Br. Peter Trinko
In his masterpiece Life of Christ, Venerable Fulton Sheens begins by pointing that there have been many men throughout history who claim to be from God, or that they were gods, or they bore messages from God. In our modern culture we also often hear that Jesus Christ is not the Word made flesh, but rather simply another moral teacher. As Catholics, how can we respond to these arguments reducing our Lord to ‘just another great religious figure’?
Sheen states that each of these men (religious founders) have a right to be heard and considered, but there must be some sort of external measure to judge the authenticity of their claims. There are two kinds of tests: reason and history. Why these two tests? All people, even those without faith, have reason, and all of us live in history and should know something about it.
Reason and History
If God was to come to earth, to live among us and to impart to us a vital message for our salvation, it seems only reasonable that He would give us some sort of advanced notice to support His claim. After all, how could we judge the validity of a messenger’s claims if we had no standard with which to compare it to? What prevents anyone from jumping onto the scene claiming to have received a new revelation or message from God?
If a diplomat arrived in Washington claiming to represent a foreign power, we would expect that his nation would have given us advanced notice of his arrival. Then we would require the diplomat to produce some form of identification proving he is who he claims to be. Would it not be reasonable for one claiming to represent God to do the same?
Grace builds on nature and faith never contradicts reason. God does not ask for a blind faith, but rather for an act of faith based on the preambles of faith. It is only reasonable that a messenger of God has some way of proving the claims he makes.
There are currently somewhere around 4,300 religions in the world (without even counting individual denominations!), each with a founder that claims to have the truth. When we examine these founders, such as Buddha, Confucius or Mohammed, we find that none of them are ‘pre-announced’ or predicted. As Ven. Sheen puts it, “Others just came and said, “Here I am, believe me.” They were, therefore, only men among men and not the Divine in the human.”
Christ – The Fulfillment of the Old Testament
It is only Christ who could point to the writings of His Jewish people and show Himself as their fulfillment. “It is true that the prophecies of the Old Testament can be best understood in the light of their fulfillment. The language of prophecy does not have the exactness of mathematics. Yet if one searches out the various Messianic currents in the Old Testament, and compares the resulting picture with the life and work of Christ, can one doubt the ancient predictions point to Jesus and the kingdom which He established?”
While there are many prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, we can review just a few:
(For a more extensive list, see here.)
Historically, this alone sets Christ aside from all other founders of world religions. And once these prophecies took place in the person of Christ, not only did 1) all prophecies cease in Israel, but also 2) there were no longer sacrifices offered in the temple, as the true Paschal Lamb had already been sacrificed. Christ struck history with such impact that time was literally split in two. People can disagree with Christ, Sheen points out, but when they do so they must date their attacks in a particular year of the Lord.
The Unique Purpose of Christ’s Coming
Sheen has given two facts about Jesus Christ that distinguish Him from the other world leaders: He is the only one that was expected, and His impact was so great that time was split into two. While these are strong points in verifying the authenticity of our Lord and His message, Sheen then goes on to provide a third and perhaps most distinguishing point about the life of Christ: every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. He came into it to die.
While death ended the teaching of Socrates, for Christ, it was the goal and fulfillment of His life. Christ is not merely a moral teacher; He is a Savior. From the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, our Lord always had his sights set on Mount Calvary and our Redemption. He is the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son… (Jn. 3:16)
In the distractions of daily life, we can easily forget the profound truth of God’s great love for us. Rather than seeing God as loving Father who sent His Son to save us, we may see Him as arbitrary judge or as someone distant and uncaring. Worse yet, we can ignore Him entirely, living lives as if He didn’t exist or hadn’t taken on our human nature in the Incarnation in order to redeem us.
From the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, our Lord always had his sights set on Mount Calvary and our Redemption.
Hence the importance of constantly growing closer to God, both in prayer and through reception of the sacraments, but also through study of the life of Christ. As St. Peter reminds us in his second letter, it is import for us to reminded of these things even though we are ‘established in truth’ (cf. 2 Pet. 1:12-15).
As we seek to grow closer to God in this Advent season, let us take to heart the great truth of God’s love for us. First, that He prepared and announced the coming of His son to be our savior immediately following our first parent’s fall (cf. Gen. 3:14-15). Second, that Christ mounted the cross and died so as to reconcile the world. And third, that the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify us now and until the end of time through His Church and Her sacraments.
Let us allow this truth to transform our lives that we may continue each day, especially in this time of Advent, to strive for great holiness.
This blog is based on and contains several quotes and points directly from Chapter 1 "The Only Person Ever Pre-Announced" of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen's masterpiece "Life of Christ". You can find the full chapter here.
The Life of Christ has been many years in writing. But the deeper understanding of the unity of Christ and His Cross came when Christ kept the author very close to His Cross in dark and painful hours. Learning comes from books; penetration of a mystery from suffering. It is hoped that sweet intimacy with the Crucified Christ, which trial brought, will break through these pages, giving to the reader that peace which God alone can bring to souls and enlightening them to see that every sorrow is really the “Shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly.” (Life of Christ, Preface)
Sheen, Fulton J.. Life of Christ . The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.