2nd Sunday of Lent

February 24th – March 2nd 2018
During Lent, we are asked to devote ourselves to seeking the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture, to service by giving alms, and to sacrifice self-control through fasting. Many know of the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, but we are also called to practice self-discipline and fast in other ways throughout the season. Contemplate the meaning and origins of the Lenten fasting tradition in this reflection. In addition, the giving of alms is one way to share God’s gifts—not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2446). http://www.usccb.org/

Reflections

flowersEach week ‘reflections’ are shown in this area from the Archdiocese of Liverpool. These are followed by ‘reflections’ from Fr Ron Rolheiser.  http://www.ronrolheiser.com./

 

2nd Sunday of Lent (25.02.18)

Mountain tops can be metaphorical too! 

Mountain tops have a special appeal for some. This 2nd Sunday of Lent our 1st Reading and Gospel relate mountain top experiences with religious significance. Those with no access to an actual mountain top can, with practice, create a metaphorical mountain top of silence and stillness within themselves, even in the midst of noise and distractions.

Lent is an extended period inviting us to do just this by reducing the intrusiveness of life’s daily hustle and bustle. A digital switch-off enables us to have time for reflection and quiet prayer. Being silent and still is a good place to recall that God is God and I am not God. It allows us to review our priorities, to realign our relationship with God and with each other.

God is at once inscrutable and yet willing to be known, intimately, in the person of His Son, Jesus the Christ. Lent calls the Baptised to reconnect, at a deeper level, with this foundational Christian truth because we live now in a secular age. These forty days call us both to surrender to the mystery of God and to place our trust in Him, even when we are surrounded by multiple voices telling us to do otherwise.

In the Genesis reading (22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18) we hear how Abraham – whom we honour as our father in faith – was told by God to prepare to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. To contemporary readers this is shocking. Yet, many now accept, without shock, the ever-growing number of direct abortions and euthanasia killings. Have Europeans become selectively blasé?

It is perhaps worth recalling that, sadly, it was not uncommon among the ancient Near Eastern civilizations to sacrifice children by fire to pagan gods. This was the practice of the Canaanites, the Amorites, and the Mari.

At the time of the prophet Elisha (800 B.C.), a Moabite king, who was losing a war, burned his son on the city walls (2 Kgs 3:27) asking the god Molech to grant him (the King) victory. Child sacrifice was strictly forbidden among the Israelites (Lev 20:2-5), yet there were low points in Israel’s history when some of its kings resorted to this pagan practice (2 Kgs 16:3; 17:17; 21:6).
Abraham’s journey to the mountain God had identified, with an unsuspecting and much-loved Isaac, must surely have filled Abraham with dread. The hard lesson, for us, is that Baptism calls us to be willing to open ourselves with faith and trust to God whose ways cannot be fathomed. Abraham had made his commitment to follow God’s will and so had set out.

The Genesis author writes, God put Abraham to the test”. Some may find the translation disquieting. It could be read as though God was putting Abraham through some training, drill or exercise. God loves us too much to treat us as raw recruits who have to be knocked into shape. As our loving heavenly Father, God is fully aware that in our land of exile, where, as 1 John 5:19 tells us: We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one”, our faith, not infrequently, will be ‘taken to the wire’ by Satan.

As Pope Francis said last July, “The line between good and evil runs through the centre of each person’s heart”.  While God our Father will never allow Satan to break us against our will, God is constantly encouraging us to develop our faith in Him, on a daily basis, so that we may not allow our wills to be broken down, to collapse, through our lack of preparedness. In this Genesis reading we see how God was inviting Abraham to discover, for himself, the depth of his faith in God so that he (Abraham) could not be surprised and caught unaware by a cunningly malicious Satan.

Like Abraham, we have already been at many a ‘faith crossroads’. Maybe, for some of us, these crossroads have taken us ‘to the wire’. The countless fleeing war, persecution and devastation come to mind. Yet who is to say what the future holds for us? For sure, the wickedness of Satan should never be underestimated. There is a line in the Book of Jeremiah (6:16) that we would do well to keep in mind every day:
‘This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
pray to know the ancient paths,
where the good way is – 

then walk in it
and you will find rest for your souls.”

As anyone who has climbed mountains or hills knows well, cloud can descend and envelope you with amazing speed. In the Old Testament the appearance of a cloud, known in Hebrew as a shekinah, was a traditional symbol of the divine presence. The Hebrew word shekinah means the dwelling place or settling of God’s presence. The word shekinah does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression. On their extended journey from Egypt to the promised land, the Old Testament tells how God revealed his presence to his chosen people, on multiple occasions, in a cloud.

St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel (9:2-10) that a cloud enveloped Peter, James and John on the mountain top to which Jesus had led them. As if to affirm the fact that this truly was a theophany, a cloud appeared. The voice heard from the cloud identified Jesus as the Son of God and called upon the disciples to “listen to Him”.

Peter, James and John’s experience was at once awe inspiring and terrifying. It also compelled them to attempt to prolong the experience – Peter said to Jesus: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But mountain top experiences, in this life, are not permanent. They are pauses when we are invited to step aside and recover a distorted or fractured Baptismal perspective that cannot be rectified in the midst of our daily hassle. Psalm 46.10 expresses it: “Pause awhile and know that I am God”.

Jesus commanded Peter, James and John to remain silent about their mountain top experience until after: “… the Son of Man had risen from the dead”. 

St. Josemaria Escriva, in his spiritual guidebook called ‘The Way’, recommends us to be silent about the details of our personal interaction with God through the Holy Spirit. He believes we should only speak of such intimate details when it is essential for the spiritual health of another.

What God reveals to a person is, at least initially, for the benefit of that person who may, subsequently and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, disseminate some or all of the revelation for the benefit of others. Moreover, considerable time, reflection and patience may be required for a person to adequately comprehend what God has shared with her or him. St. Paul’s was clearly an exception. Under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, his conversion was accomplished in just three days.

The value of Abraham’s obedience was his willingness to give back to God the most precious gift he had ever received, Isaac. Every one of us has an Isaac, someone or something without whom or which we think we could not go on. Are we willing to surrender our Isaac to God?

The value of Peter, James and John’s silence as they came down from the mountain was their willingness to trust what Jesus had said and what God had spoken from the cloud. To show such trust, while still coping with a massively undeveloped understanding, is real faith.

It takes courage, commitment and determination to climb a mountain whether it be a geophysical reality, the conquering of a deeply embedded fear, a sense of shame or the opening of the heart and soul to the Divine Presence. During Lent’s forty days we, the Baptised, can be of support to one another as we struggle to connect with the grace of our personal vocation.

What Makes For a Practicing Christian

There’s a national phone-in show on radio in Canada that I try to catch whenever I can. Recently its topic for discussion was: Why do so few people go to church today? The question triggered a spirited response. Some called in and said that the churches were emptying because they were too progressive, too sold-out to the culture, too devoid of old, timeless truth. These calls would invariably be followed by others that suggested exactly the opposite, namely, that the churches are emptying because they are too slow to change, too caught up in old traditions that no longer make sense.

And so it went on, caller after caller, until one man phoned in and suggested that the real issue was not whether the church was too progressive or regressive. Rather, in his view, less and less people were going to church because “basically people treat their churches exactly the way they treat their own families; they want them around, but they don’t go home to visit them all that much!” The comment reminded me of Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist of religion, who likes to quip: “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them – and that is a difference that needs to be understood.”

Indeed it does. There is a difference between leaving a family and just not showing up regularly for its celebrations. This distinction in fact needs to shape the way we answer a number of important questions: Who belongs to the church? What makes for a practising Christian? When is someone’s relationship to the church mortally terminated? What does it mean to be outside the church? As well, this distinction impacts on the question as to who is entitled to receive the rites of baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and Christian burial.

People are treating their churches just like they treat their families. Isn’t that as it should be? Theologically the church is family – it’s not like family, it is family. A good ecclesiology then has to look to family life to properly understand itself (the reverse of course is also true). Now if we place the questions we just posed within the context of family life, we have there, I believe, the best perspective within which to answer them. Thus, inside of our families: Who is in and who is out? When does someone cease being a “practicing” member of a family? Does someone cease to be a member of a family because he or she doesn’t come home much any more? Do we refuse to give a wedding for a son or daughter just because he or she, caught up in youth and self-interest, hasn’t come home the last couple of years for Easter and Christmas? Not exactly abstract questions!

Many of us have children and siblings who for various reasons, at this stage of their lives, largely use the family for their own needs and convenience. They want the family around, but on their terms. They want the family for valued contact at key moments (weddings, births of children, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on) but they don’t want a relationship to it that is really committed and regular. A lot of families are like that. They understand this, accept it, swallow hard sometimes, and remain a family despite it. In any extended family, it’s natural that, while everyone is a member of the family, there will be different levels of participation. Some will give more, others will take more. Some, by virtue of maturity, will carry most of the burden – they will arrange the dinners, pay for them, keep inviting the others, do most of the work, and take on the task of trying to preserve the family bond and ethos. Others, because of youthful restlessness, immaturity, self-interest, confusion, peer-pressure, laziness, anger, whatever, will carry less, take the family for granted, and buy in largely on their own terms. That describes most families and is also a pretty accurate description of most churches. There are different levels of participation and maturity, but there is only one church and that church, like any family, survives precisely because some members are willing to carry more of the burden than others. Those others, however, except for more exceptional circumstances, do not cease being members of the family. They ride on the grace of the others, literally. It’s how family works; how grace works; how church works.

Church must be understood as family: Certain things can put you out of the family, true. However, in most families, simple immaturity, hurt, confusion, distraction, laziness, youthful sexual restlessness, and self-preoccupation – the reasons why most people who do not go to church stay away – do not mortally sever your connection. You remain a family member. You don’t cease being “a practising member” of the family because for a time you aren’t home very much. Families understand this. Ecclesial family, church, I believe, needs to be just as understanding.

Always in a  Hurry http://ronrolheiser.com/

Haste is our enemy. It puts us under stress, raises our blood pressure, makes us impatient, renders us more vulnerable to accidents and, most seriously of all, blinds us to the needs of others. Haste is normally not a virtue, irrespective of the goodness of the thing towards which we are hurrying.

In 1970, Princeton University did some research with seminary students to determine whether being committed to helping others in fact made a real difference in a practical situation. They set up this scenario: They would interview a seminarian in an office and, as the interview was ending, ask that seminarian to immediately walk over to a designated classroom across the campus to give a talk. But they always put a tight timeline between when the interview ended and when the seminarian was supposed to appear in the classroom, forcing the seminarian to hurry. On the way to the talk, each seminarian encountered an actor playing a distressed person (akin to the Good Samaritan scene in the gospels). The test was to see whether or not the seminarian would stop and help. What was the result?

One would guess that, being seminarians committed to service, these individuals might be more likely to stop than most other people. But that wasn’t the case. Being seminarians seemed to have no effect on their behavior in this situation. Only one thing did: They were prone to stop and help or to not stop and help mostly on the basis of whether they were in a hurry or not. If they were pressured for time, they didn’t stop; if they were not pressured for time, they were more likely to stop.

From this experiment its authors drew several conclusions: First, that morality becomes a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases; and, second, that because of time pressures we tend not to see a given situation as a moral one.  In essence, the more in a hurry we are, the less likely we are to stop and help someone else in need. Haste and hurry, perhaps more than anything else, prevent us from being good Samaritans.

We know this from our own experience. Our struggle to give proper time to family, prayer, and helping others has mainly to do with time. We’re invariably too busy, too pressured, too hurried, too-driven, to stop and help. A writer that I know confesses that when she comes to die what she will regret most about her life is not the times she broke a commandment, but the many times she stepped over her own children on her way to her den to write. Along similar lines, we tend to blame secular ideology for so much of the breakdown of the family in our society today when, in fact, perhaps the biggest strain of all on the family is the pressure that comes from the workplace that has us under constant pressure, forever in a hurry, and daily stepping over our children because of the pressures of work.

I know this all too well, of course, from my own experience.  I am forever pressured, forever in a hurry, forever over-extended, and forever stepping over all kinds of things that call for my attention on my way to work. As a priest, I can rationalize this by pointing to the importance of the ministry. Ministry is meant to conscript us beyond our own agenda, but deeper down, I know that much of this is a rationalization.  Sometimes too I rationalize my busyness and hurry by taking consolation in the fact that I came to be this way legitimately. It’s in my genes. Both my father and my mother exhibited a similar struggle. They were wonderful, moral, and loving parents, but they were often over-extended. Responding to too many demands is a mixed virtue.

It’s no accident that virtually all of the classical spiritual writers, writing without the benefit of the Princeton study, warn about the dangers of overwork.  Indeed, the dangers of haste and hurry are already written into the very first page of scripture where God invites us to make sure to keep proper Sabbath. When we are in a hurry we see little beyond our own agenda.

The positive side to haste and hurry is that they are, perhaps, the opposite of acedia. The driven-person who is always in a hurry at least isn’t constantly struggling to get through the morning to the lunch hour. She always has a purpose. As well, haste and hurry can help make for a productive individual who is affirmed and admired for what he does, even as he is stepping over his own children to get to his workplace.  I know this too: I get a lot of affirmation for my work, even as I have to admit that pressure and hurry prevent me much of the time from being a Good Samaritan.

Haste makes waste, so goes the saying. It also makes for a spiritual and a human blindness that can severely limit our compassion.

Ruled By Numbers
www.ronrolheiser.com.

Numbers have always had a prominent place in our lives. As very small children we may been talked to count our tiny fingers and toes. We would certainly have learned our numerical position among our siblings and probably our wider family.

Catholics, of a certain age, will likely remember their religious life being ruled by numbers. When, for example, you were expected to go to Confession at least every two weeks. When you had to fast from food and drink (except water) from the preceding midnight if you intended to receive Holy Communion the following morning. Fast days were regulated by numbers. Depending on your teacher, you may have been told to eat no more than 4 ounces of food at breakfast and 6 ounces at supper. One meatless meal was allowed in the day. 21stcentury Catholics may think such measures to be unbelievable, but then 20th century Catholics found it hard to believe that their forebears had been expected to fast every day throughout Lent.

Of course, there were (as there still are) the casuists. For example, some believed in measuring out 4 ounces of, say, dry porridge oats.  By adding the water after weighing the oats, a more substantial breakfast was enjoyed!  The same casuistic reasoning was applied to dried vegetables!

Whenever mathematics hold sway in the living out of our faith, it would be fair to say that we had, to a worrying extent, lost our way.  St Peter, about whom we read in St Matthew’s Gospel for this 24th Sunday (18:21-35), quite likely felt that he was being magnanimous when he asked Jesus: “How often must I forgive my brother(sister)? As many as seven times?”

As a practising Jew, Peter would have been taught from his earliest years that he was required, under Jewish law, to forgive a person who sinned against him three times. (See the Book of Amos chapters 1 and 3) By asking Jesus if he should grant forgiveness seven times, Peter was doubling the required legal number for granting forgiveness to another and adding one! Once again, Jesus’s response would most likely have caught Peter by surprise: “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

More than a few scriptural scholars would contest the Jerusalem Bible translation. Instead of “seventy-seven”they believe that Jesus had said: “seventy times seven”. This would bring a total beyond comprehension – 70×7=490; 490×7=3430 and so on.  In other words, Jesus was indicating that, for him, forgiveness was unlimited. And if it was for him, then it will be so for his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is a Trinity of compassion and forgiveness when we, made in his image and likeness, open your heart and genuinely seek his forgiveness.

The Catholic Church’s preoccupation with numbers was particularly evident in the Sacrament of Reconciliation –  formerly called “Confession”.  The penitent was expected to state the time lapse since their last reception of the sacrament.  Individual sins where to be identified with a number corresponding to the number of commissions. In most cases the penance imposed by the priest was a set number of prayers such as the ‘Our Father’ and/or ‘Hail Mary’. Judaism’s preoccupation with numerical regulations found continuity in the structures of governance within the Roman Catholic Church!

The impulse to measure by numerical quantity is ingrained in our nature. It could be argued that without numeracy everyday life would become impossible. It could equally be argued that the Church, by incorporating the dominance of numeracy in its rules and regulations, strayed away from the example Jesus set.  There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus used numeracy to determine how we should implement his teaching except by way of being generous. Jesus used multiplication to demonstrate that as God is generous so must we practice that virtue. In Matthew’s Gospel (5:40-42) we read: “…if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; and if someone forces you to go one mile, go two with him. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.…” You may or may not be aware that in Jesus’ day a Roman soldier had the authority to make a Jew carry his burden for one mile.

Jesus emphasises his answer to Peter with a powerful parable exemplifying God’s generosity (18:23-35). It teaches a lesson – running through the entire New Testament – that we must forgive if we are to receive God’s forgiveness. “Blessed are the merciful,” said Jesus, “for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt.5:7) As soon as Jesus had taught his chosen band his own prayer – the ‘Our Father’ – he directed their focus to one petition in particular namely, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  Jesus explained: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

Why this should be so is shown in the parable for this Sunday. Look at the contrast between the two debts. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents. One talent in today’s money would approximately equal £240. Therefore, 10,000 talents would equate today to almost 2½ million pounds Sterling. The size of this servant’s debt becomes even more clear when you consider that the total annual budget for the province of Galilee, a wealthy province, was only 300 talents. By contrast, the debt of the fellow-servant was a mere trifle! 100 denarii would be less than £5.

Nothing that Jesus calls us to forgive can even remotely compare to all that our heavenly Father is willing to forgive us. His forgiveness of us is conditional upon our forgiveness of others.  We have been promised forgiveness for a debt that is beyond all repayment. The human race has brought about the death of God’s only Son and unless we forgive others we have no hope of finding mercy.

The ease with which we pray the ‘Our Father’ is born of constant repetition. It is a good thing that we have ready access to that prayer. However, if the words pass our lips with inadequate consideration then we are in danger of foregoing God’s forgiveness through a lack of attention to the specifics of God’s words. Did the penances that we were given in confession – say the ‘Our Father’ 10 times, for example –  really encourage our understanding of the prayer of Jesus?

The twin themes of mercy and forgiveness have found constant expression in both the spoken and written words of Pope Francis.  He is God’s emissary to a generation that sadly reflects the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“You will listen and listen again, but not understand,
See and see again, but not perceive.
For the heart of this nation has grown coarse.”
 (Isaiah 6:9-10)
This coarseness of heart is not medical but spiritual. The health of the human heart is affected by both internal and external factors –  for example: the clogging of the arteries or the lack of bodily exercise.

Spiritual coarseness of heart occurs when there is an absence of God’s grace. This occurs not because God refuses us his grace when we choose not to accept it. At first, this refusal of grace can be through procrastination – “Oh, I will get round to prayer etc later”.  Meanwhile, Satan edges ever closer to cleverly withdrawing us from God’s grace.

The remedy is in our own hands.  Jesus patiently and lovingly awaits us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Praying the Psalms

www.ronrolheiser.com.

Our problem is that we too-seldom actually do this when we pray. Rather than lifting up to God what is actually on our minds and in our hearts, we treat God as someone from whom we need to hide the real truth of our thoughts and feelings. Instead of pouring out mind and heart, we tell God what we think God wants to hear – not murderous thoughts, desire for vengeance, or our disappointment with him.

What makes the psalms great for prayer is that they do not hide the truth from God and they run the whole gamut of our actual feelings. They give honest voice to what is actually going on in our minds and hearts.

Sometimes we feel good and our spontaneous impulse is to speak words of praise and gratitude and the psalms give us that voice. They speak of God’s goodness in all – love, friends, faith, health, food, wine, and enjoyment.

But our lives have too cold, lonely seasons when disappointment and bitterness spontaneously boil under the surface. Again the psalms give us honest voice and we can open up all those angry and vengeful feelings to God.

Other times, we fill with the sense of our own inadequacy, with the fact that we cannot measure up to the trust and love that is given us. The psalms again give us voice for this, asking God to have mercy, to soften our hearts, to wash us clean, and give us a new start.

And then there are times too when we feel bitterly disappointed with God himself and need some way to express this. The psalms give us this voice (“Why are you so silent? Why are you so far from me?”) even as they make us aware that God is not afraid of our anger and bitterness, but, like a loving parent, only wants for us to come and talk about it.

The psalms are a privileged vehicle for prayer because they lift the full-range of our thoughts and feelings to God. For a number of reasons, we struggle with that. First, because our age tends to eschew metaphor and, taken literally, some of the images within the psalms are offensive. Secondly, we tend to be in denial about our true feelings. It’s hard to admit that we feel many of the things we do feel, from our private grandiosity, to our sexual obsessions, to our jealousies, to our occasional murderous thoughts. Too often our prayer belies our actual thoughts and feelings. It tells God what we think God wants to hear.

The psalms have more honesty.

Mary Under the Cross (6 OF 6) http://www.ronrolheiser.com./

[Last in a six part Lenten series on Mystical Images]

One of the most popular images in all of scripture (an icon that’s been endlessly painted, sung, put into litanies, written up into poetry, and used to triggered every kind of pious feeling) is the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing silently under the cross as her son dies.

As Jesus was dying, the Gospels tell us that Mary, his mother, stood under the cross. What’s in that image? What’s in this picture that invites us to more than simple admiration, piety, or sympathy?

This is a mystical image and it is anything but pious. In the Gospels, after Jesus, Mary is the most important person to watch. She’s the model of discipleship, the only one who gets it right. And she gets it very right under the cross. What’s she doing while standing there?

On the surface, it seems she isn’t doing anything at all: She doesn’t speak, doesn’t try to stop the crucifixion, and she doesn’t even protest its unfairness or plead Jesus’ innocence. She is mute, seemingly passive, overtly doing nothing. But at a deeper level, she is doing all that can be done when one is standing under the weight of the cross, she’s holding the tension, standing in strength, refusing to give back in kind, and resisting in a deeper way.

What’s meant by this?

Sometimes well-intentioned artists have painted Mary as lying prostrate under the cross, the wounded mother, helplessly distraught, paralysed in grief, an object for sympathy. But that doesn’t honour what happened there nor teach its lesson. Prostration, in this situation, is weakness, collapse, hysteria, resignation. In the Gospels, “standing” is the opposite, a position of strength. Mary “stood” under the cross.

Still, why the silence and why her seeming unwillingness to act or protest?

In essence, what Mary was doing under the cross was this: She couldn’t stop the crucifixion (there are times when darkness has its hour) but she could stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, heartlessness, and anger that caused it and surrounded it. And she helped stop bitterness by refusing to give it back in kind, by transforming rather than transmitting it, by swallowing hard and (literally) eating bitterness rather than giving it back, as everyone else was doing.

Had Mary, in moral outrage, begun to scream hysterically, shout angrily at those crucifying Jesus, or physically tried to attack someone as he was driving the nails into Jesus’ hands, she would have been caught up in the same kind of energy as everyone else, replicating the very anger and bitterness that caused the crucifixion to begin with. What Mary was doing under the cross, her silence and seeming unwillingness to protest notwithstanding, was radiating all that is antithetical to the crucifixion: gentleness, understanding, forgiveness, peace, light.

And that’s not easy to do. Everything inside us demands justice, screams for it, and refuses to remain silent in the presence of injustice. That’s a healthy instinct and sometimes acting on it is good. We need, at times, to protest, to shout, to literally throw ourselves into the face of injustice and do everything in our power to stop the crucifixion.

But there are times too when things have gone so far that shouts and protests are no longer helpful, darkness is going to have its hour come what may and all we can do is to stand under the cross and help eat its bitterness by refusing to participate in its energy. In those situations, like Mary, we have to say: “I can’t stop this crucifixion, but I can stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, brute-heartlessness, and darkness that surround it. I can’t stop this, but I will not conduct its hatred.”

And that’s not the same thing as despair. Our muted helplessness is not a passive resignation but the opposite. It’s a movement towards the only rays of light, love, and faith that still exist in that darkness and hatred. And, at that moment, it’s the only thing that faith and love can do.

As the Book of Lamentations says, there are times when the best we can do is “put our mouths to the dust and wait!” Sometimes too, as Rainer Marie Rilke says, the only helpful thing is to absorb the heaviness: “Do not be afraid to suffer, give the heaviness back to the weight of the earth; mountains are heavy, seas are heavy.”

That’s not passivity, resignation, or weakness; it’s genuine, rare strength. It’s “standing under the cross” so as to help take away some of its hatred, chaos, bitterness, and violence.

So this is the image: Sometimes darkness has its hour and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Sometimes the blind, wounded forces of jealousy, bitterness, violence, and sin cannot, for that moment, be stopped. But, like Mary under the cross, we are asked to “stand” under them, not in passivity and weakness, but in strength, knowing that we can’t stop the crucifixion but we can help stop some of the hatred, anger, and bitterness that surrounds it.

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