April 1, 2018
We are constantly reminded these days by the change of the seasons and by what is happening in the world of the rhythm of human life with its pain and joy, life and death, rebirth and endings. This is also true in our spiritual and liturgical moments. Each time we come together to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist we celebrate the Paschal mystery of a God who freely chose to suffer and die for us in Jesus so that we have new life. But not just in the past; no, also today when God continues to identify with our own personal and communal kinds of deaths and dyings and lives them with us, bringing forth from them new life and hope! Blessed by that hope and new life we, like Jesus, are called to become voluntary cross and pain bearers: to share the pain, the anguish, even the despair of our fellow human beings, to absorb also people’s anger, and to care for them without question. We are called to see the suffering Christ in the faces around us, in those close by and in the faces of those on our streets, in refugee camps, in suffering communities in areas of conflict around the world. We have some modern mentors in that regard and Pope Francis points to them. He recently beatified 19 Algerians who were murdered from 1994-1996 in the conflict between Islamists and the army. Among them the Trappists of Tibhirine (a powerful movie, “Of God and men”, tells their story) and the Bishop of Oran, Pierre Claverie, a Dominican who I met in Rome when I was a member of a Justice and Peace Commission. These were men and women who wished to be solidaire with those in Algeria who wished an open and inclusive, plural Algeria. They had entered into a true dialogue recognizing and accepting differences with the willingness to be enriched by those differences. They exemplified God’s own nature, a God whose very being is dialogue, relating to others. Their witness of love and faith was lived with discretion and humility; they are truly saints of and for our time. On this Easter Sunday we celebrate the certainty that Jesus on the Cross overcame all suffering and the sins of our humanity and that like Jesus we too are now called to emerge from our various tombs and awaken to life. We are assured of God’s mercy and of the gift of the Spirit that helps us see how all our life experiences, no matter how painful, can also be life giving, sources of hope, moments of rising to new life. We usually stop at the dark side of death, just as we usually are preoccupied by the bleakness of our world, the economic and financial woes, the hunger, the sickness, the injustices, the despair, our own darkness and sinfulness. But we must also look at the flip side of all these deaths, so that we may discover that deeper mystical reality which Jesus showed to us in his death on the cross. The cross is the major symbol of our faith; we should not be afraid of showing its truth to the world. The cross both forces us and teaches us to let go, to surrender and trust. And at that very moment when we surrender, pain becomes praise, weakness becomes strength, death becomes life. We know this, we can experience this, because of the example of Jesus, because of the example of so many Christ-like people (Christians and non-Christians) who have or are showing the way in history and in our world. Yes, our own crosses in life CAN teach us compassion, to be merciful to the point of foolishness, to forgive seventy times seven, to reconcile, to share. Our own crosses, no matter how heavy, CAN make us vividly aware of the fact that everyone is wounded and crucified in some way. Our own crosses CAN make us sensitive to the sufferings of others. Our crosses are in a beautiful way the seeds of compassion. Our crosses, mine but also yours, those of so many innocents in the world, in the Middle East, in our cities, this world’s crosses. Yes, these crosses can transform hearts of stone into bread, broken for the hungry of the world. God’s Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has also been given to us as a seed in baptism. And as we know a seed must die in order to grow and bear fruit. We are called to let our quest for more things, for inordinate pleasures, die in us and to strive for an end to injustices, for redistribution of wealth and respect for the poor, for a true peace devoid of all violence and hatred. Archbishop Oscar Romero (always seen as a Saint by the people and now at last recognized by the official Church), at first seen as a “safe” choice and then as a man who stood with his suffering people for which he was murdered on March 24 1980, knew it and invites us: “To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do like me. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. The Lord goes with you…. If we illuminate with hope the longings for justice, peace, and goodness that we still have on this earth, they will be realized. Those who have put in their work a feeling of great faith, of love of God, of hope for humility, find all that work now overflowing in the splendors of a crown. Such has been the reward for all those who do work, watering the earth with truth, justice, love and kindness. These deeds are not lost; purified by the spirit of God, their effects are our reward.” Yes, we are as Christians called to be truly Easter people in action, people who by their presence, by their word, by their action help this world to rise: we are called to be witnesses of hope! Have an Easter which continues to live in us!
Our journey towards Easter
March 18, 2018
Lent is drawing to a close; it all went so fast! It seems only yesterday that the prophets Joel and John the Baptizer and then Jesus himself asked us to focus on the things that are of God, to fast from all kinds of behavior (pessimism, anger, apathy, negativity, anxiety, self-concern, etc.) and to feast on bringing healing and justice and peace and forgiveness and reconciliation and so many other positive goodness. We may feel discouraged that we have been less than successful in developing within us the attitudes or qualities which we genuinely wanted to renew in us and which we may have written on the pieces of paper on the cross. After all, we all wish to grow spiritually, we all wish to express our sorrow for our sins, to be in solidarity with suffering people both at home and in other parts of the world, to simplify our lives so that we would be more open to others and to God. But it seems as if we are stuck, a bit like the people of Israel freed from slavery in Egypt but stuck in exile in the desert unable it seems to get to their promised homeland. Yes, our own Lenten journey is truly a journey through the desert symbolized by the sand area in front of the altar at St. Elizabeth’s. We too are still in exile, far from “home”, far from the person we wish to be; and as a people we are far from the world we really wish for ourselves and for our children. Our lives seem to be dry like the desert sand and, like the bucket in front of the altar, our well is empty and we yearn for life-giving water and nourishment. Like the “prodigal” father in the parable of the prodigal son God waits for us, sees us in our exile and God knows that who we are now is not who we can be. God’s compassion, mercy and tenderness bring God to do again what God has always done in the past: God calls us his people to come out of exile, to begin those difficult steps, so that we might be embraced in his loving care. We need to recognize our need for God in our lives in those first steps of conversion and open ourselves to that life-giving embrace. God will provide the necessary nourishment and strength we need so that we don’t grow discouraged. Our journey of searching will not be in vain because, as Jeremiah assures us, our God is so close to us; yes, even within us: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:33-34).” One of the characteristics of the desert is that deep within the seeming arid sand are seeds of new life, which will spring forth and bear fruit when watered. Deep within us is God’s gift of life and love which will spring forth to bear fruit when nourished by the renewed waters of baptism, by the Spirit of the Risen Lord. The pieces of paper will be taken off the cross on Good Friday and used to light the new fire at the Easter Vigil which in turn will bless the new water filling the empty well. The desert area in front of the altar will become an area full of flowers signifying the new life we receive at the end of our Lenten journey as the Spirit of the Risen Lord renews the face of the earth. In order for us to get there we need to leave our places of exile; we need to be freed from the areas of slavery to which we are attached, whatever they are: past hurts, sinful patterns, substance abuse, pride, excessive use of social media, comfortable non-involved religion, wasteful use of the earth’s resources, fear, suspicion, unwillingness to forgive or to be forgiven, etc. In the Gospel of the adulterous woman whom the scribes and Pharisees wanted to be stoned (John 8: 1-11), Jesus reaches out to the accusers as well as to the woman and he invites them and the woman, he invites all of us, to a new vision, to a new beginning, to a new way of living. Jesus’ last word in that Gospel rings out to all of us: “Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way; from now on do not sin again” Jesus was able to see the seeds of renewal and redemption within all kinds of people and within all kinds of situations. He is inviting us to do the same. As we get in touch with ourselves and with the God in us we can discern the seeds of new life and of hope. With Holy Week let us journey with Jesus and discover both in his suffering and death as well as in the suffering and many deaths of our world and time, the seeds of the Resurrection. In the midst of adversity and suffering in our world we see people, individuals and communities, reaching out, working to change political, social and economic systems and structures that dehumanize, and sharing their resources with those in need. We can rely on God’s promise to redeem us and to never let us walk alone. We know that where God is, there can always be hope. Lent is thus for us a sacred journey, when we are reminded of our baptismal commitment to follow the path of Jesus day by day. The Gospel stories are not just about the journey of Jesus but about our own journey towards new life. Christians are called to be Easter people, always remembering that the Resurrection came after suffering and death, and that the God who raised Jesus from the dead, is the same God whose Spirit is in us calling us to rise to new life and to raise all that is dead around us to new life. Yes, God’s creative and re-creative power has been given to us not to abuse, but rather to use for the advancement of God’s reign of justice and peace. We need to become ever more people who, like Jesus did two thousand years ago, bring hope, healing, true peace and justice to our world which needs these gifts more than ever.