Intermittent appearances

Christ is risen!

I hope all have a joyful Easter Octave this week.

As I head into the end of the academic year I am entering into a very consuming stretch of work, so my posting here will be intermittent at best. Pray for me and I for thee.

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I will leave you with one meditation for this stretch. Blessings!

The Octave has begun in earnest today, Monday, called both Bright Monday and the Day God laughed. It concludes next Sunday with the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, which is a fitting summation of the whole of God’s work, from the first instant creation sprang into being out of nothing, to the re-creation of all things in the Resurrection of Christ out of the nothingness of death.

Mercy is love creating, healing, forgiving, renewing all that it touches. Mercy is the substance of the new creation.

Christ is risen!

Jesus’ bodily resurrection is not resuscitation, as was the case with Lazarus or the son of the widow of Nain, precisely because Jesus’ coming to life again does not mean a return to life in this world. Rather, the resurrection of Christ is a second “Big Bang,” a re-creative event that inaugurated a new order of existence, a new creation governed by a new law: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). By His death of self-sacrificing love, Jesus split the nucleus of death and released in His risen sacred humanity the infinite energy of divine mercy that “makes all things new” (cf Rev. 21:5). Pentecost, which is a glorious coda at the end of the Easter season, opens that Big Bang up to all of humanity, allowing us who join in the re-creative energies of the risen and ascending Christ — by acts of faith, hope and charity — to extend His detonating mercy to absolutely everything.

By becoming saints.

Watch carefully what Jesus does over the next 40 days of appearances. The characteristic law and order of the Kingdom of God, the new heaven and new earth, can be discerned in the nature and activity of the Body of the risen Christ — in His resurrection appearances and in the members of His mystical Body, the Church. In fact, the Church, born at Pentecost, is meant and sent to reveal to all of creation (Mark 16:15) the inauguration of the Kingdom’s new law and order here and now, within this world.
What does that look like?

When the old creation, still under the power of death, says of the children of light, “See how they love one another,” we can be certain that the old order is passing over into the new. That what happens in Eucharistic transubstantiation is making its way out of the Chalice and off of the Paten out into the enslaved world that awaits the freedom of God’s children. Seen from this vantage, miracles — Eucharistic or otherwise — are not to be understood as the transgression or violation of creation’s natural laws, but rather as a revelation of the sacramental transfiguration of this world’s laws by the irruption of the new creation into the old. All of the Sacraments, but above all the Eucharist, effect this change. Transubstantiation is not some bizarre trick God plays, or a crazy logic puzzle, but rather is the premier sign of how the new creation transfigures the old — not violently replacing or destroying the old, but peacefully, gently, quietly, hiddenly transforming this world’s “substance” into a new order of existence that originates in Jesus’ risen Flesh and Blood.

A new order suffused with self-wasting, self-giving, healing, forgiving, patient, kind love. A new order that produces a St. Josephine Bakhita (1869–1947), whose body, marked with the scars of human cruelty, remains today a stunning sign of the incorrupt life of the new creation spoken into being by words of mercy: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). For she said, “If I met those slave traders who kidnapped me and treated me so cruelly, I would kneel to kiss their hands, because if that had not happened, I would not be a Christian and a religious today. Poor things, maybe they did not know they were hurting me so much: they were the masters, I was their slave. Just as we are used to doing good out of habit, so they did that by force of habit, not because they were wicked.”

Listen closely to the readings every day of this Easter season and be attentive to the characteristics of this newness; of what new things emerge in the risen, uncontainable Christ and in His Body, the Church. And then be exceptionally attentive to how He accomplishes this new creation in, with and through you at each moment, bit by bit, making all-things-you, new.

¡Triumph!

“The Resurrection” by Ricci, Sebastiano (1730). wikimedia.org

The divine comeback, God’s ultimate response to evil, injustice, sin, and death—what could be called the epitome of divine nonverbal communication—is the resurrected Christ. “God has not only raised the Lord,” Paul said, “but will also raise us up through his power” (1 Cor. 6:14). We may be tempted to believe that evil, suffering, and death prove God’s silence. But these are only ambient noises, and one day they will be silenced once and for all. God will have the last word when he raises us from the dead, when we ourselves are the embodiment of answered prayer. –– Rodney Reeves

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! Happy Easter!

Every Easter I like to re-post this jubilant middle eastern outpouring of flash-mob Paschal joy (in Arabic/Greek). I am timing this post to begin as our parish Easter Vigil begins.

First the text they sing, then the video:

Arabic: Al-Masih qam minbain’il-amwat,
wa wati al mowt bil mowt,
wa wahab’l hayah lil ladhina fi’l qubur

Greek: Christos anesti ek nekron,
thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis en tis mnimasin,
zoin charisamenos!

English: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Vox. Poetica. Deus mortuus est.

“The Crucifixion,” 1325 A.D. by Giotto. bp.blogspot.com

I guess I lied. I said no posts until after Easter, but two things happened in my path.

First, as I unpacked boxes in my new office yesterday I found an old collection of poetry I had written in the 1990’s+, bound in a beautiful case as a gift by a dear friend of mine. I sat and read them over. I found one I had written on a Good Friday and thought to share it here. Hope I did not already last year! My memory.

I almost never recite aloud poetry, so it is what it is!

Second, a young man emailed me yesterday morning and asked for some reflections “for understanding better the meaning of the Triduum — maybe some history and a little theology stuff.” How could I resist? So early this morning I jotted some notes out and decided to make a voice recording over morning coffee to save typing time. I had planned ~10 to 15 minutes, ended up 31 minutes long. Loquacious am I. Or as a candid friend said to me the other day, “Tom Neal, never an unblogged thought.”

May these Three Days be for you ones of special encounter with Christ. How He loves you.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (beneath Golgotha)

The Cross at Ground Zero. carbonated.tv

[In absence of more time to write, I will share my recent journal entry here meditating on the Triduum. It was a one sitting stream of thought. I pray one insight feeds your prayer these holy days. This will be my last post till after Easter, so all good wishes for your celebrations to be filled with joy and God’s blessings.]

As I have been meditating on this impending Triduum, a host of insights have been boiling in my heart. I will write them here with a logic and order totally disrupted by the unsettled-ness of this paschal mystery. Worse in its mess because I am part of that mystery. Gulp.

In the 7-day liturgical rhythm of the first creation story in Genesis, Friday (day 6) is the day Man was created, male-female, in the divine image; Saturday (day 7) is the day of both divine and human Sabbath rest; Sunday (day 1) is the very dawn of creation when God first spoke light into being.

Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday.

The Pasch of Christ weaves its seamless disruption so magnificently into the textures of creation’s pattern, you almost don’t notice when the bread and wine become Him. Clearly, divine providence loves patterns that evince surprising beauty. God loves making us gawk.

The Last Supper takes place, by the Jewish counting of a new day beginning at sunset, on the same day as the crucifixion. “Holy Thursday” is a deceptive way of naming the Last Supper. The Eucharist and the cross are in one day, are one event.

The Eucharist is a verb, a sacrificing: Body broken for you, Blood spilled for you.

The Eucharist is a verb, a command: Take, eat; Take, drink. Terrifying to eat and drink verbs. Especially ones suffused with crazed love. Active, plying. I much prefer nouns. Passive, pliable.

The Eucharist is a verb, a demand: As I have done, so you must do. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.

The Eucharist is God-Man grain, grapes, surrendered to death, to crushing, to pressing, to fire, to fermenting, to ingestion. All in order to give life, to give thanks, to reveal the most secret essence of God. God is food, drink.

The crucified and risen Flesh and Blood of the God-Man is His supreme sacrificial self-gift for His bride, for humanity. Given so she might become “church,” ekklesia, which means “called out from where you are.” Out of my comfort zone, that is, to where He is. Ekklesia is the Woman born of His open side, a New Eve washed and clothed, invited, called and gathered into His home, His life, His love, His faithfulness, His joy, His recreating work.

The Eucharistic sacrificial banquet feeds us, the image-bearers God created to make certain creation was lovingly cultivated into a beautiful, fragrant, fruit-filled, life-giving Garden of offering.

The Eucharist effects, seals, perfects, elevates, transforms, transfigures, glorifies, divinizes Man and Woman. Eucharistic Communion is the true two-in-one-flesh, the extreme source and paradigm of all human community, the nuptial union on which a new humanity is built.

The Word once spoken into clay, in the beginning, comes now, in time, to speak words of tender love to His image. Yet His image silences Him, takes His Breath away. The “word of the cross” is His silence, the asphyxiation of the God who breathed life into Man in the beginning. Silent, breathless love. “He opened not His mouth.” “He breathed His last.” “He handed over the Spirit.”

Listen to His silence, eloquent beyond all words. In His silence He listens attentively to our screaming hatred, rejection, cursing, jeering, mocking, spitting, abuse, blasphemy, ridicule, injustice, lies, torture, death. His silence speaks long, long-suffering mercy. Omnipotence, un-condemning from the cross, unsaying sin, undoing death, unmasking violence: “I don’t want to hurt you,” He says in effect. And after He rises, after being felled by us He says with indescribable kindness, “Shalom.” “Do you love me?” “Feed.”

“It is finished,” before He finally obeys death. Creation is finished, completed, redeemed, re-created now that the labor of love-to-the-end has ended its exodus and all things have been delivered. God can rest in the completion of love’s toil.

The Burial of Christ, the Sabbath of the slain God-Man, a rest restless with the urgency of love (John 5:17); of a Father gazing in tender mercy on the corpse of His Son, contemplating the goodness and beauty of Their love’s self-emptying work. The Word-made-flesh has restored creation to its original beauty and goodness (kalon) by an act of obedient love. Creation was created by and for love. As Christ rested in Hell, slept in that loveless space, preached hope wordlessly, Hell shook with unrest and terror.

And on the first day of the week, before dawn, the Word, dreaming of us, awoke from sleep and at once commanded Hell still, Death slain, Sin pardoned, the Grave powerless. The Word rose from death’s darkness and said, “Let there be light.” And He was Light without evening, forever risen in an unending Day, artisan of a New Creation, Gardener of an immortal Garden through which the Living Waters flow.

All this because in His compassion He came down for us, for our salvation. For me, the guilty, fallen, beaten and bleeding bystander, He stooped low to tend my wounds and lift me up.

I re-read Fr. Aidan Nichols’ reflection on the paschal mystery again this week for the umpteenth time. This paragraph always blows me away:

Christ’s death was not a piece of ritual yet it was a cultic act, i.e. a deliberate act of adoration of the Father … Thus the circumstances in which the death was embraced — the betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference of the men of power — all of these purely secular conditions were taken up into an act of cult, a supreme act of worship, whose hidden fruitfulness made it the central event in the history of the world. Because Christ’s sacrifice was a supreme act of worship, it was capable of becoming the foundation of the Christian liturgy. Aquinas remarks that by his sacrifice on the cross, Christ inaugurated the cultus of the Christian religion. His sacrifice is the objective basis of our worship.

It means so many things to me! But here is what springs to mind.

The “purely secular conditions” of human existence — what is good and what is riddled with chaos and evil — are caught up into the cross-shaped Liturgy that, every day since the Resurrection, fills the world. Haunts the world.

Especially through the laity, whose baptismal priesthood renders them liturgical beings, allowing them to carry with them, everywhere, the “hidden fruitfulness” of  the Liturgy. As they live, love, work, pray, eat, drink, forgive, play, sacrifice, repent, suffer, sleep or weep, the earth-quaking power of Christ-unleashed hiddenly floods out of them into every nook and cranny of secular life. They roam out about everywhere, celebrating amid the truth, goodness and beauty of the world; as well as amid the “betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference of the men of power” — all the while gathering innumerable fragments of redeemed existence and bringing them, compressed into bread and wine, up to the Holy Sacrifice.

The faithful refuse to abandon anyone, anywhere — even the hangman or the gulag — by leaving them bereft of Christ’s saving power. Pentecost ensured Hell no longer has anywhere to hide, no world without a soul.

“We may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body” (From a letter to Diognetus, 140 A.D.).

The redeemed animate the world with divine life and love, humbly and mostly unnoticed, like God Himself.

Ours is a Paschal Liturgy, in which purity appears wrapped in filth; love in hate; gentleness in violence; life in death. Fr. Kavanagh:

The Book of Hebrews tells us how the resolution was accomplished, not in an orchard set in pleasant countryside but in a butcher shop located in the city’s center. The World’s story from beginning to end pivots upon this resolution, a resolution the faint of heart, the fastidious, and the squeamish find hard to bear. Suburbia prefers its meat wrapped in plastic, all signs of violence removed so as to reduce the necessity of entering into the dark and murderous transaction with reality which one creature giving up its life for another entails.

Daring to liturgize, we join the obedient love of the “total Christ” — Christ and Christians — who bears on His back the sins of the “whole world” (1 Jn 2:2) and everything is redeemed (Titus 2:11). Christians have this noblesse oblige, this liturgical burden to offer their own Christ-knit lives to the Father in the Spirit for the whole of humanity and creation. Interceding forever for all, lifting them up with and to Him (Heb. 7:25); offering up their bodies as living sacrifices “on behalf of all and for all,” with martyrdom being liturgy’s apogee.

Egypt, Copts, Passion Sunday. Alongside them, I am unworthy to be called Christian. May I become worthy.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy magnificently captures the liturgical work of the baptized as a Eucharistic co-offering for the whole world. And it should be prayed not only in churches or shrines, but everywhere we find ourselves. Eternal Father, I offer you…

Someone just sent me this clip they recorded during the celebration of Holy Mass on a balcony in the French Quarter. The recording catches a most beautiful part of the Mass, the “liturgy of the laity” — the Offertory. It seemed divinely timed that during the Offertory a huge second line party passed right under the balcony on the street below. It was a wedding. How fitting. No need to be super-spiritual here in the sense of being swept off into some otherworldly Heaven. Rather, Heaven swept down to Earth. Or, better, Heaven wedded to Earth, and man was reconciled to God.

As at Golgotha, this wedding welcomed near unlikely guests joyful, smelly, drunken, laughing, staggering revelers. In those streets, some strange and unsortable mix of saints and sinners. I imagine the shysters, tourists, prostitutes, johns, tax collectors extorting, gamblers squandering their mammon, addicts looking to buy, dealers looking to sell. Unaware their redemption was near at hand. Encircling them. Above them. Beside them. Beneath them. For them.

Might they only see, hear, understand and say, “Remember us, Lord, when you come into your Kingdom.”

I dream of an outbound Church, not a self-referential one, a Church that does not pass by far from man’s wounds, a merciful Church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as Love, which is Mercy. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Pope Francis)

Thank you, Father Celebrant, clothed in Penitent’s Purple, for turning your face toward them, and so sweeping them — us, me — up into the at-one-ing Offering.

It seems fitting to end here with an excerpt from Hymn of the Universe by Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, followed by a contemporary musical setting of the 6th century liturgical hymn to the Cross, Vexilla regis proderunt:

I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.

I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labor. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.

This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous rhythms trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this mystery that I thus desire all the fibers of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.

Tree of life and glory, Tree that heals and saves;
Tree that tells the ancient story:
dying, rising from the grave.

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where He, by whom our flesh was made,
In that same flesh, our ransom paid.

Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
Life’s torrent rushing from His side,
To wash us in that precious flood,
Where flowed the water and the blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old,
That He, the nation’s King should be,
And reign in triumph from the Tree.

O Tree of beauty, Tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear:
Gone is your shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of Glory now.

Divine ecology, writing and seed-casting

Sunset during the Willwoods Gala cocktail hour — “Tom, look, you need to get a picture of that and write a Blog on it!” I love challenges.

[Another busy week this week so probably no posts till the Triduum.]

I have no idea where this entry will go. Enjoy the ride…

Saturday night, my wife and I were invited to attend the Willwoods Sixteenth Annual Gala. Willwoods is a NOLA Catholic ministry that serves, among other things, the work of strengthening and supporting marriage and family life.

Patti and I love events like this because it’s kind of a “who’s who” in the world of NOLA Catholic culture on-the-move, with laity and clergy who invest their energy and love and faith into a unique aspect of Catholic life. Aided by an open bar, we had lots of lively conversations with a number of people, some of whom we had never met, but now are connected with — which is our favorite part. As I sat early Sunday morning reflecting on that night and the conversations we had had with quite a number of people, I began to think of the way many those people have reshaped me, my worldview, my marriage and my family’s life.

How marvelous is the interconnectedness of humanity! How astounding it is that we, as persons made for each other, are wholly defined by our relationships — for better or for ill. Many of the people I knew at the Gala I would consider people who strive for holiness, who have labored strenuously to permit God’s grace to shape their lives and, through them, influence the lives of those they interact with every day.

All of this reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a priest I know, whom I quoted in yesterday’s post. He’s a remarkable man who has an unusual depth of compassion. By that I mean that he possesses a sustained and genuine interest in entering into others’ worlds and allowing them to enter into his. Not to simply accomplish some useful goal, or as a superficial formality, but in order to allow a meaningful human relationship to emerge. It is only, he believes, within such authentic human encounters that Christ can truly enter and reveal His life-enriching glory. It is a marvel to behold the fruits of his approach in others’ lives, mine included. In fact, the most frequent comment I hear said of him is: “He is so caring.” 

Such an approach to life and ministry takes discipline, intentionality and repeated acts of patient love. It comes with a high price tag. You might say his approach lacks a certain product-oriented “efficiency” which demands many — or even most — relationships be functional and goal-oriented. But from what I have seen and heard, the resulting quality-over-quantity “product” he produces bears the sweetest and most enduring of fruits on which alone — he would argue — genuine Christian community can be built.

It certainly was Jesus’ methodology.

As we sat together eating our meatless salads on a Lenten Friday, he asked me to describe the process that goes into my writing posts for this blog. “Where do the insights come from?” Here is roughly what I said:

The vast majority of posts begin with something I read, a conversation I have, a sunset I watch, a billboard I see, an insight that appears while I pray in the waiting room of a car repair shop. Something about this or that experience I have in a particular moment sparks something in me, like a flash of light, which then somehow gets caught up, in my mind, into the matrix of Christ — with it casting light on Him or Him casting light on it.

Then I will feel compelled to jot down the essence of whatever insight I’ve had on a receipt in my wallet, or speak a voice-to-text sent to my email address, or ask my wife if she wouldn’t mind pausing our evening conversation for three minutes while I type an explosive idea I just had into my blog drafts. Bless her heart, she’s so patient with her manic husband.

I have hundreds of drafts sitting in my wordpress account, waiting for me to have time on my hands and a Muse stirring in my imagination.

The amazing thing about writing, for me, is that when these insights detonate inside and I write them, they come alive inside of me. Like, really alive. The whole of my perspective is altered, shifted, expanded, troubled, deepened, stretched, inhabited by something new, something living, something vital that, once released into my thought-world, continues to work on everything I see and do and hear and touch and taste and reflect on and love and pray.

It’s like the ideas I get are living, not simply dead facts or bits of data added to a mental fact sheet. They trouble the waters of my mind until everything else adjusts to their presence. Which is why I love the song, “Wade in the Water,” which captures the “feel” of what goes on inside me as I theologically reflect on some wierd thing that caught me by surprise.

But I’ve noticed that it’s really only when I take these new insights and write them in my blog, or weave them into a talk or lecture I will be giving, that they come alive and begin to reshape the way I see and experience everything. They can’t just sit there, or they vanish. It’s only when I *intend* to give them away that they seem to have the power to re-define the way I see everything. This, it seems to me, is the fundamental difference between faith and knowledge. Knowledge is information added to my worldview, while faith is information, set in motion by love, that reshapes and defines my whole worldview; becomes bit by bit the way I see everything — others, yourself, the world, God. “I believe” means “I see.”

But it’s really when I take the new knowledge into my prayer-time that, like activated charcoal, purfies and enriches and affects everything else, in a strange way, resetting the the whole mess of my inner life.

That’s really quite odd sounding, isn’t it? It sounds odd as I never articulate this. Thank you for asking the question and listening so carefully.

After I finished sharing this, he shared with me a metaphor that floored me. In brief, it went something like this (I will do grave injustice to it here trying to sum it as his phrasing was so succinct and brilliant):

The image that comes to mind as you speak is of an ecosystem, with your intellectual thought being almost like an ecology of the mind. An inner culture. Ecosystems have a certain delicate balance in which each organism adapts to its native environment and learns to cohabit with other organisms in a vital interdependence and network of life which allows all to thrive in an organic web. But when a new organism is introduced, everything gets troubled, disrupted, and needs to realign and re-adapt to the demands of the newcomer introduced. And vice versa. The ecosystem needs to adapt itself and change to move toward a new equilibrium in which everything becomes different, even if only slightly.

This seems to be what you’re describing here. What you allow into yourself, through your senses or in prayer, finds an already established inner-ecology, Tom’s unique personal ecosystem with its worldview that then trustingly yet discerningly welcomes in various new organisms, i.e. a new face, a new idea, a new smell or sight or taste; or divine life. Everything then has to adjust. And it’s all alive, as you say.

And then when you write, it’s then that you actively reorganize your ecosystem to make a fitting place for the new living principles, whatever they might be. Like dreams do at night, defragmenting and reorganizing new information, writing does for you. [Tom: Which makes me a daydream believer? Us: haha] Maybe some new things you’ve taken in have to be chewed up and digested, while others must be expelled or others embraced, while still yet others — like divine grace — well, you have to allow them to consume and digest your ideas, feelings, desires; your soul and spirit … or even the whole of you. Like the Shema commands. So when you consume the Eucharist, as St Augustine says, Christ consumes you; metabolizes you; adapts you to His divine-human ecosystem. The whole Church is this adapted ecosystem, expressed and given birth to in those real symbols of theandric [God-man] biodiversity: Christ in the Sacraments. Saints are the embodyment of the whole Church in its radical adaptation of human life to God-life. Or maybe the other way around, too, if we believe St Irenaeus. [He was speaking of the Catechism #53: “St. Irenaeus of Lyons repeatedly speaks of this divine pedagogy using the image of God and man becoming accustomed to one another: The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom man to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in man, according to the Father’s pleasure”]

At the heart of your inner culture, Tom, your inner ecology — constituted by your own free act of faith — is the gift of divine love, the indwelling Spirit that is itself the womb of the ecclesial Supernatural Organism, with its own force and vitality and blows-where-it-will purposes. It gets into everything like leaven spreading resurrection through dough. All of which you welcome whenever you pray. Prayer exposes your inner ecology to that of Jesus, joins them.

So whatever enters into you throughout the day encounters not only “Tom,” but God active and living and sorting things out within you. Christ within is busy at work re-creating in you a new creation; a new Ecology; a new Garden. Holiness. Only then, through such saints, can He extend His divine-human culture and ecology into the various ecosystems around you and effect new changes in others’ lives and in the whole material world you inhabit. That’s holiness, and its progress is slow, uneven, filled with setbacks, death and rebirth.

In this line of thought, that means the Cross embodies the event of God introducing Himself into a human ecosystem that has organized itself against, and to the exclusion of, His life. While His love compels Him to risk entry and deadly rejection in our hostile ecosystem, even while He remains long enough (to the end of time!) for that living system to gradually adapt itself to His presence and organize its life around and in and with His life. The Cross is the symbol of God’s willingness to pay an immense cost in order to enter our world and achieve a symbiosis with us. Divinization by hominization. Restructuring our micro and macro cultures according to the omnipotent principle of divine-human love. Jesus. He is the ecosystem of God introduced into the ecosystems of creation, through the consent of a Virgin who welcomes God into our world. 

Something like that.

I said: “What just happened?”

We went off in stunned silence to retire for the night. He showed me where the tea was for the morning. My heart was on fire with this new metaphor. And I could not get out of my mind that night a chilling scene from the movie, Risen, that contains a dialogue between a blind woman and the Roman tribune, Clavius, who is trying to crush the new “Jesus is risen” movement. They are discussing her claim to have encountered the risen Jesus. Listen:

Hopefully in ten years I will have a better way to explain its power.

 

 

Theological Threading

geeksundergrace.com

A blessed Holy Week to you!

I have three friends — two women and a priest — with whom I have been friends for many years. We are all theologically minded geeks. Years ago, when we all lived in the same city, we were able to meet for coffee to talk for hours and hours about how everything imaginable related to Christ. Sadly, we have been apart for years. But not long ago, we came up with a wonderful idea: Group-text threads of limitless and unending theo-dialogues.

We have had many remarkable theological exchanges, filled with deepest profundity and lol humor, and I always come away filled with new insights and with joy and challenge. It convinces me even more how absolutely imperative it is for people of faith to be connected to other people of faith, with whom they can talk about how everything and anything is affected by our faith in Jesus. The story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and entering a vigorous debate with them, is the model of how faith moves from confused and searching to burning like a raging fire.

In fact, this Blog, which is for me a transcript of my life’s ongoing dialogue with countless people, authors, nature, God, and you all has been for me a gift of inestimable value for growing my faith, hope and love. I am most sincerely indebted to those who read here, who draw from me visions that never would have come to me without you. Thank you. Deo gratias.

We call our group iYeshiva — Yeshiva is a Jewish school/seminary. All Christian theology is at heart Jewish.

I asked the group today if I could post a selection of our exchange just from this week. They graciously agreed. I thought: If people are able to endure what I write here at N.O., they will enjoy what we text about! So here it goes. I name the priest “Father,” the women “W1, W2” and myself “Me.” W2 is not as prolific here as she usually is in our threads, but she is the real sage of our group, cutting through marrow to the core.

Though I did not edit our grammatical missteps or typos, I cut out lots of the funny little quips here and there so as to not make this too long! I hope you enjoy.

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Father: Today’s gospel reveals how provocative Jesus identity is. The lengthy interchange between Jesus and the Jews in the temple begins with them described as believers and then ends with them attempting to stone Jesus. That which is revealed from above destabilizes human constructs, reputations, religious perception and so unleashes untold Cain-like hatred. The glory of the Father unveils a new paternity into our world through the Son exposing human pride as concealed hatred for God.

W1: I love this reference to Cain. It also reveals the trappings of knowledge that go all the way back to the garden of Eden. “We know who our father is.” – no you dont. Knowledge is once again a stumbling block that keeps them from recognizing God.
Me: It really reveals the fact that the Gospel contains an irreconcilable instability that always requires a critical distance between the Kingdom and the progress of history. The Church is stuck restlessly in the middle of the consecration hoping it will finally transgress the bounded bread and wine and finally confect the whole of time and space. It’s when the Church tries to relieve those incomplete tensions by seeking  compromised assimilation or sectarian isolation that she’s dead in the water; so to speak:) Or some other such esoteric interpretation of what you said
W2: You mean we have to feel like we’re in charge?
Me: Semitic economy of expression (you), Hellenic prolixity (me)
Father: Ahh, so the Church, too, must journey through the wilderness of temptations where her Lord dared to tread
W1: Doing some work on Bathsheba, and came across this quote by John Berger (artist/poet). “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her. Then you put a mirror in her hand and called the painting “Vanity” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
Me: As I shared with you before, [W2], it is why I find Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah so troubling (as much as I find it an aesthetic masterpiece); the way it portrays Bathsheba as the one who brought David down. Certainly was not prophet Nathan’s take! She didn’t break his throne, he broke her home
Father: Whoa! This could have come from Oscar Wilde. How often moralists exonerate themselves of their forbidden desires by condemning others. It’s called displacement and it’s damage is unquantifiable
Me: And I often think how marvelous it is that God chose the descendent of David, [St.] Joseph, who was absolutely powerless as kingdoms go — to raise his Son to the throne of David. And who treated his bride with such justice, love and dignity, not exposing her to shame.
Father: Amen. And he begins in part by freeing the woman at the well and the woman about to be stoned. What a repudiation of power abused. My last text tonight is this canticle of love from St Francis of Assisi that I discovered while putting together this week’s Stations:
“I’ve given all for love alone,
Bartered the world and self away;
Were all created thing my own
I’d yield them up without delay.
And yet by love I’m outdone,
Where I’m led I cannot say.
By love I’m outdone,
Counted a fool by all;
For, having sold my all,
My worth is wholly gone.”
W2: What a moving way to cap the evening.  Thank you.
Father: This morning’s gospel reminded me of Tom’s brilliant text on the Church’s place amidst consecration. What does it mean for God the Father to have consecrated the Son and send him into the world (which we hear in today’s Gospel)? Christ, our high priest, sacrificed outside the city gates, crucified among criminals, praying for the forgiveness for all. Christ consecrating humanity, confects, assembles, brings together a new creation from out of the old.
Ah, the things that come to mind at the altar.
Me: As my daughters would when they are wowed by something:  FhdR&gdQhkgff€hkIYF¥DCB•
Again and again I repeat that this forum of exchange between us is absolutely singular and graced. Thank you, Father!
W1: So interesting! Ive always thought of the “outside the gates” as the ultimate rejection. But in the logic of God, the place where Christ is sacrificed is now sanctified as the holiest of holy places. That which is “outside” the holy city is now holier than the city itself. (eg.Do you swear by the gold or the altar which sanctifies). By their rejection of the holy one, they sent him to the “outside” never again able to confine salvation to those already in the holy city!
Great altar reflection, Father! Thank you for sharing those glimpses from your vantage point at the eternal portal. Its really amazing.
Me: Yes! Awesome, [W2]!!
And now that the human body has become the locus-temple of the divine Spirit, the naos, the interior castle, the altar, priest and sacrifice, in which are the roads to Zion, there’s no telling what will get consecrated in the course of any given day as these unmoored temples meander outside the city walls into Twenty One Pilots concerts, prisons, classrooms, soup kitchens, slums, offices, mortuaries, Barnes, Black Dog Café or – gasp! – the Eucharistic Table where the whole un-bloody, life-gathered material of offering gets taken up and deposited in Heaven at the hands of Alter Christus so the exalted Lord can finish preparing a place for us.
Utterly awesome.
Thank you for your hands, Father!
Father: Singular and graced for me as well. Delighted I have dear friends to share with.
Right, [W1]: the irony that as the Father sent the Son into the world for its redemption, so Israel sent him outside the gates to be sacrificed for the world, though unwittingly.
And…Yes, Tom!!! Beautiful! The altar, the sanctuary as a Penn Station of sorts.
W1: Tom, that was AWESOME. A piece of poetry. Loved that. Even fish Fridays, a point of “fasting” as we prepare for the Passion, anticipates in the before, the provision of the risen Christ, preparing food on the shore for His weary disciples. The symbolism is really everywhere. Happy Friday to you all.
Me: [teaching recently] I tried to use the line in John’s Gospel when Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” as a key for linking all of the Genesis encounters with God and his providential action with the Paschal mystery. And then tried to use real life stories to illustrate how people of faith can discover and reveal to others God “laboring to love them” by prayerfully internalizing the Genesis and holy week stories. And the longer I prayed and thought about it the more I thought about the limitless connections. Obvious, I know! But I am slow:) Although I didn’t develop it, I was especially blown away by the connections between Joseph [in Genesis] and Jesus. Joseph, seemingly the only faithful monogamist male in the entire Old Testament, is typology-packed! The Fathers really exploit that. I meant Joseph is the only monogamist we hear the whole life story of “till death does he part” [from his Egyptian wife, Asenath].
W2: We are a sum of our whole history even as that history continues to be made. We can’t help but not bring the OT forward in our selves. We belong to Christ and his history is of old.
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And in honor of the iYeshiva: