Monday, April 21, 2014

Follow Jesus' Footwork


Ever notice how much of the Christian way of life--like life itself--depends on the footwork?

At the start of Holy Week, we saw Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus' feet with perfumed oil, wiping them with her hair.  Because the Anointed One knew where he was headed and why, he praised her for anticipating the day of his burial.  At the place of the skull, we saw a crushing hammer blow fasten the feet which walked the waves onto the wood of the Cross.  John and the Mary of Magdala then witnessed the Blood of the Lamb flowing down his legs to the ground through his toes--the very toes his Mother Mary had washed and counted years before.

Next we saw Joseph of Arimathea and the others hastily but reverently wrapping the lifeless body of Life itself, covering him from head-to-foot.  "It is complete."  Or is it?

As both Jesus and the Scriptures had mysteriously foretold regarding the third day, we suddenly see the world's only authentic Dead Man Walking.  No mere Lazarus destined to return to the grave, the Risen Lord's wounded but glorified feet stride confidently from the tomb into the dew of the early dawn.  Upon encountering him, Mary of Magdala embraces his feet and does him homage.  Only his authoritative word loosens her grip: "Do not be afraid."

Throughout the octave of Easter--eight days celebrated as one--, we repeatedly see Jesus' transfigured footwork inspiring theirs:  Mary, apostle to the Apostles, promptly runs back to the eleven; John and Peter fearlessly race to the empty tomb.  After walking along with an apparent stranger, two of his disciples realize the scriptural truth that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory; when Jesus then definitively reveals himself in the breaking of the bread, they scurry back to Jerusalem to tell the others.  "Were not our hearts burning within us?"

Having already kicked down the door of death, Christ passes into locked rooms in order to let his disciples touch him: "Look at my hands and my feet...Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."  Wiggling his toes in the sand, Christ playfully teases his fish-less fishers of men--"Children, have you caught anything to eat?"--, even as he prepares a fire to cook their impending miraculous catch.  Then "Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them..."

Ah, the breaking of the bread:  After weeks of walking with the Risen Lord and then witnessing his return to the Father and the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and disciples come to realize that, blessed and broken, the bread and the cup transport them spiritually back to the foot of the Cross.  Then they see that, at the Last Supper, Jesus had offered in advance his interpretation of everything that would follow: "This is my body, broken for you." 

With each celebration of the Eucharist, the disciples of Jesus find themselves not only nourished, but also commissioned: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  After all, they see that the Master's complete gift of self is inextricably linked with the self-abasing work of a slave.  Thus, fearless and filled with joy, they head out to become the world's footwashers. 

P.S.  Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!  (And check out Fr. Robert Barron's behind the scenes video footage of the canonizations at: 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Another Present-Day Passion

Again and again, God's love collides with human sin and suffering.  As we re-enter the week that changed the world, the reality of Jesus' free and total gift of himself confronts the illogic of a disordered and broken human race.

Looking back, we can see that the fate of the Innocent One was effectively sealed after he had raised Lazarus from the dead:  The high priest Caiaphas told the Sanhedrin, "it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish" (Jn 11:50).  This cold rationalization flings the religious powers-that-be toward the evil they will soon inflict upon Goodness himself.  It also provides the justification for all of the sin and evil which continue to our day. 

Indeed, whenever the "end" or "goal" becomes an excuse for resorting to unjust "means" or "methods," the innocent suffer, and the Passion plays itself out once again:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Perturbances of Penance

For Catholics, Lent is the penitential season of the liturgical year.  It is an annual invitation to re-center our lives on Christ, to re-orient our minds and hearts to the will of the Father, and to let the Holy Spirit re-direct our daily duties toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

A supernatural centerpiece of Lent is the call to the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.  Jesus sends his Church out to forgive sins, even though he certainly knows that God hears every one of our prayers--including our daily acts of contrition.  "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them..." (Jn 20:23); once again, the radical newness of the Gospel cannot be questioned.  Given that the Scribes and Pharisees were already upset with Jesus for forgiving sins (can't only God do this?!), imagine how outraged they must have been to see the Apostles to carrying on this work after Jesus' Resurrection!

Yet, as we careen deeper into the 21st Century, perhaps a part of us is also outraged by the Sacrament of Penance.  Indeed, have you noticed how difficult it is to get to Confession?  For some people, years have passed, and it seems less and less likely that they'll rediscover this gift (though it is always already being offered by the Lord).  For others, the annual Lenten commitment seems like a torturous obligation.  And even if we make a commitment to receive this Sacrament, countless obstacles seem to emerge--at least for me, a small voice seems to whisper, "Just wait until next week" or "You're not really going to confess that, are you?"

One part of us longs for the everlasting mercy of God, while another part is glad to rebuff the offer.  One part of us, deep down, wants to "be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5: 48).  Another part wants to lash out and teach God a lesson, insisting that "No one's perfect!"  One part of us wants to love and be loved, fully, even while another part wants to rebuke the very possibility of true love.

As he makes his way toward his time of fulfillment in Jerusalem, Jesus speaks words unparalleled in the history of the human race:  "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever belies in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?" (Jn 11:25-26).  Part of us cries out with Peter, even after years of false starts, denials and betrayals, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you" (Jn 21:17).  Another part of us, tragically, would rather keep lying in the tombs of our own making.

This perturbs Jesus.  The Lover wonders why the Beloved would reject him.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Thirst, Light, Life

To become an "everyday evangelizer," I first need to let myself be evangelized.  Again and anew.  Today, as if for the first time.

Have you been tracking the encounters with Jesus which the Church has delivered during the past two Sundays of Lent?  Coupled with this coming Sunday's passage about the raising of Lazarus, these three scenes from the Gospel of John give us a glimpse into the journey which Jesus invites each of us to make:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Going Forth with Francis

Evangelii Gaudium
Have you been enjoying all of the commentaries about Pope Francis' first year? 

I think the most beautiful reflection came from one of his "gang of eight," Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who offered an interpretation of Francis as a faithful follower of Jesus walking in the footsteps of St. Ignatius.  (And, of course, as a young man St. Ignatius wanted to become like St. Francis of Assisi!)

Pope Francis wants each of us become missionary disciples who "go forth" from ourselves into our daily world filled with joy.  So how might we enter more fully into this journey during the second year of Francis' pontificate?  If we could give the pope one gift on the anniversary of his election to the Chair of St. Peter--besides the prayers he so humbly requested--perhaps it would be to use his "Joy of the Gospel" as a road-map for a personal examination of conscience. 

Even if we started with the first chapter, entitled "The Church's Missionary Transformation," there would be much food for thought.  Indeed, Pope Francis throws down the following challenge:  "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel" (n. 20).  Here we quickly arrive at the heart of the matter:  The fundamental question is how Christ is calling each of us personally--as well as our communities--to become a more authentically missionary people.