My reply was printed yesterday on December 16.
Try to get along
Pope Benedict XVI (Eagle, Dec. 1) in a recent encyclical urges Christians to put less emphasis on individual salvation and more on community and on eliminating suffering and misery. The pope goes on to caution that only God can be truly successful in such an endeavor.
I have two observations: If God can eliminate all suffering and misery but doesn't do so, he is not a very loving and compassionate God. The pope seems to be calling for a move away from the mystical Jesus created by Paul in the second century and a return to the first century historical Jesus.
Abundant research by Fellows of the Jesus Seminar (www.westarinstitute.org) and many others shows that the historical Jesus was not concerned with abortion, homosexuality, evolution, sin, life after death and other issues that seem to dominate the thoughts and actions of many Christians today. Rather, the historical, Jewish Jesus was concerned with the misery and suffering of his poor and powerless Jewish neighbors who were being exploited by a powerful Roman Empire and by a powerful religious elite.
Jesus' teachings were much more important than was his person to his first-century followers. Over the past 200 years, biblical scholars have been able to strip away the additions to and distortions of these teachings. What are left are excellent guidelines for how we should live together as a community.
I agree with the pope. Let's follow the advice of the historical Jesus and try to get along with each other.
Bob Presley (Eagle, Dec. 11) makes many assertions about the Pope's intentions in his new encyclical, the mercy of God, and the historical Jesus -- none of which I agree with.
First, Presley says that the pope seems to be calling us away from Paul's understanding of Jesus and to a more historical rendering. It is quite obvious from this assertion that Presley has read little that Benedict XVI has written.
In his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict is extremely cautious of the historical-critical method of exegesis, in particular the Jesus Seminar -- which has been rejected by Christian scholars worldwide, because it is merely a debunking scheme masked as bad scholarship. The pope says that such scholarship blurs the true historical nature of Jesus, which is found in the Bible, and leaves Christian faith behind.
Second, we brought suffering upon ourselves because of our fall. If we are to truly study history we will see that "just getting along" hasn't gotten us very far. Rather, it takes a sacrifice of our own selfishness to accomplish true peace. This is a peace that can only be found in a loving God, not one manufactured by sinful man.
True peace isn't just "getting along," but rather, as the pope says in his encyclical, is found in a relationship with Christ, which should be both personal and communal. The fact that God allows us to suffer doesn't negate true love. True love is to want what is best for the other - and suffering in this life isn't the worst thing that could happen to us.
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St. Mary's Catholic Center