Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter

Abbot Philip

From Abbot Philip at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico:

“Part of the spirituality of Easter is learning to believe in the presence of God in all that happens. All we need do is think of the earlier followers of Jesus who were so discouraged and disheartened when He was crucified. From a human point of view, that was the end. All of the hopes of His followers were dashed and broken. So a challenge of spirituality is to believe that God is always present and always bringing about a good in every situation. We don’t always see the good. Perhaps even often we don’t see the good. Yet we are called to believe.

At the heart of all spirituality is this deep and unfailing belief that God is God, that God is present and that God is involved in all that happens. Immediately this takes us to a different level of belief. Our world today, to an enormous extent, believes that there is nothing after death. So many Christians even believe that now. Jesus is a good figure and a good man, but surely Jesus was not God! Once a Christian no longer believes that Jesus is God, then such a person really can no longer be called a Christian. Such a person may well live in a way that brings him or her to heaven, but in this life there is a huge lack of faith.

How different our lives are when we believe that there is another life after death! In the past, of course, some would say that we Christians use the idea or even the reality of heaven to avoid living the realities of this life! For sure, when we believe that this life is not the whole meaning of human reality, then our understanding of how to live changes incredibly. It is more important to be good than to achieve a lot of money or have a lot of sexual relationships or to have power over others. What matters is living in Jesus Christ, living as He did and trying to love others and serve others. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter”

Rose Marie Berger: Easter’s Peculiar Hope

Berta Caceres (1971-2016)
Berta Caceres (1971-2016)

The news this month about the assassinations of Bertha Caceres and Nelson Garcia in Honduras and Vincent Machozi in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week are painful reminders of what may be required of us in following Jesus. At least we know we’ll be in the very best of company! I add these names to the church’s litany of saints.

Below is an Easter reflection I wrote several years ago and thought it appropriate now:

Vincent Machozi, DRC (1965-2016)
Vincent Machozi, DRC (1965-2016)

In 2005, on a spring trip to El Salvador, I wasn’t expecting to find Easter. It’s definitely a “Good Friday” kind of country, one that has carried the cross for a long time. However, on Easter morning I found myself heading up a gravel road into the mountains of Morazán near the Honduran border, to the site of the El Mozote massacre.

In December 1981, soldiers of the Salvadoran army’s elite, School of the Americas-trained Atlacatl Battalion surrounded the village of El Mozote and murdered more than 900 men, women, and children. “As far as is known,” wrote Alma Guillermoprieto, who broke the El Mozote story in The Washington Post, “this was the single largest massacre to take place in this hemisphere in modern times.”

rufina amaya
Rufina Amaya (1943-2007)

As we drove past the Rio Sapo and into the village, a few children approached the car. They were eager to show us the memorials and take us to the pits where the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Unit had unearthed bodies and bone fragments with strips of cloth still attached. Especially they wanted to show us the plaque placed over the mass grave of 140 children and take us through the rose garden planted in their memory. There is also a rough curved stone wall, not too far from the church, on which the names of the dead are written. It’s watched over by the iron silhouette of a family. Continue reading “Rose Marie Berger: Easter’s Peculiar Hope”

Abbot Phillip: On Training a Puppy

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

From Abbot Phillip’s Notebook (2014-04-30):

“Many years ago when I arrived in New Mexico, a good friend gave me a horse and told me: you can learn a lot about humans by watching this horse. Some months ago, we received a beagle puppy who is now 11 months old. He is just learning the disciplines of obedience. Again, I can see so many human reactions and responses in this puppy and he grows into a mature dog.

I see a lot of myself in him, but also see so much of our human situation. Right now the challenge with Joshua the Beagle is to have him get used to wearing a harness and walking with me. I am not his master, but I work on his training. He hates the harness. When I put it on him, he stops doing anything and just stands there, stubborn as he can be. He will not come even for a treat. Becoming a monk, or even becoming a Christian, is a bit like that. Learning to live a spiritual life is very much like that. No one wants a harness today. We want completely liberty. Yet it is the harness and obedience that give a dog happiness in the long run and protect the dog against accidents and incidents that anger others.

Continue reading “Abbot Phillip: On Training a Puppy”

Pope Francis Kisses Feet of Women

kisswomenFor the fourth time in two weeks Pope Francis has chosen to focus on women in the Church as part of his teachings and witness.

On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of 12 prisoners at a juvenile facility prison in Rome. Francis washed black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one. In addition to including girls and women in this service, also included were an Orthodox Christian and a young Muslim man. (The traditionalist custom has been to wash the feet of 12 retired priests in a high Mass in church.)

Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. “This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”

Holy Saturday he dedicated his Easter Vigil homily to the women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. “There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil,” he said. “The women encounter the newness of God.” On Tuesday he spoke about Mary Magdalene’s tears and how we should follow her example of faith.

On Wednesday Pope Francis expanded his reflections to the women of the world, whom he said have a special and fundamental role in the Church and the transmission of the faith. He says:

In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.

There are difficult days ahead for this pope — with the Vatican bank, the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, and the fundamental corruption that clericalism is wreaking on the church. But in the past 21 days, he has done more to restore integrity to the Catholic church than at least the previous two popes. And he is modeling Christ for the world. I intend to soak up all the healing, all the pastoral and inspiring gospel teaching and all his humble actions that he’s pouring out on the soul of the world.

What an Easter gift!

Easter Monday: ‘Back From the City’

Back from the City
by JANE KENYON (1986)

After three days and nights of rich food
and late talk in overheated rooms,
of walks between mounds of garbage
and human forms bedded down for the night
under rags, I come back to my dooryard,
to my own wooden step.

The last red leaves fall to the ground
and frost has blackened the herbs and asters
that grew beside the porch. The air
is still and cool, and the withered grass
lies flat in the field. A nuthatch spirals
down the rough trunk of the tree.

At the Cloisters I indulged in piety
while gazing at a painted lindenwood Pieta
Mary holding her pierced and dessicated son
across her knees; but when a man stepped close
under the tasseled awning of the hotel,
asking for “a quarter for someone
down on his luck,” I quickly turned my back.

Now I hear tiny bits of bark and moss
break off under the bird’s beak and claw,
and fall onto already-fallen leaves.
“Do you love me?” said Christ to his disciple.
“Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”

Via Crucis, Via Lucis: Practicing the Easter Season’s “Stations of Light”

As we celebrate the Easter Season, I’m reposting a piece I wrote back in 2004 on the “Stations of Light.” This is a wonderful practice for helping us focus on the joy of the Easter season as intently as we focus on the repentance of the Lenten season.

Via Crucis, Via Lucis
by Rose Marie Berger

It’s an old Latin adage. “Via Crucis, Via Lucis.” Can you see the abuelita, the old grandmother, shrugging her shoulders and patting her teenage grandson on the cheek? Where there’s the cross, there’s also light.

A few years ago Pope John Paul II decided to officially resurrect an ancient Christian custom called the Via Lucis – the Way of Light. It’s a devotional practice similar to the Stations of the Cross, but it focuses on the Easter appearances. It’s also called the Stations of the Resurrection or the Stations of Joy. Well suited for the 50 days of the Easter season prior to Pentecost, the Via Lucis scriptures reflect on the final chapters of the four gospels, which narrate the resurrection appearances. There are 14 “stations of light.”

Continue reading “Via Crucis, Via Lucis: Practicing the Easter Season’s “Stations of Light””

Mary Magdalene Easter Eggs

There exists a tradition which makes Mary Magdalene the originator of the custom of making red eggs at Easter. After the Ascension of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, called “the apostle to the apostles” because she brought the good news of the resurrection to the other apostles, wen to Rome to preach the Gospels there.

In Rome she had dinner with the emperor Tiberius to tell him what a mistake he had made by allowing Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. But, she told him, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead–conquering death for all. She held took up a white egg from the table to explain the new life in Jesus. Emperor Tiberius scoffed at her saying, “Your Lord could no more be raised from the dead than that egg your holding could turn red. At that moment the egg is Mary Magdalene’s hand turned red, reflecting the blood of Christ. She raised the red egg and said to Tiberius, “Christ is Risen!”

At this, Tiberius asked that Mary preach to them about Jesus and he and his whole household became followers of Jesus, believing because of her word and the miracle of the red egg. Forever after, whenever Mary began to preach, she would hold up a red egg.

St. John: ‘O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!’

chrysostom22Thank you to Abayea for sending me the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom (“the golden tongue”) that is read aloud in every Orthodox church on the morning of Pascha or Easter. It is a beautiful litany to call forth an Easter people!

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense. If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention. Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.  Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!  He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions”.

It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and met God face to face!
It took earth and encountered heaven!
It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

My friends, drink deeply the unfathomable, profligate grace of God who has called you from the dead.

News Flash:Palestinians Allowed to Travel to Jerusalem for Easter

Freedom march from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, 27.03.2010The Israeli Embassy has confirmed this afternoon with Sojourners that travel restrictions preventing Palestinian Christians from entering Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter have been lifted.

[UPDATE since this story was first posted at 5pm 3/31/2010 : According to representatives from Holy Land Trust, two staff members of which are still in prison after a nonviolent demonstration against such restrictions: By “lifting” travel restrictions from the West Bank to Jerusalem, Israeli officials are merely referring to ending a total curfew imposed a few days ago on access even to people previously granted selective permission to get into Jerusalem. This does not mean that all Palestinian Christians are now allowed entry into Jerusalem to freely celebrate Easter. This only means that Christians who applied for a permission (not all did or could) and who got one (not all did or could) can now take advantage of the permission (if they got it) that “allows” them to enter from one occupied territory into another through the long and humiliating process of going through the checkpoints. Even then, restrictions have already been put in place on access to the Old City for the Holy Fire service on Holy Saturday, which is the most important ceremony for the Greek Orthodox and the Eastern rite communities. Israeli army radio reported 10,000 permits were granted this year; not even a quarter of the Christians in the West Bank. ]

This afternoon, Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, received a telephone call from Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, stating that travel restrictions that prevented Palestinian Christians from visiting Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem were at least temporarily lifted.

“I received a call from (Oren) indicating he had been in touch with Israeli officials,” said Kinnamon in a press release, “and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter — and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these orders are not being followed.”

NCC press secretary Philip Jenks told Sojourners that Rev. Kinnamon had sent a letter to the Middle East Council of Churches notifying them of the phone call. The letter stated:

“The National Council of Churches in the USA has been deeply disturbed with reports of travel restrictions on Christians from the West Bank who may try to reach Jerusalem for Easter-related events and services. In that regard we enlisted the help of Jewish leaders in the United States, and they urged the Israeli government to rethink this policy.

On Wednesday morning I received a call from Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, indicating that he had been in touch with Israeli officials and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter — and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these new orders are not being followed.”

Joshua Silverberg, press secretary for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., confirmed that the facts of this announcement were true and consistent with what the Ambassador had conveyed. Sojourners has not yet been able to confirm with Palestinian Christians or the Ecumenical Accompaniment Teams if the checkpoints are open.–by Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).