Dear Reader,

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 that caused the surroundings to shimmer.  A mourning dove perched on the wall near me, sang to its partner in the sky.  Strange how all those elements came together to remind me of Mystery.

We are people of faith.  The challenge for us is 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 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 asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The Lenten journey is that kind of walk, that time of being alone with Jesus, a time when we are invited to enter into the darkness and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year the season begins with the Temptations in the Desert.  Look at them closely and you will recognize that they sum up all the temptations we can suffer in life, as what dazzles and distracts might make us wonder if God ought to have primacy of place in our lives.  Gold, position, power, these just might seem more important than we realize.  The powers of darkness might make us wonder if God will triumph.  Will we hear God’s plea, “Let me be your God.  You will be my people.”

Easter, in the northern hemisphere at least, comes in springtime.  Winter has done its worst and we have survived.  There have been ample signs of the power of darkness.  Horror stories of wars, famine, disease, exploitation of the weak and the poor, global horrors that have been put before us in the nightly news.

Some experienced estrangement from a loved one, the severing of a relationship thought to have been life long.  Some have kept the lonely vigil by the deathbed and watched and wondered how life would ever be endurable without the loved one.  Some might know the bitterest blow of betrayal by someone loved and trusted.  Some might have been brought to their knees by all of those things that tempt us to think in terms of tragedy – the ultimate defeat.

Is there something in our nature that demands the experience of betrayal, or loss, or defeat, before we can know the hope that is rooted in faith?  I believe that at this point on my faith journey I have a much keener understanding of Jesus’ Passion than I did before my long dark night began.  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass me by; yet not my will but yours be done.”  “Do you betray me with a kiss?”  “Crucify him.  Crucify him!”  Then there was light – and with the light came forgiveness and freedom, resurrection, if you will.

Jesus commands us, if we would be his disciples, to take up the cross every day and follow him.  I used to think we were to choose the cross.  Now I know that Jesus didn’t choose his and neither do we.  Jesus’ was thrust on him.  And so will ours be.  When we embrace the cross then we know what discipleship means; but I don’t think we do before that embrace.

Pope Francis, from the first moments as pope, has urged the church to pick up the cross, to throw of the trappings of splendor and majesty and become a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  The shepherds are to shepherd in the midst of the sheep and smell like them.  Shocking declarations for those who saw the church as a means out of poverty to positions of power and authority.  What happens to authority if there are many paths to God, if even atheists can find their way to heaven?

The cross that Francis urges us to embrace is compassion.  Compassion means to suffer with.  It is when we suffer with the suffering that we meet Jesus, or rather, that we know Jesus.

The passage in all of Scripture that is dearest to my heart is the Emmaus story.  The two travelers’ s faith has been shattered by their witnessing Jesus’ destruction on the Cross.  “We had thought he was the one who would set Israel free.”  The mysterious Stranger that walked with them invited them to revisit what they had experienced and 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?”   And after they had pressed the Stranger to stay with them and he, in Eucharistic language had taken the bread, blessed and broken it and given it to them, and when he had vanished from their sight, they remembered that they recognized him in the Breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord and that their hearts had been burning as they walked with him On The Way and he 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.  They had happened.  But the Good Friday the two 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 the cross and it can be horrible.  But in the light of Easter, it is also a sign of hope and promised victory.  “Behold, I make all things new!”

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!”  I promise to do that.  Will you?



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