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Jesus Christ Is God’s Divine Son Incarnate

December 9, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Divine Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, fully God and fully man. And that all power in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Him by the Father. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. And, we have been commissioned by Him to make disciples of all the nations. Here are His words:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
In some Christian circles this is called the Great Commission. But, sadly, it is too often a great omission. We need to recover the truth that the Church is missionary by nature.
On December 3 the Catholic Church remembers the great evangelizing disciple of Jesus Christ and follower of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier. His missionary voyages to Japan and to India continue to bear extraordinary fruit centuries later as we witness the courageous witness of the Christians of our day in both lands.
What this age needs is conversion to Jesus Christ. What Catholics need is the intimate personal communion with the Risen Lord Jesus which motivated St. Francis Xavier to preach the Gospel. It was a fire within him. In a letter he wrote to St. Ignatius Loyola, we read of his passion for evangelizing the whole world:
“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: There is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’”
On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1975, Pope St. Paul VI issued an apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi). In one of the often-quoted paragraphs we read: “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”
The now canonized saint continued: “The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onward, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation. At every new phase of human history, the Church, constantly gripped by the desire to evangelize, has but one preoccupation: Whom to send to proclaim the mystery of Jesus?”
In our day, the answer is you and me. Every one of us, no matter our state in life, age, career, or even specific vocation, by virtue of our Baptism, is called to evangelize. We are sent. Pope Paul VI continued:
“In what way is this mystery to be proclaimed? How can one ensure that it will resound and reach all those who should hear it? This proclamation — kerygma, preaching, or catechesis — occupies such an important place in evangelization that it has often become synonymous with it; and yet it is only one aspect of evangelization.”
“In fact, the proclamation only reaches full development when it is listened to, accepted and assimilated, and when it arouses a genuine adherence in the one who has thus received it. An adherence to the truths which the Lord in His mercy has revealed; still more, an adherence to a program of life — a life henceforth transformed — which He proposes. In a word, adherence to the kingdom, that is to say, to the ‘new world,’ to the new state of things, to the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the Gospel inaugurates.
“Such an adherence, which cannot remain abstract and un-incarnated, reveals itself concretely by a visible entry into a community of believers. Thus, those whose life has been transformed enter a community which is itself a sign of transformation, a sign of newness of life: it is the Church, the visible sacrament of salvation.
“Our entry into the ecclesial community will in its turn be expressed through many other signs which prolong and unfold the sign of the Church. In the dynamism of evangelization, a person who accepts the Church as the Word which saves [n. 54] normally translates it into the following sacramental acts: adherence to the Church, and acceptance of the sacraments, which manifest and support this adherence through the grace which they confer.
“Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: It is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn” (nn. 22-24).
The primary mission of the Church is to save souls. We are sent to bring all the men and woman of this world to Jesus Christ, and through the Waters of Baptism, to incorporate them into the Church, which is His Mystical Body. Only there, in the heart of the Church, will they be able to grow into His Image and likeness; to make progress along the path to holiness by cooperating with the grace mediated through the sacraments.
Yet, this foundational truth of the Catholic faith — that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world, sent by the Father to save all men and women from sin and death, and that the Church is called to tell the whole world this Message, is rarely spoken of these days. Even in Church documents, other issues seem to have replaced this priority of proclaiming this core message, what can be called the kerygma.

The Kerygma

The word, kerygma, derived from the Greek, appears in the Gospel narratives of Matthew (12:41), Mark (16:20), and Luke (11:32), as well as six times in the epistles or letters of the Apostle Paul (Romans 16:25; 1 Cor. 1:21, 2:4, 15:14; 2 Tim. 4:17; and Titus 1:3). Kerygma is distinct from didache, another Greek term, which refers to ongoing formation by communicating teaching, instruction, and doctrine.
Pope St. John Paul II distinguished the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Savior, sent by the Father, to reconcile the world to Him (kerygma), from the catechesis (didache) of ongoing instruction in the faith in “Catechesis in our Time” (Catechesi Tradendae), a 1979 apostolic exhortation. He explained the essential relationship between the two:
“. . . Catechesis is an education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.
“Accordingly, while not being formally identified with them, catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church’s pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect, that prepare for catechesis, or that spring from it. These elements are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics, or examination of the reasons for belief, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness.
“Let us first of all recall that there is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization. Nor can the two be simply identified with each other. Instead, they have close links whereby they integrate and complement each other.”
In short, catechesis presumes kerygma and builds upon it. But, the assumption that those being catechized have heard the core message and made it their own may be part of our problem. Many Catholics have not been evangelized, in the kerygmatic sense. Pope St. John Paul II referred to the apostolic exhortation of Pope St. Paul VI with which we began our consideration, explaining their interdependence:
“The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of December 8, 1975, on evangelization in the modern world, rightly stressed that evangelization — which has the aim of bringing the Good News to the whole of humanity, so that all may live by it — is a rich, complex, and dynamic reality, made up of elements, or one could say moments, that are essential and different from each other, and that must all be kept in view simultaneously. Catechesis is one of these moments — a very remarkable one — in the whole process of evangelization.
“The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion — bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place” (nn. 18, 19, emphasis added).
We cannot presume any longer that people, even those in the pews of our parish churches, have had an encounter with the Risen Lord. The kind which has awakened the grace of their Baptism and Confirmation — and made their Christian faith the primary influence in the entirety of their life.
Perhaps we could say, using popular terms, they may know about Jesus, but a question can be legitimately asked, do they know Jesus. Have they truly encountered Him and invited Him to be their Savior and Lord? Is He the center of their Life?

Encountering Jesus

In his first encyclical letter, the Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) — which Pope Francis wrote with Pope Emeritus Benedict — we find the word “encounter” used throughout the text. Pope Benedict always emphasized the centrality of an encounter with Jesus. In the Light of Faith, we read:
“Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us” (Light of Faith, n. 4).
In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI released an encyclical letter entitled God is Love (Deus Caritas Est) in which he explained this need for such an encounter with clarity: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (n. 1).
We are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world waiting to be set free from the ravages of sin and its consequences. We are called to help people encounter the Risen Lord. To borrow some language sometimes used by our Christian friends in other Christian communities, we are to help men and women invite Jesus Christ “into their hearts.”
In the biblical, philosophical, and psychological sense, the heart is the center of the human person, the place from which we make major decisions which inform our whole life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of St. Matthew, explains that the heart is the “seat of the moral personality” (CCC, n. 2517, Matt. 5:28).
The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, makes this clear: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Romans 10:9, 10).
At the foundation of the challenge we face in waking up the Church in this hour is the need for an encounter with the Evangel, Jesus Christ, the Good News.

Who Do You Say I Am?

The Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 16: verses 13-23 tells us of an encounter between Jesus and His disciples. He asks them to answer the question, “Who do people say that I am?” After reporting as to who the crowds said He was, Jesus turns to the ones who had walked with Him. He wants to hear their response. It is Simon who responds with living faith:
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In that encounter, Simon was changed. He received a new name, Peter, which means Rock. The promise Jesus gave to him, he gave to the whole Church. And, He has kept His promise. The gates of Hell have not — and will not — prevail against the Church. But the Church must continually answer the same question as Peter did. Her fidelity to answering the question of who Jesus is forms a shield of protection against Hell itself.
Yesterday’s answer to this question is not enough. It must be continually answered. Our Gospel text continues. Just after that first response, this same Peter does not respond to the Master with clarity:
“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do’.”
As the three years of public ministry of Jesus continued, and before He voluntarily gave Himself up on the Cross on the Mountain of Calvary, Peter continued to mature and change, through His continuing encounters with Jesus.
But what about us? Who is Jesus to you…and to me? Answering the question requires a person to respond from “the heart.” An answer to this question will determine how we live — and even how we die.

The Christ Of Faith

Sadly, over the last hundred years some have sought to divide what they called the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith. The late Pope St. John Paul II addressed this effort to divide the one Jesus in an encyclical letter released by the Vatican in 1990 and called The Mission of the Redeemer (n. 6). Citing the teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels and the letters or epistles contained in the New Testament, and the clear understanding of the Church in her Sacred Tradition, John Paul explained:
“To introduce any sort of separation between the Word and Jesus Christ is contrary to the Christian faith. St. John clearly states that the Word, who ‘was in the beginning with God,’ is the very one who ‘became flesh’ (John 1:2, 14). Jesus is the Incarnate Word — a single and indivisible person. One cannot separate Jesus from the Christ or speak of a ‘Jesus of history’ who would differ from the ‘Christ of faith.’ The Church acknowledges and confesses Jesus as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt. 16:16):
“Christ is none other than Jesus of Nazareth: He is the Word of God made man for the salvation of all. In Christ ‘the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Col. 2:9) and ‘from his fullness have we all received’ (John 1:16). The ‘only Son, who is the bosom of the Father’ (John 1:18) is ‘the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption….For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1:13-14, 19-20).
“It is precisely this uniqueness of Christ which gives him an absolute and universal significance, whereby, while belonging to history, he remains history’s center and goal: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev. 22:13).”

Who Is Jesus Christ To Me?

This same question is asked of each Catholic today: “Who do you say that I am?” It is not just asked once — but continually. It is meant to inform the response of our entire life. How we answer that question determines who we will become and how we will live.
The question is profoundly personal as well as public. Who is Jesus Christ to me? And how does my answer affect the way I live. Our answer to the question of who Jesus Is — challenges us to live our lives differently. Christianity is a Way of Life. Before they were called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26) the early followers of Jesus Christ were often referred to as “The Way.”
The Apostle Paul, in recounting his own conversion to Jesus Christ, speaks of having persecuted “this Way” (Acts 22: 3-16) prior to his encounter with the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. This expression “the Way” reveals a profoundly important aspect of the understanding of the early Christians.
They believed and proclaimed that the Christian faith was to be expressed in a new way of living. It still is. Our relationship with Jesus Christ and membership in His Body, the Church, is meant to effect change in every aspect of our lives as human persons and influence the way in which we participate in our families, our associational groups, our work, commerce, civil society.
To be a Christian is a new way of being a human person. The humanity of Jesus is being revealed in each one of us, as we cooperate with the grace of salvation. The Image of God, marred and wounded by sin, is being restored. God has revealed Himself to us. He is not hidden. The word “revelation” literally means to “unveil,” to make known. This is what has occurred, is occurring, and will occur in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Self-Revelation of God.
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Divine Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, fully God and fully man. And that all power in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Him by the Father. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. And, we have been commissioned by Him to make disciples of all the Nations. Part of guarding the Deposit of Faith is making sure that this priority of evangelization, of saving souls, once again becomes the primary mission of the Church.

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Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

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