All posts tagged: Jesus Christ

Kneeling Theology: Believing in Order to See Scripture

At the very center of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, both as pope and as a private theologian, is an awareness of the absolute necessity of the conversion of one’s whole self to Christ within the wider communal life of the Church. According to Lieven Boeve, conversion is for Ratzinger “the most fundamental structure of the Christian faith . . . In almost all of his writings from the 1960’s to the 1980’s this theme surfaces over and over again.”[1] It is an essential element of the Christian state of life, because at the heart of Christianity stands the person of Jesus Christ, the Christian’s recognition that he is not Christ, and the incessant clarion call that one must become more and more subsumed into Christ’s very life and person. And, if one hears and accepts the call to conversion and commits the whole of one’s self to God time and again, then by the grace of God one acquires a certain holiness of life. Faith, conversion, and holiness, then, all go hand-in-hand with one …

The Stare of Medusa and the Return Gaze of Christ

It is just one of Nietzsche’s many bon mots that if one stares at evil long enough it looks back. As is usual with Nietzsche there is an implied boast. We divide into the strong and the weak depending on whether we can or are willing to endure this look or looking back. Nietzsche leaves us in no doubt as to which camp he belongs in, even if with all the bravado about amor fati we sometimes get the impression in reading him that he is expecting as much our pity as our admiration. Still, the aphorism is powerful, and it is powerful not only because it is scintillating in its expression, but because it is experientially apt. Over the centuries, as they looked at and into the world, victims as well as victimizers have experienced the force of that look or counter-look that announced that all hope should be abandoned and that our abused flesh empty itself of everything that makes it human and all will to be human. With regard to victims we …

Introduction to Christianity: Bestseller Around the World

In the winter semester of 1900, the Lutheran, liberal-minded theologian Adolf von Harnack gave in sixteen lectures, at the University of Berlin, a course designed for students from all the faculties entitled ‘‘The Essence of Christianity,’’[1] which recalled the title of a work by Ludwig Feuerbach, published in 1841. The lectures were soon collected in a volume that became a classic of Lutheran theology, one of the cornerstones of liberal thought against which Karl Barth thundered. Where Feuerbach proved to be destructive, Harnack turned out to be reductive, subjecting God to the measure of man, who ended up taking the upper hand over God’s own holiness. Later, in the late 1920s, in Tübingen, a Catholic dogmatic theologian, Karl Adam, also gave a lecture course on the nature of Catholicism.[2] In opposition to modernism, Adam argued that the Catholic Church is a community capable of acting and suffering, of praying and loving, of growing and preserving unity. Moreover, it has grown enormously since A.D. 33, the year of Jesus’ death, but at the same time has …

What Did Pope Francis Mean to Say with His Strange Abuse Crisis Letter?

I was received into the Roman Catholic Church exactly one calendar year before Pope Francis published his letter in response to the most recent paroxysm over the Church’s sexual abuse scandal and its cover up.[1] I have been a Christian my entire life, at once nurtured in the Gospel message that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” and recurrently disappointed by the faithlessness and callous immorality of Christians. About a decade of appropriating the Catholic intellectual tradition finally folded me into the Roman flock (though marrying a Latina Catholic from Texas played a role as well). The small boat of Pietist Evangelicalism in which I was raised welcomed philosophy and theological speculation, but the broader Evangelical sea by which it was tossed contained an aged Leviathan of anti-intellectualism. Along the way, I learned from Catholic thinkers about intellectual persistence, hermeneutical charity, patience of judgment, and how to distinguish reflections that are exciting in implication from those that are reliable in their conclusions. In light of recent revelations and accusations, I have felt a terrible …

Modern Biology’s Contribution to Our Understanding of Christ’s Sufferings

It is common to come across internet articles, television documentaries, or advertisements for books in the days and weeks preceding Easter detailing scientifically the nature and extent of the sufferings experienced by Christ during his Passion. From these you graduate from a notional apprehension of the sufferings of Christ understood abstractly and instead begin to grasp his Passion more realistically and painfully. For example, one might read of the tremendous suffering that Christ endured while his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross, which would have pierced a number of major nerves, sending waves of excruciating pain up and down his limbs. Each and every breath on the Cross would have become more and more difficult and agonizing, since to breathe while nailed to the Cross entailed using the nails in his wrists as leverage against which to lift his body to inhale and exhale. Or, to use another example, some scientists estimate that Christ would have lost anywhere from a quarter to a third of his blood supply by being scourged at the …

Work: A Four-Letter Word?

There is a certain ambiguity in Scripture about the meaning and value of labor, and I am aware of no clear and positive statement on the subject by the Church. Rerum novarum and Quadragesima anno just don’t really approach the subject, and especially not from a more modern scriptural viewpoint. What I have to suggest on this topic hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of what the idea of work might be for a Catholic, but I do think it might open up some avenues for thought. Genesis has God laboring for six days and then resting (Gen 2:1–4), although this does not seem to mean that labor is tiring even for God; it seems rather to show him as a model for our freedom on the Sabbath day, a gift God gives us by his example. Genesis 3:17–19, on the other hand, takes the position that labor is indeed a curse, at least in the way that Adam and Eve would have to do it after the Fall. Job takes a very negative view of …

A Prayer for the Rich?

David Bentley Hart has done us a great service by sharing his expertise as a biblical scholar in his informative background essay on debt structures in human and biblical history, “A Prayer for the Poor.” In it he establishes a context that Christ’s original hearers would have been steeped in, but which, as he points out, is too easily missed by over-spiritualized readings of the Gospels. Expounding on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which he persuasively argues are rooted in remarkably concrete needs, Hart lambastes common interpretations that would cushion the conscience by reducing this most famous Christian prayer to a set of “vague, ethereal, painless pieties.” Something is indeed wrong if one can recite such a prayer while perpetuating injustice against the needy with no sense of discomfort or disconnect. Much as we need such a reminder against spiritualizing away the prayer’s meaning, a problem arises when Hart at times veers into the opposite reductionism toward the purely material. Perhaps this material reduction is based on translation principles that assume a singular, static …

Dissecting Jesus

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ . . . and the Mystical Body of Christ is the Church. I cannot remember the number of times I had to explain this to my ecclesiology classes: “The Church is . . . ?” (Without alacrity) “. . . the Mystical Body of Christ.” While this was our hymn in ecclesiology, I hoped that my students would find themselves saying this as they did their homework, prayed, or most especially, when they had the opportunity to evangelize. But an oft-repeated statement reared its proverbial ugly head every month or so: “I don’t need the Church to be close to Jesus.” (On one occasion I quipped, “You don’t need a parachute to jump out of an airplane, but it helps.”) In our globalized society, we are used to a brisk work or school environment, fast food, and virtually unbridled capitalism. In our free market of ideas, we have the option to pick and choose what appeals to us. Especially in a post-modern context, the unchangeable Truth which …

Fatherhood and the Eucharist

Father’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of fatherhood. Rather than becoming enmeshed in secular images of fatherhood, our notion of fatherhood as Christians should be derived from God the Father. Likewise, the archetype of gift within the child-father relationship is revealed in the Eucharistic sacrifice. On this holiday, we give cards, special meals, our time, a new toolbox, or other gifts to show gratitude and love. Like most holidays, Father’s Day can easily be overcome by consumerism and a superficial image of fatherhood. Consumerism and superficiality can morph the idea of gift into something entirely disconnected from the I-thou relationship. A gift is intimately connected to the I-thou relationship because a gift is something both offered and received by persons. It becomes the expression of the gratuitous love that one has for one’s father. I would like to suggest that our concept of gift can be seen anew in light of the Eucharist. Because gift implies offering, we can turn to Christ’s sacrificial self-offering on the Cross as the perfect gift. …

Nourishing the Imaginations of the Young Church

In seeking to capacitate young people for mature lives of faith, Notre Dame Vision offers an opportunity for young people and the adults who minister to them to encounter the fullness of Jesus Christ revealed in the Scriptures, the sacramental life, and in communion with the Body of Christ—the Church. Keynote speakers, small group discussions, prayer experiences, and personal reflection cultivate a vision of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who captivates their imaginations and calls them to respond with the witness of their lives. In the opening session of the week the high school students and adults who serve them gather together to hear Jesus, the Word, ask us: “Are you listening?” In the high school Vision program, the high school students and their college-age Mentors-in-Faith build communities focused on listening to the Word of God, to each other, and to ourselves. Meanwhile, the adult campus and youth ministers form community that fosters a disposition of receptivity to the Word, attentiveness to the workings of grace in our lives, and commitment to a renewal …