The second semester is pretty much in full swing and it is always an adventure teaching seniors during their last semester at Saint Ignatius. Recent trends, supported by a show of hands, indicate that for a vast majority of these young men this will be their very last experience of formal religious education. I’m not sure how they feel about that, but for me it brings to mind the oft-misquoted line from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In this case the crown being a course entitled “The Mission of Jesus Christ (The Paschal Mystery).”
It is indeed the “crown” or, to be more educational, “capstone” of the Theology curriculum at Saint Ignatius. Technically, according to the prescribed order of the Core Curriculum laid out by the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the USCCB, it should be taught to first semester sophomores. Our long-standing commitment to the Sophomore Service course precluded our ability to follow a direct path through the Bishops’ curriculum framework, and so our ordinary at the time, Bishop Lennon, gave us permission to place “The Paschal Mystery” in senior year.
In what could be perceived as a situation of making a virtue out of a necessity, I really like where this course is placed in our curriculum. As someone charged with offering our students their last foray into Theology, I find the topic to be the perfect ending to our four-year journey. What could be better than bringing a Wildcat’s Theology career to a close with an in-depth and sustained look at the most important 72 hours in the history of the universe?
The Paschal Mystery – that series of events that make up the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus – is that which defines our Faith, and without which there literally is no Catholicism. As St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.”
So given the truly earth-shattering culminating event of the Paschal Mystery – Easter morning – my hope in this course is to help our seniors to know, understand, and act upon that event. As a beginning exercise, prior to the “know and understand” aspects of the course, I offered my students the opportunity to write a little bit about the impact of Jesus in their lives, right here and right now. Specifically, they were asked to answer the question, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?”
I did not create this question – it is certainly one that has been asked ever since the time of King Herod – but my particular point of reference is C.S. Lewis. Later in the course the guys will be reading an article written by Lewis entitled “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” This great 20th Century Christian apologist poses his answer within a logical framework that, to my way of thinking, is logically air-tight.
What are we to make of Jesus Christ? Well, we are only really offered two options, options that predate Lewis but were used by him in his article: aut Deus, aut malus homo (translated from the Latin to English: “either God or a bad man”). Within the category of “bad man” Lewis places the option of choosing a Jesus who is a willful (demonic) or a deluded (lunatic) liar. According to the argument, anyone who makes the claims that Jesus does can only be one of three things: evil, insane or God.
When the time comes, I will tell my students that to stand on the sidelines and not make a choice (and say something like “Jesus was a really nice guy”) is not a very workable option in relation to a Person who not only claimed to be God, but who has millions of adherents. If He is Who He says He is, then we are logically compelled to worship and obey Him. If He is a liar or a lunatic rather than Lord, then we should do all that we can to fight Him and those who follow Him.
I’m not sure if any of the papers that I will be reading this weekend will be so clear in their reasoning, but you never know – the authors do have almost four years of top quality Theological education under their belts.