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~ A Response to Weeping with Jesus ~
[This Weekly Reflection is presented to you from a guest writer in response to the Reflection of September 3, 2003]
I feel compelled to respond to last week’s Reflection, "Weeping with Jesus." The cosmic Christ is indeed weeping in EVERY tear that is being shed--even those tears that appear to flow from selfish (egocentric) sources. I believe that all human beings, whose hairs are counted and whose every thought and word are known by God, matter to the Creator.
As I read your reflection, I remembered all of the times that I have listened to Christians quarreling about what makes us different: our translations of the Bible, rubrics, prayers, saints, icons, the Blessed Virgin, "Communion," eternal life, the Trinity, Christ's divinity and/or humanity, the Resurrection, who shall be saved, etc. So many times during those heated debates, where it invariably is more about someone being right and having the "absolutes" of black and white facts, it becomes a sad realization that nobody is right at all because the Truth itself has been denied by the very arguments.
Even the holiest persons in our society have fallen into the trap of "rightness" on occasion. It takes humility to move forward, yet we see "success" touted each day by those who value winning the argument and being "right," no matter what the cost. Hence, we see the Body of Christ still suffering throughout the world. Every tear is real. Also, think about the other pronunciation of the word "tear." Besides moisture, is it not also a rending of the Body, dear brother?
Besides the Scripture verses that you had quoted, I also remembered a few below. How can we be "one" when we delight too much in the divisiveness of differences?
Two weeks ago at Quest [a prison ministry], several men were struggling with the whole concept of the sacrament of reconciliation. The idea of going to a priest for confession was so irrational to them. It is a sacrament of healing...a sacrament of great humility and obedience. How does one move beyond seeing the priest as a human and see that Christ is present to us through the priest? It is a physical and touching presence.
Repentance insists upon ongoing metanoia. It requires a faith that moves beyond "self." Even the Pope goes to confession to another human being! Abbots in monasteries have a confessor among them. From where does one's power and authority come? For the Wisdom-seeker, there is the dawning understanding that it comes not from "self."
"Knowledge" must move beyond pride to open the gates to holy Wisdom. There is "kenosis" that is required…
"I give you a new commandment love one another. As I have loved you,
so you should also love one another" (John 13:34).
"As the Father loves Me, so I also love you. Remain in My love" (John 15:9).
"This is My commandment: love one another as I love you" (John 15:12).
I do believe that Christ weeps, not only for those who bear His Name in all nations, but also for all those who do not yet bear His Name...because we who claim to believe did not take seriously His command to love one another as He loves us. And so, there is still a profound ignorance in the world of the "knowing" of the Bridegroom, who cannot be refused in all His glory. Was that not what Saint Augustine came to realize so fully? His inmost being was totally renewed by the penetrating grace of God -- an illumination of that which was once hard and dark -- living in the superficial beauty of sin.
Merton also captured this in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander when he had a full experience of the love of God!
Within the Church, there have been historical "political" intrigues that have done both good and bad for the world (the Crusades and the Inquisition are two that most powerfully come to mind). Spiritual and material quests get tangled. And yet through all of that, the Magisterium guards the sacred deposit of faith (Fides Ratio).
As people of faith, we believe that Christ left His Holy Spirit with the Church to guide the Church. And so, the Bible itself is not the only Revelation by the Sprit; there is also Sacred Tradition that is still being revealed and inspired by Christ's Holy Spirit. How else could we have moved beyond the legal tolerance of slavery?
It is this Presence that allows the Truth to be proclaimed with courage and fidelity in a world that relishes the deification of idolatrous false gods (money, dominance, power, etc), while people are still laying claim to the title of "Christian believer."
Again, we hear the weeping of Christ in every refugee, in abandoned poor people in our own country and abroad, in elderly people who are ill and cannot afford health care, in the bishops' earnest pleas for restorative justice (rather than punitive measures to seek revenge), and in so many other examples of the diametric opposite to Jesus' essential teachings in the Beatitudes.
Your reflection will probably stimulate lively conversation, John. Not every person is granted the experience of mysticism, and yet it is within every person's reach to explore the mystic's contemplation...to meditate on the Incarnate Word's relevance to our own lives ("Whoever does the will of My Father is My mother, my sister, my brother...").
On a daily basis, we see so many feeble and shallow arguments, especially in our presidential election campaign. Where is the Gospel connection in any of the offered arguments? Repeatedly, we have to suffer through the interplay of what is spiritually fruitless—rhetoric that is focused more on being better than others or having the right answers, no matter what the cost to diminishing the Body of Christ. In reality, this politics offers a dark and false way of being. Politics comes with the well-known expectation of give and take (“You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours”).
And so we get to watch the death spirals of people who have acquired too much debt of favors. Their debt is never life-giving; rather, it has everything to do with a manifestation of how one loses one's soul for the greater "politic." I think that was captured so well in Michael Moore's recent documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
You closed by writing of Christ's turning from weeping to laughing if we lived out "We Are One in the Spirit..." Well, the copyrighted title of that song is They'll Know We Are Christians. In the many Franciscan things that I have shared with you over the past three years, there is a quote from St. Francis that is the authentic servant leader's call to action: "My brothers [and sisters], let us begin anew to serve the LORD, for until now, we have done nothing."
The only way that others will ever know Christ is through us...persons who are called to community with a covenant of love.
In the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) permanent profession to the Gospel life, there are a series of questions asked of each candidate before profession. To each question, the candidate must respond like St. Francis did to Christ: "Yes, this is what I want...this is what I seek."
In my 12 years of profession, I have seen many adult Catholics come into fraternity. Most of us were baptized as infants. I often ask myself if the formation journey truly took the candidate (myself included) to that inner place of nakedness where they were on Mount Subasio (Umbria region of Italy) and praying fervently ... passionately ... for what they desired and sought...to be like the crucified Christ.
This is the every day dying that is our call. What do we want; what do we seek? What do people see in our wanting and seeking? What are they knowing by it all? The words "I" and "want" are significant. They are intimately tied to what we value in our restless hearts: "Jesus, my only Desire..." (words to a Franciscan song My God and My All); "I pant for You” [Confessions of St. Augustine].
Imagine communities who can transcend differences "because of Him who loved us" and allow that "knowing" to occur! Doesn't the Acts of the Apostles say it so well in describing the Common Life? (Acts 2:42-47).
What would possess people to go and sell everything they had to commit themselves to a community of service, prayer, and mutual love? The answer for those followers was always in their "knowing."
To see and experience something real/genuine, we are gifted with Christ's Presence in every detail--in the way that WE see things, and in the way that we GIVE of ourselves to others, because we are giving to Christ in every way. That is the challenge that we face as Church. There is still so much "knowing" to be done, and it can only occur in the way that we are loving.
A former pastor at my parish had a very special way of ending our
"May almighty God bless you and all those you are loving....in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." Yes, he broke a rubric by adding those extra words that were not in the sacramentary [“all those you are loving”], but those words always pricked me when I heard them. Who would I be loving? Just those who love me, or would I be loving everyone I encountered when I left the Mass?
We were being sent "in communion" to be the Bread blessed and broken for the world—the Body of Christ. We said “Amen!” [So be it!] to that before we left the worship area, but did we know the commitment we had made? Who would we nourish? Who would know the LORD better because we had been fed at His table? So much knowing still to be done. So, we must go joyfully out to all the world and tell the Good News of salvation to all! The gate is so very narrow…to pass through His will…
I do believe that even in our fractious being (the labels of Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Quaker, Baptist, Methodist, Shaker, Mennonite, Lutheran, Orthodox, Pentecostal, etc.) there is unity when the believers rise above their rightness to the Spirit that makes us One. When there is that hard refusal to move beyond being "right," then there can never be any "knowing" of Christianity by anyone. It becomes mere human words...nothing remotely close to the angelic words described in Corinthians that Paul insisted on requiring "charity" to move beyond clanging cymbals with no meaning...Church members who are physical (and very individual) bodies with no Spirit.
Christ prayed fervently to the Father for unity: "...so that they may all be One, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And I have given them the glory You gave Me so that they may be One, as We are One, I in them and You in Me, that they may be brought to perfection as One, that the world may KNOW that You sent Me, and that You loved them even as You loved Me" (John 17:21-23).
Christ, on the Cross, teaches us the submission necessary to be humble and obedient to the will of the Father. When the Church proclaims the Truth for our times, it continues to be persecuted, as Jesus was in His own time, for making the Kingdom visible here and now in a way that seriously challenges personal agendas (What? You're not going to scratch my back after I scratched yours with sizable monetary donations or patronizing gifts?!). What an absurd stumbling block!
During Easter season, how many times did the liturgical daily readings remind us of the Apostles and other community members being arrested, tortured, and executed for "saying that Name!" The more insistently did they try to suppress "that Name," more people arose who "desired" and "sought" to hold fast to that Name by listening to the exhortations of people like St. Stephen, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, Sts. Felicity and Perpetua, Sts. Sixtus and companions, and, days after their execution, St. Lawrence, the deacon-martyr who revealed to the irate emperor that the poor were "the treasure of the Church." Ah, to see with those eyes...to be "known" too in His Name that way.... such sighs of longing and seeking... Their stories remind us that “unless a grain of wheat shall die, it remains but a single grain with no life.”
The Holy Spirit has prayerfully moved you to reflect on this thread.
It can be a source for provocative dialogue--both probing and dissenting.
That is all part of the two-edged sword that is the Word of God (Who incarnates
in those who listen with new ears and see with new eyes). Let us
delight in the cutting, for without pruning, the human tree can become
a mass of dead branches! And where is the "knowing" in that?!
Teresa S. Redder, SFO
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© September 10, 2004
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