Yesterday was the second session of the Lent Reflection Series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on the theme Praying with Jesus’ Parables. Our focus this week was the parables Jesus uses to talk about the Kingdom of God in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.
In my talk I shared some thoughts about each of the five short parables Jesus uses – in which he likens the Kingdom to a mustard seed…yeast…a treasure…a merchant…a net. Much of what I shared came out of my own extended meditations on the parables during my retreat this past summer.
I emphasized again yesterday something I said in our opening session last week. In proclaiming the Kingdom, Jesus was not simply giving a promise about the future, but was speaking about the here and now. Louis Savary reminds us in The New Spiritual Exercises that “in most Kingdom parables there is always some activity, human responsibility, choices made, or a change of heart, all of which suggest that the kingdom is something happening here on Earth, a diving project that is in process here and now, something ongoing, something big.”
You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 24:37) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.
Louis Savary reminds us in The New Spiritual Exercises that “in most Kingdom parables there is always some activity, human responsibility, choices made, or a change of heart, all of which suggest that the kingdom is something happening here on Earth, a diving project that is in process here and now, something ongoing, something big.”
“. . . choices made, or a change of heart, . . .”
One of the first responses Father Antoniy made upon the news that, for the first time in history, The Patriarch of Russia (Kirill) was to meet with Pope Francis in Cuba last Friday was to email a copy of their joint declaration and call me with the ‘Good News.’ “This is fresh. May be 1 hour old. So you can read and enjoy it. We can discuss next time we meet.”
More good news. . . In Father’s phone conversation yesterday . . .
To paraphrase conversations during their Thursday evening parish council meeting, “We need to meet with Christine, I believe she can help us find a path forward for phase-1. [Parish fellowship hall and seasonal, outdoor, paved terrace that will one day support the new worship space (Nave)]. She so inspires, knows everything (about their project) and everyone is excited to work with her (parishioners and so many craftsmen willing to work and contribute).”
My afternoon conversation with Father Antoniy followed morning visits to Target, Cub Foods (moderately priced retailer and grocery chain) and Lunds & Byerlys (upscale grocery) – encounters where life is ‘always’ celebrated, produce carts abandoned, deli tasks curtailed, butcher activities suspended, bakery slicing and serving paused, check-out lines backed up as hugs are shared and the newest sporting, community, family, personal events and activities shared; the ‘world’ marketplace comes alive, thriving and ever so welcoming. In my ‘world’ marketplace, America’s blended (secular and faith based) fabric is joined to more recent immigrants of Turkish, Hispanic, Bosnian, Iranian, Somalian, Chinese decent and more. My marketplace is always a ‘Spiritual’ gathering and celebration ending with, “I wish you would come in (and visit) more often”. . .
So many individuals continually coming together to straighten shoulders, and raise eyes, hearts and voices and celebrate life’s invitations and possibilities – strengthening and building existing and new relational foundations that can be drawn upon in times of challenge, struggle, suffering, including loss. To this day, St. Perpetua continues to include me on her visits to the marketplace as she has since childhood and now as her sister in Christ – tears of joy I experience with each new encounter . . .
However, I continue to struggle in attempts to shed the shroud of sin professed during Father Anthony’s (Catholic priest) Mary Poppins’ metaphor that Lenten ashes, placed upon the ‘spot’ that marked Holy Chrism’s sign of the cross during Baptism, are to remind all of the soot (sin) that ‘completely encapsulates’ our earthly, broken, unworthy, and sinful bodies. Are Lenten ashes the visible sign we are ‘completely encapsulated’ in sin, or to remind of the ‘blemishes’ with which sin stains the mind and heart?
Was Jesus’ ministry and message truly rejected, or as I discovered, “Following God’s will by fulfilling His commandments in this physical world connects us to God spiritually (the root of the Hebrew word “mitzvah” is “tzavta” which literally means “to connect”), refines the physical world, and proclaims the glory of God — that He exists everywhere. This is our mission while on earth.”
And . . .“Although Judaism believes in heaven, the Torah speaks very little about it. The Torah focuses less on how we get to heaven and considerably more on how to live our lives. We perform the mitzvot because it is our privilege and our sacred obligation to do so. We perform them out of a sense of love and duty, not out of a desire to get something in return,”
“In this sense, Pope Francis concluded, Jesus is a confessor. He does not humiliate the adulteress. He does not exclaim: ‘What have you done, when did you do it, how did you do it, and who did you do it with!’ On the contrary, he tells her, ‘Go and sin no more. The mercy of God is great, the mercy of Jesus is great: they forgive us by caressing us.’ ” (The Name Of God Is Mercy – Pope Francis)
Who, how and why did Jesus’ message of love and healing evolve in the Catholic Church (and many other faiths) into a business of sin?
“And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (New American Bible, Luke 5: 29–32)
Why did the growth of Christianity, (especially Catholicism) orchestrate that the focus of life be changed from the children of God honoring privilege and sacred obligation to connect (tzavta) and refine the physical world – to a journey ‘personal’ through life seeking redemption of their broken, unworthy, selfish, lustful, sinful self and salvation of their individual soul?
The Church today laments the existence of an individualistic, selfish, sinful, and secular society – a society of individuals the Church helped create and continually professes – an earthly kingdom often rife with all-inclusive humiliating accusations, exclamations of sins committed by a broken and unworthy populous and void of the healing caresses Pope Francis speaks of. . .
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Does not the Catholic Church (and other churches) often call and categorize all souls as sinners? Has not the Catholic Church become more the ‘Business of Sin’ and less a refuge of mercy and reconciliation?
“Jesus is a confessor. He does not humiliate the adulteress. He does not exclaim: ‘What have you done, when did you do it, how did you do it, and who did you do it with!’ On the contrary, he tells her, ‘Go and sin no more. The mercy of God is great, the mercy of Jesus is great: they forgive us by caressing us.”
“. . . choices made, or a change of heart, . . .”
Could not The Catholic Church use “a change of heart”?
As Peter, Paul and Mary might sing, where have all the righteous gone; where have all the ‘caresses’ gone?