February 24, 2005

Another Kind of (Ex)Primate

I just got back from basking in the glow of one of the truly great
leaders of our church. Archbishop Desmond M Tutu was declared this
afternoon a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, at Fordham
University here in the Bronx. I was so happy to be able to have this
great man in my parish — if not in my parish church! (Saint James
Episcopal is the old "manor church" of the Fordham area; I'm fond of
noting the number of Jesuits who are within my parish bounds!)

There were many speeches and some stirring song from a South African
vocal ensemble. But the highlight was +Desmond's "Response" to the
honorary degree. With his usual good humor and infectious charm, he laid
out a vision of a church and a world based on "truth and reconciliation"
and the radical inclusion of God, who, as last week's Gospel reminded
us, sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it,
and who was lifted high upon the cross to call to himself (and here the
Archbishop's voice stilled to a whisper perfectly audible in the great
University Church) — "all... all... all... held in the embrace of God!"
The heading of the citation for the Degree had the following quote from
+Desmond: "For our nation to heal and become a more humane place, we had
to embrace our enemies as well as our friends."

I hope the still-active Primates hear this word from a retired colleague
as they continue to work in secluded privacy. I hope that those who
cannot see their fellows as friends, might treat them at least and at
last as well as Christ commanded us to treat our enemies.

Yes, the Scripture does lay before us, in Paul's words, the language of
purity and separation and shunning "the sinner" — but I've always
wondered to what extent the Gospels were recorded as an objective and
communal corrective to Paul's rather subjective and personal experience
of things; and the Gospels seem to lay out for us this better way of
forbearance in judgment, charity in disagreement, and humility in the
change of heart that is required of us all. I have seen these qualities
in Desmond M Tutu, and I wish I could say the same of all of the
Primates — and of all of God's people.

February 18, 2005

Cost and payment

If there can be, as Archbishop Williams has said, no "cost-free" outcome to the present impasse, it might be well to review the ethics of cost and sacrifice. It is always appropriate, indeed Jesus tells us that it is the highest virtue, to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others. But the gospel also shows us the ultimate evil of the opposite choice: the decision to sacrifice another for one's own, or one's people's own, sake. This was the choice that it was "expedient that one should die for the sake of the many."

The miracle is that Jesus transformed even this ultimate wrong into a saving act, by choosing not to deliver himself (as he assures us he was fully capable of doing) from the wrong judgment brought against him.

Jesus did not undo the choice that Caiaphas made, but transformed it. Caiaphas acted out of fear and expediency, Christ out of charity. The same kinds of choices face us now; and since Christ has redeemed us all, and paid the cost "once for all," is it truly impossible to find a way forward without anyone laying a burden on anyone else's shoulders? We are all called, after all, each of us to take up our own crosses, and rather clearly forbidden from laying them on others.

It is time indeed to count the cost of discipleship. Woe to those who exact it.