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Sermons > Passion Sunday

21 Mar 2010

“After He had said this, Jesus left and hid from [the crowds].”  (John 12:36c)     (+)

A few weeks ago I saw an advertisement in the newspaper asking for volunteers to come to UMass and participate in a psychology experiment.  In bold print the ad said:  “NO experience meditating.”  Well, that fit me to a tee.  But I cheated a little bit.  I punched in the graduate student’s name on the computer and within a couple of minutes I found out that his concentration was unconscious prejudice.  I was thinking the “no meditation” line was just a gimmick.  I think I was right.  The experiment was a series of computer slides showing positive and negative words and images interspersed with pictures of Americans of European and African descent.  I think they were measuring to see if unconsciously we were associating blacks with negative images and whites with positive.  Since I was expecting this sort of test, I was extra cautious in my responses, but for this test to get a grad student’s attention and funding from some sort of grant, there must be some-thing to the idea of unconscious prejudice, that we make-up our minds before our minds even know. 

This idea has long amazed and worried me, that we’re planning, judging and reacting without thinking.  There seems to be a whole world of stuff going on in our daily lives that just never rises to the level of awareness.  It’s one thing to act reflexively by pulling your hand away from something that is burning hot.  After your hand is already pulled away, then your brain lets you know about that first feeling of pain.  You’ve already reacted before you thought about it.  That’s all well and good when it comes to those kinds of physical responses, but what about when we act reflexively and pull back from another person just because they look different than we do?  If it’s not being thought about, if it’s an automatic reflex, then it must be programmed into our brains from the world around us, and from the youngest age.  So are these tests discovering that even for a person who wants to be fair, who wants to make a conscious effort to be open-minded and to judge on facts not appearance, that the world around us trumps our efforts because it’s leading us to react before we can even think?  That’s exactly what they’re discovering.

Today is Passion Sunday.  The appearance of the church has changed dramatically and reflects the starkness of the events at the end of Jesus’ life.  We no longer see in our Sanctuary the familiar and comforting images of our Saviour, the Holy Family and the saints.  They are now shrouded in purple to give image to the words of the Gospel.  Jesus has been forced into seclusion with only His closest followers as a precaution against a premature death.  That’s why we don’t see the familiar images of Jesus and those close to Him any longer. The starkness of this church today represents that chilling reality that Jesus came into the world for us, but that the world drove Him away.  People too often prefer this world of godlessness, symbolized for us by these shrouds, to that of a world where Jesus is a reassuring presence and a model for our behaviour.

Now if the psychologists and their tests are actually on to something with this unconscious decision making, that from our youngest years we are picking up subtle signals in the world around us that we may not even be aware of, and that these hidden lessons are being learned just below the level of our consciousness, then the world symbolized by these shrouds is repeating to us every day the message of godlessness, and we’re not even aware of it.  Everyday that we do not make a conscious effort to think of God or to act morally, we give the godlessness that surrounds us another chance to make these shrouds permanent because the unconscious lessons of TV, music, Sunday morning church alternatives and etc. continue and grow stronger.

I honestly do not have a problem with the separation of church and state.  Our government and citizens can’t even figure out how to manage the health-care of our physical bodies.  Then how in the world are they ever going to figure out issues about our spiritual health?  Thomas Jefferson once said that no one can be saved by compulsion in religion.  In other words, we have to choose to follow God for faith to be meaningful.  I remember when my daughters were in Pre-School.  There was no Christmas party at the school.  There was some sort of a Hawaiian luau.  Now, if the psychologists are right, then this isn’t leaving an impartial lesson with the children, the very impressionable four-year-old children, this is teaching them unconsciously a Christmas alternative.  But it’s not the job of the school to teach faith.  Last week I had to run over to Barnes and Noble, and while walking from my car to the bookstore I noticed an advertisement in the window of Pier One Imports.  In big, bold letters, it read: “Easter made easy.”  It was about getting your shopping done, but there’s also that subtle message burrowing its way into our unconscious thoughts that Easter should be easy, that we shouldn’t have to go past Golgotha and Jesus’ tomb, that we shouldn’t have to think about fasting and penance, about the meaning of a sacrificial love.  But again, it’s not the store’s business to advocate for our faith.  These and a hundred other examples every day are working their way into the choices we make, and we’re probably not even aware of it.  The shrouds can become real, and we’re not even aware of it.

This is why if we want to be people of faith, if we want to have Jesus as a real part of our lives, then we must make the conscious decision to make room for Him in our lives.  We have to plan for prayer and Bible and church.  We have to buck the ordinary and try and consciously act like Jesus in our daily lives.  We have to make these conscious efforts because the godlessness of the world is constantly teaching us otherwise unconsciously.  During this Passiontide of 14 days, may we experiment with giving ourselves over to God more completely so that on Easter not only the statues may reappear, but that Christ may also be more clearly visible to us and in our lives, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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