12 March 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 42

Welcome back to our readalong of Pope Benedict XVI's excellent book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week!

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Cardinals have started voting for the next Holy Father. It occurs to me that they might get their job done before I finish mine here! =P And now it feels like a bit of a race, although it shouldn't be.

Chapter IV

Did anyone else find this chapter particularly difficult? I almost said that about Chapter III, too, before my internal editor pointed out that my whining detracted from the writing. I finally mention it now not to complain but to predict that Pope Benedict will be upping his game on us with every new chapter. Bring it on, Papa.

The main reason Chapter IV is a huge challenge is that it is so abstract. Exegesis of a deed of Jesus's or of a symbol-rich parable will give us enough of a visual to follow the reasoning, like a trail of magical breadcrumbs. Exegesis of a prayer is something else. It took me days to get through the chapter without literally falling asleep, but I slogged on in Christian hope that everything would make sense at the end . . . which it did. Pope Benedict has not let me down yet.

Now, waiting until you've reached the peak of a mountain before turning around to take in the hills and valleys you've crossed can be great. No spoilers that way and everything can smack you in the face all at once. But when it comes to really tough terrain, I want to know what the destination is before I set off--just to make sure I don't get lost. Chapter IV did not really do that for me, but in case you are of like mind, let me help you out with another "learning objective" . . .

By the end of Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Chapter IV, your mind will be totally blown by the sheer AWESOMENESS of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

(Okay, it's not much of an objective; but it's accurate!) 

What is happening in this picture?
Be specific!

Another reason this post was held up was that I couldn't find the right artwork for it. The great treasury of Catholic art has countless depictions of both the Washing of the Feet (Chapter III) and two dramatic moments in the Last Supper (Chapter V--Soon to come!), but hardly any of Jesus's high priestly prayer. Which only backs up what I was saying about the abstractness we're dealing with now. =P (Hey, if even the Masters had a problem with it . . .

Pope Benedict points out that there are four essential themes in the prayer: eternal life, sanctification, God's Name, and unity. Each one is rich enough to merit its own readalong post, but here I'm going to focus on my favourite one: unity.

For this the Lord prayed: for a unity that can come into existence only from God and through Christ and yet is so concrete in its appearance that in it we are able to see God's power at work. That is why the struggle for the visible unity of the disciples of Jesus Christ remains an urgent task for Christians of all times and places.

Basically, Jesus prayed the Church into existence: He prayed that people might be saved through the gift of faith, that they might be set apart from the world (but for the world), that His Name might dwell within them, and that they might be visibly united before the world.

You could also say that He breathed Her into existence, the way God gave breath to Adam. Let us be very clear now that the Church is another work of God and definitely not a mere work of man.

And this blows my mind not just because has given me the most profound understanding of the closeness between Christ and His Church that I have ever had, but also because we tend to get it completely backwards today. All over the world, there are so many "man-made" Christian communities full of truly fervent and wonderful believers that their very existence casts doubt on the divine origins of the Catholic Church. And it's tempting to think that one church is as good as another--that all churches are created equal because they were all created by men. Which is why it's only fitting that the earthly head of the Catholic Church should be the one to remind us that this simply isn't so.

To paraphrase Pope Benedict: Christian faith must, like Christ Himself, become "flesh" and dwell among the world in a visible "body."

Question of the Day: What is your favourite formula prayer?

Image Sources: a) The Last Supper by Ugolino da Siena, b) Pope Benedict XVI's final farewell


r said...

The Hail Mary, it's what I find myself saying when troubled.

This book continues to give me a lot of ideas to contemplate on the nature of Jesus Christ, something that I think is necessary for the faith of a person like me, at least right now. I've been grappling with the concept of communion, which is surprisingly hard for me, but central to the whole point of God becoming man. Man can't become God, and we can't even manage to meet God halfway - so God has to become man, and has to found the Church, or else the two could never really meet at all.

r said...

BTW, you lose the race! Habemus papam!

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, that takes some of the wind out of my reading sails! =P After I had processed the news and started thinking about my blog again, I thought, "There goes the readalong!" LOL!

The Hail Mary is my go-to formula prayer, too; and I love the holy rosary. =)

Darwin said...

This is going to post as being Darwin's comment because I'm too lazy to log back in, but you know who it really is.

"Basically, Jesus prayed the Church into existence" -- a very concise summary! I'm struck with the themes of unity that keep appearing. Recently the kids and I read John's gospel aloud, and I was struck by the repetition of just a few themes: whoever has seen me has seen the Father; that they may be one. Both of these come together in the High Priestly prayer. The unity of the Father and Son creates our unity because we become one with them through the eucharist.

I'm having a lot of trouble with this chapter too, not because it isn't brilliant stuff but because it's hard to read too much at once, and yet if I don't read entire portions, a) I miss the unity of the whole, and b) it takes me absolutely forever.

I find myself saying the Hail Mary regularly, though I can't seem to drum up a lot of devotion (or maybe I should say the persistence) for the whole rosary on a regular basis.

Enbrethiliel said...


The themes of unity and communion that you and R bring up actually didn't hit me until I read this chapter. As you can tell from previous posts, I was more fascinated by anything that would let me talk about |time gates"! =P But now that the Church has been breathed into existence by Her Bridegroom's prayer, I'll certainly be paying more attention to them.

Every time I don't have enough time to read a chapter in one sitting, I lose the plot. =/ I just hope I can wrap this readalong up before Easter Sunday--for obvious reasons!

Michael said...

The Jesus Prayer, and there is nothing else even close because this allows me to "pray without ceasing."

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Sometimes, when I am alone, I will sing this prayer using the words (first stanza) I learned while in Catholic grammar school:

Hear O Lord, the sound of my call. Hear O Lord and have mercy. My soul is longing for the glory of you. O hear O Lord and answer me.


I frequently also pray, using the same form:

Most Holy Theotokos, pray for me a sinner.

and also beseeching my namesake,

St. Michael, pray for me a sinner.

For more "formal" prayer times my favorite is the Disciples Prayer commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. The reason is that I heard an excellent several month(!) expositional homily series on this prayer (by a Protestant!). His take was that Jesus was saying not to use the words verbatim, but to pray in this manner (i.e. according to this formula).

Of course neither approach rules out the other, which, because Protestant's as a rule tend to be creedally challenged, escaped this pastor's notice. Then I started looking at OT prayers and the prayers of the saints that populate our prayer book. Many are built on the same formula.


By the way, don't let the simplicity of the prayer fool you. I could easily do several weeks of homilies breaking down each section of the Jesus Prayer.

Finally, blogger seriously needs an edit function for comments. =)

Enbrethiliel said...


The formula prayers and songs we learn as children stay with us forever! I wish the hymns I had to learn for my First Holy Communion were more filling--the kind that could edify children and adults alike. But they were mostly pretty. =P

Michael, I read the first two comments you left, but was too busy to respond to them in a timely manner. I'm sorry about that.

You make an interesting distinction between "informal" and "formal" formula prayers. I'll be chewing that over.

Michael said...

Ah, "pretty" is a charitable description of those childhood hymns =P The first stanza of the "Hear O Lord" hymn only makes the cut because of the second sentence, which is basically a stripped down version of the prayer of the publican, and provides an occasional change of pace (for me).

My "informal" versus "formal" distinction is one of setting not substance, as the Jesus Prayer can (and is in some circles) used quite formally. But the "arrow prayers" lend themselves to all manner of settings where you cannot be alone quietly in your icon corner before the saints.

The ultimate goal of the Jesus Prayer (or the invocation of the Theotokos using the same "formula") is that it become the "prayer of the heart", i.e. prayed at all times no matter what you are doing, thinking, saying, etc. but that is a topic well beyond the scope of this post and something which will escape most laypeople.

//you call this a late response? Ha! I am the king of late responses on your blog. Your response time seems normal to me. :-)

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, Your Majesty, you seem to be slipping these days, as you got this response in after only a whopping . . . two hours! =P

Here is one of the prettiest songs from my First Holy Communion:


The arrangement isn't my style at all, but this was the only upload I could find. =(

And if you're wondering, my "problem" with the song is that I really dislike having to sing vox Dei.

Michael said...

ah, vox Dei...something I haven't had to contend with for many years. =P

Michael said...

Well, Your Majesty, you seem to be slipping these days, as you got this response in after only a whopping . . . two hours! =P

"Your Majesty", with a capital M no less!

I wonder what that would sound like rolling off your tongue...tinged with sarcasm, a smirk, and a roll of the eyes...or with an unconcealable mirth =P

Enbrethiliel said...


Would it disappoint you to know that I'd probably deliver it deadpan? =P

Michael said...

Actually, having seen you on video a couple of times, not at all. :-)