Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dorothy Day, Christ & Eight Do's

There is no call like a call from God.  Summoned to act on the Word they hear, Christians can be compelled to do extraordinary things.  If we happen to be one of these people, called to do extraordinary things (like follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ) it is certainly not because of who we are, the family or society that we have been born into.  There are no stated prerequisites be becoming a disciple.  The body of Christ has all sorts:  fishers, tax collectors, you name them, they worship among us.  All ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. 
In the letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians we hear, as we so often do, that people of God are at best an average bunch.  “Not many are wise” says St. Paul, “not many are powerful, and not many are of noble birth” -ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Throughout history we have witnessed a whole tradition of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.  Take Dorothy Day, for example. 
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II officially opened the cause for canonization of this rebellious American feminist who was to some a hippie and to others an anarchist. Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, several houses of hospitality for victims of “the Depression”, and an outspoken opponent of several international conflicts, Day was as ordinary as any of us yet extraordinary at the same time. 
As a young woman, then of little faith formation, Dorothy wandered.  She suffered a failed marriage as well as an abortion.  She was easily duped by men, ideas, and even money all until called by Christ through a Catholic faith and the yearnings of the poor.  With God in her life Day matured into a “faith-passioned” woman widely recognized as a Saint, even before her death in 1980.  

Today’s gospel poses an extreme vocational challenge to we who hear it.  “Eight Do’s”, spelled-out by Jesus himself, are a discomforting reminder of how selfish we can so often be.  The beatitudes are, in fact, so challenging a call to action that they make the Ten Commandments, or the “Ten Do-Not’s”, sound easy.  
But I won’t suggest that we abandon what Jesus taught;  I might instead suggest a different approach to this “Sermon on the Mount”.  Might we ask who Jesus is talking about?
A critical look at Jesus’ description of the blessed: the poor, the mournful, the comforted, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted, makes apparent that he speaks of none other, or no-other more evidently, than Himself.  Poor, mournful, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemaking, and persecuted, Jesus alone is truly blessed.  A rejected stone and Son of God, He is no ordinary person, He is extraordinary. 
Like the exiled people of Israel, Jesus endured persecution with hope.  Like Dorothy Day, Jesus faced injustices and embraced poverty.  And like ourselves, Christ strove to live out his vocation without full knowledge of what that meant, without worldly power, and without much in the way of status.  Among those who dwell in the world, He was ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. 
Unlike the Israelites, Dorothy Day, you or I, Christ accomplished his work to perfection.  A perfect Saviour, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, Jesus brings justice to the poor and freedom to we who, to some degree, remain enslaved.  His is a high bar; what He did may be imitated, but He shall never be equated.  Our own Lord is a reminder of how ordinary, short of extraordinary, we all are.  
As for the beatitudes, these are clearly not about us.  God’s blessings for the poor, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemaking, and the persecuted may neither be about those we know or encounter.  But these eight, impossible, do’s are nevertheless the guidelines for discipleship and our invitation to do as Jesus does.
A reminder of whom we are, as well as whom we are not, may God’s blessings, the “eight do’s”, call us toward a joyful reception of the grace to do as He does.  May God help us ordinary people to follow in Christ’s extraordinary footsteps. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Good News!

Myself with a recent member of the communion of saints.  This is just to prove that I do indeed work.
On that topic, I gained insight from Bishop Fred Henry's Sunday night talk at the James Joyce Pub, Calgary (Theology on Tap).  A holistic Christian Spirituality involves all three of the following: study, prayer, and action.  He did not exactly say such, but I am saying such.  Athol Murray's motto was "God, Canada, and Hockey, and not necessarily in that order".  I say, "Study, Pray, Do, (the Word of God) and not necessarily in the that order".  To be stuck on any one, is to avoid all three.  Peace Out!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Come Out! It's Epiphany.

For God, the feast of the Epiphany is a “coming out” party of sorts; For Christians around the world, a wake-up call.

The setting is violent and inhospitable: a King is born to unmask the truth about Himself, the One, and everyone. Revealed as human in the poor (a child) of the ancient middle-east, Christ the universal King awakens all to whom we are, and more importantly, who we can be: faithful subjects of a just and gracious God.

A lamb among wolves, Jesus is born a threat. One wonders how a newborn baby could scare anyone, but to Herod, an appointed representative of the Roman Government (for and from the Hebrew people), word of another, even a child, King is menacing.

The reaction of Herod (not really a King), the rejection of Mary and Joseph, and the visitation of the Magi (neither wise nor royal: I will say more about that later) associates Jesus, right from his start, with suffering and death. Of neither status nor wealth, Mary and Joseph are forced bear the Son of God in a cave with animals, shepherds, and God only knows what else. When finally visited by people, several days, if not weeks, later, they are not by their own.

The Magi (a name from whom we get the English word magic) are neither religious nor dignitary. Tradition calls them Kings but they are no more than wandering star gazers, led by faith to a child who will give them, symbols of the lost outsiders, hope.

Foreign and “unchurched”, the magi are no traditional believers. They are, nevertheless, a testament to Christ’s universal kingship.

In a marginal place, Bethlehem, from marginal people, Mary and Joseph, to marginal believers, Gentile magicians, a marginal Jew brings salvation and justice to all. A threat to strong, proud, rich and secure, the birth of the Christ is a wake-up call for everyone. God's coming out as with us is validation to flesh and fire for weary hearts.

Beneath inhumane tendencies to hide and divide, artificial make-up, Christ unmasks the inherently good, children of God's own image, the wandering souls longing to reflect His greatness. When self-deceit is removed, His holy innocence glows.

But who are we really? As children of God, we are born small and vulnerable; arguably, we remain so throughout our lives. We are human, we are good: humble truths that we so earnestly deny. Though we are poor, we long to be rich. Though we are weak, we long to be strong. Though we are foolish, we long to be wise. Etc. Yes, human beings posses all sorts of disordered desires.

A frequent visitor of the poor, the lost, the sick, and the imprisoned, Jesus turns our way of thinking, our disordered yearnings, upside down. Death to personal kingdoms, Christ unsettles the stable and brings hope to those who live on the edge.

So what about us? Are we threatened by a God who shows us who we really are? How do we respond to a king who prevails as small and tender like ourselves?

On this celebration of God’s humanity, it is time for Christians around the world to wake up and face reality (we are all, like Christ, human and good). And though we be masters of our personal destinies, there is but one king in this universe. Like him, the child of poverty, rejection and violence, may we be humbled yet again. May we come out as faithful subjects of a just and gracious God.