Tuesday, December 27, 2016

José María Castillo: "Seeing Jesus' humanity is how we see, find, and know God"

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 26, 2016

"The economy doesn't fix this. Politics either." Theologian José María Castillo is referring to the multiple crises we are suffering today. Not just the lack of solidarity or democracy, but above all the deficit in mercy towards the suffering. A situation in the face of which, he points out, "there has to be another system." Specifically the one of the Gospel, whose strength he explores in his book, La humanidad de Jesús ("The humanity of Jesus", Trotta, 2016).

Today we are joined by a good friend, whom you surely know, who needs no introduction but, just in case, he is José María Castillo.

Good morning, José María.


Delighted, Good morning.

Madrid isn't Granada, but it's nice to come here once in a while.

Madrid has a singular charm and enjoys such a large, ample and important offering that it's like a very powerful magnet that attracts one.

José María Castillo is one of the best theologians in our country. We are lucky and honored that he has been a collaborator of Religión Digital for many years.

It's been at least ten years. Or maybe more.

Laying down the law and, most of all, helping us to think. And giving us subjects, which he talks about through his blogs, with his posts and also through his writings, through his books.

We've come here today to talk about one of them, La humanidad de Jesús, which he has published through Trotta. You presented it yesterday in a talk-colloquium at the ABC cultural hall, which was packed.

I would like to talk about the subject that the book is about. About Jesus' humanity. Because they've always talked about this divine Jesus, who is sublimated and makes us closer to God, and lately it seems that his more human side has been reviled. The one of the Jesus who ate, got sad, and laughed with his friends. Who passed through this world and walked with the disciples from Emmaus, with Lazarus, with his disciples. Who felt tragedy, betrayal. Who had all the good and all the bad of human beings. Even until he came to die.

Why this disappearance of the human Jesus in some cases?

As I indicated yesterday in my lecture, and it was the first thing I wanted to highlight, it's that, strangely, relations between the divine and the human have not always been easy. On the contrary they have been a motive, occasion and cause for tension, misunderstanding, difficulty, estrangement, and separation.

It's enough to think about this: the divine is translated, in public social experience, into the sacred. The human is translated, in public social experience, into the profane.

It is noteworthy that the sacred has always claimed to be above the profane. Having a more determining power than secular or civil power. Having authority, prestige, credibility, argumentation, etc., everything always above. From the moment things are put like this, tension is inevitably created.

Among other things because Jesus had all those things you've described. And he also had his human side. Of a person who was born, grew up, and lived in a family.

Of course, that's what's remarkable, because the gospels don't specifically emphasize that Jesus was a "holy or consecrated" person. We are used to celebrating the Feast of Christ, Eternal High Priest. Christ --  Jesus -- wasn't a priest. On the contrary, he came into conflict with the priests. And such a conflict, that the priests ended up killing him.

Defenders of the law and of the norm who are also here in our Church today.

Of course, because they couldn't stand him. They couldn't bear him and saw in him a menacing threat to their cause, their power, and their interests. That's why, yesterday, I stressed how the deep reason for Jesus' humanity is because it is in and through humanity that the divine is revealed to us Christians. Why? Because the divine is the transcendent. And the transcendent is not within our reach, we can't get to know it or know of it. This is possible because the divine -- the transcendent by definition -- is what is incommunicable with the immanent, with what is human. So, through what is human in Jesus, in him, we discover the divine.

I put forward yesterday, and I'll repeat them here because they seem eloquent to me, two texts from the Gospel of John. At the end of the prologue, in chapter 1, verse 18, we find: "No one has ever seen God." It's a way of saying that God is not within our reach. We can't know Him. His only son, that is, Jesus, is the one who has made Him known to us.

And even clearer and more eloquent, the text of chapter 14, after the Last Supper. In that farewell discourse, the apostle Philip suddenly interrupts Jesus and says, "Master, Lord, show us the Father. Show us God and that will be enough for us." And Jesus responds, "But Philip, you still don't know me?".

And I said last night, and I repeat, that if I had been there, I would have said, "Yes, I do know you; I'm not asking about you, but about God."

And Jesus continues, without heeding Philip, "Philip, whoever sees me is seeing God."

Therefore, Jesus is the revelation. The explicit manifestation of God. And seeing Jesus' humanity is how we see, find, and know God. This is the main argument of the book.

Someone could accuse you of denying the Trinity.

One thing has nothing to do with the other, because the Trinity thing is a later elaboration. In the New Testament it isn't clear, although it talks about the Father and the Son. But the title, Son of God (many people don't know this or don't take it into account), was an imperial title that the emperor Augustus adopted. The whole dynasty of the Antonines. They adopted the Son of God title as an imperial title. Hence, the title, applied to Jesus, doesn't mean that he was the son of God, as we understand it, of the same nature. It was an elaboration against Arius, in the 4th century, in the Council of Nicea.

In the end, in the Church, we have been laying on these types of elaboration by virtue of confrontations between different theological or thought currents. And we come to the twenty-first century, and in the end, the idea you might have of Jesus, maybe it doesn't look too much like the idea or the reality that those who knew Jesus experienced.

The one that many people have isn't -- nor can it be -- similar. Because in people, when mixing the divine and the human, the divine gains more force than the human. So, in a human image, they worship Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The most grotesque -- and I always tell this story -- is that I know of a very famous Jesuit, he died already many years ago, who was a great catechist and who was giving a class to the Jesuits themselves. He was explaining the story of Jesus walking on the sea at night, in search of the disciples, when the Gospel says they were frightened, and that Jesus told them, "Be not afraid, I am your Lord Jesus Christ."

That's nonsense -- How was he going to say of himself, "I am your Lord Jesus Christ"?

Moreover it would have frightened the disciples even more.

It was laughable. But it's that many people don't dare say the word "Jesus." There is something mysterious about this. Why the resistance? They speak of Christ, the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Lord Jesus Christ. But not Jesus.

It's a cultural issue. In fact, there are many countries where my name, Jesús, is practically never given to a child. And evidently, Jesus Christ -- I think there must be very few people or any in the world who are named that. But I think the term, in some cultures, is almost prohibited. As if it were something irreverent.

Or that distills a certain mysterious reverence. For example, I have thought a great deal about blasphemy against the Virgin, against God, against Christ, even against sacred objects -- the host, the pyx, the pallium ... all this. Against Jesus, I have never heard a blasphemy.

And to what is this due -- that those who don't believe see him as a model and to those of us who believe, he frightens us because we don't know how to define him well or can't understand him?

Jesus is a reality that impresses us, but at the same time he's so close, so human, so like us, and so much like what we need ...

Yesterday they asked me, "But what did Jesus' humanity consist of?".

Well, being a Jew, a Galilean, from a poor and humble village in those days (now it's a more important city), who one fine day left his home, left his family, and went off to hear John the Baptist. He got in the line of those who were going to be baptized -- those who John the Baptist called a brood of vipers, he received the baptism and had an inspiration there. He felt something. He experienced something that made him see many things that we neither see nor comprehend, nor can we see or comprehend them.

Then he began to work. And to what did he devote himself? He didn't put up a spirituality center or a house of formation, he didn't set up an office of spiritual direction or create a chair in Theology. None of that. It simply says that when he was aware that they had killed John the Baptist, he went to Galilee, where John had been killed, where the danger was. Where there were movements in which those who ended up being the Zealots some years later were beginning to rise up against the domination of the empire there. But he didn't start to fight against Rome, in that sense. Jesus was convinced that the truly crucial thing wasn't changing the rulers but changing the ruled.

Make us protagonists, co-participants and co-responsible.

And that we, by changing, would take responsibility for the situation we have, for why we have it, and for what we want. Let us be clear.

For example, it draws my attention that when it was announced to Jesus that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus didn't organize a demonstration or go out with signs...

Or go to Herod's palace.

Or to the Great Square of Jerusalem, or of any other city. Nor when they announced to Jesus that Pilate had beheaded some Galileans while they were making a religious sacrifice that had to be in the temple, did Jesus tell them, "Pilate is a scoundrel," "This is exploitation," "We're oppressed, we have to rise up"...Jesus said to them, "All of you, since you haven't changed, you're going to end up the same."

Jesus paid his taxes knowing they were unjust. I know there are people with a leftist social mentality who get nervous when they hear this, they feel bad. But I have to say it, first, because it's in the Gospel. And I have opted for the Gospel for many other more private, more personal, deeper reasons that I'm not going to be explaining here. But there's something that does give me a lot to think about. And it's that you can see that the economy, as it's working, doesn't fix this world; rather, on the contrary, it's making us worse off every year. There's more distance between rich and poor. And more and more poor.

The economy doesn't fix this. Politics doesn't fix it either, because it's in the hands of the economy. And if the economy doesn't fix it, politics does it even less. There has to be another force, another mechanism, another system. And I haven't found one other than the one I read about in the Gospel.

And they'll tell me, "Well, we're fixed, now we'll all go to Church for the priest to tell us the Gospel." That's not it! The priest is the first one who needs to change and convert to the Gospel because the Gospel -- and pay attention to this -- isn't primarily a religion book. It's a life project.

Jesus' life project, and a model of values to build society and build the kingdom, here too.

Obviously. And in that is Jesus' humanity. Jesus was convinced that it was by becoming deeply human, that we would, first, fix this world and second, become more divine.

Now Christmas is coming. When I was a child they taught me a phrase that has always stayed with me because I think it's a great truth -- I don't know what you'll think -- that God became man so that we men might be a little more of God.

It's a conventional phrase that's very good. But the reality is that Jesus becomes human so that we will all be more human. Even God had to humanize himself to fix this world.

And what's that? A symptom of God's weakness or a sign of love -- recognizing that something has become bad and that He has to send His son -- or however we want to call him -- so that the whole world might truly believe?

We see that religion as such, the religious factor as such, consists of beliefs, and especially of some rituals, which is the oldest part of the religious factor, and some rules. All around the sacred.

The divine is more complicated because we mustn't forget (many people don't know this, can't imagine it or expect it), that God is a very late product in the history of the religious factor. He's among the last to appear. Such that if homo sapiens, human beings, are some 100,000 years old, there have been vestiges of rituals since the beginning. For some 90,000 years, probably, rituals have been functioning.

Without God figuring in.

The God thing is very late. He appears, I don't know, 10-, 12- or 15,000 years before Christ.

But as a feeling of something higher, not someone?

There was a higher reality that slowly became outlined. Because, of course, since God is transcendent and is not within our reach, what we do is picture that ultimate reality.

And is representing him as a single figure against polytheism an evolution?

No. Polytheism is a different way of representing God. Specialized gods -- some in illnesses, others in calamities. But they are human representations. They are all human representations.

How has Jesus come to the 21st century? How is he understood? And all this, has it been thanks to, or despite the Church?

The Church thing was an organizing system that was established after Jesus died.

And that's where the other side, Paul's, comes from.

Jesus didn't found the Church. Nor did he found the clergy, or the priests, or any of that. It's not mentioned. All that began to take shape and function starting with Paul, who is the first about whom we have data that he made this work. He was founding CHURCHES [in Spanish "IGLESIAS"]. It's remarkable that they adopted that word that came from the Greek.

Ekklesia.

The ekklesia was a political institution the Greeks invented. It was a democratic assembly to make decisions. What happens, is that such as the Greeks experienced it, it was very restricted. Because women were excluded, slaves, children, and young people too. The participants in the ekklesia were very few in the Greek political culture.

But it's remarkable that the Christians, when they started to get together, instead of taking a religious name, adopted a political name -- ekklesia.

And they were doing it constantly, because the figure of the bishop, the diocese, all those terms...

Are civil names. An episkopos was an overseer. A presbyteros was a senator. However, the New Testament doesn't use the word "priest." Ever.

The word does appear with the representatives of the temple. With the Jewish priests.

Sure, it's applied to the pagans or the Jewish priests of the temple. But to the Christians, never.

I want to clarify two things that it's important that I not leave out. It's about the humanity of Jesus. How his fundamental concern was not a "religious" concern, but a "secular" one. What he cared about and why.

First and foremost, health. Something that concerns us all. Hence the amount of stories of healings.

Everybody asks: Did Jesus perform miracles? We can't know because it's a literary genre of that time to explain that he cared about people. About those who were suffering. And when he would see a person suffering, he would remedy that if he could. Because he went to his town, to Nazareth, and the Gospel of Mark says that he couldn't perform any miracle there. And why? Well, because they didn't believe and he always attributed the healing to faith -- "Your faith has healed you."

And second, he worried about the suffering because of the lack of food and of means of living.

Which leads to coexistence in community, because almost all meals or meetings with people, have an agape. And that leads us to think later of the Eucharist itself.

On almost all occasions, Jesus appears eating or healing people who were suffering from illnesses. They are stories that are repeated constantly.

And Jesus' third concern: human relations -- "Get along well", "Know how to forgive", "Understand one another", "Bear with each other", "Accommodate one another", "Know how to please each other", "Spread happiness to the people who live with you."

This is precisely the message that is contained in the Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, which is possibly the most universal of all, and the seed of other declarations that have been made throughout history, including the Declaration of Human Rights.

Obviously, because that leads us immediately as you've said to two issues that are wholly fundamental and that today are very absent, unfortunately.

On the one hand is the problem of corruption and it's that money, the eagerness for money and the power it has, has turned us all around. It has upset the coexistence, the politics and organization of society. Nobody trusts anybody. It's a terrible thing, and then we want to solve it with charity and beneficence. Which is necessary, of course, if there are people who are hungry. But it's also true that if you ask someone "What do you live on?" and he answers, "Well, I live on charity," that's humiliation. It's humiliating to live on charity. What people want is to earn their living and their money honestly. And to have dignity.

And second, the issue of human rights. Human rights assumes equality in dignity and in rights in the first article. We have created a society proclaiming human rights and creating more inequality at all levels and in every possible arena. This is such a strong, such a determining contradiction.

I want to stress something I said last night in my lecture and that I'll repeat here: a person who is responsible for this being thus and who, therefore, is the cause of suffering, can not believe in God.

The rulers we have, who know that the decisions they're making cause suffering, can not believe in God no matter how much they go to Mass, and no matter how much they belong to respectable institutions. The religious, the bishops and priests, the laypeople...All sorts of people who through their behavior, their conduct, their silence, are responsible for the fact that there are so many people suffering, can not believe in God. They believe in the representation of God they have made because it suits them.

And because it helps them to justify their actions or their ideas.

Right. That's it.

The core of the issue is reduced to that. Also to stress one thing that Professor Reyes Mate picked up from the book: that the determinant of God is mercy. Not mercy towards sin, but towards suffering. The blissful history of sin and the importance of sin, we owe to St. Paul.

Have we sacralized sin?

Yes.

Have we made it more important than suffering?

It has been made more important than suffering. And to avoid sin and punish sinners, much suffering is caused and much violence is generated.

In that sense, I suppose the Pope would agree with you. He's getting brickbats for trying to open, even minimally, the field of mercy to families in special circumstances, so to speak. Or to women who have had to have abortions, or conflict situations. Brickbats are raining down on him from all sides, strangely from within the Church itself.

Which is exactly what happened to Jesus. The most religious, the most observant people, those most of the temple, were the ones who persecuted him the most and they didn't stop their persecution until they killed him. Well, the same thing is being repeated today, it goes on today.

With the difference that Francis -- and we're very pro-Francis here -- is still part of an institution that still accepts some issues as untouchable facts.

I'm very pro-Francis. They ask why he doesn't change more positions and why he doesn't suppress certain classes, or why he doesn't make certain decisions...

If I were in his skin, I might see that I had to do the same. Because the whole setup that is the Vatican State and everything in there is much more complex and more difficult to clean up and solve than we imagine.

We shouldn't envy him, as they say in my town.

In any way. And in that sense, I see that Francis is a man for whom the Gospel and Jesus' humanity is central, in which I think the future of the solution is. And if this approach doesn't work, it's because we're the ones who don't believe.

That we're afraid of returning to Jesus, taking away all the supposed support we have around us. Going back to Jesus has to be very complicated -- interpreting Jesus, understanding Jesus and experiencing him here. It's what you also said yesterday, that the true believers are those who try to live as Jesus would live.

Right, as he would live today. And that is what I think Francis is trying to do. He is doing what he can. Sometimes even being indiscreet, for example, in his way of expressing himself. Some have accused him of that, and sometimes they're right -- some phrases, especially, that have some validity in Latin America that they don't have here. Or a meaning that they don't have here. But I think the path goes there. And what gives me more hope, because he's of an advanced age now and his pontificate can't last very long, is that if this change that has taken place in the papacy keeps up and continues onward, the Church, in a few years, will be more different than we can imagine.

We trust in that and we trust that we will all look a little more like Jesus. To start now, when we finish the interview, we'll do the three things you said: We'll care about our health, we'll foment human relationships, and we'll eat. What do you think, José María?

(laughs....)

We'll tell you the results of this meal. "La humanidad de Jesús" by José María Castillo, published by Trotta. It's always a genuine pleasure, you know. And we're glad to see you so well, so active, and so content.

And we'll go on.

Spreading that joy. Many thanks.

Thanks to you for the good you're doing, which is huge.

We try to. May we never lack support like yours to go on doing it and carrying it forward. Thanks.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas in spite of everything

By Victor Codina (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
December 23, 2016

For a long time, in the bosom of the Christian people, very critical voices have risen up about Christmas -- the orgy of consumption, frantic purchase of gifts, food and drink, the chubby Santa Claus seeming to marginalize the Infant Jesus, carols being used as commercial propaganda, the Tree supplanting the manger, city lights having become marketing and a tourist attraction, there is leadership by people and institutions in charitable works at Christmastime... Christmas has become a solstice party ...

And all this as if in a bubble of well-being, on the margins of a world of violence and poverty, refugees and wars, with the heart anesthetized to the suffering of others.

True Christmas is different. What has happened is what is said of ants who, to be able to store wheat, cut off its germinal point. The West has tamed and perverted Christmas; it has ripped out its gospel nerve. All this is true and must be denounced prophetically. This bourgeois style of Christmas is the very opposite of the first Christmas. Today, Jesus is born again in Aleppo and Haiti, in the migrant and refugee camps of Lesbos and Lampedusa, in the victims of the Berlin bombing, in the new Christian martyrs of Egypt and the Middle East.

But what if, in spite of everything, the Christmas feast were to keep the mysterious light of Bethlehem on, because the darkness can never overcome the light? That families get together and often reconcile at Christmas, gifts to the little ones, especially the poor children, visits to prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, mangers in churches and families, a truce, sometimes, in the wars ... are these not a sign that, in spite of everything, the light and warmth of Christmas still linger amid the embers of so many ashes? Where does this sudden goodness that floods our hearts and sometimes our eyes these days spring from? No doubt this goodness is born from the manger of Bethlehem, the Child, the shepherds and angels who sing peace. And we also remember the old biblical prophecies that proclaim a new world, where the wolf and the lamb will graze together and a child will play with the serpent. The spirit of Christmas is never completely extinguished.

Because Christmas is not just a memory of the past but God the Father's plan for humankind -- a dream of filiation and fraternity, harmony and peace, love especially towards the least and marginalized. It is up to each and every one of us to make Christmas every day of the year so that the grain of gospel wheat does not lose its germinal power and produces true fruit. That is why, in spite of everything and in the midst of these ambiguities, Merry Christmas, the real one!