Monday, November 30, 2015

What an Advent-ure in Divine Mercy Looks Like

How might this Advent be different from all the rest?

With the prospect of World War III smoldering in Syria, with a global crisis of political and economic refugees, with natural disasters and relentless persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, with terrorist activity and fear-mongering run amok, it does not seem too far fetched for the Son of Man to say that "People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world" (Lk 21:26).

Then there is the inner turmoil, of course: Am I just going through the same old motions as in years past?  To paraphrase St. Paul, do I keep failing to do the good I want to do, and yet continue saying and doing the evil I do not want (Rom 7:19)?  Will this year just be business as usual, or will I allow God's grace to translate the tired story lines of my life into a new script, so I can play the role he needs me to play?

Perhaps the sense of urgency this Advent comes from Pope Francis' gift to the Church and world--the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Maybe this is the opportunity we need personally and collectively to admit that we cannot save ourselves.  Maybe this is our chance to confess that we are powerless in the face of worldly dominions, whether they be the "technocratic paradigm" identified by Holy Father Francis, or the nihilistic machinations of religious and secular extremists.

The Good News remains unchanging yet paradoxical: Our only hope lies in God's powerless love.  In both his birth and his death, Jesus is the Vulnerable One whose self gift "gives heart to the wretched" (miseris cor dare in Latin ["misericordia"]; mercy in English).  This year's Advent-ure and Jubilee call us to a deeper experience of God's self-emptying presence, which creates our hearts anew.

The Lord stands at the door and knocks, inviting us to a fresh start, offering a new beginning, providing us with a clean slate.  Dare we pray that he make us the people of mercy which our weary and wretched world needs?  If so, consider one of the following paths for embracing the joy of the Season and the peace of the Year:

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Viva Cristo Rey!"

Each liturgical year concludes on this potentially vexing note: the celebration of "Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe."

Why this focus on Lordship and Kingship?  What relevance does this really have to those of us living in post-monarchical and democratic times?  Three important movements in the Gospel passage for Christ the King Sunday point toward responses to such questions (Jn 18:33b-37):

  • "Are you the King of the Jews?"  In different ways, and at different times in our lives, we all stand like Pilate in judgment of Jesus.  If he really is the Anointed One who fulfills God's promises to his chosen people, then my lordship over my own life must come to an end.  My plans, my will, my autonomy, my almighty self must submit to Christ's kingship.  Otherwise I, like Pilate, will have to eliminate him.  There is no neutral middle ground, no path of compromise: I either join forces with those in a permanent state of insurrection, or I bow down in the presence of the King.
  • "My kingdom does not belong to this world."  If we would be his followers, Jesus calls each of us to abandon the illusions to grandeur presented by this world.  God or mammon?  Christ compels a choice.  Nations and multinational corporations typically present a facade of benevolence even as they trample weaker competitors under foot.  History is replete with earthly kingdoms which have risen and fallen; their thirst for wealth and power and honor and pleasure defined them for a time, and then fueled their demise.  The kingdom of God, however, refocuses us on the eternal in our midst, paradoxically liberating us to attend to the temporal needs of those nearby.  No more wars, no more fighting to maintain status or status quo, no more striving for domination.  An other-worldly Dominion has arrived and beckons us to help transform earth into the image of heaven.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Topple Terrorism

The human heart longs for a way to make sense of the senseless. We desire meaning and order, even in the face of a barbaric nihilism and more senseless bloodshed.

In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, many people are wondering what to do--both personally and collectively. As Christians, we know that the powers of this world have already been defeated and that the kingdom of God is already among us, though it has clearly not yet been brought to completion. As Americans, we also know that radical Islamists consider us the enemy. So how ought we respond to calculating murderers who seem intent on trying to trigger World War III?

If we want to respond effectively to terrorism, here are four essential next steps:

  1. Pray for the terrorists. What if every Catholic in the world offered one Rosary per week for the conversion of radical Islam? If Christians around the world committed to saying the Lord's prayer once a day for someone in danger of being seduced by Islamist ideologies, wouldn't minds and hearts change?

    After all, as difficult as it may sound, there is still only one way to break the cycle of violence: "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lk 6:27-28).
  2. Expose the terrorists' ideologies. Wouldn't radical Islam be surprised to learn that their ideology has more in common with radical secularism than with true religion? Both the Islamist and the secular ideologies pledge total allegiance to their respective amoral visions of life. Both see themselves as the "end" of human history. Both are comfortable coercing the consciences of those who disagree with their truth claims, and both blithely justify using various forms of violence to achieve their goals and maintain their lifestyles.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jesus' Merciful Gestures

"Merciful like the Father"
The Jubilee Year of Mercy ultimately proposes very personal questions: Will I allow the crucified and risen Lord to carry me home to the Father?  Am I willing to look upon my neighbor, in turn, with the same merciful gaze with which Jesus looks upon me?

To become merciful requires that we first acknowledge and accept the mercy which the Lord continues to shower upon us. It means that we must let Jesus' story become our story or, rather, we must let our life story be taken up into his.

One way to do this is to notice how various moments in the life of Jesus shed light on our daily life experiences. Though there are countless moments we might focus on, here are five gestures from John's Gospel to launch us into this great moment of mercy:
  • "Jesus made a whip out of cords..." (Jn 2:15): Jesus wants our hearts to become his temple, and yet I am beset by a spirit of worldliness. I find myself unprepared to have the Lord enter under my roof--and unable to clean my own house. Whether it be pleasure, power, honor, or riches which have made my heart a marketplace, Jesus enters with authority to drive out all obstacles: "Zeal for your house will consume me". Divine mercy never leaves us to our own devices, and therefore calls us to have such zeal for the souls of others.

  • "Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger..." (Jn 8:6): Jesus wants us to be less concerned about the sins of others and more alert to our own need of God's grace. The line in the sand here redirects my eyes from my neighbor's bad decisions to my own. If I am humble enough to read the word which the Lord writes on the ground regarding the state of my own soul, if I am not so sanctimonious as to demand both condemnation for others and leniency for myself, then I might stand with the woman long enough to hear Jesus' healing words spoken to both of us: "Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more". Divine mercy is a "performative" utterance--it empowers us to be who God wills us to be.
  • "Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva..." (Jn 9:6): Jesus does not want us to wander blindly any longer, or to feel that our "issues" are somehow tied to being unworthy of him. Here the Lord's spittle is enough to open the eyes of the man blind from birth. This is good news, indeed, regarding all of those seemingly ancient wounds and dysfunctions which continue to burden me. The Light of the world wants to help me re-envision everything, so my response can be like the man's: "I was blind and now I see"! Divine mercy is recreating the whole world; in the process, we who were formerly blind get sent into the world with authentic sympathy and understanding for those who still long to see.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Synod for Sinners, for Jesus, and for Pharisees

In terms of your own "everyday evangelization," what uplifting or challenging talking points caught your ear at the recent Synod on the Family? 

For better or for worse, we've never had as much real-time information regarding how the Church discerns the movement of the Holy Spirit, in light of of both changing historical contexts and unchanging divine revelation. (Can you imagine the ancient Roman media's coverage of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries?!) While we await Pope Francis' final word on the Synod, please consider these brief comments on three different perspectives in relation to your own ongoing reflection:

  • A Synod for Sinners: Anyone who has experienced true mercy knows that it hinges on being forgiven or spared precisely when it is undeserved. Jesus knows our brokenness and need for healing far better than we do, and he reaches out to grab us by the hand, even while we are still sinners ("I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" [Mk 2:17]. Yet he also knows that the "I'm OK, you're OK approach" to life is neither truthful nor merciful. The Lord does not walk the earth in order to reassure the forsaken that being abandoned is just fine; rather, he lets himself be nailed to a tree out of solidarity with those who are lost, thereby transforming us into adopted sons and daughters. Truth and Mercy stretch out their arms together to embrace the whole world, although the Savior is humble enough to allow us sinners the freedom to accept or reject the gift.

  • A Synod for Jesus: For the Church not to teach what Jesus himself has revealed would be to contradict her divine mission; it would be tantamount to treason, akin to the treachery of Judas, selling out the Lord once again. After all, Jesus shocks the disciples by teaching about marriage from the perspective of our original innocence, beginning with the beginning in mind ("Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" [Mt 19:8]). He bewilders them by both praising and counter-culturally modelling a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12), even as he invites them to open their hearts God's beautiful vision of marriage. From the perspective of self-giving love, renouncing one good for the sake of an even greater good helps give witness to the proper ordering of human life.