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Posted by on May 9, 2018

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“It is time for the Lord to act.” These words proclaimed by the deacon to the priest in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy (known as the Mass in the Roman Catholic church) tell us something important about God’s participation in human life. The word for time used in this statement is “kairos,” meaning the perfect or decisive moment in which conditions are right for something very important to take place — a time when God acts. The beginning of a Eucharistic celebration (Mass or Divine Liturgy) is one such time.

In a very real way, the celebration of the Rite of Initiation of Christian Adults (RCIA), culminating at Easter Vigil with Baptism, Confirmation, and first reception of Communion, is a series of kairos events in the life of believers.

In Roman Catholic tradition, we have baptized infants and children for centuries. Most members of the church have no memory of their baptism. First Communion, around the age of reason, is more commonly remembered. Confirmation, when received in adolescence, is remembered more clearly. Nevertheless, the three Sacraments of Initiation are designed to be received at the same time. In fact, since Vatican II, the Church has asked dioceses around the world to re-unite them, including with the initiation of children. This is the practice in the Eastern churches.

But children are not the only source of new Christians. Adults have always come to the Christian community and asked to be admitted to membership. The process of instructing and welcoming new members has taken many forms over the 2,000 year history of our community. Since Vatican II, returning to the tradition of the early Church, the RCIA has been the way we have welcomed new believers.

This year at Easter Vigil, as we again lit the new fire and blessed the waters of baptism, we welcomed our new sisters and brothers by plunging them into the newly blessed baptismal waters or pouring the water over their heads. We have anointed them with chrism, the oil blessed by the bishop during Holy Week.  Chrism is used to anoint the hands of priests, the heads of bishops, the altar and walls of a church, and the newly baptized. In Confirmation, it is also used to anoint and strengthen the new Christian, bringing the wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to witness to the presence and activity of God in all creation. Finally, we complete their initiation by sharing the very Body and Blood of our Lord with them as food for the day-to-day journey of faith.

Such a lot happens in a very short time! It’s far too much to fully comprehend in the moment. It will take a lifetime to ponder and experience the growth and flowering of the seed brought to birth at Easter Vigil – the new life of faith and community of travelers on the way in God’s kingdom.

The newly baptized ideally are continuing their journey in a time of sharing and learning known as mystagogy – a time of awakening in the Spirit and entering ever more deeply into the mystery. Common reactions/experiences of those who have newly received these sacraments include a hunger for scripture, a desire to learn more, a longing for community and sharing, an urge to step away to pray and ponder what they have experienced, excitement, wonder, and joy. Eventually, they may also experience a quieting of the initial excitement, a sense of God not being so close anymore, disillusionment upon discovering the “warts” or “clay feet” of other members of the community. All of this is normal. It’s all part of the journey of faith.

Jesus’ disciples and friends did not fully understand what happened in that Kairos moment of Easter and resurrection. Two thousand years later, we still cannot explain it. God acted in a decisive way, defeating the power of death and separation between God-self and humanity by becoming one of us and experiencing human life fully. Now it is our turn to enter, as members of the Christian community, into the life of the Trinity. It is a journey of a lifetime, lived step by step by the baptized.

Welcome, Sisters and Brothers to this amazing journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We look forward to learning from you of the wonders our God is doing in your life and we promise to share with you the wonders we have seen. The Kairos moment has come into our lives. Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!

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Posted by on Apr 20, 2015

Velaron, salieron y entraron en el misterio – Papa Francisco

Velaron, salieron y entraron en el misterio – Papa Francisco

Resurrection_of_Christ_and_Women_at_the_Tomb_by_Fra_Angelico_(San_Marco_cell_8)Papa Francisco, en su homilía para la Vigilia Pascual, reflexionó sobre la experiencia de los primeros discípulos y discípulas del Señor, en esa noche de dolor y de temor antes de la resurrección . Notó que el Señor no duerme, sino «vela el guardián de su pueblo» (Sal 121,4) y lo salva de la esclavitud, abriendo el camino a la libertad. Así como velaba y cuidaba a su pueblo Israel en Egipto, velaba e hizo «pasar a Jesús a través del abismo de la muerte y de los infiernos.»

Los discípulos se quedaron en el Cenáculo, el salón en donde celebraron con Jesús la Ultima Cena, cuando nació el alba, pero las discípulas salieron con sus ungüentos para ungir al cuerpo de su amigo fallecido. Se preocuparon por el detalle de la piedra, pero sin embargo salieron para enfrentarlo y atender a su amigo.

En su acción de salir de nuevo al mundo y entrar en su dolor, entraron en el misterio del poder y amor del Señor, según el Papa. La tumba estaba abierta. ¡Su amigo se había resucitado! Las discípulas habían «entrado en el misterio.» (1Re 19,12) en el cual se puede «escuchar el silencio y sentir el susurro de ese hilo de silencio sonoro en el que Dios nos habla.»

Nuestro Señor nos llama a todos a salir de lo que nos encierre, del miedo, de la incertidumbre, para enfrentar los temores, los problemas, los interrogantes y «entrar en el misterio … más allá de las cómodas certezas …»

Las mujeres discípulas de Jesús, junto con su Madre, pasaban la noche velando. Y luego, en la mañana, «salieron y encontraron la tumba abierta … Velaron, salieron y entraron en el misterio.»

Papa Francisco nos invita a «velar con Dios y con María, nuestra Madre, para entrar en el misterio que nos hace pasar de la muerte a la vida.»

 

La homilía completa y la vigilia pueden verse en el video adjunto. (No hay sonido por los primeros 3½ minutos, ¡espere con paciencia!)

 

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015

The Easter Proclamation and the Identity of the Deacon

The Easter Proclamation and the Identity of the Deacon

exsultet1In his blog, Deacons Today: Servants in a Servant Church, Deacon William Ditewig, PhD reflects on the role of the Deacon in singing the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet: “Exult, Let them exult, the hosts of heaven.”

Deacon Ditewig traces the history of the Easter Vigil liturgy and the important role of the deacon in the lighting of the Paschal candle, as well as his proclamation of the Light of Christ in “Christ, Cross, Candle, and Gospel: An Early Lenten Reflection on the Deacon and the Exsultet.”

From the earliest times of the Church, according to Deacon Ditewig, the bishop was likened to God the Father, the presbyters (elders, priests) were viewed as the apostles, and the deacon was the Alter Christus (Another Christ). In fulfilling this calling, the deacon proclaimed the Gospel — the Kingdom of Heaven — and provided for the sick and needy in mind, body, and spirit.

The blessing and lighting of the Easter Candle and the proclamation of God’s saving power symbolize the deacon as Christ carrying the cross which is now transformed into the glorious light of salvation, dispelling the gloom and bringing new life and vision into the world.

Listen to the Exsultet sung here:

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)The Catholic Church and the broader world community are looking forward to Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment. Generally, Christians tend to see the earth and all of creation as a motion picture studio back drop for God’s saving action in the Christ Event — the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, there is more to our relationship with the Earth and with Christ than a motion-picture-type approach suggests. Patheos, a collection of blogs focused on faith, presents a panel discussion representing many viewpoints on the impending human-caused collapse of our planetary life-support system.

Overflowing love

What we tend to overlook is that all of creation is the ongoing reality of God’s overflowing love. Nature is a major facet of God’s self-disclosure. Creation is God’s great art project, which the Holy One holds in existence. The Book of Genesis makes it clear that we are part of this great Divine creativity. Humanity is taken from the earth and given life through the Divine breath. The Christ Event is God’s very immersion into creation. The Divine Word, God’s highest and most complete God Self disclosure, becomes truly human and remains truly divine in Jesus of Nazareth. God’s irruption into human history is part and parcel of the divine irruption to bring all creation to fulfillment in Christ according to St. Paul and the ancient tradition of the Church.

The Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, gave us a post-modern vision of all creation spiraling upward to its fulfillment: the Omega Point which is the Cosmic Christ. His book, the Divine Milieu (The Divine Environment / Context), and his mystical poem, La Messe Sur le Monde (The Mass on the World), convey the ongoing creativity in the universe and that facet of creation which is the human species. This does not mean that everything is God – pantheism – any more than art we might produce is identical with us. The things we make reflect our creativity, but they are not us. According to Chardin, our gift of consciousness not only allows us to be aware of God’s activity but to take part in it by God’s out-poured love for us.

Participating in God’s saving activity

The ongoing Christ Event sweeps us and all of the cosmos toward creation’s fulfillment in Christ, the Omega point. The Second Vatican Council, in its key documents the Church and the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope) and The Light of Nations (Lumen Gentium), affirms the centrality of God’s action in human society and creation and our need to participate in this saving activity. Social and political oppression generally go hand in hand with the destruction of the environment and the human life-support system, resulting in poverty, war, and ignorance and the degradation of humanity.

As the Council Fathers wrote:

Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment. – Gaudium et Spes #2 (emphasis added)

Image: Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)
public domain

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Easter and “Eastering”

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Growing: From the Celebration of Light at Candlemas into Lent

Growing: From the Celebration of Light at Candlemas into Lent

lent-cross-trinity-park-forestThe arrival of Lent always seems too fast. Christmas season is so short yet so intense following the four weeks of Advent. We get a brief few weeks of Ordinary Time to ponder the baptismal experience of Jesus and his response, and then, BOOM, here we are in Lent again! It sometimes feels like maybe we should just postpone it for a few more weeks. Maybe Easter wouldn’t really have to be the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Would that be such a big deal? But then I think a bit further and decide that maybe 2000 years of tradition have something to tell me/us today as well.

February begins with the celebration of Candlemas on February 2. This day recognizes events in the life of Jesus and his parents when they visited the temple both for the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after childbirth and the presentation of Jesus, as her firstborn son, to God. It is also known as Candlemas because the prophet Simeon recognized Jesus as the Promised One and foretold that he would be a light to all the nations. Candles have been the primary source of light for most of the history of Christianity, so they became associated with these feasts.

As we listen to the Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus, we see him discovering the special relationship he has with God as Father and the mission for which he has been sent. He accepts that mission, to gather the people of Israel and bring them back with him to the Father, beginning with the poor and marginalized of his land. It’s not without reason that he calls fishermen and tax collectors to be his special friends or that he uses images of farming, tending flocks, baking bread, keeping house, and fishing to explain God’s love for the people. These are realities deeply understood by his audience.

Jesus had three years in which to grow into the man who would stand before the religious and political leaders of his country and testify to the truth of who he was/is. During that time he preached and healed many of those who were brought to him. He also retreated regularly into the hills or off onto the Sea of Galilee to pray. We are told more than once that he slipped away to pray early in the morning and his disciples had to go looking for him. To their insistent reminders that people were waiting for him, Jesus responded that time to be with his Father was even more important. That time away with his Father was what made it possible for him ultimately to face and accept his death and the apparent failure of his mission.

We are called to live in the light of the Resurrection, but we are also called to live as Jesus did. That means we must deal with many of the same realities faced by the people of his time. Poverty, injustice, hardship, the unfairness of life — these things are not unique to the ancient world nor to our world. It is through prayer, fasting, and other activities of Lent that we grow in strength to follow the Lord. When Easter arrives, we rejoice with the newly baptized as we once again rise with the Lord in our daily lives. All is renewed and hope springs forth eternally. From the Light come into the world, through the time of deepening prayer and growth in faith, to the joy of the Resurrection.

It’s time to celebrate Lent!

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Posted by on Apr 19, 2013

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Easter season is a time when we rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection. We celebrate God’s great love in becoming human, living a totally human life, and being faithful in obedient love even through torture and a shameful death on the cross. We speak of salvation for all resulting from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet sometimes we also beat ourselves up for our sinfulness and responsibility for Jesus’ sacrifice and death. But beating ourselves up is not what Jesus wants for us. Jesus comes bearing forgiveness and that forgiveness requires a response. The evidence is clear in Scripture and we need to remind ourselves of it regularly.

Jesus’ disciples did not expect that he would be raised from the dead. In those first hours and days after the crucifixion, they must have been terribly upset with themselves. If only I had …   If only I hadn’t …  We should have …. We should never have allowed him to … What will I say to my family when I go home? I’ve been such a fool. I should have known it was all too good to be true. They all said I was chasing a dream. On and on their thoughts must have raged. When the first reports came in regarding the resurrection, from the women of all people, their response was natural. The women must be hysterical. Such a thing could not happen.

Nevertheless, throughout that first day of the week, the risen Jesus came to them. They did not recognize him at first. He looked like a gardener. He looked like a fellow traveler on the road and potential dinner companion. Once they recognized him, — when he came into the room despite locked doors it was pretty clear who  he was, — but the feared they were seeing a ghost. Always, however, Jesus reassured them. “Peace,” he said to those hiding behind locked doors.  “Do not be frightened,” he said to the women in the garden who first found the empty tomb. “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced!” he said to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. Then at supper with the travelers, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it and they knew it was the Lord. Immediately they walked back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

As the days passed, the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee as he had told them to do, through Mary Magdalene and the other women. They had been fishermen and so they went fishing. Anything to bring some sense of normality again! Yet early in the morning, after fishing without luck all night, a man in seen on the shore. The man calls out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They do and the nets are filled. “The disciple Jesus loved” told Peter, “It is the Lord” and Peter threw on some clothes and jumped into the water to swim to the Lord. The others brought in the boat with its marvelous catch. Jesus may not have looked like the man with whom they had lived for the past three years, but this time they knew it was he. He cooked breakfast for them and then spoke directly to Peter, three times asking “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responded that he did and Jesus instructed him with slightly different words each time, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”

Each time Jesus appears, he reassures his friends and he reassures us as well. All is forgiven. All is OK. We need not dwell on the past. We must move ahead and tell others what we have seen and experienced. We are not to beat ourselves up about what we have done wrong or the times we’ve failed to do the right thing. We must recognize those times as having happened and accept forgiveness for them. Forgiveness is always offered to us. Then we must move forward rejoicing — carrying that peace, love, and forgiveness that comes from our Lord God into our world.  There’s plenty of bad news there already. Our job is to carry the Good News, spreading it far and wide through our actions and our words.

Alleluia! He is Risen!

 

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Posted by on Apr 1, 2013

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Easter_Lily_by_Boston_Public_Library

Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this week. We sing “Alleluia, praise the Lord,” with great gusto. We rejoice in God’s power over death and the promise of new life. We call out to all who will hear, “He is risen.”

In the midst of such celebration, I find myself thinking about the experience of the disciples during the  final hours before Jesus’ passion and the first days following his resurrection. As Catholics, we don’t skip over those experiences in the race to celebrate Easter. Begining with Palm Sunday, we spend an entire week remembering those crucial events of salvation history, as well as the promises and prophecies that were fulfilled during that week so long ago.  From the excitement of seeing Jesus greeted with hosannas and hailed as the one who had been so long expected as he entered Jerusalem in a procession, to the devastation of his death as a condemned criminal in a place of public execution, his followers then and now experience a roller-coaster of emotions. By the time we reach Holy Saturday morning, there is a certain emotional numbness that sets in. What more could there be that will happen?

On Holy Saturday morning, I usually feel a bit detached and quiet. There’s so much to be done before Easter Vigil and then Sunday morning’s celebration. Yet there is that numbness that follows Good Friday’s liturgy and the recognition of what happened to Jesus, as well as what continues to happen to so many who follow his lead in serving the poor and announcing God’s command that we love and care for each other and our world.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows the numbness that follows. Whether death was the final moment of a long or painful illness, or release from a period of mental/physical decline, or the peaceful final breath of a person who has lived long and well, those who remain experience a certain emotional pain and numbness to other concerns and activities. When death occurs unexpectedly, through violence or accident, the devastation is extraordinarily powerful. We question how God could let something like that happen. We may yell at God or turn away. We may also turn to each other in faith: giving and receiving support.

For the disciples on that Saturday morning, when they couldn’t even hold a proper funeral for Jesus, I suspect “numb” would not begin to describe the way they felt. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed. They feared for their own lives. They didn’t know how they would ever be able to face their families and friends, many of whom had probably warned them against leaving home and jobs to follow an itinerant preacher around the country. Unlike our experience, based as it is on knowledge of the Easter event, there was no hope of redemption in the suffering they were experiencing or that Jesus had endured.

Yet into the midst of this experience, on the first day of the week, the women took spices to the tomb and discovered that death cannot hold the author of life in its snares. The stone had been rolled away; the tomb was empty; angels asked why they sought the living among the dead; Jesus met them in the garden and sent them to tell the others that he was risen and would meet them in Galilee. The news was greeted with disbelief. The women must be mad with grief, maybe a bit hysterical. The men went to see and discovered for themselves that the women had not been mistaken about the tomb: it was definitely empty. Later that day, Jesus came into the locked room where his disciples were gathered: fear and sorrow had by this point been joined by confused concern about the story told by the women and others who claimed to have seen the Lord. He invited them to touch him. He ate with them. He instructed them about the new reality that had burst forth into their world and all of creation. Life does not end with physical death. God is not defeated. We are children of God who will share in new life forever.

The numbness of loss turns to the numb wonder of gain. Could it really be true? Could God really love us that totally? Can all be forgiven? Does life continue unended? Is death really a passage into newer, more abundant life? Are we really the ones who will bring the good news of this reality to our world?

If all of this is true, and with the early Christians we believe it is, then thankful rejoicing is the most appropriate response. So we move from the rejoicing in a promise of earthly power (Palm Sunday processions), through the mandate to serve each other and feast on the Lord’s own Body and Blood (Holy Thursday), into the mystery of death (Good Friday), and out the other side to the assurance of new, more abundant, unlimited life in the Resurrection. For this we shout, Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! The Lord is risen, He is ruly risen!

Happy Easter – all fifty days of it!

 

Easter Lily by Boston Public Library – George Cochran Lambdin 1830-1896 (artist); L. Prang & Co. (publisher)

 

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2012

“Christ is Risen”  “He is Truly Risen”

“Christ is Risen” “He is Truly Risen”

This ancient greeting and response burst forth from a joyful people, marking a new day, a new creation, a New Covenant — our Easter morning. Following the heartbreak and despair of Good Friday and the empty sadness of the Holy Saturday that followed, Life rises up again, unbroken and undefeated, never again to die.

With Christian people through the ages and around the world, we sing joyfully in praise this ancient hymn.

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
To Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

Victimae paschali laudes from the Liturgy for Easter Sunday
“Easter Lily” by George Cochran Lambdin, in the public domain, created before 1923.

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Posted by on Jul 21, 2011

Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles – Then and Now

Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles – Then and Now

Mary Magdalene as Myrrh Bearer
Carrying spices to anoint Jesus body
in the tomb. – Eastern Orthodox icon.

The first witness to the Resurrection, according to all four evangelists, was a woman named Mary Magdalene. From the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great to 1969, her place in the story of the Roman Catholic community was confused with that of another woman, the repentant prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. This woman was not Mary Magdalene.

In the earliest of the Gospels, St. Mark names Mary Magdalene as one of the women present at the crucifixion of Jesus (Mk 15:40). She is the first woman Mark names in the list of those who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning (Mk 16:1). The angel told the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead and instructed them to go to the Apostles with the news. They were to tell the men to go to Galilee. Jesus would meet them there. The women were frightened, according to Mark, and they didn’t tell anyone. (Mk 16:8)

Mark’s Gospel has two endings: one is short and says that the women reported to Peter and through them the message went out to the entire world. The second ending is longer and features Mary Magdalene. In this version, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first. She is described as the one “out of whom he had cast seven demons.” (Mk 16:9). Mary told Peter and the others of having seen Jesus and the message of the angel. They did not believe her testimony. Then two men to whom Jesus had spoken on the road returned to testify that he was risen. Peter and the others still did not believe. Finally, Jesus appeared to Peter and company at supper. He scolded them for not believing the first witnesses he had sent to them. (Mk 16:9-14)

The other Evangelists tell essentially the same story. In Matthew’s Gospel she is named as among the women at the crucifixion, at the tomb that evening, and present on Sunday morning before the angel rolled the stone away from the tomb. The angel gave Mary and the other women with her the message to carry to Peter and the others that Jesus was risen and to meet him in Galilee. On their way to tell Peter, Jesus appeared to all of them, saying, “Peace! Do not be afraid. Go and carry the news to my brothers that they are to go to Galilee where they will see me.” (Mt 28:9-10). In this account, the men believed the women and went to Galilee. (Mt 28:16)

Luke names “Mary the Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out” early in his account. (Lk 8:2) She was one of a group of women who traveled with Jesus and helped fund his ministry. He does not specifically name any women present at the crucifixion, but he says the friends and women who had come with Jesus from Galilee were there, standing at a distance from the cross. (Lk 23:49) They followed Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb and then went home to prepare the burial spices and perfumes. (Lk 23:55-56)

Sunday morning, Luke says, Mary Magdalene and the others were the first at the tomb, heard the angel’s message and relayed it to Peter and the others. The men did not believe their account until they had come and seen with their own eyes that the tomb was empty. (Lk 24:1-12) They still did not know what to think until Jesus came to them personally at suppertime. (Lk 24:36-45).

In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is named as one of the women at the cross with the beloved disciple and Mary the mother of Jesus. (Jn 19:25) She is the first person at the tomb on Sunday morning and saw the stone moved away. She went and told Peter and John, who came to see for themselves. Meanwhile, she was alone in the garden, mourning Jesus’ death, when she saw a man she thought must be the gardener. She asked where Jesus’ body had been taken, not recognizing her Lord. Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” and her eyes were opened to recognize him. She spoke with him, then returned to the Apostles with this testimony, “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18)

The gospel accounts are clear. Mary Magdalene was one of the women who had traveled with Jesus from a time early in his ministry. She had been healed by Jesus, probably of a severe mental illness, described in that time has having seven devils. She stayed with him to the bitter end, and then stayed to anoint his body after his death. When she met him in the garden, she boldly took the news to the men who were recognized as leaders of the group. As a woman, her testimony was considered worthless. Nevertheless, she testified boldly. And Jesus backed her up, scolding those who doubted her word!

In one of the terrible ironies of history, Mary Magdalene was tagged as a great sinner who was forgiven much, rather than being remembered as a very brave woman who carried an impossible story to a group of men who would not accept testimony from any woman, much less such a fantastic story from a woman with a history of mental instability. Her story became one of forgiveness of a woman’s sinful nature rather than the rightful story of a woman’s faithfulness, courage and openness to hear of the impossible abundance of divine life and love that overcomes even death.

As we move forward in history, the time has come to correct the telling of Mary Magdalene’s story and to ask ourselves if we would be more open to receive her testimony today than Peter and the others were on that first Easter Sunday.

How do we measure up today? Do we value the witness of women? Do we recognize the importance of their role in nurturing the next generation? Do we value their intelligence and give them opportunities to reach their fullest potential? Do we give women a voice and a role as teachers and preachers within our community of faith? Do we look out for women: working to end violence and abuse against them? Do we hear the voices of women who are overwhelmed with work, worried about how they will care for the families they have, unable to muster the resources to bear more children and raise them well? Do we hear the voices of women who are in danger from those who should be their loving supporters? Do we hear their voices telling of the kingdom as it is coming to birth in our world today, through their struggles for freedom, equality, education, and opportunity?

I pray that we, as individuals and as a community of faith, will not find ourselves being scolded by our Lord for not listening to the ones he has sent as witnesses to each of us, telling of his Resurrection and the coming of the kingdom into our world today. At least half of the witnesses any of us will meet will be women. May we be open to hear through their many voices and stories the voice of the Lord, calling us to share in the freedom and abundance of life in God’s love.

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

 

 

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Posted by on Apr 28, 2011

Easter Week Daze

I tried to blog during Holy Week. I would like to say that I was too caught up in ecstasy to touch the keyboard, but I was really silenced. It wasn’t really writer’s block. It was more a sense of something I am learning in my old age – to keep my mouth shut. As an extrovert this is an occurrence of note, since I don’t often know what I am thinking until I am expressing it.

Per usual, after the stress of the event, I can begin talking or writing about my experiences of Lent and Holy Week now that we are in Easter Tide.

Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil, is a montage of one highly charged event ebbing and flowing over many others. The breaking of the bread at the Last Supper; Judas sent off on his errand; Jesus looking for support and finding us asleep. The darkness at noon covers all creation. Nicodemus asks for the body of Jesus. Mary of Magdala weeping as she asked the Gardener, “Where have you laid him?” followed by the overpoweringly personal entreaty of a close Friend, “Mary.” The disillusioned disciples heading back home and being consoled by a stranger Whom they invited in for the evening. The guest only reveals Himself in the moment of the breaking of the bread. After all of the betrayals, the abandonment, with the marks of the crucifixion on His body, His first words to the men who “threw Him under the bus” was “Peace.” In all of previous salvation history, God’s messengers manifest with the same greeting of peace, but now God does it directly, for the first time.

I understand that the traditional teaching is that the sacrifice of Jesus satisfied the Father’s need for atonement, but somehow, it is hard for me to imagine that God, in Jesus, would not take offense at the rejection of his goodness. Yet, Jesus doesn’t take offense even as the disciples and all of us cower in hiding.

The only thing that I can compare this daze to is to singing the last note of Hadyn’s Creation Mass as a member of the Loyola Men’s Chorus. The director had told us that we would know if we had succeeded if there was a deafening silence before the audience responded. The last note hung in the air. The director brought his thumb and forefinger together; the note evaporated high in the nave. The silence was profound and seemed to last forever. The temperature dropped and then there was thunderous applause.

I am still in the coolness of the silence after that last note. It is not a bad place to be. I hope you are too. Peace.

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Posted by on Apr 26, 2011

Violence and Atonement: A Necessary Link?

Violence and Atonement: A Necessary Link?

Fireweed by Joseph N. Hall

The relationship between violence and atonement is closely woven in scripture and theology but it seems inimical to me. As a life long Catholic, anthropologist, and amateur theologian, I grew up with the notion of the Mass as the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary. Things changed after Vatican II to a focus on the Paschal mystery. Despite all of the language we have about the Father requiring satisfaction, it does seem contrary to Jesus’ own teaching about the fact that human fathers, “evil as you are,” would not give your son a stone when he asks for bread. (Matt 7:11)

Clearly, there is patriarchal and tribal language in the concept of satisfaction. This is still prevalent, as seen in a recent gang rape case in Pakistan. A young woman was brutally gang raped by men of another sub-tribe because her 13 year old brother had apparently flirted with a young girl of the other group. To settle the conflict and avoid greater reprisals, the elders of the young woman’s group offered her as a settlement. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/22/world/la-fg-pakistan-rape-20110422

This is not only revolting to our current sensibilities, but it challenges the notion of sacrifice in the tribal sense. My own existentialist take on redemption has to do with authenticity. God took upon Himself our human condition and brought mercy, healing, and peace. For this he was publicly tortured to death.

My own post-modern sense is that the Father is not so much offended by our sin as appalled by it, as an act of vandalism or destruction of works of great beauty conceived in boundless love. The freedom that is required for the reciprocation of love can also be used to reject it. I personally cannot conceive of an infinite God who is somehow diminished or “offended.” To continue to anthropomorphize the Father as a post-modern, post-Freudian human father leads us to a Father, Son, and Spirit caught up in the continuing ongoing creation of bonum diffusivum sibi – good diffusive of itself. The Incarnation and Christ event are the result of an unlimited and unconditional love.

Clearly, this post-modern language flies in the face of Old Testament pastoral society and the cult of Temple sacrifice in the New Testament. Early Christians had to find a way to explain the Christ event in their own cultural and historical context. However, there is no denying that a post-modern Father is less monstrous to the secular humanist ethics and sensibilities that derive from the Christian tradition of the West.

As terrible as the death of Jesus was, it was completely overshadowed by the fact that no evil can come between us and the Love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)

The great peril of a tribal metaphor is not its irrelevance nor its systemic violence, but rather the chasm it creates between God and us that continues to be the original and fundamental blasphemy alienating us from God and ourselves. The preface to the Eucharistic prayer at the Mass of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday begins in astonishment “Father, you love us still and sent us the Christ.” Yes, what amazement there is, that in spite of our rejection, God never stopped loving us.

The demand for violence attributed to the Father elevates evil to the level of the divine. The unrelenting intrusion of the divine in the human train wreck, of necessity, requires God to confront violence; which he does with non-violence – even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

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