He Appeared to Them

All week, our Mass readings have celebrated Christ’s resurrection. We’ve heard about the early days of the Christian community in our first reading. And our Gospels have been filled with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples.

I love these Easter season Gospels. Jesus’ appeareance to Mary Magdalene. His meeting with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. His revealing himself to Peter and the others on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. What was grief, dejection, hopelessness and fear, has been turned into rejoicing as the disciples recognize Jesus.

But the pairing of the post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels with the readings from Acts reminds us that the rejoicing is not a sit-back-and-party-all-night kind of rejoicing. And today’s Gospel from Mark – who always gives it to us short and sweet – tells us that explicitly. When Jesus appears to the Eleven who are at table, he tells them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Resurrection – the victory of Christ over death, the promise of our eternal life – is not news to be kept to ourselves. Like the disciples, we are charged with sharing this Good News to all those we meet.

What are you going to do today to fulfill that charge?


We Get What We Want

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, a book that has caused quite a stir among Evangelicals, since what he writes runs so counter to the beliefs of (at least large portions of) the Evangelical community. For some, the book is nothing less than a false gospel, a heretical piece of writing that will harm the souls of those taken in by it.

I loved the book. Although the chapters on heaven and hell had many interesting points in them, I think Bell really gets to the crux of the book in Chapter 4, which is titled: Does God Get what God Wants, which is not unrelated to the theme of my post of yesterday.

He talks about all of the things we read about God in the Bible – that God is loving, is all-powerful, is full of grace and mercy. We learn about God’s plan for salvation and read that, for God, all things are possible, and that all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of God. And then he asks a very simple question: does God get what he wants? Or, as he reframes the question:

Is history tragic? Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity in conscious punishment and torment, suffering infinitely for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth? Is our future uncertain, or will God take care of us?….Is God our friend, our provider, our protector, our father – or is God the kind of judge who may in the end declare that we deserve to spend forever separated from our Father?

Bell fully admits that we are free to choose to reject God. He writes, “Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.” Ultimately, however, hell is not something God inflicts on us, but something God allows us to choose if we want.

Thus, while we may not be sure of the answer to the question “Does God get what God wants?, the answer to the question “Do we get what we want?” is a “resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes.”

I don’t doubt that there are many who don’t like Bell’s way of looking at things. Some seem to almost revel in the idea of a God who sends people to an eternity of torturous punishment. But that’s not the God of my experience, and obviuosly not the God of Bell’s experience either.

Our Choice to Choose Life

At yesterday’s gathering of Weekly Manna, a Christian gathering that takes place on Wednesdays during the noon worship period at the law school, my friend Chato offered a reflection on a portion of the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy (30:11-20). It happens to be a passage that I love.

The passage begins with God’s characterization of his command. God tells us:

[T]his command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.

So right out of the gate, God is telling us that he is not placing before us an insurmountable task. No tricks – no hiding the ball or other guessing games. Rather, God makes it very simple for us – all you have to do is carry out that which you already know, that which I have already placed in your heart.

God goes on to tell us something fundamental: we get to choose whether to live in the truth of who we are or to choose something else:

Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.

And God implores us to choose wisely, because there are consequences to our choice. Although speaking directly to the Israelites in this passage, God lays before us the same choice he laid before them, and implores us as fervently:

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

As Chato observed, we don’t always choose wisely. Indeed, we are sometimes not even cognizant that we are making choices – that each day in so very many ways – we make the decision to choose God or not God, life or death, love or disregard, and so on.

It is our choice – to live in the truth of who we are, to live in accord with that which God has placed in our heart, choosing life, or to “adore and serve other Gods.”

Unconscious Slights

In my last class of the law school semester, I was talking to my Employment Law students about the lack of financial sophistication of many of those who are responsible for investing their own 401(k) plan assets. As I often do, my explanation included a statement to the effect that those making investment decisions included, “Joe the mailroom guy,” who has no experiencing with financial investments.

Later that day, I happened to notice the Facebook status of one of my students. He wrote

Today in Employment Law, it was “Joe Mailman.” Today in Labor Law, it was “Joe Employee.” Today in a meeting with a third professor, it was the classic “Joe Schmoe.” Every time my name is used to denote a generic/featureless/inconsequential individual (aka: your “average Joe”), I die a little inside. Today has been a rough day…

I cringed a bit as I read the post. The truth is that I have used the expression “Joe the mailroom guy” (or similar such expressions) any number of occasions over the years in talking about issues like the one I was addressing in class. Not once did it ever occur to me to even consider how my use of the expression might affect someone in the class with the same name. Indeed, despite the fact that I know the student who wrote the Facebook status quite well and have talked and worked with him in different capacities, and despite the fact that he was smack in the middle of my class while I made the comment, I didn’t even connect my use of the name with him.

Perhaps the student wrote the status at least partially in jest. But, I suspect only partially in jest. Someone else commenting on his status wrote, “I can definitely sympathize. I’m glad I’m not the only one it bothers.”

In the schemes of sins we commit against each other, this is perhaps not one of the major ones. But I raise it to illustrate how easy it is for us to thoughtlessly say and do things that hurt someone else. Without any intent do to so, we have the capacity to cause others – including those we care for – to “die a little inside.”

We can all benefit from a reminder to be aware of the effect of our words and deeds on each other.

Acts of Extravagent Love

Extravagence is something we tend to have a negative reaction toward. When we hear the word extravagent, we think: wasteful. So we might be critical of extravagent gift-giving. Or shake our heads at extravagent consumption.

But consider some of the extravagent acts of which we read in the Gospel.

Martha takes a liter of costly perfumed oil made from nard (and not the fake stuff – “genuine aromatic nard”) and uses it to annoint the feet of Jesus. She didn’t just give Jesus what would have been sufficient – a soap and water footwash, or even the equivalent of Johnson’s baby oil – but something wildly more than necessary.

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus turns water into wine of the highest quality. He didn’t just give the (by that time drunken) guests something barely passable to quench their thirst, but something way more than would have avoided the embarassment of the bridal couple and their families.

When the people are hungry, Jesus produces so much bread and fish that there are baskets and baskets left. He doesn’t just give them “a little something to tide them over” til they get home, but enough so that everyone could have as much as they want.

Extravagent acts, each one. But there is something in the extravagence of the acts that makes us smile.

Sometimes an extravagent act is what is called for – acts of extravagent love and compassion. Not just doling out what is necessary, but offering to the world and those with whom we come in contact extravagent love and compassion.

Who know – it might be catching. And that kind of contagious extravence may be what the world needs.

The Stations of the Resurrection

Although most Catholics are familiar with the Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten devotion that follows the course of Jesus’ passion and death, fewer are familiar with the Way of the Light, the Stations of the Resurrection.

Inspired by an ancient inscription found on a wall of the San Callisto Catacombs on the Appian Way in Rome, a Salesian priest named Father Sabino helped develop the idea to create a new set of stations in the 1990s. The stations combine the events mentioned in the Saint Callistus inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create 14 stations, thus paralleling the Stations of the Cross.

The Stations of the Resurrection emphasize the hopeful aspect of the Christian story and (just as the Stations of the Cross help deepen our Lenten experience) can serve to deepen our appreciation of this Easter season.

Here are the fourteen. My suggestion would be to take one each day, perhaps reflecting on the scriptural passage associated with the event, a number of which I include below. You can also find version of these stations on line and in the Magnificat for this month, which include prayer and suggested meditations.

1. Jesus Rises from the Dead

2. The Disciples Find the Empty Tomb (Luke 24:12)

3. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

4. Jesus Walks with the Dsiciples to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-26)

5. Jesus Reveals Himself in the Breaking of the Bread (Luke 24:27-32)

6. Jesus Appears to His Discipes (John 20:19-20)

7. Jesus Confers on His Disciples the Power to Forgive Sins (John 20:23)

8. Jesus Confirms Thomas in Faith (John 20:24-29)

9. Jesus Appears to His Disciples on the Shore of Lake Galilee (John 21:1-14)

10. Jesus Confers Primacy on Peter (John 21:15-19)

11. Jesus Entrusts His Disciples with a Universal Mission (Matthew 28:16-20)

12. Jesus Ascends into Heaven (Acts 1:6-12)

13. Mary and the Disciples Await the Coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:13-14)

14. Jesus Sends the Spirit Promised by the Father to his Disciples (Acts 2:1-3)

Jesus Christ is Risen Today

May the blessings of the Resurrected Christ be with you all!

Today is Easter Sunday, the most importnat religious celebration in the life of Christians. Today we celebrate the culmination of the mystery that begins with the incarnation of Jesus – the event that assures us of eternal life with God.

Jesus was born and lived among us. He preached the Good News until his death. And then, when all hope was seemingly gone, he rose. As we proclaimed at the Easter Vigil service last evening, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chain of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”

What we really celebrate today is what Jesus’ resurrection means for us. After all, Jesus didn’t need to rise for his own sake – he was already God.

What the resurrection is mostly importantly about is what is says for us. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “[f]aith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being; the cry for unending life which is part of the person is indeed answered.”

Wishing you and your families a blessed and joy-filled Easter.

Ritual and Religious Traditions

This has been a week filled with religious ritual – Passover Sedars, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. Each of these has its own elements, which are repeated year after year. The asking of the four questions at Sedar. The foot washing at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The veneration of the cross on Good Friday. We engage in the same acts over and over each year.

We shared a Sedar the other evening with some Christians friends. It was a wonderful evening and all of us – those of us who had been to Sedars before and those for whom this was their first experience – found it deeply meaningful.

The next day, the son of one of my friends (for whom this was his first Sedar) wrote that he had been looking forward to the part where the children ask the four questions. He had assumed that that meant there would be some debate about philosophical issues (an activity he both enjoys and is good at). Thus, he was initially disappointed to discover that this part of the ritual involved scripted questions and answers.

As he thought about it, though, his reaction that “this made no sense” was replaced by the recognition that “in a way it made all the sense in the world.”

There is a time and place for debate, and I firmly believe that debate and discussion have a role in helping to deepen our faith. But the Sedar is not one of them. As my young friend recognized, “this is supposed to be a tradition….something to remember year after year.”

Every person who participates in a Sedar asks and answers the same questions. Every person who participates in a Holy Thursday service listens to Jesus explain to his disciples why he must wash their feet and participates in a reenactment of that event. Everyone who attends a Good Friday service listens to the reading of Jesus’ passion – and cries out with the crowd, “Crucify him.”

We do and say the same things so that we can remember. So that we remember our salvation history. So that we remember what God has done for us.

As my young friend concluded, on the essential elements of that history “the questions are already answered anyways, so what’s the point of a debate?”

The Seven Last Words of Christ

Today is Good Friday, the day on which we commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus. According to the Catholic Church’s tradition, no sacraments are celebrated on this day.

Catholics mark the day in various ways. Some churches I have been part of have outdoor stations of the cross in the early part of the day. Then, traditionally at 3:00 in the afternoon, churches have a celebration of the Lord’s passion, which consists of three parts: a liturgy of the word, veneration of the cross, and holy communion (with bread already consecrated the day before).

Some churches include as part of the Good Friday liturgies reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. These are the words spoken by Jesus while he was hanging on the cross.

You can find any number of commentaries on the words. I present them here with no commentary and with the simple suggestion that you take one or more of them to prayer today, asking yourself: what does it mean to me that Jesus uttered there words? What do they say about Jesus love for me and his absolute faith in the Father?

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Spoken to the “Good Thief”)

Woman, behold your son…Behold, your mother. (Spoken to Mary and John)

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

I thirst

It is finished.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Do This in Memory of Me

Today is Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, as some Christian denominations refer to it. By whatever name we call it, it is the day on which we commemorate the Last Supper – the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his friends on the night before he was crucified.

Many Catholics will attend tonight the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During that Mass, two related things will happen. First, we will hear St. Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he will pass on to the people of Corinth what he “received from that Lord,” that

the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Lest we think “Do this in remembrance of me,” is satisfied simply by listening to the priest recite these words each week during the Eucharistic Prayer, followed by our receipt of the Eucharist, during the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper we also listen and then participate in a reenactment of the scene in John’s Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

John’s Gospel contains no account of the institution of the Eucharist, as do the synoptic Gospels and Paul. Instead, Jesus washes his disciples’s feet, a menial act that would normally be performed by a slave. And, just as he says in the reading we hear from Paul, “Do this in memory of me,” he says here, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus says, I am your servant; in my memory, be a servant to each other.

The command in John’s Gospel is a challenging one. It instructs us that “do this in memory of me” is not satisfied soley by our Eucharistic celebration at Mass, as important as that is. Rather, we are asked to follow Jesus’ model in how we live and interact with all of our brothers and sisters.