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Tag Archive: Jesus Christ

Note that neither Origen nor Augustine nor Jerome was writing for tenure or to impress an academic audience

Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011 (4:45 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, October 1st, 2011:

Fr. Robert Barron, from the Introduction to his book, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 1996), on the pastoral character of pre-Scholastic theology:

[P]rior to 1300, that is, from the earliest centuries of the church up until the time of Thomas Aquinas, there was no significant split between theology (talk about God) and spirituality. many of the significant spiritual masters of the patristic period – Origen, Augustine, pseudo-Dionysius, Ambrose – were what we would call theologians. All of these figures were interested, finally, in the transformation, conversion,  and salvation of human beings. Their theology was not abstract speculation for its own sake; on the contrary, it was a sort of spiritual direction, an attempt to lure people into the imitation of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that neither Origen nor Augustine nor Jerome was writing for tenure or to impress an academic audience. Instead, they were writing, first and foremost, as pastors, passionately interested in the salvation of souls. Even the most challenging, philosophically oriented texts in the Fathers – and there are plenty of them – are meant, not simply to illumine the mind, but to open the heart. It seems to me that if one had asked St. Augustine to distinguish between his theological writings and his “spiritual” writings, the saint would have been at a loss.

I had been reading a number of glowing reviews of Fr. Barron’s recent documentary film and companion book, Catholicism, and in searching a library catalog in hopes of finding one or the other, came across this earlier volume on Aquinas, whose enthralling metaphysical thought was still fresh in my mind from my recent reading of W. Norris Clarke’s The One and the Many. I had to at least give it a look. The early verdict: it’s a great little (<200 pages) offering, from the Crossroad’s Spiritual Legacy series.

The passage above got me thinking a bit about the strange dichotomies that seem to dominate modern opinion regarding matters religious, such as the popular juxtaposition of “religion” (or sometimes “organized religion”) and “spirituality”; the preceding, Barthian juxtaposition of “religion” and “faith”; its preceding, Reformed juxtaposition of law and gospel; the religiously hostile or even oppressive interpretation of Church/State separation language in American jurisprudence; and the ever-present gnostic dichotomizing of body/soul dualism. All of these dichotomies seem to be to be essentially gnostic,and I wonder to what extent this thinking can be traced back to the professionalizing of theology into a largely academic field.

The kind of pastorally integrated theology Barron attributes to antiquity is precisely the kind of theology I’d like to practice. Now, I don’t find later theology, as a rule, to be at all devoid of pastorally fruitful “spirituality”, but that may be in part due to my personal constitution, and I can certainly grasp a clear distinction between literature that would be categorized as “theological” and that which would be categorized as “spiritual writing” – my own library is divided in exactly that way.

Nonetheless, I see it as a point well worth taking that these two components or aspects of the encounter with God need to be integrated properly: the intellectual musings of the Christian should be grounded in a fierce and personal love for Jesus Christ and His Church, just as the spiritual journey of the Christian must be rooted in sound doctrine if it is going to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This exact thought has been on my mind for the past week or so, as I’ve begun again my catechetical duties teaching Christian doctrine to the parish children (8th graders this year). Too often, it seems that we are trying to inculcate “law” in those unaware of the existence of “gospel”, and perhaps even oblivious of its need.

One way to put it would be this: these youth-oriented programs need more kerygma to give life to the didache.

I’m going to kill you! HA HA HA!

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 (10:35 pm), by John W Gillis


I find the readings for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Lent to be among the most exhilarating collections of readings for the Mass, with its recurring promises of resurrection culminating in the Gospel story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the tomb. I reflected quite a bit on them over the weekend of the 5th Sunday, and during the following week, I came across what I guess is by now a well-traveled “sermon jam” drawn from recordings of Ravi Zacharias, which asks what, for Christians, should perhaps be considered the fundamental question that arises from Lazarus having arisen:

 

 

This is the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him fearlessly; holy and righteous all the days of our lives. (Luke 2:73-75)

Revitalizing Catholic Education?

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 (11:40 pm), by John W Gillis


On this feast day of Saint John Neuman, the great champion of Catholic education in America, I want to give a shout-out to St. Jerome’s Catholic Classical School in Hyattsville, Maryland. This school, like so many other modern Catholic parochial schools, was facing almost certain closing not long ago. A recent article from insidecatholic.com tells the story of what happened after the archdiocesan consultation at the parish in consideration of the school’s future:

Multiple parishioners approached [school principal] Donoghue and [pastor] Father Stack, arguing that what the parish needed was a more rigorous curriculum and authentic Catholic spirit. One of the loudest of these voices was that of Michael Hanby, a professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Hanby had lately been introduced to a local homeschooling community’s miniature school, known as the Crittenden Academy, which had inspired him to write an essay describing his philosophy on the subject. That November evening, attending the consultation and listening to the parish’s presentation, he recalls thinking, "I’m not sure that the school they just described is really worth saving."

Following the meeting, Hanby sent a letter saying as much to Father Stack, including a copy of his essay on education and emphasizing that "a wonderful birthright [was] being denied" the children of the community. Students needed, he argued, "to love thinking and to have something noble to think about," but Catholic schools had instead "drifted toward a public school model." His essay, Donoghue recalls, presented "a good analysis of where Catholic education had gotten off track," and she was impressed with its proposed remedies.

The parish had the sense to abandon the sterile and futile public school framework for their school, and go back to the future to adopt a classical model of education for K-8. The apparent result has been a vibrant, successful school which incorporates the reality of God in Christ into the fabric of life, overcoming the bizarre dissociation modernity imposes between creation and Creator by treating “religion” as if it were one among several more interesting “subjects” occupying compartments in the life of the analyzed self.

Truth be told, I’ve been disappointed with my experience with my local parochial school, Saint Paul’s in Wellesley, because it has long struck me as being not a whole lot more than a public school with a Catholic veneer – such as First Friday Masses, and “religion” classes daily, instead of weekly CCD fiascos – errr, classes. I know there are other important differences – mostly things that one happily won’t find at Saint Paul’s, plus an overall vastly higher level of behavior from the children – but there’s still so many arrows left in the quiver. What Saint Jerome’s is doing, I truly hope represents the beginnings of a broad revitalization of Catholic education in the US:

The curriculum emphasizes the conviction that human culture expresses the natural desire for God, and that Christianity is therefore historically and culturally decisive. Curriculum committee member Rebecca Teti says, "Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, and God is the author of truth, beauty, and goodness. We wanted kids to see their unity, their connectedness to all people, and the goodness [Catholic] culture has brought to history."

Hanby adds, "Christ cannot ultimately be the center of students’ lives if He is not at the center of history and existence and if He does not satisfy the longings implanted in them. The public-school-education-plus-religion-class model ends up reinforcing the impression that religion has little to do with real life. We wanted to overcome the separation of faith and life by showing how profoundly Christ and the Church have affected history and culture — and by giving students something better to love."

God Did Not Make Us to Remain Within the Limits of Nature

Posted: Sunday, January 2, 2011 (11:58 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for January 2nd, 2011:

Henri De Lubac, writing on the nature of the Church, in The Splendor of the Church, p. 237 in the 1999 Ignatius edition:

God did not make us “to remain within the limits of nature” or for the fulfilling of a solitary destiny; on the contrary, he made us to be brought together into the heart of the life of the Trinity. Christ offered himself in sacrifice so that we might be one in that unity of the divine Persons (Jn 17:19-23). That is to be the “recapitulation”, “regeneration”, and “consummation” of all things, and anything outside that which exerts a pull over us is a thing of deception (Jn 17:23; 1Cor 15:28). But there is a place where this gathering  together of all things in the Trinity begins in this world; “a family of God”, a mysterious extension of the Trinity in time, which not only prepares us for this life of union and gives us a sure guarantee of it (Eph 2:19; 1Tim 3:15; 1Pet 4:17), but also makes us participate in it already.

As the new year begins in the waning of the Christmas season, it is good to recall just what the Incarnation was willed by God to effect: the “consummation” of all things in the very life of God. And it is equally important to recall that it is through the agency of the Church that this transformation – this “theosis,” or divinization of created man – is willed by God to be effected in history. Let that mind-boggling truth be a daily reflection for the new year…

O Rex Gentium

Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 (10:33 pm), by John W Gillis


“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (O Antiphon for Dec 22nd)

Of all the titles of Christ given in these antiphons, I find the notion expressed in today’s antiphon the most difficult to see my way clear to. The others all seem to allow a kind of "religious" perspective to them – “light” and “wisdom” and other even more abstract ideas. I don’t mean by that to contrast the obvious political character of the idea of King of nations against "religion" as if religion were a non-political aspect of life – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I do not see how political life can be lived apart from religion, and political approaches that seek to marginalize religion cannot suppress "religion" itself, but only religious virtues and particular religious character – leaving an impoverished shell in place that is not some kind of non-religion, but a caricature of religion, set in the service of the prevailing ideology. No society is possible without some kind of shared framework of values and belief.

Instead, what I mean by the "religious perspective" of the first five titles in the sequence is almost the same thing as their political potentiality. What I mean is that they can be viewed as possessing some particular meaning, in some way, to a people to whom they appear not to be addressed. What I mean is that there are ways to see them in a less-than-catholic, less-than-universal light. That’s simply not the case with the antiphon today.

In proclaiming Christ "King of all the nations," there is only a total, subject "us" to be found; there is no "them." In this view, there is really only one relationship of true otherness, and that is the relationship between God and His People – and even that is transcended in Christ, as we explicitly celebrate in tomorrow’s antiphon.

O Clavis David

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010 (6:30 am), by John W Gillis


“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” (O Antiphon for Dec. 20th)

The antiphon today focuses on the authority of Christ:

The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens Revelation 3:7 (HCSB)

No small part of a genuine faith in Christ must be the hope that His authority is real and actual. Admittedly, it’s not entirely evident that such is the case. We indeed proclaim Him King (not just King-elect), and we know His law well enough, yet it is abundantly clear that He is not calling the shots in this world on a day-to-day basis – or at least that very few people pay the so-called King much heed.

It will not suffice to say that His time of authority within the historical sphere is yet to come, for the Gospel tells us plainly that He delegated His authority, to Peter (cf Mt 16:19), precisely for the sake of being exercised "on earth," within history. Yet, even many Christians today do not recognize that authority in Peter, insofar as the Petrine authority continues to be delegated down through the generations in history. Protestations that the delegation of authority was intended to be less personal and more broadly apostolic are empty, because, well, even if this were true – and were every bishop in the world to speak with one voice – the world would still yawn, along with many self-styled Christians, Catholic or otherwise.

The fact remains that the manifestation of Christ’s authority, delegated or not, seems far off. It is this manifestation that we pray for when we say "Come, Lord." But we should not be so naive as to think that the judgment executed at His coming will be as indifferent to justice as is the contemporary regime of public order, which ignores His authority (delegated or not).

And if that is true, then should we be so eager for His coming? For whether we are prepared for judgment ourselves or not, should we be so indifferent to the forthcoming judgment of others as to seek the coming of the Lord in times which are so notoriously unjust and indifferent to Christ’s Lordship?

O Radix Jesse

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010 (4:13 pm), by John W Gillis


“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” (O Antiphon for Dec. 19th)

 

The idea of the "root of Jesse" in Scripture is an interesting one, with a meaning that seems a bit fluid. The natural meaning of "root" is, unsurprisingly, a source or foundation. But as imagery, it also beckons to new growth coming forth from a devastated stump – as if that which grows from the root can be called the root, in the same way that people carry the names of their ancestors. It’s also associated with first fruits offerings.

Jesus complicates this meaning in Mt 22:45 (and parallels) when he says: “If David calls Him ‘Lord,’ how then can the Messiah be his Son?” (HCSB). “Root” takes on characters both etiological and eschatological.

Another “root of Jesse” we find in Scripture is Ruth: a woman of truly great character, as we see in her devotion to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, and to Naomi’s God. It strikes me how much of that same fierce loyalty seems to have made it into the blood of David, when he repeatedly demonstrates in his devotion to Saul, to Jonathan, and to the Lord. There’s a lot of Ruth in David, and I have little doubt that the contemporaries of the young Jesus said something similar of Him: "there’s a lot Mary in that boy." The apple never falls far from the tree, indeed.

Not the Sort of Divinity One Would Sketch

Posted: Thursday, December 9, 2010 (8:35 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Thursday, December 9th, 2010:

Mark T. Coppenger, from the article The Perennial Challenge to Inerrancy in the Fall 2010 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine:

Whenever I read that someone like Freud or Feuerbach says that God’s a comforting figment or projection of our imagination, I wonder if they’ve ever read the Bible. For our God is not prone to indulge earthly conceits and agendas. Rather, He is insulting, intrusive, inconvenient and insistent – not the sort of divinity one would sketch if left to his own devices.

Amen to that! I’m always baffled by the God-as-crutch sneers that emanate from the depths of unbelief. The God of Biblical (and Christic) Revelation is demanding and challenging – to say the least.

A common corollary to this is the “Jesus was so nice, but you’re so mean” meme (often accompanied by a claim that the “Old Testament God” is not the same as the “New Testament God”).

My favorite? “Jesus invited everyone to his table.” Ummm, Jesus was an itinerant preacher who didn’t own a rock to lay his sleepy head on, never mind a table. Rather, he invited himself to eat at others’ tables, and then told them to stop sinning or they would spend eternity suffering in hell. The only thing he offered at his “table” was his own body and blood- an offer most people found so repugnant they turned and walked away.

Not much has changed in 2,000 years…

Celebrating Christ’s Redemption and Immortality?

Posted: Saturday, December 4, 2010 (8:29 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, December 4th, 2010:

Handel and Haydn Society Artistic Director Harry Christophers, from the Conductor’s Notes in the program for this season’s performance of Handel’s Messiah:

When listening to our performance, take note of [librettist Charles] Jennens’ amazing contribution. We need only look back to mediaeval carols where texts take us from Christ’s nativity through to his crucifixion and resurrection but Jennens takes us further – his is a unique journey which takes us from prophecies of Christ’s coming through the Nativity to Christ’s suffering, his resurrection, ascension to the Kingdom of God and finally to that amazing and jubilant epilogue celebrating Christ’s redemption and immortality.

Huh? Such palaver is the price one pays, I suppose, when the chattering class wanders into the sanctuary.

My wife and I yesterday took in, for the first time, the Handel and Haydn Society’s annual performance of the Messiah – their 156th consecutive year of performing it in Boston! H&H is a very talented ensemble, and the performance of guest alto Catherine Wyn-Rogers was memorable, yet I must confess to having had a hard time getting comfortable during much of the show.

concert-messiah-smI was haunted all night by the probably well-founded suspicion that most of the assembled – of both performers and audience – were engaging this magnificent musical setting of these sacred texts as if it were some kind of fashionably quaint fairy tale, which could just as well have been swapped out for some Italian opera with a snow-elf intoning candy-cane cantatas.

Not surprisingly, good folk complained back in Handel’s day that the theatre was no place for the presentation of such content. I understand the sentiment: I love the piety of the work, but when the presentation substitutes artistic sentimentality for its inherent piety, it is like salt that has lost its flavor.

In one of his many teachings that sounds too offensive to modern ears to be much remembered or mentioned these days, the Lord tells us: "Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you” (Mt 7:6, RSV). Again, that might sound harsh, but it’s self-evident that Christ was actually being charitable, as he, by nature, always is. Offering strange fire has never worked out well for anyone.

I tried to enjoy the concert, and I am still trying to reconcile the experience into a true satisfaction, but I can’t quite escape the sense that the aesthetic magnificence obscured a careless trampling of the Pearl of the Word. What you mean matters more than the aesthetic form of what you render, needless to say.

Reconciling the World

Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 (9:53 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Tuesday, Nov. 30:

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from “The Sacrament of the Brother,” in The God Question & Modern Man, 1958:

The opposition between what is profane and what is sacred is indeed fully justified in its place, else there could be no movement. Yet in this openness and this reciprocally flowing movement the opposition is transcended by the unity of him in whom and for whom all things have been created, and who has therefore been charged by the Father to bring them home.

Nevertheless, a man will find God in all worldly things and especially in his brother who becomes his neighbor only if he is willing to seek and find God also in himself, in the sanctuary of prayer and the Word and Sacrament of the Church, and the Church has not so much to make propaganda in the world, but above all to pray and to remain in charity.

I’ve been reading mostly von Balthasar and de Lubac in my current Ecclesiology course, and von Balthasar had an arrestingly radical vision of the reach of God’s grace, and of the Church’s role in the manifestation of God’s love for the lost and forsaken in the world. I’ve read plenty od theologians who have presented awe-inspiring visions of God; I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone possessed of such an optimistic – and charitable – sacramentalism.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (RSV)