Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Catholicism is the oldest and the fullest expression of Christianity. Under the inspiration and protection of the Holy Spirit, this small mustard seed has spread its branches through every facet of human life. It so permeates the life of its followers that everything is sacred, everything is sacramental, and everything is a visible sign of the invisible God.
This great fecundity which is the glory of the Church, unfortunately, can also become a snare for its members. Not all of the truths are equally important. There is a hierarchy of truths. At the center is the essential truth, and then fanning out from the center are the peripheral truths, diminishing in importance as they distance themselves from the center. The snare and the danger is that we could make one of the peripheral truths the center of our lives and thus become eccentric. This would indeed be a tragedy because we only have a limited amount of time and energy, and we don’t want to spend it spinning our wheels on the periphery. Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for doing just that.
To avoid this rebuke of our Lord we must get back to the center, to the essential truth. This essential truth is the Incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1-14) The Word is Jesus. Jesus is the center and the heart of Christianity. Jesus is the final and definitive revelation of God. The entire content of Christianity has been abstracted from the person and life of Jesus. Jesus is the greatest expression of both the love of God for us and at the same time the greatest expression of the human response to that love.
Jesus is the medium and the message. In Jesus the medium is the message. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “Come follow me.” “Learn of me that I am meek and humble of heart.” “Come to me all you who labor and I will give your rest.” “It is I, be not afraid.” “My peace I give to you.” “No one comes to the Father but by me.” “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to myself.” “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
All through the Gospel the question is who is this man who speaks with authority, goes right to the heart of the matter, is no respecter of persons and goes around doing good, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, forgiving the sinner and raising the dead to life? Who is this man who has so captivated the people that the high priest says that this man must die because the whole world has gone out after him? Obviously, he was human. He was like unto us in all things but sin. He ate and he slept, was hungry and thirsty, was angry and sad, suffered fatigue and temptation, he worked and he prayed, he suffered and he died. But he was more than human. As someone said, “Only God could be so human.”
The same Jesus, who obeyed Mary and Joseph at Nazareth, commanded the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee. The same Jesus, who asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, changed water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana. The same Jesus who was hungry fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish. The same Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee walked on water. The same Jesus, who sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, was Transfigured on Mount Tabor. The same Jesus, who died on the cross, rose on the third day.
The New Testament reveals graphically that to be a Christian is to be committed to Jesus. The Apostles were not captivated and transformed by abstract ideas but by the person of Jesus. The faith of Simon Peter was in Jesus. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the holy one of God.” The faith of Paul also was firmly rooted in Jesus. “I have been crucified with Christ; yet, I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; in so far as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Even the doubting Thomas confessed that Jesus was, “My Lord and my God.” At the Coronation of Simon Peter as the first Pope on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias Jesus did not ask him if he was more virtuous, more learned or more productive than the others. He asked, “Simon, do you love me more than these?”
The faith of St. Ignatius was in Jesus. At Montserrat he transferred his allegiance from Charles, the King of Spain, to Jesus, the King of Kings. He insisted that the Society be called the Society of Jesus. In the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises he asks, “What have I done for Jesus, what am I doing for Jesus and what ought I to do for Jesus.” Throughout the Second Week he petitions for the grace “to know Jesus more intimately, love him more ardently and follow him more closely.”
But, you ask, what about the Pope and the Bishops, the Church, the Sacraments, the Mass, the Eucharist, the Liturgical Year, the Creed, Mary and the Saints? The Pope and Bishops are the representatives of Jesus, the Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus, the Sacraments are the actions of Jesus, the Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Liturgical Year re-presents the life of Jesus, the Creed is the teaching of Jesus, Mary is the mother of Jesus and the Saints are the disciples of Jesus. Without Jesus it is all a hollow, empty ritual.
The tragedy is that we can get so overwhelmed by a lust for knowledge, for abstract truths and such a concern for orthodoxy, canon law, liturgical rubrics, reconfiguration and trying to strategically discern the greater good that we forget Jesus. We forget that our moral life is influenced more by significant persons in our lives, and how closely we identify with them, than it is influenced by explicit moral laws and instructions. The commitment to Jesus structures our lives, unifies our day to day decisions and brings with it a sense of fulfillment. It is not only expressive of the person I am, it is also creative of the person I will become. It is the kenosis, the secret of our happiness, which comes from losing our self in the love and service of Jesus. What an inestimable grace to be called, even though a sinner, to be a Christian, to be a companion of Jesus!
BELIEVE -> BEHAVE -> BECOME
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