Friday, April 5, 2013

Events, Dear Boy, Events

There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look.

But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: remember. “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6,8). This is the invitation to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.

On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms, to the beautiful surprises of God. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day, dear brothers and sisters, not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.

Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homily, March 31, 2013

Reflection – I have to think that at least some of this homily, delivered on the most sacred night of the year, the night of remembrance of the past and encounter with the eternal Present of God, that at least some of this homily springs out of Pope Francis’ own immediate life experiences. His own life has been utterly upended in the past two weeks; he went to Rome no doubt expecting to do his duty as a cardinal, the ‘duty of the moment’ of the conclave… and now look what’s happened!

Many if not all of us watched, or later saw, his first appearance on the balcony at St. Peter’s after his election. To me, realizing of course that we cannot readily read the mind’s thoughts in the expression of the face, he looked like a man who had just received a terrible blow. He looked shocked, stunned, perhaps even a bit fearful. It was actually quite endearing, quite disarming—who wouldn’t be stunned and a bit scared in that position?

And so it is in all of our lives. We go along in life, hopefully trying to do our duty, trying to do our little bit of good each day, our contribution to happiness and peace in the world. And then… it all goes sideways. When the British Prime Minister Disraeli was asked what he most feared in his upcoming term of office, he answered, “Events, dear boy. Events.”

It’s those events that do us in, right? The things we didn’t plan for, couldn’t have seen coming, and throw our day, week, month, and perhaps our whole life into utter turmoil. I think that it is these ‘events’ of life that are the great Jesus moments, the great moments of the encounter that transforms us and sets us on a new course, if we let it do so.

It can happen on a small level—my plans for the day just got messed up!—or on a big level—I just got diagnosed with cancer! But however big or small it is, I firmly believe (I know it to be so, to be quite honest), that it is that moment of ‘eventfulness’ that pulls us into an encounter with Christ that is the newness that transforms our life.
And it is indeed the memory of God that aids us in our faith at these times. When it all falls apart, we need to have cultivated the habit of memory, the ready remembrance of God’s fidelity to his people Israel, to his Church, to you and me personally in our lives. This is the purpose of meditation in the Christian tradition, to keep before our minds continually the great deeds and love of our God so that we readily turn to Him in every need and trial, big or small. Meditation purifies and strengthens our memory, giving us hope, so that prayer and contemplation can readily transform our intellect and will, giving us faith and love, all of which work together to transform our whole selves into being true lovers of God and of neighbour, moving through the world in service and compassion for all. That is the whole spiritual life of the Christian, and it happens to us in the concrete ‘events’ of today, if we let it.

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