Lent can be a time of reflection and renewal for all

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March19,  2009

There were two responses on line.

 

An apology: In her on-line response to my February column,  Kathryn was right in  wondering why banks here are seeking customers if they are all so bad. Well, I made the mistake of generalizing about banks when I really meant only those connected with Wall Street and their unethical business practices. So I apologize to our local financial institutions. Now for my March column.

 

The Christian season of Lent began this year on February 25 for most Christians. The Orthodox Christians generally begin on a different date and of course have a different Easter Day as well. For the early Christians Lent  was a time of intense preparation by those who were becoming Christian and a time of support for them by the faith community. This focus has been restored by the Catholic Church since the 1960’s and gives me an opportunity to share a message of universal application.

            When I was growing up my family dutifully went to church to have ashes put on our foreheads with the words, “Remember, man, that thou are dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”  Not a bad message in itself but it was followed by forty days of reflecting on the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Good Friday. I remember well being taught that my sins nailed Jesus to the Cross.

             I still participate in this ritual but the words used today are “Repent and believe in the good news” or some variant of that or even no words. This is a much more positive approach to the season of Lent. The very open Vatican II Council of bishops restored the ancient practice of Lent to one of preparation. It kept the practice of self examination but threw out the guilt of “nailing Jesus to the Cross.”  Some of us still have trouble letting go of that understanding of Jesus and some still hold onto it.

            By focusing too much on the Cross we missed the message of Jesus which can be summed up in three words: the good news. Jesus came so that we could live life more abundantly (John 10:10). His message is also contained in the phrase the “kingdom of God”.

            All Christians and many non-Christians pray the Our Father. One of the petitions in that prayer is “thy kingdom come.” This was thought to mean that the kingdom was after death, that we were essentially praying for our own death so we could enjoy the kingdom, but Jesus’ own words reflect a different understanding of the kingdom.

            Jesus said to several of those with whom he talked that the kingdom was near or in you. How could it be near or in us if it is after death? The answer is quite simple. Whenever we live as Jesus taught us to live, we are experiencing the kingdom of God and it has indeed come though not in its fullness.

            Living as Jesus did includes loving others even those who hate us and do us harm, forgiving those who have harmed us, caring for those less fortunate than we are, healing those who are hurting, visiting those who are imprisoned either in jail or behind their own psychological walls, providing food and shelter to those in need. This is a message of universal application and truly the kingdom would be present if more of us lived these  teachings more fully. That is the good news of Jesus.

            Christians believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This too has universal application whether you believe in the resurrection or not. New life occurs all around us every day whether we see it or not. Every morning our waking up is kind of a resurrection from a dead sleep and new life is dawning before us. Of course we also see it in the new growth of plants, nesting of birds, and new births among our wildlife friends.

            So the promise of new life could not come at a better time when we are so deeply entrenched in an economic recession and all that accompanies troubled times. May the growth in nature be a sign for our own new growth and renewal.

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Responses on line to the Midland Daily News. Reprinted with permission.

R. Rains wrote on Mar 20, 2009 5:20 AM:

 

" If, as a Catholic, you believe in original sin as caused by Adam’s actions in the garden, and you accept that The Son of God (Ch**st is an unacceptable term on this site or I would have used it) died for our sins on the Cross, how can you deny your guilt? Are you without sin? Are we not all guilty, and is it not by grace alone that we enter the Kingdom? "

 

Paul Mills wrote on Mar 20, 2009 8:14 AM:

" I do not know why the term Ch--st would be unacceptable on any public forum site. After al he is the Son of God as R. rains mentioned and He is the only means by which we can have eternal life. This is also part of the Roman Catholic Doctrine. "

 

I emailed the above to a number of people in my address book and received these responses:

By email:

Norb,

 those responses remind me that some people still believe that the story of creation is true, and Eve caused Adam to sin and as a result we are all evil and guilt ridden.  And that Jesus took that guilt for our sins to the cross.  No amount of explanation can change their minds because they still believe what sister told them back in fourth grade is true. They have not grown in their faith and they are the people who want the kneelers as a form of penance and they also want everybody to believe what they do.  Education and study of scripture opens our minds to new beginnings and new thinking but some people choose to stay in fourth grade.

J1

 

Norbert,

I am not sure why the first person says that "Ch***t" is not acceptable in usage.  Secondly, I am not sure that you were denying guilt for sin, orginal or personal or otherwise, but that you were focusing on a more positive side of the Paschal Mystery - LIFE!  I am not sure the first responder got that.  I think the second just questions the first's statement that Christ is unacceptable in print and use and I am not sure why.  Hope this helps.  Take care and happy Lenting.

R

 

Dear Norb,

 Your March column is exceptional: A++.  So sad that the only theology that so many folks have is so outdated.  Karl Rahner said "just as we have to learn, change, grow and mature so must there be a constant development in theology if we are to be faithful to the Spirit." ….

Looking forward to get your response to the two responses you got!  Blessings and love

T

 

Norb,

 

I have puzzled over why Jesus was crucified.  The usual explaination goes like this:  "Jesus died for our sins."  "He was sent by the Father to repay the debt to the Father that resulted from original sin".  Remember we learned in the seminary that the sin was so great (because He is so much above us and any offense against him is proportionally great), that it took a great sacrifice to repay it.  Thus most people concentrate on the cross and view that as the symbol of our faith.  It is nice to think that Jesus earned heaven for us and all we have to do is "believe". 

 

All that really doesn't make much sense to me.  If an ant bites a giant, does the giant chop off his arm to redeem the ant??

 

Here is how I see it.  Jesus was crucified by the Romans, pure and simple.  Jesus did not come from the Father so he could suffer this terrible death.   How could anyone will such a thing onto someone he loves.  Jesus came to show us the good news which is: "God loves us".  Since we all have free-will - we have to otherwise we could not love God - we are free to sin.  We can committ any sin, even killing the son of God.  I guess the only good that comes out of this terrible sin, is the fact that it demonstrates that God will never revoke his gift of free will and that he will forgive us for anything if we are truely sorry.

 

I hate to see the cross as a symbol of our faith.  It is a reminder of the terrible sin we committed, as well as God's readiness to forgive us.  Good Friday for me is a very sad time.  I see that is a part of who we are, but not a nice part.

 

G

 

Hi Norb,

   Just read your March edition.  This is one of your better ones.  I find it kind of odd, when you write of new life, you did not mention human life and the 50 Million or so unborn babies that were killed.  You missed a good point here.  Actually, this is more than all our soldiers that were killed in all the US wars!!!  This is something to think about.

   Have you ever wrote an article condemming abortion?

Love, J2

 

Norb, my good friend,

        Thanks for sending the column, I rarely read the paper as thoroughly as I'd like and I really enjoy your thoughts, so I'm glad not to miss them (as I would have this column).  

        I loved it!  Especially the part about visiting people incarcerated in prisons of their own making, what a great observation!   Also, that we have been encouraged to love all, especially our enemies.   I believe Mr. Rains comment,  (other than the underlying "Yes, I'm a nutbag, and if you don't see the world as I do, then you're going to hell") was that you, being Catholic,  believe in the original sin, and being Human, probably have sinned yourself. (It could happen).  I suppose he's all caught up in that guilt thing, and misses the point about being saved.

        Your message of the kingdom here and now is not one that many guilt-ridden can cotton on to.   To me, that is the reason that the world seems so screwed up.  

Love,  D

 

March 23, 2009  email from new reader.

 

Dear Mr. Bufka:

I read with great interest and dismay your piece in the MDN concerning Lent and its reflection and renewal capabilities.  Let me first say that I am one of those that use Lent, and for that matter, any other time to recall that it was indeed my sin that nailed Christ to the cross.  Now for religious modernists and the political correctness crowd, I suppose that can be construed as a "downer."

Sadly, you left out the completion of the story.  In the crucifixion of Christ, our Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world, including yours and mine.  He suffered the punishment that we so surely deserved.  In His great love, He willingly did His Father's will and went to the cross.

Again, you omitted the true "Good News" that in Christ's resurrection, sin and death are conquered.  In Christ's perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection we obtain the promised salvation which God has repeated throughout the Scriptures.  Now that Christ has performed this great work, we obtain God's grace and favor as a free gift (Ephesians 2).

 

Jesus, our Lord, did not appear on earth soley to be  a nice guy, or because He liked springtime and pretty flowers.  He came to suffer an ugly, brutal death for us.  But our loving Father raised Him on the third day as a final conquest of sin and evil.  In Lent and Easter, we see these two events contrasted, but both very necessary for an understanding of God's work in us.  A related Bibilical

doctrine is that of Law and Gospel.  The perfect Law of God shows how sinful we are, and our need for repentance.  The Gospel offers the great work of Jesus Christ as He keeps the Law for us, and then suffers the punishment that should have been ours.

His Easter resurrection bears witness of this fact and very real event.  Without it, as Paul says: "Your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins!"

I have prayed for you that God, through the power of His Spirit, will turn your heart to Him and the Gospel as expressed in Scripture.  It is so very easy in these times to attempt to reconcile religious teaching with modern thought.  It might result in something politically correct, and it might be what people want to hear (IITimothy 3 and 4).  However, it is an offense for Christians who base their faith on God's Word revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

 

Clinging to Christ's cross and the empty tomb, 

Tom W – Midland

 

Hi Norbert,

 

Your articles always interest me...and this time, I am also interested in the two comments at the bottom of the email.  I know in my "earlier Christian" days, I too believed that Christ was the only answer to eternal life, meaning life after death.  I now think the kingdom of heaven is within you...and that many paths lead to God, capital G, or whatever.  I appreciate your non-literal take on ideas in the article.  I often try to fully understand my what I call "progressive Christian" ideas...It truly is a life-long venture.

 

As to the "good news," - we have an interim minister at our UU church who is wonderful and she was talking about reclaiming some of the Christian terms that we've lost...and among them are the "good news" message.  Our church has good news about being in community, serving others, loving, caring...No one church certainly has a sole claim to that.

 

Faithful reader,

CM

 

I sent the above out again to my list and received these replies. The dialog continues.

 

Hi Norbert:

 

I appreciate the opportunity to re-read the column and see the comments.  I never stop being amazed at the widespread refusal to accept a more positive view of Jesus and his message.  What is it in people that makes them want to believe that Jesus is God's ONLY son and that God sent him to die a painful death that was totally our fault because we're evil.  Is that why human parents bring children into the world -- so that they can die a horrible death that's someone else's fault?  Are human parents more loving and compassionate than God??

 

I have to admit that in the past few years I've had a harder and harder time saying the creed at Mass.  Are the notions that Jesus is God's only son, that Mary was a virgin, that the Holy Spirit is a male whose last act was to speak through the prophets really the core of our beliefs??  Isn't it possible that Jesus wanted us to believe that all of us are sons and daughters of God, and that at our baptisms God says "this is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased"?  And isn't it possible that Jesus' death wasn't the point -- that perhaps the point was that Jesus got it right?  I mean, he was faithful to God no matter what; he was so completely spirit-driven that he knew that no matter how awful things were that the spirit wasn't steering him wrong.  His resurrection was the natural culmination of that complete faith, and if by some miracle we're able to have that same surrender to the spirit, we'll be resurrected too. 

 

OK.  I've sort of gotten on my soapbox here, but sometimes I get so impatient with the Church.  Instead of encouraging an adult spirituality and a positive view of God, the church is all about sin and punishment and male dominance and "the old ways".  The Pope and his people do a terrible injustice to the Church and Catholics when they espouse Latin masses and Opus Dei over equality and compassion and free will. 

 

You get the idea...  Thanks for letting me vent!  Hi to Sue.

 

P

 

 

Dear Norbert,

 

Your column was thoughtful and well written. Since I am an agnostic, the literal interpretation of the Bible, the Koran or any other ancient religious book is beyond my understanding. My wife is catholic, most of our friends are religious in one way or another and we financially support all kinds of religion based charities. As far as I am concerned, people can believe whatever they want. In no way do I try to "convert" them to my beliefs (or rather non-beliefs). 

 

My father grew up in a very conservative religious section of [Europe]. That experience turned him sour on religion and when he moved away he never went back to church. He did however find the Bible an important document, which is why he sent me to voluntary bible lessons in my public school. From those lessons, I came away with the idea that Christians were happy and tolerant people. Unfortunately, often that is not the case. Generally speaking, I consider myself a tolerant person but I become really angry when others try to ram their beliefs down my throat. As far as I am concerned, religious beliefs are personal and should not be "marketed".

 

The idea that a person claims that their interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one, sounds like blasphemy to me. Not unlike Muslim terrorist who claim that their interpretation of the Koran is the only right one. How arrogant are those people.......

H

 

My response to H:

   Thanks for writing and sharing so much. I too like to think I am tolerant but like you I find it hard to be tolerant of those who wish to cram their beliefs down my throat. Unfortunately the Catholic Church has done a lot of that over the centuries. I am still a Catholic because I believe at the core it meets my needs. As Marcus Borg wrote in one of his books, he was born a Lutheran, and loves being a Lutheran, and will always be one. Substitute Catholic and that is me. Borg has written some very challenging books on the Bible, God, and more.

   I worked at Assumption Catholic Church for 9 years. My challenge was to treat all people with respect even though they were on the far right on Church teaching, to use a political word.

 

Greetings, Norb . . .

I am in Florida, awaiting a double sonic boom as the space shuttle crosses overhead on its way to landing at the space center.

The internet (wireless) has been a bit funky and I think I deleted your original amidst a bunch of others . . . for give me.

I read the article and the responses . . . having grown up in the same era as you, I lived what you described.  I will say, however, that I do miss some of the "old" ways and "stuff".   In [my home] Diocese we no longer kneel after communion . . . down here in Florida, they do.  I like kneeling before my Lord and I should do more of it.  At mass last Sunday the "Agnus Dei" was recited in Latin (don't you love it, you old teacher, you!!) and it kicked in like it was 1957.  My wife, a 70's convert, looked at me, a bit in wonder, and said, "You know that?"

Good article . . . keep up the good work and keep up the faith . . .

J3

Norb.  Thanks for resending this. I hadn’t gotten to it before and was interested in reading the various responses. 

 

  Will only respond to Tom W.’s.  He says:  “The Gospel offers the great work of Jesus Christ as he kept the Law for us and then suffered the punishment we so surely deserved”.   To me, the great work of Jesus was his very life and the law was/is the law of LOVE that he demonstrated through his actions.

 

My thought about those last 4 words, “that we so surely deserved” is that it would be better to say that he suffered the logical result of keeping that law of LOVE in the midst of an ancient world or in the modern world that still doesn’t want to hear this GOOD NEWS. The cost is high and few are willing to pay it.  Believing that in Christ’s death, sin and death are conquered – as Thomas says that you should have pointed out – can allow for a lack of true engagement in the world where so many are hungry and suffer in so countless ways due to people thinking that what we’re all really living for is finally getting safely into heaven, rather than living lives that model the ways of the kingdom right here and now – which might lead to our own crucifixion in little and very large ways.

 

I do not see that by your column, as he claims, you are “trying to reconcile religious teachings with modern thought” .   Instead you are expressing a scriptural truth:  The good news of loving others, doing good to those who harm you, even your enemies etc. etc. etc. 

 

It’s interesting that he labels your positive approach as possibly trying to be “politically correct.”  You affirm the continued need for preparation and for self examination that hopefully leads us to LIVE the Good News.  I remember TS telling me over 30 years ago that “guilt is not of God”.  I believed him then and I believe it today.  It’s not guilt, or shouldn’t be, that motivates us to love, but the LITERAL, BIBLICAL GOOD NEWS that hopefully motivates us who have the audacity to call ourselves Christian. 

 

Your point about universal application of actually living the good news is excellent.  Thomas W. makes the point that “Jesus didn’t come as a nice guy…”  I didn’t read anywhere in your column that he did, nor was there any allusion to such a flimsy idea about Jesus’s purpose.

 

Another point he makes is that:  “The perfect law of God shows us how sinful we are…”  I would say that the perfect law of God, which is the law of love with its universal truth and possibility of application, SHOWS US HOW MERCIFUL, COMPASSIONATE AND FAITHFUL GOD IS.  It’s in our preparation and examination time during Lent or any time, as we hopefully empty ourselves a bit more of ourselves and make a tad more room for God in our beings, that we come to understand our own sinfulness.  In knowing and admitting this, we can face more fully and clearly that sinfulness and try once again to LIVE, and thus experience, the kingdom  as best we can on this side of the grave before fully experiencing it afterwards. 

 

You are in no way sugar-coating Lent and the call to repentance by presenting a positive reflection on the meaning of this Holy Season.  You are far from trying to be politically correct.   If we take your words seriously, there is nothing easy about the Good News and there is surely no denial that Christ suffered for standing up and speaking up and living up for what he believed.  Thank you.

 

Keep up the good work.

J3

 

Norb,

Thanks for forwarding the responses to your article. First, I thought your piece on Lent was excellent. The reply comments to your article were for the most part very positive and thoughtful. Secondly, I do not understand where some of these folks are coming from (I guess the 40's and 50's). Even the fear or avoidance of typing the name of Christ???

We are now 45 years out from the 2nd Vatican Council and the thinking and message that came out of it has still not permeated our Christian brothers and sisters. Change is "hard" and takes a very long time, so our patience is a necessity. The concept of the "emerging church" will definitely take a long time to become reality.

 

Keep up the good work.

Shalom,

BJ

 

This is not a subject which interests me. There are too many people who are dogmatic about their beliefs meaning that they "know" they are right, and that any other view is not only incorrect but misguided and sinful. These things are a matter of belief not fact, and there is plenty of room for diffferent opinions about beliefs, I think. I am much more interested in how humans are treated by other humans. I guess this is a religious point of view, because if we can't deal with our fellow man well, how can we  hope to relate to a God who created us all in  his image?

 

My view of life and my answers to the three big questions is more spiritual than it is religious. (How did we get here; why are we here; and what  happens when its all over?)  Organized religion has been responsible for some of the greatest outrages against  humanity. Not my thing.

 TF

 

Norb,

I always read with interest your columns, although often differing with your views.  On matters Catholic, I come from a perspective of a convert from a strict fundamentalist Protestant denomination, which was also quite anti-Catholic while I was growing up.  I experienced in my upbringing much stronger emphasis on man's sinfulness and the need to overcome it, the expectation of overcoming it through deep religious conversion, and without benefit of the sacrament of confession and reconcilation.  Perhaps, in some degree, that was a sign of the times.  I have always found Catholics refreshingly less self-righteous than strict Protestants, by far.  My conversion -- heart, mind and soul -- is to the Catholic faith.  I love the Church with my whole heart, and find unfathomable richness of wisdom, truth, beauty in her sacraments, liturgy, traditions.  I find the Church marvelously balanced and consistent.  It is grounded and focused practically, yet centered, exalted, inspired by the divine.  Her moral precepts are true altogether.  Naturally, they come from God Almighty, not from any human source.  Holy Week juxtaposes in quick succession the most horrible tragedy of humanity with the most glorious triumph known and knowable to man.  It takes 40 days of Lent to prepare for it, and many more days to try to absorb it.  The Catholic Church recognizes this.  Mankind is capable of great evil.  Men actually killed God when He walked on earth.  We all are prone to sin, and our personal sin separates us from God.  Yet by His grace and mercy we are given the means to reconcile, renew and deepen in our walk with Him.  In Holy Week we experience every year the most extreme turn of events -- a descent into the pits of hell, followed by a magnificent glimpse of God's eternal glory.   If we dwell on one, we are left in despair.  I believe we need to deal with personal sin in order to deepen our spirituality and draw closer to God.  Yet, in Christ's ultimate triumph lies our hope, our joy, the fulfillment of our faith.  Dying He destroyed our death -- that's powerful.  Rising He restored our life -- that's magnificent.  In sin we die; in reconciliation we rise to new life.  Lent and Easter are times of renewal and new life.   The deeper that sorrow carves itself into our hearts, the greater is our vessel to hold the love of God, and with it find peace and joy.

TC

 

Wow.  What an intriguing way to bring about two opposing methods of

looking at sin, Christ, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Here's a non-Christian viewpoint on this discussion:  I have a tough time

with anyone who spends their entire life mired in guilt and mental anguish

because of the belief that he or she is *personally responsible* for

Christ's death.  What a terrible weight on one's shoulders!  And what an

unfortunate way to view the God of Love:  a God that would send His only

son to Earth purely for the purposes of suffering and death.  These are

not the actions of a loving God.

 

I am certainly not one to suggest that I understand nor am privy to the

ways of the universal God, but one belief I must cling to is that we are

all here to serve and love one another.  This is the life that Jesus

lived.  His love was so great that he allowed himself to be sacrificed for

the world.  One of your readers mentioned free will, and this is a

powerful thing:  Jesus had no interest in being tortured and crucified.

But he knew that while this path was certainly not the easy path, it was

the right one.  It was the one he had to take - for all of us.

 

There are two ways to go about living Christ's teachings:  because we want

to and know that it's the right thing to do... or because we feel shame

and guilt.  This second rationale is not a positive one.  We need to make

positive choices that foster growth.  In my view, concentrating on our

role in the death of Christ impedes our ability to grow and foster growth

around us.

 

Keep writing, good sir!

SI

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