Augustine Paul Hennessy, C.P.
reprinted from Sign magazine - September, 1974
I come across a sentence which leaps off the page and strikes my mind
or imagination like a bolt of lightning. Recently, I encountered such
a sentence in a book by a Protestant theologian, Bishop F. R. Barry.
He wrote: "Jesus was a man, not a theological symbol."
Just the danger
warning that we might turn Jesus into a theological symbol instead of
letting him be a living Saviour should be enough to make a thoughtful
person stop and ponder the meaning of such a phrase. Fortunately, Bishop
Barry hurried on to unfold his thought more elaborately. Of the Man
Jesus, he said: "If his life and death are not related to the total
field of human experience and to human nature in its heights and depths,
if they do not interpret life as a whole, in its terrors as well as
its caresses, if the gospel story does not satisfy all men's spiritual
needs and hungers, including the deep unconscious needs of the psyche,
then it cannot be the religion of mankind."
If there is
one yearning common to the religious instinct of all mankind, it is
a longing for deliverance from some disruptive force which men find
in their own hearts. There are perils of divisiveness among all human
beings which shake and split and splinter mankind like an earthquake.
The only world that men seem able to design under the impetus of their
own egotism is a world resembling a city in shambles. There are rifts
in human affairs where there ought to be cohesiveness. There are yawning
death traps where there ought to be solid ground. There are fragmented
egos where there ought to be whole persons.
does not require a great gift of imagination to see that mankind has
made a mess of its own world. We climb out of the pit of barbarism an
inch at a time.
Yet the religion
of Jesus Christ is a religion of optimism. He is the timeless assurance
that God so loved the world-this messy, disrupted, mixed-up world-that
he plunged his well-beloved Son into the very core of the maelstrom.
Jesus is a man. Not a theological symbol. He belongs to us as one who
has felt the world's pains. He has returned to the Father, but he has
not left us orphans. The Spirit of Jesus has been set loose to bring
healing touches to every corner of the world. The power of that life
dwelling abundantly in the glorified flesh of One Man is ceaselessly
infiltrating and gradually transforming the stubborn strains of disruptiveness
which still thrive in the flesh and spirit of his members. Word by word,
touch by touch, Jesus, the Man transcending time, is making mankind
We call his
work an atonement. This beautiful, old english word pulls into focus
many biblical glimpses of God's romance with mankind and, however awkwardly,
puts these insights into a single vision of togetherness.
means being made one. Oneness is at the heart of the word, because it
is at the heart of the reality. Atonement is the aftermath of a breakdown
of barriers. It is the reconciliation that comes after forgetfulness.
It is the overcoming of estrangement. It is the embrace of forgiveness
and acceptance anew, accompanied by tears of mingled joy and sorrow.
Atonement is the answer to mankind's search for meaning-a promise of
togetherness achieved by God's human presence among us.
is more than a work or a word. Atonement is a living Person. We disfigure
the meaning of atonement when we think of it as a kind of debt-paying
to a hurt or angry Lover. Jesus was not a stand-in penitent for the
rest of us. His being the atonement is not just a passing event of history.
It is not accomplished once and for all like an apology made and accepted
in the name of all his fellowmen. Jesus did not merely win for us an
enduring claim upon the benign forgiveness of our Father. He is our
atonement rather as One who has made his own destiny at-one with ours
until the end of time. The Jesus who atones is One ever intent upon
making his whole body new.
is a Man. Not a theological symbol. An embrace of lovers. A timeless
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Copyright 2004 - all rights reserved - Passionist Missionaries of
Union City, NJ, USA
Terence Kristofak, C.P., Provincial Eastern Province
Editor: Victor Hoagland, C.P. Coeditors: Mary Ann Strain, C.P.
and Kevin Dance, C.P.
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