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PUCHEAU´S CRIME

PUCHEAU’S CRIME

          In his very recommendable biography of Albert Camus (1913-1960), “A Life worth Living” Robert Zaretzky tells the following story:

Camus, atheist, existentialist writer and playwright (my favorite atheist, I love reading him, and required his “Myth of Sisyphus” as reading for my Course on Atheism at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary – the last elective Course I taught at the end of my 30 years of full time teaching there – and he never accepted the label “existentialist” – he preferred to call himself an “absurdist”) was a life-long opponent of the death penalty – but, upon the liberation of Paris in August of 1944, he surprised many by endorsing Charles de Gaulle’s decision to exectue Pierre Pucheau, a collaborationist, the Minister of the Interior of the puppet Vichy Regime installed by the Nazis in conquered France.

What was Pucheau’s crime. Zaretsky describes it thus: “Though heinous, Pucheau’s treason was not his greatest crime, Instead, Camus declared, it was his ‘lack of imagination” – his inability to attend to the world and the consequences of his actions. As the Vichy bureaucracy who oversaw the nation’s police forces, Pucheau acted AS IF NOTHING HAD CHANGED SINCE FRANCE’S DEFEAT AND OCCUPATION (emphasis mine).”

Zaretsky, quoting Camus, goes on: “ ‘A creature of the abstract and administrative system he had ALWAYS known (emphasis mine),’ Pucheau, in the comfort of his office, signed laws condemning men to death – and adds, ‘ No one has any longer has the right to lack imagination . . . The time for abstractions is over.’ “

Pucheau, before the war, had been an insignificant, anonymous, bureaucratic pen-pusher – when, on June 14, 1940, German forces marched through the Arch de Triomphe in Paris, he continued to be the same – and THAT was his crime! Nothing had changed for him! Nothing! Yesterday, he worked for the French government, today, for the Germans, tomorrow, he might have assumed, the French will come back – so, who cares? Things did not change for him – and THAT was his crime!

Yesterday, he was signing official documents on budget and transportation measures, today, he is doing the same for the German occupation forces – Nothing changes! – But, one day, new documents began to be placed before him, on his desk – orders of executions against captured members of the French Resistance /

Pucheau signed them – why not? “Just following orders” – My pen pushing is innocuous, I do not kill anyone, my fingers do not pull the trigger of a rifle lined up in a firing squad, it does not inflict torture – I just sign documents given to me – Nothing has changed! Yesterday, the French, today, the Germans, tomorrow, the French again – and the world goes on – Why bother?

LACK OF MORAL IMAGINATION!!! Mexico has suffered a devastating earthquake, accounting (last tally I heard) for over 300 deaths – Puerto Rico is in the throes of an unimaginable humanitarian crisis – People are dying! And . . .  ???

Yes, there have been compassionate people who have allowed themselves to be touched by these human plights, yes, caring and Gospel-driven people in institutions like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, have been working beyond what normal human emotional and physical strength might seem to allow, helping to coordinate efforts – Yes, many good people have responded – BUT . .  .

Society at large? The Federal and local governments – are they wounded, hurt to the deepest levels of human decency, by these horrors? Do I not still hear people, here and there, react as if Puerto Rico were outside of our solar system? People are dying! – Is there a “moral imagination” telling us that these efforts, heroic as some of them have been, ARE NOT ENOUGH? That an entire society need must to engage herself in our heart and mind to give what we have in excess to those who have nothing? – It would take an appallingly mediocre and mindless spirit to ignore that Puerto Ricans, who have been migrating to the USA from the mainland – who are Americans, who do not need a passport when traveling! – have also suffered abominable prejudice and racism over the years – and that racism is surfacing in some minds at present . . .

Puerto Rico, Mexico, the migrants, victims of the venomous racism streaming from official circles, suffering the effects of so many other Pucheaus just plying their insignificant pen-pushing daily task into a lethal cocktail of indifferent, sclerotized, racist and rejecting hearts – Does anyone care? Does anyone weep for the victims anymore?

In his first official visit outside the Vatican, on July 8, 2013, Pope Francis preached an unforgettable, paschal, passionate sermon at Mass in the Italian migrant-processing island of Lampedusa (remember Lampedusa? It seems it happened so many eons ago . . .) Francis bewailed what I might, today, dare to call the Pucheau Syndrome: “The globalization of indifference has robbed us of our capacity to weep (for the victims)”

Pucheau did not weep for his victims – though living in a pre-global world, he was a precursor of sorts of our society types today – he might have even repressed the thought that he was causing victims! – Not by the actual physical act of pulling a trigger, or placing a noose around a Resistance fighter’s neck – Simply, by a lack of moral imagination!!

We might wish to pause, look inside our hearts, as we face the unspeakable horror of anti-migrant racism, of a deliberate fueling of anti-Islamic hatred, of a willful destruction of God’s creation, of the faces, hearts and souls turning away from destroyed homes and lives in Puerto Rico, in so many other places . . .

Do we have the moral imagination – the moral indignation! – that bureaucratic minded, insignificant, mediocre souls like Pierre Pucheau did not have? After all, why should we? Let the . . . (fill in the blank: the government, the politicians, the priests and bishops) take care of it – Leave me alone! I go faithfully to mi 10 AM Mass, I meet all the nice guys and girls of my Catholic social club, aka parish, joke with them, piously receive the host, drive away from the parking lot – into the open arms of Pierre Pucheau’s inexcusable evisceration of moral imagination!

Well, so what? Am I going to be judged by this conceptual contraption, the “moral imagination”? After all, I obey the commandments, am faithful to my wife, tithe, go to Sunday (maybe even, daily!) Mass – that’s what’s important, isn’t it? What do I care about this guy I never heard of, Pucheau, about what he did or did not do? After all, I do not work in an office under the control of Nazi Germany – I am not responsible for anyone’s misery, for anyone’s death!

Are we? Who knows, perhaps we might dare to let our imagination fly free, and conceive the notion that on his way to the firing wall, Pucheau might have heard those words that we all will hear, most definitely, one day – and they are not: How was your 10 AM Sunday Mass attendance? Did you tithe? Did you vote for all the pro-life candidates – Pro Life, that is, understood within the sickening, myopic spaces of our own officially, ETWN-approved, notion of Pro-Life?

Rather, we will be embraced by the Paschal Jesus, or convict ourselves, by the same criteria that Camus used to convict Pucheau: “For I was hungry . . . for I was a foreigner , , , an you . . . ? Those who opt for the comforts and delights of the Pucheau Syndrome, will ask: “But, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked . . . a migrant (“xenon” = a foreigner), and did not .  . . ?

In a probably still-to-be-discovered manuscript, somewhere in the Egyptian or Judean desert, there must a variant of Matthew 25:  31-45, where Jesus says: “Whenever you, seized by fear and ignorance, dismissed your moral imagination, and did not see me in one of these, the “elachiston,” the “least of the least,” you did it to me”

The option is ours, the same option Pucheau had before him: Our comfortable, death-dealing loss of our moral imagination, or the life-giving embrace of the Cross of Jesus – the ultimate moral imagination, for, hanging from his deadly, desperate abandonment of his heart-piercing Cross, Jesus dares to see that self-surrendering love always flows into Resurrection, that Love always transforms the horrors of Crucifixion into New Life – Jesus, indeed, the Gospel made flesh, is the Trinitarian God’s infinite, loving, passionate, vulnerable and risky divine moral imagination!

Oremus pro invicem

 

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LORD SATAN IS COMING!

LORD SATAN IS COMING!!.

Many extreme conservative and reactionary Christians fear Halloween as a feast where the powers of Satan are unleashed upon a sinful world – Black Masses, human sacrifices, Satanic symbols, the power of darkness . . .

Nonsense! The only forces loose upon the world are dozens of little (and not so little) children, dressed as witches, warlocks, skeletons, pumpkins, and God knows what else – probably mortally afraid of the customs they wear – the only dread –at least, for me – is driving in my narrow-street neighborhood, crawling at 10 mph., trying my best to avoid those little, swift shadows flitting about from house to house.

But, just for the sake of conversation, let us entertain the possibility that there may be, somewhere, in some vacant lot or deep within the Everglades, real devil-worshipping rituals, Black Masses, that choose Halloween as a propitious moment for liturgical gathering . . .  let us just conceive such a hypothesis, let us grant that chimera a moment of life . . .

Well, such celebrations of the Prince of the Underworld would be far less demonic, far less evil, than the TRUE celebration of unmitigated iniquity on thqt day when the sinister powers of Satanic evil are unleashed upon the world: BLACK FRIDAY!!

And it is coming, is dawning upon us – as I write this, two days before Thanksgiving, I am desperately trying to locate the local exorcist – You don’t believe in demonic possessions, you say? What do you do on Black Fridays, hole up in your nearest, friendly Trappist monastery? (not a bad idea, at that!!).

Do you wish to have irrefutable, undeniable proof that Satanic possessions do happen, that the powers of the Underworld possess human souls? This Black Friday, drive to your nearest shopping center – park at a prudent distance, and observe, with all your powers of fascination, the diabolical hordes storming the gates of stores, trampling unwary employees, elbowing, punching, cursing at each other – for the privilege of purchasing the latest laptop model for a $1.25 – which is, incidentally, the earnings of 26% of the population of the planet – 1.75 BILLION people!

Better yet, do you wish to participate in a Devil’s Worship liturgy – something you can tell your grandchildren about? Drive at 2 AM to your friendly mega-shopping plaza, and set up camp among the thousands upon thousands of morons who deprive themselves of sleep, who make the solemn resolution, before leaving home, to jettison the residues of humanity they have left, as they get ready to assault the holy shrines of consumerism, the cathedrals of unbridled capitalism –

But, while you are waiting your chance to join the stampede of Baal’s minions, you might allow your mind to drift, ever so casually, to the pain-riddled faces of the 34,400 children under the age of 18 who will die of starvation or starvation-related diseases on Black Friday, on all other Fridays, every single day! . . . . or, to the 870 million who will go to bed hungry tonight – or to the 2.5 BILLION people who try to survive on less than $2.50 a day, or to migrants whose families are being broken by inhuman deportations . . . or . . . should I go on?

No, please! Don’t spoil my fun! Those starving children or hungry people, or underpaid, slave workers are not my responsibility – I have a right to spend my money anyway I want! Let priests, pastors, rabbis and charitable agencies care for the hungry and the poor . . . ! They are not my problem! The Lord Beelzebul has told me so! The Word of the Devil! The Bible? I left it at home – it’s a nuisance in a day like this – it might prick my conscience – and, you don’t bring your conscience to Black Friday! Of course not! You bring your credit cards, the privileged admission tickets into the gates of Sheol – or your wallet!

Who cares? – My prayer for today’s Liturgy from Hell: Lord Satan, Prince of Darkness, Lord Baal, I beseech thee, please make sure those super-latest model Iphone prices are slashed by 50%, don’t let this idiot galloping next to me get to those brand-new laptops cut down by 30% before I do . . . Lord of Basest Iniquity, Regal Master of Consumerism, I am a faithful devotee, please, let me get to that dishwasher sale first . . . For this is your Day, this is truly the Day that the Lord Satan has made – Black Friday! Let us rejoice in it!

 

THE LITTLE DONKEY, JESUS AND TRUE HUMILITY

 

THE LITTLE DONKEY, JESUS AND TRUE HUMILITY

Dear Friends:

Today’s reading from Zechariah 9: 9-10 and Matt. 11: 25-30 evoke this wonderful story, shared by bishop Carlos Pellegrin, from the diocese of Chillán, Chile:

Once upon a time, there was a little donkey who lived just outside of Jerusalem. He did what . . . well, I guess what all little donkeys do: carry loads and people, pull merchandise, etc.

One day, a group of strange people came to town. They were not from Jerusalem, from Judea: they were Galileans. They took the little donkey and saddled him with colorful and cushiony blankets. There climbed unto the little donkey’s back a young man, with a serene, joyful countenance, somewhat beclouded by sadness. The little donkey though he heard the name “Jesus” addressed to his rider. Then, they took the little donkey by the bridle, and led him and the young man riding upon him through one of the gates, into the Holy City.

Then the little donkey noticed something awesome: a huge throng of people gathered, with palms and blankets, cheering and applauding in his direction. The little donkey was befuddled. What was going on?

Then, confusion ensued. The little donkey thought all the joyful acclamations and the Hosannas were for him!! Mind you, the poor little donkey was used to being mistreated, overloaded with merchandise and people, perhaps beaten and insulted. This was something unspeakably new! He became so excited that he began prancing and jolting, and almost threw Jesus off into the ground. He had never been acclaimed, praised, with waving fronds and palms, before – ever!!

Then one of the Galilean foreigners came to him, patted him softly, and spoke to him gently: “Now, there, little donkey, these cheers and shouts of joy are not for you. They are for the guy you bear on your back – a prophet mighty in deed and words, called Jesus, from Galilee, from Nazareth!” Disappointed and deflated, but obedient, the little donkey calmed down and trotted, bearing his rider, the true object of all the commotion, into Jerusalem . . . and into oblivion.

The Gospels do not tell us what happened to the little donkey afterwards. We read about Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem: the Last Supper, the Passion, the Resurrection experiences . . . but the little donkey is consigned into historical nothingness. We may guess that he went back to . .  . well, to being a little donkey, to carry people and merchandise, to being abused, insulted and beaten . . . BUT,

He most assuredly never thought of it, but, for one shining moment in those sweltering days of the Jerusalem spring of the year 30, for one luminously splendorous instant, he found himself at the center of human history, humbly, silently, riding into grace, redemption and glory.

I need hardly tell you, dear friends, that “little donkey” is a much less dignified, far less flattering rubric than “missionary disciple,” or “Eucharistic minister,” or “preacher,” or “professor of theology (exegesis, philosophy, whatever).” We would recoil and take offense if anyone, out in the streets, in the classroom or the parish, were to call us “little donkeys.”

But, in light of today’s readings, as we are fed at the table of the Word, that’s all we are called to be, regardless of other ministerial, academic or pastoral titles we may secretly be proud to bear: little donkeys, called by the God, Lord of history, to bear Jesus to others. Like the little donkey of the story, it is entirely possible that parish bulletins, diocesan proclamations, not to mention history books, will never speak of us again.

BUT, Like the little donkey of Bishop Pellegrin’s story, we deliver Jesus into the Holy City of other people’s hearts, especially the Holy Sanctuary of the poor, the hungry, the victims of racism, all the crucified of history, trusting that He whom we bore on our backs, will most definitely call us, as Matthew’s Gospel tells us, to soothe our pain, to kindle hope into our anguishes and despairs, to call us, as the little donkey was, for a few precious moments, to a passionate, vulnerable, risky, liberating communion with He whom we deliver through the gates of all the hurting and broken Jerusalems of the world.

Oremus pro invicem.

MUSINGS ON THE 4TH – WIESEL, LINCOLN, FRANCIS, JESUS

MUSINGS ON THE 4TH: WIESEL, FRANCIS, JESUS

Dear Friends:

“Human beings can be beautiful, or more beautiful,

They can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong,

But, illegal? How can a human being be illegal?

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

 

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,

But there can never be a time when we fail to protest”

Elie Wiesel (quoted from “Give Us this Day”)

 

“I wish a Church which is poor and for the poor . . . The poor have much to teach us.”

Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 198

 

For I was hungry . . . for I was thirsty . . . for I was an alien . . .

And you . . . ?  Matt. 25: 31-46

 

July 4th – This nation was born (like many others were) as a protest against injustice and oppression. After a period of tentative survival as a loose conglomeration of states which did not perceive themselves as a nation, after the failure of the Articles of Confederation to provide a sense of national identity, a group of visionaries produced one of the most remarkable documents of all times, truly an expression of a people willing to live as a “polis,” as social and political community, guided by their concern for the Common Good. On September 17, 1787, the Constitution of the United States was ratified.

But this original text, dense and plethoric with promises as it was when it appeared, was deemed insufficient. On December 15, 1791, the U.S. Congress ratified the first 10 Amendments, the Bill of Rights. Over time, from 1791 through 1992, other 17 Amendments were added.

Are the Amendments to be regarded, as many have done, as corrections to deficiencies in the 1787 original Constitutions? I would rather see them as a deeper exegesis of the implicit spirit and nature of that first, convulsive and subversive text. The Amendments attempt to flesh out the promise and the hopes of the Founding Fathers (or “Brothers,” as Joseph Ellis would have it).

But there always was the questions of the “illegals” – Elie Wiesel knew what it was like to be illegal. On September 15, 1935, when Hitler pushed through the Nuremberg Laws, all Jews in German-controlled territories became illegal. Stripped of their citizenship and of the opportunities to pursue mainline professions, they became pariahs, “illegal” waste, discards, in the land many of them had inhabited for generations. For Wiesel, that meant, eventually, a journey of death and unspeakable pain through three concentration camp: Auschwitz, where his mother and younger sister, Tzipora,  died, Buna, and Buchenwald, where his father was also murdered . . . and the cry many others raised to the heavens, that never ceased to torture this noble and inspired soul: “Can we believe in God after Auschwitz?” – “The death of my God and my soul,” as he would later define it.

For the newly-conceived nation across the Atlantic, the question of the “illegals” meant facing the following fact (I trust you do not have allergic reactions to numbers): In 1790, Congress ordered the first U.S. Census to be taken. The project yielded the following somber and sobering reality: of the 3, 893, 635 people dwelling in the newly-independent former colonies, 694, 280 were slaves. The nation was born with 17.2 % of its population living in bondage, with no social or political identity, and legally classified as chattel, as property, not as human beings.

There were anointed people who did not fail to protest. On May 29, 1856, at the foundation of the new Republican Party in Bloomington, Abraham Lincoln delivered his “lost speech” (no transcripts of the whole speech survive, but we have fragments preserved by local scribes). Lincoln claimed that “the Union must be preserved in the purity of its principles as well as the integrity of its territorial parts.” Lincoln would follow through, as President, with his demand when on January 1, 1863, he proclaimed the Emancipation Act.

From April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, all hell broke loose over the land – literally. It took a Civil War that claimed the lives of 620,000 people (conservative estimate) and many thousands more maimed or lost, to bring about the XIII Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, abolishing slavery forever.

The 4th of July, Wiesel, Abraham Lincoln, the Holocaust, slavery – how do they connect to one another, if indeed they do? How fitting are they as substance for reflection on Independence Day, if indeed they are?

History is not driven by blind, tragic fate, the “Ananke” of the ancient Greeks. For those whose hearts and souls are defined (in the midst of their imperfections) by the Jewish-Christian Scriptures and Tradition, there is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ, who somehow, in and through the horrors of the Holocaust and slavery, remains the true Lord of history.

But God, the God who was “murdered” in the souls of so many victims of the brutalities of our age, is also a subversive God, a God who calls frail and finite people to clamor for justice, to protest, to raise their voice for the voiceless, to never let a nation (or a world) dismiss or turn a blind eye to the slaveries, the Holocausts, that still happen today, in a vaster and vaster scale.

I see, with undefinable pain and hurt, how so many (NOT ALL!!) Catholic parish communities here in South Florida ignore the cry of the victims, all around them – So many of those who fill their opulent churches, graced with marble altars, at the 10 AM Mass every Sunday, and then turn around and demand that “those filthy migrants” be sent to the hellhole they came from, who argue (as this “good Catholic” lady, regular communicant, fiercely and viciously told me) that those migrants are bringing diseases already eradicated (a false rumor, as the CDC in Atlanta later reported) – send them back to die of those diseases in the desert, she said (!!!!)

A close friend of hers, who coordinates a Bible study group (!!!!) wrote a letter expressing her glee at the U.S. apostasy from the Paris Agreement – the fact that, as pope Francis unceasingly affirms in Laudato Si (61 X), the poor are the front-line sufferers of ecological disaster does not matter at all to this Catholic Bible-thumper.

During his days at the concentration camp of Buna, Elie Wiesel and the other prisoners were forced to watch the hanging of three men, accused of sabotage. One of them was a very young, angelic-faced boy. After the hangings were seemingly over, Wiesel approached this sweet-faced boy – he was still alive! “And so he remained – Wiesel continues – for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.”

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? – This is where –  hanging from this gallows . . .  That night, the soup tasted of corpses.”

As we celebrate the 4th  – and surely, there are good reasons to celebrate!! – as we smell the ever-inviting burgers or whatever food we consume today, as the Republic we celebrate is given over to the oracles of racism, xenophobia, unbridled greed and arrogance, and allowed to unravel at a record pace, perhaps Wiesel’s recollection would be a subversive reminder – as subversive as the document signed on this date, in 1776 (for the sake of being pedantic, it was actually signed two days earlier), and that other wonder of American foundational political genius, the Constitution – that, indeed, the corpses of the victims of hatred, racism and individualism are still hanging in their gallows, that the counter-witness so many parish Catholics give kindles that never-ending anguished clamor: “For God’s sake, where is God” – and the answer thunders ominously: “This is where – hanging here from the gallows.”

Not as an act of unwelcome masochism on such a festive day, but as a healthy protest, as a Fundamental Option for spiritual integrity, we should allow at least one of our burgers today to taste like corpses.

Oremus pro invicem

 

 

 

SERVANT!! GLORIOUS TITLE, SWEET SLEEP!

SERVANT!! GLORIOUS TITLE-SWEET SLEEP!

Dear Friends:

Tonight, May 27, I am a happy man. I will enjoy a sweet and peaceful sleep.

Tonight, I was invited by the leader of the Guatemalan Prayer Group, at my Franciscan parish of St. Mark’s, to share a reflection with them. It was a long night. The prayer meeting ran from 8 PM to 10 PM. I shared with them NT texts on the humanity of Jesus: Jn 11: 33-38, Mark 15: 39, 1 Cor 1: 18-28, and other related periscopes.

There were about 35-40 people participating in the celebration. They were all pure indigenous Maya Canjobal or other kin groups, most likely from the jungles of El Peten, or perhaps moving across the border with Mexico into Chiapas. I was the only Caucasian-looking person in the assembly.

The meeting started with a wonderful symphonic cacophony of loud, very loud individual prayer by 18 leaders of the group, praying in 18 different ways. Then Gaspar, the leader, introduced me. He said: “Our brother Sixto, is here with us tonight. He is the servant (“siervo”) sent by God to convey His Word to us.”

The SERVANT!! I was struck by that word. It was again invoked when they call me forth to speak. I have never been introduced like that to a community I am invited to speak to. It is usually “Doctor this,” or “Professor that,” but, SERVANT? SIERVO? I could not get it out of my mind and heart.

I felt a rush of peace and joy welling up inside my heart. What a gift, what a joy, to be called SERVANT! What a glorious, paschal title! SERVANT!! For, let us not make any mistake (God knows how often I have made that mistake!): any other self-perception we may have of ourselves, is a chimera, a motion from the evil spirit, as St. Ignatius of Loyola would say. Anything else is nothing but a cheapened version of Docetism – As we know, “Docetism” was a doctrine that made its disastrous presence felt in the early Church. Docetism argued that the humanity of Christ was an optical illusion (from the Greek “dokein,” to appear, to have an optical illusion).

Docetism and its related heresies against the humanity of Christ (Apollinarism, Monophysitism, Monothelism, and others) have never fully disappeared. As Karl Rahner has reminded us, they survive and even flourish in our parishes, whenever well-meaning but fundamentally ignorant parish Catholics recoil at the thought that Jesus could really suffer, could come close to despair, could feel anger at injustice, etc. It’s a convenient heresy. A unilateral emphasis on the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity, is often invoked to justify clericalism, power-plays and racisms within the Church.

I need not insult your intelligence by reminding you how the 3rd , 4th, and 6th Ecumenical Councils (Ephesus, 431; Chalcedon, 451;  Constantinople III, 680-681) responded, swiftly, deeply and prophetically, to this dangerous mutilation or denial of the humanity of Jesus

That is all we are called to be: SERVANTS! To all, but preferentially to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the despised migrants, the discarded . . . Servants!!

Again, my friends, let me reiterate this: tonight, I am a very happy man. I had a badly needed reminder, a moment of paschal conversion. I AM A SERVANT!! What a glorious title!

Tonight, I will sleep sweetly and peacefully, reclining my head within the Heart of Jesus, reposing in the fold of Mary’s mantle, in the cradle of her arms.

Oremus pro invicem

 

GOSPEL CRIMINALS, PASCHAL WISDOM

GOSPEL CRIMINALS, PASCHAL WISDOM

DEAR FRIENDS:

Many moons ago, a wise and holy Jesuit spiritual director told me the following: “Suppose you live in a country where Christianity were proscribed, where engaging in public manifestations of your Christian faith, expressing truly Christian opinions, acting according to the Gospel, were a capital offense. Imagine further that you are arrested, accused of being a Christian, and dragged before a court of law. As he assesses the accusation, would the judge find enough evidence to convict you of the crime of being a Christian?

These days, as we all know, this hypothetical situation proposed by my Jesuit spiritual director, overflows the realm of hypothesis: it is quite real and concrete in some parts of the world: Christians are being killed in Syria (some of them, as photos have shown, by crucifixion), and other places where radical anti-Christian religious sentiment fuels acts of violence and cruelty.

My spiritual director’s challenge, however, was addressed not so much to martyrdom in faraway places, but to tragically specific and real situations in our Catholic parish communities, in countries where the law of the land grants religious freedom. It is not a matter of feeling a gun pressed to our head, or a knife tickling our jugular vein, as a voice thunders: “Renounce your Christian faith, or you die!” No, it’s not that easy. It is rather more complicated, more insidious.

A simple parable should suffice: Let’s assume I live in such a place of anti-Christian proscription, that I am arrested accused of the crime of being a Christian, and as I stand before the judge, I hear his sober comment:  “I see no evidence that says that you are a real Christian. I see that you were baptized, that you attend the 10 AM Mass every Sunday, but that, of course, is not enough to qualify you as a true Christian. You were a month old when you were baptized, you go to the over-crowded 10 AM Mass to keep appearances, or because your spouse nags you into it, or perhaps, most likely, because it’s what you are supposed to do as a Catholic, it’s the routine. BUT,

“All the witnesses who have deposed in your case, all those who know you and who have, freely or under torture, shared their personal experiences with you, the conversations held with you outside the 10 AM Mass, or at work, or in casual social occasions, they tell of the way you speak about foreigners, the poor, the homeless, the migrants and refugees (particularly, the migrants and refugees! Some of the things you have said-Wow!!!), the things you do – OR RATHER! Perhaps not so much, or not only, the things you have said or done, but the things you HAVE NOT said or done, your lethal silence in the face of injustice, hunger, poverty, homelessness, racism aimed at migrants and refugees, your option for the those standing on the left in Mtt 25; 31-46 (“For I was hungry, and you did NOT feed me . . . For I was an alien, and you did NOT welcome me . . . “) – NO, you (and your whole Catholic community) did not speak when Onñesimo López Ramos, the 18-year old Guatemalan migrant, was beaten to death by three racist, self-styled “Guatemalan Hunters,” on April 18, 2015. Good citizens don´t do that, after all, shouldn´t all those migrants go back to the hellhole they came from, instead of contaminating our neighborhoods and opulent Catholic parishes?”

“Well done! Only the followers of that Jewish criminal, Jesus of Nazareth, those who profess to live by that Handbook of Crime, the so-called Gospel, speak out against injustice, racism, poverty . . . not good citizens like you.

“You can go free! You are innocent of the crime of being a Christian. The evidence says so, in eloquent and compelling fashion! This court offers its apologies to you, for being falsely accused of such a heinous crime. You, most definitely, ARE NOT a Christian. You do not disturb anyone, subvert any unjust social order, confront inhuman and immoral laws and executive orders. You have not been beguiled by the seduction and the fascination of Jesus´ criminal teaching.

“After all, He did break the law, did He not? Imagine, breaking bread with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes! – Teaching that the law was made for man (human beings), not man for the law! Why, eyewitnesses have deposed that in your parish, they wouldn’t allow that rabble within a country mile of the church door, would they? Go in peace, you are absolved of this most despicable and abominable crime: being a Christian!”

I have often meditated on my spiritual director’s prophetic challengw. In this Paschal season, I pray to the Lord Jesus that He may see fit to make me a criminal at the service of the Gospel, to try to live, however sinfully and imperfectly, the Gospel of crime, the Gospel that commands justice, mercy, compassion, love, preferentially to our fellow criminals, to the rabble: the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the despised. A criminal for the sake of the Kingdom – no greater grace can we hope for! I ask for this grace, through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the suffering, the Mother of criminals!

Oremus pro invicem

 

 

EXULTET!!

EXULTET!

DEAR FRIENDS:

       EXULTET! Rejoice, rejoice, indeed, as we are moved to wonder at the infinite love that Jesus’ Paschal Mystery has lavished upon us, at the wonder of the holy “opposites” that the Exultet conveys: “O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere redemptores” (O happy guilt, that has merited for us such a redeemer!), “O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi mortem deletum est” (O necessary sin of Adam, destroyed by the death of Christ),  “O inaestimabilis dilectio caritatis: ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti!” (O priceless charity of divine love: to redeem the servant, you handed over the Son)

    How awesome,these seemingly irreconcilable contrasts, that bespeak, in and of themselves, the depths of Salvation History! How can anyone redeem the slave by handing over His own Son? How can sin, guilt, be “happy” (felix)? How can sin be “necessary”? – Of course, this is the language of poetry, BUT it conveys depths of theological wonder, of unthinkable love, in a way that defies academic discourse, and can only be conveyed by the inexhaustible possibilities of poetry! It is nothing more and nothing less that the genius of a true mystic, a Doctor and Father of the Latin Church, Ambrose of Milan (historians have proposed other authors), seeking, fumbling in the dark for words that can do justice to the Love that is given to us in this Holy Night –      Quite obviously, no human words can ever grasp Holy Mystery – from the inspired jewels of the New Testament Resurrection Narratives, so diverse, so richly different in their Christologies, and abover all, in their Ecclesiologies, to Augustine and Maximus the Confessor (580-662), to Karl Rahner, the Christian community has been jolted, time and again, into remembering that Love itself is Holy Mystery, and that mystery, as Gabriel Marcel reminded us, is not a problem to be solved, but a reality we can only participate in, a reality that defines and suffuses our most intimate self –
      Yes, indeed, EXULTET! – Rejoice, for tonight the dawn of a Light so bright, so splendid, has allowed earth to sprout forth its most precious fruit, has allowed heaven to embrace the earth, Life to conquer the ravages of death, and Love to banish hatred –
       Yes, in the face of hunger, poverty, racism, hatred, marginalization, we can still cry EXULTET! for we know that death, poverty, hunger, discrimination will NOT have the last word – That oppression and hatred have already been judged and destroyed by this Holy Night, by the Paschal Vigil, where all the pathways of Salvation History converge, where hope for the final triumph of Love blossoms ever anew
      Oremus pro invicem
      Sixto