It is a tradition for the seniors in the Paschal Mystery class to watch the film The Passion of the Christ just prior to Easter break, and for them to watch the documentary Jesus and the Shroud of Turin upon their return. For a course that centers on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus these two movies seem like the perfect theological, if not always chronological, centerpiece for our time together. It calls each of them to ask the most important question of their lives: What are we to make of Jesus Christ?
In his essay with that question as its title, C.S. Lewis begins by stating that a better approach is to reverse our query by asking: What is Jesus Christ to make of us? Up until quite recently I never thought about this new proposal in any way other than how Lewis meant it. For Lewis the question means: What does Jesus Christ think about us? And yet, the word “make” can have a different sense and one that has deep theological roots. Instead of pondering this question from the plain and simple standpoint of Lewis, what if one took a more subtle and theologically complex approach? Where might it lead?
What if the question were akin to asking, just prior to the first blow of hammer on chisel that ended with the Pieta, “What is Michelangelo to make of that block of marble?”
If theology is, as St. Anselm tells us, fides quaerens intellectum or “faith seeking understanding,” then for any believing Christian this turn on the Lewis question becomes quite personal and, therefore, of the utmost importance. The search changes from finding who Jesus is to finding who I am, and who we all are, in light of Jesus.
The greatest theologian of the modern era, Henri de Lubac, S.J., tackles this question head-on in his brilliant work Catholicism, subtitled Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. It is in the subtitle that one can see the link between Jesus and all of us. Jesus the Messiah (the Hebrew term that is the equivalent of Christ in the Greek) fulfills all of what the Old Testament both overtly and covertly said about the Anointed One (the meaning of Messiah or Christ) who would come to save humankind. Given that theological certainty, what has Jesus Christ, through that fulfillment, made of us?
De Lubac was an expert scholar in the theology of the early Fathers of the Church – both Latin and Greek Fathers – and from this study comes his conclusion that what Jesus Christ has made of us is His Mystical Body. The Christian, both as an individual who follows Jesus and as a member of the Church or Body of Christ, has been made into something new and beyond what any philosophical reasoning could imagine. In the words of St. Athanasius, “God became man so that man might become God.”
This, what is called “Deification,” is the common destiny of man of which de Lubac writes. Our trajectory as individuals and as members of Christ’s Mystical Body is not just towards God but into God. This is not just the musing of theologians from Athanasius to de Lubac, these are the words of Jesus Himself.
In the Last Supper Discourse in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus prays to the Father for our Deification: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, so that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us.”
The will of God is the Deification of all – not just the pious individuals whose concern is for their deliverance from eternal damnation, but all human souls. This is why evangelization and a meaningful sacramental life are so important. Jesus, immediately before His Passion and Death, is concerned about the Resurrection – the Deification – of the entire human race, “those who will believe in Me through their word.”
The common destiny of humanity, as seen through the lens of the prayer of Jesus, required not only the Paschal Mystery of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, but also our union with Him in that Mystery and our efforts to convince others of this unbelievably Good News.
Through coming to a better understanding of what Jesus is to make of us – human members of His Mystical Body who shall share in His Divine Resurrection – we can begin to answer the question of what we are to make of Him.