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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Jesus: A Biography From a Believer
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Thursday, April 29, 2010
Father Thomas Rosica
Father Thomas Rosica:

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to our Book Club discussion.  I am Fr. Thomas Rosica, a Basilian Father and teacher of Sacred Scipture in Canada.  I am also head of Canada'a Salt and Light Catholic Television Network.  This month we are privileged to have Paul Johnson's book "Jesus, A Biography from a Believer."  I have read the book over the past few days and found it to be a very fine portrait of Jesus Christ.  We welcome your questions and comments and I will try my best to answer them or direct you to proper sources and texts.  Thank you.

Joe Morelli
Middletown, CT
Father Rosica,

Mr. Johnson says that Jesus believes that people have a natural inclination to truth. What exactly do you think he means by this? Do you agree? Is this what we would consider the "natural law"? And how would this relate to our natural tendency towards sin?
Father Thomas Rosica:

I, too, was struck by Paul Johnson's statement that people have a natural inclination to truth.  This is not to be confused with what we call "natural law."  Here is what I think Johnson means.  Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.  They have received God's imprint, God's mark, God's very life.  Deep within every human being is a longing for goodness, truth, sincerity, hope and joy.  Human beings have within a deep nostalgia for God since they were made in God's very image and likness.  We Christians believe that God is truth, beauty, goodness, life itself.  We also believe that Jesus is our Way, our Truth and our Life.  Therefore our very DNA contains those gifts that God placed within us at our conception and were brought to fruition at our birth.

We also know that no matter what happens to us along the journey, especially through sinfulness, failure, destruction, etc., the imprint of God remains and even within the most wretched, confused, despairing person, God's imprint is there.  Many times it remains hidden, forgotten or lost.

Oklahoma City
What do you think of the Shroud of Turin? Can we safely say that it's real. This would be a huge evidence for our faith.
Father Thomas Rosica:

For me personally, I recall when I first saw the Shroud in Turin while I was an undergraduate student studying in Europe back in the late seventies.  It was a very moving experience.  Years later as a priest and lecturer in Sacred Scripture, I can say that the Shroud speaks to Christians today about the Passion Story of Jesus Christ, and especially about the silence of Holy Saturday.  When Jesus was in the tomb on Holy Saturday, he placed himself in solidarity with the dead, and he goes into the netherworld to call out all those whom death still has imprisoned.  Jesus' descent into hell means that Christ has crossed the door of loneliness, that he descended to the insurmountable, unreachable depth of our abandoned being," as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote.

Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin and Custodian of the Holy Shroud, has reminded the tens of thousands of pilgrims streaming to Turin these days that "the exposition is first of all a spiritual event.  He stated, "The fruits I hoped for from this exposition are conversion of heart and concrete help offered to others."

Pope Benedict XVI says he hopes veneration of the Shroud of Turin will help people to seek the Face of God.  The exhibition of the Holy Shroud began in Turin last Saturday. Pope Benedict will travel Turin to venerate the shroud on May 2.

Former State Warden Robert B. Camilleri
Honolulu, Hawaii
Some commentators have suggested that clergy sex abuse scandal might never had happenned if there had been women priests. I wonder how Jesus would have seen the role of women in the Church today given his own relationship with his mother Mary and some of his other followers who were women, most notably Mary Magdalene.
Father Thomas Rosica:

Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus), and the unnamed penitent woman who anointed Jesus' feet (Lk 7: 36-48) are sometimes understood to be the same woman. From this, plus the statement that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Lk 8: 2), has risen the tradition that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute before she met Jesus. But in reality we know nothing about her sins or weaknesses. They could have been inexplicable physical disease, mental illness, or anything that prevented her from wholeness in mind and body. Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the Gospels as being among the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and his disciples, ministered to him, and who, according to each of the Evangelists, was present at his crucifixion and burial, and went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint his body.

Jesus lived in an androcentric society. Women were property, first of their fathers, then of their husbands; they did not have the right to testify; they could not study the Torah. In this restricting atmosphere, Jesus acted without animosity, accepting women, honoring them, respecting them, and treasuring their friendship. He journeyed with them, touched and cured them, loved them and allowed them to love him.

In our Easter Gospels, we peered once again into the early morning scene of sadness as Mary Magdalene weeps uncontrollably at the grave of her friend, Jesus. We hear anew their conversation:  "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?". "...Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away". Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher).... "Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, "I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God'". Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord", and that he had said these things to her (Jn 20: 15-18).

Because of her incredible message and mission, Mary Magdalene was fittingly called "Apostola Apostolorum" (Apostle to the Apostles) in the early Church because she was the first to see the Risen Lord, and to announce his Resurrection to the other Apostles.

Kevin J. O'Shea
Glen Head, N.Y. -U.S.A.
When discussing my religion with persons of other faiths, the question often turns towards,Why Priest/Nuns can't marry. It would make "their lives better", others believe! Is the current position of the Church on Priest/Nuns not marrying based on specific or inferred statements of Our Lord, Jesus. It is noted that some of the Apostles were married, true or not? Thank you.
Father Thomas Rosica:

The question of priestly celibacy is today a frequently debated issue both in society at large and within Catholic circles. There are a large number of criticisms of celibacy: some mention the number of priests who have abandoned the priesthood and renounced celibacy; others mention the decline in vocations to the priesthood in our society; and still others who argue that celibacy is unnatural and can result in physical and mental disorders.

For the first three centuries of the Church, there were no regulations concerning celibacy for bishops, priests or deacons. The rule of celibacy for priests grew through the influence of monks and hermits who were consecrated entirely to serve God. There were many objections to this new requirement of the Latin rite. Many priests refused to submit resulting in scandal amongst believers and this seriously hurt the credibility of the Church. After many unsuccessful attempts, the rule of celibacy was definitively promulgated under the papacy of Pope Gregory VII (1073-85).

The Orthodox Church and the oriental rite Church refused to adopt the practise of celibacy. Today, these two churches still allow their priests to be married, as long as they were married before their ordination, but not their bishops. Consequently, we see that celibacy is not divinely required, otherwise there would be no exceptions. It is instead a matter of the Latin rite's internal discipline which chooses its priest from among men who wish to offer up their entire lives to God in this way.

The Holy See has frequently restated it rule of priestly celibacy. Among the more recent documents are: "Presbyterorum Ordinis" (1965), the Encyclical "Sacerdotalis Coelibatus" (1967) by Pope Paul VI, His Holiness John Paul II's letter to priests dated Holy Thursday 1979, the "Directory for Ministry and the Life of Priests," published in 1994 by Congregation for the Clergy and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992).

The Latin Church considers consecrated celibacy to be a gift received from God which the Church wishes to watch over, convinced that it is a blessing for the Church and all the world. Consecrated celibacy is seen as a radical witness in the footsteps of Christ and as a sign of the New Jerusalem to which the priest is totally dedicated to.

Celibacy, in its capacity as a gift and particular charism from God, requires the observance of perfect and perpetual continence for the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12). This is so priests can adhere more fully and give themselves more freely to Christ and to the people. It is in full knowing and freedom that a candidate for the priesthood after several years preparation, led through meditation and prayer, assumes celibacy for the rest of his life at the moment of ordination.

The Catholic Church sees in Jesus Christ a convincing witness of celibacy. Running contrary to the dominant culture of his times, Christ choose to live as a celibate.

Bill Ryan
Amarillo, TX
Father Tom,
For so long the Church has been spreading the Gospel. Now the Church is faced with a "New Evangelization" or the re-evangelization of a Christian culture sliding away from true faith. Where in the life of Christ should we look to find the way to "Re - Evangelize" our culture?
Father Thomas Rosica:

What does it mean to evangelize?  It doesn mean beating people over the head with a Bible or a Catechism or our own spiritual experience stridently repeated; but it does mean more than the quiet witness of Gospel living and Christian service.

A Catholic evangelizer also knows that the Holy Spirit is always at work in the world and in the life of the person the evangelizer is talking to.  The Catholic evangelizer therefore listens for the movement of the Spirit in a friend heart.  With great respect, the evangelizer will look for opportunities to tell others who Christ is, because it is impossible for us not to speak of someone we love. But we know the appropriate moment for speaking because we have discerning hearts.  This Jesus we love wants us to introduce people to him so that the gifts he left his Church - the Gospel and divine revelation, the Sacraments and other means of sanctification, the pastoral governance which continues the ministry of the Apostles - can be shared universally.  Sharing these gifts brings us into the mind and heart of Christ and makes us God agents to change a divided and sinful world into something which resembles at least a little bit more the Kingdom of God.

Secondly, some Catholics fear to evangelize because they are afraid of being asked questions they cannot answer. If we open up the subject of religion, many feel, we are opening a can of worms. Overcoming this obstacle, I believe, means helping one another learn more about Christ and the Bible and the Church teachings and history.

One of the greatest obstacles to the work of evangelization has always been routine or habit, which eliminates the freshness and persuasive power of Christian missionary outreach and witness. The movements, yours in particular, break with the habitual way of doing business.

Another method of evangelization, in which we manifest how the Spirit dwells within us is by convocation, the big numbers, the great call: invite everyone into the feast. Call everyone to the banquet, we have something worth celebrating. We have something to offer, we really have good news. And we see this on several occasions when Jesus is present with the great crowds, the multiplication of the loaves, teaching the crowds on the mount of the Beatitudes, the parables in which he uses the wedding feast and the banquet of many people as the paradigm of salvation offered to everyone.

There is the method of evangelization which takes place by attraction.  This is the experience of the first community of Jerusalem, who even before sending out missionaries witnessed the crowds from the neighboring cities streaming to Jerusalem because they've heard about the good news. There's something unique and different about these people: they seem to love one another, they have placed all of their goods in common, so that there will be no poor among them.  Goodness and authenticity cannot help but inspire and attract others, it is the most powerful witness that we have, we would do well to reflect on this and let our own communal witness serve as the greatest attraction.  The most important image we should be concerned with is how our living together and loving one another mirrors the unity that Jesus has intended for the Church.

Another method of evangelization is the contagious factor. It's a nuance of the previous model of attraction but it's based on the fact that one small light will be generated from another light and the word will spread and we have no control whatsoever over this reality.  One smile generates another, one small candle burns in the darkness, one person goes to another person, who goes to another person. "We have found the Messiah" as we read in the New Testament. And "Come, bring me to him." One individual goes to another; one group goes to another group, one community moves to another community.

We must never forget that we are not the principle evangelizers, it is the Holy Spirit who is the greatest evangelizer, who needs transparent instruments, who have emptied themselves of their agendas and opened themselves to God's work.  The Holy Spirit makes us transcend all of the tribal and narcissistic impulses of our times for the sake of enfolding every human person into the reality of Christ. The Holy Spirit is universal: always thinking beyond our boundaries, the horizons of our imaginations.  We become an evangelizing, Spirit-filled Church when we allow the Spirit to fill us with holiness, joy and peace.

Burbank, CA
Do you think Paul Johnson makes a good case for Jesus' relevance today? What arguments in particular, if any, from Johnson strike you as making this case?
Father Thomas Rosica:

I have read many books and biographies about Jesus of Nazareth.  Paul Johnson's book is well written.  First of all, Johnson believes in Jesus Christ.  That makes a big difference.  To properly appreciate Johnson book, we need to believe that he believes.

Johnson closely follows the scriptural accounts of Jesusministry, but always adheres to the spirit of the texts. Even when commenting on the message of Jesus, Johnson refrains from building elaborate systems of theological interpretation. Nor does he get sidetracked in the labyrinths of biblical scholarship. Above all this is a book about Jesus.

Johnson depicts Jesus as a quiet revolutionary whose goal was to bring humanity to a special kinship with God. Johnson writes that the essence of the teaching of Jesus was that he entire human race was the hildren of God.

Born a Jew, Jesus lived and died as a Jew, but he constantly reached beyond the Torah, the body of laws that insured the survival of Judaism in a very hostile world.

Jesus' special vision for all humanity was founded upon the special vision he had of himself, as the on of God.At some point early in his childhood, Jesus experienced a vision, epiphany, moment of spiritual awareness, call it what you will, that convinced him that he was called to do the work of his eavenly Father.

Johnson's elegant and unpretentious narrative lets the beauty of basic Anglo Saxon words convey the joy, the hope and the promise of salvation that Jesus preached.  When I finished the book, there was no doubt in my mind that Jesus is indeed alive in the world today, and his Lordship is felt by millions around the world.  Johnson never diluted or denied the fact that more than just a beneficent man or outstanding figure in human history, Jesus is also the Son of God.

Santa Fe, NM
Which of Christ's many messages do think is most relevant and resonant with today's society? In other words, if Jesus came here today, what would be the first issue you think he would address?
Father Thomas Rosica:

Since we are in the Easter season, I wish to answer this question through the lenses of one of the most touching Resurrection appearance stories.  It is the well-known "breakfast scene on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in John 21.

Peter's three-fold denial of Jesus during the trial and crucifixion is now canceled out by the three-fold declaration of love. Yet the thought lingers in our minds, and certainly in Peter's:  Why does Jesus ask Peter, on whom he is going to confer the pastoral office as chief shepherd, this question and not others? There are many other questions which we can imagine his having asked him concerning his suitability for ministry. For example, "Simon, son of John, are you aware of the responsibilities that you are undertaking? Are you aware of how many people about you are in need of help:  the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the lonely? Where will you find bread enough to give them something to eat?".

But Jesus sums them all up in a single, basic question, repeated with two different verbs in Greek to indicate the different nuances of love and friendship which are being referred to:  "Simon, son of John, do you love me? Are you really my friend?". This question appears to be the central, indeed the only one, because it goes directly to a person's heart... then and now.  Do we love Jesus above all else?

How much do you think a 22nd century biography of Jesus will change over this one? Where do you see our culture heading, and how do you think we make that direction better?
Father Thomas Rosica:
I do not think that there will be many differences in a 22nd century biography of Jesus.  Rather, we will have more and more personal testimonies of people whose lives have been significantly touched and changed by their encounter with Jesus Christ.  As time passes, we will be drawn more and more to the central core of his life and message and realize that he continues to speak to all ages and generations.  He is from God and he shows us the face and heart of God.  He is also the Way, the Truth and the Life... not just in the first century but in every age.

Boston, Mass.
We recently had Pope Benedict's book, "Jesus of Nazareth" and now we have this. Each is quite different, but what do think is driving this renewed interest by some of our brightest minds in presenting Jesus himself to a new generation readers?
Father Thomas Rosica:

A very good question.  A simple answer:  because we never tire of Jesus.  No matter how much time passes, his life and message remain ever new.  In his first book on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict sought to salvage the person of Jesus from recent "popular" depictions and to restore Jesus' true identity as discovered in the Gospels in Benedict's new book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.

Through his crystalline brilliance as a theologian and his firm, personal conviction as a believer, the Pope shares a deeply moving and compelling flesh-and-blood portrait of Jesus and invites readers to encounter, face-to-face, the central figure of the Christian faith.

Benedict sets out to argue that the Jesus depicted in the Gospels, the Jesus who performed miracles and rose from the dead, is the true Jesus -- that the historical Jesus is the same as the Jesus of faith, that the Gospels are not fables.

Few figures have had such an influence on history as Jesus of Nazareth. His teachings have inspired discussion, arguments, even war. Yet few have ever held forth as movingly as Jesus on the need for peace, forgiveness, and mercy.

Paul Johnson offers listeners a lively biography of the man who inspired one of the world great religions and whose lessons still guide us in current times. Johnson intelligent and conversational style, as well as his ability to distill complex subjects into succinct and highly readable works, makes this book an ideal match of a major historian with a major subject. The result is an accessible biography and an insightful analysis of how Jesus is important in the present era.

We simply never tire of Jesus.

Father Thomas Rosica:

It is obvious that this brief discussion on the person of Jesus shows how relevant his life and message still are for us today. I cannot help but recall the moving words of the Servant of God Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani - "To Jesus: I Write in Trepidation" in Illustrissimi: Letters from Pope John Paul I )who wrote: "I have written, but I have never before been so dissatisfied with my writing. I feel as if I had left out the greater part of what could be said of You, that I have said badly what should have been said much better. There is one comfort, however: the important thing is not that one person should write about Christ, but that many should love and imitate Christ. And fortunately in spite of everything, this still happens."

That is my consolation... and ours. This still happens. Because Jesus is still important for the Church and for humanity. That is my consolation... and ours. This still happens. Because Jesus is still important for the Church and for humanity. Thank you for your questions.


 The Knights of Columbus would like to thank all of the participants in this discussion for your great questions.  We'd also like to extend a special thanks to our host for this evening, Father Thomas Rosica, for his insightful perspectives on the issues.  We encourage you to join in next month's discussion on Thursday, May 27 for The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West.

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