Against the “They”

“Perfect Resignation”

 St. Joseph Pignatelli, SJ 

 My God, I do not know what must come to me today. 

But I am certain that nothing can happen to me that you have not foreseen, decreed, and ordained from eternity.
That is sufficient for me.
I adore your impenetrable and eternal designs, to which I submit with all my heart.  I desire, I accept them all, and I unite my sacrifice to that of Jesus Christ, my divine Savior.
I ask in his name and through his infinite merits, patience in my trials, and perfect and entire submission to all that comes to me by your good pleasure.
Amen.

Nada te turbe

Teresa of Avila

May nothing disturb you. May nothing astonish you. Everything passes. God does not go away. Patience can attain anything. He who has God within, does not lack anything. God is enough!

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“They”

13  And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” [1]

A dialogue. The two angels and Mary Magdalene.  The first wonder why Mary is weeping.  Note the generic “Woman,” a’la Genesis and Cana and the bestowal of new motherhood by Jesus on the Cross.  Not a warm, fuzzy personal name, but a type, an archetype, for all who search for, who come to the tomb to find the Risen Jesus.

You won’t find the Risen Jesus in the tomb.  You will encounter Him, you will witness that He is in Heaven, you will know and experience that He is with you all days, even to the end of the age. [Mt 28:20]  But you will not find Him in the tomb.

Death, and all your sorrows, all your fears, all your failures, all your seeming inexorable disasters…are gone, swallowed up in God’s providence, God’s will, God’s goodness, God’s planning your greatest happiness…and all that bad stuff will just make you joy all the sweeter, more poignant, more lasting, truer.

Perhaps that’s why the angels are puzzled…Mary is faced with the evidence of the greatest event, the greatest blessing humankind could ever envision, that death is not the end, that Resurrection is real, that Jesus actually lives, that there has been a paradigmatic shift in our perspective on life…from terminal to eternal, that we have a God who truly loves us, who truly understands our greatest fear and our greatest need, that shows us mercy beyond all boundaries, that cherishes us, sin and all…and all she can do is weep? Like good psychologists, they ask questions to help her verbalize her sorrow, her feelings, her trauma.

They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”  Ok, we have an unidentified antagonist, “they,” a boogie man, an unreal person, an imagined enemy.

Isn’t that what Jesus is always trying to tell us:  “There is no “they,” there is only Me…I am who am…there is no other.  Believe in Me and let all the “theys” of the world, of your imagination, of reality go…let them be seen through My eyes.  I have put them there for your benefit, for your journey, to help you attain your greatest happiness.  “They” may threaten, they may scourge, they may taunt, they may do all the things that happened to me…just be assured that My will for you is to be with me, that’s your goal.  Keep your eye on it and you will not go wrong.  Have faith in Me; I am saving you right now and I will save you if you have faith to the end.”

He continues:   “They have not taken me and You know where I am.  I am with you, right here, right now, forever.  No one, no person, no thing, no event, nothing can stop my love for you… that’s what Paul saw:

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:35, 37-39].

Thank You, Jesus, for loving me so much, for showing me the fallacy of my fears, for being with me always, for never leaving me alone.  Help me to love you back as I should, and to always, always know that whatever you want me to do, it is for my benefit.  It is your gift, my happiness which you want me to have, and that You are as anxious to have me be with You always as I am to have the faith to do so. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Angels

12 and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. [1]

What were these two aggelous,  “messengers,” a word which we have adopted from the Greek and converted into “angels,” doing there?  Certainly, if we leave it at “angels” as we have come to conceive of angels, little cherubs fluttering around the feet of God and Mary, discerning their purpose becomes even more difficult. This rather cutesy pie innocuous portrayal of angels may be artistic license, but it doesn’t capture the essence of angels as we see them portrayed in Scripture.

Granted, here they seem rather “nice chaps,” but elsewhere in scripture, they can be very intimidating and dangerous, e.g. the angel of death (2 Samuel 24:15; I Chronicles 21:15; II Kings 19:35) and the four horsemen (Rev 6:1-8), not to mention Michael (Dan. 10:13, 10:21 and 12:1; Jude 1:9; Rev 12:7-9) and the legions on which Jesus could have called during his passion (Mt 26:53).

This post-Resurrection appearance is more in line with Raphael’s [Tobit 12:15[2]] and Gabriel’s (Lk 1:19[3] and Lk 1:26) demeanor.  Did you notice how they didn’t appear to Peter and John who just returned home, but all of a sudden, they are there for Mary Magdalene…In Matthew, there is only one angel who rolls the stone out of the way before talking to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary; in Mark, the stone is already taken care of and the one angel is again sitting and he speaks not only to these two, but also to Salome.  Here we have them at the foot and head of the place where Jesus body had laid.

The Church Triumphant, so named, not because they lord it over us on earth, but because they have successfully kept the faith, they have borne their cross here on earth and were faithful to the end and by Jesus, are justified and are with Him in heaven, the Saints, in union with the Angels who were faithful to God, are much more involved in our lives than we think. Many choose to believe that they (a) are figments of our imagination; (b) like demons, are dusty remnants of past beliefs (and thinking this of devils is an even more disastrous error); or (c) if they do exist, they have no impact nor relevance in our lives….wrong!  Never, never underestimate the intercession, the assistance, the watchfulness and the warnings of angels.

Being constantly on vigil for their evil opposites is equally true:  never, never underestimate the deceit, treachery, wiles and lies of devils.  Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. [1 Pet 5:8]

To ignore Angels and Saints denies ourselves the benefit of two of God’s great gifts.  For we are definitely connected with them; He not only made us not only a little while lower than the angels (Heb 2:5; see also Ps 8:6), also He commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. (Ps 91:11; applied by the Satan to Jesus: Lk 4:10).  The angel’s job is to pray for mercy for those who will repent — and God answers the angels’ prayer.(Job 33:24-25)

Jesus certainly knew that we have help from angels.  Just as angels came and ministered to Jesus after his temptation (Mt 4:11) and again during his agony in the Garden (Lk 22:43), so angels minister to us and keep us from harm.   He also explicitly warned us not to mess with those for whom they care or the Father will hear of it: See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. [Mt 18:10]  And remember, while He was referring specifically to children, He has just warned us that unless we become like children, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven, [Mt 18:3] and later He will remind us that our status after death is determined by how we treat “the least of these, my brothers” and sisters. [Mt 25: 40,45]

Both the Angels and Saints rejoice over the conversion of sinners; they are concerned with our salvation. I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance…In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Lk 15:7-10)

The prayers of the saints are also most important in our lives. Just as Abraham prayed for Sodom (Gen 18:16-33) and Moses interceded for Israel (Ex 32:11-14), so we are told that the Saints fall down before God as they present our prayers to Him as golden bowls full of incense (Rev. 5:8; 8:4)  The mandate we are given on earth, that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,…this is good and pleasing to God our savior, (1 Tim 2: 1,3) continues in heaven.

We have confirmation of this from our tradition, the Magisterium.  Vatican II stated in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped. (No. 49)

Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to this To the offering of Christ are united not only the members still here on earth, but also those already in the glory of heaven. In communion with and commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, the Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. (1370)

Jesus, thank You for angels and saints who, because they love You, and they love us also and, following Your lead, care and pray for us.  We need all the help me can get!  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] …though in Enoch 10:4–6, he is definitely not the healing angel

[3] …note here, too, that Gabe shuts up Zachariah for doubting his message, though only for a short time.

Staying Outside

11 But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb[1] Jn 20: 11

You have to give it to John.  He is a master story teller.  He may not have the conciseness and immediacy of Mark, nor the traditional bent of Matthew, nor the gentile perspective of Luke, but he has a sense of imminent presence, of personal, human love of Jesus that only he portrays.

Poor Mary, the boys have gone and she is left seemingly alone, bereft of her Jesus.  She weeps,  she stays, she weeps, she bends, she weeps.  The reality of His absence, His bewildering, excruciatingly painful agony and death, His leaving her, is just so literally unbearable.  She must weep to shed, tear by solitary tear, her overwhelming sorrow, her crushing sense of loss, the immense emptiness that threatens to engulf her.

She has not gone in, she has not seen, she could not bring herself to acknowledge that not only was He gone, but someone has taken Him and she will not even have the closure of caring for Him in death.

Distraught, completely undone, she stands there frozen in time, hoping against hope that this nightmare will reverse itself and that at least His body will be recovered, returned, redeemed.

“What else can I do?  Let me at least look inside.  Maybe there’s a clue to where they have taken Him.  Maybe Peter and John missed something that will help bring Him back.  Maybe,…”

She creeps forward, anxious and afraid, anticipating the worse, praying, pleading for a miracle…some tiny crumb of hope to which she can cling.   The low entrance slopes down into the cave.  “I don’t want to look…”

That’s often me: I don’t want to look.  Jesus seems gone from this God-forsaken world.  Have you noticed how graft and bribery are the reasons behind almost every indictment, every protest, every scandal, regardless of the country about which the story is unfolding.  How the gap between the obscenely rich and the abjectly poor is not only widening but the numbers of the downtrodden is geometrically rising.  How we have consumed our way into climate chaos which will effect generations to come.  How, in spite of the slippery slope of morality which is lauded as the norm in our all-pervasive media, the call for repentance, for metanoia goes unheeded.

God, only you can save us from the sin-filled world which we have created here on your wondrous earth.  We do not even know how badly off we are.  We desperately need Your mercy, the mercy we pray for daily through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Your Divine Son…indeed, please, please have mercy on us and on the whole world.  In You is our only, our true and lasting hope.  Mary, pray that we realize our sinfulness and seek the salvation of Your Son.  May His resurrection from His suffering and death on the cross be our beacon, our promise, our reassurance of His Love and reinforce our faith in His power to overcome.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Returning Home

10 Then the disciples returned home. [1] Jn 20:10

Technically, it was not their own home, but where they were all staying.  John and the Holy Spirit certainly intended, by this sentence, to differentiate the actions of these disciples from that of Mary Magdalene in the next sentence.  These departed for whence they came and Mary stuck around.  But Scripture always has multiple layers of denotation and connotation, many of which are not immediately evident, nor are the entirety of them probably ever evident to any one individual, unless that be to Jesus and the Spirit, obviously, or to Mary or to whomever God so bestows.

With reference to this verse…Then the disciples returned home…first, there is a temporal quality to the sentence; this departure occurs after the aforementioned, i.e. the announcement, the race, the arrival, the entry, the view, the 2nd entry, the belief, and the lack of insight into the Scriptural precedent.  Thus, John indicates they are changed men from when they started out.  Peter is fumbling with the facts and John believes from the facts but has not deciphered the necessity of what he believes from his Scripture.

We need not feel too sorry for Peter at this point.  Jesus has a special treat, a special personal encounter with Peter before meeting with the rest of the Apostles.  It seems to us he chooses persons at random, Mary Magdalene, the Women, Peter, the Disciples on their way to Emmaus, and then the assembly of the Apostles/Disciples and women.  [Tradition also includes a very early apparition to His mother, Mary.]

Then the disciples returned home…so Peter and John are the first to return home…to be followed later by many others called back to believing by Jesus. Mary Magdalene, the women, Peter himself and the disciples, the Apostles, even Thomas, all had special encounters with Jesus, their risen Jesus, no longer dead, no longer subject to future death, Lord God, the Anointed One, their Messiah and our Savior.  Just like us!  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Excursus on Emmaus

While this is carrying us a bit afield from John’s Resurrection narrative, it is in this apparition I take the most comfort.

Now, from our point of view, we can see the rationale for Jesus appearing to his mother, Mary, to Mary Magdalene, Peter, even the women, but these disciples….They were the members of the periphery, perhaps counted in the 72 sent by Jesus to announce the good news.  They are discouraged, disheartened, the archetypical deflated followers who can’t believe what just happened is what was suppose to happen, what needed to happen, what was foretold would happen, what was necessary.

Nor do they accept the full picture.  The trials, suffering and crucifixion they “witnessed” and accept.  However, this wild tale that the women came back with about the body being gone…didn’t that just top it all.  We don’t even know where they’ve taken him.

These are guys with whom I can identify.  We put our faith, our trust in Jesus, and in the course of a weekend, He’s gone, killed, no triumphal overthrow of the Romans, no radical reform of our people, no era of peace and love and joy….devastation, disillusionment, dejection…

Jesus does not neglect us, his little ones, his sheep that are going astray, off to mope and commiserate with one another, off to distance themselves from the fallout that may befall the fallen hero’s followers.

Yes, He walks with us, even and especially when we are the least believing, the most skeptical, the most alienated from Him…and He explains and He feeds our minds, our hearts and our souls with the Heavenly Hardtack, His very Self in the forms we can understand and absorb, that we need for the journey back to our destiny with Calvary.

“For they did not yet understand the scripture”

9 For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.[1] Jn 20:9

The same root verb, εἴδω, is translated in this sentence as “understand” and in the previous sentence as “saw.”  The literal translation of the previous phrase is John “perceived and believes;” note the sequential nature of the verbs: he first perceives and now, in the present, continues to believe. In the previous sentence, John is referring to his belief in the fact that Jesus rose from the dead as He had predicted.  In this sentence, he is referring to understanding the scripture which predicted, foretold this event.

The lack of understanding is that this rising from the dead was foretold in scriptures, indeed mandated, i.e. “he had to,” “he must.”  The Greek, δεῖ, is used throughout the Gospels to emphasize the “necessity established by the counsel and decree of God, especially by that purpose of His which relates to the salvation of men by the intervention of Christ and which is disclosed in the Old Testament prophecies concerning what Christ was destined finally to undergo, his sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension.”[2]

Unfortunately, we/I pay little attention to this constant refrain…our minds glaze over at such phrases as “according to the scripture,” “thus it is written.”  Our contemporary Catholic mentality pigeonholes the interpretation, the understanding of this phrase, into the “that meant something to them back then, but without a heck of a lot of effort going through the musty and often indecipherable texts of those haranguing prophets and endless tales of the not just Old but antiquated Testament, I have no idea or concept to what they are referring.  It’s on my post-bucket list of things to get to maybe, possibly, but improbably,” category and places it, not on a back burner, but away in the pantry to gather mold and dust, awaiting a good Parousia cleaning.

It might behoove me to ask You, Lord, since You and, indeed, the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Gospels, put such emphasis on this refrain, for help understanding that to which You refer.  I know it is all those “a,” “b”, to “z”’s, which, in addition to the footnotes, are over and over again generously sprinkled across most any good study bible and which then refer you to the arcane OT texts to which the present text refers.  Help me to pay more heed to such references that I may truly be in awe of and in wonder at not just of the meaning of the present text, but of the amazing, all inclusive historical temporal scope of Your Providential Salvation History, the orchestration of which You knew to the minutest detail even before the Spirit hovered over the waters…way back “in the beginning.”  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1163