Reading Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, pp. 362), provides an education for me in several areas, not only in the theology of the Old Testament and the theology of the New Testament but also in history and psychology.
Studying the book, I am impressed by both the breadth and depth of the Holy Father’s knowledge and vision. Joseph Ratzinger is the pope, but he is also a brilliant theologian, one whose insights often go beyond theology.
It pleases me to think that the Holy Father very much wanted to get this volume, the one that preceded it and the one that follows it into print. I have the impression that publishing this material was a project very close to the Holy Father’s heart. What comes across in the pages of this most recent volume, at least to me, is the pope’s passion for communicating his thoughts about and his insights into the mystery of Christ.
Commenting on the scene in St. John’s Gospel in which the Jewish officials’ demand that Jesus give a sign to demonstrate His authority and Jesus responds: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” Pope Benedict points out that Jesus is offering as a sign the cross and resurrection. The Holy Father notes that Jesus is justifying Himself through His Passion, that this is the sign of Jonah that He gives to Israel and to the world.
Pope Benedict continues:
“Yet this saying has an even deeper significance As John rightly says, the disciples understood it in its full depth only after the Resurrection, in their memory – in the collective memory of the community of disciples enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that is, the Church.
“The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus means at the same time the end of this Temple. The era of the Temple is over. A new worship is being introduced, in a Temple not built by human hands. This Temple is his body, the Risen One, who gathers the peoples and unites them in the sacrament of his body and blood. He himself is the new Temple of humanity. The crucifixion of Jesus is at the same time the destruction of the old Temple. With his Resurrection, a new way of worshipping God begins, no longer on this or that mountain, but ‘in spirit and truth’ (Jn 4:23).” (pp.19-20)
As I am writing this column I am reflecting on Thanksgiving, the wonderful American holiday we just celebrated. As Americans gathered to share a Thanksgiving meal, many felt the need to express their gratitude for all the blessings that God has showered upon them and their families. I suspect that some say grace before their meal and may make an attempt to list some of the blessings received, such as health, economic security, protection from physical harm and the special blessing of living in the U.S. But as we reflect on our relationship with God, we may realize that there can be no accurate or exhaustive listing of God’s blessings.
In relation to us, God is giver, and we are receivers. God’s graces and blessings are countless. The most important and marvelous blessing and grace is the Incarnation of God’s Son. This is a gift of love that we will never appreciate fully. The love that this expresses is literally beyond our grasp, beyond our imagination or our ability to understand. It is so easy to lose something of the awe that we should have when we focus our attention on God’s love for us, especially as that love is expressed through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
The truths of the faith may have been taught to us when we were young, and we may occasionally lose our sense of wonder in relation to them. We should try to increase our sense of wonder and awe. God’s love for us is awesome, and we don’t ever want to forget that. I find that reading the Holy Father’s book stirs my sense of awe and wonder. The pope successfully communicates his relationship with the Risen Lord and his love of Christ.
The contrast that the Holy Father calls attention to between the old Temple and the Temple of Christ’s body can highlight for us the importance of the Eucharist. It can help us expand and deepen our appreciation of the Eucharist, which is not merely a new prayer that Christians recited after Jesus’ resurrection. The Eucharist is the Risen Christ praying. Christ has become the new Temple of humanity. He has become the new house of prayer and sacrifice, the place where God and human beings encounter one another.
Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.