I do not mean to stereotype. But we can take note of clear cultural differences sometimes. For instance, when you meet a Japanese person, you will likely receive a friendly bow. On the other hand, when you meet an Italian, you might wind up with wet kisses all over both sides of your neck.
As we read in Sacred Scripture, on the first Pentecost, pilgrims from all over had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Weeks.
People traveled to the Holy City seven weeks after Passover both to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments fifty days after the Exodus and to celebrate the reaping of the first fruits of the wheat harvest.
On this feast, the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the languages of the world, and thousands believed.
…Right before He went into the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night, the Lord Jesus had prayed aloud, and He said:
Father, this is eternal life: to know you, the one true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
Now, speaking of manners, perhaps it strikes us as a bit odd that the Lord Jesus would refer to Himself in the third person, using His first and last names. But before we accuse Him of pomposity, let us recall that Jesus’ ‘last’ name actually designates the mystery of His identity. Jesus Christ means Jesus the anointed.
Eternal life is to know the only true God and the ambassador upon Whose head the oil of heavenly gladness has been poured.
Taking all this into consideration, let’s review a few facts about God, and then contrast two conceptions of His relationship with us.
First the facts: God surpasses us to an infinite degree in knowledge and power. We control a very few limited things, and even those we do not control completely. On the other hand, God controls everything completely. We sometimes grasp a thing or two in our minds and can make a little bit of sense. God grasps everything all the time, knows all, understands all.
God’s handiwork presents us with an endless field of study and wonder. A person could spend a lifetime learning about and admiring the way beavers build dams, or the way grapes can be fermented into wine. We bless the Creator for the wonder of it all, and yet we know that this Creator infinitely surpasses beavers and grapes and everything else.
Okay. Enough facts. Here is conception #1 of God’s relationship to us. Just for the sake of illustration, let’s call it the ‘courteous-bow’ conception:
The Almighty respects Himself and us enough to maintain a code of silence and an aloof distance from the human race. He does His thing; we do ours. He does not try to speak to us—any attempt to do so could never succeed, because we would never fully understand what the Almighty would say. And, according to this ‘courteous-bow’ conception, we do not attempt to speak about Almighty God, because anything we would say about Him would never really be true, since He surpasses whatever we can think of.
Now, Christians, before we shake our heads and say, “Who could ever be so wicked as to insist on this courteous-bow conception of our relationship with God!’ let’s remember that a lot of good people have thought this way. Thomas Jefferson thought this way. It wouldn’t be such a bad way of thinking, if it weren’t for one problem—which brings us to conception #2, which is the ‘wet, sloppy kiss’ conception of our relationship with God:
God not only respects us and expects us to respect Him, He also loves us and wants us to love Him. He not only creates the wonders of the cosmos, He also anoints us with His Holy Spirit. He not only transcends our ability to think about Him or speak of Him, He also touches our souls with His wisdom, so that we can know Him and be His friends. God not only occupies the heavenly place from which He knows and governs all, He also reaches into this very space that we know and acts directly on us with His gentle power.
We live in a world created and governed by a sublimely wise and reasonable God. But this is also a world in which God has done a lot of particular, special stuff. When the day for the first Pentecost came, God was busy keeping the penguins in Antarctica alive, like He had for eons and would continue for eons. But He also poured Himself out on the Apostles in Jerusalem so that they would preach the truth, and He poured Himself out on the pilgrims who heard the preaching, so that they would believe.
During Mass God is busy keeping the moons of Mars in their orbits. But He also gives His immortal flesh and blood to us on the altar.
Maybe God isn’t even just like an Italian who wants to shower our necks with kisses. Maybe He is like King Kong holding Fay Wray. He could toss us like an empty yogurt container into the East River with the flip of his wrist. Or He could set us down and go back to wherever He came from. But instead He holds us in His palm and gently caresses our cheeks.