Showing items filed under “The Rt. Rev. George Sumner”

Death

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From what we have said already, one can readily see that the things that might draw a person to faith in God are quite diverse: a consideration of our own hearts’ desires, science, philosophy, the religions of the world.  But there is another factor, a darker one, casting a shadow across our path.  One philosopher actually described life as “being-toward-death.”  We humans try in a variety of ways to distract ourselves from looking at it. In one way or another, however, all religions would give an account of it, and so turn our attention back to it. In the Christian tradition there was a constant spiritual theme of “memento mori,” “recall death,” and the Psalmist would have us learn to “number our days.” (90:12)

Bringing death to mind shows us ourselves more clearly: our desire to escape, the question of what life is for, the possibility that “all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”  Death makes the question of faith more urgent, though sometimes we bargain with God when we have a health crisis, only to lapse back into somnolence when it is over. It is said that there are no atheists in the foxhole, though afterwards people may do different things with its trauma. At the very least we can say that humans decide for against faith in God against the dark horizon of death: it can be the contrast for the light of God’s presence, like the effect called “chiaroscuro” in art.

 

As Christians we can point out one more important feature of our understanding of death.  We shall see that the idea of the world’s death, its end, in Greek the “eschaton,” was a theme in the Scriptures crucial in understanding its claim about Jesus Christ. We would err to suppose that the Scriptures’ message is just mythological talk for our own personal deaths. Still, confronting our own end is an important doorway to help us understand what is being claimed about the world as a whole in light of Jesus Christ.

Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –  He kindly stopped for me –   The Carriage held but just Ourselves –   And Immortality.  We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility –   We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess – in the Ring –  We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –   We passed the Setting Sun –   Or rather – He passed us –  The Dews drew quivering and chill –  For only Gossamer, my Gown –  My Tippet – only Tulle –  

Marcus Aurelius

Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity. 

We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value when none of them can offer a firm foothold? 

Like an attachment to a sparrow: we glimpse it and it’s gone. 

And life itself: like the decoction of blood, the drawing in of air. We expel the power of breathing we drew in at birth (just yesterday or the day before), breathing it out like the air we exhale at each moment.

The Mystery of the Religions

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Who has not been impressed by the asceticism of Hinduism, the monotheism of Islam, the wisdom of Hasidic Judaism... surely God is up to something there. What is God up to in the profusion of religions? A popular answer in modern times has been pluralism: they are all roads up the same mountain, choose the one that suits you.

But this is surely wrong. First it takes little notice of what they distinctly and actually say. Second, it is not tough-minded enough to note how religions are also capable of child sacrifice, ethnic cleansing, caste, etc. Third, it has the convenient ring of consumer choice...

We honor other religious traditions by taking their own claims and practices seriously. We realize they are radically different from Christianity, although there are shared or overlapping areas.  Given these core differences, it poses no problem to recognize that each can have a variety of true claims from which we can learn. 

The religions, taken as a whole, are both impressive and horrendous - like the human being. And that, in light of the question of faith, is significant. Paul in the early chapters of “Romans” says that the divine law is written in our hearts, and that religion itself serves to leave us “without excuse.” It is the ambiguity of religions, raising a question they leave contested, which is most significant.

To one already Christian the religions serve various purposes - chastisement for sin, moral edification, dialogue partner. But here on the portico they serve precisely in their evocative ambiguity to provoke the question of faith, and which raise the question of which religion is true. 

Romans 2

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Vatican II, Nostra Aetate

  1. In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship. 

One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. (1) One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men, (2) until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.(3) 

Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going? 

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