Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the dark side

I put a little more time into preparing homilies during Lent. Right now I should be working on next Sunday's, but I'm still hung up on the last one. The Exorcist may have gone a bit overboard.

See, I receive all these homiletic helper type leaflets and booklets and e-mails that are supposed to give me ideas for preaching. Sometimes they're helpful. Sometimes I don't look at them. Sometimes they make me wonder if what I see in the Sunday liturgy is even there at all...

Take last Sunday, 2nd of Lent. All the homiletical suggestions that came my way were hoplessly upbeat. The Genesis story of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac should be read as the triumph of faith and God's leniency. The reading from Romans is reduced to 'God being with us and no one being against us'. And the one line we're supposed to remember from Mark's narration of the Transfiguration is Peter's "How good it is for us to be here".

Either homily helper missed the point or the Exorcist did. Maybe it's just my patented knee-jerk reaction against everything 'feel-good'...

I think the timing of Sunday's readings and their mutual connection is to be found elsewhere.

Abraham was at a total loss. The very son that was the fulfillment of God's multiple promises was to be eliminated. Not in the sad way a child can be lost to illness or accident. God's request is premeditated and intentionally twisted: "Take the son you so love and sacrifice him..." The God of life and promise blurs his personality with the pagan idols placated by human sacrifice.

Would Abraham, coming down the mountainside, be rejoicing because God spared his son at the last minute or would he be internally crushed by dread asking himself what kind of God would request the violent murder of his only son?

You already know what the Exorcist thinks...

The bottom line of the Gospel story is similar. The Apostles come down the mountain with Jesus, having been told that whatever they think they saw in their terrified stupor was to be kept to themselves. Yet Mark does not describe them as rejoicing or astonished because Jesus gave them a glimpse of his divinity, but rather worried and consternated by his talk of 'rising from the dead'.

There's the rub. The relentless contradiction between their understanding and budding hope in the Christ and his unforgiving insistence on suffering and failure. How can violence, injustice, abandonment, desperation and defeat be an essential component of God's supposed love for mankind?

Neither Genesis nor Mark give the answer in Sunday's readings. They simply leave the question hanging, like a dark thundercloud, over the Lenten horizon.

Paul ventures an answer of sorts, but his reasoning is far from feel-good territory.

"If God is with us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"

The Exorcist ventures that the Lenten liturgy explicitly invites us to enter into God's 'dark side'. Not to do so would be to miss the point. Not to do so would be to lose an essential clue to the truth that underpins all reality.

Yup. Lucky you. You belong to some other parish.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

brain damage

One year.
One year ago today I left South America and came here.

What was I thinking?

Oh, well. There's always happy hour.

disposable babies

That piece in the Times yesterday was on my mind. And this morning, as I was weaving through city traffic on my way back to the parish from the barber shop, the police medic named in the story, Tim Jaccard was interviewed on one of those talk radio programs.

He found his first baby in a toilet in the ladies' room at the Nassau County Courthouse back in 1997, while over 400 people milled around the courthouse interior. Others were found in recycling bins, another dug up by a dog in someone's backyard, others discarded in the ingenious nooks and crannies of urban squalor. Last week's was by far the most horrifying: wrapped in plastic and left in the street, the baby had been run over at least twice by the time a man walking his dog took a look and saw her two legs.

Jaccard started a foundation, Children of Hope, and got a bill passed: the Infant Abandonment Protection Act. A woman can give up her baby within five days of birth at a police station, church, hospital, etc. - no questions asked. The adoption rate of babies given up this way is apparently quite high.

On a later segment of this talk show, a rep from Planned Parenthood lavishly extolled Jaccard's work and concluded, "This is why protecting women's abortion rights is of such vital importance. Without the abortion option, many women will feel forced to take the lives of their own babies in the horrible ways we've been hearing of."

Hmmm.... I seem to have missed something here.
Only in America.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ashes to ashes

I told folks today that they didn't have to leave the ashes on their foreheads all day.
They were asking.

A lady wanted some ashes for her pets.
I wonder what she thinks Ash Wednesday ashes do, anyway.
I decided to err on the side of caution.

A few years ago - this is true, by the way - Fr. Kelly told me that a women left an urn with the remains of her husband in the chapel at his catechetical center without telling anyone. Apparently, Juanita wanted Guillermo to rest in quiet, dignified surroundings while his burial place was being readied.

Fr. Kelly returned from an out-of-town retreat just as Lent was starting and celebrated Mass that Wednesday morning for the teachers and students at the center. He assumed that the fancy container with ashes on the offerings table in the chapel had been put there for his use. Although, he remarked later, it did seem like a lot of ashes for the 40 or 50 people who attended Ash Wednesday Mass there.

Those good folks went home with Guillermo on their minds.

That story has stayed with me. On Monday - this is also true, I have witnesses - we were cleaning the sacristy in this small urban church, thousands of miles from where Fr.Kelly made his unfortunate assumptions years ago, and we found two small earthenware urns stashed away on the bottom shelf of one of the closets. They were filled with grey powdery dust and hard dirty white fragments.

Taking no chances, I carefully labeled the urns "Juanita" and "Guillermo" and buried them behind the rectory.

I then burned last year's palm strands. Those ashes were under constant surveillance until today.

Is everyone's world as bizarre as the Exorcist's?