Archive for the ‘Holy Week’ Category

April 9, 2012

See Easter 2 (Year B)

This year I particularly noticed sensate images in Holy Week. Here are a few:

The donkey’s breath, the foal’s weaving around her mother. The scent of palms trodden under foot.
The crash of tables and glissando of coins scattering on the pavement, the wind-sound of the whip of cords.
The unique footfall of each sister on the path: Martha’s sure and sturdy presence as she confronts Jesus, Mary’s lighter step as she runs. Jesus’ tears. His inexpertly stifled moan. The bandages covering Lazarus. And later, the scent of pure nard filling the house.
Outer garment laid aside. Towel. Water. The distinctive feet of each friend: calluses, sores, corns, scars, dirt, fungus, deformed and discolored toenails.
Bread broken. Wine poured. Judas going out into the night.
Bloody sweat of abject anguish.
Thirty pieces of silver.
A fire in the courtyard in the cold air. A cock crowing.
A bowl in which Pilate washes his hands.
Crown of thorns, purple robe, spittle. Blood. Mutilated flesh quivering like jelly on Jesus’ back. Weakness, falling. The cloth wiping sweat and blood from his face. Nails. Cross. Dice. Tunic without seam. Sponge. Vinegar. Spear. Water and blood. One hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, fresh linen. Corpse. Tomb hewn out of the rock.

The Passion narrative emphasizes the very materiality of this particularly incarnational religion. And paradoxically, perhaps it is this materiality which makes it hard to recognize the Resurrected flesh of the Incarnate One, at least initially, although I don’t understand why. Why, near the tomb in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, on the beach in Galilee, was it difficult to recognize Jesus? What obscures normal sight and senses? Or does perceiving his presence demand a heightening of senses?

For Thomas, the privilege of doubt is a deeper embrace. Invited to place his hand in the divine wound, Thomas touches the interior flesh of the Beloved.
I’m beginning to realize this faith of mine isn’t just inside my head. I place my hand in Thomas’ hand.


My Committee of the Interior

March 26, 2012

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Passion Week

Jesus Before Caiaphas, Duccio, 1308-11, detail

Here in my soul, I see the bureaucrats sitting in uninformed judgment. They don’t have all the facts. They don’t have all the information they need. They don’t see the big picture. Annas, Pilate. Caiaphas. The Sanhedrin. My Committee of the Interior.

They like to hear themselves hold forth with loud opinions, no matter the long-term consequences. They appeal to that day’s shouting rabble, the crowd at hand, the crowd addicted to drama, to adrenalin, to the quick-moving surface of passing events.

My true life will be crucified by shallow bureaucrats impressing one another by their cleverness. One rises and clears his throat. “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people…” The others nod, pretending they understand.

So, too, in the world.

Woe to the ones who stop to think before they speak. Woe to the ones lingering in the library. Woe to the fact checkers. Woe to those who contemplate the darkness, who face and embrace unpleasant truths. Woe to those who tell the story from the beginning and hold out for a graceful ending. Woe to those holding ambiguity in their weakening grasp. Woe to the weary reconcilers.

I know the arrogant class. They look just like my Committee. I hear myself speak, therefore I must be right! Don’t you worry your pretty head, little lady, I’m in charge.

You may be in charge, but you’re destroying the already diminishing life in me. You will kill me out of your empty ignorance. And just for the slightest, most temporary, greedy thrill.

And so, when I contemplate the Passion, and hear the self-satisfying pundants condemning Christ to death before going out for lunch, I can’t exactly hold them up as the enemy. I know these men. I know them all. They live in me.

And I am crucifying You in me.

Forgive us. We do not know what we are doing.


You will liberate my heart…

April 18, 2011

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
                               – prayer from the liturgy of Palm Sunday

And now I enter the occupied city alongside you, with the donkey and her foal, waving branches and singing. You will liberate my heart from oppression, from my sins, my mistakes and grievances, memories of pain, the ugliness of my thoughtless betrayals against those close to me and those far away.  You will enter the den of thieves that is my soul and turn the tables over and restore me to my house of prayer. You will let me wash your feet with my hair and fill the room you have prepared for me with expensive scent. You will invite me to the table and my cup will spill over with abundance.  And I will follow you and wait with you and pray with you (God help me!). And you will die for me. And you will promise me paradise as I beg you to remember me.

And then I will wait for your uncreated light to seep into the darkness of my unknowing.  And you will come and draw me to yourself, so that where you are I may be also.

Entry into Jerusalem, Pietro Lorenzetti, c.1320

The Martyrs of Atlas

April 11, 2011

Here’s a film appropriate to see in Holy Week.  Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) is based upon the true story of the martyrs of Atlas, a group of nine Cistercian monks living in Algiers linked in deep friendship with the Moslem villagers surrounding the monastery. Seven of the monks were kidnapped by terrorists during the Algerian civil war in 1996. (Although we don’t see what happened to them, they were beheaded, either by the terrorists before or after a failed rescue attempt by the Algerian government in which the monks may have been accidentally killed.)

As foreigners are targeted and danger increases, the French monks must come to a consensus about whether to stay, whether to go back to France, whether to split up – some stay, some go. The government urges them to leave. The villagers, however, are dependant upon them.  The terrorists themselves want their medical expertise and supplies. The viewer is let in on the soul-wrestling of brother Christophe in particular, cursing, weeping during nights of prayer, and finally emerging transfigured with a calm joy. 

There’s no soundtrack to manipulate your feelings. But there is chant – the monk’s exquisite chant. And in one scene, during a sort of “last supper,” Brother Luc brings out bottles of wine and then plays a cassette tape of the dying swan theme from Swan Lake while the brothers contemplate both their unity of purpose and witness in the face of possible martyrdom, without saying a word.

I saw the film twice in one week – once with two Holy Cross brothers in Santa Barbara, and two days later with participants in the retreat I was leading there. I’d love to see it again. Here’s a trailer for the film:

The prior of the monastery wrote the following letter, forgiving ahead of time his murderers. Portions of it are quoted in the film. It’s worth contemplating lovingly.

 Testament of Dom Christian De Cherge, OCSO

This testament was composed by Dom Christian de Cherge in Algiers, December 1, 1993 and produced in Tibhirine, January 1, 1994. It was opened on Pentecost Sunday, 1996, shortly after Dom Christian and others of his Trappist community were murdered in Algeria.

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?

I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I don’t see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I know the contempt in which Algerians taken as a whole can be engulfed. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam which encourage a certain idealism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam is something different. It is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed it often enough, I think, in view of and in the knowledge of what I have received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already respecting believing Muslims.

My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: Immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences.

This life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that JOY in and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU which is said for everything in my life, from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, besides my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, a hundredfold as was promised!

And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . . AMEN!