Thou Shalt Not … What?!

You know when somebody just punctured a hole in your conceptual world when his/her comment ruffles the well-manicured feathers of your pride. Well, that happened to me the other day when a friend sneered that we Christians play fast and loose with what is considered a sin. Nooo, said that stubborn know-it-all little voice inside my head, how dare we do that?

Next, I heard a priest comment on the sophisticated ability of Christians to sanctify evil when it suits them, and he offered the following illustration: “In all my 40 years as a priest, I have never had anyone confess a sin against the tenth commandment. Why am I not surprised? Because we have built an entire economic system on that sin.” Rats, there it was again, another feather-ruffling; my pride started to look pretty shabby.

So I began to reflect more deeply: what is that tenth commandment in Exodus 20:1–17? The first five commandments point to what we must do, followed by commandments forbidding certain acts — you shall not kill, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness etc. So far so good. Finally, the tenth and last one, forbids certain desires: You shall not covet (i.e., desire) the house of your neighbour. You shall not covet the wife of your neighbour, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him.

On first reading, this last commandment seems to be out of place. How can innocent desires be placed next to prohibitions against murder? And yet there it is, even described in great detail, included in a list of dangerous crimes.  To understand the reason why this commandment is included in the first place, I only need to turn to the French philosopher Rene Girard who died last year at age 91.

In fact, Girard’s insight lead him to believe that the tenth commandment is in fact the most important of all, for it cuts to the root cause of all violence in the world. It is human nature to covet, to desire what our neighbour has. And because we desire what our neighbour has and desires, we resort to stealing and killing, oppressing and exploiting, lying and bearing false witness.

The modern western materialistic economy is solidly grounded in insatiable human desires, desires which literally and figuratively make us kill and steal. The Panama Papers reveal the extend of the sin of greed, and the length of deceit individuals travel to rob entire nations of much needed tax income to provide for all people. While these papers are only the most recent example of deceit, each of us is guilty of the same sin somewhere on the continuum of desire and greed. It is thus that we have sanctified the evil in the sin of desire. Desires and coveting make the economy turn and thrive.

Then along comes Pope Francis; his words cut into that abomination, and once again the feathers of human pride ruffle uncomfortably, right into the halls of worldly power and prestige. Francis doesn’t miss a chance to point out that our affluent lifestyles are sinful to the core; they rob the poor of the right to care for their families and they rob the poor of plain human dignity and respect. In a passionate speech in Bolivia (July 2015) he minced no words: “Unbridled capitalism is the ‘dung of the devil.”

“The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone,” Pope Francis said in one of his homilies. “We ought to set the table for all and ask that there be a table for all.” Citing Jesus’ explanation of the final judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, which includes the line, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” the pope said, “we must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat. But we must also remind the powerful of the earth that God will call them to judgment one day, and it will be seen if they truly tried to provide food for him in every person, and if they worked so that the environment would not be destroyed, but could produce this food.”

As the CBC article paying tribute to Rene Girard states, peace is the perennial hope of humanity. It is promised in the Bible, where God “extends peace … like a river.” It was promised by the Enlightenment, which had grown tired of religion and thought that reason and mild trade, would soothe our war-like passions. And it was promised again in our time with the promotion of “globalization” as the road to peace through prosperity. But violence is still with us.

Jesus is innocent, the Gospels insist, and his innocence proclaims the innocence of all scapegoat victims. He reveals the founding violence, hidden from the beginning, because it preserved social peace. A choice is posed: humanity will have peace if it follows the way of life that Jesus preached. If not, it will have worse violence because the old remedy will no longer work once exposed to the light.

Oh my goodness, it is true: we do play fast and loose with what we consider sin. My feathers of pride are messed up by the reality check of God’s judgment and my heart’s contrition. Lord, have mercy…

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Window on the World

As I am re-reflecting on the Cathedral windows, preparing my meditations for public sharing, I just realized something: none of the windows depict the crucifixion … An oversight? Maybe, and maybe not … The risen Christ, whose Real Presence is given to us in the Eucharist, also reveals his Crucified and Real Presence  in the least among us, in those sisters and brothers crying out for deliverance and healing, whose death-cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” still echoes around the globe. Jesus’ agony in the garden, his death-cry on the cross, is still with us in chilling, shocking and horrifying ways:

in the millions of refugees walking to safety …
in the missing and murdered aboriginal women
demanding justice …
in the indigenous peoples of the world
trampled on by western interests
of consumerism and economic monopolies …
in the quiet neighbour suffering abuse and neglect
within the walls of a home
intended to be a haven of safety and peace …
in minorities stigmatized for being different
robbed of the right to fullness of life …
in victims of the sex trade and human trafficking …
in the earth crying out for justice and right relation …
in the extinction of countless species
due to human ravaging of resources …
in child soldiers seeking love and belonging
in all the wrong places and in the wrong ways …
in innocent people killed in bomb attacks
in the depletion and unjust distribution
of the earth’s gifts for all …
in death-dealing superiority of one race over another …
in merciless and cold policies from corporate board rooms …

The window depicting the Crucifixion of the Most Holy One does not need a place in churches and cathedrals. That window screams its stark truth on our television screens and media-outlets, draws our reluctant attention on our mobile phone devices, iPads and news stands, ignorantly fills our neighbourhood homes, locker room talks and coffee row gossip clubs. What have we done to our God in one another?

How can we ever reverse our collective human culpability in so much visible and invisible, subtle and blatant, local and global suffering and destruction? We don’t deserve forgiveness. When it comes to sin and evil, all of us are capable, all of us are guilty; we only differ in degree, if we differ at all.

Screaming Friday, horrible Friday, death-dealing Friday … Good Friday??!!
Of all days filled with this walk-with-Jesus
(no walk in the park, that’s for sure!)
this is the day for mass confession,
for taking collective responsibility,
especially in the western world,
for the ravages on creation and all living things,
for the exploitation and destruction
of beautiful human beings
in desperate need of shelter and safety,
food and clothing,
a future and a homeland, a promise and a hope.
Do we truly grasp the extent of our evil ways?

O God, we would have been better off
left to our own self-destruction.
You, O God, would be better off without us!
Crush us, grind us to powder, return us
to the dust of the earth where we belong.
Start all over again,
creating without any mistake this time,
which really means: don’t grant free will
to the loving creating work of your hands,
because that’s what caused all the trouble
in the first place.
Give yourself a chance, crazy God,
to re-create, to begin again,
and do it right this time …

Good Friday, Saving Friday, Redeeming Friday…
Why, foolish  and overly generous Lord,
why indeed, did you save us from ourselves?!

Because my tiny cherished earthling,
I love you, and you are precious in my eyes …
Because I desire your wholeness despite everything …
Because all is not lost, despite
what you see and hear, taste and feel.
Because you are so much more than what your 
conniving ways can scheme.

Because you cannot save yourselves,
I sent a helper to point you
in my saving, redeeming, merciful direction:
look to your Christ, my Jesus, my Son.
Why do you think he is my Son?
Look to that One who shows the way out of your
self-inflicted misery …
Look to the One who held on to LOVE, my LOVE,
amidst a death-dealing swirling tsunami
of HATE and EVIL,
and then see what power is unleashed
when you learn to do
just that …
Death itself dies, its power dismantled,
swallowed up forever
in LOVE …

I hide my face
in shame and undeserving joy …
Love won’t let me drown in the waters of death,
but washes me in waters of life,
a cocktail-potion of terrifying
Grace mixed with Mercy
prepared by a crazy Lover in love with me, with us,
a re-creating Lover who won’t take death for an answer
under any circumstance …

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy …
I for-give … you …
Mercy within Mercy within Mercy

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Prairie Encounters