Sunday, April 24, 2011


Happy Easter! Even though we don’t exchange gifts or send out cards, today is the
most significant day on the Christian calendar. It celebrates the day that death became irrelevant and eternal life became a fact.

Last week I introduced the theological question raised by Fr. John Dunne,
CSC: if I know that I will die someday, what can I do to satisfy my desire to live forever?

The glib answer is live forever. Now. No waiting period required! It’s not that
we deny death’s truth. Rather, we refuse to let death control our lives. We make
death irrelevant. People who have decided to live forever do not fear physical death.

They see physical death as a transition and are willing to take certain risks for truth orfor the good of others, even if such risks could result in their own physical death.In explaining his theory of the relativity of time, Einstein suggested putting your hand on a hot stove for 30 seconds. It seems like a lot longer. Spend 30 seconds with someone you really love. It went too fast. Positive experiences seem to end too quickly and negative experiences seem to last too long, while the actual length of time is exactly the same.
We can live our lives with our hands always on a hot stove or we can live them always in the presence of love. The second is what we mean by eternal life. When we take our hand off of the stove and have it treated by someone we love we have moved beyond death to eternal life. We come back from the dead. We rise again. Like Jesus,
we live our lives by loving everyone with whom we share the planet.
How does it happen? That’s for the Einsteins to figure out. We just have to experience it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There were four separate ceremonies in the Archdiocese this year, welcoming those
who had decided to join the Church or confirm their membership in it. Each one filled the very large church building in which it was held. I found myself wondering why, in the midst of horrific scandals, so many people were looking to the very source of those scandals for meaning and completion. I imagine there are as many reasons as there are people, but among our parish’s own candidates, a few common themes emerge: looking for something deeper in their own lives; feeling an inner call; having had some sort of resurrection experience and wanting to take some action to sanctify it. Clearly, people are able to separate the sin of the Church from its basic message, or Good News.
The reasoning might be something like: “I know that some people, including some in
positions of leadership, have not lived the message of the Church, but that does not
detract from the value of its message.” There is a need or want to belong to something that transcends daily life. They have found that something in the Church that insists on Resurrection. So can we all. Let’s join our new members as we enter the realm of eternal life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Holy Holy Week

As I write, it is Portland’s most beautiful day since November. It is warm and the sun is shining. The streets are full of smiling people getting off work and hoping this beauty will last through the weekend. It has been a long, cold and wet winter. It has been a long Lent, and I look forward to it ending. It is all over next Sunday. I am smiling!

This week ends with the Triduum, the three holy days commemorating the Eucharist and the death and Resurrection of Jesus. I will reflect on the resurrection next post. But as we begin this holiest week of the Christian calendar, and as the sun is beautifully shining through my window, I am thinking about death or, specifically the stated belief that Jesus died for my sins, for our sins.

That never made sense to me. If anyone was going to die for my sin, shouldn’t it be me? Or if Jesus was going to die for my sin, shouldn’t he wait until I actually sin? I am not saying that the oft repeated statement about why Jesus had to die is false, just that I did not understand it and now deeply question it. That Jesus had to die I understand. He was human, and humans die. But it sure is obvious that in dying he did not end sin!

My favorite theology professor and brother in Holy Cross John S. Dunne, CSC posits this question: “If I know that I must die someday, what can I do to satisfy my desire to live forever?” Make that Jesus’ question, not just for himself, but also for everyone: “Everyone is going to die. In light of that fact, how does life have meaning?”

“The night before He died, a death He freely accepted, Jesus had supper for the last time with his most intimate followers. These disciples did not understand his matter-of-fact approach to the fact that he was about to die. Why would He freely accept death? One should fight it. Unless… death does not mean what we think it means.

Jesus had lived a live of giving. Everything he did, he did for the good of others: healing; teaching; confronting. Even the night before he died, he took bread and wine told them that, in the future, whenever they were to re-enact this, their Last Supper, they should not only remember him, but actually become His body and blood, which He always gave others for their consumption. They were to do the same in memory of Him. That’s what we celebrate on Thursday. We get nourished to become Jesus’ real presence so we will give ourselves for others’ consumption.

On Friday, we remember that he did indeed die, with all of the pain and sorrow, for himself and for others, that death is known to entail. But when he says to one of the thieves crucified with Him “today you will be with me in paradise,” He makes it very clear that death is not a fearful end, but a very positive transition to human completeness. So he answered Fr. Dunne’s question once and for all time: “If I know I am going to die, I will live in such a way that I make death irrelevant.” Sin is separation. Jesus lived to eradicate the need for any sin. His acceptance of death made life eternal, for us and for all.

Happy Holy Week!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I am an April Fool

I write this on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. What a day that was! I am pretty sure that I hold the record for the longest time between entering the seminary and being ordained. I entered the seminary in 1961, pronounced first vows in 1966 and was ordained in 1989—a total of 28 years from start to finish. I was a slow learner.

The word fool is defined in various ways, and I have probably fit all of the definitions in one way or another, but here is what I hold to today: a fool is someone who enjoys something very much, and is the one in a group (or congregation) who provides a degree of levity to lessen the sting of heavy solemnity, while dressed in funny clothes (vestments).

In the Christian tradition, a fool is one who rejects the worlds’ common social rules of hypocrisy, brutality and thirst for power and gain. Paul says that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight (1Cor 3:19), and that we are to be fools for Christ (1Cor 5:10). Not a bad thing for a priest to be, I think. I am not saying that is who I am completely, but it is a part of who I believe I need to be while growing to be a good leader in a Christian community.

My motivation for pursuing priesthood changed, of course, in the period between entering and being ordained. Priests had all the power in the world in which I grew up, so my initial motivation might have had at least something to do with a thirst for power or gain. But in the final period, the period just before ordination, my motives became more particular and, I hope, mature.

I wanted to be a fool for others in contrast to those parts of the institutional church that seem overly serious and riddled with hypocrisy. That is why I am very grateful that I was ordained on April 1—April fool’s day. I am an April fool. Not a perfect fool, but working on it!

On the way to ordination and since, I have met many suffering people who have had very painful religious experiences with the church, including with priests. I did, too. The Church is human, and experiences the same foibles of the human condition, as does any group of people, as do I. But if my foibles can differ from those that have caused hurt and pain to the marginalized and alienated, then I can be their priest. And enjoy it along the way!