"Crossing the Threshold of a New Millennium"
"This is Good"
The story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that arose in his life-whether positive or negative-and remarking, "This is good!"
One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off. Examining the situation the friend remarked as usual, "This is good!" To which the king replied, "No, this is NOT good!" and proceeded to send his friend to jail.
About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took them to their village. They tied him up, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So they untied the king and sent him on his way.
As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. "You were right," he said, "it was good that my thumb was blown off." And he proceeded to tell his friend all that had happened. "I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this." "No," his friend replied, "this is good!"
"What do you mean, 'This is good'? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?" "If I had NOT been in jail, I would have been with you. "This is not Good."
One day God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the evil that was going on. He decided to send an angel down to Earth to check it out. So He called one of His best angels and sent the angel to Earth for awhile. When she returned she told God, yes it is bad on Earth, 95% is bad and 5% is good.
Well, He thought for a moment and thought maybe He'd better send down a second angel to get another point of view. So God called another angel and sent him to Earth for a time too. When the angel returned he went to God and told him "Yes, the Earth is in decline. 95% is bad and 5% is good." God said this was not good. So He decided to send e-mail to the 5% that were good. He wanted to encourage them, give them a little something to help them keep going...
Do you know what that e-mail said?
...Oh, you didn't get one either, huh? Bummer.
If God were to send us an e-mail, I think that He would urge us to celebrate and practice Jubilee! For Christians the Year 2000 is a Jubilee Year, a holy year. We celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The notion of Jubilee goes back to our Jewish roots and traditions. "You shall hallow the 50th year, and proclaim liberty through the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a Jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family" (Lev. 25:10).
Jubilee as an ancient social justice tradition can be described as fidelity to the demands of a relationship. In contrast to modern individualism, in the biblical world 'to live' is to be united with others in a social context either by bonds of family or by covenant relationships. Jubilee involves a preferential option for the poor. Such an option involves a new way of seeing the reality in which we live, seeing it not from the standpoint of the comfortable and powerful, but from the vantage point of the pressured and powerless. A major aspect of a Jubilee year was the forgiveness of debts. The Jubilee set slaves free, restored property to those who had lost it, and wiped out debts that were owed. The Jubilee Year was meant to restore equality among all the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families that had lost their property and even their personal freedom.
Pope John Paul II has called upon the Church to forgive outstanding debts during the Great Jubilee Year. Thus, we are encouraged to wipe out the international monetary debts of impoverished nations, but we are also invited to forgive the debts incurred by sin, through genuine reconciliation with those we have offended and those who have trespassed against us. However, if a Jubilee Year is meant to deal with debt, then this Jubilee Year is also an opportunity to acknowledge indebtedness. We are indebted to the God of Infinite Love, who, in the lyrics to amazing Grace, "has brought us safe thus far."
Consider for a moment this expression of our indebtedness: If you woke up this morning with more health than illness...you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation ... you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
- If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death...you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
- If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep...you are richer than 75% of this world.
- If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace...you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.
- If your parents are still alive and still married...you are very rare, even in Canada.
- If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful...you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.
- If you can hold someone's hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder...you are blessed because you can offer healing touch.
- If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you, and furthermore, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.
Have a good day, count your blessings, and pass this along to remind everyone else how blessed we all are. We must give thanks for all that we have been given and for all we have experienced. It prevents deep despair and depression from assaulting our hope. For we are a people who chronically look ahead at all the distance we have yet to travel, but seldom look back to enjoy the fact that we have traversed great distances already. We are quick to point out what is deficient, required, incomplete and lacking in consummation Yet we fail to note the joy and hope of what is already within our grasp, the grace already flowing through our midst, the love already unleashed and the ministry already being lavished upon the needy.
Remembering leads us to celebrate the abundant signs of God's gifts. In remembering we are also called to refocus; and this year of Jubilee is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our life as a community, to return to the origins of a our faith, and to renew our faith experience.
After I briefly explained 5 Great Jubilee themes for the Year 2000 - Let the Land Lie Fallow, Forgiveness, Freedom, Justice and Jubilation - to the students in one of our Catholic schools, each class in turn worked with the themes and developed their own Jubilee pledges. I would like to share three of them with you.
Jubilee Pledges from Mrs. Kennedy's Kindergarten Class
- We promise to pick up garbage and be nice to the earth. We will keep our wreath growing.
- We promise to share and be a good friend.
- We promise to be nice and share. That's fair.
- We promise to pray so people will be free.
- We promise to remember to thank God for toys, food., school., clothes, daycares, pets and families.
Mrs. Rooney's Grade Five Class makes these promises:
- We pledge to respect Canada's people ? their culture and their background. We pledge to respect all people, including children and elders. We pledge to respect people's property and homes. We pledge to keep the world as clean as we can; to not litter or pollute.
- We pledge to forgive everybody who has ever done anything to us by actually walking up to them and saying, "I forgive you" and really meaning it.
- We pledge to pray for freedom for all; that countries work to share resources so the result will not be war and they can help get rid of refugee camps.
- We pledge to make peace amongst ourselves. We pledge to take care of ourselves through cleanliness and well?being.
- We pledge to use justice and do what is right and not what is wrong.
- We pledge to celebrate and give thanks to the Giver. We will be grateful for gift and thankful for families. We pledge to celebrate thanks with our families each day.
Grade 7 Class
- Let the Land Lie Fallow
I promise to respect myself, to respect my body and my health. I will not let anyone put me down in any way. I will believe in myself. I promise to respect our earth - to respect its resources and not to harm the animals that live on it. I will help the earth grow to the end.
I pledge to forgive the countries that declare war on others, for they are not guided by God, I pledge to set a good example in my community and around the world, to forgive others for their wrongdoings, and to pray to be forgiven when I sin against others.
I pledge to the loved ones around me that I shall fight it for liberty and peace; to help all those who have been judged unfairly because they are different. I shall do this till the Lord is forever in our hearts, and souls. I pledge to the universe that I shall fight for justice and serve the people who are so dear to me, and to do my best to insure the freedom of speech and equality, in the name of God, our Father.
I pledge to find justice in poverty; and keep values in mind as well as honesty. This way, we can all lead happy lives. I pledge to show equal respect for classmates and teachers and all of God's people.
I thank God for the special gifts He has given us in our lives I also thank Him for our health and for protecting us, We are thankful for our families, food, land and our homes to keep us safe.
Tonight, we celebrate and reach out to assist 4 charities in their work and mission: We are doing a Jubilee thing. Showing a preferential option for the poor, seeing the reality in which we live from the vantage point of the pressured and powerless. We are trying to set some people free, restored dignity and property to those who had lost it, and wiping out debts that are owed. Seeking to restore some equality among all the children of God, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom.
- Elizabeth House, Calgary - a safe and caring home for pregnant and parenting teens
- Salvation Army Support House, Medicine Hat -providing shelter for those in emergent need and offering programs addressing long term needs
- Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Lethbridge - serving the poor who live in and around Lethbridge
- The Mustard Seed, Calgary - a safe place for street people of all ages to take refuge in the short terms and to prepare for the long term
In celebrating these agencies and their work and in reaching out, we act like a Jubilee People and light a candle. To light a candle has been a sign of resurrection hope since the ancient days of Christendom. However, darkness is not totally removed by a candle, any more than human suffering and pain are totally removed by faith and love. Darkness is the absence of light. It is not actually possible to bring darkness into a room. It is only possible to block the source of light out. An act of light, made of wax or good works, destroys the power of darkness by the restoration of hope.
A woman came out of her house and saw 3 old men with long white beards sitting in her front yard. She did not recognize them. She said, "I don't think I know you, but you must be hungry. Please come in and have something to eat."
"Is the man of the house home?" they asked. "No", she said. "He's out." "Then we cannot come in," they replied.
In the evening when her husband came home, she told him what had happened. "Go tell them I am home and invite them in!" The woman went out and invited the men in. "We do not go into a House together," they replied. "Why is that?" she wanted to know.
One of the old men explained: "His name is Wealth, " he said pointing to one of his friends, and said pointing to another one, "He is Success, and I am Love." Then he added, "Now go in and discuss with your husband which one of us you want in your home." The woman went in and told her husband what was said. Her husband was overjoyed.
"How nice!" he said. "Since that is the case, let us invite Wealth. Let him come and fill our home with wealth!" His wife disagreed. "My dear, why don't we invite Success?"
Their daughter-in-law was listening from the other corner of the house. She jumped in with her own suggestion: "Would it not be better to invite Love? Our home will then be filled with love!"
"Let us heed our daughter-in-law's advice," said the husband to his wife. "Go out and invite Love to be our guest." The woman went out and asked the 3 old men, "Which one of you is Love? Please come in and be our guest."
Love got up and started walking toward the house. The other 2 also got up and followed him. Surprised, the lady asked Wealth and Success: "I only invited Love, Why are you coming in?" The old men replied together: "If you had invited Wealth or Success, the other two of us would've stayed out, but since you invited Love, wherever he goes, we go with him. Wherever there is Love, there is also Wealth and Success!!!!!!"
My wish for all of you is that:
Where there is pain, I wish you peace and mercy.
Where there is self doubting, I wish you a renewed confidence in your ability to work through them.
Where there is tiredness, or exhaustion, I wish you understanding, patience, and renewed strength.
Where there is fear, I wish you love, and courage.
☩ Frederick Henry
In the Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II writes:
“In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place in thought and action which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination,’ in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.”
When we act to bring about an end to poverty and violence against women, we will know what it’s like to be an exile in a foreign culture. Our ancestors’ values were utterly at odds with those of the dominant culture. To survive in exile people need to maintain three things: their identity, their imagination and their capacity for hope. Our critical spiritual work addresses these issues.
Our first work is to foster our peers’ sense of identity as exiles whose values are clearly at odds with those of the dominant culture. It means choosing community in a culture of isolation and individualism; having a passion for mission in which the goal is service, not status; and living prophetically. This is difficult because many of us find the respect of our companions, the affirmation of our neighbours to be significant values we hesitate to sacrifice for exilic identity.
It is critical that the exiles not allow their spirit to be domesticated, not an easy task in a hostile environment.
Our second work is to keep imagination alive, to ground their life and vision in the fidelity of God. It is our role to speak of the power and purpose of God who, in the words of Isaiah, “does not faint or grow weary... who gives power to the weak, and strength to those who have no might.”
Exiles are sustained in their passion by power and freedom gained from the regular practice of liturgy. Liturgy is the regular communal process of looking at life through an alternative set of symbols, stories and hopes that the community of faith takes to be normative and non-negotiable.
We process our experience through memories of exodus, exile, crucifixion, resurrection. We see life differently.
What we need is for our imaginations to be fed by stories of Ruth and Naomi coping and caring in the face of obstacles, Esther courageously standing before the king, and Judith risking her life to protect her nation. We need stories of Elizabeth never giving up hope that life can come from barrenness, Mary giving birth and nurturing the life of Jesus in the midst of oppression and exile, and of Mary Magdalene, disbelieved by the disciples, who became the apostle to the apostles.
We need to hear Jesus’ invitation to share in free healing and to eat at a table where no one is excluded. We need to be in the places where we hear stories from women who have broken the cycle of abuse, stories of people who have learned ways to treat the land with respect, stories of neighbours who have bonded to reduce neighbourhood violence. Such accounts give freedom, hope, and cour-age to the listening community.
Seeking to live an alternative vision, we need to gather to articulate our fear, hurt, doubt, and anger. We need to gather to practice lament, to publicly express those things that diminish, dehumanize, immobilize. We must dare to express our pain that the world in which we live is not holding sacred the view of its maker.
The experience of violence and oppression is neither natural nor bear-able. We say “no” to the circumstances of exile and to all those items fostering the culture of death. In the biblical view it is necessary that exiles speak out in ways that “settled people” never find necessary or permissible. The miracle is that despair is not the last word. There is always movement to hope, joy and rescue given by the Holy One who comes decisively and transformatively into the situation of hurt and loss. So our third work is to believe, sing and dance, yes, even to march.
☩ Frederick Henry