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For reasons of health  and advanced age, Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28, 2013.

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What will they do? Will they elect a new King?

 

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And continue to close their eyes to their crimes?

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Or will they search for the light of the Holy spirit?

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And imagine a New Beginning, A New Creation?

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And what will the Church do? Because … they are not the Church; the People of God are the Church. And it’s time to stop waiting for Rome to change – or for the perfect Pope, the Council that best expresses your views, the best translation of the liturgy. Start being the Church you want the Church to be. Like the brave women and men who have recently received excommunication.

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That’s a powerful question.

You might say, like St. Paul, that you could last for a while if you knew the end was coming soon. Give up everything self-serving and focus on others. Give up worries about careers and relationships, college loans, college funds, about retirement and investments, five-year plans, ten-year plans. There would be a certain freedom in that. But what if the end wasn’t coming soon? Yours or the world’s? What then? Could you live a whole lifetime in such selfless abandon? Would Paul have chosen his lonely, missionary work, encouraging people not to marry and not to divorce, if he hadn’t believed in the immanent return of Jesus and the immediacy of the need for conversion? Or would he have settled down and married and set about developing a more long-term vision of Christian community life?

The Lenten Season is perhaps an invitation to live with a little more intensity than usual, as if indeed we were going to die with Jesus in six weeks time. What could we push ourselves to do if Jesus were asking it of us for just six weeks? Then perhaps at the end of those six weeks we can re-evaluate and consider how we might integrate something of our efforts into our long-term schedules.

What can I do, you ask?

Offer to read aloud to small children or the visually impaired. Offer to tutor one hour a week in any one of the local public grammar schools in your area, or offer to help someone learn English. Offer to serve food for one lunchtime a week in a shelter near your down-town office. Set up a food collection box in your office and be the one to organise delivery to the local food bank. Food and Education – there is always a need for both.  Always.

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God had nothing to gain by the death of Jesus. Jesus was willing to suffer death but for what? There is no Gospel tradition that suggests he believed he was going to be better off, or that his death wasn’t a real death just a temporary state. There is no mention of a quid pro quo deal with God. Jesus chose to die, but really what choice did he have if he wanted to show his followers what integrity, truth, courage and faith looked like, to show them that his preaching, his ministry, and his leadership were not meaningless, and that the truth was worth dying for. To have fought back would have made a lie out of everything he had said and done.

Did he think he was “opening the gates of heaven,” that he would be the “first born into the kingdom” I don’t think so. This was theological interpretation after the event. What I do think is that he truly suffered. I don’t doubt his anxiety, his panic, his dejection, and how better to express it than by quoting the scriptures he knew and loved: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” Psalm 22. Jesus wasn’t in this for a reward or a “return.” This was the gift freely given, the grace freely offered. God freely gave us his son. Jesus freely gave us his life.

What do we know about what pleases God? We might as well be sacrificing the first born child or burning the first sheaves of wheat, reading the signs of rising smoke or success in battle. But more important than what pleases God is: Why do we feel the need to please god? Is it because we are hoping for reciprocity? In human terms how often is gratification of someone else pure gift? The norm is surely tit for tat, quid pro quo, back-scratching. Certainly in business and politics. So here lies the problem: our view of God assumes that God is as self-serving as we are. If we look at the bible there seems to be ample support for this view all the way back to the Patriarchs. Serve me, worship me, obey me, follow me and then and only then will I …

And that is where contemporary Christian faith has it all absolutely wrong. Just as the Christmas Story has lost sight of the Christian Story, the Easter Story has lost sight of The Cross.

From the point of view of God, the life of Jesus was Absolute gift. We can do nothing to deserve it; we can do nothing to equal it. We can simply accept it as Absolute Grace, Absolute Love. As Jesus was always trying to teach, the best metaphor for God was not king or judge but parent, and parents don’t love on a quid pro quo basis. Wise ones anyway.

The life of Jesus was Gift but what about his death? Did the Cross please God? Did God need a death – another sacrifice? Is the Christian God to be measured by the standards of the pagan priesthood with their high altars and animal bloodletting? Or was Jesus the Ultimate Jewish Paschal Lamb? To me, any attempt at an interpretation of the Cross after the fact that makes it God’s intention, paints God with a pagan brush. And that is just bad theology.

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We simply don’t know what pleases God. But as a mother who lost a son, I can say unequivocally that the death of an innocent child is not pleasing to a parent, and that is the metaphor Jesus pressed us to use – parent – again and again.

So stop trying to please God with prayers and petitions and fasting and novenas. We don’t have a clue what pleases God. But we do have a clue what pleased Jesus. Let’s stick with what we know.

More about that in another Easter reflection. But if you want a hint, Matthew 25:40 seems a good place to start.

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