Word and political community. essay on vocation and expectation.

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Serie: Journal of the Observatory/11
Publisher: Edizioni Cantagalli
Pages: 165
Price: €11.5

In his Introduction the author says: “The most worrisome phenomenon at present is the mounting difficulty to read a word about ourselves, a summons as it were, in things and in our life”. In things and persons, in our past or our religion, in our identity or in nature, in our offspring or our work we are no longer able to grasp a sense being proposed to us. “We could call all this a crisis of vocation, an existential difficulty in understanding ourselves not only as producers of discourses, but also as receivers, listeners, interpreters. Things seem to be things alone, and facts nothing but facts. Positivism is becoming common sense”. This is so very damaging for society because it literally blocks three fundamental attitudes: receptivity, gratitude, gratuitousness.

In the first chapter (The Phenomenology of Vocation) the author explores daily experience in a search for the signs of vocation and finds them in four aspects of our experience as persons: projecting self, awaiting, overreaching, purifying. With fine tuned phenomenological analyses and drawing upon a myriad of authors from Simone Weil to Plato, Frossard to Frankl, Martin Buber to Ratzinger, Del Noce to Heidegger, St. Augustine to Guardini, and on down the line, the author draws a map of the many signs of vocation, the signs of a discourse that summons us from ahead of ourselves, and which only because of distraction are we unable to read at times. Vocation, however, could not even be recognized unless it is awaited or expected. Therefore, it cannot be added on afterwards, but must already be there in the form of our expectation.

In the second chapter (The Epistemology of Vocation) the author assesses the validity of the principle of circularity between vocation and expectation. He proposes two models of interpretation: the “step by step format” and the vocation–expectation format. The former unfolds by virtue of accumulation: first reason and then faith, first the economy and then ethics, first justice and then charity, first nature and then the supernatural, etc. The latter, however, asserts that whatever ordinarily comes afterwards must already be present from the beginning as expectation, and hence faith is the vocation of reason, ethics is the vocation of the economy, charity is the vocation of justice, and the supernatural is the vocation of nature, etc. Innovative indeed is the material  in this chapter, especially for the faith-reason relationship.

In the third chapter (The Anthropology of vocation) the author delves into the vocation–expectation format in the structure of the human person. As Buber said, we are all “called”, and as de Lubac writes: “It is necessary to be looked upon in order to be enlightened”. Being person is “to be entrusted with an (interior) office”, and hence “the summons to personal life is vocation”. Three are the ambits in which the author verifies the structure of expectation and vocation: human nature, conscience, relatedness. The result is surprising: considered from this viewpoint these three dimensions of the person cast off many of the features for which they are customarily criticized and rejuvenate, revealing a new freshness comprehensible to today’s mentality as well.

In the fourth chapter (Original sin as a political problem) the author states: “Modernity issued forth from the refusal of original sin and therefore considers Christianity to be useful at the most, but no longer indispensable. To the question if human nature is self-sufficient, modernity responds ‘yes’. To the question whether reason is fully reason without the faith, modernity responds ‘yes’, and this to the extent that it has given life to many philosophies that have foreseen the extinction of religion as necessary. Modern rationalism entails the self-sufficiency of reason. This is why the supernatural and the faith are deemed superfluous, nothing more than an addition to a picture already complete in itself, an unnecessary ‘something more’, and therefore perhaps useful but not essential”. Original sin therefore says ‘no’ to any vocation. Beginning from this assumption the chapter depicts a powerful fresco of political modernity as characterized by the refusal of original sin, and the references are Horkheimer and Del Noce, Gilson and Guardini, Maritain and Ratzinger, Kant and Spaemann.

In the fifth chapter (Politics of vocation) we read: “If goods are but goods, if the economy is only economy, if being together only means being in the close vicinity of one another, if work is only production and progress growth alone. . .if nothing “calls” all those realities to be something more, social relations will just implode. If everything is due to chance or need man remains deaf and nothing in his life speaks to him or reveals itself to him. Society will then be nothing more than a mere sum of individuals and not a true community. We can produce motives or reasons for being in close vicinity to one another, but we cannot produce motives or reasons for being brothers”. The community comes into being and develops only by virtue of a call. The theme of expectation and vocation is projected here in four moments: first through an analysis of Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate looked upon as an encyclical of vocation; secondly as clarification of the issue of laicity in politics; thirdly as the priority of duties over rights insofar as the former are the vocation of the latter, and fourthly as the development of the principle of subsidiarity, which has meaning only as the guarantee for the spaces of responsible liberty where the response to one’s vocation takes place.

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In the Introduction the author had written: “This small book is most pretentious. It would like to flag – nothing more than flag, and that’s why it is a small book – the main problem faced by man today, and that’s why I call it pretentious. It strives to highlight this problem as a problem of vocation, and then tackle it first of all from a phenomenological point of view by examining vocation’s manifestations in our life, and then from both an anthropological point of view and a political one. The purpose is above all to indicate the way to invert this tendency, because man deaf to vocation no longer knows where to go”.