Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finding Lost Hope: Happy Easter!

In hope, peace and joy we enter the season of Easter. After the forty days of Lent, after the solemnity and sacredness of Holy Week, after Jesus’ horrific death on the cross, finally, finally, we experience the explosive joy of Easter morning.

Easter is about resurrection and transformation. It’s about discovering what we thought lay dead and lost in our lives, and regarding it anew. Easter tells us all futures are possible, no ending is final, and no sorrow everlasting.

It surprises me, given that Jesus made no secret of his coming resurrection, that none of his earliest disciples truly expected him to come back to life. They hid after his death, understandably cowering from the might of the Roman army that had killed their leader.

Only the women, holding to the tradition of anointing the dead, visited Jesus’ tomb early on the third day. And when Mary Magdalene reported Jesus risen, the men still did not believe her. (Some things don't change!) “But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (Mark 16:11).

Disbelief and cynicism infect humanity. We undermine our hopes all the time. We tell ourselves that the things we desire are impossible and out of reach. We accept finality, limitations, barriers and obstacles despite the word of God, despite the call of Christ. We fear setting ourselves up for failure and so retreat behind the closed doors of society’s expectations.

Easter teaches us to forget human limitations. It cries out to humanity to abandon all fear, forego all norms and reach for dreams and stars. All is possible with God. Anything can happen. We are reminded of the days before grief and failure weighed us down. We are thrown back to the aspirations of our childhood and fantasies of our youth before the world taught us that we weren’t good enough, couldn’t do it, weren’t worth it.

Because ultimately, on Easter morning, Jesus teaches us that we are worth it and always have been.

We will suffer. That is a given. The wonder of Easter is not that suffering is eliminated for humanity (it isn’t), or that our lives will be obstacle-free. If anything, we are called to address barriers to peace and justice in our lives, and bear the cross of creating a better world. But the cross is not the end. We are also pointed to a future beyond pain, sorrow and fear, a new day of hope and possibility where justice, peace and love can prevail. Faith in God opens us up to faith in ourselves.

This Easter I invite you to embrace your blessings and dream your dreams. Reach for God. Find the Spirit within. Love life and live lovingly. Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Reflection

How quickly betrayal happens. The sharp word out before we think, the little put-down, the laugh, the hesitation when reassurance is called for.

I broke my Lenten promise to give up pop this week. I ordered a diet coke in a restaurant without even thinking, and drank it when it came.

Is that how it was for Judas? Selling his friend without a thought, without reflection, the action done, the cold hard coins in his hand before he even realized it? Then the remorse, enough to drive him to suicide. And for Peter? Denying his friend, his Lord, three times before the cock crowed, and running away mortified and ashamed. Peter does not stand at the cross, or go to the tomb.

Good Friday brings us face-to-face with our human frailty. Humans fail. Humans err. Humans sin.

But even as we ponder our inevitable falls, Good Friday reminds us that God will not fail us, or give up on us, or let our failures be the last word on who we are. Forgiveness and reconciliation remain ours for the choosing. And God’s love is ours whether we ask for it our not.

The cross exposes the horror of our world in all its thoughtlessness and cruelty. But it also points us to a love that transcends all horror, all pain and all suffering. Even as we recognize ourselves in the ones who crucified Jesus, we also recognize that we can do better, we can reach higher, we can stand at the foot of the cross.

Knowing ourselves as we truly are is the first step to transforming ourselves into what we are called to be. And that is God’s people, a people of justice, hope, faith and love.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Fasting

I hate fasting. Let me be clear about that from the start. I don’t look forward to it, and I don’t enjoy it while I’m at it. But every year during Lent I overcome all my rationalizations and trivializations, and run a fast for the students at my school.

Why, you may ask, would anyone want to torture teenagers so? (Don’t answer, parents!)

Fasting is a traditional observance for Catholics, as it is for people of many other denominations and religions. For some, fasting on Fridays, or at least avoiding meat, is a way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. One prepares the mind and body for the celebration on Sunday of the resurrection. During Lent in particular, Christians make sacrifices and fast in order to model Jesus’ forty days in the desert, making space in their lives for reflection.

But what, the modern person may inquire, is the point of all that deprivation? After all, surely we are beyond the age where we might think that fasting will bring some magical indulgence or benefit to the participant like an outdated rabbit’s foot or lucky coin.

People fast for a variety of reasons and some, I admit, may be suspect. I offer here only my own perspective.

Fasting makes me aware of my connectedness not only to my own body but to the world as a whole. When I fast, I acknowledge that food is a gift from the earth, not something to be treated casually. I give myself time to reflect on the connection between the way I treat this planet, and the way I live my life. It’s an unavoidable reflection, brought on every time my stomach rumbles.

More than this, fasting reminds me that I belong to the privileged group of humans who every day have enough to eat. In my life, I do not wonder if I will eat. I only wonder when I will eat and what I will eat. By fasting I offer an act of solidarity toward all those who struggle to maintain their existence. These are the poor and marginalized, the beloved of God. The money I save on groceries goes to them.

The fast that I run with the youth involves more than simply giving up food. The teenagers engage in activities that open their eyes to issues of injustice, poverty and environmental distress. We watch relevant videos. We play games. We engage in role play and creative arts. This year we focused on the School of the Americas Watch, as well as the relationship between the military-industrial complex and the degradation of water, earth and people in so many parts of the world including Canada.

During our fast we hunger together, grow together, pray together and endure together, mindful that we are exercising a freedom to choose or not to choose food that many people on our planet do not enjoy. And the teenagers every year inspire me with their wisdom, their steadfastness and their concern.

Even if God doesn’t need humans to fast, humanity needs humans to fast. In so doing, we offer an act of peace toward the earth, toward each other and toward God.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Palm Sunday and Friendship

Slowly now, we approach Jerusalem, following Jesus in our journey through Lent. Next weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday, the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, hailed and adored by crowds so glad to see him that they line the path before him with palms. Crowds that will nevertheless desert him once he is arrested.

How steadfast are we to our friends? How far will we go to support them? Are we there only for the celebrations, or will we stay nearby when challenges arise? When Jesus says to his disciples to pray that they not be tested, he speaks words of profound wisdom.

Palm Sunday reminds me that friendships are covenants not to be easily discarded. We revel in our friendships at weddings, baptisms, parties, celebrations. We lean on our friends at funerals, during job losses, through heartbreaks, and in ill health. While friendships may stumble at times, if we persevere, seeking to emulate Jesus’ steadfast and persistent love for us, we reap the benefits of enduring affection, support, laughter and honesty. Friendship expands and solidifies through the threads of old conversations, new memories, fresh wit, and faithful companionship.

In the presence of a good friend, we find the God within, the Spirit that binds humanity to each other. This treasure, beyond what the eye can see or the ear can hear, deep within our hearts, gives interest and meaning to our lives. Friends help us unravel the complicated textures of our lives to find the worthwhile, the essential, the truth.

Palm Sunday reminds me to look into my past this week to discover if there are old friends I may have neglected lately. Is there any way I could do better in my friendships? What must I do to renew connections, and bolster relationships? Have I cheered my friends as the crowds cheer for Jesus? Is my affection strong enough to endure the crosses in my friends’ lives? The process fills me with hope as indeed Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem did 2000 years ago, and still does today.

Monday, April 4, 2011

For God Does Not See With the Eyes of a Human

When the Prophet Samuel approaches Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel from amongst his sons, Jesse doesn’t even bother to bring his youngest child David out. Only after Samuel has rejected each of Jesse’s older, stronger, and supposedly wiser sons, does Jesse admit that he has another younger boy who is out minding the sheep. For Jesse is blind to David’s potential. Yet David goes on to be the greatest King in Israel’s history.

In the Gospel of John we read of Jesus restoring sight to a man blind from birth. The religious leaders, who should know better, cannot accept this miracle as the gift from God that it is. They revile not only the formerly blind man, but also his parents and Jesus. They bring them to trial. They question them to hear the answers they want to hear and see the world not as it truly is, but as they have set it up to be with their rules and regulations. No matter the evidence before them. No matter the truth. In so doing they reveal that indeed they are the ones who are truly blind.

So often in Scripture, the ones who should be able to see most clearly are those who are most blinded by rules, tradition and prejudice. But these stories are not confined to scripture. They play themselves out everyday in institutions, governments and Churches.

The story of the blind man reminds me of Father Roy Bourgeois’ current struggle with the Church. Once Father Roy could see that women are also called to the priesthood he refused to accept the blind obedience demanded of him by the Church. By contrast, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church remains stubbornly stuck in its blindness toward the need for conversation on the role of women.

As I wait this week for the final judgement on Father Roy for his advocacy of the ordination of women, I pray that sight may be restored to his Superior and to the Vatican. Can they not see Truth when it presents itself? Can they not feel the movement of the Spirit? Must they hold trials and arguments (none of which admit women) to decide what the truth must be when it shines brightly before them?

Or like Jesse, will they remain blind to the potential of the women who stand before them?