Resurrection faith

The Harrowing of Hell Spanish Chapel Santa Maria Novella Florence

The Harrowing of Hell

Good Friday is all too real in a world where violence and sin reign, where the poor suffer. But there words of José Antonio Pagola point to the faith that sustains us:

“At the heart of our faith there is a crucified man whom God has proven right. At the heart of the church there is a victim to whom God has done justice. A crucified life, inspired by and lived in the spirit of Jesus, will not end in failure but in resurrection

“… It is not a senseless venture to live with concern for those who suffer, to reach out to the most needy, to help the helpless; it means journeying to the mystery of a God who will resurrect our lives forever.

“… To follow the crucified one until we share in the resurrection with him is finally to give our lives, our time, our efforts, and perhaps our health for the sake of love.”

José Antonio Pagola, Following in the Footsteps

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The fresco of the Harrowing of Hell  is from The Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

 

Pieta

Though it is not, as far as I know, a depiction of Jesus in the arms of Mary, this image of a woman with her dead child, by Kathe Kollwitz, evokes the sorrow of mothers for their children.

Kathe Kollwitz

It would be good this Holy Saturday to sit with this image – in grief and in hope.

 

Ecce homo: behold the human person

…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…
Isaiah 53: 14

Today the Western Christian world celebrates the death of Christ Jesus.

The Black Christ

The Black Christ

A few weeks ago on retreat I was meditating on St. John’s Passion. Pilate had Jesus scourged and the soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him.

Then Pilate brings Jesus out to the crown and tells them:

Here is the human person!
Ecce homo!

Here is the human person, tortured and degraded by power, by economic and political elites. Here is the human person in the eyes of the empire, in the eyes of the consumer culture.

DSC00614

For that world, the human person is something, some thing, to be used and abused at will.

But in the eyes of God, the human person is a child of God.

Jesus lets Himself be identified with the victims, the poor, the maltreated, the violated.

But this human person – degraded and violated – will rise up and show us the real human person, God’s child.

For, as St. Irenaeus put it, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Pilate and the powers want to identify the human person as the one who can be controlled,  who is worth little of nothing.

But, in God’s eyes, each person is worth the death of His Son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handing over

The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
John 13: 2

 I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread…
1 Corinthians 11: 23

 What does it mean to hand oneself over?

Many years ago I was struck by the word “hand over” which we find in Paul’s account of the Eucharist as well as in John’s account of the Last Supper.

For me handing onself over conveys a giving of oneself – into the hands of God – to respond in love to what God asks of us.

In the Spanish version of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, we find many uses of the Spanish word – entrega – although we might not notice it because, in one of the most moving passages, it is translated as “sacrifice.” But una entrega is a conscious decision to put oneself into the hands of God.

And so I offer this alternative translation from paragraph 269 of Evangelii Gaudium:

Jesus’ handing himself over on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal option which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.

And so, washing the feet of the apostles flows from a life given to handing Himself over to the Father, a life lived in love and service.

And so we ought to wash one another feet.

 

Lamentations

The Book of Lamentations was for many years central to Vigils of the Liturgy of Hours for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The sadness of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem were connected with the Passion and Death of Jesus.

There are many beautiful, haunting musical renditions of the Lamentations, which I will be listening to during the next few days.

This year Holy Week feels more like a time of lamentation than I’ve felt in many years. Some of this is personal, but much is related to the reality the poor face here in Honduras.

So, this morning, reading Jeremiah in the Vigils reading from Benedictine Daily Prayer I was moved by these words of Jeremiah 8: 21-22 (NRSV translation):

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

Jeremiah is writing in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem that arose as a result of the sinfulness of the people, but still his deep grief speaks to me in a situation where, all too often, the poor and innocent suffer.

But I don’t feel overcome in the face of the pain. Despite the grief, I find a deep peace within me.

More than anything else, I feel the challenge of the first line of today’s reading from the third Servant Song of Isaiah 50:4 (NAB translation):

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.

I pray that I may be a presence with the people the next three days that will help them experience the hope of the Risen Lord, in the midst of our grief.

 

Honduras and the Passion

Yesterday  I went to visit Hogar San José, a home for malnourished kids under five run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order).

I used to go a lot, but for any number of reasons – some not so wholesome – I haven’t been there for a while.

I know several of the sisters since they help with religious education in several villages of the Dulce Nombre parish. One of them opened the door and let me in. She took me to see some of the smaller kids.

The first child had a cleft palate. The second child was without a palate – but with an incredibly beautiful smile. Sister told me that she was nine months old, but she seemed like a two month old. When she arrived at the Hogar she was so malnourished – skin and bones, really – that the doctors couldn’t find a place to put a needle.

I then went to play with some of the older kids and then sit by them as they ate lunch. They were energetic kids, on the road to recovery from malnutrition. There was, as there almost always is, one energetic and mischievous little guy.

It was a good use of a few hours. While I’m still living in Santa Rosa, I’ll have to go back more often.

This morning, on my way back from the lab for some blood tests, I passed by a woman and a small boy, about 5, going through trash. The little boy used his finger to extract some food from the lid of a jar.

The sight of such desperation touches me deeply.

These are some Holy Week images that I will add to the images that came to me during last Friday’s Dulce Nombre parish’s Stations of the Cross, especially the images of two people who had been murdered and the grief of the spouse, sons, and mother of some who had been killed.

There are other images of suffering and repression here: the recent death of an employee of the Jesuit-supported Radio Progreso, the presence of armed police and soldiers on the street and the police aiming at peoples in their cars on deserted roads, the lack of water and basics, a government and judicial system that can be bought for $2,500 or more.

Honduras is suffering the Passion of Christ.

I pray for resurrection.

The victory of justice for the poor

I have called you for the victory of justice.
Isaiah 42: 6

 The poor you will have always with you.
John 12: 8

The Servant of the Lord, portrayed in today’s first reading (Isaiah 52: 1-7) and in the three other servants songs that we’ll read this week in the liturgies, is one who brings justice.

The justice and the righteousness of God means that the people of God serve the Lord and the people. Righteousness is not just something we seek in relationships with God. It is also the justice of God which gives courage to the people and brings them out of captivity. It is liberating – in all dimensions of life.

But when Judas complains about the expensive nard that Mary used to anoint the feet of Jesus, we hear Jesus say, “The poor you will always have with you,” quoting Deuteronomy 15: 11.

It sounds like a way to excuse wealth.

But a good Jew would know that the phrase Jesus quotes is not normative, but descriptive.

In fact at the beginning of the chapter where we encounter this quote, the sacred writer challenges the people of God: “There should be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15: 4).

In Holy Week, we often concentrate more on the accounts of Jesus’ death in the first century.

I’d suggest that those accounts should open our hearts to the accounts of the deaths of the poor in our day.

When we seek to an overflowing love for Jesus and a commitment for justice for the poor in conflict, I think we miss the message of Jesus and read the scriptures out of context.

The Lord wants our love – and wants us to love the poor.