Friends, I would like to begin with a story—one perhaps that some of you may have heard before, but one that within the given readings today, bears a repeat as it says well, I believe, that in our striving “to be holy” as the Scriptures ask of us; we must remember to care for ourselves too. Now “caring for ourselves” and this is probably directed more at the women, is not something that the Church fathers have necessarily directed over the years. And if truth be told, most women, in this day and age, are hardwired to give and give and give. The men though are not let off the hook in this—it is their job to see that the women they love are cared for too.
Thus, the story: A daughter comes to visit her mother on her death bed and during the course of the visit, discovers a beautiful red dress hanging in her mom’s closet along with a line of drab dresses that she lived her life out in. Asking her mother about the red dress, that she had never seen her mother wear; her mom called her to her bedside, to, in her words, “set a few things straight before her life was over.”
She told her daughter that she had always believed that a woman was supposed to give to everyone else first and to herself, last. She lived this out in her own life and taught her children to do the same. For her personally, she always got everything her kids needed or wanted first, and if there was anything left, which there never was, she would get something for herself. She always ate the burnt toast and took the smallest piece of pie.
Having taught her sons and daughters to do the same, she was now upset to see the way her sons treated their wives and felt she had done them a disservice. Even her husband, she had taught well—with her now dying, he didn’t know what he was going to do without her—he didn’t even know where the frying pan was!
The red dress had been a whim of hers—about a year ago when she found some extra money that she had intended to pay off extra on the washer and decided to treat herself instead. When she brought it home, her husband berated her with, “Where do you think you will ever wear that?” In fact, the only time she had ever worn it was when she tried it on in the store. So, she made her daughter promise to do her the honor of not following in her footsteps. Her daughter promised and with that her mom died. Servanthood, my friends, is all about considering the other, including ourselves.
Now granted, this is a delicate dance—how much do I give to myself and how much to others? I have two things to say about that: First, is that most women that I know are doing quite a good job of giving to others in their lives and need to consider themselves a bit more in the equation. I heard a discussion on Minnesota Public Radio just the other day about what most of us know as the “sandwich generation,” a phenomenon with people living longer, that has repeated itself over time. I can remember when I was a young woman hearing about it, and living it too! The phenomenon, as you know has to do with women caring for their own families on one end of the continuum and their own parents on the other and they are “sandwiched” in between. And second, as we think about how much to give to ourselves and how much to others, our well-formed consciences will and do kick in if we would ever become too selfish.
So, the Scriptures today, beginning in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, instruct us, “to be holy as God is holy” and we might just ask, “What does it mean, “to be holy?” Moses, presumably the writer of Leviticus, says that we have to live—AWARE—we have to take responsibility in our lives “to tell our brothers and sisters of their offenses.” In other words, we can’t enable bad behavior in others.
Now, at first glance; we might balk at that—tell someone else to stop their bad behavior! Really?! But think about it; we do it already in our personal lives—as parents, we instruct our children in the ways that they should go—we don’t allow their bad behavior. And we do have opportunities in our larger field of scope—if we take them. Those of you who attend Mass here, have said to the hierarchical Catholic church in effect, “I want more than you are offering—I don’t agree with your exclusion of women in ministerial roles, your exclusion of the LGBTQ community through lack of meaningful programming, your exclusion of the varied races and cultures through lack of programming that sees all as equal, respect for life—not only at birth, but along the entire life spectrum. And finally, we have opportunity to comment throughout our adult lives on the behavior and vision of those who wish to be our leaders in the State House and in Washington through the gift and privilege to vote. The Old Testament prophet Micah said all of this well: “This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”
At this point, friends, I feel a bit of clarification is in order. Over our nearly 12 years as a parish, we have always stood on the premise that the weekly Scriptures will be tied to events happening in our world. As your pastor; I feel it is my duty to make those connections, not for purposes of telling you what to do, or how to act, but simply to challenge us, as Jesus did the people in his time, to be our best selves.
In the regular Catholic church, meaning simply—not us, pastors are often stymied in making these connections because it is, “not the practice to upset people lest they cut their contributions to the parish. But I say, “The Scriptures are only worth looking at if we can make them meaningful and relevant in our everyday lives—otherwise we are simply wasting our time.”
There is always the danger though that some may see my comments as, “political,” but my intent is always to lift up, “morality,” or lack of it, shining the light of the weekly Scriptures upon those actions. Over our 12 years as a parish, people have come to check us out as they look for a parish to be part of and some have decided not to stay because they don’t want to deal with those connections at Sunday mass. I can remember one person who came in our first years as a parish who told me that they didn’t want to hear about all the negativity on a regular basis. I did try after that to interject as much hope as possible into our services. (Smile) A concluding comment though to making the connections between our world and the Scriptures would be to say that our mission and vision statements, plus the memory of Jesus of Nazareth don’t allow me to proceed in any other way. And if we are following Jesus’ lead, that is hopeful! Right?
So then, back to what it means “to be holy.” The psalmist says today, “Our God is tender and compassionate.” It would seem that if we are “to be holy,” as “God is holy,” tenderness and compassion must be part of how we behave in our world and with its people. Joan Chittister, Benedictine Sister, takes a broader view of holiness and I would say, this is probably God’s view too! “Everything that is, is holy, to the one who has the soul of a mystic.” “Having the soul of a mystic,” it would seem to me, is about us seeing our world as basically good—seeing and hearing with our hearts.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians today calls us to this greater, “seeing and hearing”—seeing and hearing in new ways as he asks us to, “remember that the Spirit of God dwells” within us, as “temples of God.” With this knowledge, we have to strive for wisdom higher and deeper than this world has to offer, Paul continues.
And that leads us directly into the words of our brother, Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel today. He too calls us to more than this world asks when he says, “We can’t just love those who love us.” That’s easy! Again, we must always go deeper—loving the one that may seemingly feel, unloved. Maybe, that is us—as in the story of the red dress.
So, what have we learned today? We are temples! Think about that! What do you think of when you hear the word, “temple”—grand, splendid, beautiful? Perhaps. Filled with the Spirit of God—we are wonderfully made, friends. And with all these positive attributes; we have to consider that we are loved by the God responsible, ultimately, for our creation. And with all good gifts; there is always the expectation that we will give back. And that is why; this parish is and always has been, and always will be, about making the Scriptures given us each week truly a part of our lives and calling us to more than simply our own needs and desires. Amen? Amen!