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Capital from S. Maria de Lebanze, Spain, in the Harvard Art Museums

Detail of a capital from S. Maria de Lebanze, Spain, in the Harvard Art Museums

One of the great errors of our time, found sadly even amongst some Christians, is the reduction of the person of Christ to someone he is not. There is a tendency in the mind of the modern man to view Our Lord as something of a guru, but not Christ; as human, but not divine; as a teacher, but not God. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, regarded the bible very highly for its moral message but he disliked anything which struck of the Lord’s divinity, so he literally cut and paste his own version and gave it the rather bland title, ‘The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth’. It is a rather bland title because there is little point in taking any of the words of Our Blessed Lord seriously, unless we take them all seriously. As C. S. Lewis famously said, Christ was either mad, bad, or God.

We must also be careful not to fall into this trap. We will shortly profess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, joining with the Church throughout time and space in affirming the orthodox faith of the followers of Christ, but when we leave here and return to our family life, and homes, and places of work, will we allow the truth of that belief to permeate our hearts and lives, or do we simply come here once a week to pay lip service to our faith, trying to survive the other 167 hours on the back of just one?

If we fear that we might—consciously, or simply because of our busy lives—the key is for us to rediscover the person of Christ. First, we must say (and not with pietistic quaintness) that he is ‘Our Lord’. At the Last Supper Saint Matthew tells us that when Christ tells his disciples that one of them is to betray him, they each in turn reply, ‘Is it I, Lord?’. But Judas says to him, ‘Is it I, Master?’ (Mt. 26: 20-25). It is a little distinction, to be sure, but how often do we see Christ simply as ‘master’—simply as a sort of schoolmaster or football coach, rather than our Lord? He is our God, is he not? He rules over all things, does he not? Why then do we so often set him aside in favour of our own desires, our own way of life, our own preferences?

Secondly, we can say that he is truly the ‘Christ’. He is the anointed King; the Son of God and the Son of Man, who has come into the world not just as a person with some particular authority or particular influence from God; that is simply a prophet. Rather he who has come is God himself. The second person of the Most Blessed and Undivided Trinity has come down into our realm to offer himself as sacrifice for our sins. Certainly we speak of Christ as ‘true God and true Man’, for so he is, but this relates to his nature, not his person. A nature is something that answers to the question, ‘What?’; a person is something that answer to the question, ‘Who?’ Christ had only a divine person because he is God; to have had a human person would have been a limitation for him. This is why he teaches with an authority that amazes those in the synagogue in today’s gospel; why he is recognised by the unclean spirits. And this is how he atones for our sin: because only the blood of Christ could undo the transgression of our first parents (itself a sin against God), and so win victory over death.

When we truly believe this, we can no longer simply see the teaching of Christ as some impoverished form of self-help, or limit our time with him to an hour of our weekend. If we believe the words of the Lord we read in the gospel, and so accept those words formed in the living magisterium of his Church, we must seek to live the life to which he calls us at all times; obeying the commands he lays down before us, and turning ourselves away from the devices and desires of our own hearts and on toward his heart—his Most Sacred and Divine Heart, which was pierced through for us as he offered himself for our sins and those of the whole world, pouring out his precious and living-giving blood.

Saint Paul, in the epistle this morning, encourages us in this task in a surprising way. The apostle likens us to men and women who are married or unmarried. The unmarried, he says, are anxious about pleasing the Lord; the married about pleasing their spouse. Saint Paul is not attacking marriage, but showing us by analogy the centrality and primacy that our relationship with God must have. Those who are married and those who are not all share a common bond of commitment with Christ through baptism. We have responsibilities, to others and to our work, but Saint Paul’s message is that these can never be secondary to our responsibilities to Christ—not if he is the Lord; not if he is the Christ; not if he is whom we profess and believe him to be, and not simply a teacher or prophet whom we can choose to ignore.

To acknowledge the Lord as such, and to respond to that knowledge in faith, is what it is to be truly a Christian. To own that name is to live not simply acknowledging Our Blessed Lord as an important historical figure or a spiritual guide, but as Lord and as Christ. To be united to him in baptism is to recognize this sovereignty over us and our lives, but to truly live that baptismal vocation—which is the duty of every Christian man and woman—is to submit ourselves to him and, with even the sceptics in the synagogue and the unclean spirits, profess him as our Lord and our God by our words and actions. As we begin toward the Lenten journey of the cross today, let this reality be formed more fully and sincerely in our hearts and lives, that acknowledging the Lordship of Christ in this world we may enter into his heavenly courts in the next, and with the saints and angels join in the eternal song of his praise: Blessing and honour and glory and might be to him who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen. (cf. Rev. 5: 13).