Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week and Paschal Mystery: Anything But a "Spectator Sport"

This past Thursday, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, the scriptural event in which Mary is visited by an Angel and told that she would bear "Emmanuel", God-with-us. It's a curious thing, isn't it, that right in the thick of Lent the Church should call our attention back to how it all began. Yet there is much wisdom in doing so. To recall the Annunciation, especially immediately prior to Holy Week, can serve as a profound interpretive key of what it is that we are preparing to remember and celebrate during Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter Season. The Annunciation reminds us that the Incarnation of God's Son occurred not primarily as a remedy for sin but because, "God so loved the World" (John 3:16). In other words, before we consider the purpose of Jesus' birth, ministry, suffering and death in terms of expiation, or, redemption from sin, we must not forget that God came primarily to "pitch God's tent among us" and share the fullness of himself while also sharing fully in creaturely existence. The Annunciation points to the fact that salvation is not merely a matter of expiation but participation. As one early Church Father so eloquently expressed it, "God became human so that humans could become God."

Therefore, to wade into the profound depths of Holy Week and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus we would do well to remember and strive to re-enact in our own lives Jesus' particular "mode of participation" in creaturely and human existence. The mode that Jesus assumed is summed up well in Palm Sunday's Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians: "though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God, something to be grasped at; rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave." This "self-emptying" doesn't only imply that Jesus served others, but also that he put aside all ambition and vainglory and choose to align himself with the poor, marginal, good-for-nothings, abandoned and forsaken of his society. It meant that he threw caution to the wind by taking on the powerful who were oppressing the masses through imposition of a religious code that had become onerous, legalistic, and a barrier to communion with God. Ultimately, Jesus' "self-emptying" took the form of upending the status-quo and calling to radical conversion not just individual persons but cultural, social and even political norms. It is sometimes very convenient to overlook the fact that Jesus was formally condemned for the social and political charge of being a subversive. What we recall this Holy Week and strive to re-enact in our lives is what some theologians have referred to as a "dangerous memory", one that will likely bring us ridicule and scorn should we, like Jesus, upset the "apple cart" of cultural, social, and political norms that no longer foster life but have become endemic to it. In so many words, our observance of Holy Week and our "being drawn" into the deep waters of Jesus' Paschal Mystery is anything but a "spectator sport!" Pat, TOR

Sunday, March 21, 2010

5th Sunday of Lent: Etched in Sand?

Fr. Anthony Criscitelli, T.O.R., pastor of St. Bridget's Church in North Minneapolis, raised an interesting and thought provoking point in his homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent. He noted that a number of scripture scholars have speculated what Jesus may have been scribbling in the sand during his confrontation with the scribes and pharisees over what to do with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Some scripture scholars speculate he was simply scribbling something non-sensical, a "delay" tactic employed to keep his detractors distracted while he thought of a response. Other scholars suggest he was scribbling the names of the lawyers and pharisees who surrounded him and also writing down some of their own transgressions. Fr. Anthony took the novel approach of focusing on the medium upon which Jesus was writing. In other words, if Jesus was writing down the sins of the elders, he was doing so in sand, a medium that can easily be changed with the slightest breeze, brush of the hand, or placement of a foot. Fr. Anthony than pointed out that our own "slate" or "history" of mistakes, sins, faults, and failings are similarly "etched in sand" to God, and that this slate can easily be "wiped clean" by allowing the Spirit to blow in, through, and over our lives, providing the possibility of a fresh start and empowering us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Pat, TOR

Friday, March 19, 2010

Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary: Faith and Justice, a Matter of Vision and Action

The readings for today's Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, give a great deal of insight into the "structure and dynamics" of Judeo-Christian faith and the relationship between faith and justice (Rom 4:22). The second reading from Paul's letter to the Romans talks about how Abraham was promised by God to become the "father of many nations" and even that he would "inherit the world." Abraham, hoping against hope and despite his old age, came to believe in this promise and it was credited to him as "righteousness" or "justice." Similarly, in today's Gospel reading from Matthew, Joseph is instructed in a dream by an angel to "hope against hope" that God's will could be realized through a virginal conception wrought by a mysterious Holy Spirit. Both Abraham and Joseph were asked to "go out on a limb" in believing that God could do something in their lives unprecedented in history and effectively "bring into existence that which does not exist." (Rom 4:17). Because of their willingness to believe in the near "unbelievable" promises of God and their openness to the vision and dream of God for their lives, they both were deemed righteous or just.

These stories of Abraham and Joseph and the outcome of their stories give great insight into the structure and dynamics of faith and the relationship between faith and justice. To begin with, these stories suggest that the structure of Judeo-Christian faith is so much more than mere "orthodox" belief or recitation of creedal formulas. Rather, faith is founded on putting one's trust in God and his promise to do great things, even to "bring into existence that which does not exist." In other words, faith is based on both a Person and a Promise. For Christians, the person is a Triune God and the promise is to bestow the gift of resurrected life, a "New Heavens and a New Earth", to all who open themselves to dream this near impossible dream. The dynamics of faith are such that it entails assent of mind and heart and movement of hands and feet. In the case of Abraham and Joseph, their faith was ratified not only by sharing in a vision or believing in a dream but following through with concrete actions to make that vision and dream a reality. Finally, the relationship between faith and justice that these stories highlight is that justice is not only a matter of action but vision. Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I Have a Dream" speech is a powerful testimony to the fact that for justice to take on flesh in the form of concrete actions it must first captivate the human heart and imagination. As with Abraham and Joseph, the key to realizing God's justice in our day is to believe against belief, and hope against hope, that God can bring into existence from the raw materials of our life and world that which does not yet exist: namely, the New Heavens and New Earth, where the righteousness of God can fully dwell. Pat, TOR

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.