Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 1311-14
Matthew 24:37-44

Dear Jesus,

Do I hear you asking me, Did you get it this time? And I wonder. Another Liturgical Year has concluded as a new one dawns. A cycle has been completed as I am challenged to begin another. Did I get it this time? Only you can judge me. Only you can read my heart and know that I long to see, to understand, and to be transformed. But I wonder if that has not happened already, not by my doing, but by your gift. If I recognize that you live in my heart, if I recognize that God loves me, if I can accept the wonder of the relationships you empower me to live, then I can say, I think I am getting it. I can assure you that I want to understand and to live the mystery.

I shouldn’t speak in the first person singular. This isn’t all about me. I am not on this journey alone. I am part of a people with whom you ask me to live in relationship, in intimacy, in love. We are called to gather to feast on the word proclaimed and to recognize your presence there. We are invited to assemble around your table to renew Eucharist and to share in the meal and to recognize you in the Breaking of the Bread and the Sharing of the Cup. We are sent to be your presence, the Eucharist in the world until all have heard, until all are nourished.

The first reading of the new cycle is troubling. Isaiah’s vision of the Lord’s mountain and all people streaming toward it to be instructed in God’s ways is a magnificent vision. Why hasn’t it happened? Isaiah says all people will be called; all people will be free to respond. No one is forced. No one is beaten into submission. They recognize the truth of the message because they see it lived. Many nations remain many nations. The difference is, no swords are brandished. Weapons of war are destroyed. Peace reigns. Isaiah says it will happen – but when? Highly technical and efficient swords and spears, far from being pruning hooks and ploughshares, abound. The toll of the dead is staggering. Wars are still fought in God’s name. Rather than calling all nations to share in the feast, the desire remains to beat nations into submission and impose one nation’s values and ways on the others. Isn’t that a corruption of Isaiah’s vision? And some say they are doing these things in your name. How can that be?

We need to begin the cycle again, to continue this journey with you and to listen. This is a call to holiness, isn’t it? This is an invitation to love and live in intimate relationship so that swords and spears make no sense. But I wonder if we can bear the burden of the message. The conversion that you call for is more than the renunciation of the sins from the Decalogue that Paul challenges the Romans to forego. Virtue is basic, of course. You call us to more than renunciation. Aren’t you calling us to action, to live your love in community? Hierarchy and power have no role in that community you envision. All are brothers and sisters sharing in equal dignity and worth. It’s not about power or lording it over another. Your way is about service, about the emptying of self in love for the other’s good. There is vulnerability here. And I wonder if you are not saying that no one can imitate you without living in vulnerability.

You speak and hearts will have to change. How does a society that has as its prime values wealth, power and success hear your call to poverty for the sake of the masses and the living of the fundamental option for the poor? Something is going wrong even among those who preach in your name. Power is evidenced in the community. There is an elitism that only a few of the proper gender can enter. Access to your table is limited. All are not welcome there. Help us to hear this time. And to believe.

Isn’t it true that the conversion to which you call us is radical? We need to believe in the power of your love and in the relationship with God that is ours through you. We have been given a world of abundance. That abundance that some enjoy is not a sign of God’s favoritism as some would have it. God has given the abundance with the expectation that it will be distributed and shared. If there are those who are especially loved by God they are the poor. I have come to understand that if I want to find your crucified self I have to look into the eyes of the poor. When I hear the stories of innocent ones starving, dying from AIDS or malaria, I’m hearing your story today. It is not enough for me to have a romantic response to the story. It is not enough even for me to weep at the telling. I must minister to you there. Am I correct in concluding that you want all people to have access to potable water? Is it true that you find it abhorrent that medicines are withheld because of the lack of profit in their distribution? Do you rage when you see the bloated bellies and gaunt eyes of starving children while a small portion of the worlds population gorge themselves with the excess?

I wonder if this isn’t the kind of conversion, the commitment to work for the just distribution of this world’s abundance, that you call us to as we listen to the word in this new cycle of readings. There may be two women grinding at the mill. Please help one to hear and be taken by the message. If there are two men out in the field empower one to hear and so give himself to the realization of your dream. Let it happen to me.

Why don’t we wince when we hear Paul urge us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh? Dare we ever ask what he could possibly mean? Dare I wonder if he is speaking to me? And if he is, will you help me to respond the way you want me to?

I do believe your day is at hand, nearer than when I first believed.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FEAST OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING – C

2 Samuel 5:1-3Colossians 1:12-20Luke 23:35-43Dear Jesus,I ponder the icon and get lost in your eyes that seem to penetrate to the core of my being. I feel the ache in my heart, as I am once again conscious of my sinfulness. How dare I sit in this proximity to your majesty? Lord, I am not worthy! Try as I might, I cannot look away. The sensation is one of a burning coal purifying and making my heart fit for your indwelling. Is it pain or delight that I feel? Is it sorrow or ecstasy? Time stops and I can barely breathe. You sit enthroned but there is nothing judgmental or condemning in your countenance. Only love.Your right hand is raised, your thumb touching your third and fourth fingers, your first two fingers, arched. Do you confront me with the reality that I believe but can never comprehend? In that gesture is the wonder of who you are. The three fingers touching proclaim the Triune God. The two fingers arched reveal your two natures, human and divine. I remember the other Didymus’ words spoken on that octave night of your resurrection: My Lord and my God!You are enthroned in the icon and your feet rest on a padded stool. Lavish robes of purple and red fall in folds from your shoulders and drape around the open book supported by your left hand. On the pages I can read: I am the light of the world. Those who follow me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the Light of Life. And my heart cries out, Lord, banish the darkness that sometimes threatens to envelop me. Don’t let me sink into the abyss of despair. I feel like a grain being pulverized under the weight of comparison. In the intensity of this moment, I feel tears well in my eyes. Still, I cannot look away. Is it my imagining, or do you open your hand and motion for me to approach? I want to kneel before you, place my head in your lap and feel your hand on my brow, stroking and calming and welcoming me home.This letter is about the feast of your Kingship. The icon I ponder is appropriate but in such marked contrast to the image that comes from Luke’s Gospel. There the throne is the cross. The only proclamation of your royalty is the scroll of accusation tacked over your head: This is the King of the Jews. The people gathered about the crosses, spectators watching you and the two other criminals being executed with you, mock you, taunting you with jeering references to your kingship. They laughed that you saved others but can’t save yourself. And all the while you writhe in agony. Once again I ponder and cannot look away. You look at me from this throne, too. You know that I do not join the scoffers. I am a disciple. I want to be with you. But I would rather the scene be the icon with you royally clad, the scene flooded with glory and light. In that scene, I am sure there would be rapturous music and the sound of choirs. All of us gathered there could fall on our faces before you and adore. But I am a sinner.Why is a crucifixion scene the gospel for this feast? Why is this moment of your agony proclaimed, the living Word for this last Sunday of the Church’s year? Then I remember that you have come to make all things new. Old orders have passed away. There is a new creation and a new way of being king. You were anointed messiah, the Christ, in your Jordan baptism. The heavens opened and God spoke of delighting in you even as God urged humanity to listen to you. As the full revelation of God you showed us that God is one who wants to serve, to lift up, to heal. You showed us God’s unconditional and abiding love for the poor, the blind and lame, the sick, the leper, and even sinners. When you welcomed these outcasts to table and even washed some of their feet you showed us God’s attitude and forever pulverized the idea that any of those conditions of suffering were God’s punishment for sin. You taught us in glorious parables that our God is one who seeks and saves and rejoices in repentance and reconciliation.Then it is appropriate that the Gospel for the feast of your kingship is the crucifixion. Most appropriate is the moment of forgiveness and reconciliation that we here. The wretched individual hanging next to you, agonizing through the same horrendous tortures whispers a plea for remembrance when you come into your kingdom. Others scoffed. He believed and called you Lord. I wager you looked at him with love as you had that rich person who had wanted to walk the path of perfection but couldn’t because of his great wealth. He went away sad. The person dying with you had already been stripped of everything he had – albeit goods ill gotten. In his hours on the cross in proximity to you did he make a comparison between himself and you and thereby find the grace to believe that with you nothing or no one is hopeless. He didn’t dare to ask to go with you. He asked to be remembered in the kingdom. Did he know that when you remember the remembered is present? Today you will be with me in Paradise.Paul’s words ring with clarion clarity and give me courage and reason to go on believing. Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. God delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Good Thief (strange how we can’t even imagine that the poor wretch actually did terrible deeds that would have brought him to his crucifixion, deeds terrible enough to need forgiveness) was the first in the present era to experience the wonder of your redemption. I pray that one day you will remember me in the kingdom and you bring me as one forgiven to a place at the Table.Lord, your grace can make it so.Sincerely,Didymus

THE THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C

Malachi 3:19-20a
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

Dear Jesus,

Lord, what fools these mortals be! Shakespeare’s quote came to mind as I pondered this weekend’s readings. I wonder if you don’t find yourself shaking your head and coming to the same conclusion about humankind. They are so easily deluded and mislead. While most wouldn’t admit it, actions and attitudes would betray the adoration of money and of things that money can buy. Until people reach a certain age, they assume youth, beauty, and strength will last forever. And they blind themselves to the indications to the contrary that surround them. The more they have, the more they tend to associate only with those similarly blessed, thereby being able to conclude that everyone lives in their kind of splendor. Unguents and balm and a nip and tuck will keep the signs of aging at bay. And surely with all the advances that science is making, someone soon will find whatever it is that causes aging and once found they will put death to death. I know I sound cynical, but sometimes I think I am not that far from the mark.

There is something sinister that enters the consciousness with this kind of thinking. People conclude that good fortune is a sign of God’s favor. The more they have, the more God must love them. And, while most would never say it, the assumption survives that poverty and infirmity result from God’s judgment on the sinner. Whose sin was it, this man’s or his parents’ that he should be born blind? Old attitudes die hard.

We are approaching the end of another Church Year. Are you challenging us to put things in proper perspective? The disciples bedazzled by the splendor of the temple were stunned when you asked them to imagine its destruction. There will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down. Every monument someday will lie in rubble. What will last? Where do we find reason to hope?

This time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, days shorten as the sun sinks lower and lower in the heavens. Will darkness reign? Your disciples hear your prediction of the Temple’s destruction. Will the world end then too? Will we know when the Day of the Lord approaches? Will there be signs? And you speak of the horrors of humankind’s inhumanity towards each other. Wars. Insurrections. Awesome sights and mighty signs in the sky. Then, natural disasters such as earthquakes, famines and plagues.

It is sad to say that some of these kinds of events happen in nearly every age. When their frequency and magnitude increase doomsayers seize upon an upcoming date and predict the world’s end on that day. And there will be those who will gather with the loudest criers to shiver and await the Day of Judgment and your return. What fools these mortals be! What kind of conversion follows from that kind of terror?

When you predict the arrest and persecution of your disciples, their being handed over by parents, family, and friends, aren’t you assuming that your disciples’ very lives and the attitudes and values they project will so prick the consciences of the powerful that they will become thorns in the side that need to be removed? Otherwise their attitudes and values might be imitated. Living in the world and among everyday and ordinary human beings, your disciples are expected to live the Good News and imitate you in loving. They will give dignity to the poor and declare that it is not acceptable to exploit them. They will believe the saying to be true that as long as there are those living in abject poverty no one has a right to excess wealth. Your disciples will work for a more equitable distribution of wealth and speak out against those who hoard. Your disciples will speak out against the squandering of the world’s resources and urge people to be responsible in the use of them. Your disciples will call others to justice and peace and remind them that it is not all right to kill anyone – even someone who has killed another. They will invite others to forgiveness and reconciliation. They will speak out against unjust aggression and war and wonder if there can be such a thing as a just war when weapons of mass destruction make it impossible to war-in only on those similarly armed and directly engaged in warfare. In other words, are you advising your disciples that if they live the Gospel, if they imitate you by loving others as you love them, that they can expect the same results as those that befell you?

It seems to me, then, that persecution of your disciples is a cause for rejoicing. Their message is getting unbearable for those who are doing the things your disciples decry. But if your disciples are too comfortable and if they are not causing ripples large enough to prod the collective conscience to reform, then isn’t something scandalous going on. Your Gospel is being compromised. Your faithful are comfortable in the church of the padded pew.

I don’t think I am saying that suffering is a good or that the principal work of a disciple is to create unrest. Rather, and correct me if I am wrong, isn’t the disciple one who lives in the world among people, in relationship with people, loving people and awakening them to the hope that is ours in you as more and more we draw into and share community that is reflective of the community that is our God? That is God’s plan for us. You are the fullest revelation of that plan.

Shake me from my complacency. Help me to continue to pour myself out the way you do and so be a realization of the plan God had from the very beginning.

Sincerely,

Didymus