Archive for June, 2006|Monthly archive page

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 2, 2006

Mark 5:21-43

Dear Jesus,

Do I have faith? Am I a believer? The questions probably sound strange to you. You are asking why I write unless I believe. But I wonder about the quality of my belief. I wonder especially when I am troubled, when I find myself in situations that seem to have no way out.

Once, when I was a child and had not known you very long something happened that has remained with me to the present. Faith was new to me and I was excited about it and about knowing you. In those days I didn’t have all the questions that have been part of my adult life. You were all that mattered to me. My perception of reality was the new Creation that you made possible through your passion, death and resurrection. That was the story I had been told. I believed it and thought everybody else did too.

One afternoon in autumn, I was in the charge of a relative. He used to tell stories and then would invite me to tell one too. So I talked about you and the wonder of you that we would share forever and ever. He laughed. It wasn’t the laugh that follows a good story. It was derisive and cold. He told me how sorry he felt for me if I believed that stuff. He did not stop there but proceeded to tear down the myths of the saints at a time when Butler’s was new to me and I was thrilling with their exploits as Butler related them. My relative spoke about their faults and those of the church and how foolish it was to believe in either.

I remember panic closing in on me and circling my chest like a vise. In a moment, tears coursed down my face and I could not breathe. Having been asthmatic, I knew what it meant not to be able to draw in air. That moment was like the worst attack I had experienced. I put my head down on the table where we sat and wondered if I would die there. Death would have been preferred by that child. And I remember wondering where you were and why you didn’t rescue me. Why did you allow this painful exchange to wound this child’s albeit naïve faith in you?

Of course I was rescued. My father came and whisked me away, calmed me with ice cream and told me I oughtn’t to be surprised by people who do not believe as I do.

Even now I can close my eyes and experience that terrible darkness, feel the shortness of breath, wonder where you are. That proved a defining moment for me. It was then that I began to understand what it means to walk in faith. And later I wondered if one can even be considered a believer until that faith has survived hopelessness. Does someone become a believer only when s/he cries out through something like the emptiness that enveloped you that night in the garden? I think of Abraham following God’s challenge to strike out “for the land that I will show you.” There is little specificity to cling to as Abraham began the trek. Or the Mother of the seven Maccabean brothers as she urged them one by one to be faithful even to death, is there anyone who would not conclude she was a woman of faith?

Does one have to drink the waters of desolation before knowing s/he believes? That hemorrhaging woman dared to touch your clothes to find healing knowing that she would render you unclean should her touch be detected. That’s faith. And Jairus kept heading for his daughter’s sickbed with you in tow even when word came to him that she had died. That’s faith.

Am I a believer? Do I have faith? Or will I not know until I have to deal with death – not others’ but my own. I have stood at the caskets of loved ones and watched as they are lowered into the ground. I have even thrown in handfuls of dirt attesting to my faith that you will raise these beloved dead on the last day. But I am not now at the brink of death. I am not now drawing my last breath. When that happens will I see you? Will I know that you are enfolding me in your embrace assuring me that everything will be all right? Or will there be only silence?

If there is only silence and I continue to hope in you, if I remain convinced that you have destroyed death, even the death stalking me, forever, then you will know I am a believer. Remind me, please, each time I stand at the Table, that it is your conquering of death and the ushering in of the new creation that is renewed with each celebration of the Eucharist. And when I eat the Bread and drink the Cup, it is a pledge that is renewed. If you eat and drink, I will raise you on the last day.

Help me please. Send the Spirit. I can’t do this on my own. But in the Spirit I can continue to proclaim, Jesus is Lord.

Sincerely,

Didymus

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time: June 25, 2006

Mark 4:35-41

Dear Jesus,

I have always lived near water, not an ocean, but salt water that knows the tug of tides. I can smell the salt on an evening breeze and be reminded of long and lonely walks on the beach, times when I studied rocks and rills and watched as crabs scurried to hide from prying eyes that might bring them harm. The sound of waves rhythmically washing and breaking against barriers lulled me into quiet calm and a sense of peace. From early on I imagined you with me there because you loved the sea and its power. I loved being with you there.

Sometimes when storms came, I would stand facing into the wind and feel the saltwater lash at my face. The gulls would hover above with wings outstretched and bob a bit as they rode the rise and fall of the wind. I don’t remember ever being afraid of the wind, of the waves, of the storm. Perhaps that was because of my own foolishness and naiveté. I couldn’t imagine the water harming. Drowning wasn’t an option my childish mind ever considered. But more, I wasn’t afraid because I walked with you and felt your love. And I knew you knew that I loved you.

Storms do wreck havoc. Shorelines are altered. Sometimes banks slide when seas are high and homes are ruined. Lives are lost when waves engulf fishing boats. People mourn when the sea takes its toll. I learned the lesson early when once I sat on my mother’s lap and spoke to her about fearing the power of storms. She said I should watch the storm and respect its power. But never forget that God made the sea and is more powerful than its mightiest wave. Is that why you could sleep in the stern of a storm-tossed boat?

You give me courage. The storms on land or sea I see as metaphors for all the vicissitudes of life. I’m not a child anymore. I can remember the feeling of invulnerability of youth, the certainty that I could conquer anything. Does that sound like pride? In part that conviction rose out of my confidence in you. Love was our bond. But time goes on at a pace that from this vantage point seems as rapid as the mightiest wind. Youth is a moment in life that has a short span. And with aging comes a perspective that is not so egocentric. Of course I worry about personal misfortunes. But because of you I am aware of the storms that rage in the lives of my brothers and sisters, the ravages of poverty, the winds of war, the violence that is unleashed by sexism and racism and all the other isms that divide and dehumanize people. You have taught me that you are in the suffering and the poor. And so I have to find ways to reach out, to alleviate the pain and try to be a means of your comfort and peace. There is not much that I can do about war. But I can speak words of peace and remind others that it is about love, that you announced a kingdom of love, and that you called all people to live in a community of love. You announced it as God’s will for the human family.

In my own life, I have known what it means to cling to the side of the boat and wonder if the waves would swamp and send me to the bottom of the sea. Why do storms always seem to happen in the darkest night? Why am I tempted to think that I am alone, forsaken in the backwash and that the tempest will never abate? The image of you asleep haunts me. How can you sleep? Why don’t you rouse from sleep and do something to ease this painful time that seems to suck the very life from me?

Are you able to sleep in the storm’s midst because you trust? You rest in the Father’s love perhaps feeling his arms encircling you. What is there to fear? Do you ask me to trust, too, to feel your arms about me? Do you ask me to believe in your love for me? I’ve heard you. I’ve walked with you. You have sent me to witness and asked me to gather with others around your table. And I wonder if you ask me in this dark time to remember that that gathering around your table always means entering into dying, rising too, but dying first. Is it possible not to be afraid of death? After all, no matter how many times we are confronted by it, ultimately each one of us dies only once. It remains a mystery until then. Only then will we understand it and our fear of it will die forever as we experience the new life your death makes possible for us.

Are you asleep in the stern of the boat? It doesn’t matter, does it? In time, your time, you will command this storm to cease. I believe that. And the wind and waves that lash at me will obey you. In the meantime, knowing your love, I am at peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: June 18, 2006

Mark 14:12-16,22-26

Dear Jesus,

Mystery is unfolding, multifaceted and never static. At least that is what I have come to understand and accept. As a child I wanted things contained. Limits made them safe. The tabernacle was like that and so was the monstrance. I remember feeling comfort when I saw the suspended red lamp burning in the center over the sanctuary. It told me that you were inside the gilded box on the altar. I could sit for long periods of time and gaze in wonder. Then, on first Fridays, the bejeweled monstrance with the white Host at its core rested on the tabernacle and sparkled with reflected candle light. You were there, hidden in the host, the jewels augmenting what I could not see and I could kneel and adore.

In those days I didn’t have to deal with the Blood. The Cup wasn’t shared with the assembly. The priest who said the words that effected the change for us was the only one who took and drank. My childish imagination wondered what he saw as he gazed into the cup, breathed and spoke. Was there a ripple across the surface at the moment of change? Did the red deepen? And, what about the taste?

I still wonder and stand in awe before the mystery. But I am not content with the static. I am grateful to you for the exchange – bread and wine, body and blood. Is it our purpose to adore or to do? Does that question even make sense? It is hard for me to find the words to express what my heart senses. I don’t think you are content to be held at bay much less contained.

Corpus Christi. That’s what the church used to call this feast. And it was a day marked by carrying the exposed Eucharist in processions with clouds of incense billowing before and after while the people knelt and dared not look. Those were the days when not that many people received Holy Communion. The fast was too difficult and few felt worthy. But those adoring hearts were filled with longing, tantalized by the proximity of what they could not receive. They heard you say take and eat but dared not obey.

That was then. This is now, an age of different senses and sensibilities. Does it please you that we think of the Body of Christ, your body, in different ways? We are the Body of Christ, the assembled, gathered around the Table, celebrating, receiving, being transformed and sent. We think of Eucharist as action, the action of the church, as we fully, actively, and consciously enter into your dying and rising. And when we hear you say, Do this in my memory, we understand that you want us to be Eucharist in the World, a people who are bread broken and cup poured out gathering all into Mystery. And you are present in the remembering.

Be patient with me as I ask what may seem obvious. When we celebrate this feast of your Body and Blood do we celebrate both your mysterious presence in the consecrated elements, the memorial of your emptying of self so that we might be cleansed and become heirs of the promise; and do we celebrate your Body, of which we are a part, the church?

Take and eat. Take and drink. I thrill each time I hear your invitation. I am in awe as I look around me at my brothers and sisters coming with me in procession to the Table. They support me in this venture with their prayers even as I do the same for them with mine. And every time I can barely contain the joy that comes from realizing how intimately we are all related, that we are all one with you and with each other because of this meal you offer. In those distant but still remembered days few made the journey. Those that did were taught to see the reception as something primarily between the recipient and you. And so it is. The difference today, we experience this as a common-union with you and each other. And so, also, it is. Today faith’s insight says there was much more that may have gone unrecognized. We are coming to understand that through your Body and Blood we become one as nothing else can make us. We come alive in the community that is God. And God reigns.

I’ll stop there. That’s as much as I can deal with right now. I know that you will be patient with me as, standing in awe, I come to realize that with all of this I have only begun to enter into Mystery. So much more remains to unfold.

Sincerely,

Didymus