On Wednesdays I teach eighth grade confirmation at St Joseph’s Catholic School and RCIA in the evening, and it is curious and sweet to observe how often one class cross fertilizes the other.
This week we are discussing the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ and it struck me that the Catholic approach to the life of Christ is so different from many Protestant approaches. The Liberal Protestant approach begins with Jesus the Rabbi, Jesus the healer, Jesus the worker for Peace and Justice–essentially Jesus the good person. It goes from there to expound his death and often his death is portrayed as that of a martyr to a cause. The resurrection is almost an afterthought…You can’t keep a good man down…sort of thing.
The conservative Evangelical approach is different. There the death of Jesus is the focus and the supernatural accomplishment and redemption is the main emphasis. The ministry and teaching of Christ is almost forgotten in some Evangelical Protestant circles. This presents a supernatural divine being who descends to earth to redeem humanity and then returns to heaven.
To put these two approaches into the ancient world the first would be Arian (Jesus is essentially a good human being–even a god like person) The second is Gnostic (Jesus is a divine being who sort of floats through the world only seeming to be human)
The Catholic approach to the Life of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery–the Cross and Resurrection, then looks back to the life of Christ and sees every aspect of the human life of Jesus as mystery that reveals the Son of God. This aspect of ‘mystery’ is increasingly profound for me. In my classes I define mystery as ‘that which can be experienced even if it cannot be explained.’
The Catholic Church thinks through the different theological theories of the Atonement, but it eventually puts them on one side and proposes that we enter into the mystery of Christ who is God revealed through his humanity. The Catechism says that the humanity of Christ was the instrument through which his divine love was activated. In other words, every aspect of Christ’s life from the Annunciation through the Ascension was redemptive and charged with the grandeur and mystery of God’s work of salvation.
We enter into this mystery not through theological speculation alone, but through a sacramental fusion with the mystery. It enters into us and we enter into it. Christ in me and me in Christ. We do this through the sacrament of the Church –Christ’s body. We do this through the life of the sacraments and through the devotional life of prayer.
The result of this sacramental transaction is ‘theosis’ the transformation of ourselves, our souls and our bodies into living icons of Christ. The gospel cannot be understood without the lives of the saints, and Pope Benedict has said that ‘the Scriptures can only be interpreted through the lives of the saints.’
I find this exciting and it fills me with hope. There is a chance that even yet this poor sinner might also be transformed by grace.
Behold I tell you a mystery we shall all be changed.
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