It had been a hard week, the week the war in Iraq, the second one, started. It was the second week of Lent – a Lent without any reflection, penance or conversion. The readings were clear about who is God! It began with the story of Abraham being told point-blank not to do anything to harm his child. God wanted his obedience not blood sacrifice. It is a benchmark in human and Jewish history. God does not want our children, or our enemies’ children, or anyone’s life. God wants worship, humility, a sense of right relationship, awe. And then in the gospel it is the story of what we call The Transfiguration: Jesus with Moses and Elijah on either side of him, turned towards him as the center of the universe—and his future passage in Jerusalem on the cross. Moses who is the liberator, lawgiver and the strongest of the prophets with Elijah, ‘the disturber of Israel’ turned in respect to Jesus.
I had mentioned that I recently had been driving down the Fla. Turnpike and had seen a sign that reminded me of Moses and the 10 commandments. It read, in stark white on black: WAR? Not in My Name, not now, not ever? God. And in parentesis: (What piece of “Thou Shalt Not’ do you not understand?) The tension in the church was palatable. And then the overshadowing of the mountain and disciples with the cloud of Exodus and the fear it invoked. Then the voice that cried out: “This is my Beloved Son, Listen to Him!” And when they looked up there was only Jesus. Those were the words that evoked the most hostility and anger. Listen to Him, Listen to the Word of the Lord. Listen to the Scriptures. Jesus had been preaching about how hard it would be to be his disciple in the world. “to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and come after him.” Deny ourselves, so that we don’t deny him. “Love your enemies, pray for those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who harm you.” And the disciples weren’t listening. Instead they were listening to their own fears, and their hopes for a place in the sun, hopes for nationalism and the overthrowing of the Romans, of vindication. They were listening to the murmur that was rising around them, of hate, of disagreement, of blasphemy. They are just like us. Who are we listening to as our country proclaims that it is going to war unprovoked, unilaterally, in a pre-emptive strike, though every religious leader including our own, John Paul II has said that this is wrong, a disaster for humans and a tragedy for religious people. That’s when they started getting up and leaving, crawling over people, slamming doors, huffing and puffing down the main aisle, muttering as they went. Listen! Listen to my beloved! ….And there was only Jesus there.
It was a hard mission, lots of anger, letting people rant about patiotism, nationalism, other religions besides the God of Jesus, the Crucified One. The last night, Wednesday, it was over…. As I walked out of the church, someone came up to me and with glee said: “It’s started! They bombed Iraq tonight!” I nearly cried, and said, “God have mercy on us all.”
Outside in the church vestible there were a lot of people, talking about the news, buying books, coffee and continuations of the earlier discussions. I was surrounded by people and then a young girl approached me—maybe 9 years old and she had a handful of bumper stickers with her. She interrupted everyone and asked me if I’d take one of her bumper stickers and put it on my car. I was trapped! I asked her what it said and she told me no, she wouldn’t tell me, only that it was what Jesus would want us to do. The two of us looked at each other and I took a wild risk—OK, I’ll take one of your bumper stickers and put it on my car. She solemnly handed it to me and as I read it I did cry. It said: Jesus says love your enemies. I think that means don’t kill them. I was stunned and I asked her for 20 more, which she gaved me with a big grin on her face. Her father who was standing behind her wasn’t pleased and she turned to him and said: See, I told you she’d know it was true. I looked at her father and said, you’re daughter is a blessing and wise in the ways of love already. She has redeemed this moment of despair, anger and war. I am grateful for your daughter’s words and courage. And he cried.
Redeeming the moments. Redeeming the times. Redeeming grace. That is what all of us must be about every day everywhere. We are believers in the resurrection and we are called to practice it now! No matter what—harm, hate, isolation, arrogance, self-righteousness, stupidity—we are to redeem it all, one moment, one situation, one person, one nation, one historical reality at a time. It has to be done with the courage of a child, telling the truth in the midst of emotion and lies, reminding all of the essentials and the obvious, interrupting the discussions and simply stating it—irrefutably.
Arundhati Roy, speaking at the World Social Forum at porto Alegre, Brazil, January 27, 2003 said it in her direct and passionate words.
…Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different than the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling—their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
We are called to redeem our portion of the universe, our piece of time with our grace and truth, and the Word of God made flesh among us still. This day I call upon all of you to practice the fine art of redemption. May Grace prevail upon us. Amen
New book: AND MORNING CAME: THE SCRIPTURES OF THE RESURRECTION
Sheed and Ward, 2003, and THE ROSARY, Random House/Doubleday, NY, 2004.