Holloway on: The Recognition of Jesus
Doctrine and personal appeal — sheer radiant power to attract men and women and to hold them in love — this was one thing and one force in Jesus Christ. The person we call The Word was made flesh and spoke an intelligible and humanly expressed word of truth and of way of life. We call it his ‘doctrine’. There was no divide between some dry, harsh, abstract set of propositions imposed by an authority external to the personality of the Master Himself, and this wonderful, lovable, merciful Jesus. From this radiant personality there came out just this sort of teaching, both about Himself, doctrine of faith that is to say, and about the good life, the fulfilling life, doctrine of morals that is to say. The doctrine spilled out from the very mind and heart of Christ. It was Jesus Himself who said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth spoke. The inner truth of the doctrine He saw and lived made Jesus the sort of person He was. The sort of person He was made Jesus brimful of the doctrine he taught. There is no way we can separate the two, no way at all.
Men and women today we are told, especially the young, love and accept Jesus Christ, but they cannot stand that drab, authoritarian institution called the Church. When you peel the layers off their conscious mind and reach the subconscious, you will find most times that they mean they don’t like the teaching this institution gives about poverty, prayer, attendance at the Eucharist, and their sexual life, whether in or out of marriage. Then, do they really know anything at all about Jesus?
The Word Spoken and the Word Living
It is first of all a matter of knowing what the Jesus of history really said and taught. Are the gospels and the pastoral letters of Paul and the other apostles direct, hotly written, and clearly sincere expressions of a living master, or are they remote, carefully written up studies upon one who has long left the scene? The spontaneity, the sheer human verve and the naivety at times of the apostolic writings is there for all to see. Jesus, lovable and magnetic and merciful as He was, managed to embroil himself in an awful lot of contradiction in His own day. The hard things in the doctrine of Jesus, including the hard things about marriage and sexual holiness, are already in the Gospels. They are present even more bluntly in the writings of St. Paul. They are found with the living evidence of history in the first documents and apologetics of the early Christian Church.
These realities of human nature and life both the inspiring and the difficult, are found again but polished and refined in presentation in the Fathers of the Church. Christian doctrine is a well worked out edifice of theology by the year 500 AD, a sophisticated but yet very unworldly synthesis of human and divine wisdom, presented by men who really and truly lived what they taught and who had experienced the fulfilment and the liberation of the doctrine they wrote about. There was, for instance, St. Augustine the Great. He presented to the Church of his day, after much dialogue and discussion, a doctrine of Original Sin which the Church recognised as true in all essentials to what she did in fact believe. The Church did not accept every philosophical speculation Augustine suggested, sometimes tentatively, to explain the ‘how’ of it. Likewise against the Manichees in the matter of the goodness of sexual desire and function, and against the Pelagians in the matter of its perfection and the need of inner grace to attain that perfection, Augustine gave again to the Church a synthesis of divine and human reasoning which the Church in his day, and for a thousand years and more afterwards, recognised as true in fact to the consequences of her doctrine.
Knowing the Christ of History
It is no use saying that we cannot know the Christ of history. He lives in the Gospels in explicit speech. He lives in the Pastoral Letters of the Apostles in explicit speech. He lives in the witness of the primitive Church, the Fathers, and the teaching Church of Rome, and for that matter of Constantinople, down the ages. He lives alive and dynamic in the consecrated host, whenever it is lifted above the heads of the people at Mass. In the Eucharist we have Christ in Person, and because He is the Lord of history He is also the historic Christ. Through this centering of the Church in and through the Eucharist which is the Living Christ, He is also the Lord of the Magisterium, the true word of the Word Incarnate. First, in the solemn doctrine preached to the people in the Liturgy of the Word; then through General Councils with the Pope, and finally through the solemn definition of Peter and his successors through the ages, above all when “Satan has obtained to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not . . .” (Luke. 22:32). We really do know the mind and heart of the radiant Jesus because Jesus lives on, in His own physical reality, and in man’s history.
It is essential to ‘know’ Jesus. It is essential to fill out the vision of the Gospels, and the even more explicit vision of the Pauline Letters with the vision of the Lord of Creation, who in His very self and divine being fulfils as man that Unity-Law of control and direction to fulfilment within which the universe is framed. Yes, it is essential to proclaim the meaning of St. John and St. Paul through the Holy Spirit, against a larger canvas of truth, as modern knowledge has made it possible for us to do. Just as necessarily it is vital to possess Jesus in love, in a humble love and in an obedient love. Jesus was not made Incarnate to dazzle us, but to make us conformable to the divine being, the divine reality and holiness.
We seek then union and communion of love and life with Jesus, but we don’t seek just the love of friendship or the love of admiration. We are not content with even the love of discipleship, unless that word is given its specifically Christian meaning. People can be disciples of a saintly man or woman, disciples of a ‘guru’; our relationship to Christ transcends all that. Our love towards Christ is of the order of life and being, as a baby’s is towards its mother. Baby loves and caresses mother, but also baby draws the milk of life from mother. Christian maturity of being is that sort of relationship to Christ, participation in the being of God, a maturity of spirit, of love and of emotion, a maturity of wisdom, love, and harmonious balance of every desire of spirit and of matter. The life of grace is the growing in beauty and real truth of being through this vital union and communion with Jesus Christ.
Seeing Yourself Mirrored in Christ
So we come back again to the personality of Christ, to Jesus the lovable, the merciful, the totally wise. The same Jesus was intransigent, demanding. He really hurt that poor, rich, nice young man who had always been such a good boy! We come back to Jesus the real, the ultimate truth in doctrine and in fulfilment as a living experience of human joy. You take the package entire; Jesus cannot be parcelled out. It is vitally important to get this relationship right in the matter of the personality of Jesus as it beckons to us, and in the doctrine that Jesus taught and still teaches, alive in the Church. For Jesus is the mirror in which we see our own personality and find our own identity. The personality of Jesus is not merely a human personality; it is the radiation and the life-giving power of the Divine Person in person. This is the identity to the image and likeness of which we are made. Christ as Son of God and Son of Man is the mirror image of man: this is the Son of Man, and in His being as God and Man is your identity and my identity, the identity of male and female, without distinction.
The identity of our own personality, as we draw life and joy, likeness and conformity to God from Christ, is not a likeness of the mind alone, a likeness of vision and of truth. It is not a likeness of obedience alone, or of the pain of sacrifice. There is also the joy and the happiness of Christ, which is the radiation through His human psyche of the joy which defines the being of God in Itself. Unless our conformation to Christ, the Mirror of Man, is perfect, we are not going to experience within ourselves the perfect fulfilment and joy of our manhood or our womanhood. Like all spiritual creations, whether man or angel, our specific identity is not in ourselves or in the order of the created at all. It is in God, who is beyond our order of being and limitation but to whose image alone we are fashioned, and in whose order of joy alone we find our own bliss.
The Son of Man – our identity and holiness
That is why all Humanism, with the capital letter, is a mistake. The fulfilment of Man is in God, and in God made Man we find the identity of ourselves. That is really the very meaning of that title, hardly found except towards the end of the period of Messianic prophecy, Son of Man, the title preferred above all others when Christ spoke of His mission to us and our relationship to Himself.
As the human nature of Christ is the perfect image, in the Son of Man, of our own identity and holiness, our wholeness in body and soul through God, so in the order of the spiritual soul, the Divine Being itself, as pure and perfect spirit, is the mirror image of our spiritual perfection, now and unto the beatific vision. It makes sense of the appalling proposition that through Christ we become ‘co-sharers of the Divine Nature’. It also means that Christ is the total manifestation as God and Man, in the unity of His one divine Person, of our human truth, our goodness, our wholeness and our beatitude. We mean, in heaven and now upon earth: it was Jesus who said “be you perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48.).
Forming Christian Life
If teachers of status, whether priests or layfolk, do not accept themselves and do not teach to others the doctrine of life and human goodness that Jesus taught on earth and still teaches in His Church, they will not form within others the true identity of the real, the living Jesus. What you do not yourself believe, or what you yourself deny however regretfully and secretly, you cannot live in yourself as an experience of life and nobility of being. This principle is important in the home, the spiritual quality one means of parents who are the natural and in a sense the hierarchical teachers of their children; for marriage is to be looked upon as a ministry in the Church, and an office in Creation and in the Church. It is important in the schools and in the parishes: we priests form men and women, and even more manifestly and often much more successfully we form children. It is important therefore in the university chaplaincies and most of all in the seminaries.
It is not only priests who talk about identity crisis. One has even found it in the Youth Club. This writer has been asked very earnestly by a teenager ‘Do you know who you are . . . because I don’t?’ Knowing who you are is not a matter of being a priest, nor a matter of being married or being single. It is not a matter of vocation at all. Knowing who you are is a matter of knowing Christ as He really is and of humbly loving Him and conforming your whole life to Him. Knowing who you are is a matter also of bearing anguish, and pain, and sacrifice, and the sneers and contempt of others, loneliness also, rather than betray the truth and goodness revealed in Christ. If you don’t know who you are, if you have an ‘identity crisis’ it means either that you have never found Christ and are still looking for Him, or else that you don’t love Him enough, or faithfully enough: you don’t obey Him. ‘Knowing who I am’ is first of all to find Jesus Christ in His real self. That is to find doctrine of truth, love, and moral goodness and our relationship to others. It is to find God and one’s neighbour in life, in love, and in prayer.
“What will you have me to do?”
When you have this degree of union with Jesus Christ, then from a full heart you will, especially in youth, say to the same Jesus “Lord, what will you have me to do?” That may well be the application of your identity to life and to vocation, whether in Religion or in marriage, or in the single state in the world. Nobody will find all his yearnings, loves, emotions and drives fulfilled in harmony and in truth except they be mirrored in that identity of truth which is the Person of Jesus. Live with Jesus your friend and teacher, love Jesus your friend and teacher, be conformed to Him. He alone really knows what is good for you, joyful for you, fulfilment for you. You were made by Him and through Him, He ought to know. Even as human, as yourself you were modelled upon Him; He was coming as ‘the Son of Man’. Follow Him.
You have only one identity to achieve. It is Christ’s identity living in you, radiant in you. Do not try to divide in Jesus Christ His doctrine, which is to say His magisterium in the official, guaranteed Church, from His fulfilling and loving self. You can’t separate a tree from its fruits, a man from his words; much less can you divide them in the Living God. Don’t expect to find within yourself the power to live it, or the full will to live it. That is Humanism again, being me-centred and man-centred. You are made to be God-centred, and that by the Law of Nature as well as by the Law of Grace. “Without Me,” said the Son of God and Man upon whom you are centred, “you can do nothing.” Make your communion with Him, feed on Him in your heart, feed on Him in the Holy Eucharist.
Remember that in the ‘last days’ because affluence and power over nature has abounded, so will iniquity abound. It has been prophesied, many will fall away (Matt. 24: 11-12). How hard shall those who have riches, entire affluent nations of them, enter into the kingdom of God! You, however, man of God, daughter of God, strive to enter by the narrow way. Never be scared by any scandal no matter how grave within the Church. You will find Jesus easily enough if you look for Him; “he that comes to Me”, said Our Lord “I will in no way cast out” (John. 6:37).
Abridged from the Editorial of Faith Magazine, November/December 1981.