Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

May 19, 2002

Pentecost Sunday 2002

Acts 2, 1-11, 1 Cor 12, 3-7, 12-13, Jn 20,19-23 - John 20:19-23

John does in a single day what Luke does in 50 days in having his Pentecost experience take place Easter Sunday night. Jesusí disciples are locked up in a room in Jerusalem, afraid to venture out, afraid to let anyone in. Three days prior their leader and Rabbi was found guilty of rebellion, branded a heretic, sentenced to death and crucified. Worse yet, he died alone. None of them went to his defense. None of them offered to share in his suffering, despite promises to do so. Not only frightened, Jesusí disciples were ashamed for their cowardly performance. Like in a pack of beaten dogs, they shamefully whimpered behind closed doors, too afraid to move.

Peace Be With You times two: John 20:19 and 20:21: The resurrected Jesus appears to them I n the midst of their fear and shame. And the first and second thing he says to them is, Peace be with you.

If I were Jesus, "Peace be with you" would not have been the first thing I would have said to the disciples. I would have asked them where they were when I needed them. What about all their promises of loyalty, even unto death? I would have asked for some accounting, some chance to get forgiveness before offering a blanket amnesty. But then, I am not Jesus. Jesusí love and forgiveness, like the Fatherís, is not conditioned on the sinnerís disposition. It is offered freely, with no strings attached, a true gift. As if to prove the extent to which heíll go to express his love and forgiveness, Jesus shows his disciples his hands and his side, the marks of his death in between his first and second "Peace be with you" greetings.

The disciplesí experience of Jesusí love and forgiveness was no theological abstract. It was anything but a cerebral formula attested to in a cerebral form. It was a real gut-wrenching experience, a complete turn around heart changing experience that replaced their fear and shame with rejoicing.

As the Father sent me, so I send you (John 20:20), or in other words, Do unto others as I have done unto you. No sooner did the disciples experience Jesusí unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness than they were brought into the Divine Conspiracy of Love. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit. They are given a simple directive: As the Father sent me, so I send you. In other words do unto others as I have done unto you.

Sins forgiven are forgiven. Sins retained are retained. John 20:22 The Council of Trent defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Though true, this verse in John has a much broader purpose than the specific sacramental authority to forgive sins. Akin to Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18, this verse gives the disciples and the Church who followed them the widest and broadcast discretion to re-invent themselves for the mission and work of being followers of Jesus.

If at the heart of the Churchís mission is to do what Jesus did: to love and to forgive; then the Church is free to do whatever it deems necessary in its structures, in its teachings, and in its exercising of its authority to fulfill its mission. It is free to re-invent itself in anyway except for its primary directive: to love and to forgive.

Pope Summons US Cardinals to Rome: As I write this reflection the US Cardinals are on their way to Rome to talk to the Pope about the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States. It is hard to be too optimistic about the outcome of these meetings, given the track record of Pope John Paul IIís papacy with internal church concerns. While there is much to admire about Pope John Paul II and his papacy, especially his strong and forceful witness for peace and justice in the social, political, and economic spheres around the world, his personal involvement in dismantling the Soviet Union and Communism, his personal charism and world travels promoting the Churchís social and spiritual vision and his tireless defense of life, human rights, and the needs of the poor. He has taken on these concerns to heroic dimensions. Heís one of the strongest voices for life in a world caught in the grip of a culture of death.

Yet, when it comes to our own Churchís need for reform and renewal, he has been a major stumbling block. Itís not much the actual positions he genuinely believes are best for the Church he leads, but the climate of fear, intimidation, and silencing of contrary voices within the Church that diminishes the Churchís ability to deal with this crisis. This is not the leadership of freedom in which Jesus bestowed on the disciples in todayís Gospel from John.

I said I wasnít very optimistic about the Popeís meeting with the US Cardinals. That does not mean Iím not hopeful. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, anything is possible. Besides, my real hope for the Church lies with the promise Jesus made that he will be with us until the end of time, a promise that stands whether we are true or not to his commands.

Pentecost: The Holy Spirit and my Mom: Along with being the birthday of the Church, Pentecost is the "coming out" Feast of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Formerly called the Holy Ghost, this third person of the One God is the fullness of Godís wisdom revealed to the world. Wisdom, being a feminine characteristic of the Holy Spirit, can be seen as the feminine side of God. Whether God can be called male or female is up for debate. In my life, the person who most embodies the characteristics of the Holy Spirit is my mother, Angela.

My mom was born and raised in a large Italian, American family, the first ten years on a dairy farm in upstate New York and then the rest of her childhood on a truck farm in Des Moines, Iowa. My mother is of the World War II generation. She married my dad, a wounded Marine, right after the War. Dad went to college on the GI bill and became a teacher and a coach. Mom stayed home to raise their six kids, five boys and one girl. Dad landed a job at Dowling High School, an all boysí Catholic high school in Des Moines. It was the job of his dreams. He embraced it like a religious vocation. It also meant he was paid about one half of what he could have gotten in the public school system. As soon as the youngest child was off to school, my mom needed to re-enter the work force.

We were brought up in an extraordinary neighborhood. We belonged to a large extended Italian American family. In our little neighborhood, within a two-block area, there were seven households of first and second cousins. It was a traditional environment, even though Mom worked a full-time job, she was expected to maintain the house, feed the family, and be the primary care parent. In my neighborhood my mom was known as a strict disciplinarian, not only for her own kids, but also for all the kids in the neighborhood. I know what it means to be brought up in a village, and my mother was a force with which to be reckoned.

I canít say I was really fond of my mother at this time in our lives. I could not wait to get to high school away from the strict disciplined world of my mom and into the sports dominated world of my dad. I had four great years in high school. I lettered in four sports, excelled in all matters of extra-curricular activities, managed to get above passing grades and did my dad proud.

Then our whole world changed. On Easter Sunday morning of my senior year, my dad died of a heart attack. He was forty-seven years old. The person who the changed the most was my mom. Mom had to become both Mother and Father to a pack of kids, half raised. She had to take on a whole lot of responsibilities having to do with finances, insurance, taxes, and whole lot of other stuff that she was ill prepared to do. Mostly though, she had to do this alone, without her best friend and the love of her life.

When I dropped out of seminary and helped start the Des Moines Catholic Worker, my mom was disappointed. And when the Catholic Worker started to do what Catholic Workers do, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," she started to worry for our familyís good name. She made a point of joining us for our Friday night Masses just to make sure we were not disrespecting the Eucharist. In the early years of the Catholic Worker we had Friday night round table discussions after Mass. We would have a wide range of guest speakers dealing with peace and justice concerns. And with each issue we Catholic Workers applied the commands of the Gospel and the Churchís social teachings. This began yet another metamorphosis in my motherís life. Some of her most cherished and deeply held beliefs about our country and its relationship to the poor in the world began to change. Mom started to attend protests my brother Tom and I organized, first as a spectator and then as a participant. The people who used to come to her to complain about her un-American embarrassing Catholic sons stopped doing so because she was no one of those trouble makers. She frequently joined my brother Tom and me at peace and justice retreats and conferences. She joined peace and justice groups and was a regular protestor in her own right. Sheís been arrested at a number of places and once went to trial in Omaha for crossing the line at Offutt Air Force Base.

I remember a peace parade that Mom marched in during the 1980ís in Des Moines. She got behind a group of gay and lesbian participants who were holding hands and showing open affection for each other. Mom later confessed that she was uncomfortable with this behavior. My brother Tom and I gave her a hard time. We told her to loosen up a bit and be open to new ways. She gave us that stern look that only a Mother can and told us, "Donít tell me about being open to change. I remember going to parades to send boys off to War," and she was right of course.

Throughout my life my mom has demonstrated what the power of the Holy Spirit can do. She has shown courage in difficult times. She has re-invented herself more than once to meet the challenges of the moment. She called forth from within herself numerous gifts and talents, many she did not even know she had, to address the demands life presented her. She did it all for the good of others, first her family and after they were raised for the good of the poor. The only thing she did not change throughout her ever-changing life was her love of God and faith in Jesus.

These days my mom is in the grips of yet another metamorphosis, she has been battling Alzheimerís for the past five years. Because of this terrible disease she is losing her memory and functions of her mind, bit by bit. These days she canít remember from one day to the next, from one hour to the next. Comparatively she is still considered to be high functioning. She is living at Martina Place, an assisted living home run by the Mercy Sisters. She gets to go to Mass or Communion services daily. She loves it.

The last three years that I have lived at the Catholic Worker, Iíve been bringing Mom over to the house to help with the hospitality once or twice a week. She doesnít do bathroom or windows anymore, but she loves washing dishes. She has a great attitude and cheerful spirit. She is a good listener and not afraid to give advice, never was. The folks at the Catholic Worker love her. It was not easy for me to leave her this time. Six months is a big chuck of time in my momís life these days.

We may have some hard times ahead of us, but I am confident Mom will handle it well, as she always has. I just hope us kids will do half as well.