TODAY'S COMMENTARY... by Tom Scott
Selling Jesus - Benedict's style of Catechesis
Chiesa Online has published the English text of two interesting addresses Pope Benedict has given recently on foundational aspects of Catholic belief. In his introduction to the addresses Sandro Magister poses some interesting questions on the style of Benedict's communication style. I'd like to comment on two aspects of this interesting Chiesa article...
My first comment concerns Magister's introduction in which he writes:
In a St. Peter's Square that is always extremely crowded with pilgrims from all nations, each Wednesday Benedict XVI continues the cycle of catechesis he began last March 18, on "the relationship between Christ and the Church as considered beginning with the experience of the apostles." The continuity is interrupted only rarely: for example, on Wednesday, May 31, the pope dedicated the audience to a reflection summarizing his trip to Poland a few days earlier.
In a world with the attention span of a gnat asking anybody to stop long enough to reflect on anything longer than about three short sentences in length is a huge ask. As I was writing this ABC news carried a story of the appearance of Beaconsfield miners, Brant Webb and Todd Russell, on U.S. national television. These guys were flown to New York at quite extraordinary cost. What is equally extraordinary though is that the broadcasting network was only able to devote 8 minutes of broadcast time to their story. In itself getting even eight minutes on U.S. commercial television is an extraordinary feat.
What hope does a Church have when it seeks to "background" the story of Jesus Christ that the world thinks it already knows and which was "stale news" two millennia ago? Is it actually even possible to conduct catechesis in a world with the attention span of a gnat when information can only be digested in "packets" of 30 seconds duration and a rare eight minute titillating interview when someone finds their "five minutes of fame "?
Perhaps if any of us needed proof of the Divine nature of Jesus Christ we could do no better than to reflect that it is a miracle that 2000 years after his death and resurrection he continues to get the attention in the media that he does.
The question remains though: is it possible to encapsulate the story of Jesus Christ into the space of a television or radio commercial?
My second comment concerns Pope Benedict's own commentary on the meaning we can drag out of the life of Jesus' first Apostle, St Peter...
I applaud the new pope for seeking to "clarify the essence and foundations of the Christian faith". For a long time on the CathNews discussion forum I have been urging that we (the Church) need to clarify precisely what we mean when we invite people "to take Jesus into their hearts", "to develop a personal relationship with Jesus" or when we use any of those other expressions that have become almost clichés in communication such as "Jesus saves". Jesus saves us from what? How, precisely, does our belief save us? How do we, precisely, articulate and action "the Way" of Jesus Christ into our lives so that they are uplifted and transformed?
I have been urging that we need to go back to basics. We need to explain more clearly what, precisely we mean - what, precisely, are the core things we need to take from the Jesus story that do actually lead to the resurrection of our lives?
Like Magister I find this catechesis from Benedict "exemplary". If the Church is to reverse its slide into irrelevance in the world we need somehow to find some way of breaking through the attention spans of the gnats. The Jesus story is not something that can be explained, nor understood, in the length of a television commercial. It is a story that takes a lifetime to digest, understand and to then articulate and action it in each of our lives.
Benedict invites all of us to look at Peter as some kind of behavioural template for each of our lives. The difficulty the world has with Jesus is that Jesus is counter-intuitive. We can't use the normal logic we use to understand the essence of the message that Jesus Christ came into the world to both model for us and explain to us.
The intuitive ways in which we look at life we expect to find salvation through some Messiah dressed as a king. But Jesus Christ is no "king" in the ordinary ways in which we normally think of that expression. He is not some dude who hands out some political manifesto. Nor does he invite us into any kinds of hoop-jumping behaviours believing that if we slavishly follow some external "book of rules" that the end reward for that social conformism is "salvation".
No, Jesus Christ, invites us into a complete new Way of thinking and acting. It is a "Way" that we cannot learn through television commercials, door-stop news "grabs" or the eight minute celebrity interview. To learn, and understand, Jesus takes an entire lifetime!
The full commentaries by both Sandro Magister and Pope Benedict are worth the investment of your time to read in full. They can be found at: http://www.chiesa.espressonline.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=62182&eng=y.
What are your thoughts on this commentary? You can contribute to the discussion in our forum.
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