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Monday, April 15, 2013

Mystagogy for Dummies (like me) - Easter 3

So I posed this question last week as a way to think about the Sunday scriptures each week:
How did Sunday’s liturgy speak to me about the meaning of life in the light of the paschal mystery? What did the readings teach me about what it means to “rise from the dead”?
Needless to say, we all bring our own experience and knowledge with us to the liturgy each Sunday, and we all prepare in different ways. No matter how much I "prepare" to hear the word of God (what chutzpah to even write that clause!) or how many times I've read the readings on my own, in choosing music or writing this blog, some line or some image inevitably pops out at me on Sunday that didn't strike me before, or shines in a new way.

In addition to all the other layers of this week's dominical metaphor field, for us, it was a day for bidding farewell to Clem Aseron, my colleague in the liturgy office for the entire time I've been at St. Anne's, part of the team that hired me, and the Voice that I heard once, a million years ago, in St. Clement's at a "Jesus Day" gathering, and made my
Clem (right) in 2007, with Mark Karney and Georgene.
colleagues and I look at each other in disbelief as if to say, "I've never heard anyone read the scriptures like that before." Clem is an archdiocesan institution, a recent octogenarian (is that an oxymoron?), and one of the kindest, most grounded people you would ever want to meet. Which explains why Terry and I chose him to be one of Desi's godparents for his initiation in 2003.

It was something Clem said in his parting words to the assembly after communion that resonated with me, from the responsorial psalm. It had hit me before, and was one of the reasons I had opted to keep the psalm of the day (and not a seasonal psalm) in the liturgy. Clem focused in his remarks on the word rescue in the responsorial psalm, taken from Psalm 30: "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me." Without giving a formal homily, Clem instinctively did what a good homilist does anyway: he echoes God's word, letting it speak in its own voice from the stories in the scripture, but then listening for its resonance in his own life and the life of the community.
Clem and Georgene with the neophyte,
Easter 2003

Rescue is easy to identify in the readings today. The apostles, called before the ruling body of the Jews in Jerusalem, are told not to continue preaching Jesus, lest people start believing them, and blaming the Sanhedrin for his death. In what is a most hostile and potentially punitive environment, the apostles announce that they can not stay silent because the word is not their own, their testimony and the need to share it is divine. Amazingly, they are released with a warning. It will not always go so well for the followers of Jesus in subsequent encounters. To sing, "I will praise you for you have rescued me" following this text from Acts was a deeply felt, genuine proclamation of God's word.

As I mentioned in Saturday's post about Revelation, the whole ethos of the book is an announcement of hope and perseverance in the midst of an ongoing persecution of the Church by Rome, as well as, as a reader pointed out, a warning to the complacent churches against being seduced by the surrounding culture into accommodating the empire whose violence and injustice are the cause of such terror and pain in the church. Faithfulness to Christ, to the gospel, and to the mission are rescue from Rome, and the heavenly witnesses to the Lamb testify to his victory over the enemies of life.

Finally, in the gospel, there is danger of losing the way of Christ in the traumatic wake of Calvary, as Peter leads an unsuccessful fishing expedition that gets a boost from a kibitzing landlubber. Peter, just days on from three times denying Jesus outside the kangaroo court that was trying him, is given the opportunity to three times affirm his love. Recommissioned with the rest of the gang to nurture the flock of Jesus, Peter is told, with all of us who have been rescued from our own pitiable attempts at self-preservation and self-direction, "Follow me."

Clem, in his words of parting, thanked the community for "rescuing" him twenty-five years ago from a life he considered unanchored, giving him a home and community life in which to grow and with whose inner life he has become tethered and interlaced in all the ways that happen in church ministry. It made me think of the hundreds of ministers of the word whom he has trained not just in elocution but in love of their ministry, of the hundreds of catechumens and candidates he has walked through rehearsals and rites

into the unseen portals of paradise, of the parents in whom he awakened a nascent awareness of the greatness of the baptismal calling they were about to realize in their newborns. Clem, rescued by Christ, who called forth a new creation from the chaos of whatever had gone before, got back where he belonged by going somewhere he had
Clem (right) and I, younger, discussing the finer points of
the Revised Roman Missal
never been, all by responding to the Master's call: "Follow me."

If you had been there, you wouldn't be looking for another mystagogue this afternoon, because we had him right before our eyes. I've had a few experiences of "rescue" myself, and the community of St. Anne's has been one of them over the years I've been there. But in a very, very real way, so has the self-deprecating, slight little man who took his leave of the parish, at least as a staff member and employee, today. The Zen of Clem has anchored our work in the liturgy office more than once, his steady, faithful presence a dependable sign of God-among-us. He rescued me, in those early years, too. When I needed God to make a deposit into my checking account, it was Clem Aseron who signed the check. 

The meaning of life in the paschal mystery today? The mission is God's, Christ shows the way. The way is not always clear, but there is rescue. The way is fraught with violence and danger, but there is rescue. The way always leads to the cross, but there is rescue. I need to remember that. I need to remember not to follow my own instincts, but to stay alert to the gospel and the call to "Follow me." And when the new guy needs help, even if we're least well off person in a wealthy community: sometimes we have to sign the check. 

I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me. Weird as it sounds, you did it through Clem. Thanks, both of you.