Monday, April 28, 2014

Delving into Deeper Truths

Aslan, the King of Narnia
SPOILER ALERT:  If you have never read C.S. Lewis' masterpiece, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this post-Easter selection may give away much of the story for you :)  If you have read it and want to enjoy one of its most precious passages again, then please read on...
Prior to his passion and death, Jesus had told the Twelve and the other disciples that he would indeed suffer and die, but that we would be raised on the third day.  After the Resurrection, he asked two of them on the road to Emmaus, "Was it not necessary that the Son of Man should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Lk 24:26).
Jesus opened the Scriptures for the two disciples so they could understand everything in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms which spoke of him--centuries in advance.  He unpacked the mystery of a God who so loves the world that he sends his only Son to suffer, die and then rise--for us. 
But why was it necessary?  In his allegorical adventure of four human children into the magical Land of Narnia, C.S. Lewis circles around this question by presenting Aslan the Lion King as a Christ-figure.  In order to defeat the evil Witch who has taken siege of the land, Aslan enlists the help of the human children in support of the forces for good.  However, after one of the boys commits treachery and betrays Aslan and the others to the Witch, the law of the land--the Deep Magic--dictates that she has a rightful claim to his life.  The traitor must die.

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?"

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.