Homily – Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist and the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(friends, a note before you begin—there was some confusion here when I learned that the bishops had changed the readings for Sunday—I had been planning on using the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist and so made the assumption, incorrectly that they had changed to the 12th Sunday in OT, which made no sense, but once you have something wrong, it seems to stay wrong for a while. So, the first paragraph of this homily will make more sense knowing this bit of explanation)

My friends, the bishops decided against the Lectionary this week, dropping the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist and instead are using the Scriptures for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  They gave us no explanation and I heard that some were surprised—surprised that is, of the change, not that we weren’t informed! Regardless, I am of the mind that we never more needed to reflect on the words of a prophet like John, of “one crying in the wilderness” than now, so I used a bit of ministerial license, as it were, and decided to use some of the Scriptures from both, so as to get at what the bishops may have been thinking, but also to be true to the printed Lectionary for the day.

I have been reflecting on my week that has been full of many and sundry things—all, I would include, under the heading of ministry, so I find myself bringing all these things to this homily today. It makes me think of Fr. Dan Corcoran, at peace now with God—you always knew what he had been about all week when you listened to one of his homilies. For those of you who may not have known him, he pastored the Newman Center in the days when Newman Centers were cutting-edge, theologically and spiritually, unlike today. I too feel that the best homilies come out of applying the Scriptures of the day to the “stuff” of our lives and therein coming up with the true work and inspiration of the Spirit, so here goes…

Right away on Monday morning last, I met with Victor Vieth who heads up the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center—he still has an office at Winona State University but due to budget cuts, the program here has down-sized. Unfortunate really that the University wouldn’t want to continue to offer meaningful training to all its graduates, especially in the helping fields about how to recognize children, and adults for that matter, who have been victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.  But perhaps all isn’t lost as Victor is looking toward having an office in the new Education Village opening up next year.

Our purpose in meeting was to catch up and due to the newspaper article on our church; that was his connection back to me.  I had taken a 3-day training from him designed for Chaplains about 5 years ago and also had been instrumental in bringing him to Winona Health to speak to staff there—unfortunately, the turn-out was light.

Part of our discussion was about getting church people and others to see that some of our mission and vision statements plus our patriarchal culture preclude having safe places for the abused among us to practice their faith and more so, to find spiritual comfort within our churches.  The cultural piece that says that half the population is better than the other half; more fit to serve, more acceptable, is easier to understand.

The piece about vision and mission statements that aren’t as welcoming to the abused was more of a challenge for me to hear because, as you know, here at All Are One, we invite everyone to our table.  Now, of course, if someone wanted to come among us and outwardly abuse others; they wouldn’t be welcome, but otherwise, not knowing what is on someone’s heart; we invite everyone to our table.

Victor gave me an example from his practice of a woman physically abused by her husband who finally went to her pastor for guidance because as she said, “If I stay with him, [take my life one day]!” The pastor understandably counseled her to get away from her abuser, which she did.

So the end of the story is that on a particular Sunday, the former abused wife and her children show up for services and the ex-husband with his new woman friend are there too.  This was a Lutheran service that welcomed everyone to the table and the abusive man, with his new partner; presented themselves too in front of the abused woman and her children.  Victor’s experience says that the abused feel less welcomed in church than do the abusers because the abused are welcomed to the table without apparently changing their ways, and therefore, the abused feel that the abusers are given license to continue their evil ways.

Victor pursued a theology degree the last couple of years to make the connection to the Scriptures to show that actually Jesus had much to say about abuse and it has been part of his practice now to get ministers to see these connections too.

His challenge to his seminary class was to ask them if there was ever a time that they would deny communion to someone presenting themselves and no matter the scenario he gave them; they always came back with the same answer—they would not deny the Eucharist–because as they said, it wasn’t their place to judge what was on someone’s heart.  I found myself feeling the same as the other ministers, at first, and then upon more reflection; I found as I told Victor later, that his words “had convicted my heart.”

I think too of people like the young woman befriended by some members of our parish who had been abused as a child by a priest who couldn’t bring herself to be at Mass with us because of the memories that her childhood experiences still held for her.  I wonder if some of Victor’s words about the abusers feeling more welcomed and encouraged than the abused isn’t a bit true for this young woman.

So, at any rate, I’m not through thinking and praying about this issue and perhaps must remember the Scriptures that indicate that we are called to the table with the intention of always being our best selves and not with malice on our hearts. So, that was the beginning of my week.

On a lighter and more hope-filled note, there was the over-flow from our article on our 10 year celebration as I shared with you—it being picked up by the National Catholic Reporter’s daily on-line news feed and the next day by the Associated Press.  This was followed by friends telling me they saw it in the St. Cloud Times and the Mankato and Twin Cities’ papers. And just on Thursday, I was contacted by Channel 19 out of Lacrosse with an offer to tell my (our) story to their viewers.  So, it would seem that regardless of what Pope Francis is saying about women not being able to image Christ at the altar, the Spirit wants this story out!

I had one interesting call from a woman in LaCrescent who left a message on my phone saying that she had seen the article and wondered if I might be interested in a book that was listed in their Catholic bulletin, entitled, Prodigal Daughters Return to the Church.  She didn’t say enough about what her concern was, so before calling her back; I went on-line and looked up the book.  As you can imagine from the title, it is a very conservative view of women and Church and returning to, “our mother, the Church.”  The introductory pages have a good dose of a very male God, mentions of Opus Dei and I stopped there.

In calling her back; I asked if she wanted me to critique the book, because I wasn’t clear from her call, what her concerns were.  I mentioned that the book was very conservative and to answer her question, “I really wouldn’t be interested in it.  I went on to say that women priests do not see themselves as “prodigal,” that if anyone had left, it was the Church who had left us in not accepting our calls to priesthood.

She jumped on the term, “very conservative” and proceeded to tell me without taking a breath how that was where she was at, sharing her views on women priests, abortion, gay marriage and there may have been more that she wanted to share, but finally I interjected that I didn’t think there was much that we could agree on.  She responded that, “We can agree then to disagree!”  All this was done in quite pleasant tones.  She blessed me and said, “Good-bye.”  And to that I said to myself, “Wow, lots of work to do still!”

Paul, in today’s letter to the Corinthians says well I feel, for all of us, what is needed.  He is basically talking about not letting ourselves get stuck. The old order, he seems to be saying has passed away—everything is new in Christ—because of our brother Jesus, we can no longer look on anyone with “mere human judgment,” but must see through the eyes and heart of Jesus who gave all for us, so that we could see with clearer eyes.

And finally, the story that is on all of our hearts this week, that of children being separated from their parents at our southern borders, rages on. The country is finally, seemingly coming together, regardless of political party to say that this is simply not right and must be stopped!     I am sure your week like mine has been full of every attempt we all can think of to protest these presidential actions unworthy of the office.

Franciscan, Ilia Delio has asked friends and acquaintances via email to observe 10 minutes of silence at 3 p.m. each day to pray for and with each other for the guidance and strength to do what needs to be done. A group meets each Thursday at the Blue Heron from 10-12 to write postcards to Congress people demanding action worthy of us as a country—on this and other issues. On Saturday, yesterday, there was a very powerful vigil at noon in Winona at the corner of Main and Broadway to show our solidarity and to raise awareness of this issue, realizing that we can’t ultimately remain silent.

Next Saturday, June 30, time yet to be determined, an interfaith prayer service will be held at Wesley United Methodist church, much like the one that was held in response to gun violence in the spring.  Again, the purpose is to show our solidarity, to ask the God of us all to assist us, giving us the strength to be the prophets, like John, that this world so needs.

In the reading we used today from the prophet Isaiah fore-telling the life of John the Baptist, he said, “I will make you a light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

My friends, I think sometimes, all that befalls us in a week’s time can be overwhelming, but we can’t in all of it lose sight of the psalmist’s words today, that we are, “wonderfully made” –each of us—and each of us has so much potential—we have voices, we can take action like letter-writing, we can witness with our presence at prayer services and vigils and we can vote!

The question to Jesus from the apostles on the boat is our question too, “Teacher, does it not matter to you that we are going to drown?”  And friends, our faith must be our rock and we must realize that if we let Jesus calm our storms, he will do that by sending his Spirit to give us the strength to be the prophets that this world needs, speaking truth to power! Amen? Amen