Good Friday: Outcast, Oppressed, Abandoned

“Crucifixion” by Emil Nolde, 1912

The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought, but a change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.                                                                                                                                                                                         –Jürgen Moltmann                                                                                                                                              The Crucified God


Good Friday: Oppressed, Condemned, Taken Away

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood. . . .

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.

–Isaiah 53:7-9, 10-12





Holy Saturday: The Reality of Death

HolySaturday-JesusLaidInTheTomb-OBrien-01Holy Saturday is the day of the tomb.  Jesus died on Good Friday and resurrects on Easter Sunday, so Holy Saturday is the day in between death and new life.  Last year, on this day, I provided a meditation based on the song “Memory” from the musical Cats.   This year, for this in-between day, I offer a short meditation from Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman who hid other Jews in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.  Her account of that time, An Interrupted Life, is a classic of spiritual and liberation literature.  The following quotation comes from that book:

“The reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life, we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we can enlarge and enrich it.”

May we all experience the grace of which Etty Hillesum writes.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Minnesota Catholics Rely on Conscience and Community in Marriage Equality Debate

Pride flag in front of the Twin Cities' St. Paul Cathedral.

Catholics are playing a major role in the marriage equality debate in Minnesota, where this November, voters in the state will go to the polls to vote on proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage between people of the same gender.  Bondings 2.0 has reported several times on the issue, particularly the good work that the group Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota has been doing.  (Links to previous posts can be found under the heading “Minnesota” in “Categories” listing in the right-hand column of this blog . →) recently featured the role that Catholics are playing in the debate in an article entitled “Conflicted Catholics: Consciences wrestle with church actions on marriage amendment.”    The personal stories explain not only the division that the proposed amendment is causing among Catholics, but the faith journeys that many individuals and faith communities are experiencing  by becoming involved with the campaign to promote equal marriage rights for all.

The article profiles Lisa Vanderlinden, the mother of a gay son, whose family moved to a parish which has a public outreach to LGBT people.  Their former parish, she explains, has become heavily involved in work to support the ban on marriage equality:

“In keeping with orders from Archbishop John Nienstedt, a prayer is now said during Sunday services affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A committee has been formed to work in favor of a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution banning same-sex marriage that will appear on the November ballot.

“And a percentage of every dollar parishioners give goes to the archdiocese, which recently donated $650,000 to the group pushing for the ballot initiative.”

But Vanderlinden and her family have taken a different Catholic approach:

“ ‘The Catholic hierarchy would like the public to believe that it is the only voice of the people,’ she said. ‘Since Vatican II that’s not true. Our teaching says we must speak our conscience even when it conflicts with church authorities. . . .’

“ ‘The silencing that’s going on is incredible,’ said Vanderlinden. ‘I know a lot of people are not giving money anymore. I know a lot of people are not going to church anymore.’ ”

Laura Kuntz, another Twin Cities Catholic, found that the archdiocese’s increasing political involvement to defeat marriage equality was having a detrimental effect on her identification with the Church.  And then, she got involved with Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota:

“A year and a half ago when Nienstedt circulated a DVD calling for a same-sex marriage ban, Kuntz and her husband stopped giving to their church, because it was obligated to tithe 8 percent to 10 percent of their donation to the archdiocese.

“Two months ago, there were a series of communications about the marriage amendment in the church bulletin, including the announcement of a committee to manage communications about the amendment.

“ ‘My heart just stopped,’ she said. . . .

“At some point after she shared her feelings with a few fellow parishioners, she got a call from someone she describes only as a diocesan employee, who told her about a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality. Throughout Lent, the group held vigils outside the chancery in St. Paul. For Kuntz, participating brought comfort.”

Some Catholic individuals and parishes are protesting by not reciting the prayer against marriage equality that the archdiocese has instructed communities to use at Masses:

One of the authors of the blog The Progressive Catholic Voice, Paula Ruddy is unconvinced the prayer is being said in very many parishes. “I don’t know anyone whose parish is pushing this,” she said. It doesn’t matter whether the priest agrees with it or not, the issue is introducing a potentially divisive element to a worship service.

“One of my friends said their deacon was asked to give it as part of the homily,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s not that I am opposed to it, but I don’t want to do something so controversial.’ ”

Her fellow blogger Mary Beckfeld has friends in four western suburban parishes who say the prayer is not being said there, either. A friend of hers was asked to read it on Good Friday and refused. Her pastor’s response: “Do what your conscience tells you.”

Ron Joki, a gay man who converted to Catholicism, speaks of the role that conscience plays in his decision to remain part of the church and to be involved in the struggle to secure marriage equality rights:

“Joki sees no contradiction between his sexual orientation and his faith. ‘There are many ancient rules in the Bible that no longer serve us, that were cultural,’ he said. ‘We are not breaking the important rule, which we interpret as the basic rule of loving God and loving our neighbors.’ ”

“He’s comfortable with the approach some liberal parishes are taking of engaging in discussions about the church’s support for the amendment, but making sure multiple viewpoints are represented. ‘God speaks to us in our conscience,’ Joki explained. ‘We need to be respectful of all sides.”

Joki sees the work of the Spirit in the differing voices present in the church on this issue:

“ ‘The spirit works in many levels, not only at the top of the hierarchy but at every level,’ Joki said. ‘Many of the people the church now recognizes as saints, as heroes of the church, were originally people who were renounced and condemned.

“ ‘Sometimes, the opinions that are the last to change are at the top.’ ”

What are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the experience of these Minnesota Catholics?

1.  Follow your conscience.

2.  Seek out a supportive community.

3.  Work together with others to enact justice.

4.  Respect all, even those who disagree with you.

5.  Change comes from the bottom and rises to the top.

6.  The church doesn’t always immediately recognize its saints who are working for justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Holy Saturday: Let the Memory Live Again

Holy Saturday, the day that Jesus lay in the tomb, is one of the most overlooked days in the Christian liturgical calendar. There is no liturgy for the day and very little spirituality or theology about it. We tend to move right from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, moving from crucifixion to new life, from sadness and pain to joy and exultation.  What happens in between?

That question can be asked in another way: What does it take to move from death to new life?  We have all experienced that phenomenon in our lives: the time after something terrible happens and we think we will never be able to continue and the time before we experience a new outlook and renewed joy in living.  This in-between time can be a struggle.

When God offers us the opportunity for new life, we have the choice to accept or reject God’s grace.  We can’t resurrect ourselves; we can only choose to accept or reject the grace of resurrection that God offers when we are ready for it.  To make the choice for life requires a conscious effort on our part to decide to act differently.  We must recall how we were before, choose not to exist in this “dead” state, remember how God’s love operates in our lives, and elect to start life anew.

I can’t help but imagine that Jesus, while lying in the tomb, went through a similar process. While, of course, He was dead, my imagination can’t help but wonder what His thoughts might have been if He had them.  I believe that, just as we have to do, Jesus had to choose to resurrect.

For me, this experience of being “dead” and needing to choose to live a new life is best described in the lyrics of the popular song, “Memory,” from the musical, Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Weber.  I like to think of them as the “thoughts” that Jesus had while lying in the tomb. Here are the lyrics, followed by my interpretation of them in light of Holy Saturday:

1. Daylight
See the dew on the sunflower
And a rose that is fading
Roses whither away
Like the sunflower
I yearn to turn my face to the dawn
I am waiting for the day . . .

2. Midnight
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan

3. Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

4. Every streetlamp
Seems to beat a fatalistic warning
Someone mutters
And the streetlamp gutters
And soon it will be morning

5. Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

6. Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
The streetlamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning

7. Touch me
It’s so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You’ll understand what happiness is

8. Look
A new day has begun

The first verse describes the waiting that we go through.  The second verse describes the experience of emptiness we feel when dead.  The third verse offers the remembrance of how our lives used to be.  The fourth verse tells of the hope that we have during this period.

The turning point happens in the fifth verse, which reminds us that we can experience temptation to remain dead, to remain frozen in our current condition, rather than resurrecting. In this fifth verse, we are reminded of the determination that we need to experience resurrection, that it is our choice whether to do so or not.

The sixth verse lets us know that, though it seems we are trapped by this death experience, we will soon experience new life.  The seventh verse describes how easy it can be to stay in the past, rather than opening ourselves to a new experience of life.  The eighth verse simply states that we are now at the dawn of a new experience, better than we have tasted before and unencumbered by both the joys and tragedies of the past: a true resurrection.

May we all choose to resurrect to new life from the pain and tragedy of the past.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry