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By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 18, 2008

Below is Fr. Andrew Greeley's homiletic "background" to yesterday's gospel of the Transfiguration. It's a fine illustration of progressivist discourse, and will explain the dread that grips believing Catholics whenever their pastor climbs into the pulpit.

The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in today's gospel is one of the stranger stories in any of the Gospels. Evidently Jesus had a powerful "religious experience" at some point in his public life, an experience which had a profound effect on him and on the apostles who were with him. As the story of this experience was related among the early Christians it took on a heavy overlay of theological symbolism. In the context of St. Matthew's Gospel it becomes a turning point in Jesus' life, an experience in which he saw that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die while he was there. Since Jesus was human he was fated to die just as all of us are fated to die. In his death, however, there would be something more. Since God was present in Jesus in a special way, God would also go down into the valley of death to show us how great was his love for us, to assure us that He would be with us at the time of our own deaths, and how all of us should face death. The manner of Jesus' death was not fated. He could have declined to go to Jerusalem without sin. Yet he came to see that he had to go there and so he did.

The clear implication of Greeley's account is that the Transfiguration didn't really happen, but instead Jesus underwent some kind of spiritual invigoration that he and his disciples attributed to divine favor. The Gospel account is (in this scheme) an expression of later Christians' symbolic understanding of their experience of the apostles' experience of Jesus' experience of God -- or at least of what he took to be God. What is of interest, for Greeley, is religious narrative technique of second century Palestine. Please stand for the Creed.

Even considered in its most positive light, this is a form of spiritual voyeurism, and it's characteristic of liberal dilettantes that they derive a second-hand thrill by observing at a distance the unfeigned piety of genuine believers. Dr. Rowan Williams gives voice to this enthusiasm in describing the effect viewing an Orthodox liturgy had on him as a boy: "I felt I had seen and heard people who were behaving as if God were real ... If people worshipped like this, I felt God must be a great deal more real than even I have learnt him so far." See the epistemic buffering? Not, "I was touched by God," but, "I was moved watching others who were touched by God." As a first step to faith that would be edifying, but it's clear that progressives never get beyond the voyeurism. For them the second-hand kicks are what religion is all about.

"God was present in Jesus in a special way," says Greeley. That's not how Christians speak. Sure, it can be construed in such a way as to acquit him of heresy, but what spiritual good does he invite us to embrace? He begins his exposition of this "strange story" by throwing ice water on our faith by undermining our belief in the face-value reliability of the Gospel. Does he then go on to restore that faith by removing some important misunderstanding? No, he makes the typical liberal move and focuses on the community of believers instead of on the truths those believers believed -- and all of it is presented within a framework of mundane cause and effect ("since Jesus was human, he was fated to die ...").

This smug professorial didacticism would be more excusable if it were part of a university seminar wherein all religions are treated as dead religions and where the grad students could make allowances for Greeley's approach. But these are things we hear at Mass, and that's what rankles. There was a time when Catholics could come to the Eucharist with the understanding that what took place was intended to deepen their Christian faith. Of course, fewer than a third of Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass these days, yet those that do show up have to coach themselves and their loved ones not to pay attention to the twink in the pulpit, precisely because he's out to take something important away from them.

Re-read Greeley's remarks above, and ask yourself what impression they'd be likely to make on a 14- or 15- or 16-year-old in the pews. Even the word "story" (how often have we heard that term from the pulpit?) communicates the conviction that the gospel is fiction and not fact. So put yourself in the place of the parents who succeed, against the odds, in convincing their teenagers to get out of bed and put on some clothes and take off the Death Crew t-shirt and get in the van and come to Mass -- having answered or parried all the whining objections in the meantime -- and who THEN have to explain to them why they should ignore Father's preaching.

One of the glories of Pope Benedict's extraordinary book Jesus of Nazareth is how completely it overturns the facile reductivism we've been spoon-fed for so long. Benedict takes modern scripture scholarship seriously -- more seriously than many of its practitioners -- yet there's scarcely a page in which he does not give back to us, as fact, some event in the life of Jesus that had been taken away from us by the critics. And he does this not by some appeal to fideism (or even to conciliar teaching) but by reading the Scriptures as a unity, by obliging the critics to account for the whole of revelation and not just for the particular problem that snagged their attention. Pope Benedict examines the same process of composition and redaction that the union-card-holding critics do, yet argues that the only adequate explanation for the emergence of the biblical text in the form we now have it is that Jesus was God. In brief, Benedict is Greeley's anti-toxin.

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  • Posted by: - Feb. 23, 2008 9:39 AM ET USA

    Reading Pope Benedict's book has brought real tears to my eyes on every page. It is real hope of which he writes in his latest encyclical. It should be required reading for every senior in a Catholic high school religion program. Instead they sit around and talk about what they "feel" about the upcoming Sunday gospel. Drivel! Give them real food!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 12:25 PM ET USA

    Can anyone here say "Arian Heresy?"

  • Posted by: - Feb. 20, 2008 8:50 AM ET USA

    What I said was (read below) "Jesus was not a human". Left out because of space was the word "person". I did not say Jesus was not human. He was one Divine person, with two natures, i.e. not two persons - one a Divine person and the other a human person. The popularized error is in treating him as if his subsumed human nature acted independently of his divine nature. That does not make me a Monophysite.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 8:30 PM ET USA

    Just a quick note to point out that the position that aupointe takes - "But, Jesus was not human; He was God..." is not the teacing of the Catholic Church but rather Monophysitism. Catholic teaching is that in Christ there is one person but two natures, human and Divine. Christ is true God and True Man.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 3:06 PM ET USA

    No wonder Dr. Williams thinks Sharia law is inevitable; he has no idea of the power of the Gospel!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 2:37 PM ET USA

    Forty years in the desert and it goes on and on and on. God help us.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 12:05 PM ET USA

    Yes Callistus, that generation will soon "pass on". So too will the make-believe Catholics they educated. In a few years, statistics may possibly reflect the reality. Heretics do not breed Catholics and their families are largely lost to the Church. No more "technically Baptised" will mean no more "technical Catholics" for the Bishops to falsely tout in their reports to Rome. Sooner than we all think, we may be a shadow of our former trumped-up appearance, but we will be honest believers.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 11:37 AM ET USA

    Greely says: "Since Jesus was human". Diogenes then says: "It can be construed in such a way as to AQUIT him of heresy". But, Jesus was not a human; He was God Who subsumed a human nature. Greely and a lot of other people are heretical when they repeat, in so many ways, that Jesus did not know who he was - all the time. Jesus' life is part of the history of God himself. Jesus did not have "an experience of God", He was God. Words do have meaning, and what Greely means is wrong, period

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 11:22 AM ET USA

    Re-read Greeley's remarks above . . . Are you kidding?! My stomach turned with the first scan of this nonsense. I have found myself shouting out loud, "God from God . . . True God from True God ... Begotten, not made, ONE in Being with the Father. They teach this Greeley, and other like-minded reductionists, type theology in 'catholic' colleges. How is it possible to recite the Creed even one time at Sunday Mass and continue with this destruction (of souls)?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 10:48 AM ET USA

    Father Greeley is still active? Who knew? The liberal dinosaurs are going the way of the, well, you know. There is a slow, inexorable movement towards orthodoxy in the United States. Let episodes such as this let us realize that there is a lot of work to be done, but don't let it discourage you.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 10:36 AM ET USA

    If you really want to begin tearing your hair out, here's how Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B., "explained" the Transfiguration: "It is far more likely that this illumination derived from within Jesus who, for the first time, came to a full realization that God wanted him to save the world,... This would be then an ecstatic moment of discovery as Jesus became fully aware of the true nature of his messianic mission." In my preaching, I told the people, "both men were dead wrong and cannot be believed."

  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2008 8:26 AM ET USA

    Catholics traditionally have two very effective means of speaking their minds in situations like this. You can speak with your feet and with your wallet. If it is bad enough, walk out and take your family with you. If you stay for the hopefully valid Eucharist, don't put a dime in the collection basket. When they say that actions speak louder than words, they weren't kidding. BTW those are also the criteria the bishop is going to evaluate his priests by, too. You will be sending a message.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 9:23 PM ET USA

    Two comments. First, I agree with Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz who once opined that Father Andrew Greeley has no unpublished thoughts. Second, as a 14, 15 ,or 16 year old, I recall a quite appropriate saying upon reading that silly homily: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. Libera nos Domine.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 9:21 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately along the years Fr. Greeley has had an "experience" which continues to whittle away at his Catholicism. That experience is liberalism in religion, against which the great Venerable Cardinal Newman battled most of his life. Fr. Greeley is badly in need of a counter-experience to be able once again to interpret Gospel-events like the Transfiguration. I wonder if he has read Pope Benedict's book "Jesus of Nazareth? If he has, perhaps the seeds have been planted."

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 8:42 PM ET USA

    We attended mass last Sunday while on the road. A deacon preached the the Holy Transfiguration was a "mountain moment" like the ones we all experience during the course of our lives. He came across as a self-realization counsel at a feel-good event, not as a preacher of the Holy Gospel. What sad times for the Liturgy and for our Church.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 8:30 PM ET USA

    Dear westcoast: I fear there is more to be dreaded yet to come. Soon it will not be 'Father Pastor' who delivers the deadly drivel, but 'Pastor Susan, Ph.D.', who also produces the dancing-girl reviews. Meantime, the people who still manage to abide this abuse apparently do so in blissful ignorance that 'That's not how Christians speak'

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 8:26 PM ET USA

    Went to see Ralph Martin talk about evangelizing. He said we should invite fallen away Catholics to Holy Mass or to talks like his. I'd love to do that, but one can never be sure that Holy Mass will actually BE holy, or that any given speaker at a Catholic church will actually espouse Catholic doctrine. We are mosre likely to get this kind of plather... Evangelize people to this?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 7:21 PM ET USA

    Reading Pope Benedict's book is a blessing in itself. Knowing your faith is backed by solid intellectual conclusions is invigorating. May God grant that we have him as our leader for a long time. Westcoast subscriber: He actually lets you call him "Father"???

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 7:20 PM ET USA

    This reminds me of the "story" of the fish and loaves we heard about one Sunday. The priest actually entertained being struck by lightening if he was wrong about the "story". Admitting that he had used this homily many times and had not been stuck by lightening, he concluded he was right, it was just a "story". I wonder if he was one of Greeley's disciples? They all tend to run together, as do us fanatics of the true Christ and His church, and the teachings thereof!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 5:37 PM ET USA

    We had a similar though less sophisticated experience on Sunday - I love your phrase,"the dread that grips believing Catholics whenever their pastor climbs into the pulpit." Father told us that this story, like the other Bible stories, is really all about us. If not Sacred Scripture, what then is about God? Later Father asked us to clap for the choir who entertained us with a lovely piece during the Offering.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 5:17 PM ET USA

    one good thing: most ordinary Catholics probably do not even know who Fr. Greeley is or, for that matter, most of the controversial so-called Catholic theologians who captivated the secular media and intellectuals in the 70's and 80's. The damage is done Many have lost their faith because of these heretics and the bishops who supported and protected them. Hopefully, that generation will pass on soon....

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 3:07 PM ET USA

    As a theologian and scripture scholar, Father Greeley is a less than mediocre novelist.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2008 11:42 AM ET USA

    It is very hard to forgive let alone respect and Bishop who fails to muzzle Greeley. Both Greeley and his Bishop call me to become a better Christian. I just wish it weren't so hard.