Last week the editor of Franciscan Media informed me that my article about raising special needs kids in the Catholic faith is going to be the cover story for the May 2023 issue.
I’m not crying my eyes are just leaking a bit of joy and gratitude. 🙂🙏
Having an article published on a prominent Catholic magazine has been a dream of mine for some time. It has been almost a decade in the making. Below is a brief glimpse regarding the lead-up to the fruit of my work and the entrustment of my writing to God.
2015 was a rough year for me as I lost a job and struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts in the aftermath of losing my unborn son Jeremiah to miscarriage.
I remember telling my wife some night in June that year, “I just want something good to happen in my life.” Obviously, she and my older two kids were good things and so were my friends, but grief hinders one’s ability to have perspective at times. I was still quite angry with God for allowing us to lose a child.
Less than a week after my “wish/lament” we found out we were pregnant with Josiah. His name means “healer” but I didn’t have that as a reason for picking the name. In hindsight, I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to pick Josiah as my son’s name.
He was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2017. This led to many challenges but also immeasurable joys. Josiah has been a source of inspiration for some of my best articles and he helped heal me (and still melts my hardened, and rehardened, heart).
God does work in mysterious ways and he does use all things for the good (cf. Romans 8:28).
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on May 15, 2019.
Within the initial pages of his monograph on Christology, the pope delineates his aim in writing as simply to unite the Jesus of history with the Christ of faith (xiv). In a post-Enlightenment world, a seemingly ubiquity of scholars appear to be employing an exclusive use of historical-critical methods on the biblical texts in terms of answering the questions of faith. Not denying the usefulness of such methods, the German pope states, “The historical-critical method−let me repeat− is an indispensable tool, given the structure of Christian faith” (xvi). But it is important to understand the arena by which such a tool should be used, namely− in conjunction with and adherence to Magisterial teaching. The underlying presupposition of Benedict XVI’s Christology is a trust in the Gospels. I will later demonstrate how the retired pope maintains this stance throughout his prose.
Baptism of Jesus
Embarking on his journey toward an authentic portrait of Jesus, the former Tübingen professor presents a lucid and biblical approach to Christology in his book. Benedict XVI’s first chapter outlines the Baptism of Jesus. Here he stresses the importance of Jesus’ inaugurating his public ministry by wading in the place of sinners (p. 18). Moreover, the pope mentions the symbolism of the baptismal waters− as a sign of death and re-birth. Succinctly put by Ratzinger, “Jesus’ Baptism anticipated his death on the Cross, and the heavenly voice proclaimed an anticipation of the Resurrection” (p.23). This linkage to the Paschal Mystery is the cipher by which Benedict XVI situates the Baptism of the Lord. It is here he dismisses any liberal exegetical view that reduces this event to a mere vocational experience (pp. 23-24).
Temptation in the Desert
The second chapter in his book concerns the Temptation of Jesus. In the following pages, the German pope discusses the three temptations in depth. He compares the similarities and differences in the Matthean and Lucan accounts. Perhaps the most salient point to be taken from this section regards the second diabolical enticement. According to Benedict XVI, the Devil tries to use the Bible as a tool to tempt mankind. “The whole conversation of the second conversation of the second temptation takes the form of a dispute between two Bible scholars,” purports the pope (p. 35). Ultimately, what one can garner from this chapter is that the pope’s Christology admits to Jesus being submitted to the devil’s test like all mankind, but never succumbing to it due to his perfect obedience to the Father.
Jesus the New Moses
The following three chapters relate primarily to the content of Jesus’ teaching. With regards to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, Benedict XVI charts various interpretations and tries to harmonize any “seemingly divergent” flow of the content of the Kingdom of God to Christ (pp. 48-49). His section on the Sermon on the Mount is rich in detail and quantitatively the pope’s second longest chapter. Here he portrays Jesus as the New Moses and describes the Beatitudes as “a sort of veiled interior biography of Jesus” (p. 74 ). Subsequently, the German pope spends some time on the Lord’s Prayer and systematically goes through the structure of the “Our Father”. Maintaining the tradition from Nicaea, Benedict XVI affirms Jesus is “Son in the strict sense− he is of one substance with the Father” (p. 138).
In chapters six and seven, Ratzinger focuses on the ecclesial structure Christ had in mind when he chose the Twelve and gives an erudite rendition of Jesus’ three most famous parables. Being the lengthiest and arguably the most sublime chapter of his monograph, Benedict XVI’s eighth chapter spends nearly seventy pages portraying the principal images in John’s Gospel. He candidly refutes any scholarship, in particular Bultmann’s, that attaches a Gnostic cipher to the Johannine text (p. 228). With careful acumen, the former pontiff lists the key passages and meanings of the images of water, vine and wine, and bread within the Fourth Gospel. He also gave an especially detailed account on the motif of shepherds and showed how Jesus is the prime Good Shepherd (pp. 275-284).
Who Exactly is Jesus?
The penultimate and final chapters represent decisive events in Jesus’ life. Marking Peter’s Confession as a pivotal act in the Gospels, Benedict XVI shows that previously people were simply guessing at Jesus’ identity (i.e. Elijah or John the Baptist) and interpret him solely in terms of the past (p. 292-293). Furthermore, it is at the Transfiguration that Peter recognizes that the messianic times have begun (p. 315). Lastly, the pope focuses on the two appellations by which Jesus referred to himself as− “Son of Man” and “Son”. He covers these titles by providing Old Testament context and delineation of New Testament sayings for the “Son of Man” and juxtaposed the ancient political referent of “Son” with Jesus’ meaning of the term (pp. 336-345).
Review of Benedict’s Analysis
Standing in lieu of the recent bifurcation of the Christ of faith from the historical Jesus, Benedict XVI’s Christology opposes this approach. His goal in writing this book was to portray Jesus in light of his communion with the Father. Benedict XVI constructed this book in the context of Scripture. I found that the German pope achieved this objective and can give a copious amount of evidence to support it.
Firstly, Benedict XVI does a masterful job of showing Jesus’ awareness of the Old Testament and how a proper understanding of God’s events in Israel’s history is fulfilled by Christ. He shows that Jesus perfects and encapsulates the tripartite Old Testament offices of priest, prophet, and king. Furthermore, the pontiff in his chapter on Beatitudes portrays Jesus’ recapitulation and perfection on the Mosaic Law.
Dovetailing from the prior point, the pope also provides implicit critiques to the one-handed nature of modern scholarship regarding Christology. He goes on to refute the possibility of the Bible being viewed in an exclusively historical way. The word of God is not limited to the space-time continuum of history. Because of this, “The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scriptures,” the German theologian asserts (p. 78). One learns about Christ not only through academics, but an active living of the faith. A mere horizontal gaze at Jesus leads to a type of cynicism regarding his Sermon on the Mount teaching. In stark contrast to Nietzsche seeing Christ’s attitude toward the poor as a religion of resentment and envy, the pontiff rightly understands this novel teaching as God’s revelation of himself descending in love (95-97).
Interpreting Jesus’ Parables
Within the chapter on parables, Benedict XVI talks of the ever-present struggle in interpreting Christ’s parabolic messages. Once again he overtly points to the limits of historical-critical exegesis and says, “[it] cannot give us any definitive information” (184). After presenting his view to properly interpret Jesus’ words, his argument culminates by stating the hermeneutic of unlocking the parables is the Cross.
Ultimately, for Benedict, Jesus’ messages are a portent of the Paschal Mystery (p. 191). In his outline of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the former theology professor gives a laconic layout of various interpretations of Luke 15:11-32, and goes on to show an implicit Christology can be gleaned from the text through “attention to the historical context” (p. 207). This is because Jesus himself is a revelation of the Father.
Christology of B16
Along with his amicable refutations of modern scholarship, it is reading Benedict XVI’s final chapter that one can truly appreciate his contribution to Christology. Here he provides a meticulous delineation of occurrences and frequencies of the appellations Jesus attributes to himself− Son of Man and Son. With the former title, he shows its connection to the Old Testament (book of Daniel) and the latter portrays the relationship Jesus had to God. In fact, Benedict XVI shows that Mark’s Gospel alone uses this designation fourteen times and with the exception of Stephen in Acts 7:56, all references of “Son of Man” come from Jesus’ lips (pp. 321-322).
As an authentic Nicene theologian the German pope points out “Only the Son truly ‘knows’ the Father…Truly to know God presupposes communion with him [as Son]” (p. 340). Benedict XVI further fleshes out the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father in his outline of the Johannine “I AM” sayings in his concluding pages.
Finally, in brief fashion he shows how Nicaea’s term homoousios was not a Hellenistic infiltration of the faith or a jettisoning of biblical authority, but provided a stable foundation for theology and ultimately Christology (p. 355).
In sum, I found Jesus of Nazareth to be a well-written and digestible read for both lay and scholar alike. Benedict XVI remained steadfast in his goal to portray Jesus from the Bible while using historical science to augment his points. This work is a hailing back to patristic Christology which trusted the Gospels and did not separate faith from history. Finally, he provided a salubrious and professional critique to the modern approach to Christology and any student of Catholic theology should be sure to check this monograph out.
God works in mysterious ways. I truly believe he puts you in specific situations at precise times to allow you to grow in trust and faith in Him. As members of the Church Militant, we are called to be in communion with the saints in Heaven—the Church triumphant. Over the course of the past several months, I believe God called me to learn more about Saint Bonaventure. Having a background in theology, my inclination towards the Seraphic Doctor of the Church makes sense.
Rarely, does God act in such a plain or shallow sense. Along with being elevated to the status of Doctor of the Catholic Church, St. Bonaventure is also the patron saint of something quite ordinary, yet awkward at the same time—bowel movements. As a young child Bonaventure had a life-threatening sickness affecting his bowels. This sickness almost took his life. The intercession of St. Francis of Assisi cured him. Because of this, the Catholic Church recognized Bonaventure as the patron saint of individuals suffering similar illnesses.
My youngest son struggles with digestive and bowel issues. During a particularly rough evening, my wife and I prayed to St. Bonaventure, as we tried everything else medically to help our son. Our pleas for help to the 13th century saint forged the beginning of what I hope to be a lifelong friendship.
While St Bonaventure wrote on various subjects this article will solely focus on arguably his greatest work—The Journey of the Mind into God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Bonaventure: Literary Work and Doctrine calls this work, “a manual for mystical contemplation.” Providentially, Bonaventure pondered this work at the same place whereby St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata—Mount La Verna in Italy!
Stepping up the Ladder of Learning
As a teacher of theology, St. Bonaventure provides a gradually and steady path, specifically six steps, to grow in awareness and knowledge of God. Bonaventure puts it this way,
For through those six wings there can be rightly understood six suspensions of illumination, by which the soul as if to certain steps or journeys is disposed, to pass over to peace through ecstatic excesses of Christian wisdom.
no 3. The Journey of the Mind Into God
A prerequisite for beginning this journey is praying through Christ crucified. Jesus acts as a bridge; or, to use the imagery of Bonaventure, a ladder connecting us to the Holy Trinity.
Creation as Reflection of God
In Chapter 1 of The Journey of the Mind Into God, the Seraphic Doctor tells us that the first rung of the ladder to God is the created world. When we don the glasses of faith, we see nature pointing to the glory of God. Bonaventure refers to the created world as “the university of things” as a kind of stairway to climb toward God (Chapter 1 no. 2). Later in the chapter he describes the world as “a mirror through which we pass over to God. Plants, animals, mountains, oceans, the moon and stars above point to a Creator—because of the beauty and order within nature.
Bonaventure draws us up the holy ladder in his next chapter.
It must be noted that this world (the universe), which is called the macrocosm, enters our soul, which is called the microcosm, through the gates of the five senses…Man, who is called the microcosm, has five senses like five gates, through which acquaintance with all things, which are in the sensible world, enters into his soul.
(Chapter 2, no. 2)
Catholicism values the created order as not something to be jettisoned. The sacramentals utilize various forms of matter (things) because they hold intrinsic value and point had a higher order of being.
Human Mind—Mirror of the Trinity
Bonaventure brings the reader up another rung on the ladder of mystical contemplation by focusing on the natural powers of the human soul. According to the 13th century saint, the three highest faculties of humanity are memory, intellect, and will. He saws these three powers as a natural reflection of the Holy Trinity.
The Seraphic Doctor plainly declares, “According to the order and origin and characteristic of these powers (the soul) leads into the Most Blessed Trinity itself!” (Chapter 3 no. 5). As a perfect spirit, Bonaventure argues, God has memory, intelligence, and will. In the remaining chapters of The Journey of the Mind Into God, Bonaventure details how grace guides the soul in knowing and growing in knowledge of God, seeing God’s unity through His being, and finally viewing God as a communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity.
I had to read this work at least three times before I could write this reflection on St. Bonaventure’s gem of a work. This is not an indictment on his ability to write clearly or my ability to discern (at least I hope not!) Instead, any and all writings on the subject of God, in particularly a Trinitarian understanding of God has to be mysterious. “When you contemplate these, see, that you do not consider yourself able to comprehend the incomprehensible (The Holy Trinity). For in these six conditions (steps) you still have to consider what leads the eye of our mind vehemently into the stupor of admiration (Chapter 6 no. 3).
Journey with Bonaventure Today
Journeying into God is not an easy task, but it will certainly end with both wonder and awe. St. Bonaventure’s closeness to the God is quite evident in this spiritual treatise. If you are a parent of young children, such as myself, perhaps you may not have time now to read this holy book. Bonaventure can still help you on your spiritual and parental journey, because at some point your kid will get severely constipated. Ask the Seraphic Doctor for help. Believe me, it arrives.
If you have more time available for spiritual reading, I strongly recommend you add The Journey of the Mind Into God to your top ten list!