GOD IN OUR MIDST
Transformed by Easter
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Christian history reaches its crescendo point in the Resurrection of Jesus. The risen Jesus is the final revelation of the heart of Goda God who teaches love rather than hate, forgiveness rather than blame, nonviolence rather than violence.

Recall Jesus' encounters with his disciples after his Resurrection. He comes to the circle of followers with whom he had spent three years, the people closest to him who had nevertheless rejected, betrayed and abandoned him. Following his Resurrection Jesus has the opportunity to chastise them. And yet, in all four Gospel accounts of the risen Christ we see that Jesus neither berates nor blames his disciples. Indeed, Peter, who had betrayed him three times, is given three chances to say "I love you" to his Master.

There is nothing to be afraid of in the risen Jesus. We have in him the perfect icon of a God who is safe and a universe that is safe. We have a God who does not blame, does not punish, does not threaten, does not dominate. We have a God who breathes forgiveness. The whole biblical tradition has been moving to this moment where God is identified with universal forgiveness.

The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is no victory through domination. There is no such thing as triumph by force. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus stops the cycle of violence and challenges the notion of dominating power. He invites us to relational or spiritual power, where we are not just changed but transformed. And not transformed from the top down but from the bottom up, not from the outside in but from the inside out. Transformed into God.

Redemptive Forgiveness

Many of us identify more easily with the judging God we may have encountered in childhood: the one who knows our every sin and metes out punishments, the one we must attempt to placate and please. Often, we are more comfortable living with a fearsome God than a God whose love knows no bounds. But by his life, death and resurrection Jesus challenges us to new heights through redemptive forgiveness.

Most of us cannot go for long without thinking a judgmental or accusatory thought about others. So often, there is someone we're judging, accusing, blaming. To live in the good, to live in the love, to live without a need to judge or accuse—this is major surgery! None of us gets to that point by a nonstop flight early in life. But when we're there, we know we're transformed. We're free. We are at one with the risen Jesus.

Once we have a personal experience in our own life of the risen Christ upholding us, naming us, loving us, freeing us, then we have nothing to fear. That's how secure Christ makes us—because we have a reference point, we have a center point. We have received the gift of the Spirit.

'Divine Lure'

During a retreat I made some years ago, my fellow retreatants and I were asked to list the adjectives each of us would use to describe Jesus. My list included words such as compassionate, self-confident, humble, forgiving. When our retreat leader brought us back together as a group she suggested that the qualities we had each identified represented not so much what Jesus was like but what each of us wanted to be ourselves. Jesus is the divine lure who invites us forward in our humanity, who entices us into these very virtues by his own full living of them. The qualities I had on my list are indeed qualities Jesus possessed. But the reason we want to embrace them is because Jesus has set the standard, the goal and the ideal for our humanity.

In Jesus we see the divine being who is also the perfect human being. Jesus comes in a human body to show us the face of God, who is eternally compassionate and eternally joyous, who stands with us in our sufferings and our joys. As Christians, our vocation is to unite with Christ crucified and Christ risen.

RICHARD ROHR, a Franciscan priest from Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. His newest book is Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Listen to a RealAudio excerpt of Father Richard Rohr

(Taken from New Great Themes of Scripture, 10-part audiocassette series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090, $49.95.)

Questions for Reflection: Is it easier for you to ask forgiveness or to forgive? Why is this so?

What qualities of Jesus would you most like to embrace? Why?

Responses to this month's
Questions for Reflection
from GOD IN OUR MIDST.

 

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FAMILY CORNER
Celebrating Easter as Family
By Judith Dunlap

I recently found an old photo from my grade school days. I knew it was an Easter picture because of the new outfits my family members and I were wearing. The picture brought back many memories: church visitations on Holy Thursday, solemn and silent Good Fridays, purple-covered statues, the delight of eating chocolate after 40 days of abstinence.

For many children today, Easter is a day to hunt eggs and eat chocolate bunnies. For Christians it is the most important day of the year. How can we honor the sacredness of this season? Consider scheduling a family meeting (Palm Sunday would be an ideal time) to decide how you will celebrate Holy Week and Easter. Make the most of the last days of Lent by including sacrifices, good works and prayers the family can do together. Following are some suggestions.

Give up television for an evening; spend time playing a game together. Drink water with simple meals; give the money saved to the poor. Make cards for parish shut-ins. Bake bread or have a special meal on Holy Thursday. Read Scripture: Jesus' last days would be most appropriate. Pray the Stations of the Cross. Spend the hours 12-3 P.M. on Good Friday together, perhaps taking a walk, visiting a church or sitting quietly at home. Plan to celebrate Easter Sunday by making sure everyone is included in helping choose a favorite meal and activity for the day.

Most important, pray together with your parish family on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil. Afterwards, talk about the rituals and the week you have celebrated. Easter is a celebration of new life. When we celebrate it as family we have an opportunity to share that life with each other.

For Family Response: Decide as a family on some sacrifice or good work you can do together. Go online to www.pledgepeace.org and record the number of hours you spend involved in the activity.

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

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MEDIA WATCH
The Green Mile
By Frank Frost

Where would you look for a story about an innocent man with supernatural powers who is sentenced to death, a man whose initials are J.C.? The New Testament, you say? Of course you're right, but you could also be watching the movie The Green Mile, one of the biggest video rental movies of past months.

The story is told in flashback, taking us back to 1935. Paul Edgeworth (Tom Hanks) is the lead officer of a cellblock housing condemned prisoners. But the pivotal character is a black giant of a prisoner, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who is first seen escorted to the cellblock by the main antagonist, Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), chanting, "Dead man walking. Dead man walking." Coffey's arrival unleashes a battle between the forces of good and evil, leading to an explosive climax and a multi-layered surprise ending.

Based on the novel by Stephen King, The Green Mile places preternatural powers in the hands of an unlikely person in an unlikely place—a convicted murderer on Death Row, or "The Green Mile." A leisurely introduction to the characters establishes Paul as a man of compassion and fairness who respects his charges. Percy, on the other hand, goes out of his way to be cruel to the two meek and remorseful prisoners whose executions are fast approaching: John Coffey, who is naive and gentle, and "Billy the Kid," another new prisoner who is as violent as Coffey is gentle. The stage is set.

In one of the movie's many ironic twists, the prison warden, a decent sort who clinically watches prisoners face death in the electric chair, discovers that his wife has developed a brain tumor. He bursts into tears as he tells Paul, "I don't know how I'm going to tell my wife she is going to die." In the course of events her life will be saved by John Coffey, who, it turns out, is endowed with extraordinary healing powers he uses on behalf of just about everyone except himself.

"The things that happen in this world. It's a wonder that God allows it," says Paul, when he first learns of the horrible crime that Coffey has been convicted of. These words take on a new twist, however, when he suspects that J.C. is innocent and destined to die for someone else's crime. How can God allow it?

Using visual conventions of the horror genre, screenwriter-director Frank Darabont gives bold physical expression to spiritual powers that in the Catholic tradition we recognize only through their miraculous results. Coffey's powers are visualized as the ability to absorb, or "take back," evil that has entered a person, which he then exhales as a cloud of dark menacing particles. King's/Darabont's definitions of heaven and hell are also quite different from our tradition. But at bottom the values expressed in the film serve to reinforce our belief in justice, love and the ability of good to triumph over evil.

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SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

Blessed Luchesio and Buonadonna
Luchesio and Buonadonna Modestini knew just what they wanted out of life in 13th-century Tuscany: material success and the worldly goods that flow from it. But along came St. Francis of Assisi, whose preaching and practice so moved the couple that they turned their lives and their hearts toward prayer and service to the poor.

Luchesio, once a successful merchant, gave up his business. Buonadonna, his wife, initially unsure, soon agreed they should share their property with the needy. The couple, whose children had died, kept only a small amount of land for themselves; Luchesio tilled it with his own hands.

But they wished to give themselves over more fully to God. Luchesio and Buonadonna were welcomed by St. Francis himself into his newly established Third Order, designed especially for laypersons, including married couples, who wished to follow his way but without religious vows. According to tradition, Luchesio and Buonadonna are the first members of the Secular Franciscan Order, which thrives to this day.

News spread about the generosity of Luchesio and Buonadonna. The poor who came to them for help were never turned away. Somehow, there was always enough to share. Their lives as Secular Franciscans also called for penitential practices, which they embraced as well.

As Luchesio neared death, Buonadonna asked him to pray that she, his companion in life, could join him in death as well. He prayed as requested. The husband and wife—devoted to one another, to the poor, to God—both died in 1260 on April 28, now observed as their feast day. Luchesio was beatified 13 years later. Buonadonna is often called "blessed," though the title has never been given officially.

Jim and Lois Flickinger
Like their 13th-century counterparts Luchesio and Buonadonna, Jim and Lois Flickinger became Secular Franciscans later in life. Raising their five children in Grand Rapids, Michigan, came first. But once they joined the Third Order—Jim in 1994, Lois three years later—they made up for lost time.

What drew them to embrace the Third Order, says Jim, an attorney, was the example of St. Francis. "His life was a combination of prayer and action." The Flickingers are a blend of gospel and life themselves.

For Lois, the primary focus is on prayer. Sensing "spiritual poverty" in so many people's lives, she continually finds ways to offer opportunities for prayer and the nourishment it brings. These include introducing and overseeing eucharistic adoration at one of the local Catholic high schools, serving on a retreat house board, organizing a 12-hour prayer event on the shoreline of Lake Michigan attended by hundreds.

Jim's call to work with the poor takes him to the Balkans to deliver medicines and equipment and to the Amazon region of Brazil to help establish schools in the interior and to deliver food, medicines and clothing to residents there with leprosy. For close to five years Jim has helped coordinate the free lunch program for the poor who congregate in the park near his office. The food lovingly distributed by him and volunteers is meant to sustain hearts and spirits as well as bodies.

As Secular Franciscans together, the Flickingers have drawn "closer to each other and to God," says Lois. "There is no stronger bond as a couple than seeking together to deepen your spirituality," she told Every Day Catholic.
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