Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Pierre Toussaint

Toussaint

We observe a day in honor of Doctor Martin Luther King. Someone asked Doctor King, ‘What will we do if the whites continue to discriminate and mistreat us?’ ‘We will continue to love them to the point that they can’t do anything else but love in return, ’’ he said.

That sounds like what Jesus would say, who took the “form of a slave” when he came among us “and  became obedient, even to death, death on a cross.”

That was how Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian slave brought to New York City late in 18th century lived, until his death in 1853. Toussaint was motivated by a profound love of Jesus Christ. When he  died, a New York newspaper recognized him “ a man of the warmest and most active benevolence.” His goodness was legendary.

Toussaint came to New York City with his French owners, the Berard family, shortly before the Haitian revolution in 1789. He lived in the city almost 66 years. A successful hair-dresser, confidant to some of New York’s most prestigious Protestant families, extraordinarily generous and faithful to the poor, a devout parishioner of St. Peter’s church on Barley Street, at Mass each morning at 6 AM. At his death in 1853 he was acclaimed one of New York’s finest citizens.

St. Peter's Church
St. Peter’s Church

His first biographer was Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, a Protestant who wrote about him shortly after his death. It’s a lovely biography, of memories she and others had of him. She admired his character, his good deeds, his genuine love for people, black or white:

“He never felt degraded by being a black man, or even a slave…he was to serve God and his fellow men, and so fulfill the duties of the situation in which he was placed…. He was deeply impressed with the character of Christ; he heard a sermon from Dr. Channing, which he often quoted. “My friends,” said Channing, “Jesus can give you nothing so precious as himself, as his own mind. May this mind be in you.”

Those last words, of course, come from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.*
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.…Philippians 2, 6-9

Toussaint made the mind of Jesus his own. His body now lies in the crypt under the main altar of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and his cause for canonization has begun.

Some question why Toussaint wasn’t more aggressive in the struggle against slavery. He could have easily won his own freedom well before 1807, when Madame Berard  emancipated him before her death. Why didn’t he? Why wasn’t he active in the abolitionist movement against slavery then?

IMG_1851

For one thing, Toussaint feared violence would erupt in the United States, like the violence destroying Haiti then.

But he was influenced most of all by the teachings of the gospel and the example of Jesus Christ who insisted on loving God and your neighbor.  Loving and serving others is his great commandment, more important than the color of your skin, or your status in life or even fighting for a cause.

images

Toussaint understood that. Doctor Martin Luther King did too. 

Believing for Others

The healing of the paralytic told in today’s gospel from Mark is a great story. Four friends bring him to the door of Peter’s house in Capernaum but the crowds are so dense that they can’t get in to see Jesus so they climb up on the roof, cut a hole in it and lower him down before Jesus. Was the paralyzed man conscious, or half conscious? We don’t know.

What ingenuity! What nerve! What determination on the part of his friends! Think of the logistics involved in it all. The pictures here show the ruins of Peter’s house now enclosed in a shrine and a picture from the shrine looking down into the house–possibly just where the man was lowered down.

We know Jesus forgave the man’s sins and then healed him completely, so he left the house carrying the mat that once bore him. The gospel wants us to recognize that Jesus the healer is Jesus who forgives sins. Those who heard his words of forgiveness that day were shocked by this action which they rightly judged was divine.

But I’m led back to the four friends who had a part in this miracle. Let’s not forget them. They believe and their belief makes them go to extraordinary lengths to  help another .  We believe for others as well as for ourselves. Faith reaches out; it doesn’t remain within.  Believing prompts us to do daring things.

Back to Peter’s house. Did Peter look up that day and say, “Who’s going to pay for that hole in the roof?” The story of the paralyzed man is a wonderful story.

The Mass Readings after Epiphany

DSC00036

The gospel readings at Mass for the week after the Feast of the Epiphany may not seem connected to that great feast, but they are.

The Magi who come to find the King of the Jews represent the nations, the gentiles, to whom Jesus comes as Savior.  In our readings for Monday Jesus, grown in wisdom and age and grace, begins his public ministry after his baptism by John, going into Galilee, “the Galilee of the Gentiles,” Matthew’s gospel calls it. Jesus brings  light “to a people who sit in darkness.” In Galilee he first fulfills the promise made to the Magi.

Baptized by John, Jesus continues his mission, repeating the very words John used to define his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus goes beyond John, who acknowledges “I am not the Messiah; I am sent before him.(Saturday, John 3,22-3)  Jesus calls a gentile world as well as a Jewish world to turn to God; he is the kingdom of God at hand.

Humanly speaking, it wasn’t a good time to begin such a mission. It’s “after John was arrested,” a dangerous time. Galilee, when Jesus began his mission, was ruled by Herod Antipas, who imprisoned John and then beheaded him. (Matthew 4, 12-25)

But God’s time is not our time. It probably wasn’t a good time either for the Magi to come to Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the Great. But God’s ways are not our ways. That’s important to remember. We can miss the time of grace and its opportunities when we think of time in too human a way.

God could not possibly act now? Why not?

Accounts of the miracle of the loaves and the crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Mark’s gospel are read on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Commentators note that Mark uses the Sea of Galilee as a stormy path Jesus takes to reach the gentile world of his day. Those on the other side of the lake are given the samef Bread that he provided for the children of Israel.

It’s to “all of Galilee” that Jesus goes and “as a consequence of this his reputation traveled the length of Syria, They carried to him all those afflicted with various diseases and racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. He cured them all.” (Matthew 4, 23-25)

Galilee is the “Galilee of the gentiles.”

Mary, the Mother of God

Virgin and Child

The Feast of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1) is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as the Christmas celebrations end and a new year begins. Eastern Christian churches have a similar feast honoring the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God at this time.

“Marvelous is the mystery proclaimed today
Our nature is made new as God becomes man;
He remains what he was and becomes what he was not,
Yet each nature stays distinct and undivided.” Canticle, Morning Prayer

Mary’s Son who came “in the fullness of time” blesses all time:
“The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6, 22-27)

This January feast honoring Mary begins a month named for the Roman god Janus, the two faced god who looks ahead and looks back. Mary connects us to the world ahead as well as the world of the past, and so we pray to her “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

On this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, I think of a PBS special “What Darwin Never Knew” produced awhile ago on Nova. I don’t remember or understand a lot of the program’s scientific material, but its description of DNAs and embryos caught my attention.

According to scientists, embryos from different living beings–humans, animals, birds, fish– appear remarkably alike at an early stage of development, as if they were from the same source. Then, something triggers a different development in each species. Humans sprout arms and legs and begin human development. The other species develop in their own way.

Recently, I visited an exhibit called “Deep Time” at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington which described the development of the earth through 4.5 billion years. One section described our development from 4.5 billion years ago. We come from that development; we belong to this world.

In Mary’s womb, the Word became flesh, connecting with the world of the past and the world of the future. Early theologians, like St. Irenaeus, say the Word became truly human. He went through the same process of development as we do. They also say he had to assume all that he would redeem. In his early embryonic journey Jesus Christ assumed the creation he would renew.

“Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth says to Mary before Jesus’ birth. (Luke 1,42) At that moment, the Word of God gave the promise of redemption to another infant– Elizabeth’s son John. The same promise was communicated to the rest of creation too. Jesus Christ is the maker and Savior of all.

The Adaptable Word:December 31

What Child is This?

We try to understand the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, in the Christmas season, but it’s beyond our understanding.  Yet the carols, the art, the scriptures, the liturgy, the customs of the season keep reflecting on it.

This morning we sang “What Child is this?” remembering the shepherds and the angels from Luke’s gospel, who greeted “with anthems sweet” the Child on Mary’s lap, sleeping. We sang of the “Silent Word”, pleading for us–John’s gospel. “So bring him incense, gold and myrrh.“ We join the magi from Matthew’s gospel, honoring him. 

Looking through some portrayals of the Nativity recently, I noticed how some 15th century artists influenced by St. Bridget of Sweden’s visions have Mary and Joseph adoring the Child, not in a stable, but on the bare earth, which he has come to save.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’ gospel for today is the inspiration for our Mary Garden. Mary holds her Child up to creation, symbolized by the garden, the Silent Word who blesses all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

God’s love sent him, John writes in his 1st Letter, repeating the Prologue of his gospel: It was not a show of power, but a revelation of love. “In this way the love of God was revealed to us:

God sent his only-begotten Son into the world

so that we might have life through him.”

How can we understand it? St. Maximus the Confessor says that God comes among us according to our capacity to receive him. God adapts his coming to us, his love is an adaptable love:

“The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognizes the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.

For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same for ever. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.”

An adaptable, respectful love. That’s the way God loves us. That’s the way to love others.

His Kindness Has Appeared

What does Jesus Christ reveal about God? He is the Word of God who reveals God to us, St. Bernard says, and in him “the kindness and love of God has been revealed and  we receive abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.”

Before he appeared as human, God’s kindness lay concealed, Bernard says. “Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster…”

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself what needed mercy most? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?”

“See how much God cares for us. See what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Don’t look at your own sufferings; look at God’s sufferings. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you; let his kindness be seen in his humanity.”

“ The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”

The Word Made Visible

John evangelist

The Feast of St.John the Apostle (December 27) follows the birth of Jesus because John in his writings– the 4th gospel and letters– answers the great question: Who is Jesus? Who is the child born of Mary, who lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee and Judea, died and rose again in Jerusalem?

John was one of his first disciples called at the Sea of Galilee to follow him. John sat beside him at the Last Supper; he went into the Garden of Gethsemane with him, then stood beside his cross. 

The gospel reading for his feast reminds us that John saw the empty tomb and recognized Jesus risen from the dead. “‘It is the Lord,’ he said to Peter” on the Lake of Galilee as the Risen Christ appears. (John 21, 7) John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” had a special relationship with Jesus, human and divine. 

We know Jesus Christ through his humanity, just as the apostles did, the Ist Letter of John says. The One we know through his humanity is also the Word of God who is God.

“What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life —

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you.” 1 John 1-4

It’s so easy to get trapped into church politics today. We need to keep our eyes on the mysteries that are above politics. The Word has become visible.