Homily – 32nd Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, you all know that Robert and I were away for nearly three weeks seeing the southeastern part of our country in our pickup camper.  This was an epic journey in many ways as we had decided before setting out that this would be our last, such camping trip, so it was mixed with the bitter-sweet that such journeys hold.  It was an ending to this kind of adventure, but a beginning and an opportunity for different kinds of trips.

It became clear to us early on and throughout our journey that we don’t have the stamina for this kind of travel anymore.  So it made many things more sweet, realizing we were seeing some places, and doing some things, for the last time.  Now that having been said; we also experienced a sense of relief in knowing that we had made a good decision.

Today’s readings for the 32nd Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time are full of the same type of life-changing decisions, or at least, the opportunity for them.  The reading from Maccabees is a very violent one documenting the lengths that people will go for a belief, both from the standpoint of an oppressor and that of the position of those being oppressed.

The Greeks served in this reading as the oppressors and the Maccabees as those oppressed. These young Maccabeeian men and their mother believed so strongly in being faithful to their God that they were willing to suffer horrible torture and ultimately, death, rather than renounce their God and while the Greeks didn’t hold these same beliefs, they admired what they witnessed in these young men and their mother.  We might ask ourselves whether we would have such resolve.

Paul’s simple prayer is that in whatever comes, he will be strengthened to better spread the word of Jesus, which we know is, love—love for all.

Jesus clarifies this basic message, giving direction as to how that should be done—not looking one-dimensionally at the world, but in many dimensions—“outside the box” we might say—as God does.  The Sadducees, spoken of in today’s gospel, were one of three Jewish political and religious movements in Jesus’ time whom he regularly had to contend with—in their very conservative thinking, accepting nothing but the Law of Moses. The Sadducees want Jesus’ opinion on who will be married to who in the next life and Jesus is basically saying—think broader, wider, higher.

As I think back to our trip, reflecting on what we saw and did—the places we visited, it seemed the Spirit directed our traveling to many sites that spoke of injustices suffered by many in this great country of ours over the years.  And even though we didn’t actually plan on going to all these places at the outset—it was more like, “Oh, this is along the route, or this site isn’t far off our general journey.”

The places I am speaking of included, The Peace and Justice National Monument in Montgomery, AL, documenting lynching of blacks in this country through the 1950’s, the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, witness to Martin Luther King Jr and company’s 40 mile march from Montgomery, pleading for equality for all people, a tour through the extensive battlefield of Vicksburg, MS,

a turning point for the Union at a time that this nation took sides against each other over the right to hold slaves and finally, a tour of Andersonville, the Confederate-run prison camp in Georgia, ill-equipped and irresponsibly led where in the course of a year, 13,000 Union prisoners died in squalor and neglect.  All these places caused us to think deeply about what makes a nation great.

Amid those places that we didn’t actually plan to visit, a couple of places were in fact on our radar.  Our trip’s furthest destination was to Titusville, FL, the home of the Space Center and we spent a full day marveling over the courage and determination of so many to stretch beyond our beloved planet to see, what is out there yet to be discovered! And of course, we had to get to the Atlantic Ocean and stick our toes in, at least, I did!

The highlight of this last camping trip was, we both agreed, a visit to Plains, GA and participation in our 39th president, Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class!  We had made a reservation to attend several weeks ahead of time, which didn’t guarantee that you would get a spot in the sanctuary, but only to let the people at Maranatha Baptist church know how many to expect.

We chose wisely to go on November 3rd as the previous week; President Carter wasn’t there due to a fall the week before, fracturing his pelvis.  Even up until a few days before; we weren’t sure that he would make our Sunday, but we had decided to go and pray with the Maranatha community regardless. The president was determined though, not to miss two Sundays in a row, so we weren’t disappointed! And here, we talk about greatness!

The event was quite a drama, complete with Secret Service presence and checks as is protocol for all present and former presidents and their families.  We began lining up at 745 A.M. for the 10 o’clock class on a cold morning, 35 degrees, and even being there ourselves before 6 A.M. to get a number, to stand in line, we were in an over-flow section of the church and watched the class on a television screen. Hindsight dictated that those with the best seats spent the night in the church yard!  But all of it was worth it to be in the near presence of a man who truly lives his faith and by example challenges the rest of us, to do the same.  You may or may not be aware of the fact that about a decade or so back, Jimmy Carter left his life-long Baptist community church because they would not admit blacks to worship. And today at Maranatha Baptist, the community has a black pastor!  And again, we think of the Maccabees and what a person might be willing to do because of a belief!

Of Jimmy Carter’s much fine wisdom of 95 years; I will share just one of his challenges to his hearers the day we attended and more perhaps, in weeks to come.  With all that he has personally experienced in his long life; first-hand racism in the deep south in his growing-up years, which he reflected on deeply in the ensuing years, the military during his years in the navy, the presidency, his experience in Ghana post- presidency fighting health issues, and his own bout with cancer;  he puts out there the challenge, that if our lives aren’t, for the most part, full of joy, thanksgiving and peace, it’s our own fault!

He went on to explain:  “We may not have the highest I.Q., or the most money, or all the comforts in life,  but we can deal with that and decide how we are going to live our life.  If we are not satisfied, who can change that, he asked?”  The answer of course is, “us!”  “This is the kind of person I decide to be! We can make that decision,” he concluded.  I think, we can see that this notion is about something bigger than our position in life, what we have materially, and so on.

“We have the God-given gift of freedom, he said, and God will never interfere with that!”  The hopeful piece that I took away was his assurance that we can go to God with anything, (and I think his 95 years have proven that to him)—that whatever life challenges us with, we will do it, “in the presence of God!”  So while God will not interfere in our freedom to choose the life we will live, that same God, sees it all, and will support us, no matter what! 

   So my friends, just as Jimmy Carter is a man of the Scriptures, and calls us to the same, today’s Scriptures call us to our own greatness—to decide what it is perhaps, like the Maccabees, like Paul, that we are willing to stake our lives upon and then go out there and live it!

This living will no doubt call us as did Jesus with the Sadducees to think in a bigger, broader way about life as we experience it, always being open to where justice isn’t in our world and then doing our part to bring it about.

And when we speak about “joy” in life; I think it behooves each of us to share all the joy we can!  In that light; I could hardly end this homily without sharing with you a fact we weren’t aware of ahead of time in attending Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class. Part of the experience is the gift of a photo op with the former president and first lady!  They have a fine-tuned “operation” for moving each family group through for a picture, on your own device in about 5 seconds or so, a piece. And on November 3rd, we stimated that there were 250-300 people in attendance, but in about 30 minutes, all the pictures were captured!  Instructions were to not talk with them or touch them, simply hand your camera off to the waiting picture taker and go and stand near the couple, one on either side.  We were flanked by Secret Service folks and it was all quite awesome! When we walked up, President Carter said, “welcome” as we moved to our place. With his “breaking” of the rules, we “broke” them too and thanked them!

So, to conclude my friends, it is great to be back with you and to share a bit of our journey.  My challenge to you, as Robert and I were challenged by Jimmy Carter, is to attempt in our own meager ways, to always strive to be our best selves, realizing that we do, each, have the power to make it so!  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 31st Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Dear Friends, 

Here is Pastor Dick’s second homily in my absence–thank you Dick!–Pastor Kathy


Reflecting on Jesus’ words in Mathew’s Gospel, namely, “Every disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who draws out from his storage room, things both old and new,” Father Richard Rohr offered the following perspective in his daily meditation last Wednesday:

 “Christianity isn’t done growing and changing. Jesus himself invites us to take things out of our faith-filled “storage room” and discern what is essential. We don’t want the church or the Christian tradition to become an antique shop just preserving old things. We want to build on old things and allow them to be useful in different ages, vocabularies, and cultures. We want our faith to be ever new, so that it can speak to souls alive and in need right now! Otherwise, the faith we cherish so much stops working and it can’t do its job of turning our hearts to God and to one another.”

What Father Rohr said about Christian tradition was also true of Jewish tradition. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see how Israel’s understanding of our God evolved from a powerful but frightening force in their lives to a just but loving, merciful and caring presence.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom was written only about 50 years before Jesus. Listen again to its beautiful description of our God: “Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain in a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate….

But you spare all things because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

Let’s now consider how this view of God blends with today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel. 

First, Jesus seems not even to have intended to stop in Jericho on his way through the town to Jerusalem, but somehow word got spread around that he was going to come that way and people started gathering to see him. One of them was Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. He was wanting to see the man he had heard so much about. However, since he was a short man and couldn’t see over a crowd, he climbed a tree along the route. He literally went “out on a limb” without recognizing the symbolism of what he was doing.

His curiosity about Jesus and maybe some unrecognized hope deep within him, led him to take this awkward and isolated position, similar to the tax collector in last week’s Gospel who stood far apart from the Pharisee and simply begged for the mercy that he knew he didn’t deserve.

 Zacchaeus surely didn’t expect Jesus to look up just as he passed under his perch, just as Jesus had not planned to stop there. How did the shifty onlooker become the honored host? Perhaps, when Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, his heart went out to him. As Jim Hanzel pointed out in our Bible discussion on Wednesday, Jesus simply loved Zacchaeus–just as he was and clearly before Zacchaeus did anything to earn that love. 

Why did Luke (and, surprisingly, only Luke) tell this story? As Sister Mary McGlone, a Sister of St, Joseph, wrote her commentary about this Gospel in NCR last week, “Among the evangelists, Luke holds the prize for highlighting the poor with their blessedness in God’s eyes and for underlining the moral indictment their poverty brings against society.” Why then did Luke tell this story about Zacchaeus, a wealthy man? 

Maybe Luke wanted us to realize that there are many ways to be poor. Although Zacchaeus was wealthy man, as the chief tax collector, for all the reasons I described last week he was despised and viewed as a sinner.

As when Jesus saw the precarious position Zacchaeus had put himself in just to get a glimpse of Jesus, Jesus invited him to take the next step. In receiving Jesus into his home, Zacchaeus accepted this outreach of love. Luke quotes Zacchaeus’ conversation with Jesus to show the impact of love (grace) on this man: Zacchaeus said, ‘I give half of my belongings to the poor. If I have short-changed anyone, I will repay him four-fold.” Although wealthy, Zacchaeus was willing to part with his wealth, to share it with the poor and to make up for his former unjust behavior. 

“What does this have to do with those of us who don’t expect Jesus to be walking down our streets anytime soon? Perhaps it means he may come in the form of a stranger. Perhaps it might be a homeless person whose outward appearance reflects his condition. It might be a distraught mother yelling at a non-compliant child. Maybe an overworked father worrying how to get enough money to meet his family’s needs. Maybe a troubled teenager feeling inadequate to cope with life’s demands on her. In fact, he is present to us in all of them–if we are aware and go out on a limb through faith to recognize him.

Whether rich or poor, Jesus loves us. But we must not let our possessions be more important than he is. They must not be a barrier to responding to the needs of the poor.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom calls God, “Lover of souls” whose “imperishable spirit is in all things.” May we go out on a limb through faith and be aware of his presence in our lives—and as with Zacchaeus, Jesus’ love for us, just as we are right now, is what overlooks our shortcomings and makes us worthy. His Spirit alive in us enables us to respond with surprised joy and gratitude to fulfill the Father’s will in our lives.

Again, as with Zacchaeus, Jesus invites each of us to come eat with him, right now in this meal. Yes, Jesus is eating with sinners, with us. But remember, Luke ends this story with Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” which explains what he is doing here.

Homily – 30th Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Dear Friends, 

In my absence the past two weeks, Pastor Dick Dahl has been standing in for me and has given us two wonderful homilies to reflect upon. Look for them here in two separate postings. Thanks so much Dick–my gratitude! –Pastor Kathy


Thanks to an invitation from Jim Hanzel several months ago, I now meet with a small group of men every Wednesday morning to read and discuss the scripture readings for the coming weekend Mass. This past Wednesday when we talked about the implications of today’s Gospel, one of the men said, this is an interpretation you will not hear preached in any of the Catholic churches in town this Sunday. I said, well it will be preached in one of them—at All Are One.

So let’s consider this reading from today’s Gospel according to Luke. First of all, it only appears in Luke’s Gospel. Why did he think it so important to include it when Matthew and Mark did not? We may get a clue in the first verse. Until it was pointed out to me in our discussion Wednesday, I had not noticed that this passage does not begin with the words of Jesus, but rather with the words of Luke, namely, “He (Jesus) addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” After this the words of Jesus begin as indicated by quotation marks.

We must ask ourselves, “How do I fit in here?” We are given two people to compare ourselves to. The Pharisee was a religious man. He was educated and well versed in the Scriptures, including the words of Ben Sira which were read to us in today’s first reading. The Pharisee followed the advice of Ben Sira to keep the commandments. As he proudly professed to God, ‘I am not like others who are greedy, dishonest, adulterous.’  In fact, he went on to say not just what he did not do but what he did do. He fasted twice a week, paid tithes on all his income. In other words he even went beyond what the Law required. 

The other person was a tax collector. He did not collect taxes for the Jewish temple, but for the Roman government that was occupying Israel. Many people  despised him because he could be viewed as a traitor, one who made a living off helping the enemy. Furthermore, many tax collectors put their thumb on the scale as it were and took an extra share to pad their own pockets. 

This man, however, “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Once again, where do we fit in? Some Catholics may think, “I oppose abortion and homosexuality, therefore I am pleasing to God.” Or some may think, “I avoid serious sins, I go to Mass every Sunday, and I contribute to the church and other charities. Thank God I am not like those who rarely come to Mass and especially those who don’t even believe in God.” Others yet may think, “There are a lot of bad people in the world. God, I thank you that I am not like them.”

Now, however, we hear Jesus’ words about the two men: “ I tell you the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What may have seemed clear upon first hearing this story may now seem less clear upon reflection. Why did Jesus not praise the Pharisee for his good works? Why exalt the tax collector whose behavior may indeed have left much to be desired?

I suggest that there are two lessons for us to chew over from this reading. First of all is out attitude toward ourselves.  Jesus is speaking to us about our attitudes, not our actions. His words reflect the perspective that we express in the prayer we say before Communion, “Lord, you make us worthy to receive you, and by your word, we are healed.”

In other words, avoiding sin, doing good works, participating in Mass and prayer all make sense when these acts are a response, a response of deep gratitude for the love and mercy God has first shown to us. But it isn’t what makes us worthy. God’s unconditional mercy and love, which we call Grace, does that. As important as our actions are, Jesus and Luke his evangelist are stressing the importance of our attitude. 

The second lesson this story calls us to consider is our attitude toward others. Despite all the good works the Pharisee did, he despised others and judged them to be inferior to himself. When put that bluntly, I think that most of us would recoil at the thought of doing so. However, when we step back and search our own actual attitudes, we may discover a similar tendency in ourselves. Just as the Pharisee had reasons to criticize the behavior of the tax collector, we find ourselves having good reasons to be critical of the attitudes and actions of those we don’t agree with—especially in politics today, but perhaps in other areas of life as well.

Like Ben Sira, Jesus again and again calls for justice and mercy in the treatment of the poor and less powerful people in our lives. But even when we do our best to follow his words, he warns us not to think we are any better than those we serve, but to view ourselves as blessed to be able to do what we can.

I end with a somewhat lengthy quote from a meditation Father Richard Rohr posted a week ago in which he shared the following story by Tim Shriver, a Chair of Special Olympics. Special Olympics, as you know,  works with many people whom our culture excludes or disregards. Through their eyes Tim has come to see God’s presence in every human being. As you hear Tim’s words, reflect if you stand in solidarity with any who exist “on the edge,” folks who have been excluded, and if you see those individuals through God’s eyes. 

Tim writes, “You cannot believe in or practice unitive consciousness as long as you exclude and marginalize others—whether it is women or people of different sexual orientations or people of religious or ethnic minorities or, in my experience, people with intellectual disabilities. My work,’ he says, “ is largely with and in support of people who have significant vulnerabilities because of intellectual disability. In many cultures these people are excluded and oppressed, though often unconsciously, even more so than other marginalized groups. . . . They are thought to be hopeless. Mostly they are ignored and forgotten.

Tim goes on, “For twenty years I have been mentored by these same people. Some might not be the best-spoken, the most articulate writers, the most celebrated thinkers, the fastest runners. And yet, despite all of that, I have met person after person who emanates a kind of radiant light. After a while, even the densest of us may have our eyes opened to that something which transcends all superficial distractions of disability: the unimaginable beauty of every person. That beauty is ours for the seeing if only we have the eyes to see, if only we pay attention.

Tim goes on, “I try to maintain those eyes as I engage in this work. At times I will pull myself out of whatever I’m doing and try to remember that I’m united with all that is. I give myself license to step away and reconnect. I fail mostly, but once in a while I succeed, and when I do, I feel like I am touching a “sweet spot” of wonder and peace. It enables me to be present to people in a way that I can communicate to them that I love them unconditionally. There are no conditions to our unity, to our oneness.

Finally, he concludes, “Many times I’ve watched, for instance, as a person with Down syndrome stands with a gold medal around her neck, arms raised high to a cheering crowd. I can’t look at that child, at that human being, without slipping out of dualistic thinking. Those moments are a kind of sacrament of unitive consciousness. They are “both-and” moments where shadow and light coexist in the same experience. . . . Divine energy shoots vertically through me like a force, and says, ‘See! Look! Pay attention to what is right in front of you! That is all you need to know!’”


 

Homily – 29th Weekend in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, is one of my favorite women writers for her ability to give women a voice in society.  She came into my life at a time when I was heading back to school to complete work for a master’s degree and she spoke to my heart.  When I read Women Who Run with the Wolves, I said, “Finally, someone has put into words what I have been thinking for so long!” And, it was especially poignant that it was a woman who said it!  In a nutshell, which is hard to do for this woman author; the over-reaching thought was that women do have minds, unique thoughts, experiences and urgings for life—it is in their DNA, and they do need to be listened to!

Throughout her literary career, Pinkola Estes has challenged her readers toward, “showing their souls”—a very Christian idea and one, I believe, Jesus would approve of.  In the seeming, mish-mash of readings for this weekend; we might wonder if there is a common theme and I would offer that “soul-showing” is part of it.

On reading the selection from Exodus, my first thought was to not include much on it due to the violent picture of God depicted there. Exegetes though, tell us that we should cut the writers of this text a break as they lived in a different time and culture and didn’t have the benefit of Jesus, as we do, to reflect on, regarding their actions toward Amalek.  As is often a good plan with Scriptures; we must go deeper for what is ultimately the nugget to take to heart.

The words of the psalmist today, “Our help is from God, who made heaven and earth,” seems an appropriate response to the Exodus reading.  In other words, our take-away really should be, that no matter what life brings, our God will be there for us!

If we were looking for an overall theme though for today’s readings, clearly, “persistence,” exegetes tell us, would be it. Back to the Exodus reading—we see that more than anything else, the Israelites are persistent in asking God for what was needed, as they perceived it.  The larger image for all of us is to persevere in prayer.

We see in Paul’s letter to Timothy that same persistence—we might say, perseverance, as he encourages his young disciple to preach the gospel, “when convenient and [more so] when inconvenient.”

And finally in Luke, Jesus encourages us to persevere in fighting for justice till we have it.  If someone like the unjust judge in today’s gospel, who clearly cares nothing for people or God, in his own words, will finally relent giving the woman what she asks for, simply to get rid of her, think of what God who loves us more than we can imagine, will do through persistent prayer.

So friends, as we think about persevering in prayer, preaching the Gospel and fighting for justice, till we have it, my earlier comments on “soul-showing” seem appropriate.  Our call as followers of Jesus our brother should move us beyond being idle by-standers—lamenting what is.  Hearing his message, deep in our souls should move us to action in our world that so needs us to show our souls—what it is in fact that we deeply care about.

At the risk of being political, which I don’t mean to be, I’d like to share a recent example that demonstrates this lack of “soul-showing.”  This happened at a recent town hall meeting with our national representative, Jim Hagedorn.  At one point, we challenged him to  consider that when he stands by, saying nothing about the abhorrent behavior of the president, on a number of issues, which he agrees, he does not support, he is in fact, saying that he condones it.  He acted surprised to know this!—that lack of saying something is perceived as, agreement.

One of my pet peeves, no matter the political party, is the absence of “soul-showing,”  “intestinal fortitude”—read, “guts,” as former principal of Cotter High School, here in Winona, Father Paul Nelson used to say, when it comes to anyone holding public office and refusing to speak out on a controversial topic for fear of not being re-elected!  In my mind, such a person is not worthy of the office, because they have no idea of what serving the people means!

There used to be a time in our country when congresspeople worked, “across the aisle,” doing what was best for the American people—while maybe not getting everything they each wanted, but getting something!  “Soul-showing,” I would say, in this regard, seems a thing of the past and we so need for it to return in people who ask to serve our country.

I heard a talk that Barack Obama gave a year ago as he was receiving an award wherein he appealed to our “better angels.” He went on to say that in our world, “working to make something “better, is good!”  Again, while it may not be everything that we want, if each party, in any dispute, gets something, “this is good!”  This, my friends, is an example of, “soul-showing.”  And again, not meaning to be political, this “soul-showing” stuff is beyond, “political”—this is the message of our brother Jesus, calling us to be our best selves!

To do nothing, until we can have everything we want, does not work, whether it is in Congress, the Church, or in our daily lives because it is simply ignorant of the human condition and selfish with regard to others and their needs.

The message of Jesus, my friends, calls us to so much more—to show our souls on a consistent basis.  In conclusion, I’d like to end as I began with some eloquent words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes that I’ve shared with you before, but bear a repeat as they are really a blueprint for our lives as followers of Jesus.

“There will always be times when you feel discouraged.  I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it.  I will not entertain it.  It is not allowed to eat from my plate.  The reason is this: In my uttermost bones, I know something, as do you.  It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to earth, who you serve, and who sent you here.  The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours.  They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here.”

My friends, I am not sure I could have said from my heart all that Clarissa Pinkola Estes said here from hers, but I know that I am mightily challenged by her words!  In that spirit then, in a world that needs each of us every day to persevere in good, truth and justice—basically, love, in broad strokes;  I invite us all to consider these final words from her:  “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt.  But that is not what great ships are built for!”  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 28th Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, once again this week we are asked to look at the quality of “faith”—what it is and what it in fact, means in our lives.  The Scriptures for today, in two instances, tell us stories of people who believe, and more so, hope, for a cure from leprosy—Naaman, through the intercession of Elisha, the prophet and a Samaritan at the hands of our brother, Jesus.  And even though 10 lepers are cured; we will concentrate on the one that Jesus did—the one who came back to say, “thank you,” which tells us something, I think, about the virtue of gratitude.  And finally, in the letter to Timothy; we see the faith of Paul, who is in prison.

So first, we encounter Naaman, a non-Israelite, in the reading from Kings, cured by the prophet, through Naaman’s faith and then a Samaritan, along with nine others, cured by Jesus of a skin disease that made them outcasts in their own land—again, they were, as Jesus said, “Saved by their faith.”  So, it would seem, as we discussed last week—faith can do great things.

Because “faith” is taking center stage these past two weeks, many people are writing about it—one in particular, Jesuit musician, Dan Schutte. Dan speaks, in an article in the National Catholic Reporter, about his education, from little on with the School Sisters of Notre Dame and later with the Jesuits. He says that in both cases, he was challenged to, “not leave his brain at the door of the church,” so to speak, “but to think deeply about his Catholic faith and to not take everything at face value—[questioning], as a path toward a deeper and more authentic faith, to make his own, the teachings of the Church.” Sounds like a great description of faith for all of us!

Schutte goes on to give another description of faith that he gained, along the way from a priest, in a sermon during the Easter Season.  He didn’t include the priest’s name, but says that he has never forgotten what he had to say on the topic. “The opposite of faith is not doubt,” the unnamed priest said.  “The opposite of faith is certainty.”

Schutte continues, “In other words, when we are certain about something, we don’t need faith anymore.  Walking in faith, Schutte continues, sometimes takes work, not only of the heart, but the mind.  It’s often a daring, courageous journey with Jesus, the Risen One, at our side, guiding us with his Spirit,” he concludes.

I would like to lift up a couple of things that he said in this explanation.  Schutte talks about the “work” that “faith” sometimes is, and I think it is significant that he says, it is the work of not only the “heart, but the mind.”  The significant piece for me is that he started with, “the heart” and only secondly added, “the mind.”  In other words, faith is a “heart matter,” primarily, and we should always start there!  Starting with the mind seems to direct us to the “certainty” that the unnamed priest says, “is not faith.”

The second point that I’d like to call our attention to is the fact that, faith “is often a daring, courageous journey with Jesus.”  In other words, when it comes to faith—believing in things that we aren’t certain about; we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and “trust in the inspiration of his Spirit.”

It was this kind of faith and trust that carried Jesus throughout his life, which inspired Naaman, Paul and the Samaritan leper in the readings for today. And when we think about faith in our own lives, would we describe it as Dan Schutte came to understand it from teachers through the years?  I personally find great solace in knowing that faith isn’t something that I need to have “certainty” about.

When I think of the things that I have taken on faith in my life and probably will continue to, without complete assurance; I realize that it comes from a “deep knowing” in my heart, that something is so, that God wants me to do this.  Examples:  that I should enter the convent, that I should leave the convent, that I should marry Robert, that I should pursue ordination.

For me, it is about my relationship with Jesus and I dare say, if it weren’t for him, what he said and did in his earthly life; I would find belief in the God that the hierarchy gives us, at times, hard to take.

This reminds me of a scene from Franco Zefferelli’s film, Jesus of Nazareth.  This particular scene takes place after Jesus’ death.  Mary Magdalen has just come to share the news that, “Jesus is risen, that she has seen him!”  Of course, the men don’t believe her and she leaves in disgust.

The apostles go on to discuss the matter, rather heatedly and at one point, Thomas, who was known in Scriptures for doubting, questions Peter, “Do you believe her story?” Peter responds, “Yes, I do!” Thomas counters with, “How can you?!”  Peter responds simply, “Because he, [meaning Jesus] said so—that he would rise! And Peter continued, “I have always believed him!”

We can hardly object to what someone says they believe, but knowing a person, their credibility in other things; we come to trust in their assurance, “about things they cannot see,” which is the definition of faith. Now, of course this scene from Zefferelli’s film is not recorded in Scripture, but we can imagine such was part of the apostles’ deliberations in coming to believe all that Jesus said and ultimately, did.

So, my friends, my purpose here is not to “sew up faith,” as it were, because we know that is not possible. My purpose in fact is to challenge us to think ever more deeply about what our faith means—and further, what it calls us to do.

Jesus had a sense—a trust, that he was mightily loved by his Abba God, that he was sent on a mission of love and something about his trust in God’s love and care for him, allowed him to give to the final measure.

We see this same type of love in the love of earthly parents—their willingness to bring children into a world that they have no assurance will be a good place for them to grow up in, except for what they have experienced in their own lives.  This same type of love is present within anyone who chooses love over hate in our world, good over bad.

In conclusion then, no assurances, but faith will lead to some awesome places if we can let go of our need for certainty and our response to this new-found freedom is likely to be that of the one, returning leper—now cured—gratitude.  Amen? Amen!