Monthly Archives: April 2014

Bling bishops and a poor church

There was no needy person among them.
Acts 4:34 

 Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-37 is a challenge to the church that appears beyond our reach. Yet Pope Francis has called for “a poor Church and a Church for the poor.”

Pope Francis has given us an example of how this might be lived out – in his austerity as well as in his tender outreach to the poor and the marginalized.

But the challenge is not just to give to the poor, to live simply, and to tenderly embrace the marginalized. All these are important and essential to live out our calling as disciples of the Jesus.

But there may be more.

Pope Saint John XXIII called for a church of the poor – not only for the poor. I think that means that we should be a church that makes the causes of the poor our causes, not doing things for them, but working with them.

This may mean major changes.

Pope St. John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – On Social Concern – challenged the church to be really with the poor. In paragraph 31, he wrote

…part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

This is not a new concern – but one that finds echo in the lives and words of many saints. Today’s saint, Catherine of Siena, was one of these. A mystic who was called out of her mysticism to care for the poor and then to reform the church, Catherine was scandalized by the luxury of the bling bishops and clergy of her day. As she wrote on the bishops and the clergy of her day:

They ought to be mirrors of freely chosen poverty, humble lambs, giving away the Church’s possessions to the poor. Yet here they are, living in worldly luxury and ambition and pretentious vanity, a thousand times worse than if they belonged to the world! In fact, many laypersons put them to shame by their good and holy lives.

Catherine could say this without hypocrisy for she lived a simple life, in deep communion with Christ. She loved the Church but wanted the Church to be faithful to Christ.

The challenge is not only for the institutional church but for all of us.

It may come back to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Do we share our possessions and are there really no poor among us?

 

Advertisements

Praying for boldness

In today’s first reading, Acts 4: 23-31, Peter and John, released from detention by the authorities, return to their companions.

In the prayer that follows, they pray that God may enable them “to speak his Word with all boldness.”

This group that had recently cowered in fear asks for boldness. The Greek word, parrhesía, can also mean frankness and openness.

This morning I happen to do a search on the word and found that the French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote on parrhesia in a book called Fearless Speech.

He noted that

parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.

παρρησία: boldness: speaking the truth, despite the costs.

So often we count the costs in what we say and do. We want to be accepted, to be honored. And so we lack the boldness of concrete speech.

It’s easy to talk about love and justice, without getting concrete. It’s easy to condemn corruption and poverty, without naming names. It’s easy to be on the side of the poor, if we don’t have to change our lives and put our lives at risk.

Solidarity is easy from afar.

So let us today ask God for boldness in speech and in deed, not counting the cost.

 

Fear and the risen Lord

The doors were locked because of their fear…
John 20: 19

 Fear came upon every soul…
and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
Acts 2: 43

 Fear can cripple us, make us impotent, turn us in on ourselves. That’s what happened to the apostles after Jesus was crucified.

They cowered in fear, behind locked doors.

It required the presence of the risen Jesus, offering them peace, to move them out of their grief.

But even that wasn’t enough.

Even when they were together a week later, with Thomas, they still met behind locked doors.

Perhaps they had to confront the fact of the death of Jesus before they could receive life from the risen Jesus. They had to see the wounded savior. As Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., beautifully puts it, “Faith must be found as much in the wounds of life as in the glories.”

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2: 42-47) shows us a community that reflects that life in all they so. People could see the wonders and the signs of Life in the apostles.

And “fear came upon every soul.”

Fear again, but perhaps of a different kind.

The New American Bible translation uses the word “awe” instead of fear (even though the Greek word here and in the Gospel – φόβοϛ – is the same).

Is there a fear, an awe, that opens us up, that shows forth the life of the risen Lrod and the risen community?

I think so. That fear, that awe, is the openness to signs and wonders, to seeing life in the midst of death, to letting the little signs of life permeate our souls.

That fear will let us face the fear that paralyzes, for the fear of God, that “awe” opens us to the presence of God in the midst of suffering and death, to the presence of a risen God who calls us to live.

There are signs of that life all around us. But at times we need to recall them, to open our eyes and our hearts, to unlock the doors of fear.

The Gospel concludes with these words:

There were many other signs that Jesus gave in the presence of his disciples… These are recorded that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ , the Son of God, and that through his belief you may have life in his name.

What are the signs that Jesus does for us today – so that we may have life?

What to give

“Silver and gold I have none,
but what I have I give you.”
Acts 3: 6

 Entering the temple to pray, Peter and John encounter a beggar, crippled from his mother’s womb.

He looks at them hoping for some alms, but Peter gives him much more.

 In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk.

Then Peter helps him up, grasping his right hand.

Get up and walk.

I cannot give you money to make life easier for you today, but I can give you the gift of living more fully, standing up. You are no longer a beggar. You are a human being.

And what does the man do?

He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God.

I wonder if he did somersaults.

What are we called to do as missionary disciples?

I think Peter teaches us: Give people a hand so that they can stand up on their own and praise God with their lives?

A few cents in alms can change things for a few minutes or even a day – and, at times, we need to do that.

But I believe we must also offer the hand of accompanying the poor as they stand up and walk.

Is this not the work of the Church?

César Chávez, the founder of the Farm Workers Union, died on April 23, 1993. He once said

What do we want the Church to do? We don’t ask for more cathedrals. We don’t ask for bigger churches or fine gifts. We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the Church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice, and for love of brother. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.

Will we be servants, at the side of the poor?

Care for the garden

In today’s Gospel (John 20: 11-18), Mary Magdalen mistakes Jesus for a gardener.

But is it really a mistake?

Isn’t Jesus, the gardener of souls? But even more, isn’t the Garden the place where humans first encountered God?

In Genesis 3, we read that God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But they hid after abusing the garden, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. At the serpent’s suggestion they ate the fruit because they wanted to be like gods.

But in the Garden of the Tomb, Mary Magdalene encounters the Lord Jesus who calls her by name.

Magdalen Angelico

The garden that was lost is now encountered. The relation between God and humans is now restored.

The hope is that the relation and between God and all creation is now also restored.

God has initiated this but, like Mary Magdalen, we are called, to pass on the message of the risen Lord, of the promise of resurrection for God’s people and of the renewed creation.

What a fitting message for Earth Day.

Let us work with the Gardener to restore some signs of the Garden of Eden on God’s good earth.

————

 The image is from a fresco of  the San Marco Friary in Florence painted by the Dominican Fra Angelico and his students.

An earlier meditation on this Gospel can be found here.

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

 ______________________
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.