Category Archives: Family Spirituality

Unexpected Resurrection Figures: the Houston Police Chief

During this season, I try to look for the “small r” resurrections that surround us if we pay attention. These ground the “capital R” Resurrection in our daily experience and somehow make it even more meaningful.

One of the most heartening recent news stories was that of Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who refused administration orders to deport an 11-year old girl without her family. They had fled death threats from the MS-13 gang in El Salvador. She had made all 10 of her appointments with ICE, but due to their clerical error, she was ordered back to El Salvador alone. Understandably, she’s terrified of MS-13 awaiting her return.

Then our hero steps in: Chief Acevedo defied the order. In his own words:

“We have 600,000+ immigrants in this city and ensuring they trust their police department is critical to our mission of keeping our city safe. Messages like yours must be what the German Police were told leading up to the Holocaust. Not this chief, not this Nation, not his time!”

Responding to criticism that he should stay out of politics and simply run his department, the Chief tweeted:

“Yep. The Nazi’s enforced their laws as well. You don’t separate children from their families! Ever! You’d have to kill me to take my child from me simply because I was trying to get them to a better place for a better tomorrow. I am glad to be on the right side of history.”

Although news reports may have distorted the story, and it’s always possible there’s a different angle here, his stance echoes another one in history; Acevedo himself alluded to the Nazi regime. After the Nazis invaded Holland, the ten Boom family began sheltering Jews, resistance for which they paid the price in jail and concentration camps.

Corrie ten Boom’s book THE HIDING PLACE deserves its immense popularity, and one scene in it has particular resonance with the Houston situation, replicated now all over the US. When Corrie begs a pastor to hide a Jewish woman and her two-week old child in his rural, well hidden home, he refuses. “Definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!”

Then Corrie’s elderly father intervenes, looking into the little face. “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”

Indeed, he was prophetic. When the family is arrested, the chief interrogator gives the “old man” a chance to return home. His courageous response: “If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door again to any [one] in need who knocks.” He would die in jail alone, without his beloved family.

How they continue to glow, these divine sparks that empower and blaze forth in human beings. Despite the surrounding gloom, they remind us of Resurrection.

See Kathy Coffey’s article on Columbine in the 4/15/19, 110th anniversary issue of America Magazine. Sadly, nothing significant has changed in gun control during the 20 years since it was first published.

Twenty Years after Columbine

The morning of March 17, I’d sung “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” at Mass; that afternoon I sat between a Jewish friend and a Muslim friend (who wore her green sari in honor of the feast) for prayer at the mosque. We could’ve been the poster girls for the Abrahamic family, or the lead into a joke, but it seemed appropriate to gather and mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre together. Board members of the Muslim Cultural Center read from the Koran and in a horribly familiar ritual, listed the names of the fifty deceased. The large crowd gasped at the name and photo of a three-year old boy, recently escaped from Somalia to a country his parents must’ve thought safe.

The speakers–a Rabbi, a Sikh, an Episcopal priest and city council members– often mentioned, “we’ve done this before”: for the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the many schools, the church in Charleston.  It was a different perspective to mourn the carnage in another country, but the ache of loss was the same. Mercifully, no one had answers; any explanation would’ve seemed too tidy and pat. The best response seemed to be that of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime minister. She wore a black head scarf to mourn at the mosque “because it seemed right,” then, with Parliament’s cooperation, almost immediately banned assault weapons.

Why could such definitive action be impossible in a country which has suffered so much from unrestricted gun violence, and now is seeing the tragic suicides of two Parkland survivors, the father of a Sandy Hook victim? Are citizens who poll consistently in favor of gun control utterly impotent? Sadly, FBI statistics show hate crimes increasing by 30% between 2014 and 2017. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that white nationalist groups surged by almost 50% in 2018.

We cringed in embarrassment, members of a nation which once exported iPhones and Cokes, and now sends international messages of white supremacy and Islamophobia. When President Trump offered Ardern his condolences and asked what help the US could give, she replied, “support for Muslim communities.”

Maybe that’s why we were there. Also to hear Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA) describe buying a rug in Islamabad. “How do I know the quality?” he asked the seller. “My wife and I usually buy rugs at Target.” “By the number of knots” came the reply. “The more knots, the higher quality.” So too, Swalwell continued, our society is better the more diverse knots we have, the thicker their texture.

A Muslim speaker ended, “in the name of God Most Gracious, Most Merciful,” reminding us that St. Francis had imported that name from his travels in Egypt. Living in a gun-obsessed and hate-filled society, we came for the challenge to act in accord with the Muslim prayer:

O You Who is Beauty Itself and You Who Love all that is beautiful

Please make my interaction with others beautiful

Please make both my inside and outside beautiful

 

On April 20, 1999, the Columbine tragedy gave parents their first suspicion that their children might not routinely return from school each day. Twenty years later, I deliver my grandchildren to first grade and preschool with a ritual of kiss, hug, fist bump, high five and whisper, “I love you.” Still, that frisson of fear lingers. Still, the dreaded question: Will this be our last goodbye?

Palm Sunday: Jesus’ Last Gestures

How touching: in his final hours, Jesus’ concern is not with the sin that will pin him to the cross, nor the imminent brutality, but with a last gesture of concern for his friends. Today’s gospel begins with his careful preparations for the Passover meal. His final gifts to the disciples are nurturing bread, inspiriting wine and songs of praise.

One of the most heartbreaking lines in the account of Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane is, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me” (Matthew 26:38). We know how miserably his friends failed him then, but what about ourselves in similar situations? Do we stand with the grieving, those who suffer Christ’s passion today?

As the disciples sleep, Jesus agrees to his Father’s plan, despite what it will cost him. He recognizes, as we should, that God is infinitely wiser than the limited human mind. With any of life’s most challenging passages—marriage, parenthood, a career, dying–we have no idea what we’re getting into. We grow into that awareness. During his passion, Jesus is not a child nor a slave, but a conscious adult, who agrees in love to whatever the Father asks.

This is a good week to take some quiet time and reflect on Jesus’ innocence and willingness. We could ask ourselves the unanswerable question voiced by God at the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!”

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Called by Name

For those using the Cycle A readings in Lent, Lazarus:

Today’s gospel (John 11:1-45) prompts us to ask where we ourselves are bound and death-like. Have we capitulated to the culture’s definition of us as consumers? Have we bought into the put-downs tossed off by the careless that do unintended harm? Do we resort to old categories (gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, socio-economic level), caging unique human beings? Jesus’ call comes to us all: “Lazarus come forth!” Shed those paralyzed trappings; enter into new and abundant life.

It is marvelous to consider Martha’s role in this miracle. She starts with an understandable complaint: “If you’d come sooner, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Yet she dares to hope for more, just as Mary once told Jesus at Cana, “they have no more wine.” Martha is far more creative than the bystanders, who never dream that this “Johnny-Come-Lately” could defy death and wrench their friend from the tomb.

Approaching his passion, it’s almost as if Jesus needs one slight affirmation. He must wonder whether those who’d been with him so long had the slightest glimmer of understanding. Peter had once professed that Jesus was the Christ, but in the next verse, Jesus is warning him because of his stupidity, “get thee behind me, Satan!” Martha, on the other hand, gives Jesus what he needs: her belief that he is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Encouraged by her trust, Jesus asserts his truest identity: “the resurrection and the life.”

Fourth Sunday of Lent: One Born Blind—Who Sees

Scripture scholar Thomas Brodie writes of the man born blind: His first words, ”ego eimi” mean literally, “I am.” But there’s more to this than a simple self-identification. They also place him in line with God’s self-definition, “I am who am,” and Jesus’ string of identifiers elsewhere in John: I am the bread of life (6:35) and light of the world. This spunky, uneducated man represents us all, made in God’s image. (The Gospel According to John New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 55.)

Furthermore, the formerly blind man models how to trust. He’s so grateful to Jesus he believes him completely, and bows in reverence to him. He may not have read anything, but he stands in sharp contrast to the Pharisees who desperately cling to a tired tradition: “we are disciples of Moses.” Their blindness keeps them from seeing how awesomely God works in the present.

We shouldn’t pick on them when we all have our blind spots. Sometimes, metaphorically, we choose to hang out in the dark basement, rather than the gorgeous, light-filled ballroom to which God invites us. If we wallow in despair or anxiety, we overlook our amazing identity: created like God.

When Jesus anoints the man’s eyes with clay (John 9:6), it symbolizes the man’s human dignity and heals his blindness. Jesus himself will be anointed by a woman (John 12:3). So too, those baptized or confirmed at the Easter Vigil will be anointed with oil, like Israel’s priests, prophets and rulers. Story and symbol describe our essential dignity.

See Kathy’s cover story in March St. Anthony Messenger about refugee children: https://blog.franciscanmedia.org/sam/echoes-of-exodus

Third Sunday of Lent: Well of Surprises

For those using the Cycle A readings in Lent, the woman at the well

Jesus arrives at the well in today’s gospel (John 4:5-42) tired, thirsty, aware that he’s among Samaritans who have a long history of conflict with his people.

He immediately breaks a social taboo since a good Jewish boy never spoke to a woman (even his mother, wife or sister) in public. So the Samaritan woman is surprised–and intrigued. Jesus refused to categorize her by gender or  nationality. He begins by expressing poignant human need, the same thirst he named from the cross. Then he engages in conversation with her, just as he did with Martha, Peter, or the other disciples.

His conversational style is important: some believe that the Trinity itself is a marvelous conversation or dance among the three persons of God. In contrast, the one-sided lecture form seems stale and lifeless. Jesus’ conversation liberates the woman from enshrined prejudices and irrelevant beliefs. Where we worship is secondary, he says. How we worship is primary.

Since Jesus has invited the woman’s participation from the beginning, it’s natural for her to become involved in spreading the good news. She leaves behind her water jar, symbol of exhausted systems and drudgery, in her eagerness to tell her village about Jesus.

The Samaritan woman got more than she bargained for when she went to draw water. She got a life-giving spring, gushing up to eternal life. And we, working at the old, tedious tasks, the same routines or the endless chores, we too might be surprised by a stranger…

See Kathy’s cover story in March St. Anthony Messenger about refugee children: https://blog.franciscanmedia.org/sam/echoes-of-exodus

Second Sunday of Lent: Prayer in Another Key

 

“Try it in G,” the musician suggests and we hear the same song in a different key. So Jesus models a transition from his glorious mountaintop experience to the verses that follow today’s gospel, about a boy foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth and rigid. Descending, Jesus scolds a “faithless generation,” who cannot cure him, then rebukes the demon, curing what today we might term epilepsy.

“Will the real Jesus please stand up?” We’re inclined to believe in the one whose face dazzles and whose clothes shine, affirmed by the Father’s voice. Clearly Peter is stunned into babbling an elaborate plan for building tents, so Jesus can converse with the prophets in peace.

Yet it is no less Jesus who repeats, “how much longer must I put up with you?” in exasperation with the disciples’ lack of faith and inability to cure the boy. He heals him “instantly,” so his power is still intact; his compassion still overflows.

We also go through various transformations in our days. We might be praying, then cooking, gardening, paying bills, caring for children or the elderly, chatting, reading, singing, shopping, working on the computer, filling the car with gas or doing the laundry. It’s the same self, in different keys. But because of Jesus’ transfiguration, we do all these things as divine children of the Great King. It’s all prayer in different ways. The disciples who saw Jesus in dazzling light also see themselves anew.  The radiance might not be obvious, but it is there nonetheless, hiding beneath the surface.