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Posted December 9, 2004

Book: Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings
Edited by: Philip Endean
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, pp. 206

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Karl Rahner (1904-1984), a Jesuit priest, was one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. A major force at Vatican II, his writings effected a paradigm shift in modern theology. Yet it was the experience of prayer and a deeply mystical faith that animated and inspired his scholarly activity. In the end, Rahner’s message was simple and accessible: an appeal to recognize and appropriate God’s self — gift, the mystery that Christianity calls grace — a reality that is at least latent in every human mind and heart.

This anthology shows that if Rahner was an important theologian, it was because he was more fundamentally a modern spiritual master.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Colloquy With God?

Anyone who reads Christian spiritual literature, anyone who listens to sermons on prayer, will be familiar with the statement that prayer is a “dialogue with God.” There is certainly no need to gather together here examples of this commonplace of Christian spirituality and of the theology of prayer. Perhaps, however, it is not completely pointless to offer some reflections on the question of whether and in what sense prayer can be called dialogue with God. For, after all, this word “dialogue” presupposes that in prayer it is not just humanity but God’s own self that speaks, speaks to us, speaks in such a way as to answer our words. The question that is to occupy us here is thus not the more general and comprehensive question about whether prayer is possible at all, and what preconditions it must have, in other words the question of the personal address that a human being can direct to God (today, certainly, not an easy problem.). Rather we are asking whether, and in what sense, we can say that in prayer God speaks to humanity in such a way that we can really call prayer a dialogue between God and humanity.

Certainly, human beings today have great difficulty in understanding and recognizing that in prayer they experience something like God’s personally speaking. In this kind of short essay we can justifiably leave aside the wider questions about a personal experience of God as existing and the God-humanity, God-world relationship — questions that are already quite difficult enough for human beings today. But apart from these, the specific difficulty with experiencing prayer as dialogue is this: our first inclination to take as the person’s own mental state or activity what a more exuberant piety is accustomed or inclined to interpret as God’s speaking to us.

The point is undoubtedly correct; it must not be denied; and these days we cannot naively ignore it. The question then arises: why can this be understood as a special manifestation of God, as God’s speaking? People today have the impression that in prayer they are to a certain extent talking and deliberating with themselves — with this talking to oneself perhaps being about God, this self-reflection perhaps happening “before” God. If they experience particular sudden, unexpected, strong inbreakings or outbreakings of new ideas and impulses (of course this happens), people today will initially interpret such occurrences as things happening within their own existence, as the deeper levels of the soul expressing themselves, as the breakthrough of what was previously repressed, as a fortunate interplay of subconscious associations, or the like. They will point to the fact that the same somewhat out of the ordinary mental processes are also present where there is no question of specifically religious content: with artistic intuitions and ideas that cannot in any real sense be programmed in advance, in sudden transformations of the whole person that are not expressly motivated by religion, and so on.

There is not need here to investigate whether this is right or not quite right; be that as it may, people today have the impression that it would be to accept the miraculous, or else old-fashioned mythology, if they were to understand and unexpected, powerful mental event, just because it was sudden, vivid, and significant, as resulting from an intervention of God at a particular point in space and time within the normal course of their mental history. In the mental sphere, at least generally speaking, this appears to people today just as improbable and incredible as miracles in the external sphere (understood as new interventions of God in God’s world). People today, even if they recognize God’s existence, explain the course of their inner world in terms of causes within the world. And these remain causes within the world, even if they produce less normal phenomena within the sphere of consciousness.

Of course there are still also today many people in the Church, especially in the many groups with a charismatic piety, who understand specific mental experiences, especially speaking in tongues, baptism in the Spirit, radical conversion an the like, quite uninhibitedly as charismatic interventions of the Holy Spirit “from outside.” They more or less ignore the simple fact that all such experiences are, to begin with, theirs; at least until the contrary is strictly proven — something not the case even with parapsychological phenomena — they must be explained as the effects of states of affairs, external and internal, present within themselves. Moreover, an outsider can see parallels to all such charismatic phenomena in non-Christian religions, which clearly display all these mental causes — the nature, the style of consciousness, the language, the limitations — with the result that this alone makes it almost impossible to discover or look for anything that must necessarily be traced back to a special, miraculous intervention of God. On these and similar grounds, people today find it very difficult to discover something in their praying consciousness that they want to interpret simply as God speaking as opposed to themselves speaking. Prayer seems to them to be a monologue, or at best talking to oneself, but not a dialogue with God, not an event that one could seriously call, seriously and without too much reservation, dialogue.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Why We Need to Pray

1. God and Human Experience
Encounter with God
God’s word and a baby’s experience
God of my daily drudge
A spiritual discourse on desire and concupiscence in the style of Master Johannes Tauler
On movement
The mystical: the way of faith to God

2. Turning Points
Religious institution and experience from within
Opening the heart
On the experience of grace
Spiritual choices
Colloquy with God?
Stanislaus Kotzka

3. Jesus
God who is meant to be coming
Mary in theology
God of my sisters and brothers
On the following of Christ
The man with the pierced heart

4. Church, Creativity, and Process
Church, institution, and Spirit
Theology and the Life of the Spirit
Prayer for the creative
God of Law
For the Church
Prayer on the eve of ordination
To love God I don’t need any Church
Allegiance to the Church
The Jesuits and the future
What scope is there for a new devotion to Mary and to the saints?
Plea for an unnamed virtue
On intellectual patience with oneself
Thanking God when there’s so much pain?
That which is to come