Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
As you know, next weekend is Palm Sunday. It is time that all of Christendom pauses, in memory of our Savior, who died for us. Believers pause, even if but for a moment of silence, to remember this complete loving act, the One who gives up his life for his friends. Believers whose faith is strong unite in him as well as those whose faith is weak. For this moment, it doesn’t matter, we don’t matter; it is only that we find ourselves in him, who makes this perfect act of love, dying so that we might live. The Father’s plan is fulfilled. The love of the Son is the visible reality of the love of the Father.
We are confronted with this infinite love which we did nothing to earn or deserve. Even though the world wants us to believe that somehow we deserve what we want, we know down deep that this is all God’s work. All we must do is receive his love in humility and return his love by the fruitfulness of our lives.
At this moment I am attending the National Workshop on Christian Unity. We joined together at the Old Cathedral of Saint Louis under the arch in Saint Louis, Missouri at the side of the Mississippi River tonight, peoples of over a dozen Christian ecclesial communions, to praise and give thanks to God in Christ, and to ask him to deliver us from ourselves.
You see, when we begin to claim credit for this saving work of Jesus our selfishness leads us away from the truth, into some version of our imagination. We can begin to convince ourselves we determine the truth. Suddenly my truth doesn’t match yours. We put our logo on the Word of God and start making distinctions and define ourselves by differences which, though having defined a difficult and complicated history of corrupt motives, may not be Church-dividing, they are individual-dividing. When our understanding doesn’t match what we are told is true, doubt enters that threatens our autonomy, our identity. The world tells us (and all 12 year-olds) to go with our gut, and not with a position of humility which might lead us back out of ourselves to God. Schism is caused by a lack of humility on both sides.
At our prayer service tonight I looked around me. All these people with a beautiful faith in Jesus, people baptized just like me, people who come together to do something about the pain of separation and division. We know Jesus’ prayer at/after the Last Supper (Jn. 17) makes it clear what Jesus’ will is fulfilling the Father’s plan. That we might be one, as he and the Father are one, so that the world might believe that the Father sent him. He knows what to pray for; he knows what the Father wants to give us. He would not pray for what is not possible, or not the will of his Father. Unity.
Have you noticed? All the prayers around the consecration and following it are for unity and peace. We pray for it, too, it is the keystone of the Mass, so that all might come to full, visible Communion, to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. It was the keystone of our prayer service tonight in Saint Louis, Missouri as we came together to pray in whatever way possible that we might bring on this new Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit will restore to full stature the Body of Christ, which he came to bring together.
I imagine all of us—Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, United Church of Christ, American Methodist Episcopal, Pentecostal, Evangelical—the list goes on and on—reflecting on this Passion narrative of Jesus on Palm Sunday, united in our love for Jesus and sorrow in our participation in his Passion. He died for us. We are called to give ourselves in the same way for each other, and the divisions of denomination can’t deny the truth of devotion or the spirituality of living as true members of his Body. Of course, I believe that the fullness of truth is found in our full Tradition. Still, a spectrum of faithfulness exists within our own Catholic Church with all its divisions, and we must acknowledge that true faith is not limited to the Roman Catholic observance, that God’s grace will not be limited by our individualism or our division to protect our privilege of “place.”
This is one of the best reasons I can give for wanting our assembly not to be limited to the part of the “angry crowd” who calls for Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospel narratives of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. I want people to take ownership of our sin, yes, but I also want you equally to identify with the words of Jesus himself, who you really are. Why is the priest the only the one who gets to read the part of Jesus? These “script narratives” were only an experiment in the 70s, anyway, and I think the test of time has led us to realize that reading the Gospel like a morality play is not that helpful.
Join with me this Holy Week: we are here not to be onlookers or observers. The Mystery of Christ is happening within us; we are
the Body, judged, tortured, crucified, and glorified. We are not called to be followers; we are called to be CHRIST. May our love reflect his mercy and loving kindness for all.
God bless you.