Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trampling Down Death-by-Death

In the Western Church today is Thursday of the Octave of Easter, the eight days during which the Church celebrates and ponders the mystery of the Lord's death and resurrection.  In the Christian East, this week is celebrated as Bright Week.

The icon has its origin in the image known as the Harrowing of Hell.

In the Christian East, the imagery of  what came to be the Resurrection icon embodies the Easter Troparian, (the musical 'icon' of the Resurrection sung in a variety of languages and melodies throughout the Byzantine Churches  during the Easter Season.)

Christ is risen from the dead!  Trampling down death-by-death! 
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life! (3x)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three Triduum Icons by a Contemporary Ukrainian Iconographer

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Truly Risen!
During Holy Week I came across the striking work of the Ukrainian iconographer Lyuba Yatskiv, originally from the town of Lviv.  I didn't have time to do much more than look at a few of her remarkable icons, which, despite their highly personal style follow the iconographic canons quite closely.
Their sheer intensity, for lack of a better word, is well suited to the seriousness of the mysteries which they depict.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What She Has Done Will Be Told in Remembrance of Her

On this Tuesday of Holy Week, I've reflecting on how in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, the passion narrative begins with the reading of the account of a woman anointing the Lord's head or feet.  The anointing, with costly perfumed oil, scandalizes the onlookers (including the apostles), because of the expense of the oil and the uninvited intrusion of the woman into the gathering.

I think too of how on the other end of the narrative, other women go to the tomb with perfumed oil to anoint the body of Jesus in the tomb (and these 'myrrhbearing women' discover that Jesus has risen and the tomb is empty.)

Jesus, in Matthew's gospel responds to the angry criticism by saying, "Why do you trouble the woman?  She has done me a good service for me. ...By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial."

But then he goes on to tell them: "Truly I tell, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."  Which leaves me pondering this: perhaps the woman who anoints Jesus' head with oil is proclaiming in an unmistakable way that he is truly the Messiah, the Christos, the Anointed One of God.

Those whose responsibility it would have been to have proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, that is to say, the religious authorities, not only fail to make such a proclamation, but in all of the passion narratives, condemn him as a false Messiah.  By way of contrast, this anonymous woman, not from a position of knowledge or authority, perceives Jesus rightly and like the prophet Samuel, sees beyond appearances and anoints the Son of David with the oil of gladness.

During this week Christians remember how this Messiah would die a shameful and wretched death at the hands of the Romans (which would have confirmed for allies and opponents alike that he was definitely not the Anointed.   One of God!) Yet even in this, her anointing of him in anticipation of his death and burial, is itself a paradoxical proclamation that he is the Messiah who will suffer and empty himself completely out of love.

Perhaps, it is that this woman, because her love for him, was able to see clearly the One who is Love Incarnate and boldly act to anoint him in this way.  I wonder too, if we are only able to recognize the Anointed One who is present among us in so many distressing disguises, when we are able to see them with the eyes of love?

Will the ways in which we anoint Christ in need and in distress with the extravagant and costly oil of compassion, mercy and kindness, be told in remembrance of us, "wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world"?

May it be so.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Grant Lord, Your Protection to All Who Suffer Persecution

 Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering  and so merit a share in his Resurrection.                  Collect for Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion 

Serving yesterday at the Palm Sunday liturgies in my parish, I had the opportunity to listen to this prayer and meditate on it, in light of the bomb attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt where worshippers were celebrating, as we were, the liturgy of Palm Sunday.  Amid the carnage and destruction of yet another hateful attack by ISIS against them,  it seems astonishing that the survivors are truly heeding the Lord's "lesson of patient suffering".  But they continue to do so, refusing to retaliate, but submitting to the Cross and choosing "to bear all things" in Christ.

The persecution of the Christian minority in Egypt, (who number approximately 8 million souls and make up about 10% of  Egypt's population of 83 million) is nothing new.  In the summer of 2013, mobs angered by the removal from office of President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, burned many Coptic Orthodox churches throughout the country.  In December ISIS bombed the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo.  In the northern Sinai, at least 40 Copts have been murdered in 2017 alone and hundreds of Christians have been forced to abandon their homes and flee to Cairo for safety.

And in 2015 twenty Coptic migrant workers (and a non-Christian Chadian man who chose to die with them) were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya.  They were quickly glorified as martyrs by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

As Holy Week begins, I am remembering in meditation and prayer the persecuted, martyr church of Egypt.  May the example of their steadfast and patient witness to our loving and merciful Savior, who "accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty" (Preface for Palm Sunday) strengthen our resolve to reject hatred and violence and change the hearts of their persecutors.      

Monday, March 27, 2017

Laetare Weekend

Yesterday, with Laetare Sunday (aka the Fourth Sunday of Lent, aka the Sunday of the Man Born Blind), we reached the half-way point between the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, and the conclusion of Lent on Holy Thursday, when the Paschal Triduum begins.
'Laetare', from the first word of Latin text of the Entrance Antiphon for that Sunday, which means 'rejoice'.

Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and all who love her: 
Be joyful, all who were in mourning.  

I'm still missing my Dad (it was two months on Friday since his death).  But within the narrow confines of the New Jerusalem Workshop, while not exactly feeling joyful, I'm ready to rejoice a little. Why? Because this weekend I'm about half-way done with the icon of St. Anne, Mary the Mother of God and Jesus that I began on March 4th.

 Which is to say, I've finished the garments, the gilding, gold assist and the highlighting of the roundel that symbolizes the heavens (and the Virgin's womb which contained the One through whom the cosmos was made.)  Still more wretched faulting of the gold to finish.  But being back in the studio, even feeling as sad as I find myself most days, and getting things done, is such a grace and a blessing.  To God be the glory!

Now on to the faces.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wrenched Out of Our Blindness

"Healing of the Man Born Blind" two-color linocut by Robert Hodgell (1922-2000)

In the Roman rite, this weekend we celebrate the Sunday of the Man Born Blind (aka the Fourth Sunday in Lent, aka Laetare Sunday.)  In the long gospel reading from St. John, Jesus encounters a blind begger, and after declaring "I AM  the Light of the World, spits in the dirt to make a muddy slurry and rubs the mud on the man's eyes.  The beggar regains his sight and it is then that his troubles really begin as the opponents of Jesus demand that he account for himself and his miraculous healing.

Yet for each of us, who, like the beggar healed by Jesus, who have been wrenched out of our blindness, we assume a burden of responsibility for which we must make an accounting.  Although it is certainly possible to close our eyes to the lies, injustice and suffering all around us, there is a price to be paid, in this life and in the next, for blinding ourselves to it.
Blessed Monsenor Oscar Romero

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Blessed Monsenor Oscar Romero, who, in 1977, after the brutal assasination of his friend and brother priest, Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ, began to see the lives of his impoverished and oppressed people with new eyes.  For the next three years he refused to close his eyes to the relentless violence and oppression experienced by the poor in El Salvador at the hands of the military and the security forces.

As the violence intensified he denounced the thousands of killings and disappearances and those who perpetrated them, while trying to find a way to bring peace to a country on the verge of civil war.  In the end, this courageous witness who refused to look away and keep silent was martyred while celebrating Mass on March 24th, 1980.      

Through the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero, Bishop and Martyr, may Christ heal our blindness to the burdens, sorrows and injustices borne by our brothers and sisters.  May we have the grace and courage to see with the eyes of truth and compassion.  


Friday, March 17, 2017

Remember the Marvels the Lord Has Done

Today, March 17th, is Friday of the Second Week of Lent and/or St. Patrick's Day.  It is also the third anniversary of the death of my teacher and friend, Fr.Egon Sendler SJ (aka Pere Igor).  

Reflecting on the daily readings for today, I was struck by the ways in which God's redemptive purpose is able to to be found even in circumstances of  great suffering and injustice.  In the first reading is the familiar story of Joseph, and how his brothers, out of jealousy and hatred, throw him into a cistern to die and then, when the opportunity presents itself, sell him into bondage in Egpt.  In the gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard, in which the wicked tenants beat and kill the servants of the owner of the vineyard and then in their greed, kill his son.

/But God's redemptive purpose cannot be thwarted, even by the intransigence and violence of sinners.  Joseph forgives his brothers and reconciles with them.  Jesus, from the Cross, forgives those who are putting him to death and even excuses their actions before God, "because they know not what they are doing."

St. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and enslaved in Ireland.  Yet after his escape from bondage he returned and shared Christ with the people of Ireland.  In a similar way, my friend Pere Igor, conscripted into the war with Russia, was a German prisoner of war in Siberia for three years, where he worked as slave laborer.  He vowed, if he survived his imprisonment, to devote the rest of his life to the service of the Church in Russia and to work for Christian unity.  Which he did, for the rest of his long life.

Like Joseph and like Patrick,  Igor, (the name the Russian inmates gave him in the labor camp) had to chose whether or not to be consumed by hatred and bitterness towards those who mistreated and enslaved him.  It would have been understandable, reasonable even, for each of them to have responded that way to undeserved suffering.  

But grace and a willingness to be open to grace made it possible to chose to live and act in a different way. That they chose to love and not to hate allowed God to use their suffering for his own mysterious but always redemptive purpose.

Memory eternal, Pere Igor!

St. Patrick, Apostle to the Irish, pray for us!