JANUARY 12, 2008: SAINT ÆLRED- 1 JOHN 5:20


WE ARE IN HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. HE IS THE TRUE GOD AND ETERNAL LIFE. Saint John with these words makes the clearest and strongest claim possible concerning the identity of our Savior. By such a decided assertion that the man Jesus is at once the Christ, that is to say, the Messiah, and at the same time is truly God John sums up the central truth of our faith. On this truth all the rest depends; it is more basic to all other truths specific to Christianity than any other, even the resurrection, as fundamental as it is. Everything else depends on this truth that in Jesus it is truly God himself who lives and acts on our behalf.


That this claim was made implicitly by our Lord himself during his lifetime is also presented by John. That it was understood for what it asserts by the better informed and fervent Jews in our Lord’s time is apparent from their reaction upon hearing our Lord put forth this claim: “’I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever was I am.’ At this they picked up stones to throw at him.’” Stoning was the penalty for blasphemy; it was evident to these informed Jews that our Lord was claiming to be God himself.


In our own time—indeed, it is reported in the current issue of the journal First Things— this fundamental truth concerning the identity of Jesus has moved into the center of attention in the relations of the Catholic Church with the Jewish community. It is precisely this insistence on the divinity of Jesus that remains a stumbling block for practicing Jews. The highly influential, learned Rabbi Jacob Neusner entered into contact with Cardinal Ratzinger and asked him to write a recommendation for his book entitled A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. The Cardinal did so, not because he agreed with the position taken by the Rabbi but because of the honesty with which he states his reasons for refusing to become one of Jesus’ disciples. Recently, after becoming Pope Benedict XVI in his work Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father explains his reasons for appreciating this book: “ More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus’ words and to the choice that the gospel places before us.” (First Things 179 [2008]: 29)


Among other implications of this observation by the Pope his chief assertion stands out starkly: ” the choice that the gospel places before us.” In other words, belief in the divinity of Jesus is a choice; in fact, it is the all important choice that is an act of faith that in Jesus we encounter not only a man sent by God as his representative, but God himself. Jesus is at once the son of God and son of Mary. Being God the Father’s son he is of the same substance as the Father, homoousios in the Greek wording of the Council of Nicaea. Distinct as a person in his way of existing as the Word of God, yet fully one in substance, as he affirmed “I and the Father are one thing.” (Jn 10:30) 


Saint Ælred, whose feast we celebrate today, was wholly committed to this fundamental truth of our Catholic faith, and build his whole spiritual life around the person of Jesus who he adored as God, convinced he is equal to the Father and fully at one with him. In the fullest expression of his spiritual doctrine, he makes a prayer that addresses Jesus as God, in this way he clearly illustrates his conviction that in loving the Lord Jesus he grows in that charity that unites him with God himself:


Let your voice sound in my ears, good Jesus, to that my heart may learn how to love you, my mind how to love you, the inmost being of my soul how to love you. Let the inmost core of my heart embrace you, my one and only true good, my dear and delightful joy. But, my God, what is love? (The Mirror of Charity, 1.1.1, Kalamazoo: Cistercian [1990], 88)


Faith is so closely united with love that in this life the two are inseparable, as Ælred indicates in his study of charity. A careful, attentive examine into the nature of love reveals that it is ordered to happiness. We are happy only when we securely possess what we love and rest in it. In the act of faith we commit our whole self to that which we love and the acquisition of which brings happiness. At the prayer of Saint Ælred may the Eucharist we offer this evening be a fruitful activation of faith motivated by a love of the Lord Jesus who reconciles us with the Father, the source of all lasting, true happiness. 


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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