What the German Pastor Said About Christ

What the German Pastor Said About Christ

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And the Roots of Europe

Homily given on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1. Book of Sirach 15.15–20; 2. First Letter to the Corinthians 2.6–10; The Gospel of Mathew 5.17–37

by Father Peter Lauer

Last week I was witness to a special event. A group of teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 were being clearly informed by an American woman what the roots of Europe are.

Christianity, she says, has not only shaped humans but also landscapes and has influenced the development of cities and the very culture itself – indeed the Church was the culture.

Our home, the Rheingau, our cultural background, Germany and Europe cannot be understood, if we do not regard Christianity as being the key explanation. The structure of our cities are centered around the cathedral just as in Paris and Reims, Mainz and Cologne, the churches built by the cities of Ulm and Freiburg, the village churches such as the ones here in Hallgarten, Hattenheim and Erbach. Mittelheim for its part has a basilica which monks and nuns built on top of another building 800 years ago.

And this is how Christianity is perceived by many: as something historical that was once great, whose existence was justified during its time. Large monuments are visited by tourists today who marvel at them, professional tour guides explain in detail the secrets of medieval architecture and the mysterious harmony of the insides of churches are found to be — the perfect places to hold musical concerts!

And this is how Christianity is perceived by many: as something historical that was once great, whose existence was justified during its time.

But places of prayer? Of course, there are still many of them today. The peaceful place for reflection in front of the tabernacle, the eternal light of the Church, as they used to say. Some burning candles that are lit up during the course of the day bear witness to this. During Christmas we can experience again how the beauty of the Nativity scene and the love emanating from the mother with her child, draw crowds of people, both young and old alike.

However, when we do have a look at those people who do come to church on a normal Sunday, the suspicion seems to be correct that religion is something really for children and senior citizens and now even the children are no longer there. What is going on? It does not seem that we have been able to pass on to new generations what previous generations once valued. Very little of the Middle Ages, no modern era and mostly ancient history.

The devaluation of tradition led to a new relationship with Christ.  It is also high time that we talk about the dark side of tradition. Since the age of the Enlightenment, Christianity has been viewed by many as being, on the one hand, a kind of disciplinary measure and, on the other hand, as a cultural association. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have experienced this much more than us Catholics; however, this has affected both of our churches.

Since the age of the Enlightenment, Christianity has been viewed by many as being, on the one hand, a kind of disciplinary measure and, on the other hand, as a cultural association. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have experienced this much more than us Catholics; however, this has affected both of our churches.

I think you can see it well in the development of historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible.  In 19th century Berlin, the theologian Schleiermacher came up with a way of reading the Bible which completely broke with tradition. Now this certainly had its merits, because it led to deep insights into the origins of the Bible and into the world in which the books of the Bible came to be written.

But it was also problematic because the Christ who was speaking in Scripture was no longer a figure of authority. That is to say, all of His words were subjected to the verdict of theologians. In other words, did the historical Jesus actually say that or was it later attributed to Him by the early Church? Pope Benedict put it like this: What came out of all this was often the spirit of these very theologians. Whatever fit into a culturally acceptable idea of Jesus was correct. And anything that was bothersome ended up being degraded and eliminated.

And so Christianity stopped being a challenge and a thorn in the flesh. Christ thus became a joyful hippie full of humanistic ideals.

But why did this guy named Jesus have to crucified? Well, that was not so clear.

It was also problematic because the Christ, who was speaking in Scripture, was no longer a figure of authority. That is to say, all of his words were subjected to the verdict of theologians. And so Christianity stopped being a challenge and a thorn in the flesh. Christ thus became a joyful hippie full of humanistic ideals.

The relationship with Christ led to tensions with the institution.

Catholics and Protestants handled the situation differently. The Protestants opened themselves up to a great extent, to the point where they were even using the Nazi salute at their church synods during the Nazi era.

The Catholics built a wall around an idyllic garden and refused to acknowledge the reality outside of it. In this context, there have been people such as Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth and Roger Schultz who gave witness to a Christ who was not to everyone’s liking, a certain Christ who was especially uncomfortable to those in power. 

They called for a new relationship with Christ, the Savior of mankind. The traditions had lead to ossification. Bonhoeffer, for instance, had the following realization: “Christianity harbors within itself an important element that is hostile to the Church.”

Catholics and Protestants handled the situation differently. The Protestants opened themselves up to a great extent, to the point where they were even using the Nazi salute at their church synods during the Nazi era.

And, in fact, Christ is not an intellectual from the ancient world but rather the Son of God whose Gospel brought Him to the Cross.  Pope Benedict called for “detachment from the world” amidst the fake outrage of the establishment. This “detachment from the world” is what Pope Francis is living out. Many people are still shouting “Hosanna.”

The Church is discovering its task again of representing Christ in the present age. Today we face Christ, who rejects nothing that is good and holy within the tradition of His people. But, at the same time, this is not enough for Him. Because self-righteousness is an abomination to Him. He challenges us to provide access to our traditions through His very own vitality. These traditions must not, however, become an idol that lets us think that it can be appeased.

In awe, draw near to the God of life. With fear and trembling, contemplate His greatness. With humility and gratitude receive His grace, for it is sealed by the blood of Christ.

My experience from last Thursday can be summarized in the following way: You have heard that Christianity was brought to your fathers and ancestors. But you have forgotten what lies at the core of it all: Christ. Convert to Him and you will live, convert to Him and the Church will earn the name she bears: “the One belonging to the Lord.”

Convert to Him and the Church will live.

Amen.

My experience from last Thursday can be summarized in the following way: You have heard that Christianity was brought to your fathers and ancestors. But you have forgotten what lies at the core of it all: Christ.

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