Jeffrey Wismer

                                                                                                                 December 2001

 

Title: How am I making up my mind about the Role of Jesus’ Death in Human Liberation

Chapter 1: The Role of Death in the Saving Ministry of Christ: A Brief History of My Understanding of this topic before entering the Course

My views on the cross have been quite limited because I was never asked to examine what my personal views were before writing this paper.  First of all I have only been asked to refer to the cross a few times in my life.  Recently I gave a talk about the cross during a legion of Mary meeting.  I based my talk on what I understood the most about the cross or as referred to in the class as active soteriology.  While doing the exercises handed at in class the first week I was able to begin to touch base with my passive soteriology.  Currently the amount of passive soteriology that I have been able to uncover in the recent weeks has not been overwhelming. Speaking under the assumption of no prior knowledge, the uncovering of one’s passive soteriology must be a long process.  Usually I can shoot from the hip when talking about any give subject.  I find that my knowledge of the cross is about average.  On the other hand my knowledge of terminology and ways of organizing certain points of view about the cross is very limited.  In fact I would put most of the terminology I have heard in the class thus far as new material.  In this paper I will spend more time discussing my active soteriology and then lead into what I would call my passive soteriology.

            Getting back to the first time of was asked to give a talk about the cross.  By the way this is the first time I can remember not necessarily the first time I ever gave a talk about the cross.  I remember when starting the talk that I first talked about the story of one of the blind men of the New Testament had the details of how Jesus cured this particular blind man.  The first time Jesus laid his hands on the man’s eyes the man spoke up and said, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” (Mark 8: 24).   I went further on to say that this was the Gospel writers way of foreshadowing the death of Jesus on the cross.  Furthermore I said that the Holy Trinity was a huge part of the saving power of the cross.  Similarly a few weeks earlier my mother gave a talk on the Healing power of the cross.  I took a lot from that talk and put it into the context of the Mission of the lay person, or in this case the legionnaire.  The legionnaire’s duty as spelled out in the handbook is to be a witness not only to Mary but also has a reminder of the Healing power of the cross.  Of course I could not leave out death when I talked about the healing power of the cross.   Too many times when we talk about healing we think of being taken away from the evil power of death.  I never bought into that way of thinking before because it never made much sense to me.  I also thought of death as a rebirth almost like a reincarnation.  The cross represents that death is not a fixed state but that it is transcendental in nature.  One of the main points I always tried to get across while speaking about the cross to my fellow legionaries was that Mary understood the cross and death better than anyone at that time.  She was the first true witness to the reality of death and that death was going to be a huge part of God’s free will. 

            The other talk I gave about the cross had more to do about some of my personal experiences more than anything else.  I used some of my stories as an example of how there are so many little deaths that we can choose to partake in to start to get a grasp on how death is very much a part of living a healthy Christian lifestyle.  While I was living in North Carolina, after I graduated from college, I experienced many little deaths to self and slowly but surely selfishness started to wear down.  I also looked to the cross to remind me of how suffering is connected to death and to life all at the same time.  I also chose to distance myself from several material possessions.  Moreover I saw the cross as the ultimate distancing of God away from the world.   That in a sense you have to take a big step up to the cross from the world in order to reach the full meaning of death to self and to the way the world thinks.  I continued on to talk about the ways I encountered the world thinking about the cross.  I found that many people who run away from life’s problems were also running away from the cross. 

            To expand on that premise I was watched a documentary about a community in Montana.  In this community of people, which were mostly Americans, there was a movement to distance themselves from the so-called “evils” of the world.  Many were fearful of the real threat of global nuclear warfare.  This reminded me of the passage in the book of revelations were the writer, John, was describing the way people ran away from God.  The passage states the following, “I saw people hiding themselves, and covering themselves with Mountains saying, ‘woe to me, I can not bear this any long’.”  It strikes me as odd that people first of all would have a notion to do something like this.  Clearly one can not hide from real life.  As I continued to watch this documentary I noticed that it had many different “golden symbols” of god and unity of one church.  The only representation of Christianity was a golden statue of the resurrected Jesus.  It made sense then that these people clearly were running from the true meaning of Christianity.   The cross is not something to be taken lightly, nor is it pleasant to dwell upon.  Similar to that notion I remember hearing a homily about how people demean the cross, sometimes unintentionally, by saying such phrases as, “Oh isn’t that a pretty cross”, or “Isn’t that artwork just gorgeous.”  The watered down versions of the cross always made me cringe.

            Now, continuing on to the class and how I stated active soteriology.  I said as an answer to the question on that worksheet that Jesus’s death on the cross was opening of the gates of heaven to sinners.   I remember that Rev. Bill Frasier mentioned to me that my statement implied that the gates had to be closed to begin with.  Clearly that was not what I was trying to say. I was romanticizing death by describing Jesus’ death in the fashion that I did.  I know that death can not be dressed up and sugar coated. In today’s I think that often times people try to paint a happy picture and gloss over many aspects of death and dying.  I think it is hard to totally put a facade on death.  Death is a big part of living, dying, love, and freedom.  One can not have one without the other.  Jesus was more in touch with these concepts than anyone who ever lived.  I think talking about these subjects during the first two sessions of our class brought back some passive soteriology. 

            Furthermore I remembered my reading the imitation of Christ.  In those readings the depth of the cross and spirituality was brought into focus.  Much of the book talked about the struggles of carrying the cross.  The death of Jesus was seen as the ultimate goal of walking along the path to salvation.  I remember the teaching of Jesus when he took a child and said, “If you are not like one of these, you can not enter into the Kingdom of my Father.”  Well I relate that in my mind to how we all can learn from children to follow their fathers and how they learn to imitate them in a lot of ways.  The death of Jesus represents the Holy Trinity in that it imitates the mystery of death.  When I say that it imitates the mystery of death I mean that to me death is still a mystery.  To me the cross exemplifies the importance of death and I have never heard an all-encompassing explanation as of yet. 

            In conclusion I would have to say that there is a lot of material out there about the cross which is evidenced by the reading assignments we have had so far.  For instance that twelve different theories all had a lot of credible evidence even though the first theory of Evil being equal to Good could not stand up to recent theological thinking these days.  The exercise we did about the objective and subjective redemption was very helpful about pulling some of the passive soteriology out of my mind.  The readings are presenting me with a good deal of new ideas and new ways of looking at the cross.  I am sure that the organizational structure of soteriology will help me to further my understanding of thanatology and staurology.   I look forward to reading more about the Trinitarian and Incarnational cross. 

Moving from Compound Ignorance to Simple Ignorance: A short revision of Chapter 1

 

Before this course I thought I knew about the cross.  In the beginning of the course the struggle was moving past compound ignorance.  The fact of the matter was that I did not care that I did not know.  I think that my struggles early on in the course was a reflection of my struggles adapting to a new community.  Early on I did not give this year of discernment or the course much of a chance.  This struggle continued on to the point where I wanted to leave and consequently I was not giving the attention needed for this material.  I needed to become gradually more aware of what I did not know about the cross.  Once I developed a sense of where I was and what I needed to do the next step was to figure out how to fix the problem.  Peace had to be found.  The challenge was to sort through the superficial garbage to find that peace.  I got help.  I found peace.  That has a lot to do with the way I learned to change my thinking from compound ignorance to simple ignorance.  Once I was able to do that I discovered how important this material is in today’s society.  Moreover I was able to develop my own thinking on the cross. 

            Comparing simple ignorance to compound ignorance was important for me to recognize.  My active vocabulary was virtually non existent.  Similarly my passive vocabulary was non existent.  Before entering the course I would have never thought that was important.  Now I wish I could have started with more of an open mind.  Clearly there was something that was stopping me from learning.  I needed a conversion on a number of different levels.  Fortunately I realized I was using defenses.   Those defenses were realized when defenses against death and the scandal of the cross were discussed.  Even though I was starting to realize that I had a defense mechanism at work, the process of weeding out these had to take some time.  Understanding the underlying dynamic at work during the first part of the course was important for me to deal with and reflects on my own thinking of the cross.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2:  The Role of Death in the Saving Ministry of Christ:  An Evaluation and Refinement of My Understanding of this Topic Before Entering the Course

 

Development of my Thanatology

 

            Looking at the chart of the “Theological Perspectives on the Cross” I can see where I fitted in at the beginning of the course.  Being raised in a conservative diocese of Arlington affected my understanding of the cross.  They only went as far as the Godward version of the transactional cross.  The statement, “If anyone does not profess that God the Word by suffering and dying in the flesh he had assumed, could make satisfaction for our sins; or that he did truly and properly make this satisfaction and merited grace and glory for us: let him be anathema” (Gaspar Lefebvre, Redemption through the Blood of Jesus), would be something similar to that which is taught from the pulpit because of it’s popularity.  Another popular teaching comes from this statement, “Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).   These two statements come from sources I was most familiar with growing up in a Catholic Church.  The first of these two statements is definitive about the church’s teaching on the death of Jesus.  Similarly the second of these two statements is clear that the death of Jesus was a saving event.  The one word description of these statements I would use is ransom.  God the father is seen as giving God the Son over to the devil as a ransom for our sins. 

            The transactional model of the cross is true.  It is also important to point out that this model of the cross says the cross does save.  Now I know why the church has stuck with this model of the cross for a long time.  It is simple.  Before entering the course I did not know that there were even distinctions of how people looked differently at the cross.  Nor have I ever heard of famous theologians such as Karl Rahner.  Rahner’s statement, “Christianity is the religion which regards the death of a certain man as the most fundamental event of the history of salvation and of world history.” (Rahner, Karl Sacramentum Mundi), interested me and I wanted to get into the cross on a deeper level.  Furthermore the deeper I got into the cross the more I realized the scandal which it caused.  Before entering the course I was not sure why the cross was producing a scandal. I knew that death was scandalous.

Two statements impressed me the most about the scandal of the cross.  The first is, “The sort of men who now live cannot stand anything so strong as the Christianity of the New Testament, just in the same sense that children cannot stand strong drink…and this twaddle then in their language they call  ‘Christianity’, just as children call their lemonade wine.” (Kierkegaard, Soren Attack on Christendom).  This relates to a deeper level of human abolishment.  Whereas a human when confronted with things of great magnitude and significance, will often brush it aside in favor of something less difficult.  This is a problem we all confront.  I have found it is easier to touch the surface of Christianity.  During the course I was confronted with material of deeper meaning.  I found that this is true with the difference between milk Christianity and solid-food Christianity.  I think the church today as only partially sharing solid-food Christianity with the community.  Most of what I hear today is milk Christianity.  Before entering the course I was not sure what exactly it is that people are so afraid of.  Now I know that it has to do with the scandal of the cross.  Still I would think that this kind of solid-food Christianity would be something the people would need to hear.   For whatever reason the powers that be are delegating too much.  The material that needs to get out is not being let out for people to digest.

Maybe people are not ready quite yet.  Moreover this statement, “Christians who do not have the feeling that they must flee the crucified Christ have probably not yet understood him in a sufficiently radical way.” (Moltmann, Jurgen The Crucified God), strikes me because people who think they are ready for solid-food Christianity are probably not ready yet.  I do not know whether or not I was ready for solid-food Christianity.  Before entering the course I was first discovering the world of deeper meaning to Christianity in books such as The Divine Intimacy, and The Imitation of Christ.  I started to envision myself as a child who was following Christ on the way to Calvary.  I realized that suffering was very much a part of life.  I also felt the connection of love and suffering and oftentimes reflecting on how suffering “behooved” Jesus because he loved us so much.  I was not totally ready to grasp this material.  I did not have the theological background that one would need to fully relate to the material being discussed throughout the course.  I do not believe it was necessary to have a background in theology such as a prerequisite in college.  I just wish I had studied theologians like Karl Rahner, and René Girard before entering this course. 

 Finding an Incarnational Soteriology

 

            Before finding an incarnational soteriology I had to find out what I did not know about incarnation.  Around this time in the course I started to try to make sense of humanity.  Why would God want to become man?  The cartoon that we received in class of the hatchling coming out of its shell for the first time and looking around at the world for the first time.  The hatchling decides to go back into its shell (laugh).  The world can be a scary place.  The events of September 11th testify to that statement.  Most humans would agree that it is easier to stay inside sometimes than face the real world.  I guess it comes down to looking in the mirror.  I once said in English class my first semester in college that when I look around at others I see the face of God.  We have to look at our own incarnation honestly first before we can take an honest look at the incarnation of God.   Anthropological Docetism comes from the downplaying of our humanity as well.   John writes, “for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4: 20).  This statement holds true when we are discovering the real Jesus.

            In contrast to anthropological Docetism the real Jesus is portrayed as a man who went through all temptation as we do.  In the recent made for television movie about Jesus on NBC, Jesus was portrayed has a very happy man, who laughed, got angry, and hung out with his disciples.  In The Last temptation of Jesus Christ, a movie that was banned by a majority of the conservative Catholic Church, Jesus struggles with normal everyday sin.  In this movie Jesus is not seen as an overconfident man who knows exactly what he is doing as he is portrayed in the more popular movie, Jesus of Nazareth.  Whenever you try to put flesh on Jesus there seems to be a resistance to this in Christianity.  What is it about becoming fully human that bothers people so much?  I see the Incarnation of Jesus exactly as our own.  God did not become man to only participate in a quarter of humanity, or half, or even three quarters of humanity.  He became flesh so he could reach the fullness of humanity.  Anything less than that and you are not giving full appreciation to life and death.

 Encountering the Anthropology, Pathology, & Soteriology of Death

 

Before entering the course I had never heard of the Brother of Death.  The numerous quotations that we were given made me think of how many times I had seen the brother of Death and not noticed.  The first statement that strikes me is, “We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life.  As soon as we are born the return begins, at once the setting forth and the coming back; we die in every moment.  Because of this many have cried out: The goal of life is death!  But as soon as we are born we begin the struggle to create, to compose, to turn matter into life; we are born in every moment.  Because of this many have cried out The goal of life is immortality.” (Kazantakis, Nikos Human Experience of Death and the Brother of Death pg. 3).  In this statement the writer is saying that death is so much a part of everyday life.  I worked in a nursing home and I could hear people referring to the brother of death.  Many movies that I have seen have dealt with the brother of death in their own artistic ways.  I have seen death glamorized in movies, video games, and magazines.  In today’s society the brother of death is so obvious yet people tend to really talk about the subject at all.  Oftentimes it is left up to the movie producers, book writers, and artists to portray their version of death and the brother of death.

Similarly there are other popular views of the brother of death in today’s media. I am a big sports fan.  The handout on The Life And Death In Athletic Competition was not only funny but helped me to see more clearly the influence of the death and the brother of death on human society.  Terms like, “the cubs put the final nail in the mets’ coffin”, “the Hokies aren’t dead yet”, and “Redskins bury the Eagles” are very familiar to me.  The sports writers are always looking for different angles.  Death is one of them. 

In contrast to the popular version of the brother of death is the theological view.  Many theologians such as Karl Rahner talk about death as something that is a fundamental part of Christian understanding.  The witness of the brother of death in the bible is just as strong.  Throughout the letters of Paul there is a lot of the word death being mentioned over and over again.  Similarly in the mass the proclamation of the mystery of our faith is “Dying he destroyed our death”.  I can relate to the brother of death in my life.  In everyday Christian life there is always a dying to a part of us that takes place.   

The chart that compared the Anthropology of Death, the Pathology of Death, and the Soteriology of Death was most helpful to my understanding of death.   To me death is a part of life when you look at death as being organic.  The seed has to die before it can become a plant, a flower, or a tree.  Without death there would be no life.  The statement handed to us in the beginning of the course strikes me the most.  On one side of the paper you have the statement “Death happens to human beings.”  On the other side you have “Death is the way human beings happen.”  Clearing the second statement that puts Death as the way and the fulfillment of humanity is dealing with a High Anthropology of Death.

            What is the connection between death and sin?  Before entering the course I was taught that sin has always been the problem.  I did not realize how much death and sin are connected until now.  Saying human mortality germinates in the soil of sin is not identifying the problem.  Moreover the statement that sin germinates in the soil of human mortality is clearly putting sin has the problem.  The example of the person who is bleeding to death comes to mind.  If one used skin lotion to solve the problem instead of a truncate than how can the problem be dealt with properly.  

              Why talk about life and death, and sin and death?  I look for these areas to be tied in with my salvation.  I can either ignore death or embrace death.  The statement that strikes me the most about embracing death is, “Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.  But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge—from which new sorrows will be born for others—then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply.” (Hillesum, Etty An Interrupted Life pg. 81).  She in the midst of all that hatred and suffering found peace in death.  

Running into Death Resistance

 

What is Death Resistance to me?  Death Resistance is the everyday race against death.  As a biology major in college I quickly discovered the connection between science and death.  Biological death is something that I studied for a long period of time.  The professors there spent a long time discussing the biological death of plants and animals and then humans.  In microbiology and ecology a lot of time was spent on scientific ways to reverse death or to slow down the process.  At the nursing home I overheard conversations about radical ways to keep people alive.   Furthermore I talked to people not wanting operations because of the possibility of operational death.  The tragedy of the World Trade Center on September 11th brought to many people’s attention the horror of evil and the reality of not being able to escape death.  Anytime I have run into death and the brother of death I have run into death resistance. 

Along those lines in today’s society the young and healthy are held in highest esteem.  Unfortunately I have seen the effects of that on the elderly being kept in nursing homes away from society.  It is unfortunate for a number of reasons but most importantly the reminder of death and the brother of death is kept locked up in doors.  Another disturbing trend in today’s Christian society is the disappearance of the crucifix.  Sometimes there is a resurrected Jesus on the cross or nobody there at all.  Similarly the community in the caves of Montana, who claim to be safe, have replaced the crucifix with a golden god.  Similar to those cases of death resistance, lately I have seen many media articles talking about fear and anxiety.  I think the same people that run away from death are the same people that fear embracing anxiety.  The statement that strikes me the most about death resistance and summarizes my view of fear and anxiety is “It appears that ever since the emergence of the self-conscious individual upon this earth, there has been a diseased spirit which has, by its anxiety about death, filled the world with unreason and evil.” (Haroutunian, Joseph Resisting Death and the Brother of Death pg. 4).

Discovering the Cure for the Mega-Sin

 

The most helpful way of looking at death resistance as the mega-sin for me is a combination of models.  First the model of mega-virus was the beginning of my understanding.  The fact that we do not know yet the virus that causes all the other viruses and diseases are interesting.  Putting death resistance at the heart of all sin is incredibly valuable to me.  The second model, which gave me the most insight, was original sin and death I and II.  Without this model I could not of understood why death as we know it today is the enemy.  Not only why death is the enemy but also how death came to be viewed as such. 

At this point in the course I realized how basic Jesus’ free choice is part of the saving death.  I also began to understand demonology.  It was easy for me to observe how Satan has been trying to distract people to the point of superficial good rather than “the” good.  The “fall” as the church calls it became clear to me.  I was able to explain this to my parents when they asked why should they be suffering for someone else’s original sin.  The statement that strikes me the most is “If the first parents sinned by grabbing for immortality, they must have been mortal to begin with.” (Vawter, Bruce On Genesis p. 65).  Similarly the temptation in the desert also became apparent to me.  Suddenly it made sense as to why Satan would try to tempt Jesus to stay alive.  Satan’s plan as I understand it is to keep us away from entering the death mystery. 

I was able to picture mentally the need to enter the death mystery by Abraham, the Exodus, and the Exile.  I can see why Jesus and Paul used Abraham as the foundation.  The statement that strikes me the most is “Although Paul occasionally mentions other models of Christian faith out of the Old Testament as well, he sets Abraham apart from them all as prototype.” (Kasemann, Ernst Perspectives on Paul pp. 80-81).   

Canning Ideological Thinking

 

There is no question that somebody or groups of people out there are trying to sugar coat everything.  I recently attended a conference about the Earth Charter Summit.  The point of this conference was to bring forth a document composed by scientists.  The document itself talks about improving the human condition and restoring the environment back to its original state.   I do not disagree with this.  In fact I support any movement that looks to decrease poverty and increase environmental concern.  I studied this at length in college so I know what they are trying to do.  The part that bothers me the most is the ideology that was springing forth from this organization.  I heard one of the leaders say that if this document was in place the tragedy of September 11th would have never happened.  Similar Billy Graham’s daughter stated if there was no abortion and if there were still prayer in school the September 11th tragedy would not have happened.   Taking that view to the extreme is stating that the country was getting what they deserved which was made by Jerry Fawell.

Similarly the article written by Herbert Marcuse is a popular depiction of ideological thinking.  Whatever it is ideological thinking is trying to portray it continues to distract people from the heart of the death mystery.  I agree that once people stop seeing the ideology of death than Satan will have succeeded in marinating death out of Christianity.   So in a way I am glad that there are people like Herbert Marcuse writing articles like this particular one.  I am also glad that the Pope John Paul II wrote something about Ideological Illusion.  The phrase that makes the most impact on me is, “not when the world’s pain is averted or left behind, but when it is entered and transfigured by the power of self-emptying love” (John Paul II Pro Dialogo Bulletin).  The danger of taking ideological thinking too far is marginating death and the cross. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3:   The Role of Death in the Saving Ministry of the Church:  A Review, Evaluation and Refinement of my Understanding of this Topic Before Entering the Course

 

Baptized into the Death of Jesus

             

According to the Catholic Church, Ecclesiological Cruciformity is defined as how does she (the church) witness to [the role of the cross in the saving ministry of the Church] in her ministry.   In other words how the church is supposed to recall the Paschal Mystery. The Catholic Church clearly defines that sacraments are needed to remind the people of the Paschal Mystery.  The Catholic Church designates three sacraments as an introduction into Christianity.  These three sacraments of initiation are Baptism, Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation.  I will talk about each one of these sacraments.  Moreover I will try to show how the church uses these sacraments to recall the Paschal Mystery.  I will compare my understanding of each sacrament before and after entering the course.  I will conclude with the material that is most important concerning Ecclesiological Cruciformity.

Baptism is the first and most important sacrament of initiation.  Before entering the course the first subject that came to mind is the renewal of the baptismal vows during the rite of baptism.  During the renewal we renounce Satan and all his evil works.  I was taught that water represents the Holy Spirit.  Also the priest baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This part of the ritual makes me recall the sign of the cross.  This is as deep as I sought Ecclesiological Cruciformity in water Baptism. After entering the course I learned about the symbolism of the baptismal garment placed on the coffin during the funeral mass.  Also I learned that plunging into the water is a sign of death and rebirth.  And that makes a lot of sense because water Baptism is a type of martyrdom of water.

Conversely I thought a little more about blood Baptism before entering the course.  When thinking about martyrdom I recall the people who have died.  Furthermore it also brings to mind some visual and auditory examples of blood baptism.  “Power in the Blood” is an old Protestant hymn.  One of the verses states, “are you washed in the blood of the lamb.”  This verse is making a reference to “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”(Revelation 7: 14).  That was as far as I thought about Ecclesiological Cruciformity in blood Baptism before entering the course.          

            After entering the course blood baptism as taken on a deeper meaning to me.  The statement that strikes me the most is, “In water baptism, says Thomas (Summa Theologica, 3a. 66, 12c.) The passion of Christ works through a sort of figurative representation; in the baptism of blood it works through the imitation of the deed itself.  And so martyrdom is the highest form of being baptized (Geoffrey Preston, “Death by Water” New Blackfriars, p. 553ff.).  Martyrdom is essential to the role of the ministry of the church.  The statement that moved me to feel this way is, “This is a baptism which takes the place of the baptism of water when it has not been received, and which restores it when it has been lost.” (Tertullian, De Baptismo, XVI, 2.)   In contrast martyrdom is also viewed as a consequential action.  Romero’s death was viewed by the National Catholic Reporter as a consequence of his presence in El Salvador.  However Romero’s words on martyrdom are about embracing death.  Much like the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch.  They both realize death is on the horizon.  St. Ignatius is more joyous in his own words. The words of Romero that caught my eye were, “Martyrdom is a grace from God which I do not believe I deserve.” (Romero, Romero on Martyrdom February, 1984).  The Statement about martyrdom that I feel impacts the ministry of the Church the most is, “One could almost say the martyrdom is the only ‘supra-sacrament’ which does not admit of an obstacle in the receiver, and in which the valid sacrament always and infallibly brings forth its fruit of eternal life.” (Rahner, Karl On the Theology of Death p. 111)  Clearly water baptism and blood baptism play a huge role in Ecclesiological Cruciformity because the Pascal Mystery is connected to baptism at such a deep level.

Now I will talk briefly about the other two sacraments of initiation.  Before entering the course the daily Eucharist was the ministry of the church that reminded me the most of the Paschal Mystery. The Eucharist is the Bread of Life.  After entering the course I have been converted to go deeper than that meaning.  The statement that moved me to feel this way is “The daily Eucharist is recalling the death of the Lord because we were baptized into death.” (Rev. Bill Frasier Class December 5).  Confirmation is the last sacrament of initiation.   My experience with confirmation before entering the course was the recent experience of teaching a confirmation class in North Carolina.  The deepest level that I touched with Ecclesiological Cruciformity in that class was the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was given as the example of Right Judgment.  After entering the course the deeper level that strikes me the most is the “new name” and the confirming of Eucharist and Baptism. 

In conclusion now I know why Satan said "oh, oh" when Jesus was baptized. I realize the importance of being baptized into the death of Jesus.  This sacrament of initiation starts us on a path that is fulfilled in martyrdom.  If death is the key, then the desire to embrace death whether it is a martyr's death or a regular death, there is still the desire to embrace death.  The statement that makes the most sense to me is, "the blood of the martyrs are the seeds of Christianity" (Tertullian Class September 12th).  Certainly the death of Jesus is organic and the water and blood of Baptism are the nutrients.   

My Soteriological Journey in the Course

 

            Looking back at the milestones during the course I picked out some material.  I chose five compilations of material that helped me the most during the course.  Those are The Centrality of the Cross in Christianity, Milk Christianity and Solid-Food Christianity, Theological Perspectives on the Cross, Models of the Cross- Some Critical Comments, and The Scandal of the Cross. Reflecting on each one of these I can see that without either one of them I would have not reached the understanding I have achieved.  Each one of these five compilations of material has valuable statements.  I will show the most important statements.  Furthermore I will talk about why I chose those particular statements.  Lastly I will draw upon the readings of the last class and compare them with the five selected compilations of material. 

            In The Centrality of the Cross in Christianity, the statement that makes the most impact on me is, “In Christianity the cross is the test of everything that deserves to be called Christian.” (Moltmann, Jurgen  The Crucified God-The cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology  p.7).  This passage strikes me because it clarifies that the cross is a test.  In the second chapter I included a statement from Jurgen Moltmann about fleeing the crucified cross if you truly understand its meaning.  The cross is nothing short of a test of character.  How one lives is going to have an influence on the way they are tested by the cross.   

            In Milk Christianity and Solid-Food Christianity, the statement that moves me the most is “Are you not aware that we were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6: 3).  This passage is reminding me that we Christians are all a part of something bigger.  We can not forget that we were called to be Christians by our Baptism. 

            In Theological Perspectives on the Cross, the diagram is making the biggest impression on me.  Showing the different models of the cross has influenced me to think deeply about the flow of theological reasoning.  When I look at the diagram I think of where I was before I entered the course and where I am now.  I also think about the different ways of looking at the cross.  I agreed with the way the course looked into all the models of the cross.  In order to fully understand the cross I had to look into all the models of the cross. 

                In Models of the Cross – Some Critical Comments, the statements made by Nicholas Peter Harvey impressed me the most.  What impressed me the most about Nicholas Peter Harvey is his way of getting straight to the point.  He takes the consequential view of the cross and breaks it down.  An example of this is “It is worth adding that the cutting edge [of Jesus’ death] is blunted if we make the journey to Jerusalem a campaigning thrust.  Then his death becomes no more than an unfortunate consequence of his stance towards life.” (Nicholas Peter Harvey Morals and the Meaning of Jesus p. 91).  His other view that impresses me is the breaking down of moralistic behavior.  I grew up in a highly conservative diocese and the homilies from the pulpit in my own parish were mostly, “Don’t do this”, or “That is Evil, that is Good”.  Nicholas Peter Harvey points out that Jesus was not focused on morality.  A great example of this is, “To offer a morality would be a distraction from his vocation to life through death, into which he calls us.” (Nicholas Peter Harvey Morals and the Meaning of Jesus p. 35). Anything that is distracting from the true meaning of death is part of the demonic agenda.

            In The Scandal of the Cross, the statement that strikes me the most is, "Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples."(Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship p. 96).  Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story is one of love and suffering.  What impresses me the most of Dietrich's story is how he ties the whole story of love and suffering into death.  Furthermore Dietrich touches on demonology and the cross.  The statement that impresses me the most is, "Peter's protest displays his own unwillingness to suffer, and that means that Satan has gained entry into the church, and is trying to tear it away from the cross of its Lord."(Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship p. 96).  The Scandal of the cross is at heart of everything we have been studying throughout the course.

            Reflecting on the last three articles of this course follows suit with the five compilations I selected. The first of those articles is “If you come upon the true cross, burn it.”  Before entering the course I would have looked at this article and not seen the consequential, moralistic and pathological cross.  I would have looked at the line, “The fact is, the Father did not want Jesus to die.” and wondered why he would say something like that.  I would have disagreed and not known why I was disagreeing.  After entering the course I can intellectualize why I disagree.  The conversion of material to a deepening experience has made me more aware of my own faith.

            The second article is “The Groanings of All Creation - Notes on a Ministry of Hope.”  I enjoyed this article because Anna Maria Aagaard gets right to the point.  When I read this article I thought of Mother Theresa because it relates to embracing the darkness.  It also makes me recall the part of the communion rite after the Our Father and before the Doxology in which the priest says “protect us from all anxiety.”  Before entering the course I would have preferred the idea of rejecting the darkness and protecting myself from all anxiety.  Now I can relate more to the truth in a statement such as this, “Also we to whom the Spirit is given - we also groan, and must groan in so far as we partake in the sufferings that follow where the kingdom fights evil.”(Anna Maria Aagaard The Groanings of All Creation - Notes on a Ministry of Hope p. 4).  I am not saying that this is the first time I have thought about this subject.  I know I can regurgitate the material I have been given to digest.  My biggest struggle was converting the knowledge into my deeper faith life. 

            The last article is “Living the Death of Christ Until He Comes.”  This article puts into words what this course has been geared towards.  Nicholas Peter Harvey summarizes very nicely what has been presented during this entire course.  I enjoyed reading this article because it revisited the main topics of the course.  I think that it is also a reflection on how much I have enjoyed the course.  I can also see how easy it would have been to not engage the material and keep operating under compound ignorance.  To reiterate what I said before I started Chapter 2, I did not give discernment or this course much of a chance.  Finding the peace in discernment also helped me find the peace in the materials of this course.  In conclusion I am glad I made it through the course.