Recently, for a reading course, I read Kierkegaard’s famed “Fear and Trembling” and will, eventually, have to read it again. Reading it I could not help but be moved to desire a deeper conversion upon my life. It evoked reflection in me. If a book, a saying, or a person evoke reflection in us, then we have encountered something beautiful that points us to God.
In this book, Kierkegaard gives his famed reflection upon Abraham and his call by God to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard is, on one level, struggling to reconcile God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac with the moral commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. It is not the only concern of the book, but is the basis for his reflections upon the concepts of relation with the Absolute and the hiddenness and silence this evokes in ones life by responding to this Absolute. It is this relationship with the Absolute – with God – that I wish to focus on (perhaps I can deal with Kierkegaard’s solution re: the ethical dilemma on a later post).
I must confess that I have only read it once and will need to read it again, so if anyone reads this who vehemently disagrees, please let me know so I can be quick to remedy my miserable misreading. What I took away from my reading of the book is this: that when one is in an absolute relationship with God, then there is always a call that is so very and deeply personal to the point that no one can understand it fully except for yourself. Thus you have a duty to follow this call with an almost revolutionary force, regardless of what is being told to you by others. Yet, at the same time, you ought not to explain yourself to others. One must, instead, remain hidden in their response to the absolute call of God because of the very reason that explaining such an intrinsically personal call can do nothing but damage relationships with others as well as dissuade you from following that which God is asking of you. The hiddenness, then, is also expressed through silence.
I must admit that there are definite strong Protestant overtones to Kierkegaard’s writings here. However, that need not be a bad thing. Perhaps one thing that the Protestant movement has done better at times is the emphasis on the personal character of Christianity. Of course, one cannot neglect the ecclesial character – a character that is imbedded in the Catholic ethos – of the Christian life, but to be ecclesially based, one must first personally encounter the Lord Jesus. I think, when it comes to the personal realm, Kierkegaard is actually dead on and, in fact, gives a strong account of the meaning of holiness. Reading “Fear and Trembling” evoked in me with a sense that this is an amazing existential account of the Saint.
And it is with that observation that I wish to write about for the remainder of the post. When one reads the lives of the saints, one cannot help but be amazed by their zealous sense of a mission given them by God. Some missions were, in the eyes of the world at least, more substantial and greater than others. Not all the saints are Mother Teresas; some are Bl Pier Georgio Frassatis. However, if there is one factor that unites them all, it is the zealous desire to fulfill the mission God has given them. They do this with a strong sense of mission because they have had that intimate encounter with the Lord Jesus to the point that all other voices are phased out of their life of discernment. God is asking something of them, and nothing will get in the way of their fulfilling that. Their encounter with God has achieved in them an absolute response to Him.
This absoluteness, however, implies hiddenness and silence. One cannot help but think of the great Bl Teresa of Calcutta when contemplating the reality of silent suffering, of hidden passion and interior crucifixion. Yet she did it because she knew it came from the Lord and, though she did not understand it completely, she kept it to herself save for her spiritual director because she knew it was part of that intimate relationship she had with the Lord, an intimacy no one could understand. The great misunderstandings of Mother Teresa’s spiritual life – both by the secular media who called her a hidden atheist and Catholics who called her spiritual life a ‘dark night of the soul – is a great witness to the necessity of hiddenness. To reveal God’s love to the world, our relationship with Him, so long as it is absolute, total, complete, entails that this relationship will also be hidden.
Each of us is called to choose God absolutely for our lives. We do so because we have first encountered Him throug His effects in the world, through the sacraments, and through His identification with humanity and the whole created realm. After this encounter, after truly seeing the Lord, we come to know that He really is Lord of the Universe, He is our Master, He is our Redeemer, our Beloved, our Friend. To know this as the only true reality, the only reality that truly fulfills our humanity demands that we give to this reality our whole being without any reservation at all. Because we have encountered the real fact that He loves us, to know His love, this is what will strengthen us in that complete and absolute devotion to God. We will be willing to be persecuted, misunderstood, maligned, rejected, because we know it is He Who asks it of us, and we know that it is He whom we are made for.
To foster this, we need to devote time of silent prayer each day to listen to Him, to seek Him. Though He is more present to us than the things we see and yet invisible, so too we hear Him more profoundly in the silence of our hearts. Silence is the place where we hear and is the basis for being open to listen. Until we are willing to daily give time over to Him and listen to His desire for us, we will never have Him as the absolute and will remain within the realm of the ethical, of the moralistic, the natural, and the sub-human. Catholicism is not moralism. Catholicism becomes moralism because we are unwilling to be open to the absolute demand of God upon our lives, thus we send ourselves to the realm of the moral because it is easy, graspable, and something that we do on our own. God demands that we allow His power to work in our lives, and this demands absolute devotion; it demands a move beyond the merely ethical.