Rahner on death and after
My latest book from the library is Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings edited by Philip Endean SJ. It contains essays, lectures, and some letters too. I've only read a little of it so far, but here's something from the very end of the book. The parts in italics are Fr. Endean's comments before and after Rahner's lecture ....
[...] Rahner's final public lecture of any substance took place in Freiburg, his birthplace, in February 1984, marking his eightieth birthday .... He concludes with a peroration about death and the afterlife. It centers on a simple question -- "but how, but how?" -- answered by a magnificent, apophatic sentence that is 280 words long in this translation and 235 in the German.
THAT WHICH IS TO COME
[...] It seems to me that the models and schemes people use to try and explain eternal life in general don't fit the radical rupture that nevertheless comes with death. People think to themselves about an eternal life that is generally described -- and this is already strange -- as "on the other side" and "after" death; these thoughts are dressed up too much with realities that are familiar to us here: continuing to live on; meeting with those who were close to us here; friends; happiness; banquets; joy and all that kind of thing. These things are presented as never ceasing, as carrying on. I'm worried that the radical past-all-graspness of what "eternal life" really refers to is being rendered innocuous, and that what we call the immediate vision of God in this eternal life is being leveled down to one among others of the pleasant occupations that fill this life. The ineffable outrageousness of the absolute Godhead in person falling stark naked into our narrow creaturehood is not being perceived authentically. I confess that it seems to me an agonizing task for today's theologian -- one that hasn't been managed -- to discover a better imaginative model for this eternal life that prevents these devaluings from the outset. But how? But how? When the angels of death have swept all the worthless rubbish that we call our history out of the rooms of our consciousness (though of course the true reality of our actions in freedom will remain); when all the stars of our ideals, with which we ourselves in our own presumption have draped the heaven of our own lived lives, have burned out and are now extinguished; when death has built a monstrous, silent void, and we have silently accepted this in faith and hope as our true identity; when then our life so far, however long it has been, appears only as a single, short explosion of our freedom that previously presented itself to us stretched out in slow motion, an explosion in which question has become answer, possibility reality, time eternity, and freedom offered freedom accomplished; when then we are shown in this monstrous shock of joy beyond saying that this monstrous, silent void, which we experience as death, is in truth filled with the originating mystery that we call God, with God's light and with God's love that receives all things and gives all things; and when then out of this pathless mystery the face of Jesus, the blessed one, appears to us and this specific reality is the divine surpassing of all that we truly assume regarding the past-all-graspness of the pathless God -- then, then I don't actually want to describe anything like this, but nevertheless, I do want to stammer out some hint of how a person can for the moment expect what is to come: by experiencing the submergence that is death as already the rising of what is coming. Eighty years is a long time. But for all of us, the lifetime assigned to us is the short moment in which what is meant to be comes to be.
- "Experiences of a Catholic Theologian" 14-15
After the applause, Rahner stood up and offered ....
I thank you warmly, and I ask you -- speaking as an ordinary Christian who knows what really matters -- to make perhaps just a small prayer in God's presence that His love and His mercy may finally be given me ...