prepping for pilgrimage

A week from now I will be in Madrid, Spain at the World Youth Day gathering with Catholics from all over the world. It will be a week of youth rallies, prayer, meetings, catechesis, bonding, communion and community building.  The great finale of the week will be an overnight vigil followed by a sunrise mass with Pope Benedict attended by millions of people.

I am very honored and blessed to have this opportunity to represent my community in a faraway land.  I am overwhelmed with what is ahead of me.  This is the most dramatic pilgrimage I have ever taken. Besides taking a few pilgrimages here and there to grottoes, shrines, and churches in the USA, I have never before traveled so far to deepen my faith and my relationship with God and the Church.

I am not really sure how to get ready. I am reading about Madrid and Spain and reviewing my basic Spanish skills.  I am making a packing list and running errands. I have gathered up some cool and comfortable clothing, a digital camera, and fresh journal.  I am trusting that God is guiding me through all this.

And, I am praying.  I am praying for an open heart and mind so I may grow.  I am praying that I warmly love all that I encounter so that my efforts at vocation outreach shall be fruitful.  I pray that the experience shall enlighten the hearts of young people from around the world so that they may grow in love with God and God’s people and be willing to devote themselves to building the reign of God.

I ask for your prayers for all the pilgrims, for the Catholic Church, for Christians everywhere and for young people who are searching no matter what they believe. Thank you!

p.s. I’ll do my best to send an update from Spain!

No worries, no joke, if the world ends, I still love you

“To all my Pharisaical law-worshiper acquaintances: if the “rapture” happens this weekend like you demand it must, let me just say: my house keys are under the back doormat, so help yourself to my guns & Bibles. Please be gentle, though, when you throw the hardcover one at each other.  I won’t be there to forgive you.” 

This was the Facebook status of my friend Jesse K.  yesterday.  Jesse and I worked together at a Lutheran Bible Camp in Iowa in the summers of 1999 and 2000.  He now works as the camp’s program director.  He knows some things about the Bible and Christianity and he’s a really smart guy.  As for his Facebook status regarding this weekend, he’s completely kidding.

Like me, Jesse doesn’t expect to be sucked into heaven on Saturday. I thought his satirical statement was hilarious.  I agree with its point too.  Believers need to remember the dangers of focusing on literal and legalistic interpretations of scripture, instead of the heart of the law of God: love.

You probably have heard that Harold Camping of Family Radio and his followers have been warning all of us that the end of the world is scheduled to happen on Saturday.  This is not the first time that this has happened.  NPR’s story about how Harold Camping compares in history to other doomsday “prophets” has helped me answer questions from my students this week.

I talked to my friend Hillary B.K., a Lutheran pastor, on Wednesday night.  She joked that it might not be necessary for her to write a Sunday sermon this week, but then she figured that God would probably leave some ministers for the people who are left behind.

I laughed and asked her what I need to do to get ready for the rapture.  She told that I needed to catch up on my repenting. I needed to get busy making a sackcloth and smear myself with ashes then wander around the city, fast and say I was sorry for my sins.  I laughed and told her I would go straight to the business district and federal buildings and loudly apologize for the destruction our social sins of greed and militarism have caused.

Really though, I am fascinated by all of the commotion created by the end-of-the-world hype.  I think it’s pretty funny and I wonder if I am unloving to those who take it very seriously.  Certainly, comedians and news-writers have had a lot of fun lately with the apocalyptic material.  I can’t say I blame them.  I am convinced God has a sense of humor and laughs right along with us.  As I laugh, I keep on loving and hoping the best for all people.

Yet, I  know I have had my own concerns about where the world is headed.  I even wrote my own little apocalyptic statement in 2008 after I learned about Peak Oil theory in 2005.  But generally, I am not guided by fear, just consciousness. I tend to typically choose trust in God and love.

Admittedly, I am no Bible nor Eschatology scholar.  Everyone’s guess is as good as mine.  I am only a woman who is trying to live the Gospel in the 21st century.

I know that I have met Christians who talk about the end-times like a cop-out or comfort.  I have actually heard Christians say things like:  “I am just glad that he end times is soon and I am saved.  I hate this world and this life.”  I bit my tongue and said a prayer; escapism instead of struggle for the sake of growth and loving seem unhealthy to me.

In my own family I have experienced the harm of rapture-focused fear-driven types of Christianity. One summer my youngest sister went to a different Bible camp than the rest of us because of a schedule conflict. She was 10 at the time.

During the middle of the night they had a “rapture drill” for the children. They woke everyone up and told them it was the end of the world then brought them to a party for those that were “saved.”

My sister says that camp was a paradise until she was asked if she was saved. Then she heard “Would you like to be? Why not, what’s your deal?  You’re crying? You’re crying because you have not accepted Jesus in your life.”  She cried with confusion. Now, 13 years later she still has a lot doubts and confusion and doesn’t really profess a faith.  She knows she is loved, however, so that’s good news!

Let’s tell the good news! We are all loved!  Jesus is all about love, not fear nor judgement!!  The gospel is about trust and faith and helping people know God through love by sharing, compassion, healing, service, prayer, and work for justice.

As far as the end of the world goes,  I want you to all know that I love you, no matter what.  And, I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to believe what Jesus says about the rapture, more than anyone else:

Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one deceives you.
Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many.
When you hear of wars and reports of wars do not be alarmed; such things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.
Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes from place to place and there will be famines. These are the beginnings of the labor pains.
But the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah! Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead, if that were possible, the elect.
Be watchful! I have told it all to you beforehand.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
– Mark 13: 5-11, 21-23, 30-33 

a princess, a pope and Jesus Christ

The world is buzzing with excitement.

I have heard gripes and seen grins about the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, which will happen tomorrow with much pomp. To be honest, I wish I didn’t have other things going on and could sit down in front of the TV and watch it. I am sure that I’d cry a bit as I watched two beautiful people commit to each other in the presence of God, the world-famous and influential, as billions of people look on.  As you probably know, a lot of people are ecstatic and are gearing up to celebrate with the royal family.  Yet others are critical because it is such an expensive event and the money could be used for better purposes.

Another exciting, yet somewhat controversial, event is happening this weekend.  On Sunday Pope John Paul II will be beautified.  The opinions about his beatification are varied. Personally I am very excited (as I am every time a holy person is honored for her or his wisdom and influence).

I am not unlike other Catholics of my generation; I love JPII. I have been touched by his leadership and teachings.  As I grew into the Catholic faith, many of my questions were answered when I studied the letters from my far-away “Grandpa.”   For example, JPII’s theology of the body writings helped me gain much clarity about sexuality.  I wish I could have met JP II in his lifetime, but am comforted to know that I can pray to him for some advocacy in heaven while I try to do the work that he encouraged: convincing people of their dignity.

I understand the concerns of people who are opposed to JPII’s quick move toward sainthood, too. I know people who have publicly protested his canonization.  They are upset because his personal positions and opinions seemed to impact his leadership (as he discouraged socialism and rejected women’s ordination, for example).  Is he worthy of being named “Blessed” if he practiced discrimination?  On Sunday, though, I will celebrate Pope JPII’s influence in my own life and thank God for the contributions of the holy man to great peacemaking around the globe.

In a discussion about world excitement I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the important, but non-joyful events that have happened recently and probably challenge the faith and hope of many people.  There’s been a sweep of disasters across the nation. Specifically, the news about the tornadoes in Alabama brought tears to my eyes this morning. My heart still aches for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Japan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Haiti, and for inner-city youth.  As we celebrate joyful events we must be attentive to suffering and disturbed by injustice.

During all of these occasions people unite.  In disasters, divided people suddenly have no choice but to survive and rebuild as community.  On both sides of divisive violence, the tears look the same.  During the royal wedding, when everyone is hearing the same music and prayers, politics and opinions probably won’t matter much.   Undoubtedly, on Sunday Catholics- and other Christians of all types shall unite in their prayers and parties.  Our human, global lives bring us together and help us remember that we’re in this together.

It’s Easter time.  Jesus is back and he’s helping us make sense of everything he taught.  He’s re-explaining that it is communion around open, inclusive tables that unite us.  As we break the bread and share it with other – no matter our differences- we become more the same.  We become his body.  In us, Christ lives. Together we celebrate as one body, the Body of Christ. Thanks be to God!

set down the stones

I do not advise that young children watch this video.  The facts are very heavy and I believe its content is only appropriate for mature adults:

We’re approaching Jerusalem.  It is nearly time to wave branches and shout Hosanna’s.  We’ll rejoice with hope as our Love rides into town on a simple donkey.  Gathered around a dusty street we can reach out and trustingly hand Him the pains of the world.

We hope for a revolution, but will instead know redemption.

The redemption is enlightened empowerment. We’re all good, we’re all God’s children, all of us have rights because we all have dignity. It’s refreshing to be reminded. We have power to make changes. It’s awesome!

But, in the face of intense suffering, we’re overwhelmed and challenged.  We are stunned and slowed by the horror of children being used as sex slaves and other horrific sins.  How can we be the body of Christ and heal and help when the hurt is so extreme? How can we help others to know the sacredness of their own bodies and beings when they have never been told the truth?

How can we save the children?

The good news is that Jesus saves.  It’s not up to us to be messiahs, just helpers.  Christ’s power continues to unfold through us.  The Jerusalem story is our story.  Jesus has given us arms of love and compassion.  Jesus taught us how to set people free from the lies that enslave them.  We truly are instruments of peace.

It’s really hard work.  This love revolution won’t work if we’re judgmental or defensive, which is sometimes our automatic action.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”     –Jn 8:1-11

These radical actions of compassion and forgiveness are daily acts of regular relationships and small communities.

Turning the awfulness to joy and justice is also the acts of nations.  The United States’ new federal budget just expanded defense spending by 5 billion dollars, while drastically cutting funding to programs that provide assistance to the poorest of the poor.  We’ve reduced our acts of love and compassion and increased defense.

These last days of lent free us from all the stones of sin that are too heavy for us to carry. In order to pick up our palm branches we need to set down our stones.

When, O humanity, will we ever set down our stones?!