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Broken Signpost

by Dr. Tom NealOctober 03, 2018

The stories of conquest conclude with Israel, the people of promise, finally in the land, embattled and rebellious but installed, a broken signpost still shakily pointing forwards to the Creator’s purpose to rescue his human creatures and complete the work of creation. (N.T. Wright)

A person recently asked me, “How can you continue to work for the Church?” I spontaneously began my answer by saying, “Because I believe we’re part of a broken signpost.”

That’s the Church. Chosen, like the people of Israel, as a people of the solution, a people of the problem. All of us, all at once, are always both.

God has designed his rescue plan in such a way that he refuses to bypass the disaster we have created. So St. Augustine said, “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” God will not save us without entangling himself with a race that is, as Blaise Pascal famously said, the “judge of all things, an imbecile worm; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe.”

Rather, God enters straightaway into all of it, wholly identifying himself with it (1 Cor. 5:21), and then chooses the most disastrous collaborators (e.g. Matt. 27:5; Jn. 16:32; 1 Tim. 1:15) to lead us into his (in)glorious revolution launched from the peak of a dunghill (1 Sam. 2:6; Jn. 19:17). There, amid rotting human remains, emblems of human cruelty, a God-made-slave hung crucified, planning in the hidden depths of his Heart—all the while—a Garden of Paradise nearby (Jn. 19:41), planted in the cursed soils of our (eu)catastrophe (Gal. 3:13).

And so the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass says,

For we know it belongs to your boundless glory,
that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity
and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself,
that the cause of our downfall
might become the means of our salvation,
through Christ our Lord.

After these words are prayed to the Father, the Spirit comes to make present again the torn Flesh and steaming Blood of the Son, amid the ruins of grain and grapes, feeding the once-enemies of God, empowering us to cultivate with him our Garden.

St. Isaac of Syria said, “This life is for repentance.” To live is to repent, and to be the solution is to have repented often.

The Church I work for. All of us.

For God’s foolishness [mōron] is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1:25)

About the Author

Dr. Tom Neal

Dr. Tom Neal

Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans...

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