Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Monday, March 28, 2016
Easter Sunday is just past for most people in the Western World. Western Christians will be well into the 50 days of the Easter Season before our Eastern brothers and sisters celebrate Easter Sunday on May 1 this year. In fact, at the moment, Eastern Christians have barely started Lent!
From a purely Canadian point of view as I look out on ice, snow and now freezing rain, how much better it would be to celebrate Easter later in April. So, why not?
A number of Christian leaders from both East and West have been discussing a common date for Easter very seriously in recent years. Next year, in 2017, the date for Easter coincides on the Julian (Eastern) and Gregorian (Western) calendars. Easter Sunday will be April 16 – a much more congenial date for those of us in the frozen North.
Without getting into the intricacies of calculating the first full moon after the March 21 equinox, the majority of Christians would agree that the celebration of Easter as a sign of faith and unity would be greatly enhanced by all of us (or most) agreeing on the calculation of the date.
Most pragmatic observers understand that the Eastern Churches (Orthodox, Catholic and Oriental) are extremely unlikely to agree to the Western calculation which is based on the calendar developed by Pope Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582 to adjust dates according to the actual length of the year.
Nor would many be willing to accept a fixed date such as the second week of April on the Gregorian calendar. This idea is being floated with little interest in the Orthodox world.
As correct as the Gregorian calculation is, it is simply impossible for many Eastern Christians to imagine that their calculations for 1700 years must be set aside.
So what is to be done?
An act of profound humility in charity is now suggested by many in the West: Catholics, Protestants and even secular people. This act would have to be accomplished by one man and it would be welcomed by millions both East and West.
The man, of course, is Pope Francis I. All he would need to do is draw up (in proper Vaticanese) a document agreeing to adopt the Eastern calculation for Easter without changing the Gregorian Calendar's corrections of the actual solar dates e.g. when the calculation based on the Julian Calendar shows April 15 as the date for Easter, the corresponding Gregorian date of April 22 would allow East and West, Catholic Orthodox and Protestant to celebrate the same day.
In fact, I am told that the Vatican has already agreed to allow Ethiopian Catholics celebrate Easter at the same time as the Orthodox majority in Ethiopia.
This could be a win, win, win in the sense that:
1. The Eastern Churches are respected and given their due for years of faithful witness to the great Tradition.
2. The Gregorian Calendar would continue to be used and adjusted as before by the Western Church and Protestant groups.
3. The secular world’s calendar based on the Gregorian Calendar would be virtually unchanged except that, mercifully, the Easter holidays where civically provided for would be celebrated later in most years and at a time when Spring has really taken hold in the Northern Hemisphere.
Apologies to those “down under” if Easter Sunday may be celebrated in slightly more Fall-like conditions. At least most of you will not have to fight the snow storms in late March to get to the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass!
So, let’s all write to Pope Francis to encourage him in what he has already begun to consider since meeting some time ago with the head of the persecuted Coptic Church in Egypt.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II has suggested a common date be found so that Christian witness may be unified in the very stressful situations for Christians found in Egypt and the Middle East.
The time is right, all Christians will celebrate Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017. With charity and humility an agreement can be found on the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord for the years to come.
P.S. Then we can start thinking about moving the date of Christmas into January . . . and join our Eastern Christian friends by doing our Christmas shopping during "Boxing Week!"
Jesus is not visible to us so what do we make of the Easter Gospel which tells us that Peter and John "saw and believed."
Chosen to be Jesus' witnesses, the Book of Acts tells us, that the Apostles were "commissioned...to preach...and testify," testify that they had seen Jesus - from His anointing with the Holy Spirit at the Jordan to the empty tomb.
In this sense the resurrection life (this new life of God’s power) had begun with Christ, the Son of God, when he was born as Jesus of Nazareth, a human person, and as the Book of Acts tells us, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”
Jesus was going about doing good, i.e. doing God’s will, healing the sick, forgiving sinners and proclaiming the Kingdom of God in the here and now, living his human life for the sake of others.
More than their own experience, the Apostles were instructed in the mysteries of the divine economy, God's saving plan – to know how "all the prophets bear witness" to Christ (Luke 24: 27, 44). Now they could "understand the Scripture," they could teach us what Jesus had revealed to them and how that related to what he did, by the power of God.
Jesus was "the Stone which the builders rejected," now he has become the head cornerstone: the Servant King who turning history and all notions of kingship upside down; Jesus who put the good of others ahead of his own wants or needs.
We are the beneficiaries and stewards of their apostolic witness. That is why we continue to gather on the first day of every week to celebrate this feast of the resurrection, to give thanks for Christ our life. This means that we live that resurrection life now not just seeking some future reward; we live the resurrection as we serve others in the name of the Lord. We pray for the sick and visit them, we take a compassionate interest in others not just in our own ideas or projects.
This means that in the face of the narcissism of Western Culture we choose to live in the light of the resurrection not individualistically but as a community, a community whose life is Christ: Christ our life (not my life) but our life. We share in the life of his body by submitting our time, talents and resources for the good of His community – the Body of Christ so that his resurrection life may be manifest.
Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we live the life of the risen Christ, our lives as St. Paul says are hidden with Christ in God. We are now His witnesses too. So we are called to testify to things we cannot see but believe; we seek in earthly things what is above and we journey together to our own resurrection in the power of the resurrection of Jesus by attending, as he did, to the needs of others.
We live in the light of the Apostles' witness, like them eating and drinking with the risen Lord at the altar. And while we wait in hope for what the Apostles told us would come – the day when we too "will appear with Him in glory" we live in the power of Christ’s resurrection serving others in his pattern and in his strength.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
The first witnesses maintain that the same Jesus who had been brutally and unmistakably put to death and buried was, through the power of God, alive again. This is the essence of the historical claim of Christianity.
Jesus was not vaguely “with God,” nor had his soul escaped from his body; nor had he risen in a purely symbolic or metaphorical sense. He, Jeshoua from Nazareth, the friend whom they knew, was alive again. What was expected for all the righteous dead at the end of time had happened, in time, to this one particular man, to this Jesus.
It was the very novelty of the event that gave such energy and verve to the first Christian proclamation. On practically every page of the New Testament, we find a grab-you-by-the-lapels quality, for the early Christians were not trading in bland spiritual abstractions or moral bromides. They were trying to tell the whole world that something so new and astounding had happened that nothing would ever again be the same.
Over the past couple of centuries, many thinkers, both inside and outside of the Christian churches, endeavored to reduce the resurrection message to the level of myth or symbol. Easter, they argued, was one more iteration of the “springtime saga” that can be found, in one form or another, in most cultures, namely, that life triumphs over death in the “resurrection” of nature after the bleak months of winter.
Or it was a symbolic way of saying that the cause of Jesus lives on in his followers. But as C.S. Lewis keenly observed, those who think the resurrection story is a myth haven’t read many myths. Mythic literature deals in ahistorical archetypes, and thus it tends to speak of things that happened “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far, far away.”
But the Gospels don’t use that sort of language. In describing the resurrection, they mention particular places like Judea and Jerusalem, and they specify that the event took place when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of the region, and they name distinct individuals—Peter, John, Thomas, etc.—who encountered Jesus after he rose from the dead. Moreover, no one dies defending mythic claims. The myths of Greece, Rome, and Egypt are powerful and illuminating indeed, but there are no martyrs to Zeus or Dionysus or Osiris. But practically all of the first heralds of the resurrection went to their deaths defending the truth of their message.
What does the resurrection of Christ mean? What does it mean to history and to humanity? It means, first, that the customary manner in which we understand the relationship between order and violence—from the Epic of Gilgamesh to “Game of Thrones”—has to be rethought. On the standard Realpolitik reading of things, order comes about through the violent imposition of strength. And if that order is lost or compromised, it must be restored through answering violence.
In Jesus’ time, the great principle of order was the Empire of Rome, which maintained its hold through the exertions of its massive army and through the imposition of harsh punishment on those who opposed its purposes. The most terrible and fearsome of these punishments was, of course, the cross, a particularly brutal mode of torture that was purposely carried out in public so as to have greatest deterrent effect. It was precisely on one of these Roman crosses that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death, having been betrayed and abandoned by his friends and condemned by a corrupt tribunal of collaborators.
When the risen Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, they were, we are told, afraid. Their fear might not have been simply a function of their seeing something uncanny; it might have been grounded in the assumption that he was back for vengeance. However, after showing his wounds, the risen Jesus said to his friends, “Shalom,” Peace.
The teacher who had urged his followers to turn the other cheek and to meet violence with forgiveness exemplified his own teaching in the most vivid way possible. And what he showed, thereby, was that that the divine manner of establishing order has nothing to do with violence, retribution, or eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Instead, it has to do with a love which swallows up hate, with a forgiveness which triumphs over aggression. It is this great resurrection principle which, explicitly or implicitly, undergirded the liberating work of John Paul II in Poland. He was able to stand athwart the received wisdom only because he had some sense that in opting for the way of love Jesus was going with the deepest meaning, operating in concert with the purposes of God.
Secondly, the resurrection means that God has not given up on creation. According to the well-known account in the book of Genesis, God made the whole array of finite things—sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, plants, things that creep and crawl on the earth—and found it all good, even very good.
All that God has made reflects some aspect of his goodness, and all created things together constitute a beautiful and tightly-woven tapestry. As the Old Testament lays out the story, human sin made a wreck of God’s creation, turning the garden into a desert. But the faithful God kept sending rescue operation after rescue operation: Noah’s Ark, the prophets, the Law and the Temple, the people Israel itself.
Finally, he sent his only Son, the perfect icon or incarnation of his love. In raising that Son from the dead, God definitively saved and ratified his creation, very much including the material dimension of it (which is why it matters that Jesus was raised bodily from death). Over and again, we have said no to what God has made, but God stubbornly says yes. Inspired by this divine yes, we always have a reason to hope.
Monday, March 21, 2016
The Heart of God's Word: "What is written about Me is coming to fulfillment," (Luke 22:37).
If we consider the New Testament account of the life of Jesus, as an ascent, a going up to Jerusalem then through Lent and Holy Week we are climbing liturgically i.e. enacting in worship the saving events of our faith. Now we have reached the climax of the year, the highest peak of salvation history. All that has been anticipated and promised is to be fulfilled.
This path of the ascent of Jesus is, as Pope Benedict put it in the second volume of his work Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week, Jesus’ “path into “the Heart of God’s Word.” The obedient suffering servant gives himself for others.
By the close of today's long Gospel of the Passion and again on Good Friday, we see that Jesus’ work of our redemption is accomplished, the new covenant is written in the blood of Christ’s broken body hanging on the cross at the place called the Skull. The heart of the Logos, God’s communication of Love, God’s word to us is fully communicated and our response is called for.
In His Passion, Jesus is "counted among the wicked," as Isaiah had foretold ( Isaiah 53:12). Jesus is revealed definitively as the Suffering Servant whom the prophet announced; Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah whose words of obedience and faith ring out in today's First Reading.
The taunts and torments we hear in these two readings punctuate the Gospel as Jesus is beaten and mocked (Luke 22:63-65; 23:10-11,16). His hands and feet are pierced (see Luke 23:33), as enemies gamble for His clothes ( see Luke 23:34), and three times they dare Him to prove His divinity by saving Himself from suffering. (Luke 23:35,37,39)
As God, the Son, Jesus remains faithful to the will of the Father to the end – the heart of faithfulness. He does not turn back through his actual passion and death. Jesus gives Himself freely to His torturers, confident that, in the words of Isaiah: "The Lord God is My help . . . I shall not be put to shame."
Destined to sin and death as children of fallen humanity, we have been set free for sanctification and the fulness of life by the perfect obedience of Jesus, the Messiah, to the Father's will. (Romans 5:12-14,17-19; Ephesians 2:2; 5:6).
This is why God greatly exalted Him. This is why we have salvation in the Holy Name of Jesus. Following His example of humble obedience in the trials and crosses of our own lives, we learn that we will never be forsaken. We have confidence through faith that one day we too will be with the Lord in Paradise (Luke 23:42).