Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

IF ONLY

It may seem obvious, but I think sometimes we need to be reminded about obvious things.  You know what I mean.  We need reminders about getting proper nutrition and regular exercise.  And sometimes we need a nudge to make sure that we get proper rest.  Otherwise we can find ourselves suffering from poor health, all the while wondering what we did or didn’t do to cause our problems.

For sometime now we have been hearing in an almost steady stream that disasters, both natural and human caused, have taken the lives of victims.  We see the grieving survivors.  And more often than not we hear through their tears about regrets regarding things that now forever will go unexpressed.  If only they had known that the last time they were together would be their final time together in this life, the conversations would have ended far differently.  If only…

The horrendous bombings during the Boston Marathon and the explosion of the fertilizer factory in West, Texas shocked the nation with their violence and devastation and the lives taken.  But then, for how long now have we been hearing the terrible tolls of lives taken in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Could it be that as a people we are becoming numb to the accounts?  I pray that isn’t so.

During prayer yesterday I found myself preoccupied with uneasiness.  No matter how I tried to change my focus I kept coming back to a sense of emptiness and longing.  The hymns didn’t help.  Neither did the Greeting of Peace.  Only in the time after Communion did I get it.  By now you would think that I would recognize the promptings of the Spirit.  As obvious as it may seem, it came to me that I shouldn’t leave unfinished those things that I can do something about.  And so I thought I would pass the insight on to you, in case you could benefit from it, too.

Be sure to tell those you love that you do love them.  I don’t mean to be depressing, but I’ve concluded that when we say goodbye to someone, we can’t assume in today’s world that we will meet again.  There is consolation for mourners if they can remember that the last thing they said to the departed was, “I love you,” and to have heard the reply, “I love you, too.”  The bonding affection may seem obvious, but still it ought not go unexpressed.

Here’s another important and equally obvious idea.  Never let a conversation conclude on a negative.  Make sure that there is resolution to every difference, even if it is to agree to disagree.  Here’s a confession.  Nearly fifty years ago on a lovely late spring morning, my grandparents stopped by our home for a surprise visit.  I have to admit that I don’t remember what my conversation with my grandmother was about.  I do remember that I said something harsh that brought the conversation to a halt and ended their visit.  Two days later, my grandmother suffered a massive stroke and died.  There was no opportunity for me to rush to her bedside and grasp her hand and voice my shame and sorrow or express my affection for her.  Sure, I could tell myself that from her vantage place in heaven she would know.  Yes, I could voice a prayer that would express those thoughts.  The fact is, I let that last visit end on a very negative note and I could never say, “I am sorry.”  That last time, she did not hear me say, “I love you.”  I live with that.

The Spirit reminded me that the basic commandment we have as disciples from the Lord is, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  “By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  That love needs to be expressed if the other is to know it.  Eliza Doolittle’s song in “My Fair Lady” expresses it very well.  “Don’t talk of love.  Show me!”  There is a lot of wisdom in those few words.  Hear them.

Another facet of the gem we are considering has to do with forgiveness.  Sometimes forgiving is not an easy thing to do, especially if the wounding had to do with betrayal or abusive behavior.  I have been moved by people’s stories of forgiving, especially by those of people who said that their faith demanded that they forgive.  I think of parents in Oregon whose daughter was killed by a man.  In their devastation they attended his trial and heard him receive the sentence for his crime.  Then the commandment to forgive came to them and their trek began.  They knew that in order for their forgiveness to have meaning they had to get to know the man and come to understand why he had done the deed.

So began regular, weekly visits to the prison.  Over time they came to know the man and were able to express the forgiveness that they felt in their hearts even as he wept in sorrow for what he had done.  But the story doesn’t end there.  When the man was paroled, they invited the man to come and live with them until he found direction for his life.  He had come to be like a son to them.  Love bonded them.

Again, I speak from experience here.  Not to be maudlin about it, but it is possible to wallow in self-pity over injuries received.  It is possible to tote those resentments about and wonder if anyone appreciates the misery.  The fact is nothing good comes from this.  We pray daily in the Lord’s Prayer that we be forgiven as we forgive others.  If we let ourselves feel the impact of those words we might shudder.  At least that was my experience one day, again in prayer.  What if the Lord’s forgiveness of my sins really depended on my forgiving perceived offenses against me?  Do I want to run that risk?  You know what the answer is.

Not too many weeks ago I had a healing moment when I suddenly realized that there were several issues that I needed to resolve, and the only way they could be resolved was by forgiving.  In one grace-filled moment I was able to let go and forgive.  Talk about Sisyphus being relieved of his boulders!  I wept in that moment realizing that I was free at last.

If someone has offended you, find the way to forgive and so let go of the resentment.  Even if you are not able to reach the offender, or if s/he has died, give expression to the forgiveness.  Write the letter even if your eyes will be the only ones to read it.  I promise you, you will be amazed at the healing of your spirit that will come in that moment.  You may weep in an anguished moment, by a smile will follow.  And you will have a new understanding of inner peace.  What’s more, you will know that the Lord has forgiven you, too.

I hope I haven’t bored you by these iterations of the obvious.  As I said at the beginning, sometimes some of us need to be reminded about the basics.  If that applies to you, thanks be to God.  I pray you never have to struggle through tears with, “If only…”

One final note for today.  Always express your gratitude.  Let me say that I am grateful to you for reading these reflections.  I always pray that there is something beneficial in Didymus’s musings.  Knowing that there are readers out there keeps the words flowing.  Thanks, again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – C- April 28, 2013

 

The Acts of the Apostles 14:21-27

The Book of Revelation 21:1-5a

The holy Gospel according to John

John’s vision in the Book of Revelation is meant to give comfort to people who are suffering for their faith.  At the time of its writing, believers are being forced into exile.  Others are being imprisoned and put to death for their faith in the Risen One.  How can this be happening to people who put their faith in the One proclaimed the Messiah, the One who said he brought God’s peace to the world?  Of course he had suffered, too, and been put to death, but death had not conquered him.  This people believed that the Risen One would return to bring them all into God’s Kingdom of Peace and light and eternal life.

In his vision, John hears the One seated on the heavenly throne proclaim: Behold, I make all things new.  What has been made new?  Heaven and earth, and Jerusalem, now resplendent as God’s bride.  In the midst of the glory comes the proclamation: Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.  God will dwell with them and they will be God’s people.  Because of that divine indwelling, tears will be wiped away and death and mourning, wailing and pain will be no more.

What is your reaction as you ponder this?  It is difficult when there seems to be so little in the present experience to support it.  Surely, faith is the charism that enables belief in what is not seen.  Still, there is something in us that wants our faith to be supported by tangible evidence.  It is natural to wonder where God is when everything is failing, when natural disasters kill people and when bombs go off in the midst of people gathering and celebrating as the international human family.  Famine is not nearly as threatening to faith as is people’s inhumanity to people.

It was difficult for the infant church to grasp that the call to follow Christ, to walk with the Stranger on the Way, meant nothing other than doing what he did.  Jesus commanded that those who would be his disciples must follow him, take up their crosses every day and walk in his footsteps.  Carrying the cross entails being willing to die on it as Christ did and so enter Christ’s new life.

We must not miss the truth that John’s vision reveals.  Sometimes people seem much more comfortable thinking of God as remote, transcendent, and difficult to reach.  The truth is that the Incarnation, the Word taking on human nature, means that God dwells with us and in us.  God has taken on all things human.  If that is so, heaven has already begun.  Heaven is in our midst, in the here and now.

Is it possible that the early church missed what contemporary believers might continue to miss and that is what kind of God it is who chooses to dwell in us?  This is not Thor thundering from the mountaintop.  Certainly there is evidence in Hebrew Scriptures and particularly in some of the Psalms that God did thunder from time to time and rain down vengeance.  But Jesus revealed a servant God, a god who wills to wash feet and bear burdens, wipe away tears and lift up the weary.  That is what Jesus did in his public ministry.  That is what those who believe in Jesus and follow him as the Christ must be willing to do.  As sad as it is to admit that this has not always been the case in every age, the church most vividly proclaims Christ when she is poor and serves the poor.

Paul and Barnabas were hugely successful in their first mission among the Gentiles.  Even given the possibility of hyperbole, the numbers of those who heard their preaching, believed, and were baptized was huge.  Successful as their journey was, there were sufferings, too.  On an earlier journey, Paul was stoned in Lystra and nearly died because he had healed a crippled man.  This time the visit is to check on the progress earlier converts are making and to see how their numbers are growing.  In urging them to be strong in their faith and not lose hear, he reminds them what we need to remember as well:  It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.

The success of this missionary journey will be cause for rejoicing in the church.  Little faith communities are being formed with elders to pastor them.  Paul continues to pray for the communities and the elders that the faith might grow and the members remain faithful to the end.

But there are many who are scandalized that Christ is being announced to Gentiles.  It is hard for some to accept the universality of God’s love poured out through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.  That being scandalized continues among some to this day.

Neophytes learn what it means to live as members of the church during this Easter Season.  This period for them is called Mystagogy.  Neophytes are helped to a deeper appreciation of the implications of the sacred mysteries they have experienced in the course of the Easter Vigil, particularly Baptism and Eucharist.  They will see how these sacraments challenge them to live their lives and die their deaths.  After all, they have put on Christ.  They are invited to let Christ living within them radiate through the works they do in union with Christ.  Just as the Eucharist is the source and summit of all they will do in faith, so is the call to imitate what they do in Eucharist and allow themselves to be bread broken and cup poured out as long as there are any who are hungry, thirsty, homeless or abandoned.  It is through service that all will experience God living in their midst and God’s Kingdom that is coming to be.  The more seasoned members of the Church must never forget these basic lessons either.  The church is not about being served but about serving.

Over 45 years ago, the final session of Vatican Council II closed.  New Dogmatic Constitutions were issued that redefined the Church and her mission.  The Council proclaimed that the People of God are the Church.  The faith abides in us.  The Eucharist is Christ’s sacramental presence among us.  So is Christ present in the assembly as the Body of Christ and in the proclaimed Scriptures – the living Word.  The Assembly co-celebrates the Eucharist with the Priest who presides in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.  The Church in the Modern World is the instrument of God’s peace, justice, and reconciliation, and must always proclaim and exercise a fundamental option for the poor, i.e., the poor must have primacy of place and concern, as must the vulnerable, the outcasts, and society’s rejected.  There is much more.  Great was the rejoicing as again God’s people seemed to hear the One who sat on the throne (saying), Behold I make all things new.  That includes the Church, the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ.

The event of 45 years ago and the intervening years amount to a moment in the life of the Church; but that is long enough for some to lose that initial excitement and recoil from the demands that rise from a sense of the immanent God.  They would rather keep God distant and remote.  Some love power and the exercise of it.  Some long for the former authoritarian church and the former way of worshiping as they thing that the Tridentine Liturgy must have been the way Christ celebrated the Last Supper.  They feel unworthy and therefore reluctant to exercise the priesthood that came to them through their Baptism.  They see worth only in the ordained priesthood and the hierarchy.  Alas.

So, on this 5th Sunday of Easter we return to the Upper Room and, after Judas has gone out into the night, we hear Jesus speak of being glorified and God being glorified in him.  This is the fullness of the revelation of God in Christ, that fullness that will be revealed through Christ’s dying and rising.  Those hearing could have no idea of the implications of what Jesus was saying, not before the Easter event had happened.  Warning them of the impending absence of his physical presence, Jesus tells them again how they are to live.  My children, love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  Love is the new law.  And that love should be apparent to all who have any contact with the Church today.

These are difficult days for the Church.  Scandals abound in this country and in Europe.  The evils done are real even as atonement needs to be made.  Perpetrators must be held accountable.  Victims must be comforted and helped to experience healing so that they can come to forgive.

Then there is the scandal of division in the Church that exists between the so-called Vatican II Catholics and the neo-conservatives.  There is an indication of the re-emergence of anti-Semitism.  As bad as these times are, they only seem to be the worst because we are living in them.

Ah, but hope arises as Pope Francis invites us to rebuild the Church with him.

The neophytes and the seasoned, the young and the old, males and females, the ordained and the laity must hear Jesus’ command to love and to live out that commandment.  Authorities must admit poor judgments and mistakes and seek forgiveness for them.  Where tyranny has reigned, a servant Church must emerge.  Parish communities must be affirmed in their conviction that they are the Church, that they are called to co-celebrate Eucharist, to minister to the poor, and to be instruments of justice, love, and peace.

Some may suffer for their convictions.  Some may be betrayed by those they serve.  There is nothing surprising about that.  So was it with Christ and so has it been in every age of the Church.  Yet the One seated on the throne will make all things new.  We must never forget that Jesus promised, This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Please God, in the light of this Easter Season we will find the strength of faith to love and to live in that hope.

Sincerely,

Didymus

NO MORE HURTING PEOPLE – PEACE

Some of you will remember May 4, 1970.  I do as if it were yesterday.  On that day it took Ohio National Guardsmen 13 seconds to fire 67 rounds of ammunition into a group of Kent State students demonstrating against the Viet Nam War, specifically against President Nixon’s announcement of attacks to be made against Cambodia.  Four students were killed.  Nine were wounded.  One student suffered permanent paralysis.  An iconic photograph captured the horror of that moment and helped focus the nations opposition to that war.

You remember the picture.  A young woman, a college student and demonstrator, kneels with her arms stretched open over the body of another student.  Anguish and horror are etched on her face as she looks out at the viewer and seems to cry out, “Why?”

That picture came into my mind as I first saw the smiling face of 8-year-old Martin Richard holding up his hand-painted poster with five words in bold print: “No more hurting people – Peace.”  Of course the irony that leapt out at everyone who saw that image was that young Martin had just been slaughtered in the Boston Marathon bombing.  Oh the horror of it all.  Who will be able to find peace in the midst of the rubble and bloodstained sidewalk that marked the finish line of the premier international sports event?

Of course there were other haunting images captured on cameras of the exploding plume of white smoke, the startled and puzzled runners nearing the end of their marathon, the senior runner collapsing to the pavement as his legs turn to jelly beneath him, and the second explosion.

It would be easy to conclude that we are living in the most evil of times in a corrupt society of terrorists.  As I write this the identity of the bomber is not known.  Some without any evidence have linked it to the 9/11 terrorists.  And sensationalist pundits have accused the Boston security personnel of be lax.  There’s something in some people that makes them want to point the accusing finger and blame and condemn.

There is no doubt that whoever perpetrated this dastardly deed will be found out and apprehended.  It will then be determined whether this is an international terrorist action or one carried out by a United States citizen.  What will also become clear will be the tortured and sociopathic mind that conceived and carried out this horrific action.

Rather than go there, I would rather focus on the good that spontaneously sprang into action even before the smoke cleared and the dust settled.  Immediately those spared injuries reached out to those fallen and horribly wounded.  Strangers held the hands of strangers and tried to staunch the blood flowing from the open wounds and torn limbs.  Others carried the wounded to medical tents for triage.  Others simply held each other and cried.

We have seen several terrible killings in the past year-and-a-half.  And in each case we have been inspired by the kindness and care people exhibit for those wounded or killed and for their families.  Immediately shrines for candles and rosaries, and sacred images and flowers form.  People gather there and pray into the night holding candles in defiance of the darkness.

Remember Anne Frank’s diary reflection?  “In spite of what has happened, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.”

That is what we have to remember and believe at times like this.  That is what is so important about young Martin Richard’s poster.  He wrote his poster in response to the Newtown massacre and sent it to the town as an expression of solidarity and support for those devastated the slaughter of their children and the school teachers.  It takes a long time for parents and others to recover from the loss of their loved ones.  But prayers of support and expressions of caring help them along that path.

Martin Richard holding his poster for peace may well become the icon for the Boston bombing that the picture of the student crying out over the body of her friend is for Kent State.  People will look on, remember, and be inspired to continue to work for society’s betterment.

All of us can weep and wonder if we have seen the worst that people can do to people.  Probably not.  What is better is to gather the images and ponder them that clearly declare the goodness and generosity of humanity.  Yes, there are evil people.  There always have been since Adam’s time.  But there are more good people whose compassionate responses reflect the love of God in whose image and likeness they are made.

Even in the darkest of times there are reasons to hope.  We are nearing the conclusion of this Easter season.  We do not forget Good Friday or try to block out the images.  We just don’t stop there.  The season is about good triumphing over evil.  It is about life conquering death.  And Easter is about the love of God brought to us through Jesus who poured out his life in love for us, raising us to the life that is ours with him forever.

“No more hurting people – Peace.”

Amen.

Sincerely,

Didymus