What is the Christian event? Good question.
First, an anecdote, then an answer.
Four years ago at this time, I was standing stupefied in front of my first-ever students. I had very little idea about teaching, and if it weren’t for some key people that year, I’m not sure I would’ve floated. One of those key people was my mentor – a man who introduced me to much more than classroom management and secondhand smoke, he re-proposed Christ to me in a way I had never before noticed.
At one point, several months into the school year, he passed the following excerpt (by Lorenzo Albacete) on to me:
To believe that one becomes a Christian through the proper philosophy, theology, spirituality, morality, or cultural project, is a presumption; it is to see our efforts as the cause of our belonging to Christ. Instead, we become Christians because the Incarnation happened in history, because the Paschal Mystery happened, because Pentecost happened, and because those events continue to happen in the world today. They happen now because they happened then and because the Church exists in the world as the life of a communion of persons created by these events, and making them present today through the sacraments. They happen because Christ has risen from the dead and can be encountered today with exactly the same results experienced by Andrew, James, John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Zaccheus, and the criminal at the cross next to His. Something happened to them. It was an event. The key to the Christian life, the point of departure, is not an intellectual or cultural proposal. It is this event. This is what creates the concern which post-Christian man has so tragically lost. Evangelization is to give witness of our amazement at this unimaginable event. (The Key to the Christian Life)
Once I read these words, I understood the chasm of difference between me and him. See, for me, Christianity had become a project, or a morality. My efforts were at the fore. But for him, it was just the opposite. Something had happened to him, something unimaginable. And he lived every day in light of that encounter. For him, and he is a very smart guy, Christianity was not intellectual or cultural – it was real. As a result, he evangelized through word and deed constantly, as if Christ was ever-present and surprising him all over again.
Just like some good old time Gospel evangelization (we really do see this in the Gospels), jealousy drove me – I wanted what he had. This meant being blown wide open, amazed, surprised once again, and over-and-over again, by Christ’s presence in my life. His presence clearly manifest, and intimately known through the Church. This was truly and event – an encounter – this is the Christian event.
This is the same sort of event that happened over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, when “the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Gal. 4:4-7).
The Christian event, then, has two meanings (remote and proximate):
- The fact of Christ’s presence in the history of mankind, which signified an end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New.
- The fact of Christ’s presence in the Church that can be encountered today in exactly the same way He was encountered while walking about the crowds in Judea. This is the sort of event that Pope Benedict XVI speaks about in Deus Caritas Est:
We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.