Jesus and Uncle Don

I had this uncle–my Dad’s brother who everybody loved. Uncle Don was a terrific guy. He had a heart of gold. He was the sort of uncle who gave you a nickname and a big hug. He seemed to like everybody. He was a pastor for a while, but then dropped out because the religious people were such a pain. He spent the rest of his working life teaching kids with special needs. Uncle Don was kind, wise, loving and affirming. He passed away a few years ago, and he’s much missed.

In teaching the eighth graders this morning I told them about Uncle Don and said the main problem with Christianity is that 90% of Christians–and this includes 90% of Catholics–believe that Jesus is no more than Uncle Don. They want what Fr Barron calls “the domesticated Jesus.” They want a Jesus who tells stories, gathers the kiddies up into his lap and reaches out to touch and heal and forgive. They don’t want Aslan. They want a tame lion. They want Jesus to be like my Uncle Don.

This is certainly not to knock the Uncle Dons of this life. Would that we were blessed with more of them.

But  Jesus is more than Uncle Don. He’s the Son of God. He’s the  Lord of Lords. He’s Christus Pantokrator–Christ the Lord of All . He’s the second person of the Holy Trinity in human form, and despite the fact that we recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday at Mass it still hasn’t sunk in that we really and truly are supposed to believe with all our heart, soul, mind and strength that Jesus Christ is…

the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;

The reason young people leave the faith is because they have only ever been taught that Jesus is Uncle Don. He’s a genial, loving and wise teacher. The reason Catholics skip Mass, don’t tithe, ignore God, are ignorant of the Holy Spirit and live lives indistinguishable from the rest of the worldlings is because they haven’t really grasped who Jesus Christ is. The reason for lukewarm faith and lapsed Catholics is not only that they haven’t been taught who Jesus really is, but they haven’t met anyone who lives their life as if Christ Jesus is King of the Universe.

Why do so many Catholics think church doesn’t matter? Because they think Jesus is Uncle Don. The fact that he is God of God Light of Lights in human form hasn’t registered. It hasn’t taken over their lives. They have yet to be converted.

This is why theology is important–because Arianism is forever taking over the church–because Arianism is the belief that Jesus is no more than Uncle Don–or at best Uncle Don with a halo. I spoke on my radio show yesterday with Cari Donaldson–a convert to the faith who left her childhood Presbyterianism looking for a God who was not himself a created being. She may have been taught that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but it didn’t register. For her Jesus was Uncle Don, and that wasn’t good enough.

When a Catholic decides that they don’t need to go to Mass and that it doesn’t connect with their lives it’s most often because they think Jesus is Uncle Don, and if he is only Uncle Don–if he is only a good teacher, a nice guy, a loving and forgiving and beautiful person, then they’re right. Why on earth would you go to Mass? Just to remember Uncle Don? You can do that at home. Just to have an inspiring message about Uncle Don? You can do that at the Protestant church. Just to hear some wise instruction about life from Uncle Don’s sales rep? You can do that at the mega church. For heaven’s sake, you can do that by watching Oprah Winfrey or reading a self help book.

But if Jesus Christ is very God of Very God, begotten not made, then it changes everything. If he is who he says he is, then everything else about the Catholic faith also comes thundering through and not only makes perfect sense, but makes indispensable truth. If Jesus Christ is who we say he is then the resurrection is inevitable, the ascension follows and so do the Marian dogmas, the Mass, the sacraments and the whole life of the church.

If he is not who he says he is then I might as well just join the country club.

Read More: Rooster Cogburn Catholicism Read Sin or Sanctity?

  • Christian

    “a Jesus who tells stories, gathers the kiddies up into his lap and reaches out to touch and heal and forgive.” Oh dear. In Catechism class I call Jesus Mr. Aggravation, not Mr. Nice. In Wednesday’s class we saw how in Luke 4 the synagogue’s congregation needed only about 2 minutes to go from thinking Jesus was their best buddy to wanting to kill him. Healing Jesus matters- but so does Scolding Jesus.

  • AJAX

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  • miriam

    WoW!! Very well written.

  • Cheryl

    “Christ Jesus is King of the Universe.”

    That says it all for me. You’re right, Father. We forget.

  • B Riggs

    I’m planning to use your words for my RCIA group on Sunday, (I only steal from the best!). In my never ending quest to explain why Catholics must attend Mass every week, which is a difficult concept for people who have never had the habit of doing so, or (Catholic!) sponsors who have the flimsiest excuses for not showing up, this is the most profound reason: Jesus is God himself.

  • u3

    If we were to turn away from Jesus Christ where would we go? Christ is the only one who has the words of eternal life.

  • Maggie Goff

    Oh wow, I’m spreading this around!

  • Arnold

    I noticed you used the outdated translation of the Creed. Personal preference?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      No, I just happened to cut and paste the first version I found online

  • Brigit Barnes

    Fr. — you nailed it. I came from a disfunctional, divorced household so never had an Uncle Don. But the way I have referred to so many folk, good folk, nice f0lk, I have met in the Norvus Ordo parishes, is that these folk believe Jesus is their buddy. I on the other hand, am filled with the “fear and trembling” St. Paul refers to, and know it makes these folk uncomfortable. I hope for their sake, that he is like Uncle Don, when it comes to the particular and final judgment. But for me, it is just better if I stay in the back of the church, beat my breast, and repeat: Be merciful to me Oh Lord, a sinner.

    • Brigit Barnes

      Have never been able to develop moderation as a virtue — my confessors regularly describe my temperament as choleric.

    • richard

      Yes. The particular judgment. Always in the back of my mind.

  • Charles E. Mac Kay

    Its the picture of the Christ thats awesome. Its from a Sicilian Cathedral. I had the same image in my classroom for years. Come to me all who are burdened and I will give you rest. The children loved it so much so they printed off copies to take home (Even the little Moslem kids took copies).
    The image is called Kristos Pantokrator – Christ creator of all things. The centre of the universe the centre of love. What more could you want what more has he become

  • Shannon Abeywardena

    Amen!!!! God bless you, Father!

  • Paul Rodden

    A few years ago, I came across a book on the Sign of the Cross. One version was the Orthodox, where we can put our thumb and first two fingers together to remind ourselves of the Trinity. But another version was two fingers together (first, or middle, two) to remind ourselves of the Hypostatic Union.

    I adopted that one and have used it since, to remind me of Christ’s two natures but also, the fact that Catholicism’s nearly always a ‘both/and’, rather than Protestantism’s ‘either/or’. Jesus is whatever they need him to be at Time t, and that’s a projection, and not even a person like Uncle Don…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    But is the imagery of Christ as King much help in our time???? Young people today grow up with the image of a king as weak and as basically subservient to the people. Royals today are nothing but “celebrities” whose escapades and picadillos are fodder for the tabloids. Their lives and airhead comments are examined and probed by Paparazzi not theologians or historians. To a young person devoid of much historical knowledge to call Christ “King” is to put Christ in poor company.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I disagree. Films and fantasy literature–which are very popular among the young are full of strong, vibrant and mystical monarchs.

      • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

        But that too is problematic. Is our Lord a fantasy figure??? The royals in the news and recent history and current affairs are not powerful let alone mystical. I am bringing up this point because I strongly agree with your basic premise. Unfortunately most modern kings are much like the Uncle Dons of your sound comments.

        • Tracy

          Deacon, with all due respect, I think your opinion of the ability of the young to tell the difference is rather insulting. I work with youth K-12 and many adults. I don’t know of anyone that clueless or that interested in the affairs of current “royals.” They can grasp Jesus as King and get the picture. Lord of the Rings has had far more impact on our young people than Britian’s elite ever will.

    • james hughes

      Didn’t Christ spend much of his life in “poor” company?

  • George @ Convert Journal

    Excellent points. Jesus is God!

    The next issue (sadly) for some of these same people will be “who is God?”

  • FW Ken

    If you are in or near New Orleans, go across the causeway to Covington and visit the Chapel of St. Joseph Monastery. It has many beautiful frescos, but a wonderful Kristos Pantokrator in the apse. Worth the drive.

  • Mariusz

    This sugary image of the Christ and the heresy of “social justice” are mostly responsible for the near-complete disappearance of the sense of the sacred in contemporary Catholicism (there are, of course, other factors as well – horrible church architecture, horrible church art, horrible church music, horrible homilies, horrible “Kennedy/Pelosi/Biden Catholics”, etc., etc., etc.) We need to see and hear more about the Lord of the Book of Revelation whom T.S. Eliot called “Christ the tiger” in his poem “Gerontion”.

  • N.O.W.

    It seems to me you relidgous types have created this Uncle Don problem. You teach and incourge us little ones to pray to so many nice people like Uncle Don. People like Peter and John, Mathew and Andrew,
    Taresa and Cathren . Just to name a few Unclea and Antes, oh and we must never forget Mother Mary.
    We get to kneel infront of their many statues and light candles for them to pray back for us or whatever.
    So how surpriseing is it that we mix in Jesus with these other nice folks?

    • Tracy

      I would suggest you actually read the lives of these folks rather than postulating about what you obviously know so little. The “Uncle Don” problem has followed Jesus since He came to earth, it’s not a recent invention, and He did things like clearing the temple, declaring Himself equal with God, etc. to get people to realize with whom they were actually dealing. Every generation has had to wrestle with extremes in their view of Jesus. We’re on the “so-loving-no-one-will-go-to-Hell” swing at the moment.

      BTW, your obvious scorn for those you’ve named reveals you have a far more difficult problem than the “Uncle Don” sydrome. If you really knew who Jesus is, you would never speak so disrespectfully of His mother. What would your response be to someone speaking like that of yours?

  • Paul Rodden

    Thinking further on this, when I read Sweet and Viola’s book, Jesus: A Theography, the way they way talked about Jesus sounded as if he was merely a set of propositions beyond his humanity.

    For Protestants (I know, I’ve been there), anything about Jesus, apart from his ‘Uncle Don-ness’, sounds necessarily abstract (because we can’t/don’t ‘know’ that ‘aspect’ of him), or it’s too hi falutin’ and not relevant to me, right here, now, anyway (and so only Sweet and Viola are the people who should have an interest in ‘that sort of stuff’). Try Trinity Sunday down at your local Evangelical church which bothers to follow any sort of Liturgical Calendar, and what do you get? Huffing and puffing about triangles and stuff.

    It’s as if, when Protestants write about Jesus and the Trinity apart from ‘their relationship’ with him, it becomes something theoretical rather something ‘pulsing through the very veins’ of who Jesus is, as if we had to have some construct because doctrine demands it to remain coherent and intellectually credible, rather than something revealed and experienced and part of the reality of God himself (Creator of all things, visible and invisible).

    I think it is, rather, as Fr L has pointed out in the past, and I mentioned here the other day in relation to something else: Mystery.

    When I read Protestants on Jesus – apart from the sentiment and utilitarian aspects, as Fr L points out – I feel I’m at a lecture, whereas when I read Pope Benedict, Fulton Sheen, Romano Guardini, Frank Sheed, et al, on Jesus, I feel I’m at a banquet with the King of the universe. People who know the ‘complete Jesus’ and not just his visible ‘aspects’ and the ‘words’ he spoke only while on earth.

    Broadly, I reckon the problem arises from trying to do theology or relate to God ‘from the bottom up’, and so the immanence and chronological relevance of Jesus become the be-all and end-all of who Jesus ‘is’ (to me).

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  • The Egyptian

    national organization for….wingnuts?????
    Don’t know what church you are looking at but your synopsis is way off, or you education was severally V2 off base, WOW
    the heresy of “social justice”
    how true, how very true
    Brigit Barnes,
    it is just better if I stay in the back of the church, beat my breast, and repeat: Be merciful to me Oh Lord, a sinner.
    oh yeah, never did trust the ones up front acting holier than thine, I feel better in the back begging for mercy, I’m going to need it

  • Matthew J. Ogden

    Spon on. The academics have a term for this condition now; you may have heard it: “therapeutic-moralistic deism.” It entails five beliefs: (1) God is nice; (2) Jesus was a cool dude; (3) good people go to heaven; (4) we should be nice to others; and (5) “whatever.” The last one indicates basically any garbage you want to combine with Christianity because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy.

    Fear is an important aspect. As someone preparing for consecrated life (see Canon 603), I contemplate daily. While this is a very intimate experience with God, there’s always an aspect of fear when it happens; what the theologians call “filial fear.” Not the fear that God will harm me somehow, but that I will somehow render to Him less than He deserves from me. It’s like Moses at the burning bush: remove your sandals, for the place where you stand is holy ground. The term “reverence” approximates the meaning of filial fear, but it is more than “reverence.” “Fear” drives the point home.

    Of course, for people elsewhere in the spiritual life, servile fear, the fear that God will hurt me if I do not serve Him, is important. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This refers to servile fear. Conversion of heart begins by realizing, “I will suffer horribly in hell if I do not serve God as He calls me to serve Him.” Eventually this turns into servile fear, where you serve God only out of love for Him, because you want to give Him what He deserves.

    • Larry


      Your points are a brief synopsis of what appears in Ralph Martin’s “The Fullfillment of All Desire” – a book I cannot recommend highly enough!

      Ralph explores the writings of the Church Doctors to describe the journey from servile to filial fear. Excellent book that my Bible study teacher recommended. I’m so glad I listened.

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  • Ben

    Great post!

  • Glenn Juday

    Re: The Image of Christ the King

    Modern American people have some difficulty identifying with the concept of Christ the King. They may have embraced an “Uncle Don” image of God in an attempt to update what they think of as outdated kingly or royal imagery. They may have a mistaken notion that the titles of “Christ the King” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” are metaphors that humans, reflecting particular cultures in history, have thought up to try describe God in terms we are familiar with.

    Actually these titles refer to divine realities that are only weakly and incompletely reflected in the human institution of kingship and royal dominion. Our earthly institutions stem from God’s creation of us as imperfect versions of Himself (Gen. 1:26 – “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”). Consider the following characteristics of kingship on earth compared with Jesus Christ our heavenly King.

    • Any objective observer or historian would agree that a king who was wise as opposed to foolish, who was just as contrasted to cruel, who was powerful as opposed to weak was a better king and his kingdom was better governed. But while earthly kings are entirely inconsistent and incomplete in demonstrating these qualities, Jesus Christ as the second person of the Godhead, is perfectly wise, perfectly just, and all-powerful.

    • One of the weakest elements of a royal system of kings and queens always has been succession, passing on all that concentrated power to the next generation. But God is immortal and everlasting and His power never fades or passes away and can never be challenged by any power in heaven or on earth.

    • A good king protects his subjects and makes their citizenship a valuable and respected possession because of how powerful and well-governed his kingdom is. Jesus Christ offers us the most valuable and most rewarding citizenship there is, divine sonship and everlasting inheritance in the Kingdom of His heavenly father.

    • True kingship on earth came about when a “great king” or ruler was able to exercise complete and unchallenged control over “petty kings” or local rulers. Jesus Christ, of course, is the “King of kings”.

    • A king is able to confer royal favor, rewards, honor, or glory. Royal grants of land for service to the king were common as a way to bond loyalty to the crown, until kings discovered that royal titles or ribbons and medals were often just as valued but a lot cheaper to hand out. Jesus Christ participated in the creation of everything in the universe which is a free gift to humanity, and Jesus offers as a reward for faithful service to His divine law divine sonship which amounts to a perfect loving union of complete surrender to God. Being joined in love with God confers on us the divine glory of sainthood. In the meantime here on earth, Jesus offers us Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.

    • A good king encourages the maturity of his people. It is often said that Jesus loves us just as we are, which is true, but He loves us too much to let us remain in our sinful and selfish ways, so He pours out His graces and blessings to cause us to grow in His love and law if we just stop our stubborn refusal to give up sin and reform our lives.

    So, the “Uncle Don” version in addition to being insipid, flat, boring, and easily ignorable is flat-out wrong. But the image of a cruel, tyrannical, and ultimately insecure king must give way to a realization of the true implications of God’s perfection and omnipotence.

  • Eduardo

    “…..Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father….”

    We sometimes forget all that when we enter a Catholic church. We forget that HE is in that tabernacle and HE is placed in our hands at Communion. Would if I could go back to all those times I entered His Church and received His Body and Blood in a completely indifferent manner, unworthy and stained with sin. I should have crawled towards Him without daring to lift my head. Now I know better. I hope He forgives me………

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