Friday, January 09, 2015

Facing Down the Culture of Death

Last year, I was blown away on an almost-daily basis by the way the Mass readings seemed to shed light on each other even though they run on two different tracks. (The first readings are a succession of passages taken in order from sets of books that seem to lurch from the Pentateuch to historical books to letters of Paul, and the Gospels taken from the sections dealing with the public ministry of Jesus, followed in order starting with Matthew, then Mark and finally Luke.) So far this year, I am stumbling over the sheer mystery in the readings. That may be because we are still in the Christmas season, so the readings are quite deliberate about contemplating the sheer mystery that is the Incarnation.

Take today's first reading, for example. When I read over it last night in preparation for today's meditation and Mass, I just glanced at the icon of Christ the Master on the other side of my room and told the Lord, "I have no idea what he [John] is talking about. Are you going to make it a bit clearer for me?" (That was pretty much the attitude I brought to chapel today, too.) And you know what? This morning I found myself looking at those mysterious words about "the Spirit, the water and the Blood" and they took my somewhere unexpected. Spirit, we know, is a translation which could just have validly be rendered "breath." Breath is LIFE. But so is water. And so, in the semitic mind, is blood. LIFE, LIFE, LIFE. And in case we don't get that, John tries (tries!) to make it clearer: "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life..."

That led me to think about the massacres we have witnessed on the world scene over the past days: a huge, fairly underreported one in Nigeria (2000 dead this week) and the front-page news stuff coming out of Paris (including the hostage situation going on as I write). Fruits of the "culture of death." Underneath them all (way, way underneath) is an insecurity about life, isn't there? If the murderers had any sense of themselves as already "given" a fullness of life, it would be pointless to take another's life. You only do that if you think you have something to gain by their death (even if that "gain" is a mere symbol of life, like honor or money or power). If you are established in life, if (to quote St Paul) "nothing in all creation can separate you" from the source of your life, then you are already, as John says, "victor over the world." The rug is pulled out from under the feet of every excuse for violence; there is no need, either, for rivalry, envy, one-upmanship. Having life (and "life to the full"), the person is no longer driven like a slave by the culture he or she is immersed in, telling each one to "grasp at equality with God" in whatever way the culture defines it (beauty, youth, success, prestige...) Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the freedom of lives marked by self-giving love. It probably isn't too much of a stress to say that self-giving love (the "complete gift of self" that Pope John Paul wrote so much about in Theology of the Body and that ultimately is simply the reflection of the Triune God) is only way you can "see" freedom: it is not the ability to dominate, but the capacity to give life from one's own fullness.

What if this is the vision Jesus had in mind all along for his disciples?

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