Sparking the Catholic Imagination 3

Learning Christ 1

As 2021 continues, we at ConSpirita Consulting Network find ourselves, like many of you we expect, grateful for the passage of 2020 with all its challenges, joys and woes, and yet uncertain about what 2021 might hold for us as individuals, as a business and as a Church.  In order to discern the signs of the times, to get into the flow of the Holy Spirit and so to walk these days in hope and resilience, we are focusing our next set of blogs on imagination.  Why?  Because we believe imagination is one of the Holy Spirit’s fertile grounds, and we desperately feel the need for the Spirit.  So join us as we seek to spark the Catholic imagination through these blogs.

Our last two blogs introduced John Cardinal Henry Newman’s four principles for re-centering the Catholic imagination and began to explore the first one, learning to see whole.  If you’d like to take a look at those blogs, click here and then come back and share with us the second principle, learning Christ.

When I first read the descriptor “learning Christ”, that place inside me which recognizes wisdom reverberated.  “Yes!” I thought.  “That’s what a disciple does for a lifetime…learn Christ.”  We never know Him fully, and we never understand Him completely or live in Him fully.  We are always learning Christ.

For Newman, learning Christ means to delve deeply into the Mystery of the Incarnation.  Incarnation, he says, grounds and sustains Christian life and imagination.  Incarnation, God becoming human, is the fulfillment of God’s creative and sanctifying purposes. Incarnation permits us to encounter God, the Word made flesh, in person.  An encounter with the living God calls for a new life.  Christian faith then is the constant walk with Christ, adhering to Him, dwelling in Him, this Jesus who is the Savior of the world and the Head of His Body, the church. So says Newman.

Again, as I ponder this description of learning Christ and its implications, I find myself challenged and consoled.  I am consoled in the gift of Jesus, Emmanuel:  God-with-us in human form.  God loves humankind so much that God became like us in all things except sin. [i] We have a great high priest who knows and understands us intimately, [ii] who is one with the Father[iii] and loves us, who reaches into our depravity and raises us to new life.  We have the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.[iv]  That is so consoling.

But with that consolation I find myself deeply challenged by this notion of learning Christ.  For me, learning is more than knowledge.  Learning is knowledge that informs behavior, that changes attitudes and values, that makes a difference in worldview and actions.  Learning is more than intellectual acquisition or assent.  It’s taking in knowledge, adding understanding to it and allowing it to infiltrate mind, heart and soul. It’s a pathway to conversion and it comes in so many guises.

Here are some ways I am challenged as I become a more intentional disciple (a word that means learner!).  I am challenged:

  • To delve ever more deeply into the gift of Incarnation. It’s not enough to say I believe God became human.  What are the implications of God becoming human so that humanity can share in God’s divinity?  This is the grounding of the Christian life.  Am I grounded in this mutuality?  If not, why not?  Am I sustained by this truth?  What enables that to be a source of sustenance for me?  What gets in the way?
  • To consider in very practical ways how the Incarnation grounds and sustains my imagination. What does having a share in divinity permit?  What does being fully human mean?  Enable?  Require?  Pre-suppose?  Demand?  What does having a share in divinity mean for us as the Body of Christ, and for how parishes seek to form disciples?  What else is required beyond intellectual understanding to move this to real learning? 
  • To consider the truth that the Lord can be encountered in all of human life, but according to Jesus’ life, is most palpable when I am among the last, the lost, the least, the poor, the sick and infirm, and when standing for Truth over power. What does it mean to practice imago Dei thinking?  What are the implications of my white privilege for this encounter?
  • To be open to new life. That presumes being willing to let go of what is in favor of what can be; of letting go of many good people, places and events  in favor of Jesus’ way; of letting go of privilege in favor of service.; of letting go of self-righteousness in favor of God’s righteousness.  Jesus reminded us that no one puts new wine in old wineskins, lest they burst.[v]  Will I allow that to happen in me, in my ministry, parish, church, Church?  What stands in the way?

Comfort and challenge…the Catholic imagination is unleashed in the tension between the two.  Learning Christ…the Catholic imagination is unleashed in the journey of ongoing learning, for as Christ heals our blindness and opens our ears, as God offers epiphany after epiphany, as we are prepared to receive them, imagination is unleashed.  We can see what we could not before.

Next week’s blog will take a look at some practical ways we can begin and sustain a journey of learning Christ, with an eye toward unleashing and re-centering Catholic imagination.  Until then, take some time to consider how you are “learning Christ” and how you are already able to imagine a new creation.  What can you see that others perhaps cannot?  With whom do you share that “vision”?


[i] Hebrews 4:15
[ii] Hebrews 4:14-16
[iii] John 10:30
[iv] John 14:6
[v] Mark 2:22


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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.