Sunday, March 7, 2010

3rd Sunday in Lent: Imagining Anew What God and Penance Can Do

This Sunday Fr. Anthony Criscitelli, T.O.R., Pastor of St. Bridget's Parish in North Minneapolis preached a very inspiring and enlightening homily on the necessity of "re-imagining" God and the concept of penance that Christians place so much emphasis on during this season of Lent. Fr. Anthony pointed out that, like the persons whom Jesus was instructing in today's Gospel, many "prophets of doom" exist in our world who are quick to make facile and grossly distorted connections between recent catastrophes and God's judgement. In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, a number of very prominent Christian persons made pronouncements about how Haiti was incurring God's wrath as a consequence of "making a deal with the devil." Such a notion flies directly in the face of the conviction that Christians have of God being a "God of life." The God who brings life cannot at the same time be a God who destroys.

On the contrary, God is a God who "rolls the dice" in a sense by granting creation and humans freedom to be and to choose. The reason why people suffer unnecessarily can very often be traced to the misuse or abuse of human freedom. Take for example a comparison between the devastation experienced by the citizens of Haiti after the recent earthquake versus other countries that have experienced as severe or more severe natural disasters and yet endured far less devastation. Such a comparison reveals that the real reason for Haiti's calamity has to do with a "house of cards" style infrastructure that simply crumbled when put to the test. This lack of development on the part of Haiti speaks to systemic and structural inequities present in Haiti and our world that cries out for reform. Herein lies a twist in the way we approach penance: penance has to do not only with reforming our personal lives but reforming a tragically impersonal world. Instead of dismissing the suffering of others in so cavalier a fashion as Jesus' audience does in today's Gospel or as some have done regarding the recent earthquake in Haiti, we should imagine anew what God and penance can do when we allow suffering to lead us into interpersonal and global solidarity in order to reform our lives and world and fashion them in a manner that God can find welcome and be "all in all." Pat, T.O.R.