Just last month when I celebrated my birthday I received a greatly anticipated present; “Jesus of Nazareth”, the latest publication of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. I think I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll mention it again just for clarification. I certainly don’t agree with all of the pope’s theological or social positions, in fact, I’m vehemently opposed to many of them. However, for me, this in no way undermines the personal integrity, holiness, and wisdom that Pope Benedict XVI in my mind constantly exudes and offers as a gift to the entire People of God. However, some of his shortcomings, which include rigid interpretations of morality and certain theological questions, are deeply discouraging. In my mind these are ultimately based on fear, a fear that was unleashed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council when rapid changes happened with ever increasing succession. Even if these were inherantly beneficial for the Church perhaps the manner in which they were carried out was not always so noble. I digress… Really I try not to be too critical of His Holiness as some people are. I sincerely understand their convictions, but I just don’t think the mad, angry, insulting approach is the right way to address our problems.
Essentially, “Jesus of Nazareth” is a monumental work by the pope chronicling Jesus’ public life from the innauguration of His ministry at His Baptism in the Jordan to the moment of the Transfiguration, at least, that’s what’s been covered so far in this “first volume.” Assuming, a second one is published.
As always, Pope Benedict is always very profound in his reflections on theological matters. Not only is the book’s depth noticeable but also there is an indellible, personal touch to the pontiff’s pen. He did describe this work himself as his “personal search for the Face of the Lord.”
So far, the second chapter of the book has proved most striking and provocative. As the course of the book traces the public ministry of Christ the second chapter deals with the temptations of Jesus. In the second, of the three temptations that Satan tests Jesus with he asks Him to throw Himself down from the Temple in Jerusalem. He explains this proposal by quoting the Psalms where it says, “For He will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus’ reply to this challange is that, “You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test” also a quote from Scripture. The following analysis by the pope of this account caught me off guard a bit, however, knowing Joseph Ratzinger, there should have been no reason for me to be surprised.
Pope Benedict connects this story to what he sees as the correct interpreation of Sacred Scripture within the context of the Church. In his mind, any Scriptural analysis which does not succomb and mold itself upon the presently held teachings of the Magisterium is dangerous. In his words, “The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon Him is incapable of finding him.” He goes on to say that doing so would make God our “servant.” So, essentially, His Holiness is asserting that any Scriptural exegis which is not grounded in the Magisterial consensus of the Church is potentially dangerous, possibly even heretical…
Hold on…if I’m not mistaken, hasn’t Joseph Ratzinger as the former head of the CDF and countless other authorities within the Church committed this very same deed themselves? Of course they wouldn’t see it in this light, but really, how else can it be described when a compoliation of celibate men decides what God’s will is concerning the norms and expressions of human sexuality?
Even fundamentalists, such as Bishop Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X, try to morphe God into their own image of individualistic, opinionated, and self-rightous, perfection. But is this God the God of love who Jesus came to proclaim as the Father of all Who set the whole world free from the bonds of sin and death? I don’t think Shirley Phelps-Roper’s “raging mad God” meets any of those descriptions…
So, to the pope, any Scriptural or theological exegis for that matter that is not grounded on consensus from the Magisterium is blasphamy. Of course, some of you reading this will think to yourselves that this is nothing new under the sun, this is the way things have gone on within the Church for quite some time. But do the leaders of the Church fail to see the countless double standards that appear time at any instance of a matter’s “infallibility?”
Perhaps they don’t, but it’s up to us to pray that they do…
As we continue to rejoice during this blessed and joyful Easter season it might be useful to reflect on something Jesus said following His Resurrection. On that first Easter Sunday one of the Gospel accounts records Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene. The risen Lord assures and comforts the astonished Mary and tells her that, “I go before you into Galilee.” Hereafter, this is the message entrusted to Mary to proclaim to the still grief-stricken and forlorn Apostles. Of course when she does tell them they don’t believe her on account of her being a woman. Ultimately, it takes a spontaneous appearance of the Lord in the Upper Room later on that evening to finally solidify that fact of Christ’s Resurrection to the Apostles.
Even today, it seems that the leaders of the Church continue to silence and disregard the input, insights, and the talents of so many faithful women. But remember what Jesus told Mary, “I go before you to Galilee” Jesus is risen and will be with us always as He emphatically assured us! But Jesus no longer simply dwells on Earth as a teacher, He is our heavenly Lord that continues to progress ever forward guiding His flock! The leaders of the Church must consider that Jesus is no longer trapped within the realms of human reason and tagibility. He is risen and He goes beore us and He exhorts the entire people of God to do the same by progressing ever forward to new understandings and interpretations of His will and His undying love for each and every one of us, unconditionally.