Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Barnyard cats

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Many gallons of ink have been spread over reams of paper trying to describe what is commonly referred to as the “consciousness of Jesus.” What did he know and when did he know it?

Several groups, similar to one known as The Jesus Seminar, have tried persistently to dig their way methodically through the Gospels in a vain attempt to discover an historical Jesus. When they discover that this or that saying or event in the ministry of the man from Nazareth may well have been the construction of the evangelist himself, they toss it aside as untrustworthy, if not deceiving. The result is a world of doubt, improbability and negation. Some groups of this ilk even have concluded that the man, Jesus, never existed.

An abundance of serious scholars, however, do accept the fact that an historical Jesus lived and died in Palestine in what we now date as the First Century. His resurrection is testified to according to the experience of his disciples. Because it is trans-historical, it cannot be proved. In the end, the four canonical Gospels narrate the same story, but each – Mathew, Mark, Luke and John – narrates it “according to.” Each evangelist addresses his own audience, and each applies his own theological perspective and writing skill.

The “according to” phrase that formally introduces the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass, however, does not reduce the work of the evangelist to a collection of personal opinion, wishful thinking or falsehoods. All four evangelists share a common purpose: to unite the faith experience of their readers to the man, Jesus, whom they introduce as Messiah, Lord and Savior.

It is beneficial for our Christian spirituality to keep this perspective in mind. The work of people and groups like The Jesus Seminar act as a healthy reminder that the Gospels do not provide a camcorder rendition of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Even given the proclivity of the people of the Middle East to exhibit excellent memories, the Gospels admittedly do not offer what our contemporary culture cherishes as factual information. Thus, it would be a wasted effort to try to create a composite biographical or historical picture of Jesus, even by putting together the scattered glimpses gleaned from all four Gospels.

We will never know with absolute certainty what was in the consciousness of Jesus – what he knew and when he knew it. We likewise need to guard against applying to the story of Jesus a philosophical image of God, learned in the classroom.

Reasoning, for example: Jesus was God. God knows all things. Therefore, when Jesus was dining with the Pharisees he knew even then that this writer would be wearing an Assumption Catholic School sweatshirt on July 19, 2003. Such philosophizing raises difficult questions about free will and predestination – the solution to which has little to do with entering the Kingdom of God – the very focus of Jesus’ ministry.

If anyone wants to try to enter into the mind or heart of Jesus – trying to discover life as he experienced it – I would like to suggest that they make an excursion to my sister’s mini-farm, to watch the cats scurry wildly about the driveway. It was there this summer that I was blessed with a useful insight into the “consciousness of Jesus” that I found rather “saving.”

I found myself wondering if Jesus didn’t experience the pained rejection a child’s heart when he or she tries to cuddle a barnyard cat. (Yes, cats – especially little kittens – bring out the child in me.)

There I sat before a double litter of cats: three adults and at least 10 recent arrivals. All were old enough to fend for themselves. Wanting to share the gift of my affection and good will with them, I brought them breakfast and waited to make my move. Respecting their desire to attend to more important matters (like eating) I sat patiently.

But at my slightest move to pick up one of their furry bodies, the entire herd fled with lightning speed. My child’s heart felt the pang of rejection. Within a brief period of time, my feelings started to transform into those of vengeance. Taking their breakfast – and myself – back into the house would be a good first step!

Unlike domesticated cats, barnyard cats are wild. Like really wild. They are skittish, defensive and unapproachable. They scatter like scared banshees, even from someone whose heart has the best of intentions for them.

Inspirations come to me at the strangest times. While losing my battle with the barnyard cats, it occurred to me that Jesus must have entertained similar feelings often during the course of his ministry. He wanted nothing more than for his own people to experience the fulfilling joy of God’s Kingdom. Yet for some people – especially those in his home town of Nazareth – the closer he came, the more they scattered. Because they had no place to run and hide, they turned their fear against him and cast him from their presence – socially ostracized by a hard-hearted people who literally did not know what was good for them. In the end the same closed-heartedness nailed Jesus to the Cross.

I wonder if Jesus felt the urge to quit his ministry and merely go about his own business. To paraphrase the Gospel depiction of the scene: He could work no miracle there, so great was their lack of faith. All he could do was teach about God. I wonder if he felt the desire to punish. Transporting his First Century presence to the contemporary scene, I wonder if he would have those feelings regarding me or anyone else who runs when they feel that he is getting too close and personal. Like the cats in the barnyard, it is one thing to let God speak to us from a safe, academic distance; it is quite another to let ourselves be touched and held personally in the embrace of God’s saving love – to come close enough to feel the beat of his heart.

But Jesus didn’t quit and he didn’t punish. In such behavior we can see manifest the life-giving “consciousness of Jesus.” With unwavering patience he confronts our unfounded fear of God’s loving presence. Again and again he calls us with non-threatening voice, offering us food that will satisfy and last.

Despite our frightened darting toward the craziest of things for security, he remains. It’s as if he is pledged to stay until, at long last, we drop our defenses and come to savor the touch of his saving hand – a hand which we perhaps have scratched all too often, misjudging its intention.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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