Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Week Seven, Exercise Two: Reflecting On Our Mission To Follow Christ Using The Insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

This exercise should be experienced between February 1 and February 4.

Having experienced the grace given by meditating on the baptism of Jesus, we now consider how Jesus calls us to a life-giving mission. The life that Jesus calls us to involves healing, teaching, trusting, loving and risking. Are we up to the task? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the twenty-first century? Does it mean rejecting the material world and living as an ascetical hermit? Or does it mean discerning the promptings of the spirit of Christ in our everyday world, whether we be teachers or investment bankers, preachers or politicians, ministers or members of a labor union?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin found that he could find Christ in the secular pursuits of scientific research. He writes that we are all called to build the kingdom of God, whatever our secular vocation. As a matter of fact, Teilhard taught that it was very possible to find God in any secular pursuit. An excellent analysis of and presentation of the writings of Teilhard is found in Ronald Modras' book Ignatian Humanism. I recommend the whole book. Here is Modras' explanation of Teilhard's wisdom:

"[Teilhard's book] The Divine Milieu was completed in China in 1927 and directed, he wrote, not only to believers but also to those who waver in their faith or who think they have grown beyond it. Teilhard tried to convince them of the intellectual validity of Christian faith in the modern age. He assured his readers that those who listen to the "voices of the earth" have reason to follow the gospel path of Christianity.

The Divine Milieu specifically addresses readers who are aware that "the physical sciences are endlessly extending the abyss of space and time" (13). Confronted by such immensity, many question whether human beings still matter, or whether the Christ of the Gospels and his ancient Jewish God have not been eclipsed by a universe grown dazzlingly vast. Teilhard understood their feelings of anxiety or fascination, but he also felt he could teach them "how to see God everywhere," including in all that is most hidden, most solid, and most ultimate in the world" (15).

Like Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises, Teilhard encouraged his readers "to see things as they are and to see them really and intensely." He calls it a "salutary exercise" to realize that the roots of our spiritual being go back into an unfathomable past. It has required the entire history of the universe for matter to become spirit, a spiritual history reflected in each one of us. Creation was not completed in the distant past but continues today in our work and actions. For those who see aright, nothing we do is devoid of spiritual significance. Our most natural and human labors are continuing creation and building the Kingdom of God (35).

God can be found in the most profane activity--and in our passivity as well. Another "salutary exercise" is to plumb the abyss that is our self and realize the depth and universality of our dependence. Teilhard drew here from his Ignatian spirituality, specifically the contemplation to attain love: all we are and have in life is a gift. What lies at the core of our being, the power to will and to love, is not of our making. Even before the long decades of discussion over nature versus nurture, whether genes or cultural upbringing affect us more, Teilhard insisted to his readers that our identities, who we are, depend less on the work of our own hands than on what has been given to us (49). None of us is self-made. But then he went on to assure his readers that our receiving, be it from nature or nurture, does not imply passive resignation, whether to suffering or evil in the world.

Teilhard argued strenuously that Christian asceticism has nothing to do with detachment or flight from the world. Jesus revealed a kingdom within us, here and now, slowly transforming and unifying the hearts of humankind (107). The enchantments of earth do us no harm, any more than human endeavor and progress compete with God (137). Rather, God's presence and action in the world occur in us and through us. (Modras, Ignatian Humanism, 191-193)

Now consider: 1) How can I continue God's creative activity in my work or my studies? 2) What does it mean to build the Kingdom of God? 3) Consider examples of actions of peace and progress that have transformed and unified human hearts. What made them peaceful? Progressive? 4) Can I remain detached from worldly anxiety while I help transform a beautiful but suffering world into a world with even more beauty and even more justice? 5) How is Jesus calling me now?

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