Fr John Dear SJ: Getting the Paschal Mystery Fundamentally Skew-wiff

“Skew-wiff” (for you foreigners who don’t speak the Queen’s English) means: askew, out of kilter, off line.

As in “Fr John Dear S.J.’s understanding of Christianity is skew-wiff”.

I was thinking this just this morning as I was listening to him on an old pod-cast of the Religion Report. He could be talking about any political ideology, I thought. What’s specifically Christian about his message? Where’s the paschal mystery in his message?

Well, now we know. Thanks to an article in the National Catholic Reporter, Sentire Cum Ecclesia can now confidently announce that Fr Dear’s Christianity is skew-wiff because his understanding of the Paschal Mystery is skew-wiff.

I mean, what do you make of this:

The Paschal Mystery. Who speaks of the cross today as a way to change the world? And yet isn’t that precisely the methodology of the Gospel, the road to salvation, global transformation and peace? Jesus confronts the empire, enacts truth and love, saves humanity from our slavery and addiction to violence, and teaches us how to live and die — by way of the cross, that is, through active nonviolent resistance to institutionalized evil. He healed, fed, taught, befriended, touched, fasted, prayed and campaigned for peace, yet the empire continued to oppress and kill, so he took the long road of nonviolence into committed truth-telling, tough love, civil disobedience and gave his life to set off a nonviolent explosion that would disarm and transform the world. That explosive nonviolence in his Paschal Mystery continues every time we join his nonviolent struggle against empire and the culture of death, and welcome his truth and love, his reign of nonviolence.

It does rather call to mind the disciple’s question at Jesus’ ascension: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). One would have said that even at that point they had a rather “skew-wiff” understanding of Jesus’ mission and of what had just been going on in the last 40 days or so.

“Jesus confronts the empire”? Well, yes, but which empire? Whose empire? As Jesus said to Pilate–about as face to face with “The Empire” as he came–“My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world” (John 18:36). For the life of me, I can’t think of one instance of “civil disobedience” in Jesus’ life. (I think the Temple episode was more an act addressed towards religious rather than civil authority).

Maybe Fr Dear should meditate a little on St Paul’s statement that “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). I might humbly suggest that these were the powers and the empires against which Christ won the victory in the Paschal Mystery.

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3 Responses to Fr John Dear SJ: Getting the Paschal Mystery Fundamentally Skew-wiff

  1. Christine says:

    Ah, Father Dear. Father Dear has a good heart but like many Catholics (and others) strongly involved in the social gospel/peace and justice movement, he has confused the Kerygma of Jesus Christ, centered on the Paschal mystery of His dying and rising for the life of the world WITH the world. He is looking for a utopia here and now that will never exist.

    Indeed we do wrestle with principalities and powers, as St. Paul tells us. The Kingdom is an outpost in this world in the Church but the world as we know it is passing away.

    Christ alone can save us.

  2. Rob says:


    Sounds like bull—t to me.

  3. Past Elder says:

    What a great piece for Good Friday.

    Here’s what’s wrong with this kind of revisionism, IMHO. It finds in the crucifixion something the world imposed on Jesus in reaction to his message, instead of finding his crucifixion precisely what he came to do, imposed on him by God, not the world, and having done it IS his message, not as a metaphor but a living reality.

    As Bishop Sheen said so often, for the rest of us, our death stops our life work, but for Jesus, his death was his life work.

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