Summary: Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action. What calls us to action are realities illuminated by reason.

Thursday of First Week in Lent 2016

Joy of the Gospel

St. Luke’s Gospel tells the same story about Jesus’s teaching on prayer, but instead of saying the Father will give us “good things,” Luke says He will give us the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, that is the gift that keeps on giving, the gift we really need, because the Holy Spirit is power to do good, and brings with Himself every virtue necessary for salvation, and for evangelization. And it’s immediate, as soon as we ask. God does not delay in giving like we do. The gift is there as soon as we ask, even if we don’t feel it. Our faith, itself a gift of God, activates the gift and enables us to do God’s will, and to know God’s design. As the Psalmist says, “on the day I called, you answered me, and increased the strength of my soul.” For, in truth, aren’t we all Queen Esthers? Aren’t we all in daily battle with the forces of evil, and without any support outside divine love? God knows that, and answers us whenever we call upon Him. That is the true human reality.

The Holy Father, in charting for us a path to peace in the world, gives us a third principle. He admits ‘there also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. [These days, we say, “it is what it is.”] There has to be continuous dialogue between [ideas and realities], lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.

‘Ideas – conceptual elaborations – are at the service of communication, understanding, and praxis. Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action. What calls us to action are realities illuminated by reason. Formal nominalism has to give way to harmonious objectivity. Otherwise, the truth is manipulated, cosmetics take the place of real care for our bodies.We have politicians – and even religious leaders – who wonder why people do not understand and follow them, since their proposals are so clear and logical. Perhaps it is because they are stuck in the realm of pure ideas and end up reducing politics or faith to rhetoric. Others have left simplicity behind and have imported a rationality foreign to most people.

‘Realities are greater than ideas. This principle has to do with incarnation of the word and its being put into practice: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God” (1 Jn 4:2). The principle of reality, of a word already made flesh and constantly striving to take flesh anew, is essential to evangelization. It helps us to see that the Church’s history is a history of salvation, to be mindful of those saints who inculturated the Gospel in the life of our peoples and to reap the fruits of the Church’s rich bimillenial tradition, without pretending to come up with a system of thought detached from this treasury, as if we wanted to reinvent the Gospel. At the same time, this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism.’

I think, for instance, of the rhetoric being employed by certain politicians on immigration. There is an idea that we simply round up all the undocumented non-citizens and ship them back where they came from. That’s an idea in total conflict with reality. By doing so, we would create an injustice even greater than the injustice committed when one illegally enters our country. I remember riding to a confirmation with Archbishop Gomez, and listening to him ask the question why a citizen of another country with a million dollars could promise to invest it in the U.S. and automatically move to the head of the INS approval line. In grade school, we would call that by its true name. A fifth grader can tell the difference between actions grounded in reality and those rooted in unreal ideas. I can’t pretend to know how to solve the immigration problem, but I do know that many of the proposed solutions are about as unreal as unreal can get. In this Lent, let’s ground ourselves in reality and do something that will really solve human problems. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving come instantly to mind, and they are realities, not just ideas.