This weekend’s liturgy is entitled, “Gaudete”—in our vernacular, “Joy.” We are almost to Christmas, when we remember, Emmanuel—“God with us” coming into our lives. We signify it by lighting a rose or white candle. I am wearing a rose stole today.
All the readings speak of joy. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks for everything!” Isaiah’s reading begins with the famous lines that Jesus quotes, making them his own at Nazareth when he begins his public life. “The Spirit of God is upon me, sending me to bring good news to the poor, to heal broken hearts, to proclaim release to the captives and liberation to the imprisoned. This tells us in no uncertain terms where justice will be meted out. We saw this same message in our sung psalm today—Mary’s ballad of justice for the downtrodden in Luke—her Magnificat!
From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its end, he was about bringing us to life and that life to fullness. It is precisely in bringing the good news to the poor, imprisoned, those held captive, that as Isaiah says, a year of favor will come upon them and their suffering will be over. It is good to remember that in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ time, every 50 years was a Jubilee Year wherein land and other good things taken from the poor were to be given back.
In doing good things for the least among us, we become people who like our brother Jesus, “turn things on their heads”—break from the status quo, to be his true followers.
Now at first glance; we might agree with this, but upon further reflection, we might ask, why we would want to change things–why can’t we be satisfied that while life isn’t perfect—it’s OK? And my friends, Jesus’ life among us answers that question—as long as the least among us lives in unjust circumstances; we cannot rest. As long as everyone is not given their voice, is not allowed to live by their well-formed conscience, even if it goes against orthodoxy; we cannot rest. When we think of what it is to be Christian, even human—are we not called to do all we can to make sure that people have at least, the basics in life, as I spoke of in last Sunday’s homily about the homeless in Winona, across this country and around our world? Can we truly enjoy the extras in life when there are those without the basics? Can those who are privileged to be the gender of choice in church and society stand by while women are discounted because of how they happened to have been born?
Jaimie Mason, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter spoke well to the issue this past week in an article wherein she drew the connection between the sexual abuse we are currently hearing about in every walk of public life to that of the sexual abuse within the Catholic church and rightly names its cause, in both instances, as “patriarchy.”
In her article she quotes feminist author and activist, bell hooks, who speaks about the roots of this male aggression and violence. She said that since the first revelations about Weinstein, she had read many commentaries and hardly any commentator had used the word, “patriarchy” to explain the root cause of all this bad behavior. “We want to act like this is individual male psychopathology,” hooks said, rather than admit that this behavior has been normalized for men by a patriarchal system.
Mason goes on, “Lately it feels like every day another man vanishes from the limelight, as if taken by a plague. But in these cases, the pestilence was of their own making.” And as hooks points out, patriarchy created the conditions under which it could breed.
Patriarchy is any system in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it. In a patriarchal structure, powerful men dominate women, children, nature and other men. Frequently, one of the key ways that men predominate over women is by fixating on and controlling female sexuality.
Mason continues, “The Catholic church may not have invented patriarchy, but it has certainly sanctified it. The patriarchal system that allowed famous actors, producers and newsmen to move about like gods is not much different from the patriarchy that has for centuries told priests that they are divine, exceptional men, set apart to rule over a lowly and lost laity.”
In another NCR article this past week, Bishop Vincent Long Van (new-yen)Nguyen of Australia comes at this abuse by addressing the Church culture wherein patriarchy thrives—that of clericalism and told his priests, in so many words that it must end if the Church is to recover from this scandal and truly be the Church of our brother Jesus. Priests and bishops should not see themselves as above the people they are called to serve—they are servants, not little gods, as Pope Francis has spoken of so many times and tries to emulate in his papacy.
Isaiah speaks today of being “wrapped in a mantle of justice” and “clothed in a robe of deliverance.” As prophet, his challenge is to speak this word—our challenge as Jesus’ followers is to try to live this out in our daily lives. “Just as a garden brings its seeds to blossom; our God makes justice sprout,” proclaims Isaiah. Our loving God can simply do nothing else but strive to bring justice. And how does that justice happen, my friends? It happens through each of us, or it doesn’t happen!
Paul tells us that “we should not stifle the Spirit,” that we should accept only what is good. John the evangelist gives us the Baptist’s words in a slightly different script than last week and we are reminded that he is one “crying in the wilderness” that we make straight our God’s road. When I think of prophets, “crying in the wilderness,” I can’t help but think that this past week, we remembered that five years ago 20 six and seven year-olds and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary school and of how the parents of the children have cried out in an apparent wilderness to our so-called leaders in Washington that they pass legislation that would make it harder for those who shouldn’t have access to guns to obtain them, to no avail.
So, we know that making the road straight is about filling in the valleys, moving mountains if need be. We aren’t given a necessarily easy task—making the road straight is as Paul says, about “avoiding any semblance of evil.”
But yet, this is “JOY Sunday.” Again, Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks for everything.” I believe we are able to do all that is required and asked of us today if we do it in balance—no one of us can do it all—but each of us can do something with our own gifts and talents that no one else can do just like us. Each of us needs to find our own way.
The rejoicing comes out of our prayer and out of our grateful hearts—for everything that comes to us—both the good and the bad. Now, is it always easy to be grateful for everything? Of course not! The parents of the 20 children from Sandy Hook are certainly a case in point. Some of those parents have spent the last five years coming up with the Sandy Hook Promise, a program that is being utilized across this country to help children to get to know each other, to care about each other and to be aware when someone might be in trouble and help them before things escalate. Everything—each piece of our lives is part of our unique journey to God and possibly only when we achieve heaven will we know completely what the journey was all about.
Maybe our usual way of doing things won’t be good enough anymore. It has always been my conviction; that we, as Christians, if we are true to the name—should not look just like the crowd! We should resemble Jesus and be shaking things up a bit.
In this next week, as we make final preparations to remember Jesus’ first coming among us, the words of my friend, Jim Callan, co-pastor with Mary Ramerman of Spiritus Christi parish in Rochester, New York are good ones to reflect on: “Jesus is coming and coming and coming throughout time and history, he comes anew each day, in each person we meet if we believe truly in his words, ‘I will be with you—ALWAYS!’ ” Amen? Amen!