Life after Epiphany


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Sonnet of Self-Dedication

Otherwise entitled: “Prayer of a Postulant.” This was written during my Postulant year – but the themes hold true even out here in lay life. Perhaps even more than at the time of writing.

– – – – –

King of the deep, Lord of the storm
Command mine raging heart be still
To ponder Your Incarnate form
To contemplate Your holy will.

Now stir me up with zeal for souls
and send me out to push the plough
To run t’ward the Eternal Goal
Then live the Everlasting Now.

Yet in my weakness, Lord, I fall
Please help me humbly stand again
Would that for love of You, my all
Be in Your service wholly spent.

Saviour, King, Beloved, Friend:
Totus Tuus, till my life’s end.

– – – – –

(A dusty sketch from October 2011)


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charity begins at home… Pope encouraging grassroots change

We saw major steps in ecumenism and cultural interchange with Pope Benedict XVI. This movement on the “big picture” was truly beautiful and enriching for the Church.

It certainly seems as though we are now receiving enrichment of a different kind; Pope Francis in his preaching and in his public messages to date seems to be honing in on the individual and his/her relationship with God.

Pope Francis’ recent Twitter feed is my case in point:

pontifextwitterfeed

And most recently: “Never speak poorly of others.”

These tweets are all short extracts taken from recent homilies and addresses. Each speaks to an aspect of one’s personal relationship with Christ and the nature of how that relationship expresses itself in relationship with others. It is the encounter with Christ that is important! Pope Francis is inviting each one of us to take a good look at ourselves, to stand as we are before the Lord and to receive His love and mercy and seek to live out the love we have received. His messages are simple but important…  and potentially very powerful in their effect, if we take them to heart.

Its almost like Pope Francis is acting as a personal spiritual director to every single individual in the Church throughout the world! How amazing that such a thing is even possible! Changing hearts. This can only be done by the Holy Spirit. It seems that He is working through our Holy Father in this way… we need to open ourselves up to these graces!

Both the “big picture” and the “grassroots growth” need attention. Each of us needs a shepherd to help lead us to Christ as individuals, and we also as the People of God, as a Church, need a shepherd. Both men are different, and the Holy Spirit has given each individual holding the Office of Pope a different task. Isn’t encouraging to see that all of us are being well tended?


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avoiding accountability, refusing responsibility

pilate

The events of Holy Week present us with one of the most universal weaknesses to result from The Fall – the tendency to point the finger.

The similarities between The Fall and the Passion and Death of Our Lord can be summarised into four elements:

A – Desire to be without God

B – Enactment of selected means to be without God

C – Attempt to hide from consequences of act

D – Attempt to shift responsibility to another

The Fall

        Element A:

In the Garden, a crime occurred that amounted to deicide. The first
parents wished to be like God, but without God and not in accord with
God.

Element B:

The enactment of this desire was one of proud disobedience in eating the
fruit that God had forbidden them. This was essentially a severance of
their relationship with God and for all intents and purposes was for them,
within their scope of being, attempted deicide.

Element C:

After their act, when they hear God walking through the Garden, the first
parents attempted to hide from Him.

Element D:

In the interrogation/trial that follows, the man blamed the woman who in
turn blamed the serpent. When Adam blames Eve, it is interesting to note
that He also blames God – “the woman YOU put with me.”

The Passion & Death of Our Lord:

Element A:

Judas, the chief priests and eventually Pilate each wanted to be without
Jesus Christ, each for their own motive. In the case of Judas and the
chief priests, this was manifested by a conspiracy to kill Him. In the
case of Pilate, this was less of a pre-meditated reality and more akin to
looking for what he considered to be the “path of least resistance” from
the standpoint of maintaining control of the people under his governance.
Nevertheless, in all cases the desire to be no longer “inconvenienced”
by Christ is present and only differs in its degree.

Element B:

Fast-forward to another Garden.

Judas consummates his betrayal of the Lord with a kiss, having already
accepted money for his crime. The chief priests enact their part in the
conspiracy by giving over to Judas the promised 30 pieces of silver.
Pontius Pilate is a little more complicated – for him, Elements B, C and
D are all encapsulated in a single act – the ritual act of washing his
hands. The decision to permit the chief priests to have their way was the
internal enactment of Pilate’s desire to be rid of the inconvenience
Christ posed to him, and this was manifested in the external act of
washing his hands.

        Elements C & D:

The elements are a little less easily divisible in Judas’ case. Confronted
with the horror of what he had done, having now fled the garden, Judas
attempts to return the earnings for his treacherous deed to chief priests.
In desperation as a result of his inability to shoulder responsibility for
what he had done and seek forgiveness, Judas takes his own life. The
chief priests, concerned with the ritual uncleanliness of the money with
which an execution had been purchased, refused to take the money back.
In this case, the 30 pieces of silver are symbolic of responsibility.
Acceptance of the money is acceptance of culpability for deicide. Pilate
hides behind his office and his responsibility to the Emperor and washes
his hands of the whole affair, explicitly stating his desire to be
disassociated from the act and specifically casting responsibility for the
execution back onto the Jews.

I too

I too, am culpable of deicide. If evil, by definition, is the privation of a due good, then it stands to reason that to choose evil is to choose for the absence of God who is the embodiment of ALL good. I too attempt to hide from my wrongdoing and through each little self-lie I try to convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong. I too look to blame my wrongdoing on others, or on circumstances, or on anything I can think of to shift the blame from myself.

Reparation & Reconciliation

In my fallen state, I sever my tie with God, I alienate myself from Him through sin. The best act of love that I can think of to offer my God in reparation for my sinfulness is to solemnly examine my conscience, admit my guilt and, realizing that I cannot undo the damage that I have done, turn back to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the gift by which the fruits of His Sacrifice, that is, reconciliation with the Father and a healed and renewed relationship with Him, is made legitimately mine. No longer do I feel the need to reach out and take for myself a forbidden fruit. The Lord Himself, who makes all things new, is OFFERING legitimate fruit to me, fruit that is wholesome and good. All I need do is have the honesty and humility to receive it.


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Genesis + Song of Songs = What I learned about nakedness, honesty, intimacy with the Lord

Too often, I am hiding.

Too often, little truths about myself are too frightening to face, let alone to share with anyone else. Irrationally, I suppose, I try to hide even from the Omnipotent One, from He who knows everything about me (Ps 139:1-5), from He who beheld me before I was formed (Ps 139:16).

A little bit like in the garden, really. Hiding in shame (Gen 3:8).

He calls to me:

“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice” (Cant 2:14)

An ancient tradition in the Church interprets the cleft in the rock as symbolic of the wounded side of Christ (Arminjon 176). As the I nestle further and further into my hiding hole, I am actually moving more deeply into the very Heart from whom I am hiding! In my fear and in my pain, I struggle against His embrace – He holds me all the more firmly, yet gently.

As He calls to me, He is inviting me back to the garden. He is inviting me back to that original innocence where I could be naked before Him without shame.

In a moment of honesty before the Lord the other day, mid-genuflection, I wept unexpectedly and uncontrollably. I still don’t completely know exactly what passed between us… but I do know that He doesn’t want me to fear Him seeing me as I am, as He created me – before I felt the need to hide.

As You draw me more deeply into Your Sacred Heart, O Lord, let me be bathed in the Water and the Blood that poured forth as a fountain of mercy for the world.
– – – –

CITED: Arminjon, Blaise. The Cantata of Love. trans. Nelly Marans. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1988.
THIS IS AN AWESOME BOOK, BTW!!


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“Take this Sabbath Day”

WestWingSeries1JacketThis is hands down one of the most engaging episodes of The West Wing ever made.
(See this page for more info on the episode.)

The substantive part of the episode appears to put capital punishment front and centre. This is an issue I feel strongly about and it is tempting to go off on a tirade using Gen 4:1-16 as a starting point, with particular focus on the ‘Mark of Cain’… look, there, I almost got started… will have to go into this later!

Back to the WW: what its really all about is personal responsibility.

Of particular interest is the discussion between President Bartlet and his boyhood Parish Priest in the Oval Office. Fr Tom asks the President if he would prefer to be addressed as Jed or as Mr President. Bartlet insists upon the title Mr President and then proceeds to explain why in an attempt to justify himself – he disassociates his personal decisions from those made in his capacity as the President in a transparent attempt to vindicate himself of responsibility for the execution that is occurring while this exchange is taking place… an execution that he could have stopped but for the political implications that he was unwilling to face.

From the finger-pointing between Adam and Eve over whose fault it was that they had disobeyed God, to Pilate’s hand-washing display prior to the execution of Jesus Christ all the way through to the modern home or board room… the unwillingness of each of us to take personal responsibility for our failings truly is a universal weakness that has endured from the beginnings of human history.

As I ponder this I’m reminded how beautiful and awesome is the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ was the first Man in human history to take responsibility, and it is only because God became one of us in this fashion that we can experience God’s Divine Mercy. It is now our privilege to be able to participate in Christ’s love by making reparation not just for our own sins, but those of others, for we are indeed our brothers’ keepers.


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John 21:15-19… a whole other layer of meaning embedded in the original Greek text

Almost everyone is familiar with the reality that there are several words in Greek for ‘love.’ Perhaps fewer are aware that in this famous passage, Jesus and Peter have their wires crossed – 2 out of 3 times, Jesus and Peter are using different words for ‘love.’

15 When they had finished breakfast,GreekMac Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you αγαπας me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I φιλο you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you αγαπας me?” He said to him, “Yes Lord; you know that I φιλο you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you φιλεις me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you φιλεις me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I φιλο you.” 18 Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

When I was younger I was taught at school and at Mass alike that the reason for the repeated question was in a certain way to ceremonially repair the relationship after Peter denied Christ three times. I’m sure that there is some truth to this; Augustine and Chrysostom both proffer this and their interpretation is not to be sniffed at! What I find so wonderful about Scripture is that there is such depth that can never truly be plumbed!! I find the teaching of the Fathers in this regard to be very beautiful, but I believe that the significance of this passage goes even deeper than this… there is so much to be drawn from it!

languageNotes
Consider the first time that the question is asked. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him in the sense of αγαπη.The noun refers to a sort of self-sacrificing love for other that has later come to be associated with Christian love – this should give us a beginning. But it is only a beginning… you see, the sense of this word in verbal form equates to following through and proving or acting out one’s love. If the love concerned is of the self-sacrificing variety, then necessarily, proving that sort of love means to sacrifice oneself. Jesus didn’t just ask Peter if he loved Him, but rather if he loved Him in such a way that he would sacrifice himself to demonstrate that!!

Now let us examine Peter’s answer – he uses a completely different word!!

Peter uses another word for love – φιλο. Love in the φιλο sense refers to having a deep sense of feeling for someone as a friend. This is a wonderful thing – Peter feels a strong friendship for Christ. Yet this is not what Christ was asking! I find myself wondering if Christ in His human nature didn’t feel a twang of sorrow at this response.

At the same time, this was a truthful answer on Peter’s part. In that instant he had not been given whatever grace was required to give that genuine αγαπη love to which Christ was inviting him. And not only did he admit as much, but he also demonstrated by what he said that he knew Christ was already well aware of this fact! There is a frankness in Peter that I find refreshing, somehow.

Christ shows us the sort of friend and brother He is; He demonstrates how much He trusts Peter by giving to him the care of His lambs. Then, He Peter to rise to a higher love than which he was at that point capable by his own
strength… He asked Peter if he loved Him with an αγαπη love.

Peter’s response demonstrated that, even in the face of the trust that Christ had placed in him, he didn’t ‘get it’ and he again declared his friendship.

Christ’s third question of Peter is where He brings out the ‘big guns’. This third question is not a repeat of the previous two (unlike what English translations of the Bible lead us to believe.) Knowing, of course, that Peter  is not yet ready for αγαπη love, Jesus asks Peter simply if he loves Him in a φιλο sense. The Scripture passage above tells us that Peter was grieved that Christ had asked him this. Many might suppose that this is because Jesus has just drilled him and nagged him as if He were having confidence issues or as if He didn’t trust what He  heard the first time. That might be how we would respond if we were asked the same question three times in one sitting… we all know, though, that Christ had no reason for confidence issues, and we’ve just seen through Christ’s
entrusting of His flock to Peter that trust wasn’t an issue either.

I think the reason for Peter’s sorrow is the self-knowledge that came of Christ appearing to lower His expectations. Christ was obviously aware of Peter’s shortcomings, but Peter, who had been so ready to declare at the Last Supper that he would follow Jesus even to death (Mark 14:29) came to the realisation that although he loved Christ dearly as a friend, he was not yet able to love Him in that deep, self-sacrificing sense.

Peter, in response to this third question, declares the twofold truth that Jesus knows everything, and that He knows that Peter loves (φιλο) Him. I get a real sense of Peter longing to be able to give Christ the αγαπη love to which He was inviting him, but not being able to let go of whatever may have been holding him back.

The remarks with which Christ closes out this little encounter seem ominous, but really, they are a beautiful promise, a fulfilment of the promise of beatitude to all who seek righteousness (Matt 5:6)! Christ is telling Peter that he WILL be capable of αγαπη in the future and that he will bring glory to God – that he would be able to love the Lord in the way he longed to love Him.

FINALLY, now that Jesus has told Peter exactly what he’s in for… given him all the information he needs to know… He says “Follow me” – He renews the call and allows Peter to choose what He has just foretold.

————————————————————————

Random aside: I find myself wondering if this isn’t the scriptural basis for the standard manner of progression through religious formation. One makes temporary profession and lives the life for a time, and then makes a final profession some years later. First profession is perhaps a symbolic response to the ‘follow me’ Jesus spoke at the nets; the final profession is that response that encompasses a readiness to die to oneself to follow the Lord, and may be seen as the response to the passage above.


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receiving mercy, learning to relate

Controversial as it may be initially to hear this from a sincere Catholic, I REALLY love the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. In a qualified way.

Before I continue, let me clarify that I concur with all who claim that the portrayal of Christ is not one that can be taken seriously as an accurate representation of Christ. JCS portrays a very human Christ and neglects any treatment of His Divinity. This could be interpreted as implicit denial of the Divinity of Christ, the beginnings of an excursion into the realms of Arianism. However, strictly speaking, to arrive at such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. The only explicit denial of Christ’s Divinity comes from Judas, the traitor, who is portrayed in the musical as a troubled dissident amidst the ranks of the Twelve with a political agenda. As in all art, perspective in Rock Opera is important and any analysis or review that manages to avoid the charge of superficiality will take perspective into account. Christ has two natures – human AND Divine. Quite simply, JCS considers the humanity of Christ; in that it is essentially an artistic work, it does not aim for historical or theological accuracy as to a complete representation of the person of Christ. The only categorical conclusion that holds from the absence of treatment of Christ’s Divinity is that this is outside of the scope of consideration for this piece of art. Thus, to suggest that enjoyment of the show is tantamount to endorsement of Christological heresy (a charge that has been levelled at me in the past) is not a logically tenable position.

What has all of this to do with mercy and relationship, you ask?

An answer to this depends upon the realization that JCS is not a story about Jesus at all. The name of the show is unfortunate and misleading, really… well, not entirely. I guess the name of the show is part of the satirical treatment of the hero-worship that society directs toward the modern-day celebrity. Thats definitely packed in there, and perhaps it was more central to the original intention of Rice and Lloyd Webber than I’m acknowledging. A great deal of social commentary is built into the show, of particular relevance to the original 1971 audience, and of historical relevance to the audiences that have followed up to our own time and beyond. But none of this is the point.

What I am getting at is that the meat and potatoes of the show is contained within the several parallel subplots that each examine the encounter with Christ of a different character. The accurate representation of each character, again, is not what the show is aiming for. Rather, each encounter and the portrayal of its character is a “what-if?” exercise. The character is more a type than a person, one that is portable through time and space. The viewer is invited to enter into each “what-if” story, to really consider the emotions and circumstances of each encounter, and to apply it to his own experience. The show isn’t about who Jesus is. The show is about who I as a viewer am in relation to Jesus.

NOW we’re ready to talk about mercy and relationship.

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