Do you think life is a prison?
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I believe that I will be resurrected. Sermon on Easter Sunday
(April 4, 2021 in the Jesuit Church)
The scene could take place in any cancer ward in a hospital. An older man and a young lad meet in front of the coffee machine. Both with severe tumors in the body. The man fights with the machine, the boy helps him. “Are you the man who prays?” He asks suddenly. “Yes.” The conversation revolves around the tumors and the therapy. When saying goodbye, the boy surprisingly says: “Pray for me!” A few days later the nurse fetched the man from the doctor's room; the boy asks for him. He is about to have the operation. Now all he wants to know is: “Is there life after death?” The man talks about the bush, mentions philosophical and theological arguments. The boy interrupts impatiently: “I'm going to die, I know it. I have a feeling I won't survive the operation. And I know there's nothing after that. Do you think I'll live after that? ”The man is concerned, saying that the only one who came back from death is Jesus. “And what did he say?” In polished theologian jargon, the man says that we are already living in Christ. That is not enough for the boy, he does not understand it. And there is only one thing he wants to know, whether the man himself believes and knows more. "Death is an insult to life", the man begins his reflections, "you fight it every day." The man looks at the boy helplessly when he says: "If that is the case, what is the point of belief?" The boy does not survive the operation.
The man is a priest, the rain of an elite seminary. Troubled by the dwindling ecclesiasticalism, he leads his seminar with a stern hand, places great value on discipline and tightened sexual morality, tramples around in the souls of his seminarians, forcing them to lie. One could almost say a parade church functionary, one who cares about the systemic importance of the church. After the shocking scene in the hospital, he sits with a guilty conscience at having failed the religiously poor boy in the sermon competition of his seminarians. One of them is in a wheelchair. In the seminar he is an outsider, a former criminal, drug dealer who even has a murder on his conscience. And a long prison sentence behind him. In prison he found God and completely turned his life upside down. He really had to fight for his place in the seminar. While he - already as a seminarian - went to the widow of the murdered man - the boss of a mafia group - to ask her for forgiveness, the mafia shoots him dead. But he survives and remains confined to a wheelchair. His whole life. He is a thorn in the side of the rain because he does not fit into the scheme of his churchliness. He also breaks the rules in the sermon competition, surprisingly he changes the subject and frankly confesses that in the seminar he feels like a dead person who has been brought back to life. I believe, he says suddenly, "God can raise the dead even if they stink." This is how he concludes his brief impulse. Then he mumbles a word of apology that he doesn't know if he has made himself clear enough. The rain freezes. He understood the statement! As the providential answer to his failure in the hospital, where he was unable to give the boy, who was completely ignorant of religion, in the face of his death, an honest and clear confession to the resurrection, a confession of his faith.
Dear sisters and brothers, why this somewhat longer retelling of some scenes from the award-winning French series: “Ainsi soient ils” - “So be they”, an Arte production about a seminary, about the change in church life in France, a Land where God has become stranger to most people than the moon? The series shows everything, the ambiguous ecclesiastical existences, the church's commitment to the homeless, Caritas, efforts to achieve perfect management and the good media image. The scene I retell represents the religious-spiritual climax of the production. I mention it today for two reasons.
On the one hand: it can be seen as a modern form of today's gospel. And also its continuation. The well-prepared disciples Peter and John run to the grave and understand the station. In the face of the experience of death, they fall silent, first closing in a familiar circle. Then they get confused and panic. "What's next? In the face of decline? ”Mary Magdalene - a personality with a dark past, ambiguous that is, ambiguous like the seminarian - a woman who - as it says in the Gospel - loved much, is much loved because she has been forgiven much the first witness to the resurrection. I find the church's identification of the former whore with the first witness to the resurrection almost meaningful. She is in no way a victim of the slander of patriarchy, as the modern pimped theories want (and the "religionsplatte" ORF posts the nonsense as the main news at Easter on its homepage). Theories that see emancipation processes and the ecclesiastical male machinations everywhere and condense into the past arise from the taste of the authors, who prefer to see Maria Magdala as a forerunner of a modern theology professor: properly bourgeois and politically correct, fizzle out faster than she does to be invented.
But what is the deeper meaning of the church's position? Because Maria more often than the properly socialized citizens experienced the shattering of their desires, the destruction of their life plans, because she experienced the experience of humiliation, because life was dirty for her - like the seminarist, the drug dealer, prisoner, even murderer - Because the ground was often stripped from her feet, she was able to perform such an elementary act as the mention of the name: "Mary" - because that's what it says in the continuation of today's Gospel, in which she meets Jesus - in depth understand their heart. She could experience being honestly addressed by name as that value that even crosses the limit of death. She, who was already socially dead, found life through her encounter with Jesus. That is why she is the first who recognizes the resurrected one and can convincingly say: God has raised him, because: God can raise the dead, even when they stink. And she testifies to this to the "big-headed", the apostles, just as in the film the man who is confined to a wheelchair with a dubious past can testify to this belief in the theologically well-trained rain.
And there is the second reason for telling the story. This rain makes me think of the biblical Sadducees, the temple aristocracy, which was primarily concerned about the systemic relevance of organized religion: about funding, charitable work, and the public image. This concern concealed the Sadducees of that time and also conceals from those responsible today what the faith is actually about. These responsible persons can be found nowadays with the religious journalists and only secondarily with the church officials who try to meet the standards set by the media. And where is the crux of the matter? The Sadducees did not believe in the raising of the dead, the temple cult was sufficient: organized religion instead of hope that survived death! In the film, by the way, the rain undergoes a fundamental change in the following scenes, a change to which "normal" people - such as a nurse - also make their contribution.
“Do you believe that there is life after death?” “Do you believe that He has risen?” “Do you believe that you will be resurrected yourself?” People today ask these questions to me (also to me personally) who is often so ignorant about religion. Yes! I believe and I also believe this because people with broken existences and with dubious life stories - from Mary of Magdala to this seminarian and people who today often live on the edge of the abyss - believe that. Because they, who have been dead so often, dead for their fellow men and also dead for themselves, have had this all-turning experience of a new beginning. And I also believe because those who struggle for their last breath very often believe in it and can therefore also die reconciled and in peace.
It shouldn't sound presumptuous, but: I really believe it!
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