Sydney, May 18th, 2011
I am still on my trip, and keeping in mind the urgency of your concerns. Your last letter read like an existential questionnaire! You take life very seriously. None of your questions were merely rhetorical, they stared at me with waiting eyes... but don’t forget, I am not the answer. I can only accompany you in your journey.
Ah, yes, I am already in Australia. I arrived some days ago to Sydney. The cold season of the year will start shortly, but the beaches still are packed with people wind-surfing and whale watching. This part of the world is like a collage of humanity, a bit of the United Kingdom with some oriental flavor... and at the same time unique like every human being.
You queried me about certainties. How can I obtain proof of something? What is the theoretical reasoning? This is not the point, Ignacio. The point is rather to acknowledge that in front of a historical fact that calls everybody to take a position, reason has its own way, its own itinerary, but it is not a trajectory that will arrive at the conclusion of the truth of faith in a way like one would conclude from reasoning or from an argumentation. At most it comes to an abyss before which it must leap, with a leap that is impossible without the mystery of freedom. Confronted with this abyss we are not supposed to ‘conclude’ the truth about the claim of Jesus, but instead we ought to ask for the help of this Mystery.
The point is that reason also must here take its own trajectory of investigation, but in a way far from the kind of rationalism that would only accept as truth what is ‘visible’ to reason. Thus, I refer here to a reason that is integrated into the humanity of the man who searches. That is why it is important to understand that the type of certainty one might obtain with respect to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth is not the fruit of a logical or deductive process, but a possible, an existential certainty that is called faith.
Can one have certainty about Jesus Christ?
The exceptional status of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth is beyond us. On the one hand Jesus attracts us because His teaching corresponds to the profound yearning for happiness that is at the bottom of our hearts. But, on the other hand, He scares us when He demands for Himself all that is owed to God and when He says that He Himself is God and has come to save us. We think: ‘Good grief! Just what we need! Someone coming to make our life more complicated, as if our lives were not sufficiently confused already’. Even though at the same time we have an intuition that we will really be in trouble if someone does not come to save us, and that this someone cannot save us if he is someone just like us. Either this someone will comprehend life in its totality from within or we are quite lost.
In order to face this point I suggest that we concentrate on how Jesus lived this in his life and what He did to make Himself known as who He really was. ‘The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see”. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon’ (Jn 1:35-39).
The Evangelist does not tell us all of what Jesus revealed to them that day they spent together. But the potency of his person must have been of a special magnitude. The certainty about Jesus Christ stems from an encounter. An encounter that is so much different from any other that, even years after the event, John remembers it as if it had happened just now. It was the tenth hour. Do you remember Lorca’s poem, the one we studied in class? It was around five in the evening – says the poet – when his friend passed away. He keeps repeating it again and again as if this mantra helped him to understand the Mystery... What is important in life is an event and not an idea. What happens to us, what marks us, happens at a certain moment of history. This is what is celebrated by any Christian: that he has met Christ.
Let us turn back to the Gospel, to what happened to the two men, John and Andrew. What was necessary for them in order to follow Him and become his disciples? Nothing but being a human with an awakened sense of humanity, a humble heart to recognize God in the form of a response, a necessity recognized, accepted and put into action. The disciples search, and in Jesus they find the response they are seeking. Jesus cannot respond to our desire for happiness if we decide in advance that it is impossible for God to accompany us on the way. Neither John, nor Andrew, nor the rest of the disciples had anything to loose by being on the side of Jesus. They were waiting for the coming of the Messiah and, when He arrived, they went with Him. It is true that while following Him they had moments in which they understood nothing. ‘Do you also wish to go away?...’ Jesus asked them when they did not understand Him, when they were overwhelmed; but the certainty of the encounter has left its trace in a more profound way than any of their doubts and insecurities. Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life... is tantamount to saying: ‘I have not found anything apart from you that affirms my life is something worth living’. These words are still real today. And I am one of those, Ignacio, who think in this way.
Jesus did not propose to his first disciples a theory, a new philosophy of life. He invited them to be with Him, simply and fully. Insofar as the disciples shared their life with Him, His divinity became evident. How can we be sure of the truth of Jesus Christ in the actual world? ‘Come and see’. To this invitation humans of every epoch have to respond, starting with the first disciples until today. We can know who is Jesus Christ insofar we share our lives with Him and stay with Him, experiencing what He effects in our lives when given permission to enter into them. Without our ‘Yes’, He can neither act by manifesting His power or expressing His divinity. Jesus works according to our freedom.
What is more, we are free only when we encounter a ‘you’ to respond to. The road to happiness starts with the encounter of Jesus Christ who calls, ‘follow me’. We discover that we are being transformed from a seeker into one who is ‘being found’. In the same way as the disciples began to see the divinity of Jesus through spending time with Him, for us, in the twenty-first century, the form of knowledge remains the same. The method is that of true friendship: being among friends. The knowledge of God and its certainty starts with experience, with what we see and touch and therefore it is an objective knowledge of reality; of the reality of a relationship with someone. Do I make myself understood? I have described to you this friendship, the way I discovered it and live it out every day, Ignacio.
As you see, this road to certainty surpasses the limits of reason. If we could fully comprehend God, He would not be the Mystery, He would no longer be ineffable. In order to understand one hundred percent the thoughts of God we should be identical to Him. You will see that by realizing this you spare a lot of skepticism that does not lead us anywhere. I’d like to insist on this.
The Mystery surpasses reason, but does not annihilate it
The characteristic proper to the Mystery is precisely that it seduces me, not in virtue of a logical deduction, but as a reality that intervenes to change the exigency of my judgment and rationality and that, nevertheless, imposes itself on me as something supremely real and rational. It is so real that it gets proposed in a way that I cannot reject no matter how much I try to do so. Jesus Christ exceeds my intellectual capacities. He disorients my rationality; His presence confuses the attitudes of my intelligence. That is why I experience resistance to believe in Him.
It is still an even greater problem for somebody wanting to live a quite life, for if Jesus Christ did not exist or if I could avoid facing the fact, I would be calmer. You do understand me, don’t you? If He did not exist, that would relieve for me the tension of having to face what I am and live with this Presence so real and superior, so good and so full. I would not have to account for everything – I do not refer here to moral but rather to existential accounts – faced with the One who claims to be the meaning of my life. The argument of those who claim that Christianity censures reality is false; Christianity does not satisfy us with empty consolations in order to avoid life. I am telling you with all certainty, Ignacio, because it was me who thought this and so it is me who has been struck and fallen from the horse. Life is not easy believing in Christ, but I can affirm that nothing is so worthwhile.
I want to specify the meaning of the word mystery in the language of religion in order that you can get a better idea of what I am referring to. We are used to calling mystery whatever we don’t understand, problems without a known solution. Properly speaking, however, not all questions that do not have solutions or are incomprehensible are mysteries. An enigma is not a mystery. An enigma is rather a question without a solution, but within a horizon where it is reasonable to find a solution. The treatment for tuberculosis was an enigma but it is not anymore; the treatment for cancer is an enigma that we hope will disappear one day thanks to developments in oncology.
On the other hand: what am I doing with my life? Why has life been given to me? – It is something that we do not know and we are not going to succeed in knowing from our own resources. We have a clear intuition that the response to such a question transcend us, that it is ‘beyond’, and that is the way we approach the religious mystery. The treatment for cancer has not arrived yet. We do not know how the universe was formed... Do you see now to what extent the question of mystery is different from that of enigma? The former concerns the meaning of our life, while the doesn’t, despite its importance for medicine or astronomy. The enigma is something that Sherlock Holmes would resolve, while mystery is something that moved Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Faith does not consist simply in praying but rather in facing the Mystery. It appears when we are looking for something or Someone in order provide the key to our existence. [ix] This is why, in talking about the mystery of faith, one has to understand what is being said. That is why I write to you about the Mystery of Christ.
The Mystery is incomprehensible because it is beyond our capacity of understanding, it is transcendent. It is reasonable and not irrational to accept it. Irrational would be accepting as true contradictory or ridiculous things (a square circle, or saying that two plus two is five), but it is not irrational to accept as real the fragment of the Mystery that we can know, even while the fullness of the Mystery lies beyond our grasp. Comprehending the exceptional nature of the person of Jesus and going deep into the verification of the truth of everything. He claims to be an offer, this constitutes a challenge for the head and the heart; even if they are overwhelmed by what is before them, nevertheless, they are not annihilated, but invited to a new form of openness.
You asked me how to obtain a proof, but after all these thoughts I can only respond you that the single possible ‘verification’ for our faith resides in readiness to compare whether what is offered by the Mystery corresponds to the profound hunger of our heart. Don’t you think that this is the most fascinating thing of all?
Next month I am going to travel to Jerusalem, the centre of the Mystery. Write me before then so that I can keep going accompanied by your questions.
How are you facing the end of term?
Your old professor
[ix] V. FRANKL, El hombre en busca del sentido último, Paidós, Barcelona, 1999, p. 204. Quote from the Spanish edition as translated by M. SZALAY & A. RICHES. For an English edition, cf. Man ́s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006.