Admittedly, my approach to this feast is colored by 17 years of education with the Religious of the Sacred Heart. I could belt out “Coeur de Jesus” with the best of them, but secretly admired my parents for refusing to drive across town for the celebration of the feast at school. School? In summer? When we’d so recently been freed?
That wasn’t the only ambivalence. Ever the sensitive-to-hypocrisy teen, I noticed that though the talk was about love, the practical reality was a fierce discipline, a pervasive obsession with rules, silence and order. Wiser people have counseled, “Let it go!” That was simply the era, a perhaps desperate attempt to corral hundreds of chattering girls. Other writers have explained that the feast itself represents progress from 17th century piety, with its emphasis on the externals of religion.
But somehow the rigidity softened at the front gate. There stood a statue which remains an icon somewhere deep in the psyche. It was a large representation of Jesus as the Sacred Heart, with the odd heart-outside-the-body typical of that art. But more important: his arms were flung wide in welcome. His hands didn’t hurl thunderbolts or brandish law books.
The stance epitomized St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s insight: “The divine heart…is an ocean full of joy to drown all our sadness…” When she tried to convince others of this broadly inclusive approach, authorities called her delusional. (If only the prune-faces could’ve been around when she was vindicated: for the feast proclaimed in 1856, her canonization in 1920.)
That set the stage. Then in adulthood, I could understand Richard Rohr’s superb book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, where he explains that we can do nothing to make God love us more. “All is given all the time!” because God can’t not love.
If I could really believe that, live out of it, I’d have it made. We all would. So, thanks to the Sacred Heart for that good grounding.
Dr. Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston and author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers says her research shows that the people with the deepest compassion are also those with the clearest boundaries. Pope Francis demonstrated that visibly in his recent meeting with President Trump.
While the latter grinned broadly, the pope looked dour. His usual cheerful countenance was replaced by a look of the utmost gravity. He refused to smile for any of the photo ops., leading commentators to wonder what had happened to his sunny personality.
One expert explained it this way: Pope Francis spent most of his adult life fighting fascism in Argentina, so he can smell a fascist a mile away. He could not possibly approve Trump’s plans to take health care coverage from 23 million people, to enrich the billionaires (the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart empire, would receive a $52 Billion tax cut if the administration gets Congress to destroy the Estate Tax) and gut the safety net for the poor, to trash the environment, build an outrageously expensive and ill-considered wall with Mexico and deport even innocent immigrants.
At the time, when Francis gifted Trump with his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” he couldn’t have predicted how blatantly it would be ignored. Several days later, the president pulled the US out of the Paris accords on climate change. Trump might as well have tossed the careful, thoughtful document out the window of Air Force 1 over the Atlantic.
No one knows for sure the papal motives, but his stance seemed to say, “I’ll have this meeting because it is my job. But in no way will you imply my support for your terrible agenda with its total lack of compassion.”
Perhaps if the pope’s photo could be taken with the governors of CA, NY and WA, along with the numerous mayors who’ve independently signed on to the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas, a trace of his smile might return.
One of the most striking sentences in the reading from Acts (2:4) describes people speaking different languages, yet still being understood. We all know that even those who speak the same language can have a hard time communicating. Pentecost reverses The Tower of Babel story, which tries to explain why people began speaking in different languages. The people that day achieved understanding, despite their linguistic differences.
Pentecost continues today, as African students in an ESL classroom learn English and across the hall, North Americans learn Spanish. A young California woman who had emergency gall bladder surgery in a Tokyo hospital felt alone and afraid, unable to communicate with or understand her nurses and doctors. She was placed in the oncology ward because a few nurses there knew some English. But another patient broke down the language barrier. She simply lifted her hospital gown and showed the American her scar, a silent signal that she could relate to the girl’s pain.
One way to celebrate Pentecost is to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives. The processes of ordinary living are so fragile, so immensely significant, so fraught with terror, that we desperately need someone beyond ourselves. We need the warmth and power of the Spirit to help us in whatever we have undertaken.
If you look back over the last 5, 10 or 20 years, where could you could say this? “Ah yes. So you, life-giving Spirit and Guide, were there all along.”
Imagine filming this gospel: choosing the music, leading actor, supporting cast, setting. It’s high drama: this trek up the mountain, invoking of authority in heaven and on earth, commissioning of outreach to the whole world, assurance of divine presence in the task ahead. It is a pivotal moment for Christianity, directing the first followers beyond a small mid-eastern sect to a world-wide religion.
The touching combination of those who worship and those who doubt strikes an earthy, human note. Sometimes we have those extremes within the same family, parish—or even within ourselves. Interestingly, Jesus excludes no one; there is no litmus test for those who join him in this “peak” scene. Nor does he qualify his promise to be with us “all the days”: days of anger and disappointment, days of joy and fulfillment, days of treachery and disease, even days of ordinary routine and boring drudgery.
In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill describes contemporaries who followed Jesus’ command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”: “…a kindly British orphanage in the grim foothills of Peru, a house for the dying in a back street of Calcutta … an easygoing French medical team at the starving edge of the Sahel.” These answered the call: not to stare at the sky, but to find the Christ in our midst.
Because today’s reading from the last supper discourse comes so near the end of Jesus’ life, it holds a privileged place in John’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t have much time left; he can’t waste his breath on trivia. So what he chooses must be absolutely central to his message. We, in turn, should hold these words in our hearts.
The shadow of death hangs over Jesus’ head as it does for all of us.
He addresses one of the hardest things in any relationship—that we will someday say a final goodbye as he is saying now. Even before that, we sometimes fail ea other; we betray those we love most. In the rush of events or too much pressure or not enough time, we miss each other’s shining radiance.
But despite those failures, God still chooses to make God’s dwelling place with us. Other than college dorm or summer camp, we rarely dwell with strangers. Usually, we live with those we love most. GOD’s wanting to dwell with us should allay our anxieties about our failures.
As Jesus speaks, the “beloved disciple” leans against his chest. So John suggests, the only way we can see the world accurately is from that position: leaning on Jesus’ heart. John creates a deliberate parallel: just as Jesus knows God’s secrets, hears God’s heart beat, so we humans can also enjoy that privileged place. Thus, our feeble loving is joined to Jesus’ all-powerful love to make it wonderfully fruitful.
Sometimes I feel like the pathetic child in “Oliver,” holding out his porridge bowl and pleading, “more please?” In this case, more Easter.
If resurrection means beginning again and again anew, then our best experiences of love or beauty should show us who we most deeply are. We seek these out instinctively, suspecting we’re made for the garden, not the tomb. God’s life penetrates ours, boring through every dark corner.
We Catholics can be a somewhat narrow lot, most of us having had little exposure to the other great traditions. To be fair, fully appreciating Teresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich could be a full-time occupation. But that gap explains why I was so delighted to discover an essay titled “Christ Rising” by Christoph Blumhardt, a German pastor who lived from 1842-1919.
He points out that because of Christ’s rising we are “of an entirely different order.” Worries and anxieties should mean no more to us than a face cloth or shroud cast aside. Blumhardt says not to focus on the evil, imperfection, or unresolved question. “All that has nothing to do with us.” Instead we simply “ask Jesus to give us more and more of his resurrection, until it runs over, until the extraordinary powers from on high that are within our reach can get down to work on all that we do.”
In other words, why hang out in the basement when we could have the ballroom?
When Good Shepherd Sunday rolls around again, we dread being compared to sheep: wooly, stupid and directionally challenged.
So maybe we should focus instead on the shepherd: there are many reasons why he has been beloved for centuries. We who have grown overly cynical about leadership, given the disasters in church, state and corporate worlds, can find refreshment in this portrait. This is not the hierarch who sacrifices children to pedophiles in order to preserve the church’s reputation. This is not the president who sends thousands to die in war for some unclear purpose. This is not the CEO who draws a salary astronomically higher than the least paid workers in the company.
In utter simplicity and without drawing attention to himself, this leader sacrifices his own life for his friends. He is confident and calm, nobly laying down his life. Although the thugs may seem to control him at his trial and crucifixion, he in reality is directing the order of events. Why? That seems a mystery, and is in fact the same question the poet Christina Rossetti asked about the quest for the lost sheep: “Is one worth seeking, when Thou hast of Thine/ Ninety and nine?”
Such dedication is beyond human comprehension, but hints of a supreme love.