The Lord gives us eyes to see, really see, IF (big if) we are willing, open, and present to him.
For too long, we have cast God aside for our own wants and desires, striving for ambitions and material obsessions. Things we thought we couldn’t live without may have hindered our ability to survive what is surely coming.
As I write this, the coronavirus is rearing its ugly head in every area of our lives, but I would like to focus here on one area – churches are closed all over the country.
This can’t be…
What will we do?
God must be beside Himself knowing we aren’t sitting in pews praying.
Or is he?
That depends on how we live our new reality, which runs the full spectrum from those who are frightened and immovable to many who seem indifferent.
Yes, these already are, and will continue to be, trying times as we suffer the physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic impact unlike anything we have ever known.
But, hold on…don’t leave me for a stiff drink yet! I have GOOD NEWS. Really!
Here we are, experiencing one of the worst disasters we have ever known in the holiest season of Lent. We have no idea what the outcome of the virus will be, but we do know how the Passion of Christ plays out. So, let me ask you a question: what has your celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meant to you up until now? (To make this work, you have to be brutally honest. Okay?)
Many faiths observe various practices during Lent. The Catholic Church has requirements and suggestions for observing this season. Over the years, some of those “requirements” have become “suggestions”. For instance, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence unless you’re old like me. Daily Mass, prayer, Scripture readings, traditional Lenten Devotions, sharing our abundance with the poor, and throwing in a confession somewhere are all strongly recommended.
Oh yeah, and then there’s that pesky self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of “mortification,” which in no way should be misconstrued as self-flagellation, an extreme practice of physical self-punishment that somehow, since medieval times, has been thought to imitate Christ’s suffering. Don’t do that!
Mortification actually means “cause death to our self-will,” which is what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat 16:24). When we surrender our self-will we are imitating Christ. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
So, let’s take an honest look at our individual observances of Lent, shall we? Then we’ll break down the three phases of The Passion in the context of today’s reality. I’ll go first.
- I used to love fish fry’s when I was still a beer drinker and less concerned about recycled hydrogenated oil – YUCK!
- I used to go to confession until, on two separate occasions, two different priests each said something totally inappropriate. I never went back.
- I regularly do Intermittent Fasting for my health, but my “spiritual” fasting practices are pathetic…okay, non-existent.
- Going to Mass always felt like a requirement to have my card punched once a week. Sort of like getting that sticker, “I voted” or “I Gave Blood”.
When I outgrew the fear instilled in me by the powers-that-e within the Church, I grew into a different person, a better person, hopefully. I quit “volunteering” to impress others and started to actually care about my suffering brothers and sisters. Which, in turn, led me to my life’s purpose.
I gave up my ambition of being the “Catholic Woman of the Year” or Saint Linda and began seeking God’s purpose for me. But, of course, I had no idea what that purpose was. He seemed a bit wiser than I always imagined myself to be.
Fear of going to hell when I dropped dead got me to church most Sundays. It would be like sitting in that confessional, spewing out mediocre sins to get my ticket to heaven.
Then I discovered this definition of hell: “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.” Gian Carlo Menotti…OUCH!
Okay, guys, I’m standing here with my sins uncovered. It’s your turn. Don’t worry no one’s going to call you out. You don’t have to expose yourself to judgment like I just did. Just take a quiet moment to think about it and then we’ll move on. Go ahead I’ll wait right here.
Okay, so, Pope Francis offered some powerful words to consider this Lent, “Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.”
And there it is.
God has been making this call to us since Jesus walked the earth; the call to get off our backsides and care for the poor and suffering among us. He was here in the flesh to show us how that should be done. And how do we respond today? There are many who heed that call, some just half-halfheartedly drop coins in a beggar’s hat”, while some simply aren’t listening. Not much has changed in two thousand-some-odd years I suppose.
Now, let’s consider the three phases of Jesus’ Passion: His life, death, and resurrection, in light of our call to imitate him.
- His life: Of his thirty-three years here (give or take a few), on the surface, it appears that only the last three were spent fulfilling his purpose. Three years. That’s it. I’m seventy-one and hate to admit that I have probably wasted at least sixty of it. But, Jesus wasn’t wasting his life. He was growing into his purpose.
When I look back on my life: all the mistakes and missteps, the hurt inflicted on me and by me, the selfishness and rejection, there would have been no way for me to be all God created me to be because I didn’t even know who that was. But, I do now! I don’t know how much time I have left here. But it doesn’t matter because time has no meaning for God, so it shouldn’t for us either. Each day is a new opportunity to bring Christ to our suffering brothers and sisters. And it isn’t just a privilege; it’s a responsibility we all have.
- His death: Jesus knew that his constant presence was a threat to the status quo. He knew that every choice he made to expose the rich and powerful of his day would risk his very life. That became more and more clear as he pushed against the power that held sway over the most vulnerable and lost. He didn’t hold back from calling them out with choice words to describe them even though it surely sealed his fate: Hypocrites, brood of vipers, prideful, whitewashed tombs, legalists disguising an inner corruption. “They preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). His death was inevitable.
Most of us will not be called to sacrifice our lives, but we are all called to die to our self-will so that we can be used by God in whatever way he has already predetermined. That might just mean having the courage to step into what will likely be uncomfortable, probably risky, even scary. And expect it to be a wild adventure because God doesn’t do ordinary! (You know that, right?)
- His resurrection: When Jesus died everyone believed they would be returning to their ordinary, mundane lives. Alrighty then, that was a wild and crazy ride! We could liken it to that special vacation we always dreamed about and finally got to experience. The difference is that we probably have pictures to reminisce over; they got nothing, not even a stinkin’ T-shirt for heaven’s sake.
Anyway, when Mary and the girls got to the tomb they were met with, “Surprise! He isn’t here!!” And when he showed up at the disciple’s pity party later, they were all overwhelmed with fear. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they discovered within themselves a determination and fervor that would send them out sharing the Love of Christ with anyone with ears to hear. With the exception of John, they were martyred for their willingness to go when God said “GO!”
And for us? Resurrection, I believe, does not mean a new birth, but a “rebirth”. It means returning to our original holiness. God created us with Love, for Love. But, we have somehow lost our way. Saying “yes” to God means saying “yes” to our true selves and “no” to the lies we have believed about our unworthiness.
Jesus’ Passion was a seeming disaster turned to triumph. The conventional thinking of our time is that we can’t handle tragedy and suffering; that we will fall apart and resort to some sort of primal survival instinct. Though I suppose as we watch people claw each other to death for toilet paper some could make the case for that belief. But, I choose to look instead at the myriad examples of people who have shown love and compassion, and hope in disasters. Countless studies have borne witness to the fact that most people are altruistic, not barbaric. And out of the ashes of disaster comes the gift of the blessedness and fullness of our humanity. Yes, you and I are our brother’s keeper! It’s in our DNA
This, my dear friends can be a turning point in what we believe about ourselves and our neighbor; of what we are capable of in the face of fear and uncertainty if we trust in the divinity of our very souls where God resides and where we live and move and have our being. What you believe right now will determine how you act. So, it’s time to believe and act like you and everyone around you; friend or stranger, are beloved and precious children of God.
In our new coronavirus reality, we need to do away with “practicing” our faith and get to the business of “doing” faith. And how better to begin than to be kicked out of our comfortable pews, locked out of the church, and sent on a new meaningful, mystical, and mighty mission?!
GO ON NOW! And fear not. Remember the immortal words of Esther when Mordecai told her that her people were going to perish if she didn’t do something. Then he said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” And what was Esther’s reply without hesitation? “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:14 – 5:16)
As I write these words I fully understand that none of us have any idea how this will turn out. But, I do know this – God does not cause such tragedy (so get that idea out of your head), but he will use it for good!
God is our steady strength. He will not abandon us. He hears our prayers and tells us: “Don’t be afraid!”
I love this quote by Rebecca Solnit, “Disaster could be called a crash course in Buddhist principles of compassion for all beings, of non-attachment, of abandoning the illusion of one’s sense of separateness, of being fully present, and of fearlessness…in the face of uncertainty.”
My prayer is that we will take on that mantel of courage and faith now, whatever that looks like, wherever we are.
So, hang in there, pray, wash your hands, and take care of your neighbor!