Wandering Thoughts Article #2
How do we understand Jesus?
We were always taught when we were children that Jesus came to save us from our sins. This is how we always understand Him. “Why did Jesus become man? To save us from our sins.” The most fundamental understanding of that he took the punishment for sin upon himself. In other words, he served our prison sentence so that we would not have to. This is why God became man.
In the 12th century, St Anselm, who was the archbishop of Canterbury, (I believe that his successor in Canterbury was Thomas Becket, who became a martyr). St Anselm was a brilliant theologian and he proposed a way to understand Jesus. It was a theory called in Latin: “Cur Deus Homo; Why God became man”. According to Anselm, human beings committed this atrocious sin against God and only God could forgive but only a human being could create the conditions for forgiveness. And that is sorrow and a desire to make reparation. So God being the only who could forgive, had to become man because a man was the only one who could create the conditions of forgiveness.
But after that another theologian came along, and stirred the pot up a little bit and confused everybody. His name was Duns Scotus, he was a Franciscan. He had a hypothetical idea: “What if man had never committed sin. Sin was voluntary, it didn’t have to happen.” What if man had never had committed sin? Then would God have become man? I think what Duns Scotus said was: certainly God would have become man. God became man not just to save us but God became man because He loved his sons and daughters so much He wanted to be with them. God became man because He couldn’t keep His hands off us. He loved us that much. This helps us in understanding about God becoming man. God’s becoming man was not a reaction to anything. Man became a sinner and therefore God had to change his plans and save him. God doesn’t operate that way. God does not react – God acts. So God is not waiting for me, O’Leary, to see what I do today and to react to it and forgive me. God acts always of His own will. Why did God become man? Because he wanted to be with us and to touch us because He loved us that much.
In this question of prayer, I think Duns Scotus’ theory of redemption is very very helpful. God did not just serve our prison sentence for us, He came to us because He had a personal love for each one of us as individuals. In the face of God’s love, what is our response? What do we do? How do we pray? How do we enter into intimate relationship with this Father in Heaven, who loves us so much?
Of course the first understanding, of redemption, was formulated by Thomas Aquinas. God had to make reparation for us. It is a kind of intellectual understanding of God. Duns Scotus is more of intuitive understanding. God couldn’t stay away from His beloved creatures, his beloved children. This is the God of Jesus Christ. He revealed this God to us, a God who is simply filled with love for us. I think we have a God who is love. I think we have a God who is also joy. We need to appreciate both. We need to answer God’s call to intimate friendship with Him.
Religion has always said and people have always understood religion as an effort to make its participants good. I think that it sells it short. Our understanding of good is not deep enough.
We say what is the opposite of “good”? We would say “bad”. What is the opposite of “truth”? It would be falsehood. The opposite of a truth could be an even more profound truth. The opposite of good need not be bad. The opposite of good could be wonderful. God does not call me to be a good priest. He calls me to be a superb priest. God does not call a woman to be a good mother. He calls her to be a superb mother. God is not calling us into mediocrity. He is calling us not to be good but to be great. I think that the church has often missed this point. That God is calling anyone to be simply good that is mediocre. He is calling each one of us in an individual way. But He is calling all of us to be close to Him as we possibly can.
How do we love God? If we want to talk about love, we really need to take a look at the poets in our past because they’re the ones that talk about love. I would like to stay with Shakespeare for a few minutes. He wrote the play “Much Ado About Nothing”. The two principle characters in that play were the hero, Benedict and the heroine, Bernice. They hated each other. They were two young people extremely intelligent, who just rubbed each other the wrong way. Every time they got together, it was warfare. And each one was trying to get the better of the other one in this verbal combat. But at one point it got more serious than that. In Shakespeare’s play, Bernice got some bad news, some horrible news, maybe the death in her family. And she was devastated. Benedict tried to come close to her, to console her and to be of help to her. She told him to “get out”, she did not want him anywhere around. Then true feelings came out, in one sentence, and Benedict said to her “In all this world there is nothing that I love so much as you.” And Bernice turned around and the world for her and for Benedict turned upside down. I have currently tried to make it a practice to use that wonderful sentence as a part of my night prayers. I would like to go to sleep with on my mind that sentence. “Oh God, in all this world there is nothing that I love so much as You.” What a way to enter into eternity, to have those words in our minds. Let us think of God’s call, let us remember that He is calling no one just to be good. He is calling all of us to greatness. He is not calling anyone to mediocrity. He has a call like this not to lay a heavy burden on us but because He knows we are going to be a lot happier if we are striving for greatness and just not floating along being good. God wants all of us. And in our prayer life this is the way we go to God. I think God wants every square inch of each one of us. And none of us are there yet. But we need to be striving. This is what reaching into the depth of prayer enables us to do.
The first of these thoughts are on prayer. Prayer as a personal experience.
The great theologian of the 20st century Karl Rahner, said at the end of his life that the church of the future would have to be mystic or it wouldn’t exist at all. And he was saying that the spirituality that filled the church would have to something personal and something very deep.
In the seminary years ago, they gave us a book called the SOUL OF THE APOSTOLATE by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O. - the very heart of working as a priest. And the author made the thought that the primary call of each one of us is to be a friend of God, a child of God. The primary call of each of us a call to intimacy with God. He said to be a priest is a secondary call. And we all have callings in life. My calling is to be a priest, many of yours is to be a father and a mother or a husband and a wife or as a single life to live in communion with God.
But he is saying that the primary call for each of us is to enter into a relationship with God that is very intimate and very deep. And this really calls all of us to get into prayer of quiet with God. We need to make our time of prayer rich and very deep.
About thirty years ago, I felt a yearning to get into a deeper relationship with God, a relationship that would be based on just quiet reflection upon God. It would not be based on saying prayers or asking for things. It would be the just the kind of prayer that would put me in communion with God Himself. That would lead me into contemplative prayer which is just the prayer of quiet, just what I was looking for. Where we just contemplate God and are just happy in His presence.
I began my journey into this contemplative prayer, the prayer of quiet. And it is a very simple way to prayer. That does not mean it is easy. In contemplative prayer, we just sit down and put ourselves in the presence of God. I sit down in my living room and just image that God is sitting across the room looking at me and being with me. And I try to be with Him. Within sixty seconds, thoughts about what I am going to do today overwhelm me. And then I have to just stop and go back to my intention sitting down and of wanting to be with God. I don’t want to solve problems or have pious thoughts. I don’t want to pray for anybody else. I just want to be with God on a deeper and deeper level. I think this is what Jesus meant when He said when you pray go into your room and be alone. And be with God. This contemplative prayer eventually leads us into a different way of thinking and a different way of connecting with the world around us.
Personally, all my life I have had an anger problem. I was angry about everything and it seems like I was always angry. Some of my best friends noticed that and called my attention to it. Then what happens with contemplative prayer is that you withdraw and be with God for a while. And I did that for two or three years every day. Then I began to notice that I wasn’t angry any more. I began to look at the world differently. I began to look at the people who made me angry differently. For example: an old man came into see me. When I was in Kalamazoo before he had was always haranguing me on all of his craziness, spiritual craziness and when I saw him sitting there I just dreaded it. But I sat down and started to talk to him. Then I started to kid him about some of his peculiarities. But before we were done the two of us were simply laughing together. I think that he forgot what he had come to get me into. We simply enjoyed each other’s company and when he walked out, I simply had to say where did that come from? That guy use to drive me crazy and now I’m looking forward to his next visit. This is the fruit of Contemplative Prayer it puts you at peace and gives you the ability to see the world around you in a different way.
God’s call to us is very personal. We are not simply called to obey his laws or called to answer into a relationship. We need to realize what we have to give to God. What do we have inside us to give to God that no one else can give. We need to be able to answer the question: Who is this God? We need to listen to Jesus’ answer. He is not just the creator of the world - this God. He is not just the judge. He is more than just a father. And he loves each individual to the point of being insane. Jesus pointed this out in the fifteenth chapter of St Luke. The father of the prodigal son couldn’t just stop loving him, even when it was crazy to go on loving him, he did anyway. He loved his older son and nothing could ever change that. And that is the God of Jesus Christ. And that is the God that we are called to - to draw close to and to be intimate with. This is not a duty, it is an invitation. It can become a pleasure and a joy. We need to become contemplative. To pursue this God.