Today on the blog we welcome back a regular blogger, our favourite Jesuit, Brother Dan Leckman!
Although I have not set foot on McGill campus in more than a week, I can imagine the mood these days: the tense looks on people’s faces, the tired bodies dragging around, pushing individuals to stay awake just one more hour. The nights of agony, bleeding into dawns of absolute terror. Hmm…maybe that was just the way I lived exam period, but it certainly did resemble a horror movie at times!! It shouldn’t be too hard to understand why it’s during one such never ending sleepless nights of anguish that I began to pray again! Amazingly enough, despite the fact that I knew so little about God and my faith, I already understood that even in the darkest hours, God’s light could radiate in my life (after all, ‘even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise’. Extra credit points for anyone who isn’t Tim Blais or Holly Ann that can correctly identify the source of that quote! Yeah, even my blog has an exam feel to it. Didn’t see that coming did you!!?)
But let’s move away from my antics for a second here, and stay with this idea of the triumph of God’s light over our darkness. What is our reaction to this notion of having a constant source of light in our life? Do we really understand the full dimension of God’s love for us, and how transformative it is? All too often, Christians answer the same way “Yes, I understand that God loves me, and this is a source of comfort for me. God is my shelter, and I am at peace. I feel renewed in his love.” Well good for you Mr/Mrs holy pants, but tell me: How do you LIVE that renewal? We just spent 40 + days praying with wonderful passages like the one from Ezekiel 36:26, (this whole notion that God is taking our heart of stone and making it into a heart of flesh) which poetically emphasizes how we ought to be transformed in order to more fully receive God’s word, God’s light, and God’s truth in our lives. But how does one live out the idea of that transformation?
The answer we can receive from the Church is dramatic and beautiful: We are called to dedicate every ounce of our being to caring for others. We are called to actively participate in the building of God’s kingdom of justice, and to always have our inner (spiritual) eye on the well-being of everyone we encounter. While many Christian communities hear and live out this call, I feel it’s more accentuated in the Catholic Church through our doctrine of Social Justice, and through the many works of charity and mercy that come from religious and lay people alike. So it’s not like we don’t have a solid structure to help us with the process of transformation, both spiritually, and physically. And yet, all too often, many of us come back to that original feeling of… comfort, and Inner Peace. Being ‘Zen’ becomes more important than being forgiving, being caring for the other. In short, we become complacent. Not many pontiffs have had the guts to call us out against this modern sin of complacency, but Pope Francis has never hesitated doing so numerous times. His most poignant reference to this great sickness that we have in our Church and in the world came for me, this past Good Friday.
I decided to watch the whole service recently as I was ‘peacefully’ trying to work on my budget for the upcoming month. As I struggled to crunch numbers, I occasionally looked up to see the pretty images from the Via Crucis. By the end of it, Francis began to recite a prayer that would take completely catch me unaware:
“In you, sold, betrayed, crucified by your …we see our daily betrayals and our ‘unfaithfulness.”
Those words, spoken through the translator, plunged deep into my heart, and awakened something within me. Was it shame, a feeling of guilt for all the times when I felt my unfaithfulness or indifference triumphed over the light of God in my Iife? I wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it caused me to look up, see his pensive face in prayer as he was reading, and my heart of stone trembled. He continued:
“…In your face, that has been slapped, spat on and disfigured, we see the brutality of our sins.
In the cruelty of your Passion, we see the cruelty of our heart and our actions.
In your feeling abandoned, we see all those who have been abandoned by their family, by society, by people’s attention and solidarity.
In your sacrificed, lacerated and tormented body, we see the body of our brothers and sisters abandoned along the roadside, disfigured by our negligence and our indifference.”
This was incredibly unusual for me to hear anything like this. We often meditate on the suffering of Christ through the suffering of the poor and marginalized in our own world, but how often does that reflection place usas one of the ones abusing our Lord in his Passion. Our liturgy does prepare us during this season, to be part of the crowd that shouts out ‘crucify him’ but it does not prepare us for the consequences of being in that place that rejects the light and love of our Lord. Already, this was too much for me to cope with, but of course, he still wasn’t done!
“…In you, Divine Love, we still see today our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, decapitated and crucified for their faith in you, in front of our eyes or often with our silent complicity.
Let the feelings of faith, hope, charity and sorrow for our sins be ingrained in our hearts, Lord, and lead us to repent for our sins that have crucified you.
Lead us to transform our conversion made of words into a conversion of life and deeds…”
This is not language I usually like hearing. It ‘challenges’ this notion of a loving, forgiving God that I insist upon carrying in my spiritual luggage. Had a more conservative or traditional priest spoken those words, I may have tuned him out pretty quickly. But I know Pope Francis is concerned for our spiritual growth and welfare, and that he wishes to see a church grow in charity, simplicity and mercy. I also understand that he emphasizes ‘sin’ not as something that should produce shame within us, but as something that should encourage us to change. Our sinfulness is an expression of the ways we have turned away from God and others in our world. Consequently, the transformation we are called to is a movement towards God, but also towards others. It’s a long twisty journey with lots of dangerous paths, and I will stumble a lot along the way. However once I understand the depth of my savior’s love for me, how can I not accept to walk this path with him!? How can I turn my back on the light of God? How can I refuse to let that light shine before others as I journey with them with the same great heart that our Jesus carried had? Well, I still will do this once in a while, but I feel that on this amazing evening, I took more concrete steps in allowing my complacency to be replaced by compassion, and affection for the world. I pray that you all have a similar experience of transformation during this Easter season we are still journey with, and that God give you the courage to allow the divine light to enter every aspect of your life!