Welcome to Green Reflections, the blog dedicated to reflections on the readings from the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary, with particular sensitivity to the needs of the earth. Use this blog to deepen your own awareness of our Creator's desires for the planet and ways that we can appreciate God's goals for the earth,giving it the loving care that it deserves.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
The following is part of an ongoing fictional dialog between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
“You’re awful quiet this morning, Respecta,” Petras commented.
“It’s just that I’m having a hard time understanding today’s gospel reading, Petras. I usually think of Jesus as being kind-hearted and generous, but today he was downright rude to the Canaanite woman. Really! He called her a dog and seemed to want to get away from her without helping.”
“Ah, yes, it would appear that way to non-Mediterranean hearers. Let me fill you in on the background that might just help you in this case. You see, in first century Palestine, as well as other Mediterranean countries, people were governed by an honor code. In Israel, you might keep your honor by not associating with non-Jewish people. Cozying up to Gentiles brought with it public shame. It’s no wonder that Jesus would not have spoken to a Canaanite woman. Jewish men not only didn’t speak to women who were not family members, they also avoided contact with Gentiles except for business. If Jesus had freely spoken to this woman, he could easily have lost all his disciples and his shame would have affected his ability to make a living. Such a person might have to go through cleansing rituals in order to attend temple.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize how honor ruled Jesus’ society. I guess if he lived a fully human life, he would have adopted the customs of his nation in order to be respected there. But, why—why did he call the woman a dog? That’s just plain cruel.”
“To our ears, it certainly was. In Jesus’ culture, however, it was one way that he could speak to the woman, using the common slur used against Canaanites, ‘a dog.’ Even so, notice that Jesus used the phrase for pet dogs, not the wild dogs that roam the street eating garbage. Perhaps that softened the blow for the woman.”
“She certainly was persistent, wasn’t she, Petras? I don’t think that I would have kept petitioning Jesus if he treated me that way.”
“Yes, I think many of us are tempted to give up if Jesus doesn’t answer our needs quickly. I believe that’s the whole point of today’s gospel. Matthew’s gospel pictures this woman as being very loyal to Jesus. Notice how she used the title, “lord, son of David,” to start her petition. She began by acknowledging his lordship and messianic title. Even when Jesus seems to ignore the woman, she maintains her belief in him and loyally calls on him for help. Each time she addressed Jesus, she called him, ‘Lord.’ This was part of the honor code that would make Jesus her patron. She doesn’t give up on him and at the same time reminds him of his obligations to his client, namely herself. The woman even comes back to him when Jesus called her the household pet dog by claiming that pets eat scraps from the master’s table. It took courage and humility to maintain her claim on Jesus.”
“That’s pretty amazing, Petras. I would never have understood that all this honorable behavior was happening if you didn’t show it to me.”
“Yes, Respecta, the gospel is filled with layers of meaning and it’s not always easy to see it when you’re not part of the Mediterranean cultures. Meantime, there’s an important message for us in the story. It can seem like God is terribly slow helping us at times. When catastrophic illness or injury occurs, or when we have suffered terrible injustice at others hands, we want God to step in immediately to change our situation. Today’s gospel reading tells us to be faithful to God and Jesus when they don’t give us what we want immediately.”
“Life can be awfully hard, Petras. There are murders and rapists, there is the government oppression of our faith, and children die before they have a chance to grow up. It’s hard to be patient and trust God in these circumstances. It’s not in my nature just to sit by and wait for God to act.”
“Well, I believe that we don’t have to sit back in all our sufferings, Respecta. When we get a headache or suffer a sprain we can drink willow bark tea to alleviate the pain and swelling. We can get a doctor’s help for more serious illness. But when extremely dangerous things happen, like the murder and rape that you brought up, it’s very difficult. If we turn around in the same spirit as the murderer or rapist, we become murderers and rapists ourselves. If we took up arms to defend ourselves, then we would become as violent as the government that persecutes us. I believe that Jesus' advice to turn the other cheek comes into play in these circumstances. If we repay evil for evil, then we will become part of darkness instead of being children of light. It is very difficult to trust that God will work out all things for our good. Nevertheless, I believe the Canaanite woman has much to say to us today about these matters. When her child was devastated by some kind of illness, she turned to Jesus for help. The gospel doesn’t tell us if she went to a doctor first, though she may have. Even when it looked like Jesus wouldn’t help her, she remained by his side, loyally trusting his good heart to respond to her need.”
“I see. What you’re telling me is to do what is possible to change circumstances when I can, but to recognize that some situations cannot be changed without divine intervention. And if I live loyal to Jesus and I pray faithfully, but God still doesn’t answer the way that I had hoped, then I should trust God to do what is best even if I don’t see it.”
“I think that is a good summation, Respecta. God has always told people to ‘maintain justice and do what is right,’ so we are commanded to live in right relationship with one another and do what is right. When we cannot get justice or we must live with painful circumstances, then God reminds us that salvation will come. What God spoke through Isaiah is true for us, also. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is worthwhile to maintain our loyalty to Jesus and his teaching no matter what happens. Some will allow their frustration to separate them from Christ Jesus. For the Canaanite woman as for us, loyalty to Christ, even without seeing tangible results, keeps us connected to him and walking his ways.”
Ponder the Serenity Prayer to see if it might help with the burdens we bear.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Saturday, August 6, 2011
The following is an excerpt from a fictional conversation between 2nd century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
Respecta shivered. “I don’t like ghost stories and I am surprised that the twelve believed that Jesus was a ghost when he walked on the water toward those in the boat.”
“That’s interesting, Respecta,” Petras replied. “Let’s explore why you don’t like ghost stories to begin our conversation today.”
“Doesn’t everyone fear ghosts?” Respecta began. “After all, they are malevolent spirits that can wreak havoc in our lives. I wouldn’t ever want to meet up with a ghost!”
“I am not sure everyone fears ghosts, much less believes they exist. In the first century when Matthew’s gospel was written, Mediterranean peoples believed in all kinds of spirits. They thought of spirits that governed weather, spirits that caused waves on the ocean or earthquakes on shore. They thought some spirits were mischievous and others were malevolent. The disciples in the boat in today’s gospel reading, likely believed that a malevolent spirit whipped up the sea and was trying to kill them.”
“My people think like that, too,”Respecta observed. “In fact, we have believed that there were all kinds of gods who were angry or jealous, and that we needed to appease them for our safety.”
“Then you might understand how it is that Jesus’ disciples were afraid when they saw him walking on water. They already were afraid for their lives, believing that some evil spirit wanted to kill them when Jesus appeared. In the wind, rain and darkness before dawn they wouldn’t have been able to see well, so it is natural that they thought Jesus was a ghost. Jesus had to reassure them it was he. He told them, ‘Be brave, it is I; do not be afraid.’”
“He knew their feelings and addressed them right away. It is one of the characteristics that I love about Jesus,” Respecta commented.
“Yes, he didn’t want them in distress. At the same time, Jesus was surprised that they had so little trust in God and in him. I imagine that Jesus wondered how it was possible after the multiplication of loaves and fish that the disciples still had more fear of malevolent spirits than trust in his love and power.”
“I can see that, especially when Peter began to walk on the waves but then became afraid and started to sink.”
“Isn’t that a lot like most of us, Respecta? It is so easy to trust God when things are going well, but when trials come we are not so sure that God has the power to save us. We become like Peter and cry out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
“Doesn’t God want us to cry out to him, Petras?”
“Certainly. But God hopes we’ll cry out to him in trust, not out of fear or doubt. Remember, Jesus reached out to Peter immediately and took him by the hand to save him. So, we need to reach out our hands in complete confidence that God cares for us and sees our needs before we even ask.”
“That’s easy enough when troubles are small. Sometimes, though, we live in fear that things will never change and we’re going to suffer for a long time. It’s hard to believe that God will save us from all suffering.”
“Respecta, I am not saying that at all. The God who allowed Jesus to suffer and die does not save us from all the trials that come our way; not at all. Yet, Jesus trusted in God who raised him up from death. That is our hope, too. God walks with us in all our sufferings. God suffers with us, cries with us and loves us through all that happens. Even when our fears come true, God is with us through it all. Our hope is that we, like Jesus, will be vindicated in our hope. God will raise us up to eternal life. When that happens, all the trials and fears we had will be seen in the light of love and they will seem very small compared to the love of God and God’s plan for our eternal joy.”
“Your hope inspires me, Petras. At the same time, it is hard for me to imagine trusting God so much that I stop worrying about everything. That really would be like walking on water!”
“Perhaps, you want to keep in mind Elijah’s experience of God. In all the destructive elements that came his way, the wind, the earthquake and the fire, God was not speaking. Our God is not a god of destruction. Rather, God came in silence or the tiny whisperings of Elijah’s heart. Life can clamor at us. Pay attention, life calls out! Pay attention to all the fears that can take over; fear about loss of work; fear that children will be lost; fear of loss of health; fear of wars; fear of death. These fears almost yell at us, drowning out the still, quiet place in our hearts where God moves and speaks. It is so important to lay our fears at Jesus’ feet and be still. Trust that he knows what is best for us and will take care of us. When we trust him, the voice of fear quiets. Only then can we listen to his voice in our hearts.”
“I think it might be a good practice to take my fears and place them in front of Jesus daily.”
“That’s a good idea, Respecta. As your trust in Jesus grows and grows, your fears will lessen. You will be able to more easily hear his voice in your heart. When you lessen fear, your worship will also become more joyful.”
“That will be wonderful.”
Reflection question: What worries about the environment do I carry that I want to hand over to Jesus today?
Sunday, July 31, 2011
The following is part of a fictitious, ongoing dialog between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
“You know, Respecta, some days I believe that God gives us an opening right into the Divine Heart!” Petras commented.
“I feel that way, too, Petras. When we listened to the prophet Isaiah at liturgy, I felt as if God were showing us the deep desires of His heart. I felt the tugging at my own heart as God nearly begged us to be allowed to feed all our desires.”
“Me, too, Respecta. Sometimes, we listen to catechists and preachers who seemingly want to reduce religion to rules and regulations. But true religion is all about our relationship with God. If we keep our eyes focused on the designs of God’s heart, then rules are no longer necessary. Any god who wants to fill our deepest desires is One who earns my love and respect. Naturally, I want to love God and do what is loving to others in return. Jesus said this is the essence of true religion.”
“I was struck by the reading from Matthew’s gospel, too. I kept picturing in my mind the banquet that was served in Herod’s palace and comparing it with the feast that Jesus prepared.”
“Tell me more about that.”
“Well, Herod’s birthday arrived, so a banquet was held in his honor. I’d just bet all his political cronies were there, oozing false friendship in order to curry Herod’s favor. Then in the background, there was Herodias who was scheming with her daughter to end John the Baptist’s life. The banquet probably fed the guests with the finest seafood and deserts that cost a pretty penny. But instead of leaving the palace filled and grateful, the banquet ended with the beheading of the Baptist. How gruesome! And it must have been frightening to see the trap laid and sprung against the king. The very man that the politicians wanted to find favor with is a weakling who can be tricked by a seductive dance!
In contrast, people flocked to Jesus to hear the life-giving words that he taught and be healed of all the infirmities that blocked them from participating in family life. Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of over 10,000 people with only five loaves and two fish; yet everyone was filled—and there were even leftovers. People left this feast with their hearts strengthened and their deepest human hungers fed. Instead of the fear and danger that surrounded King Herod’s feast, this meal satisfied and brought peace and joy to folks.”
“Your insight is remarkable, Respecta. Just like that feast on a hillside that Jesus presided over, we Christians celebrate Jesus’ presence among us every week at the Eucharist. It is our time to recognize his healing power in our lives and allow him to feed the deepest needs of our hearts. It is time for us to share our common faith and be encouraged by one another’s experience of God’s love in our lives. It is also the place where we can prepare for the experiences of persecution and suffering that come to every Christian. I am reminded of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where he reminded us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”
“Nothing, that is, except our own attitudes and behaviors. Just like arrogant Herod and the jealous Herodias, we can be separated from Christ’s love by our own bad attitudes and behaviors, right, Petras?”
“Not exactly, Respecta. Even our own sinfulness is no block to God’s love. His grace is stronger than any sin of ours. The problem with sin and the arrogance that you refer to in Herod and Herodias is that we can imagine we are so powerful and self-sufficient that we turn away from Christ’s love and depend solely on ourselves for our needs. It’s a recipe for failure, for sure.”
“Oh, I understand, Petras. I was forgetting that Jesus took the people to a deserted place in the story of the miraculous loaves and fish. A desert in scripture stands for our total dependence on God. In the desert we will starve to death or die of thirst unless God provides for our needs. There, all the social rank and privilege, even our possessions, cannot save us. It is a good image to remember.”
“Yes. It’s probably a good question for personal reflection, too, Respecta. As much as we may want to depend on God, we must beware of all attitudes of false security in ourselves. You’ve given me much to think about this week, Respecta. It seems the teacher is being taught by the student this Sunday!”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, Petras. I dearly want to respond to the God Who desires to fulfill my deepest desires, and if that means a bit of self-examination to rid me of pride or arrogance, so be it. We’re at my street. See you next week, Petras.”
“God be with you, Respecta.”
Saturday, July 23, 2011
The following is one part in a series of fictional dialogs between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
Respecta sat among her fellow catechumens following the homily one Sunday. She was confused by the parable that Jesus spoke and was not the least bit shy about saying so.
“Petras, I don’t understand this parable at all! After all ‘finders, keepers; losers, weepers.’ Why would finding a treasure in a field be bad news?”
“Well,” Petras replied, “it isn’t so much that finding the treasure is bad news. The danger is that finding the treasure could be good news or it could place the finder in great jeopardy. You see, if you bought a field in first century Palestine and then found a treasure, it won’t necessarily belong to you.”
“Yes. You need to understand that in that part of the world, people buried their precious belongings in order to safeguard them from thieves who might break into their homes and steal. So, if someone sold a field and forgot about his treasure buried there, the finder could not keep it under the law. It belongs to the original owner. But, if the treasure’s owner died or no one came forward to claim it, it might belong to the buyer. You can imagine what a quandary that would put the new owner in. Even his neighbors would report him if the new owner suddenly became more wealthy without a good explanation. They would think he stole the treasure.”
“Well, I never considered that possibility. What about the merchant who sold everything to own the precious pearl? That sounds like terrific news. Is there a downside to this vignette, too?”
“Yes, Respecta, you’ve definitely caught onto the paradox in today’s parables. If the merchant sold everything to own the great pearl, how would he afford to buy food or pay taxes? He could starve to death simply to own the pearl, and then what good would it do him?”
Respecta looked puzzled, so Petras continued, “Finding the kingdom of God is always good news, right? It means that someone has discovered the good news of God’s love and plan for his life. For Christians, this means that we understand that Jesus embodied the good news in his life and his message, and it means that we can find salvation in Jesus Christ. However—and this is a big ‘but’—knowing this good news means that we must live by Jesus’ teachings. We can be condemned by failing to enact the good news in our own lives!”
“Oh, my! I see what you mean. Finding the Kingdom of God is risky if we are not fully committed to loving God and loving our neighbors as Jesus did. That must be why Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a net that catches good and bad fish alike. I can see how easy it might be to even fool ourselves into believing that we are “good fish.” We might come to Eucharist every week and give to the poor, but we might also be harboring resentments and be unforgiving toward someone who has offended us. Living out all of Jesus’ teachings and imitating him in all of our relationships is very challenging.”
“Yes, Respecta, being a Christian is extremely challenging. St. Paul reminds us of this in the letter to the Romans where he says that God ‘predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son.’ I like to think that becoming a Christian is like a process, like baking a cake. We mix all the ingredients together, but it is not a cake until it sits in the oven to rise and cook. Becoming a Christian means acknowledging Jesus as our savior, but it is not full Christianity if we simply know Christian beliefs and praise God’s name. We must learn to live and love as Christ did if we hope to conform our hearts and our lives to the image of Jesus. He is the pattern of Christian living.”
“Then, isn’t Christianity doomed to fail, Petras? How can we hope to imitate Christ in everything?”
“I’ll share the answer that helped me answer that question when I was young. The answer is, ‘It only takes a lifetime!’ In other words, don’t look for perfection today; just keep striving to become as good and loving as Jesus every day until the Spirit perfects Its work in you. Then instead of focusing on making yourself perfect, you can trust that the Holy Spirit will accomplish in you what you cannot do by yourself. The work of becoming a Christian is a partnership between you and God. And God can be trusted to do what is good and beautiful and perfect in you.”
“Thank you, Petras. Somehow, you seem to read my heart and know how to put me at peace on this journey into Christianity.”
Reflection question: Is there a part of my life that is not yet fully conformed to Jesus yet? What can I do about it?
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The following is an excerpt from a dialog between 2nd century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
As Respecta slowly made her way from the Christian assembly, she was more pensive than usual. Her teacher, Petras, commented to her, “A denarii for your thoughts.”
“Oh, I was just thinking about some of the trials that our brothers and sisters are suffering these days. You know what I mean. Christians cannot hold public office or pursue well-paying occupations because of the Roman oath. We must stay away from certain professions that are immoral, like acting and military service because they are so contrary to the gospel. In Roman society we live as day laborers and small business owners so that our livelihoods are always precarious. I wonder if it might be better if we formed our own towns so that we could do better. That way, at least some of us could be doctors, lawyers and mayors and provide for the needs of our own people through better incomes.”
“Ah, Respecta! I can sympathize with your idea to live separately from the evils of society. It is hard, especially for those of us who are raising children, to teach and to protect them from adopting the bad attitudes that surround us. But I think that Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds is very much to the point for us today. When Jesus spoke about the wheat growing alongside the weeds until harvest, I think he was speaking about the Christian vocation. We are to live in the world but not be ‘of the world.’ Matthew’s gospel links up three parables for us today to drive home the point.”
“I see, Petras. But why should we live in the world when evil desires and behaviors surround us and can infect us? Wouldn’t it be better to live separately where we can be spared such temptation?”
“There are two things that I think we need to talk about, Respecta. When Jesus told the parables of the weeds and the wheat, the mustard seed and the yeast, He was talking about the Kingdom of God or Reign of God. One mistake some people make is to identify the reign of God or His kingdom with the Church. Jesus never made such a connection. The reign or kingdom of God is wherever people seek to make God’s desires and plans their own. Even without knowing Jesus, there are people everywhere who seek God this way. God is able to work through people of every nation and religion. Those who are earnest in seeking what is good and truly loving toward others have already begun to seek God’s reign even when they are not Christians.”
“Oh, I never thought about it like that, but it makes sense to me.”
“Yes. And for Christians there is more to recognize in these parables. Both the parable of the weeds and the wheat and the parable of the yeast kneaded into bread reveal how God’s reign works mysteriously and unseen in society. The wheat grows alongside weeds, not separately, so that God’s reign can be experienced and affect all people. The yeast makes the message even more clear by reminding us that yeast is unseen and yet is able to raise the entire batch of dough. So, those who seek God’s desires and act according to the Divine plan influence their society to seek what is holy and good for all. Immersed in God’s desires, those who are living in the reign of God can raise up the values of the gospel and the desires of God’s heart in ways that inspire society to safeguard the rights of all.”
“Wow! That’s quite an honor and responsibility, Petras.”
“Yes, God relies on us to be a leaven in the world. Meantime, God is working, too. When Jesus spoke about the mustard seed, He pointed to the reality that some things are impossible for us to attain by ourselves. Even if we all agreed on the rights of people and creatures, not everyone would want to sacrifice and work for the common good. Such unanimity of purpose seems to be beyond our power. That’s where grace and the work of the Spirit is essential if God’s reign is to fully be realized on Earth. So, Jesus spoke about the mustard seed. A tiny thing like that grows into huge bushes and shrubs. But, in Jesus’ parable, he talks about the mustard seed becoming a tree where birds build their nests. Of course, mustard seed can’t grow into a tree, but with God’s assistance, the Kingdom or reign of God can house our loftiest ideals and ambitions.”
“Then it must be very important for Christians to participate in society in such a way that full equality and the common good are promoted for all, Petras. We cannot excuse ourselves from participation in building up God’s reign right in the middle of the evils and corruption that mark our government and civilization. We need to hold a bright light up to the highest ideals that we believe come from God.”
“Right you are, Respecta. God will work through us and among us as Christians. At the same time, all people of good will can join in building the reign of God among us. It might not be fully realized in our lifetime, but we have an important role to play in society.”
“Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me, Petras. I was really off the mark when I wished to separate Christians from society. Jesus is counting on us to be His light in the world. We can’t do that if we go away from civilization. We must carefully listen to God through the sacred scriptures so that our own minds and hearts are formed by God’s word and that the Spirit may inspire us to know God’s plan for our lives. Then we can share our light with the world.”
“Perhaps, this week, we might say ‘that we may be wheat for the world or leaven in the world,’ instead of light. That way, we can live in and among others, so that the whole society may rise up to live out God’s desires for us.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s be wheat and leaven!”
Sunday, July 10, 2011
The following is an excerpt from a dialog between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
Respecta stood looking over the apricots deciding which ones to pick for dinner. As she completed her purchase, she spied Petras in the marketplace. “Yoo hoo! Petras. How are you?”
“Just fine, Respecta. How about you?”
“All’s well with me and mine. What brings you to the market today?”
“Oh, it’s my daughter’s birthday, and I want to find something special for her. Would you mind giving me some advice?”
“Sure. Young women love pretty things. Why don’t we look at the cloth merchant’s goods?”
“Okay. Let’s go. In the meantime, I have a story to tell you. It’s one that Jesus taught the crowds in Capernaum. He said, ‘Listen. A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they didn’t have much soil, and they sprang up quickly since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.’”
“For heaven’s sake, Petras! This has to be fiction. No sower would sow seed on paths, rocky ground or among thorns. The sower would be fired for such waste if he were a peasant. After all, the grain only yields four- or fivefold. You know, if the sower were a slave, he would be sold along with his family for such waste. And worse, if the sower were the land owner, no one would respect him or want to work for him. The very idea of wasting seed while his neighbors can barely eke out a subsistent living would bring shame on the land owner. Why would Jesus tell such a fable?”
“You’re on the right track, Respecta. Listen to the rest of the parable. I think you’ll know why He used such an impossible situation. Jesus said, ‘Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone who has ears listen!’”
“Oooh! Of course. Jesus wasn’t really talking about a farmer, He must have been talking about God’s lavish efforts to get such a harvest. But, Petras, what is God sowing? Do you suppose Jesus meant the word that He was preaching?”
“You got it! When Jesus went inside, his disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them, so He explained that He was sent to bring the good news to the world. He was preaching to everyone, regardless of how well they understood or accepted the word. Some would never understand the gospel, so the word couldn’t grow in them. Others welcomed Jesus’ preaching, but when they saw the persecution they would suffer if it became known they were disciples, they dropped away from Christianity. Some of those early disciples welcomed the word, but the daily grind of work, deaths in the family, worries about taxes and all took over their lives so that their faith withered and they fell away from the Faith. But, for some, the word of Jesus was the word of life. Everything else was secondary. They welcomed the gospel and let it take root in their lives so that they brought forth an abundant harvest of good works and joyful faith.”
“Hmmm. I wonder, Petras. Could there be another meaning? I wonder if the hard ground, the rocky ground and the thorny places are in everyone’s souls? Really, sometimes I carry around grudges from wrongs that friends or neighbors committed against me and my heart can be very hard. Sometimes, I’m working on forgiveness of an injury and past injuries spring up like rocks to stop me from being fully reconciled with a friend. So, I feel like the rocky ground. I dig out one rock only to find older ones right beneath it. Living our Christian faith is wonderful—even joyful for me—but it always challenges me to be more loving, more ready to extend my acceptance of others as they are. I’d like to yield a hundredfold life, but I have such a long ways to go.”
“You know, Respecta, you are right in imagining that the parables have many layers of meanings. There are jewels for the most mature Christians to find if they only ponder the gospels more deeply. Can you imagine what the Church would look like if we looked at all of our relationships as opportunities for love? I mean, what if God wanted us to see our relationship with the Roman Empire as an opportunity to love? What would that look like in practice? Or what if we looked at our relationship to creation as an opportunity to love? I believe that Christian love, forgiveness and reconciliation could be applied to every relationship we have. Perhaps that is why St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that ‘all creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.’”
“Oh, yes, Petras! I can imagine that Jesus would envision an entire world where we see ourselves and other creatures as sons and daughters of one God. Then there would be no war, no destruction of the land. Then we all would respect for the rights of others. I suspect that God is sowing the seed even today through us. This parable has really caught my imagination. I’ll have to pray on it some more and ask the Lord how I can better yield a harvest for Him…..Look! There’s something that your daughter would love. Let’s take a look at it.”
And Petras and Respecta turned their attention to a lovely piece of brown yardage that had blue flowers woven into it.
How might you yield a harvest for God this week as you deepen your understanding of this parable?
Saturday, July 2, 2011
The following reflection is part of an on-going dialog between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
“Whew! It sure is growing hot!” Petras commented as they left the catechumen’s meeting together.
“Well, I’m glad to have company on the way home, Petras,” Respecta responded. “I wonder why Matthew’s gospel remarked on Christianity being revealed to the simple? I mean, Paul and Peter sound terribly wise to me in their writings.”
“Yes, you’re right about that, Respecta, but Peter and Paul were not always so wise. Peter was a simple fisherman when he met up with Jesus. Yet after that fateful first Pentecost, he became so wise a leader that others looked to him for leadership. And Paul! He was certainly a lettered man before he met up with Jesus on the road, but he wasn’t wise in God’s eyes. It’s not always easy to remember that he was so stuck on maintaining Mosaic Law that he persecuted the early Church, even to death. Once he met Jesus Christ, Paul’s heart softened and he was ready to see both Christ and others through God’s eyes. He did become one of our greatest teachers.”
“Well, I guess I only know of them through their writing. When I look at our Church today, I am amazed that God is able to do so many wonders of healing and bring peace through such frail instruments as us. Really! Many of us are slaves, and the remainder is made up of simple peasants for the most part. Jesus was right in praising God for revealing the good news to so-called infants.”
“I’m with you on that, Respecta.”
“I especially loved the part of today’s gospel when Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ My friend suffered terribly through the last year before she died, yet she maintained her trust in Jesus so that even her suffering was made sweet knowing she was carrying her share of the cross.”
“She was a remarkable soul; but so are you! You have been such a faithful friend, always ready to feed her, change her clothes and wash her linens. You’ve been on the cross right alongside your friend.”
“Oh, my, Petras. I didn’t do all that much. Please don’t make me out to be a hero.”
“You are more heroic than you know, Respecta. You took on your friend’s cross and in so doing, took on the yoke of Christ’s loving service. No wonder your friend was able to trust in Jesus’ love, she had only to look at you and know Christ loved her to the end. The fact that you don’t think your companionship was anything great just bears witness to the fact that you already have the gentle and humble heart of Jesus within. I hope that all our community is able to learn the servant love of Christ in the concrete circumstances of their lives.”
“When I think of Jesus’ extraordinary love for us, from the moment that he became a human baby to his horrible suffering on the cross, it becomes easy to love others regardless of the cost, Petras. His gentleness really does give rest to my soul. I know that He is always carrying the heavier burden and just sharing a sliver of my cross with me in return.”
“The reason you feel that way, Respecta, is that Jesus’ Spirit already dwells in you and directs your heart.”
“Well, here we are at my house. Thanks for the walk and talk, Petras. I feel like praising God with the words of Zechariah today: ‘Rejoice greatly, daughter Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He!’ Our Lord makes love easier and hope strong. I know that my friend lives in glory with Him, and I hope to join her one day, too. ”
“Amen, Respecta. A double-amen to that!”
Saturday, June 25, 2011
This reflection is part of an ongoing series of conversations between 2nd century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
“I get it, really, I do,” Respecta told Petras. “Jesus is really present in His risen body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. I don’t know how He does that, but I believe it is true.”
“Then you have understood what we hold to be true about this sacrament in the Church. There is more to it than that, though. You see, Respecta, there is a deep mystery present when Jesus talked about being the Living Bread. Consider what happens when we prepare a meal and eat it. Whenever we sit down to eat, the food and drink that we take in is digested and used to build muscles and bone, repair damaged tissues and make the blood that flows through out veins. We don’t know how it happens, but the food is transformed into the elements that make us human beings. Food gives its life to us so that we may be healthy and strong.”
“Yes, I see that, Petras.”
“The Eucharist is like that. When we pray over the bread and wine that become our Risen Lord, its purpose is to be eaten and drunk like ordinary food. However, what happens after that depends a lot on us. We know that Jesus gave His life for us so that we might be redeemed when He died on the cross. In the Eucharist, He gives us Himself so that we can be spiritually nourished and transformed. You see, Respecta, the Holy Food of the Eucharist can transform us. When we receive the sacred gift of Christ and when we are open to His action in us, then Jesus is able to transform our hearts and our minds so that we are more like Himself. He takes our limitations and mortality and transforms them so that we can love as He does, so that we can be compassionate with others just like He is. When we ask Him to do it, Jesus is able to transform our minds so that we see the world and those who live on it as God sees it. When we allow the Eucharistic Christ to transform us, then we can become…how shall I say this? We can become little christs in the world bringing the good news of salvation to others. We can help reconcile others to God and be a blessing for everyone. When we permit God to transform us, then we become the Body of Christ living in the world, each of us doing our part so that the Good News reaches the ends of the earth.”
“That is amazing, Petras! I was thinking that the Eucharistic Lord gave us His strength to live out gospel teaching and values wherever we find ourselves. But what you’re saying is that we can be the presence of Christ to others when we allow Him to transform us to be like Himself. I am not simply “Respecta” when I receive Communion. I am “Respecta-Christ” who is anointed like Jesus was to bring the love of God to others.”
“I’m glad that you put it that way, Respecta. Even when we are transformed by Christ, we always remain ourselves. At the same time, with our hearts and minds transformed, we are also Christ active in the world today. It’s a both-myself-and-Christ presence. Now think what would happen if every Christian opened his or her life to the transforming grace of Christ. Then He is able to teach and heal and feed the deepest human hungers through us. That is part of what it means for us to be the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church doesn’t exist simply so that we can be saved by Christ, it also exists so that we become His saving presence for others. It is not enough to hear the Word of God in order to know the heart of God. People need to experience God’s love through us in order to make sense of the Gospel.”
“Of course! Otherwise, Christianity simply would be a philosophy with no way to move people’s hearts. I understand now, Petras. Since my baptism, I have been relishing and treasuring the gift of faith and the richness of the Christian life. I admit that in some ways I’ve been like a child who has received a gift and have not shared it adequately with others. I suspect that Jesus is inviting me to take on an adult role by living the Christian life fully so that others may be attracted to Christ and receive the same gift. If I live out my Christian faith in love, then others may see me and want to know what brings me such happiness that I’m willing to serve others. They may wonder why I live at such peace in a troubled world and want to have the same kind of peace. It seems like Jesus is really counting on us to make His love visible.”
“Yes, indeed, Respecta. Once I heard it put this way: ‘Christ has no hands or feet but yours.’ It amazes me how much He depends on us to bring others to the Heart of God.”
“Once again, Petras, you’ve given me much to think about. I want to consciously put my faith in Jesus into action so others may share our joy.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it. Let’s pray for one another this week that we open ourselves to Christ even more so that we may be transformed by His love and the Holy Eucharist.”
Saturday, June 18, 2011
This reflection is part of an ongoing dialog between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
Respecta sat weeping behind the building after hearing the reading from John’s gospel. Sobbing would be a better word.
“There you are, Respecta. What’s wrong?” Petras inquired.
“I can’t bear the teaching in John’s gospel today!” Respecta wailed.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, all of my family don’t know or believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t think I can consider becoming a Christian if the Christian faith believes that non-Christians are going to hell.”
Petras gasped. “Oh, Respecta, please stop crying. You have not understood John’s gospel correctly. Christianity does not believe that God sends all other people to hell.”
“Well, the evangelist wrote that ‘anyone who does not believe is condemned already.’”
“Yes, that is what John’s gospel says, but you are taking it literally. Let me explain what is behind that sentence. You see when John’s gospel was first started around fifty years after Jesus’ ascension, John’s little Christian community was beginning to find their identity as a new kind of faith tradition. Persecutions began to rock some of their member’s faith and some left the faith rather than surrender their lives as martyrs. Fear for their lives led them to apostasy. When John’s gospel was written, ‘anyone who does not believe’ referred to those who once had the faith but then left the faith in fear for their lives. They denied knowing Jesus and trusting Him for their lives. The early Christians were saying that those who knowingly deny Christ are condemned, not those who have never known Him.”
“So, my family can go to heaven?” Respecta asked.
“Yes, I think God has many ways to lead people to union with Him. God is infinite and has infinite ways to draw people to Himself. Who are we to tie God’s hands and say that there is only one way to be saved? We do not need to worry about that. Our place, rather, is to go gladly about announcing the Good News so that others can live more joyfully knowing God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ instead of living in darkness. Wouldn’t you be pleased if your family were to experience God’s love in Christ and live more peacefully and happily knowing God in Jesus?”
“Yes, I would, but they are not convinced that Jesus is God’s son. I guess I need to pray for the gift of faith for them instead of worrying.”
“Good for you, Respecta,” Petras replied. “Today’s feast of the Holy Trinity is one of the great mysteries that we celebrate in Christianity because it not only tells us who God is, but who we are meant to be also.”
“I heard the readings describe God in so many ways today. The reading from Exodus reminded me that God is always merciful and slow to anger, even if I fail to live up fully to Jesus’ teachings. The letter to the Corinthians actually touched me deeply when I heard the phrase, ‘The gift of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.”
“Why did that touch you, Respecta?”
“Well, first of all the gift of the Lord Jesus is so manifold. Not only is Jesus our Savior who has given all of us redemption, but He also shows me how to live more peacefully and happily according to God’s desires. Then the love of God the Father is shown in patience and mercy, and faithfulness to those who love Him. The communion of the Holy Spirit is the bond of complete love and unanimity between Father and Son. It seems to me that God desires all Christians to love and live with one heart and one mind together.”
“I agree with you, Respecta. The Feast of the Trinity is a reminder that we are created in the image of God whose life is total self-giving to one another in love. Whatever the Father knows and has, He freely gives to the Son from His heart. The Son, Jesus, loves the Father so much that He also shares everything that He knows and has, creating a bond of mutual self-giving love. Their gift of Self to one another is so complete that it is a third person, the Holy Spirit. Imagine how wonderful the Church would be if everyone had such great love for one another that we were of one mind and heart, sharing all we are and all we have in love. When the day comes that every Christian has such great love and respect for one another that we share everything in common, then we will reflect the image of God more completely in our lives. When that day comes, I suspect there will be no need to teach others the Good News because they will be able to read the gospel from our very lives!”
“God has such amazing desire that we become as the Trinity already is. I think this is a great honor, too. I mean, God respects our freedom while hoping that we will choose to become our very best selves, but He doesn’t force us to be as loving and giving as the Trinity is, Petras. I hope that I can become completely self-giving in love. I wonder where I could grow in love.”
“Well, maybe, you could start with that family of yours that you were worried about. If you are able to love as fully as God, perhaps the experience of being loved unconditionally will open their hearts to the Good News of Christ.”
“Oh, how I hope you’re right! Have a good week, Petras.”
Saturday, June 11, 2011
This is one of an ongoing series of conversations between second century catechumen, Respecta and her teacher, Petras.
“Come on outside,” Petras called to Respecta on a particularly windy day.
“On my way,” Respecta called as she grabbed her veil and hurried out the front door. She tried to secure her veil to her head, but the wind was too strong and kept blowing it off.
“Oh leave it be,” Petras remarked. “It will only blow off again. Beside, we’re going out to the fields where no one will see you anyway.”
“Why go to the fields on such a windy day?”
“I want you to see something that may help you better understand the story about Pentecost,” Petras answered as she led Respecta out across the fields toward the hills just south of her home.
The two stood watching the wind blow over the hills and then pour down the hills into the valley below. Leaves and limbs were carried away from dried trees so that a carpet of foliage moved across the scene.
“What are we supposed to see?”
“Oh, nothing new, really. It’s just that I wanted you to see how the wind acts like a liquid, pouring over the hills like water and carrying the debris. It behaves a lot like water, doesn’t it?” Petras observed.
“Yes, I guess so. I never thought of wind acting like water before.”
“You see, Respecta, the Jewish people who wrote the sacred Scriptures thought of wind as a fluid and so it became important to the story of Pentecost. When you and I hear the story of a mighty wind that blew in the upper room where Jesus’ disciples were gathered there is much to pay attention to when listening. Just like a mighty wind or a hurricane that can blow apart and destroy whatever is weaker than itself, the breath of God can topple unbelief and push out all manner of evil powers. As we read the story of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we see that the Spirit blew away the fear that had imprisoned them in the upper room, the fear that caused them to hide from would-be enemies. God’s Spirit is so much more powerful than any evil power that tries to influence us.
“The power of fire is awesome in its ability to destroy, too. When a house catches on fire, the entire neighborhood is worried that the fire will overcome everything in its path. Yet, fire is so important to provide light for us to see, to warm our houses and cook our food. We even say a person is on fire when he is particularly enthusiastic. So, when the Spirit of God came to the disciples at Pentecost, they were set on fire to announce the good news of Jesus and to baptize everyone in His name. The Spirit drove away their fear. The Spirit kindled a new power in them to convince their hearers that God was doing something new in their lives.”
“Yes, I can see that, Petras. But you said the Spirit was like fluid or like water. I don’t see that in the story.”
“I can understand how you might miss that symbol in the readings when so much focus is given to wind and fire; but notice how the Spirit washes away their timidity about the mission Jesus gave them, and their guilt at having abandoned Jesus to death. Like a long cold drink in the heat of summer, the Spirit quenched their thirst for zeal in the service of the Lord and refreshed them. Now the disciples had so much to say about Jesus that they were heard by several different language groups.”
“Amazing! I never thought of the Spirit like that. So at Baptism every Christian is washed from the power of evil and filled with the Spirit. The water is a perfect symbol for the Spirit!”
“Yes, indeed, Respecta. The Holy Spirit of God then gifts us with everything that the community needs for the common good. All of your gifts will be animated by the Spirit so that the whole Church profits. Jesus spoke today about one of the most important gifts that we can have: a forgiving spirit. Forgiving those who harm us is undoubtedly one of the most difficult tasks that we have. Yet, Jesus insisted that we forgive one another.”
“Yes, I remember. Seven times seventy times daily. But why? Why was this so important to Jesus when forgiveness is so hard?
“Well, Respecta, I imagine it’s because failure to forgive ties us up in knots. An unforgiving spirit spends our energy maintaining hurt and anger. When we are able to forgive, we are freed from the twin evil spirits of anger and hurt. Anger and hurt! They are like leviathan monsters that can consume our lives if we let them. Haven’t you met someone before who was consumed by one of these spirits?”
“Indeed I have. It’s very hard to be around someone who is always angry. It’s like standing too near a fire and trying not to be burned.”
“That’s why I think Jesus wants us to receive the power of forgiveness. It not only frees the person who offended us, it frees us from the twin monsters of hurt and anger. When we release those spirits, we are able to lovingly be present to others. We are able to embody the good news of God’s love for others. We can be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s very hard to put the two spirits together: anger and love. I believe Jesus was trying to say we have to choose. Always choose love.”
“This leaves me with a lot to ponder, Petras. I feel so blessed that God is calling me toward goodness and love, even though it is not an easy road to walk. I think that there are some relatives and neighbors that I need to forgive if I am going to be free to live in the Holy Spirit. Pray that I have the strength to let go of pain, won’t you?”
“Most certainly, Respecta. I surely will pray for you. Pray for me too, as forgiveness is a lifelong challenge. If we let the Spirit do it, God’s Spirit will wash away the heavy bonds of anger and hurt.”
Saturday, June 4, 2011
This is part of an ongoing conversation between first century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.
“I had a thought during our instruction and I am so excited about it!” Respecta exclaimed. “I just need to check with you to see if this could be really true.”
“What is it?” Petras inquired.
“Well, I was thinking about Jesus ascending body and soul as well as in His divinity into heaven. I think that this is more than simply a promise for our future, though that would be wonderful enough by itself. Could I be right in thinking that Jesus now represents all of creation in His own body in heaven—that everything that God made has a place in eternity? Just think of it! Every created thing is holy because Jesus is holy and everything is to be raised to its full potential. Could this be true?”
“Oh, my, Respecta. You understood much more than I thought you would with this reading. Most people focus on the promise of human resurrection and ascension into heaven as a reward for living faithful lives. But you have grasped something that is also in this celebration of Jesus’ ascension, namely, that all creation is made holy by His life, death and resurrection. Every flower, deer and ant has a future because God has blessed all material being in Jesus. No one can ever claim that human existence or bodily form is so humble that it should be disparaged or rejected. No! God has made bodily life good by simply creating it, and it is holy because Jesus is human all the way into eternity! You know, some Greek philosophers teach that material existence, like our bodies, is depraved and forever infected with evil. As Christians we know that in Christ Jesus all of creation is holy.”
“That’s what I thought, Petras. Now, perhaps you can clear up a question for me. I listened as the lector proclaimed the memoirs of the apostle Matthew that Jesus would come as He left us. Does that mean we can expect Him to come on clouds?”
Petras smiled at the thought. “I can see how you might think that, Respecta. Since you are not Jewish you may not realize that the symbolism of clouds is a rich one that appears throughout the Jewish Scriptures. For example, when Moses climbed Mount Horeb to receive the ten commandments, he hiked through the clouds to meet God. When he returned to give the commandments to the people, Moses’ face shone with God’s glory. In other words, Moses ascended beyond or higher than other human beings in his encounter with God. And, having spoken with God, Moses was changed—altered so to speak, so that this encounter affected him thoroughly. Anyone who talked with him knew that Moses had a special relationship with God because Moses related to others and thought about life as God did. The cloud and the light are symbols of Divine presence and glory. So, when Jesus ascended through the clouds, He was taken up into God’s glory. I don’t know that we should actually wait for Him to return on a cloud, but I am sure that Jesus will be suffused with Divine glory and wisdom when He returns.”
“Oh! The Jewish Scriptures aren’t part of my heritage so I didn’t realize there was a history of clouds and light to symbolize God’s glory and presence.”
“There’s something else we need to remember whenever we read from the Acts of the Apostles, Respecta. The author of Acts is the same person who penned the Gospel according to Luke. Perhaps this final line with two men saying, “He will come as He as gone,” refers to the ascension that is found in Luke. In that first book of the evangelist, we find that Jesus ascended into heaven with His hands raised in blessing over the disciples.”
“So,” Respecta interrupted, “Jesus may return blessing His faithful disciples. Instead of being worried or scared, anyone who loves Jesus and is faithful to Him should happily look forward to His return.”
“Exactly! Some people, even among Christians, stress the fear of God so much that they overlook the ever present love and mercy of God. Jesus left blessing the disciples. Whenever He returns, I think we can expect that He will continue blessing us.”
“Petras, this is so much to think about this week. I mean, all creation is blessed and holy in Christ and He will return again in the same way that He left: with a blessing. No wonder Christians are the happiest of people! We live in a holy world and can rejoice that our lives and our bodies are holy, too. I guess that knowing my body and all bodies are holy makes me want to treat myself and other creatures with more respect. Meantime, our only task is to love God and, of course, Jesus and to make Him known to the world.”
As Petras and Respecta parted their ways, each going home, each wondered about how to honor their bodies, all of creation and God more deeply this week.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
This reflection is taken from an ongoing conversation between first century catechumen, Respecta and her teacher, Petras.
“Why so quiet this morning, Respecta?” Petras asked on the way home from the meeting with catechumens.
“Oh, I guess my mind is full of thoughts about the readings chosen for today’s liturgy,” Respecta responded. “I can hardly keep my mind from swirling around with Jesus’ commandment to love. I remember when he told the parable about the so-called ‘good Samaritan’ and realize how far I have to go in order to truly love everyone as unconditionally as Jesus loves.”
“Yes, that is truly a life-time project. I doubt that any one of us can be fully satisfied with how well we keep His commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. We live in a world where we love our families and, perhaps, some of our local neighbors while we don’t even feel we owe the truth to others. To really love as Jesus loves stretches our boundaries to include absolutely everyone. Isn’t that what attracted you to the Christian community in the first place, Respecta?”
“Yes, of course. It blew my mind at first. I saw all kinds of people living in harmony who were supposed to be enemies. Their love for Jesus opened their hearts to people who had such different customs and traditions from their own. Seeing that kind of love at work caused me to think that God was at work in this community. I am trying to overcome my natural hesitancy to reach out to strangers, particularly ones that I was taught to treat with suspicion since childhood.”
Petras let the quiet between them grow again. “What else is on your mind?”
“I am completely amazed at what Jesus said when I heard him quoted this morning. What really got my attention was the line, “Because I live, you also will live.” What I mean is, I am already alive, but He talked in the future tense. It’s like He was promising something more.”
“Yes, He was speaking about the future in one sense. Right now we are alive, but not fully alive in the resurrection as He is alive. Jesus’ life dramatically changed on Easter. We heard about it in the stories of His appearances to the disciples after He rose from death. Jesus was able to simply appear and no one saw Him coming or going. There was a kind of freedom about Him that wasn’t present before His death. He is in glory already while we are living mortal lives awaiting our own eternal life. And, of course, He will never die or suffer again. We trust His promise that our life will continue with Him where He is after death. Then all the life, love, and freedom that we see in Jesus will also be part of our lives. It is as though our life right now is a mere shadow of real life. What we think is so good and so beautiful now is a pale reflection of the goodness and beauty that we will encounter in resurrected life.”
“That is something to look forward to,” Respected interrupted.
“Yes it is. But we must not think of eternal life as something that is only after death. The gospel of John tells us that right now, at this very moment, we are living in the grace of Jesus’ resurrection. We possess eternal life right now because He is alive in us. His Spirit guides us, inspires us and gives us the strength to love as Jesus loves. We are filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of our baptism. This Spirit is no stranger to us either. This Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that moved Jesus to love and preach and heal. The Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son.”
“Even, so, Petras. I would rather have lived while Jesus was alive on earth than now. Imagine the extraordinary experience of seeing Him at work! We are only left with His Spirit.”
“Oh, Repecta, don’t imagine that it was easier for the disciples who walked with Jesus to understand what they saw. While their hearts were moved by Jesus’ miracles and teachings, they were also limited to seeing Him as a great teacher or a prophet. They didn’t know about His resurrection and many were disappointed in Him. After all, much of what Jesus taught was so contrary to both Jewish and Roman society’s values, that He was considered dangerous. Some thought that He was a simpleton or misguided revolutionary. Because you and I believe in His resurrection, it is so much easier to accept His ways and His teachings as God’s will for us. I actually think that it is easier to be a Christian now than in the pre-Easter days. Of course, it is never easy to become fully Christian!”
“I understand what you mean, Petras, and I am encouraged that Jesus has not left us orphans to manage on our own power. I am amazed to think that God’s own Spirit has already been at work in me even when I didn’t know that the desire for more understanding and love drove me toward the Christian community. Now that I am aware of the Spirit’s power at work in the community and in my life, I can ask for the specific gifts that I need to be faithful to Jesus. I wonder what the Spirit can do for me when I don’t know what to ask for.”
“Well, Respecta, I don’t think you and I have to worry about what to ask for. As our lives unfold and needs present themselves to us, then we know what to ask for. To do what is good, generous and loving with everyone we meet can also bring about constant prayer in us so that we respond as Jesus did. You and I are fortunate that we are no longer in the position that the Samaritans were when Philip taught them. We know that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ promise and our Counselor –they didn’t even know there was a Spirit at first. The Samaritans were baptized into Christ without so much as hearing about the Spirit, so that Peter and John had to come and complete the teaching that Philip began there. Then they were able to receive the Spirit and their rejoicing increased. You can rejoice already that the Spirit has been at work in you before your baptism. Imagine how much more you will rejoice later!”
“I am looking forward to being baptized, Petras. Until then, I want to grow in loving everyone as Jesus loves them. Will you pray for me, too?”
“Of course, Respecta. See you next week?”
Reflection question: When could I be seeking the Spirit’s guidance in my everyday life? Where do I still need to grow in living the Christian life?
Sunday, May 22, 2011
The following is part of a series of reflections in which first century catechumen, Respecta, talks with her teacher, Petras, about the meaning of the Christian life.
“Oh, Petras!” Respecta exclaimed while leaving church after the readings. “My heart is almost flying after listening to Peter’s letter. He confirmed what I’ve been sensing over the past few months: that the Christian community is the New Israel. We’ve been chosen by God to be His voice to the nations and offer our lives as a living sacrifice while Christ makes us a holy people.”
“How right you are,” Petras responded. “While the Christian life can be very challenging, it is also a high calling to be the voice and hands and heart of God reaching out to others. Each time we extend compassion, understanding, consolation and material help to others we are the priestly people whose lives are given totally for Jesus and the Good News. When we are able to forgive another for wronging us, we conduct God’s ever-present mercy to that person. When we walk with someone who is suffering, we are God’s healing grace. When we can announce the Good News that we are redeemed by Christ and now live in the gift of grace, we are prophets announcing the reign of God right here!”
“But, isn’t it sad, Petras, that so many find Jesus to be stumbling block? It worries me that there are so many, even in my own family, who do not accept the revelation of God in Jesus. I mean, how will they ever be saved? I hate to think that they could be lost forever.”
“Dear Respecta, do you think God’s hands are tied—that there is only one way for God to save us? We are so blessed to understand the greatness of God’s mercy in knowing that Jesus is the full revelation of God. And we are the most fortunate of people because we believe that Jesus is our salvation. We must not imagine that this great gift of our faith makes us the only ones saved by God. Quite simply, we are twice blessed because we realize and rejoice in salvation through Christ Jesus. However, God is able to save people even without their knowledge because Jesus died for all people. If anyone sincerely seeks God and does what is right to his or her neighbors but does not know Jesus Christ, God can save them by the more limited gift of faith that they’ve received. We need to remember that faith is God’s gift to us. We cannot give faith to another and we cannot earn faith, either. It is God’s pure gift. Each person is accountable only for the faith that has been given her. What is unique for Christians is that we believe that we have the full revelation of God that we know through Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.
In fact, we must not worry about others who live good lives. Jesus commanded us to not worry. Did you hear today’s gospel reading? John wrote, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me.’ Even if we love others and are concerned for their salvation, we have to trust that God loves them even more and has a plan for their salvation.”
“I understand that, Petras, but I worry about them anyway.”
“Perhaps your trust is not great enough, yet, Respecta. When we worry about things that are not in our hands, we demonstrate our lack of trust. Jesus told us that he is preparing a place for us in heaven. At the same time, he told us that there are many mansions in the Father’s house. I am sure that as you continue to grow in your awareness of the height and depth of God’s love for you, you will also come to believe that this immeasurable love is given to everyone. God will do everything possible to bring each person to eternal life.”
“Well, I have to confess, that is not all that I worry about, Petras. I also worry that my children will be harmed or killed for the faith. I worry that they will not grow to adulthood. You know that over half of children die before their fifth birthdays. There are so many things that I worry about.”
“I understand your worries, Respecta. I have had many of my own over the years. All I can tell you is that when I’ve turned my worries over to the Lord, I have learned that everything is in God’s hands. And, yes, some of the bad things I worried about actually did happen. Yet God is able to bring something good out of every suffering. I hope that you will be able to trust the Lord Jesus so much that you can give him all your worries and see what he can do with them. Worry robs us of the peace and joy that God wants us to live out of every day. Worry shows that we still do not trust God to take care of all things. Worry actually wastes our time because it does nothing to avoid the things that we worry about. Trust in God acknowledges that we are not in control of our lives but we know the one Who is in ultimate control. Trust frees us to be the priestly, prophetic, holy people that God desires us to be in the world.
Perhaps this week would be a good time to take each worry as you experience it and firmly place it into Jesus’ hands. Tell him that you trust him to do what is best for you and those you worry about. Then proceed each day as if you already know how God is doing everything possible to bring about your best good. That way you’ll be able to live in the peace that surpasses understanding. Can you do that?”
“I will try. Pray that I grow a deep trust, won’t you Petras?”
“You bet. I look forward to seeing you next week”
Reflection question: What are those worries that I need to confidently place in Christ’s hands?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Today we begin a new format of reflections. These take the form of a conversation following the reading of the memoirs of the apostles (gospels and epistles) between first century catechumen, Recepta, and her teacher, Petras.
Recepta walked away from the reading shaking her head. “I don’t get it, Petras. Why would Jesus ever label a shepherd ‘good?’ We all know how unobservant and, often, immoral shepherds can be.”
“That’s just it,” replied Petras. “Jesus frequently took ordinary human perceptions and turned them on their heads! He seemed to enjoy confounding folks in order to get their attention. Clearly it worked with you.”
“But really,” Recepta replied, “He even got the practice of shepherding wrong. Everyone knows that shepherds walk behind the sheep so that they don’t stray. It’s pretty rare that a shepherd walks in front of them, expecting the sheep to follow.”
“Precisely!” Petras exclaimed. “I want you to think about it. Jesus was obviously criticizing Temple leaders who entered the ministry for personal gain. Sometimes I’ve even known men to become priests or scribes simply to perpetuate the Temple system.”
“That’s just plain wrong!” Recepta interrupted.
“Exactly,” Petras confirmed. “But we mustn’t think that only Temple leadership serve for their own purposes. Awhile back, there was a certain magician by the name of Simon. Simon actually went to the holy apostle Peter offering to buy his power to heal! Simon wanted to get the power to heal people so that he could become famous. Then the crowds would seek him out and pay him for healings.”
“Well, I hope Peter wouldn’t share the power with him,” Recepta observed.
“Of course not. Peter saw right through the man’s request and pretty much told him where he could go!” Petras chuckled at the memory. “We have to be very careful if we feel called to serve God’s people. The only reason God calls someone into ministry is so that Jesus may be better known and loved. Anyone who loves Him becomes a servant to the Church.”
“Okay,” Recepta responded. “I was confused by another thing Jesus said. He was saying that He is the Good Shepherd but He also said that He is the Gate. What did He mean?”
“The part about being the Good Shepherd is easy to explain. Just like Jesus taught and healed and guarded His followers before the resurrection, He continues to do today. Jesus always walks ahead of us so that we will know the way is safe. He even walked ahead of us into death showing us that death is merely a door into eternity. Those who know and love Him learn to hear His voice when they pray, so that they can discern how Jesus is calling them to be and where they should go. Of course, we have to become very good at listening to His Spirit’s promptings and we need to test every spirit, to be sure it comes from Jesus. In Peter’s letter to us, he reminds us that Jesus died so that we would be free. We are free—free from sin and even more. We are free to follow wherever Jesus leads us—free to witness His love—free to proclaim the gospel—even in the face of the Empire!”
“I know and believe that I am free from sin, Petras. But I don’t think that I am so free that I can announce the gospel or even witness God’s love for us. Too often I am afraid to do that.”
“I know, my catechumen friend. Part of the reason for your fear is that you have not yet come to fully embrace the Good News that Jesus died for you and is risen for you. It can be difficult to turn your life completely over to God’s love. The other reason you still have fears, is that you have not yet entered the Gate that Jesus spoke about.”
“Yes, remember that Jesus said His followers enter through the Gate. He was referring to us and Himself. We enter into God’s people assembled in the Church through baptism into Him. Once you have moved through Jesus’ baptism into the Church, you will be surrounded and supported by believers like you, who love the Lord Jesus and strive to live His way. Part of our witness is to each other where we form fellowship in the Lord. Through our fellowship we strengthen one another’s faith and rejoice that we’ve been chosen to know God’s heart as Jesus revealed God to us.”
“Oh, that’s what He meant about being the Gate!” Recepta replied. “Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us to God and He is the one who admits us to fellowship in Him with all other believers. Hmmm. It seems like he was sternly warning us to humility and service when He talked about being true shepherds and not hirelings.”
“Oh, my, yes!” Petras responded. “Our frail human nature is always with us and the temptations to pride and wealth are strong. Even when we are not Church leaders, we must be aware of who genuinely speaks for Jesus and who may have another agenda. If we are not vigilant we can be led astray by would-be leaders who teach a gospel other that what Jesus gave us.”
“I suppose the entire Christian community must beware of false leaders, Petras. Even in our gatherings outside of worship and study, we need to be servants to our various organizations. In our unions and federations, in all our enterprises, we need to realize that Jesus has called us to be servant-leaders who bring the message of blessing, of peace and of truth. We are no longer simply in the world for our own good.”
“Now, Recepta, I think you’ve made the connections to ordinary life. Well done! Christianity is about following Jesus’ manner in all of our relationships. Our faith is more than a Sunday duty; it is a way of life. Since Jesus is the way, we seek to make His mind and His heart our own, so that others can experience Jesus through us.”
“Thank you, Petras. I’ll see you at our Wednesday gathering.”
How am I careful to recognize the voice of Jesus’ Spirit in my life? Do I assess leaders in my Church and business dealings in light of Jesus’ Spirit?
Saturday, May 7, 2011
The following are ruminations from Mary, wife of Cleopas whose journey to Emmaus we heard this morning.
“How could I ever forget that first Easter? Cleopas and I were walking home from Jerusalem after the terrible events of Jesus’ death. Both of us were crying and holding hands as we slowly made our way home. We were confused and in the deepest grief that either of us had ever experienced in our lives. Only married five years, the two of us were among the younger disciples of Jesus and He changed our lives dramatically. We discussed what happened and what we were going to do next.
Cleopas ventured, ‘I can’t believe it. I thought sure He was the messiah. Who could ever kill such a gifted and charismatic leader?’
I answered, nearly wailing, ‘I know. He changed our lives completely. When we first married I was resigned to living in the women’s tent, cooking your meals and raising your children. Then we met Jesus and He treated women with such respect! He asked our opinions about various happenings and included us in all His teachings. Why, even you changed, Cleopas! After our first few months following Jesus around and experiencing His ways, you began talking to me like an equal. Some of the Emmausian wives even complained when you took me to live with you in a separate house instead of the common tents that women and men had slept in for centuries!’
‘I know,’ Cleopas replied. ‘Jesus not only showed me that you really were my partner in life, but also an equal. He even opened my eyes to see that so-called sinners were welcome to God. Imagine that! We even eat with tax collectors and prostitutes. I see how God works now: By loving people where they are, people are enabled to become fully who they were made to be, gifts and treasures from the All Holy One. I guess we’d better stop that before our local leaders notice.’
‘How could God allow our religious leaders to murder Jesus, Cleopas?’ I wondered aloud.
‘I don’t know, Love. All I know is that Jesus was able to forgive them from that wretched cross. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget what he suffered or be able to forgive our religious leaders. After all, I expect Romans to be butchers, but our religious leadership?’
‘I know it is hard, Cleopas. Jesus changed our lives so completely. I was looking forward to bringing up our children in God’s love and without any fear of Church leaders. Their lives would have been so different from ours. Remember how my dad told me to always keep my eyes lowered around Pharisees and priests so not to attract their attention?’
‘Well, it looks like we had better pay attention to your dad’s advice, God rest him.’
We were going on like this when Jesus appeared on the road beside us. I guess we were so wrapped up in our talk that we never noticed where he came from. He asked us what we were discussing.
Both Cleopas and I stopped dead in our tracks and looked at him through our tear stained eyes. ‘Are you the only one who doesn’t know what happened in Jerusalem this weekend?’
‘What things?’ He asked.
I guess Jesus really understood our hearts and our need to express our shock and disappointment and our grief. But He didn’t let us stay in them. Instead, Jesus began reminding us of the Scriptures and what they said about Him. He interpreted the prophets that said the messiah had to die. He reminded us that He had said He would rise in three days. And He said, ‘Do not be afraid.’ I remember the hope that began to grow in my heart. I’d never responded to any teacher like this, except to Jesus! Just as I thought that maybe the other women were right when they proclaimed that Jesus was alive, He kept on walking right past the road to our house.
‘No, don’t travel on,’ Cleopas insisted. ‘It is nearly night and the roads aren’t safe to travel after sunset. Come stay with us and leave in the morning, instead.’ I nodded my agreement to this arrangement and hurried inside to get some dinner ready. Thankfully, I had plenty of vegetables left in the garden and flour in the jar, so I made a stew and flat bread. Cleopas went to the back room where we kept our wine and poured it into glasses at our table.
We all sat down at table and I should have realized it was Jesus right then and there. I forgot myself and sat next to my husband and this Stranger didn’t object. He acted like this was the most natural thing in the world. As I began to bow my head, I saw something strange.
The Stranger picked up the bread and wine and began the table blessing. How odd! Cleopas was the man of the house. He should have led prayers. As Jesus said the blessing, He broke the bread in half… I couldn’t believe my eyes. Only one person I knew did the blessing like this and my eyes were fully opened and I saw Him right in front of me. This Stranger was Jesus! Both Cleopas and I started laughing and crying and saying, ‘It really is you!’ but Jesus vanished!
We looked at each other and jumped up, forgetting the food completely.
‘We must tell Peter,’ Cleopas said.
‘Yes. We must tell him that everything Jesus said was true. He is truly risen.’
We scurried back to Jerusalem, yacking the whole way. ‘The others must know that nothing can stop Jesus and His message. We can trust His words and live by them since death no longer has power over us! Death is not the end; it is only a passage to eternal life. The God of Love is the Master of the Universe and we belong to Him. There is nothing left to fear.’
We wanted to tell them everything we experienced, but we were greeted at the door with, ‘It is true: Jesus is risen and He has spoken to Peter!’
My goodness, Jesus was busy that day. It seemed to me that He wanted all of His disciples to know that they could live in joy and without fear. Even if the Romans or Church leadership wanted to stop us, we would go on and tell the whole world the good news. Jesus will always be on the paths we travel.”
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Happy second Sunday of Easter! One great gift of the Church calendar is that we spend several weeks celebrating Easter. That gives us the opportunity to savor the Easter gifts that Jesus showed in His appearances to the disciples after His death and resurrection.
Today’s gospel reading is one that many of us identify with. We see in Thomas the doubts and questions that we ourselves have about eternal life and what death means for us who live as Easter Christians. There are so many delicious details to this story that we could savor, but I want to focus us on just one detail today so that we can explore it in relationship with our own lives. That detail is the “locked door.”
The evangelist makes certain that we notice the door by mentioning it twice. First the door is locked by the disciples out of fear of what might happen to them now that Jesus has been put to death. Hiding in the upper room, the disciples thought they were safe from disturbance, but a locked door proved to be no obstacle to the Risen Lord. In His resurrection, Jesus appears wherever he wants. The barrier to those who would harm the disciples is not meant for Him and Jesus appears to defy the laws of nature by appearing and disappearing at will.
I believe the evangelist deliberately wrote about the locked door for our sakes. Unlike a wooden door that Jesus can pass through without difficulty, the locked door of our hearts is impenetrable unless we are willing to open our hearts. If the evangelist wanted us to contemplate that locked door, we might ask ourselves, “From what part of my life or of my heart have I locked out Christ?” Like the first disciples we may fear that letting Christ fully into our lives would demand changes—changes in how we live, changes in who our friends are, or changes in how we make a living. Letting Christ fully into our lives could mean exposing our fears to Him or revealing our lack of full faith; or it might mean allowing Jesus to see all that is unworthy and shameful about us. Some of us would rather die than be so vulnerable. In His resurrection, Jesus can appear to us, but are we willing to let Him into our hearts fully?
The second time this gospel mentions the door, it is no longer locked but it is closed. By now, most of the disciples have seen Jesus and come to believe He is the Risen Lord; but Thomas has not yet seen Him. The door to his heart remains closed. Who knows why? Perhaps it is because he simply cannot believe the unbelievable wonder of the resurrection. Maybe, it is because Thomas has been so immersed in his own grief that Jesus died and with Him, all Thomas’s dreams for a brighter future, that Thomas cannot move out of grief to embrace joy. Perhaps Thomas’s lack of faith is based in his inability to trust the experience of the Christian community that already has experienced the Risen Lord. Thomas was very much in the modern Christian’s shoes in this matter. Until we encounter the joy of other Christians, we may not be able to fully trust in the story of Easter. However, when we move from doubt to trust, our hearts are opened to having our personal experience of Christ raised from the dead. Once we have experienced Christ in our own lives, we no longer depend on others’ faith to sustain us. We can be filled with joy and confidence in God’s love because we know it through Jesus Christ. And finally, we are able to witness to our Risen Lord through our own lives. As we share the good news with others, we, too, will encounter closed doors. Whether the door is closed to Christ or to a particular element of the good news, such as our role as stewards of creation, some will not open the door of their hearts.
Since we are committed to living as good stewards of creation, we want to bear witness to the goodness of the Earth and our responsibility toward it. Even so, many people—even among Christians—do not acknowledge our responsibility to heal the wounds of pollution that cause climate change for our planet. Their hearts may be closed to the possibility that God loves every inch of creation and desires that we do the same. We can guess at the reasons behind this closed door. Perhaps it is fear of the changes that healing the earth requires. Perhaps, they fear honestly evaluating their own role in contributing to the wounds of the Earth. Perhaps they fear losing jobs, income or a lifestyle that is unsustainable. Rather than pushing against this closed door, we might want to give a purer, more transparent witness to the gospel call to simple living in our own lives to win them to this part of the gospel. We need to acknowledge the challenges that we all face in considering the impacts of our decisions, and so validate the struggle it takes to live sustainably. Just as Jesus offered his wounded hands and sides to Thomas to touch, we can reveal our own wounds and struggles to become more eco-friendly in order to encourage others on the journey. Opening the closed door to another’s heart may be as simple as sharing our own struggles on the journey with them.
Locked doors. Closed hearts. The joy of faith in the Risen Christ. The strength to live as He has shown us the way. The gentle sharing of wounds. The acceptance of Risen Life. It is ours to possess and ours to share this Sunday of Easter.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Happy Easter! Today I want to tell you a story. It is only a tale. It didn’t really happen…or, did it? Every good story has a truth buried in it. I invite you, today, to listen with the ear of your heart to find the truth that lies herein.
Recently a very old manuscript was discovered and I managed to get my hands on a copy of it. According to the signature, this story was written by one, Joanna, the wife of Chuza. This is what the manuscript says:
“I was there that morning and I want to tell you what I witnessed before someone tries to deny the story. Several of us women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body but when we arrived we found an empty tomb. We were so befuddled that most of us ran back to Jerusalem to tell the Twelve what we found. While we described the empty tomb and the burial cloths of Jesus, an insistent knock was heard on the door to the upper room. Every eye in the room looked around in fear as we fell silent. Then a voice was heard from outside,
‘Open the door! It’s me, Magdalen. Let me in.’
Peter went to the door and admitted Mary Magdalen into the upper room. Before he could say a word, Magdalen exclaimed for all to hear,
‘He is risen! I saw the Master.”
Peter looked at her in horror. ‘Sit down, Magdalen, and tell us what you saw—from the beginning,’ he instructed.
She didn’t sit down, but began saying, ‘I was at His tomb, bending down and looking in while I wept. There I saw two angels sitting, one at the head and the other at the foot of His burial spot. One asked me why I was crying and inquired, ‘Why are you looking for the Living One among the dead?’ I don’t know what I was thinking then. I turned around and saw a man in the garden.
He looked at me and said quietly, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ I told Him, ‘If you took the body, show me where you placed Him so that I may take Him back to His tomb.’ The man merely looked at me and began to chuckle. Then He said my name, ‘Mary.’
In that instant, I looked into His eyes and I saw Him for the first time. It was Jesus! His life had been transformed. I thought He was merely a gardener. Well, He is the Gardener. I understood and I knew that He was the Master Gardener who was present at the first garden in creation. All at once, I rushed to Jesus and hugged him.
Jesus began laughing heartily and told me, ‘Don’t squeeze me to death! I have not yet ascended to my Father. Now, now, go to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and to your God.’’
I fell to His feet and began kissing those beautiful wounds. I heard Him again, ‘Go—tell my brothers.’ I tell you, I didn’t want to leave, but Jesus commissioned me to bring you this great news that He is risen!
Peter and the other twelve gazed at her in disbelief. You could just see it written on their faces as they thought, ‘The poor woman is addled. We’ll have to treat her with kid gloves.’
Magdalen stood up tall and pleaded with Peter, ‘Don’t you understand? He is alive. Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him down. Evil could not make an end of Jesus. Love is more powerful than all the violence in the world. And now, He is sharing His risen life with us.’
Peter’s eyes dropped not knowing what to say to this poor woman. Magdalen walked over to Philip and she pleaded with him. ‘Philip, don’t you understand? The one that you thought was the messiah really is! Jesus wants us to live His risen life now, in the world. Everything He taught us about God’s reign is true. Just like He preached the Good News and reached out to heal people, Jesus wants us to preach His message and bring healing to others and to all creatures. He wants us to be reconcilers because he has reconciled the whole world to God.’ Philip’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t respond to her.
Then Magdalen came to Nathaniel. ‘Listen to me, Nathaniel. Jesus saw you sitting under the sycamore tree before you ever met Him. You said He was the Messiah. He is alive, I tell you. Remember, how Jesus ate with sinners, how he welcomed the poor and outcasts of society to His table? He was building a new people of God, a chosen race of the most unlikely characters. He wants us to do the same!’ Old Nathaniel looked at her, you could see belief enticing him, but he said nothing.
Then, looking around, Magdalen saw Mary, Jesus’ own mother, sitting in the corner. She was bent over, leaning on her cane for support, her white hair dazzling and her eyes focused on Magdalen. She rushed to Mary and knelt down before her. ‘Mary, you believe me, don’t you? He is risen!’
Mary’s eyes began to twinkle. She nodded her venerable white head and replied, ‘Yes, He is risen. Christ is risen! It is as you have said.’
You could have heard a pin drop in that room. Then, old Mary leaned over and pulled something out from under her seat. It was a tambourine. She proffered it to Magdalen, nodding all the while. Magdalen glowed and, still facing Mary, moved to the center of the room.
She raised the tambourine and struck it. She sang out in a clear voice, ‘Christ has died!’ ‘Alleluia!’ old Mary responded. The other women quickly jumped to their feet and formed a circle around
She started to dance and struck her tambourine again. ‘Christ is Risen!’ ‘Alleluia!’ they answered back, swaying to the music all the while.
Magdalen turned to the Beloved Disciple singing, ‘Christ will come again!’ ‘Alleluia, alleluia!’ he responded joining the dancing women.
Then the whole assembly rose to their feet and joined the song, ‘Christ has died, alleluia! Christ is risen, alleluia! Christ will come again, alleluia, alleluia!’”
And Jesus appeared, standing in the middle of them.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Today’s reading of the Scriptures are very full and quite rich. We move from the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Sunday through the sorrowful and shameful death by crucifixion on Friday. I doubt that any disciple can read these gospel passages and not be moved by the self-emptying love of God that takes on the full measure of human cruelty.
Even so, as we contemplate the death of Jesus there may be some elements that escape our notice since the gospel was written in the first century Jewish-Christian community. Some cultural overtones may be lost on us and it is on these that I want to focus today.
Scripture scholar, John Pilch, S.J., tells us that Jesus “died a shameful death, one reserved for the worst of criminals. Even though he died in the best Mediterranean manly tradition, this manner of death wiped out with one stroke all the good he had done. If Jesus truly were beloved of God, God would not have allowed him to be overcome by his enemies.” Here we get a peek into the cultural heart of the first century Jews. It becomes very understandable that many of Jesus’ followers left him when he was crucified, because clearly Jesus could not have been the messiah, according to their thinking, if God abandoned him to crucifixion. And this is where Christian Scriptures make it very clear: God’s values are not our values. In fact, God turns our expectations and judgments upside down! By his acceptance of suffering and a shameful death, Jesus has fully embraced the worst that humankind can do to him, and God vindicated Jesus in the resurrection. What should have been shame and should have wiped out memory of Jesus from history, is the very event that exalts Jesus.
As His disciples, we follow Jesus’ example and allow ourselves to be poured out in love for the good of the world. On this Passion Sunday we can ask ourselves, “Which cultural values stop us from fully embracing the way of Christ?” Being in control is a strong value in Western cultures and can blind us from accepting our limitations as mortal beings. Being always right is a blind spot that can prevent us from apologizing or even recognizing the truth that we are wrong at times. Jesus knew that accepting death on a cross would cause him the loss of all honor among his people. Yet, He knowingly embraced the cross for the healing of our world. To bring healing to others and to our world, we need to follow Jesus along the way of the cross, the way of suffering, the way of humility, the way of the cross. How appropriate that we start Holy Week with a reflection on the quality of our discipleship if we are committed to carrying Christ’s salvation, that is the healing, to our world and all its peoples.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Whenever we read something from John’s gospel, it is worthwhile to remember that this gospel is unlike the other three. Instead of simply revealing the life of the earthly Jesus, John’s gospel is a reflection of Christians living into the second century who share with us their understanding of Jesus in the post-resurrection days. Unlike the first gospel communities who expected Jesus to return any day, these Johannine Christians were learning to live with the ongoing absence of Jesus and they asked the same kinds of questions that we might ask. Today’s passage seeks to understand the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus while Christians were dying. In other words, why are we dying when Jesus promised eternal life?
So, we listen to the story of Lazarus, a close friend and disciple of Jesus, who has died. His sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus when Lazarus laid ill with sickness. They knew he could die and they wanted Jesus to save Lazarus from death. But, Jesus did not come when they called. Instead, he arrived after Lazarus had died and was buried four days earlier. Imagine the boldness of Martha who chides Jesus for not coming in time to save His friend! “If you had been here, Lazarus would never have died.” She understood and trusted Jesus’ power to save. She just didn’t understand why He didn’t choose to use his power to save his friend from death. Building on her faith, Jesus asks Martha if she believes that He is the resurrection. Her answer is perfect. Martha tells Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
In case we wonder if Jesus sympathizes with our fear and distaste for death, John writes that Jesus was greatly disturbed by Lazarus’ death. Jesus was deeply moved, so much so that he cried. Then—as if to demonstrate the truth that He is the resurrection—Jesus raised Lazarus from death.
Understood from a Johannine perception of eternal life, these Christians believed that we begin eternal life from the moment of our baptism. Eternal life was not thought to begin following death at all! No, we begin this eternal life when we accept salvation through the glorification of Jesus, and we are steeped in eternal life as long as we live in union with Him. Therefore, death does not have the power to sever our union with Christ nor can death extinguish eternal life. Our lives continue in Christ; only after death, our lives are transformed. Jesus does not come merely to resuscitate our bodies from mortality. No, He comes to live in and with us forever, from birth on earth to birth in heaven. Our lives are one continuous and joyful existence in and with Jesus through eternal life.
You and I can rejoice in the fact that we never die! Sure our bodies give up at some point, but our essence, our spirits, our very lives continue forever in Christ. Today’s gospel reading assures us that faith in Jesus is the door to endless life. When you and I begin to grasp this unimaginable joy and integrate the reality of eternal life beginning right now, how can we not share our boundless hope and faith with others?
As we approach Holy Week starting next Sunday, we do not enter a week of somber remembrance as though we don’t know the ending of the story. Rather we enter our participation in the Passion of Christ in awe and gratitude. The love of God goes so far as to share our sufferings and death so that we can be confident that death is not the end of life.
As Christians who lovingly tend the needs of Earth, we are surrounded by signs of impending death for our home planet. Nuclear waste is fouling the Pacific Ocean and the country of Japan. People continue to waste energy and produce carbon dioxide without serious attempts to lower their carbon footprint. Pollution is only slowly being cleaned. Global warming worsens. Can we live in hope and confidence that we already live eternal life and generously give our mortal lives to bringing life and hope to our planet?
Jesus beckons us to follow His example of total trust in God and complete self-giving for the good of others. Before Holy Week arrives, we can imagine Jesus asking us, “Are you willing to lay down your short mortal life, out of love for the Earth and others as I did for sinful humankind?” We may not be asked to die literally for Earth’s healing, but we can die to all the behaviors and attitudes that contribute to environmental degradation, confident that our sacrifice will bring life for the Earth and all her creatures. With confidence that we already have eternal life, we need not fear death in any of its forms—not death of the body, nor death of selfishness, nor death of carelessness. Rather, we are already filled with joy that we have eternal life. Let’s us live for the good of others and the life of our planet.
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