"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.
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?
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