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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Christ Figures

I have been reading your emails on Ordination.  I don't want to argue either, but I do want to get clear in my mind what the Catholic position is on the role of the priest.  You may find that I am way off base and need to be corrected in my observations below.  Please don't hesitate to correct me.
First, a quote from Wikipedia on the meaning of Christ figure:
A Christ figure is a literary technique that authors use to draw allusions between their characters and the biblical Jesus Christ. More loosely, the Christ Figure is a spiritual or prophetic character who parallels Jesus, or other spiritual or prophetic figures.
In general, a character should display more than one correspondence with the story of Jesus Christ as depicted in the Bible. For instance, the character might display one or more of the following traits: performance of miracles, manifestation of divine qualities, healing others, display loving kindness and forgiveness, fight for justice, being guided by the spirit of the character's father, death and resurrection. Christ figures are often martyrs, sacrificing themselves for causes larger than themselves.
In postmodern literature, the resurrection theme is often abandoned, leaving us with the image of a martyr sacrificing himself for a greater good. It is common to see Christ figures displayed in a manner suggestive of crucifixion as well; this technique is more noticeable in films than in literature (emphasis mine).  (
Come to think of it, the ultimate sacrifice—the crucifixion-- is what I think of most often when I say that a film or other work contains a Christ figure.    An example is the film Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood playing Walt Kowalski--the man who sacrifices his life for his neighbor.   Walt has many faults, but in the essential of ultimate sacrifice he comes through.   In that film there is a brave, wise, and committed priest.  But who most definitively represents Christ in this movie—Walt.
Now this begs the question, what do Catholics mean by icon of Christ?  What is meant by icon—a person or thing that represents Christ.   Obviously it would accrue to the priest’s benefit if the believers in his congregation considered him an official representation of or stand-in for the very one they worship above all else in the universe.  To me this seems an immodest even prideful role that could be destructive to the priest as well as the worshippers.    Now I realize that Jesus said that when you do loving things unto the least of these, you do them unto me.  In this sense, “the least of these” are stand-ins for Christ.  But that is a different thing entirely than from saying that my official position in this institution makes me a stand-in for Christ and because of my position I am thus entitled to your love and respect.  We have learned sometimes at great cost that the sense of entitlement because of position held can be an insidious destroyer of persons.   In other words, Walt Kowalski became a Christ figure in the only way that’s true—he made the ultimate sacrifice for his neighbor.  It wasn’t something that was bestowed on him by the Ford Motor Company (where he once worked) or any other organization.  Entitlement and sacrifice are incongruous concepts—one takes, the other gives.
To me Mother Teresa is the most outstanding Christ Figure I can think of in the Catholic Church.