My friends, as I always tell you, these Sundays in Ordinary Time are anything but “ordinary” and perhaps it is Jesus’ way of telling us that as his followers, our lives will not be ordinary. There are plenty of people out there who live by the status quo, who look to others—see what most of the people are doing and then, follow suit. But not for us my friends—not if our intent is to follow Jesus.
His intent was to shake things up a bit and not just for the sake of shaking things up, but for the distinct purpose of making life better for all the people in his world. He was about inclusiveness, equality, justice, expansiveness-of-heart (LOVE) and all of that, demanded more than the status quo.
In Jesus’ world half the population—by gender, had no voice—at the synagogue, they were placed in back behind a screen—no participation intended or expected. In his society, due to ignorance, fear, or inconvenience, those with any kind of skin ailment (all called lepers) were shunned, living deplorable lives. Children, like women, had no voice, no place, no power—unless they were independently wealthy themselves, the women, that is, which was rare. As Jesus “grew in wisdom,” the wisdom talked about in our first reading today, the greatest gift the writer proclaims—in so many words; Jesus came to understanding and a righteous anger about the world in which he lived! The Scriptures tell us that Jesus also grew “in grace”—that “life force” that enabled him to move with power, speaking truth about the unequal conditions to the powers that ruled the world in which he lived.
For Jesus, the Scriptures ruled his world, not what his neighbor did or did not do. It could be said of Jesus as the writer to the Hebrews proclaims today, “God’s word is living and active” [in this one]. And because this was true for Jesus, it must be true for us, and like him; we must act upon the truth we know—there must be something deep down that moves us beyond the comfortable and the convenient. Most of us would consider this “deep down something” our morals, what when, “push comes to shove,” we can act alone, if need be, to do the right thing.
Today, I would like to tell you about a man who has visited our community twice this year, once in the spring and again, just two weeks ago, Father Jim Callahan. I would say of him, if it could be said of anyone, when push comes to shove, his eyes are on Jesus and he acts accordingly.
Eight years ago, when he was sent to pastor St. Mary’s Catholic church in Worthington, MN; he found two communities, basically an Hispanic community and an Anglo-American community—at least that is how they presented themselves for worship and the sacraments. He asked “why?” the two separate communities and each answered, “They don’t want to be with us.” So, as a true leader would do, he brought them together. Prior to this, there were separate Masses, separate sacramental preparation times, etc.—duplication of all services. Again, a true leader will find the path to inclusion.
And before I continue my story about Jim Callahan, a bit of an aside. In the beginning I mentioned that he had been sent to Worthington to pastor the people of St. Mary’s Catholic church. It is my contention that if the priests of this country and around the world would begin using the title, “pastor” instead of “father,” “monsignor, or “most reverend,” they would go a long way toward helping themselves to get back on the right path to truly serving their people because every time someone addressed them as “pastor,” they would be reminded of what they are truly called to do and maybe not as easily go astray. That is why I tell you that if you need a title for me, “pastor” would be the one that I prefer.
So now, back to Jim Callahan. Some of the back story to understand the separation and perhaps the feelings that, “They don’t want to be with us,” Father Callahan discovered eight years ago when he learned that there was an ICE raid on Worthington’s then, Swift plant that captured 1300 undocumented persons. At that time, before his arrival, people fled to the church and found the doors locked. When the priest was asked, “Why?” he basically said, “They didn’t want to be involved!”
Our gospel reading today seems to speak to this dilemma in the life of the Christian. “How hard it is for the ‘rich’ to enter God’s kindom.” Jesus, of course is talking about those who are materially rich, but there are many ways that this Scripture can be applied—people are “rich” who have power, position and status in their communities, places of business, their families and to do something counter-culture, against the status quo can be difficult, if not down-right fearsome to do—there are penalties for being different! One part of us wants to do what is right, but it can be very hard.
This is where hope comes in—that ability to trust and move toward what is best for all believing in a good outcome. The psalmist today says well, “When morning comes, fill us with your love and then we will celebrate all our days.”
My friends, our commitment as Christians, as followers of our brother, Jesus, doesn’t allow for such a response [as] “we don’t want to be involved.” In Jesus’ memory; we can hardly do less, than be involved! Father Callahan thought the same. Two years ago, when the president issued his crackdown on the undocumented in our country, shortly after his election in 2016, Father Callahan and his community in Worthington made official what they had been doing right along by becoming a Sanctuary church, caring for their needy sisters and brothers in their midst as they worked their way toward citizenship. He made it known then that the doors of St. Mary’s would always be open to those seeking asylum or presenting with any other need.
In a talk that I attended at St. Mary’s University here in Winona approximately two weeks ago; Father Callahan gave some of his rationale for his actions in Worthington. First he spoke about the notion of “image of God” and that this is the core symbol of human dignity—that each of us is made in the image of God. He reminded us that a common theme in the matter of immigration or other issues of power is always, “dehumanization”—if someone can be made out to be a criminal, a rapist, etc. we are perhaps “justified” in our abuse.
Next, he spoke of “the Word of God,” our Scriptures, our holy books—these words tell us the way we are to go! And finally, “the Mission of God,” that calls us to basically, “walk the talk.” Father Jim shared that the hardest part of being an immigrant, “is to be no one to anyone!”
He went on to say that immigration is not a problem to be solved, but is about people who need to be healed. We have to remember why these people have risked their lives to come to this country—for a better life for their children, free from bloodshed, fear and hunger. And in this regard we must again remember our brother Jesus—who is God—the same God who takes on the form of the most vulnerable throughout history.
Father Jim shared his experience of listening to the stories of the immigrants and said, “In the face of that; you cannot NOT act!” In answer to a question from the audience that he describe an immigrant from his experience; he related the harrowing experience of a woman, in her struggle to get to this country, losting most of what all of us hold dear; spouse, children, livelihood and yet, in the end she could still express gratitude that even though her family was gone, she had been blessed to have them because they made her who she was today.
I would think that at times like this, a person would have to realize that they are in the holy presence of God! Father Jim concluded his comments by saying that in such matters as these, it is “Jesus who crosses borders” and that in our response as a country, as individuals, that the walls of our heart” are many times the greatest” borders to cross!
Finally my friends, I knew that I needed to share Father Jim’s story with you because he is really a soul mate to all of us in our ministry here—as the mission of St. Mary’s Catholic church comes from John 17 also—“that all may be one.” Indeed! Amen? Amen!