Holy Week Justice and Peace Meditations

As I have done, so you must do, Holy Thursday

Solidarity unto death, Good Friday

Easter Meditation

Daily meditations on the lectionary readings for Lent 2000


As I have done, so you must do. TOP

Holy Thursday

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11 - 14 -- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 -- John 13:1-15

Holy Thursday this year comes the day after the anniversaries of the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Branch Davidian massacre, and is the one year anniversary of the Columbine tragedy. The pyramid of skulls we are building on the plains of Iraq continues to mount, it begins to dwarf those erected by the Mongols during their conquest heyday.

Last year United States missiles were raining down upon Serbia. One year later in Kosovo, NATO troops seem to be making sure that Albanian drug smugglers' routes are safe and secure, and Serbians must be guarded by troops or they will be massacred by their neighbors. Milosevic appears secure. A new "strong man" with KGB ties has ascended to the throne in Russia, and the Chinese military press is full of articles about fighting a war with the United States. I understand that "We Are the Americans" and thus we feel that nothing very bad would ever happen to us, but if China decides to fight a war with the United States, the homefront here in the US is part of the front lines as far as the Chinese are concerned.

In response to this and other threats, the United States military is proposing to seriously beef up defenses here in our "national homeland". We've already deployed rapid response teams to mop up after terrorist incidents involving "weapons of mass destruction and death". Wouldn't it be better if we chose to "sow not in furrows of injustice" so that we could avoid reaping that bitter fruit? Absent heroic and wise leadership in the US (which given our political morality is virtually a sure bet), we may not be able to avoid that fate on down the line, as the seeds of a US-China war were sown a hundred years ago by our great-great grandparents. The sins of the fathers and mothers are indeed visited upon the children's children. We think we can hide behind big walls and guns, and we close our eyes to the failed empires of history who trusted that very same strategy while at the same time sowing in furrows of injustice.

Tonight in our liturgy we will recall the supper that was lovingly prepared for our Lord by his Mother and the other women who followed him and cared for him. After the meal, he rose from the table, took a basin and a towel, and began to wash his disciples' feet. This seems to have caused some consternation among those present. Washing the feet of guests was the work of a servant, a slave. Simon Peter pulls his feet back and says, "Lord, you are not gonna wash my feet." But then Jesus teaches Peter about humility, and Peter becomes willing, not only for his feet to be washed, but also for his whole body to be cleansed.

After washing their feet, Jesus reclined back at the table and asked them, "Do you understand what I just did for you? Jesus is Master and Lord, yet he does the work of the lowest house servant. He does this as an example for us. As Christ has done, so must we all do.

As the Church calls us together to celebrate that first Mass, we will watch our priests and deacons set an example for us as they wash the feet of members of the Church. This custom is not part of the hospitality traditions of most modern cultures, but the teachings on humility and servant leadership that this act conveys remain relevant for us who live in a "Winning Through Intimidation" world. Those who would be great must be the servants of all. As Christ has done, so must we all do.

This is not the wisdom of this world. Our governments tell us to trust in bombs and missiles and armies. Our economists tell us that servants make the lowest wages. Our entertainers tell us to demand the best service for ourselves -- whenever the whim of instant sensuous gratification strikes. But this isn't what our priests and bishops will be preaching tonight. This is a time to leave behind the culture of death and embrace the culture of life. Servant leadership is the model this night sets for all people throughout all history and the future. We can count the ways in which we have fallen short of this vocation, but we can also count ways in which we have embraced it and authentically lived it. Each solitary person -- each family -- each community -- that follows this vocation builds the civilization of life and love which will redeem a future of hope for all people.

Solidarity unto death. TOP

Justice and Peace Meditation for Good Friday

Readings: Isaiah 52:31 - 53:12 -- Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 -- John 18:1 - 19:42

Solidarity unto death, painful death, and beyond. Never think that God doesn't understand your pain. He was there. "He suffered, died, and was buried." Just like every other man and woman who has ever lived on the face of the Earth. This knowledge of God's isn't something hard to comprehend, it is blood red, it is water flowing from a spear wound, it is nails pounded into human flesh. It just doesn't get more real than that. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness. . . " He bore our infirmities and our sufferings -- and by His stripes we are healed.

Can we bear to behold such solidarity? Today we venerate and kiss the Cross, symbol of our Savior's offering, but isn't true veneration of the Cross the willingness to live what it symbolizes? Today, tomorrow and the day after that? Can we take up our cross each day and bear it? Sure, we reply, as long as it is a pretty cross, shining with gold, silver, and precious jewels. But often we try to avoid the big, grubby, wooden crosses which we find laid upon our shoulders or before us along our journeys.

Granted, we are not all Mother Teresa or St. Francis, does this mean that we must be alienated from those among us who are in need? Where is our solidarity today with the Jesus who is among us? Would we consider moving to an urban inner city? Would we volunteer our time to help someone learn how to read? What about helping an impoverished rural community along the Rio Grande, or in the Navajo Nation? Are we willing to learn what the poor have to teach us? Do we spend more on fun and frivolity than we share with those who are in need? Can we kiss a Cross in our church, and then turn our backs on it when we are out in the world? Do we willingly encourage, participate in, and profit from, the egregious social sins of our era?

As we have journeyed through Lent and into Holy Week, the call to daily conversion of life has been consistent and without ambiguity. We do not have to walk in misery and darkness. We can break free of the chains of slavery to materialism and consumerism and lust and greed and all the other sins of this era. We can rise with Christ to new life, a more holistic life, with balance and healing and virtue, a generative life that brings forth harmony, reconciliation, and peace, a joy that is rooted in service and holiness. Structures of death, alienation, violence, oppression, and injustice can be redeemed as structures of beauty, wisdom, goodness, mercy, justice, and peace.

As the Good Thief discovered on this day nearly 2,000 years ago, it is never too late to turn back to God. There is never so much water under the bridge, that the bridge cannot be crossed. There is no burden so great that Jesus cannot help you carry it. There is no one who is so far away that they cannot be brought near by the Blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from all sin and restores our relationship with God and each other.

"So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need."

Easter meditation on justice and peace. TOP

Come out from Egypt and be free! Rise up and greet the New Dawn of hope! Break the chains of slavery, destroy every yoke, abolish every oppression.

You just can't keep a good man down.

When that Roman soldier thrust his lance into Jesus' side, and then when his body was taken down from the Cross and laid in the arms of his most Blessed Mother, and then when his body was wrapped up and placed in a tomb, and then when soldiers were posted as guards to make sure no one could steal the body, I'm sure that the ruling classes of Palestine thought that "that was that" for one obscure and troublesome red-necked rabbi from the provinces.

But the story doesn't end with a closed tomb and posted guards.

People get into a "that was that" attitude about justice issues, especially when there is so much injustice, when power becomes arrogant, and when the poor are oppressed. It's raining, the boat is filling up, and all I have is a teaspoon to bail with. Or you are in a swamp, and the alligators are stacking up about waist high. Jesus is dead, his body is in the grave, the stone is rolled over the doorway, guards are posted. Everybody go home and be sad, this is the end.

But "all that is" is not just what you can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell with your earthly senses. There is an entire spiritual reality that is as "real" as anything you can bite and taste or feel and smell. It is all around us, New Life -- Easter Life -- victory over death and evil!

The Reign of God is upon and among us. Every moment we live in justice and peace, we experience the Reign of God. Chaos may rage and violence may come, but all of the powers of evil will not win against God.

We are called to be an Easter people, washed in the waters of baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, fed at the table of the Lord, active in the work of redemption in our communities. To understand Easter is to live this reality day by day, moment by moment. Thus, our eyes and ears and hearts become open to the ever-renewing Spirit of the Lord.

The Church gifts us with 50 days of special celebration for the season of Easter. How better to celebrate this than to eagerly and openly announce this good news of liberation from death and sin to the poor -- and also to the rich. Jesus eagerly embraced people of all economic and social classes, and so should we. We have a duty to those who commit oppression to warn them of their sin and call them to repentance. God has called us to give them catechesis regarding their duties to the common good. Sure, this isn't always welcome, people will think us odd, but the rich and the powerful are part of this community too -- we owe them something better than praising and glorifying and participating in and profiting from sins against justice and mercy.

As St. Francis once noted, when preaching the gospel, if it is necessary, it is OK to use words. Which is to say that the first announcement that we must make is in our own ways and manners of living. Preaching that is not rooted in an authentic lifestyle of justice and peace will always sound a bit hollow and empty. Evangelism, like charity, begins at home, in the heart and life of the evangelist.

Growing your own tomatoes, so that you buy fewer vegetables imported from third world countries, helps you to avoid stealing the food of the poor to fatten your own table.

Going on an "energy diet" and recycling are ways to practically honor God's creation of the Earth and the "universal destination of all goods" by refraining from taking more than is your due and ending your wasteful household practices which trash the earth (talk about sins of the parents being visited upon the children's children!). Use Less Stuff.

Speaking out against injustice during casual conversations is a way to evangelize your family and your neighbor.

Watching the news -- or reading the newspaper -- while "awake", viewing and reading news of world and local events intentionally, is a way to promote solidarity. Taking action upon what you read or hear -- even if it is only writing a letter, sending an email, or making a donation -- lives that solidarity in a way that is pleasing to God and is of practical assistance to those in need. Opening your eyes and ears while you are out and about will help you to see injustice and poverty, and if you open your heart also, you will hear the Spirit's guidance as to what you personally should do about what you have seen and heard. Daily prayer and weekly fasting will keep you spiritually open to the call of God to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Volunteering your time to community organizations is a way to strengthen civil society and protect the vital principle of subsidiarity which is so necessary to the common good.

The call to be an "Easter People" is not a status quo vocation. Couch potatoism is typically more attractive -- why not sit back and be spoon fed by 500 channels of digital entertainment? Jesus could have been satisfied with bread and circuses, but that wasn't his mission. And it isn't yours either. (If it was, you wouldn't be reading this particular justice and peace meditation.)

During this Easter of the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, may the grain of wheat that was planted in the ground to die, bring forth a goodly harvest in your life, in that of your family, and throughout your community.