“He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” — Martin Luther
“Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude. The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.” — Hans Urs von Balthasar
“Life itself is a haphazard, untidy, messy affair.” ― Dorothy Day
I received this email the other day that knocked my socks off:
Tom, I don’t know if you remember me but I’m the lady who used to come up to you after RCIA all the time with a million questions. At the time I had just gotten divorced and had two teenage children and my life was chaotic. I bet you remember me because I was such a chatter! Anyway my friend at work had invited me to church one Sunday and the priest’s sermon spoke to my heart and made me decide to become Catholic.
Well I wanted to tell you all these years later about one thing you said to me that really stuck and made sense out of a whole lot of crap in my life. I was asking you why God lets all of these terrible things happen to me and why the hand dealt me has been such a rotten one. And you said this and I remember it because I wrote it down later. It went like this:
I can’t give you all the answers to your whys because that would take a million explanations that I don’t have but I can tell you this, if Christianity is anything it’s totally honest. You know when you walk in the church what’s the first thing you see? The naked bloodied body of a condemned man. And that man was innocent and was also God. That’s totally shocking to think of. God’s real and so doesn’t shy away from the messiness of real life but puts himself right in the worst stuff to show us that he’s really there. In the bad stuff. He’s especially there making the world better where we are in the mud and muck. He’s making heaven for us out of the mess.
I’ve thought of all that a million times over these years every time it gets bad and seems really hopeless. I can feel God is there when I pray because I know he’s there on a cross with us fixing things and making them right. And sure we’ll know all about it in heaven but even now you can see it if you just keep the crucifix in front of you. So thank you for that insight. It’s taken me a long way. God bless you…
Every day, every year, as a theologian, I become more convinced that all of theology is found wholly compressed in the Crucified Christ. Everything else is simply elaboration. I also see even more clearly that the Resurrection and Pentecost did nothing more than immortalize and make universally accessible for the whole of creation the totality of God that was revealed and handed over to us in the Passion of Christ. Even when Jesus comes again to judge the living and dead, he will come with his wounds fully unveiled so at last we can see and know who God truly is; and seeing him we will become like him (1 John 3:2).
The Cross has made it possible for us, in an absolute way, to define the essence of “God.” On the Cross God self-defined with a single Word: Love. Theos agapē estin, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). These words could only have been spoken after the Word-made-flesh was crucified, died, buried and descended into hell for our salvation. Only after he rose for us, not as a God happily exiting the world’s malice, but as an eternal Victim and sacrifice of mercy forever self-expending for the malicious. Only then could the word “love” be rendered capable of God himself, bearing infinite content.
That said, Christians dare not speak this word apart from their whole life, because love is no mere concept or sentiment, but a deed-word (Matt. 7:21-23). Each saint is a word of the Cross (1 Cor. 1:18) facing the world’s malice precisely as God does. Saints are those inscribed by this merciful Word, marked with the sign of the Cross, with each saint uniquely defining a fresh facet of the infinite splendor of divine love.
When that ceases to blow my mind, I will refuse the title of theologian.