Lent in my church

Many Catholic churches use bare branches instead of flowers during Lent. In recent years, my church has used small trees instead of branches. This Lent, the church environment committee went one step further.

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It’s the first time I can recall seeing the corpus removed from the cross.

I find it very striking. It reminds me of some of the Lenten hymns that speak of Jesus being hung on or nailed to “a tree.”

Some people may find this too unusual a presentation.

Feel free to share your comments below.

Elizabeth and Mary

My friend, Rev. Pat Raube, has been sharing Advent meditations on her blog every evening in Advent. I wanted to share this one in particular with my readers because it deals with the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. I love that Elizabeth is the first to proclaim Mary as mother of the Messiah. While we most often hear that her son John is the herald of Jesus, Elizabeth is the first herald of the Gospel before John or Jesus is born:    http://swimmerinthefount.blogspot.com/2015/12/advent-4-monday-blessed.html

women waiting

In my Roman Catholic faith tradition, today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It is a between time – neither part of Lent nor part of the Easter season – a time of waiting.

This Lent, I have read a number of pieces about how it was the women disciples that accompanied Jesus on the way of the cross while nearly all the male disciples faded away. The women also became the first witnesses to the resurrection because they were the ones going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body in accordance with Jewish burial custom.

The reason that the women could not do this ministry immediately is that they needed to observe the sabbath, the day of rest from work that is such an important part of the Jewish faith tradition. That particular sabbath was an even more solemn one because it was during the eight days of the Passover celebration. So from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, the women rested and mourned and waited to prepare Jesus’s body with perfumed oils and burial cloths.

The women (or Mary Magdalene alone – the gospel accounts differ) must have made their preparations during the night because they were at the tomb near dawn. Finding the tomb empty, they became the first witnesses to the resurrection. In John’s gospel, Christ appears to Mary Magdalene and directly commissions her to “go and tell” which is the essential apostolic mission.

Today, I am reflecting about Jesus who was also resting on that sabbath – although resting in death at that point. Yesterday, at Good Friday services, the deacon reminded us that Lamb of God was one of the oldest titles for Jesus. The coinciding of his death with Passover, when the lamb is slain in commemoration of the protection of the firstborn of the Israelites by marking their doorposts with lamb’s blood, is a powerful reminder of his Jewish identity and faithfulness to the covenant and his mission.

I don’t think that Jesus meant to found a new church. In his earthly ministry, he reached out and healed and spoke and ate with those who were on the margins of society, including Samaritans and others who were not Jews. It is a human tragedy that religion has been used to separate people, to perceive others as enemies, to perpetrate violence and oppression. I believe that God is a spirit of love, revealed in various ways to different cultures throughout time. Like Pope Francis, I appreciate all people of good will, whether they belong to a faith tradition, spiritual or philosophical practice, or not. I recount religious and spiritual topics here from time to time because this is part of who I am; I do not intend to imply that my belief should be yours or is superior to yours or anything else of the kind.

But back to today…

I’m waiting. Tonight, after sundown, we will begin the Easter vigil by lighting a new fire and blessing the Paschal candle which will be used throughout the year, including for baptisms and funerals. Later in the mass, we will use the candle to bless baptismal waters and new members of the church will receive the sacraments of initiation. We will celebrate Eucharist together, sing songs with alleluias, and rejoice!

The waiting makes it that much more special when it arrives.

Light, Mercy, and Jubilee

Yesterday for SoCS I wrote about whether my chorus would “gird” or “put” on the armour of light. This morning at church the theme was light overcoming darkness, progressing to the concept of Jubilee and the upcoming Jubilee of mercy which Pope Francis announced on Friday.

The deacon who preached spoke about how this Jubilee calls us to welcome everyone without exception – and to not wait for the official start of the Jubilee on December 8, 2015 to do so.

My mind turned to how Jesus welcomed in the most profound way those who were marginalized in his society and faith – those who were ill or disabled, those without financial resources, foreigners, women, all those who were looked down on by the powers that be of his day.

As a woman who is a feminist and has chosen to stay within the church, knowing that it fails so often to fully reflect the radical gospel call of Jesus, this jubilee call is both an opportunity and a potential source of disappointment. While Francis has spoken often of a poor church for the poor and has championed causes of peace and social justice, he does not understand the profound ways in which the Catholic church has marginalized women and failed to challenge temporal powers that oppress them. Many other clergy in the church are openly dismissive of women’s gifts to the church and the world, unless those gifts are motherhood, domestic pursuits, or vowed religious life, preferably contained by convent walls.

Will this be the year when the church finally realizes that the call of jubilee to set the captive free applies to women both in its midst and in the world? Will the men of the church finally recognize that women are made in the divine image as much as they are?

The rest of the Triduum

In the Catholic liturgical year, there is no starker contrast than the juxtaposition of the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday night.

Good Friday is the only day all year when Mass is not celebrated. The commemoration service is traditionally held mid-afternoon and begins with the clergy processing in and lying prostrate before the altar. It continues with readings, including the reading of the passion narrative from the gospel of John and then moves on to the veneration of the cross, in which all present process to a plain wooden cross and venerate it in some way, according to local tradition. At Holy Family, we bowed before the cross; other parishes genuflect or touch or kiss the cross. Then, after praying the Lord’s Prayer, communion is distributed from hosts that were consecrated on Holy Thursday night. The church is unadorned – no flowers, only the simplest altar cloth, which is removed after the service concludes, and the empty tabernacle with its door left open.

When we arrive at Holy Family for Easter Vigil, although the church is only dimly lighted, it is bursting with color – long bolts of cloth, each a different hue, radiate from a central point high in the sanctuary out over the congregation – flowers banked in several locations, not only the traditional white Easter lilies but also red and blue hydrangeas, orange lilies, pink azaleas, and light green mums – the altar draped in white, which is the color of Easter. The tabernacle, still empty with its door open, is the only visual reminder of the first two days of the Triduum.

We begin with the service of light, where a new fire is kindled and used to light a new Easter candle, whose light is spread to the candles that the congregation holds. After the Easter Proclamation is sung, we extinguish our candles and proceed with an extended liturgy of the word, including the singing of the Gloria and Alleluia, which are not used in Lent. Speaking to my daughter’s and my heart, the homilist chose to concentrate on Mary Magdelene’s place as the first witness of the resurrection, in a time and culture when women were not allowed to testify in court, chosen by God to go and tell, which is the apostolic mission.  In place of the creed, after new holy water is blessed, we renew our baptismal promises and are blessed with the new water. We continue on with the liturgy of the Eucharist and, after communion, the tabernacle is finally filled and the door closed.

One of the most powerful elements in these liturgies is the music, which is not only enhanced by the participation of our choir, cantors, and instrumentalists but also by the participation of the people. Because none of the liturgies of the Triduum are obligatory, the people who choose to participate are those who are steadfast in their commitment to celebrating as a community. On Good Friday, I was especially moved by people joining in with the choir singing the spiritual “Were You There?” and the Taize prayer “Jesus, Remember Me” during the long procession for veneration of the cross.  The Easter Vigil brings some music that is only used at that Mass. I was especially moved by the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) and a sung form of the Exodus reading about the horses and chariots of Egypt being cast into the sea to protect the fleeing Israelites, by Rory Cooney. The elements of light and water re-appear in the much of the music, with more songs about the Resurrection appearing after the Easter gospel is read. The music was extra festive because a trumpeter joined the choir, organ, and congregation for many of the songs.

I wish a blessed Easter to all Christians, continued blessings of Passover to all Jewish people, and peace, love, and light to all people!

Father John Dear: “The Nonviolent Life”

Earlier this week, I was privileged to hear Father John Dear speak at a local church. He is on a national book tour, speaking about the concepts in his most recent book, “The Nonviolent Life.” Although it was wonderful to hear him speak about his travels, including his recent trip to South Africa to visit important social justice sites there and to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it was most moving to hear him speak about the nonviolence of Jesus, as we began Holy Week, and how we can live that nonviolence in our own lives.

He emphasized that nonviolence has three components that we need to carry out simultaneously. The first is nonviolence toward oneself. It seems that that would be easy, but so many of us struggle to love and accept ourselves, judging our own worth in harsh ways that we would not inflict on another person. This being the first principle in the nonviolent life was a powerful reminder that peace within ourselves – and peace in our spiritual practice and relationship with God, if that is our tradition – is essential to bringing that peace to others.

The second component is to be nonviolent to all people and to all of creation. For those of us who are Christian, we are taught these Bible quotes from childhood. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It is much more difficult to live them, though, especially when our world is embroiled in multiple armed conflicts and many are intent on retribution against an enemy. It takes a lot of strength to respond nonviolently to violence, but we have the example of Jesus to follow, as well as more modern examples, such as Ghandi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day.

The third component is to be part of the global grassroots nonviolence movement for the rest of one’s life. That does sound daunting, except that it doesn’t mean that one has to travel to other countries or take on every justice and peace issue. It can mean supporting local efforts to combat hunger or advocating for legislation to stop capital punishment or war or joining the fight for fair wages or equal access to education. Personally, I view my work fighting against unconventional fossil fuels and global warming as social justice work, which, in John Dear’s language, is also the work of non-violence. Likewise, this would encompass the advocacy work for or against legislation on the national level that I participate in as a member of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.

It can be discouraging when one is working on such a big issue as ending violence. It was hopeful to hear Father Dear speak, because there are so many instances that he spoke about where nonviolent methods lead to important change. If it happened in those times and places, it can happen again here and now, especially with so many of us joining together at the grassroots level to work toward nonviolence, justice, and peace.

 

(In)sight

An amazing video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyDdVJ81Ixs is making the rounds. It shows a woman who was deaf and is hearing for the first time. What isn’t being as widely reported is that the woman chose to have cochlear implant surgery now because she is rapidly losing her eyesight, upon which she relied to read lips. Her brain, never having had to deal with sound before, will take time to learn how to interpret speech, but, as her eyesight continues to dim, she will still be able to communicate as her ability to understand spoken sounds improves. In the end, it’s not the method of taking in information and expression that matters; it’s that there is a way to experience and share thoughts, joys, hopes, and fears.

The Scripture readings at my church for the Fourth Sunday of Lent http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/033014.cfm  center around sight and include the story of Jesus curing a man who was blind from birth on the Sabbath. As the story is told, it becomes apparent that the greater gift is that Jesus reveals his identity as Messiah to the man, who has been thrown out of the synagogue for defending Jesus in the face of questioning by the religious authorities. As the deacon who was preaching noted, the cured man received not only physical sight, but insight. Those who clung to the rule of no work on the Sabbath had physical sight, but not insight into the healing power of God, which is beyond the human boundaries of time and circumstance.

In the end, it was the ability to be open, to take in new experience, to grow, to change, to ponder, to learn, to communicate one’s own truth, to connect on a deep level that was important. No matter the state of our individual faculties, insight is possible if we are attentive.

Water, women, and Jesus

Yesterday was World Water Day and the lectionary readings for today were also about water, including the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, all in the month of March, which is Women’s History Month in the US.

Women and girls are most likely to be dealing with water access and pollution problems as they are usually the ones most in charge of fetching, carrying, cooking, washing up, laundering, etc., especially in the parts of the world where clean hot and cold water do not run abundantly from the tap, as they do for me and my neighbors. Water is a necessity of life and access to it is a justice issue.

In the gospel story, it is a woman who comes to fetch water from the well of Jacob, her ancestor. She is in a socially vulnerable position, female, a Samaritan, sexually exploited. Yet Jesus asks her for a favor and engages in conversation with her, breaking with the norms of the society both on gender and ethnic grounds. What is even more astonishing is that he reveals his identity as the messiah to her and that she, despite her lack of community standing, becomes an apostle of the Good News, one who “goes and tells” others of salvation.

Preaching on this gospel often revolves around the woman’s sinfulness, because she has been married five times and is living with a man who isn’t her husband, but Jesus, although he tells the woman that he knows this about her, never condemns her for it or discusses any need for forgiveness. He offers her the living water of the Spirit, truth, salvation, and the love of God, which she gratefully receives and, energized, brings other people to meet Jesus so that they too can encounter him and believe that he is the messiah.

The woman, unnamed as are many of the women who encounter Jesus in the gospel, stands for all the other nameless women who are exploited or marginalized because of their gender or their ethnicity. Her modern descendants in spirit might live in Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, or might be victims of human trafficking in Thailand, Brazil, the US. God offers radical, unconditional love, not guilt or blame about their exploitation.

We are called to do the same.