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Catch the Vision

 

The Christian Vision is not about a set of dogmas or about a set of pious practices. It is all about a person named Jesus. The Christian Vision is about: (1) Jesus’ life vision, (2) Jesus’ life mission, (3) how he calls us to complete his mission, and (4) how he has empowered us for that mission.

Leave out any one of these four elements and the Christian Vision is incomplete. Omit Jesus’ call to us to complete his mission, and a critical part of the Christian Vision is lost. Ignore the fact that Jesus has empowered us for our task, and we are left with an impoverished Church attempting the impossible.

Ultimately, if the Christian Vision is worth anything, it should move us to a dynamic relationship with Jesus. If it does not, our understanding of the Christian Vision is incomplete or we are rejecting one of its essential elements.

For is not that the fundamental spiritual issue each of us faces? How do we transform a figure who lived 2000 years ago into a present day force in our lives? How do we make Jesus come alive? How do we make Jesus religiously compelling and spiritually transformative for ourselves, today, here and now?

In the end, the Christian Vision reveals that Jesus is not frozen in time 2,000 years ago, but is alive today and is the catalyst of a dynamic spiritualization process in our lives. We can have a dynamic relationship with Jesus because Jesus is a dynamic force. But first let us look at the historical Jesus.

Jesus’ Life Vision. What was Jesus’ life vision?  Let us first define what we mean by life vision. Life visions are all about attitudes, our attitudes toward God, self, others, life and reality. Now a key question is what was Jesus’ attitude toward God? The answer to that question will determine Jesus’ total life vision.

In Jesus Before Christianity, Fr. Albert Nolan, O.P. states: “It is generally agreed that somewhere at the heart of Jesus’ mysterious personality there was a unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience…we know that the Abba experience was an experience of God as a compassionate Father.” As a compassionate Father, God loves all persons.

Here is the important insight. Jesus’ solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all humanity. The driving force behind Jesus’ life vision was compassion for others. Jesus’ God-centeredness impacted all the elements of his life vision, because he saw all through God’s eyes.

What Jesus teaches us is that once we enter deeply into solidarity with God, we will become compassionate persons because God is compassion. The move from self-centeredness to God-centeredness is the breakthrough conversion in our life visions, and therefore in our spiritual lives. We see ourselves, others, life, reality in an entirely new light, because we view all through God’s global view rather than through our narrow point of view.

Jesus’ Life Mission. Jesus’ life vision would become his life mission. Fr. Nolan points out, that unlike John the Baptist, Jesus did not feel called to save others by bringing them to a baptism of repentance. Jesus saw his mission as liberating people from every form of suffering—physical, psychological, spiritual, social, and political. Jesus would become God’s compassion incarnate.

Jesus would seek to win over all people through compassion. His one  and only motive for healing people was compassion, not to prove that he was the Messiah. He mixed socially with society’s outcasts, sinners and tax collectors, completely ignoring the scandal he was causing, so that they would know they were accepted by him.  He fought the oppression of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the times, because they imposed a loveless, burdensome religion on the people.

Fr. Albert Nolan writes: “The kingdom in which Jesus wanted his contemporaries to believe was a kingdom of love and service, a kingdom of human brotherhood and sisterhood in which every person is loved and respected because he or she is a person.”

Jesus’ Call. In his radical love for us, God sent Jesus to save all humanity. And Jesus calls us to dream the impossible dream of joining him in his mission to liberate people from every form of suffering—physical, psychological, spiritual, social and political. Jesus wanted all people to experience the fullness of their humanity. We are called to make his mission our life vision and our life mission!

Jesus’ mission is what we call broadly today “social justice”, and is the essential mission for us. Over time, Jesus’ mission has expanded to include many missions, among them Christianizing our environments and teaching catechetics. But in whatever mission we are involved, we are called to manifest Jesus’ compassion, gifting others with our presence and affirming their giftedness. Our compassion toward others opens them to Jesus’ message.

Jesus, Our Brother. Who is it who calls us to complete his mission of saving the whole world? Jesus, our brother. Jesus, though divine, was no make-believe human being. Jesus had to grow in understanding by moving from ignorance to knowledge, from doubt to certainty, from indecisiveness to decision, just as we do. Jesus learned from his Jewish culture as we learn from our culture. Jesus learned from his personal relationships as we do. Jesus learned the way every human learns.

Only when we can sense Jesus’ confusion as to where the Spirit was leading him, can we feel at home with our brother Jesus and be open to his call to mission. So many times we read in the Gospels that Jesus left the crowds behind and went off to pray. What he prayed for was guidance.

Further, Jesus was no solitary man. In pious literature, Jesus is presented as self-sufficient, self-reliant. But the Holy Spirit was his tutor every step of the way. He depended on the Holy Spirit as his mentor and guide, just as we have to do. Truly, Jesus became our brother and embraced our human condition, except for sin. For this reason we can relate to Jesus as brother and friend.  This is the Jesus who calls us to complete his mission.

Jesus, Our Crucified Lover. In time, our brother Jesus became our Crucified Lover. Jesus’ priestly mission came to a shameful, horrific end. How we explain his passion and death can either cloud Jesus’ triumph of love for us and weaken our response to his love, or it can transform us into tremendous lovers of Jesus and committed disciples.

For over a thousand years, theologians have been obsessed with the explanation of penal substitution as the rationale for Jesus’ death: Jesus stepped into our place and experienced for us God’s vindictive justice. Thus, God is a cruel God, even a child abuser. Ultimately, we must conclude that we are dealing with mystery, the mystery of God and evil.

However, Jesus’ love for us is not a mystery.St. Augustineasked: “What is the beauty we see in Christ?…The crucified limbs? The pierced side? Or the love? When we hear that he suffered for us, what do we love? The love is ‘loved.’ He loved us so that we might love him back…”

What St. Augustine is telling us is: Don’t focus narrowly on Jesus’ suffering which he willingly undertook for us: concentrate on Jesus’ love for us. Let us remember that for each of us personally, Jesus in his passion and death took upon himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our childhood and our childish ways of trying to survive. He did this out of love for each one of us.

It would be helpful to imagine the love life of Jesus as he encountered his agonizing last days. Imagine Jesus going up the mountain with the apostles and being transfigured before setting out on his journey to Jerusalem and certain death. Jesus thinks to himself: “I choose to live for and with those for whom life is one long, desolate corridor with no exit sign. This is the way I’m going… If it means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice saying, ‘Do something for others’….We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now. Because I have been to the mountaintop….I just want to do God’s will…I have seen the promised land… My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

These are the words of Reverend Martin Luther King who prophesized the end to his life, a life of vision and mission. His words give us only a glimpse into the mind and heart of Jesus, our tremendous lover, the image and mirror of God, the Radical Lover. This is the Jesus who calls us to complete his mission.

Jesus, Our Leader. Jesus assures us: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Fr. Nolan writes:  “Jesus was experienced as the breakthrough in the history of humanity. He transcended everything that had ever been said and done before. He was in every way the ultimate, the last word. He was on a par with God. His word was God’s word. His Spirit was God’s Spirit. His feelings were God’s feelings. What he stood for was exactly the same as what God stood for. No higher estimation was conceivable.”

Jesus in his humanity is the physical revelation of the infinite God who is invisible and beyond our comprehension. If Jesus is forgiving, God is forgiving. If Jesus is compassionate, God is compassionate. Jesus is the image of God, the mirror that reflects God in all his reality. This is the kind of leader we have—a brother, a Crucified Lover and the very image of God. This is the Jesus who calls us to complete his mission. Nor does he do so without giving us the power.

Jesus, Our Empowerer. For too long the Church has ignored the meaning and significance of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not just an historical event. It is not the anti-climax to what took place on Good Friday onCalvary, as it has been treated by the Church.

The Resurrection is all about Jesus’ triumph over death and coming into the power of the risen life, and empowering us. If we minimize the Risen Jesus, we minimize the powers Jesus gave us. We are Resurrection People—full of faith in the power of the Risen Jesus, and thus full of hope. The Risen Jesus is the magnificent power broker. With Jesus we can do all things. Let us look at four power sources that the Resurrection opened up to us:

(1) The Risen Jesus sacramentalized the historical Jesus’ whole lifetime by transforming his life events and words into a power source. It is as if Jesus’ life events rose from the dead with him. Jesus lives here and now with all his life events acting as power sources for us. When we unite ourselves with Jesus’ life events in our prayer life, in our spiritual formation and in our evangelization of others, in our suffering, we are empowered by Jesus because his life events live on as sources of power for us. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

(2) The Risen Jesus continues his Incarnation on earth through us by incorporating us as members of his Body. And he empowers us with the same powers that the historical Jesus enjoyed—to bring peace, healing and forgiveness to others. When we employ Jesus’ powers, we manifest the Risen Jesus within us to the world. The challenge for us is to take possession of Jesus’ powers. We have been given the powers. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

(3) The Risen Jesus pours out his Spirit on us, constantly empowering us with his Spirit’s powers to bring us to self-discovery and to transformation into Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation within us. The Spirit is our inner guide and mentor. God carries on a Divine Dialogue with us, making known his will and direction for our lives, and it is the Holy Spirit who confirms within us that we have recognized God’s word to us. It is through the Spirit that we gain the courage to complete Jesus’ mission. It is through the Spirit that we grow in the discipline of love to be self-giving persons as Jesus was. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

(4) The Risen Jesus sacramentalized Christian community and continues to do so. He promised that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he would be present. Think of Jesus’ disciples hiding in the Upper Room behind closed doors. Imagine the Risen Jesus here and now penetrating our communities, and most importantly, penetrating the closed doors of our minds and hearts, opening us up to his Spirit. Imagine Jesus saying to us: “Peace be with you!” and breathing his Spirit upon us. The Risen Jesus continues to empower us through the Spirit in our Christian communities. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

Thus far, we have seen how Jesus’ solidarity with God who is a compassionate Father created solidarity for him with all humanity. His life vision became his life mission. Further, Jesus invites us to live his life vision, the Christian Vision for us, and to commit to his life mission. Lastly, the Risen Jesus has empowered us to complete his mission to the world.

Embracing the Vision. What remains to be answered is: how do we embrace the Christian Vision? Earlier we said, the Christian Vision is all about a person, a person named Jesus. We live the Christian Vision by embracing Jesus as ardently as we can and as often as we can. Does that mean embracing just the historical Jesus? No, it means embracing the total Jesus—the historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus, and the Jesus who gives us his Spirit. How do we embrace Jesus?

(1) Practice Resurrection. When we embrace Jesus’ Resurrection, we embrace Jesus. At every Mass we attend let us rejoice in the rising from the dead of our Crucified Lover who carried our burdens on his cross and celebrate the Risen Jesus coming into his triumph and power—the power he has shared with us. Let us celebrate his ongoing presence among us, his ongoing Incarnation in us, his ongoing transformation of us, his ongoing empowerment of us, his ongoing bringing us into union with all men and women who are the Body of Christ. At the consecration, when the priest holds up the host, let us be aware that we are included in that host as members of Jesus’ Body, and let us offer up ourselves as self-gift to Jesus and to our sisters and brothers.

When we are in Christian community, let us remind ourselves that the Risen Jesus is present in our midst, still gifting us with his peace and the Spirit’s empowerment as on the first Pentecost.

(2) Practice Union with the historical Jesus. When we embrace Jesus’ humanity, we embrace Jesus. Let us be keenly conscious that Jesus’ power goes out from him 2000 years later due to his Resurrection. So let us practice union with our brother Jesus. Let us get in touch with Jesus’ power in everything we do—in our prayer life, in our spiritual formation, in our evangelization of others.

(3) Practice Pentecost. Our dream of joining Jesus in his mission to save the whole world is the impossible dream unless we have a Higher Power. That Higher Power is the Spirit whom the Risen Jesus continually pours out upon us. So let us practice Pentecost. Let the Spirit become our guide and mentor. Let us pray the Come Holy Spirit prayer daily and many times during the day for the courage to act and lead to complete Jesus’ mission, and for the power to love others with a radical love. When we embrace Jesus’ Spirit, we embrace Jesus!

(4) Practice Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation. When we embrace the Risen Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us, we embrace Jesus. Let us manifest the Risen Jesus within us. Let us practice being sacraments to others—bringing peace, healing and forgiveness to others as Jesus did. Let us practice being Jesus’ compassion to others by gifting people with our presence and affirming their giftedness. Let us practice being communion to others by being bodily present to others with our gestures, tone of voice and our attention to them. Let us practice being channels of faith and hope to others to awaken faith and hope in them.

Embracing Dynamic Jesus. The Christian Vision understood in all its splendor reveals the answer to the fundamental question: how do we move toward a dynamic relationship with Jesus. The short answer is: embrace the total Jesus revealed at the Resurrection.

For the Risen Jesus transformed Jesus’ life on earth into a power source. Out of this power source, the Risen Jesus gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to live lives of radical faith, radical hope and radical love. The historical Jesus has become and is the catalyst of a dynamic living process of spiritual empowerment for us by bringing into play all his dimensions—his humanity, his resurrected life, and his Spirit. We can have a dynamic relationship with Jesus because Jesus is dynamic!