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HAPPY EASTER 2018

Dear Reader,

It is springtime in the desert.  The night air is fragrant with the scent of orange 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 and sang to its partner in the sky.  Strange how all those elements come together to remind us of Mystery.

After all, we are a people of faith.  We are 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.  There has not been a time in recent history when that message needed a louder proclamation.  We dared to trust that darkness would not triumph, nor would war, or hatred, or prejudice, nor any of the powers that threaten us today, bringing us to our knees, some in near despair.  Have you noticed that just when we thought we had heard the worst, something worse happened?  There is something that can only be experienced when all else has failed and the powers of darkness have done their worst.  Remember that Jesus, in the last moments of his dying was enveloped in darkness.  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, when we are invited to enter into the darkness and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year Lent begins with the Temptations in the Desert.  Look at them closely.  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.  Again, speaking to these times, gold, position, power just might seem more important than they wee before.  The powers of darkness just 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.  We have survived.  There have been ample signs of the power of darkness. In addition to the terrible storms that plagued the country, horror stories of war, famine, disease, exploitation of the weak and the poor, global terrors have all been there in the nightly news.

Perhaps some have felt estrangement from a loved one.  Some may have kept the lonely vigil by a deathbed and watched and wondered how life would ever be endurable without the loved one.  Others might know the bitterest blow of betrayal by someone loved and trusted that is at the heart of Christ Passion.  Some may have been brought to their knees by all those events that tempt us to think in terms of tragedy – the ultimate defeat.

The passage in all of Scripture that is dearest to my heart is the Emmaus story.  The two travelers’ 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, walking with them, invited them to revisit what they had experienced, and this time to view it through the prism of faith: “Did not the Son of Man have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory?”  After they pressed the Stranger to stay with them and he, in Eucharistic language, took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, he then vanished from their sight.  They remembered and recognized him in the breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord.  No wonder their hearts were burning as they walked with him On The Way and he invited them to share in the new perspective.

Remember the Emmaus story.  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.  Perhaps Easter can only hold sway in our lives when we have been brought to our lowest point, when strength has been depleted, when everything else has failed us, and we are still alive.  The cross is still the cross and it is horrible.  But in the light of Easter it is also a sign of hope and promised victory.  “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, and shared with your believing community, 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 yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus

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HOW BLESSED ARE THOSE PERSECUTED FOR HOLINESS’ SAKE; THE REIGN OF GOD IS THEIRS

 BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN THEY INSULT YOU AND PERSECUTE YOU AND UTTER EVERY KIND OF SLANDER AGAINST YOU BECAUSE OF ME.  BE GLAD AND REJOICE, FOR YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN IS GREAT.

 

Dear Reader,

To this point in our meditation on the Beatitudes it is possible to remain detached.  After all, Jesus has been asking us to consider those who live by these strange values that are in marked contrast with commonly desired goals in life.  This was true in Jesus’ time.  It is true in our own.  Wealth, power, and position were desired ends then, just as they are today.  Poverty was a curse then, seen as a punishment for sin, that of the poor person, or of his parents.  Today some still see poverty as something God inflicts.  Others blame the poor person for not working harder to overcome the poverty.

As each Beatitude was voiced, did it become easier to think of an individual to whom it applied, someone who is poor, meek, or even someone who hungers and thirsts for justice?  You can be happy for them because, at least as far as the Beatitudes are concerned, Jesus seems to promise a reward, if not in this world, at least in the next.

With the final Beatitude, that all shifts.

Now Jesus says, “Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me.”  It would be easier to think of others, those who are maligned for their witness to their faith, than it is to think of ourselves as ones to whom Jesus refers.  As I write this, I am fresh from reading a reflection on the Martyrs of El Salvador.  Salvadoran soldiers murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in the night of November 16, 1989.  In 1975 the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus declared: “The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.”  In 1983 the 33rd General Congregation reaffirmed that direction and insisted that the Jesuits “wish to make our own the church’s preferential option for the poor.”  These Jesuit martyrs were not the first to die for the cause in El Salvador.  In 1980 two Maryknoll sisters, an Ursuline nun, and their lay co-worker were raped and murdered.  On March 22, 1980, Luis Espinal, SJ, was murdered in Bolivia for his proclamation of the rights and dignity of the poor.  Two days later, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot as he celebrated Eucharist in a Salvadoran hospital.  His relentless speaking out for those same rights made him a public enemy of the state.

Do you recognize these themes in Pope Francis’s preaching, his repeated concern for the poor, challenging the Church to give primacy of place to the poor?  Pope Francis is a Jesuit and was formed in the community in South America.

We look at these giants and contemplate what they suffered as a result of their witness to the Gospel and to the dignity of the poor.  We call them “Blessed.”  Someday the Church may call them saints.  The poor in El Salvador already do.  But, again, what has this to do with us, here and now, in this day and age?

When the Beatitude was formulated, Christians lived in a time when it was criminal to follow Jesus.  Converts to the faith had to renounce everything, often this included their families, their employment, everything that was familiar, before they entered into the Font to die to sin there and emerge on the other side reborn in Christ.  That is the significance of stripping off the worldly clothes on the one side, and being clothed in the white garment on the other.  Those so clothed, those living this new life in Christ had very real chances of suffering and dying for the New Way. Remember Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles?  He was the prototype.  Thousands followed in his footsteps.  In the Roman persecution it wasn’t only in the Coliseum that they died, but all along the Apian Way they were crucified.

The Church has honored martyrs from the beginning of the Christian era.  Eucharist was first celebrated on the tombs of martyrs.  The hope that is in the Eucharist is realized in the transforming deaths of those who lay down their lives for the Good News.  Every century has known those who have died for the faith.  The Church firmly believes that blessed are they now in the beatific vision that is heaven.

See what such reflections do?  They keep the Beatitude at a distance.  We don’t hear “blessed are you,” but “blessed are they.”  In truth, this Beatitude is meant to put the call squarely before us and dare us to respond with lives that are conformed to Christ’s.  The Eucharist always renews the dying and rising of Jesus in bread and wine.  Do we accept that those who celebrate are called to the same dying and to the hope that is Jesus in resurrection?

When Jesus says, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you,” the inference is that this persecution is happening because those in power are infuriated by your life steeped in Gospel values, values that confront the injustices the powerful unleash.  Sometimes there are movements in which those calling for justice become a part.  There is strength in numbers, after all.  Think of the marches for civil rights.  It is possible that if you had marched in Alabama or Mississippi, you could have died there.

The Civil Rights movement is still not fully realized.  Marches continue.  A group of Black Lives Matter and others confronted the recent demonstration by the white supremacists and neo-Nazis. A woman was killed and others were injured.

Conversion means hearing Jesus’ invitation to follow him on The Way.  It happened in the Lord’s day and it can happen in our own, that people seek becoming part of the “movement” because they think new status will come to them as a result.  The first would be converts thought that when Jesus talked about the coming kingdom it would be a temporal one that would drive out foreign rule.  Some wanted positions of prominence in that new kingdom.  Jesus castigated Peter for such hidden hopes and told him to |get behind me, Satan, and learn from me.”  To follow Jesus on The Way is to imitate him in a life of service and to love as he loves, even those that society would demean and condemn as loathsome.

When Jesus tells us, as he told Peter, to learn from him, it is not a challenge to store up notions about Jesus; it is a challenge to do what Jesus does.  There is only one way to sainthood and that is to imitate Jesus.  Read lives of the saints.  Each one is a tale of someone who strove to imitate Jesus in everything s/he did.  Odd, isn’t it?  There are no two saints with the same story.  Yet, each one imitated Christ.

For ourselves, I believe the challenge is to pray with the Scriptures and dare to ask what it is that Jesus is calling us to do and to be.  There is no doubt that that call will entail service of the poor and witness to the dignity and worth of every human being.  In other words, the call to conversion of life is always a call to love – even the unlovable.  It is a call to be of service to all.  That is the transformation that Pope Francis is urging on the Church.  He began his papacy by shedding the trappings of splendor.  He began by asking the faithful to pray for him.  He pleads with the bishops and clergy to shepherd in the midst of the sheep, even to smell like them.  Some of the hierarch and some of the clergy prefer the fine garments and mansions that come with their office. Some were poor once, but want never to see poverty again.  If truth be told, the impression is that they want to be served rather than be servants themselves.  “Get behind me, you Satan, and learn from me.

Accepting Jesus’ call means to have a willingness to enter into worship with all who wish to come to the Table.  The proclamation that “all are welcome here” imitates Jesus’ table fellowship that merited for him the vilification that “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  They had to crucify him.  What would have happened to their society if everybody started doing what he did?  What would happen to our society if we all started doing what Jesus did?  And if we did, there might be no shortage of those who would insult and persecute and utter every kind of slander against us because of Jesus.

But then we would be blessed.  That is what Jesus said.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD – B – March 25, 2018

Gospel at the Procession: Mark 11:1-10
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 50:4-7
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 2:6-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 14:1-15:47

Dear Reader,

The celebration of the Liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord should not be akin to attending a Passion Play, much less to a viewing of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  Some might expect this Sunday’s experience to be like a passion play since it begins with a procession of the palms and the members of the Assembly carry palms and march along singing Hosanna to the Son of David, all the while imagining what it must have been like the day of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

A church in my neighborhood has advertised a special showing of The Passion of the Christ for this Sunday in place of their regular Sunday service.  There might be some merit in that.  For the life of me, I can’t think what it might be.  The film is meant to serve as a guilt trip for all who see it.  In the final image Mary, the mother of Jesus, glares accusingly at the audience.  The only thing missing are the words to the effect: Now look what your sins have done.

This Sunday should not be an opportunity for the church to make the people of God more keenly aware of their guilt.  That might be an unfortunate consequence of the proclaiming of the Passion as a dramatic reading with assigned parts going to the Presider, the Lector, and the Assembly.  The Assembly invariable winds up shouting at several points during the reading: Crucify him!  Crucify him!  Who wouldn’t feel a twinge of guilt shouting those words?

First, may I 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 that word.  This is, after all, a moment that should be awe-inspiring, a moment filled with awe.  When we celebrate Liturgy, we are never looking backwards.  Rather, we are entering into the now.  It is the Living Word that is proclaimed.  Christ’s actions were not 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 we transition to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist renews 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 Liturgy, even Passion Sunday’s ends with death.  We celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection even on this Sunday.

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 teach and saw his actions, saw nothing that would indicate anything other than a human being saying and doing these things.  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.  Every human being at the end of her or his earthly existence dies.  Jesus accepted that as his reality, too, even if his death meant dying 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 is 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 Christ is Lord.  Accepting and believing in Jesus as Lord gives glory to God.

Not many would say that we are living in the best of times.  If you watch the evening news horrible images of human suffering and degradation will haunt you.  Who does not find the images of the children being pulled from the rubble, or gasping final breaths from inhaling poisonous gas, heart breaking?  Many wept as they heard accounts of the massacre in the high school in Florida.  Hatred and division infect our country as the violence in the streets attests and is confirmed by the cries of the white supremecists and the KKK.  These terrible scenes and stories comprise Christ’s passion today.  Does our believing in Christ not demand that we later our minds’ perception of these images of mass defeat?

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 in their homes?  Why do we begin and end so many important things that we do and say with the Sign of the Cross?  We believe that just as Christ passed through his death on the cross and entered into glory, so also will we, and those whose suffering we witness, if we and they are willing to die with him, enter that same glory.  That is true even for those of other traditions who are victimized and ruthlessly slaughtered.  God’s love in Christ is universal, unconditional, and eternal.

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 that conquered death forever.

This Sunday will not give us an answer to the question of why good people suffer.  It will, however, give us an opportunity to recognize in those sufferings the ongoing passion of Christ.  When an agnostic asked St. 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, she believed she was ministering to Christ in his passion.  The agnostic documented Mother Teresa’s work.  He was struck by what he had witnessed.  He pondered and found faith.

Again, Passion Sunday tells us that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.  Please hear that and take it to heart.  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 and become more and more the Body of Christ, Christ present in us.  Do we 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 satisfied?  Do we 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?

That is really what this Sunday is all about.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus