Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday: Entering into Holy Week and a New Dawn of Possibility!

First I could hear the beat of the drum!
As we rounded the corner
toward the entrance of the church
my eyes met a huge mass of people processing in.
The colors and texture of their dress – splendid:
reds, yellows, oranges, blues, whites, greens.

Entering into the mix of the peoples,
the voices now deafening …
joyful … energetic … hopeful!

“Hosanna to the King.
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!

Palms raised, bodies swaying,
a surety in their step,
despite their questions, their struggles,
their unfreedom, their fear.

Processing in together
and leaning into a new dawn of fresh possibility!
Simply a cathartic experience
and one that I have not experienced since.

In this African dawn on Palm Sunday 2006,
it became utterly clear that the church,
this community of faith had arrived at a climatic moment.
With Jesus and his disciples,
each one of them,
you and I,
the Church enter …
in faith …
into Holy Week.

My friends,
as we each enter into the drama of this week … today,
who would ever imagine that this Jesus,
5 days later would be crucified
by the very same people who cry out:
Hosanna to our King! Blessed be the Lord!

For those of us who profess this faith,
we know it does not end with this tragic twist …
but it does end with a twist.

Looking to Jesus dying on the cross
one could think that this is the end …
and yet it isn’t …
It is the beginning of something new …
yet again …
Our attentiveness and our faith
to the nuances of this gripping story
helps us to believe …
once more …
that the tragic end we witness …
death …
is certainly not the end.

We know this story all to well …
and for all of us gathered here,
this year has tested our faith,
in ways we could not even had imagined ….
having encountered and witnessed to hardships …
afflictions in any number of ways …

receiving a phone call re: the unexpected death of a close friend;

or finding out someone in our family as incurable cancer;

or what about the continued ethnic and religious cleansing;

or the 300,000 men, women and children –
at last count-
having died in the January Haiti earthquake;

or the unjust wars that still plague our world community;

or through the letting go of our very own aspirations.

And in all of these instances and many more,
we each are called in faith
to believe these losses are not necessarily the end …

Remember Jesus’ ever-familiar words …
I am the way, the truth, and life –
whoever follows me will have eternal life …

And what is this way toward eternal life?
Right through the heart of Jerusalem,
to a meal in the upper room,
to a garden in the middle of the night,
to an unjust trial with Pilate,
to the betrayal of Judas and Peter,
along the byways of Jerusalem,
to a place outside the city gates called the Skull …

Here Jesus’ cross is planted …
The cross … is the intersection …
that reorients us toward a new way …
the Way … Jesus’ way
through which we see differently …
experience new found freedom …
fresh possibility.

Our Lenten season
has afforded us several opportunities
to witness to stories that appear desperate … hopeless
and yet …
surprising …
openings to an unexpected miracle …
new opportunity …
new life:

a blind man, Bartimaeus regains his sight;

a Samaritan woman thirsty shows up at the well
and leaves with her thirst quenched
and a new found freedom;

a dead man, Lazarus,
three days in the tomb,
finds a new life;

The faithful remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero –
who on this 30th anniversary of his martyrdom –
continues to deeply live in the hearts and faith
of the El Salvadoran people;

11 young men and women – your peers - going deeper,
listening to their yearnings,
that will lead each of them to that pool
to be washed clean and sent into a new way of living.

And what about any one of us in this Lenten season?
In our own letting go …
of dying to our unfree, selfish, desires, and having faith,
what have we received?

What new dawn of possibility will we enter into?

Let us go then – courageously – with Jesus
into the heart of Jerusalem …
into this Holy Week,
attentive to our hearts
and new the dawn of possibility.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Third Sunday of Lent 2010

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

In our Gospel, a woman's life is dramatically changed, and it all starts with what appears as a chance encounter. Reflecting on our lives, I suspect each one of us have experienced something similar that started by accident, a chance encounter, a coincidence. An older Jesuit once told me that a chance encounter, a coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

Certainly in the beginning of this story the grace of God appears anonymously – at first. We witness, what on the face of it is, an unremarkable, chance encounter between two very unlikely characters in the wilderness, at a well, thirsty from a day’s journey during the noon hour heat. Arriving with bucket in hand, one woman’s midday sojourn speaks volumes it reveals her outcast state, as a fallen Samaritan woman.

There she encounters a stranger, a Jewish man, who is at first unknown to her, though later she has a suspicion that he might be a prophet, and still later on wonders if indeed he is the Messiah, the One who will tell everything. It his request for a drink that unnerves her, breaking all the social, cultural conventions of the day: first as a man, talking to a woman; second, as a Jew to a Samaritan; third, as a holy man to a public sinner; fourth his willingness to drink from their well using her cup. And this encounter begins the woman’s remarkable journey toward her salvation …

Isn’t it simply amazing how the wonder of God comes in such ordinary ways, chance encounters? God working anonymously in our lives, very close and everyday, offering us opportunities for new life, new meaning and direction.

I am consoled and encouraged by your peers we have heard the last couple of weeks – Mathew, Victoria, and tonight, Alex, all who have witnessed to the happenstance ways – at times – about the many graces that have surprised them, invited them to a new way of living – of making this life choice to becoming Catholic.

With so many things going on around us at this university, how attentive are we to those chance moments of encounter when Christ sidles up close to us, inviting each one of us to a deeper, more meaningful life? To drink of his water … a living water that springs up within us satiates our every desire and longing? How attentive are we?

Certainly the Samaritan woman was attentive, and even a tad curious, though – at first – she did not fully comprehend who this stranger was. She comes with the intention to draw water at the well of Jacob and instead finds herself being drawn in, her entire self, all that she has done … drawn into a new well … a well that promises so much more … to quench all of her thirst and longing!

Speaking to the woman, Jesus proceeds to open up her heart and gradually enters into it. And having entered into her heart, Jesus reveals her to herself: “He told me everything I have done.” Jesus reveals the truth to her in love.

Romano Guardini describes how God’s loving gaze works in us. “To be seen by God does not mean to be exposed to the merciless gaze, but to be enfolded in the deepest care. Human seeing often destroys the mystery of the other. God’s seeing creates it.” This is what the Samaritan woman experienced, the creating gaze of Jesus who knew her and loved her into freedom!

I am often reminded of this story when I was younger Jesuit: Jesus drawing, inviting me into deeper union with him. The year before I was ordained a priest I made an 8-day retreat in Los Altos, CA. For the whole of 8 days, Jesus sang a love song to me.

The lyrics go like this: The wilderness will lead you; To the place where I will speak; Integrity and justice; With tenderness; You shall know. Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.

One evening as I looked down into the San Jose Valley, I felt Jesus sidling up to me and say, “I want to be with you Michael!” “Lord, if you knew who I was, you would not want to be with me.” “Michael, I know you and I want to be with you. With you and I together anything is possible.”

That’s one of many stories that each one of us in this community could share with one another – of being drawn into the life giving water that Jesus wants to share with us. I now invite forward Alex Hopkins to share his story …