Christ Lives!

Douglas P. McManaman
Talk given at the November, 2017
Justin Press Book Launch in Ottawa, Ontario
Reproduced with Permission

Last year at about this time, Pope Francis exhorted the faithful not to proselytize, but to draw people to God by the fragrance of Christ (St. Theresa of Lisieux), a fragrance that is the result of carrying the death of Christ in our bodies so that his life will be made manifest to those around us. I know some people were not happy to hear that, but after teaching in a mixed environment for the past 17 years, I was very happy to hear that. The reason is that Christ lives, and we don't live unless Christ lives in us. And so this first volume of Reflections on Lived Faith is about the principle, the source, the beginning: Christ, who alone is Life.

I've been teaching at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham since February, 2001, and a large percentage of our students are not Catholic. An increasing number are Muslim, most of whom are very devout. We also have some very devout Hindus, and some Sikhs and Buddhists as well. I hate to say it, but those least devoted to their own religious traditions in our school are the Catholic students. More Muslims pray daily in our school chapel than do Catholics. And what is particularly interesting is that our non-Catholic students, including Muslims, are not indifferent to prayer over the PA, they are not indifferent to school Masses, and they are not indifferent to the study of Scripture and the fundamental teachings of Catholic morality. They respond to all of this very positively; in the classroom, they are my biggest supporters. In fact, every year I take a group of them to the annual National March for Life, 90% of whom are Muslim and Hindu.

That's why I believe, more and more, in the significance of St. Paul's words in Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me. The life that I am now living, subject to the limitation of human nature, I am living in faith, faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2: 20- 21). I really believe this is the New Evangelization. Christ is alive, but it is necessary that we die with Christ, so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. We are alive because he is alive, he is life.

But dying with Christ in order that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me is very difficult. It is much easier to talk about Christ than to allow him to take over and live in us, just as for some moralists, it is easier to talk about virtue than to actually be virtuous. It would be really nice if I could bring people to Christ just by talking, arguing, preaching, perhaps even threatening, but that is too easy, and it does not work. And all they'd be converted to would be propositions, arguments, but not necessarily a Person.

But if I become Christ, by increasingly decreasing, as John the Baptist would say, and if my students like what they see - especially the more I decrease and he increases - , then these kids are becoming familiar with Christ without necessarily knowing it. If we have truly been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, and our Muslim or Hindu or Sikh or Jewish neighbors like what they see in us and are drawn to what they see in us, that is, if they embrace us, they embrace Christ. They don't need a correct, accurate, theological understanding of who Christ is in order to truly love Christ any more than a young child needs to have a correct and accurate psychological understanding of his own mother in order to be able to love his mother. The child loves his mother far more than the psychologist who just completed a battery of tests that provided him with a plethora of good scientific information about her. Similarly, I am firmly convinced that although I have a more accurate theology than many of my Hindu or Muslim students, at least some of them love Christ more than I do.

This book begins and ends with this basic understanding. There is something that is living about these non-Catholic, non-Christian students. The dead do not respond to life. But I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to teach at this school in Markham since 2001, because these past 17 years have given me data that I otherwise would not have had. The data is that there is something very much alive about these students; only the living respond to life. If we see a body on the floor, we look for signs of life, we move it, shake the person to see if she moves on her own. The same is true spiritually. These young non-Catholics respond because they are not dead, but alive, they move and are moved by truth, and as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, the Holy Spirit is the source of all truth.

In the Introduction, I mention Dom Christian de Chergé, prior of the Trappist Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Algeria. The monks had a very good relationship with the Muslim villagers; the monks served them in many ways, and the villagers would invite them to their celebrations: birthdays, weddings and others, which the Monks gladly attended. This story is the subject of the movie Of Gods and Men . Those familiar with this story know that the monks were kidnapped and murdered by Muslim radicals (Groupe Islamique Armé) hostile to the French. But before that time, before he was a priest, when studying for the priesthood, Christian de Chergé was a young staff officer of the French army. He was assigned to a certain district in Algeria and it was at that time that he met Mohammed, whose duty it was to protect the harvest, the roads, and public utilities. They developed a very good relationship, but what really cemented their friendship was their common love of God. What impressed Christian was that, with Mohammed, he could talk unselfconsciously about God, unlike in France, where talking about God made people relatively uncomfortable.

One day Mohammed and Christian were making their rounds through the villages unarmed when suddenly they found themselves face to face with GIA rebels, guns pointed at Christian's chest. Mohammad stepped in front of the guns and said: "This soldier is a godly man and a friend of Muslims." The rebels withdrew without harming Christian, but the next day Mohammed was found with his throat slit, lying by a well near his home where he had lived with his wife and ten children.

This event had a profound impact on Dom Christian. He said it was the act that sealed his decision to become a monk in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria. He reflects: "Mohammed had given his life like Christ. He had imitated Christ. This act is celebrated in every Eucharist where Christians memorialize the gift that Christ made of His life and where each person is invited to enter into this gift to the praise of the Father." For Dom Christian, every Eucharist signified the gift of Mohammed's life; in other words, in the Eucharistic gift of Mohammed, he recognized the gift of Christ Himself. In loving Christian and giving his life for him, Mohammed loved Christ. Both of them were on the road to Emmaus; both did not realize at first that the person right beside him was Christ. Christian discovered it in Mohammed's sacrifice, and Mohammed's love for his friend Christian was all along a love of Christ. Dom Christian writes: "For I know that I am able to place firmly at this destination of my hope at least one Muslim, that beloved brother, who lived up to the moment of his death the imitation of Jesus Christ. And every Eucharist makes him infinitely present to me in the reality of the Body of Glory where the gift of his life took on its full dimension 'for me and for the many.'"

The Christ that lives is larger than the national covenant that is the Old Testament, because Christ sent his disciples out to all nations. The New covenant is an international covenant, kataholike , and the Christ that lives is larger than the constraints of language and the constraints of past and present conceptual frameworks. We can love people we know little about and say little about; in fact, everyone we love is an inexhaustible mystery; each person exists in the heart of God, and the more we enter into the heart of God, the more we come to understand and love the "other" who is found there, but that increasing understanding and love are never exhausted, because God is infinitely knowable and loveable.

And since Christ is risen, his life is a risen life, an expanded life, like the large tree that has sprung from the tiny mustard seed, and it breaks the bonds of culture and language; his life is found in hidden places, such as in the hearts of those who have a completely different self-understanding than we do. Our task is to give flesh and articulation to that life that lives within us, to enter more deeply into silence so as to allow him to speak in our own flesh, and this will happen to the degree that we decrease and die in him, so that others can become more familiar with the basic contours of that Christ Life.

Where that is going to go in the future we simply do not know. Weather forecasters can't predict past 7 days, because the weather is a chaotic system. And of course journalists can't even predict the outcome of an election; much less are we able to predict where our witness to Christ's Life is going to go, or what the Church will look like in the world 100 or 200 or more years from now. Think of the Church in the Middle Ages or in the 6th century. Could anyone at that time have imagined a Church like the one we have now? Simply impossible. But everything is evolving, for one purpose, and that is to manifest the divine glory. As Aquinas points out, the tremendous variety that exists in the universe is for the sake of more fully manifesting the divine beauty and goodness, but the universe is finite, so that manifestation continues through the evolution of new and more complex variety, and it is all for the sake of singing the divine praises, which creation does. And we are part of this evolutionary process, and we don't quite know where we are going, but it is to a good place. And it is good that we become more and more aware of how much we are in the dark as to where this is going, because then we might try to take control and steer things in the way we think they should go, and that's when things go wrong.

As I said above, I think this is what the New Evangelization is about: actually becoming, in the flesh, the good news of the risen Christ. How others interpret that, how this might influence others, is always beyond our ability to grasp. But this first volume is a series of reflections on the principle of that evangelization: Christ, who is Life and who lives. I dedicated this book to Father Jerry Novotny, OMI, editor of, who has been publishing my articles and homilies for the past 18 years. If it were not for his hard work and dedication, I would have had no easy access to these reflections.