Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday word, 11 Mar 2012

The Other Power 
Lent Sunday 3 (B) (11 Mar 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Last Sunday evening I joined several people for Taizé prayer around the cross. The cross rested above the floor in front of the altar. Candles shone at several places around the cross, the heart of the prayer time. We chanted psalms and words inspired by them; listened to scripture; and made intercessory prayer as a community. Generous silences punctuated our voices.

Before we entered, we had been invited to pause in our lives and focus on the divine love manifested in our Messiah’s cross. One of the early refrains welcomed us to give Jesus our burdens and allow Jesus to take them from us. That was powerful: I lost myself as well as my burdens and my sense of time. Nor was I aware of people around me. I was, though, aware of Jesus present to me and receiving me and anything I offered. I felt a deepening of discipleship with Jesus.
People left as they felt moved, going in silence as others continued praying; I do not know what others felt. As I left Jesus’ words echoed reassuringly: where two or three are gatheredin my name, there am I in the midst of them.1 The presence of Jesus I had felt was not manufactured by me. His words confirmed his presence was a gift. That confirmation did something else: it broke the hold the historical and chronological has on me, and I wager on many of us twenty-first Century, first-world, civilized folks.
That hold shapes the way we think of things as past or present, important or negligible, pertinent or insignificant to me. Jesus’ cross is often a historical fact of a time and culture far distant. That historical and chronological hold makes Jesus’ cross a decoration, noble and holy though it may be. When that hold broke last Sunday evening, Jesus’ cross was not only present; it was a lightening rod, absorbing me and my burdens, as well as the love of Jesus, creating me anew. Far from decor, his cross was power. That was St. Paul’s gospel: we proclaim Christ crucified...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. The reason he was a stumbling block to Jews was a scripture: Cursed is anyone whose corpse hangs on tree.2 St. Paul, himself a Pharisee, realized by becoming a curse that way, God in Jesus ransomed us from the curse of the law.3 
We more easily identify with the Greeks, for whom St. Paul’s gospel was foolishness. Who would give their lives that way? Yet, we give our lives all the time. In our honest moments we give our lives to others in varying degrees. Those moments see us extend selfless, or at least other-centered, love. At times we wonder how we do that. Yet though we freely choose to give ourselves, it is more than our power. As St. Paul admitted, I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.4 Jesus’ cross is present and greatly significant for all Christians. It is true power.

That word had several connotations to St. Paul’s hearers. We may hear strength as well as that which someone exerts. We may hear influence, even excellence of character. The connotation that surprised me—surely because of my twenty-first Century, first-world, civilized ears—was power to perform miracles.5 No wonder many scoffed! To be raised from death still boggles. Yet we savor being raised from our little deaths of being misunderstood, ignored, insulted. 
The crucified and risen Jesus welcomes each person. Last evening Jesus’ loving welcome offered me healing no one could offer. Lent has a new focus: to stay in touch with Jesus’ power for greater balance in my life and to give me energy to witness to Jesus and his cross in this present moment. The cross is no artifact or an idea. It is Jesus loving each person into new ways of being in the world.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Praise Jesus for dying and rising for you. Savor Jesus selfless love.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to live from your felt knowledge of his love for you, to live it one moment to the next.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Give us our daily bread includes the nourishment, flowing from being accepted for whom we are and knowing the Trinity faithfully is committed to us: I, the LORD, am your God

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Matthew 18.20.
  2. Deuteronomy 21.23.
  3. Galatians 3.13.
  4. Galatians 2.19-20.
  5. An outline of usage and Thayer’s Lexicon entry may be found here.
Wiki-image by Herrick of symbol on Gigliato-Coin used by CC BY-SA 2.0. Wiki-image of Ten Commandments is in the public domain in the U.S.

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