Ditch the modern-day masks of Jesus (pt. 1)

Jesus is arguably the most influential person to ever walk the Earth – and perhaps the most misunderstood. For many, he was a great moral teacher and speaker, for others, a great activist, and yet for others, a fictional character who was deified throughout the years.

Here are just three of his many modern-day masks that can help us reflect and encounter the true Jesus of the Gospels, the one the Church has defended throughout the ages.

Jesus all-loving, all-permissive

In a society that hears “closed-mindedness” and “imposition” with the mention of “truth,” Jesus can’t be cold hearted or a proclaimer of truth. He’s a nice guy. He doesn’t force anyone. He understands. He’s not too demanding. He will forgive you. Jesus then turns into a person who lets people remain where they are, in their sin, because he’s “compassionate.”

Jesus is all-loving and all-merciful, there’s no doubt about that. He will forgive you if you repent. Yet, we must look at what love and mercy really mean. When Jesus defends the woman caught in adultery, he doesn’t condemn her, he forgives her. Yet he adds, “Go and sin not again” (Jn 8:1-11).

Jesus lifts her up and calls her to conversion. It is the latter that is not very popular – it’s uncomfortable. But what Jesus is doing is calling her to a better life, to what she’s meant to be, to authentic happiness. True mercy and love lead to a change in life. If Jesus didn’t call you to truth and conversion, he’d be giving up on you, not helping you become who you’re meant to be.

Jesus, the activist commie

For many people, Jesus was a radical social activist who died for the cause of the poor and marginalized. Yet, this revolutionary Jesus becomes merely a great historical figure who fought for the rights of the underrepresented, stripping him of all divinity.

Jesus, nonetheless, claimed to be God and not a mere moral teacher. The Jews of his time saw it clearly, which is why they sought to kill him: “[He makes] himself equal to God” (Jn 5:18).

Even more, his morality was centered around himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). As C.S. Lewis puts it, if this isn’t true, then Jesus was really an egotistic madman “compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men.” That means that only God can say such things, and if we didn’t believe in his divinity, he would have to be a lunatic instead of a great moral teacher.

There’s no “in-between.” Either ultimate human fulfillment consists in social, economic or earthly factors, or in a God, as Jesus claimed to be. And we know that nothing on this earth can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart, which is constantly pleading for a transcendent “more” or, I would say, a transcendent “Someone.”

Jesus was spiritual (but not religious)

Nowadays it’s popular to be spiritual but not so much religious. Many Christians themselves don’t affiliate with a specific church. This view holds that Jesus never intended to establish an actual church, but instead wanted us to simply follow his teachings.

I believe this position partially comes from a response to a “wound.” People identify “religion” with the negative things they have heard or experienced: corruption, sexual abuse, greed… People have lost faith in religious institutions. Moreover, the constant push in society to put the “me” in the center of everything, defying all authority, also plays a role. When you include a good desire to know God in the equation, you end up with an individualistic Christianity. We end up making a god according to our image and opinions.

This is nothing new. Christians have wanted to make their own god since the time of the apostles, from the so-called “super apostles” that Paul fought (2 Cor 11:5) to his Corinthian community that needed constant correction. However, there was always an authority that guided early Christian communities and solved new issues in the light of the teachings of Christ (Acts 15:23-29). If there had not been an authority, there would have been no unity. And where there’s unity and authority, there’s a religion.

Jesus established that authority, the apostles, and gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, choosing him as the “rock” upon which he would build his “Church” and promising that the powers of Hell (heresy) would not overcome it (Mt 16:18-19). Saying that Jesus didn’t want to establish a Church would be like saying that he intended people to follow and interpret him in their own way. The early Church knew this and fought against all distortion of Christ’s image and teaching. His same Church continues to do so up to our day.

COMING UP: We should have listened to Pope Paul VI

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Happy Humanae Vitae 50th Anniversary!

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s been a whirlwind.  Parties, parades, some great fireworks shows.  Oh, and did you see the Hollywood All-Star Tribute to Pope Paul VI?

OK, maybe not so much.

It’s a shame, really. If everyone had somehow, miraculously, listened to Pope Paul VI back in 1968, the world could be a very different place today.  Heck, we might not even have a need for the #MeToo movement.

Allow me to explain.

Up until the 1960’s, it was pretty universally recognized that sex between people of childbearing age came with the distinct possibility of the aforementioned childbearing.  Birth control methods up to that point were somewhat rudimentary and unreliable.  Procreation was an inherent part of sexual activity — part of its meaning.  So respecting a woman meant not putting her at risk of a pregnancy she wasn’t prepared for.  And she in turn had a clear-cut, universally recognized reason to be indignant if a man was pressuring her.

But The Pill changed all of that.  Young people (and a lot of older people, too) figured that, without that pesky fear of pregnancy, they could indulge in sexual activity whenever, and with whomever, they chose. It would be fun, they thought.  Sex feels good, they thought.  Why not have more of it, with more people, they thought.

And then Pope Paul VI said “no.”  In Humanae Vitae, he essentially said that Pill or no Pill, birth control was still not morally licit.

The young people of the Free Love Generation were not disappointed by this news — only because I would imagine they were too busy making love and not war to notice an obscure, 23-page theological document released by a celibate guy who was way older than 30.

But, had they been smart, they might have paid attention to the following passage from that obscure theological document:

It can also be feared that the man who becomes used to contraceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman, and no longer caring about her physical and psychological equilibrium, come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion. (HV 17)

Does that sound at all familiar?

The problem came because, as much as the generation of the 1960’s wanted Free Love to really be free, it isn’t.  They figured removing the risk of pregnancy would remove the “strings,” and everybody could just consensually enjoy everybody else’s body with no ramifications.

But there is a saying: “Nature bats last.”  Sexual activity was designed by God, not by us.  And he, in myriad ways, designed it to be a profoundly, deeply, inherently meaningful act that touches the very core of the human psyche and spirit.  Everything about it — physically, chemically, emotionally and spiritually — is built around the fact that it is a profound act of self-giving love that places the couple in the context of entering into and cooperating with him in his most sacred role — as Creator of the miracle that is a new human person. Sex speaks a language, and the possibility of procreation is an essential part of that language.  It says “I give myself to you, and to the new life that may come forth from my gift.”

And as hard as we might try, we can’t change that.

I think women, being the ones who conceive and bear that life, are more naturally sensitive to this meaning.  We can’t always articulate it, but it’s there. And hence, we are more reluctant to play with it carelessly.

When the sexual revolution attempted to sever sexual activity from the possibility of procreation, they were essentially attempting to render sexual activity meaningless.  They were saying “from now on, this is just something we do with our bodies.  It can mean as much or as little as you want it to mean.”

This is wrong on so many levels.  For one, it takes away women’s power.  When we recognized that sex is powerful, meaningful and life-altering, a woman had the backing of her family and her culture in saying “No, I will not place myself or my future children at that risk, and if you don’t respect that, you clearly don’t love me.”

Now, women are more or less on their own in fending off the male sex drive — which, for good or for evil, could probably be considered one of the most powerful forces in the world.  If sex is meaningless, then why in the world would she object?  He wants it, and it might be fun for her too, so why wouldn’t she be nice and acquiesce?

It takes a very strong, very well-formed and dare I say holy young woman to have the courage to say “I believe that God created sex with an inherent meaning, so my final answer is no” and watch him walk out of her life forever.  For the vast majority of young women, who can’t articulate what they inherently sense about the sacredness of their bodies, it’s a lot easier just to go along with the program and try to keep the guy.

And then it moves from acquiescing to keep the boyfriend, to acquiescing to make the powerful man happy so that I can get the job, or keep the job, or get the role in the movie, or whatever.  The world becomes one big quid pro quo arrangement whereby we are expected to trade on our bodies to get what we want or need.

And the woman becomes “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment.”

The hard lesson we should have learned from Humanae Vitae is quite simply that our bodies have meaning, that sexual expression has a meaning, and that God is God and we are not.  And that when we start tinkering around with that meaning, people get hurt.

We should have listened.