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:
  • Another Last Supper:  How many economic migrants and refugees find themselves forced to leave their homes and families, simply to seek work?  Multinational corporations and global markets must come first; we would never want these to perish, so it is better that families be broken apart.  How many of these farewells involved a lurking sense that they would not eat and drink together again, until they meet anew in the kingdom of our Father (Mt 26:29)?
  • Another Night of Agony: How many women find themselves abandoned by the men who have fathered the new life within them?  How many people feel compelled to consider "physician assisted suicide," so they won't be a "burden" to their families?  There seems to be no way out, and one's whole identity seems to be hanging in the balance.  How many consider the unthinkable simply because their friends "could not keep watch with them for an hour" (Mt 26:40)?
  • Another Betrayal:  How many spouses and children find themselves cast aside by their presumed beloved?  For Judas, it was 30 pieces of silver; for many today, it's often one's almighty emotional wants and whims.  It's better that this relationship should die, so that I can be happy, we are tempted to tell ourselves.  How many of these betrayals are completed with a kiss (Mt 26:49)?
  • Another "Trial" and Conviction, Absent Evidence: How many people will die this week because of state-sanctioned executions?  Whether it is from drone strikes from 20,000 feet, or whether it is another rigged trial designed to silence those who ask too many questions, the needs of the nation are an easy excuse for trumping the rights of the individual.  How many false witnesses come forward each day (Mt 26:60), and how many find themselves convicted and executed without a fair trial?
  • Another Abused and Tortured Victim: How many souls find themselves confined to sweatshops, become victims of human trafficking, or suffer from the scourge which is the international sex trade?  We convince ourselves that freedom must be unfettered; therefore, some individuals may need to suffer. Appetites for cheap goods and services, as well as the billion dollar pornography industry: In reality, we know that there are no victimless crimes.  How many find themselves spat upon and struck in the head, day after day (Mt 27:30)?
  • Another Cross Carried: How many Christians are persecuted because of their faithfulness to Jesus?  Whether it's explicit antagonism from hostile forces or implicit censure by an intolerant radical secularism, Christians increasingly find the world hostile to religious liberty.  The allegedly just needs of the state increasingly require that Christians silence themselves, or prepare to be silenced.  How many find themselves mocked and derided, stripped in various ways, and then led down a path of suffering (Mt 27:31)?
  • Another Crucifixion: How many will die a brutal death today?  Whether it be from starvation, from the violence of drug traffickers, from acts of terror, or from civil war:  Satan seems to be laughing last and loudest.  How many echo Jesus' cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Mt 27:46)?
Yet Jesus takes this sin and evil upon himself, and freely lays his life down with and for us all.  After his bodily resurrection from the dead, Christ will encounter two of his disciples on the road and ask them, "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things?" (Lk 24:26).  How can we not respond:  Yes, Lord, we can see that it was all too necessary; words cannot express our sorrow?! 

But the question is whether we will continue to rationalize and justify our own complicity with evil, or whether we will enter into and help take on the sufferings of our wounded world.  With Joseph of Arimathea, let's help take down Jesus' broken body, wrap it in linen and lay it in a new tomb (Mt 27:59-60).  From there, our Lord will take care of making all things new.

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. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Glimpses of Glory

As you may have heard, a legendary Chicago winter continues to fend off spring.  At least last week’s six inches of snow was the most beautiful of all the others.  Yet somehow it seemed inappropriate for the marvelous month of March--as do the current temperatures hovering around the freezing mark.

The Gospel for the second Sunday in Lent may similarly strikes us as being out of place:  After all, as we journey through the penitential season of Lent--focused on more intentional prayer, more purposeful fasting, and more generous acts of charity--the Transfiguration of Jesus just doesn’t seem to fit.  Like Peter, James and John, we might be baffled by the burst of divine Glory during what can seem like such a long, rather dreary journey toward Jerusalem. 

But haven’t we all experienced this at one point or another—the fact that “Joy and woe are woven fine” (W. Blake)?  Haven't we all realized, usually in retrospect, that our most painful life moments have the potential to propel us toward a deeper, more abundant experience of life?  Lent gives us a chance to recall our experiences of this Paschal dynamic at different junctures in our own life journey. 

Maybe it was a “going forth” from ourselves, a dying to self-interest, in a moment of authentic generosity: we find ourselves giving until it hurts, and yet somehow renewed and refueled through the process.  Maybe it was a surprising or even a self-inflicted suffering which left us totally dependent on someone else: after our humble admission that alone we can do nothing, as well as our openness to accepting help, we find ourselves almost physically carried along by a gift so gratefully received.  Maybe it is even the failure to keep our Lenten commitments (once again!): we find our pride pricked and yet choose to persevere, with God’s grace, rather than give up amid another bout of low-grade self-loathing