Connecting With the Gospel Drama

Eyes on the Crossby By Michael Kennedy, S.J.Crossroad. 256p $14.95

Following up on his well-received first book, Eyes on Jesus, Michael Kennedy, a Jesuit priest, presents the prayerful reader with another set of poetic Ignatian meditations. These Gospel dramas’ speak to the heart and engage the mind by kindling the imagination and inflaming the affect. The pastor of Dolores Mission parish in the heart of East Los Angeles’s Pico and Aliso housing projects, Kennedy draws on years of experience among the poor to breathe new life into biblical contemplation by bridging the historical and cultural gap between Jesus’ time and our own. Bringing the concerns and the sensibilities of East L.A.’s poor into the world of Jesus, these meditations also serve to connect middle-class readers with the social reality of the poor, the broken and the dispossessed, with whom Jesus identified.

Kennedy developed and refined these meditations over several years of pastoral practice among grammar school students at the parish school, gang-affiliated youth at the nearby Eastlake Juvenile Detention facility, visiting college students, migrant workers who sleep in the church building at night, members of base ecclesial communities in the neighborhood, people who form the breadline every Wednesday and the many families who crowd the Masses every weekend. This new volume presents more meditations in the thoughtful and richly textured style of its predecessor, yet it also supplies the reader a more explicit entree into the social context of the urban poor whence these meditations arise.

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The general plan of the book follows Christ from the beginnings of his public ministry through the cross to the hope of Easter. The call to discipleship, the miracle of healing, the desire to serve others and other essential themes lead the reader into the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, on which this volume is based. Drawing on scenes from all four Gospels, the 18 chapters see Jesus from the vantage point of a follower, one who accepts the invitation of grace to join with Jesus, to become a part of his circle and to collaborate with him in his inauguration of the Reign of God.

The structure of each chapter makes this book useful both as personal spiritual reading and as a ministerial source book. A brief essay, meant to introduce the theme of each meditation, also introduces the reader to the people of East Los Angeles. We meet Marlon and Jose and Oscar in Juvenile Hall; we hear from Nelson, a migrant worker up from El Salvador; we stand by helplessly as young Ticio dies, caught in the crossfire; we feel the anguish of Camilla and Lupe, mothers who sorrow because their loved ones suffer. Each of these brief sketches leads the reader into a Gospel passage, then to the contemplation. A few reflection questions conclude each chapter to help the reader draw fruit from the exercise by paying attention to the movements of the Spirit within.

The chapter entitled impossible well illustrates the dynamic of the book. We are introduced to Marlon as he waits for his sentencing hearing to begin. Against all expectations, the judge listens to him as he speaks from the heart, and she is merciful. Thirty years is reduced to five, with the admonition that Marlon take this as a grace, as an invitation to make something of [his] life. The line drawing (one of several by Bernardo Gantier Zelada, S.J.) shows an incredulous Peter being pulled up from the stormy seas by a kind-faced Jesus. The Gospel passage is Mt. 14:24-33. The meditation follows. As always, it is in the first person, without capitalization and with question marks as the only punctuation. It takes Peter from the shore out into the lake, into the storm of fear and self-doubt and vacillating loyalty to Jesus. After a few confident steps, with his eyes locked on Jesus, he begins to look at the dark waters and sinks, weighed down by doubt.

No longer
with my eyes focused on jesus
once again
ghost-like fear
gripped my heart
who am I
to be able to walk on water?
all my self doubts
my weaknesses
pulled me as forcefully
into the water
as the strength of howling wind
trying hard in resisting
as the forces
of the underworld
tried to bring me
into its grip
why did I ever
takes my eyes
off you jesus?
why?
why does fear
always seem to be winning?

The downward spiral into the vortex is interrupted by a strong grip as Jesus pulls Peter up and into an embrace. The experience of shipwreck and rescue leads to a rush of feelings and attitudes: relief, exhaustion, introspection, awe, resolution. What is impossible for us becomes possible with God. Indeed.

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