Archive for karl rahner

A Rahnerian Prayer for the End of the Semester

Posted in Prayer, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

book-pile-5575So things have been noticeably quiet here at It’s the end of an academic semester, which means lots of seminar-paper writing and a variety of other work that keeps students busy. My apologies to those who would like more regular content here during these last days — fear not, the end of this crunch time is (God-willing) near and the regularity of posting shall return! In the meantime, here is part of a lengthy prayer by the famous German theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, that seems perfect for this season in life.  It comes from a prayer titled, “God of Knowledge.”

May You along enlighten me, You alone speak to me. May all that I know apart from You be nothing more than a chance traveling companion on the journey toward You. May it help to mature me, so that I may ever better understand You in the suffering that brings me, as Your holy writer has predicted. When it has accomplished this, then it can quietly disappear into oblivion.

Then You will be the final Word, the only one that remains, the one we shall never forget. Then at last, everything will be quiet in death; than I shall have finished with all my learning and suffering. Then will being the great silence, in which no other sound will be heard but You, O Word resounding from eternity to eternity.

Then all human words will have grown dumb. Being and knowing, understanding and experience will have become one and the same. “I shall know even as I am known;” I shall understand what You have been saying to me all along, namely, You Yourself. No more human words, no more concepts, no more pictures will stand between us. You Yourself will be the one exultant word of love and life filling out every corner of my soul.

Be now my consolation, O Lord, now when all knowledge, even Your revelation expressed in human language, fails to sill the yearning of my heart. Give me strength, O God, now when my soul easily tires of all the human words we devise about You, words which still fail to give us the possession of You. Even though the few flashes of light I receive in quiet moments quickly fade out again into the dark-grey sky of my daily life — even though knowledge comes to me now only to sink back again into oblivion, still Your Word lives in me, of which it is written: “The Word of the Lord abides forever.”

You Yourself are my knowledge, the knowledge that is light and life. You Yourself are my knowledge, experience, and love. You are the God of the one and only knowledge that is eternal, the knowledge that is bliss without end.


Photo: Stock

A Cosmic View of Easter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

earth_sun_spaceIn an Easter reflection titled, “A Faith that Loves the Earth,” Karl Rahner highlighted some of the ways that the Resurrection is significant for the entirety of creation. Like Sts. Paul and Irenaeus before him, Rahner had a rich notion of salvation as the recapitulation of the whole world or, put another way, all of creation’s return back to God. Rahner does a number of interesting things in this meditation, including recalling what it means to be ha-adamah — created “from the earth” — as the Book of Genesis reminds us, understanding the centrality of death in the pilgrimage of life, and the importance of remembering that Easter isn’t just about humanity. Here are just a few snippets of what he has to say on these few themes.

On Being Creatures

“We are children of this earth. Birth and death, body and earth, bread and wine are our life; and the earth is our homeland…We are of the earth. We can become disloyal to it because of our stubbornness or self-aggrandizement, which would not be proper for the children of this humble, serious Mother Earth; or we can be loyal because, after all, we have to be who we are, meaning that we are united with earth’s secret pain, which we feel deep inside our own being.”

On the Significance of Christ’s Death

“He who is both the son of God and a human being has died … The one who has died is, therefore, both the son of God’s perfected nature and the child of earth’s poverty … We may say that he died, but we need to add immediately that he also descended to the dead and rose. We need to add this in order to free his death from overtones of fleeing the world, overtones that we are inclined to add. Jesus himself said that we would descend into the heart of the earth (Mt 12:40), namely to the heart of all earthly things, where everything is interconnected and one, to the seat of death and earth’s impermanence … Especially because he died, he belongs to the earth, for putting someone’s body into earth’s grave means that the person (or the soul, as we would say) who has died enters not only into relationship with God but also into that final union with the mysterious ground of being, where all space-time elements are tied together and have their point of origin … He is risen in order to reveal that by his death there remains forever implanted into earth’s narrowness and pain, within her heart, the life of freedom and blessedness.”

On the Cosmic View of Easter

“[Christ] also has to burst open the grave of our heart, to rise from the center of being where he is the power and the promise. There he is still in the process of doing this.  There it is still Holy Saturday until the last day, which will be the day of Easter for the entire cosmos. Such a resurrection happens in the freedom of our faith.  Even there it is his deed.  But it is his deed occurring as ours: as loving faith that allows us to be brought along on this unimaginable journey of all earthly reality headed toward its own glory, a journey that started with the resurrection of Christ.”

Photo: Stock

Toward a Theology and Spirituality of Rest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

SleepAlthough not everybody is a fan of his methodological approach to theology, his particular conclusions, or his theological starting points, I know of no one who would not readily admit that the late German theologian Karl Rahner was a genius. Even if you disagree with him for substantive or unsubstantial reasons, Rahner’s insight and impact, even to this day in the field, is really unmatched in the contemporary Catholic Christian academic (and pastoral) world. I thought of this particularly prodigious thinker this morning when I read Tony Schwartz’s guest column in the New York Times titled: “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.”

Schwartz’s starting points are the counterintuitive reports from scholars and scientists in recent years that suggest working harder, longer, and more is actually less productive (and less healthy, duh) than striking a balance that values rest, vacation, exercise, and sleep as much as hours in the office, emails answered, and the like. He contends that this applies on the macro level, such as the need to sleep more each night and take more and lengthier vacations throughout the year, as well as on the micro level, such as the cycle of work habits throughout the day.

I thought of Rahner because among his more philosophically complex engagements with the theological tradition, the German theologian was also interested in exploring the theological significance of what he called Alltägliche Dinge or “everyday things.” Among these everyday things were subjects like work, walking, seeing, laughing, eating, and — you’ve guessed it! — sleep. Rahner asks:

Is there such a thing as a theology of sleeping? Most certainly there is. In a wonderfully earthy way, scripture first of all confirms our own experience with sleep: It talks about the solid sleep of the one who has worked hard, the destructive sleeplessness of the one in charge of many things, the excessive sleep of the lazy one, and similar things. But scripture also sees in sleep an image and reflection of a deeper reality of human existence: the image of death, the image of dead and deadening dullness, the image of being mired in sin. Also, scripture sees in sleep an inner relaxation, where a person is receptive to the instructions of God (as if given by the Lord in one’s sleep), a time for meaningful dreams that can clarify God’s directions and call and that can perhaps make one conscious of what is otherwise repressed.

Surely Rahner is correct — Matthew’s account of the Gospel practically begins the whole story of Jesus Christ with sleep and dreams as we read that Mary’s husband “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him an a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'” (Matt 1:19-20).

Likewise, we know of Joseph’s role in interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams in Egypt and the ways in which dreams and sleep intertwine at various points in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Rahner explains that it’s not all about dreams and visions, but that the simple, human, and necessary physiological exercise of sleep is itself a religious and spiritual practice. He wrote:

Sleep is an act of trusting one’ deepest inner conviction, one’s own certainty, and the goodness of the human world. It is an act of innocence and of consenting to the elusive.  If one approached sleep like that, not as a merely dull succumbing to physiological mechanisms but as an agreeable and trusting acceptance of an utterly human act, then falling asleep could be seen as relating to the inner structure of prayer, which is equally a letting-go, an entrusting of one’s own convictions to the providence of God which one lovingly accepts.

In other words, it is about awareness and surrender, about trust and recognizing the presence of God in our lives at all times, in all places and, as Ignatius Loyola made popular, “in all things.”

Rahner’s notion of sleep was elicited by Schwartz’s column because there is an overlap and complementarity in their respective points — Schwartz from a physiological and productivity standpoint, and Rahner from one of theology and spirituality.

Rahner pointed out that, “sleep is peaceful and relaxed, a communication with the depth in which needs to be grounded and rooted whatever makes us free as human beings, all conscious planning of life, if we want to remain whole or wish to be.”

Schwartz says something very similar, if in a different way.

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

He gives an example from his own professional life of how balance and a different approach to work, centered on valuing rest, sleep, and renewal along the way. He talks about the experience of writing his first two books and then his more recent publications and the difference that switching from a “binge” mentality of unbridled work (something I see far too often in academia with colleagues, as well as studious undergrads, spending endless hours and even days/nights in libraries and in front of computers) to a sense of a cycle for awake-activity akin to that of our sleep cycles. In other words: working in cycles of ninety-minute intervals. Schwartz explains:

I’ve systematically built these principles into the way I write. For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one.

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.

What he says resonates well with me. I’m often asked “How do you do so much? Do you ever sleep?” and my instant response is always, “Yes, I sleep quite a lot, actually!” The presumption on the part of the inquirer being that in order to “get a lot done” one must work all the time and through the night, and so on and so on.

That “sleep quite a lot” is, of course, relative. I know that I need at least seven hours of sleep a night and I work hard to make sure that I get it. More sleep makes me tired, less sleep makes me tired. I also never work nonstop for hours on end, nor have I ever. This is not some sort of prescient virtue, rather it’s just not something I have ever had the patience to do, even if I wanted to do it. This is why I found Schwartz’s narrative and supportive data so affirming — I’ve been accidentally doing what he’s talking about here for most of my life.

Working in short spurts of an hour here or 90-minutes there and the accompanying breaks, not so regimented but more naturally present, might be the way to explain my own experience. Until reading this column, I’m not sure I had a good answer to the question “How do you get so much done?”

I think there is a curious connection here between the theological reflection of Rahner on sleep and Schwartz’s proposal about rest and productivity. If we live in a graced world where we are always already in communication with the God who is the ground of our very being, perhaps the Benedictines have it a little off. Their traditional motto has been Ora et Labora, which essentially means balancing one’s life between “prayer and work.”

But, what if, following Rahner and Schwartz, the real motto of our lives should be striving to recognize that the Ora comes in the balance between Operis et quietis, “work and rest.”

Photo: Stock

Karl Rahner and Mystery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 11, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

For years now, going all the way back to when I was a theology major in college, I’ve studied the work of the great twentieth-century German theologian Karl Rahner. He is notoriously difficult to read, at least that’s caricature, but I can assure you that in light of some more contemporary thinkers, Rahner can be like reading the weekend USA Today newspaper. In addition to his theological omnipresence and strong influence in Catholic (and Protestant) theology over the last fifty years or so, he is worth reading because of his deeply spiritual and, at times, almost poetic style. He was clearly a man of prayer and someone for whom theology was not simply a “mind game” or a pure academic exercise. For Rahner, theology was, as it was for Bonaventure (an influence in Rahner’s famous work on the Trinity, by the way), a path toward holiness and a spiritual, prayerful activity.

Yesterday in one of my seminars we were going over some of Rahner’s work on theological anthropology and a fellow student, really quite in passing, shared an excerpt from the end of his introduction in Foundations of Christian Faithwhere the framework for his transcendental project begins and Rahner, not having yet explicitly identified his thesis in explicitly Christian terms, talks about the human capacity for and grounding in mystery. Later, Rahner will identify mystery (“wholly other,” “absolute mystery,” “ground of our existence,” etc.) as God. With that on the horizon, this little conclusive paragraph strikes me as particularly beautiful, so I thought I’d share it with all of you today.

What is made intelligible is grounded ultimately in the one thing that is self-evident, in mystery. Mystery is something with which we are always familiar, something which we love, even when we are terrified by it or perhaps even annoyed or angered, and want to be done with it. For the person who has touched his [or her] own spiritual depths, what is more familiar, thematically or unthematically, and what is more self-evident than the silent question which goes beyond everything which has already been mastered and controlled, than the unanswered question accepted in humble love, which along brings wisdom? In the ultimate depths of his [or her] being, [the human person] knows nothing more surely than that his [or her] knowledge, that is, what is called knowledge in everyday parlance, is only a small island in a vast sea that has not been traveled. It is a floating island, and it might be more familiar to us than the sea, but ultimately it is borne by the sea and only because it is can we be borne by it. Hence the existentiell question for the knower is this: Which does he [or she] love more, the small island of his[/her] so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery? (FCF 22).

May you have a wonderful day, slightly — if at all — aware of that absolute mystery that grounds our very being and is the condition for the possibility of our existence, knowledge, interaction, and relationships today.

Photo: File

Restless Hearts and Being Made for God

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

Karl Rahner on the Importance of Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

In a guest editorial in the German weekly paper, Die Ziet (December 21, 1962), the renowned Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner offered some reflections on the meaning and importance of Christmas. His thoughts were given within the context of an already banal experience of the holiday, during which people take a few days (if that) to mark an obligatory “festive” period, which ultimately seemed to subordinate the Solemnity to something less than the most significant event in salvation history.

It is important to remember that Rahner had a consistent view of the Paschal Mystery that began with the Incarnation and continued through Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death and resurrection — a contiguous, but not discrete, series of salvific moments that together represent the Christian mysteries. It is only viewed in whole that we can call, as the first disciples did in the earliest kerygma, Jesus of Nazareth the Christ.

That we continue to celebrate the Christmas season, at least until the Baptism of the Lord, you might find it helpful to consider Rahner’s insights. Rahner begins his reflections by setting up the following scene:

It is not particularly enjoyable to prepare a commentary or to write an editorial about Christmas. The listener or reader may feel the same way. Isn’t it always the same old thing — a little “festive mood,” some pious and altruistic phrases, a few expensive gifts (along with the work of expressing one’s gratitude afterwards)? And then everything continues as before. Those who are Christians are under a particular obligation not to be deluded by the wonder of Christmas. After all, Christians should not be a people who cover up the miserable truth about human existence; most certainly not…

After Christmas — and this should be mentioned during Christmas — everything continues as before. We continue the same as before. We reach heavenly nights by doing so: all the way to the moon and farther still. And finally we reach death….

Should one stubbornly withdraw during these days or should one steel oneself to go along with Christmas because it is the best thing to do and proper behavior means not showing how one really feels? Well, aside from these two options, one could do something else, namely ask oneself what Christmas actually means from a Christian perspective.

I think what Rahner gets at in the beginning of his reflection helps explain the desire so many well-meaning Christians have to diminish Christmas to a less feast of the faith. Sure, they too lament over the “commercialization” and “secularization” of Christmas as it has been ostensibly taken over by a culture not intent to focus on the Incarnation, but instead make a profit.

But, I think it is in part for this very reason that some Christians are happy to believe Christmas is therefore different from or lesser than other Christians celebrations. Why? Christmas has been commercially hijacked, but Holy Week — so far, at least — has not. Therefore, there must be something mundane or pedestrian about the Solemnity of the Incarnation that makes it co-optable over and against “the truly important feasts.”

Yet, this is not the case at all. Rahner makes the point that we can “act dead” with regard to the truly overwhelming nature of what we celebrate at Christmas. People are willing to consider Christmas superficially, even with religious and well-meaning intention. But, what we celebrate on the 25 of December and the days that follow each Church year is so infinitely profound that we oftentimes willingly ignore its profundity.

Yet the mystery still permeates our existence and repeatedly forces us to look at it: in the joy that is no longer aware of its cause; in fear, which dissolves our ability to comprehend our existence; in the love that knows itself as unconditional and everlasting; in the question that frightens us with its unconditional nature and boundless vastness.

Rahner is not disparaging toward those who do not pause to reflect on the absolute significance of this feast, but instead considers their disposition like those he comes to call “anonymous Christians” who unthematically experience the salvation and mystery of God that Christians categorically articulate.

Some may have the courage of an explicit faith in the truth of Christmas, while others accept it only quietly in the unfathomable depth of their own existence, filled by a blessed hope without words. When the former accept the latter as “anonymous” Christians, then all can celebrate Christmas together. The seemingly superficial and conventional Christmas hoopla is blessed in the end with truth and depth. What looks like a sham in light of all the holiday activity, then, is not the complete truth, for in the background stands the holy and silent truth that God has arrived after all and is celebrating Christmas with us.

It is very tempting for believers, like many unbelievers, to go through the motions of the Christmas season, observing one — maybe  two — days of festive celebration and banal gift exchange in place of the solemnity of our salvation that we celebrate in faith.

Yet, Rahner holds tightly to the belief that even those who do not recognize the centrality of the Incarnation, viewing it perhaps as the necessary effect of Holy Week instead of the absolute expression of God’s love for creation, somehow mark its deeper meaning within in inexpressible words and unthinkable profundity.

May we take the remaining days of the Christmas Season to reflect on the significance of what God has done for us and continues to do for us.

Merry Christmas (still)!

Photo: File

Praying With Karl Rahner: An Unexpected Grace

Posted in Solemn Vow Retreat with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Wednesday 29 June 2010

On this Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, I found myself curiously reading a lot of Karl Rahner. It was initially some more “heady stuff” along the lines of his theology of grace, something that I wanted to return to as I was working through some other reflections of late. What had started out being a return to his theological insights on the presence of God in creation as Spirit led me to read some of his more spiritual and prayerful writings. Coming across his book Prayers for a Lifetime, I was struck by the prayerful reflections this theological giant left behind.

In the introduction to the text, Karl Lehmann, then bishop of Mainz and former student of Rahner’s, recalled a conversation someone had with Rahner about prayer.

To the question, “Do you pray?” Rahner once replied: “I hope that I pray. You see, whenever I actually notice, in all the big and little moments of my life, how close I am to that unutterable, holy, and loving mystery that we call God, and whenever I place myself there, dealing with this mystery, as it were, in confidence, hope, and love, whenever I accept this mystery, then I pray – and I hope that I do.”

The collection of his prayers I find very inspiring. Rahner’s theological genius is hardly disputed, even by those who do not care for his rather optimistic conclusions, yet his spiritual wisdom, the clarity with which he seemed to understand the ordinariness of humanity’s relationship with its Creator, is far too often overlooked.

These prayers, some rather lengthy reflections on a particular theme or season, have allowed me to return to one of the great theologians whom I’ve studied rather thoroughly since my undergraduate days. I never cease to be challenged, impressed and inspired by his work. Among his prayers are found an attempt to praise creation, consciously modeled after Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures and a prayer to the God of his vocation – two reflections of timely quality, both of which will likely provide some material upon which to reflect here in the future.

For now I wish only to provide the opening section of his book titled, “Opening.” It is enough for now, reflect on it – you will not be disappointed.

It is both terrible and comforting to dwell in the inconceivable nearness to God, and so to be loved by God Himself that the first and last gift is infinity and inconceivability itself. But we have no choice. God is with us.

On this feast of the two most revered Apostles, may we too find the terror and comfort that Peter and Paul knew in recognizing their proximity to Christ. May we never forget that God is indeed with us.

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