Thursday, December 6, 2012

How Do We Talk About God? (CCCC #5)*

Gerard Manley Hopkins (left) had the answer. So did William Blake. Even crazy old Uncle Walt, never one to be confused with a doctrinaire Catholic, served up some pretty good answers to how we talk about God, at least if you go by the answer given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:**

By taking as our starting point the perfections of man and of the other creatures which are a reflection, albeit a limited one, of the infinite perfection of God, we are able to speak about God with all people. We must, however, continually purify our language insofar as it is image-bound and imperfect, realizing that we can never fully express the infinite mystery of God.

Walt Whitman might be taken to task for certain impurities and imperfections, especially by 19th-century standards, but his songs of America looked for the divine in everyman. His “Song of the Open Road” conjures up something very like the communion of saints:

Allons! after the great Companions, and to belong to them!
They too are on the road—they are the swift and majestic men—they are the greatest women, . . . 
Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of children, bearers of children,
Soldiers of revolts, standers by gaping graves, lowerers-down of coffins, 
Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years, the curious years each emerging from that which preceded it, 
Journeyers as with companions, namely their own divers phases . . .
Allons! . . .  

Of course, Hopkins, a Jesuit, was much keener and more orthodox about talking of God Himself, reflecting on the perfection of the Creation in poems like my favorite, “God’s Grandeur”:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;       
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;       
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

“Nature is never spent”—that itself seems a proof of God’s existence and a description of his boundless generativity.

That Christians even try to talk about God is interesting in itself. I asked yesterday morning on Facebook: “Jews would not name God. Muslims won't picture him. We Christians do both, name and picture. Isn't that odd?”

Talking about God—being able to, knowing how—is a life-or-death matter for the Catholic Church. If we can’t speak of Him, especially to the non-religious, the agnostic, and the atheist, where will tomorrow’s converts come from? In this new era of evangelization proclaimed by the Pope, that’s a key question. 

So I will continue to make my little forays into the catechism, and to make efforts to relate the CCC to what I know and love. Like Hopkins, Blake, and Whitman.  

Check out paragraphs 39–43 and 48-49 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church for more answers to today’s question. 


* This post is one in a series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, begun on the First Sunday in Advent in honor of the new liturgical year and to do my small bit to evangelize in this Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict. To guide myself through the CCC, I am using the question-answer format of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (that makes 4C’s). I am no expert and apologize in advance for any misunderstandings, of which there are certain to be some. I am trying only to make some kind of personal sense of the Catechism by relating it to the experience of each passing day. If it’s useful to you, then cool. Meanwhile, it helps me.

** The Compendium of the Catechism, actually. This post covers paragraphs 39–43 and 48-49 from the CCC itself. 

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