Saturday 27 June 2015

The Veiled Majesty of Jesus Christ

                                                           Ecce Homo- Cigoli

The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”  Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid
John 19:7-8

The Gospel accounts of the encounter between Pontius Pilate and Jesus are tensely dramatic and full of profound meanings. This exchange between Pilate and the mob occurred immediately after the scourged and mocked Jesus had been displayed publicly. There could be few individuals in the world who looked less divine than our Lord did at that moment. Yet to the mind of the Roman Governor these words of the Jewish crowd carried a ring of conviction. He clearly accepted the possibility that perhaps his prisoner was after all what He has apparently claimed to be. Why might that be?

There are various plausible explanations. As an occupying power the Romans would have had a good intelligence network which no doubt informed Pilate about the miracles attributed to Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem. Also he had received a message from his wife anent our Lord 'Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him(Matt 27:19) Taken together these might have been sufficient to induce the Governor to take the claim of divinity seriously. I doubt this however. In the world of the first century Roman Empire claims about miracle workers and prophetic dreams were if not commonplace at least of sufficient frequency for them to be explained by things other than divine filiation.

It seems likely to me that there was something about the person of Jesus which conveyed outwardly the inward truth about His origins. It was not so obvious as to compel recognition or belief but it was there to be seen by anyone who looked closely enough. Pilate was, in effect, a politician. To get where he got to he had to have an ability to 'read' people. In Jesus he perhaps read something which at the least puzzled him. Our Saviour possessed what we would call charisma (although technically this is inapplicable in His case, I mean charisma in the popular sense.) We can only speculate as to how this might have manifested itself but it would probably take different form depending on the role that He was fulfilling. In this case He was on trial for His life, He had been abandoned by His friends, beaten by the Jews, scourged by the Romans. And yet His judge at least half-believed that He was the Son of God.

I have often wondered what it would be like to look into the eyes of Jesus. I feel that in those something essential about His mystery is to be seen. In the encounter between Judge and Judged I think that it was in the eyes of his prisoner that Pilate would have seen the intimation of the real nature of our Lord. He wavered before them for a while but then surrendered to the demands of the mob, as politicians will whatever their inner wisdom might tell them to do. He veiled his own eyes because he preferred power and applause to the uncertainties of the journey which the charisma of Jesus promised him.

Does this have any significance for us today? The Church is the Body of Christ. In many parts of the world like Him it is scourged and bloody, in other parts it is mocked and ridiculed, politicians turn away from it. Almost everywhere it is crowned with thorns. Yet veiled within it is the divine majesty of Christ. It is there to be seen by those who look. If it must face its Passion it can do so with a serene confidence in its Resurrection. Some vent their fury upon it precisely because they do sense that hidden divinity, others allow that fury to flow without seeking to hinder it because they, like Pilate, choose to veil their own eyes. As long, though, as the Church returns again and again to its divine source to draw strength and renew hope there are no defeats it cannot overcome, no losses it cannot sustain and no persecution it cannot survive. Try as they might the gates of hell will not prevail, the Church of Christ will survive until the time comes to greet its returning Lord. Vivat Christus Rex!

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Monday 22 June 2015

Hating Jesus

                                                 Christ Mocked by a Soldier- Bloch
 If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.
John 15:18-19

The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion
Laudato Si' 217

Looking at many of the reactions to the encyclical 'on care for our common home' by Pope Francis I began to wonder 'what is meant by the world hating Jesus and His followers and why is  this hatred felt?' Given the widespread welcome given to the document outside of rigidly conservative and rigidly liberal circles (one group wishes to go on polluting the other wants to impose artificial sterility on poor people) this may seem like a perverse subject to reflect upon at this time. I am reminded, however, of the time when a fiery sermon by St John Chrysostom against the practice of applauding in church was greeted with a standing ovation by the congregation. Individual propositions by Christ and His Church can be warmly welcomed but the whole package cannot be accepted without the profound interior conversion of which the Holy Father spoke. And it is the determination to resist conversion that is at the root of hatred to Jesus and those who faithfully follow Him. As our Lord put it Himself 'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters' (Lk 11:23)

To begin at the beginning, a very formidable and exceptionally varied coalition was formed to oppose Jesus during the time of His mission. It is easy at this distance to think that what united His opponents was greater than what divided them but really except on this one subject they were completely with odds with each other about almost everything. American Democrats and Republicans are more in harmony with each other than the enemies of our Lord were. From the Gospel we can see that His opponents included the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the High Priestly party and the Roman occupying power. Each of these groups had a distinct agenda and priorities which excluded those of their rivals. The followers of Jesus were mostly the anawim, the humble poor, who were either poor in fact or, like Joseph of Arimathea, poor in spirit. What is significant for our purposes was that it was possible for people to be anawim and Pharisee or anawim and Sadducee or even anawim and Roman and so on. The key to being a follower of our Lord was not outward allegiance but inward conversion. The issues that the different parties disagreed about were chiefly to do with matters of prudential judgement, about which disciples of Jesus can legitimately come to different conclusions to each other, not about how the inner person relates to their God.

The second question 'why is this hatred felt?' is the easier one to answer. Being converted, accepting Jesus and His values, into the very core of our being and into how we live our life means turning our personal world upside down. It means looking upon the things of the world, wealth, power, prestige, celebrity and so on as so much dross and making it our ambition to serve rather than to be served. It means that we desire others to be applauded, we should be glad, indeed, if they receive that applause for what we have done. To be converted is to prefer Christ not only to ourself but also to our family, our nation, our culture, our language in short to everything and everyone. Such a radical demand is madness and revolution to those who cannot surrender themselves, abandon themselves to it and so they reject it with a shudder.

The first question is more tricky, how is this hatred made manifest? How do Christ and His Church experience it? Some of you may have thought that it was curious that I included the Romans in the list of our Lord's enemies since Pilate was manifestly reluctant to execute Jesus. We see in the attitude and actions of the occupying power the truth of the statement that 'whoever is not with me is against me.' Pilate was not for Jesus he was indifferent towards Him for he knew little about Him. What he was chiefly for was himself and secondarily for Rome when he felt that both of those were under threat because of the Jerusalem mob then he willingly sacrificed Jesus for the sake of a quiet life. Without an inward conversion everyone, in fact, is willing to sacrifice Jesus for the sake of a quite life.

Fast forwarding several centuries we see a picture transformed. The anawim had so far prevailed as to make Christianity the official religion of a great empire but the coalition of enemies of Christ remained intact, as it will until the end of time. Those whose first love is power or wealth or sensuality will always resist conversion and hate the converting agent. What happened instead is that they masked their hostility to the whole by offering their support to the part, that is, by emptying Christianity of its core while officially supporting its shell they sought to destroy the content as they upheld the form. To kill Christianity as a living thing at the same time as upholding it as a dead one became the preferred approach of the new Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians and Romans. And this is what it means when Jesus says that the world will always hate Him and His followers. In the post-Christian West we see both approaches flourish, the outright attacks by overt enemies of the faith and the equivocal support of selected aspects of the message, but not the call to conversion, by those who profess friendship to the Church.

So what has this to do with Laudato Si'? The message of the encyclical is primarily about one thing- conversion. The wealthy must abandon their wealth to save the poor, the powerful must abandon their power to save the powerless, those who use creation as an object to be exploited must accept it as a subject to be cherished for itself. Those who welcome Laudato Si' or reject it simply because of what it says on the subject of man-made climate change are not only missing the point but wilfully, deliberately and selfishly doing so. They fear that if they accepted it they would be converted.

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