I had a wonderful friend, Linda, who passed away just a few months after my husband died. One of the things I loved about her was that she’d keep wishing me a happy Easter long after the day itself had passed. She knew that the church celebrated the Resurrection for seven weeks, until Pentecost. So, four days on, “Happy Easter.”
I didn’t read the Sunday New York Times on Easter. Truth be told, I don’t often finish it until the day before the next edition will be delivered. So, yesterday I finally read the Sunday opinion piece on humility. It became the Easter homily I needed. The author, Peter Wehner, had asked an atheist friend what Christians could contribute to public life. The one-word answer was humility.
When I’m feeling flip, I often summarize the New Testament as God, frustrated because human beings don’t seem to understand the Old Testament, deciding to draw us a picture instead. Jesus is the perfect illustration of humility, faith, love and all the other qualities God probably wished we learned sooner. But even with a picture, we are often blind.
Wahner writes that Christians should “be alert first and foremost to their own shortcomings -- to the awareness of how wayward our own hearts are, how even good acts are often tainted by selfish motives, how we all struggle with brokenness in our lives. This is not an argument for self-loathing; it’s an argument for self-awareness.”
And he goes on to write this: “Humility believes there is such a thing as collective wisdom and that we’re better off if we have within our orbit people who see the world somewhat differently than we do. . . . It means we have to venture out of our philosophical and theological cul-de-sacs from time to time.”
And he concludes: “The cross made the resurrection possible; humility prepared the way for hope.”
That’s my Easter wish, for me and for all of us: That we glimpse again God’s picture and try to reflect it in our own lives.
Are we up for the challenge?
It’s Good Friday, a holy day that always seems deeply personal to me. That’s an essay I’ll save for another time.
Here’s the news that got me out of bed this morning: One in three Americans says he or she reads Scripture at least once a week. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. But where Catholics fall on the Scripture-reading scale does. The study from Pew Research reports that a quarter of Catholics read the Bible at least once a week and ranks us behind Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, evangelical protestants, historically black protestants, Muslims, mainline protestants and Orthodox believers. Here’s the study.
I’ve heard dozens of reasons why Catholics don’t crack open the Bible but, honestly, they sound like excuses to me. Reading the Bible isn’t easy. Studying it is harder. Praying over it more difficult still. Wrestling with it sometimes a wrenching experience. Some of us keep careful track of our daily steps and aim for 10,000. Are we not up for the challenge of reading the Bible?
A measure of relief
For anyone like me who has had a hard time accepting that Catholic voters endorsed Donald Trump, there’s news that conclusion may not be true. A new study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate has found that, while it was still a narrow difference, Catholic voters chose Hillary Clinton. Yes, by only 3 percentage points, but still. Catholic social teaching is not dead! Read about the study here in America magazine.
I do not have a favorite Bible story. For every one that creates warm, comforting feelings in me, there is another that irritates or terrifies me. I just finished reading one of the latter -- Judges 19. If you don’t know the tale I’m referring to, go and read it -- if you dare.
Phyllis Trible calls these stories “texts of terror” and dissects a few of them in her book by the same name. When I hear people talking about these awful stories -- which never is in the context of a church service where they have been read aloud and/or studied -- there is at least one person who shudders at the story and wonders why it is included in the Bible. I guess that’s a fair question. But the answer probably depends on how one sees the Bible. If it is a collection of edifying, comforting and affirming stories of God, then what the hell is Judges 19 doing in there? But if the Bible is a collection of painfully human attempts to understand God and the divine expectations on all of us, then, of course, Judges 19 belongs between its covers. In class once, Trible said the Bible was descriptive, not prescriptive.
I guess what bothers me more are the people who skip over these terrible stories because they make no immediate sense. Or they raise such difficult questions. Or they inspire such painful introspection. I wonder if they worry that exposure to terrifying texts will somehow compromise their faith. But if we value the Bible and our relationship to God, we can’t avoid these stories. We have to wrestle with them, even if they leave us limping. Remember that in Genesis 32 Jacob wrestled with a stranger through a dark and lonely night, refusing to let him go without a blessing. The stranger renamed Jacob Israel “for you have striven with God and with humans.” And Israel walked away from the fight limping.
All this is on my mind this morning. I awoke to a news story that reads like a terrible text from the Bible: "Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria." Read it if you dare. It may leave you limping.