Wednesday of Holy Week

On this Wednesday of Holy Week, the first reading is the third of the four “Servant Songs” from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. According to our Christian tradition, they foretell Jesus Christ and his calling. As simple as that might sound, they are nonetheless mysterious, fascinating and troubling. A Christian cannot read them without wondering how they must shape her or his particular identity and vocation.
This third song celebrates the obedience of the Messiah. He has received “a well-trained tongue” and open ears to comply readily to the will of God. But his obedience will also entail abuse and suffering. His path will not be easy; he will find himself coming up on the rough side of the mountain. He will meet those who beat him, spit in his face and tear at his beard. Nevertheless, he will set his face like flint and not be ashamed.
Americans seem reluctant to speak of shame but there is much about it in both Testaments of the Bible.
Psychologists say that embarrassment relates to how I look or act; shame is about who I am. It may be felt as an intense burning desire not to exist, or an unconscious conviction that I have no right to exist. I should not be here; I should not take food, water, air or space for myself. Shame is a profoundly crippling spiritual-psychological inability to show oneself, or to take one’s place in a family or school or other social group. It is often one’s first response to painful or confusing situations.
A victim of violence or sexual abuse often feels this crippling shame. He has suffered an overwhelming and irresistible attack on his identity, sexuality, feelings, and body that left him feeling worthless. The assault may have been a single incident, but it was often a consistent pattern of abuse that lasted years or decades. The child grew up in a house of horrors and suffers lifelong PTSD.

Jesus suffered that kind of abuse as he died. Betrayed by his disciples; abandoned by his family; disowned by his nation; unwanted in our world; abandoned even by his God: he would pray, Lord, in your great love, answer me.

Tuesday of Holy Week

On Tuesday of Holy Week we hear the second “servant song” from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. We can imagine the young man Jesus pondering these words during those “silent years” before his public ministry.
He must have wondered, as most young people do, if his life was too uneventful:
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.

Several years later, we can only imagine his inner trial as he suffered his last hours. Even then the scriptures would occupy his mind. But was it filled with divine assurance, based on the reassuring texts of the Bible; or troubled by the anguish of Job, the complaints of Jeremiah, or the laments of the psalms:
… I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength?

Whatever thoughts were aroused by his torment – the same thoughts we experience during difficult hours – he surely pushed through them to the consolation he knew in prayer:
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Yet my reward is with the Lord,
my recompense is with my God.
As we approach Saint John’s passion narrative, which we always read on Good Friday, we should pay attention to these words about glory.
Scriptures scholars call it Johanine irony. Johanine is an adjective meaning “something typical of John,” in this case, The Gospel of Saint John. Irony usually means something amusing but not in this case. It describes the contrast between what the bystanders saw on Calvary and what the faithful see. They see a man nailed to a cruel instrument of death; we see our king upon his throne. They see a man with thorns penetrating his scalp; we see a beautiful crown. They see two thieves on his right and left; we see a king with his courtiers. They mock him with “Hail, King of the Jews” and we kneel before him because he is our king. They see ignominy and shame; we see glory.
Indeed we would not recognize our Lord and Messiah if he were covered in the glitz and bling of this world. Saint John uses irony to help us see clearly what the eyes of our flesh and feelings and ordinary expectations cannot imagine: that God reveals himself perfectly on the cross, and there is no other way to know him.
As Judas leaves the Cenacle, Jesus announces,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.

Monday of Holy Week

The first readings of Holy Week – on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday – are the “servant songs” from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. These are mysterious passages describing the vocation of a chosen prophet. In the second and third songs he speaks for himself in the first person; in the first and last he is spoken of in the second and third persons. As they appear in Isaiah, the servant’s burden increases from:
1.    honored responsibilities (Monday),
2.    to disappointment and frustration (Tuesday),
3.    to physical abuse (Wednesday), and
4.    disgrace, suffering and death (Friday).

In our Christian tradition we assume these four songs refer to the same person, and we believe they are Jesus. Being chosen necessarily means anointed in the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word is Messiah; and the Greek word, ChristHistorically, it is certain that Jesus was familiar with these songs. He studied them as a child and must have spoken of them with his disciples. After his resurrection, the evangelists used them to make sense of what they had seen. Saint John will finally tell us that he is these songs in the flesh!

In today’s servant song, the Lord presents his “servant” to us. He appears in a kind of ceremony, as in, I am happy to present to you… “my servant” and “my chosen one with whom I am well pleased.” Of course, Christians immediately recognize the voice and the words that thundered from the heavens over the Jordan River.  And it’s easy to imagine ourselves greeting him with applause, as we do when a priest or bishop is ordained. We’re so glad to see him! 

But what kind of messiah is he? Oppressed people hope for salvation from the cruel and the powerful, but they must often turn to the cruel and powerful for that gift. More often than not they find themselves delivered “out of the frying pan, into the fire.” Their new champion is just as wicked as the old tyrant.

God’s servant will be radically different:
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;

This humble and meek servant of God is certainly a surprising challenge to everything we have been taught about peace, prosperity and security. Strong national boundaries, aggressive military services, vigilant police, security lights, locks, chains, doors, fences and walls will stand idly useless before the one who brings forth justice to the nations. What will they do when he starts his ministry:
… to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness

But this is the one who has been set as a covenant of the people and a light for the nations. As this week unfolds we will try to set our skepticism aside and watch with hope. 

Palm Sunday

The Easter Season from Ash Wednesday until Pentecost Sunday is more than three months long. The fortnight of Holy Week and Easter Week, from Palm Sunday through Divine Mercy Sunday (or Low Sunday) is the high point of this long stretch. During these two weeks the drama unfolds in Jerusalem, beginning with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and concluding with his appearance to Thomas and the twelve in the Cenacle.

Hopefully, during this season, the Roman Catholic clergy and laity come together, bringing liturgical majesty and personal devotion. It might be helpful on this occasion to explore those two dimensions of prayer.

LITURGY – which includes all of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, plus the Liturgy of the Hours – is “the official prayer of the Church.” 
Anyone who participates in the liturgy, clerical or lay, should understand the entire Church – past, present, and future – is united in this prayer. 
Our presider is Jesus Christ, who offers himself with us as an acceptable sacrifice, “a sweet smelling incense” to God his Father in the Holy Spirit. 
Liturgy doesn’t belong to anyone person or group and not even the Pope should feel free to reshape it to his own preferences. It is very hard for an individualistic society, infatuated with personal preferences and expression, to embrace the magnitude of liturgy. I have to remind myself when I celebrate Mass, hear a confession, or go to confession, “This is not about me!”
Explaining liturgy I like to remember the centuries it has taken to settle the Easter Controversy; that is, “When do we celebrate Easter?” Although we’ve never entirely agreed on how to compute the right day, everyone agrees we should agree on the same day! As you know, the eastern and western churches have not yet come to terms on that.
In the meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church hears the same readings throughout the world every Sunday and on many weekdays. We also celebrate many of the saints days universally. Whether you enter a church in Rome, Louisville or Tokyo, you have joined the one Church, which as Saint Paul commanded, never ceases to pray.

DEVOTIONS, on the other hand, are shaped by local culture and one's personal preferences. Your devotions as an adult are probably not the same prayers of your childhood. We can celebrate the rosary with fifteen or twenty mysteries, or scripture passages, or no mysteries; we can walk the Stations of the Cross through ten, twelve, fourteen or twenty stations; we can practice lectio divina, go on pilgrimage, recite prayers, write prayers, or “just talk to God” as the Spirit moves us. We can light candles, burn incense, wear prayer shawls, sit in the lotus position or walk through a labyrinth. Devotions should express one's personal piety, imagination, and preferences. They can change with the liturgical seasons of the Church -- or not. Devotions might be solitary prayers or gatherings of thousands. Its place might be a church, cemetery, hospital room or city bus. 

I think THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LITURGY AND DEVOTIONS is like that of a musician to the symphony. She should love music and should practice daily. She will certainly have her personal tastes in music, and she might devote great study to particular composers or musical genres, but she leaves those particular interests at home when she joins the symphony. From that private devotion, she brings passion, skill and devotion to the symphony. And from that profound, near mystical experience of the symphony, she returns home to her private study of music with all the more pleasure. Of course the audience who loves music appreciates her contribution though they have no idea how many hours she devotes to by her passion. 

Likewise the Christian loves both public liturgy and private devotion. The devout Christian brings "real presence" to the assembly, forgetting herself and her own preferences, to celebrate the God who is beyond all imagining. From the Church she brings a song in her heart and lightness in her step, assured that she belongs to God's people. "He is our God, we are his people." 

We also take from the liturgy suggestions for our devotions. We have learned the Our Father at the Mass; we have studied the Bible after hearing it proclaimed in the Church; we smelled the incense and bought some for our own homes.
And we bring from our personal devotion all the more zeal for the liturgy. Having studied the scriptures at home, we feel all the more pleasure in hearing them proclaimed in church. Having fasted at home we are hungry for the Eucharist.

I might add that the Christian duties of private devotion and public liturgy are as demanding as the career of a professional musician. Our "audience" is the world, with its crying need for deliverance. They may not notice or appreciate our sacrifice, but they will when the Lord of Glory comes to save the nations. 

During this Pascal fortnight we want to bring our intense personal devotion to the Liturgies of the Church. Catholics and Christians throughout the world will observe this fifteen day celebration. It will be covered by newspaper, radio, television and They will see once again in our gestures and our manner, how Good God Is. 

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s gospel story follows directly after Saint John’s account of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. We often hear part of the story during funerals. The account usually ends with:
The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go."  Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

But even if you don’t watch soap operas you know real life never end so neatly. If only our adventures were as simple as story tellers would like it to be. John 11 continues for another twelve fateful verses.
Some of the people were awed by Lazarus’ stumbling from the grave and Jesus’ command. But others saw only a spectacular news item. Since they had no cell phone cameras to capture the event and send them directly to the local television channel they had to hot foot into Jerusalem to say, “He’s back! And you won’t believe what he’s done now!” which led to an impromptu meeting of the Sanhedrin and heated discussion about this latest crisis.

This closing paragraph of John 11 tells us that Jesus’ fidelity to Lazarus led directly to his crucifixion. Of course he knew that as he had said earlier:
“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." John 11:4

So the story of Lazarus lends credence to Jesus’ words in John 15: 13:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Jesus’ healing ministry and his death on the cross are inseparable. Whenever we read any of the healing stories in any of the four gospels, we should understand what it costs. The political tensions described in these narratives make that abundantly clear. Every time he heals someone the resentment and resistance to him rise.
Likewise, every time we ask God for any favor, be it a healing, a raise, or the finding of a lost puppy we’re asking Jesus to go for us to Calvary.

But that should not cause us to hesitate. He is eager and willing and glad to do that for us. He loves us so much both out of human compassion and out of obedience to his Father. He tells us repeatedly, “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be open to you!” and “Anything you ask in my name the Father will give you!”
So we should ask.

And we should be ready to go with Jesus to Gethsemane and Jerusalem and Calvary during this coming Holy Week. We will stand with him in silent, sorrowful petition as he agonizes in the Garden. We hardly dare to say, “You must do this for us!” but in our silence we will stay with him.
And we will watch in wonder mixed with sorrow and joy as he proves his intense love for us.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

In today’s gospel the argument continues between Jesus and his opponents. The tension in this drama is building toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week. This is probably a good time to insert a remark about Christian-Jewish relations.

Although Saint John uses the word Jews I prefer to call them his opponents. Jews probably opposed the local church that sponsored John’s gospel during the early years of the Church, and that conflict appears in this gospel. This apparent hostility between two congregations in that city (Ephesus?) should not infect the Christian-Jewish relationship for all time.

Jesus was a rabbi among Jewish rabbis and his conflict with them should be understood historically as an argument in the family rather than a crisis between Jews and Christians.  When we read a story we should understand who is telling the story and why. If I tell a “recovering Catholic” joke to a Catholic congregation, it’s one thing; if a Protestant minister tells the same “recovering Catholic” joke to his congregation, it probably means something altogether different. For that reason I do not tell Jewish, Italian or African-American jokes. No matter how amusing the story might be, it would be interpreted with a trace of hostility toward that group. 

Recognizing that distinction we hear of Jesus conflict with “the Jews” in Saint John’s Gospel in a very different way. Even if we accept his apocalyptic tension and read it as the final struggle between good and evil, we should not suppose the Jews of Jesus’ time or ours embody evil.

The Gospel of John bears many characteristics of Greek dramaturgy[1]. Typically there were only two people or groups on stage at a time; and there is, of course, a conflict which must be resolved. The story rushes toward catharsis, an emotionally overcharged climax which sweeps the audience into a state of exhilarated intensity as they identify with the heroic protagonist. When he dies the audience “dies” with him, feeling his crushing defeat. But they also experience his triumph as a human being and a hero.

Saint John’s Gospel is like the Greek drama except that Jesus has no tragic flaw. He is not blind to his human frailty, nor does he lose his command of the situation. He remains the high priest who will lie down his life for his sheep. As he says in John 10: 17-18:
This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.

The Drama of Holy Week is not about the conflict between Jesus and the Jews; it is the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity. We will see Jesus surrender his life in a passion of consummate faith, hope and love, as the Holy Spirit sweeps him into the trustworthy embrace of his Abba. The vision of the Trinity is like a brilliant light, so overwhelming to the retina it looks like darkness. Where human beings see a man crucified in a most ghastly, horrifying manner, the eyes of faith see a love supreme. 

[1] Dramaturgy: the art of the theater, especially with regard to the techniques involved in writing plays
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The Feast of the Annunciation

Science fiction writers like to call us earthlings, creatures of the earth. It’s a fascinating word as we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Jesus, born of Mary, is a man of earth, an earthling. What does it take to be an earthling?
I am told that every element and many chemicals on this earth were formed from the heart of a star. In many cases, they were created by a succession of stars. Somewhere after the Big Bang billions of stars were born and went through their life cycles before collapsing and exploding, scattering stardust throughout the cosmos. That dust fell into other stars which collapsed and exploded again. After repeated “smelting” through perhaps dozens of stars some elements were ready to sustain life on earth.
Seventeen billion years after the Big Bang the Solar System in our Milky Way evolved, and the Earth was born. This planet passed through many complex and astonishing phases and eventually bore life. That’s making a very long story very short, but you get the idea.
I am not especially interested in the question of extra-terrestrial life. I’m sure we’ll cross that philosophical bridge when we get to it, if we get to it.
But I am fascinated by the appearance of earthlings. Despite Startrek and Starwars and all the other quixotic stories – where is Miguel de Cervantes when we need him? – it seems obvious to me that human beings could appear only on Earth. It’s not a coincidence that the temperature, gravity and chemistry of this planet are precisely suited to human life. The fact is we were made here and we belong here. This planet is our home and, until proven otherwise, I believe we’re going no where else. There is no where else to go! At least not for the foreseeable future and in this case we can foresee pretty far.

…which brings me to the Annunciation. Jesus was born of the same stardust in which you and I were created. Our God chose to be an earthling, eating earth food, drinking water (H2O), inhaling oxygen (O2) and exhaling carbon dioxide (CO2) – one like us in all things but sin. Before he knew his left hand from his right he was baby-talking gladness for mother-love and human milk.

He was honored to be a Nazarene, a Jew and an Asian. He spoke a peculiar dialect of Aramaic, which drew scorn from Jerusalemites. (“Your very speech gives you away!”) His appearance was so unremarkable that no one remarked upon it until he was transfigured; so we can assume he was of typical height – perhaps five and a half feet tall – with black hair, dark eyes and dark skin. And his weight, whatever it was, kept him grounded on earth.

Finally he died as all living things of this earth die, though the manner of his death was extraordinary both for its savagery and for his graciousness.

The Feast of the Assumption stirs gratitude in me for being made an earthling like Jesus. I eat, drink, breathe, sleep, walk, talk, listen, work, play, pray and care as he did. With Him I stand upright on the Earth, in full sight of the Sun, Moon and Stars, and sing God's praises. I am sure he is still among us for an earthling can live no where else. 

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

The spy genre spoof, Get Smart, once depicted an international track and field competition. Our players wore “Free World” on their jerseys; the other players wore “Slave World.”
I think of that parody when I hear Jesus telling his opponents, “The truth will set you free” and they retort, “We have never been slaves to anyone!”
“Freedom” is one of those flags that everyone salutes, and everyone can salute, because the word means nothing. Men and women of all nations fight and kill and die in the cause of “freedom” without any clear conception of why they’re fighting. Both sides of every war, battle, quarrel or debate claim freedom for its cause.
When Jesus uses the word we should ask what he means by it. If it’s the freedom to own as much as possible and to buy whatever we can afford – including recreational drugs, firearms and abortion – some of us will decline the offer. That freedom is bondage in disguise; it is below our dignity and certainly not worthy of Jesus' sacrifice.

Jesus’ freedom begins with remaining in his word. It’s a place where he lives. When the first two disciples set out after him, they asked, “Where do you live?” and he answered, “Come and see.”
The Jews in John’s gospel and Pontius Pilate ask repeatedly, “Where do you live?” or “Where do you come from?”
His disciples sometimes ask, “Where are you going?”
Where is that freedom in which Jesus abides? We want to go there but we don’t know the way until Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way!”
So we set out to follow him with those first disciples.
Along the road we cannot help but notice we’re heading toward Jerusalem – and Calvary.
And crucifixion.
And -- freedom?

His freedom isn’t like shop till you drop.

In today’s gospel he says, “A son always remains free.” Even on the cross Jesus is the freest, happiest man alive. When he said, “It is finished!” he expressed a perfect and profound satisfaction in his lifestyle.

Jesus challenges every facile notion we have of freedom.

Someone in a noisy restaurant asked why I wore a small cross on my lapel and what it means to me. But I soon understood that he was more interested in argument than enlightenment. His God would have to obey his notions of rationality. So I invited him instead: “Come and see.”

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

I thank God for each March 23rd. I was hit by a truck while bicycling on this day in 1993; and I am here to tell about it. I very well might have been killed and I didn’t walk away from the incident. I spent three weeks in a hospital and five months in a turtle-shell brace from waste to shoulder. It was a year before I got on a bicycle again! But I’ve enjoyed a full recovery and have only a few scars and occasional knee trouble for my trophies. A lot of good people -- parishioners, family and health care professionals -- put me back together and back on my feet. Praise God for healing!

Today’s first reading about healing, from the Book of Numbers, lends itself to today’s reading from the Gospel of Saint John. Jesus foretells his being lifted up, recalling Moses’ mounting a bronze serpent on a pole and the healing of those who looked at it.
We should notice the people asked that God would “take the serpents away from us” but he gave them something better. Their solution would have only removed the threat; God’s solution healed both those who were sick and those who would get sick.

By his death and resurrection Jesus has not taken us out of this world into a safe place where no snakes bite and no troubles appear. There is no such place in this world. If we ventured to another world we would certainly take our snakes with us, along with all the other evils we create from our wretched hearts. If we go to that mysterious place of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel, we’ll have to leave behind a lot of baggage!

Instead of ridding our world of trouble, the Lord gives us his cross to gaze upon. Contemplating his suffering and death, as we do especially during Lent, heals our eyes and minds and hearts. People who have pondered too long the pleasures of wealth, success, security and comfort will find their satisfaction in this vision of God among us. People who destroy the optic nerves of their faith with Internet pornography have only to gaze upon his cross. 

The cross of Jesus is a lighthouse to guide us back to reality, where the goodness of God abides. It is a healing, dynamic vision of Truth, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are at my side.

I am struck by the fearlessness of Jesus as Saint John describes him. In the Gospel according to Saint Mark, when Jesus arrives in the garden of Gethsemane he falls to the ground. It seems his knees buckled in sheer terror and he collapsed. His fear is recognizably human and we who love the man sympathize with him.

But Saint John has another point to make:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
We should understand Jesus’ absolute freedom and his intense dedication as he advances toward Jerusalem and Calvary. In today’s gospel he speaks freely and directly of his unique relationship with God his Father:
my judgment is valid, because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.

No other human being can make such a claim. He is not, as some critics have said, a “son of God” as you are a daughter or son of God. Rather, he is the only begotten Son of God, coequal to God the Father, of the same substance though not the same person. He is:
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.

With that assurance, authority and freedom Jesus can taunt his opponents:
“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
And he can walk away from them because his hour had not yet come. When it would come he would freely walk into their grasping, cruel hands, through their mock trials and finally, carrying his own cross, to Calvary.

It is silly to ask, “What would I do under such circumstances?” This is not about me or you. This is a drama that you and I must watch as awed spectators and devout believers. This is a drama about the Son of God, the “second person of the Trinity” who loves God the Father with the absolute purity of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity. On Mount Calvary we should watch in the same mute silence that overcame Peter, James and John on Mount Hermon. 

From our earthly vantage point we cannot see the God whom Jesus adores, nor can we feel the urgent drive of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, though we might have moments when we sense it. From our earthly vantage point we can only see Jesus mounting the cross and giving himself with abandon to death. But we believe that his God hears his prayer. His death may appear as utter foolishness – even as an ugly sacrilege – but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, (it is) Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  

Fifth Sunday of Lent

One evening some years ago I placed my queen next to my opponent’s king and said, “Checkmate!” With his defenseless king he took my equally undefended queen. I never saw it coming.
Thus did Jesus respond when his opponents demanded that he judge a woman caught in adultery. It was too obvious they were setting a trap for him. It was so obvious they could not imagine how he would turn the trap on them. Jesus – who truly is the judge -- told to make a judgment, forced them to judge themselves.

See, I am doing something new! 
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Sometimes things happen that make perfect sense only in retrospect. No one could imagine Jesus’ coming. He simply appeared; and his disciples, taught by the Holy Spirit, put it all together later and said “Of course!” When we read this story of John 8 we say, “Of course! How could his enemies be so foolish?”
As Union armies arrived in southern states many slaves fled the plantations. The land owners were astonished. They said, “How could they do this to us? After all we did for them!” Year after year they had seen these smiling black faces saying “Yes, Ma’am; no Ma’am, thank you Ma’am.” and they never suspected the resentment and longing for freedom that lie behind those smiles.
How could Enron or Lehman Brothers or Bernie Madoff expect to get away with their unethical behavior for so long? They did not see the Day of Judgment coming.
How can people smoke cigarettes year after year and be surprised by COPD? How can young people run up credit card debts before they even have a job? How can senior citizens frequent casinos and complain about the high cost of living? They do not see the Day of Judgment coming.

What didn’t Jesus opponents see as they confronted him? His mercy and his justice. They seem irreconcilable. Can justice be merciful; can mercy be just? In our world it seems impossible.
Justice demands punishment but it rarely punishes the wealthy or the powerful. They hire the lawyers, twist the facts (and a few arms) and buy a favorable verdict.
Mercy comforts even the sinner, but it doesn’t reach as far as poor sinners. They can’t afford good clothes, much less the lawyers and the influence to win mercy.

Jesus does something new, unexpected and perfectly natural. It springs forth like a flower from its bud, like the fruit from a flower; but, until it happens, no one can imagine how it comes to pass.
         Love and truth will meet; 
         Justice and peace will kiss.
         Truth will spring from the earth; 
         Justice will look down from heaven.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Saint John’s Gospel is represented by an eagle, because it’s the loftiest of the four gospels. Jesus appears as a man from heaven, with knowledge and authority far beyond those of any other human being. His teachings challenge us to search the skies for explanation.

And yet this gospel, of the four, describes the earthiest, most plausible political scenes; such as the fussing between Nicodemus and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. He argues principle; they retort with threatening insinuations. As the crisis of Jesus’ trial approaches, lines are drawn and sides are taken. Reason, open-mindedness, patience, and charity are thrown out the door. 

Perhaps the most damning line in this passage is the last sentence, short and penetrating: Then each went to his own house.

These policy-setting, decision-making leaders just don’t care. They have their homes and comforts and certain certainties. They have made their compromises with the Herodian aristocrats and the Roman rulers and the Levite priests; nothing more should be asked of them. The arrival of the Son of God in Jerusalem is no more than the latest nuisance; a flea on an elephant’s hide to be crushed. By next week the incident will be forgotten as other threats to their security arise.

T. S. Eliot might have been describing the banality of their evil and the transparent goodness of Jesus when he wrote Preludes:  

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary

A week before the feast of the Annunciation, which is nine months before Christmas, we celebrate Saint Joseph in his role as the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus.The protector of Mary and Jesus, patron saint of carpenters and our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, might also be the patron saint of dreamers.
He was named after the eleventh son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery, descended into a dungeon and ascended to the Pharaoh’s right hand. Joseph the Patriarch learned through the betrayal of his family, the humiliation of slavery, and the despair of prison to rely totally on the mercy of God. He could turn to no one else, nor could he imagine that God was leading him along this tortuous path to a position of such power that he would save his faithless family from starvation.
But he had his dreams and his God-given ability to interpret dreams. You’ll recall that Joseph’s first dream caused him endless heartache. When he told his brothers of how he saw their sheaves of grain bowing down to honor his, they understood what he apparently did not – that he would rule them someday.
Despite that bad experience Joseph interpreted dreams for his fellow jailbirds and came to the attention of the Pharaoh, who appointed him to manage the astonishing wealth of Egypt.
Our saint was named after the patriarch Joseph; he had the same gifts of political astuteness and dreams. You remember that an angel appeared in his sleep and told him to take Mary as his wife; a second time, urging him to take her and the Child into Egypt; a third time, to move back to Judea; and finally, to settle in Nazareth. First he saw what was happening around him; then he prayed and waited and “slept on it” and acted.

Using the psychological language of today, Joseph trusted his intuitions. He paid attention to the political scene and to his hunches. He may not have always known why he was doing the right thing, but he did them anyway and God was with him.
Blessed John Duns Scotus, the great Franciscan theologian, taught that we can know Truth not only by our senses and the scientific method that organizes sensible knowledge, but also by our intuitions. Sometimes we grasp the right thing to do and we do it, and if anyone asked “Why did you do that?” we can only reply, “The Holy Spirit spoke to me!”
My friend Father Germain used to say, “The Holy Spirit grabbed my tongue and would not let me speak!”
Saint Augustine said, “Love God and do what you want.” When you love God as Joseph and Mary and Jesus did, and want only what God wants, you do what you want with the assurance that this is what God wants.
Of course, sinners that we are, we’re often wrong about God wants and are seduced by our own desires. But we pray that Saint Joseph and all the other saints – that cloud of witnesses that prays around us – will teach us to wait and watch for the will of God to be made manifest.  
Dear Saint Joseph, pray for the dreamers among us. As we cope with the challenges of today help us to be like that other son of Joseph who said, “There are those who look at things they way they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” 

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

The Gospel according to Saint John is a gospel of crisis; which, as you must know if you follow the news at all, is an opportunity.

But the opportunity may be difficult to recognize. Crisis has a language all its own and it often refuses to speak in friendly or familiar terms. It demands an immediate response and we don’t know what that response is. “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste;” but how are we supposed to respond to this crisis? How can we be sure our response is the correct one? If we dither too long, the opportunity may shut down. Or, if we dither long enough, we may discover it was never a real crisis in the first place. What should we do?

In the Gospel of John, the crisis concerns Jesus’ authority. Who is this guy? Where does he come from? Where is he going? On whose authority does he say these things?

When I first came to the Gospel I felt sympathy for Jesus’ opponents. If he would just settle down for a moment, speak more plainly and more slowly, and be less confrontational, they might accept him. Doesn’t a good teacher have to come down to the level of his students to bring them up to his level?

But human acceptance – popularity, fame, success, whatever you call it -- is the one thing Jesus does not want. He cannot fit into the rigid structures of human thought. Rather, he demands that we rise to his level.

In today’s gospel he comes down as far as possible. He reminds his opponents of John the Baptist’s testimony, and of the works they have seen which certainly come from the Father. He tells them the Father testifies on his behalf, though they have not heard the Father’s word. The scriptures and Moses also testify for Jesus.

But ”How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” Their approach to reality is fundamentally flawed. They rely on one another for their truth instead of God. They are like the speculators who buy and sell from one another, driving the price of ordinary merchandise beyond all reasonable worth. When reality checks in, the prices fall back to earth. The speculator, who buys a hundred thousand dollar house for five hundred thousand, thinking he can sell it for a million, and borrows two million dollars using the house for collateral, will lose a fortune when its real worth reappears. He has built his fortune on what others believe, rather than reality.

Jesus’ opponents cannot recognize him because the Truth cannot fit their religious thinking. He urges them to abandon their delusional world of shadows and step into the bright sunshine of his truth.

The Gospel of Saint John is an old story, "ever ancient ever new." As long as human beings live on this earth we will struggle to see the truth through the vagaries of our fears, ambitions, needs, beliefs and distortions. And the truth will always plead with us, “Come to me and have life.”

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s gospel from the fifth chapter of John lacks the stories and pictures that Jesus uses so often to keep our attention, but His explanation of his relationship to God is as clear as clean water. It is so clear and simple the foolish might pass over it. As the Church Father Origen said of John’s gospel, “a mouse could wade through it; an elephant could drown in it.”

Or, perhaps, the problem is that this passage is about relationship and us guys don’t get relationship. We like the special effects scenarios of walking on water, water changed to wine, and resurrections with angels and earthquakes. But if you want to know why Jesus cannot change rocks into bread or come down off the cross, you’ll find your answer in John 5: the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also.

This “obedience” is the essence of the Trinitarian relationship. The Father and the Son are one. Though they are separate – this is not one God with two names – they abide in deep respect and love and eager compliance to one another. They are of one will; there can be no disagreement between them for they know, love and are Truth.

I wonder if The Father has ever “seen” the Son. Perhaps the Father believes in the Son; and the Son – whom we have seen in our world – believes in the Father. And the essence of their relationship is not knowledge as we think of knowledge, but faith. They believe in each other; they are faithful to one another; they love one another. And that faith is the true knowledge which eludes us.

Moderns think that faith and knowledge are different. The Enlightenment set out to demonstrate one could know something without faith. The scientific method would prove things to be true regardless of God’s existence. It would explain every mystery of the human body, mind and spirit without recourse to the theory of God. Philosophically, that experiment began to crumble in the 20th century but it will be many years before a more integrated understanding of truth and faith rises from the rubble.

In the meanwhile, we have our joyous, eager, generous faith in Jesus Christ to guide us. He gives us knowledge of God which is intuitive, born of the Holy Spirit, and needs no further proof. He shows us what no human being can imagine, that God is obedient. While philosophers think of God as all powerful, doing whatever he pleases and answering to no one, Jesus advances with terrifying simplicity upon Jerusalem to place himself in the hands of torturers because:

…the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Although I have never been to Jerusalem, I have visited, lived and worked in shrines – especially Carey, Ohio -- and I know the power of a holy place. The ancient city of Jerusalem had been Holy for over a thousand years when Jesus arrived there. With the psalmist, he loved its very stones. Its dust moved him to pity. (Psalm 102:15) After a millennium – a span of time so long most Americans cannot conceive of it -- there wasn’t a building, street or fountain in David’s City that wasn’t blessed with sacred stories and legendary powers.
Ezekiel’s fountain came from under Jerusalem’s temple and into a collecting pool. People drew water from there and occasionally bathed in it. In his vision Ezekiel saw it growing from a rill to a stream to a river, growing in depth, width and power to heal. It was a flood of healing grace to the universe.
Several hundred years later Jesus came upon that very spring with its pool and a crowd of people waiting for a swirling of the water.  According to legend, the first person to enter the mystic water would be healed. One fellow had been there thirty-eight years. By then he was pretty well settled in; to most people he seemed part of the landscape. But he was no more prepared for a healing on that particular day than the city was for the Son of God, although both the city and the cripple were ostensibly waiting for the Messiah.
When Jesus asked him a direct question – Do you want to be well? -- the querulous old man complained: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Despite his equivocation, Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” We should hear in the word rise the resurrection that is promised to all who believe in him.
Jesus had come not to visit the city but to fulfill its mission. He is the holy city and the Sabbath. He is the baptism of new birth, giving life to those who are washed in him. He is the Sabbath, providing rest and refreshment to those who repose in him.
As we have settled into the season of Lent, we want to grow daily in eagerness. Our gentle fasting, persistent prayers, and works of charity sharpen our appetite for the Bread of Angels. Graceful opportunities abound. We need not focus all our attention on the mystic roiling of water. Something else may occur, something as mundane as a tourist asking impertinent questions. We want to be ready when He comes. 

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.

A few years ago a media joker invited people to “Trust me.” The phrase inspired anything but trust. And yet that is the constant invitation of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

We have every reason to trust him. We believe that a Good God must be infinitely worthy of our trust, on the one hand. On the other, if we cannot trust God who can we trust? As I often say to the Veteran patients, “If God is not merciful we’re all in big trouble.” But it doesn’t come easy.

Today’s first reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah delights the heart with its promise: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” The Book of Revelation, six hundred years later, echoes this sentiment with the words of Jesus, “See I make all things new.”

Christ will make us new. This is something we really cannot imagine. Can a caterpillar imagine a butterfly? Can an unborn baby imagine playing baseball? We cannot imagine the freedom, happiness, and satisfaction Jesus promises to us. We cannot imagine an earthly or heavenly society built on surrender to His will.

As one who has suffered various kinds of illness I know how long it takes to heal; and that the patient, who longs for nothing more than a return to the way things used to be, cannot imagine the contentment of a post-hospital life that is nothing like the former. Sometimes the health care worker must say to the impatient patient, "Trust me; it will get better."

In today’s gospel, the royal official pleaded with Jesus, “Come down before my child dies.” We often plead with God to “come down” before we lose everything. Before my debts overwhelm me, before my health collapses, before the economy tanks, before our nation becomes just another second-rate former empire, “Come down!”

Jesus does not come down with the royal official. Rather he gives his word, “Your son will live.”

There is nothing more liberating than faith. We heard Jesus complain to the stricken parent, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” He complains because God cannot give a more persuasive sign than "Trust me." Nor is there any greater power in heaven or on earth than faith in God's word.

Fourth Sunday of Lent -- Laetare Sunday

The parable of the prodigal son is the third of three parables Jesus tells in the 15th chapter of Saint Luke’s gospel.
The first concerns a shepherd who has a hundred sheep and, losing one, leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness to retrieve his one lost sheep. The owner of the sheep might not appreciate his shepherd’s concern, considering the risks of wolves, lions and thieves; but he seems to be lucky this time. Finding the lost sheep the reckless shepherd returns and celebrates with his friends saying, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”
The second story is similar: a woman loses one of ten coins and frantically searches the house until she finds it. She too invites her friends in to celebrate her relief. We can suppose the one coin is more valuable than the cost of tea and cookies for her friends.
A pattern is developing. Something is lost, found and celebrated. 

Finally, as we hear today, a man has two sons and loses the younger one. He does not pursue the boy but he searches the horizon daily waiting for his son’s return. At last the boy returns, a sorry spectacle, and the old man rejoices.

When I interpret this story I like to keep it simple. The older son has reason to complain. He was not invited to the party when every other detail – the fatted calf, the fine wines, the musicians, the guests – was attended. The father is not an ideal parent. Why on earth did he give his wastrel son half of his wealth and let him walk out like that? Did the father never consider what his prodigality would do to the older son and the household? How the young man would now be his father’s only heir and coequal to him? Can he continue to order his son out to the fields when they own the estate as equals? Finally, does he suppose the younger son has actually learned his lesson or changed his ways? 

This family is a mess. Things don’t get said unless they’re shouted. 

But the old man is right in one important way, and this is the essential message: 
…we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.

Ours is not a perfect church. We are in so many ways A People Adrift. Following the half century when we found ourselves at the peak of respectability and influence in the United States – a country which had not welcomed us despite its own principles of hospitality – we discovered a horrifying corruption within ourselves. 

Nor are our families, neighborhood or nation perfect. Why should they be? They are what they are.  "We must celebrate and rejoice". We can’t wait until everything is “just right.” Hell will freeze over by then. Rather, we thank God for the blessings that are and the people he gave us. 

That’s what Jesus was doing among tax collectors and sinners when the Pharisees accosted him.
Finally, our faith tell us, if we celebrate today well -- tomorrow will be better.

Laetare! Rejoice!

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

In the mystic literature of Buddhism the story is often told of the uncomprehending youth and his persistent teacher. The boy just doesn’t “get it” until something breaks within him. Finally, tearful and smiling he has Enlightenment. But, of course, he can’t explain it. Those who know do not tell; those who tell do not know.

The Buddha was born and his religion flourished around the same time the prophets appeared in Israel. Some scholars believe there was a kind of awakening to God-consciousness in human history at that time. This movement of grace continues into our own day, challenging every generation to see and understand what is real.

In today’s reading, the prophet Hosea challenges his people to understand what God wants of them. They just don’t get it; nor does the zealous Pharisee in today’s gospel story. If he were to hear Jesus’ story he would probably go home thumping his head with the palm of his hand and saying, “What does he want?”

It has something to with playing games. Hosea sees his contemporaries playing games with God. They seem to say: “If we cannot ignore him we’ll play the game by his rules. He has told us he’ll forgive us, so we’ll be sorry for a few days and then he’ll forgive us. How hard can that be? What have we got to lose? He is our God after all. He claims us as his people. So we’ll go along with him while he’s mad at us, and then everything will be fine again.”
He will revive us after two days;
on the third day he will raise us up,
to live in his presence.

But God isn’t playing games. God genuinely wants, expects and demands of us enthusiastic, generous, unrestrained, unconditional, courageous, open-hearted trust. This is not a matter of God’s giving and refusing his blessings until he gets what he wants. There is no quid-pro-quo in this relationship.

We will see finally what God wants in Jesus’ crucifixion. This man – speaking for all of us -- knows absolutely what God wants and satisfies God’s infinite desire for our love. We will see God’s pure, unadulterated goodness when God surrenders his life to God. And we will see God’s total surrender of himself to us, a gift which could be neither effective nor visible if it were not crucified.

Perhaps then we will understand what God wants. 

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher, you are right…. And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Ecce quam bonum, et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum.

Somewhere in my early seminary training we sang those Latin words: Behold how good and how pleasant it is where brothers dwell as one.

I hear that song in my heart as I read this conversation between Jesus and a scribe. Politically they might be poles apart, but they love the Lord and his Law, and take delight in his commands.

That fellowship, which appears unexpectedly at times, is the work of the Holy Spirit and the foundation of the Church. We love the Lord and his law and we discover affection and respect for one another.

At the VA hospital, for the past two years, I have discussed “values” with the patients in the psych ward. That’s a wide open topic. It took me a while to develop an approach to the subject and longer yet to discover why it’s important. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that men who share the same values, discovering one another, feel less lonely. A shared value becomes a safe “meeting place” for them. The value may be the treasure of military experience, a hobby, a common acquaintance, or the same church. They can meet in that “place” time and time again and, if they choose, develop a friendship from there.

The meeting place Jesus and this lawyer discover may be the most valuable place on heaven or earth. Living by this law each is willing to cede everything to God, and to acknowledge his own contingency. That is to say, God is the heart and center of my life, I am merely his servant. My needs, desires, ambitions, preferences beliefs, opinions and values are secondary to God, who is all in all.

As Saint Francis said, “My God and my all!”

As we hear today’s gospel, we can savor the sweetness of these words. None of us lives up to them. For that matter, none of us has earned the right even to hear the Law announced to us. We do not deserve such blessing. But God has whispered these beautiful commands to us, “Love God. Love your neighbor!” and our hearts are filled with joy.

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste.

I once sat with a family as they gathered in the bedroom around their deceased father. He was not a good man; he was not a bad man. He was a successful man by this world’s economic standards. He had a heart of gold; he never met a stranger; he bankrolled every party. But his failures were appearing in the wake of his forceful personality. He had always called the shots. There was no right way or wrong way with him; there was only his way. He told everyone what to do and what to think. 
And then he  was gone and full blown rivalries suddenly appeared. Even as the family gathered at his bedside there was palpable fear. Sides were taken and harsh words, spoken.
This giant of a man had ruled his kingdom well, by all accounts; but the splits in his own heart drove the family apart.

An individual whose heart is divided creates dissension and rancor among others. Wherever he goes he creates friends and enemies and division between them. I might think because I whisper my sins in the confessional they are secret. But they are known and they hurt. They shout from the rooftops. 

Divorce tears people apart. It is never a private matter. The children, recruited by their warring parents to act as arbiters, agents, attorneys and judges, must finally choose one parent or the other. They cannot have both. Once friendly in-laws fear their counterparts on the other side of the family; meeting in public they nod. If they speak, it’s with sadness. Even churches may discover new causes of division in the rancorous atmosphere of divorce.

In today’s gospel Jesus warns his contemporaries in the Jewish community, and he warns us. an individual whose heart is divided, a family without a common purpose, a married couple who cannot worship the same God, a nation that despises its own principles -- will collapse. 

In this gospel Jesus once again offers himself as our unity. Listen to him: 
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

Sometimes we Christians get a bit too enthusiastic about Saint Paul’s attitude toward the Law. This “recovering Pharisee” was so taken with his new-found freedom and grace that he seemed to dis the Law of Moses. Like the former smoker who cannot bear the stench of an ashtray, Saint Paul could hardly bear the sweet fragrance of statutes, ordinances, decrees, precepts and commands. He had endured too many years of trying to please God by pleasing men and was fed up with living in the stultifying tradition of the Pharisees.
But of course law is important, and Saint Paul’s strong feelings about it only bear witness to its importance. Consider how difficult a road trip to Alaska might be if there was no law requiring us to drive on the right side of the road. You would encounter tens of thousands of drivers of vehicles large and small, fast and slow, and you would have to negotiate with each one as to which side will you pass. Pedestrians on a busy sidewalk sometimes run smack into each other; how much worse it would be in a car! Aren’t you glad there’s a law? But there wasn’t always such a law. A Roman pope first determined that folks should move to one side of the roadway as they crossed a bridge. He had called for a Holy Year in 1200 A.D. and the city was gridlocked with pedestrian pilgrims and their baggage. Order was restored only when he decreed, “Everyone move to the right!”
A good law enforced and accepted by everyone is so useful and beautiful that the Jews considered it a gift from God. The Bible is chock-a-bloc with Jewish gratitude to God for it. Psalm 119, which is the longest, celebrates the gift of the law. Every verse has a synonym of law. Clearly the psalmist and his people loved to contemplate the wonder of it. If you have ever contemplated with happy wonder the machinery of an airplane or the wizardry of a microchip, you might appreciate the Hebrew’s excitement over the Law.
A secular, enlightened society considers the law man-made, a set of principles upon which we should agree.  But the Jews saw more deeply God’s gift and treasure.

With the birth of Jesus, the Law of God became flesh and lived among us. This Child of Mary is all the rules, customs, traditions and rituals in human form, approachable, delightful and adorable.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

With today’s fascinating story of the unforgiving servant, Jesus comments on his prayer; specifically the words, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This teaching is so important that, in Saint Matthew’s account, the Lord’s Prayer is immediately followed by Jesus’ warning:
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

His teachings on mercy also belong to this subject, since forgiveness is a form of mercy: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

I find much psychological depth in this story. What was the unforgiving steward feeling and thinking as he left his master’s presence? He had just been forgiven an enormous amount. He, his wife and children had been spared the horror of slavery. We can suppose he felt enormous relief and overwhelming joy but, as subsequent events will show, he felt no gratitude.
In fact he seems to believe, “I pulled it off! A stroke of genius! I went down on my knees and pled for mercy and the old fool forgave everything! Hah! Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”
He seems to think he never actually lost control; he does not remember the terror that buckled his knees, or his shameless begging for mercy. His eyes no longer smart with his tears; his nose has stopped running, his slobbering mouth is no longer blubbering vague, desperate promises.
Nor does he remember his utter helplessness in the face of an enormous debt. In fact he never acknowledged what everyone else saw clearly, that he was out of his depth. Clinging to his fantasies, he guaranteed his master, “Just give me time and I will pay you back in full.” This man would not know the truth if it bit him on the leg.
So when he meets another fellow who owes him the tiniest fraction of what he owed, and this fellow reenacts the same part he had just played – falling on his knees, begging for time, promising full payment – he resolves that he will not be the “fool” his master has been. Nor will be understand when he is turned over to the torturers.

What should be our response to the story? Lent. We should spend these weeks contemplating the mercy we have found in Jesus. We remember our sins and, more importantly, we remember the sacrifice of Jesus.

I’m reasonably sure that if God showed me all my sins in a single instant, I would be burned to a crisp. I don’t ask for that grace. But I do want to follow Jesus to Calvary and understand that he is dying because he lives in my world. I have made this world uncomfortable for many people on many occasions. I have contributed to its barbarity and violence. I have enjoyed many advantages at the expense of many people. I was born with a debt that I have never repaid, and cannot hope to repay. Reparations for the past million years should be made to the victims of war, slavery, rape and murder. The infrastructures that I take for granted are painted with blood and I cannot wash it off.

Silenced by that stunning realization, I turn to Jesus for mercy. If my mouth is not blubbering; my nose, running; nor my eyes, streaming with burning tears it’s not because I don’t realize the depths of my helplessness.