Proclaiming the Death of God

At the Holy Thursday liturgy, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the second reading contains Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:23-26) which ends with a rather mysterious line: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Christians have been proclaiming the death of the Lord from the outset, which makes Nietzsche’s death of God motif toward the end of the 19th century slightly less original.

Nietzsche’s famous proclamation goes like this: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” (The Gay Science, Section 125). Nietzsche seems to be picking up on the idea that enlightened mankind had driven the final nail into God’s coffin — this idea (and an idea, after all, according to Nietzsche and those who came before him, is all God is) has been killed off. “God is dead, long live the Overman!” Without God in the picture, man can finally be free to create himself. As de Lubac says, “He must produce out of himself — out of nothingness — something with which to transcend humanity; let him trample his own head under foot and shoot forth beyond his shadow.” When God is killed off and forgotten, so too is humanity. Now, man, by his own impulse of power, takes God’s place and does not want to relinquish his new position. Kerler sums this up: “Even if it could be proved by mathematics that God exists, I do not want him to exist, because he would set limits to my greatness.”

Then we have Paul’s proclamation, that of a God who dies, and who freely chooses to do so (cf. Jn. 10:18) — an not some idea or ideal of God. The fullness of Christian realism stands behind Paul’s words. This God who comes so close, who is so humble, is indeed too much for man’s pride, which kills him off. Yet even here, the Christ on the cross, even in this place of man’s “cutting him off,” he speaks these words: “I thirst.” Our attempts to cut God off and isolate ourselves in our pride, even these are not capable of removing the God of love from our midst and isolating ourselves in our own Sheol. The willful death of God, his allowing himself to be cut off by the pride of man, marks his entry into the depths of man’s isolating pride. And, when the God who is Communion itself enters the realm of hell (i.e. the isolation of death), he breaks it from the inside — death is conquered by death. When Communion enters the realm of eternal isolation, it is hell no more (cf. Ps. 139:8).

The death of God proclaimed by Paul, and the generations upon generations of believers who proclaim the same each time the Mass is celebrated, is the proclamation of the sign of the depths of God’s love. In dying, he goes to the pit of our hell, to break it from the inside. This breaking from the inside is the healing we need — it is redemption. Far be it from Nietzsche’s proclamation of pride, Paul’s is a cry from the depths of one’s need, to a God who is not scandalized by sin, but one who is now present in the depths of the isolation that is sin’s wage.


Humility and Life in the Resurrection

On Friday, we considered the position of the “modern” man (who is a re-dressed version of the prideful, obstinate man of history).

For this man, there is one authority. The self. There is one master. The self. There will be no acceptance of an Other. So it is that man degenerated by his own sinfulness, cannot bear to stand in front of the truth, in front of existential truth, in front of reality, because it means acknowledging his littleness – that he is not God. In his pride, he would much prefer to crucify the Truth and keep it tightly concealed in a tiny tomb.

But the Truth, which is Life and Love cannot remain contained by the harsh coldness of the tomb. Much the same, that Life and Love wishes to break the hardness of our stony hearts.

I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you back to your own soil. I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. (Ez. 36:24-27)

This, in truth, we celebrate on this Easter Sunday, the God who in an act of pure kenosis takes flesh and enters utterly into the human experience – like us in all things except sin – and suffers to the nth degree the full brunt and effect of sin. He penetrates to the core of the human person and is a presence in the midst of our harsh coldness. And if, if man in an act of humility that is simultaneously an act of faith acknowledges that at the core of His existence he is a being-in-relation (or perhaps better said, a being-in-constant-need-of-relation), this man freely allows that Life and Love to break through his hardness, ushering in new life carried forth by an Other. This is the Christian event accessible to the humble man who does not deny, but who accepts the full weight of His need and the Answer to that need. This loving acceptance and humility makes resurrected life, though not perfected, possible even now.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. (Jn. 1:12-13)

Holy Saturday

“Holy Saturday is the day of the ‘death of God,’ the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him…. Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness; in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it.” (Pope Benedict XVI)guercino_theentombmentofchrist

Crucifying the Truth


“I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus. (John 18:20-22)

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. (Jn. 19:15-16)

The Truth – a threat to the mirage of personal license, a threat to the ideologies of the epoch, a threat to the ways of the state –  was crucified. Good Friday tragically marks this activity which has seemingly been the case throughout the course of human history. In the myriad of epochs, truth, perpetually stands as a challenge for man whose fallen and disordered desires recoil before its reality.

Simply to look at the irony of what has befallen mankind since the Enlightenment. The age of reason that “freed” man from the confines of religion and officially named him the arbiter and measure of all things has resulted in the bloodiest century of all human history, a programme of secularism that has removed the possibility of objective truth, a nihilism that diminishes the desire to search for the answers to the deepest questions, and a West that touts tolerance for all – which ultimately translates to tolerance for those granted such by the powers-that-be. Is it not ironic that the age of reason has resulted promoting behavior in radical opposition to nature, and impassioned and emotional displays of outrage, supplemented with little dialogue? Indeed, little dialogue is possible when void of common ground, when there is no affirmation of objective truth, natural law, and authentic goods.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (Jn.1:9-11)

For man, there is one authority. The self. There is one master. The self. There will be no acceptance of an Other. Today is the day when atheism, materialism, relativism, hedonism, and secularism stand triumphant.

So it is that man degenerated by his own sinfulness, cannot bear to stand in front of the truth, in front of reality, because it means acknowledging his littleness – that he is not God. In his pride, he would much prefer to crucify the Truth and keep it tightly concealed in a tiny tomb.

Surprise, Surprise!

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

So! You better watch out
Oh! You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Herein lies the difference between Santa and Jesus Christ (apart from the obvious historical facticity of Christ and the fictional nature of jolly Ol’ St. Nick) – Santa demands perfection. “Have you been a good little boy or girl this year?” If so, you WILL be rewarded and basically get exactly what you wanted. Santa (or the concept thereof) exercises his charity and generosity in a conditional fashion. poster4853

While there might be some sort of childish wonder surrounding Santa, any experience of surprise is ultimately non-existent, minimal, or ephemeral. But with Christ – with the fact of Jesus Christ who was conceived in a womb and entered history as we all do, who walked the face of the earth, who claimed to be God, whose death and resurrection became the backbone of early Church preaching, whose very existence and claim stands for us as an either/or (either He is God, or a he was a very bad man) – there exists a perpetual surprise.

It is not surprising that humanity needs a savior. Any self-reflection tinged with even the smallest hint of humility will reveal that with my own devices, I cannot seem to overcome this stain of sin. It is not surprising that a creature who sins against his Creator, who sins against Justice/Piety, sins against the infinite, who in his finitude cannot recover the gap generated by even one sin.

The surprise of Christmas is not Santa or material gifts or even our need for salvation, but the method, the manner in which the God of the universe came to save us:

He emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

(Phil. 2:7-8)

God. The infinite, almighty, creator-of-the-universe God, took flesh.

He was conceived in the womb, born of a virgin in a stable, threatened from the start. He passed through every stage of human development (yes, Jesus Christ was even an adolescent). He assumed a human nature, and though He never sinned, He bore the full weight of sin unto the point of death.

But not only that. He saves us, He loves us even when we are bad little girls and boys. And we are, in fact, wounded, broken, sinful, fallen, girls and boys, men and women. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

His unconditional, self-emptying love surprises us in the method God chose to save mankind: incarnation.

While we don’t celebrate the incarnation per se at Christmas (see Feast of the Annunciation on Mar. 25), we do celebrate the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh – the method chosen for the salvation of the world, a method that cannot but surprise us.

“God has shown himself to us in Christ, he has made us see his face and has made himself really close to each one of us. Indeed, God has revealed that his love for man, for each one of us, is boundless: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the clearest possible way how far this love reaches, even to the gift of himself, even to the supreme sacrifice…Having faith, then, is meeting this “You,” God, who supports me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity but gives it; it means entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child” (Pope Benedict XVI – Oct. 24, 2012). Govert_Flinck_-_Aankondiging_aan_de_herders

How unfortunate it is that we have lost sight of the surprise of the incarnation, and the childlike wonder of encountering the Mystery anew. So hardened in our ways, it is no surprise that we push away the love of God incarnate that even wishes to draw close to us now.

Lord, may this change tonight, this night when a child was born who changed history and mankind forever, and who can change my history and my existence forever.

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us. So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. (Lk. 2:15-17)

THE Christian EVENT

In yesterday’s post, I touched briefly on a few of the Scriptural connections between the stories of Jesus’ conception, birth, and infancy and the passion, death, and resurrection. In further reflection yesterday, I was struck over and over again by these ties and the fact that they highlight the organic whole of the Christian event, the fact that is Jesus Christ – the wholeness or one-ness of the Jesus story. Let’s take a moment to simply highlight some of these connections between Christ’s birth and death. Many of these are cataloged in Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives and I would not consider this list exhaustive, the references complete, or in perfect chronological order – the events are too mysterious and dynamic to accomplish such a feat. Nevertheless, there is plenty to ponder here:

  • The journey required by Roman custom/law to a place outside of Jerusalem (Lk. 2:1-5; Lk. 23:32-33).
  • Birth and death happen outside of the town/city (Lk. 2:7; Lk. 23:32)
  • The virgin mother is involved in the journey in both cases, and is centrally involved in the action and the theology of both the birth and the death of Jesus, outside of the town/city.
  • The virgin mother wraps the son in swaddling clothes (Lk. 2:7), which resemble in some way the shroud that would cover the dead Lord (Lk. 23:53).
  • He lays in what presumably is a stable (given the reference to a manger in Lk. 2:7), which, according to Benedict XVI, would have been a rocky cave, as was customary in the area around Bethlehem from ancient times. This image is akin to the “rock-hewn tomb” in which his body would rest after his death (Lk. 23:53). In both cases, the virgin mother is central to the process of laying him in the rock-hewn neonatal unit/tomb (Lk. 2:7; Mk. 15:47). federicofioribarocci_thenativity
  • He is laid to rest in/on a manger, customarily made out of wood (Lk. 2:7) and sleeps the sleep of death on the wood of the cross (Lk. 23:32-ff).
  • The reference to “King of the Jews” (Lk. 23:38) is one that is Gentile in nature – the Jews themselves would have referred to the king as King of Israel. The reference to King of the Jews is also used by the wise men in Mt. 2:2 – Gentiles using the same title in reference to his birth as would be noted by Gentiles in his death.
  • The wise men/Gentiles come and pay homage to the Lord (Mt. 2:11) before giving gifts. The Gospels in the passion narratives recount not homage paid to Jesus by the Romans/Gentiles, but mockery. They give Jesus different “gifts” or perhaps anti-gifts in the scourging, the crown, the cross, the vinegar to drink, and the lance to the side. In both cases, kingship is central to the imagery – exalted on one hand, and mocked on the other. The particular gifts provided by the Magi also have ties to his death, particular the myrrh used for preservation and the tribulation of entering the afterlife (which Jesus would not need).

Perhaps we will end this reflection here and we can all continue to ponder the mystery of Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended for the sake of our salvation. The unity of His life, the unity of the Christian event is worth marveling at in silent meditation. Hopefully these next few weeks afford all of us the time to do so.

Room in the Inn?

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

These are familiar words, of course, and could lead to a variety of observations.

Apart from the obvious connections with Jesus’ death and burial – which also happens outside of the town, involved being laid and then raised upon wooden beams, wrapped in burial clothes, and resting in a tomb hewn out of stone (i.e. a cave) like the “stables” commonly found around Bethlehem – and apart from the Eucharistic themes – the Son of David who reigns/is present forever, born in the city of David, Bethlehem (literally “house of bread”) as the true Bread of Life, and laid in a manger (i.e. a feeding trough) – I would like to focus a brief reflection on the lack of room in the inn.

IMG_20141216_084436Is it not the case for most all of us that we don’t often have room for God in our lives as well? Is it not the case that we perhaps prefer him to be at a distance, “safe” on the other side of the door while we are “safe” peering through the peephole at him? Maybe we invite him into the antechamber of our hearts, but certainly not to the inner sanctuary.

Is there room in the inn of your heart for the Christ child this Christmas? Is there room in your life for the surprise “knock on the door” of your heart – a surprise that makes life whole again, that makes life beautiful and true? What internal or external clutter refuses room for Jesus? Let’s take this last week or so of Advent to make room for Jesus, or rather, to invite the Lord to make room within us.

Here are just a couple of thoughts on how you might become more docile in order that the Spirit might move and make room for the Son:

  1. Get to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Nothing says “declutter” like this Sacrament that literally washes away sin – making us right with God and with the Church. It’s time to let go of our sin and our attachment to it and experience mercy and forgiveness. Look up your parish or a local parish online, note the confession times over the next week, and make it happen. Here is a link to a good examination of conscience.
  2. Let go of resentment. How can there be peace on earth if we have no peace in our hearts. From my experience, one of the greatest causes of distress and frustration lies in a hard heart, an unforgiving heart, a heart that resents. Who do you need to forgive this year? Do you need to forgive yourself? What have you been harboring against others? Turn it into a little prayer. “Lord, I forgive ______, for ______. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
  3. Physically de-clutter. We live in an age where most everyone suffers from stuff-itis. We have so much stuff. What is old and broken? Can you part with it? What is extra? Can you give it to someone in need? What is not extra, but perhaps the cause of an inordinate attachment? Will you part ways? Could you even give something away that hurts a bit?

This Christmas, I pray that the classic line from Scripture “no room in the inn” is not true for us, so let’s not waste time in allowing the Spirit to make room in our hearts and let’s be surprised for once instead of clinging to control.

He’s coming regardless…do you want him to rest at a distance, or to transform from the inside out?