Sunday, April 16, 2017
He is Risen! that is the Good News of Easter. Think of that. It is in the present tense. Our faith is not only that He rose from the dead, but that He is risen and lives now, not only in heaven, but here among us. How? For starters in the Eucharist. Unfortunately a lot of people stop there. The Eucharist is indeed the most concrete, visible and tangible was that He is alive among us, but not the only way. In Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells us "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mt. 18:20) Think of that. Not only in church, but when we pray at home or anywhere else He is with us. Then, of course, is Matthew 25 "I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, etc." There is likewise a real presence of the Lord among us in the Word. When we read the Scriptures either as a community or privately the One Who is the Living Word comes to dwell in our hearts. Life, then, is indeed alive with the presence of the Risen Christ.
Our problem, very often, is that we are not aware of this. Our spiritual vision needs to improve. It is so easy to get weighed down by all the horrible things going on in the world. How do we keep the awareness of His presence alive? I return again to the Eucharist. Sometimes we stress the presence of Jesus there so strongly that we act as if that is the only way in which we encounter the Risen One. The Eucharistic presence is not the only way. In the Eucharist we can connect the dots to these other, perhaps more subtle forms of His presence among us. In Luke's Gospel we have one of my favorite Resurrection accounts, that of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. (Lk. 24:13-35). Two distraught disciples are in Jesus' presence but they don't recognize Him. In the breaking of the bread (Eucharist) they not only see him, but they realize that He is the One who was with them earlier in their brokenness. For us it is in the Eucharist that our eyes are opened, not only to see Him while at Mass, but to realize how wonderfully present He is throughout our lives.
One last, but important, thought. At Easter we proclaim that Christ has won a victory over sin and death. It is certainly easy to look at the condition of the world today and say, "What victory? Are you kidding me?" I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. The book's title is The Passion and the Cross. In one section of the book he explains something important in talking about the meaning of Redemption, He explains that Jesus is not a rescuer. He doesn't bail us out but rather allows us to go through pain and suffering only to discover something unimaginably wonderful on the other side. On the cross the Father does not rescue Him. He is allowed to die. That's what the two disciples mentioned above failed to see. Incredibly He rose from the dead.
As we confront suffering, sickness and death in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world our faith teaches us that there will be redemption, that we will not usually be spared or rescued, but rather that we will be strengthened to go through these things not in some stoic grin and bear it mentality, but in true Christian Hope that something new awaits us on the other side, not only in the next life, but even now.
Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! Alleluia!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
There is one moment in the telling of this story that often gets overlooked. As Jesus approaches him, ready to wash his feet, Peter refuses. Jesus responds by telling him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." (John 13,8) Jesus, of course, does was his feet.
What are we to learn from Peter's refusal? There are lessons on several levels.
We live in a society that overvalues self-sufficiency. We tend to feel weak if we let someone help us. While this applies to all of us it is especially true of men. We need to be able to do it all, or so we think. What we fail to appreciate is the difference between taking and receiving. Taking from others is to assume power and control over them. It leads to an attitude of entitlement. Receiving is to take a position of humility. It is to acknowledge and be grateful for a gift that is being offered. Peter is initially practicing false humility. He doesn't want to allow his Teacher and Master to perform such a menial task. Jesus is offering a gift, a gift of love, which Peter receives.
On a deeper level we need to understand the gift that is being offered. Washing feel is a task that even slaves could refuse to do under Roman law. When we re-enact the washing of feet in our parishes I am sure that all of the volunteers make sure that their feet are clean. In Jesus' time people walked barefoot or in sandals. Few people had boots and shoes. With sharing the roadways with animals, and most roadways being made of dirt, you can imagine what a chore it wast o wash feet.
This gesture by Jesus is what Pope Benedict XVI, in volume II of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy calls a Sacramentum of Jesus' Passion and Death. By this he does not mean that washing of the feet is an eight sacrament, but rather that it is a ritual playing out of what would happen to Jesus the next day. In His Passion and Death Jesus is pouring out His love for all humanity. He is stooping down to an entering the darkness and filth that is our sin and our suffering in order that all of that might be forgiven and healed. That is what the dirt and filth on the muddied feet of the apostles represents.
For us the challenge is to allow ourselves to receive this gift of total love from Jesus. It is to admit at the same time that there is darkness within us and that we need this precious gift.
Are we willing to let Him wash our feet? At the end Jesus reminds us that we must do as He did. We cannot do that well if we are not first willing to receive from Him.