Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bathed in Light: Easter Meditations-2

The Race in Seeking Christ
The snows, as we begin this 3rd week of Holy Easter, seem finally to have stopped. Indeed going out late yesterday evening I even saw and heard a large, healthy, singing tirelessly, robin high in a spruce tree!
Now in the late afternoon the sun has broken through and brightness bathes the city!
Yet, across the world from Virginia Tech to Iraq, from Darfur to the very streets of this city the culture of death flows like an unending river of darkness, blood, chaos, insanity, evil, seeking to perpetuate the original lie which seduced Adam and Eve, that God is not to be trusted – yet the Person-Truth Himself had us all cry out during the Easter Vigil: “O felix culpa......O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us such a Redeemer!”
It is the very same Risen Redeemer Christ who beckons us from the ocean of struggle and search, to the beach of rest, where He awaits us in a type of divine hunger expressed in His threefold, urgent yet tender plea: “Do you love Me?” [ cf. Jn.21:15-19].
And we, seeing what He had prepared, presumed we alone were the ones hungering!
While correctly seen in the first instance as directed to Peter, and after Peter’s ever more affirmative response, Christ mandating Peter as Supreme Pastor, in the second instance this is the Light Himself bathing us once more in His brightness, asking each of us: “Was it worth it the horror and death I endured for you? Was it worth it little one? Do you love Me more than these people, ideas, plans, needs in which you are enmeshed? Do you love Me? Do you love me?”
I had noted at the end of the first meditation in this series that I would reflect in this one on the gift of freedom flowing from the brightness of Easter.
Events of the past two weeks, some personal, some involving family, some the larger human family, have made such a reflection somewhat, I admit, of a challenge.
Yet thanks to a woman who came up to me in the middle of the crowded dining room of the soup kitchen where I volunteer, {post the horror of Virginia Tech, post the not unexpected suffering of John and Lucille in their marriage, post the middle of the night plea from a seminarian in Brazil for special prayer }, she, one of the battered, overweight, multi-addicted homeless women asked me an oft repeated question about her ersatz marriage to a rather odd homeless man.
Jesus on the beach, Jesus beckoning!
When, as I always do, I reassured her all was well with her , she grabbed me like a mother holding her child, like Magdalene at the tomb rejoicing at hearing the Bright Risen One call her by name.
Suddenly the tears and terror were gone and the woman repeated over and over; “Thank-you Father, thank-you Father!”
The beauty of her face in that moment was as if never in her life had she ever been betrayed, abused, lost her innocence.
Her very ragged, filthy, far too thin for this time of year coat, her soiled jeans, torn boots, already wet from snow and rain – well it was as if she was suddenly clothed with light!
“Do you love Me? – when I am frail, battered, scared, confused, addicted and filthy?”
When I was a boy and my Father rarely at home, my Mother would just be overwhelmed by the antics of myself and my multiple siblings, she would just walk away.
I, all less than six years of me the first time, would be left in loco parentis.
So when John and Lucille hit a rather severe bump in the road and all I could/should rightly do was silently pray, even though it felt as if I were that abandoned child once more– a far too wee shepherd of a flock!
“Do you love me? – when I seem to abandon you and leave you with more than you can cope with?”
In his homily on his birthday last Monday Pope Benedict stated very clearly the truth it is indeed mercy that puts an end to evil – mercy being clearly in the first instance that life-gift God bestows on us.
We are in His image and baptized to be imitators of Christ.
Mercy, the restorative life-giving-love-giving gift, is the food we are to feed the poor, the broken, the guilty, to our enemies, to those who hurt us.
If we do love Him then this becomes our inalienable love-duty-free joy towards other.
“Do you love Me? – when I am disguised as a crazed killer, an abortionist, terrorist, or just someone who, when your need for comfort is greatest, ignore you?”
The phrase “the race in seeking Christ” I have borrowed from another talk of Pope Benedict’s, from the General Audience of the 15th where the Holy Father confidently asserts that is the only competition the Fathers deem worthy of us, the race to get to Christ.
Following on that the Pope further assures us the One who has found us, bathes us in His Brightness, “....He Himself will come to meet us; He will make us recognize Him, He will call us by name, He will bring us into the intimacy of His love.”
When He comes to meet us, on the beach as in today’s Gospel, in the mystery of another’s pain or in the depths of our own anguish, when He enables us to recognize Him in the face of another, enemy or friend, beloved or one seemingly as yet a stranger, in whatever circumstance, in whatever disguise He comes, He will/does call us by name and in the calling asks: “Do you love Me?”
In a sense the newborn Infant Holy Child cannot bring us, if that was the extent of His Incarnate life, to complete union with God; likewise the crucified Christ, if everything stopped at the 9th hour with the last beat of His Heart, cannot bring us to God – for evil would have vanquished holiness, darkness would have overcome light, death would have conquered life, hatred supplanted love, despair become the emptiness of every human heart, indeed there would be no real persons left for the image of God, broken by original sin, shattered into tiny pieces by our own sins, would have remained forever scattered about the cosmos, drifting into an endless abyss of nothingness.
Prisoners of fate, slaves trapped in an incomprehensible vortex of evolutionary caprice, why would any ‘human’ creature seek anything but self, self-satisfaction, self-worship?
Just as we cannot self-create ourselves neither can we bond ourselves in oneness with the Holy Trinity – our arms are too short for such a reach, our hearts too little for such an ocean of love-fire, our imaginations too cluttered for such exquisite silence!
The stupendous truth, brightness, joy, Good News of Easter is that CHRIST IS RISEN!
It is the Risen Christ, whose holiness reduces evil to impotence, whose brightness disperses darkness with the Light He is and the Light can never be overcome; it is the Risen Christ who with His own self-gift-life embracing death crushes death’s power to end anything at all; it is the Risen Beloved and Lover whose passionate merciful, bright love waters the desert of hatred with the living water of true life and especially in the Holy Eucharist Love Himself fills our hearts with Divine Trinitarian union, bonding us to God in the ocean of love, “ pressed down and overflowing!”
Christ Risen has freed us.
We are free in the brightness of His Glory, bathed in the light, His light, His Self.
It is the freedom of the children of God.
“Do you love Me who has freed you? – will you go and love Me in all your brothers and sisters who have not yet heard they are free, they are loved?”
“Do you love Me?”

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bathed by the Light: Easter Meditations-1

                                    Bathed by the Light: Easter Meditations - 1

The last time I had any emotional strength to write here was a few days before Christmas.
Almost immediately thereafter I plunged or was nudged by the Spirit, or tricked by the evil one –once more into the swamp of darkness.
Actually, I am not sure at all how it came about.
Might simply have been the exhaustion.
On this day the Orthodox call “Bright  Thursday ”, this holy 8th day which is the unending today of His Holy Resurrection, I have been trying to understand the whole darkness thing!
Trying to claw yourself out of the swamp of darkness, yet again, is a messy business – in truth, like Peter, all you really can do is scream : “Lord, I am sinking!”
So, the proceeding is my scream!
It was not what was in my heart when I approached this computer to begin, after so many months, writing again.
What follows is, and, I believe flows from the experience of pierced and glorified hands lifting, lifting, lifting!........
In this northern city the snow was falling steadily as I began writing and yet there was a spring brightness radiating from the very snow covered ground as if the earth was refusing to return to winter’s slumber, very simply and clearly because CHRIST IS RISEN! GLORIFY HIM!
“Blood on the snow! “
This line from a powerful reading of the epic battle of Vimy Ridge in WWI, which took place 90 years ago on Easter Monday, seeps into my beginning reflections, so I took some time to mediate on the whole mystery of post-resurrection evil.
Sanguinis martyrum, semen christianorum, proclaims Tertullian – likewise, it seems, the blood of citizens is the seed of nations – witness the American Revolutionary War, the WWI battle of Vimy Ridge, which is seen as the birth of Canada’s sense of nationhood, the Russian Revolution – these epic struggles left blood on the snow.
We, or at least that ‘we’ not living within any other nation than our own embraced national history, may not always see the blood-seeding of citizens as having the outcome ‘we’ would like when the killing is ended.
Perhaps that is more indicative of our collective arrogance, self-righteousness, or as in the case of some, from various religions, it betrays an anti-human extremism.
For all the horrors inflicted by the current crop of international terrorists or national insurgents, the fact remains it is WE, the formally rightly called Christian nations which wage the bloodiest of wars against the most vulnerable of our own: pre-born children.
We must passionately pray that somehow the blood of these innumerable aborted children becomes the seed of a culture of life.
Blood on the snow, blood at the foot of the Cross!
I recall countless times attending winter crash sites, anointing the dying, comforting the wounded-living;  memories triggered as much by the violence suffered by the homeless I am honoured to serve at the soup kitchen where I volunteer, as by reading and meditating on these words of Pope Benedict from his book, “ On The Way to Jesus Christ”, where the commentary is on the second temptation of Christ:  “The whole big question of how we can know God and how we cannot know Him, confronts us here.” [1]
Suddenly my heart heard this also as being the question of how we can know and cannot know the mystery of the Church, the reality, in all its ‘vessels of clay’ dimensions of  the episcopate, the priesthood, within the Holy Spirit’s process of Apostolic succession.
Not to mention the ‘cafeteria-Christians’ who pick and choose through the treasury of truth seeking only that which will not demand too much surrender to the Brightness of His Love!
This point was driven home all the more as I read: “ The arrogance that wants to make God into an object and tries to impose our laboratory conditions upon Him cannot find God.” [2]
As a priest, but also as a baptized soul wondering about the promise of Psalm 90, and a priest who hears daily from countless suffering souls, I had not, until now in the brightness of His Holy Resurrection, been willing to make a connection between falling again and again into the swamp of darkness, sinking beneath the waves, and the root-anger of all that.
Satan’s whole effort was to imply God, if He did not fulfill the promise of Psalm 90 and should Jesus leap from the parapet fail to protect Him, well God would then be revealed as one not to be trusted.
This is the original lie told to Adam and Eve so they bent away from God and towards themselves with the disastrous consequences we all know in our very bones.
This lie remains the evil one’s preferred opening statement, whisper, cackle, suggestion, especially when we are vulnerable due to stress, fatigue, loneliness, etc.
He conveys this with a subtlety that can seep into the imagination before we are all that aware, and with a persistency wearying in itself until suddenly we have found in our thoughts seemingly rational and irrefutable reasons to turn away from God and bend towards ourselves.
In that following uneasy loneliness the rest follows, hyper-critical rejection of Church, truth, etc.
My sin, which became anger which became depression, was simply in not admitting I had tried to become God and chief operating officer of His universe, His church, of self!
I had been making God and the Church into an object, that is seeing Him more as one at my beck and command rather than as loving Father, true Abba whom I yearn to love in return through trusting His Holy Will, and struggling to live it out;  the Church: seeing Her more as institution – because frankly of seeing my own and other Bishops as CEOs rather than as who they truly are in not only the sacramental reality of ordination but in the reality of Church as ‘sacrament’.
Thus these words of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Chief Shepherd, seared my heart as a conviction, not with shame but with liberation: “Someone who thinks this way makes himself God and thereby abases not only God but also the world and himself.” [3] {and I would admit such a person who approaches the Church, bishops, priests, fellow Catholics, Christians, any person with that attitude diminishes every aspect of faith and  the person of every believer, every human being.}
As an ordained man, a priest in persona Christi capitis, I must embrace the fullness of being configured to His suffering, for only therein can mine - or any baptized person’s – pain, be His kiss which purifies and vivifies,  otherwise we find ourselves allowing the pain and suffering to become a potential opening through which the evil one will whisper the stench of his lie that God cannot be trusted: after all, look at how He ignores your pain!
Therefore, in the depths of any darkness, pain, fear, loneliness, the first vocalization of “Lord, help me I am sinking” comes with remembering to imitate Christ who “....did not put God to the test. But He did descend into the abyss of death, into the night of abandonment, into the desolation of those who are helpless.....[ and the Holy Father adds].....Someone who obeys God’s will knows that, in all the horrors he may experience, he does not lose a final refuge. He knows that the foundation of the world is love and that therefore, even in a situation where no man is able or willing to help him, he can still continue walking in confidence toward the One who loves him.” [4]
After contemplating that I took a break and read a friend’s Blog, and my heart was moved by their powerful reflection: “The answer to tears”:  “Here, in this celebration of Easter, is the answer to our tears, to our pain, our emptiness, and every darkness....[5]
Sanguinis martyrum, semen christianorum!
The proto-martyr is Christ Himself and His Most Precious Blood is the seed of the Church Herself, and we are invited in every Holy Mass to receive this glorious gift and the Giver Himself.
The glorified pierced hands that reach out to us are trustworthy, for He has given Himself for us and remains with us.
Knowing does not necessarily mean the absence of struggle, being lifted out of the swamp of darkness is no guarantee I might not return there if bent towards myself again.
Receiving Love Himself, receiving Resurrection Himself, Truth, Life, Light Himself into my being in daily Holy Communion when I celebrate Holy Mass – does mean freedom!
More on this gift of freedom flowing from the brightness of Easter in part II!
[ 1-4 above from: On The Way to Jesus Christ, p.94; Joseph Ratzinger; Ignatius Press]
[ 5 : ]