Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God

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11/26/2008

The tenth installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 79-97 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

First and foremost, the Advent and Christmas seasons intensify the Church’s constant proclamation of Good News for the entire human family: Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, was born of the Virgin Mary in the power of the Holy Spirit for our redemption and the redemption of the world. The proclamation of the name of Christ and his saving deeds is the heart of the Gospel.

But who is Jesus Christ? We remember Jesus’ question: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13-15). After various opinions were mentioned, it was Peter who confessed the astounding truth: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” On this confession the entire life and mission of the Church is built. Our faith in Christ should instill in us a desire to share the Good News with all those we meet — “to reveal in the Person of Christ the entire design of God and to put humanity in communion with him” (Compendium, 80).

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Back to Top

The angel of God told Mary and Joseph to name the Child “Jesus” — which means “God saves” — “because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21, cf. Lk 1:31). Jesus’ name is itself a proclamation of his unique identity and saving mission as seen from the perspective of our need for salvation; in no other name can we find salvation (see Acts 4:12). That is why we are never to take Jesus’ name in vain.

Jesus is also called the “Christ.” This is not a family name, but rather a Greek term meaning the “anointed one” or “Messiah.” Jesus is the long-awaited Savior sent from the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit (see Lk 3:21). Through baptism we become members of the Church and heirs to all that the Lord did to save us by his life, death and resurrection, in obedience to the Father’s will.

Jesus has a unique and perfect relationship with the Father. While we are adopted sons and daughters of the Father in Christ, only Jesus is God’s Son from all eternity, the second Person of the Trinity. Both Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist and his Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor were marked by the overshadowing Spirit and the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (see Mt 3:16, 11:27).

Another very important title of Jesus is “Lord,” referring to Jesus’ “divine sovereignty,” which he demonstrated by his miracles, his control over the forces of nature and his forgiveness of sins. St. Paul teaches, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3) and includes in his Letter to the Philippians an early confession of faith: “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). Just as the Church’s liturgy constantly addresses Jesus as Lord, we should never let a day go by without reverently addressing Christ, as did Thomas the Apostle: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

FULLY GOD, FULLY MAN Back to Top

Why did God the Father send his Son into the world? Was there no other way to save us? Theologians have longed discussed that question, but the fact remains: Although Jesus was God’s Son from all eternity, at a point in time some 2,000 years ago, he assumed our human nature and entered history. This happened because God wanted to draw near to us, to reconcile us to his love and to enable us to share his life.

Jesus is “true God and true man” — “of one substance,” “consubstantial” with the Father and at the same time, truly our brother. This central truth of our faith was authoritatively summarized and taught by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. It proclaimed that Jesus is a divine Person, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, with two natures, divine and human. This does not mean that Jesus is “half God” and “half man,” but rather fully God and fully man. As man he revealed the Father to us and, at the same time, revealed us to ourselves — who we are and what we should become (see Gaudium et Spes, 22). As God, he made us partakers in the divine nature, in the life and love he shared with his Father from all eternity.

Jesus’ two natures, without becoming confused, work together. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “In the humanity of Jesus all things — his miracles, his suffering and his death — must be attributed to his divine Person which acts by means of his assumed human nature” (Compendium, 89). That is why, when Jesus speaks and acts in the Gospels, a wisdom, power and love emerge which baffles his followers and his enemies alike.

The Incarnation was real. The Son of God truly did assume “a body animated by a rational human soul” (90). As the Second Vatican Council teaches, “He worked with human hands and thought with a human mind” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). In doing so, Jesus learned many things the way we do: by experience. But as God he knew the Father “intimately and immediately.” Jesus was aware of the plan of God the Father, which he had come to fulfill. He also knew the inmost thoughts of others.

Moreover, Jesus possessed both a human will and a divine will. We all know how easy it is for our will to go awry, to know what we should do but to do something else instead. As we struggle with our fallen nature, here is a beautiful truth for us to reflect on: As the Son of God made man, Jesus willed in a human way all that the Trinity had decided on to bring about our salvation. The human will of Christ was fully conformed to the Father’s saving love. In his will we find the pattern for the obedience that should be ours as baptized sons and daughters of the Father. What is more, we have access to Christ’s obedient love through the Mass and sacraments. Jesus’ obedience serves to heal our disobedience and its effects.

And not only did Jesus humanly know and follow what he learned from his heavenly Father; with his human heart, he also knows and loves us. For that reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes the boundless love of the Trinity for us.

Perhaps this is a good place to end. But it is also the beginning — the inexhaustible foundation of our life in Christ.

DISCUSSION/REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR COUNCIL USE Back to Top

1. What ought our response be to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” What implication does this response have on sharing the Gospel?

2. What do the names “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “Lord” indicate about Jesus’ identity and mission?

3. Jesus’ primary identity is that of Son, in his unique and perfect relationship with God the Father. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the “only Son of God,” and how does his Sonship relate to our adoption into God’s family?

4. What is the significance of the Incarnation with regard to our faith? Why is it important to hold that Jesus is both fully God and fully man?

5. Gaudium et Spes 22 says, “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” What does Jesus’ humanity teach us about ourselves? What does it reveal about God?