Good Friday 2011

This Friday exists to tell us of one good.  This is what you need to know:

Jesus went to his death for the sake of our life.  You need to know that.  I need to know that.  Your children need to know it, and so will their children, and theirs.

We need to know not just in our heads, nor even just in our hearts.  We need to know it with profound depth, to the very cellular level, so that if one day in the future I don’t know who you are, or who I am, or what the world might be all about in any of its parts, I will know this: Jesus went to his death for the sake of our life.

Not too long ago Desmond Tutu, a man who believes this is so, was preaching, talking about the power of the cross of Jesus Christ, and how awe-inspiring it is that men and women can stand at the foot of the cross and there be moved and overwhelmed and swept up by the hope of true and lasting life by what they see there of the amazing grace of love.

But then he voiced a tinge of regret when he went on to say this: “Some Christians stay at the foot of the cross and never climb up on the cross to see what Jesus sees.”

Those words really capturet me.  The image they conjure up powerfully engages.  Climbing up onto the cross to see there what Jesus sees, to feel what Jesus feels, to know what Jesus knows, to hope what Jesus hopes.  I don’t even want to face the question of how willing – or not – I am to make that climb.  I leave you to answer the question for yourselves.

But I do know this.  When a person is willing to make that climb; when someone actually does, things happen that change the world forever.  To be that kind of disciple, to follow to that place, is not only to be radically changed, it is to unsettle and agitate that which claims to be settled and undisturbed, determined and in-place.  To be that kind of disciple is to be, with Jesus Christ, a revolutionary.

During Lent of 1996, seven Trappist monks of the monastery of Atlas in Algeria were kidnapped, held, and in the end lost their lives to a group of revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the government.  The story of their life and death, of their community and their prayer, has been put on the screen in the film Of Gods and Men.  The Abbot General of the Trappists drew together what is known of those events in a book, the title of which is a question: How Far to Follow?  In fact it is the same question enshrined in Archbishop Tutu’s comment: how far to follow?  All the way onto the cross? Or to admire its courage and love from below, or from a safe distance? – if there were any such measure.

The struggle of those monks over several years as to whether to leave Algeria and fly to safety, or to remain with those who suffered around them, was intense.  There was no quick or facile answer, as in ‘ah this is what God must want, and so we stay.’  No.  These flesh and blood human beings had to struggle long and terribly with fear, uncertainty, doubt; alone and together.

To be called to be a disciple.  To be called to believe.  To be called to be a monk.  Do any – or all of these – mean to be called to be willing to die?  Do any – or all of them – mean to be called to climb onto the cross to see what Jesus sees?

In the end, they all answered ‘Yes.’  This is what it means.  To say yes to any of it is to say yes to all of it.  To say yes to Jesus is to say yes to his way of life, and death.  To say yes to his resurrection is to say yes to his cross, and to dare to see it not only as his.

Christian, the superior of that Trappist community, wrote a Testament looking toward what might, and did, happen. Every word was written standing at the border of life and death.  He is climbing with his brothers high enough to see what Jesus sees today.

The final words of his Testament are entirely words of thanksgiving, of gratitude for as he says, “everything in my life, from now on . . . .”

He extends his thanks to the one who will one day take his life:

And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . .

I read this, I hear his voice in imagination’s memory, and I begin to fathom at least a direction in which to look to hope to know something of what it is that Jesus sees this Friday.

I think he sees the Father’s work loving all things, in every moment.

I think his heart accepts the pain that mysteriously precedes joy, and that polishes that joy to a glow that it could not otherwise have.

I think he hears the promise of life even in the last hard breaths of death.

I think he looks upon a people whom he loves to perfection.

And I know that for everything, wondrously everything – even this day itself – he is filled with thanks.

The youngest monk of Atlas, Christopher, in his climb to the cross with Christian and the others, left behind a poem.  Its words could have been spoken by Jesus on this day of the cross.  The Spirit in it is the one that brings us together in faith and prayer; that Spirit who invites us to remember the one good of this day:

Jesus went to his death for the sake of our life.

Christopher called his poem ‘testament’:

my body is for the earth

so please

no preservatives

just earth and me

my heart was made for life

so please

no affectation

just life and me

my hands were made for work

they fold

quite simply

as for my face

uncover it

for an easier kiss

and for my gaze

let it see

P.S.

thank you

 The Crucifixion of Christ

John P. McGinty

Good Friday 2011

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Wishes for Holy Week 2011

Blessings to you this Holy Week!

 As the church gathers this week, intent on being with Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem through his giving of the Eucharist, his self-offering on the Cross, his dying and entry into the ultimate quiet, to the moment (everlasting) of Resurrection, somehow – as in all of the most significant moments of life – I think of you.

Each year this week provides such an invitation to consider the paschal mystery in Jesus’ life, and so in ours as well.  I have been thinking more in recent years of the necessity for me of not racing past the crucifixion to get to the empty tomb and the reality of new life.

And so this Thursday tells me that community in my life is vitally important.  That importance is most revealed at unrepeatable moments of either joy or sorrow.  But it is true everyday.  To live is to belong together.

This Friday confronts me with the fact that the stuff I most fear I ultimately will have to face.  I must as well run toward it, rather than away from it.  To do so is more reality-based, and somehow, always, in confronting reality we find the real God right there.

This Saturday makes real the moments of in-between-ness when nothing seems to be happening, and yet much that is about to be born is awaiting its time.  Those times, that can feel (in American cultural terms) like a waste of time, may be some of the most vital times of all.

And next Sunday!  What does it say to you and me?  What does it sing?  What does it shout out?  What does it reveal in a blaze of color – color not that the eye sees (though that too!), but colors that the heart knows, colors that embrace the soul and renew hope as a reality that is at times even more vital than faith and love, the greatest gift of all?

Next Sunday reveals God alive forever – both human and divine – both willing and able to share that life with us.  After we have known the delight and the failure of our own communities.  After we have run into and through our own sufferings.  After we have lain fallow in the quiet for a time.  Next Sunday introduces us to Jesus in a moment that is new every time it happens, and in a way that makes known his significance to all the world – to those who have met him and those who have not, to the conscious world and the entire world of creation.

"He is risen!"

I wish you, with all my heart, all the joy to which this week beckons us.

Jean Vanier, the gentle founder of the L’Arche movement (http://http://www.larcheusa.org), connects today with the tomorrow of Easter (and every tomorrow) in lovely fashion:

The Spirit will give us tomorrow what He wants us to live tomorrow, but we must not waste time worrying about it.  We should live the beauties of the relationship we have with Jesus and His Spirit and with each other in the now.  We must become like children living in wonderment and in trust.  The Spirit will give us the peace, the strength and the love to live tomorrow when it comes.  Now, He gives us the strength to live this moment. That is why we must rejoice at all times, rejoice in what He is giving us now – the joys, the sufferings, the peace, the hopes.  This is his gift to us today.

How is your “today”?  I pray that it is already well-blessed.  For me, I miss painfully those of you whom I rarely see, just as I rejoice in the new sisters and brothers whom I am meeting these days.  But I am united with you still in love and prayer.  And whatever pain I feel is nothing in comparison with the pains of this world – of the poor, the ill, of the sufferings of the peoples of Japan and Libya and so many other nations around the globe.  They too are embraced completely in the reality of this Holy Week.  For them, too, if this week speaks truth, there is life beyond the mayhem and chaos of both natural and human-made disaster.

That sense that all of us – every one, and all nature around us – are united in the person of Christ dying and rising was magnificently put in words by one of my favorite religious (and scientific) thinkers of the last century, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  In 1923, he wrote these words:

Glorious Christ,

You whose divine influence is active at the very heart of matter.

And at the dazzling centre where the innumerable fibres of the multiple meet:

You whose power is as implacable as the world and as warm as life,

You whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow.

Whose eyes are of fire,

And whose feet are brighter than molten gold;

You whose hands imprison the stars;

You are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again;

It is to you to whom our being cries out a desire as vast as the universe:

In truth you are our Lord and our God.  Amen.

(from The Mass on the World)

Loving wishes for you this week and in the season to come!

John

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