LAZARUS AND CHRISTIAN FAITH

In Chichester cathedral stands a Romanesque sculpture of the Raising of Lazarus. Looking at it became a meditation on the nature of Christian faith. To me it conveys the grave responsibility of the Christian calling. The shape of Lazarus suggesting birth, rebirth, baptism, resurrection. He is inscribed in the tension of human life. Each human person bears within them sacramental wombs of liberation (some licit and others illicit). Here the spirit bears witness to the conflict between grace and sin, fertilised by the former and sterilised by the latter, as it were. The history of salvation alternately suffers and is praised by many permutations; the mystery being that of co-responsibility and refusal. Coheirs in the mystery of life and resurrection – that, I thought, was the Way of Christian life. We all perhaps resemble Lazarus: receivers of life, resurrection (one which touches us), and forgiveness bestowed with gratuity. As an echo – an echo in stone and flesh – of the Incarnation, of embodiment, it also suggests the realism of salvific incarnation: shock, immediacy, awe. All of these are inscribed on the faces assembled here. It conveys an overall sense of being caught – in body and soul – in the inexorable dynamic of grace. One feels the irrevocable pull of apostolic turbulence, the present Gospel insurrection indicated by its challenge to personal and socio-historical malpractice: ‘Therefore if any person be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and ‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’ (Romans 12:2).

Reflecting on the transformative clarity of the Gospel, along with the real presence of structural and collective greed and injustice begs the question: what does the spirit and practice of capitalism mean for Christians? The presence of capitalism in the world signifies two things: the mystery of iniquity and collective sin. Apostolic turbulence (‘they are those that turned the world upside down’!) is demanded of our Christian vocation. We are obliged to be memories of Saint Paul’s words: ‘where sin abounds, grace more abounds.’ We are followers of Jesus Christ, ‘who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (1 Timothy 1:10). Ours ought to be a discipleship of soteriopraxis rooted in the present Reigning of God, fearlessly mobilised by resurrection and revolution. Our parresia (fearless speech) parting the waters of cowardice and ill-gotten consent.

Returning to the Romanesque, the raising of Lazarus seems to provide the following insights. Christians are witnesses to the gratuitous ferment of grace and life amidst anxiety, apprehension, unwillingness, and collective self-hatred. The grief-marked faces of Christ, apostles, Lazarus and family are poignant today in the midst of consumer society’s graceless dance of servile sorrow: ‘The joy of our heart is ceased: our dancing is turned into mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, because we have sinned! Therefore is our heart sorrowful: therefore are our eyes become dim’ (Lamentations 5:15-17). The sculpture includes a touching gesture of benediction, showing all those present as receptors of salvific liberation. This grace interplay between hands, arms, and facial expressions is saturated in sacramental dynamism. It addresses the viewer directly, saying: you are called to be incarnate notes in symphonies of salvific transformation. We must try, every day, to repeat the words of Thomas the Twin: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11:16).

Seeing as one ought not to speak of conversion without having acted upon it, I will here include some autobiographical details. During my sojourn in academic life, the threat of censorship was, during PhD studies, intended to chastise me. I had used irreverent, highly critical, and – in their eyes – heretical language in referring to some of the modern world’s chief idols: nation, state, and bourgeois intellectuals. The 26-county southern Irish state was – and in my opinion still is – an illegitimate neo-colonial entity. It is an insult to what so many republicans lived, fought, and died for. The reality of Anglo-Irish history, far or near, consists of Ireland, particularly the North, being maimed by genocidal imperialist practices and projects. The war in Northern Ireland was precisely that – a war. Referring to the historical experience (and we all know that history is always present and future) of a people as one of being maimed and the conflict in Northern Ireland as a war, was seen as outside the pale of academic etiquette. I had refused the obscene pretence of neutrality. This was the final straw in my excommunication. The work of so many “professional scholars” – if that’s not a contradiction in terms – in my area of research deserves a response of indignation and interrogation. Their crime (sin of deliberate omission) was systematically obscuring the Irishness of Samuel Beckett’s writing, and therefore deliberately (for political, national, and racial reasons) misinterpreting it. So much of it is superficial propaganda for English imperialism. In short, ideologically contrived rubbish. My forensic analysis clearly expressed my view. For this I was called ‘polemical’ and cast out, eventually to be made redundant. A badge of honour if ever I received one. From this experience, one of many similar experiences, I saw first-hand the grotesque corruption of careerism in any and all forms; I was victim and resistor of the mercenary ethos of academic life. The scholarly rigor and contribution of my work was never questioned: it was attacked from the viewpoint of political and financial interests. It was obvious that these forms of greed and selfishness subvert the beatitudes and lacerate the Gospel and do so willingly. From then on I made choices concerning the logical consequence of these events on this basis: ‘No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’ (Matthew 6:24). ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’ (1 Timothy 6:10). ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort’ (Matthew 6:20/24). ‘That which men magnify is abominable in the sight of god.’ ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 14:11).

If my social, financial, and intellectual failures are seen in the pattern of an emerging religious vocation, they all contain a glimmer of the paschal candle. Redundancy, given to me by slaves of filthy lucre, was the crowning of my career. From this grave I arose, recalling Lazarus. Angry, weary, battered. Then penitent and increasingly ascetic. Mortified. Accompanied in eremitic vigil by the harsh ascetic realism of fourth-century desert monk Evagrius Ponticus. Immersed in prayer. Then forgiving. Then changed. Purged. I received Confirmation (no sacraments in 29 years and suddenly 3 in the space of 2 days!). I went on retreat: “to the Desert of Quarr to seek refuge in the ‘honeycombs of holy Scripture’[1] and to hear the Flemish bricks sing the ‘mellifluous name of Christ.’[2] Meditating on the hyssop of humility, I seek cisterns of Truth to carry water of life from the darkness of the pilgrim chapel and from the incisions of light dancing through the Abbey Church.” Certain. Then in a new beginning: loved by the Gospel and fired by the witness it required. The theology of liberation a revelation to me. Awakenings. Called. My calling to a religious life emerged, clear and strong. Renewed in the furnace of apostolic peace and evangelical turbulence.

I am disturbed by the brutal meaninglessness of capitalist society. I refuse to be enslaved by an economic system which is the embodiment of iniquity. I believe Christian discipleship requires implacable hostility towards the natural intransigence of affluence. I believe that to be truly Catholic is to be revolutionaries of the Reign, passionate disciples of the Incarnate God, and living paschal candles of liberation. I believe in the radical soteriopraxis of the beatitudes and maledictions. I believe it is masochistic and selfish to allow the anagogical to torture, through commission or omission, the anthropological…and vice versa. ‘And we have not hearkened to the voice of the Lord our God according to all the words of the prophets whom he sent to us. And we have gone away every man after the inclinations of his own wicked heart, to serve strange gods and to do evil in the sight of the Lord our God’ (Baruch 1:21-22). We Christians – troublesome creatures that we are – are heirs annexed to the Good News of Jesus the Liberator, and to the Immaculate Heart of Liberation which pumps paschal blood through the veins of Mary. Aren’t we called to be veins and vessels carrying this blood throughout the body of the church and amongst the body of the crucified peoples of the earth, which show radical continuity with the suffering flesh of Jesus, still scourged by structural sin and injustice?

Finally, the question I ask is this: are we willing to anaesthetise ourselves and others – through consumerism and its cancerous appendages – at the expense of anathematising ourselves in the eyes of the Good News?

Saint Oscar Romero, bless us all, so that we do not betray the beautiful cross of Christ. May the God of life, the God of Jesus, bless us. And may the Liberator Mary – tender before the shepherds, harrowing to the rich and powerful – guide our steps.

 

[1] Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, p56.

[2] Ibid.

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Fleeing the Tomb

‘So long as domination and protest have not been overcome completely, so long as sinfulness and conflict perdure in history, Jesus will ever remain present as a “dangerous” memory and a point of crisis. He will remain to call our own path into question on the basis of his own historical path.’[1] By conserving its structures of sin, the Western world flees the possibility of encountering the Risen Christ in the Third World’s ‘crucified people.’[2] It shows itself like the women in Mark’s gospel: they were terrorised by fright; they fled the tomb, saying nothing. This is how we appear when we act – collectively and in counter-revolutionary collusion – with indifference, saying no words, carrying no deeds, of revolutionary, sacramental love for our despised and dehumanised neighbours in the Third World.

This callous lack of effective, apostolic solidarity on our part, poses serious questions regarding not only our personal and collective will to communion with the life and path of Jesus of Nazareth, but our will to truth.[3]  ‘”The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again”. But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him’ (Mark 9:31-32). Does this not describe the wound of our situation? How can we presume to know the liturgical and Risen Christ if are not willing to follow the concrete conditions of discipleship in communion with the historical way and life of Jesus[4], who is, at this very hour, in continuity with the crucified people of the Third World, delivered into the hands of men? If we disengage from the Way[5] of the historical Jesus, ‘we should either be failing to grasp the nature of the primitive Christian concern with the identity between the exalted and the humiliated Lord; or else we should be emptying that concern of any real content, as did the docetists.’[6] By avoiding the abstract and impartial Christ – easy prey for ideological manipulation – we choose ‘to adopt the historical Jesus as our starting point….Our Christology will thereby avoid abstractionism, and the attendant danger of manipulating the Christ event. The history of the church shows, from its very beginning as we shall see, that any focusing on the Christ of faith will jeopardise the very essence of the Christian faith if it neglects the historical Jesus.’[7]

Catholicism’s universality, its favouring of the poor and dispossessed, and its epistemology of doceticide, are all spear points of the cross penetrating the old Adamic skull of Golgotha – symbolising our own truncated, partial discipleship – that we may have new and real life as followers of the liberator Jesus, catching sight ‘of the God who saves, the God who liberates.’[8]

[1] Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads, p138.

[2] ‘The third world in fact has been turned into a Christ. It is what we have often called, from the viewpoint of faith, “the crucified people”….faith tells us that this people with problems, this “crucified people,” is where Christ is really present; it is where he wanted to be’ (Ignacio Ellacuria, Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, p34).

[3] Christians in the First World, if faith is to be truly humanising, let alone deifying, must recover a sense of the three-fold engagement with reality spelled out by Ignacio Ellacuria: ‘becoming aware of the weight of reality…shouldering the weight of reality…taking charge of the weight of reality…’ (Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, p88).

[4] ‘The historical life of Jesus is the fullest revelation of the Christian God’ (Ignacio Ellacuria, Freedom Made Flesh, p27).

[5] The term ‘way’ carries in Mark’s gospel ‘a specialised sense of discipleship and following a road of suffering’ (R.P. Martin’s Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, p214).

[6] Ernst Kasemann, quoted in R.P. Martin’s Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, p44.

[7] Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads, p9.

[8] Ignacio Ellacuria, Utopia and Propheticism from Latin America, p55.

REVOLUTIONARY SOTERIOLOGY

With grieving openness one asks the question: is there salvation in history[1]? In this dark night of capitalism’s reign discernment can become malnourished, corrupted, co-opted. With searing honesty Ignacio Ellacuria stated: ‘the coming of Jesus does not appear to have turned history into a history of salvation. It does not seem as if salvation, insofar as it comes from Jesus, has made enough of an impact as to divide history into what came before and after his birth. It might have seemed so when history was confused with Western civilisation and during the ten centuries or more when Western civilisation was dominated more by ideology than by Christian faith. Even then, without denying the great contribution of faith to improving history, we were far from being able to speak of a human history, let alone a divine history.’[2]

Humanity can seem to be mere chattels of sin and evil, possessed by bitterness and hatred, as the enveloping absence of the Reign – and of salvation – continues relentlessly. This attitude must be acknowledged honestly and fought against. Looking through Christological lenses, we may ask: ‘Did Jesus fail, during his mortal life, in the proclamation and realisation of the Reign of God? Did that experience of failure force him to describe the task of realising the Reign in less historical terms? Was it necessary to resort to an imminent Parousia in which a triumphal second coming would correct the failure of his humble first coming?’[3] From fighting the good fight of faith, and from the spiritual trenches of the Lamb’s War, we have this to say: ‘the fact that salvation has not reached a satisfying fullness in history is not a definitive proof of its failure. Rather it proves that human beings, especially those specifically called to proclaim and historicise salvation, have failed in their mission. In the covenant, God’s promise has not failed, but rather humans’ responses have failed.’[4] This is our word of hope, the source of our contumacious tenderness, and our revolutionary apostolic duty.

The theology of liberation speaks of the crucified people of the global South. In the North, society is terminally diseased. Signs of ‘how far history is from being a reign of freedom and of self-giving love’[5] are everywhere. Its populations are both captive to neoliberal capitalism and in a state of collective mortal sin. Western society, after thirty years of this pernicious ideological and economic system (and over 300 years since England made its fatal covenant with capital), is the place of today’s crucified people. What can we Christians do – coheirs of the Reign of apostolic revolution – but unleash the Good News of God crucified and leading captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8), liberating and giving life in abundance? Isn’t it about time we treated these wounds of crucifixion/oppression? Shouldn’t we give spiritual chemotherapy to this cancerous dehumanisation/alienation? Will the risen Jesus then be recognised among us, rising anew even now, in this cruel night?

We urgently need collective coproanalysis (examination of faeces). We in the West have made ourselves into the faeces of capitalism’s reign. Our Christian task is opposing this barrage born of centuries of alienation and dehumanisation, let alone de-Christianisation. Luckily we have a deadly weapon (and it’s one close to the sacred heart of Jesus): the Reigning of God with and for human beings!

Revolutionaries of incarnate soteriology, we must take seriously and make concrete Christ’s word to closed hearts and minds of today’s western human being – ‘Be opened’ (Ephphatha, Mark 7:34). We must build trenches for the Lamb’s War, taking with us all the prophetic words of scripture. To the place that calls itself the “first world”, we Christians have something to say: ‘many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first’ (Matthew 19:30), and ‘all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’ (Luke 14:11).

Christians ought to become mothers, sisters and brothers of Lazarus, crying out and striving as the crucified and risen Jesus points the Way to God’s Reign.

In this complex dance of grace and sin, life and death, we must keep vigil at the foot of the cross, constantly stirring up hope, liberation, and Good News.

Let us bear witness in our lives to the agapic prophesies falling like lightning strikes of grace upon us, pouring from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and sweeping us up in the transcendental tide of Christ’s own Sacred Heart.

[1] History here is used in the sense of being within time, space, the present, and concrete reality.

[2] Ignacio Ellacuria, Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, p185.

[3] Ibid, p186.

[4] Ibid, p188.

[5] Ibid, p185.

“HANDLE ME, AND SEE”

Christianity is not primarily about private emotion or reason; it is about reality; it is about being seized by the Real. Direct and immediate confrontation with reality is one of its demands.[1] The Franciscan sine proprio (with nothing of one’s own) shows this with admirable simplicity.[2] There is a correlation between absence of ‘self-love, self-will, and self-interest’[3] and grasp of reality. Spiritual and even actual poverty are places of crucifixion and resurrection: they demonstrate, in a concrete way, one’s response to reality and one’s ability to analyse and change it. Responding in this way is humility and devotion, both to God, to the reality He created, and to the Son He sent for our salvation. ‘Ego quos amo, arguo, et castigo’[4], says God to John of Patmos, ‘those I love, I rebuke and chasten.’ This chastening, this castigation arises from reality and points to God. Examination of individual and collective conscience, in the light of the Gospel, leads to a challenge, a castigation, and an imperative: act for the Kingdom of God and against the reign of sin and oppression in the world.

Participation in liturgical sacraments alone is not enough: ‘worship, including the celebration of the Eucharist, is not the whole of the presence and continuity of Jesus; there must be a continuation in history that carries out what he carried out in his life and as he carried it out.’[5] One must live and die as Friends of Christ, for the reign of God on earth as in heaven. Jesus’ words to Peter are addressed to each of us: ‘When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.’[6] Maturity, detachment, spiritual poverty and actual poverty: these are marks of the Eucharistic tenderness and the martyrial openness required of all Christians. We are called to put our hearts and our hands into the spiritual and actual wounds of the world and those who suffer the false crucifixions brought about by structures of iniquity. Our discipleship depends on the ability to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Our discipleship presupposes a forensic analysis of reality on the basis of where the Lamb went and the wounds He sustained. Then we may stretch forth our hands in sacramental solidarity with the temporal and historical proclamation of Jesus, allowing ourselves to go the way of the Lamb even unto death and especially against the deaths imposed by the structures of iniquity governing the global society.

Ignacio Ellacuria writes: ‘the life of the Risen One is the same life as that of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for us, so that the immortal life of the Rison One is the future of salvation only insofar as we abandon ourselves in obedience to the Crucified One, who can overcome sin.’[7] The Our Father provides extremely fertile ground for contemplating the meaning of these words. ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’; here we see unification of time/eternity, of history/the will of God; we invoke the presence of a concrete, historical incarnation of that for which Christ died: the reign of God on earth. ‘The Crucified One rises, and rises because he was crucified; since his life was taken away for proclaiming the Reign, he receives a new life as fulfilment of the Reign of God.’[8] Christ crucified and Risen for the coming Reign of God on earth: not only in terms of the self but for history and society: ‘his life and death continue on earth and not just in heaven; the uniqueness of Jesus is not in his standing apart from humankind, but in the definitive character of his person and in the saving all-presence that is his. All the insistence on his role as head to a body, and on the sending of his Spirit, through whom his work is to be continued, point towards this historic current of his earthly life. The continuity is not purely mystical and sacramental.’[9] There is a shocking continuity between the Crucified One of Nazareth and the Risen Christ. It is a continuity apprehended within history and within the sense of touch. In Matthew’s Gospel he records that ‘they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him.’[10] They held the feet of the Risen One, the feet that walked unto death for the Kingdom of God. In Luke’s Gospel the disciples see and are invited to handle the ‘flesh and bones’ of the Risen prophet of Nazareth: ‘Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.’[11] The patterns, the wounds, the memories, the transcendental yet historical proclamation is all present. The apostles received the imprint from Jesus of Nazareth. Reality received an imprint from the Reign of God he proclaimed and was killed for. We are heirs annexed to these sacred incisions in the bitter but real fabric of sin and corruption and division in this world.

Let us have the zeal of Thomas who said: ‘except I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the holes of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.’[12] Reproducing this pattern, both personally, ecclesially, and socially, would show a living faith not only inherited but inhabited. Through the Wounded yet Risen One we could strive to touch the imprints of nails driven into the flesh of God’s oppressed and poor (including Mother Earth itself), remembering that Christ is sacramentally present in them, waiting to redeem those crucified by the sins of history and humanity by rising forth and pouring blessings upon them and those who come to liberate them, in turn confirming our own salvation by this concrete solidarity. In the peace of Christ we could show perfect Christian obedience: ‘put in thy finger here, and see my hands, and put forth thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not without faith: but believe.’[13] Christ is exhorting all his followers to trace the continuity of the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth with the Risen One. He expects us to go to the place where wounds abound and to touch them with the hands of an active faith, not standing aloof from the crucified ones of today but going forth to proclaim, in our lives, the Reign of God on earth, for ‘the ongoing passion of the people and paralleling it the historic reign of sin – as opposing the Reign of God – do not permit a reading of the death and resurrection of Jesus removed from history.’[14] This is the radical challenge the cross poses to each of us individually as well as collectively: ‘salvation does not come through the mere fact of crucifixion and death; only a people that lives because it has risen from the Death inflicted on it can save the world.’[15] For those of us here in the West, Death here means death in life via ideological and social toxins. It also means recognising where a risen, transformed – via crucifixion and resurrection – people actually exists and entering into the salvific portals of their wounds: ‘the world of oppression is not willing to tolerate this. As happened with Jesus, it is determined to reject the cornerstone for the building of history; it is determined to build history out of power and domination, that is, out of the continual denial of the vast majority of oppressed humankind. The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone, stumbling-block, and rock of scandal. That rock was Jesus, but it is also the people that is his people, because it suffers the same fate in history.’[16]

 

[1] Heeding the counsel of Christ is, as Erik Varden writes, to ‘remember reality as such, to let it be illumined by the light shining into and out of the empty tomb’ (The Shattering of Loneliness, p109). This approach is a valuable antidote against both the epistemic escapism of modern ideologies, and the excessive privatisation of central theological concepts. It might be worth coining the phrase a Christology of doceticide, that is, a Christology rooted in the historic meaning of the Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection to transform and make all things new. Bernard Kelly’s words should serve as a reminder that the holiness of the Catholic Church ‘is not that of an ideal somehow raised above reality, but of reality itself made sacred by the Incarnation, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ’ (A Catholic Mind Awake: The Writings of Bernard Kelly, p127).

[2] This intellectual openness is nothing other than the virginity of those true followers of the Lamb referred to in the Book of Revelation: ‘These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from men being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb, and in their mouths were found no guile. For they are without spot before the throne of God’ (14:4-5). Their analytical capacity is free from ideological concupiscence. Their intellectual perspicacity descends and rises from the scent of the Lamb, and it knows the places where the Lamb’s scent stays, haunts, and redeems.

[3] Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, p55.

[4] Revelation 3:19.

[5] Ignacio Ellacria in Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology, p265.

[6] John 21:18-19.

[7] In Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology, p261.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, p265.

[10] 28:9.

[11] 24:39-40.

[12] John 20:25.

[13] John 20:27.

[14] Ignacio Ellacuria, in Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology, p260.

[15] Ibid, p278.

[16] Ibid.

Theses on Discipleship

  1. Our Western society is so empty, so meaningless, so thoughtless, and so destructive (externally in terms of impact on the earth; internally in terms of the psychological disorders suffered by whole generations of younger people and their searching for remedy through pharmaceuticals, “virtual reality” etc.). If I remain within it, subjected to its forces and gods, I am condemned to carry its toxins in my mind, soul, and body.
  2. The integrity of Christian discipleship is damaged, if not destroyed, by collusion with the structures of injustice and evil we call capitalism and state (both of which rely on war and ongoing brutality for their health).
  3. Unless I take a vow of poverty and pursue a fully lived discipleship, in keeping with the Beatitudes, I am in danger of disfiguring the call of the Gospel.
  4. I am born into a privileged minority whose structural sin – commodity/consumerist lifestyles and mercenary capitalist amorality – keeps the earth crucified and the human majority excluded. It is up to me, as a Christian and as a human being, to refuse collusion with this structure of evil.
  5. Society today is so diseased, dehumanising, anti-Christian: unless I act in opposition to it (by following my vocation to its greatest possible extent), I am a conservative, counter-revolutionary, hypocritical force. ‘A total detachment from the capitalist spirit’, as Bernard Kelly says, is necessary for true discipleship to grow.
  6. The diseases of society are of such a virulent strain that I see no possibility of even a nominally Christian life within its structure, that is, in complacent acceptance without a faith of direct and conflictive works.
  7. Western society today is configured as an explicit and active denial of the Good News.
  8. Almost every part of life in this society is designed by ideologies that falsify reality.
  9. Likewise, evasive and amnesiac glosses are used to suffocate the human sense of the real.
  10. Violence against the sense of the real includes an especially bitter kind of violence against the human sense of the sacred.
  11. All of these pathologies of nemesism can and should be challenged by a life lived in accord with the letter and spirit of the Beatitudes.

‘Handle me, and see’

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christianity is not primarily about private emotion or reason; it is about reality. Direct and immediate confrontation with reality is one of its demands. The Franciscan sine proprio (with nothing of one’s own) shows this with admirable simplicity. There is a correlation between absence of ‘self-love, self-will, and self-interest’[1] and grasp of reality. Spiritual and even actual poverty are places of crucifixion and resurrection: they demonstrate, in a concrete way, one’s response to reality and one’s ability to analyse and change it. Responding in this way is humility and devotion, both to God, to the reality He created, and to the Son He sent for our salvation. ‘Ego quos amo, arguo, et castigo’[2], says God to John of Patmos, ‘those I love I rebuke and chasten.’ This chastening, this castigation arises from reality and points to God. Examination of individual and collective conscience, in the light of the Gospel, leads to a challenge, a castigation, and an imperative: act for the Kingdom of God and against the reign of sin and oppression in the world.

Participation in liturgical sacraments alone is not enough. One must live and die as Friends of Christ, for the reign of God on earth as in heaven. Jesus’ words to Peter are addressed to us: ‘When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.’[3] Maturity, detachment, spiritual poverty and actual poverty: this is the Eucharistic tenderness, the martyrial openness required of all Christians. We are called to put our hearts and our hands into the spiritual and actual wounds of the world and those who suffer the false crucifixions brought about by structures of iniquity. Our discipleship depends on the ability to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Our discipleship presupposes a forensic analysis of reality on the basis of where the Lamb went and the wounds He sustained.

Ignacio Ellacuria writes: ‘the life of the Risen One is the same life as that of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for us, so that the immortal life of the Rison One is the future of salvation only insofar as we abandon ourselves in obedience to the Crucified One, who can overcome sin.’[4] The Our Father is extremely fertile ground for contemplating the meaning of these words. ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’; here we see unification of time/eternity, of history/the will of God; we invoke the presence of a concrete, historical incarnation of that for which Christ died: the reign of God on earth. ‘The Crucified One rises, and rises because he was crucified; since his life was taken away for proclaiming the Reign, he receives a new life as fulfilment of the Reign of God.’[5] Christ crucified and Risen for the coming Reign of God on earth: not only in terms of the self but for history and society. There is a shocking continuity between the Crucified One of Nazareth and the Risen Christ. It is a continuity apprehended within history and within the sense of touch. In Matthew’s Gospel he records that ‘they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him.’[6] They held the feet of the Risen One, the feet that walked unto death for the Kingdom of God. In Luke’s Gospel the disciples see and are invited to handle the ‘flesh and bones’ of the Risen prophet of Nazareth: ‘Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.’[7] The patterns, the wounds, the memories, the transcendental yet historical proclamation is all present. The apostles received the imprint from Jesus of Nazareth. Reality received an imprint from the Reign of God he proclaimed and was killed for. We are heirs annexed to these sacred incisions in the bitter but real fabric of sin and corruption and division in this world.

Let us have the zeal of Thomas who said: ‘except I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the holes of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.’[8] Reproducing this pattern, both personally, ecclesially, and socially, would show a living faith not only inherited but inhabited. Through the Wounded yet Risen One we could strive to touch the imprints of nails driven into the flesh of God’s oppressed and poor, remembering that Christ is sacramentally present in them, waiting to redeem those crucified by the sins of history and humanity by rising forth and pouring blessings upon them and those who come to liberate them. In the peace of Christ we could show perfect Christian obedience: ‘put in thy finger here, and see my hands, and put forth thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not without faith: but believe.’[9] Christ is exhorting all his followers to trace the continuity of sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth with the Risen One. He expects us to go to the place where wounds abound and to touch them with the hands of an active faith, not standing aloof from the crucified ones of today but going forth to proclaim, in our lives, the Reign of God on earth.

 

Notes

[1] Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, p55.

[2] Revelation 3:19.

[3] John 21:18-19.

[4] In Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology, p261.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 28:9.

[7] 24:39-40.

[8] John 20:25.

[9] John 20:27.