Homily – 5th Sunday of Lent

My friends, the previous week of my life always serves as “the good soil” for what I say to you each week, as I try, along with the Spirit, to make the Scriptures of so long ago, still vibrant and meaningful in our lives today. 

   First of all, just a note on today’s gospel selection from John.  Those of you who attended our Mary Magdalen service last summer or read my homily later, know that I presented new exegesis on the “Marys” in the gospel readings.  Cutting to the chase, for our purposes today, I merely want to remind you that centuries ago, there was some “toying” done with this particular reading from John, that we are using today, to take the faithful proclaiming of Mary and put into Martha’s mouth today, the same proclamation by Peter, that, “Jesus is [indeed] the Christ!”  These words, taken from Mary and given to Martha make them less, as was the hierarchy’s intent, than if Mary, who was so much more the prophet, had exclaimed them instead.  I tell you this just to keep in mind as we/you read the gospel –I am going in a different direction with the homily, but wanted you to know that I hadn’t forgotten. (: 

   Our readings this Sunday are all about “dying to the parts of our humanity that get in the way of us being our best selves, in the Spirit of our brother Jesus.”  I will share a couple of examples from this past week that demonstrate this point:

  • Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation was high-lighted this past week on the PBS Newshour to talk about his new book, From Generosity to Justice.  This book looks at philanthropy in this country, how it is done, and for whom, and challenges those who do, apparently “generous” things with their wealth to look toward actions that are more about “justice” than generosity. 

   It seems that most of the philanthropic gifts in our country go to large schools and hospitals—probably not the neediest of places.  The givers of these gifts, often very generous, receive tax-free status on the same because they are gifts.  Walker states that there are so many needs in our country and world that could use generous gifts, but most often don’t receive any help, such as homelessness, hunger, etc. 

   I haven’t yet read the book, so can’t really say more except maybe to share a quote from Walker.  He asks those with means to, “interrogate your privilege.”  This reminds me of the out-going head of the World Food Organization, David Beasley, also on the PBS Newshour this past week who spoke about the fact that he has consistently pressed the billionaires in our country to do more, stating that we could solve world hunger if they all had a will to do so! 

  • The second example of a group who could do so much better is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their recent statement on Transgender Care of Youth in our country, entitled, “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body.”

   Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity, USA, stated that [the bishops] “put inflexible dogma over the needs of the individual.”  The article from the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) speaks at length of the pain and suffering that young people experience within their own bodies that they don’t feel comfortable in, and of the stress of their parents in trying to find appropriate care for their children.

   The article goes on to speak about so much listening that goes on with these young people by their parents and medical and psychological professionals before any drug therapies or surgical measures are even considered.  I would, as well as have other compassionate folk in this world, suggest that the hierarchy of the Catholic church become “listeners” of these stories, and respond more from their hearts than their heads. 

   The leader of Dignity USA’s Young Adult Caucus, Madeline Marlett had this to say.  “The distress caused by gender dysphoria can lead transgender people to self-destructive behaviors, sometimes ending tragically in suicide. For many, [herself included], gender affirming healthcare was the only option for preservation of [her] God-given body.” 

   The phrase, “God-given body” were words that the hierarchy took out of Pope Francis’ writings to use against the transgender community, indicating that one should “accept” their “God-given body” as is.  As is so clearly laid out in the NCR article, it is a matter for many, of choosing life over death. 

   Another opinion article from Franciscan, Daniel Horan, high-lighted in this week’s NCR is entitled, “US Bishops’ Document Against Transgender Care is a Disaster.”  His opening sentence really states the lack of understanding, compassion and care with which these “so-called” leaders penned their statement:

 “Though it should seem obvious, it is worth restating that just because something is new or unfamiliar to you, does not mean that it is necessarily novel or invented, and just because you don’t understand something does not make it wrong or sinful.” 

   With those two examples, let’s turn, my friends to the Scriptures for the light that they can shed today.  The prophet Ezekiel simply says, “I will put my breath in you, and you will live.”  Now if we truly believe that we, each one of us, come from God, and are filled with the Spirit, it would seem that we should be careful about “pontificating” what another’s journey through, “their one wonderful life” should look like; or worse yet, demanding that everyone must live their life in one narrow fashion. 

   Our brother Jesus, in his earthly life listened to, and acted upon the words of the Spirit of his Abba God, the same Spirit that lived and moved through him, and the same Spirit that he gave to his followers, us included when his physical days on earth had ended.  Paul encourages his converts in Rome to “live in the Spirit, not the body, [because the Spirit is what] gives us new life.” 

   And finally, the gospel from John today lays out the best way that we should face our world as Jesus did—with compassion and care, balancing our human instincts and our spiritual sense too, to always do what is best for all. 

   We see Jesus coming to be with friends who have lost a loved one and he responds as a compassionate human would—he weeps with them.  And within that drama of human life and death, he remembers his mission of letting these beloved ones know that there is yet—another life—one that he will show them, as the way and the truth, and as each of us attempts to model his way of compassion and truth, comes his assurance that we don’t ever do it alone.  Amen? Amen!