Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

EASTER SUNDAY – March 31, 2013

It is springtime in the desert.  The night air is fragrant with the scent of citrus and cactus blossoms.  I sat on my patio and watched the Easter moon cast its glow causing the surroundings to shimmer.  A mourning dove perched on the wall near me and sang to its partner somewhere in the darkness.  Strange how all those elements come together to remind us of Mystery.

We are a people of faith, challenged to live in Mystery and say boldly to the world that there is more than what the senses can behold.  There is something more important than what is tangible, more important than youth, or beauty, or wealth, or power.  We are dared to trust that darkness will not triumph, nor will war, or hatred, or prejudice nor any of the powers that threaten human kind and can bring us to our knees in near despair.

There is something that can only be experienced when all else has failed and the powers of darkness have done their worst.  We must never forget that darkness enveloped Jesus in the last moments of his dying.  He felt abandoned as he cried out to Abba, Father, and pled, Why have you forsaken me?

The Lenten is a time when we are invited to enter the darkness with Jesus and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year the season begins with the Temptations in the Desert.  Listen carefully and you will recognize that the temptations sum up all the allurements in life that can dazzle and distract us and make us wonder if ought to give God primacy in our lives.  Gold, position, power in today’s society, all these can seem more important and what we should strive to possess and achieve.  The horrors we see, the ravages of war and humans’ brutality to humans can make us wonder if God will triumph.

There is a whisper in the midst, God’s plea, Let me be your God.  You will be my people.

Easter, in the northern hemisphere, comes in springtime.  Winter has done its worst and we have survived.  There were ample signs of the power of darkness.  Horror stories of war, famine, disease, exploitation of the weak and the poor, the effects of global warming, we watched it all on the nightly news.  Perhaps some have felt estrangement from a loved one, or the breaking of a committed relationship.  Some might have kept the lonely vigil by a deathbed, watching and wondering how life would be endurable without the loved one.  Others might know the bitterest blow of the burning kiss of betrayal by someone loved and trusted – the heart of Christ’s Passion.

Easter is the feast that shores up challenged faith.  Some come into the celebration hoping against hope.  It is an especially important feast for those who are new to grief, parents who have lost a child, brothers and sisters who have lost a sibling, or those who have lost a spouse.  The mourner may wonder if there is reason to hope, reason to go on living.

The one who sees does not believe.  If you see the other face-to-face you do not have to believe that the other exists.  There is no faith in heaven, only love.  Those in glory do not have to believe.  They are caught up in Mystery of presence.

The Gospel of the Empty Tomb is the important one to ponder.  A grief stricken people wonder if anything worse can possibly happen.  Mary of Magdala is distraught when, upon arriving to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial, she finds the tomb empty.  She reports to Peter and the beloved Disciple that they have taken the lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.  Note that her standing at the cross in witness to Jesus’ suffering and death did not break Mary’s faith the Jesus is Lord.  But her faith has to take another step in order to believe that he is risen.

We can only imagine what thoughts raced through the minds of Peter and the Beloved Disciple as they raced to the Tomb.  Peter, the seasoned one, is still burdened by his having denied that he knew Jesus.  Moments of panic can accommodate scores of memories.  Were there kaleidoscopic images of their first meeting at the seashore and of the mountaintop transfiguration?  Did Peter feel the tug of the net teeming with fish he caught as he followed Jesus’ direction in spite of having spent a night in fruitless labor?  Did he see Jesus again, walking on the water, and, having been bidden to come to Jesus and having taken his first steps on the sea, and then doubting in the face of the storm winds and waves, did he see Jesus’ face as Peter sank into the waters?  Did he remember the look between them in that final encounter following the third time Peter denied knowing Jesus?

The other disciple, the one Jesus loved, we don’t knot what his thoughts were either as he raced ahead of Peter.  Beloved.  That is his designation, obviously denoting a special relationship.  At the final meal he had reclined at table next to Jesus and had leaned into his embrace to ask Jesus which one would betray him.  He had stood at the cross during the terrible torment only to hear Jesus entrust his mother to the Beloved One’s care.  His eagerness to see for himself did not prevent him from deferring to Peter’s entering the Tomb first.  Imagine the heart pounding within his breast as he peered inside, but waited for Peter and wondered.

In the end it is about faith that results from the confrontation of signs.  Peter enters and sees the burial cloths.  A curious detail is added.  The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded and placed apart from the other cloths.  He drank in the visuals.  But the pericope does not tell us of Peter’s response.  The Beloved Disciple follows Peter into the Tomb, absorbs the same sights, sees and believes.

It is possible that both Peter and the Beloved Disciple believed in that moment.  The Gospel doesn’t say that.  It is possible that it took Peter longer to believe just as it had taken him longer to arrive at the tomb.  That’s not a fault.  It is a reminder that faith is a gift that comes when grace enables belief.  If only we could have been party to their discussion as the two walked home again.

The two walked home again.  That’s what the two other disciples were doing in the passage in all of Scripture that is dearest to my heart – the Emmaus story.  Their having witnessed Jesus’ destruction on the Cross has shattered the two travelers’ faith.  We had thought he was the one who would set Israel free.  The mysterious Stranger walking with them invited them to revisit what they had experienced, but this time view it through the prism of faith: Did not the Son of Man have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory?  In the face of the setting sun, they pressed the Stranger, rather than take the other fork in the road, to stay in the inn with them.  He sat at table with them and, in Eucharistic language, he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  He vanished from their sight.  And later as they returned to Jerusalem and told others about their experience, they remembered that they recognized him in the Breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord and they remembered that their hearts were burning within them as they walked with him On The Way and invited them to share in the new perspective.

The Emmaus story is important for us to remember.  Notice that the Lord did not revise recent history for the two.  He did not take away the horror of the passion and death.  It had happened.  But the Good Friday they had witnessed was not about defeat but about victory.  Easter dares us to trust the story and believe in the Mystery.  Maybe Easter can only hold sway in our lives when we have been brought to our lowest point, when our strength has been depleted, when everything else has failed us and we are still alive.  The cross is still horrible.  But in the light of Easter it is also a sign of hope and promise.  Behold, I make all things new!

May every blessing of Easter be yours.  May your faith be strengthened.  May your hope be renewed.  May your love, nourished by the broken Bread and the Cup poured out, be the reason you dare to be that for others until He comes again.  May your hearts burn within you as you continue to journey with the Stranger on the way.

A favorite quote from a favorite saint, Thomas More, seems apt by way of conclusion:  Pray for me as I will for thee, that we meet merrily in heaven!

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION – March 24, 2013

 

Isaiah 50:4-7

Philippians 2:6-11

Luke 22:14-23:56

 

Participation in the Liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion can be akin to the experience of attending a Passion Play.  Some might hope for a pageant, gore and all, like that depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in my estimation a most unfortunate film.  The Liturgy begins with a procession of the palms and the members of the Assembly carry palms and can march along singing Hosanna to the Son of David, all the while imagining what it must have been like the day of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

I saw that a church in my neighborhood is advertising a special showing of The Passion of the Christ for this Sunday in place of their regular Sunday service.  There may be some merit in that, although for the life of me I can’t think what it might be.  The film is designed to foster a guilt trip for all who see it.  The last image in the film of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of a woman glaring accusingly at the audience.  The only thing missing are subtitles to the effect: Now look what your sins have done!

This Sunday is not meant to be an opportunity for the parish to make the people of God more keenly aware of their guilt.  That might follow from the reading of the Passion as a dramatic reading with assigned parts going to the Presider, the Lector, and the Assembly.  Almost always the Assembly winds up shouting at several points during the reading: Crucify him!  Crucify him!  Who would not feel a twinge of guilt as s/he shouted those words?

First, I would suggest adopting a different mindset.  As you enter into the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday, do not imagine this as an opportunity to look back and recreate that awful moment – unless you want it to reflect the original meaning of awful.  This is a moment that should be awe-inspiring, a moment that fills us with awe.

When we celebrate Liturgy, it is never to look backwards.  Rather we are to enter into the now.  It is the Living Word that is proclaimed.  Christ’s actions were never once for all.  They are time-less, actions that continue outside of time until time ends.

Second, place yourself in the Passion Narrative and live it as a transition to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Every Eucharist is a renewing of the Lord’s dying and rising.  Perhaps more precisely, we might see the liturgical action as one of reentering that dying and rising as the Body of Christ that we are.  Do you hear that?  Dying and rising.  No Sunday Liturgy, even Passion Sunday’s is meant to end with death, Passion Sunday’s included.  Every Sunday celebrates the Lord’s resurrection.

(If Good Friday comes to your mind as a seeming contradiction to the above, remember that the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, is actually one Liturgical celebration spread over three days.  The silence at the conclusion of Good Friday is a pause, an interlude for reflection, before the church moves into the Fire that begins Vigil of Easter.)

Paul could not be clearer in this declaration than he is in today’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians.  The Christ he preaches came as the Son of God, but one who emptied himself of his equality with God.  That means that those who looked on, who heard him Jesus teach and saw his actions saw nothing that would indicate anything other than a human being saying and doing these things with extraordinary results.  The observers who came to recognize Jesus as Lord had to make a leap of faith – believing in something that they could not see.  For some, the crucifixion would be a scandal, the scandal of the Cross.  Paul urges the Philippians and us to see things correctly.  Jesus took on the form of a slave and accepted the full implications of being human.  Regardless of the number of face-lifts or injections of Botox, every human being at the end of his or her earthly existence dies.  Jesus accepted that as his reality, too, even if his dying meant accepting death on a cross.

Paul says that we should not see Jesus’ crucifixion as a defeat, much less as a sign that God abandoned him.  That’s what the world could see and conclude; but we must see exultation and final triumph because God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him the name Lord.  Jesus is Lord.  Accepting and believing in Jesus as Lord gives glory to God.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ know that he has changed the meaning of the cross, transforming it from an instrument of horror to a sign of hope.  Why else do Christians wear crosses around their necks and hang crosses on the walls of their homes?  Why do we begin and end so many important actions with the sign of the cross?  Because we believe that just as Christ passed through his death on the cross and entered into glory, so also will we, if we are willing to take up the cross every day, to die with him, rise with and through him, and so enter that same glory.

Passion Sunday is not meant to be a depressing experience, one that stirs up guilt and fosters groveling in that guilt.  Rather, this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word proclaims that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation, not if we believe in Christ’s dying and rising.

What do you bring to this Sunday’s Liturgy?  Some will come conscious that they are in frail health, even bearing the death sentence of a terminal illness.  Some will come mourning the loss of a spouse, a child, or a friend.  Some will come bearing the cross of a broken relationship.  Some come bearing the burden of mental illness or of permanent disability.  This proclamation of the Lord’s Passion ought to help the burdened ones recognize that their experiences and frailties are shares in the Lord’s Passion.  May they keep these words running through their minds like a mantra: If we die with Christ we will live with Christ.

Luke’s Passion makes it clear that Jesus is the innocent victim.  Pilate voices his opinion three times that Jesus is innocent of anything that would result in the death penalty.  Herod came to the same conclusion.  Both a Gentile and a Jew proclaimed Jesus guiltless.  At the same time, Jesus is the reconciler and consoler.  From that time Herod and Pilot became friends.  Exchanging a kiss, he calls his betrayer, friend.  On the way to Calvary, he pauses to console the weeping women.  On the cross he offers hope to the thief who asks to be remembered by Jesus as he enters his kingdom.  Today you will be with me in Paradise.  And Jesus’ final moment on the cross is a triumph of trust and confidence in the One whose will he always sought to do.  Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

When Luke wrote his Gospel and the Passion in particular, Christians were suffering.  It was against the law to be Christian.  Christians were dying at the hands of the Romans.  Jewish Christians were being expelled from the synagogues.  Innocent ones suffered.  Luke’s message inspires them to take courage in the one in whose name they suffer because if they do, they will come to the same end he did.  They will be raised up.  If they die with Christ they will rise with Christ.  God will raise them up just as God raised Jesus.

This Passion Sunday we are mindful of many horrible happenings that defy explanation and could be interpreted as signs of God’s wrath or abandonment.  The gun violence that took the lives of many young grade-school children and their teachers, the shootings in the theatre in Aurora, Colorado, the wars, and threats of wars, the violence in the city streets, all these inspire grief in the human heart.  People suffered from the ravages of rains, winds, and snow this winter.  Remembering we have an opportunity to wonder why bad things happen to good people.  Some will conclude that goodness is an illusion.  These terrible events are the result of God’s judgment on a sinful people.

This Sunday will not give us an answer to the question of why good people suffer.  It will, however, give us help to recognize in those sufferings the ongoing Passion of Christ.  When an agnostic asked Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta why she spent herself caring for the sick and the poor in the city, she sat by the bedside of a dying man and said that when she ministered to one like this man, she believed she was ministering to Christ in his passion.  The agnostic documented Mother Teresa’s work.  He was struck by what he had seen.  He pondered and found faith.

(What do you think the impact will be when Pope Francis I celebrates the Holy Thursday Liturgy in a prison and washes the feet of prisoners?  Think about it.)

Passion Sunday tells us that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.  Christ triumphed over sin, suffering and death and caught us all up in that mystery.  The Cross of Christ is our symbol of hope.  He has told us that if we would be his disciples we must take up our Cross every day and follow him.  To do that is to have confidence in the face of whatever might threaten to defeat us.  Even if we die, we will live.

So, we celebrate Eucharist this Sunday and renew the dying and rising of Jesus in Bread and Wine.  We will share in the transformation of the Eucharist becoming more and more the Body of Christ.  We celebrate Christ’s presence in us.  Remember that each celebration is our commitment to allow ourselves to be sent to be Christ’s presence in the world and be committed to being bread broken and cup poured out until all have been fed.  Understand that this pouring out of self, this doing what Jesus did, this share in Christ’s passion, will result in our sharing with Christ in glory.

Do you see why Pope Francis desires a poor church serving the needs of the poor?

That, too, is really what this Sunday is all about.

Sincerely,

Didymus

A HOUSE DIVIDED

 

 

I write this, as news comes that the Cardinals in the Vatican have entered the Sistine Chapel and closed the doors behind them.  The Conclave has begun.  It is fascinating how much time in the evening news and other such magazines is give to the topic of the election of the new pope.  It seems that not only the 1.2 billion Catholics are anxious to see the plume of white smoke announcing that we have a pope.  Quite possibly that will have been the case by the time you read this.

What is curious is to hear the people voice their opinion regarding what kind of pope they want the new one to be.  Some want one that will be in the mold of Blessed John XXIII, that is one that will continue to usher in the fresh air of Vatican Council II and promote the discussion of issues that divide the present church.  The want evidence of reaching out to other Christian faiths, and to the Jews and Muslims as well.  They are hoping the Pope Novus I will be open to discussing the role of women in the Church and of question of mandatory celibacy for the ordained.  Then there are the questions of artificial contraception and homosexuality to name just a few.  Certainly they want a pope who will deal effectively with the clergy sexual abuse scandal, both the perpetrators and the inept handling by some of the hierarchy.

Then there are the voices from the other side of the aisle that want to see a strong pope restore the Church to what she was before the Council.  They are convinced that opening the windows was a terrible mistake, “the worst thing that ever happened to the Church” as I heard one wag put it.  Of course I winced and wanted to weep.  These want the Tridentine Liturgy, the Latin Liturgy restored so that they can be transported into the wonder they remember experiencing so many years ago.  Of course I question those memories if they are many years younger than I am.  Still, convinced that the scandals in the church resulted from the laxity induced by the Council, they think those scandals would be resolved by the restoration of the old disciplines.  The clergy should be back in their cassocks.  The nuns should return to the habits that were such a powerful sign to the rest of the world.  Somewhat cynically, I also note that several issues that many consider major do not register very high on the conservative scale.

I wonder if what is really hoped for by some is the restoration of, for want of a better term, a subservient people that know their place and keep it, a people that are essentially passive adorers as an assembly as they keep their proper position of kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer as the priest says mass for them.  It is the transcendent God they want to experience, not so much the immanent God.  Their priesthood as the baptized doesn’t seem a concern, either.

Be that as it may.  It is safe to say that the House of God is divided.  Pope Novus I needs to be a reconciler.

My daily prayer these days centers on invoking the Holy Spirit to guide the Cardinals as they vote.  I remember doing that as a student every noon after lunch as we gathered in the chapel to pray for the Spirit’s guiding of the Council.

It is difficult to hear the rejection of a movement in the church that so many of us saw as renewal.  The vernacular in the Liturgy was one of those signs of renewal but so too was the Roman Missal of Paul VI.  It was not just a translation of the Latin Missal, but a new Liturgy that promoted the full, active, and conscious participation of the faithful as co-celebrators of the Liturgy.  The faithful are the Church.  The faithful are the Body of Christ.  The faith resides in them.  The faithful have a responsibility to live the Eucharist in their daily lives and witness Christ’s love to the poor for who the church exercises a fundamental option holding the poor in primacy of place.

That was the vision many of us worked with in those early years following the Council.  Of course there were dissenters from the beginning.  But the winds continued to blow, sometimes violently and there must have been tongues of fire, too.

What went wrong?

I believe that we as church did not do a good job of educating, of tilling the soil for the planting of the seeds of the Council.  There needed to be an explaining of why the language changed, of why all of a sudden the priest faced the people and the people had a voice.  They needed to be informed regarding the significance of posture and gesture.  Even something as basic as receiving the Host in the hand, instead of on the tongue, and of sharing the Cup should have been explained as should have been the abundance of the elements of the sacraments, the water oil in Baptism and the anointing in Confirmation.  Why is it important that the Assembly gathers around the Table of the Lord even as they are able to see each other and touch each other in the Greeting of Peace?

Justice and peace are primary values in this Church of Vatican Council II.

We’ll see shortly in what direction the wind blows.  Regardless of the direction, let’s pray that there will be ample evidence that the Church is a living, growing, developing and unfolding mystery ageless and ever new.  As Church we need to know and believe that living organisms evolve in a forward motion.  They don’t devolve, or go backward.  If they that happens, they die.  So, may there be reconciliation between both sides of the aisle.  Differing opinions do not have to separate and divide us.  Differences can compliment each other as individual facets do a gem.

Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of the faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and shall renew the face of the earth.

Sincerely,

Didymus