Karnival

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You can tell Lent us around the corner by the tone of the Gospel readings Mk 9:30-37. They are increasing the talk of the Passion of Christ. “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” To the disciples this is new, today it the foundation of our faith. In Jesus’s discussion He emphasizes the duty of service over authority. Jesus also mentions here the importance of children. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” With this emphasis on children, I can’t help but notice the prominence of children in the two great celebrations of Christianity; Christmas and Easter. Christmas with the presents under the tree, and Easter with its baskets and bunnies and candy. They are the infant’s first introduction into the faith. That also should be the focus of both childhood feast days, and they are feast days in the truest sense for children. Both days are joyfully anticipated even if not for the right reasons. Easter does have a learning curve. Today it starts with an Easter basket or an Easter egg hunt, and that should correctly lead into the discussions and education on the good news of Jesus Christ. To the Apostles and disciples the order was reversed, Jesus told them of His coming death and resurrection. It was later that they learned to celebrate it. They did not anticipate Easter day, they struggled to reach it and were uncertain what awaited them. Theirs was a hard fought learning curve, and a struggle to come to terms with their newborn faith. That struggle brings us to the season that will soon begin, not the celebration of Easter but the struggle through Lent. In many parts of the world the season abruptly begins on Ash Wednesday, but in many localities there has been a building up to that Ash Wednesday. In many Catholic countries Carnival is in full swing. Some think of the carnivals of Europe, others of Louisiana, some South America and also the festive celebration going on in places like Haiti and the Caribbean. I know that some do not condone these celebrations because of their carnal nature, but they do bring so much emphasis to the Lenten season. They reach their peak at Fat Thursday, and properly abruptly stop Ash Wednesday. Properly celebrated they are also more festive and colorful than carnal, the sin becomes overly evident when celebrants only indulge in the excess and never plan to participate in the penitential season that follows. Greed and economics also tend to push what sells, and it is hard to peddle a fast. Still though, I am glad to see places that still celebrate Carnival correctly as one season that emphasizes the importance of the season to come. Finally, let me put a quick plug in for the carnival that is currently going on in Haiti !

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 342

the seventh Sunday of ordinary time

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well. Mt 5:38-48

This brief little saying can take on different meanings at different times. True, its truth is timeless and unwavering. Its circumstances or what the statement is gauged against continually change. Some days the eye and tooth are personal. Some days it is an individual that punches you. Some days it a street fight, and others it is a world war. Eye for eye can be a personal choice or national policy. What does that statement mean, and what is it intended to mean?

To many it is a statement of vengeance or revenge. If someone causes you pain, by right you have the right to retaliate. The statement though is not simply a justification to let fists fly. It is a statement of measure. If someone causes harm eye for eye limits the extent of retribution. In a legal sense the punishment must fit the crime. Eye for eye sets a limit on when an issue is resolved. It brings a conflict to a conclusion. But does it really solve the problem?

As I said this passage is interpreted differently at different times. Today I see the passage in the news and I read of it being applied not far from where the statement was written. In some parts of the world eye for eye is law. This law is dispensed exactly as written. Let’s offer an illustration. There was a woman who was blinded because someone tossed acid in her face. The court sentence was for the perpetrator to be blinded by acid dripped into his eye. An eye for an eye. That’s a true story. For the thief the amputation of a hand. The law is distributed without tolerance, it is prescribed exactly as written. Order is maintained by fear of retribution, but is anything resolved?

To Jesus, the answer is no. For a sin, a sin is returned. To Jesus evil is not met with evil. Evil can be confronted and defeated with truth. Sin is defeated with grace. Turn the other cheek. Fight evil with good. Injustice can be confronted with forgiveness. Ignorance with instruction. Brutality with kindness. To turn the other cheek, what does that mean? On one level it can be taken literally, it can simply mean turn the other way. It can imply a type of tolerance. In another way turn the other cheek can imply two sides, to look at both the good and bad. It can be to prosecute and also defend, to look at both sides and all angles. That is to approach an injustice with wisdom and understanding, not quickly or blindly.

With Christ is the radical philosophy that good always triumphs over evil. Always, always, and always. It is not the fastest way to resolve an issue, and the Jesus approach does not always serve as a deterrent. Jesus does not offer retribution, but instead solution. What good is accomplished by blinding the ignorant fool, especially if the punishment is not accompanied by education?

A blind fool is still a fool and a fool can always recruit another. For that woman that was blinded by a fool who behaved with cruel indifference in a society that often condones such actions. Certainly by treating him with the same, eye for eye, his faults are visible to others; but who else has benefitted? He offered injustice for injustice, just as the court has dealt out to him. That crime occurred in a land known for honor killings. It occurred in a land known for social injustice and wide spread poverty. It occurred in a land known for intolerance, a land known for dictatorship. It is a place where human rights violations are committed without the retaliation of government and often endorsed as tradition. Eye for eye occurs where one life is valued much higher than another. Places where fear rules and there us a fear of education, places where ignorance is perpetrated. It is where eye for eye is the law if the land, and that law is perpetrated through ignorance. It is a law that serves man and not God. When Jesus says turn the other cheek, people should listen. In that gesture is a defining characteristic of the Christian. It sets Christians apart. Yes, there is a bit of political commentary here.

The truth is that the law was intended to curb injustice and not perpetrate it. It is a law that was intended to allow for a better solution but ignorance and indifference, and hatred never let that law get beyond its eight words. There is the reason for Jesus’s speech, it helps  us to expand ones vocabulary. Jesus allows compassion, and truth, and charity, and forgiveness, and empathy, and resolution, and justice, and tolerance, and education, and love enter into both the conversation and the solution. To Jesus it is more important to give sight to the blind, rather than further disable someone who cannot see clearly. It is more important to cure the cripple than to hobble them further, to restore the withered hand and not simply remove it. All of these come from examples of Christs healing and they all challenge an eye for an eye. Taking an eye for an eye is easy, any fool can do it. Restoring sight to the blind, that’s another story.. .

The (hidden) healing prayer

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It’s the first day after Pentecost, and that is said to put one into a frame of mind. It is to jar ones memory into thinking of the Holy Spirit. The gospel reading on this first day after Pentecost describes a man bringing his possessed son to the disciples for a healing. Mk 9:14-29. Their healing fails, and in desperation the Father brings his son to Jesus. He begs for help. Jesus indeed does cure the son, but this is what caught my eye. I might have missed this if it were not for yesterday’s feast. The father asks Jesus “If you can do anything” to help his son. Jesus replies “If YOU can do anything!” A few small words buried in the narrative, Jesus requires that the man do something to heal his son. Jesus can cure his boy, but only if one condition is met. There must be faith. Faith in God, and faith in all that God can do. The man declares his faith, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” He asks, he begs, and therefore he prays. With those petitions, his son is saved. His prayers are answered. With all of the detail that is given in that narrative it is easy to miss a couple of lines, but those lines are of extreme importance. They underscore the importance of faith and prayer, they describe a God that listens.

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him,
“‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

When the healing had been completed, the Apostles question why they were not successful. The answer is that prayer was required to drive away the demon. I wonder then what did those apostles do, what did they invoke to bring about a cure? I have my suspicion, but I turn my thoughts to a time they were successful. It was after the passion of Christ when a beggar asks Peter for some coin. He replies he has no money, but he will give what he does have: “In the name of Jesus Christ get up and walk.” That was an example of the strength the Apostles gained after the resurrection. It was when their faith was certain. Today though they are mere novices, Jesus tells them the healing required prayer. It required faith filled prayer, not incantations, not rhetoric, and not rituals. They could not simply go through the motions, they had to believe. It required the strength of conviction that the Holy Spirit so often delivers. I can hint too that there is an apostle’s prayer hidden in this healing narrative. They did ask “Jesus, what did we do wrong?” and He answered their call. He answered their prayer, no matter how simple the words. “Good God, what did I do wrong” Come Holy Spirit.

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time