Holy Week begins today with Palm Sunday. Fittingly, last evening my wife and I attended a splendid Berea College production of Webber and Rice's "Jesus Christ Superstar." The familiar score and story had me tearing from the overture on.
Of course, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a brilliant musical that captures the final events in Jesus' life. As in today's liturgical readings, the play takes us from Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to his cleansing of the city's Temple, his betrayal by Judas, his trials before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod. It finishes with his death on the cross and a reprise of Judas' questions about Jesus' place in history and among the world's other spiritual geniuses.
Through it all we agonize with Judas about accepting blood money and with Mary Magdalene about her unrequited love. We shake our heads at Jesus' uncomprehending, self-interested and cowardly disciples. We're amazed at the fickleness of the crowd and by Jesus' compassion, indecision, fear of death, and forgiveness of his executioners.
The rock musical score is haunting. The lyrics are hip and inspiring. I found it amazing that the story though repeated so often retains the power to move its audiences. I felt grateful to Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for their audacity in making the tale so accessible and meaningful to contemporaries.
Similar feelings have been evoked this Lent by Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel." That too was on my mind as I watched "Jesus Christ Superstar." That's because during this year's Lent, members of my parish community have been studying the pope's publication.
Through it, I think Pope Francis is calling us to do something like what Webber and Rice have done -- make Jesus and the church once again relevant to a world that has long since dismissed them as quaint and detached from daily life.
As we've studied "The Joy of the Gospel," all of us have marveled at Francis' own courage, boldness and audacity. Almost from the beginning, our group has asked each other, "But what should we do in this parish in response to the pope's general directions?"
At Lent's conclusion, I suggest we reprise that question. So I've put together a proposal about responding to "The Joy of the Gospel" in the context of our Berea Kentucky parish, St. Clare's Catholic Church. Think of it as a kind of capstone to the Lenten reflections I've shared here over the last six weeks. Then tell me what you think of it. Is it feasible? Is it relevant? What else or instead might we do?
Here's the modest proposal.
Towards a Program for Implementing Pope Francis' Directions for Parish Renewal at St. Clare's
- In his Apostolic Exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel" (JG), Pope Francis has called for a "new chapter" in the history of the Catholic Church and for the church to embark on a "new path" (JG 1, 25),
- On which things cannot be left as they presently are, (25)
- But must include new ways of relating to God, new narratives and new paradigms (74),
- Along with new customs, ways of doing things, times, schedules, and language (27),