The Holy Spirit

In many ways, the Holy Spirit remains a bit of a mystery to humanity. The Catholic Church does not have much in the way of teachings regarding the Spirit. Ratzinger himself admits to this in The God of Jesus Christ, in which he has long, detailed chapters pertaining to God the Father and Jesus Christ but only has a few pages regarding the Holy Spirit. This is in large part because there are no earthly titles that we can attribute to the Spirit. God the Father is known as the Fatherly Creator, and Jesus Christ is known as the Son who is both divine and human. Despite being clearly different from us in their divinity and perfection, it is a bit easier to wrap our minds around them because we understand and encounter the words “father” and “son” on a daily basis. Those words in themselves tell us a lot about the identities of these Two Persons of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is more removed from our understanding of the natural world. It can be difficult for us to understand Him, because it is harder for us to attribute Him somehow to the natural world in which we live (as we do with the other two Persons of God by referring to God the Father as “the Father and Creator” and by recognizing Jesus as His fully human and divine Son). The Spirit is but a Spirit, having no tangible form, and, therefore, we have difficulty grasping a full understanding of Him. For, as Ratzinger says, “One cannot display the spirit of God as one displays goods for sale in a shop.” He lives within us, residing in our soul and moving us towards the divine love of God.

In order to better understand the work of the Holy Spirit, it is important to look at the name that has been given to Him: The Paraclete – the advocate, helper, defender, and comforter. Breathed into us by Christ, the Spirit remains within us, guiding us along our journey to God. He is the love that emanates from God the Father and God the Son. Essentially, the Spirit is the One responsible for making the Father and the Son consubstantial with one another. To put it in the words of Ratzinger, the Holy Spirit is “the unity of the Father and the Son” and “it is in [this Spirit], in the fruitfulness of the Father and the Son’s act of giving, that they are One.”

In the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit makes His most famous appearance to the apostles: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Just as Christ had promised, the apostles were baptized with the Spirit. It filled them, giving them the courage to go forth and proclaim the salvation of God. The Spirit drew the apostles into a closer relationship with God, making them more active in their ministry. He does the same for us today. He gives us the strength to rise above fear and uncertainty in order to follow God’s will. The Holy Spirit brings us back to divine love. He engages us in a relationship with God the Father and God the Son. He moves us towards active faith. It is through Him that we receive our vocation. It is through Him that we are called to active discipleship. It is through Him that we encounter God’s never-ending love.

The Sonship of Jesus Christ

In The God of Jesus Christ, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger delves into the importance of the sonship of Jesus Christ. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ was born into the human world. In terms of development, he had the typical human experience: he developed naturally from childhood to adulthood. He was born of a human mother, raised by human parents, and constantly interacted with other humans. He is fully human (If nothing else, His death on the cross certainly solidified this fact). However, being consubstantial to God the Father, He is also fully divine. It is through Him that God the Father is revealed to us. By being both human (our level) and divine (God’s level), Jesus is able to form a connection between us and God the Father. We relate to His humanity, and He relates to God the Father’s divinity. In this way, revelation of the Father is passed down through Christ. His sonship enables us to participate in the Christian experience.

And “to participate” is precisely what we are called to do. We are all sons and daughters of God. Like Jesus, we too must strive to live “in an uninterrupted prayerful communication with God.” For, as Ratzinger says, “To follow Jesus means looking at the world with the eyes of God and living accordingly.” His divine sonship calls us into a fuller relationship with our Triune God. He reveals to us not only God’s love, but He also reveals to us how we are called to respond to that love.

However, the most telling aspect of Christ’s sonship is His willing acceptance of death. As Balthasar says in Life Out of Death, this sacrifice marks “his loving obedience to the very end” through which He “envelops our dying and leads it along to perfection.” It is through this ultimate sacrifice that “He should reconcile to God the world estranged from God.” His sonship is the link between us and God, and, therefore, it is only fitting that He be the one to reunite us with the Father. By agreeing to become human in the Incarnation, He agreed to die (as all humans must). However, He took this a step further by agreeing to take up His cross and die in one of the most painful ways imaginable. Nevertheless, He bore the pain so that we might live. It is this sacrifice that gives the modern imagination a chance for healing. It provides us with newfound hope – hope in a God who loves us, hope in our ability to form a relationship with that God, hope in eternal life. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are wrapped in His loving forgiveness and protected from the bondage of sin and death. Although we aren’t deserving of it, there is no end to this love. For, as Ratzinger so beautifully puts it, “His power does not come to a halt…IT EMBRACES EVERYTHING.”

Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Christian Revelation

Hans Urs Von Balthasar describes Christian Revelation as the convergence of personalism and the aesthetic sphere. Personalism is the idea that, as humans, we cannot grasp a full understanding of God’s love for us. We can only view it as a miracle, because we cannot analyze it or have true knowledge of it. The aesthetic sphere involves beauty – beauty so exquisite and extraordinary that “we are able to grasp a phenomenon in its distinctiveness that otherwise remains veiled.” Through these two intersecting approaches, God is revealed to us as gracious love and glory. This agape love of God cannot be confused with any other love – brotherly love, love between friends, love between family, etc.

However, “the figure of revelation is unintelligible unless it is interpreted in light of God’s love.” The actual teaching of revelation is secondary. First, God must take action. He reaches out to the individual and takes action in a way that will make His revelation known. Von Balthasar admits that the process of receiving this revelation is very black-and-white: “we interpret and understand the form of Christian revelation either wholly in terms of the self-glorification of absolute love or else we simply fail to understand it.”

If we do come to understand and accept God’s revelation, we are given the way to total knowledge of God. Revelation does wonders for the soul of the human sinner. It is a gift which “elevates [man] to an inconceivable intimacy.” God meets man and invites him into a relationship. He opens up the path to new life with Christ. He shows the sinner that he is worthy of forgiveness – worthy of the loving relationship that only God can give.

However, not only does revelation give us knowledge of the goodness of God, but it also gives us knowledge of the badness of ourselves. By coming to understand God’s love we come to understand our own love as imperfect and limited. We become aware of our selfishness. We need a conversion of heart and thought in order to truly come to know God and to accept His perfect love. This love offers us awareness of our sinfulness, but it also offers us freedom from our bondage.

Sex and Alcohol on College Campuses

When you look up “waste” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a number of definitions come up. As a noun, it can be defined as “damaged, defective, or superfluous material” or “an unwanted by product.” As a verb, it can be defined as “damaging or destroying something gradually and progressively” or “spending or using carelessly.” Despite the varying definitions, the word waste always has one thing in common: it is clearly negative and undesirable. However, over the past few decades, the word “wasted” has become a sort of badge of honor amongst college students. On college campuses, the perception of the word “wasted” has changed from being overtly negative and destructive into being the desired outcome of a weekend party.

So why is drinking and sex such a big deal on college campuses?

A large part of it is the newfound freedom that college has to offer. For the first time, your parents can’t interfere in your personal life – at least not as directly as they can when you’re at home, living under their roof. You can experiment with alcohol, drugs, and sex without worrying that your parents are going to catch you and ground you for eternity. A lot of college students take this independence that college offers and use it as license to get trashed and engage in casual hookups every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.

For many college students, drinking is all about relaxing and not being afraid to let down your guard after a long week of grueling school work. “I had three tests and two research papers this week. I think I earned the right to relax a bit!” Students like to rationalize their drinking by pointing to all of the ways in which they had to be responsible earlier that week. For every responsibility they took, they earned the right to be irresponsible. They want to let themselves be ruled by something other than the intellect that controls them during the school week. Alcohol is the perfect ally for such a desired state. It numbs you to the world around you and rids you of your inhibitions. As one interviewee said in “The Hazards of Duke” article, “Drinking gives you an excuse to do something you wouldn’t want to believe you would normally do. You can be on a mission because you’re not self-conscious.” A lot of people argue that drinking gives you just the push needed to do something that you secretly want to do while you’re sober, but you stop yourself from doing it for fear – whether it’s fear of the action itself or fear of being judged for doing that action. When you’re drinking, you have an excuse. You can pretend that you would never do that had you not been drinking, and people will oftentimes believe you. For this reason, alcohol serves as a sort of confidence booster for many college students. They talk to people that they wouldn’t normally talk to and do things they wouldn’t normally do because they know that, if it doesn’t go the way they planned, they can hide behind the fact that they were drunk at the time.

In addition, a lot of college students use sex to boost their self-confidence. I know a number of girls who battle their many insecurities by turning themselves into sex objects. They lack the confidence to form real, lasting relationships. They just want to be desired, even if that means being with people who doesn’t care about them at all. They get themselves into friends-with-benefits style relationships with guys who don’t care about them, just so they can feel like they are desired. They make excuses for themselves and constantly tell themselves that one day the guys they are with will want a real, meaningful relationship with them. Eventually, they get hurt, and the insecurities that started it all only grow worse.

While not everyone in the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community is engaging in the drinking and sexual activity that we’re talking about here, there is no doubt that these activities have a large presence on both campuses. In just my two years of college, it has gotten to the point where I can no longer keep count of how many students I’ve seen dragging friends across campus because they’re unable to walk themselves, how many stories I’ve heard about people getting ResLifed for doing stupid things in public while drunk, and how many ambulances I’ve seen pulling up to a dorm to pick up dangerously intoxicated students. There’s no doubt that some college students take getting “wasted” to an incredibly unhealthy level.

Seduction, Desire, and the Kingdom of God

In the July issue of Cosmopolitan, Kraft ran an advertisement for it’s new Zesty Italian salad dressing. The ad depicts a man pouring salad dressing onto a bowl of salad. However, it goes about it in a very…different way. The tagline: “The only thing better than dressing is undressing.”

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This advertisement sexualizes something that most people would never think of as being sexy: Kraft salad dressing. For starters, the man is wearing only underwear and an unbuttoned shirt as he lays seductively on a dinner table adorned with candles. He stares right at the camera, as though inviting the viewer into the magazine with him.

According to Miller in Desire and the Kingdom of God, the nature of human desire is driven by seduction and misdirection. He brings forth the argument that seduction offers the “straightforward sensual joy of tasty eating…or the joy of being surrounded with smart, glittering, eye-caressing objects.” This advertisement offers both. It appeals to one’s desire for food while also appealing to one’s sexual desires. Misdirection is used constantly in advertising by “evok[ing] and sustain[ing] desire for commodities by associating them with unrelated human needs and desires.” For example, this advertisement misdirects the viewer by associating salad dressing with sex. It suggests that if you buy this salad dressing, you will reap additional sexual benefits. However, just because you buy Zesty Italian dressing doesn’t mean that you will have a gorgeous, half-naked Italian man pouring it onto your salad for you. The advertisement directs the viewer’s attention away from the actual benefits of the salad dressing — the ingredients, the flavor, the different kinds of food that you can use it on, etc. — and instead links it to a completely unrelated benefit: sex.

The amazing thing is just how prevalent this is everywhere in society. Every advertisement I came upon — regardless of what magazine it was in, what product it was advertising, or what brand name it possessed — used similar seduction and misdirection techniques. That is the kind of society that we live in. As Miller says, “we never tire of our earthly pleasures because their disproportion to our desire is constantly promised fulfillment by something else.” Our desires are endless, because we always want more. We have lost the ability to distingeish between what we really need and what we simply desire. When it comes down to it, no one really needs either of the two things depicted in this advertisement. One would still be able to obtain proper nourishment without Zesty Italian salad dressing. Salad still exists without it. It merely enhances the flavor. And as for the beautiful Italian man who is so concerned about whether or not your salad has just the right amount of dressing on it…Many have lived without him in the past, and many will continue to live without him in the future. These are not things that we absolutely need in life. But our priorities tell us otherwise. It’s no fun to simply obtain the things that are necessary to our survival. We need to be constantly chasing after something, and fulfilling our basic human needs don’t give us that thrill.

But, in the end, what do these things bring us? Do they bring us eternal happiness? Do they bring us salvation? No. As Christians, we believe that these things can be brought to us through Christ alone. However, as Miller says, “the ultimate goal of the spiritual quest for union with God, where all desire and anticipation cease in their absolute fulfillment, seems, strangely unattractive. It sounds, dare we say boring.” Our materialism skews our priorities so much that we even put our hunt for worldly possessions before our relationship with God.

In the end, maybe the tagline of this advertisement is right: “The only thing better than dressing is undressing.” Except, in this case, maybe the undressing that is called for is not the removal of our clothing, but the removal of our unnecessary worldly desires. Now, I’m not saying that we should all become ascetics and run away to live in solitude in the woods. However, we do need to reorganize our priorities, putting God above our material goods. For, when we reach heaven, we will be stripped of all of our worldy possions. And how much happier we will all be for it.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and it’s Effects on Adolescents in the United States

Christian Smith’s argument focuses on the secularism being brought on by the individualistic, liberal, and capitalist society of the United States. Many people remain unaware of this issue because religion is not disappearing in the United States but rather transforming into what Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. According to Smith, these societal characteristics “corrode religious sensibilities and undermine religious authority” which in turn make it challenging to religiously socialize the youth of the United States.

Much of this emergence of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is due to the conceptual need for individual self-fulfillment. This is the idea that we must do everything in our power to satisfy our own needs and desires. As a result, religion becomes less about God and salvation and more about therapy and satisfying one’s own happiness and wellbeing. When looking at issues of morality, people who fall under Moralistic Therapeutic Deism tend to base their concept of right and wrong on individual subjective feeling. As such, morality becomes less of an issue based on universal truths and more of an issue based on the opinions of individuals. I have grown up basing my own views of morality largely on my spirituality. I turn to Catholic tradition and sources like the Bible and Catholic doctrine when making decisions based on morality. As such, I view morality as a concept that extends across all people. However, nowadays, many people don’t take this same approach to morality. Instead of saying that a certain issue is morally wrong, people begin saying that they simply “feel” that that issue is wrong. With this kind of attitude, morality begins to change its form; it doesn’t apply to everyone because not everyone feels the same way about these given issues. As such, morality changes based on the individual. Therefore, two completely opposing actions could both be considered moral. Take, for example, the issue of abortion. One person could think that abortion is immoral, while another person thinks that it is moral. A person who adheres to therapeutic individualism would argue that the morality of the action changes based on the opinion of that individual. As such, to this person, abortion is, in a way, both moral and immoral.

Another major issue that Smith lays out is the disconnect between the adult and adolescent worlds. First, many adults find it difficult to associate with teens because they have predisposed teens as being rebellious and un-teachable. Second, teens often associate serious religion with adults; it is something that they’ll one day get involved in, but not until later in life. Third, many adults don’t attempt to discuss the topic of religion with adolescents, leaving many adolescents unable to effectively communicate their opinions. With attitudes and problems like this, it’s no wonder that this issue of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has spread so widely among adolescents.

In an increasingly prevalent way, I would say that fear is also at the heart of this transformation from traditional religion to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In the past hundred years, people have allowed their fear of offending people to get in the way of their beliefs regarding religion and morality. Of course, it’s one thing to be violent or hateful in one’s approach to religious or moral discussion – I would never be a proponent of telling someone that they’re stupid or evil for their beliefs; beliefs are beliefs, and I think that people should have the right to believe whatever they want without being attacked. However, we have to be willing to stand up for our beliefs without being afraid that we are going to offend someone. As Christian Smith says, we have to be “willing to risk it” and “prepared to tell youth that their existing religious views are not quite right and perhaps even flat wrong.” There have been many times when I myself have fallen into this very issue. One particular example occurred when I was observing a freshman class at John Adams High School last semester. Two of the students in my class made remarks about the “insane” beliefs of Christianity and “the evil dictatorship” that is the Catholic Church. The comments were not only incredibly disrespectful, but they were also downright incorrect in terms of Catholic doctrine. However, instead of calmly correcting the students on their misunderstanding of the beliefs of Catholicism (as teachers are expected to do regarding any other subject), I sat there silently out of fear of encouraging a discussion of the “offensive” topic of religion at a public school. However, in order to make any progress towards reversing the effects of therapeutic individualism on traditional religion and morality, we need adults and other people in positions of authority to take back the authority that has been undermined as a result individual self-fulfillment.

In order to change the trend of religion in the United States and bring adolescents back to traditional Christianity, we need to stop being afraid to address the real issues of religion. We need to increase parent involvement in faith communities. We need to increase the enagement of teens in faith so as to get them involved on a deeper level. We need to ask them what they think about these topics and encourage them to articulate their religious beliefs, for, as Smith says, “inarticulacy undermines the possibilities of reality.” We need to become more involved in the traditional practices and rituals of our religion. And finally, we need to listen to those who have authority in our faith.

Jean Mouroux and the Christian Experience

In the final chapter of his book titled Christian Experience, Jean Mouroux states that, in its simplest terms, “Christian experience means the awareness of one’s relationship with Christ” (335). One’s experience with Christianity is all about movement – the movement from faith to relationship; the movement from uninformed faith to informed faith; the movement from natural love to charity; and, most importantly, the movement towards God as the Final End.

In his description of this ever-developing Christian experience, Mouroux emphasizes the importance of faith. Because we can never grasp a complete understanding of God (at least, not here on Earth), it can be difficult to put our faith in Him. He is an eternal Being shrouded in mystery; we will never know Him fully until eternal life – the completion of our faith journey, and our acceptance and understanding of Christ as our Final End. While it can be disconcerting and downright difficult to put our trust in a Being that we can never fully understand, it is essential to our Christian life that we do so. For, as Mouroux says, “the more He is known as unknown, the higher becomes the knowledge that we have of Him” (329). Although it seems as though we know nothing about this God, it is this mystery which makes the Christian Experience so intimate and powerful. In our acceptance of God as a mystery that we will never be able to fully understand, we develop faith. It is this faith which leads us in the long journey of our Christian Experience.

While faith is central to leading a full Christian life, it must be understood that having faith in God is far different than having a relationship with Him. As Mouroux says, “Faith does not mean that we see God: we grasp Him through something – something other than Himself – through the truth He reveals to us, the gifts He grants us, the spiritual movements that bring us into Spiritual relationship with Him” (335).Having faith alone is not enough. In order to truly enter into the Christian experience, we must develop a relationship with Christ – a relationship in which we reside in Christ and Christ resides in us. It is this experience – loving and being loved, giving and being given to, sacrificing and being sacrificed for – which gives our faith depth. It enables us to establish a true and lasting relationship with God which goes far beyond surface-level faith.

However, Mouroux argues that this faith is not active without charity. He states that charity completes faith by decentralizing man from himself so that he can hand himself over to God fully and without hesitation. We must always strive to be charitable, even though we can never fully know whether or not we have this charity within is. For it is this “faith that works by charity” that is at the essence of the full and meaningful Christian experience (321).