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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: January 11, 2020
By Father Jerome Kodell, OSB
In his best-selling DVD series, “Catholicism,” Bishop Robert Barron emphasizes as a primary principle of the Christian preaching that Christianity is not primarily a set of teachings or a moral program but is a life centered on the living Jesus Christ. And this Christ is not only living in heaven, but is within the hearts of believers. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians about what he called “the riches of the glory of this mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
This gives believers a new freedom, an ability to resist the evil powers and false teachings of this world and to give themselves for God and others unreservedly.
One of the great themes of Second Vatican Council was bringing to the fore the ancient teaching that the goal of Gospel faith is the “deification” or “divinization” of the disciples of Christ. “He has bestowed on us,” we read in the Second Letter of Peter, “the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature.” (1:4)
This teaching has been there all the time, though not as strongly emphasized in the western Church as in the East. The prayer of the priest at Mass as water is added to the wine at the offertory has been unchanged for centuries: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
Pope Benedict XVI searched into an aspect of this truth in his encyclical on Christian hope by studying key words in Chapters 10 and 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews, especially the first verse of Chapter 11, “Faith is the substance of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”
He notes that after the Reformation both Catholics and Protestants have often accepted a subjective interpretation: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” But in the light of contemporary scholarship by both Catholics and Protestants, this subjective interpretation is now recognized as “untenable.” (paragraph 7)
What is the point of this obscure argumentation? “Faith is not merely a personal reaching out toward things to come,” the pope said, “It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for.”
Because of this, believers possess something substantial already which is the basis for their existence and the source of their hope. “Because of the possession of this present reality, this ‘substance’ that we have been given as a gift from God, our life is no longer based on the normal source of security in this world, property, but on a ‘better possession’ (Hebrews 10:34; paragraph 8).
This gives believers a new freedom, an ability to resist the evil powers and false teachings of this world and to give themselves for God and others unreservedly. This strength does not come from a mere idea, however powerful, but from a present reality within the believer, notes Pope Benedict, “Faith gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us ‘evidence’ of the things that are still unseen.” (paragraph 7)
This is why Blessed Miguel Pro was able to face the firing squad in Mexico with his arms extended in the form of a cross and die praying, Viva Cristo Rey!, Long live Christ the King! It is why Blessed Stanley Rother was able to face his murderers without crying out at the last moment so that others would be spared. These and all the martyrs knew that what sustained them was not merely a conviction but a presence, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”