gerald Fogarty,who was not FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 3 of 7 only was my confessor, but often gave generously of this time— after school had ended we sometimes had talked from 2:30 to 5:00. I recalled my Sulpician spiritual adviser at St. Mary's (Father Eugene Walsh) who decisively influenced me through the extraordinary dedication of his time to me and to all his advisees. And I recalled the personal interest and care of Father Raymond Brown through my years of graduate study. Though they also influenced me through their ideas (my high school teacher introduced me to modern French theology, especially la nouvelle théologie, and the importance of social ministry, Eugune Walsh, on the importance of the liturgy, and Ray Brown to scholarship), it was more their dedication and their generous praxis of ministry, that had a decisively formed me. Their intellectual influence was important, but their personal example and dedication was much more decisive. It was that ministry that constituted for me a testimony of their Christian ministry and love. Two years later, the students invited another group of theologians, though I was again included, to address: How can one still be a Roman Catholic in view of the crisis of the Catholic Church in Boston? At that time, the crisis of sexual abuse was on minds of everyone. Every day, the radio, the television, and the Boston Globe newspaper broadcast the increasing more details. The Cardinal of Boston had just resigned. I looked back at the talk I had given two years earlier and I was chagrined. Could I still say that? Yet the more I reflected, the more I became convinced that what I had said then had even more relevance in this time of crisis. My good fortune had been to have encountered saintly priests in my formative years. The tragedy of the current crisis was the failure of ministry on all levels. [I wish I had time to talk about Elisabeth, my spouse, she often speaks of the role that her pastor had in her life. As the person who keeps me honest, she tells the story of when applying to a be full student of theology and needing her bishop's approval, the bishop said that he had one concern: instead of covering the patient with the blanket of love, she often pokes her fingers in the patient wounds. She responded: "But when the doctor covers the FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 4 of 7 patient with a blanket, it means the patient is dead." The bishop granted permission and she became the first women to get a theological licentiate at the University of Wurzburg.] I mention the Harvard panel discussions because I want to use it to introduce a theoretical point: the relationship between testimony and faith, between experience and understanding, between religious practice and theological reflection, or in the words of the title of my talk: interrelationships among love, practice, and knowledge. There are two significant theoretical accounts of this interrelationship: one stems from modern hermeneutical theory, the other stems from St. Augustine-- and here I follow the Ratzinger's interpretation. Twentieth century hermeneutical theory, as developed by Hans George Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, underscores that interpreting the texts, art works, and practices of any cultural tradition, including religious traditions, involves not only explanation but also understanding. In the twentieth century many sought to emulate the natural sciences to make the social sciences and the humanities, including religious studies, much more scientific. They have sought to reduce knowledge to an objective method that eliminated the role of personal subjectivity or personal praxis within the search for knowledge and that found. Today, some within religious studies are influenced by this "seduction of method" in their attempt to legitimate religious studies in public and state universities on the basis of a positive and objectivist method. In contrast, modern hermeneutical theory teaches is the importance of both explanation and understanding within both the cultural and natural sciences. Explanation includes the various methods that modern academic brings to bear upon the various discipline of the humanities. However, hermeneutical theory underscores that what is essential to understanding is not only method, but the life relationship to the subject matter discussed. One understands what a text, symbol, practice within a tradition is about to the extent that one has a life relationship to its subject matter. The circle, or more correctly a spiral, refers to the increasing relationship between FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 5 of 7 life practice and further understanding. The importance of this life relationship is such that without it understanding might be impossible. A color-blind person could understand the color scheme in a book of interior decorating and a deaf person were deaf would not be to understand sonata form. Rudolf Bultmann, a colleague of Gadamer and a fellow student of Heidegger, aware that the hermeneutical circle required a life relation asked: What is the right life relation to God's act and revelation in history? He answers by appealing to Augustine's dictum that our heart desires God. The search for God constitutes for Bultman's hermeneutics the life relation to be brought to the scriptures. While correct, one can further nuance his hermeneutical insight through an further exploration of Augustine's hermeneutics and here I draw Ratzinger's early writings in the 60s on Augustine's understanding of religious knowledge. They show how Augustine matured as a theologian and more clearly differentiated Christian spirituality and hermeneutics from that of the neo-Platonism. For Augustine increasingly emphasizes that the preparation for understanding is not simply an increased "spiritualization" or "interiorization" by which the soul ascends to the One and frees oneself from the bondage of matter as in neo-Platonism. Because the Christian faith affirms the incarnation of God's word in the flesh, the Platonic scheme of purification as spiritualization does not fit. Augustine moves away from the goal of overcoming matter through a spiritual asceticism to an "ethical and historical" goal --to use .Ratzinger's phrase. Augustine overcomes the neo-Platonic idea of purification through a twofold adovacy: one is the purification of faith; the other is the purification of charity. The purification of faith implies that the fundamental existential situation of human persons is not so much the imprisonment in matter as it is the self-sufficiency of the human spirit. Faith in acknowledging the finiteness of human intellectual sufficiency requires an asceticism of obedience to God's claim. The second purification is that of charity. Augustine argues that one loves so that one might see and know God. To quote Ratzinger's own words: "For Augustine there is a double challenge to Christian FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 6 of 7 human existence, in which the interiorization and solitude with God enters into the concrete external service (ministry) of one's fellow human person. One could speak of a "mysticism of service" in which God is found not merely in the inner ascent, but always also in the loving descent that precisely as a descent is following of Jesus and thereby a knowing of the way of God." (vol. 2, p. 560) In his letter to Paulina, Augustine treats the biblical references to the height, breath, length and depth of Christ's love and to that whoever sees the Son and sees the Father. He relates these four dimensions to the cross of Christ and allegorically explains this text the breath signifies the good works of love; the length represents the perseverance to the end; the height, the Christian hope, and the depth, God's inexplicable decision of grace toward humans. Ratzinger concludes: "The purification which makes it possible for humans to see God and so to enter into the practice of the knowledge of God, essentially consists in the realization of the charity of Christ, in which humans in a special way participate in the spirit of God and therefore are in a special way made capable of the knowledge of God." (p. 559). This commencement marks for many of you the end of formal learning and the beginning of ministry within the church or service for the Christian community. How we perform that service and ministry is for other a testimony of God's love for us that has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is that service and ministry that as such the ground and reason for others to have their faith strengthened. I have appealed to modern hermeneutical theory and to Augustine in order to show the relationship between how one lives one life and what one knows. Latin American liberation theology has especially developed this relationship, in drawing on both on the Augustinianism of la nouvelle théologie and on hermeneutical theory. It underscores the connection between the service of the poor and the ability to perceive the injustices of society. The FIORENZA 2006_Commencement_Final.doc Page 7 of 7 preferential option for the poor and a life of dedication for the poor is intimately connected with the knowledge and search for justice. What I am suggesting that the same is true for the challenge of the crisis in the church today with which I began this talk. The ministry of others has been for me the source of my continued commitment within the church to theology despite all scandals and controversies. It it will be through the ministry of your faith and love that you will communicate to others the truth of your ministries. Moreover, it is precisely your service and charity that will enable you to know God and to perceive justice; it will be your service to others that will enable others to know and to love God. There is a relationship between a dedication in ministry and the knowledge of God. Modern hermeneutic theory reminds us that in order to understand, we need to have a life relationship to that which we teach and preach. St. Augustine, as the present Pope constantly reminds us, tells that being a Christian involves a twofold process and purification: one of faith and one of charity. In faith we acknowledge the insufficiency of own spirit and we acknowledge testimony of others; in charity, we follow the path of Jesus, in concrete external service, and come to participate in God's love. We come to participate in the divine life of a God who is love, as the Pope's encyclical reminds us.