My friends, the gospel from Matthew that I just proclaimed gives us much comfort in our lives as we try to be our brother, Jesus’ followers. “Come to me, all you who labor and find life hard—I will refresh you. Take the burden of following me, being true to the way of life I have given you, upon your shoulders, learn from me, my gentleness, my humility—for that is how it must be done—not through war, but peace as proclaimed by the prophet Zechariah today, speaking of the Messiah to come.
This reminds me of the play we saw this week, An Iliad, at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, (GRSF), not a Shakespearian play, but a take-off on Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. For those who see it, you will be confronted with humankind’s propensity to make war and not peace. You cannot watch this one-person delivery and not realize that the strong tendency to react violently to what life sometimes brings, is within each of us. We are capable of great good, but also, great evil.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans continues—we are to live in the Spirit, not the flesh. It would seem from that; we need to recall that we are “spiritual beings here, having a human experience,” as someone once said—not the other way around. We aren’t here, in our humanity to become more spiritual—we are of God already, attempting through our humanity to be true ultimately to God’s Spirit within us. That kind of shoots the whole theology of redemption doesn’t it?! And in all of this, Jesus will give us rest, comfort, we are told, just as he sought the same in his own humanity.
I have been working my way through a small volume, Simply Bonaventure, by Franciscan sister, Ilia Delio, in preparation for the 800 year celebratory remembrance of St. Bonaventure next week with the Sisters and Cojourners of the Rochester Franciscans. The celebration is aptly named, “Bonaventure Fest.”
Bonaventure, a scholar and teacher, but a true Franciscan in every way, spent much of his religious life as an academic, trying to understand the Trinity—that grouping of three distinct persons that we know in Christianity, as One God.
Simply put, for our understanding, the Trinity, which is all about love because that is what God is all about, has to be configured as three distinct persons in One God, so that God can be God, Bonaventure says. The love of God is so great that in order to be expressed, there must be the Son who is the gift of God’s original love—Bonaventure names this gift, “The Word.” The Word (Jesus), spoken in the world causes the spreading of love and the creation of so much more love, as we, his followers, share it, and this is the Spirit of the original love.
Bonaventure says if God, the [Creator] and Jesus, the Son were all there was to God, the love would be just between them, but having the love move into all that is created—a love so great so as to create another person, makes God complete. Did I say this was simple? But, really it is:
God is love—so great as to create the Son and the love between the two so much greater so as to create a third, the Spirit.
This is quite a different image of God from what many of us grew up with—a God who was ready to pounce if we did anything wrong.
We often watch reruns of the old MASH series on TV because the lessons taught seem as fitting and new today as they were during the Korean Conflict, which for all intents and purposes was really a war. For all the times that we have tuned in to this series, you would think we had seen them all. So, we were surprised recently to see one that we realized we had never seen before!
The nugget that we walked away with was this: Father Mulcahey, the priest and spiritual representative in the series was looking for some reassurance that he was doing a good job and was upstaged by a patient coming through who learned that he had leukemia. In the 1950’s, leukemia was basically a death sentence as research was just in the beginning stages at this point. With Father Mulcahey’s spiritual support and care, the patient was able to move past his own personal concern and reach out to give comfort to one of his buddies who had been wounded too. He opted to stay behind for a few days to be there for someone else in need rather than being sent to a hospital in Seoul for immediate care of his own illness.
Fr. Mulcahey was so spiritually and emotionally moved by this complete selflessness on the part of this young man that he shared his shame over his own personal selfishness for acclaim in front of the whole camp by proclaiming that, “God didn’t send us to earth to be patted on the back for the good we have done, but that God could live through us!” That doesn’t sound like a God who is watching for our every misstep. It turned out that his superior, Cardinal Reardon was making a pastoral visit to the MASH unit at this time and Fr. Mulcahey was trying to put his best foot forward. Turned out that he did!
So when we look at our world, in all of creation, from the highest or most advanced, humankind, to the lowliest insects; we have to marvel that God in all goodness wanted all of this for us to enjoy and with that, to care for all of it—our earth. With Jesus’ Spirit our response must be to love and to share the love. Making war, as was laid out in An Iliad, is always to have failed to be all that we can be.
Yet, we are given a free will to choose good or evil and granted, the choice isn’t always clear, but the choice is always ours to make. Apparently, it would seem, war and violence are always the easier choices as is depicted so poignantly in the play, An Iliad as the actor named perhaps 100, more or less wars throughout history from B.C.E. times to the present and in all of these times, we as humans failed to do the really hard work of being people of peace, instead of war. Now you might be thinking that in some wars, that was the only answer—someone needed to be stopped and in that, it was justified. That may be so, but then, we don’t know because we didn’t choose the diplomatic, peaceful route.
I don’t know if because as I grow older and time for me seems shorter, I become “pressed” within my spirit, believing that war has never been the answer and I then ask how many wars it will take before we all, collectively realize that we can’t be people of love, spiritual people, sent here to allow God to live through us and then sanction war, killing, wasting the precious lives of our youth and finish not any closer to the illusive dream of peace that we all seek.
Spring and summertime bring celebrations wherein we remember the women and men who have died, protecting those same freedoms. Why do we never have celebrations for those who lived protecting our freedoms? There are groups in our country who get together on weekends to re-enact past wars and battles. What is all the passion for war and death about? Would those wanting to re-enact these battles do so if they actually had lived through the horrors of battle?
The production at the GRSF displays so clearly the horrors of war, what men, mostly, are driven to, protecting home, family and possessions. It begs a different response.
So, my friends, that brings us back to where we started—the comfort that Jesus will bring us when we choose to follow him, making the hard choices—choosing life, not death. Jesus speaks to his disciples, to us, in many ways about looking for the fruits of our actions to know if we are choosing wisely. To choose war and violence over negotiation and other peaceful means to settle differences on the world stage have their consequences.
Beyond physical injuries that soldiers return home with, some so severe as to entirely change their lives, if indeed they didn’t lose their life in the battle, comes the mental agony of what the war caused them to do, for which they have to live with for the rest of their lives. For those who can’t, ending their suffering through suicide has been a way out for far too many.
Yet, “Come to me all who labor and find life hard and I will refresh you—take my burden upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble—you will find rest for your souls, for my burden is easy and light.” Amen? Amen!