Thursday, July 5, 2012

Jesus of Nazareth, the revelation of God

In his still timely book, one that I re-read from time-to-time, Razing the Bastions: On the Church in This Age, Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote, "that theology is the doctrine of the divine meaning of the revelation of the historical events of revelation themselves - nothing above them, nothing behind them, nothing that one could take away and retain as a suprahistorical substance - and that therefore, the more the historical discloses itself in a theological sense, the more does theology develop" (30). Von Balthasar's definition is cited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is his Christology, God Sent His Son. Building on Balthasar's insight, Cardinal Schönborn moves to a critique of scholastic Christology, which, he insists,"concentrates on illuminating the significance of [Christ's] birth... in its ontological respect and that of his death in its soteriological respect" (218). This leads, at least in His Eminence's estimation, to the roughly "thirty-three lying between the birth and the events of Triduum" seeming "at most to be of significance [only] for Christ's moral message" (218).

I think Cardinal Schönborn, who serves as archbishop of Vienna, Austria, quite right to insist that "what the life of Jesus was actually like is of central importance, inasmuch as the period of [his life], this brief span of time in the history of mankind and of Israel, represents the eschatological revelation of God and his definitive salvation" (218). It is in light of Jesus' Resurrection that the events, words and actions, of his earthly life "acquire their full Christological implications... precisely as historical events," that is, things that actually occurred in the world. "For on the basis of Easter," Schönborn continues, Jesus' words and actions "acquire an eschatological, eternal significance. If the Risen One is he who lived on earth, then nothing about the earthly One is trivial" (218).

Jesus' miracle at the wedding feast of Cana

Cardinal Schönborn, who served as general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, then paraphrases something crucial from the much-maligned Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, thus moving from Von Balthasar's "Christology from above" to a more existential "Christology from below." The work of Schillebeeckx's he cites is his very provocative and, as a result, generally misunderstood Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter With God: "In the reading, getting to know, and following the concrete figure of Jesus [as depicted in the canonical Gospels], it is a matter not only of a theological work or of material for spiritual contemplation, but of the decisive question, vital for our salvation, of whether we accept God's revelation of himself and his saving acts, or whether we fail to do so" (218).

Perhaps the most concrete "take away" from this is, come to know Jesus by reading, studying, pouring over, praying over the Gospels. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, reiterated, even if in an understated manner, "It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior" (par. 18).

Another time-proven way to come to know Jesus is by meditating on the mysteries of His life by praying the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A quick look at these (i.e., Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious) verify the gap posited by Cardinal Schöborn. It seems to me that this what Bl. Pope John Paul II sought to remedy when, with the promulgation of his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in 2002, he instituted the Luminous Mysteries of Christ's life: "(1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery" (par. 21).

While these two suggestions may seem a bit pedestrian, spirituality is a mode of life, it's how we live everyday. We have various means at our disposal to draw closer to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The sacraments, of course, play an indispensable role in this, but we have to have things we can do on our own, things that are quiet and simple, things we can incorporate into our daily lives without too much difficulty, things that help us meet Christ in the here and now, in the hurly-burly.

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