Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Paschal Mystery

"O God, You have heard the cry of my heart because it was You God, who cried out within me."    This is one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton.  How wonderfully consoling are those words.  WE never suffer alone.  We may and think so, but our reflective understanding of what it means to be baptized in into The Paschal Mystery reveals something entirely different.  It is a slow revelation.  Over many, many Lenten-Easter journeys there is a growth in the understand of mysterious presence of what is revealed to us through our sufferings and little deaths.  All of our pain and suffering is our personal living experience of what happened in Jerusalem so many years ago.  As I have said, quoting John O'Shea "Jesus’ story is our story today."  Let us reflect on some of the events that took place on the Friday, we call Good.

Jesus was betrayed by one of His own apostles.  Sold out for "30 pieces of silver."  After His capture and the disappearance of those closest to Him, He was led away to begin His journey into unbelievable pain and suffering.  One author has pointed out because Jesus being the perfect human being,  He was to suffer at a level beyond our understanding.  We read in the Gospel narratives how He was mocked and scourged by the Roman soldiers.  Today, the suffering Christ is again mocked and scourged and it is our daily experience.  When any one of us is mocked made fun of, embarrassed in any way, Christ continues to suffer.  When we turn our backs on those that are different than us and dehumanize, then Christ is suffering within those that are seen as beloved daughters/sons of their heavenly Creator God.  When we beat ourselves and reject our worthwhileness we take on the role of the Roman soldiers. We become today's scourgers. Whom do we scourge, The Christ within. WE the have the dual part to play, being the scourger and the one scourged.  When we reject and persecute the alien among us, we are punishing Christ's presence in the least of the brethren."  The Prophet Jesus in Matthew 25 has some very harsh words for those who turn their backs on the hungry, the thirsty, those who are naked, those away from their home and those in prison.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts in those challenging words.  There is wiggle room when it comes to Gospel imperatives.  Even 20 centuries after those words were spoken and how are the vulnerable ministered? There are many Gospel sayers, but so few Gospel livers.  It is so much easier to talk the walk than to walk the talk. Jesus walked His talk and what happened to him? The so called "good people," leaders of both church and state, conspired against Him.  They conspired and colluded to bring about His death.  The prophet Jesus threatened their power and that was a fatal mistake.  It has been the same all through the history.  Speak truth to power you are going to pay the price.  We repeat that sad history in our church and in our society.  We have the sad example of our beloved Pope Francis.  Because underlings do not buy into his vision of "a poor church for poor people" there is holy hell to pay.  He wants the clergy to go out and "get the smell of the sheep on their clothes."  Since we are The Catholic Church all are to be welcomed. This sounds good but in practice here is so much left undone.  So many of the sheep are badly neglected.  So, so many sheep look up and are not fed.  According to the prophets of old there is a stiff price to be paid for such neglect.  We are still caught up in the judging rather than the acceptance modeled for us in the mission and ministry of Him, whose presence are called to be living witnesses.  Msgr. Gene Maguire R.I.P. was the great model for me in my young days as an associate pastor.  He truly was a walking smiling presence of Gospel values, and challenged us to follow.  He taught us not by his words nut his everyday actions.  He was not a weekend clergy man or a sacristy priest.  Ever before Vatican II.   

Fr.Albert Braun O.F.M. R.I.P., who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, had this radical solution to the challenges the church was facing. (War survivors have a very different view of reality.)    He advocated the bombing of all the rectories so the priests would be forced to live among and with the people.  A real immersion into the challenges people have to face is essential.  We priests, for the main part, have not a clue what it means to live in the real world.  Until this happens we will be preaching pious platitudes.  The result of this is that we do not reach the place where God encounters/meets His people, that place is their deepest reality.   

Fr. Rohr has described our encounter with the cross as we having to face the issues of failure rejection and nakedness.  We, as human beings recoil from and such encounters.  We will do all within our power to reject, mask and medicate these embarrassing manifestations of our humanity.  The moment-to-moment ever deepening, living out of The Paschal Mystery will provide with a new set of lenses.  We will not see them as liabilities but they open up for us. "The royal road of the cross leading to the Resurrection."  This is a "road less traveled." From our journey on this "road less traveled," there will be no diplomas to hang on the wall.  Our bank account will not suddenly shock us by its sudden jump to financial security.  Our journey into the Paschal Mystery is manifested in our insecurities not security.  ("Our journey of faith is a journey into uncertainty certainty.") The Paschal mystery is all about letting go surrendering to The Unknown.

On the torturous road to Calvary Jesus met two people.  First, He met Simon from Cyrene.  Simon was having a good day.  He was coming in from the country.  Any day you have a trip to the country is a good day.  He was going along minding his own business when suddenly his life changes.  He was taken and forced to carry the cross for the weakening Victim.  The plan was to crucify this man, Jesus and He was not allowed to die on the way. So Simon was forced into service.  In the stations of the cross, Veronica appears out of the crowd to minister to the suffering One.  There was something within her that moved her to step out and reach out.  Compassion can only the result of suffering transformed.  We do not know any details of Veronica’s life from the Bible, but it is fair to say she had encountered deep suffering. A suffering that did not harden her heart or make her cynical as is so often the case. On the contrary, Veronica was able to see beyond one condemned to a human being in need.  Where do you encounter Veronica and Simon on your daily experience of being, the suffering One.

When I was responsible for marriage preparation, I came upon this challenging exercise for the couple.  I would ask them to write out where they say the suffering Christ is in their intended partner.  So many of them could not.  They would give me bullet points.  No connected sentences.  The bells would go off in my head. I knew from my years in pastoral ministry that the perfectly imperfect reality is going to surface at some time. The family secrets of both families will have to be faced in all of their reality.  The family secret is going to be the lived experience of some generation.  So, in order to have a healthy relationship the emergence of Simon must be anticipated.  There will be pain and suffering in all relationships that needs to be accepted and a solution worked out.  How many character defects are hidden until they can be hidden no more? How often has alcoholic and drug addiction only surfaced after years of marriage? How long does the hidden issues of abuse take before they surface to disrupt daily living?  I was told by a great counselor that it takes 17 years for the issues related to sexual abuse to surface. The list can go on and on. We all are called to be Simon.  Then through the workings of grace, Simon turns into Veronica. Where before one is forced to minister to the Suffering One in the family now there is real desire to help with the healing necessary.  Is this not the story of so many who are active participants in healing ministries and medical vocations.  I have read some great accounts of children experiencing healing in a hospital that return to be doctors and nurses in that same hospital.  What are all the twelve step programs only one person who is in recovery reaching out to another suffering addict.  (Fr. Rohr describes The AA program as the essence of spirituality.  He says it is the great gift of America to the school of spirituality.) Nobody is Veronica in those tough days when living a sober life.  In time theirs is a great transformation.  There is a need to share the gift.  It is only by giving what one has does one keep what one has. "Whatever you keep you lose whatever you give away you keep."

Those in recovery have an up close encounter with the events on Calvary as do all who are faced with suffering desperation and loss. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was able to pray to His Abba Father.  On Calvary that intimate assurance is gone. It has disappeared.  Jesus cries out "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?" Where Jesus, Who became The Christ has gone we are to follow.  So Jerusalem and Calvary is our destiny.  The powerlessness of the cross is the threshold to something new and far greater.  It is ours. It is our stepping stone to The Resurrection.  But resurrection does not happen right away. (To be continued)

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