The Jesus Effect

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – in light of Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States. This article originally appeared on February 11, 2015. 


Pope2CongressScreenshot-1024x567Much has been made of the so-called Francis Effect in the public relations game the secular media plays with the Church. At first, it seemed a boon to the Church, though the jury is still out as to its lasting impact. But even Pope Francis himself would agree that it is not the Francis Effect that we want in our lives. It is a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We want the Jesus Effect.

The name Jesus means “God saves”. We hear these phrases often – “Jesus saves” or “You must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” And these things are true. Jesus does save us from the power of sin, and he is very, very personal. He knows each one of us intimately, and longs for us to know him just as well.

In coming to know Jesus, we come to know our true selves. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We know this God has revealed himself to be nothing other than LOVE itself. God is love – we read it in John’s Gospel. We are made in the image and likeness of LOVE. When you look in the mirror, do you see LOVE looking back at you?

We all try to be loving people. And we know from experience that when we love, we are happier. If we are made in the image of LOVE, then, when we love, we are being our true selves. This is why the more we get to know Jesus, the more we come to know our true selves. We are made to love. We are made to love and to be loved. We are always loved by God – this is what enables us to know how to love others (and to actually do it!). The power of this love is far more powerful than the power of sin. Both powers are more powerful than we are. We easily become “slaves to sin” because, without the power to overcome it, we can only give in to it. But with the power of love – AH. We are no longer slaves – we are free to love, free to be our true selves. You can see why it is so important to be in relationship with Jesus always, to seek him out, and to value every encounter with him.

I struggle to find words that adequately describe the power of this love experienced in an encounter with Jesus. Powerful, yes. Safe and secure. Energizing. Liberating. I think depending on where we are in our lives and what challenges we are facing, this love will have a different effect on us. It is interesting to look at some examples from the Scriptures of people who encountered Christ, and ponder the Jesus Effect in their lives.

John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-45/ Matthew 3:13-17)

visitation-1John the Baptist first encounters Jesus while both are still in their mothers’ wombs! When Mary arrives for her visit to Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb – he leaps for joy. He recognizes the presence of Jesus, and is happy – so happy he can’t control himself. He wants to come out and play with Jesus. The joy present in that moment is immense.

Can you think of a moment when you encountered Jesus and simply experienced pure and utter joy?

This same boy who recognized Jesus from his first encounter becomes the one who facilitates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the world. John was baptizing people as they acknowledged their sins, but he was always fully aware that he was merely preparing people for their encounter with Jesus – calling them to repentance so that when the One who could forgive sin and conquer it –really take its power away – arrived, they would be ready to hand over their sins and be purified with love. John knows that Jesus does not need to be baptized for the sake of forgiving his sins – Jesus doesn’t have any! But Jesus tells him to do it anyway. The humility of John to do as he is told by Jesus, even without understanding, is rewarded with the voice of God affirming Jesus’ identity. His encounter with Jesus resulted in a trust in his way.

Can you think of a moment when you did something you felt God was calling you to do, even though it didn’t make any sense to you?

In our baptism, we die and rise with Christ – united to his Paschal Mystery. Our original sin is washed away – our lives controlled by sin dies, and a new life – freed by love – rises. Our dying and rising is united to Jesus’ death and resurrection – our lives become witnesses to the power of love over sin. Baptism is first a personal union with God – but in becoming personally united to God, we become joined to all the others who are united to God, and we love who are not yet united to God as God loves them. We desire that they, too, will come to know the love of God that we know. We become a community; we become church.

Now, just because we are baptized does not mean we are all loving and never sin. We know that’s not true! But God’s love for us is so great that he gives us many opportunities to become reunited to him. The most powerful opportunities are those we are given by participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Baptism brings us into the loving embrace of our God – the rest of the sacraments sustain us in that love. They are genuine encounters with Christ, and they have a Jesus Effect on us.

The Jesus Effect is not always one of joy. In Luke’s gospel, we meet someone who encounters Jesus and, instead of leaping for joy, breaks down in tears.

The Pardon of the Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50) is one of my favorite Scripture passages. Imagine what it must have been like to meet Jesus while he walked the earth. This woman’s response to meeting Jesus was one of utter humility and repentance. The two go hand in hand. You can’t really be repentant without being humble first. Humility enables us to acknowledge that we are not perfect. Humility is the greatest form of honesty, I think. We acknowledge who we are in front of God – not in front of anyone else, not compared to anyone else. It is just our true self – and how well we are being that (or not). Her response to Jesus was so beautiful because in it, she is saddened by her own sinfulness, while being completely overwhelmed by the forgiveness offered to her. Her focus is completely on Jesus. She is not distracted by the others present who speak ill of her. The power of the love of Jesus is so strong that it overshadows their sneers. Imagine that!

Can you think of a moment when you encountered the love of God so strongly that it silenced all the negative voices around you, at least in your ears? Now – can you think of a moment when you were that love of God to another?

The sacrament of reconciliation is an intense moment of this kind of love, and the season of Lent of a perfect time to encounter Jesus in this way. We can bring anything to confession, and Jesus will give us graces to overcome these temptations. He judges us only to save us – he judges what it is in our lives that is keeping us apart from him – and he tells us to stop doing these things – AND he gives us the grace to do so. He doesn’t leave us hanging. He wants to be intimately united to us. He gives us all we need to do it. This is the Jesus Effect – and it is everlasting.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College.

Goal & Path Simultaneously

Today is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660). Another post-Reformation era exemplar of holiness, St. Vincent most memorably served the poor.  His Congregation of St Vincent de Paulthe Mission, the Vincentians (or “Lazarists”, named after their founding at the St. Lazarus prior in 1633), and a women’s order he co-founded with St. Louise de Marillac, the Daughters of Charity, sought to serve the poor’s spiritual and physical needs.  Interestingly, together these two orders covered the needs of the French poor in both city and countryside.  They did so based on St. Vincent’s personal example.  Throughout his life, whether he tutored a wealthy family’s children, advised seminary training, or directed spiritual retreats, St. Vincent treated all equally.  Having been sold into slavery for two years during his twenties, St. Vincent’s missionary zeal knew few boundaries.  He addressed the spiritual needs of those whom he encountered, wherever he met them.  One online biographer concludes: “It would be impossible to enumerate all the works of this servant of God. Charity was his predominant virtue. It extended to all classes of persons, from forsaken childhood to old age.” The parish society bearing his name, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which has accomplished so much for America’s poor (as well as in other nations!), was founded in Paris in 1833 by Blessed Frederic Ozanam.  This group, too, takes its inspiration from St. Vincent’s charity.

Charity should be everybody’s predominant virtue, and not just because St. Vincent de Paul embodied it so well.  The Catechism teaches that charity is “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (#1822).  Christ enjoined us to “love as He does, even our enemies,to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself” (#1825).  Clearly St. Vincent de Paul sought this last command throughout his life.  Charity is, the Catechism continues, “the form of the virtues…it is the source and goal of their Christian practice” (#1827).  Elsewhere the Catechism proclaims: “Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights.  It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it.  Charity inspires a life of self-giving” (#1889).  So much for thinking of charity merely as dropping a few coins in the Salvation Army Christmas bucket!  Charity is a virtue before it is an action, but the two are obviously related.

How fitting, therefore, that today concludes Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States.  In the days leading up to this momentous occasion, more than one media or Pope Francispolitical figure took issue with Pope Francis’ stark call to serve people, and most immediately the poor, not ideologies.  This is what one blogger has aptly called “Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome,” the inability of some—Catholic or not—to accept Francis’ criticism of capitalist economies.  Despite evidence that many of Francis’ remarks follow similar ones made by Pope Benedict XVI, these critics reserve for themselves alone the right to select Pope Francis’ legitimate message.  In other words, they are not charitable, nor, apparently do they much appreciate charity.

Bearing all that in mind, today’s readings might come into better focus.  As Christ reminded the disciples in St. Mark’s gospel, the one who is not against us is for us.  Pope Francis, who took his name after another saint who joyfully served the poor, is surely “for us”…us all, actually.  He extols charity to both poor and rich.  The latter, though, require the charity of being reminded that their material possessions are not, ultimately, their own.  That resonates with St. James’ stark cry against the abuses committed by the wealthy.  The Catechism does insist that charity requires, among other things, fraternal correction (#1829).  So charity might help us hear more clearly the Holy Father’s message.  Meanwhile, charity will also move us to make our love of neighbor and the poor and our enemies all the more real.  Pope Francis merely extols a path which is also our goal. St. Vincent de Paul’s saintly example of charity reminds us of this.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

September 23, 63 B.C.: Birthday of Octavian, Caesar Augustus

I began my love/hate relationship with the Roman Empire when I declared a Classics major at the age of nineteen, which was…um…decades ago. As anyone whose feet have strolled on a Roman road in France, or watched one hilarious scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” (“What have the Romans ever done for us?”), the reasons to admire the technical achievements of the empire are many, from ports to aqueducts, from roads to the famous fish sauce garum, which became a sign of fashionable Romanitas on tables throughout the empire. The accomplishments of Augustus are real and impressive. While the quotation found in Suetonius, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble,” may be apocryphal, it rather accurately depicts the changes in Rome under Augustus’ leadership. His accomplishments were not all military; as he says in his Res Gestae, a copy of which anyone can read inscribed on the side of the Richard Meier building housing the Ara Pacis in Rome, “I rebuilt eight-two temples of the gods in the city by the authority of the senate” and “when the taxes fell short, I gave out contributions of grain and money from my granary and patrimony, sometimes to 100,000 men, sometimes to many more.” With every empire, how the benefits are provided is always the problem. Augustus the highest benefactor was called Son of God, Lord, Savior of the World, and Redeemer, and everyone knew this because they saw these titles symbolized in the great building projects and literally expressed on inscriptions, coins, statues, altars, cups, and so on. He had at his service a fleet of “Mad Men” who knew how to get the message across.
Everyone knew it, but not everyone believed it. Many Jews in particular knew that the covenant of justice, mercy and love with the God of Israel could not be reconciled with the imperial covenant. Many Jews, for example, saw that there was a choice to be made regarding to which covenant we belong. The Roman covenant promised peace (at the price of submission) from the top down and in large part through violence, intimidation, bribery and a kind of “soft power” that tried to lure people into believing that Romanitas was the most desirable of identities. Those Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth should be called Son of God, Lord, Savior of the World, and Redeemer actively, and peacefully, denied that Augustus and emperors after him played those roles and thereby enacted a kind of treason. This near-constant critique of and contempt for empire is often missed by readers of the New Testament. Although that collection of books is shot through with this non-violent opposition, perhaps it is most easily recognized in the book of Revelation. John of Patmos employed both biblical and imperial symbolism to broadcast that the oh-so-attractive luxury items catalogued in Revelation 18:12-13 carry too high a price: that of human lives (18:13).

Our own list of luxury goods is long; we might substitute clothes, coffee and — personal gasp — chocolate, for myrrh, incense, and frankincense in that list. The cost, however, to our planet, to our shared humanity, and thus to our souls, is too high. Since absolute personal refusal to participate in the global economic system is nearly impossible at this point in our increasingly small world (as well as being of questionable consequence in such a vast system), the witness of our tradition holds our feet to the fire to work for the justice proclaimed by those who spoke in our Scriptures for the God of Israel and to pray for ourselves, the powerful of human history, as Pope Francis has in Laudato Sí:

Enlighten those who possess power and money

that they may avoid the sin of indifference,

that they may love the common good, advance the weak, 

and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
 Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture and spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College.

Receiving the Eucharist with the Proper Disposition

Father Michael Schmitz has one of the most effective campus ministries in the country at the University of Minnesota.  He tells a story about back when he was in the seminary in the late 1970s.  Though we wouldn’t do it today, back then his particular seminary used regular loaves of bread for Holy Communion. During the distribution of the Eucharist the priest would break off pieces and give them to the people when they came up to the altar.  Though they tried their best, there were always crumbs that would fall to the floor.  One of the seminarians would stay in the chapel after Mass every day and quietly and reverently kneel down and eat all the crumbs off of the floor.  One day Schmitz asked him why he did that, and the answer was something that he would never forget.

real presenceThe seminarian had spent a year in China as a missionary.  He heard a true story about the days when the Communists first took over, and how they would go into churches and ransack everything.  One day they attacked a Catholic Church.  They took down all the statues and broke them to into pieces.  They smashed out all of the stain glass windows, and toppled the altar.  Then they took the tabernacle and through it out the back door.  The priest watched in horror as it hit the ground and all of the consecrated hosts were scattered.  There was nothing he could do.  The soldiers had arrested him and locked him in a tool shed in back of the church.  The priest was in there for days, as three young Chinese soldiers stood guard with rifles.  He kept an eye out for the scattered hosts as he prayed, asking that God would somehow send deliverance.

That evening, once it was dark, he saw a little girl, about 10 years old, outside.  She hid behind the trees and bushes so that the guards wouldn’t see her.  Then she kneeled down and picked up one of the sacred hosts with her mouth.  She slowly and reverently consumed the host and left.  The children were taught that they could never touch the Blessed Sacrament, and they could only receive once a day.  So she returned each evening.  Darting in and out between the shadows.  And each night she would kneel down and consume one of the hosts.

The priest knew how many hosts had been in the tabernacle.  And he watch as the girl returned every night until there was only one host left.  The priest kept an eye on that host from the window of the shed, and he also kept an eye on the guards.  That night he saw the little girl again.  She was quiet, fast and very careful not to be noticed by the soldiers.  She knelt down and consumed the very last host, and as she got up, she tripped and fell.  The guards heard her and rushed over.  Then they beat the poor little girl to death with the butts of their rifles.  With tears in his eyes, the seminarian said, “That’s why I do it.  That’s why I eat the crumbs off the floor every day.  I never forgot that story, and ever since then, there’s nothing more precious to me than the Blessed Sacrament.”

In the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, in what is known as the Bread of Life Discourse, are some of the most profound words in all of scripture. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Jesus told the Jews that he is the living bread that came down from heaven, and that whoever eats this bread will live forever.  And the bread that He will give is his flesh for the life of the world.

The Jews understood this very literally, and that’s why most of them left and went back to their families and former ways of living.  They said, “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?”  Jesus didn’t try to explain that he was just speaking symbolically.  No, he meant exactly what he said.  The Church has understood from the beginning that the Bread of Life refers to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  The New Testament scriptures make this clear, and so does the history and testimony of the early church.

Saint Justin, around the year 145, explained what the Church believes about the Eucharist: “We call this food Eucharist, and no one is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is hereby living as Christ has enjoined.  For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught by his apostles, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic Prayer set down by him, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus.” The Eucharist is indeed the “Bread of Life,” and by it we are nourished for all eternity.

At Mass, the King of the universe comes down from heaven, onto the altar and into you and me.  When we receive the Bread of Life with the proper disposition, we are changed forever.  Disposition is an attitude of mind and heart.  Let me share with you an example of someone who had the proper disposition.  One Saturday morning, I was at Mass sitting in a pew beside a young boy in the second grade who was receiving his first Holy Communion that day.  He had missed receiving his first Holy Communion with his class.  His father was sitting on the other side of him……When the time came, the young boy went up to receive Communion.  He bowed reverently, received in his hands and consumed the sacred host.  When he returned to his pew, he knelt and prayed.  I knelt down next to him.  After several minutes his father turned to him and asked, “Son, do you feel any different now that you have received your first Holy Communion?”  The boy turned and looked his father in the eye and said, “Yes, Dad, I do feel different.  I feel very different.  I feel God inside.”

That young man received Communion with the proper disposition, the attitude of mind and heart that leads to eternal life.  Saint Cyril, in the 4th century, said that the Christian who consumes the Bread of Life becomes a “Christbearer,” one body and blood with him and the covenant is sealed.  Then we are sent out of the church to be what we are called to be – a sacrament, a visible sign of God’s invisible grace for the whole world to see, and know and draw closer to him.  This is the proper disposition.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  This is why we do it.

Deacon Greg Ollick is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College.


















Musings on the Practical, or Practical Musings?

Worth Revisiting WednesdayThis post originally appeared on March 30, 2014.

On numerous occasions over the years I have been asked to “make a presentation on Scripture”. The settings have been quite varied: a series on the Gospels or a particular Gospel; a talk to a group sponsored by a parish education program; a study group meeting at the homes of parish members; an RCIA program; members of men and women religious, and the like. One common denominator among all is a lack on the part of many of knowledge of the teachings from Vatican II, especially those contained in Dei Verbum.

Without trying to assess the reasons for this vacuum, I believe some suggestions for increasing the knowledge of the faithful regarding Scripture might be in order. One way to approach the problem is to develop an understanding of the various “criticisms” that Scripture scholars have put forth. For the audience intended, this does not have to be full of technical jargon. But as the title of this article suggests, it must be practical.

José A. Pagola, a Spanish Scripture theologian whose numerous books have guided me in this quest of the “practical,” offers the following response to the question:  What are the Gospels attempting to do?

For followers of Jesus, the four gospels are a unique and irreplaceable resource. They are not textbooks, expounding an academic doctrine of Jesus. They are not detailed biographies, tracing his life in history. These stories bring us close to Jesus as the first generations of Christians remembered him, with faith and love. On the one hand, they show us the great impact Jesus caused in the people who first were attracted to him and followed him. On the other, they were written to inspire new disciples to do the same.[i]

Pagola is in no way denigrating the academic study of the Gospels, for he is a scholar. Rather, he is finding a way to “translate” our studies in such a way that the widest audience possible will understand and be inspired.

How do we approach the “practical”; that is, how do we make the concepts real and compelling in the lives of those whom we teach, preach, and offer pastoral care and support? Three words come quickly to mind: gently, firmly, and spiritually.

Gently: It is imperative that we approach our faithful people knowing they are, in the words of Pagola above, disciples who must be inspired to follow in the footsteps of the original disciples. Thus we are to take the approach of Jesus who ministered to those he described “as sheep without a shepherd.” Doing this will require our own studies to lead us to bring the “good news” in a manner that will not frighten these “yearning disciples” away. Our learning and intimacy with Jesus will provide the means to “break open the Word” to our audience. Our prayer to Jesus should be, “Help me, Lord, to tend to your most precious flock whoever they may be and at whatever stage of learning we find them.

Firmly: In this context, firmly is not to emit a negative or frightening connotation. When we bring the word of Jesus to any audience, we must search for an understanding of just “where” the audience is. If they are novices in the study of the Gospels, we must “feed them with the milk of Jesus’ nourishment.” If they are more learned we can guide them to and through the many techniques with which they can continue to grow in the knowledge of Jesus’ message.

Spiritually: We can intertwine the message of the Gospels with the continual understanding that Jesus’ teachings are designed to lead us to the Father. In this regard, our objective becomes to strengthen each person’s relationship with the Lord. As Lectio Divina teaches, we can read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. Perhaps no greater good can come from guiding our audiences to grow in following in the footsteps of Jesus and to teach them to be more than readers and studiers of the Word, but as the wise saying emphasizes “to be doers.”  Jesus came, Jesus taught by word and example, Jesus reconciled us to the Father. What a splendid way he has given us to lead others to his Father.

John Munroe teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College.


Messianic Traditions and Jesus the Servant Messiah

Two of today’s readings underscore Jesus’ identity as the Servant Messiah depicted by Isaiah.  The first reading, Isaiah 50:5-9a, and the Gospel reading, Mark 8:27-35 on Peter’s confession of faith, allude to the narratively unified corpus of Isaian passages on the Servant Messiah, and more specifically to the suffering and death of this anointed one depicted in Isaiah 50 and especially 53.  Arguably, these Isaian passages are unified because Isa 61:1-3—a passage about the anointed one upon whom is the Spirit of the Lord YHWH—is a compound of Isa 11:2 (from a specifically Davidic context), 42:1, 49:8-9, and 50:4.  Isa 61:1-3 fulfills the promises made in these passages, as well as other Davidic promises made in Isa 9 and 55.  For this reason, among others, the Isaian narrative intimates that the Servant of YHWH is the Davidic Messiah.

Jesus’ personal identification with the fulfillment of these Isaian prophecies of Davidic Koene picmessianic kingship highlights a historical trajectory represented in the two readings—that of the Isaian Servant Messiah.  This diverged from and contrasted with the previous dominant trajectory within Second Temple Jewish messianism of diversified expectation which posited two messiahs—one kingly and one priestly.

At least three factors produced the single Davidic messianic expectation during the Roman-Herodian period (75 B.C.-68 A.D.).  The first is the expectation of a Davidic warrior king, found in such documents as the War Rule (4Q285), Psalms of Solomon, the Son of God fragment (4Q246), and the Book of Isaiah.  The second is the expectation of a Davidic Servant Messiah, as portrayed in the Book of Isaiah.  Aspects of this Servant Messiah are reflected in the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521), 11QMelch (11Q13), the New Testament, and perhaps early traditions in the formation of the Book of the Similitudes.    A third factor are the social/political features of the Hasmonean royalty despoiling the Davidic throne (104-76 B.C.) combined with the Roman conquest of Pompey (63 B.C.) and its desecration of the Holy of Holies.  These factors that produced the single Davidic messianic expectation also overlap and may relate to each other.  They further galvanized and strengthened anticipation of a great Davidic messiah king.

A modern exegetical issue relevant to interpretation of Isaiah is authorship.  Much of good, contemporary scholarship assumes at least deutero- or trito-Isaian authorship.  However, several notable scholars opt for a single Isaian authorship.  Reasons for this, that at least engage serious thought and reflection on the matter, are the following.  First, in the first century A.D., the tradition of belief in single authorship of Isaiah had long been established.  The Book of Sirach, written in the early second century B.C., attests to this belief.  Sirach 48:22-25 consists of contents that reflect a unified continuum throughout the two most distinct movements of the Isaian narrative (Isa 1-39 and Isa 40-66).

Second, the Qumran Scroll of the entire Book of Isaiah, sometimes known as the St. Mark’s Isaiah Scroll, dates to about 125 B.C.  The Scroll reflects no break or indentation between chapters 39 and 40, and the manuscript is a copy as well.  Taking the evidence of Sirach and the Isaian Scroll together, we may assert that in the third century B.C. a single Isaian authorship tradition was well established, and that the Book of Isaiah existed at that time in the same form as we have today.

Third, the first century presented no other name but Isaiah, son of Amoz, attached to this book.  Moreover, although Isa 40-66—so delineated by modern convention—was one of the most common prophetic pieces appropriated and interpreted in the first century, no “second” or “third” Isaiah was ever identified.

Notwithstanding, apart from various contemporary views on Isaian authorship, first century interpreters, such as the Evangelists, viewed Isaiah as a unified prophetic piece.  They understood key passages throughout it—such as on the Servant and the Davidic Messiah—as related to each other and inspired by the same prophetic Spirit.  This unitive Isaian perspective helps us to clarify the New Testament depiction of Jesus’ messianic identity with greater precision and depth.  (Some of the reflections in this post I also have presented in my dissertation, The Septuagintal Isaian Use of Nomos in the Lukan Presentation Narrative, published by ProQuest.)

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College.

United in Christ

IMG_1158Do we come to Mass to worship God and offer sacrifice? Or do we come to Mass to be part of a community and share a meal? The answer is both. The liturgy contains within it both a vertical and a horizontal dimension, and these are related to each other.

The vertical dimension of the liturgy refers to each person’s individual relationship with God. Each of us comes to the liturgy as a unique person. We come to offer these individual lives to God the Father, through Jesus the Son. I offer my life, contrite for my sin, to the Father in heaven. Jesus mediates this offering for me. Uniting my offering to that of Jesus enables my offering to be accepted by God the Father. The Father accepts my offering and returns my life to me full of grace, united with Jesus in Holy Communion.

The horizontal dimension of the liturgy refers to each person’s relationship to those with whom they are worshipping. This should be considered in the broadest of terms, that is,  not only those present, but to all of humanity, and all the angels and saints, as well. In the liturgy, bread and wine are offered and shared, and in the sharing of the elements, a unity results. The shared elements, by virtue of the sacrificial offering, are the Body and Blood of Christ.

The unity, then, is not a result of the act of sharing, but rather of the fact that each individual is united to Jesus Christ, both in the offering of themselves to the Father with Christ, and in the reception of Holy Communion. We are not united by common interests or similar tastes, or simply because we happen to belong to the same parish community. We are united in Christ, the strongest of bonds.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College.

James Madison, Hugo Black, and America’s Wall

Every church, synagogue, and mosque should have a sign: “If we are right, it matters.” America needs religions that function freely. America for the health of its polity, values, and culture needs many churches, synagogues, and mosques with their schools, hospitals, and social agencies. Why? Because America needs vigorous, sometimes raucous, multitudes who believe they are right, and who are willing to act on their belief. In counter-point to its secularity, America needs “out-ted” Evangelical Christians, fundamentalists, pro-life Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Hasidic Jews, the Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, Southern Baptists, Hindus, and Muslims of all kinds—acting on the belief that they are right. Through their beliefs, and they are indeed different, transcendent claims are made. For the flourishing of America, the religions must be allowed the freedom to attempt to be right and thus to matter. Secularity must open up. Likewise, for the flourishing of its polity, values, and culture, America needs Muslims.

James Madison, the father of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights, might agree. At first in 1790, Madison thought that an amendment on freedom of religion was unnecessary. James MadisonThe new government had no enumerated power regarding religion, and thus should do nothing in religious matters. Religion and non-religion could flourish, or not, without government interference. However, Madison changed his mind. The first amendment was added: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Even so, Madison did not trust the government. The first amendment was necessary, but it could be a “parchment barrier.” The virtuous and benign behavior of government could not be assumed. This distrust is compounded when the secular polity, values, and culture of America increasingly confine religion to private worship and preclude its public involvement. Madison hoped that religious liberty, and liberty in general, would be preserved by religious groups checking and balancing each other. In fact, Voltaire had already in his mocking way stated this: “If there were only one religion in England, one might fear despotism; if there were two, they would slit each other’s throats; but there are thirty of them, and they live happily in peace.”

I deeply regret the use made of Jefferson’s extra-constitutional metaphor of a “wall” of separation between Church and State. The “wall” takes on a life of its own. In Justice Hugo Black’s famous words in Everson vs. Board of Education (1947),

 “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass Hugo-Blacklaws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go or to remain away from church against his will or be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, or vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The issue is with Black’s unwarranted “vice versa.” Government not to participate in religion, religion not to participate in government, this interpretation emphasizes non-establishment at the expense of “free exercise.” It gives the government the right to determine what a religion is, not the religions themselves. The government decides where the “wall” is. Instead of the wall keeping government out of religion, it is a wall to keep religion, as defined by the government, out of public life. Public engagement is part of the very definition of religions like Catholicism and Islam; thus free exercise is diminished by this presumed “wall.”

Catholics need to be in the public square with a loud voice, precisely because of what they believe. The First Amendment was meant to protect the right to participate in public life. Catholicism is a public religion. The government should not decide that it is not. Catholics as individuals, but also institutionally, want a loud voice because of what they believe about the meaning of life “in this world and in the next.” Another needed voice with different transcendent claims and a different transcendent imperative to act on those claims is Islam. Christians should welcome the presence of Muslims with their belief in a transcendent God who has spoken through Muhammad, and whose belief impacts the way that they live.

When Muslims immigrate, they experience the problems of the immigrant: assimilation, resistance, ambivalence, adaptation, rejection, acceptance, and acculturation. For the American Muslim there is an added dimension. Behind the Muslim immigrants lies the fourteen-hundred year old great tradition of Islam. Like Christianity, Islam for a time informed a civilization. The Muslim immigrant and the practice of surrender to God are severely challenged by American secularity. However, the conflict of values is a two-way street. Every immigrant is a challenge to the society’s assimilative power and to its adaptive capacity. If the immigrant is a Muslim, then the immigrant brings to America a religion and culture with more than one billion adherents undergoing a religious and cultural renewal. Muslims, as they seek to live a God-guided life, cannot but confront and contest American secularity. Catholics from their own experience of being American should appreciate the Muslim’s dilemma of being a resident alien. In the words of Pope Francis,

“Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully part of society .  .  . In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islam tradition.”

Muslim and Christian resident aliens need to find cultural space, space to breathe within the polity of America for the free exercise of God-guided lives knowing, loving, and serving God in this world in order to be happy with God in the next. America’s polity, values, and culture will be richer for it.

Daniel Sheridan teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College.

Love and Education

Worth Revisiting WednesdayThis post originally appeared on August 31, 2014. With a new school year beginning, it is worth a revisit!

On Father’s Day, I posted a piece on God’s paternal love for us, drawing from both the Hebrew Scriptures (Ex 34:6-8) and the New Testament (Lk 15:11-32). Recently, I read a presentation delivered by Pope Francis, then Cardinal Bergoglio, entitled “The Educational Process” which describes the relationship between teacher and student in similar terms. In this paper, Pope Francis describes the difficulties which teachers, especially college and university professors, can encounter that derive from the contemporary culture which we inhabit. These difficulties include facing special interests within the educational system which “are alien to education itself,” and the ever-increasing phenomenon of the participants in the educational process (i.e., students, teachers, and parents) becoming disengaged with their own formation and the formation of those in their charge. “We have become spectators,” Pope Francis writes, “and ceased to be protagonists of our personal history and our life.”

Supper at EmmausTo bridge these divisions, Pope Francis proposes a pedagogy of “encounter.” By this he means that the educational process ought to be characterized by a type of love. Drawing from the New Testament, and the Greek learning inherited by the early Church, Pope Francis distinguishes between three types of love. Eros is a type of love which seeks its own satisfaction. Naturally, it has come to be associated with romantic love but is certainly not limited to that sphere. Whenever we have a deep desire which seeks consummation – and many of the mystics speak of the transformation and sanctification of this desire for God – it is, so to speak, erotic. Agape, on the other hand, is a type of love which is self-sacrificing. It expects nothing in return, but wills the good of the other. Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross is the example par excellence of agapic love; so much so that, in the early Church, the commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist was referred to as the ‘love (agape) feast.’

School of AthensBut education is not built upon either of these senses of love. A third type of love, which is the foundation of a pedagogy of “encounter,” is philia. Derived from the Greek word for ‘friend,’ philia is a love which is neither totally self-seeking nor totally self-sacrificing. Rather, philial love is given with the expectation of reciprocity; thereby forming a communion of persons. “It is a love of relationship,” Pope Francis writes, “participation, communication, and friendship.” Pope Francis is not advocating, however, that professors become “BFF’s” with their students. Philial love in this context is characterized by a concern for the good of the student and a recognition of the good in the teacher. It is much closer to the relationship between a parent and a child than the relationship of peers to each other. It is, one might say, covenantal.

Pope Francis sees this love as the foundation of a pedagogy of “encounter” because it is only within this type of friendship that both teacher and student can “encounter” each other as persons. Within this friendship, the student is not simply ‘student x,’ but Joseph. The teacher is not simply ‘my professor for subject y,’ but Dr. Mary. Again, as Pope Francis writes: “For this educational encounter to happen, we teachers […] need affection. Trust in your affection. Love what you do and love your students.”

Christs Charge to PeterIn closing, the type of love which Pope Francis speaks of as the foundation of education is most uniquely illustrated at the end of St. John’s Gospel (21:15-19). After his glorious resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Naturally, and as one reads in every scriptural commentary on this passage, Jesus asks this question of Peter three times as a way of redeeming Peter’s three denials of him on Holy Thursday. But what is lost to the English reader is that Jesus asks Peter if he ‘loves’ (agapas) him twice. The final question to Peter is: “Do you love (phileis) me?” In other words, Jesus twice asks Peter if he would sacrifice himself for him, but on the third occasion he asks Peter: “But are we friends?” It is not enough for Peter to repent of his denials by offering himself for Jesus. No. In order to “tend Jesus’ sheep,” the two must have an active, living relationship: a friendship. In order to form others in Christ, one cannot simply view one’s ministry as a sacrifice. There must be present a friendship with Christ that one wishes to share with others. Similarly, a true education cannot be founded solely upon the idea of serving the other – let alone the simple communication of data – but upon a living and relational encounter: a friendship.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.