Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Week Journal 2013: Wednesday—Withholding Hate

Would that those who now test us were converted and tried with us; yet though they continue to try us, let us not hate them, for we do not know whether any of them will persist to the end in their evil ways. And most of the time, when you think you are hating your enemy, you are hating your brother without knowing it.
(St. Augustine, Treatise on Vulgate Psalm 54)

On this day the Church recalls Judas Iscariot’s decision to betray Jesus, determining for whatever reason that this was essential. It is a day which in some final sense seals Jesus’ fate. Yet it is also the day when many churches offer the somber service of Tenebrae, when we hear St. Augustine’s words of caution about hating others.

Christians are called to hate only sin. To hate another person is to close the door on them as people, and to turn them into pure sin. Hatred denies access, hope, the possibility of transformation. It erases all possibility to sharing the Gospel and its light.

Holy Week consistently turns us from our human-based assumptions about life to the God-based facts of the Gospel. We may have any number of reasons to hate someone, from the human perspective. But staying on the purely human level dooms us to the repetition of all past systems of human wrong.

St. Augustine is bringing us back from the brink of thinking that we can hate easily, with no real cost to ourselves. He is pointing out that, in some hard-to-see way, our enemies may be far more like us than we wish to admit. Only Evil itself cannot be reconciled with God. To keep from hating often requires a deep commitment of prayer and is frequently the truest test of whether we accept or reject the Gospel way of life. 

Like Jesus offering Judas the final sop at the Last Supper, we are to exhaust all possibilities before letting the door be closed on relationships. To do less than this means inviting the same treatment of ourselves by others--and by God.

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Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week Journal 2013: Tuesday in Holy Week..."Shame into Gladness"

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
The Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week

shame |SHām|nouna painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior
There are few words more potent and unacceptable to modern ears than "shame." Like sin, the word shame seems to hearken to a time when people were fundamentally more cruel, narrow-minded, and ignorant. Thus today we cannot easily speak of shame. We have "evolved" to other words--equally damning--such as "inappropriate" and "hater." But; we cannot say this.

Except that we do. Just because a word is no longer politic, it does not follow that the feeling behind it has disappeared. We feel immense amounts of shame, sometimes for what we have done, sometimes because we have been taught to be ashamed by others who, out of their own brokenness, have turned us into objects of shame.

In a society that will not speak about shame with either precision or honesty, we are often left with no effective means to address this experience—deserved or undeserved. All of the well-meant affirmations, the therapeutic supports encouraging us to cast off the mantel of shame, do not address the fact that shame falls into our lives. Sometimes, it is a legitimate response to the horror of our sin. Sometimes it is a tool of profound evil wielded by others to hurt us. How do we as Christians approach a subject that seems to have paralyzed the secular society around us—and which we have at times misused so bitterly ourselves?

The collect for Tuesday in Holy Week addresses this matter directly. First, it states clearly that Jesus Christ experienced shame. To be sentenced to death, especially on a cross, was the height of shame. He walked in the path of shame, tasted of its isolation and revulsion, and knew what it was to be the recipient of undeserved and unmerited shame. This means we may always turn to Him directly in our own time of shame; He knows what it is to bear this burden. There is no shame too deep for Christ to reach into and pull us out.

But the collect also asks God that we may use the ladder out of shame. That ladder is the very cross used by others to shame Him. We are called to “glory in the cross of Christ” so much that we learn of its profound truth: the distance between heaven and earth (in all its brokenness) has been bridged by God’s own sovereign act of love in Christ. The cross is the sign of that action. For those who hate Christ, it is a cross of shame; for those who come to know its true nature, it is the cross of Love.

Holy Week brings us to the cross in complete honesty each year. It reminds us that the shame of our sin, the shame of a world that seeks to objectify and destroy us, has been swallowed up not in anger, but in Love. That Love is measured in both justice and truth. Christ—the sinless one, the perfect offering—fulfilled the full measure of Love that we cannot, the cross is the ongoing testimony of that merciful love. He has justified us as we could never do for ourselves, His cross is a sign of our receipt of that gift. It is our joy to bear that cross
into every dimension of human experience, to to proclaim this message: In the Gospel, God has used the perfect human instrument of shame to be the very "means of life."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Week Journal 2013: Monday in Holy Week..."None Other Way"

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect for Monday in Holy Week

Before we can arrive at the joy of Easter, or even the solemnity of Good Friday, or Maundy Thursday’s invitation to love each other as Christ loves us, we must be utterly clear about the nature of the journey: it is the way of the cross.

Holy Week’s message of God’s unilateral action of redemption in Christ doesn’t wash away the fact of a broken world where people struggle and suffer. We still must endure the consequence of human sin when we follow Christ the sinless One. But now, we do so in His strength and by His example. We take up our own cross—the reality of our own particular existence—and make the journey with Him and in Him.

Many centuries ago, the prophet Jeremiah had this to say about the journey ahead:

If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you,

   how will you compete with horses?

And if in a safe land you fall down,

   how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan? 
(Jer. 12:5)

We cannot bank on the journey getting easier as we go; in fact, it is often quite the opposite. The Christian life is deeply realistic about this. We are not “experts,” but always disciples, first and foremost—and the word discipulus in Latin means a learner. Holy Week is a serious re-commitment to that aspect of faith: learning to find the way of the cross to be “none other than the way of life and peace,” as the Collect used for this day puts it.

Christ’s absolute determination to follow through with His mission on our behalf is a sign that there is no escaping this for anyone serious about being a Christian. The intensity of the rites and ceremonies of Holy Week is not an end in itself: it is an affirmation that if we truly want life and peace, there is only one way to get there—Christ’s way.

Because Christ has cleared the way ahead for us, removing the previously insurmountable obstacles of sin and death, we may follow in His blessed steps toward the Kingdom.

We all know there are very appealing shortcuts to that journey, ways we think we can use to get there without taking up our own particular cross and following our Lord. But in the account of Jesus’ steadfastness to loving us through the cross, we find once more that this is the only way to walk through life in such a way to keep our “eyes on the prize” while yet loving and serving our neighbor. 

This is the way we have been given; all other ways have been tried and have failed. In Christ, we see the truth that His way forward, and none other, is the way to "life and peace" for all.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Holy Week Journal 2013: The Sunday of the Passion

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect at the Liturgy of the Palms on The Sunday of the Passion 

To participate in the liturgies of Holy Week is to contemplate an action already completed, the fruits of which are still being recognized in the world. Christ has already and eternally overcome sin and death once and for all through His death and resurrection in Jerusalem so long ago. All those who confess Christ as Lord and Savior share in this new form of life; yet this fact has not been accepted by a world still utterly entranced with death and its supposed power.

The human addiction to death—and its confines of fear, the 
passions, hatred, pride, envy —is so pervasive and efficiently-deployed that the acceptance of an eternal life perspective cannot be received “naturally.” It can only be received as a gift of divine grace, consented to by human will. This is the mystery of faith: God initiates, humans cooperate. We must be partners in our salvation, though we may never bring it about ourselves.

Palm Sunday marks the initiation of Christ's greatest work of Love, His confrontation with Death itself. Our Lord comes into Jerusalem in the midst of a great celebration. Those heralding His arrival, of course, were still tied to the very system of power and death He was coming to destroy, but they did not understand this. They welcomed One they believed to be a revolutionary, but they had no notion just how revolutionary He truly would be. For, all their expectations about the "ground rules" of life itself were about to be undone.

In the end, they would all abandon Him. Even Christ's closest friends and disciples would turn away from Him. Their loyalty was not to the Gospel, but to the world "as it is"-- not as God desires it. That world, with its substitution of power for Love, was coming to an end. It was about to make its last stand as the final word about life.

When we share in the great liturgies of Holy Week, we are not re-enacting ancient events as people working in a historical theme park re-enact a long lost culture. We are not re-creating another time or place in this week: we are asserti
ng, proclaiming, actualizing the truth that in Christ Jesus God has lifted the claim of Death from us now. We may choose now to live lives based on this fact, to serve others, make decisions, hold opinions, and take action knowing that we are loved by God and are freed from fear's grip. That is loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Holy Week is direct participation and renewal in this loyalty to life from an Eternal perspective.

Or, we may choose to remain loyal to the world as it has become, living estranged from God, living by the powers of this world which "corrupt and destroy the creatures of God," as the Baptismal Liturgy puts its so starkly.

Our response to this week, our openness to its message and its transforming power, will reveal where our loyalty truly is. Perhaps we will be comforted, perhaps we will be troubled or even shocked. If the feeling is strong, it is to be treasured. Anything that brings us closer to the truth, closer to knowing whether Life or Death has the final word in our mind, is worth investigation. To contemplate these "mighty acts" may finally allow us to see the direction in which our lives are headed: to the setting sun of the grave, or to the rising sun of the Day of Resurrection.

May it be a fruitful Holy Week for all of us!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Sermon on Confession

on Sunday 26th September 1999
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
When we come to Confession we come to meet a friend face to face.  We are not coming to be judged and condemned.  We do not come in terror of what will happen.  We come to the One who, being God, beyond suffering, beyond death, has chosen, for the love of us, to become Man, to take upon Himself all our human destiny and to give His life for us.  His life, His death are to us evidence that we are so loved of God that we can come up to Him whether we are good or bad with hope that He will receive us with open arms; that if anyone is to cry over our unworthiness and our sins it is Him, for compassion, for pity, for love - with a readiness, as He said in a vision to one of the saints, that if there was only one sinner in the world He would again become Man and again die for him, because He cannot endure the thought of anyone perishing.
This is the God, the Christ, to Whom we come when we come to Confession - to the One who is open to us with all His life and death; One who waits for us to come to be healed, to be consoled, to be supported - not to be condemned, not to be judged.
And then, what is the role of the priest?  In the prayer which is read before Confession we are told, ‘I am but a witness’.  What does it mean?  A witness to what?  To the fact that you have come?  That would not be enough.  But if you think of what witnesses are: there are accidental, occasional witnesses.  You are present in the street when an accident takes place.  You are asked: what did happen?  You are neither in favour of the ones or the others.  You are just telling what your eyes have seen.  It’s for others to judge and to know.
There are other forms of witness.  At times a friend of ours is brought to judgement.  And we come to defend him, to testify for him, to save him.  That’s another kind of witness.
And then there is the witness which the Holy Gospel mentions speaking of St. John the Baptist: as the friend of the Bridegroom, the one who comes to the wedding, invited both by the bride and the bridegroom, because he is the nearest, the closest, to them both.  And he is there to share their joy, the miracle of their encounter, the miracle of a blessing that will come upon them and out of two make one, unite them so that they are inseparable for ever in the mystery of eternal love, of divine love shared with them.
This is the position of the priest.  He is called by Christ to be before the person, the sinner, a witness to the fact that he the sinner is loved, that Christ is there, that He has no other desire or intention but the salvation and the joy eternal of the one who has come today.  And he comes also in the name of the sinner saying: Christ, my God, our Lord, this person has sinned, yes, but look, he trusts in You, he believes in You, we all love him with the same love as You possess.  We are prepared to give our lives for him to be reconciled and find peace and joy and be at one with You, our Lord, our God, our Saviour, our Lover.
When you come to Confession next time, think of these things.  Think of the way you come: not with fear of punishment or of rejection but with open heart to pour out everything evil or doubtful there is in this heart.  And Christ will receive you.  Your confession may be to Him a new crucifixion but He accepts it.  He doesn’t reject it.  He does not reject you.  Come, open your heart, speak in all truth to Him, knowing that you are loved beyond judgement, to the point of sacrifice and death: His death, and your life - life in time and life eternal.  Amen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

St. Joseph, Caro Sposo

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Joseph, foster-father of Our Lord. In our rush to think of St. Joseph in theological terms, we sometimes forget that he was a living, breathing human. He was a man in a world where men were in control of just about everything…and yet this man had to dwell with the fact that he had almost no "control" of anything when it came to Jesus.

In dealing with this, Joseph put more trust in dreams and earnest observation than he did in his era's usual round of being a foster-father and head of the house. He confronted situations that were shocking and dangerous in faith and determination so as not simply to do anything, but to do what God called him to do. He was a model in a man of the kind of patient, listening faith that so often is ascribed to women. In this, he shows that men and women are both called to the same basic thing: faithful discipleship.

But he was also a husband. The Scriptures give us very limited insight into this matter, but we do see him as a provider, a worker, a companion, and a protector. He was, as the Italians say, Mary’s “caro sposo,” her dear husband. I have an icon of St. Joseph that calls him just this, and that comforts me a great deal. I'm a husband, too, and that is a sacred calling. I fail at it quite often, but St. Joseph makes very clear the standard and the tools for this Christian vocation.

The Gospel tells us that Joseph was a just man; he was unwilling to act hastily or out of his own raw emotion. He considered things deeply and prayerfully. He placed decisions before God. He did not turn his back on anyone whom he had pledged to love and support. I believe this to be part of what makes him very relevant to our own day and situation. 

We live in a time when commitment is seen almost as a weakness. In the face of so many choices, we like to think that keeping our options open is the greatest good. But Joseph shows us that justice requires much more: a commitment to what is right, what is compassionate, what is true—even when that choice appears foolish or dangerous.

I believe we need to reaffirm the significance of Joseph as someone faithful, patient, just, and loving in the midst of things beyond ordinary human comprehension. In our era, with its tendency to focus only on answers, it is tremendously significant to look upon the lives of those who have shown that the answers often only come by living faithfully with the moment, with the task God has given us. St. Joseph shows us that great things come from such faithfulness.

Collect of St. Joseph
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.