God loves us back to life | Easter Homily by Fr. Michael Newman, OSFS

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The empty tomb. Artist unknown.

Acts 20:34a, 37-43; John 20:1-9

Good morning and Happy Easter! We celebrate today the Resurrection – the empty tomb that is sitting behind here. Jesus alive and present in our life or, as one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury says:

“Christ is not dead/nor does God sleep/while waking Man/God does striding in the Deep./To birth ourselves anew/And love rebirth/From fear of straying long/ on outworn Earth./One harvest in, we broadcast seed for further reaping./Thus ending Death/and Night/and Time’s demise/And senseless weeping.”1

In other words, “resurrection” as we celebrate it today in Easter is about God doing something new. We see this in our Gospel today when the disciples and Mary Magdalene get to this empty tomb and have no idea what’s going on. We see it in the first reading when St. Peter professes his faith in the resurrected Christ and how Jesus was resurrected by the Father’s love. Because, at it’s heart that’s what resurrection is. It’s about God loving us back to life. And this didn’t just happen once 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. It continues to happen today.

Earlier this week, when trying to write this homily, I took a break and looked at my Facebook newsfeed. I saw this story by a friend of mine who lives with her husband and 5 year-old daughter in St. Paul, MN.

Kiddo had an out-of-the-blue-meltdown/ “tantrum” when I was tucking her in, screaming me out of her room. It was bizarre. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t take it personally, I just went downstairs to read my book. 15 minutes later she comes down,

“Hey mom, can we talk?”
“Sure.”
Her words:
“What happened there? You didn’t do anything wrong, and I yelled at you, and I’m sorry. Can we try again?”

“Sure.”
Then she recounted each step of our bedtime ritual, (I think she was looking for her trigger…It’s what we’ve been trying to do after our fights, but she’s never LEAD the reflection-conversation.)
Upshot:
When we got back to the bed to tuck in, she said, “next time I get that mad and use any words like, “stupid” please tell me to, “stop” in your serious voice. And tickle my feet.”
“I love you. Please forgive me for tonight.”

This is resurrection: God doing something new – allowing the daughter to take the lead in this mother-daughter relationship, which then lead to a resolution, to a strengthened relationship, and to a deeper bond of love. In this moment, God loved both of them back to life.

“God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves…”2

Now “new” isn’t always perfect. Like the Easter story, “new” itself is often messy – there’s an open tomb, grave linens thrown on the floor, people not knowing what is going on. It’s not as serene as some stain- glassed windows would like you to think. For us, new looks like the person who is six days sober and still trying to stay on the wagon. “New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time we manage to admit we were wrong and every time we manage not to admit that we were right. New looks like every fresh act of forgiveness and of letting go of all those things we didn’t think we could live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming – never even hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along. This is Resurrection – newness in our messiness because God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves”2 – graves right now of sorrow, doubt, fear, anger, and pain. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over until we can say with St. Peter, Mary Magdalene, and my friends in St. Paul, “I have seen the Lord.”

Amen.
May God be praised.

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Fr. Michael Newman OSFS

Fr. Michael Newman OSFS

Rev. Michael E. Newman is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Director of the Oblate Novices. This homily was delivered at St. Mary of the Good Counsel Church in Adrian, MI. The reference to the Facebook conversation is between Vis Companion Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde and her daughter. We reprint this with permission.

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1 Ray Bradbury, “Christus Apollo”
2 Examples adapted from Nadia Boltz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 174.

 

Maundy Thursday: Washing Feet, Loving, Praying, Forgiving

Pastor Karen Wight Hoogheem

The following post by friend, and Following the Spirit vocation discernment series collaborator, Pastor Karen Wight Hoogheem is reprinted with permission.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-7, 31b-35

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do tonight? That’s the question Jesus got to answer. Jesus knew the time had come for him to depart from this world. He knew he was going to die. And with the last remaining hours of his life, he chose to love and care for his disciples.

The Bible tells us that Jesus knew he had come from God and that he was going to God. So he stood up from the supper table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples feet. I imagine he knelt down, held each foot tenderly, poured water on it, and wiped it clean. I imagine him doing this slowly, quietly and gently. And I imagine Jesus looking into the eyes of his followers. I bet he said some words to each one. They had the chance to really and truly be with one another. What a way to say goodbye.

Jesus told them, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet…I give you a new commandment. that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

The world will know they are Jesus’ disciples when they love one another. Isn’t that interesting? The world will know they are Jesus’ disciples when they love one another. Jesus doesn’t say the world will know we are his disciples by the size of our congregations, the strength of our youth programs, the sound of our choirs or even the end to social injustice. Jesus says the world will know we are his disciples when we love one another.

That, my friends, is all about forgiveness. And forgiveness is so hard. Because hurt feelings hurt. Betrayal stings. Disappointment really disappoints. And unmet expectations are so hard to deal with. But Jesus gives us a new commandment. We are to love one another. And this is how the world will know that we are Jesus’ followers.

Tonight we have the chance to serve one another by washing each other’s feet. But only some of us will get to do that. There’s another way to work toward forgiveness. And that is in prayer.

Last week, I lost patience with my daughter because she wasn’t practicing piano the way I wanted her to. I shared my frustration with my spiritual director. He suggested I take it to prayer. He said that Holy Spirit will work in that prayer to change me. So that can become more loving toward her. {I wondered if that was really the solution we needed ;-)}

Someone shared a meditation with me that is helping me become more forgiving and patient. I think we can learn something from this, because it is congruent with Jesus and his ministry among us. Let’s practice a prayer of forgiveness.

Practicing a Prayer of Forgiveness

Breathe deeply, and feel your body relax into the chair or pew. Breathe and sit with yourself. Imagine that you are no longer your ordinary self, but that you can see things from a larger perspective, from the center of your being. From this perspective you feel warmth and tenderness for yourself. Feel your heart as a center of kindness and imagine it contains a purifying fire.

If you are agitated, lonely, scared, misunderstood, angry, anxious, accept this suffering part of yourself. Breathe the dark cloud of your suffering into your heart. Imagine your suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy. Rest in this space.

Next, bring to mind someone close to you, whom you know is suffering, Hold them in your heart. Connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy. Breathe out healing and love towards them.

Now think of someone you love, but with whom your relationship is more challenging or complicated. You may feel jealous of them, or find communicating difficult at times. Hold them in your heart. Connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy.

Now think of someone you find difficult to love. Someone you find irritating, someone you feel resentful toward, someone who has hurt you. Hold them in your heart. Connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy.

Now, imagine all of these people together – the person you love easily, your friend with whom your relationship is more complicated, the person you find very difficult to love, and you. Hold them in your heart. connect with them and their difficulties. Breathe in the sorrows of the person you have visualized. Imagine their suffering transformed, and breathe out healing love, warmth, confidence and joy. Sit quietly and allow your heart and your breath to rest.

This kind of prayer may feel uncomfortable. But I believe it is the work of forgiveness. We need to work on forgiveness. Jesus says the world will know we are his followers when we love one another. And the only way we can love one another is in and through forgiveness. It’s true in our families, in our friendships, at work and in this community of faith.

***

The night before he died, Jesus could have done anything. He was the Son of God. And he chose to wash his imperfect, difficult, slow-minded disciples’ feet. He transformed the Passover Meal into the Lord’s Supper when he gave them the bread and wine, saying this is my body and blood given for you. Do this for the the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus knew he had come from God and that he was going to God. In the security of this relationship and in God’s love, Jesus was free to love, forgive and care for his disciples. And so are we. There are a lot of things we think we should do as a church, but Jesus tells us we are his followers when we love one another. Amen.

 

Lenten Reflections: The Prodigal Son Welcomed

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

The Prodigal Son Among Swine - by Max Beckmann

The Prodigal Son Among Swine – by Max Beckmann

He’s standing in the mud, knee-deep in animal excrement when his conversion takes place.

The story of the prodigal son is a familiar one of forgiveness, redemption, and mercy that Christ offers as a way to illustrate his invitation to the tax collectors, prostitutes and murderers, and say, all are welcome at my table.”*

My way into this often-shared Gospel narrative is through the pig-pen of the prodigal son’s redemption.

I can see the younger son of the wealthy man. He has left his father’s care and squandered his inheritance. His fine clothes are now tattered after his journey to the bar — perhaps the brothel, and his hunger has taken hold. He is envious even of the pig’s meal of corn husks and vegetable skins.

I imagine the smells of that live stock yard, the waft of animal feces mingled with recent rain or warmed by sunshine. And there the son stands, utterly forlorn and contemplating the lunch of the lowly pig. As this creature of God feasts on the dregs poured into the animal’s trough, the wayward son finds himself in this humbled stance, and desiring the least of the pig’s meal. A corn husk, please? 

He knows what he must do. He comes to know the grace of God and his own goodness in taking his hungry self back to his father.  And the tale of love and mercy and a father’s generosity and forgiveness unfolds.  

As I listen to this gospel reading sitting in the Fremont Avenue House of the Visitation Monastery, I find my way into the story through the door of the mud-covered man who is the forsaken and forgiven sinner;

I think of all those welcomed to the table of the Visitation Sisters.

Mary Embracing Oshea Photo by Brian Mogren

Mary Johnson Embracing Oshea Israel
Photo by Brian Mogren

Oshea Isreal comes to mind as the name of one such prodigal son who has dined at the Monastery in north Minneapolis with the Visitation community.  Oshea, who at 16 took a gun to a party and shot and killed the only son of Mary Johnson. Oshea, who at 18, 20, 22, 24, was invited to meet this mother of his murder victim, and be forgiven.

Forgiven.

He picked up a gun and took another man’s life. He served half of his life in prison. And in some way, has  come to understand himself as more than his worst act.  Mary has forgiven him. And perhaps even greater: he has forgiven himself.  He has received this forgiveness.

It’s the pig pen and livestock yard that makes this such a radical story of redemption for me this Lent. Because I imagine not only the amazing grace claimed by the prodigal son, the Oshea Isreals of this world, who are invited to dinner, but of my own messy, in-the-mire self.

How have we stood in the muck of disgrace? Of poor behavior? How have we been leveled by an action that brought on our lowest stance? How have we known the dregs of shame?

And in the same breath, then, how have we known forgiveness? God’s love for us?

When we claim this grace, this mercy  afforded by God, we allow ourselves to be welcomed to the table, to dine fully with Christ and Love’s companions. We are counted.

***

Read Luke’s Gospel Story Here:
This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Freedom and Liberty Meditation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

It is 1962 and I am on Robben’s Island in a 10’x7′ cell. It’s the thirteenth century A.D. and I’m on a battle field south of Scotland wielding a sharp weapon. It’s 1605, and I am seated at a desk in Savoy overlooking a body of water, pen in hand. It’s 1776, and I’m convened with other delegates for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

It’s been a busy morning in my imagination and prayer this Fourth of July as I contemplate notions of freedom and liberty. I’ve been reading all about the life of former South African president  Nelson Mandela; gone to images of Scotland’s legendary freedom-fighter William Wallace, aka “Braveheart”; mulled over  Salesian Scholars’ writing on the letters of Visitation co-founder, St. Francis de Sales; and imagined the scene of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Busy morning I tell you.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ― Nelson Mandela

In each case, my research and reading* informs my prayer and inspires my questions: What does it mean to be truly “free”? With freedom, what are my responsibilities? How do faith and liberty inform one another and move me to act or live in a certain way as a citizen and simultaneous religious person?

These clearly are not new questions for any person to contemplate. (Thank you Founding Fathers.)

What is new, however, is the time in which we mull over notions of liberty and spirit.  As former President Mandela lies in a hospital bed in Pretoria, South Africa, recovering — or nearing his end — his life’s journey speaks volumes to me.

Imprisoned for his political activity to fight to end apartheid, Mandela’s witness as a leader and revolutionary are simultaneously prophetic. His radical actions, after a thirty year imprisonment, to bring about the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, were rooted in a faith tradition that acknowledged both hurting sides of the apartheid rule. Mandela knew that for a nation to move forward together, freely, they would need to grieve together and forgive the wrong doing enacted by an oppressive regime, that kept either side imprisoned.

Reflecting on his life,  in juxtaposition with this day’s United States national holiday, I am moved considering the healing and forgiveness any nation requires as it strives to grow and be a place of freedom and equality for all.

Where do you seek sage counsel?

Where do you seek sage counsel?

This past week the United States’ Supreme Court made a decision that impacts women and men across this nation who have felt called to marry another person of the same gender. In Congress this past seven days, elected officials have been considering the way immigrants are treated when they have crossed the border and desired to stay.

So much is at hand in our current circumstances that begs attention, reflection and prayer. This is why I turn to our history, to freedom fighters from here and abroad, and seek sage counsel in the spiritual leaders at the helm of the Visitation Order.

Where do you go for guidance? What do your contemplative questions give rise to in your own prayer and actions? How are you celebrating your faith and freedoms this day?

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Reading Resources:
FREEDOM TO LOVE: A Close Reading of St. Francis de Sales Letter 14 October 1604 to Jane de Chantal by Alexander  T. Pocetto, OSFS, Ph.D.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela