We are Eyewitnesses to God’s Sovereign Majesty

Mary Magdala Community

“We are Eyewitnesses to Sovereign Majesty.” Thoughts on Transfiguration, August 6, 2017

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.co

“For we are eyewitnesses of his sovereign majesty.”  (2Peter 1:17)

Now that the Transfiguration vision is done and Resurrection is experienced Peter has a clear appreciation for sovereign majesty.  It has nothing to do with triumphalism, power, or institutions.  Peter never got to build those tents – and, likely, he was glad for that.  But the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah has everything to do with fulfillment.  In Jesus, the law and the prophets are fulfilled.  So, what is that?

What it is – is to live and act as if Jesus’ message of love is in reality the rule of life.  Fulfillment is love here and now.  It is to live as if we are all transfigured by that love – because we are.

What does living and acting “as if” look like?  It looks like the Franciscan friar and priest, Jerry Zawada.  Several members of our community attended the funeral last Wednesday for Jerry.  Some of our members knew Jerry very well.  Jean and I met him only a couple times back in our Burlington Friary days.  And the thing about Jerry living in Burlington Friary, then, meant that he was most likely in exile and assigned to lay low.

Jerry lived “as if” everybody and everything has been fulfilled by the love of the transfigured Christ.  He cared for those who were beaten down, left out, homeless, and/or deprived of their rights.  He believed in justice that brings peace and environmental sustainability.  He said Mass on top of a missile silo.  He saw creation as the gift to be hallowed not exploited to extinction.

A person who Jean and I did know well was the Franciscan friar and priest, Dacian Bluma.  Dacian was Jerry’s Novice Master and, later, his Provincial.  I had conversations with Dacian – the kind where he looked back on his life.  In those discussions he spoke of his love and admiration for Jerry.  Dacian was so thankful that Jerry was in their community as one who saw the law and the prophets as truly fulfilled, truly transfigured.  Jerry was the thorn in their side – just the kind of person to keep Franciscans true to the vision of Francis of Assisi.  As the homilist said at the funeral liturgy, Francis was a radical and Jerry was a radical.

Funny thing about Jerry in Burlington was that his superiors were usually nervous when Jerry was assigned to preside at Sunday Eucharist in the public chapel.  They never knew what he was going to say – probably something radical like, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Funny thing also about Jerry’s funeral.  The review of his life and the prayers of thanks for that life were all about peace, justice, nonviolence, and care for the oppressed – as well that should have been.  But not one word for women’s call to ordination.  Sexism in the church, after all, is the great taboo, the great unmentionable.

Don’t get me wrong.  Jerry’s funeral was a dignified event – a tribute to a large portion of Jerry’s life as a Christian, a Franciscan, and a priest.  His fellow friars are to be commended for not dismissing Jerry from the community when you know they had been pressured to do just that.  But a lot of people in church last Wednesday came to pay tribute to him for all his life, including his recognition of women’s call to priesthood.  The funeral acknowledgements and tributes went far, but not far enough.

Jerry had the audacity to concelebrate Eucharist with a priest who happens to be a woman, Janice Sevre Duszynska.  This took place publicly and became the reason for ecclesiastical bureaucrats to suspend him from future public priestly acts – like presiding at Eucharist.  It’s another one of those things that got him exiled to Burlington.

If my tone, in describing these events, sounds a bit flip – it is meant to be.  Perhaps one of the last great “isms” to be transfigured is sexism particularly as it is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.  When the whole world moves on and the anachronism shows its true colors, one cannot help but to be flip.

What was not flippant was Jerry’s decision to concelebrate with Janice.

Janice attended Jerry’s funeral.  I took advantage of that to ask her a question about Jerry’s decision to publicly pray with her in this priestly way.  I asked if he shared with her his own decision process and his view toward the repercussions that would surely come his way in the aftermath of his actions.

It turns out that Jerry and Janice concelebrated twice – first in 2010 with a private group and then publicly in 2011.  Janice said that Jerry wanted to take that time in-between to pray over his decision to “go public.”  So, that year became his own discerning time knowing full well what would come down upon him.

In 2011 as part of their return to protest at the School of the Americas, Janice and Jerry, priests joined in the cause for peace and justice, concelebrated Eucharist again.  For that action Jerry was silenced and deprived of performing publicly his priesthood.  Make no mistake, Jerry continued his priestly ministry, though curtailed and with his own respect for the directives of the powers-that-be.  And, you guessed it – it meant a return to Burlington.

Last Wednesday, though, we committed to God’s loving care the Franciscan friar and priest, Jerry Zawada, O.F.M.  As a son of Francis of Assisi he lived as if Transfiguration is now – no tents, no institutions, only the love of Jesus here and now.

“For we are eyewitnesses of his sovereign majesty.”  (2Peter 1:17)

A Prayer  (JR)

On Transfiguration Day we encircle the vision of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

The light we share is yours, O Christ, to guide our way and to open our path.

You fulfill the law and the prophets, and so establish the justice of your love over all.

Make us worthy to share this vision and to live in the brightness of your light.

Embolden your people to love not hate, to accept not reject, to make peace not war.

Hear us, Beloved One, who enlightens all creation –

this gift which is entrusted to us now and to the end of time.


One Response

  1. Ron Mendyke says:

    Jim, thank you for sharing your memories of, and reflections about, Fr. Jerry. From what I’ve read and heard about Fr. Jerry he certainly did let his prophetic “light shine” and very brightly! He did not let it be hid under a barrel (although Rome and some members of his community were trying their best to cover (silence) it). I would pray, “rest in peace, Fr. Jerry” but I think his light will continue to blaze very brightly in the constellation of Peace and Justice, troubling our consciences.

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