Christmas 2023: Crucifying Christ Again
Before the pandemic I initiated a series of dialogues with a group of Trappist monks at New Clairvaux Abbey, twenty minutes north of town. The abbot, Father Paul Mark, graciously invited me into the cloistered area, and attended all six of the talks. It was, to say the least, a memorable experience.
Trappist, or Cistercian monks are among the most devout and strict brothers in the long tradition of Catholic monasticism. They pray six times a day, beginning at 3:30 am at New Clairvaux in a rebuilt 12th century chapel within a new, modern church.
The dialogues were eye opening for this ‘fallen-way Catholic.’ After three years of reflection induced by an act of extreme violence by a nun on a friend in the eighth grade, I left the Church as a senior in high school. As a boy I had been a dutiful Catholic, an altar boy and favorite of the priests. (You can’t use such a phrase these days without saying, there were no pedophiles in the parish as far as I know.)
The monks at New Clairvaux didn’t induce me to doubt my youthful decision to leave the Church, nor did they try, and I was open with them about it. But I came away from our talks with a newfound understanding of monasticism, and affection for the brothers at the Abbey.
The monks had become individuals to me, and I came to see them simply as people, albeit men living a very unusual way of life.
As a mystic with insights into Jesus and his mission, I posed a question to the group during our last talk. It is the central question of Christianity to my mind.
As Jesus was dying on the cross, I asked, do you really think he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
They all said yes. Passionately, I then asked, Do you see what that means? To the brothers’ credit, they asked what I meant.
It means he didn’t understand what went wrong, I replied. His mission had failed, and he felt forsaken by God.
Needless to say, they disagreed, but there was no contention, no standing on monastic authority. I came away from the talks with tremendous respect for them.
I wonder what they think this Christmas, as Bethlehem stands shuttered and silent over the crime against humanity Israel is perpetrating in leveling Gaza, killing thousands of children and women, and driving hundreds of thousands into a desperate nightmare of survival? More to the point, I wonder what Jesus would feel and say?
It isn’t hard to imagine actually, or perhaps, even to directly feel, if one believes the spirit of Jesus dwells among us despite the hellishness of this world.
In the United States, which is home to the world’s largest population of Christians, a majority of Evangelical Protestants, who account for about a quarter of the adult US population, steadfastly support a fascistic former president that channels evil as clearly as anyone except Vladimir Putin at the present time.
Make no mistake, Christian nationalism, the animating ideology behind power-hungry supporters and sycophants of Donald Trump, is evil. And it now has the political infrastructure to carry out Trump’s authoritarian agenda, through such incredibly irreligious people as Mike Johnson, speaker of the House of Representatives and third in line to the presidency.
A Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth historian of religion, said, “Johnson has bought into the malignant cancer about America being a Christian nation.”
Consensus is growing to ‘let the voters decide’ (again) on the question of whether to give the most powerful office in the world to a vengeful avowed dictator, or to a president who has given carte blanche military support to Israel’s war of vengeance. Though Trump and Biden are not morally equivalent, the lesser of two evils is still evil.
Given that 40% of the American electorate cultishly follows a man who is the devil’s own, while calling him “sent by God,” this nation stands on the cusp of ochlocracy – mob rule.
The religious mind didn’t awaken within me until I let go of organized religion. And I wasn’t catholic until I left Catholicism behind with the illusions of childhood.
To me, Jesus is one of the greatest human beings that ever lived because, even as he was being betrayed by his people (Jesus was a Jew after all), and crucified by the Romans, he didn’t turn against them, but said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus could only be crucified once, but every generation since has crucified Christ.
From top to bottom, the Hamas murderers, baby killers and rapists knew what they were doing, so how can they be forgiven? Netanyahu and his “war cabinet” know what they’re doing, so how can they be forgiven?
After his death, I’m certain Jesus saw that God did not forsake him. Nor has the infinite intelligence he embodied forsaken humankind, as difficult as that is for any rational person to feel, given what man has become.
The American crisis, and the crisis of humanity, will not be resolved at the polls, but in the hearts of living people. That’s just as true today as it was when Jesus tried to bring about a revolution of the heart over 2000 years ago.