Friday, April 22, 2011


This evening we celebrate Jesus sharing his body and blood in the Passover meal of bread and wine with his closest friends. “This is my body; this is my blood.” This evening we celebrate Jesus washing the feet of the disciples as they celebrate the Passover. “Jesus, wash me and not only just my feet but my head and my hands as well.” We focus our attention in this supper room on these images of Christ’s love for us as a way of fostering the faith which has kept these images alive. I suggest them as consoling images. Without these images the atmosphere of betrayal, of indecision and of cover-up in that supper room threatens to give the lie to the entire Christian enterprise.

It is, I suggest, this same kind of atmosphere, that of betrayal, indecision and cover-up, which envelops our local church during this 2011 season of Lent and Easter. The sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the lack of honest disclosure of all the facts leave many of us Catholics feeling angry and dispirited. The local diocesan clergy are not alone as the cause this crisis. Nationwide religious orders like the Jesuits are deeply negligent. We failed to screen and form our members properly. We responded to reports of abuse by protecting the abusers and with little understanding of the abused.

To whom do we go? We hesitate to give church leaders our trust. In this angry and dispirited time I suggest that we remember that Jesus himself understands betrayal. The supper room’s images of nourishment and humble kindness also include other images. There is one of Jesus’ disciples whom he invited to follow him, one whom he entrusted with leadership and responsibility. This man, Judas, betrayed him. None of the other chosen disciples, though they clearly knew the danger in which Jesus found himself, paid any attention to the possibility of betrayal. One disciple, we think it John, even knows the identity of the betrayer. They let betrayal happen under their noses. And then the chosen leader of the group, Peter, engineered his own personal cover-up and denied that he even knew Jesus.

Through all this Jesus himself continues to trust in the God whom he calls his Father.
In seeking how to handle betrayal by those whom we trusted, we remember other Christians in other circumstances who suffered under the sinfulness of the Church. Our African-American brothers and sisters suffered the sin of slavery, a slavery not just condoned by the Church. Organizations in the Church held slaves as well.

We remember the Jews persecuted by Christians especially in European pogroms.

We remember the poor in some of the countries of Latin America where Bishops stayed silent while their political leaders murdered innocent people, a silence to protect the position of the Church in civil society.

We remember especially the women and children whose voices went unheard in all these circumstances.

The slaves, the Jews, the murdered innocents! The legacies from these sufferings continue to poison the world in which we now live. These legacies allow people to speak rationally when they say they want no part in a Church that has such a history.

No hero emerges to accompany Jesus on the evening of the Last Supper. The isolation of the Jesus in his suffering must be complete. In later times of crisis the Church is saved by saints who stand out and imitate the Lord Jesus in their proclamation of the gospel of human dignity: people like Oscar Romero, Ita Ford, Peter Claver, Pierre Toussaint, Franz Jagerstatter and his wife and children, the men and women engaged in the work of reconciliation in Rwanda. And generally, too, in the light of their common suffering some slaves maintained their spirits by singing the songs of the Israelites on their journey from the slavery of Egypt. Some suffering Jews remembered their history, such events as the tears of Babylon and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Today, in Latin America people remember the suffering of the innocent as united with the torture and death of Jesus.

How difficult for us today to see the saints that are emerging from this current crisis. But saints will emerge from among those who have suffered. Saints will emerge from among those who foster reconciliation. Saints will emerge from among those who tell their stories and help us create safe environments for our children. This request is so little, so presumed, and yet for some children and teenagers it is the wholeness of life.

But back to this evening:
Aside from the Lord Jesus little or no promise graced the supper room whose images we now so reverence. Only a fool would have predicted that these followers of Jesus would be seeds for a Church. May Jesus and the grace of his Father continue to use our weakness for the divine glory.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

This I Believe , an excerpt from the WHYY series

WHYY-FM has a series called “This I Believe.” Prominent people in the listening area have recorded short essays to illustrate the statement. This contribution by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer struck me as the essence of what I believe about the human person. I would elaborate but this is always my picture of the people that come into my life. Without this basic beginning of belief, I have no place to go:

  • “When I was a child in the late 1950's, before I was able to read, there was a book in my home called The Family of Man, a compilation of photographs that had recently been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The collection was, as I found out later, a "photo-biography of the human race." I recall poring over that book during long evenings. I marveled over the fact that two eyes, a nose and a mouth could take on such variety. These pictures were wondrous, but the awe they evoked was not entirely comfortable. I struggled to reconcile the deep sense of kinship I felt with those faces with the estrangement of being a lonely child.

  • The conundrum of separateness and connection was bewildering, a bit uncanny. I had a voracious thirst to learn what other people did with their deepest fears and hopes: with their solitude, their sense of connection, their awe.

  • My family was not big on spiritual practice. Study, however, was a sacred endeavor. So, as soon as I could choose my own books, I began reading about the religions of the world. When I was about 15, I learned something that changed my life. It happened, of all places, -- in synagogue school. We were exploring a passage from the Mishnah, a Jewish law code from the year 200. At one point, it says, 'An earthly king stamps his image on a coin and they all look the same. But the King of Kings, God, puts His image on every human being, and every one is different.'

  • That felt exactly right: I was a unique coin, but stamped from the very same "image" as every other. Until that moment, I had not known if I believed in God. But that text made sense to me. No person is more holy than any other. This messy reality with all its wild diversity was actually also a unity, a sacred oneness.

  • Now I work in a rabbinical college, creating programs that prepare students for a world of religious diversity. I am lucky enough to get to spend every day honoring my core belief. I believe that no matter who you are--- a bearded orthodox rabbi or a hijab- wearing Muslim woman --- you are, simply by virtue of being human, the spittin' image of the one and only God.

  • ]My work is to bring together people whose looks, experiences and beliefs are different, people who first encounter each other as strangers, perhaps even foes, and leave having seen the holy in each other's faces. It doesn't always happen. Truth is, sometimes it is hard for me to see the image of God, even in people close to me. This is not such an easy belief to maintain. But I know it is worth trying.”