February 2011 - Vol. 47.

Jesus heals the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida
How Christ Relieves 
Our Sufferings
By Romano Guardini

Christ heals the sick. On the very pages of the Gospels he appears as the healer. He had hardly begun his teaching when the sick started coming. They were brought to him from every quarter, It was as if the masses of the afflicted were always opening up around and closing in on him. They carne by themselves, they were led, they were carried, and he passed through the suffering multitude of people, and "a power from God was present, and healed" (Luke 5:17).... 

At times, one is prompted to look behind the outward events at the inner working of this sacred power. 

A blind man came to him. Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes, drew them away, and asked, "What do you see?" All overcome with excitement, the man answered, "I can see men as if they were trees, but walking!" The healing power reached into the nerves. They were revivified, but they did not yet work properly. So he put his hands on the eyes once again, and the man saw things as they were (Mark 8:23-25). Does not this story give one a sense of experiencing the mystery, as it were, from behind the scenes? 

Another time, there was a great crowd about him. A woman afflicted many years with a hemorrhage, who had sought everywhere in vain for a cure and had spent all her money to find one, said to herself, "If I can even touch his cloak, I shall be healed." And she came up to him from behind, touched his garment, and noticed in her body that the distress which had been plaguing her for so long was at an end. But he turned around: "Who touched my garments!'" 'The Apostles were dumbfounded: "Can you not see the multitude pressing so close about you, and yet ask, 'Who touched me?'" But he knew just what he was saying; immediately he had been "inwardly aware of the power that had proceeded from him." And the woman came up to him trembling, threw herself at his feet, and confessed what had happened. But he forgave her freely and lovingly (Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). 

What an effect that had all around! He seemed charged with healing, as if he needed no intention. If someone approached him in an open-hearted, petitioning state of mind, the power simply proceeded from him to do its work. 

The open road back to God
What did the act of healing mean to Christ? It has been said that he was the great friend of mankind. Characteristic of our own time is an extremely alert sense of social responsibility and responsiveness to works of mercy. So there has been a corresponding desire to see in him the towering helper of men, who saw human suffering and, out of his great mercy, hastened to relieve it. 

But this is an error. Jesus is not a personification of the big-hearted charitable nature with a great social conscience and an elemental power of helping others, going after human suffering, feeling its pangs in sympathy, understanding it, and conquering it. The social worker and the relief worker are trying to diminish suffering, to dispose of it entirely, if possible. Such a person hopes to have happy, healthy people, well-balanced in body and soul, live on this earth. We have to see this to understand that Jesus had no such thing in mind. It does not run counter to his wishes, but he himself was not concerned with this. He saw too deeply into suffering. For the meaning of suffering, along with sin and estrangement from God, was to be found at the very roots of being. In the last analysis, suffering for him represented the open road, the access back to God-at least the instrument which can serve as access. Suffering is a consequence of guilt, it is true, but at the same time, it is the means of purification and return. 

He took our sufferings upon himself
We are much closer to the truth if we say Christ took the sufferings of mankind upon himself. He did not recoil from them, as man always does. He did not overlook suffering. He did not protect himself from it. He let it come to him, took it into his heart. As far as suffering went, he accepted people as they were, in their true condition. He cast himself in the midst of all the distress of mankind, with its guilt, want, and wretchedness. 

This is a tremendous thing, a love of the greatest seriousness, no enchantments or illusions-and therefore, a love of overwhelming power because it is a "deed of truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15; 1 John 3:18), unbinding, shaking things to their roots. 

Once again we must see the difference: He did this, not as one carrying on his shoulders the black tragedy of the human condition, but rather as one who was to comprehend it all, from God's point of view. Therein lies the characteristic distinction. 

His healings reveal the living God
Christ's healing derives from God. It reveals God, and leads to God.... By healing, Jesus revealed himself in action. Thus he gives concrete expression to the reality of the living God. To make men penetrate to the reality of the living God-that is why Christ healed.

[This excerpt is from the book, The Inner Life of Jesus, by Romano Guardini, originally published in German, Jesus Christus, geistliches Wort, 1957. English translation copyright © 1959 by Regnery Publishing, Inc.]

A brief bio of Romano Guardini and a synopsis of his writings, by Robert A . Krieg, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, USA

Who was Romano Guardini (February 17, 1885 - October 1, 1968), and what were some of his insights?

Born in Verona, Italy, Guardini grew up in Mainz, Germany. At an early age, he matured into a "man of letters," a Renaissance thinker, in pursuit of life's meaning and truth. Working in theology, philosophy, literary criticism, and cultural analysis, he held professorships in Berlin (1923-1939), Tübingen (1945-1947), and Munich (1948-1963). With his approximately 70 books and 100 articles and countless lectures, he touched the hearts and minds of thousands of people, including Hannah Arendt, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Martin Buber, Dorothy Day, Martin Heidegger, Thomas Merton, Olivier Messiaen, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Flannery O'Connor, and Karl Rahner, S.J. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI (formerly, Josef Ratzinger) still frequently quotes Guardini.

Romano Guardini belonged to the generation of German-speaking religious thinkers who born from the mid-1870s to the early 1890s  came of age during the First World War. These contemporaries of Adolf Hitler generated many of the ground-breaking ideas and approaches that still shape theology and philosophy. Among Protestants were Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Rudolf Otto, Albert Schweitzer, and Paul Tillich. The Jewish thinkers included Martin Buber, Jules Isaac, Abraham Heschel, and Edith Stein (who became a Catholic in 1922 and died at Auschwitz in 1942). Among the Catholics were Karl Adam, Odo Casel, O.S.B., Romano Guardini, Josef Jungmann, S.J., and Erich Przywara, S.J.

On God's presence in human life
While accepting the secularization of Western society, Guardini sought to show that the sacred is present and active in the secular. Guardini directly challenged secularism and atheism by promoting worship, prayer, and contemplation. 

Furthermore, he explained that a church should delineate a sacred space. That is, it should disrupt our preoccupations, and open us to the wholly Other, the living God.
According to Guardini, the human conscience is itself a sacred space in which God meets a person. Developing this theme in 1928, Guardini argued:

"God speaks to us both from within ourselves through the voice of our conscience and also from outside ourselves in the seeming coincidence of people and events. The divine word from within us clarifies the divine word from outside us, and vice versa. A person's ethical life arises out of the continually new challenges coming from the interplay of the inner word and the outer world . . . The interplay of the word within us and the word outside us simultaneously engages the deepest elements of our human existence and the riches of divine revelation."

On the Lordship of Jesus Christ
Guardini saw that human beings orient their personal freedom in one of three ways. We can subordinate ourselves to a human authority such as a parent, a spouse, a boss, a pastor, a political figure, or an organization. In its extreme, this handling of freedom can bring about the idolatry that "the Führer" demanded in Nazi Germany. Secondly, we can assert ourselves against all authorities. In its extreme, this is the radical self-assertion of the rebellious teenager. Or, finally, we can entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ who does not enslave His followers but liberates them to live for truth and life.

Guardini acknowledged that Jesus Christ is the transcendent, living person who can encounter us in ways not unlike the way that the Lord spoke to Saul (St. Paul) on the road to Damascus. Christian belief's "essence," Guardini taught, is not a set of teachings but the risen Lord. Indeed, the living Christ is truth, reality itself who meets us as we pursue the meaning and truth of our lives. Using the phrases "the living Christ" and "truth" interchangeably, Guardini sought to bring truth to light.

Writing his memoirs in the mid-1940s, Guardini recalled his days in the Third Reich. In particular, he observed that "truth" had quietly stood with people during the Nazi terror. For example, in January 1939, Guardini was summoned before the Reich's Minister of Education, and told that he could no longer lecture at Berlin's Humboldt University. Hitler's agent declared that the Reich was stripping Guardini of his professorship because he taught the Christian "worldview" when he should be teaching the Nazi "worldview." As Guardini listened to the Nazi's hollow statements, he sensed that Christ, Truth itself, was silently supporting him in this absurd situation.

Reflecting on this moment and others similar to it, Guardini wrote:

"Truth is a power especially when we require of it no immediate effect, but have patience and figure on a long wait. Still better, truth is a power when we do not think in general about its effects but seek to present it for its own sake, for its holy, divine greatness . . . Sometimes, especially in recent years, I had the sense that truth was standing as a reality in the room."

Accounting for Christian hope
According to 1 Peter 3:15, Christians must be prepared to explain their faith to anyone who requests "an accounting for the hope that is in you." In doing this, we can proceed in one of three ways. We can simply repeat the words of the New Testament and the church's creeds and catechisms. This approach cherishes truth, but it risks the eclipse of meaning. Or, we can radically re-express these teachings in a discourse that is primarily reliant on today's philosophical or psychological categories. This method seeks relevance but at the possible cost of faithfulness to the Gospel. Or, we can fashion a discourse that tries to integrate the wisdom of the Bible and the Christian tradition, on the one hand, and the ideas and values of our society, on the other. This theological approach is the path that Guardini followed.

Throughout his adult life, Guardini encouraged a constructive, though critical, dialogue between Christian faith and secular culture. For example, in 1961, he wrote that Christians must discern the complexities, merits, and errors of modernity, and address them on the basis of divine revelation, as expressed in the Bible and the church's life and teachings. In this regard, he wrote:

"The dangers of today's daunting scientific-technological culture challenge human beings in ways that are now evoking fresh elements of the Christian life, elements that were previously dormant. How this challenge will unfold and how Christians will interact with the anonymous impulses of the will to power, the drive for wealth, and the effort to do everything is a question that Christians have yet to answer."

John's Gospel inspired and guided Romano Guardini's Christian belief and his efforts to elucidate this belief. In particular, the Johannine account of Jesus' final prayer (John 17:15-19) influenced Guardini, for although he did not withdraw "out of the world," he did not "belong to the world." Wanting "to be sanctified in the truth," he acknowledged that God's "word is truth." As a disciple of Christ, Guardini believed that the Lord had sent His followers "into the world" to witness to the truth. Hence, he unceasingly sought "to be sanctified in the truth."

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