Sunday, April 15, 2012

Letting Jesus Heal our Wounds: Second (Mercy) Sunday of Easter

"Peace be with you … Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." – Jn 20:26-27

Thomas did something we would all like to do. It would be so much easier to believe if we could touch and see the wounds of Christ. Yet, the wounds of Christ are present every day in many different ways. I can still touch them; perhaps I just don’t see them.

We are all wounded. Some of us carry the wounds that are deeper and more intense than others. These wounds can be physical or spiritual, recent our long-standing. An injection or a pill isn’t enough to hear these wounds. Healing is an internal process that puts things right, and to do this we need to face our wounds.

Jesus carries out wounds. In today’s gospel, Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side. In so doing, Jesus is also inviting Thomas to come face to face with his very own wounds, which Jesus is carrying. It is only by facing his own wounds that Thomas can be healed and then proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”

We, like Thomas, are invited to face our wounds, which Jesus carries for us. Like Thomas we are invited to heal whatever it is that threatens life within us. Moreover, we are called to touch the wounds of Christ in others around us. In doing so, we and allow the grace Jesus offers to heal the wounds that prevent us from being whole. And we will find the strength to rejoice, “My Lord and my God.”

Each day this past week, we glimpse into an aspect of the Risen Jesus. He is already present, in a new form, consoling with healing and peace, inviting us to let go, eliciting joy, and sending us to testify to love. May the joy of this Easter Season bring about a greater, deeper renewal in each of us and in our communities!

adapted from Anthony Chezzi

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Impossible not to Witness Love: Saturday within the Octave of Easter

“It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:20
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." – Mk 16:15

Genuine love cannot be contained. Like the life-force emanating from all created beings, it is resilient, persistent, unstoppable. Like water over-spilling its container, love when full overflows beyond a person’s heart and hands. Peter and John in Acts 4 risk further imprisonment and persecution by proclaiming that it is impossible not to testify to what they’ve experienced regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Through retreat work and sharing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I am very blessed to know people who are experiencing God’s love in such a way and depth that they cannot keep it to themselves. Their tales of transformation are inspiring: a young woman is quitting her high paying job to spend four months serving the poor and making a month-long retreat not because she’s having a crisis, but because she wants to respond more deeply to God with her life; a single mother who struggled with depression, trying to earn love and seek approval much of her life now shares about the joys of praying early every morning, taking walks with God, experiencing peace consistently, even through her times of loneliness, and empowering her children to honest discovery of their own faith; a reserved Vietnamese man apologizing to his children and family in public with an honesty and humility that elicits similar courage from other men; a young couple grieving the loss of their newborn with raw openness and strength that reverberate through both of their own extended families. These stories are proclaimed by action more than by words.  These people carry out St Francis of Assisi’s advice: “Proclaim the Gospel always; and when necessary, use words.”

There is a clear pattern happening to these people: as they allow themselves to be touched, healed, forgiven, lead, etc… they magnify God’s love and goodness. They cannot keep such life-force to themselves. Moreover, the more they let God effect grace in their lives, the more they become instruments of peace and joy. Step-by-step, in ordinary living, with openness, they join this revolution of love, this conspiracy of grace, this contagion of life. They manifest an ordinary witness of extraordinary love. They inspire people around them. I am one of these people, who is empowered to be likewise.

Who around you are witnesses of grace? Spend time in their presence and joy.

“O Risen One, grace me with your humility and courage to magnify your presence and love in the way I treat people around me.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Presence already Present: Friday within the Octave of Easter

“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way.” – Jn 21:1

One of my favorite TV shows was Joan of Arcadia. It is about a typical family whose teenage daughter encounters God through regular people, like a boy on the bus, a cafeteria worker, a school secretary, etc… In every episode Joan is given a challenging or surprising mission through which God teaches her life-giving lessons. In the pilot, the God-figure confounds her with: “Joan, I am not appearing to you. You are seeing me.” She begins to learn the difference between “appearing” and “revealing.” When appearing, a person enters a room he or she was absent before. When revealing, a person becomes unhidden, concealed, known. But he or she has always been present, albeit veiled.

John’s Gospel does not use the term “appear.” Instead, the verb the verb “reveal” is used deliberately to highlight a dimension of the Risen Christ: He is already here, hidden in every moment and circumstance, including ordinary ones. In today’s Gospel, the disciples go back to ordinary life as fishermen and catching little. Toward dawn, they discover him already present among them. Later, they realize he has been preparing a BBQ on the beach for them all along. Slowly, they recognize that the Risen Jesus has always been present, gifting them with his presence and feeding them.

It is a challenge in my busy life, especially in the fast-paced world of the West Coast, inundated by phone calls and texts, requests, FB messages, Tweets, to live in the moment. Especially when living the moment involves getting in touch with or accepting a difficult feeling, person, or circumstance. The Little Way of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux helps, “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” I don’t know about extraordinary love, but breathing in while praying the mantra “Jesus, flow into me” helps. It’s my little way to make space for the Risen One who is already “here” revealing himself and feeding me. The Easter Season is a time to live out our faith in the mystery of the Resurrection. To adapt a statement by Gerald May, we are called to trust that “grace is always present, always available, always good, always life-giving, always gratuitous.”

“Help me Lord, to live more fully each moment as a response to your love.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Love in the flesh: Thursday within the Octave of Easter

"Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have … You are witnesses of these things.” – Lk 24:39, 48

Despite arguments to the contrary, two evidences stand out regarding the physical Resurrection of Jesus. In the past two thousand years, believers are consistently transformed by their encounters with the Risen One in two ways. First, as they stand with and serve the poor. Second, as they participate in the Eucharist. How is it that the first disciples were transformed from a fearful group hiding behind locked doors to a missionary band spreading like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean world? What empowered them to let go of being terrified at the possibility of suffering the same fate as their teacher and courageously faced persecution and death as they witnessed their faith? They broke bread together. They cared for the least among them. And this pattern has consistently helped Christians encounter the living God these past two millennia. Perhaps it is not a coincidence in today’s Gospel that the Risen Jesus met the disciples as they huddled in fear. He showed his physical wounds, broke bread with them, and revealed himself as the Suffering Servant. God’s power shining through suffering, through the Eucharist as in those who suffers. The Body of Christ broken.

What if the Eucharist is God’s physical embrace? What if the poor and marginalized is Christ’s crucified presence? Then it is not so farfetched that these two ways steadily reveal Christ’s Real Presence in the world. What’s real involves the body, the flesh, but more than material form. What’s real is what’s consistently life-giving, transforming, growth-empowering. And perhaps what’s more real is what lasts? For example, do we distinguish genuine love by the feelings we get or by its transformative power, the way we forget ourselves and become our best selves? Feelings are fleeting while growth lasts. My parents’ consistent care in the way their children and grandchildren grow physically, psychologically, and in faith throughout the past fifty years testifies to the reality of their love. They mirror Christ’s love in the flesh.

A wise, elderly Jesuit once told me, “Just show up [for prayer], God will be there.” If we want to encounter the Risen Christ, let us “just show up” consistently before the Eucharist and with the poor and marginalized. God is already there. Christ is waiting to console and transform us, in the flesh.

“Help me, Risen One, to love and be loved by you through the Eucharist and in your poor.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Joy elicited, fire re-ignited: Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?" – Lk 24:32

Like the two disciples dragging their crucified dream toward Emmaus, many of us carry our broken dreams into adulthood. The two disciples in today’s Gospel walked with disillusionment and despair for their dream of a Messiah with political power and might died on the Cross. Many of us live lives of quiet desperation, frozen by fears, lost in love, unforgivable, unlovable, rejected, or lonely. We can be betrayed by those we trust, let go from good jobs, let down from those whom we thought believed in us, or disheartened by our family, church, society. God does not come through as we’d liked or lets us or those around us suffer chronic illnesses, crippling addictions, left to our worse selves. Many of us enter young adulthood with glorious dreams and great hope. But inevitably, our bubbles burst, reality bites, loneliness persists, deep childhood fears rise like tsunamis, meaningless jobs replace imagined careers.  Quarter-life crisis overshadows us; mid-life crisis in our mid-twenties and mid-thirties.

One of my consistent patterns of crucified dreams lies with my idealism. Naively, I place too much hope in authoritative figures or structures. When their clay feet shows, when their darker sides appear, when agreed visions and plans are betrayed by distrust, fears, or excessive control, my heart breaks. I let disillusionment, anger, hopelessness take over. My spirit dies, I withdraw from relationship, I drop commitments. Like the disciples fleeing Jerusalem, I leave the place where dreams give life and prod through life kidding myself that I am still alive with love and passion, bent only on survival-mode.

Many times in my life, good friends have been my lifejackets. They challenge me to be real – to be open, honest, and vulnerable. They walk with me, support me, help me to be in touch with my broken dreams and false expectations. They let me grieve. Somehow I recognize God’s presence in our midst; I discover the Risen Jesus accompanying us; re-interpreting my suffering story, re-shaping my dream. Often, just sitting silently before Eucharist time after time re-awakens something deep within. Just sitting, trying to listen, look, and love as I struggle to voice and let difficult feelings be. Letting my dear friend in the Eucharist listen, look, and love me.

There is a life-force loved into us that no pain, sin, or injustice can kill; a fire that no crucified dream or hope can extinguish; an undercurrent of joy no unhappiness or failure can drown. It is not easy to access. Yet, like the seasons, it springs anew after dead winters of discontent. This resilient life within resurrects us from our spiritual deaths, from what Ronald Rolheiser calls “a string of empty tombs.” It is resilient, persistent, unstoppable.

Easter Season gives us the opportunity to let this tenacious life resurrect passion, elicit joy, re-ignite fire within us. We are beckoned by the Risen One, the Arsonist of the Heart, to witness this spirit of life!

“O Risen One, thaw my heart and its cold, dead chambers with your consoling presence and love.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Letting go of the Gift, trusting the Giver – Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

"Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" – Jn 20:17

In the New Testament, there is no account of Jesus’ resurrection. There are only stories of empty tombs and appearances of the Risen Jesus.  They depict a pattern of six dimensions. The first is that the Risen Jesus always consoles those he meets with peace. The second is highlighted by the encounter with Mary Magdalene: The Risen One invites us to let go.

When we love someone or something deeply, we tend to cling. When we are interiorly free, we are more willingly to let go. When we are too attached, we possess. This is “my precious,” we say as we hold on too tightly, echoing Gollum in Lord of the Rings. We don’t really know how healthy our attachment is until that relationship changes, is severed, or lost. It gives me much hope that the Risen Jesus meets Mary and us in our longing and grieving, offering something greater than what we cling to.

By asking Mary, “Whom are you looking for?” Jesus invites her to get in touch with her deeper desire beyond her tears and loss. She responds in deep faith, “Rabbouni-Teacher”. You are the one in whom my hope for fulfillment, my longing for intimacy, is placed. Gradually, she realizes that one she loves, Jesus of Nazareth, is been transformed into the Lord of her faith. Slowly, she grows in awareness that the great love of her life is more than flesh-and-blood, but the great Giver.

There is a question wise spiritual directors ask people they accompany, “Are you looking for the consolation of God (peace, joy, grace, the gifts) or the God of consolation (the Giver of all the gifts longed for)?

While I do like “my cake and eat it too,” my plans, my dreams, something greater awaits. The invitation to let go is really an offer to fulfill my longing for greater life and meaning. For God’s very Self.

“Risen Lord, help me to relax whatever I am clutching that I may be more willing to be embraced by You.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Consoled to witness: Monday within the Octave of Easter

"Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." – Mt 28:10

When my maternal grandmother whom I loved dearly died nineteen years ago, I became angry at God. I was in my mid-twenties, struggling mightily as a first time teacher, trying to coax spoiled adolescent boys to study Chemistry. My family was undergoing hardships and challenges even greater than those we faced immigrating to the US. Her painful passing followed my grandfather’s death nine months before. It compounded the deepening sense of loss I tried to keep at bay. Somehow, I was lead one afternoon to the Sacramento River nearby, a place where I had experienced many moments of consolation, being loved, connected, close to God. I was alone. I wrote on a piece of paper all the things I was mad at God about, wrapped it around a rock, and threw it into the river. For the next few minutes, I cursed at God, using primal screams rather than expletives. Then, sat with many hard feelings; I became quiet and listened. It was cathartic. Yet, I was still afraid. As I walked back home, I began to hum the song “Be Not Afraid.” In the coming days, I also hummed “You Are Mine.” Gradually, I was consoled. Slowly, I experienced peace. I learned later that feeling angry was part of my coming to terms with both of my grandparents’ death. And about anger as one of the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described.

This experience of life, death, new life taught me much about the Paschal mystery incarnated in each of our lives. When we love, meaning is born. When our loved one dies, suffering or loss of meaning dominates. When we grieve genuinely, new meaning is born. The experience by the river was the first time I dared to express anger at God. I risked God’s wrath (so I had feared) by “letting God have it.” The quiet listening afterwards was my “empty tomb” experience. An utterly new creation occurred; my relationship with God has not been the same since. It matured. I trusted more in God’s abiding goodness.

Experiencing the resurrection always involve a new beginning, after some real sense of death and loss which heightens our fears. It is no accident that the second most frequent expression in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” (The first is “love”). The Risen Jesus always console. God knows our hearts well. God invites us to revisit the Galilee-like places in our lives (like the Sacramento River for me). On the way, the Risen One greets us and transforms our hearts.

The resurrection is not a happy ending to a sad story. It’s integral to the story, giving us a lens of hope to interpret the events of our lives in new light, to give true meaning. Without it, there would be no story worth telling.

Risen Lord, where do you invite me to revisit with you, to be honest with my feelings and attitudes, and wait for you?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday: Understanding follows Believing

“[They] saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” – Jn 20:8-9

I recently met a 15-year old kid at a juvenile hall on the threshold of baptism. Let me call him Carlos. I asked him why he was taking such a step. He said that his son was just born. Despite a past that involved killing as many kids as the number of years he lived and a present that included most of his many siblings in gangs, he wanted to change. His eyes conveyed a conviction that this was possible. It was for his son. He believed, even though he did not yet understand.

Being in his presence reminded me of the all-night vigil I spent in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which housed Calvary, the slab of rock where Jesus was embalmed, and his tomb. Besides a kind of foggy sense of holy bravado or chance at a once-in-a–lifetime experience, I did not really know why I was there. But something was born within me. There were about fourteen of us pilgrims, so we took turn praying inside the tomb itself. I stayed mostly in the Chapel of the Angel, the small ante-chamber where the angel announced to the women that Jesus had been raised. I sat looking in the tomb, waiting. Something beckoned me to wait. Yet, I did not know for what. Through the many prayers of petitions for people, moments of distractions and yawns, something dawned within me. A deep sense of peace and trust grew within. And an elusive joy embraced me. I have no words for it. Such peace and joy lasted the entire night, at a consistent depth and duration that I had never known before.

I still don’t really know what happened. Something did. And it is slowly changing the way I relate to God, to others, to myself. I am still the self-preoccupied, perfectionistic, idealistic, fearful, seeking-to-control-my-feelings person who struggles to trust God. Yet, I find this elusive peace and joy infusing my awareness despite myself. Gradually, in such a way that I can more readily stand in witness with people like Carlos. (It’s interesting that the Church of Holy Sepulcher, or Tomb, is known by Eastern Christians as the Church of the Resurrection.)

Today, we celebrate the high point of our Christian faith. We are called to proclaim the Paschal Mystery, the pattern of suffering-death-resurrection revealed in Jesus’ life and uncovered in our own lives. It takes time, for understanding follows believing, just as understanding follows loving. It is good that the Easter Season lasts 50 days, in order that believing and loving can gradually transform us to witness the power of God’s light overcoming darkness.

“Risen One, deepen my belief and trust in your unfailing love!”

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday - Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

"We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:4

It is difficult for us to experience Holy Saturday during Holy Week. Although we have read the story and know there is a happy ending of resurrection and new life, this luxury was not available to Jesus’ first followers. All they had was the hope that somehow their Savior would live on in their hearts and imaginations.

Life is often a time of Holy Saturdays with no resurrection in sight. After the shock of death or words that bring despair (such as cancer, divorce, terminal, or unemployment), we have to begin living with the ‘what next’ as we enter the void of unknowing. From time to time, most of us live in Holy Saturday. We experience the joy and excitement of Easter and the disheartening pain of Good Friday, but those are immediate and momentary. In between death and resurrection, fear and hope, pain and comfort, lies the valley of grief and uncertainty of Holy Saturday…not knowing what the future will bring.

We do not know if the cancer can be cured or if we will love again or find the position that fulfills our vocation. As I am writing this, I am in my own transitional phase in my career…through this period, I often ask, “Will I have a chance to be an educator again or do ministry that reflects my gifts and passions?” While I am an affirmative and hopeful thinker, in some ways, I am at complete surrender. Like the women and men on the first Holy Saturday, I live with an uncertain future.

While our resurrections are uncertain…our successes are still in suspense. We can take this time to pray for our uncertainties, lift them up to God for comfort, and listen for God’s voice of companionship, care, and counsel as we live the uncertainty of Holy Saturday.

What is open and uncertain in my life?
Where am I grieving? What losses am I living with?
What are my "what next" questions?

reflected by Tam Lontok

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Following Jesus Involves Embracing Our Cross

"Into your hands I commit my spirit; you will redeem me, O Lord, faithful God." - Psalm 31:5

Each of us has a cross to carry. There is no need to make one or look for one. Living every moment of our life and fully embracing our humanity inevitably brings us to our crosses. My brother and I often joke that following Jesus is easy, if only we can choose the cross – the suffering – we want. Yet, the cross is precisely the manner of suffering that we do not prefer. Jesus’ call to discipleship echoes: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Maybe we can't study; maybe we have been laid-off; maybe we are handicapped; maybe we suffer from depression, from poor self-image, from a serious disease; maybe we experience conflict in our families; maybe we are victims of violence or abuse. We didn't choose any of it, yet these things are our crosses. We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them. But we can also embrace these sufferings, and allow them to help us be united with Jesus on the cross. Even in darkness that suffering often brings, we can risk that God’s wisdom and love transform our crosses into greater life.

A few blocks near where my Jesuit brothers and I live, a young man was murdered in a gang-related shooting three days ago. Death has been knocking more frequently in our community. A woman in the parish held her in his arms, looked into his eyes, reassured him the Jesus is with him, and encouraged him to commit himself to God – that it is not late to trust God. He seemed to listen before he transpired. Her faith and compassionate love could not prevent his death. Yet, her trembling embrace of the young man may have eased his suffering and enlivened his hope. Like Jesus, we cannot choose our cross. Yet, embracing our cross while struggling to entrust ourselves to God can make room for greater life and meaning.

"Help us Lord Jesus, to trust that by your holy cross you have redeemed the world! Help us to embrace you though our crosses." 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday: Remembering is Becoming Like Jesus

“Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” - 1 Corinthians 11:23-24.

"If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” – Jn 13:14-15

People who know they are about to die take special leave of their loved ones. Their last words and actions sum up their greatest hopes and desires for those they love. At the Last Supper, Jesus left his disciples two acts of remembrance. First, Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke, and gave it to his disciples. Second, he washed their feet.

When Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, he summarized in these gestures his own life. He is chosen to reveal God’s limitless love, blessed at his baptism in the Jordan River, broken on the cross, and given as bread to the world. Being chosen, blessed, broken, and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. 

It is also our journey. We remember Jesus by recalling what he did. Moreover, we remember him when we live as people chosen, blessed, broken, and given as food for the world. We become the very body of Christ that is taken, blessed, broken, and given. Likewise, we remember him when we wash one another’s feet with the same self-giving love that he loved. The Eucharist and feet washing are integral acts remembrance. By remembering in these ways, we become more like Christ. 

"Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of the Eucharist. Help us to remember in becoming more like you.”

Inspired by Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wednesday, Holy Week: Faithful Witness Doesn't Always Yield Results

"Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none." - Psalm 69:20 

We belong to an age that wants quick results. We want visible productivity, to see with our own eyes what we have made. Instant gratification often creeps itself into our spiritual life. But that is not the way of God's Kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus himself died as a failure on the cross, betrayed by friends, handed over by a follower. In his earthly life, Jesus did not see much “success.” Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure. As faithful witnesses of Jesus, we have to trust that our lives too will bear fruits, even though we cannot yet see them.

What is important is how well we have tried to love. God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God will give fruition to our sacrifices.

“Lord, help me to trust in your sanctifying power and not to expect ‘successes in all that I do”

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday, Holy Week: We All ‘Hand Others Over To Suffering’

“Jesus was troubled in spirit, and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant” - John 13:21-22 

In Greek, to “betray” means to hand the other over to suffering. Judas’ betrayal handed Jesus over to suffering. Peter’s denial leaves Jesus to suffer alone. In different ways, Judas and Peter are sources of sorrow for Jesus.

The truth is that each of us hands others over to suffering, especially those close to us. Intentionally or unknowingly we betray as Judas or deny as Peter. We overprotect, cling too tightly, or hold unrealistic expectations of people we profess to love. Judas handed Jesus over to suffering partially because he wanted to force Jesus to become a political Messiah; Peter denied knowing Jesus because the cost of such discipleship would be too much for him.

When we are willing to confess that we often hand those we love over to suffering, even against our best intentions, we can experience God’s forgiving love. In turn, we will be more ready to forgive those who, often against their will, are the causes of our pain. 

“Lord, help me to understand the ways I may be causing others to suffer.” 

inspired by Henri Nouwen

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday of Holy Week

To me, Holy Week is a little like the spiritual equivalent of watching the end of a Rocky movie…but in a serious way. Rocky always gets smashed around through the middle of the climatic bout, until he is pushed to the limit and turns it around in dramatic fashion. You know he’s going to win (or get really close to it in Rocky I) but you are still at the edge of your seat.

For me Holy Week always holds a tension between trying to enter into this meditation on Christ’s own suffering and what I know happens Easter Sunday. I think of how He was betrayed by friends, humiliated, and of how badly fear and doubt assailed him in the Garden the night before His Passion. But there is also the inspiring strength that comes to Him when He says, with new-found resolve: “…still, not my will but yours be done.”

Today’s readings cause me to think about this tension between the suffering that we reflect upon this week and the victory that we know we have received in the Resurrection. I look at crushing sadness and pain in parts of the world torn by war and injustice, or the obstacles that we encounter in our communities, the lives of the people I meet in my daily life, and I wait for One who “shall bring forth justice to the nations.” Today’s reading from Isaiah is a reminder to me that the One who was sent by God and strengthened by Angels walks always with us and when each day arrives with its challenges, Christ stands ready to fight with the power of unimaginable love. If fear and doubt overwhelm me, I am called again to trust that they can’t overwhelm Him, as the Cross could not keep Him in the grave.

Reflection Questions:

How will I allow Christ to accompany me in my sufferings and fears as I accompany him to the Cross on Good Friday?

Mary anointed Christ with oil and her hair. How do I praise God by offering all I have? Do I act selfishly, as Judas does?

How has God given me new (in)sight, or given me life through my life in CLC? How have I been able to be “a light to the nations” sharing life within my CLC and in the wider Church and world?

reflected by Jason Coito

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Passion Sunday: Jesus Weeps and Suffers With Us

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” – Mark 15:34

The account of Jesus’ passion and death is more poignant for me this year. My imagination becomes more real because I have recently been to the Holy Land. When you have grown to love someone for years, visiting the places where the person grew up and lived deepens your love and appreciation. In ways I have neither the breadth nor the depth to fathom, I am growing in love with the person of Jesus, especially with his humanity. On my last day in Jerusalem, I spent the afternoon at the place where Jesus wept, as he looked over the Holy City before entering it.

I also wept. I cried realizing that this most holy city is also the place where fighting has most consistently taken place throughout the past 2,000 years. I do not know of any such place in the world beleaguered by four Crusades, by many other wars and skirmishes. The Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy where Jesus entered the city is also the place where the Messiah will enter on the Last Judgment, according to Jewish belief. It was sealed by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent some 500 years ago. Muslims have also built a cemetery in front of the gate to prevent the Messiah from coming. I felt deeply saddened, imagining myself as a Jew, looking at the entrance blocked by a wall of hatred. Yet, as I turned westward, I see low housing areas where many Palestinian Arabs have been forced to relocate. This systematic persecution has taken place since 1948 as the Israel government moves closer to fulfill its dream of taking over Jerusalem entirely. More tears overflowed I as imagined myself in the shoes of a Muslim. It seems as if deeply rooted animosity will never end.

I asked Jesus a similar question he lamented on the Cross: “Why have you abandoned your people? Why do you allow your holy city to be continually beset by strife?” I did not hear a response nor expected one. Later, as I walked down the hill to enter the city, I received an insight. It was as if God answered in silence: “I am here.” As I reflected on my time in Jerusalem, so many moments and experiences of deep and abiding grace flooded my mind and heart. God’s presence and power was more vibrant than the golden afternoon sun. God is in the continual fighting. Jesus stands with Jews and Muslims in the hatred.

Gradually, I realized the ramifications of this insight. God in Jesus chooses to stand with me, with us, in our inner and interpersonal conflicts. On the cross, Jesus takes on the effects of our struggles and strife (loneliness, abandonment, anguish, pain, etc.) He weeps and laments with us, stripped of the foundation of his life – the intimate relationship with God whom he calls Abba. Gradually, my tears began to be transformed into hope. I am becoming more willing to be present at places of conflicts because the one I love is present. And focus on him more than on the struggle.

It has been said that suffering involves the loss of meaning. As suffering intensifies, loss of meaning increases. Greater descent into not-understanding. Yet mysteriously, new meaning gradually dawns through abiding, compassionate (and often times hidden) presence. What if we are invited in this Holy Week to be present with those who suffer, with those who are Jesus-crucified?

Please consider learning about the decimated Church in Iraq. Read how the Church is struggling for her very survival or watch the first 16 minutes of “The Global War on Christians.”

"Lord Jesus, help me this week to be united with you in my suffering and in solidarity with those who suffer.”