Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NOW IT BEGINS

It has been an early, and too long an agonizing Good Friday in Haiti. In these days gone by, every part of our being screamed, “Enough is enough.” Yet, as in prior tragedies, we have seen that the human spirit will not be defeated. We saw it in New Orleans after Katrina, and after the great tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, both cities now built anew, life flourishing once more. This gives us hope. Haiti’s cities can be rebuilt. There will be a resurrection.

But nowhere is resurrection more essential than in the human corpus – new life for those grieving with a heavy heart…and for those whose hearts have melted. Though the worst seems to be over, our faith and love will continue to be tested. What will happen when the headlines subside? Perhaps even more than in these last two weeks, we will need to persevere in our faith…and our generosity. As in the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth”, after the crucifixion and empty tomb - the unthinkable and the uncertainty - which ends with the words, “Now it begins”. So, too, in Haiti, and with us...Now It Begins.

Indeed, we have already seen a new beginning in progress – signs of a resurrection – new life, new-found hope. We have seen it in the miraculous unearthing of those buried alive for days. We have seen it in the heart-pouring generosity of rich and poor alike. After a recent appeal, a woman came out after Mass, told me she did not have her checkbook with her, but took off her sterling silver necklace and bracelet and her diamond rings, and said, “Father, build as many houses as you can.”

And we have seen it in the collaboration of nations, politically at polar opposites – Israel and Cuba, Venezuela and Italy, China and the U.S., and so many more, working hand-in-hand, each with something to offer: a hospital flown in and built in one day, numerous clinics and medical staffs provided, food pantries and fresh water tanks, temporary shelters, the heart-warming embraces of little ones, many opening their hearts and homes for adoption, people of good will reaching out in a common cause of concern and compassion to bring relief…to share in the suffering…and to share our love.

We ARE family. And we ARE Easter people. We have experienced death. But it has also been life-giving to give our all and to see the ripple effect of so much magnanimous goodness. Jesus said that his mission was “to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to give sight to the blind, to set the captives free” (Lk 4:18). Then he commissioned us to do likewise. And that is precisely what we have witnessed: bringing love and healing to those in need, opening the eyes of those who are blind to the presence of goodness, releasing those in a prison of hopelessness and despair.

The “resurrection” has begun. Still, much more will be asked of us…for the sake of our sisters and brothers in Haiti, and for our own sake…our own resurrection. When will it end? After helping out in the missions in Jamaica during Holy Week, when I returned to the U.S., I greeted the customs official in Miami, saying, “Good morning. How are you?” His response blew me away. With a radiant smile, he said, “I am resurrected!” Easter will come to Haiti…and to us…when they, and we, can say, “I am resurrected!.”

Though, it has begun.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

HAITI

Emptiness and tears,
An aching heart,
A speechless tongue,
Thoughts and words not to be found.

The body is numb...weary...broken.
Images upon images...
Of rubble and devastation.
A sharp contrast to prior memories.

Bodies - two hundred thousand and more -
It boggles the mind...
Frozen in time...forever.
Others scurrying, crying, screaming.

Eyes of hopelessness and disbelief,
Desperation, frustration, and anger.
When will it end?
How does one begin anew? When? Where?

If the heart is the womb
Where we are one with God,
Then God must surely be hurting
...a lot.

Monday, January 18, 2010

OH GOD, WHERE ART THOU?

Last year, when I came back from a mission in Haiti, I shared with Sr. Marcan, a dear friend, the misery and suffering I had witnessed. She asked, ”Father, why is there so much suffering in the world?” My response, without thinking, was, “Perhaps, to help us open our hearts.” In light of the earthquake that has devastated this poorest of nations in the Americas, perhaps, both the question and my response seem even more applicable today. The latest report today from Food for the Poor colleagues in Haiti says that the actual condition there is at least 100 times worse than we see on TV. Additionally, some of you have said, if there is a God, why do we have such a painful history of genocide, atrocities of war, inexplicable inhumanity?

Those wiser than I have stated that God does not micro-manage our lives; that God has granted us freedom (otherwise we would be mere puppets, less than fully human); not unlike perhaps forcing another to drink a love potion so as to be enamored of us. But without their freedom of choice, it would be an illusory relationship.

Is there a God? What is the proof? Why believe?

In “The Brothers Karamazov”, Feodor Dostoyevsky includes a story about a young widow with child, distraught at the loss of her husband, who goes to a holy man, Father Zossima, and says, “All my life I have believed in God. Now I am in such sorrow, I do not know what to believe. Prove to me that there is a God.” The holy monk responds, “I cannot prove to you that God exists. But you can. If you give what you have to help the needy you will find proof of God’s existence. And the more you give the more certain you will be. Until you have nothing left to give, and then you will have no doubt whatsoever that God exists…and is with you.” Some of you said as much, stating that your faith is the result of such a holy encounter…in yourself…or in others.

Perhaps, this faith is one born of necessity. About 40 years ago, a man dying of cancer wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. The man was Ernst Becker. The book is “Denial of Death”, wherein he writes that all of life is a quest to cope with our struggles, difficulties, and suffering, but most especially with death. We seek to extend our youth (through exercise, medicines, cosmetic surgery, etc.); to take control and somehow find that holy fountain of eternal youth…to make ourselves like gods. He wrote that there are different coping mechanisms for the challenges of life: power, fame, wealth, sex, wisdom, religion. Each works to some extent. But the best response to life’s challenges and our daily deaths, he wrote, is…faith.

There is a difference between religion and faith. Perhaps it is best explained by a line in the 1932 movie, Shanghai Express, with Marlene Dietrich. In the story, she encounters a former lover on a train, one she had tricked 5 years earlier to test his faith in her love. He failed, and they moved on with life. Now on this encounter they find that they still love each other. On that same train is a warlord who also falls in love with Shanghai Lily (Dietrich). When he makes a pass at her, her former lover strikes him. Later the warlord takes control of the train and seeks to punish the lover by gouging his eyes out. Lily goes to him and tells him she will go with him wherever he likes if he will spare her lover. Though he is spared, when he finds out that Lily is going with the warlord – without knowing the reason – he becomes angry with her. A missionary traveling on the train guessing her reasons for going with the warlord asks her about it, and his suspicion is confirmed. Still later, the warlord is killed. The missionary wants to reconcile Lily and her lover by telling the lover of Lily’s act of sacrifice, but she says, “No. Love without faith, like religion without faith is meaningless.” (So as to not hold you in suspense, the lover finally has faith in Lily’s love and they go off arm-in-arm.)

What is the faith that gives meaning to our life and how does one get it? Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish Philosopher and Theologian, who was born some 200 years ago, wrote that faith begins with “a leap of faith”…a desire to believe. In this leap of faith we discover more fully what we want to believe; the beliefs that make us who we want to be.

Faith in God may begin with this. But it is more. True faith is more than religious adherence to the standards of one’s Church, and more than a cold response of the mind to commit one’s life to a set of convictions, to set a course of action that shapes our life as we might desire…it is a love affair…that gives fullness of meaning to our life, and gives life to us...and through us...even to God.

Where is God?...in every life-giving act of true love.

Monday, January 11, 2010

OLD MAN...

In the movie, "Cool Hand Luke", Paul Newman, as he enters an old church after running for his life, says, “Old Man, whadaya got planned for me? What’s next? Whadaya put me on earth for?”

As we begin a new year, even before making our resolutions, it‘s worth asking, “Why am I here?” Perhaps, like Jerry Kramer, an outstanding football player with the Green Bay Packers of old, there are times when we, too, say, “There’s got to be more to life than this.” Which perhaps is another way of asking, “How meaningful is my life?”

We want to find meaning in what we do…why we are here. Finding meaning in life begins with believing in who we are and whose we are. For the moment, I would like to focus on the first part…Who Am I? Though we strive to put up a beautiful fa├žade, what most defines us is what’s inside our heart. God says to us, “People look at the outside appearance, but I look at the heart.” (1Sam16:7). And nothing reveals what’s in our heart more than our dreams, our convictions, what we stand for.

Most of us are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and convictions from his “I Have A Dream” speech, which speaks of equality and brotherhood and hope. But there was a private dream he shared, just as inspirational, wherein he said just a few days before he was killed,

“I’d like for somebody to say that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody…that I did try to feed the hungry…to clothe the naked…that I tried to be right on the war question. And all the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things in life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

What are you committed to? To what do you want to give your heart?