Thursday, March 24, 2016

Homily – Holy Thursday – Christ-Inspired Leadership

EX 12:1-8, 11-14
1st COR 11:23-26
JOHN 13:1-15

             In the popular and controversial movie “The Passion of the Christ” the virgin Mary asks a powerful question on Holy Thursday evening.
She has just awoken from a dream on the very night her son Jesus is captured and taken to his executioners, and asks Mary Magdelene,
“Why is this night different than any other night?” 
Tonight we commemorate the institutions of the eucharist and priesthood and begin the sacred Triduum. This night is about love, sacrifice, solidarity  and suffering.
“Why is this night different than any other night?” 
The question is perhaps best answered in what Jesus is doing in today’s Gospel passage, or better yet, what Jesus is commanding us to do this Holy Thursday.
He’s demanding us to adhere to a new model of leadership that goes against the grain of our current culture in the United States and in much of the world today.
It’s a model often criticized by those who want decisive leadership from people who are “in charge.” The world says we need strong leaders.
Christ’s model is servant leadership.  And His model of leadership was so threatening to the powers of His day that,
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds we are healed.”
As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Easter, and as we go through these painful days of betrayal, denial, and anguish, I offer these words from a favorite author about Holy Thursday.
These words should help us all to wrap our heads around what Jesus is calling us to do.
            The words come from prolific Catholic writer Henri Nouwen.
            Here’s what he had to say about Holy Thursday:
“The servant leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places. The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross . . .
It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.
Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go.”
A parent’s love is perhaps the most powerful model of servant leadership.

In a bittersweet moment in “The Passion of the Christ,” Mary sees her son struggling with His cross on the streets of Jerusalem, falling a third time. 
She’s terrified by what she sees, nearly frozen in fear.  But in that moment she remembers a time when Jesus as a little boy fell down, hurting himself, and goes running toward her son to comfort Him, goes running toward the cross.
As she tenderly embraces Him, saying, “I’m here,” Jesus says, “See, mother, I make all things new.”
In another scene, another mother Veronica comforts her daughter troubled by the horrifying scene of Christ being marched to his death. In that moment, she pours a glass of water for Christ and brings it to Him in the streets, brings it to the cross, taking off her veil to let Him to wipe off his bloodied face. As she takes away the cloth, she sees the face of Christ imbedded on it.
Then there’s Simon, the Cyrenian, who tells his child to stay put and wait for him as he’s forced by Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry the cross. His compassion for Christ grows as he watches this innocent man led to his execution, mocked and ridiculed by most along the way.
In this most Holy Week, these parents are modeling for us what a servant leader looks like: to go to “places where we would rather not go,” to selflessly serve the needs of others, to help others carry their crosses, to love with an unending reservoir of love and compassion. This is the way of Christ.
As a reflection, I’d like to share part of Henri Nouwen’s Holy Thursday prayer. I pray it will have meaning for us all.
“I am looking to you, Lord. You have said so many loving words. Your heart has spoken so clearly. Now you want to show me even more clearly how much you love me.
Knowing that your Father has put everything in your hands, that you have come from God and are returning to God, you remove your outer garments and, taking a towel, you wrap it around your waist, pour water into a basin and begin to wash my feet, and then wipe them with the towel you are wearing …
You look at me with utter tenderness, saying, ‘I want you to be with me. I want you to have a full share in my life. I want you to belong to me as much as I belong to my Father. I want to wash you completely clean so that YOU and I can be one and so that you can do to others what I have done to you.’
I am looking at you again, Lord. You stand up and invite me to the table. As we are eating, you take bread, say the blessing, break the bread, and give it to me. ‘Take and eat,’ you say, ‘this is my body given for you.’ Then you take a cup, and, after giving thanks, you hand it to me, saying, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant poured out for you.’

Knowing that your hour has come to pass from this world to your Father and having loved me, you now love me to the end. You give me everything that you have and are. You pour out for me your very self. All the love that you carry for me in your heart now becomes manifest. You wash my feet and then give me your own body and blood as food and drink.
Sweet Jesus, words cannot express my love for you. Thank you so much for pouring out yourself in love to wash me and feed me. Please refresh and feed others through me.”


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Homily – Fifth Sunday of Lent – Misericordia

IS 43:16-21
PHIL 3:8-14
JOHN 8:1-11

I keep hearing a word in prayer the past few weeks: It’s a funny word.  It's a powerful word. It's a word we are talking about a lot in this Jubilee Year.
The word is Misericordia and it comes from two Latin words: MISERIA or misery, pity and poor. And COR or heart, mind and soul.
When put together, misery, pity, poor, heart, mind and soul, we get the origin of a word we know all too well: MERCY.
Wordsmiths will also use the word tenderheartedness.  Misericordia. 

We are witnessing mercy in action this weekend in the Gospel message with Jesus the teacher. And he’s teaching by example, not by words.
The scribes and Pharisees are trying to draw Jesus into a trap. The scene is the Temple area in Jerusalem. The Jewish Temple was the house of God, where the Holy of Holies dwelled. It was the center of religious life at the time of Jesus.
Historically, all that’s left from the destruction of the Jewish Temple is the “wailing wall” located near the Golden Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, a place where the Muslim prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven with the Angel Gabriel after praying with Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

Jewish historians say this site was also the exact location Abraham was set to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Needless to say, this site is special to three world religions and a place where dangerous arguments have erupted into violence for two millennia. 
 In this exact spot, the scribes and Pharisees are trying to trip up Jesus. “If he authorizes death, he violates Roman law, which did not allow the Jews to administer capital punishment. If he advises mercy, he violates Mosaic law (which required such a punishment for adultery).”       
Jesus was in a sinister and dangerous pickle. 

Pope Benedict wrote of this passage saying: “Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with his interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law. He is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but his goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God's love.”
St. Augustine commenting on this passage, too, saying:  "The Lord, in his response, neither failed to respect the law nor departed from His meekness."
His answer was to bend over and begin to write in the sand and rock. What did he write? 
Father Hersey preached a few years ago that maybe Jesus wrote the names of all those who had relations with the woman, including some standing in the crowd condemning her and other powerful Jewish leaders of the time.

Other bible scholars say perhaps he was writing down a list of the sins committed by those in the crowd.
What we do know is Jesus turned the eyes of judgment away from the woman caught in adultery and had them gaze intently at the sinners condemning her.
Rocks were dropped, the scribes, Pharisees and others slink away and Jesus evades the trap set before him.
Then, He has one of his most beautifully pastoral conversations of the bible with a human soul, a real person trapped in sin and public shame. 

This is what mercy looks like in the eyes of God. No one is denied the mercy of God. No one.
Pope Saint John Paul the Second wrote of this powerful scene: “How could we see ourselves in this Gospel without feeling a surge of confidence?  How could we not recognize it as ‘good news’ for the men and women of our day, who long to rediscover the true sense of mercy and pardon? There is a need for Christian forgiveness, which instills hope and trust without weakening the struggle against evil.”
I’m reminded of another struggle against evil and a powerful scene of judgment, mercy and forgiveness in our modern world.  How many have read the book “Left to Tell” or seen the documentary “Diary of Immaculèe?”
Roman Catholic Immaculèe Ilibagiza (ill-uh-bah-GEE-zuh) grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by family and friends she cherished. But in April of 1994, her native Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide pitting family against family. The violence lasted three months and after the machetes were put down nearly a million Rwandans lay slaughtered in the streets.
It stands as one of the most horrific scenes of brutal slaughter in the late 20th Century.
Immaculèe and seven other women were sheltered by a local pastor in a tiny, hidden bathroom, praying silently for three months. 
In the end, most of Immaculèe’s family were murdered.  In the book and documentary, we witness Immaculèe’s journey back to Rwanda after the violence.

We hear a letter from her brother the night before his execution: “Maybe our lives will be the price that must be paid for Rwanda’s salvation… I am only certain about one thing: we will all meet again.  There is no doubt in my mind.”
In one powerful scene, Immaculèe asks a photographer to take a picture of her with a neighbor. That neighbor’s brother had murdered her brother who wrote that letter. 
The startled photographer didn’t know what to do, but Immaculèe puts her arms around the man and says, “It’s OK. It’s OK.”

The photographer says he just about lost it in that moment, choking back tears every time he retells the story.
When Immaculèe asked to see the imprisoned man who killed her father, everyone expected her to be angry, but she only cried and looked in the man’s eyes, touched his shoulder and said, “I only have sympathy for you. I forgive you.
Immaculèe forgives in powerful and breathtaking ways. She says she worked through the hate she had in her heart through the power of prayer while terrified and trapped in that bathroom.  No doubt she uttered thousands of Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
Thoughts of revenge? She says, “That was useless. That was only going to prolong the pain and hatred in this world.”
The message she most “want(s) to give is a message of love.” She says, “I have seen the damage of hatred.” 

Immaculèe hid in that bathroom for 91-days and said “they never found me.  But I found myself.”
Could we all learn to forgive like Immaculee or Jesus?  Can we all learn not to judge people, judgment that in Immaculèe’s homeland led to unspeakable violence or in Jesus’ time nearly turned into violence against a woman?  Does the judgment we have for others lead to violence toward them in our own hearts?
This is what Jesus is calling us to work on this Lent.
Catholic writer Henri Nouwen pens, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
As Immaculèe prayed the Our Father in that tiny bathroom in Rwanda, God helped her to experience the transformational power of Jesus’ words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
As the prophet Isaiah wrote in today’s reading, “Remember not the events of the past, the things long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”

I pray we hear these powerful words and work on the judgments in our own hearts and learn to offer forgiveness to those who have harmed us. 
Only in Jesus’ actions of forgiveness can we find His peace in our lives -- a peace Immaculèe experienced in recent years and the woman caught in adultery beautifully experienced two thousand years ago.