Easter in Nigeria: Boko Haram Will Not Have the Final Word

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Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, of Jos, Nigeria

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria spoke of Easter hope in the midst of suffering Sunday.

“We … cannot let Boko Haram have the final word … there is a greater force (than Boko Haram) and we there should not be overcome by a terrible fear and even paranoia that we are unable to even go out to worship,” he said.

Nigerian Christians celebrated the Resurrection in the midst of mourning. Seventy-nine people were recently killed in a bomb blast, and 129 school girls were abducted by the Islamic group to be used as slaves. Forty-four of these girls have managed to escape, a fact that gives hope.

I wrote a post earlier, asking why the government can’t track Boko Haram down and end them. It seems to me that having 44 girls who have escaped and could give information would be a major aid in doing just that.

In the meantime, Archbishop Kaigama says that Nigeria Christians, “… believe that God cannot abandon us and as a Church we continue to pray and preach nonviolence and we continue to inspire confidence in people. We should only succumb and subject ourselves to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and who is the Resurrection.”

That thought, that we should only subject ourselves to Jesus is the essence of Christian freedom. It the call of every Christian, everywhere. Our only master should be Our Lord, which means that the many things we submit ourselves to in this life are a false calling. In the final analysis, none of us answers to anyone but Him, and, again in the final analysis, each and every one of us actually does answer to Him.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die, and Why Does the Resurrection Matter?

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Calvary is the fulcrum of history.

Everything changed on that hill called Golgotha 2,000 years ago. Three days later, when the stone rolled away, God put His final redemptive imprimatur on the story of our salvation.

Before that Day in the garden outside the empty tomb, when He looked at the woman and said, Mary!,  Solomon’s ancient wail of “Vanity, vanity; all is vanity,” was the summation of the reality of human existence.

But Calvary and what He did there, the garden and Who the woman met there, changed all that forever.

Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, for you will surely die, God told them.

“You will not die,” Satan countered, in one of the deceptive lies disguised in a seeming truth that he uses so often against us.

They ate.

And they did not die.

Then.

But death was born into the world with that first bite of disobedience. The scales fell from their eyes and they knew. They fouled their primal innocence with willfulness, and they knew shame; first the shame of their nakedness, and then the shame of their fallenness.

Their first action was to hide from God because, as they told Him, “We were ashamed because we were naked.”

God’s answer illuminates their changed condition, Who told you that you were naked?

Their second action was to blame one another.

Primal innocence was gone in a single bite of the apple of disobedience, replaced by primal love of self.

Humankind denied this loss throughout its history, denies it even to this day. Self-will battles with God’s will in each of us every moment of our lives. And yet, there is in each of us, encoded in our souls, a haunting memory of who we really are, and an inchoate longing that will not be silenced for what we have lost.

“Our hearts are made for thee,” St Augustine said. And so they are.

God-longing is a part of the human condition, as is a hunger for transcendence and lost innocence. Separated as we are, this longing festers into resentment and denial, while the hunger congeals on our souls as hubris and self-worship.

The curse of lost innocence drives us to rageful disobedience. It ensnares us in our own desires and, if we let it, murders us with the excesses those desires breed in our lives.

Throughout human history this pull of longing for God and lost innocence has played against the push of the hubris of our self-aggrandizements and twisted desires. The tension it creates drives us into a universal acceptance of insanity. We kill one another and we kill ourselves in as many ways as the human story can devise. Our blood-soaked history of suffering and misery has one message: We cannot save ourselves.

The God-hunger encoded in us and the God-image inside of us, drive us to seek propitiation. From moloch to corporatism, we feed our lives and the lives of our children into the empty maw of false gods of our devising. We seek our lost transcendence in debauchery and achievement; in doing good and doing bad; in war making and peace making; in causes and rights and laws.

We try to achieve a lost immortality by looking as Ted Bundy did, into the eyes of those we kill and persuading ourselves that in that moment when the light of life fades we are like gods. We attempt to overcome our finite hopelessness by doing good works, and advancing humankind through the achievements of our efforts and our minds.

But in the end, we are but dust. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

God does not force us. He doesn’t reach down and re-invent us back to our lost innocence.

That is not cruelty as some claim. It is love and longing. Love, to be love, must be freely given. Our love for Him must be ours to give or withhold, or it is not love at all.

So God led us gently over long years and slow changes to the moment when He stepped into our history as one of us in order to offer us a Way. Jesus had to die because by dying He became the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the complete propitiation for our sins. He made it right by offering Himself in lieu of us on the altar of life and death.

He was our Passover lamb and Calvary was the ultimate and final Lord’s Passover.

If that is true, then what is the meaning and the necessity of the Resurrection? Wasn’t dying on the cross enough to redeem us?

The answers people give are all true. The Resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is God. The Resurrection is a sign of the resurrection that awaits all of us who accept Him and go through the open doorway of redemption that He represents. He is the Way in a literal and absolute manner. We enter into the Kingdom through Him.

But I think there is another ultimate meaning to the Resurrection. Calvary wasn’t the only way that God could have restored us to Himself. It was the only way He could do it and leave us free.

The Resurrection was the great undoing of that curse we cursed ourselves with in the garden. If you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will surely die. 

You will not die, Satan told us, and left out the word “today.”

We believed the lie, and the curse of death, real death that is separation from the Light, entered humanity.

The Resurrection broke that curse. God Himself entered into death, took on the curse, and experienced its depths. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, Jesus cried from the cross as He experienced the cold annihilation of The Alone in its absolute form.

I’ve have written about The Alone that we inflict on one another with our cruelties. But that Alone, which is a foretaste of the pit of hell, is nothing but a foretaste. The real hell, the true Alone, is complete separation from God.

We experience shades of this hell in the bitter blackness of our sinfulness. I have lived a bit of it, both in things I’ve done and things that have been done to me. The pleasure people take in hurting other people is a dark thing that swallows their own humanity.

We can cast other people into The Alone with our rapes, tortures, murders, greed, gossip and pretentious claims to superiority. Every time we do this to another person, we experience a bit of the cold blackness that such actions come from.

The curse of the fall is our daily experience, and that curse is death. The Resurrection broke that curse. God entered into our cursedness and experienced its shattering consequences. He, Who knew no sin, became sin for our sakes.

Then, on the third day, He shattered the curse like a glass by breaking death itself. He cast off death and arose from the grave.

This was different in every way from miracles such as raising Lazarus or the little girl or the young man who was being carried to his burial place. The difference is that He didn’t stand outside death and undo it for a time, He entered into death and dissolved it for all time.

Physical death is a huge thing to us. But to God it appears to be almost trivial. Jesus raised people from the dead as easily as taking a drink of water. Little girl arise, He said. He took pity on a mother’s grief at her son’s funeral procession and raised the young man with a word. Lazarus, come forth He commanded and Lazarus walked out of his tomb.

Physical death isn’t the great divide that it is to us to One who sees both sides of the experience, to the One Who created life in the first place.

The Resurrection isn’t another casual raising of someone from the dead so that they will die again in a few years. The Resurrection is an everlasting casting off of ultimate death altogether.

Eat, and you will surely die. 

You will not die … today.

I am the Way … all who believe in Me will never die. 

The Resurrection is the end of death. It is the Way out of getting what we deserve.

And it leaves us free. We can accept Him and love Him … or not.

Love is not love unless it is freely given.

2013 Favs: New Tests Date the Shroud from the Time of Christ

New scientific tests on the Shroud of Turin, which went on display Saturday (March 30) in a special TV appearance introduced by the pope, date the cloth to ancient times, challenging earlier experiments that dated it only to the Middle Ages.

… The new test, by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 tests but disputes the earlier findings. The new examination dates the shroud to between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D., which would put it in the era of Christ.

… It determined that the earlier results may have been skewed by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages, the British newspaper reported. The cloth has been kept at the cathedral since 1578.

… The new tests also supported earlier results claiming to have found traces of dust and pollen on that shroud that could only have come from the Holy Land. (Read the rest here.)

(Doug Stanglin writes for USA Today.)

Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

Never forget that we are resurrection people.

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Pope Francis: Triumphalism Impedes the Church, Impedes Christians

Pope Francis might as well have been speaking directly to American Christians with the homily he gave a few days ago.

“Triumphalism impedes the Church,” he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.

Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.

This makes those of us who are Christians a bit “off” in our understanding of the Gospels. Jesus triumphed over Satan. He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death, in an absolute way.

If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved and the words Jesus said about what awaits anyone who truly follows Him. The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like  an ignominious defeat.

We can, from our vantage point in history, connect the dots backwards and see the progression from Calvary to the resurrection. We know how the story ends. But if we try to skip over the tough parts, or limit our thinking about  them to annual passion plays, we miss the point.

The cross, which Jesus defeated with His resurrection, is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and as He told us, if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. Not only that, but we must bear the crosses of our lives by “following after” Him. I think we need to ponder for a moment what that means.

Pick up your cross and follow after me Jesus instructs us.

I don’t think He means that we must merely endure the hardships of our lives, even though that would be more than enough for most of us. I believe that we are called to “follow after Him” in the way we endure the sufferings that come our way, which is to say we must triumph over them.

But this triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding. It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us status, power and money. Following after Him means that we must forgive those who hurt us, bear with those whose weakness burdens and wounds us. We must be like Him in how we treat one another and in how we view ourselves.

Triumphalism as the world understands it, which is beating the other guy and following up by basking in the satisfactions and congratulations of the winner’s circle, has nothing at all to do with the triumph of the cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake. It is loving others to the point that you cast out evil with that love.

It is not easy to be a Christian. In fact, it is impossible for us to do it on our own strength and or our own understanding. This is as true of the officers of the Church as it is for those of us in the pews. Without the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual graces necessary, we can never successfully pick up our crosses and follow after Him.

That is why we need the sacraments. The sacraments — the eucharist and confession in particular — offer a steady infusion of grace into our souls that strengthens and fits us for living life in Christ.

The video below excerpts Pope Francis’ homily about triumphalism and the Church.

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Book Review: God’s Favorite Place on Earth

To join the discussion about God’s Favorite Place on Earth, or to buy a copy, go here

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Frank Viola, who blogs at Rediscovering the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, is offering 25 free books or audios to those who buy his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, in the next week. To learn more, go here

That offer makes a good book a good deal, as well.

God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a combination first person fictionalization/meditation/teaching on the Gospel stories surrounding the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This family lived in the little town of Bethany, and Gospel accounts make it clear that their friendship with Jesus was both personal and on-going. 

These people knew Jesus in the intimate way that friends know one another. They also recognized Him as more than just another rabbi. They got Him at a time when His own disciples were often confused the things He did and said. 

This is the same Lazarus who died and was dead four days when Jesus stood at his grave and, with the words Lazarus come forth! raised him from the dead. 

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First, Jesus meant it when He said that being his disciple means taking up our crosses and following after Him. The message in Viola’s fine book is three-fold. 

Second, God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t work according to our time-table or our human goals. He has His own plan and our part in it is to follow Him and do what He tells us to do.

Third, (and most important) Christian life is Christ-centered living. It is not about our missions or our apostolates. It is not a function of how many hours we spend at church or how we vote. Following Christ means following Christ and Him crucified.

Frank Viola has written a fine book that gave me meat for thought about my own Christian walk and the ways in which I put things ahead of Him in my life. It was a convicting and uplifting read, both at once. 

I heartily recommend it. 

The Old Dragon Misogyny and the Resurrected Lord

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It goes on all evening, begins in the church parking lot with a tub of lumber set to burn and is full of screaming babies and non-Catholics who watch the rest of us with dazed embarrassment as we kneel, stand, bow, greet and respond.

It is the Easter vigil, and I love it.

The Easter vigil is the liturgy, done large. We plow through the Scriptures, from the Creation to the cross and right on to the resurrection. It is a lesson in where we came from and whither we are tending. It takes us from the garden to the cave where Christ the Risen Lord first revealed HImself.

Jesus didn’t reveal Himself to just anybody that Easter morning. He chose, as He always does, the people who will say yes to Him.

People willing to keep on saying “yes” to Our Lord were few indeed that First Easter. The ignominy of His death hung like fog. He had fallen so low that one of the criminals who died with Him joined the crowds in mocking Him. Crucified — hanging naked between two thieves; tortured, and humiliated on a hill called The Skull — the defeat of their hero seemed absolute.

I don’t think that the women who came that first Easter Sunday were motivated by any residual belief in His messiahship. They came to that grave for the same reason they stayed at the foot of the cross when everyone else ran way: They loved Him.

They loved Him more than they feared the Romans or the Pharisees. They loved Him past any concerns they might have had of being put out of the Temple. They loved Him beyond their natural modesty about seeing a naked man hanging from a cross and right through their repugnance toward what they must have expected to find in that grave:  the carrion stink of a body that had been lying dead for three days.

They loved Him with the love of women and they stayed beside Him with the courage of women when the men ran away. 

I have worked with 90 men for much of my working life. It has taught me that men have greater physical courage than women. They respond to physical threats more quickly and more aggressively than women. We can do it if we have to, but we have to work ourselves into what comes naturally for men.

On the other hand, women have greater moral courage than men. Women are more willing to stand alone for someone they love than men; much less likely to run away from social approbation and less likely to be bulled by the crowd into going along with something they know is wrong. Men can exhibit the moral courage that comes naturally to women, but they have to work themselves into it.

The women who stood at the cross and who came to His grave were teachers to the men in those days of His death and resurrection. They were showing them the kind of moral courage it would take to build His Church.

It is no surprise that He revealed Himself as the Risen Lord to women first. They were the ones who said yes. 

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It is also no surprise that the first Apostle was a woman. Mary Magdalene was the one He chose to carry the good news of His resurrection to “Peter and the others.” She was His Apostle of the Good News, signifying forever that women are co-inheritors of eternal life and purveyors and proclaimers of the Gospels the same as men. 

The human race is not male. The human race is not female. The human race is male and female, created each and every one of us in the image and likeness of the living God.

Jesus may have created the priesthood male, but He did not put women outside the circle of grace. He did not intend for women to be passive witnesses to the on-going drama of Kingdom building. He meant for them to be at the heart of it. 

I was disturbed by the callous misogyny and easy patronizing of women that I encountered in the comboxes of a blog I wrote a few days ago. As usual when something upsets me, I talked it over with my husband. He gave me wise advice that you will see acted out on this blog in the next few days. He also made an observation that I think bears repeating today: People who hate women, hate humanity, he said. 

Misogyny is a lie and lies are always the devil’s first weapon against us. Misogyny is a curse enacted on all of humanity. It is the first curse of the Fall. Misogyny is the human race, warring against itself. It is us, attacking our own life-bearers.

Cultural misogyny made Jesus’ choice of messengers a compelling statement. In those days, the testimony of women was not legitimate testimony. Yet the scriptures rely on it in the Gospel description of Jesus’ burial. “Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb, watching,” it says.  Women are the witnesses cited for this most important event in human history.

Jesus first revealed HImself as the Messiah to a woman, and not just any woman, but a member of the outcast Samaritan tribe; a sinful much-married woman who was living with a man who was not her husband. She came to the well to draw water alone instead of with the other women, probably because they thought her so disreputable that they wanted nothing to do with her. This sinful woman was the first one to whom He revealed that He was the Messiah, the son of the living God.

The Disciples’ reaction was typical then — and now — they “were surprised that He was talking with a woman.”

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So, there is a symmetry and a message in the Risen Lord revealing Himself first to a woman, and the choice of Mary Magdalene to tell “Peter and the others” of His resurrection.

“Those who are forgiven much, love much,” he said. Many people believe that Mary Magdalene was the woman who was taken in adultery. Whether this is true or not, there is no doubt that she loved much

This woman was the Apostle to the Apostles. The first bearer of the Good News that is the fulcrum of human history. On that first Easter morning, she was the first and the only Apostle.

Women are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus came for women as much as He came for men. He died for women as well as men. He gave the Eucharist to women as well as men.

He instituted the priesthood to serve all of humankind, young and old, weak and strong, sinners and saints, men, and yes, women.  That is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets we read in the Easter vigil.

It is the snake, the old dragon misogyny, crushed beneath His foot. 

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