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BY MARK SHEA
When I was a kid, I believed my family knew
everything. My brother Mike, after all,
could work wonders by turning me invisible with a mere “Abracadabra!”
run around the house waving at everybody and making faces, and they would all
stare right through me saying, “I hear you, Mark, but I can’t see you! Where
than that, my parents knew everything there was to know about anything from
ancient history like World War II to all the names of airplanes to dinosaurs.
My oldest brother, Rick, was a fountain of information on any subject that came
were gods — until the day I asked, “Who invented shoes?” and was flummoxed to
discover none of them knew.
as time wore on, I discovered that this strange new experience only increased
in frequency. I found there were more and more questions my parents and
brothers couldn’t answer at the drop of a hat. I discovered, in short, that
they were human beings.
sometimes think that many people still have not discovered this important fact
when it comes to our priests. Here, for instance, is a letter I got recently
from somebody who was greatly exercised because priests were not addressing an
issue very close to my correspondent’s heart. My correspondent wrote:
would you say if someone asked you when did Jesus know he was God? Trust me,
not everyone agrees on the answer, especially not Catholic priests. When we
start talking about Jesus, I think it is very important at this time to
immediately say God is Jesus and Jesus is present in the Eucharist. I sure wish
one priest would get up on the altar and say Jesus is God and Jesus knew he was
God from the incarnation.”
I’m fairly well-educated theologically. I get lots of questions along these
lines from readers and listeners on radio programs.
I’ve gotten questions that were real lulus (“What is the official Church
teaching on how much body mass you can lose before you lose your soul?” stands
as the current champion lulu).
that said, I can tell you that if someone suddenly demanded, “When did Jesus
know he was God?” my immediate answer would be “Beats me.”
I can well understand how someone might get a variety of answers to that
question from a variety of Catholics, including priests.
has, as we recall, a divine and human nature. We know from divine revelation
that he “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52).
short, he learned things like all humans do.
his deity, he is omniscient. In his humanity, he asks questions because he
doesn’t know things.
freely confesses, “Of that day and that hour, no one knows, not even the angels
of heaven, nor the Son,
but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
I don’t know that it’s a slam dunk to say with absolute confidence that Jesus
knew he was God from the moment of his incarnation in Mary’s womb.
I’m just giving you my completely uninformed gerblat of a response based on
what happens to spring to mind at the moment. That and five bucks will get you
a cup of Starbucks coffee.
willing to bet good money that somewhere in the Church’s tradition this
question has been given an exhaustive going-over by somebody (probably several
somebodies) and there is probably even magisterial teaching on the question. If
there is, then pay attention to that and not to my ignorant ramblings.
that said, my point is this: The failure of a busy, harried priest to be a
theological vending machine on every abstruse question of theology — and that
at the drop of a hat — is not really an indication of something sinister or
substandard going on in the pulpit.
is it quite fair to relate the sudden question “When did Jesus know he was
God?” to either the preaching of the Real Presence or the general question “Is
Jesus God?” and suggest that failure to have sudden universal competence in the
first question means neglect or denial of the other two questions.
go to a Dominican parish with a very strong Eucharistic devotion and very clear
preaching on the deity of Christ and the Real Presence. Yet I have never heard
a homily preached on the consciousness of Christ and the question of when he
knew he was God. That’s largely because the question just hasn’t come up, not
because there is a denial of his deity or of the Real Presence.
Don’t borrow trouble by assuming a priest who can’t give snappy answers to
sudden and difficult questions is an apostate in the pulpit.
are he’s just human.
Mark Shea is
senior content editor