Catholicism is paradoxical — a contradiction. It insists on Christ being the truth but it is gentle, rather than insistent in forcing belief in the truth of Christ on any person. The way some fundamentalist Catholics carry on one could be forgiven for not believing that. In the lead-up to Easter Dr Andrew Thomas Kania's examines this paradox through the Gospel story of the Woman at the Well and through some observations of Desiderius Erasmus on how to respond to Martin Luther and the Protestant reformers. Andrew's title for the essay is "Come Back To Me" (cf Ezekiel 33: 11) This essay fits so well with the style we encourage here at Catholica. It is an essay arguing against Catholic fundamentalism — an essay seeking to rediscover the essential teaching style of Jesus.
The essential lesson from Christ with the woman at the well...
In an early scene in The Gospel According to St. John, Christ is sitting alone by a well in the town of Sychar in Samaria. He is by Himself as His disciples have gone into the town to buy food. As He sits there, a Samaritan woman, who according to Eastern Christian Tradition is named Photina, comes to draw water from the well. Christ asks Photina for a drink of water, and Photina is shocked by this request; as Jesus being a Jew, should not associate with her, for Photina is a Samaritan.
This casual meeting, becomes the entry point for a conversation between the two — that has Christ reveal His knowledge of Photina's life: "Jesus said to her, 'You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.'" (John 4: 17-18, NIV) What is critical to understand in this conversation is the tone that Christ uses with Photina; He is gentle, and whereas He instructs and points out Photina's fault — He does not condemn her. This passage teaches us much about Christ's means of preaching. First, He establishes contact by showing Himself to be a person that someone as Photina would wish to speak with. In this passage, He is merely a man sitting by a well, seeking a drink of water. Photina is not confronted by a wild-eyed preacher, with fire in one fist and brimstone in the other; she sees but a man, a normal man. It is this normalcy that brings her into dialogue with Christ; Photina feels comfortable. (cf. 1 Kings 19: 11-12) Second, as part of the conversation, Christ the teacher, does not accuse Photina, but waits for her to open up to Him. Being an honest woman, she tells Christ the truth about her private life. He responds to Photina with instruction — an instruction that combined with the love he imbues in the tenor of his speech, would make her think later about the direction of her life. Christ plants the seed in Photina's mind for the Spirit to develop later. He does not hound her — but it is evident that He wishes her to question the direction of her life. He has taught her — now she must discern.
Teaching methodology from Erasmus...
In a letter written in 1521, Desiderius Erasmus speaking about how one should approach Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers, appealed for calmness. Citing Christ, St. Paul and St. Augustine, Erasmus argued that the preaching of the Kingdom of God should always be carried out, not in a threatening manner, but in a way that appealed to reason. Erasmus noted:
"It was this gentleness in teaching, this prudence in husbanding the word of God that conquered the world and made it pass under the yoke of Christ as no military force, no subtle philosophy, no eloquent rhetoric, no human violence or cunning could ever have done … A Christian, I admit, ought to be free of all pretence; but even so an occasion sometimes offers when it is right for truth to remain unspoken, and everywhere the time, the manner and the recipients of its publication are of great importance. Reliable physicians do not take refuge at the outset in their ultimate remedies; first they prepare the patient's body with less powerful drugs, and they adjust the dose to cure and not to overwhelm". (Rummel, 1990, p. 209)
In addition, Erasmus would comment in his On Education for Children, that:
"There is a good deal of truth in Isocrates' saying we learn best when we have the desire to learn; and it is from those whom we like and respect that we learn most eagerly". (Rummel, 1990, p. 89)
If we wish people to listen to what we have to say, then it is not so much the content that decides their attentiveness, but rather whether the listeners feel any emotion, association or passion for the speaker. A person will listen, if they feel that the speaker not only speaks with authority, but also with authenticity, as well as a love for the audience.
Far too often, well-meaning preachers seek to convince 'sinners' of the error of their ways, by use of threatening visions of hell, and talk of eternal damnation. Too often such threats only serve to harden the heart making the audience become yet still more recalcitrant. Such preachers fail to understand that even when Christ was tortured and being murdered; that from the very Cross, only words of love and forgiveness were issued.
The Christian message is a positive message...
The Christian message of repentance and forgiveness, that is so emphasized throughout the Great Lent, is a positive message. Christianity is uplifting; it is the religion of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep; it is the religion of the Publican, the religion of the Good Thief hanging from the Cross; of the restored Peter, and the transformed Paul; it is the religion of Mary of Magdala, and the religion of St. Mary of Egypt; it is the religion of the righteous — but much more so, the religion of the ordinary man and woman who struggles to be virtuous; it is the religion of the sinner — for God reaches to the sinner with mercy, seeking them to change their ways, and to be fully restored. Christianity is a religion that is realistic; for it realizes that Saints have feet of clay, and only become Saints, through much hard work — and much Divine assistance. Christianity is the religion of the marginalized, for God came into the world, as a refugee, and left it not only as a total outcast, but worse, a criminal; it is the religion of the common man and the common woman; a religion that continues to confound the wise, as well as the materialistic. It is a religion that has offered throughout the Ages hope — a hope that even suffering has meaning, and that death has lost its sting. It is in essence the Queen of Religions — for what religion can stand higher than that which stands on the tenet, that God so loved the world that He gave His Son to become man, so that we could become God? (cf. John 3:16)
This Easter let us seek to discover Christ once again — let us find Him, or let us renew or re-confirm our love for Him; let us come back to Him with all our hearts, for He is patient, and kind, slow to anger — and full of mercy; and His love truly knows no end. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13)
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008-11Dr Andrew Thomas Kania