They Worshiped But They Doubted

I’ve always appreciated Matthew’s resurrection narratives (see Matt 28), which include two powerful accounts of disciples worshiping the Risen Christ. In one such account, they literally embrace his feet in a deeply symbolic act of homage (28:9). In another story (which we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel) Matthew includes this wonderfully realistic statement: “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” (28:17).

This may strike us as odd. Worship and doubt are essentially opposites. Worship means you’re “all in.” You’ve decided. You believe. You’re in awe, fascinated, engaged. Worship is a total giving over of yourself. But doubt means you aren’t sure. You’re wavering. You hesitate. You’re afraid of something, or afraid of yourself. Doubt means you’re holding back.

 “They worshiped, but they doubted.”

This is what we do. It's a familiar human rhythm. We worship, but we doubt. We’re all in, and then we’re not. We believe, and then we waver. We’re in awe, then we’re afraid it isn’t real. We’re fascinated, then we wonder why. We’re engaged, then we falter. We start to give ourselves; we hold back.

The disciples were only human. They were simply and genuinely human, even at that moment, on a mountaintop, face to face with another human being who had (impossibly!) risen from the dead. They worshiped him glorious and glorified, but they doubted.

My brothers and sisters, don’t be ashamed in the moments you doubt, or when your worship does not achieve a total gift of yourself. Don’t be disappointed when you waver. Remember these disciples on the mountain. We know that they loved Jesus, and he loved them. In your worship and in your doubt, you love him too. In your moments of being human – high and low moments – moments in liturgy, moments at home, moments at work, moments in your car, moments alone in a quiet church, or at the beach, or lying awake at night in your bed – you worship, you doubt, you love the Risen Christ.

Worship and doubt, this unlikely pair, are as natural for humans as breathing, as living and dying. You are human, and he loves that about you. Haven’t you found that worship creates a relationship that leaves plenty of room for your doubt? So when you can, embrace his feet and do him homage (28:9). And when you can’t, be at peace. He embraces you.
 

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
 

 Frances Watt. Mixed media painting. Courtesy  Sacred Art Pilgrim .

Frances Watt. Mixed media painting. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

Announcements

  • It’s great to be back with you after my hiatus due to our big move! We’re still busy getting settled, but we’re moved in and happy in our new home.
     
  • My Advent book is out! You can purchase it at Liturgical Press, Little Rock Scripture Study, or amazon.com. I’m currently working on a book in the same series about finding peace in a stressful world.
     
  • I’m enjoying my work with Little Rock Scripture Study! Cackie Upchurch, the Director of LRSS, recently interviewed me for Little Rock Connections. The interview is here.
     
  • Everyone is invited to a concert at my home parish in Milford, CT. The Saint Ann Choir will give an encore performance of their inspiring Pentecost Concert on June 21, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. (501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford). The concert is free. I promise you’ll be glad you came!

Sunday's Gospel: Jesus Loved a Good Paradox

The following is republished with permission from my column in Catechist magazine. For subscription information, visit catechist.com.

This Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel (click here to read John 12:20-33) prepares us for the imminent death of Jesus. We hear Jesus’ own words of dread (“I am troubled now”), but above all, we hear hints of the glory to come.

The Gospel’s message about Jesus’ death is conveyed in several paradoxes. (A paradox is a meaningful combination of two seemingly opposite truths.) The first paradox Jesus uses is from nature: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus’ death, painful as it will be, will bear fruit. Death, which seems like an absolute end, will do something. It will produce.

Another paradox encourages the disciple of Jesus to espouse the same attitude of self-giving: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Of course, Jesus does not literally want us to hate our lives. The powerful language is meant to convey the reality that Jesus is about to live out. It is only in willingly giving ourselves up that we actually preserve our lives. It is only in willingly giving ourselves up that we follow Jesus and remain with him.

The greatest paradox of all is the fact that in death Jesus is glorified. One might think of death as a defeat or an end, especially a violent death such as the one Jesus will face. But Jesus is clear: In his death, he will be glorified! Because of this perspective, the Passion Narrative (the story of Jesus’ suffering and death) in John’s Gospel has traditionally been called the “Book of Glory.”

This is an essential reminder as Holy Week approaches. It will not be a week of doom and gloom. It is a week of glory!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you are ready to lay down your life like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. May I be there with you, to witness your glory and imitate you so that I also may bear fruit.

 Frantisek Burant, Drypoint. Courtesy  Sacred Art Pilgrim .

Frantisek Burant, Drypoint. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

My New Year's Slogan

This year I wasn’t planning to make any New Year’s resolutions. What I really wanted was a New Year’s slogan. I wanted a phrase or a saying to echo like a guiding refrain throughout 2018.

I hoped the fortune cookie following my New Year’s Eve meal of Chinese dumplings might provide the wisdom I was seeking. After all, I’ve had some pretty awesome fortunes in my day. Unfortunately, I didn’t even understand it. (This was not the first time one of my kids had to explain the meaning of a fortune to me.)

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

My daughter Siobhan can explain this to you, if you’re interested. All I knew was that this was not my New Year’s slogan.

A few days later, I was reading through my students’ homework assignments. They were responding to a series of questions about 1 Corinthians 12-14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing a community of eager but immature Christians. They wanted to follow Christ, but they were still learning. Among other issues, they seemed to be in constant competition with one another. They even bragged about their own spiritual gifts! One Christian might flaunt that she could speak in tongues, another might boast that he had more knowledge, and so on.

How did Paul communicate to the Corinthians that this behavior, this attitude, had to stop? He wrote to them about the value of their spiritual gifts, and how wonderful it was that they were all unique parts of a functioning whole. And then he offered them one guiding criterion for determining how their gifts were to be understood and used. One by one, my students noted Paul’s simple guiding rule, echoing like a refrain: “Does it build up the Church?”

And here was my slogan. Here was a simple question to ask myself in many situations, in many decisions: “If I do this...does it build up the Church? If I think this way...does it build up the Church?” To build up is to provide support, to bolster, to help, to heal. This is why St. Paul brilliantly concluded that love is the greatest spiritual gift – better by far than teaching or leading or speaking in tongues or prophecy. Love never divides as these other gifts sometimes do – when they are used to exclude, to compete, to denigrate or to build up oneself at the expense of the community. But love? Love only serves. It is patient and kind. It is not inflated. It does not brood. Love never fails.

I thought you might be looking for a slogan too, so I’m sharing. Here’s to 2018!

“Everything should be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).

 Too complicated for me.

Too complicated for me.

I Cannot Be Destroyed

“Daddy, what is your worst-est fear?”

Just a bit of background: both of my sons are very interested in ninjas, and ninjas ask these kinds of things. And because ninjas never give up, Eli waited patiently as my husband considered whether or not to reveal his deepest fear to a five-year-old. The young ninja finally offered a helpful suggestion:

“Is it being destroyed?”

I heard about this completely one-sided conversation when I arrived home. My husband never answered Eli’s question – but I suppose there’s no reason to when your five-year-old has already successfully identified every human being’s greatest fear.

Fear of being destroyed.

I’ve been told that when you’re dying, you don’t want things sugar-coated. You don’t want surface-level nonsense that sounds good but gets you nowhere. You want to talk about death. You want to talk about being destroyed. You want to know what it’s really about – what’s going to happen, how it’s going to be, how you’ll accept it. In the Church we talk about the “last things” – death, judgment, heaven, hell. You want to know what those things mean.

One of the great personal creeds of Scripture is that stubborn declaration of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It’s worth noting that Job says this almost immediately after declaring that God “breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree” (Job 19:10, 25).

People of faith – we believe that we cannot be destroyed. To destroy is to cause something to come to an end, to cease to exist. God may break us down. We may feel lost or gone. Our hope will come and go. But we cannot be destroyed (cf. 2 Cor. 4:9; 5:1). As Job declares, I will see God: I will see for myself, my own eyes, not another’s, will see him (Job 19:26-27).

 I can’t think of anything harder than being a human being. Destruction hangs around us in so many ways, so many areas of our lives. We are strong, but we are so fragile. It isn’t just physical destruction we fear but mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, relational, national, natural and even ecclesial. We won’t escape destructive experiences. We know that, we who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

But I hope you will say it with me, Job’s creed: I cannot be destroyed. Because my redeemer lives. I will see for myself, my own eyes will see him. My inmost being is consumed with longing (Job 19:25-27).

 The little ninja.

The little ninja.

A Noise Like a Strong Driving Wind?

This Sunday is Pentecost, the day when we recall the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus. This year as I reflected on the story from Acts, I was struck by the powerful images – the sights and sounds that accompanied this outpouring – especially how the Spirit is described as sounding like “a strong driving wind” (NABRE) or like “the rush of a violent wind” (NRSV; Acts 2:2).

We often experience the voice of God in our lives as a quiet thing – a still small voice, a whisper, a stirring of the heart, or the murmurings of conscience. And it is often a slow communication – a voice that speaks in layers as time passes, a message that takes hold slowly over the course of many years.

But the Pentecost story reminds us of other ways that God communicates. Sometimes the divine voice is loud, powerful, fast and laser-like in its precision. The NRSV’s word “violent” lingers here – not violence in the sense of harming anyone – but violent in the sense of strong enough to wreak havoc on our minds and hearts, wild enough to unsettle or even unseat us. Of course the goal of this unsettling is not ultimately turmoil but healing and life. God speaks in mysterious ways!

Will you share with me what the voice of God sounds like in your life? Is it a gentle whisper or a strong driving wind? Is there a metaphor that comes to mind to describe your own experience?

I’d love to hear from you – as a comment directly on the blog page, or as a reply to email if you receive the blog that way, or as a facebook comment if you are reading there.

Happy Pentecost!

  Untitled  by Kim Young Gil (1940-2008)

Untitled by Kim Young Gil (1940-2008)