The Risen Life

The great English artist and mystic,
Caryll Houselander,
suggested that we lead a Risen Life,
that is
“a life of love,
love that creates,
love that fills up
the measure of each life with joy.
Love that is light and peace.
Love that forgives and
heals and sustains,
that makes us one.
Love that gives life to the world
and beauty to life.
Love that is food and clothing
and water for thirst.
Love that is bread.”

It is the love given to us by God,
a love which God wishes we embrace for ourselves
and give to one another.
It is Easter Love
that animates the Risen Life.

Good Friday Prayer

Lord, help me crucify all empty desires within me, all vestiges of my self-will, and all traces of pride. Lord, help me put to death all vice and whatever is within me that is not pleasing in your eyes. Lord, as I surrender to your love and give up my spirit of rebellion, allow me to grow in virtue and holiness. Lord, only by your wounds can I be healed, and so I humbly ask You to allow your precious blood to wash over me and renew me.

Washing the Feet of Another

I spent Holy Week of 2010 in Haiti with Fr. Tom Hagan, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales who has been working in the worst slum in Port-au-Prince for more than 20 years. The following reflection is a scene from my film Mud Pies & Kites.

When I met Fr. Tom on Holy Thursday, he seemed a bit down. He told me that some gang members from Cité Soleil had threatened to kill two of his top staff people, both Haitians and reformed gang members, as well as the security guard at the compound. It is all impossible to fathom. Living with the destruction and profound need is hard enough, but adding the element of vengeful violence intensifies the situation to the breaking point. Yet, Fr. Tom still has this gentle calmness about him…softly walking through an endless valley of death, fearing nothing, his eyes fixed on God. It took Fr. Tom two days to defuse the threat of violence.

Hundreds of people attended the Holy Thursday liturgy. Their joyful spirit of prayer and worship was on full display before Fr. Tom even had a chance to welcome them. Before the liturgy actually began, all in attendance were fed a meal. Fr. Tom assisted in distributing the food. For me, the most impactful moment was when Fr. Tom washed the feet of the poor. I had anticipated that a few people would come up near the altar and he would wash their feet as representatives of the gathered community. But no, that is not what happened.

When it came time for the foot washing, Fr. Tom got down on his knees and crawled along the concrete floor from person to person seated in the long, front row, removing their shoes and lovingly washing and drying their feet. Most of the people in the front row were old. It was inspiring to watch Fr. Tom struggling to move from person to person, clearly in some degree of discomfort from the heat, the hard ground and the sheer physical exertion. He washed at least fifty pairs of feet.

In the Passover meal celebrated by Jesus we begin to learn about true sacrifice and true servanthood. God is not interested in human or animal sacrifice. Nor is God interested in the sacrifice of fasting from certain foods on certain days. The sacrifice that God seeks is the letting go of all that is ungodly within us, the letting go of our ego, the false self that always puts ourselves first. To “pass over” from an ego-centered life to a God-centered life, from a self-centered life to another-centered life, requires a sacrificial surrendering of all that binds us, all that needs to die, so we can walk freely into the mystery of God.

Suffering and sharing are the gateways to divine intimacy. And to become intimate with God means to become the humble and loving servant of all. By washing the feet of another, God’s love moves from an abstract theory into a concrete reality.

Jesus came to be a servant, to sacrifice himself for us. We must do likewise, by sacrificing ourselves and serving others.

The Human Face of Jesus

Saint Francis of Assisi understood we all are the human face of Jesus; he knew that all of humanity comprises the divine face.

God assumed flesh and was born into a world of oppression and persecution. Can we ever grasp the reality of the divine presence dwelling in a depraved humanity and that subsequently every man, woman and child is uniquely precious, equal and blessed, all brothers and sisters?

Jesus is hungry and naked. Yet we build and decorate elaborate churches in His name, but do not feed or clothe Him. Every day, God comes to us in a distressing disguise, clothed in the rags of a tormented and neglected poor person, in hopes that the encounter will provide a place for healing and hurt to meet, for grace to embrace sin, for beauty to be restored.

As my friend Fr. Daniel O’Leary writes: “It takes a great love, and many deaths, to transform the eyes of our souls so as to see God’s face in every face. And inevitably, inexorably, this love, this hope, will lead to a crucifixion.”

Looking to Heaven

While many people have dismissed the idea of heaven, many others are obsessively concerned about salvation and the afterlife, but for the most part those concerns are merely distractions from this life, where so many are denied access to the basic things required to sustain life on earth. More important than salvation and the afterlife is that we love God with the fullness of our attention and love each other as God loves us. If you encounter a hungry person, and out of your love of God, give that person something to eat, you have begun to experience salvation in its purest form. The road to authentic salvation is to empty ourselves of all desire except for the desire for God.

Making All Things New

The interior life is the beginning of eternal life. Heaven does not begin after we die. It starts here and now as we respond to God’s grace by making all things new and creating paradise on earth. Today, sadly, many people seem to have forgotten or have dismissed heaven, thereby ignoring the idea of eternally living with God. We are so preoccupied with the surface of life, we do not pay attention to the divine call to enter more deeply into the silent streams of a God-energized life of the Spirit which transforms us into more loving and compassionate beings who see beauty in everything, who love the truth, who thirst for justice and who embrace and protect all of creation. We watch TV, we shop, we fight, we ignore the common good, we applaud the rich and the powerful, we snub the poor and the weak, and we rape the environment.

“No man who ignores the rights and needs of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation, because his way has turned aside from truth, from compassion, and therefore from God. …The obstacle is in our `self,’ that is to say in the tenacious need to maintain our separate, external, egocentric will.”
-Thomas Merton
New Seeds of Contemplation
[New York: New Directions, 1961]

The Common Good

 

“We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches private interests, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity”
-Walter Brueggemann
Journey to the Common Good

The single-minded pursuit of profit has led the world economic system down a catastrophic blind alley. In the face of staggering unemployment rates, mass migration, widespread starvation, global warming, the financial meltdown and the credit crunch, it seems fair to question whether capitalism is conducive to fundamental and authentic human development. Capitalism, with its obsessive focus on the maximization of wealth, is not concerned with the common good or creating fraternity; its sole orientation is profit. Capitalism downplays human dignity, ethical concerns and social justice.

A downside of our current market-driven economic system is that it tends to isolate people into individual consumers. Christianity, through its understanding of the Trinity, is relational. We are all connected, all sons and daughters of God. Jesus calls us to a personal relationship with God and our neighbor. Jesus reduced the entire Law to a course of social action animated by a single word: charity. Jesus offers us a true and effective antidote to the ills of greed. Charity – given and received – is everything.

Materialism and consumerism are stumbling blocks to entering fully into the transcendent faith to which Christ calls us. Our society glorifies the amassing of individual wealth and an ever growing greater accumulation of goods. In our society, anything that furthers our goal of individual material prosperity is considered good; and anything that hinders it is considered bad. Ethics and morality are not part of the equation. Economic individualism and the idea of free competition without reference to the common good goes against the spirit of the Gospels.

“The more material abundance we have or seek, the more likely we are to starve from the scarcity of the Spirit.”
-Parker J. Palmer
The Company of Strangers:
Christians and the Renewal of America’s Public Life


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