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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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‘Behold, I am doing something new’ (Is 43:19)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

By Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá OP | Br Pablo reflects on Christ as the utterly new event of history in this meditation for the feast of Christ the King.

The Spanish philosopher Higinio Marín has recently commented that our current situation is one of the first times in history when the whole of the human race has come together as a public, as spectators watching the same historical event, and one where the human race itself is the object of expectation. While many, especially in Western societies, were announcing a post- or trans-human future when our material limitations will finally be overcome through the advance of computing and biotechnology, the pandemic has reminded us of the indelible bond we share with the natural realm as animals, mammals, primates, and with one another as a single species with a common immunological system and identical vulnerabilities.

Above all, it has brought back the painful awareness of our fragility and our mortality, especially, again, for those societies that had pushed to the margins the reality of death as something that is not constitutive of human identity, that can be kept at bay as an accident of our being in the world. When our institutions had proclaimed the End of History, a completely unexpected incident has thrown us again into the vertigo of events we cannot control. Our lordship over history turned out to be ephemeral.

But in this there is, obviously, no novelty. Whatever our situation has of tragic and fatal, it only entails a return to a feeling that has haunted every human civilisation. The despondent voice of Qohelet resonates today among our fatigued contemporaries,

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains for ever.

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    and there is nothing new under the sun.

                                                (Ecclestiastes 1)

The Medievals had a predilection for the image of the Rota Fortunae, Fortune’s Wheel. It appeared usually accompanied by four human figures. A king, enthroned on top of the wheel with the inscription regno, ‘I reign’, was placed next to another losing his crown: regnavi ‘I have reigned’. At the bottom of the wheel, the humiliated figure would be seen stating sum sine regno, ‘I have no kingdom’, and on the left, the fourth figure declared regnabo ‘I shall reign’. In an age far less confident of itself than ours, the relentless spin of the wheel signified Fortune's fickleness, the irrevocable frustration of humankind's plans and desires.

Perhaps precisely because of this sense of defencelessness, such images often included also a depiction of Christ the King at the centre, the sole point of stability of the wheel. There was a right instinct in this, since only this juxtaposition could account for the paradox that constitutes what we call the ‘Kingdom of God’. Christ’s kingdom is, indeed, not of this world, as the evangelist says, but this was never intended to mean that his kingdom exists after this world, or outside of this world. His kingdom is not of this world, yet his kingdom has begun in this world. Christ triumphed over death and was vindicated as king over his people (regnavi), only after he was ‘despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (sine regno). He ascended into Heaven to send the Spirit to his Church, and he will come again in glory (regnabo), and his kingdom will have no end (regno).

Christ’s story is not static: it has not abolished time nor brought history to an end. It includes within itself the unexpected, even the catastrophic. Yet in Christ’s story we have been given the pattern and meaning of all stories. Something definitive has begun, which will have no end. For a Christian, history is no longer circular, but something that inevitably straddles the time between what now is and what will be. Christ himself is, of course, the utterly new event, where time and eternity converge, or better, where our time is received into eternity. To enter into his kingdom then is to be suspended between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. By stepping into it, we leave the tides of time behind, and by fixing our gaze upon the one who is Himself eternal Life, every aspect of our lives, down to the least action we do for his sake, bears a mark of eternity.

And so the Church is the place where the true novelty occurs. That is what came to my mind last week while I read Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, and admired the prophetic charism of the Church to speak always anew to all peoples. I often wonder what believers of times past would have thought if granted a glimpse of the witness of the Church in later ages. Of all the unexpected developments and unprecedented solutions to the challenges of history. And I wonder about all the gifts that God still has in store – the new insights into God's mystery that will be gained by the reflection of tomorrow’s theologians; the next ecumenical councils and magisterial definitions; the new music and art that will retell the story of our redemption; the great saints that will be and that will disclose aspects of Christ’s face that remained now veiled.

‘Behold, I am doing something new’ (Is 43:19), says the Lord. To take part in it we only have to say, with saint Thérèse, ‘Lord Jesus, come reign in my heart, just for today’.


Image: Excerpt from the Burana Codex, ca. 1230 (Wikimedia Commons)

Br Pablo Rodríguez-Jordá O.P.

Br Pablo was born and grew up in Alicante, Spain. He first lived in the UK as a student of History and English at the University of Southampton, and after graduating worked as a language teacher in Oxford, where he met the Dominicans. He entered the novitiate in 2017. Reading the works of Thomas Merton was a particular catalyst for his calling to the religious life. Similarly, reading G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien and J. H. Newman led him to the practice of the faith earlier during his university years. He is interested in languages, 19th century literature and the history of English Catholicism. | pablo.rodriguez@english.op.org

MORE ON: FEASTS, CHRIST, CURRENT AFFAIRS, FAITH, COMMUNITY, SALVATION

Comments

Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2020 01:03 PM
Beautiful post
Kathleen commented on 24-Nov-2020 12:36 PM
Thank you for this beautiful meditation incorporating the medieval image of fortune’s wheel. Wonderful insights.

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