Today I attended Mass at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Main Street in Amherst, New York. The church was packed and the service was lovely. For much of this week I have had the recurring thought of the mission of Jesus or maybe the omission of Jesus.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
 because he has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
 and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus provides the mission statement for his ministry and throughout the rest of the gospels regardless of the author there is one instance after another where Jesus does exactly what is spelled out in Luke. In Matthew 4:19 he says, “Come, follow me.” In Matthew 25:35-36 he says, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

Jesus provides loads of examples of what kinds of behavior he expects of his followers. Nonetheless his whole impact of Western Christianity is reduced to the crucifixion and resurrection. He was crucified because he welcomed the stranger, he reached out to those on the margins. If you ask most Christians about Jesus they will say, “He died for our sins.” They mention nothing of the kind of life he lived nor what he expected of his followers.

This stems from the doctrine of original sin which was never mentioned by Jesus. St. Augustine was the first to use the term original sin. St. Augustine was also the author of the “just war” theory. Jesus said, “I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I guess it is just easier to say he died for your sins and then you don’t have to be one of his followers which is much more difficult.

This light that has overcome the darkness

I’m a fan of Matthew Fox. He and other theologians like Ilia Delio and John Duns Scotus have influenced my thinking too. Today is Easter for many in the world and the familiar greeting among many of the world’s Christians is “He is risen.” He has risen and he was crucified, died and was buried. Many Christians believe that his death was a necessary atonement for original sin. Last night as I was sitting in the chapel at Mount Irenaeus and participating in the Easter Vigil service I reflected on the emphasis on the light of Christ. I love the vigil service at the Mountain because it begins outside with some readings and blessings and the lighting of a fire and the lighting of the Paschal candle followed by a procession into the chapel.

The overemphasis of the crucifixion which was horrible indeed is that much of the teaching and living of Jesus is overlooked. It’s easy to go through the motions of being saved and then living an apparently un-redeemed life. Following the Christ invites transformation. How has Christ transformed me and us? How am I sharing that light with the world around me? Am I following this light that overcomes the darkness? He is risen today and everyday. What is the vision of the messiah? I believe it’s living in brotherhood/sisterhood with all that is created. That includes rocks, trees, animals, plants. It all bears the imprint of the most high. Living in communion with everyone even those folks who I find uncomfortable. Everything belongs.

May the Lord Give You Peace

This has been a far from normal Easter but it’s also been a day when families are united by technology across hundreds and thousands of miles. We all live in fear and many are looking for relief from that fear. It’s a bit like being in a war zone. Knowing that death and suffering are just around the corner and taking precaution to keep that at bay. Physical distancing has led to isolation for some and exacerbated already lonely lives. I have tried to do something each day to shorten that distance for those around me. For some it’s been a e-card from Gratefulness.org for others it has been a phone call or FaceTime. Today we had an Easter Zoom with our children and grandchildren. It’s also been a time of prayer. Rote prayers for some or just talking to the higher power for others.

Last night I was able to find an Easter Vigil Service on YouTube. While it wasn’t the same as the service I normally attend it was reassuring to hear the familiar readings and hymns. Tonight while looking at social media I found a healing message from Fr Conrad Targonski, OFM who led the two veterans pilgrimages to Rome and Assisi that I have been a part of the last two years. It was his Easter greeting from Viterbo University where he is the chaplain. Fr. Conrad is a thirty year veteran US Navy Chaplain who’s been in the thick of combat in Fallujah. His voice was a calming presence tonight.

Internet Easter

This essay by Sister Ilio Delio, OSF resonates for me. We have entered a new age that has been thrust upon us. The cry of various religious leaders to forego social distancing to meet as we once did invites a further spread of the pandemic.  Last night my cousin asked if I had received communion while attending a celebration of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper which was broadcast on YouTube Live. Ilia invites us to envision an Internet Easter.

“I think internet religion may be a sign of a new religious consciousness on the horizon. It is not the same as the old religion; it can lack the warmth of the smells and bells and friendly neighbors squeezing their way into the pew. And yet, online I can attend different liturgies around the world, I can explore different religious traditions, I can hear prayers and participate in rituals I would never otherwise venture to discover. ” — Ilia Delio

Source: Internet Easter – Omega Center

Living the Triduum with the community

I’ve spent the last two days and nights at Mt. Irenaeus celebrating the Triduum with the community here. It’s something I’ve contemplated before but for one reason or another have failed to follow through on. This may not be for everyone but for me it’s been therapeutic. I love the flow of the liturgy over the three days. It’s now just after dinner on Saturday night and we’re waiting to celebrate the Easter Vigil in a couple of hours. This is a commemoration of the night Our Lord passed from death to life. It’s my favorite night of the church year. Deeply symbolic and very mystical as we gather on the hillside near the chapel. I began the day reading and then breakfast by myself. I decided to do some walking and combined that with the rosary and then the Stations of the Cross. I walked the labyrinth while I prayed the rosary. Then I joined the others for morning prayer in the screened shelter next to the pond here at Mt. Irenaeus. I love the integration of the prayer and work that comes with staying here. Nothing is forced or artificial, there is an easy flow, a relationship with work and prayer. After morning prayer some of the younger people in our group decided to jump into the pond. I’d love to know what the water temperature was but my guess is that it was not much warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They all came out almost as fast as they went in. Then we had lunch at the house complete with fresh leeks that some of our group had dug earlier in the morning. I retired to my hermitage to read but soon fell asleep in the chair. When I woke up I had to locate my glasses which had fallen off while I was sleeping. I returned to the chapel and found some of our group decorating it for the vigil service which begins shortly. We had a lovely dinner complete with pierogis, vegeterian lasagna, meat lasagna, fresh leeks, salad and more. This has been a wonderful, prayerful and peaceful event. I’m glad to have been a part of it. This has been a wonderful culmination to Lent. It’s an event and a time I won’t forget. This has been an important part of my discernment and ongoing formation as a Secular Franciscan. Peace and all good!

Happy Easter

Last night I drove over to Mt. Irenaeus in the gathering twilight. Just as I got there and opened the door of my car I could see the most beautiful array of stars.  Last night was truly beautiful.  After stopping in the House of Peace and visiting with many dear friends whom I’ve met in years gone by I made my way to the chaapel area.  There were perhaps thirty of us assembled in the crisp night air around a pile of sticks that would soon be ablaze with the fire symbolic of the risen Christ.  As the liturgy began, Fr. Dan Riley, OFM invited us to look up and behold the firmament above us and to contemplate the darkness that the light of Christ pierces. Though darkness sometimes frightens me, I felt reassured and blessed last night looking up in the middle of this assembly. It’s not really the darkness that frightens me, it is the uncertainty.  Last night surrounded by the presence of so many friends and especially the familiar Franciscan friars of this friary I felt welcomed and reassured.

As the fire was lit and the liturgy began, Fr. Dan said, “This is the Passover of the Lord,” and then as now a reassuring presence gripped me.  This is a presence that transcends doctrine and theology but picks me up and reassures me that all is well with the universe. Easter is a celebration of life.  The Easter vigil at Mt. Irenaeus has been for me a reaffirmation of that celebration and as I sat and listened to the readings in the chapel with my own little candle and heard the creation story from Genesis I was reminded how important it is to hear those stories of how we came to be, not only the stories of Genesis but the stories of each of our families and how we fit. Our lives are celebration of life and to the precise extent that we don’t celebrate our lives we miss out on the resurrection. All around me this morning I see the resurrection in the robins on our lawn, the warm sun on my back, the blue sky in the distance, the awakened earth beneath my feet. The earth is alive, it is risen, we are risen. Lets go forth and celebrate that. Let’s live that.