Category Archives: AFFC-blog


FAITH MATTERS: What do Christians Believe about Jesus the Son?

christ-good-shepherd-icon-orthodox-window-into-heavenBelief in Jesus is crucial to Christianity. Christians call themselves “Christians” because of their shared belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. So what are some of the things that Christians believe about this Jesus Christ?

Son of God: Christians believe that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is the Son of God. As we say in the Nicene Creed every Sunday, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, created by God but always having existed with God, in one being with God. We cannot always completely understand what all of this means, but, since the very beginning of the church, we have believed it to be true.

Incarnation: Because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we also believe that he is the incarnation of God. The word incarnation comes from the Latin word for flesh or meat; so incarnation literally means to make something out of flesh. In Jesus, God is made flesh or human. It is not just that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth in some “spiritual” or angelic sort of way. Jesus was a human being just like everyone else of earth. We believe that Jesus suffered all of the trials and tribulations of being human: he got sick, angry, and sad, and he died. But we also believe that he celebrated all of the wonderful things about being a human being: he loved his family and his friends, he had fun and went to parties, he told stories and ate good meals. Because God became human in Jesus, we know that God loves us and that God shares our joys and sorrows and we know that we can always turn to God who is intimately connected to the human lives we lead.

Fully human and fully divine: By combining these two beliefs about Jesus, we come up with one of the central tenets of Christianity: that Jesus was fully human and fully God. This is not a belief that Jesus was God since the beginning, then a human for a while, and now God again. Jesus was not a half-human, half-God being who walked the earth. We believe that Jesus is completely human at all times and completely God at all times. Again, this is not a belief that makes sense to our rational minds, but it is one that was formulated very early in the history of the church and it is one that the church has insisted on since then.

Sacrament of God: A sacrament is an outward sign or source of God’s grace (God’s unconditional love for us). When we think of sacraments, however, we tend to only think of the seven ritual sacraments that make up such an important part of the worship life of the Church today. But anything that is for us a source of God’s grace is a sacrament and Jesus is the best example of that. God loves us so much that God came to dwell among us in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. God’s grace comes to us through the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Jesus is the supreme example of what God’s grace means to us.

Resurrection and Ascension: Central to our understanding of our Christian faith is our belief that Jesus not only died, but he conquered death by rising from the dead on the third day and, after appearing to his disciples, ascended into heaven. It is Jesus’ power over death that gives us the assurance that we will live with him forever. The Resurrection is the event in the life of Jesus that sets Christianity apart from all the other religions of the world. In fact, it is the Resurrection that sets Christianity apart from its roots in Judaism. And the Ascension gives us the confidence to believe that we will be with Jesus in heaven when we die.

The Second Coming: One of the most often misunderstood and least often discussed of the beliefs about Jesus is his promised second coming. The early Christian church believed that Jesus would return to finish establishing God’s Reign within their lifetimes. However, as the first disciples began to die without witnessing this second coming, the early believers began to realize not only that Jesus’ return was to be some time into the future but that it was entirely unpredictable. This lead to a great deal of speculation about what happens to people who die before the second coming as well as about the nature and timing of this return. Eventually, this developed into our beliefs about Heaven and Hell as well as our belief that Jesus will come again at the end of time to judge all souls.

Again, these are only some of the things that Christians believe about Jesus. And it took us almost 2000 years to figure them out as well as we have, which is obviously nowhere near a perfect understanding. The person of Jesus is a mystery as is his saving work, but we trust in him anyway. Unlike Doubting Thomas, we have not seen and still believe; and God blesses us for it.

FAITH MATTERS: Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection – The Foundation of Our Faith

the-Crucifixion1-255x300The Passion Story refers to the stories in the Gospels that describe Jesus’ final days. They are a description of the arrest, trial, torture, and death of Jesus at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. Because Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins and that he rose from the dead, this Passion story, along with the Resurrection story, form the centerpiece of the Christian religion.

All four of the Gospels tell the same basic story. Jesus, even though he knew that the Jewish authorities were looking for a reason to arrest him, decided to go to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover. After celebrating this ritual holiday meal with his closest friends, Jesus went out to pray. While he was praying, the Temple guards who had been tipped off as to Jesus’ whereabouts by Judas, one of Jesus’ closest followers, arrested him. When he was arrested, he was charged by the Jewish authorities with the crime of blasphemy, claiming for oneself characteristics that can only belong to God. The very night of his arrest, Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The Sanhedrin called witnesses to prove Jesus’ blasphemy and, although the witnesses and their testimony were somewhat weak, they convicted Jesus of the crime. According to Jewish law, the punishment for the crime of blasphemy was death. However, the Jews were no longer able to sentence people to death; only the Romans can do that. The Sanhedrin, therefore, sent Jesus to the Roman governor under the charge of treason, threatening to take over the power that belongs to the government. After a series of interviews, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, agreed to sentence Jesus to death for treason, claiming to be the king of the Jews. The form of execution was to be crucifixion.

Crucifixion was one of the many forms of execution that was used by the Romans. Usually reserved for lower class people (upper class citizens were usually given the option of committing suicide or of being beheaded), crucifixion was one of the most painful ways to die. Despite being excruciatingly painful, it was not designed to kill a person. A person who was crucified eventually died of suffocation as they weakened due to the pain and blood loss caused by the crucifixion. This slow exhaustion and suffocation could take up to three days. However, the Gospel accounts suggest that Jesus died three hours after having been nailed to the cross, which is a much shorter time than would have been usual. Since he died relatively quickly, his family was able to have his body removed from the cross and placed in a tomb before sunset. The Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and no work can be done during this time, including the burying of the dead. If Jesus had not been put in the tomb before sunset, his body would have had to remain on the cross until the end of the Sabbath observances, probably until Sunday morning. As it was, Jesus’ family and friends did not have enough time to completely prepare his body for burial. So they had to make do with wrapping him in the burial cloths and they made plans to return after the Sabbath to anoint his body with oils and spices as was the custom.

Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion is the central event of Christianity. Without the Resurrection, Jesus was just another wandering preacher-healer who was killed by the Romans. It is the Resurrection that proved to the early disciples that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the Son of God.

No one knows how Jesus rose from the dead; no one was there to witness it. However, the Gospels agree that, when the women went to the tomb to anoint his body with oils and spices, they discovered that the tomb was empty. The traditional story of the early church attributes this first discovery and explanation to the apostles to Mary Magdalene, who is often called the Apostle to the Apostles, the one who carried the good news of the resurrection to those who became responsible for the preaching of that good news.

The Gospels also tell us that Jesus appeared to various of his followers in the few weeks after his resurrection. He continued to teach them and he shared meals with them. These stories are called the Appearance Narratives. Several weeks after the Resurrection, Jesus stopped appearing to his disciples and the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles tell us that he ascended into heaven.

Because of the Resurrection, the disciples were empowered to start spreading the news that Jesus, who had been crucified by the Romans, was in fact alive again. In addition to preaching the message that Jesus himself had preached – of God’s love and the coming of God’s reign, the early church began preaching this good news of Jesus’ Resurrection. And, over time, they also came to understand that Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension meant that Jesus was the Christ – the anointed one of God – and God’s Son. In the next posting, we will explore some of these key beliefs about Jesus.

FAITH MATTERS: Jesus’ Ministry – Preaching the Good News in Words and Deeds

jesus_sermon-on-the-mountWhen Jesus was, we believe, around thirty years old, he left his home and his family and began a career as a traveling rabbi. He would travel around the country, with his closest followers, and talk to people about his ideas. In addition, he acquired a reputation as a healer, which attracted even more people to hear him. Jesus’ message was a deceptively simple one. He taught that God loved each individual person and that all we had to do was to accept that love and love God in return. This message was somewhat unusual at the time because of Jesus’ personal image of God; God is a Father, a Dad, who loves us unconditionally.

Jesus used a variety of teaching tools to get his message across to the people who came to hear him. He used a straightforward didactic method in which he just explained what he wanted to teach; think of the Sermon on the Mount. He taught by example; for example, he showed his disciples how to pray by giving them a sample prayer, the Our Father, and by taking time by himself to pray. And, finally, he used parables and miracles to capture the attention of regular people.

A parable is a short, fictional story that explains some deeper idea in a way that people can understand. For example, rather than trying to explain to people that God loves them and will forgive them if they sin, Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son. In this parable, Jesus explained that God is like a loving father who gives his children every good thing even when they will misuse those gifts and who always forgives his children when they return to him. Most people have had the experience of being loved and forgiven by a family member and this made it a lot easier to understand Jesus point about how God loves us.

A miracle is an event that, at the time that it happens, had no logical explanation. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus performed many miracles for a variety of people in all kinds of situations. Although many modern scholars and scientists believe that some of Jesus’ miracles can be explained away, we still consider them to be miracles because they were unexplained phenomena at the time. Jesus’ miracles fall into three categories. The first type of miracle is the healings, miracles in which Jesus cures a person of a disease or physical ailment. This category would include the healing of lepers, lame people, blind people, and so on. The second category, raisings from the dead, includes the several times that Jesus brought people back to life after they had died. The third category is physical miracles; these are miracles that show Jesus’ power over the forces of nature. In many cases, when Jesus performed a miracle, it was in a private setting with only a few people witnessing it and he would often tell those witnesses to tell no one of what they had seen. Jesus did not perform miracles in order to “wow” a crowd of people; he performed them because he saw that people were suffering and he wanted to alleviate that suffering. Therefore, we believe that Jesus did not want the witnesses of his miracles to be amazed, he wanted their faith to be increased.

Jesus’ ministry has become, for Christians, both the content of much of our own preaching – that God loves us and that we are called to love our neighbors – and the example of how to engage in God’s ministries. Jesus didn’t just teach with word, but with deeds; we follow his example when our actions become our evangelization tools. As St. Francis of Assisi reminds us: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”

FAITH MATTERS: Who Was Jesus of Nazareth?

Christ-at-Thirty-Three-Heinrich-HofmannOver the next few weeks, we begin to focus on Jesus, the second person of the Trinity and the person on whom Christian faith is based.  To begin with, we will take a look at Jesus’ story as it has been handed down to us in the Gospels.  Then we will investigate what Christians believe about Jesus.

One of the most important things to remember about Jesus is that, despite what Christians have come to believe about him in the last 2000 years, he was born and lived his life as a Jew.  So it is important for us, as Christians, to understand Jesus as a part of the history of the Jewish people.

Modern day scholars do not have a lot of definite information about Jesus’ background.  But from the hints that we are given in the New Testament and from what we know of the time that he lived, we can put together a reasonable picture of what Jesus’ life was like.

The New Testament, aside from the Birth Narratives in Matthew and Luke, tells us almost nothing about Jesus’ life before he began preaching and healing as a grown man.  But we do know that Jesus’ mother was a woman named Miriam (“Mary” is the English form of this ancient Hebrew name) and that Miriam was married to a man named Joseph, who was a builder of houses.  When Jesus was born, he was named Joshua, an important and historically significant Hebrew name that meant “God saves” (“Jesus” is the Greek form of Joshua).  Jesus was born somewhere around the year 4 BCE and he grew up in a village called Nazareth in Galilee, the northern part of Palestine.  He grew up speaking Aramaic, the everyday language of the Jews.  As he grew older, he probably learned Hebrew, the language of the Hebrew Bible, so that he could read the Scriptures when called on in the synagogue.  He probably also knew a little Greek, the language of commerce in the Mediterranean, and maybe even a smattering of Latin, the language of the Roman conquerors of Palestine.  Jesus’ father, Joseph, was a skilled artisan.  We have traditionally called Joseph a carpenter, but, as there was little wood in the area, he probably built houses out of stone and brick.  This was a highly skilled line of work and Joseph was probably employed by the Romans and Greeks living in Capurnum, Tyre, and the other gentile towns in the area.  Jesus, as he was being trained by his father, would have gone to these towns with his father and would have been exposed to Greek and Roman culture and religion.  Because of his status as a skilled artisan, Joseph and his family were probably what we would call middle class.  This was very unusual; people in the ancient world tended to be either very rich or very poor.

So Jesus was trained as a builder of houses by his father during his teenage years and probably worked in this trade during his twenties.  When he was about thirty years old, about the time when young men have established themselves well enough to begin to look for a young woman to marry, Jesus left his home and business.  He went into the desert where his cousin John was preaching to anyone who cared to listen that they needed to repent of their sins.  John may have been a member of the Essenes, a community of people who thought that the priests and teachers in Jerusalem were corrupt.  The Essenes left Jewish society and lived in communities in the desert while they waited for God to punish the wicked.  John’s emphasis on turning away from sin and wrongdoing as well as his concern about ritual cleanliness (baptism) lead scholars to think that he may have been a member of this ultra-conservative sect.  Some scholars also think that Jesus may have also been an Essene, but this is less likely.  While it is definitely possible that he may have spent some time with the Essenes, Jesus was most likely a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were one of the two majority sects in Judaism at the time of Jesus.  The Sadducees, the other majority sect, was a priestly group and, as such, was centered around the priests who worked and worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Sadducees were very concerned with the ritual prayers and sacrifices that were performed by the priests in the Temple.  The Hebrew Bible is filled with rules and prayers that govern how God was to be worshipped.  The Sadducees took this very seriously and believed that the Bible should be interpreted very literally so as to fulfill all of these rules exactly the way they had been preserved in the holy writings.  Because of their emphasis on the Temple worship, the Sadducees tended to be members of the priestly families and members of the upper classes in Jerusalem.  They were not as concerned with the day-to-day practice of the faith of the common people (as long as they paid their Temple-tax and came to Jerusalem during the holiest days as the Bible commanded).  The Pharisees, on the other hand, were much more concerned with the day-to-day faith of regular people.  They put a lot of emphasis on personal holiness; the individual’s behavior and faith, they believed, was more important to God than ritually precise prayers and sacrifices.  Pharisees believed that the stories and laws in the Bible had to be constantly reinterpreted to fit the situations in which believers found themselves.  For this reason, worship for Pharisees focused on the synagogues, or houses of prayer, that were found in the local towns and villages around Israel as well as throughout the Mediterranean.  In these synagogues, worship focused on learning, discussing, and applying the stories and laws of the Bible to new situations.  A leader of these discussions was called “rabbi,” an Aramaic word that means teacher.  A person did not have to go through any formal training in order to become a rabbi, but they were acknowledged as such by the people who heard him preach and teach and thought that he had good ideas.  Some other characteristics of the Pharisees include emphasis on “mitzvahs” or good deeds, fellowship among the members of the community as a way of sharing and supporting each individual, the idea that God has a personal relationship with each believer and that God is a Father to the believers, and, finally, the concept of the resurrection of the dead with the Messiah.  Because Pharisaic Judaism was centered in the local community, it was not as badly affected by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE.  Pharisees focused on individual faith and study and on the reinterpretation of the Bible, and this allowed Judaism to “reinvent” itself for a new world in which there was no worship in the Temple.  (A fourth group, called the Zealots, also existed at the time of Jesus.  This was more of a political group than a religious one; the Zealots advocated the violent expulsion of the Romans from the nation of Israel.  The Zealots were not a particularly important part of the story of Jesus, since Jesus did not share their political agenda.  Nevertheless, one of Jesus’ disciples, Simon the Zealot, was probably a member of this group before he met Jesus.)

As you can see, many of the characteristics of the Pharisees were shared by Jesus.  First, he grew up in the Galilee and probably did not spend much time in Jerusalem except when he went there to celebrate the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, like Passover.  His worship at home was probably centered on a local synagogue and he probably learned about the Bible by discussing and debating interpretations of it with various teachers.  Jesus’ preaching also show us that he believed in a personal and intimate relationship with God and that a person’s behavior was a way of showing his or her faith in God.  Jesus had a group of followers who gathered together in fellowship with him as he taught them his ideas about the interpretation of the Bible.  And finally, Jesus believed in the resurrection of the dead and the establishment of what he called the Kingdom of Heaven.

FAITH MATTERS: Some Common Elements among the World’s Religions

faith_matters_imgIn the last blog post, we looked at what religious faith is and the variety of religions we find in the world. In this post, I want to explore some commonalities among religions. Religions tend to use the similar vehicles to transmit their beliefs and practices. These vehicles are scripture, myth, creed, liturgy, and theology.

Scripture: The word scripture comes from the Latin scriptura, the act of writing. So the scriptures of a religion generally refers to the official or holy writings of a religion. Scriptures are vehicles for the transmission of a religion in that they contain the stories, myths, rules, and liturgies of a religious community. The book of Scripture for Christianity is the Bible, which is divided into two sections, the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament and the New Testament.

Myth: Myth is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in our religious vocabulary. All too often people think that a myth is a fable, a fairy tale, or a fictional story. But a myth is a great deal more than that. Myths are fictional stories, but they are stories that are trying to explain a major religious concept. Myths are true in that, while the details of the story are not scientifically or historically accurate, they are conveying an important religious truth, usually a truth about human nature or the relationship between God and humanity. For example, in the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box, Zeus gives Pandora a box and tells her not to open it. Pandora is overwhelmed by the temptation and opens the box, letting loose all of the bad things in the world: envy, hatred, etc. However, just before everything can escape from the box, Pandora slams it shut keeping hope safe in the box. This myth is not historically or scientifically accurate, but it does try to explain, in terms that regular people can understand, how all those bad things came into the world and why hope is more important and more powerful than the bad. Let us now look at a myth from Christianity. We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In the story, Adam and Eve, the first people to be created by God, are told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve, however, is tempted and eats; she then convinces Adam to eat from the tree as well. God punishes their behavior by expelling them from the Garden of Eden and by sentencing them to labor throughout their lives. What is important about this myth is not whether or not Adam, Eve, the Garden, and the tree really existed. What is important is that this story tries to explain to regular people why there is sin in the world, why people must continue to work really hard to survive, and why there are rules and punishments. These religious truths are the point of this myth, not the details that were used to get those religious truths across.

Creed: The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe”. A creed, then, is a statement of belief. It is an explanation or recitation of the important beliefs of a religion. The creeds of Christianity are long but careful summaries of what all Christians believe. The Apostle’s Creed was the first one to be written and the Nicene Creed is an expansion of it. Both of these creeds are very ancient; the Nicene Creed was written at the Council of Nicea in the early 4th century.

Liturgy: A liturgy is the formal and ritualized worship of a religion. Liturgies are made up of a number of ritual actions and prayers that are done in the same or a similar way every time. Liturgies allow the community to come together to celebrate their religious faith and to remind themselves of the fundamental truths of their faith. Think of the Liturgy of the Word, which is the first part of the Mass in Catholicism. At a Mass on a Sunday, the Liturgy of the Word is almost always made up of a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, a Psalm, a reading from one of the letters in the New Testament, a reading from one of the four Gospels, a homily or sermon, a recitation of the creed, and a series of community prayers. This format is the same in every Catholic Church on every Sunday of the year. It is a liturgy.

Theology: The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (god) and logos (word or study). Therefore, the word theology means words about or study of God. Theology is not just something that is done by professionals; anyone who thinks, talks, and studies about God is a theologian. Theology is the attempt by the people of a particular religion to understand their faith better and to explain it in a way that helps others deepen their faith. In Christianity, theology means trying to understand who God is, how God is related to human beings, and what God wants human beings to do.

FAITH MATTERS: What is Faith?

faithOver the next few weeks, we will begin to take a look at the first person of the Trinity, God the Father.  But before we can start that, I would like to lay some groundwork – some preliminary ideas that help us when we start to think more specifically about God.

A good synonym for faith is trust.  Religious faith, then, is trust in a god.  For Christians, religious faith means trust in our God, the god of Christianity.  Faith in a god or gods is the foundation of most of the major religions of the world.  In general, religious faith or trust means that the individual recognizes his or her powerlessness and createdness in the face of the supernatural.  In other words, the believer understands the god or gods to be in control of reality as creators of reality and the ones who sustain or keep it going.

Based on this definition of faith, we can begin to understand what a religion is.  In the broadest sense of the word, a religion is a community of people who share a religious faith in a god or a specific group of gods.  For example, Christianity is the community of people who profess their faith in the Triune God (the Trinity).  As you can see, a religion requires a group of people.  In addition, the practice of a religion takes place within the community.  While all religions do emphasize the internal faith, devotion, and prayer life of the individual, all religions are also defined by the outward signs of faith, devotion, and prayer of the community as a whole.  In Christianity, all Christians, no matter what their specific denomination, gather to worship God on Sundays.

Some of the religions of the world are monotheistic.  Monotheistic religions believe in and worship only one God.  There have been several monotheistic religions in history; the three most common monotheistic religions today are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  These three monotheistic religions are related historically and share many similar beliefs.  Polytheistic religions are much more common in the history of the world.  Polytheistic religions believe in and worship more than one god.  The largest polytheistic religions today are Hinduism, Shintoism, and the native religions of the indigenous populations of the Americas, Africa, and Australia.  The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, among many other civilizations, were also polytheistic.  Finally, there are several religions that do not fit either of these two categories.  They are called religious philosophies because they tend to focus more on the proper behavior for this world or on the individual’s development of their own social or meditative skills.  Buddhism is a religion that is not at all concerned about the gods, although they do recognize the existence of gods; Buddhists focus on meditation to clear the mind and reach enlightenment.  Confucianism is another religious philosophy.  Again, Confucianism doesn’t deny the existence of the gods, but it focuses on how an individual is supposed to live a good and proper life for the benefit of all in the community.

FAITH MATTERS: The Meaning of Grace

stone of graceFor the last few decades the word “Grace” has been a very “in” word! It has been used to help sell many self-help and religious books. But what does the word actually mean? And why is it important?

“Grace” is the English translation of the Greek word charis which means “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune” (HaperCollins Bible Dictionary). In secular Greek, charis was related to the verb chairo, “to rejoice”. As far back as Homer, it denoted “sweetness” or “attractiveness.” Eventually it came to signify “favor,” “goodwill,” and “lovingkindness.”  In the New Testament, “grace” (the word appears 156 times) is often used by St. Paul as a greeting: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2) where the greeting of peace would be recognized as a blessing by his Jewish audience and grace would be familiar as a blessing among his Greek readers. Continue reading

FAITH MATTERS: Devotion to the Sacred Heart

The Sacred Heart_square‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ (A. Karr)

During my childhood, a picture of the Sacred Heart hung on the wall of our living room – kindly watching over us, protecting us, loving us. That picture was a sacramental in my life, a tangible reminder of God’s unconditional love. Often I would pray by talking out loud to the kind and good God represented by that picture. Intuitively, I understood that the heart, so graphically portrayed, was symbolically beating with love for me. The eyes which seemed to follow me as I moved around the room were kindly watching over me with love. I found it hard to have a relationship with God the Father in Heaven, or the Holy Spirit, who was like the wind which blows wherever it wills (John 3:18), but Jesus Christ, who loved me enough to die for me, was alive and real. Continue reading

FAITH MATTERS: “The Son of Man”

christ-good-shepherd-icon-orthodox-window-into-heavenJesus’ favorite term for Himself was “The Son of Man” – How does this impact Evangelii Gaudium?

“The Son of Man” is how Jesus most often refers to himself in the Gospels, 30 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 25 times in Luke and 12 times in John. However the phrase (including the definite article), never appears as such in the Old Testament. So what did Jesus mean when He used this phrase to describe Himself? And what are the implications for all of us?

What does appear in the Old Testament is “son of man” without the definite article (literally “son of adam”); this appears over one hundred times. This usage is what Jesus would have known as He studied scripture. It appears 93 times in Ezekiel, and 14 times elsewhere including in Numbers, Job, Psalms, Isaiah and in a text in Daniel which was originally written in Aramaic (7:13-14). However, its usage in Daniel is very different from how it is used the other 106 times.
In all cases, apart from Daniel, ‘son of man’ appears to refer to our weakness and frailness as human beings. Sometimes it is used as if it is a substitute for a personal pronoun. In the case of Ezekiel, it is used by a divine being to refer to Ezekiel. It appears to be a title referring to the humanity of the author, similar to calling someone human.

The single appearance of “son of man” in Daniel refers to a vision about “the times of the end.” The quotation, “there came with the clouds of the sky ‘one like a son of man’” seems to describe one “like a human being”. Indeed, Jesus seems to be referring to Daniel’s vision when He responds to the High Priest in Mark 14:61: “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Daniel’s usage is favored by Christian interpreters of the phrase whereas Jewish scriptural commentators favor the ‘human being’ meaning.

What is the relevance of all this? In a sense Jesus, in Himself, satisfies both aspects of the phrase’s usage. He is an ordinary human like the rest of us but following His death, resurrection and ascension, He, as the risen Christ, is the fulfilment of Daniel’s vision.

However, Jesus does not simply call Himself, “son of man;” He calls Himself “The Son of Man.” This implies that He is the one and only son of man! Or rather, He is the complete expression of humanity; the model human. Just as all humans are “born of Adam”, Jesus, in Himself, is the representation of all humanity. In a sense He embodies all humanity.

What this means is that when Jesus offers Himself as the Lamb for the Passover sacrifice (whose blood is the mark which ensures that death “passes over” us), then, just as Jesus rose to new life in the Resurrection, so do we! That is what is so tremendously important about the mystery of the Incarnation – Jesus becomes human so we become one with Jesus. What happened to Jesus happens to us. When we suffer Jesus suffers and vice-versa, as Jesus said in Matthew 25:40: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The Risen Jesus is eternally present in each of us, He is “I Am”, the eternal now, so a consequence of the Incarnation is that Jesus is as truly present in our ‘brothers and sisters’ as at the Consecration. Every kindness, or meanness, we visit on another we do to Jesus Christ. I am reminded of Hebrews 13:2: “forget not to show love unto strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Evangelli Gaudium, in my view, is a rallying call to all of us! It is calling us to break free of the prisons we have created for ourselves. Prisons of individualism, of self-reliance, of self absorption, of loneliness, of meaninglessness. Jesus came to set the prisoners free (Luke 4:18 quoting Isaiah 61:1), perhaps we are prisoners in a prison of ourselves? To be free is to accept, indeed welcome, all humanity as our brothers and sisters; all of us are in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and He is in us. We are members of His body (Ephesians 5:30); and Jesus is one of us, as Jesus clearly states to Paul on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus whom you persecute!” Jesus makes no distinction between Himself and the Body of Christ; we are one. Recognizing this truth, welcoming it, living it, is what Pope Francis calls us all to do in Evangelli Gaudium. The Joy of the Gospel is to open wide our lives, our hearts, our gifts, our wealth, our time, to share with each other, that is, Jesus for as He said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:45).

FAITH MATTERS: Faith in a Secular World: The Challenge of Relativism

 LentSpheresBoth Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI challenged the world in general and the church in particular to pay attention to a human tendency to fall into a moral relativism.  By this, they meant that it is easy, in our modern world, to start thinking that any moral choice is as good as any other moral choice.  As our modern world has become more and more secularized – as the choice to be a person of faith becomes seen as simply one choice among others, many people find it difficult to say that there are definite moral norms.  It is harder to say that THIS is right or wrong when many people of good will disagree on that issue.  These past popes saw this playing out particularly in the area of moral decision-making, but Pope Francis reminds us that this tendency also pertains to other areas of life.

In particular, Francis exhorts us to think about our spirituality.  In a world where being a religious believer can be viewed with suspicion or even ridicule by non-believers, it is easy to fall away from our practice of our faith.  Living out our faith in a robust spiritual life can sometimes seem too difficult, too time-consuming, too old-fashioned.  Although he is speaking to pastoral workers (those who work directly for and in the church), Francis’ exhortation away from a practical relativism can easily be applied to most of us:  “This practical relativism consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist” (§ 80).  This is a profound call to attentiveness for all Christians.  If we want to take our faith seriously, we need to take all of these various constituencies into account.

As we live our lives, do we consider what God wants?  Do we seek to discern God’s will in our lives and do we seek to live our lives according to that will of God that we have discerned?  Does God even factor into our thinking as we go about our daily lives?

Do we ask how our actions will impact the poor?  Do we think about those who are materially poor, downtrodden, excluded from full participation in society, or thought of as second-class citizens?  And more importantly, do we live our lives in a way that helps to alleviate the suffering of these poor?  The Biblical witness reminds us that God opts preferentially for the poor.  Do we?

Do we consider the impact that our actions will have on others?  Do we live as if we are the only ones who matter?  Or do we live as if my decisions don’t have anything to do with those around me in my family, in my community, in the world?  How can we make choices in a way that promotes the common good?

Do we ever consider those who do not know the Gospel?  Do we ever seek to share our love of God with those we meet in our everyday lives?  Do we live our lives in a way that demonstrates the joy of being a Christian so that others will be drawn in by us?

These are profound challenges for all of us as we seek to more and more consistently and faithfully live out our Christian faith.  As we approach Holy Week, let us consider how we can reject this kind of relativism and live lives that are full of joy in the faith.  Let us strive to live out our faith and joy so that those around us will know that we have chosen faith.