Within the past couple weeks have you eaten ham or jellybeans or Easter eggs? Those foods have now become yourself. The ham is no longer in the refrigerator or the jellybeans in the candy dish. They are no longer just in us either; they are us. This might not be the most exciting thought for us, but it is profound when we realize how much life-sharing Jesus Christ desires for us. “He wants to mingle his life thoroughly with ours—and of course, ours thoroughly with his” (Bruteau, The Easter Mysteries). And so Jesus gave us the food of the Eucharist, so that he could claim “I am in you and you are in me.” Through the Eucharist we have become the extension of Jesus Christ. Beatrice Bruteau continues: “But when this has happened to each of us, when each of us is engaged in life-sharing with Jesus, then he is living in the whole community of us: his Body has been intimately joined to the body of every person in the community. And since his Body is the most vital and the most vitalizing—the most life-giving—element in any of us, all of us together constitute a kind of extension of his Body. And that enlarged Body acts as any living body does: it grows and unifies and develops; it supports diversity within itself by being secure in its unity; it operates as a system, without superiors or inferiors.”
Beatrice Bruteau writes in The Easter Mysteries that we like to keep the roles straight, something Jesus didn’t do when he washed the feet of his horrified apostles. The Lord and Master was acting out of character. Aghast at the improper role undertaken by Jesus, Peter may have said (in Bruteau’s words), “You’ll upset the whole social order by this kind of behavior. We can’t have this. If you start acting like a servant, what are the rest of us supposed to do? If I let you wash me, why I might even be expected to wash my wife’s feet! People won’t know their place anymore, what their station in life is.” Of course, we know Jesus’ answer: “Go along with this, or don’t be my disciple.” Two thousand years after that famous night when the activity of a servant became inextricably tied to Eucharist and fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we still cling to our roles, our prestige, our elitism. We really should know our place and keep everyone else in their places—the least ones of whom the Kingdom of Heaven is comprised.
I love the stories during the Octave of Easter. My favorite is the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus, scoffing at a Stranger who “does not know of the things that have taken place” but soon becoming quite impressed by the wise Stranger’s understanding of the Scriptures. I like this story so much that I have on file that this story should be read at my funeral, if the occasion lands during the Easter Season. I never tire of the story. I could hear over and over again Jesus’ trick of pretending to go on farther, their discovering Jesus’ identity in the breaking of the bread, and the two apostles’ recognition that each had their hearts burning within them. Best of all, “they set out at once” to spread the news—the Good News.
Where did you discover Jesus today? In which stranger? At which meal? And did you spread this Good News?
“Darkness. Emptiness. There is nothing left. That is how it must have been for the disciples. For his friends. Dark. Empty. He was dead. All their hopes were shattered. . . . On Good Friday no one thought about Easter, because Easter hadn’t happened yet, and no one could dream of such an impossible reality.” (Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season)
During my childhood on Good Friday any time not spent in church during the three hours had to be spent in quiet. My parents knew that it was good for us kids to get the feel of darkness, emptiness, sorrow. We learned to “feel with Jesus.” But we knew the end of the story. Fullness. Light. Life. Hope. We knew the hour of darkness would give way to the dawn of Christ’s day. We were eager to hear: “Come now! The Risen Lord calls us into his marvelous light!”
First and Always Compassion
Jesus spent his last days on earth doing works of compassion. Jesus could have stayed away from Martha and Mary’s home, but he went to comfort them with the reassuring words that he was the resurrection. Compassion. Although the apostles did the legwork to prepare the Passover meal, Jesus had made arrangements for the Upper Room. Compassion. When the apostles questioned, “Is it I, Lord?” Jesus did not point a finger at Judas; he let the Eleven think Judas had gone to give something to the poor. Compassion. When Jesus needed companionship in his agony, he let Peter, James, and John sleep. Compassion. Jesus stopped along the road to Calvary to speak to the weeping women. Compassion. Mother and Son met. Could there be any other word than compassion (“suffering with”) to describe that meeting?
How can we spend the last days of Lent and the Sacred Triduum in compassion?
In Words Made Flesh Fran Ferder writes: “The true kenosis of Jesus lay not in self-abnegation but in self-embrace, saying a consistent and honest yes to all the demands that being fully human made on him. . . And his self-emptying took two forms: profound self-acceptance and radical self-disclosure.” I don’t always want to accept myself as I am. I’m not mathematical or mechanical. I know only the rudiments of technology. I don’t have a green thumb. And I’m not disclosing on a blog my faults. But when I accept myself as I am (though still working on improvement), I give over to God in gratitude the person who I am. The giving-over is a self-emptying, for I empty myself of wishing I had gifts other than those uniquely given to me by God, and I accept the talents I lack. When I can say, “Thank you, God, for the gifts I don’t have,” I think that is a kind of kenosis, an emptying-out of myself.
God Empties Out
The kenosis of Philippians 2:7 is Divinity poured out and thus Love poured out, for God is Love. In this pouring out, the Second Person of the Trinity became human, taking the form of a slave. This pouring out continues as love is poured out over the universe, God taking on the form of the cosmos as an extension of the Godself. In the essay “The Ecstasy of Agape” by Kerrie Hide we read: “Agape incarnates, becomes flesh through speaking the Word into creation, and God’s ecstasy creates the world.” Hide also writes, “Incarnation is an organic expression of the Trinity’s endless self-sharing.” Thus I receive my being in the self-surrender of God. Creation evolves as divine life loves. I grow as I receive divine life.
How open am I to divine life? How am I pouring out my love to extend love-energy?
It’s Holy Week!
Will you really make it a “holy week”? To do so enlarge or unclog your arteries. Clear out space in your week to be fully engaged in the Church’s prayer. Don’t miss the beautiful Holy Thursday liturgy, the meaningful and engaging Good Friday service, and the glorious—absolutely stunning—Easter Vigil. If you aren’t there, you’ll surely be missed—and you will have missed the whole point of Lent.
Our motto this week:
Walk the last steps with Jesus.
Henri Nouwen writes: “A spiritual discipline. . . is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives.”
Do we feel over-extended? Have we promised ourselves that we won’t take on one more thing? Saying no to the next request takes self-discipline (unless the request is something we know God wants us to fulfill). When we balance work and leisure, what do we do with the time outside of the necessities of life? What is important enough to carve out space in our demanding schedules?
Have we carved out space for extra prayer or attending church services this Lent?
If we take up the spiritual discipline Nouwen recommends, we will be set “free to pray, or to say it better, [allow] the Spirit of God to pray in us.”
We’re over halfway through Lent. Is your heart feeling better?
This week we’ll look at our spiritual rib cages. Perhaps we feel “caged in” by our bad habits and addictions. But there are ways to expand our hearts by the protective rib cage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession gives us spiritual strength and protection against future temptation. Use opportunities this week to express your sorrow to God or to apologize to someone or make amends.
As this weekend’s responsorial psalm asks,
Create a clean heart in me, O God.