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Our differences are not a threat but a treasure. Jean Vanier, the Founder of L’Arche, who died in Paris on May 7th wrote those words, but their truth is far from self-evident. One might question whether those words are simply a nice-sounding poetics or whether they contain an actual truth. Our differences, in fact, are often a threat.
The Ascension, which the Church celebrates this Sunday, is often misunderstood as the moment when 40 days after Easter Christ suddenly vanished from the earth. As a Cistercian abbot explains, the true story of the Ascension is very much more attractive and mysterious.
During the years that I served as a Religious Superior for a province of Oblate Priests and Brothers in Western Canada, I tried to keep my foot inside the academic world by doing some adjunct teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. It was always a once-a-week, night course, advertised as a primer on Christian theology, and drew a variety of students.
A reporter once asked two men at the construction site where a church was being built what each did for a living. The first man replied: “I’m a bricklayer.” The second said: “I’m building a cathedral!” How we name an experience largely determines its meaning.
Hell is never a nasty surprise waiting for a basically happy person. Nor is it necessarily a predicable ending for an unhappy, bitter person. Can a happy, warm-hearted person go to hell? Can an unhappy, bitter person go to heaven? That’s all contingent upon how we understand hell and how we read the human heart.
Different spiritualities stress one or the other of these: the ascent, the descent, or (less commonly) maintenance, but a good spirituality will stress all three: Train your eyes upward, don’t forget to look downward, and keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.
We are all, I suspect, familiar with the famous expression from Julian of Norwich, now an axiom in our language. She once famously wrote: In the end all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of being shall be well. To which Oscar Wilde is reported to have added: “And if it isn’t well, then it’s still not the end”
When the Romans designed crucifixion as their means of capital punishment, they had more in mind than simply putting someone to death. They wanted to accomplish something else too, namely, to make this death a spectacle to serve as the ultimate deterrent so that anyone seeing it would think twice about committing the offense for which the person was being crucified.
“It is necessary to rediscover the plan drawn by God for the family, to reaffirm its greatness and irreplaceability in the service of life and society,” the pope said March 25, during a visit to the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy.
Most of us have been raised to believe that we have right to possess whatever comes to us honestly, either through our own work or through legitimate inheritance. No matter how large that wealth might be, it’s ours, as long as we didn’t cheat anyone along the way.
We don’t know how to celebrate things as they’re meant to be celebrated. We want to, but mostly we don’t know how. Generally we celebrate badly. How do we normally celebrate? By overdoing things; by taking a lot of the things we ordinarily do, drinking, eating, talking, singing, and humoring, and bringing them to excess.
What’s to be learned through failure, through being humbled by our own faults? Generally that’s the only way we grow. In being humbled by our own inadequacies we learn those lessons in life that we are deaf to when we are strutting in confidence and pride.
Earthly defeat, for us, can still be victory, just as earthily victory can be a sad defeat. Indeed, in a Christian perspective, without even considering the next life, sometimes our defeats and humiliations are what allows depth and richer life to flow into us and sometimes our victories rob us of the very things that bring us community, intimacy, and happiness.
As preparation for Easter Christians introduced the custom of observing two days of prayer, reflection, and fast to express their sorrow for the death of Christ. They gradually prolonged the period of preparation: in the third century it became a week, then three weeks until on the fourth century it extended to forty days: Lent thus began. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D) speaks of “the forty days” as an institution known to all and spread everywhere.
As a vowed, religious celibate I’m very conscious that today celibacy, whether lived out in a religious commitment or in other circumstances, is suspect, under siege, and is offering too little by way of a helpful apologia to its critics.
The crisis is of great importance and bishops should think about those in pews who are "gradually falling away." "We need to understand people's love for the church is greatly affected," he said. "We better fix it or we’re going to lose the next generation of Catholics."
I was very blessed during my theological formation to have had the privilege of taking classes from two very renowned Catholic scholars, Avery Dulles and Raymond E. Brown. The former was an ecclesiologist whose books often became textbooks which were prescribed reading in seminaries and theology schools. The latter was a scripture scholar whose scholarship stands out, almost singularly, still nearly 30 years after his death.