Archive | March 2013

Easter Sunday: The Encounter With Beauty

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 -- Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 — Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

“. . . Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20: 11-18

“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes [. . .] draws man out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum — it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart; but, in so doing, it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings.” — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

“Faith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being . . . God exists: that is the real message of Easter. Anyone who even begins to grasp what this means also knows what it means to be redeemed.” — Benedict XVI

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Good Friday: The Encounter With Love

The Crucifixion, Edward Burne-Jones

The Crucifixion, Edward Burne-Jones

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

” . . . God did not reveal his love in a classroom but in the midst of the interactions between Jesus and those around him. This invites us to re-read the scriptural witness to Christ’s death with faith-filled prayerful attention . . . to grasp the depths of his redeeming love as this love is revealed in every detail of Jesus’ words, actions, sufferings, and even his silences throughout the Passion. The meaning of redemption is love, and the goal of faith is to understand it more and more fully . . . [F]aith seeks to know better the love of the One who loved us first.”– Douglas Bushman, Magnificat Year of Faith Companion, March 26

Habemus Papem! The Strength of the Church Made Visible

In the weeks since Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation I’ve heard that the Church is in the midst of an identity crisis and that the new Holy Father would need to work hard to bring the Church up to speed with the modern world. In case you’re not clear as to what constitutes an identity crisis, it’s defined as: a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.

Uncertain. . . confused . . . insecure about one’s role in society.

It would be so much easier for the world, wouldn’t it, if there really were an identity crisis, so much easier to see the Church as a toppling medieval edifice, beaten down by the blast holes of scandal and internal conflicts, visibly weakened and unable to withstand the pressures of a new world order which demands the right to live outside her shadow, indeed which often seems to suggest that perhaps it would be better for everyone if she simply ceased to exist at all.

Remembering Who’s in Charge

Without Christ, the Church can do nothing. This has been shown time and again, all too painfully, in recent years and throughout her history. However, the opposite is also true — firm rootedness in Christ in the very midst of great weakness and turmoil leads to great strength. This paradox is impossible for a secular world to understand, but it is this foundational paradox which has been illustrated so beautifully and brilliantly in recent weeks by the extreme humility of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.

In his final Wednesday audience after announcing his resignation of the papacy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI  echoed a sentiment that has perhaps been echoed in the hearts of all of the faithful in recent years. Benedict said that during his papacy he often felt like one of the apostles in the boat with Jesus during the great storm on the Sea of Galilee: “The Lord has given us so many days of sun and light wind, days in which the catch was abundant; there have also been moments when the waters were agitated, and the wind blew contrary, as in all of the history of the Church, and the Lord appeared to be sleeping . . . But I have always known that in that boat there was the Lord and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine; it is not ours; but it is his [Christ’s]. And he does not let it sink. It is him who steers its, certainly also through the men he has chosen, because he has wanted it this way.”

When Christ told St. Peter that he would be the rock on whom he would build his church, he also said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. That includes the hell of our own weakness and sinfulness, as well as the the malice and hostility of statesmen, ideologies, and other entities that would seek to destroy her. Christ, and not men, control the Church. His presence is never absent, despite the obstacles our human weakness raises to His attempts to steer.

Weakness + Purification = Humility > STRENGTH

Contrary to the what the world defines as strong, useful and worthy of respect, the Church finds her strength in an acknowledgement of her weakness, her brokenness. These things lead to the necessary acceptance and admittance of the truth that those entrusted with her care and keeping — in effect, all of the faithful — are but weak, sinful, and fragile vessels capable of doing great damage when they seek success and progress apart from fidelity to Christ. In spite of this truth, or perhaps even in some way because of it, the Church stands. We, the faithful, participate in the life of the Church in some sense to the extent that we live with a deepening awareness of this truth and bind ourselves more and more strongly to Christ. To the extent that the faithful work towards living a deeper humility is the extent to which the Church is strong. Her strength is made perfect in our weakness. Its when we forget this that the threat of what the secular world terms an “identity crisis” might loom, when we forget that we are fragile vessels, desperately in need of God’s grace and help, when we think we can do it our way and do it alone.

Catholics believe in the purification that comes through confession, through open acknowledgment of sin in the sacrament of penance. The Church is being purified, no doubt about it. And this purification must go on in each of the faithful, continually, through ever deeper examination and admission of the ways in which each individual obstructs the work of God’s grace in the world and the ways in which we each turn away in infidelity. This ongoing process of purification does not mean the Church is weakening or no longer knows who or what she is. A diamond in the rough is quite ugly and is a diamond in its essence regardless of what it looks like on the outside. When refined and cut deeply and polished roughly by the master jeweler, the ugly rock takes on a lustre unknown and becomes what it was always meant to be, its essence revealed. The Church, and the faithful who comprise it, is just such a diamond. Its essence is total lustrousness, pure beauty, and absolute truth, but our human sin and weakness can block God’s work in crafting it. Sin and the admission of it opens the door for God to get in and do some intensive work on the facets that will lend even more brilliance over time. The Church has no identity crisis – we know it to be a diamond in the rough, striving for perfection in the hands of the One who is all perfection, all truth, and all beauty.

As Flannery O’Connor said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” The truth is, the Church exists and is strong and vital. The truth is the Church is being purified and refined through just discipline that will clarify and beautify her in her essence. The truth is we have a Pope and he has set an example of humility which, while it is early to speculate, seems one he intends to be a signature focus of his papacy. The truth is that Pope Francis has already declared the path he intends to follow as he leads the Church and shepherds his flock. It is the same path his namesake, St. Francis, walked hundreds of years ago in his faithful effort to rebuild a Church weakened by sin. In his letter for Lent written prior to his election to the papacy, Pope Francis wrote:

“Lent is presented us as a shout of truth and certain hope that comes us to say ‘Yes, it is possible to not slap on makeup, and not draw plastic smiles as if nothing happened.’  Yes, it is possible that all is made new and different because God remains ‘rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive’ and He encourages us to begin anew time and again.”

The path of humility, of walking humbly with God, can only lead to the Cross, which leads surely to Christ, and so also to true strength and greatness. Pope Francis shows the world that the Church is completely certain, clear, and confidant in her identity. Viva il Papa! Viva il Chiesa!

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter's Square after his election. -- Photo credit: Associated Press

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square after his election. — Photo credit: Associated Press