Back to Blog
IT TAKES TIME
The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year B
I watched a movie last week called “Time.” It is a documentary about a Black mother of six children and her 20-year struggle to get her husband paroled. She calls herself an abolitionist fighting for prison reform. At her speaking engagements she argues: people of color receive harsher sentences than White people do.
“Time” as used in this film might mean doing time in prison, the time it takes to be granted parole, or losing time with your children while incarcerated. It takes time to change an unbalanced criminal justice system.
Christians are in the fourth week of Easter time, a grace filled period marking the raising of Jesus. It is presumably a mystical time untethered by chronology. There is no reason to keep the season unless you believe in the risen Jesus. Yet, day by day, we live in real time when we deal with palpable things that happen to us or are caused by us.
Jennifer M. McBride reminds us: “Christians participate in God’s movement in the world through concrete [my emphasis] acts of discipleship that anticipate Easter liberation and embody the good news of the promises of God.” This proactive Christian posture takes time to accomplish. Three recent examples:
The indictment of Derek Chauvin is a welcomed anomaly in terms of police convictions. But it will take much more time to end the racist structure that feeds mistrust and hate. It will take time to find sensitive ways to keep the peace in our communities without resorting to the use of lethal force in every situation.
Though progress has been made to reduce carbon footprints during this Earth Week, even with a White House pledge to “slash U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases in at least half by 2030,” it will take a long time before we find ways to erase our individual carbon footprints.
Vaccines are available to fight the COVID-19 virus but it will take time to reach herd immunity when we can feel safe about going to work, worship, school, and elsewhere without worrying about being infected with or transmitting the disease and its variants.
What does “time” have to do with the Good Shepherd, a nomenclature used by Jesus of Nazareth (before his crucifixion) to describe himself in today’s gospel (John 10:11-18)? The story is usually interpreted this way: Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. Jesus will take care of us if we follow his path. Even when we stray off course the shepherd will seek us out to protect and save us.
What if we understood this familiar meme to designate you and me as the shepherds, the leaders, who can help others find refuge, be free from harm, sickness, and plunder? Not all shepherds are good ones, of course. Some government guides, elected or not, are dictators undermining especially those living on the margins of society. Some clergy are patriarchal, dismissive of women and guilty of abusing the sheep. Some custodians of the peace are prejudicial in their judgements on our streets and in our courtrooms.
There is a need for more good shepherds. Theologian Gennifer Benjamin Brooks suggests that the good shepherd narrative invites us to a “clear understanding of the call to oneness in the name of Christ, and to address and welcome diversity in whatever form it is represented in the wider community.”
Whose stories do we listen to? What is the make-up of our congregations or the people we serve? What color? What gender? What age? The sheepfold in America is not homogeneous.
There is the saying that “time heals all wounds.” The woman in the documentary “Time” implied that that aphorism is ludicrous. There are simply too many open wounds in society that need healing. Time alone will not suffice.  People want justice now. Coming to closure on the divisions and struggles in Congress, in our streets, in our congregations, in our homes and places of work requires action now, not procrastination.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) for today is not to be overlooked. The story begins when the Sadducees imprisoned Peter and John because they healed a man who could not walk.
Eventually the high priests were impressed by the healing, the bold testimonies of the disciples, and the crowd of 5,000 who witnessed the miracle. Many centuries later our task is to pick up where Jesus and those early disciples left off, to give testimony to the healing presence of Christ in our midst.
Protests against the incongruities and corruption in our governments, our criminal justice system, our economy, our schools, our health care organizations will slowly diminish and eventually erode the fraudulence that exists in our societies.Time ran out for Jesus.
Time may not heal all wounds but, like the aspirations of the tenacious woman in the film, something can happen. A steadfast determination to offer healing to those suffering from divisions and disparities in society is our vocation. All it takes is some of our time.
1. This is not reference to those in long term treatments designed to help them return to a healthy life.
Back to Blog
ARE YOU SURE?
Third Sunday of Easter B
Have your ever doubted yourself, your partner, your best friend? What kind of assurance is required to eliminate our uncertainties? Do we make up stories to affirm what we would like to believe even though it may not be true?
The day on which Jesus was raised from the dead was a confusing and frightening time for his loved ones and followers. The tomb was mysteriously empty. What happened to this enigmatic and charismatic prophet, the One the Jews thought would surely save Israel? What did they imagine? What did they do?
The gospels record twelve different post-resurrection appearances but are at variance regarding who experienced Jesus after his crucifixion, where and when. Today’s gospel (Luke 24:35-48) features a well-known and dramatic text. Two disciples did not recognize the stranger who walked with them to Emmaus-Nicopolis, about eighteen miles from Jerusalem. 
All the gospels try to depict what the risen Christ may have looked like after being raised from the dead. They seem to suggest that Jesus was transformed and therefore unrecognizable.
The passage tells us the disciples at Emmaus finally came to know the risen One in the “breaking of bread.” After all, a ghost would not be able to eat and drink with them. Were they absolutely sure it was Jesus? Were they experiencing an alternate reality? Or, as the popular author James Martin suggests, were the disciples exchanging “shared memories?”
Scripture scholar John Pilch and others note that such experiences — imagining things happening when they really are not — were common in the Mediterranean world.  Today, especially in the Western Hemisphere, those who experience alternate realities are considered out of touch with the real world. Their claims are difficult to accept.
However, studies in neuroscience suggest that “we all create our own concept of reality … we tell stories to resolve any cognitive dissonance.” If we believe in the Easter stories how are they relevant today? According to ethicist and theologian Jennifer M. McBride  we are pressed “to give an honest account of whether or not we believe the testimonies of the women and men” in the resurrection stories. The women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus found it empty. Peter and the other male disciples did not believe the women. The disciples at Emmaus did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead until they ate with him. How could they be sure?
We will never know if the disciples really met the risen Christ or if they were having an alternate reality experience. What we do know is that years before the formulation of creeds or doctrines the post resurrection believers were assured the presence of Christ was burning within them (Luke 24:32).
Inspired by Jesus’ transformation these very early leaders themselves were changed. They put their fears aside and set out slowly to spread the “good news” to others regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion. Do we share that same assurance, that burning desire? What actions do we take?
Do we recognize and believe those who want us to listen to their stories today? What wisdom and practical advice can we offer? How do we help them move forward with their lives?
David Brooks wrote last week: “Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle.” Our mission, then, is to first listen to the stories of others to understand what they are going through. Then, and only then, can we be helpful to them.
Do the mothers of Black children have the assurance that we really understand that their sons and daughters are in harm’s way because of the color of their skin? How do we prove to them that we are listening and willing to protest racist brutalities?
Do prisoners confined in our public and private correctional institutions have the assurance that we understand their plight? How do we prove that we support them and will rally against their detestable conditions?
Do the thousands of children in these United States who are hungry, homeless, and victimized by the sex trade have the assurance that we are even aware of their dire situation? How do we prove to them we can offer them sustenance and shelter?
Whatever our interpretation of the post-resurrection stories is do we have the assurance that the risen Christ abides deep within us today? What Spirit-filled energy do we use to show others that the One raised up walks with us not as a stranger but as one who works through us to protect and preserve the dignity of every person.
1. There were several towns named Emmaus at the time. Most scholars agree Emmaus-Nicopolis was the village mentioned in the gospel.
2. Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday Cycle C (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1997) 67.
3. McBride, Jennifer. Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 188-89.
Back to Blog
Second Sunday of Easter B
We live in a time when the words “true” and “false” have divided many of us. What is a fact for some is a lie for others. In many instances, doubt replaces reason. Prove the 2020 election was not stolen. Prove the vaccine is effective and safe. Prove it will be sunny and warm tomorrow.
The same is true in religious discussions. Prove that God exists. Prove the world was not created in seven days. Prove that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. Prove there is eternal life.
The second testament authors worked hard to prove Jesus’ resurrection. Written after the fact, however, the texts contradict each other in terms of when and where Jesus physically appeared. They do not agree on how many followers experienced him physically after he died, either by touching or speaking with him.
In today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) Jesus appears to the disciples and instructs them to carry on his mission of reconciliation. Thomas was not there and did not believe that his colleagues saw the risen One. He wanted proof. As the episode goes, one week later, Jesus arrives again and Thomas touches him. In conversation Jesus adds, you have seen me, Thomas, but, “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
There continues to be a fascination with post-resurrection stories enhanced by prose, poetry, music and art down through the ages. Even though no one was actually there to witness the resurrection, the stories about the empty tomb, the gardener, the angels, the women, the supper at Emmaus are narratives that evoke faith and imagination.
We want to believe these stories. As Paul wrote “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” (1 Cor 15:14) Given this statement, it logically follows that there would be no Christian church unless the life of Jesus was stimulus enough to inspire his followers to organize themselves and carry on his mission and message.
Most Christians do not worry about the details of the resurrection. On the other hand, theologians and scripture scholars have been obsessed with whether or not proving the raising of Jesus from the dead matters in the real world. One of the most influential theologians of our time, Prof. Hans Küng, who died last week, questioned this doctrine and many others.
Germane to this week’s biblical texts, Küng claimed, for example, one could believe in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life without believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He wrote, “the Easter stories, with their time-conditioned restraints in form and content, are meant to illustrate, make concrete and defend the reality of the new life of the risen Christ.”  This statement is something the disciples and Thomas would not have understood. They wanted desperately to believe and imagine what was to them an unbelievable and unimaginable event — Jesus raised from the dead.
Küng continued, “I can believe in the truth of Easter without having to accept as literally true each and every one of the Easter stories.” What really matters according to Küng is the “reality of God” acting then and now. The raising of Jesus then is not about a historical event. It is about an experience of transcending space and time, “a radical transformation into a wholly different, unparalleled, definitive state: eternal life,” wrote Küng.
Theologian Roger Haight adds this thought: “Jesus died into God’s continuous loving, creating, and life-sustaining embrace. Creation and resurrection are not apprehended and affirmed in the same way we perceive worldly events. Resurrection is not something that human beings know about, but an object of faith and hope.”  When practiced, these virtues create opportunities for our own transformations.
How then do we, as Easter people, prove our faith and hope now when so many life and death issues confront us? To whom or to what are we giving witness to? How do we give testimony about our experience of the risen Christ walking with us today? The first reading (Acts 4: 32-35) provides us with a model. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Working for the common good, an end to all social disparities, is the mission.
The kind and selfless acts of so many during the pandemic are proof that the majority of people in this country and elsewhere in the world are not filled with hate but love of humanity. Countless persons, whether inspired by the Easter story or some other value system, have joined forces to rescue those among us who are experiencing suffering and death in one form or another. Theologian Ilia Delio wrote: “Easter is the sacrament of a new consciousness, a new awareness of belonging to God, creation and of one another.”
Now, all we have to do is prove it by the way we live.
1. Küng, Hans. Eternal Life:Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem. Trans. Edward Quinn (NY: Doubleday, 1984) 102-03.
2. Haight, Roger. Christian Spirituality for Seekers: Reflections on The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. (NY: Orbis 2012) 246.
Back to Blog
RESIST. REPAIR. REGENERATE.
The Holy Week Triduum 2021
Regenerative design is a pivotal objective in the practice of architecture. It is part of a movement for change … to transform the practice of architecture … to achieve a zero-carbon, resilient, healthy, just, equitable future for everyone. “… It is using the influence we have to improve the world, whether through social justice or environmental health,” says Ann Kosmal, FAIA.
During this Holy Week I wrestle, as others have, with its effectiveness in our lives. Does the enactment of the holy week rites have anything to do with social action? I wonder what it would be like if religions in general and the Catholic Church in particular adopted a strategy of regeneration to transform themselves to achieve a more resilient, equitable future for everyone?
Why ask these questions this Holy Week? Why not just focus on the biblical texts and hymns as they have been handed down to us? Why not carry out the rituals as they are prescribed in the books without any question? Can traditions evolve?
For years, during this springtime cornucopia of religious festivals, I had the privilege of joining some Jewish friends at their seder meal on the first night of Passover. Every year this family would produce its own contemporary Haggadah, the narrative that recalls the passover of their ancestors.  Along with the traditional text it included interpretations of current events and actions that continue to oppress people denying them human rights.
The biblical narratives for Holy Week (albeit written some 60 years after the events reported) serve to memorialize the final days of Jesus’s life. What if the ritual books (prayers and hymns) were changed to reflect the issues we are dealing with today? What if they challenged us more directly about our behavior in the public sphere?
Holy Thursday, is the memorial of Jesus’s final supper before his execution. The gospel of John focuses on service without mentioning the meal itself. The most familiar phrase in the three synoptic gospels lingers in our minds: “Do this in memory of me.” These words are formally interpreted in some Christian churches as the institution of the eucharistic liturgy and a ministerial priesthood.
In context, however, the word “this” refers to what Jesus did in his lifetime. Jesus identified with the broken bread and poured out wine. The elements reminded Jews of the manna in the desert and the blood of the lamb sprinkled over them to forgive sins. For Jesus they were powerful symbols of a fractured and bloodied humanity. Jesus was pleading with his followers to love one another and to resist all injustices in society just as he did. The evangelist John focuses on this call to service by describing how Jesus washed the feet of his followers.
Good Friday prompts us to remember and reconcile the evils of capital punishment and other related injustices. Jesus was executed on a cross for his opposition to the Roman government, an act of sedition. His ambition was to bring about the realm of God on earth. He was accused of heresy by religious leaders.
The popular explanation for his death is that “God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One, that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  This promise remains and requires ongoing social action to make it a reality. Some local evidence is encouraging.
Twenty-two states have abolished the death penalty and the numbers of executions are at an all-time low. However, racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination continue in our streets, court rooms, and prisons. Recent actions in New York State will counter two injustices against inmates: vaccination of all inmates and the passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT).
The cross in our midst, the cross we venerate, is a powerful symbol of hate crimes, racism, and social disparities. We grasp the cross to take on those problems as our own. Will our prayers, songs, and sermons focus on these issues and other injustices?
The Easter Vigil and Easter Day celebrate Jesus as the victor over death. However sobering and disappointing the reality is, the resurrection of Jesus did not end war, crime, disease and death. In the words, of scholar Raymond Brown, “we may have to carry the cross and experience suffering and rejection before we reach a real understanding of the Jesus in whom we say we believe.” 
The rituals for the Easter Vigil prompt a courageous and radical response that resounds way beyond the alleluia choruses. The lighting of the fire, the reading of familiar first and second testaments, the initiation of new members, the renewal of our baptismal promises, and the sharing of the eucharist are ceremonial stimulants for the regeneration of the Church and, in turn, society. These liturgical actions ignite a new desire to act against injustice. They beg a recommitment to eradicate oppression. They unite us in our Christian values.
We are emboldened in invoking God’s blessings during this Great Week to ask more questions and take more actions to end civic and religious policies that continue to hold back an equitable future for everyone, the experience of God’s realm on earth.
 Created by Rabbi Larry Hoffman and Joel Hoffman
 The Inclusive New Testament by Priests for Equality,157.
 Brown, Raymond. “How to Read the Resurrection Narratives” in Catholic Update, (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Press) March 1994