Who is Jesus Christ?

A statue of JesusChristians are named after Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ own time, he would likely have been known as Jesus of Nazareth, or perhaps Jesus “Bar Joseph” i.e. “Son of Joseph.” Christians refer to him as Jesus Christ because the title “Christ” was applied to him very early in the history of Christianity. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah,” and means “anointed one.” Basically this means that we believe Jesus is the predicted king in the line of David, the ideal Jewish king.

However, we believe Jesus is more than just an earthly king. He is, for Christians, much more. Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate, i.e. God in the flesh. This means that Christians believe that the God of the cosmos became uniquely human in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus Christ is true God. However, we also believe he is true human, which is to say he was genuinely human as well.

Because he was fully God and fully human, his teachings were the very teachings of God. Jesus was born of a Virgin (Mary) and became a travelling teacher/preacher when he was around 30. This was the public ministry of Jesus. Jesus revealed the way to God, and taught us how to love God and neighbor. After ministering for three years, he increasingly ran afoul of the authorities. This led to his crucifixion and death on Good Friday.

Three days later Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead, which is to say, he is no longer dead, but is living. Forty days after his resurrection, he returned to the Father in heaven, an event called the Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter Sunday.

Who Is God?

Image of Jesus on the crossOver the next few months, as part of Ordinary Time, we are going to explore some basic aspects of Christianity. I want to start with God, which is obviously the best place to begin.

The basic Christian understanding of God is that he is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere). There is also only one God, meaning Christians are monotheist, sharing this belief in common with Jews and Muslims.

Christians have a unique brand of monotheism, Trinitarianism (celebrated on Trinity Sunday). I prefer to call this a “dynamic monotheism” because we believe God is one, but also “three.” The Catholic (and majority Christian), view is that God is one substance (i.e. whatever makes God “God”) existing as three separate persons (separate realities). Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but each is not the other.

Christians also believe in a personal God, i.e. that God is active in the lives of humans. God reveals himself to humans, and this happened gradually throughout history, beginning with covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and reaching its fullness with the New Covenant in Jesus.

While some religions and movements tend to see God as distant (such as Deism), Christianity believes God is actively seeking out his creatures for redemption. Because of this, St. John could describe God as “love.”

Attributes of God

holy trinity iconWhile it’s not necessarily related to the Church year, today I want to get a little theological. I’m going to list and discuss a few of the attributes of God. Keep in mind these are not complete, but general traits. They aren’t simply restricted to Catholic theology, but would apply to most other Christian groups (and even Judaism). With that in mind, here are the Christian attributes of God.

Omniscient

This means that God is all knowing. He knows the entire past, present, and future events. He knows our thoughts and feelings. He has complete knowledge of the very structure of the entire universe.

Omnipotent

God is all powerful. He is in complete control of the universe. While God gives room for freewill, he nonetheless makes sure all in the universe works together for his plan and his glory. There is nothing outside of the realm of possibility for God.

Omnipresent

This term refers to the fact that God is present everywhere. No matter where we are in the universe, God can be found. However, being omnipresent doesn’t mean God is everything or in everything.

Transcendent

God is above and beyond our understanding and our experience. We will never be able to fully understand his ways or fully connect to his divine majesty. In Christianity, God the Father is the person in the Trinity who represents God’s transcendence.

Immanent

Note the spelling. This term means that God is also present with humanity in a unique way. In other words, while awesome and fully unknowable, God reveals himself and reaches down to get to know us too. God the Son becoming human in Jesus is the immanent side of God in Christian teaching. The Holy Spirit is immanent as well.

Holy

God is perfect and just and has no sin within him. God’s total holiness is one reason for the Christian teaching of Jesus Christ as a mediator and sacrifice for sin. It’s also the basis for the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which states that souls are cleansed of unholiness to be in God’s perfect presence.

So, hopefully you found this little primer on the attributes of God helpful. Once again, there are many more. But, this list includes most of the key attributes of God.

Christian New Years Resolution Ideas

A stain glass windowIn the Catholic Calendar, today is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It is also World Peace Day, and today we also celebrate Mary under the title of “Queen of Peace.” Many in the western world are thinking about the new year and various resolutions that they can try to keep. While it isn’t specifically Christian, I believe as Christians and Catholics this is a great chance to make some spiritual change!

I try to make (and keep!) a few spiritual resolutions each year. Sure, I resolve to lose a little weight, eat fewer carbs, etc, but I also want to make sure I am working on things that benefit my soul too. Below I offer some ideas for Christian New Year resolutions for 2013.

– Read the Bible through in a year

– Pray the rosary every day

– Pray Morning or Evening Prayer (or both!) from the Divine Office

– Purposefully do one act of kindness every day

– Forgive a grudge

– List five things you are grateful for at the end of each day

– Read the Catholic Catechism through in a year

– Sponsor a poor child

– Set up a monthly donation to a charity from your bank account

– Set up a monthly bank deduction to your local parish

– Read a spiritual book each month

– Take a pilgrimage to a shrine or special parish

Okay, I’ve gotten us started. Now what are your ideas?

Standing Up For Thanksgiving Over Black Friday

A table set for Thanksgiving dinnerWhen I was growing up, Thanksgiving was magical in every way. We would pick up Aunt Margaret as dad drove across the winding roads and over the foothills of Southern Ohio. The landscape was beautifully sparse – and brown…lots and lots of brown. Sometimes a delicate layer of snow covered the world, which, in my young mind, was a preview of Christmas. There was barely a car on the road, except other families who were picking up relatives for their own special dinners. There was something “right” about this, about people focusing on what really matters for one day.

American Thanksgiving is coming up tomorrow. Soon, Americans that give little thought to gratitude and blessings in their life will sit down, dine with family and friends, and rest for a change…unless of course they decide to take a cue from corporate America.

Unfortunately, many retailers have decided to start “Black Friday” on Thanksgiving, so Americans can buy things they can’t afford and won’t have time to enjoy a day early. Even though most Americans seem disgusted by these tactics, other businesses will follow suit for fear of losing out on the business.

I am not a curmudgeon at all, but I do believe it is time to reconsider our priorities if we are willing to cut short a day of rest, gratitude, and seeing family and friends, so we can wait in line to get a better deal on cheap crap. I believe we need to stand up and let the businesses know that some things are more important than deals. It would be great if businesses opened on Thanksgiving and nobody showed up.

I honestly believe that people have the right to open their businesses whenever they want, so this is not a plea for a government to step in. This is a plea for sane people to stay home on Thanksgiving and pay attention to what matters. For a few days a year we get a break from the “rat race.” For a few days the world stops and ponders what life is really about. Yet a lot of people don’t have these days anymore.

So, what will children’s memories consist of twenty years from now? Will it be waiting in line with their families to stampede each other, to buy something that will either break in a few years, or else take up space in the basement until it is left to rot in a landfill? Will Thanksgiving be a celebration of God, friends, and gratitude or greed and cheap Chinese crap? Something just seems wrong about this.

Giving Thanks For The Kindness of Strangers

Woman sitting next to a childA few weeks ago I was traveling from my current hometown to parent’s house, which is an over two hundred mile trip. The weather was extremely nasty, with Hurricane Sandy’s wrath coming down all around me. About halfway through my trip, my windshield wipers went out as I was driving!

I was in a construction zone, so I quickly pulled off the side of what little road was left. I was near an exit at least, so I said a prayer and made a dart for the ramp. My windshield was totally covered and my visibility was zero by the time I arrived at a gas station. They had no mechanic. The same was the case for all of the gas stations. The exit was in the middle of the country with little civilization.

Since the nearest mechanic was ten miles away and the rain wasn’t supposed to stop for another four days, it was suggested that I try RainX to get me to my parents’ home. However, none of the places had that either! I sat in a McDonald’s having coffee and searching websites trying to fix wipers. But, they were beyond my repair.

I was starting to get discouraged because I had made big plans for that evening with my brother. But, they weren’t happening as I was stuck in that McDonald’s. Either I had to get my car towed and spend the night (or longer) or my parents would have to drive up and get me. There wasn’t a good solution.

Finally, after waiting around three hours, I decided to ask around to see if anyone had RainX. There was one lady who had a hunch and searched her entire car for me. She found a very old bottle. In spite of my efforts to pay her, she wouldn’t take any money. She gave me the bottle, wished me the best, and went on her way.

The wax was old and clumpy, but I applied it as best I could to my windshield then buffed it off. I drove down the country highway for a few minutes, making sure I could travel without the wipers. Sure enough, the RainX seemed to work.

I said several prayers and hit the highway. The ninety minutes back to my parents’ house was harrowing at moments, especially when I passed large trucks. But, I made it safely–and extremely late.

I tell this story to illustrate how one woman and her efforts made a huge impact on my life. It was just a very old bottle of RainX with no material value. But, it meant the world to me. And, her act meant even more. Her act was a great spiritual kindness that I will never forget.

Today and everyday going forward, vow to be a lifeline for others, even in the littlest ways. A small, but kind and loving gesture could have big impacts in ways you never even imagined.

Causing Others To Sin – Why You Can’t Force People Into God’s Kingdom

From today’s reading, we hear a popular saying of Jesus about children and childlike people:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin (Luke 17:1-2, NAB).

Statue of Jesus

This raises an issue I have thought about for a long time, and that is the failure to realize that the way we present the message of Jesus is just as important as the message itself. Granted, logically it shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

How many of us have encountered Christians that have tried to bash, badger, and harass people into the kingdom of God? The greatest spiritual poison in my life has been hanging out on theological forums and blogs that have made me less loving, less merciful, and stirred within me more hatred for my fellow human beings. As I was carrying on debates in my head as I fell asleep, I never had room for prayer…imagine that!

I was on one forum where a contributor told another contributor (whom we will call “heretic A”) to F**k off.” When asked about it, he said that he had to use the “f” word, in case a child read the forum, they would clearly realize that “Heretic A” was a heretic. This is an extreme example, but I can give plenty more examples.

I have news for you; this style doesn’t work. Jesus didn’t use that method, nor did the early Christians. Jesus met people where they were. He had mercy on those that needed it most. One of the lessons of teaching junior high and high school students is that I have had to learn to meet people where they are, and speak the truth with a gentle nudge instead of a big stick.

Catholics and Voting

Polling Station signAs the United States elects most of its Congress and its President, I thought it would be useful to mention the Catholic Church’s official positions on voting, community and political involvement, and the responsibilities of voters.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of quotations, just some statements from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Please note: we are not taking sides or endorsing any candidate, just presenting official Church teaching. Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2238-2246 (click to read in its entirety).

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.

Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country…

Those who exercise authority should do so as a service. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” The exercise of authority is measured morally in terms of its divine origin, its reasonable nature and its specific object. No one can command or establish what is contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law.

The exercise of authority is meant to give outward expression to a just hierarchy of values in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom and responsibility by all…

Political authorities are obliged to respect the fundamental rights of the human person. They will dispense justice humanely by respecting the rights of everyone, especially of families and the disadvantaged.

The political rights attached to citizenship can and should be granted according to the requirements of the common good. They cannot be suspended by public authorities without legitimate and proportionate reasons. Political rights are meant to be exercised for the common good of the nation and the human community.

Please pray for the United States and its citizens as we make these important voting decisions.