Fr James Martin speaks about Jesus to millennials at The Lay Centre

By Tommaso Bacci

ROME — The difference between a so called “Christology from above” and a “Christology from below” could make smoke come out of the ears of some young Catholics. Yet, a Jesuit could talk about a real and divine Jesus for more than one hour to a crowd of a hundred people, including dozens of millenials. That is more or less what happened at The Lay Centre on December 1, when Fr James Martin, SJ, lectured on “Encountering the Real Jesus: Understanding the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith”.


Jesuit Father James Martin with The Lay Centre residents

Martin is a best-selling author, editor-at-large at America Media, and advisor in the soon-to-be-released Martin Scorsese film, Silence. His conference was the last event in a yearlong celebration for The Lay Centre‘s 30th anniversary. The conversation was opened by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Kenneth F. Hackett, who introduced Father Martin.

Through an exquisite narrative that included his personal experience in the Holy Land, James Martin explained that the real Jesus is fully divine and fully human. Father Martin was captivating, expertly weaving together jokes, stories and deep theological insights. He said the only approach that millennials trust is authenticity; he said encountering Jesus affects a person’s whole being.

After his presentation,  two South American journalists, Inés San Martin (Crux) and Filipe Domingues (O São Paulo), engaged in dialogue with James Martin.

San Martín pointed out that our days carry a strong polarization, either in political institutions, in the media or in the Church. For her, the Church of Christ should have a uniting attitude. Father Martin commented that “Jesus’ divinity is an everlasting reminder that every division can be overcome.” 

Domingues questioned if the divine and human natures of Jesus include the social media, a constant environment for millennials.  “Is there a digital Jesus?”, the journalist asked. “Who is my online neighbour?” Martin replied that wherever there is a human relationship — even a virtual one — God dwells. Nothing is too small or too far to be reached by the Gospel; even the Beatitudes fit the 140-character limit of a tweet.

“None of this was beneath the Son of God and so no medium and no tool — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — should be beneath us. If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can tweet,” he said.

To questions about how people can know if they have encountered the “real” Jesus or how they can be sure they are not building a “fake” Jesus. Fr Martin replied by recalling what former Jesuit General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach told him in his novitiate: “Live your own vocation joyfully.” Regardless of who we are and what we are doing, we are called to be joyful signs of unity in a scattered world, he said. We reflect the real Jesus in the joy of being and sharing with others.

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