08 April 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 48

This is the last readalong post for what has been our most challenging Book Club pick: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Pope Benedict XVI. It may seem odd to have a work of theology overlapping with the SF fantasies in a month whose theme is In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog, but believe it or not, the epilogue includes this choice passage:

Christ, at the Father's right hand, is not far away from us. At most we are far away from him, but the path that joins us to one another is open. And this path is not a matter of space travel of a cosmic-geographical nature: it is the "space travel" of the heart, from the dimension of self-enclosed isolation to the new dimension of world-embracing divine love.

Last month, Pope Benedict gave me a new excuse (not that I'm ever in need of one) to bring up time travel. This month, right on schedule, he himself brings up space travel. Was this ever the right book at the right time, or what? =D


This is the part of the book which answers the question, "Okay, what now?" That is, now that we have come to believe that Jesus is Lord and have been baptised into His death to rise with Him into eternal life, what do we do with our lives?

Pope Benedict frames the answer to this question with the accounts of the Ascension and the mystery of how Jesus can be at once "at the right hand of the Father" and "with [us] always, until the end of time."

The New Testament, from the Acts of the Apostles to the Letter to the Hebrews, describes the "place" to which the cloud took Jesus, using the language of Psalm 110:1, as sitting (or standing) at God's right hand. What does this mean? It does not refer to some distant cosmic space where God has, as it were, set up his throne and given Jesus a place beside the throne. God is not in one space alongside other spaces. God is God--he is the premise and the ground of all the space there is, but he himself is not part of it  God stands in relation to all spaces as Lord and Creator. His presence is not spatial, but divine. "Sitting at God's right hand" means participating in this divine dominion over space . . .

. . . The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God's dominion over space. Hence he has not "gone away," but now and forever by God's own power he is present with us and for us . . .

And this is how we are to understand the disciples' great joy when Jesus leaves them after only forty days back from the grave. It is the joy of every baptised Christian, which is available to us at every moment, but remembered especially on the Solemnity of the Ascension. This year, that solemnity will be celebrated on the 12th of May--so for once, the readalong's timing is off. LOL!

There is just one more thing I want to share . . . Last week, at a local cafe, a friend of mine noticed my copy of Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. One remark led to another, and finally she asked: "Why did Pope Benedict write it?"

And I said, in my rambling, badly-in-need-of-editing way:

"If you think about it, we don't really need most of the religious stuff we have. Jesus did the work of salvation for us, and basically all we need is the sacrament of Baptism. Theoretically, a baptised person could go all his life without the rest of religion, including the knowledge that he had been baptised, because that's how the grace of salvation works. But it is also good for a Christian soul to be shaped in a certain way--to be filled with good things and to be formed into something fit to hold them and to bear them throughout life and into Heaven. And the only thing capable of shaping a Christian soul in that way is a true encounter with Christ. Pope Benedict wrote this book in the great tradition of the Gospels and the Mass, so that everyone who reads it can meet Jesus more easily through them."

I hope that was the gist of it.

Question of the Day: Did reading this book change anything for you?

Image Source: Holy Trinity by Hendrick van Balen


Spacetraveller said...

Did someone say space travel ??

Right up me street, Enbrethiliel. :-D

Yes, I think it is true that we only really need just Baptism.

But God wants us to want the other Sacraments as well :-)
Hence the Pope trying to encourage us to 'get with the programme' so to speak.

Reading this book did change something for me: And that was, I found reading stuff like this 'normal'. I actually believed only the 'freakish' do this stuff, lol. To me weekly Mass was kinda enough.
But I have learned better.

It was a good exercise, particularly for Lent.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm more of a time travel girl myself. ;-)

But as Albert Einstein pointed out, space and time are on the same continuum!

Speaking of feeling "freakish," I actually had the same impression several years ago, the last time I was earnestly reading a book by a Pope. I was in my New Zealand university, reading a compilation of Pope John Paul II's speeches, when it suddenly hit me that I was being very unusual. Do you know what I mean? It isn't a big deal for someone to read a such a religious book in the Philippines, where piety is not merely welcome in the public square but the original builder of the public square (LOL!); but it was very different in New Zealand. And although no one said anything to me about it, I stopped reading the book in public and never took it out of my bedroom again.

I had that experience in mind every time I had to read Pope Benedict's book in a place where I would be seen. I wasn't trying to make a spectacle of myself, of course, but I was conscious that my choice of reading material said something about me that even people who saw me every day might not know. This time around, however, it was not a problem! =D People remarked on it, yes--but no more and no less than they remarked on the Roald Dahl novel I was reading last month or the Jules Verne classic I brought to work last year. Isn't it nice when a book can just be a book and not a message that other people feel you're screaming at them? =)

Spacetraveller said...


I think you are definitely more freakish than me, Enbrethiliel :-)

I mean freakish in a good way :-)

Enbrethiliel said...


That is one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me! ;-)