Category Archives: Easter

Thoughts on Holy Week Liturgies

 

During the liturgies of Holy Week with their appropriate emphasis on ceremonies, and hearing the arguments about liturgical purity, the Tridentine Mass, whether women’s feet should be washed on Holy Thursday, etc,  I can’t help thinking back to the most memorable liturgies I have celebrated, all of them in Viet Nam. Among the most memorable was one of many Masses on Thanksgiving Day 1970 somewhere in the Americal Division’s 11 LIB AO.

It was a rainy day and I was flown out to the hillside in a Primo 11 BDE Aviation LOH. It was not a nice neighborhood, and the locals were not friendly. First, I held a non-denominational service with whomever wanted to take part. The soldiers who did not take part provided security. After this service the catholics came together and the other soldiers pulled guard. About ten of us were huddled together in a very small tent made of shelter-halfs. We all sat crossed legged (I could do that back then). The altar was the soldier sitting across from me, his hands on his knees: one hand held the paten, the other held the chalice. For communion we passed the paten and chalice around. It was a brief Mass, but an emotional experience for each of us. Considering what came later, it was worth while.

No doubt some folks will be upset with this. Everything I needed for masses I carried in my pockets as the chaplain’s kit was too big for some operations. I did not wear vestments, since doing so would not be a good idea in a semi-tactical situation when the idea is to blend in and not make oneself a target. We did not have an Entrance Procession or an Offertory Procession. We did not kneel for the Canon, as it was called back then. Also, I did not use latin or celebrate “ad orientem”. I did not ask where the soldiers stood on optional celibacy, ordination of women, contraception, abortion, marriage equality, if their marriage was valid by church law, who was catholic, etc, since it just didn’t matter. All of us on that hill were living our own ministry of “selfless service”. A common thread back then, and in all of my military service, was taking care of each other.

That experience, along with many other similar masses, leads me to see the current hot-button arguments about liturgical things as so much fluff having more to do with egos than anything else. I have learned to adapt liturgies to the circumstances and exigencies of the given situation. There are times and places for liturgical extravaganzas and for simple celebrations. Whatever it takes to serve the folks – do it.

I think I learned to hear confessions on a hillside in Viet Nam. As we were waiting for the helicopters to come and take us  out to a bad place, a soldier asked me to hear his confession. He was in the kind of situation that meant he could not receive the sacraments. When I told him this, he cried, literally washing my boots with his tears. Then it was as Jesus himself was standing there with us asking me who was I to decide who he would forgive. Wow! So, I asked the soldier to forgive my pride and stupidity, and went on to hear his confession and a plot of others. It was a life changing event for me. I owe that young soldier a lot. The rest of the afternoon was bad.

I have known many folks whose marriages were/are “irregular”. So what does that have to do with approaching Jesus? As that young soldier on the hillside taught me, nobody has the right to to tell anyone not to come to Jesus. There is enough suffering in life, and we need not add to it while claiming to act in Jesus’ name and doing something he never did.

Just sayin  .  .  .

Easter Thoughts 2014

Jesus’ Resurrection is so great and profound that there are any number of ways to hear it speaking to us in our lives now, and not just offering hope for us after death. As important as the Resurrection Event is, what might be more important is who was raised. Jesus was an outcast, rejected by both the religious and civil authorities of his day because he did not accept their values and classifications, a person who reached out to other outcasts and folks on the peripheries, accepted everyone as they were regardless of what the institutions of his day said. He ate with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the crippled, lame, divorced, etc. Today he would be accused of spending time and eating with gays, lesbians, divorced and remarried, women who feel a call to be priests, men who feel a call both to be priests and married, folks who dare to talk about or favor forbidden topics, folks whose own life experience does not reflect the demands of religious systems and whom these systems reject or discriminate in some way. He was motivated by his Father’s love, and not a desire for power and control.

Because of his deep relationship with his Father he had a strong sense of the oneness of all creation, everything arising from his Father’s love. He reached out to everybody, and excluded no one – something it seems religious systems are unable to do. His teaching that “the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” would not go over well with the religious systems of our day. Folks who today try to live as he lived find themselves in big trouble, just as he did.

Being open to Jesus in this way takes some faith and courage on our part because it is easier and, perhaps, safer, to limit him to our rules and dogmas, and not take the chance of looking to where they point us. We might prefer to keep Jesus in the tomb, outside our locked doors, or run away from him for our own comfort and safety.

Recently Pope Francis spoke about what he calls “the idolatry of a narrow mind and thought, a closed way of thinking that is not open to dialogue, to the possibility that there is something else, the possibility that God speaks to us; the idolatry of their own way of thinking – ‘it has to be this way, and nothing more’”.

All the Easter Stories (Empty Tomb, Mary in the Garden, Disciples on the way to Emmaus, Disciples behind locked doors, Doubting Thomas) suggest Jesus breaking through the defenses his followers had set up to protect themselves against the unknown. They were so afraid of losing Jesus as they had come to know him that they could not recognize him in his new way of being.

Jesus comes to us in the people who are in our life. We try to keep Jesus in the tomb when we refuse to accept him in folks whose lifestyle does not meet our standards. Each of us is as God creates us in God’s own image and likeness, “the consequence of a thought in the mind of God – important, necessary, not an accident”. When we choose not to accept folks unless they conform to our rules, perhaps labeling them as “intrinsically disordered”, we are refusing to accept the Risen Lord as he tries to come to us. Yet, as the Story tells us, he rose from the tomb in spite of those who tried to keep him there. He is doing so today.

If we are serious about knowing the Risen Jesus in our everyday life, we might want to take a good look at the defenses we set up to protect ourself from losing Jesus as we have known him thus far in our life. As did Jesus’ disciples, who knew him better than any others, we might have our own idea of who he is, and are reluctant to let go of it. But our idea of Jesus says more about us than about Jesus. Often we are heavily invested in our idea of Jesus, comfortable with it, perhaps to the point of keeping him in the tomb and away from our everyday life, reducing him to words, ideas, and laws, and not letting him burst into our life and become an experience which we live every day. We know all there is to know, and will not let him teach us anything new. He is safer for us in the tomb, outside our locked doors, back in whatever we are running away from. We set rules for how others must live if we are to see them as images of our Jesus. There is safety for us in rules, because we have all the answers and can tell others how they must live if they want to please our god and enter our heaven. Of course, any who do not agree with us are wrong.

A church that knows all and has an answer to everything is not believable. It separates itself from life as lived by the folks, and reduces everything to rules and doctrines. In trying to follow Jesus we do not have a set of unchangeable doctrines and laws that we have to enforce and defend, but an invitation to encounter the Risen Jesus as he is in our real everyday life. Our commitment to him is open ended and without any reservation. We try to go where he draws us and let him show us in very specific circumstances how to live as he did. This might entail some serious growth for us. We don’t have to know, but to believe and trust – something Jesus’ Apostles learned from him.

The Risen Jesus offers unlimited hope and love, and this has to happen through us every day. So, if we are serious about letting the Risen Jesus touch our lives, we have to look at what we are doing in to keep from recognizing him as he is in our life. He shows us the importance of people as instances of God to be loved, respected, and cared about, not judged and condemned as he was. He offers us a relationship of trust and willingness that enables us to rise above our fears and prejudices and come to know that goodness that each of us is. All of us, regardless of lifestyle, are precious images of God, more alike than different, and each of us uniquely reflects a facet of God.

Just sayin  .  .  .

 

 

 

 

7 April, Locked Doors

In today’s Gospel Story (John 20:19-31) the disciples had locked locked themselves in a room because they were afraid, and Jesus came to them. He said, “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you, receive the Holy Spirit”. Thomas wasn’t there, and when they told him what happened, he set conditions as to how he would receive Jesus. Next week they again locked themselves up and Jesus came again and had a chat with Thomas about setting conditions on encountering Him: there can’t be any.

This Story reflects what is going on in our church these days. For a long time the institution has locked itself up in its traditional and time worn ways and chosen not to recognize Jesus calling them, giving them the Holy Spirit, and sending them out to the people of whom they did not approve. It is safer for the institution to have all the answers and demand that people agree with them or else, not tolerate discussion, and punish or expel members who do not agree, in other words to control and inflict harm on folks to protect the institution.

Pope Francis seems to be aware of this, and has begun calling the church to be open to the Spirit, leave its locked doors and go out to the people. On Easter he said to the people in the square, “Let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all Creation and make justice and peace flourish”. By his own example he is calling the church to be less concerned with non-essential customs, clothes, and rituals and focus instead on being witnesses of God’s love and mercy to the folks on the periphery, the poor and suffering, and folks who feel alienated from the church. He is calling the church to lead by example, for its members to live Jesus’ love wherever they are, and not impose conditions on whom they will choose to share God’s loving mercy.

He tells us not to be afraid of God’s surprises, not to lock ourselves up behind ideas, doctrines, rules, etc, but to go outside and live the Gospel wherever we are, to bring God’s mercy, not our own judgement and condemnation of others. He is telling the Church not to be “self-referential”, not to look at the world through its own regulations and doctrines, but to unlock the doors and be guided by the Spirit. Some of these rules and ideas cause much more harm than good, and they certainly do not reflect the loving God who creates us and keeps us in existence, the God who lives and loves within and among us, the God whose image each and every one of us is whether or not they agree with us or have lifestyles we do not approve.

Francis reminds us that we are persons, not subjects, that we are not defined by our social status or lifestyle, that each of us has our own journey, our own story, our own difficulties and pain, and none of us has the right to impose our values on others. We have the responsibility to live the Gospel wherever we are, to be ministers of God’s healing love, and not presuming to judge others by our standards. Always firmed up by our own prayer relationship with Jesus, we are to do our best to imitate him and live as he lived, imitate Jesus bringing his mercy in this world, and not be focused completely on the next world.

When he washed the feet of the juvenile prisoners, including the two women, Francis showed us we cannot let outdated notions keep us from living Jesus’ Gospel today. He said pretty much the same when he chose to live in the guesthouse rather than the papal apartments, to wear ordinary black shoes, etc. What matters in the church is fidelity to Jesus and the Gospel. Everything else is secondary. Externals, whatever they may be, have to reflect this. If they don’t they are no longer needed.

Jesus did not create a religious institution or system. He did not give his followers rules and regulations, or questions and answers, or anything to use as a weapon to control folks’ thinking and living. He gave them an example, telling them to live as he had lived. He tried to point out his Father’s loving presence in everybody, whether or not they believed in him, and told his followers to be so in tune with God’s presence in them that they would be able, by their own lived example, to help others become aware of this divine life and presence in their own life. This is the role of any who claim to be following or representing Jesus. They are to teach by example. Jesus did not make his followers the means to get to God, but gave them the mission to point out God already present. They were not to establish rules to determine who can approach God, but to point out God already present in everybody.

“Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” Our role as followers of Jesus is to reflect this, to live in such a way that we really bring God’s loving mercy to all who hurt, to lead by example, not impose by fear. It is easier to impose by fear than to lead by example. Fear keeps folks out, while example invites them in. Jesus knew this, and so does Pope Francis. But, do we, do I  .   .   ?

Just sayin   .   .   .

Easter 2013

As we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, we do not limit it to something that was once and will happen to us later after we die, but we recall it is ongoing now. Our Church is experiencing a resurrection. Pope Francis is recalling the Church to its roots in following Jesus and living as he lived. He is recalling Jesus’ command to be merciful to all whether or not they share our views. He is reminding us that the Christ’s Church cannot be focused only on itself, but has to come out of itself and reach out to folks who are on the peripheral of society, folks who feel left out, forgotten, ignored because of their lifestyle, their marriage status, their gender, or any other reason. The Church must confront the terrible abuse committed on the innocent and covered up by servants of the system. The Church cannot be apart from the people, but must live always among folks as they are and wherever they are, knowing and trying to understand their feelings and stories. It has to share their journeys.

The Church cannot be focused on itself, looking at people and judging how they are or are not following church laws and beliefs. The Church cannot say to these folks, “We have all the answers, so just do what we tell you and live your life by our laws; if you don’t we will judge you as wrong and will keep you from God”, which it attempts to do by denying some folks access to Eucharist and Sacraments. Instead it needs to say, “Let’s spend some time together and talk, we can learn from each other”. The Church, if it is to be true to Christ, has to live his Gospel among all people everywhere, without threats, and teaching by example. Its mission is to bring Jesus to the folks, not restrict their access to him.

As Pope Francis said to the young people in the detention center, we must learn to help each other as all of us together share in the Resurrection and help spread it and make it happen. As Jesus lived in his day, so we must live in our day, if we want to be true to him. As a church we have to come out of ourselves, out of the smugness of thinking we have all the answers for everybody, that our way is the only way, and any who do not agree with us are wrong. As a Church we have to come out of ourselves and meet people where they are, without judging them or requiring that they follow our ways. As a Church we have to step our of ourselves, step out of a tired and routine way of living what we call our faith, a way that has caused so many to walk away because this tired and routine way has ignored the beauty and strength of Jesus’ life, and replaced it with pre-established patterns that close us off to the marvelously creative ways of God.

To the young people in the prison he said: “Press on! Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Understood?”. To all who feel unaccepted, ignored, mistreated, judged, we need to say, do not lose hope. The stone is rolled away. Do not stop working at what you see is wrong, unjust, unfair. Do not let the image of God that you are be abused or defaced. Work hard for what you believe is right, and do not be intimidated. Keep your lives rooted in prayer and in your relationship with Jesus. Go wherever it takes you and do whatever you must. Learn from what you have experienced and do not treat others as you have been treated. Treat all with love and caring. You know your suffering better than anyone. Help each other.

The stone is rolled away, and Jesus is coming forth from the tomb so many have consigned him to. He is walking in the light of love, and calling us to walk with him and see things anew, know folks as they truly are, in all their goodness and beauty as images of God. He moves among us in ways we do not expect so, as with Mary in the garden, we do not recognize him. He is not what we expect.

When we let him, Jesus rolls the stone away from the tomb we have consigned ourselves to. As we contemplate the resurrection happening among us, we come to realize that God is still creating surprises, showing us more who He is, reminding us he does not make mistakes. So concerned with our own comfort and safety and threatened by what we cannot control, we lose our awareness of the God of surprises. So wrapped up in rules and ideas, we cannot see the wonders God is still doing, we do not recognize God coming in ways we do not approve. We protect ourselves and our need for security and control by causing others unnecessary pain and suffering. God still steps outside of Himself to come among us, and it is at our own great loss that we tell God what we will and will not accept. In effect, we are telling him to roll the stone back where it was and leave us in darkness where we feel safe.

When Jesus came among us he upset the religious leaders of his day because he ignored many of their judgmental standards. He reached out to the folks on the outer edges of society, much as we need to do today. The church and all of us have to live the Gospel in a way that, without judging anyone, helps them to face in their ordinary everyday lives Jesus’ overwhelming love for them. We cannot control or restrict his love, we can only pass it on by living it.

Jesus held nothing back and gave us everything, including his life. If we are serious about following him, we have to do the same.

Just sayin   .   .   .