Archive for February, 2007|Monthly archive page

The First Sunday of Lent – C: Feb. 25, 2007

Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

Dear Jesus,

How many times have I been doing this, making this journey called Lent? Many is the operative word, I guess, and with the passing of time, the season comes around with increasing frequency. Can it possibly be Lent again? I find myself musing as the ashes are traced on my forehead: Will this be the one, the Lent that makes the difference? It is as if I expect that one of these times I will come out the other side perfected, the task accomplished, and I will have arrived.

Lent has a negative connotation with many people. For some reason, there is an eagerness to get in line for the ashes. But enthusiasm wanes at the thought of the fasting, prayer, and almsgiving that are the expected practices to be observed for the next forty days. It’s all so negative. I have to confess that I have thought that way. But this year, my thoughts are different and are so because I noticed something in this week’s gospel. You were filled with the Holy Spirit when you came back from the Jordan and your baptism. You were led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. Some say that the word led is euphemistic for the reality described. Better put, you were driven, almost forced into the desert, as if you were reluctant to go. And the word tempted can also mean tested. Something harrowing and heroic will be happening in this encounter between you and the devil. This sojourn is like Israel’s 40 years of wandering during which a people is formed and a relationship with God set.

Your mettle will be tried and proven. This testing will steel you for the rigors of your ministry. You will avow before the evil one that your desire is always to do the will of the One who sent you. It is not your own glory that you seek, but God’s. And you are God’s own beloved. Why have I always concluded that there was no match here, that you were in charge all the way, that there was no struggle? This year, I see it differently.

I write to you from the desert forty years after a journey of ministry began. It is over now. I pause and remember and give thanks. But over does not mean ended. A new leg of the journey begins as this Lent dawns. This time of fasting, praying, and almsgiving, is preparation, testing for what is coming. Life has chapters. Chapters conclude, but that does not mean the book ends.

I will make this sojourn with you to be tested. It is not likely that there will be a dramatic encounter with the devil. You have destroyed the devil’s power. I will be tested to prepare for what lies ahead. As I have tried to do from the day I first met you, I must watch you and learn. I must challenge myself to conform more closely to the example you give. I must walk the walk and talk the talk, as they say, and dare to ask how much of self has been emptied for you to fill. I must become less and less that you might become all in all.

I see Lent differently this year because I no longer see it culminating in a conclusion. Does that make sense? Easter is not an end, but a beginning. Something new always opens up in the celebration of that great Vigil. The Candle scatters the darkness as life’s triumph over death is proclaimed. People are baptized. Sinners are reconciled in the renewal of the baptismal promises. Then they renew the Eucharist even as they are sent to bring the Light to the world. Lent tested them. Easter continues the walk with you on the Way.

And so I must live in the now, here in the desert and be open to the trial, the testing, the temptations. And I must watch and wait and listen. I will fast and experience my hunger for you. I will pray but mostly in silent listening as I long for your voice to tell me of your love even as you remind me that you are my strength. And I will pour out my self in service. What else can I do if I journey with you?

Forty years prepared me. I wonder where we will go from here?

Sincerely,

Didymus

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time C: February 18, 2007

1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
1Corinthians 15:45-49
Luke 6:27-38

Dear Jesus,

The desire for revenge is natural, isn’t it? If someone betrays you, isn’t it normal to want to get even? What kind of wimp would just stand there after being slapped and wait for the blow on the other cheek? That just does not make sense, not to me, and I wonder to how many others. But you know that already, don’t you? You knew it when you first preached these difficult sayings that day on the plain with the neophyte disciples pressing in. Is it because you want them to know the difficulty of The Way before they set out on it that you put this seemingly impossible ethic before them?

I’ve tried to imagine your voice that day, the style of your delivery. As many people do, I like to hear your voice in warm and dulcet tones with a soft chorus of violins lilting in the background and maybe a choir making angelic arpeggios. That would ease the severity of your statements. Now, I rather think that sweetness was not your concern. These teachings are harsh and demanding. The sternness in the presentation demands that those who hear, the first requirement of a disciple, understand that being with you, learning from you by walking in your footsteps and peering over your shoulder, is not for the faint hearted. Don’t be too quick to say that you can do this, at least not on your own. With God’s help and grace? That’s another question.

How will your message go down in these days of machismo? How long do you think a television series would run with a hero or heroine that turned the other cheek? So much of the fare lauds doing whatever it takes to be number one. Revenge is a common theme. The thrill and excitement mount as the audience waits to see who will be the last person standing, to say nothing about the enjoyment experienced at the debasing of a contestant. And you know, don’t you that this country is engaged in a war that has retaliation at its base. At least, that is what some people think.

Maybe if you softened some of this, it would be easier to take in. You use the word love, for example. When you use that word you mean love that expresses itself in the pouring out of self in service, don’t you? How many people can do that to those who have hurt or betrayed them? Isn’t it hard enough to do that for those who love you? Wouldn’t it be enough to just distance one’s self from the hated one, to ignore him/her? As soon as I say that I can hear you reminding me that to ignore is to pretend the other doesn’t exist. Somehow, I don’t think you would go for that.

Why do I think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as I write this? Is he among those who are the epitome of taking this sermon to heart and practicing the teaching? In the days post apartheid, Archbishop Tutu set about the task of reconciling the opposite sides of that bitter and horrific struggle. He got them to sit down at a table and dialog. Grieving people spoke about members of their families being whisked away in the night and never being seen again. They weren’t even afforded the courtesy of being informed where their loved ones were buried. And from the other side came the admissions not always with apologies and the disclosure of the burial sites. Somehow in this grueling process, healing happened and a new era began in South Africa.

I know you are not saying that there should not be consequences for criminal behavior. People who do violence to others need to be curtailed. Innocents ought to be protected from those who rape and pillage. But are you saying that we ought not treat them as they have treated others? Are you saying that having been killers does not justify society’s killing them?

I listen to your words today and I wonder about my ability to live them. Are you the only one who can? I don’t think I am a vengeful person. But I wonder if I can turn the other cheek. I don’t know that I hate those who would be deemed my enemies. Can I love them? Can I pour out myself in service before them even as I long for vindication? Or, must I accept the logical consequence of taking your teaching to heart as I struggle to be your disciple?

Were you teaching these same truths, putting forth this same standard of behavior, when you said, If you would be my disciple, take up your cross every day and follow me? If that is what you are say, Lord, you know I can’t do it alone. You will have to be my strength and support. But then you never said I would have to do it alone, did you?

Is heaven soon enough for vindication?

Sincerely,

Didymus

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time C: Feb. 11, 2007

Didymus from the Desert

Jeremiah 17:5-8
1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Luke 6:17, 20-26

Dear Jesus,

Someone asked you once in light of some of your difficult teachings, then who can be saved? And your response was, with humankind, it is impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. This reading of your Blesseds and Woes makes me want to ask you that question now. And I have been with you for some time now. How will this reading sound to someone who is just meeting you, someone who has not made up his/her mind about you yet? Don’t you think you should soft peddle these statements? Wouldn’t it be kind to say that you are speaking figuratively? Perhaps a footnote to that effect would help.

When someone is thinking about becoming a disciple, you ought to put the advantages before him/her. You might say something like: When you become my disciple, these are the things that will come to you. And you could talk about wealth, position and power. You know how important money is to contemporary society. The other day, I heard it said that when young people were asked what was most important to them in making a decision about a career, the vast majority of them said the amount of money they would earn. Shouldn’t you capitalize on that? You know who their idols are, don’t you? Those who get to the top and have the best that money can buy. You could snag some of them with those kinds of promises.

Are you bristling as you read this? I don’t mean to be impertinent. I think I know what you are driving at. But maybe it would be better to put this section of the Gospel on the back burner, so to speak, and then, when people have been disciples for a time, bring out this teaching. By then they would have been able to make accommodations to your teachings and found ways to live in the world, with its values, and still say that they believe in you. But taken as it is, are you turning the world upside down? Look who the ones are that you say woe to. They are all those who have achieved what most people long for. And you bless those who a lot of people try to ignore and wish would just go away.

I was interrupted while I wrote the first part of this letter and when I came back I reread what I had written. Why do I feel so uncomfortable? I thought about tearing up my letter and starting over, writing about something else. But that won’t work. It is at times like this that I wonder if I am still at square one in my relationship with you. Dare I realize that the fact is you have turned the world and its values upside down? If I hear you correctly and take your words to heart, (dare I ask this?) must I aspire to be among those you call blessed? Must I be poor? Must I rejoice if there is not enough in the larder and little hope for filling it because then I will know what it means to trust you and believe in the promise?

You know about the period of weeping that I have just been through. I have felt the slaps of exclusion and insult resulting from what might seem to some to be a naïve following of your challenge to pour one’s self out for a friend. It has been a long year of grieving and goodbyes. I kept looking to you to do something, to make a difference, to restore things to the reality that once was. I wanted the glory days back again and my name and reputation. That didn’t happen. Winter came again and, in its midst, I let go. And one day, I woke up in the Son and sun and found peace restored.

Now I listen to listen to you and hear your blessing on all those conditions I fear. I must find ways to embrace them all and make them my own. I must choose poverty and hunger (and I don’t mean a diet that will remove the effects of excess) and I must be vulnerable and with compassion enter into others’ sufferings. Because, to the extent that I can do that in union with you, I will let the world know that I choose to be with you on the way. The Way will always lead to the Cross but will never stop there. If I take you seriously I may have to stretch out my arms on the cross and feel the nails and the darkness of despair that threatens one dying with you. But may I remember then that you promised that I would be satisfied one day, that I would laugh and leap for joy one day, and that the kingdom of God would be mine even now.

Is that what you are saying? Is that your challenge if one would be your disciple?

Sincerely,

Didymus
from the desert