“He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ … ‘But who do you say that I am?’”
The Jesus Question. It is all-important for the catechist and the disciple. As the sponsor to an unbaptized catechumen who happened to be my neighbor, I remember hearing a beautiful reflection done on our Lord’s question to the apostles in an RCIA session at my parish. The good deacon used it as an introduction to his catechesis on Jesus and I made a mental note to copy his technique as soon as I had the opportunity to ask the Jesus Question to my own disciples: “Who is Jesus for you?”
Since then, I have had many opportunities to do so. Now as an instructor of catechetics, I have the opportunity to assist prospective catechists in crafting the “Jesus Question” for their own disciples. I am in the enviable position of having a catechetical audience who not only knows well the answer to “the Jesus Question,” but who live lives that are a testimony to the deep relationship they have with the One who first asked it.
With these students, one of my favorite games is “Catechetical Jeopardy,” because contrary to popular opinion, doctrine was not invented to torture small children, but rather to answer fundamental questions. For example, if “the Trinity” is the answer, what is the question? “Who is God, Alex?” Correct – God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a communion of Persons whose life is love. If “the Incarnation” is the answer, what is the question? “Who is Jesus – God ‘in the flesh?’”
As part of the effort to implement the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the bishops of the United States established a review process to evaluate published catechetical resources for conformity with the Catechism. The bishops who were first involved commented on what they found during their reviews, and their list of deficiencies and tendencies in catechetical materials, many of which have laudably been addressed by our publishers, nevertheless has been the subject of study by our Catechetics majors so that they can best prepare for the doctrinal gaps they might find in the understanding of their own catechetical audiences.
One of the deficiencies – and the bishops are quick to note that it is more of an imbalance than an error – is that Jesus is more commonly taught as a teacher and friend, which He is, but less often as divine or as Savior. Now I had heard stories about the results of this emphasis, that catechetical audiences are often surprised to be told that Jesus is God, but the issue hit close to home when my own children’s teacher confided to us during a parent-teacher conference that she had asked the children if Jesus was God and was troubled to find that they weren’t really sure.
Back, then, to our game of Catechetical Jeopardy… The astute students recognize that the Incarnation not only answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” but more pertinently our problem of emphasis, “What is Jesus?” One of our students recently commented, “I always knew that Jesus was ‘the Son of God,’ but until now I never realized that He is ‘God, the Son.’” There are really two questions here: the “Who” and the “What;” these questions have answers that help us distinguish between person and nature. Not only does a study of person and nature help us remove the seemingly hopeless higher math of the Trinity’s “3 in 1” (that is, three Persons and one Nature), but it provides wonderful insight into how “what” Jesus is – both God and Man – is as important as “who” Jesus is, when it comes to our salvation. God, a pure spirit until the Incarnation, could not die; the ability to die is not part of His divine nature. Only a God, who humbled Himself to take on our human nature, could die for us. And how did that death save us? Well, we’ll need to talk a little more about nature and person to answer that one…
Join me at the St. John Bosco Conference this summer for further discussion!