Monday, April 29, 2013

Christ and Questions of Marriage

The Marriage at Cana by Marten de Vos, c. 1596
Awkward.  For the past number of weeks, as Illinois has become another "battleground" state debating the redefinition of marriage, I've been trying to pull together some thoughts on the topic.  Is it just me, or do you also find it difficult to talk about this topic?  So many people know and love someone who has a same-sex attraction, and it is clearly a sensitive topic.  In addition, if religion and politics are the ultimate "No Nos" in polite social conversation, then what happens when we mix both of them together?  Someone is bound to be offended.  (If you're interested in a brief commentary about why these questions are so difficult to, check out Fr. Barron's two brief video clips on the breakdown of moral discourse and the importance of importance of raising questions about the nature of marriage.) 

Christo-centric questions.  In order to focus on the reality of marriage from a Christian perspective, let's begin by turning to the Person of Jesus Christ, on whom everything hinges:  Is he who he says he is?  And, if so, then what does he reveal about the reality of marriage?  And what implications does this have for us?

I.  Who is this Jesus?
Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.  As C.S. Lewis observed, Jesus of Nazareth was not just some really nice guy, some great moral teacher.  Rather, Jesus spoke with an audacity, an other-worldliness and an authority which force us to draw a different conclusion: he is either a deceiver, a madman, or the Eternal One who has entered time.  Among the countless almost-unbelievable statements he makes about himself, at one point Jesus goes so far as to say, “before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 8:58).  Jesus claims to be Yahweh, the one true God, fully present in the flesh.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Carrying Us Through

Good Shepherd, circa 300 AD, Vatican Museum
Maybe it's just me but, after this past week, it seems like "Good Shepherd Sunday" came at just the right time.  There are just so many people who need to be picked up--in so many different ways.

How appropriate that the Easter season continues with this reassuring revelation of who Christ is for each of us. These times are so confused and confusing--so disturbed and disturbing--that it's hard not to wind up wandering around like wayward sheep.  It's hard not to be swayed and misled by the ideologies and ideologues of our times.  It's hard not to let evil drive us to fear and to teeter on the edges of despair.

But somehow in these alienated and alienating times, we sense that this bucolic image speaks to our deepest needs.  With the Psalmist, we long to cry out, "The Lord is my shepherd...Even though I walk through the dark valley, I shall not fear" (Ps 23:1,4).  The Good Shepherd speaks to a time of darkness because it points us toward an even more penetrating light, a Person who will care for each of us individually.

Indeed, the Gospel's revelation of the Good Shepherd makes sense only in the light of the Resurrection.  "Jesus said: 'My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (Jn 10:27).  But how could he dare to call us his sheep and identify himself as our shepherd, unless he were willing to lay down his life for us--as any good shepherd would?  And how could we hear his voice and follow him, here and now, unless he has already conquered death?

So this week, let's lift up in prayer anyone we know who needs to meet the Good Shepherd--those people who are longing for Christ to carry them on his shoulders to greener pastures.  Some people are victims of evil directly willed by others; others find themselves beaten down by structural sins; and many people suffer from the consequences of their own bad decisions.  But, regardless of what is dragging us down, we are all offered the same "lift" from the Lord.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Living the Resurrected Life

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio
Who has been the biggest "difference maker" in the development of your Christian faith?  As you call that person to mind, ask yourself what it is about this person that has inspired you to follow Christ more wholeheartedly.

We all know people who just seem more fully alive--people who encourage us to become a better version of ourselves.  If we have had the eyes to notice them, we have also met people who understand the real meaning of life; they make others feel more valuable, more worthwhile, and more loved. 

Yes, we all know people who just seem to have something more about them.  But what is it?  Do they know how to live in the present moment?  Have they mastered the apprenticeship of putting others before themselves?  Have they purified not only their actions but also their intentions?  Perhaps they are marked by a special kindness or gentleness, a distinctive joyfulness or generosity.  Perhaps they practice a patience or perseverance that seems otherworldly.  

My wager is that the people who we most admire are walking revelations of the "resurrected life" which Christ offers to each of us, each and every day.  My guess is that our heroes in the faith have already started to let the living Word of God transform their daily lives.  Here and now, the Risen Lord is waiting to give us a share in the glorified reality for which we were created, and many people begin to tap into this fullness in the everyday details of their lives.  St. Therese of Lisieux was able to boldly predict that she would "spend her heaven doing good on earth" precisely because she was already spending her earth doing the good of heaven.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Encountering Divine Mercy

Why is it so tempting to hold other people in their sins?  Why is it so hard to move beyond the the evil that we sometimes witness or experience?  We long for revenge when we are hurt; we hold a grudge for a cutting comment; we condone capital punishment as a "solution" for violent crime; we cheer the state-sponsored assassination of terrorists.  It seems like we are almost instinctively drawn to a base belief in "karma"--that is, people should get what they deserve. 

The reality of the Resurrection turns all of our natural inclinations upside down.  It "supernaturalizes" our attitude about everything.  We start to realize that freedom can prevail over slavery to past sins.  We see that nobody has to be stuck with what they "deserve," and that everybody is offered a fresh start.  We understand that God's grace conquers the cycles of karma. This is not to say that there is no more justice or that there are no consequences for evil.  But Christ challenges us not to treat others the way they have treated us, lest we become what is the worst in them.  He also calls us to repent from our own self-love and to take concrete steps toward living for others.

Throughout the Resurrection appearances, Christ repeatedly says, "Peace be with you."  He also asks, "Why are you troubled?" (Lk 24:38).  He knows first-hand that the world can be a brutal place.  He had just experienced the worst of all evils, and yet he explained that the Messiah endured this in order "that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations" (Lk 24:47).

This is Good News, indeed.  None of us would ever want to be judged by the worst of our words or actions--not to mention treated accordingly.  And all of us long, deep down, to be forgiven for our past transgressions.  If you have been touched by God's grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you have a first-hand understanding that "Countless people whose sins have been forgiven have realized that they have received a share in the vitality of the Resurrection from the dead" (Hans Urs von Balthasar).  Indeed, though we might naturally desire to "pay it back" when others hurt us, our deeper "supernatural" hope is to have Someone "pay if forward" for us. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Proclaim the Risen Christ--"My Lord and my God"!

Caravaggio's "Incredulity of Thomas"

We all "get" Good Friday.  One way or another, being human means that betrayal and abandonment, pain and death will eventually come our way.  St. Thomas certainly "got" Good Friday; he witnessed the suffering and torture of Innocence itself, and he experienced the crushing of Hope.
And we all know that Holy Saturday follows Good Friday.  That is, there seems to be only silence--the tomb seems to have triumphed.  It feels like Evil stands victorious once again, Life loses again, and Death has the last laugh.  Again.  St. Thomas definitely knew what it meant to be crushed and devastated and despondent.
But the question is whether we let ourselves "get to" the Resurrection.  In other words, do we allow ourselves to stay stuck on Holy Saturday, or do we open ourselves to the surprise and wonder of Easter Sunday?  We live in times defined by the shadow of Holy Saturday.  Profound suffering is all around us and perhaps even threatens to swallow us personally.  There seem to be no answers, only questions, and so we look for ways to ease the pain.  We get tempted to reduce reality to what we can see and touch.  We start to live by materialistic mottoes and self-centered slogans:   "Life is hard, so I need to make myself as 'happy' as I can be"; "Life is about the 'survival of the fittest,' so whoever has the most toys wins"; "God is dead, so let's eat, drink and be merry while we can."  Without a doubt, St. Thomas felt such meaninglessness and emptiness.