Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Passion of the Christ

Last night, I went to the cross. I watched our Lord sold for 30 pieces of silver. I watched his best friend turn his back on him. I watched his blood stain the ground as his flesh was ripped from his body. I watched men of God call for his death. I watched them hammer nails into his hands. I watched his heart break. I watched his mother weep. I watched him suffer and die.  And I watched in horror. For the first time, I watched the Passion of the Christ. I have avoided it all these years. I had no desire to see my Lord suffer. I did not want that visual image to haunt me like I know it will.

I felt the nudge to watch it when I ran across images from the movie on YouTube. I was preparing a presentation on salvation for the middle school youth and I was looking for an inspirational video that would grab their attention. The attention that was grabbed was mine as images of the movie kept rolling across the screen. I resisted. I told Jesus that if he wanted me to watch that movie, then it better be easy to find- like be on HBO when I happen to be flipping channels. I wasn’t going to go to great lengths to watch my Lord tortured and killed. He has been answering a lot of my prayers lately and this one was no exception. My dear friend just happened to bring up the subject of the movie on our way out of mass on Sunday. I promptly shared my reservations about watching it. She empathized and said that she was thinking about watching it again but was pretty sure she would have a hard time renting it during holy week. I told her that if she happens to find it, then maybe I would be interested in borrowing it- maybe. To my shocking surprise, she arrived at my house 30 minutes later with the movie. She found three copies at the video store and promptly rented two and told me it was a sign. So I was trapped. I couldn’t say no anymore.

In my Baptist church, we really didn’t talk about how Christ suffered. I can’t recall a preacher standing at the pulpit describing how Christ suffered. In fact, my Baptist church uses a cross instead of a crucifix because they don’t want to focus on the suffering Lord but rather the risen Lord. My first encounter with our suffering Lord happened in the Catholic Church where I came face to face with the crucifix. It took me a while to get comfortable with this image. But once I did, I realized that by knowing more about his suffering, I could know more about his love. I went from the crucifix to the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and stopped there. That was the extent of my knowledge of his suffering- until now.

Horrified is not a big enough word to describe how I felt through the entire movie. Although I knew how it was going to end, I found myself pleading for someone to make it stop. How could they do this to a person- any person? How could they call themselves priests of our loving God and murder someone like this? One emotion I was surprised to feel was anger. How could Judas betray my Jesus and sell him for 30 pieces of silver? How could men of God incite a crowd to kill their messiah? How come no one came to his senses and called for the torture to end? I am angry. This was my Jesus. And they tortured and killed him. I know that I will go through many different emotions as I try to unwrap myself from this movie. At least that is what I keep saying to myself. I hope that the anger will give way to something different soon. I feel guilty taking this anger with me into the Triduum. However, I do feel a little peace with my anger so maybe that is what Jesus wants me to feel before I enter into Holy Thursday.

It has helped to talk it out with my husband. He pointed out to me that the society Jesus was born into was a lot more brutal than what we know today. This is how he is able to justify some of the torture. But that got me thinking. God could have brought his son into any point in history. Why did he do it at such a brutal time? Or if he did choose modern times, would we do the same? Would Jesus meet the same end? Would he suffer like he did? Where would I be in the story? Would I be anointing his feet with oil and drying it with my hair? Would I be weeping with Mary? Or would I be standing in the crowd and calling for his death? There is a reason I was born 2000 years after his crucifixion. He knew I couldn’t handle it. He knows that had I been there, I may not be with him. Had I been there, I may not have heard him call me. I may not have recognized who he was. I may have been standing in the crowd like all the rest of them. He knows me so well.

I am blessed to have been born at this point in history where I can experience him with my spirit while surrounded by the sacraments and holding hands with my brothers and sisters in Christ. And the reason I can experience him is because of his willing crucifixion. He can call me to himself because his suffering and death won the salvation of mankind. All I have to do is step out of the crowd and live in his love. And that love has so much more meaning and depth now that I have seen his passion and watched him suffer. I am completely unworthy of that suffering, but he did it anyway. He loves me anyway. And in return, all I can do is give myself to him. Since his heart stopped beating for me, mine must beat for him.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Set Me Free

I long to be in your presence,
call me, Lord.

I long to bask in your glory,
save me, Lord.

I long to live in your will,
guide me, Lord.

I long to feel your love,
surround me, Lord.

Be my God and I your creation.
Be my King and I your servant.
Be my Father and I your child.
Be my Light and I your candle.

Show me what I have not yet surrendered.
Show me where to walk with you.
Show me who you want me to be.
Show me how to live in your love.

I long to be in your presence.
Set me free, Lord.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Denial of Our Lord

I have to go to confession. I have done it yet again. I have denied my Lord.

I grew up in a solid Southern Baptist family. A family that was a corner stone in many of the churches we called home. A family that preachers stand at the pulpit and call families to be. A family that not only seemed solid on the outside, but full of God's love on the inside. I lived it. I grew up in it. I was part of it. I am so blessed for this experience.

And then I had to make a choice. Either follow Jesus to the Catholic Church or stay with my family in the church that raised me. It was not an easy choice. It was clear to me which path to take, but I knew my family would be hurt in the process. I knew they would be confused. I knew they would pray for my return. I knew that this choice would separate me from them and they knew it would separate them from me. It was not an easy choice. But because of the love that reigned in our family, we were able to accept the different person I had become. The person Jesus was and is calling me to be. They were able to look past the differences in our faiths and find the love that bound us from the beginning. Although there is still some sadness, there is a glimmer of joy once again. And I am deathly afraid of crushing that glimmer.

I find it so hard to be Catholic in front of my family. It’s easy to invite them to baptisms, first communions and mass on holidays when they are visiting us, but it’s totally different to be Catholic in front of them. To share my experiences with the Eucharist or our Lady is like I am slapping them in the face. It’s like I am celebrating my betrayal of their faith. Most of what they believe is wrong with the Catholic faith is where I am finding my deepest experiences with our Lord. So, the idea of really sharing my faith with them is like twisting the knife I threw at their hearts on my way out of their church. I don't want to twist that knife. I don't want to hurt them anymore. So I stay silent.

And in that silence, I hear Jesus asking me to speak, to share, and to be who he is calling me to be. I have ignored him. I have not obeyed. I don't want to twist that knife. I lack courage. I lack faith that Jesus knows what he is doing. I lack faith that he will heal the hurt my sharing will inflict. My finite brain cannot see past the pain my exodus brought to their hearts. I must trust that he does see past it. I must trust that the separation imposed by my choice will ultimately bring Him glory. I must trust.

It's in moments like these that I can relate to what Peter must have felt. I love the Lord with an all consuming love that I can't quite understand. It’s a love that must be from God because I am completely unworthy of feeling it. It envelops me. Its alive in me.  I can only imagine how much more love Peter felt having actually walked with Jesus. He felt his hands wash his feet. He listened to his voice speak the wisdom of God. He watched him walk on water, feed the hungry, and transfigure before the heavens. Oh, how Peter must have loved our Lord. And when the moment came for Peter to declare that love, he failed. And he was given a second chance, and he failed. And then the third opportunity came, and he failed again. Peter shows us how easy it is to let our humanity smother the burning love. He shows us how easily our fear can overcome our courage. And our Lord knows this. And he is ready to forgive when we fail. Peter went on to be the rock upon which our Lord built his church. In order to be that person, Peter must have not only been forgiven, but he also must have forgiven himself. How else could he have had the courage to go on and build Christ's church?

So must I. I must ask for forgiveness and then accept that forgiveness. I must ask for Jesus to help my unbelief. I must ask for courage and step out of the boat. I must trust that the impossible will be made possible by the one who wills it so. I must be who Jesus is calling me to be. I must be confident that although my family may label me as zealous or crazy, Jesus wants me to speak of my experience with him. When I step out of that boat, I will pay a price. I will sacrifice a piece of myself that binds me with them once again. And when the hurt causes my faith to sink in the water, Jesus will extend his hand and lead me to do the impossible. I must trust.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Leaving the Jail

John 1:1-5


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Have you ever wondered what the pre-incarnate Christ was up to before the incarnation? I have never really thought about it before. He was in the beginning. He is the word of God. The word was with God in the beginning. I never thought of the pre-incarnate Christ standing next to the father in the beginning. All things were made for him and through him. He participated in creation. God the father made creation out of love for the son. He made us for Christ and both have loved us like they love each other. Imagine how they felt when Adam and Eve fell to temptation and forever separated themselves from the love of God. Imagine how devastated they were when the effects of that fall passed through the generations and their beautiful creations chose to die rather than be with God. Imagine how desperate they were to find a way to save us from ourselves. They came to our level. They came to us. Christ took upon our humanity to bring us the message of God’s love. And then he paid the price for our sin. He showed us God’s unending and overwhelming love for us by dying an innocent and horrible death so that we may have a way back to God.

Christ’s death on the cross is such a mystery to me. I am a very logical thinker and logic is not very clear in this act by Christ. My finite brain has a hard time wrapping itself around this event which is frustrating because this is the major event for Christianity. This is the defining moment for us. This event restored our relationship with God and allowed him to touch us with his love in a whole new way.

Dying for someone is the ultimate act of love. But Christ didn’t just die for us. It’s not like he pushed us out of harm’s way from a speeding train and ended up getting killed. No, Christ’s death was a lot more complicated. Our punishment for original sin is separation from God- a spiritual death. We were not going to be spending our eternity with God because of our sinful nature. Our sin got us the death sentence. That is our punishment. So, imagine your children get into trouble and end up on death row. What would you do? Not only can you not share in the wonderful life you dreamed for them, but you know that they are going to die there and you will never see them again. That is what God felt for us. So he went to work. You can see him working all over the Old Testament making covenants and making more covenants when covenants were broken. He molded a nation so that at least some of his earthly children would be somewhat prepared to recognize him when he did come to earth to bargain for our lives. And then he did come and walk among his children- he came to the jail. He taught about life outside of the jail. And then he talked the jailer into taking his life instead of ours. He volunteered to serve our death sentence- our horrible death sentence. And when the hour came, he was killed. And at that moment, we were set free. We were free to leave the jail.

I think that is where we are. We are all sitting in the jail and God is inviting us out. He is inviting us to take his son’s hand and walk out. He wants us to feel the sun on our face and the fresh air in our lungs. He wants us to see the vivid colors he painted in the sky as the sun takes upon a new day. He wants us to feel the warm sand between our toes and hear the beautiful songs he gave the birds. He wants us to experience life the way he created it for us. All we have to do is take Christ by the hand and walk out.

Sounds inviting doesn’t it? It sounds like a dream come true for us criminals. But, I think that it is harder to walk out of that jail then we realize. We are taken care of in that jail. They give us meals, a roof over our head and provide books and TV and the like to help us pass the time. We are comfortable. We have been in the jail so long that we have forgotten about what the outside world is like. The experience of God’s perfect world has become a myth- a story of long ago meant for dreamers or crazy people. The world we know is the jail and the world outside the jail is the unknown. Leaving that jail takes faith.

God knows how hard it is for us to leave. Although it breaks his heart that the children he died for are so reluctant to claim their lives with him, he understands that leaving the jail is a struggle. That is why he gives us so much to help- scripture, the sacraments, the church, angels, graces, and most of all, the Holy Spirit. He is hoping that we will leave and not go back. That we will take Christ by the hand and follow him to the life God wants us to experience. That we will accept the love poured out to us in the cross and live in it. He is waiting for us with open and loving arms. So, will you do it? Will you step into the unknown and leave the jail? I can only imagine the joy on Christ’s face when you reach for his hand.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Love

Love. Now that is a big word. Just when I think I have learned enough to figure out love, I find that I am just scrapping the iceberg. I know that I crave love. I know that I need love more than I realize. I know that love belongs in my being like water belongs in a well. The desire to find that water to fill my soul is overwhelming. That desire has driven me to my knees. It has meant the choice between happiness and despair. I have found that love is where I am made to live.

I have been learning about triune love- the love of God- the love of the trinity. Altruistic love is a completely unselfish love that two beings share. It is a love that gives everything of one’s self to another and expects nothing in return. It is loving someone for who they are and not for what they have done or accomplished or have given. In the trinity, the Father and the Son share this perfect altruistic love for one another. Their love is so powerful that it takes on a being all its own in the Holy Spirit.

God created man in his own image. Our souls are vessels to hold love. Our souls need this love like our lungs need air. God desires with all of his being to share this love with us. He wants so much to fill our souls. But we have to say yes. We have to choose it. What would this love mean to us if he didn’t give us the choice to choose it? What kind of lover forces his love on his beloved? God loves us so much that he wants us to choose his love. He is patient enough to give us our lifetime to make this choice. His desire to share love with us is greater than we can ever imagine.

Because of original sin, we have been separated from God. Our ability to share in his love was greatly compromised when Adam chose to believe a lie. God has gone to great lengths to restore that relationship with us. God’s desire to give that love to us drove him to do the unthinkable. God gave up his beloved for us. The father sacrificed the second person of the trinity for us. He gave us the object of his powerful love. And Christ, for the love of us and the Father also did the unthinkable. He chose to leave the father’s presence and come to earth and become vulnerable to us. He became a helpless baby. He became a man in a world absent of the love that possessed every ounce his very being. He delivered the message of divine love to a generation that didn’t understand it or accept it. And when they rejected him, he continued to give- to love. When they couldn’t or wouldn’t understand His message, he showed them- he showed us. He completely gave himself to us. He took upon himself the punishment of our sin. He sacrificed himself so that we may share in the powerful love of God. This act by Christ is a mystery that I will spend my life unraveling. But I know that the love God shows us in this act is greater than my mind can imagine and my heart can understand.

So how do I grab a hold of this love? How do I come to accept the love of God and let it flow in my soul? Its one thing to say that I want to accept the love- but it’s an entirely different thing to actually do it. I am learning that accepting this love is a process. He gives me as much as I am ready to receive. I have chosen Christ. I am open to him. I have shared my life and I daily invite him to live in my soul. But I found that it doesn’t stop there. He asks for something greater from me. He wants me to love him like he loves me. Am I even capable of this kind of love? After suffering rejection and humiliation by the people he loved, he got up on a cross and died a horrible death so that I may share in eternal life with God. Is it possible for me to return this kind of love? I know that he doesn’t expect me to because altruistic love has no expectations. But I feel him asking me to try it. I think that the more I love, the more love I am able to accept. Sacrifice of one’s self to the other is the birth of this perfect love. I have to sacrifice my humanity. I have to surrender.

To surrender is to give up control. To surrender is to place myself in his hands. To surrender is to make His will my will. Out of love, he gave his life for me so I must surrender my life to him . I must free fall backwards into the arms of God- arms I cannot see with my humanity but whose strength I must trust with my spirit. I must let him take the wheel, let my life be his and allow him to live through me.

Even though I am the biggest control freak on the planet, over time I have managed to surrender some aspects of my life to God. And in each surrender, love flows. Love abundantly flows. It fills my soul and overflows into every aspect of my life. My spirit experiences a joy that words fail to describe- a joy that transcends my daily struggles. So that even though the storm rages all around, as long as my focus is on my Lord, the joy sustains me and the love flows.

Not only do I find joy in the surrender, but I find freedom. When I completely surrender to the Lord, freedom reigns. First, trust drives out fear which allows peace to replace worry. Then love flows more freely and joy overtakes my spirit. I am free to be loved, free to give love and free to live the life God wants me to experience. I am free to do the one thing I am made to do- worship and love my God.