Archive for February, 1997
It’s all a question of knowing where we are going. The first two readings set it up very clearly—in Lent we are heading once more to the Baptismal waters of Easter—but, to paraphrase Eliot, do we go all that way for a birth or a death? … It’s all a question of knowing where we are going.
A friend of mine worked for these past few years with refugees in East Africa—displaced, hungry, shattered people. Even among outcasts there are outcasts, the weakest of the weak—in particular the HIV positive who with little care and minimal medication quickly develop full-blown AIDS. And there in East Africa AIDS it isn’t a rarity, isn’t confined to any one portion of the community, AIDS is everywhere. Yet, for all it is common, its fear dissolves communities as it works the complete isolation of its sufferers. Even what little they have, what little they have been able to keep, is stripped from them as gradually they are edged out of the meagre comforts of the community. Figuratively, and then literally, pushed to the edge and beyond until they are driven into the desert to die alone and un-mourned. Only the kindness of strangers—people like my friend—stands between them and a forgotten death. Hands that will touch, and lift up and carry them back, out of the desert’s dryness, into the oasis of human care, to know life again before they must leave it.
February 16th, 1997
Why do we come here on Ash Wednesday? Why do we come now in greater numbers than on Easter? Why do we inconvenience our work day just to get a blackened brow that will embarrass us and confuse our colleagues? It’s not obligation that brings us—there is none. It may be custom, or habit, or maybe a touch of superstition. But it goes much deeper than that.
I think it goes beneath the surface of success in our lives. It reaches wholeness—that mixture of good and bad, success and failure, hope and fear—that belong to us all. It’s a sign of the cross we leave here with today. A sign of the life and death of one man long ago whose living and dying changed the world. Not the way we’d like to change it maybe. Not very successfully, not very efficiently, not in blaze of light, and not once and for all. The change that Jesus made was messy, dirty, bought at the price of hardship and blood—and it is unfinished. But it is not forgotten. Ash Wednesday intrudes on the daily-ness of our living to remind us of deep and sometimes dark realities. It makes a mark on our washed and shaved and made-up faces—a mark of death and a promise of unlikely life.
February 12th, 1997
Stories, like ours, can reveal our own selves to us. Stories draw us in. Stories awaken in us a sense of who we are and what we desire. They tell us what is changing in us. That’s why we read the scriptures at Mass and not the catechism: because we want to be changed.
That’s the question. Now the puzzle. One of the things I find most mysterious about Mark’s gospel is the way that Jesus is always described as preaching the good news. Like today: “he went into their synagogues preaching the good news and expelling demons.” The puzzle is that Mark never tells us what Jesus says. Matthew goes on endlessly about Jesus’ sermons and teaching but Mark never says a word. All you hear is how wonderful Jesus’ preaching is, how he teaches with authority, how even demons are struck dumb by him. But not a word of what he says. … At least not directly. Instead we get stories about what Jesus does. The story is the good news. And typically, for Mark, these stories are brief, hasty little dramas.
February 9th, 1997