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.