Saturday, August 4, 2012

I Am A Friend of God

Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me
When I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me
It's amazing

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend...

-Israel Houghton

In my last episode - er, post, dear reader, I reminisced a little bit about friendships that were in my life 40 years ago, how they happened then and how the electronic media has rekindled them (some for the first time). I was definitely not the most popular person in high school, yet a lot of classmates knew me at least by name. In my naiveté I desperately looked to cultivate friendships, and admittedly longed to fit in. In the end, though, I realized that I had been blessed with just enough. God did not leave me friendless. He gave me enough discernment at the time to know who I could count on as companions. More importantly, though, God revealed His own friendship; and it's truly amazing.

This isn't some personal privilege I have; God desires everyone to befriend Him. I believe that God goes out of His creative way to reach out gently to each and every person. Some flatly refuse, which is really sad. Still others will claim that God is a part of their life, yet continue to place trust in tangible, worldly people and institutions. That too is sad; but because a relationship exists - because God gave you life through the love your parents shared - there is always the hope that divine friendship will be fully realized and cultivated.

One of the signs of true friendship is that a true friend will stand up for you. Such a friend will defend what you say and what you stand for; and if some incredible change of position happens, a true friend wants to know why, as a gesture of support. A true friend trusts you. A true friend will sit down with you, act as a good listener and talk you through difficulties. God has been all of that and more to me.

What's more, God rises above all challenges, all hurt. It can take time and require a great deal of patience and perseverance. Institutions, even the Church, are managed by men and women - and men and women will fail you. It happened to me. I even tried to run away for a time, to reinvent or repackage my concept of God; but He never left me. He stood up for me. He took the bullet. He drank the poison. He died on the cross, so that I could believe that there's someplace and someone bigger than this world. He gently called me back, and I came.

Jesus is my friend. God is my friend. (Yes, it's redundant because Jesus is God, I just like saying it!)

Jesus, and those who faithfully follow him, are under attack. This is familiar territory for us, for this friendship instills a sense of peace that others don't understand. They want this peace of mind but can't for some reason put Jesus in the center of their life. This leaves them longing, questioning, and open to jealousy and temptation. I reflected a couple of days ago on Matthew 22:37-40:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law (aka the Ten Commandments) and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” 

And I wrote:
"A lot to ponder there. At the tip of the iceberg: whether all our present foibles come from a lack of loving God, neighbor, and/or self."

Yes, our present troubles. How to cope with our brokenness. How to experience the love of a friend when it would seem nobody would befriend us. How to truly play the cards life deals you; the loss of a child, the death of parents and loved ones. The incessant struggles and hype and background noise that constantly distract us and draw us away from the ability to even enter true friendship, let alone maintain it.

I am a friend of God. I am not ashamed to declare it. I, too, get distracted; of that I am ashamed.

I am a friend of God. I will take a stand and defend that which God defines and defends as good. I place my trust in Him; I therefore trust those to whom He has entrusted the mantle of leadership; the good 'shepherds of his flock'. I stand behind those who unashamedly declare their beliefs in the marketplace. I will show my support for them in such ways as I am capable.

I am a friend of God. Jesus said that being his friend won't spare us from trouble, but that He would always be there with us, and He is indeed; transcending, permeating, imparting that sense of peace that others want but don't understand and can't have because they don't want to stand up for the things He does. 

I am a friend of God. I will lose some friendships in life because it is perceived that I am old-fashioned, or perhaps even bigoted. I assure you I am not. I give you leave to pursue happiness, and I pray that God ultimately finds you receptive to the true peace and happiness only He can give - and does to all he calls His friends.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Walking Down The Halls, Staring At The Walls...and Reminiscing

It was the best of was the worst of times. (No, wait a minute - that overused line belongs to some movie and book somewhere.)

On June 9, 1972, some five-hundred plus students of Larkin High School donned robes and those funny looking flat hats with the tassels and celebrated their freedom from required formal education, and the accomplishments, joys, sadness, and other hash marks in the emotional spectrum that came with the territory.  Now, forty years later, I am called upon to remember all of that, and put it in perspective. That is not easy to do. I am not one to seize initiative. Nor have I gone far out of my way to keep in touch with the handful of people with whom I was closest in those days. I thank the true geniuses of later generations for creating the means to do what couldn't be done then. Facebook has done more to jog that portion of my memory than anything else. I'll have to send Mark Zuckerberg a thank you card someday. In the meantime, I have to thank Bill Peterson as he suggested I should get in on the fun there. Thanks, Bill. My wife Diane was very skeptical of using it at first, but she gave in not too long after I joined - and she uses it a whole lot more than I do.

Now, where do I start?

I guess I should admit after all these years that I came to LHS with a degree of baggage; all of us did likewise, as unaware as we were in our teens. I was geeky, far from athletic, and lived in South Elgin, which was for a long time the edge of civilization. I was born in Chicago, and even though I lived in South Elgin for twenty years I guess I have always been a city boy at heart. It was also the farthest point from anyplace else. There was no way to get anywhere, because there was basically nowhere to go in South Elgin . By and large that is still true today. They finally have their own high school but it's in the middle of nowhere compared with possible places to hang out, unless you have your own car or a chauffeur; or a parent or friend who plays the role. (Thanks, Mom and Bill Backer for carrying out that vital responsibility.)

I was also rather naive. That may have been part of my Catholic upbringing, and if so I am happy for it, for having that sense of faith helped me learn some valuable lessons, ones not taught in public education. I'll come back to that.

Through Facebook I have become reacquainted with many classmates, some for the first time. (Please feel free to laugh at the jokes. I mean no harm, really.) To those of you who reached out to add me to your list of online friends, thanks very much. I genuinely appreciate that you did. It's an indication that we share a common bond; if nothing else, that we spent three years in the same building, attempting to get ready for adult life to unfold. Tell me, please - did anybody imagine then that we'd be where we are today? I doubt it; I know I didn't. Nothing about getting facts and figures stuck to your brain for the rest of this life can necessarily prepare you for the decisions that some have already faced, and that the rest of us are either preparing to face, hoping we won't have to face, or denying that the questions even exist.

I think it would be appropriate to note that over 700 young men and women began this educational journey after the summer of '69. (The Bryan Adams song keeps coming to mind here, and it's a favorite of mine even though it has nothing to do with anything at the moment.) When the final tallies were made in June 1972, just over 530 were still standing and waiting for diplomas. (Something about the number 535 keeps pinging the recesses of my brain). I wonder what happened to the nearly 200 that got lost somewhere. Okay, some moved; some dropped out - still, 200 of anything is a lot to lose, even over three years. In my profession as an inventory manager, if I lost 200 units of something I might likely be looking for a new job. At home, I'd be in pretty hot soup if I lost $200 - unless in my turn I was not allowed to pass "Go." In my vocation as a Catholic deacon, losing 200 s...well, I'd be answerable to God for eternity on that one. I am naturally curious, but I must entrust their fates in prayer to the One higher than us all.

There are stories I recall. Simplicity, the shortest distance between two points being a straight line as Coach Hofstedter pointed out in geometry class, usually produced the best outcome. Such was the case during one homecoming parade (junior year, I believe) that Bill Backer and I got in by merely attaching a wind-up key (a toilet plunger with cardboard turning pads taped at the top) to the roof of his Ford Cortina. I contrast that with the senior homecoming game in which we planned to shower our star players, most notably Rich Mulhearn with punched card confetti (those infamous 'chads'). I actually had my dad's car that evening. Never got to the game, though. Somehow the chads managed to spill and I spent most of the time trying to get them cleaned out of every nook and cranny in which they found a home.

Other forms of more deviant behavior met with similarly deviant ends. One day a stray dog managed to wander into my first period American history class. When the trusting attendance page arrived to collect the cards of the absentees, Mr. Worth instructed her to advise Mrs. Vaughn that there was no attendance card for "Joe Rover". That afternoon, we wrote our own chapter in geek history and created an attendance card for the wandering canine. For the next three days "Joe Rover" was on the reports that were reviewed. Bill figured we'd better stop before Mrs. Vaughn attempted to call the dog's parents. I'm not sure we were ever found out.

Then there was the infamous election for class president: Rush Kim Darigan vs. William Edward Backer. I don't know if Bill ever had a chance of winning, senior class elections being the popularity contests that they tend to be (and oh, how that mirrors our civic elections today!). However, any chance of Mr. Backer being elected fell quickly when an overzealous campaign worker decided in a budgetary move to write "Back Backer" over several of Mr. Darigan's campaign posters. However, realizing now that being elected class president, as well as the other 'offices',  give the victors a lifetime commitment to manage all the future reunions...well, I'll sum it up with the term "bittersweet."

Some statistics among those in the Class of 1972 I knew and with whom I had day-to-day connections: One married his high school sweetheart (Ben Schmidtke, to Mary McLean) and the happy couple seem to be doing exactly what they want to be doing. I have kept up relative contact with two classmates - Bill Backer and Bill Peterson. Mr. Backer, after a long and winding career, is presently teaching in China. Mr. Peterson is the closest person I have in the category of 'war hero' having served in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm in 1992, only months after my son Nicholas was born. I'm slowly learning more about others. It brings back many memories. Most of all, it points out how adult life took shape. It looks reasonably good as I write today; still, there's the knowledge that life constantly fluctuates. No portly lady has showed up at my door as yet, looking to sing. Each day is a gift, and I try to make the best use out of every one.

Okay, I think it's good that anyone who's gone this far in the narration/tribute should reap the reward of what I took away at graduation. I learned that a person can have many acquaintances and casual friends, and some, a huge following; but true friends are the ones with whom you have deep, life-meaning (and sometimes life-changing) conversations. At the time the more meaningful conversations came over playing Mille Bornes and pinochle in the commons before classes and during lunch period. There were creative binges as well; Marvin Ferguson, Ben Schmidtke and I once dubbed ourselves "Fursoke Unincorporated." A boy band we were not. However, we had taken a lyrical stand on alcoholism (at the virtual bar); and had borrowed a traditional Christmas carol to bemoan our polluted environment that actually got printed as a letter to the editor in the Elgin newspaper. A musical about our school situation was in the planning stages but a bit ahead of its time. (High School Musical...what a concept!) Seriously, thanks to sites like Facebook, I have reconnected with many good people. True friendships can be counted on fingers and occasionally toes, and that's okay. All of this flows from the truest Friend of all - Jesus Christ. It is his ultimate friendship that affords me a perspective on life many don't get to see and others don't understand. I side with him on all those decisions that must be faced. There have been rough patches - nobody is completely immune from them - but they would have been much rougher without him.

My faith leads me in certain directions regarding issues of the day: religious freedom, the definition of marriage, and still striving to treat those with different opinions and orientations with dignity and respect. It's hard. It's very hard. Our Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by God with three inalienable rights: those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I emphasize the word pursuit - you may have the right to search for peace and happiness, but there's no guarantee you will find it. Thomas Jefferson and the others who framed this important document understood that happiness is a subjective thing. There will always be people who are satisfied with the status quo and others who are not. Happiness cannot be legislated. Attempts to do so end up tipping the balance in the opposite direction, with those once satisfied now unhappy and vice-versa. I rely on someone larger than this life to guide me through the encroaching madness. I don't want to call it life's challenges anymore, because many of these 'challenges' lack a degree of common sense. We have to fight fairly for what is ours and cannot assume that what anything granted or promised to us long ago will be there when we need it. Enough said.

Sadly, there is the growing list of people whose lives on this earth have passed. At least thirteen of the names on the list (tenth revision as of 7/26/12) shared classes with me. Mike Lancaster and Don Lockert lived in my South Elgin neighborhood. Gayle Parisek was a fellow classmate at St. Laurence (Catholic) Elementary School. I remember the day Rich Mulhearn invited Mr. Peterson, Mr. Backer, and me to his house, many years after graduation, and told us he had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). During school, Rich was always calling it as he saw it, and with a cockiness not untypical of many teenaged boys, myself included. But on that day, I knew Rich was a friend needing as many friends as he could reach. All the people on the list of the departed get my attention this weekend. I pray that they got everything they needed out of the life they had and that God in his love and mercy has given them more than they could have possibly dreamed of in the afterlife.

To those gathering to celebrate this milestone, still standing 40 years later, you have my best wishes. I will be with you in spirit, and I'll hear the loud racket you'll no doubt be making as I'm only a few miles downwind of you. Here's to the last forty years - let's all try to make it through the next ten! Only now, since more of us are connected online, let's not forget to keep in touch with each other since we have a simple way to do so. I love hearing good news and pray for you when I hear not so good news. Most importantly, keep the faith! It can move mountains...even while battling windmills.

-Bob Balsamo
LHS Class of 1972

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Because of the Wonderful Things He Does"

The Ascension of the Lord

On Sunday, May 20, a vast majority of Christian Churches celebrated - three days late, no less - the ascension of  Jesus into heaven. (And I'm well over a week late; I was reminded of it yesterday when I discovered that the Catholic diocese for the armed forces - yes, Virginia, it exists - celebrates its Memorial Mass the Sunday before Memorial Day Weekend; this year, that was the Sunday on which the Ascension was observed.)

There's a strange sense of confusion about Jesus' ascension to heaven that many theologians and preachers have gone to lengths to justify, but nonetheless remains. The eleven remaining apostles were certainly shocked and turned to panic again. They had not quite wrapped themselves around Jesus' resurrection from the dead, and now this?

It has been taught that Jesus had to leave this world after his resurrection in order that the Holy Spirit could come and generally make sense to the apostles all that concerned the life of Jesus, and of their own future as proponents of the Gospel. Since this still has the potential for open questions, to what can we turn that is closer to our own time that speaks in similar themes?

I may have found such an item.

The 1939 film version of Lyman Frank Baum's story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz contains several parallels, even if imperfect, that might provide food for thought. It might do nothing. Since it struck me enough to suggest I should blog about it, I'm taking a shot at it.

First, there's the very nature about how the 'wizard' gets to Oz in the first place. Our title character is working as a hot-air balloon pilot at a county fair in Kansas when one day, a sudden change in the weather took the pilot into the clouds and out of the people's sight. He lands near the fabled Emerald City, and because he has basically fallen from the sky - a feat only the four 'witches' can accomplish - he is named the Wizard of Oz. It's a bit different for Jesus - the Gospels of Matthew and Luke attempt to tell the story of his birth through genealogies and applied legends - yet, according to Mark and John, Jesus basically shows up as if he has descended from the heavens as an adult.

At the end of the film, the Wizard attempts to take Dorothy back to Kansas via the balloon that got him to Oz. However, Dorothy has to manage her dog Toto, which makes her just a tad too late. As the balloon drifts up and away from its moorings, Dorothy shouts, "Come back!!" But the Wizard replies, "I can't come back! I don't know how it works!" Jesus really can't come back, either. Even in his divinity he is subservient to his Father's will. Though Jesus knows how it works - he has promised his disciples that another Advocate would come and fill in the gaps - he must go in order that the Holy Spirit could come upon them with divine fire, zeal, and enlightenment that could then propel Peter and the others to overcome their fear and preach boldly about their beloved Lord, Master, Savior and Friend.

Finally, all the main characters are looking for something real that they felt missing. To the Scarecrow, it was Knowledge; the Tin Man, a Compassionate Heart; the Lion, Courage; and Dorothy, a sense of Community. These could only be found from within themselves; and all along they had the capabilities and capacity, even to the point of unwittingly tipping their hand to the watching audience. In reading the Gospel accounts, the Apostles and disciples were frequently given many clues (now obvious to us) of what lay ahead for them. Just as frequently they would witness an 'a-ha' moment and in the next be quite clueless as to what it meant. Only with the coming of the Holy Spirit did they realize that they indeed had the ability to do just as Jesus had commanded them.

I'm not about to attempt to rewrite the lyrics to "We're Off To See The Wizard" (it would probably contain more theological errors through metrical and lyrical liberty). Having said that, though, it's clear that if ever, O ever a wiz there was, Our Lord the Christ is the one because...because of the wonderful things he (still) does...through the legacy of the Gospels, the letters of the Apostles, and the inter-workings of the Holy Spirit, which continues in the Church and the world up to and including today, tomorrow, and as long as God wills watching this present creation.

He has given us the capacity, ability, and grace to fulfill the one great commandment: Love one another. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

After All These Years

If I stumble or ramble a bit with this entry, I hope the reader will forgive me. There is reason for it.

Eighteen years ago I embarked on a leg of my life's journey that has been and continues to be profound. I professed vows as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church.

Like marriage, and the raising of children, this path - this road I now travel on - is one from which I cannot turn back, even if I desired it. The knowledge that this road only goes one way does not detract from my being a traveler on it, nor my desire to be there.

Despite the many mistakes and missteps I have made, I'm still standing. Some of these errors have been large and profound. One or two were even compounded by my efforts to try turning back, to start over. Innocent as I thought this might be, it became obvious that even this could not stop the divine momentum that was put in motion on that day, and the others like it: the day I married my dear wife, and the dates of birth of our children.

Three years ago, I entered among the posts of this blog that I had finally recognized that I was past the 'estranged' relationship I had with the Catholic Church as a result of the way I had chosen to do things. It is true that at in that moment I had reconciled myself to the past. Looking back, though, the goal to change my life may not quite have reached the expectations I had put behind those words. There is still some baggage to unload.

A year ago, I was challenged by the concept that I had 'fallen off my horse' making those errors, but the horse had found me and was attempting to get me back in his saddle, as only a faithful horse can do.

Today, the horse is still patiently waiting.

He waits because I still have much to understand at a deeper level. I have sensed that some truths I hold are not Universal Truths. I am at odds about the disconnect between Jesus' command to "love one another" and the debate over issues that never seem to go away: the role of women in the Church, the issues related to sexual orientation, and whether or not the US Health & Human Services' "mandate" really threatens First Amendment rights to freedom of religious practice and expression. He waits, ever so faithful and patient, because I have the garden of my family to tend. We're really starting to feel our age all of a sudden. He waits, like a dear friend, because while change has come slow and life keeps turning pages, I am moving forward and not backward. I have been reminded what is meant by the psalmist in Ps. 139, and was put so simply in Baltimore Catechism #1: God is everywhere.

That's right. There is no separation. You can't run away from your Creator. He knows you; he knows you better than you know yourself and he knows where you are. You may attempt to put up walls and barricades, but he will knock every one of them down. You may deny his existence, but he will put up reminders at every turn, and only in the last moment of this life would any denial stick.

You can think all you want that our great nation separates religion and faith from governance; but it can't. The people who elect our representatives in government do not en masse leave their faith at the door to the polling place. The best that can come of this is that we have the freedom to live our faith while accepting that we cannot force everyone else to believe and practice as we do, even if it seems that it is our mission is to convert others. (By the way, nowhere does the biblical mandate to evangelize say force it down people. That goes against several other practices.)

God is everywhere. This Truth is probably one of the hardest lessons I have had to remember as an adult. In adult life we tend to compartmentalize everything, including God's place in the world and in personal day-to-day living. But even in our periods of recreation (and maybe especially then), God is there. I am continually surprised in the ways God uses to remind me of his presence and his love. Had Paul of Tarsus added this to his list (In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeman, male or female; all are alive in him), it might have been easier to remember. But no sooner do I write this that I am prompted by memory of where he wrote, Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

I wrote as a status update to announce my anniversary that I continue to serve diaconal ministry in prayer. This I do. It, too, is not as simple as it sounds. Focus on prayer can often be elusive, its fervor muddied by multitasking in an effort to keep moving and get things done. Still, this is perhaps the most meaningful personal accomplishment of the last three years. I liken it to a toddler making his first unsupported steps to walk.

As long as I continue to show signs of progress, my faithful friend will continue to be patient and at my side, waiting for me to allow him to take me to places I would never otherwise see.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Great Expectations & Their Realities

Holy Saturday

I've been subdued by the attempt to solemnly, somberly, and soberly (try saying that quickly three times) on the Great Mystery that is the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Thank you, my Lord and God, for opening wide all that you are. What more can be said; what gift, what honor, what blessing could possibly be greater?

Tonight I once again have the honor of proclaiming the great song of the Resurrection. It is something I do not take lightly and more than once I have nearly lost my composure in chanting God's praises. I have generally tried to keep a low profile during this day, in order to be best prepared for this roughly seven-minute tribute.

Having said this, I think I would have to cloister myself in order to be that ready. There's just too much quirkiness going on these last couple of days:

  • Realizing that this great feast is imminent, my son decided to hijack the television set to watch the rites on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), one of a few Catholic broadcasters. Watching the liturgies themselves is one thing. The programming inbetween is something else again. Between EWTN and the Catholic Channel on radio, I got the full range of services and paraliturgical programs several times. I had the privilege of listening to meditations on Theodor DuBois' Seven Last Words of Christ, a three-hour program. But I heard it out of sequence: the ending movements first, the beginning movements in the middle, and the middle movements at the end. I also watched - twice - David Barry's dramatization, The Passion According to Radix (link to which I posted on my Facebook page; son watched and my wife was subjected to watching it a third time). It is a very intense program, standing in contrast to the children's programming. The latter is apparently the work of some folks who might aspire to work for the Children's Television Workshop; but will never get there with butchered song lyrics like: God is present in the Tuh-BERN-uh-cuhl (actual pronunciation is TAB-er-naah-cuhl; correct spelling, tabernacle). Singing this song three times in a thirty minute program drives home a lesson, although I'm not sure the correct lesson is being caught. But how can you say no to this, considering what else is on the tube?
  • A friend of mine posted as his Facebook status this morning: "In case you were wondering, Jesus is still dead." This immediately brought to mind one of the very first "Weekend Update" sketches on Saturday Night Live. Now I'm pondering whether Chevy Chase's deadpan delivery or Garrett Morris' shouting it 'for the hearing impaired' is funnier.
  • Another friend of mine texted to Facebook, lamenting that McDonald's was closed this morning. What? The fast food icon closed? On a Saturday, perhaps one of the busier ones of the year? Then a few quips from friends, like: Why are you looking for the fresh among the processed? (Something my dear wife could preach on!) And I realized that in my friend's community, the McDonald's franchises are owned by a Jewish family. Today's the first day of Passover, and it's a day of rest for them - that explains the unusual closing.
  • Midday today is also traditionally a time when food that will be used in the preparation of Easter dinner is blessed. I am picturing ladies with baskets of bread, butter, and eggs (among other things) and children with modest baskets of candy showing up at church; while in the meantime, it is being decorated for all the festivity of the Great Sunday, the season of Easter that is about to begin.
  • Preparation for Easter dinner is well underway here. It will be a great feast, the likes of which I have not experienced for a long time, if ever. For this year we are indulging, if you will, in some of the Sicilian ethnic delights associated with feasting on Easter.
With all this anticipation, it is just too exciting to sit on the sidelines and ponder. Instead, it is time to get caught up in the excitement; to do something different, to reap fruits of what was sown on Ash Wednesday, to begin to sense how good it feels to be alive in Christ; to celebrate that in a way that can only take place here and now.

Many Easter blessings o all who read this! May your joy be complete in the knowledge of the risen Christ!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do You Know What I Have Done For You?

Holy Thursday

The Word:

"So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, 'Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.'"

(John 13:12-15, NAB)

Another 'deviation', if you will, has taken place at the Passover Seder. Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, an event found only in John's Gospel.

Theologians and scholars much more learned than I have indicated that this 'unplanned' ritual in the script of the Seder meal is a link to Baptism. It's not a great stretch since water is a key element and it's clearly used here. Once again, though, it would seem the participants are baffled by what is taking place. Peter (and I don't know why, but at the moment for some reason I want to call him "The Mouth That Roared") speaks for all of us when he declares (v.8), "You will never wash my feet!"

Unshod feet might possibly be the dirtiest appendages of the exterior human body. Even with footwear, the feet can endure problems with trapped fungi due to any number of things. So there's a natural reaction not to let anyone - not even a trained medical professional, nor God Himself - get even remotely close to our feet. Most of us would rather wear lace-less shoes than have to endure the embarrassment of having to ask someone else to tie them. I can't say this is worse than digging ditches or shoveling manure, but it sure seems to rank up there with those tasks.What's more, this directly invades that invisible shield we all seem to have; the instinctive mechanism to keep anything even slightly questionable no closer than arms' length.

To be sure, the record by John of this extra ritual act leaves the Apostles even more bewildered. Jesus' dialogue over the next four chapters of the Fourth Gospel might have left all of them as if they were deer staring at the headlights of an oncoming bus. To us, the action is multi-symbolic. It is a link to Baptism; a reminder that a leader must serve those s/he leads; and that, in order to grow spiritually and physically, we must lower our shields and step out of our personal comfort zones. Each change, even slight ones, bears with it the prospect of a mini-death. However, each change offers a great deal of possibility for the life that is to come.

I can't help but think that John's Gospel encourages us to detach ourselves from time and place for just a moment and see the travesty of how Jesus died amid the cacophony of the confused crowds - but also the glory of revelation of just who Jesus is. It's not something that is as easily caught while focused on our regimented lives.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, touch our hearts and make them like your own.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'What you are going to do, do quickly'

Tuesday of Holy Week

The Word:
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
"Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."
The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus' side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus' chest and said to him,
"Master, who is it?"
Jesus answered,
"It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it."
So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,
son of Simon the Iscariot.
After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
"Buy what we need for the feast,"
or to give something to the poor.
So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.

When he had left, Jesus said,

"Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
You will look for me, and as I told the Jews,
'Where I go you cannot come,' so now I say it to you."

Simon Peter said to him, "Master, where are you going?"

Jesus answered him,
"Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later."
Peter said to him,
"Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you."
Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times."

(John 13:21-33, 36-38 (NAB))

On the surface, this passage leaves the impression that its main statement is that Judas Iscariot had reached the last straw. For some time now Jesus' mission and ministry had him thinking: When does this turn into the coup against the occupying Romans? How do we get the support of the local regime? By now it's clear to Judas that Jesus doesn't 'get it', when in fact it's the other way around.

All of this is ambiguous to the other apostles. It's not without reason: Jesus has been dropping large hints that something will indeed happen while they're in Jerusalem for the Passover, something nobody understands.

Peter, as the heir apparent and the control-oriented person he is, wants to get to the bottom of this. He said before that it was not his intention to let anything of an ill nature befall Jesus, for which he was rebuked. Still, he knows there's a lot at stake here. Not willing to get in trouble for yet another poor choice of words, Peter motions John to ask the question. Who's the bad guy? Drama is building.

Before I continue I am reminded that, of the four canonical Gospels, John's is the last to be written, some 65 years after the events. With three already accepted accounts in hand, John is not writing with a strict focus on one community or group of potential converts. Historical accuracy is likewise not a top priority. Furthermore, as is evident when reading any of John's epistles or especially Revelation, the style is largely symbolic. John is putting a very unique perspective into what took place; a perspective that is inclusive of many symbolic acts, so many that one can get a bit lost for a time.

It is not enough, therefore, for Jesus to simply blurt out "Judas is the one." John places the reveal as part of the meal - the meal that will be remembered countless times as the Eucharist and the Mass. In vv.26-27, Judas accepts the morsel (possibly the bitter herbs dipped in salt water at the Passover Seder) - but at the same time, rejects the very Real Presence of Jesus before him. At that point, he succumbs to the temptation, and leaves in haste. It even appears that Jesus encourages the departure. What frame of mind is Jesus in? Nobody can really be sure. Even John's passing comment "and it was night" (v.30b) is symbolic. Not only was it in the evening hours, but the long 'dark night of the soul' had begun.

Peter, seeing though unclearly that something is still very much wrong, once again states his ideal intention that he will protect Jesus, wanting to follow him to wherever he is going. Jesus knows he is about to die, and the manner in which it plays out. Jesus tells Peter that he will follow (to his own death) at another time; but for now, he too is in the grasp of confusion, and that to save himself he will deny he knows his Master three times before the night passes.

Hail to you, our King, obedient to the Father; you were led to your crucifixion like a gentle lamb to the slaughter.