Moving quietly to the end of Monday in Holy Week 2012.
Returned over an hour ago from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cypress Hills, where I went for the sacrament of reconciliation. From the 13th century and the times of the Fourth Lateran Council, the Catholic Church has prevailed upon the faithful to go to confession at least once a year. Customarily, penitents come forward in myriads during Holy Week in the countdown to Easter. This practicing Catholic seeks the sacrament of reconciliation several times a year. This evening, the examination of conscience, followed by confession and contrition, have done me good. I hope that my renewed spirit of penance will do my neighbor good, too. After all, the sacrament of reconciliation is meant to restore my relationship to neighbor, not only to God. It is through my love of neighbor that my love of God is most fully incarnated.
To my Catholic friends and fellow students of sacramental theology: the current edition of Commonweal has a triptych of brief essays on the sacrament of reconciliation.
Returned to our studies of Francis of Assisi this morning, examining, among other things, Francis' journey to the Holy Land during the Fifth Crusade and his storied meeting with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil. Against the warlike impulses of the Church and the soldiers sent to slaughter for Christendom (and commerce), Francis sought a peaceful accommodation with the sultan and his subjects, believing that if he could convert al-Kamil then the "holy wars" would cease. Although theirs was not an interreligious dialogue in the modern sense, Francis and al-Kamil had an open-minded encounter happily out of step with the belligerent times. I recommend the most recent popular treatment of this encounter, The Saint and the Sultan, by Paul Moses (New York: Doubleday, 2009). It will restore your hope in reconciliation of cultures and civilizations.
I gave a presentation on the problems Francis faced concerning his fledgling order when he returned from Egypt. There were both internal and external pressures on the rapidly growing fraternity. As the order expanded beyond Italy in the second decade of the 13th century, clerics and lay people in France, Germany, and the Alps persecuted the barefoot wandering preachers, accusing them of heresy and doubting their true Catholicity, despite having papal approbation for their way of life. During Francis' two-year absence from Italy, internal tensions over modifications that relaxed the rigors of poverty set in his primitive rule burst into open protest against the vicars Francis left in charge. Other challenges to Francis' authority and vision for the brothers prompted the founder to petition the pope to name a cardinal bishop to set his religious community in order, to protect it from external threats and dissension within the ranks. The early documents show that from the first decade in the history of the Franciscan movement, the brothers fought bitterly over the direction of their community, and the saint himself was swept up helplessly in the currents of conflict. How ironic that the religious community that epitomizes a life of penance should be riven over the centuries -- by differences of opinion over how to live penance! -- into many different factions, not always reconciled to each other.
Heard a really good little homily this morning in chapel on today's reading from the Gospel of John. The sacrificial love of Jesus Christ impels us to choose to love likewise, pouring out charity without counting the cost of discipleship. We must decide whether to be like Mary of Bethany, whose anointing of Jesus with the precious nard showed forth her extravagant love; or Judas, the disciple whose fear of losing the kingdom, power, and the glory Jesus represented in person drove him, by way of a good-intentioned thrift, to a mortal parsimony. How refreshing to hear homilies that bring their hearers face to face with simple and direct questions. How deep is your love? How sincere is it? To you who are ministers: Will people be convinced you really love them by the tone of your attitude or the shape of your behavior?
A gut-check question I often ask myself: do my words and deeds draw people near or turn them away? Will it be love and reconciliation, or fear and conflict?