Monday, February 23, 2015

Believing in the Gospel
Jesus of Nazareth (2007)
Jesus' opening words in Mark's Gospel ring out, from the first Sunday of Lent 2015 through today:  "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel"  (Mk 1:15).

But what does "believing in the Gospel" mean during an age dominated by historical-critical study of the Scriptures?  Many Christians who are not scriptural fundamentalist seem to have only a shaky confidence in the credibility of the Scriptures as the living word of God.  More than a few people have a lurking sense that we are not really sure what Jesus said or did.  After all, isn't there an almost insurmountable rift between "the Jesus of History" (i.e., who he really was and what he really did) and "the Christ of Faith" (i.e., what the first Christians claimed about him)? 

The subversive suggestion is that we can know only a few isolated fragments of what Jesus himself may have taught, since the rest is buried under layers of beliefs added by the early Church.  In his magisterial meditation entitled Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI boldly addresses this issue.  Indeed, he speaks to the corrosive impact which a certain approach to historical-critical scholarship has had on Christian confidence regarding the Scriptures:

"All these attempts have produced a common result: the impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus and that only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we have of him.  This impression has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people at large.  This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt:  Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air."  (Jesus of Nazareth, xii; emphasis added)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lean into Lent

Isn't it amazing that people still flock to Catholic churches around the world on Ash Wednesday to hear God's startling words from chapter three of the Book of Genesis, "you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:19)?!

In the Scriptures, the original context of these words is the fall of the human race: Tempted to "become like gods" by the evil spirit, who is himself envious of their intimacy with the Lord, the first man and woman "take and eat" in direct opposition to God's one fundamental law.  In so doing, human beings become the authors of death itself and the sources of their own suffering, just as the Lord God had forewarned.

However, before naming these consequences of their actions and reminding them of their new found mortality, the Lord God asks the fundamental question which should launch us into Lent even today, "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9).  It is not a question of physical or geographic location, of course, but one of profound spiritual and personal significance. 

Where am I on my journey of life at the start of Lent 2015?   Where am I in relationship to God, who longs for a greater intimacy with me personally?  How does the Lord God want to use this Lent to reshape me into his masterpiece? 

It seems unlikely that the scores of people who are drawn to Ash Wednesday simply want to hear a reminder of their own frailty and mortality.  No, it seems much more likely that they long to hear an invitation to reclaim their full dignity and their God-given immortality.  Just as Adam and Eve once walked in intimacy with our Creator, so Lent seems to offer the real possibility of a renewed relationship with God.  We sense a promise of divine assistance in answering that troubling question, "Where are you?"; we sense the chance for real change and the hope of lasting health.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Are you KIDDING me?

Even a cursory reading of the Gospels confirms that Jesus was not just some nice guy telling people to try to be good (if they can).

Rather, throughout the Gospels, Jesus shocks and amazes people wherever he goes.  They exclaim,  "What is this?  A new teaching with authority" (Mk 1:27), and "We have never seen anything like this" (Mk 2:12).  Demons and unclean spirits cry out in his presence.  Even Jesus' extended relatives turn on him:  So disturbed are they by his words and actions, they try to seize him and offer the following assessment: "He is out of his mind" (Mk 3:21).

So, which of Jesus' sayings would be most likely to elicit such an "are-you-kidding-me" reaction today?  Here are several contenders; they are either evidence of Jesus' insanity or confirmation that God himself has spoken:

Monday, February 2, 2015

Celebrating Consecrated Life

My family was blessed to have become friends with two amazing Benedictine sisters from Tanzania.  They spent several years studying in the U.S., and when they would join us for family gatherings, it was as if you could feel the joy entering the room!

Of course, if you have had the chance to meet any of the Nashville Dominican sisters (or sisters from any of the other growing religious communities, for that matter), you have probably had a similar experience.  A typical response would go something like this:  "Whatever--or Whomever--they have, I want!"

Unfortunately, most people do not have regular contact with such vibrant and Spirit-filled religious women or men.  This is problematic on a personal level because it is difficult for young people to respond to a call to religious life without a lived experience of how beautiful it can be.  It is even more problematic on a communal level, however, since the renewal of the Church--and thereby of the world--is intimately linked to the renewal of consecrated life.

Widely acknowledged as the "great reformer," Pope Francis clearly sees this connection.  His call for a "Year of Consecrated Life" intends to refocus Jesus' followers on this great gift to the Church and to the world.  Indeed, by designating February 2nd as The World Day for Consecrated Life, the universal Church not only celebrates those who have previously committed themselves to vows of consecration, but also lifts up an alternative way of life for our consideration.