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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 6

This is the sixth post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 6

Mary Magdalene wept and lingered at the Cross. The Man who had become her life died. His death rocked the earth, split the temple, and broke her heart. The tears of repentance and gratitude with which she had washed His feet became a flood of grief. She watered His nail-split feet. Apart from Him, she could do nothing. She had nothing; His life was hers. She filled the void with tears.

He had founded a new life in her. Now grief grounded her, kept her near Him. When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus transferred Jesus’ body to a tomb, she followed Him there. Did the myrrh and aloes with which they embalmed Him remind her of the perfume with which she had so boldly baptized Him unto His death a few days earlier?

Lingering gives one time to remember, to allow the life that has passed to speak once more. Perhaps Mary recalled His words:

‘I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. A woman giving birth has pain, but when the baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a baby has been born into the world. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again…’ (Jn 16: 20-22)

She wept and lingered at the empty tomb. She remembered. Deeper than her grief was her trust in the One who promised to return. How? When? Who can know? Grief kept her from racing away, from returning to the old life, from despair. Grief grounded her and freed her to linger. The Spirit broods over those who wait and remember and weep. Sometimes hope can be conceived only in broken, still ground.

‘Even in darkness, light shines for the upright.’ (PS 112:4)

Perhaps Mary recalled these words:

‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word, I put my hope. More than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchman wait for the morning.’ (PS 130: 5, 6)

‘Who have I but You? Earth has nothing I desire but You. My flesh and heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.’ (PS 73: 25, 26)

The other disciples went home, confused, disoriented, worn out. Mary Magdalene waited. She lingered and wept at the tomb for hours, hours became a day then another. She was poured out, like when she first washed His feet with her tears, or when He cleansed her with a mighty deliverance, or when she broke open the perfume on His head. She remembered Him being poured out on the Cross, the flood of blood and water. He gave everything to her. She remembered.

She was His—where else would she go? She waited alone at the empty tomb, an empty vessel whose hope lay only in a few words. But those words were His. She recounted them and they sustained her. Trust sweetened her grief. She waited.

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Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

This is the sixth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

‘When You disciplined us, we could barely whisper a prayer.’ (IS 26:16)

‘Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light.’ Pope Benedict

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church brings us to our knees. We do not kneel politely but painfully, a sprawl rather than a pose. On behalf of those felled by the weight of a priest’s perversion, we too stumble and fall. Behold the scandal we share: the Greek word ’skandalon’ means stumbling block, a sizable obstacle in the path of another’s salvation.

Pope Benedict is right. Our ‘skandalon’ has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Lent redeems our falling by redirecting it. Lent points us to another stumbling block, the Crucified Christ (1Cor 1:23), who draws us magnetically to Himself amid the suffering and shame of abuse and its cover-up. He invites us to fall forward into Himself, the sole Source that can bear the unbearable. Any momentum toward obliterating the stumbling block of sexual abuse in the Church begins facedown before the Cross. We repent for the disintegration of lives, the shattering of trust, and how abuse mocks the Church and her championing the dignity of each life.

Shame is transformed into substantial good at the Cross. Just as there is a momentum to the evil of abuse, fanning out like fissures from an earthquake, so repentance before the Crucified overcomes evil. Jesus Himself assumes the web of wounds and rouses the darkened Church, preparing her to shine once more. Our resurrection is founded on His justice and mercy. We arise in humbled passion for the integrity of our Church.

Brimming with new life, we must act. Shame’s transformation requires more than mystical transactions. Will we follow Benedict’s call to bear witness with our very lives of a transparent, integrated Church who lives the truths she upholds?

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict faced a hemorrhaging crisis of abuse. He realized that the dignity of all people, beginning with the education of children, required the transparent integrity of the Church. To him, sexual abuse was more than an isolated problem of priestly perversion; it signaled a disturbing shift in the entire culture toward sexual values that dehumanized others.

‘Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and crude manipulations of sexuality so prevalent today.’ (Address to US Bishops, 2008)

Degradations and manipulations like the priestly abuse of children! More than ever, we need a humbled witness from the top down of sexual integration. What does it mean to live chastely? How do we acquire self-control and pass it on to a generation already exposed to more filth than at any other time in history?

The church must reclaim its beautiful (and bravely counter-cultural) teaching on chastity–beginning with her priests. We must discover together how Jesus and His community help us to actually integrate God’s will for our sexuality into the fabric of our real lives. That means more than preaching another round of conservative sexual ethics; we must also wrestle honestly with our ‘ethos’–our desires and conflicts.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts–our affections, our attitudes, our motives– that we might embody a living morality. Repentance before the Crucified is key. While sexual abuse is the ultimate ‘disintegrator’, Jesus’ redeeming power in our lives always points to integration, toward wholeness. The stench of abusive priests must be overcome by the fragrance of those priests who live chaste lives through the cross and its community. Following their good lead, we too can embody what it means to offer our chaste selves to one another.

We the laity must do our part. As the numbers of priests are declining, we must increase our commitment to transparent service of the Church. We can ensure that our dioceses have solid systems in place for responding quickly and impartially to abuse charges, and especially to the abused. These systems must become normative!

The abuse crisis has struck an inspired blow against clericalism. It has altered her ‘in-house’ mentality, and she is learning to yield substantial control to empowered laity and civil authorities. As with any organizational shift in values and praxis, this will require time and vigilance on the part of all.

Change takes time. Change is taking place. We now have a better grasp of the horror of priestly abuse and how to prevent it than we had 10 years ago. In spite of our problems, the US Church has exemplified candor for the worldwide Church whose abuses are just beginning to be revealed. Their ‘skandalon’ is ours; we have much yet to endure. We can do so through the One who endured all in order to transform our shame into glory.

Abuse has struck us down, but we are not destroyed. (2Cor 4:9) Our dying is not fatal. We see life-signs–the fruit of God’s purifying, disciplining hand. He is judging clericalism, and inspiring a more humble, candid hierarchy; He is weeding out ill-equipped candidates for the priesthood and empowering solid clerics and laity; He is calling the Church to a new integrity in how she embodies her truth.

Merciful discipline. God is having His way with His Bride.

‘The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be set free. We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating Mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.’ Dublin Archbishop Martin, 2010

‘We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, leading to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.’ John Paul II

‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines forth like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)

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The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

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Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 1

This is the first post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditation, 1

Why was Mary Magdalene the first disciple Jesus entrusted with the message of His resurrection? A brief meditation on her life points to intimacy with Jesus as the basis for her unique authority. His gift to her was Mercy, a free gift that nevertheless demands a response. She surrendered all to Him; her gift to Jesus was herself. His life became hers.

More than not, the Gospels describe her weeping and lingering in His Presence. That was her authority, this evidence of intimacy with Jesus. For what else better defines intimate reliance upon another but weeping and lingering? Love alone provokes tears for another; love alone compels us to wait, to abide, to linger. These simple expressions of intimacy—tears and lingering—are the basis for Mary’s authority.

Intimacy with Jesus made an ex-prostitute the bearer of the most important event in human history. No wonder the Roman Catholic Church names Mary Magdalene the ‘Apostle of the Apostles.’

Mary’s life demonstrates how Jesus exchanges false attachments for His faithful, unfailing love. False intimacy is no match for His Mercy.

Mary knew all about false intimacy. She had been a prostitute; she gave herself to others in exchange for money. The most exquisite and life-giving part of her became the site of her greatest degradation. One thing abides—the pervasive shame over treating one’s precious self as worthless.

No amount of familiarity or mental gymnastics can remove that shame. The law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Conscience can be numbed but not killed. In the still of the night, after each fall, the soul longs for the imprint of strange flesh to be erased. Jesus heard Mary’s cry. He hears ours today.

Mercy alone frees us to recognize the falsehood which has entrapped us. Mercy alone liberates our repentance. Mary personifies this recognition of falsehood and repentance.

The Pharisees mirrored the truth of her falsehood; in her, they would have been the face of God: righteous, serious, scorning her degradation. One critical gaze from a religious man might have withered her, confirming her shame. The law can cause us to weep and to linger in our regret, but it cannot heal us.

Mary saw another face in the crowd, this Jesus who gathered the lost and the least in order to heal and deliver them. He looked at her too, with eyes that seemed to know all about her but did not scorn her; in truth, they seemed to be pleading for something more, something better for her…

When Mary saw Jesus eating with a Pharisee, she wanted to run over and surrender all to Him, to offer her devotion as best as she could. But she had to risk the rejection of the Pharisee—the old face of God—in order to surrender to Jesus.

And she did. She crashed the party and flung herself at Jesus’ feet. At His feet she wept tears of gratitude and repentance, repentance from her life of degradation, gratitude for the Mercy He embodied. She lingered there. Mercy washed her, its levels rose around her releasing more tears, regret and release combined. She in turn washed His feet with her offering.

She was oblivious to the heady discussion in which the Pharisee had engaged Jesus. ‘Deep calls to deep, in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have washed over me…’ (PS 42:7)

Immersed in Mercy, she barely recognized the disgust of the Pharisee toward this embarrassing display.

Her courageous devotion is our first glimpse of the intimacy that made her great. Weeping and lingering in His Presence; this was the beginning of her authority. Deeper than her sin and shame was an awareness Jesus alone could set her free. She risked everything to be where He was.

Jesus explained to the agitated, dry-eyed Pharisee why Mary wept and lingered. ‘(S)he who has been forgiven of much will love Me much; (s)he who is forgiven of little will love Me little.’ (Lk 7:47)

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Urgency and Mercy

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

Urgency and Mercy

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 31

I have eternity for punishing sinners, and so I am prolonging the time of Mercy for the sake of sinners. But woe to them who do not recognize this time of My visitation! (1160)

A strange power has been pushing me into action, not giving me a moment’s peace. A strange ardor has been lit in my heart, urging me to action and I cannot stop it. (569)

What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the Church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Cor. 5: 12)

If I say, “I will not mention Him or speak anymore in His Name”, His Word is like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jer. 20:9)

Have Mercy, Jesus. We have all contributed to the devastation of human dignity through sexual brokenness. Have Mercy on us all; do not pay us back as our sins deserve. Reclaim lives from the fire of ‘lust and greed, which is idolatry. (Eph. 5:5)

Mercy also on Your Church, as You allow her to be judged in this hour. Let Your severe Mercy have its perfect way in her, that she might be restored as a bright and pure fount of Your Mercy. Receive our repentance in this hour, merciful King, that You would be unashamed to dwell in Your house.

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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Boldness and Mercy

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

Boldness and Mercy

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 30

If the Lord demands something of a soul, He gives it the means to carry it out; through grace, He makes it capable. At the Lord’s command, the soul can undertake things beyond its expectation if God’s power and strength, which makes the soul courageous and valiant, are manifest within it. (1090)

Your assignment on earth is to beg Mercy for the whole world. (570)

O Father, make Your Church glorious, rich in Mercy and purity, winsome to all who seek an answer to our hope. Show them the Mercy You have shown us; make us evident, shining bearers of Mercy. Enfold the lost through us, O God. In agreement with You, we want none to perish. You delight in the death of no-one. (Ez. 18:32) Through merciful repentance, may many find life in Your house.

For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch…

I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem, and makes her the praise of all the earth. (Is 62: 1, 6,7)

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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