Dr Anthony Lowes ends his heartening series today with a Paschal's wager-type argument as to why we ought live in hope. Even if there should turn out to be no after-life, he argues, "then to have lived with provisional faith and hope throughout our earthly life, as though the God of infinite kindness and an immortal human existence beyond death were real, will in any case have brought its own rewards. It will have assisted in the living of a life that is more human, more psychologically secure, more dignified, more just and compassionate in its address to others and to the world which we have inhabited."
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Church: symbol of the Realm...
Walter Kasper expresses the need for a church which is at once open to the future, but which is also decisive in its address to the present. His lament is that it is currently a divided community in which the wrangling between conservative and progressive elements simply confirms rather than opposes and alleviates the general sense of despair infecting society as a whole.
Walter Kasper expresses the need for a church which is at once open to the future, but which is also decisive in its address to the present.
What Kasper is calling for, implying that the present church has largely lost, is a vivid sense in the church that it is a symbol of the Kingdom/Reign/Realm. Not a triumphalist church that arrogates to itself, as its own exclusive possession, the Realm complete in its end-time perfection; but a diaconal church that has a sense that the Realm is incarnated, though not exhaustively contained, within it, and that it is itself a signum prognosticum of the Realm that is arising around in all the structures of world, and of the Realm that is coming upon the world out of the future.
A church only of the past is, to some degree, a hopeless church because it largely disqualifies itself from being the church of the Realm. Christ's identity was wholly taken up in his preaching of and realising of the Realm. A church which would be an extension of Christ in the world can be and do no less; and to be and do less is, in that respect at least, to fail to be the body of Christ.
So should we preserve hope in the future of the church? Historically, Mother Church (rather like Mother Courage) has proven a tough and resilient old crone. But it is not for her shrewdness, survival instinct, or capacity to inspire heroism and idealism in her members; it is not for her at times brutal treatment of dissidents, or her periods of grandly successful politicking and swanning about with the most prideful of emperors and princes that we retain hope for her future. It is because of a faith in the investment of the trinitarian mystery of God in the church's inner life. This we name Grace or the presence of the Spirit.
Faith, hope and the possibilities of proof...
Such a faith, or at least the life map which it furnishes, cannot be empirically proven. Yet that is not so strange when we realise that few things of a metaphysical or even physical nature can. Science itself works not by empirical proof so much as conjecture and sometimes random empirical observations which lead to the framing of hypotheses. These become progressively accepted as pictures of reality the more they are questioned and the more questioning fails to disprove them. Science progresses not so much, then, by apodictic proof as by failed disproof. Scientific hypotheses become accepted as giving access to the truth the longer they survive disproof. The very most they can claim logically is probability. Sooner or later most are supplanted with an improved version or a revolutionary substitute.
Christian faith is both a conviction based upon an experiential encounter with the persons of the Trinity and with the person of the human Christ AND it is based upon a sense of coherent plausibility which the many-faceted tenets of belief provide, as we attempt of make meaning of life experiences, life challenges and above all life's point and purpose. If faith as we have experienced it fails to yield a sense of encounter and a sense of coherence, then the richness of our hope depletes and, insofar as hope is bound up with full-humanness, our humanity with it.
It is vitally important, then, to ground our faith absolutely in the Absolute, the ground of all being.
As something of a post-script it could be said, if such an utterly convinced faith and hope is too big an ask, we could always resort to a version of Pascal's wager to maintain a provisional hope, knowing that at least at the point of death what is provisional in life before death will become crystal clear certainty. Then what is in effect an hypothesis grounded in faith as encounter and faith as life map will be verified through the discovered existence of continuing life and a clear vision of God. Either that or if there is nothing at all, then to have lived with provisional faith and hope throughout our earthly life, as though the God of infinite kindness and an immortal human existence beyond death were real, will in any case have brought its own rewards. It will have assisted in the living of a life that is more human, more psychologically secure, more dignified, more just and compassionate in its address to others and to the world which we have inhabited.
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 Kasper, Faith, 25.
 ibid., 25.
 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 24, where he claims the kingdom or realm is the true leitmotif of Jesus' preaching and that the term appears 122 times in the New Testament and 99 times in the Synoptics. On p. 25, he claims it is the 'fulcrum' of Jesus pre-Easter teaching.
Dr Anthony (Tony) Lowes did a wide-ranging study on the Trinity and human communion, supervised by Denis Edwards and Duncan Reid at the Adelaide College of Divinity for his doctorate in 2003. Now retired in Adelaide, Tony spent nine years in the priesthood, beween 63 and 72, 30 years in education — 28 of them in in leadership positions in Catholic Education. He is married to Mary, has twin daughters who are married and four grandchildren.
©2012Dr Anthony Lowes
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