The Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas was once asked by the New York Times whether he supported family values. His response was “Hell no, I’m a Christian.” It may sound strange, but there is support in the tradition for Hauerwas’ claim. There are many saints and martyrs who went against the wishes of their families to embrace the Gospel. Jesus’ call to love strangers, to pray for enemies, and to embrace celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom force us to look at the family in new ways.
I know that in my own life, my adult decision to re-embrace the Catholic faith made me something of an anomaly in my family. Of the four of us—all baptized Catholics—I am the only one who practices his faith. This is not to say my family is opposed. But they are somewhat mystified by my decision. “You weren’t like this in college,” said my sister once, which is something of an understatement. There were times when I was not open with them about my return to the Church because I feared rejection which, given what a warm and loving family I came from, was an absurd fear. But it was precisely the passages in the Gospels that stressed the duties of discipleship over filial duties that gave me the courage to be clear with my family about what I believe and why. A small victory, perhaps, but an important one.
Dear Lord, I did wrong - I thought it was right. You forgave me.
I tried again - I made it worse. You forgave me.
I resented your will - I bitterly fought. You still forgave me.
Although others despised me, they can't understand. I live with their hatred but I continue on and I gain strength, because - you forgave me.
Pray for young people in prison. Lord we ask you to help all young people to develop into mature and responsible young adults.
We ask you to comfort parents who are worried about their children passing through this difficult time of their lives.
Pray for the victims of crime and their families.
God of justice and compassion we pray for all who bear the wounds of crime that they may be healed in body, mind and spirit, given freedom from bitterness and the grace to forgive. Pray for all men and women in prison.
Heavenly Father of us all, you alone can truly judge your creation. Help us to pray for all prisoners, no matter what their crimes may be, that they may find your grace, mercy and forgiveness, Amen.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:Bruderhof sent this quote from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero out as a Daily Dig the other day. I thought you might enjoy reading it:
How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt, and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country. Salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin. And in Lent this is God’s call: Be converted!
Bruderhof also has a downloadable "e-book" of some of Romero's writings, The Violence of Love, available free on its site.
I came across an essay in Godspy yesterday by one of the editors that did a much better job than I ever could expressing why I was unable to emotionally connect with Gibson's portrayal of Jesus:
But why? Why does Gibson miss the mark? Why has he not broken our hearts, but simply turned our stomachs? Ironically, it’s precisely because his Jesus is so utterly crushed, so entirely overwhelmed by his torments, as he quivers, writhes, shudders, moans, and rolls back his eyes all the way to Calvary. In short, Gibson causes this man to be so swallowed up by his stripes that the person of Jesus disappears. So rather than causing us to grieve over the tragedy of a God whose heart breaks for and is broken by those whom He loves, the film merely oppresses us with the image of a poor young man who is being slowly reduced to a bloody pulp. Yes, a viewer could see in the suffering of Gibson’s Jesus the tragedy of our rejection of the one who loves us beyond all understanding—but if he does, it is because of what he supplies from his own faith, not because of what he is shown by the filmmaker.
ELEGANT? Well the good press just keeps rolling in. The Revealer--a daily review of religion and the press from the Center on Religion and the Media from New York University--has described Sursum Corda as "an elegant selection of ideas, sermons, and prayers that tries to remain above the fray." As I noted in a comment on the Revealer site, I'm not adverse to wading into the fray from time to time, but I've more or less given it up for Lent...:-)
Some of my ancestors were slaveowners. They owned farms in Northern Virginia, near Leesburg. Although my grandfather’s family lost most of their wealth in the Civil War, they retained enough political connections to have my grandfather receive an appointment to Annapolis. He, in turn, made quite a fortune as a shipbuilder and a gunpowder manufacturer. Although he lost a lot of that fortune during the Depression, and most of what remained went to the son of his first marriage after his death, my grandmother was still able to send my father to excellent schools. This allowed my father, in turn, to provide our family with a solid, upper-middle class lifestyle, which included some fine schooling for his children. My own family lives reasonably comfortably as a result.
I have often wondered how the descendents of my ancestors’ slaves have fared. It is true that at some point we all bear responsibility for the hand we are dealt. I am clearly not responsible for the crimes of my ancestors. And yet there is no denying that in some small way, I have directly benefited from an injustice, the enslavement of human beings. It seems to me that there is a claim against me, a debt that I owe.
If forgiveness means merely forgetting that debt, then I don’t want that forgiveness. Those who have suffered in slavery—and their descendents who have had to wrestle with the consequences of that experience—deserve better than that. They deserve to have their suffering taken seriously, not cast aside as if it were no account.
But there is no way that I, as an individual living more than a century and a half after these terrible events, can possible hope to restore justice, to wipe away all the tears that have fallen, to bind up all the wounds. Even if I work collectively with others—as I should—to redress some of the harm that has been done, it is beyond my power to restore justice. I have a debt I cannot pay.
Which brings me to the foot of the Cross. What I cannot do, Jesus does. What I cannot pay, Jesus pays. Without this sacrifice, I truly don’t know if I could follow this madman from Nazareth who counsels me to forgive endlessly and who tells me I am forgiven. Without the Cross, that forgiveness seems cheap, a breaking of faith with those who have suffered. With the Cross, we can forgive and be forgiven with a clear conscience and receive the peace that is promised us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem
My daughter approached my wife recently and said, "I'm going to tell you a story. It's called 'Jesus and the Fishermen.'"
"Oh, how wonderful!" my wife said. "How does that story go?"
"Well," my daughter began. "Jesus and the fishermen went out on the boat. Then they saw some sharks. Jesus said, 'Don't be afraid.' Then he took out his gun and shot the sharks. The end."
He goes on to note:
I'm certain that whichever well-meaning Sunday School teacher planted the seed of my daughter's rendition of "Jesus and the Fishermen" would blanch to hear my little girl's retelling of it. We tend not to think of Jesus as the kind of person who would pre-emptively blow away sharks with an Uzi. My daughter, of course, knows nothing about what kind of person we think Jesus is supposed to be. In her heart, she knows that if sharks are threatening, Jesus will mow them down. I don't know how she knows this, since my wife and I are both gun-control nuts who don't even use the word "gun" around her. But it is her three-year-old faith, and I'm loathe to mess with it.
Everything happens for a reason, or so we have been told by many people as well as we have told many people. Would it not be wonderful if we knew the reason why a tragedy occurred soon after it did? Well, some of us believe we know the reasons, and unfortunately for many people, these speculations can cause greater hurt and anxiety. I am never going to forget how many people claimed that what occurred on September 11, 2001 was some type of mysterious response in objection to some aspect or another of our culture. People needed charity and compassion; they didn’t need the words of imitation pundits who spoke before they reflected. If someone is in the mood to try such an act again, then take a flight to Madrid and tell grieving family members that their loved one died as some type of return payment from the divine against a culture of sin.
We do not know fully why some things happen – and we may never attain comprehensive reasons for things while we walk in this world. Speculation over reasons for events and tragedies can cause at times only greater fear and anxiety in both personal and societal spheres. Rather than speculate, we need to turn to God. We need to ask the Father for his providence. We need to ask the Son for his forgiveness. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for his guidance. God might not seem to provide us with instant answers as we would like to have them, but he certainly and constantly gives us what we need.
We need to ask God for these things as soon as possible. We do not know when our last minute on earth will come; therefore, it makes little sense to hold out until the last minute of our lives to ask God to save us. This type of behavior has been a common pattern for many Christians. During the early years of the Church, many people did not ask to be baptized until they were on their deathbed. Also, many Christians did not receive Jesus in the Eucharist except for during the Easter Mass, and that could have been only because they were required to do so at least once per year according to Church law. Even now, some people hold out from receiving forgiveness now for the sake of receiving indulgences in future weeks. I am here neither to abolish nor discard any traditions of the Church as much as I am here to tell you in the spirit of the Gospel reading that we should not put aside until tomorrow what we can easily do today. God offers himself to us today in all three of his persons so we can be greater united to him today. God does not want any of us to wait. I am here to help you today. I will be glad to serve you in the future, but I want to help you today.
Perhaps we will never know while we walk this earth why things happen as they do, but we can learn from Jesus today that the greatest thing that he wants to happen today is for all of the people of God to return to him so that he can cleanse them and nurture them. Perhaps the reason we have these readings today is because God wants us to wait no longer to be united with him.
Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastoral Administrator at Saint Joseph's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Cherokee, NC.