My friends, first on behalf of the All Are One Catholic parish here; I wish to publicly welcome members of the graduating class of Cotter High School, 1968! Back then, we were on the cusp of our lives—everything was ahead of us, everything was seemingly possible. And now with the passage of 50 years—incredible when you think about it, and the reality that these years have brought; we are more seasoned. There have been ups and downs and hopefully, more ups than downs! Our lives have grown beyond us through spouses and children and grandchildren and growth in other ways—in hopes and dreams, marked by our lives’ work.
The Wisdom writer in today’s first reading speaks indeed with wisdom about the struggles that can befall us in life—how we may have suffered “at the hands of enemies,” but also about how we may have triumphed by doing the right thing—not just for ourselves, but for others.
Reunions of any kind, whether family or school reunions are always times to look back, assess what was, both the good and the not-so-good and be conscious of what we learned and experienced then, but more importantly, all that we have learned and experienced since that has made us the people we are today.
Recently, a friend and family member of ours completed her life’s journey here as she succumbed to cancer. Those who knew and loved her gathered for a celebration of her life. The celebration was complete with what makes such celebrations memorable: hugs and kisses, tears, laughter, sadness, joy shared—memories, pictures from the past and the present, prayers for the family left behind, the meeting of old friends not seen for a while, remembering together all the good and fun stories, promises of getting together sooner, rather than later, because none of us knows how much time we have left. I remember a few years back realizing that I had lived the greater portion of my life and of having a sense that I wanted to do the best with whatever I had left!
I have been struck these last few days with how the gathering of old classmates or the celebration of a loved one’s life is quite similar. How many times have we all said, “We only get together or see each other at weddings and funerals,” and then lament that we don’t do it oftener.
Such times often allow us to see life more clearly, the goodness of it, and of how we don’t want to waste it. With regard to a high school reunion, we realize that we have all grown, have all changed in many ways and often times for the better—we have been “tested and proven,” so to speak, by life—hopefully become and did what our life called forth from us.
In James’ letter, our second reading today; he speaks about how jealousy and ambition can get in the way of peacemaking and that these two can bring about disharmony and all sorts of other evils. I think with the passage of 50 years; we can see how jealousy and ambition probably played a part as we all struggled with our teen years. James is writing to the early followers of Jesus and they could probably be likened to a high school class in its early days.
Back in our earlier years, 1964-68; we as students were struggling with growth changes in body, mind and soul much like the early Christians struggled with new ideas that Jesus shared with them. The personal changes that we struggled with as teenagers were part of our becoming who we were meant to be.
Father Paul Nelson, our principal, one who most in our class looked up to as a model of the way to go in life was constantly reminding us to “have the intestinal fortitude to be men and women!” Most of us probably strove to become that woman, that man that he asked us to be to please and make him proud of us and in the end we actually became the mature peacemakers that James talked of today, “sowing seeds that will bear fruit.”
My friends, today, it would seem, even more than at any other time, our country and Church are in need of people “who have the intestinal fortitude to be men and women.” Within our country there seems to be an exclusive nature that pits those with means against those without, rather than a sense that we are all equal, endowed by our Creator and worthy of having those things that make life worth living—a home, food, clothing, a sense of safety in this world.
Within our Church, much reform is needed to curb “the jealousy and ambition” that James talks about today. Our hierarchy needs to become good listeners of their people so that the Spirit of Jesus can instruct them through the People of God as to the way to proceed. A male priest in good standing recently said that what is happening in our Church at present is comparable to the Lutheran Reformation.
In other words, the struggles brought on by the clergy sex abuse crisis that were made possible because of the clerical system are very serious. The structure of the Church needs to be looked at from top to bottom and the changes needed must come from all the People of God and all the voices must be heard and listened to for the changes to make a real difference.
Jesus gets at the tone that should be taken in the gospel from Mark today. He tells the apostles and others that they must welcome a little child as they would welcome him. Now for us to get his meaning we must remember that in Jesus’ time, children had absolutely no status, so he is saying, for our purposes here that all the voices must be heard—we as Jesus’ followers must uplift the rights of all for our Church to reform and become something that Jesus would recognize.
Recently, I have been working my way through Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. Rohr, a Franciscan order priest has spent his life trying through teaching and writing to help people see that we can’t just be hearers of the Word, but must somehow, take that Word and incorporate it into our lives. He challenges the powers-that-be too within our Church to make Jesus’ message understandable in today’s world—it isn’t and never was about law, but love. In so many words, he really is saying, “Keep your eyes on Jesus and if you do, you can’t go wrong. Jesus always moved past the law when it didn’t include love, mercy and understanding.
Now if we were to apply that thought to the clergy sex abuse crisis; we would never expect our so-called leaders to show that preserving their power was more important than protecting our children, which is what they did.
But, as I said in the bulletin; we want to hold onto our hope and in that light, I share a letter from a priest friend in response to letters that I originally wrote to the Winona bishop, John Quinn and to Pope Francis asking for reform within our Church, stressing that they both needed to be real leaders in this effort. I then shared my letters with seven priests that I know in this diocese and across the country. The priest in question wrote the following:
“Kathy, thanks for your note. I appreciate your words to Bishop Quinn and Francis—well said. We are planning listening sessions here. Please keep us in your prayers.”
So, my friends, there is hope and we must hold onto that! Additionally, we must do our part, whatever that is to make our voices heard. We must decide what kind of Church we want, what kind of country we want and do our part to secure that. The Spirit of our Loving God lives within each of us to help us to be all that we were meant to be—let us pray and ask for all that we need! Amen? Amen!