Sunday, April 13, 2014

On Not Being Ashamed of the Flesh

We speak of parrhesia, of apostolic courage, and we think of pastoral plans, this is good, but the same parrhesia is also needed in prayer. Do you struggle with the Lord? Do you argue with the Lord as Moses did? When the Lord was annoyed, tired of his people, he said to him: “Don’t worry.... I will destroy everything, and I will make you the head of another people”. “No. No. If you destroy the people, destroy me too”. But, these were real men! Do we have enough guts to struggle with God for our people?..

Do not be ashamed of the flesh of your brother. In the end, we will be judged on our ability to draw close to “all flesh” — this is Isaiah. Do not be ashamed of the flesh of your brother. “Making ourselves close”: closeness, nearness, being close to the flesh of one’s brother. The priest and the Levite who had passed by before the Good Samaritan did not know how to draw close to the person who had been beaten by bandits.

Their hearts were closed. Perhaps the priest had looked at his watch and said: “I have to go to Mass, I cannot be late for Mass”, and he left. Excuses! How often we justify ourselves, to get around the problem, the person. The other, the Levite, or the doctor of the law, the lawyer, said: “No, I cannot because if I do this tomorrow I will have to go and testify, I will lose time...” Excuses! Their hearts were closed. But a closed heart always justifies itself for what it has not done. Instead, the Samaritan opens his heart, he allows his heart to be moved, and this interior movement translates into practical action, in a concrete and effective intervention to help the person.

At the end of time, only those who have not been ashamed of the flesh of their brother who is injured and excluded will be permitted to contemplate the glorified flesh of Christ.

Pope Francis, Address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, March 6, 2014

Reflection – Well, it is Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, and this little bit of the pope’s address lines up quite nicely with the liturgical place we are in right now. ‘Do not be ashamed of the flesh of your brother.’ This is what we see in Jesus today. He was not afraid or repulsed or ashamed to draw very close indeed to the flesh of humanity, to the wounds and stench, the blood and gore, the broken bodies and more broken souls of his brothers and sisters.

In fact, He could do what we cannot. We can be present in mercy and love, give practical help and a compassionate listening heart to another person; Jesus could do all that, and more. He could enter in and take on the flesh of the world, the vulnerable heart of the human world, the very reality of sin and death and the burden every human being carries. He could, and did, actually embrace all of that in the events we hear about today at Mass and carry through this Holy Week.

Jesus is the savior of the world, not us. But we can be merciful. We can be kind to one another and simply do what is in our power to help one another. All caught up in and made one with and mystically bound to the action of Christ, the love of God.

This is our faith. This is the entry into glory, into heaven—to practice mercy in this life and in that to open ourselves up to the transforming mercy of God. We do not ‘earn’ God’s mercy by being nice to one another—that would be Pelagianism—but rather our choice, our frail efforts to be loving and good to our neighbor allow God’s gratuitous gift in Jesus Christ to penetrate our stubborn, stony hearts.

So, simply my brothers and sisters, let us be done with the justifications of the ‘priest and the Levite’ and simply apply ourselves to the task of love, in whatever form that task presents itself in our immediate circumstances. But in this, we are drawn most deeply into the contemplation of Christ, into the heart of reality, which is the crucified flesh of Jesus become the risen and glorious flesh of Jesus, become the life of the world and the glory of God, the deepest and most perfect manifestation of the heart of the Trinity until we see Him face to face. Happy Holy Week to you all, and may love conquer all, in and for all of us.

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