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!

Homily – 4th Weekend in Lent

   My friends, many times as we age and continue to engage with our world, and its people—family, friends, and others we come in contact with, we often can find “gratitude,” in all that life brings—even while some things and people are taken from us.  To the simple question, “How are you doing?”—many responses might come… “Well, I’m upright!” or, “I’m doing good.” 

   I tend to be, for the most part, at least in public, a fairly positive person.  Lately, I have been dealing with “a knee” that isn’t behaving properly. I was out, in public several times this week for needed errands and appointments and to that customary question of, “How are you doing?” my response has been, “I’m OK—a step down from, “I’m good.” 

   Lately, I have been hearing from others who have been experiencing changes in their health or that of a family member, and I must comment on the faith and strength that they are showing in the face of more serious conditions. 

   When speaking of gratitude, I was reminded in my prep for this homily, that three years ago, we experienced our first Sunday of closing due to COVID 19.  I marvel now to think that at that time, I had said, “We will close for 2 weeks to see where we are with “spread” after that.  None of us thought that we would be shut down basically for a whole year and then only gradually, with outdoor Masses, liturgies on Zoom, and messages over email, and then with the precious vaccines, would we, in limited ways, be able to gather once again.  So, we found ourselves being grateful for each change and step-up that could help us come together once again as a community. 

   This weekend finds us at the 4th week of Lent and the Scriptures continue to remind, in almost a steady stream since Christmas—“to be light in our world.” We can’t just be “status quo” folks, satisfied to do the bare minimum.  Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, our 2nd reading today, affirms this challenge—“Live as children of the light.”  So what does that actually mean?  The other two readings for today, from Samuel and from John show us a bit of the way.

   The 1st reading from Samuel gives us the wonderful story of how God chose David to be the new ruler for the Israelite people.  We see that, in the words of Scripture, “God does not see as people see.”  And additionally, [God looks at] “the heart.” 

   In the gospel of John, we see the furthering of this idea in Jesus’ challenging, to some, yet, comforting to others, words, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  This was his response after giving physical sight to the blind man.  As he engages the temple authorities, in their” spiritual blindness,” we see, as in all of Jesus’ words, and actions, that there is always a deeper message, one that unites his words of so long ago, to our present time. 

   It is of course, through Jesus’ Spirit that his human words become timeless—that make them as meaningful and challenging for us today, as when they were first spoken. The 1st reading today from Samuel says as much.  When the youngest of Jesse’s 8 sons finally appears as God’s choice to lead the people, Scripture says, “The Spirit of God came mightily upon David from that day on”[!]

   My friends, we should be encouraged by the above words—we should know and believe that once we too say, “Yes” to our brother Jesus’ call, “to walk in the light,” we will never have to do it alone.

   Again, in John’s gospel, we see that Jesus instructs the blind man whose eyes he had rubbed mud on, to go to the pool of Siloam and wash.  In the Greek, “siloam” means, “sent.”  If we were to take one word or message from this gospel, it should be this one, “sent.”  By the nature of our baptisms and confirmations, as followers too, of the “Chosen One,”  Jesus, our brother, we are sent to make a difference in our world. 

      This past Monday, I had the privilege of speaking via Zoom to a group of Rochester, Minnesota Franciscan Sisters and Cojourners (lay, non-vowed women and men following Franciscan values in their lives) on my call to priesthood.  I was joined by Marianne Niesen, a former Franciscan Sister who likewise followed a call to ordained ministry. 

   As you all know my story, I would like to share here a bit about Marianne as her journey was different from mine.  She followed her call in the early 1990’s well before there was any way to do this within the Catholic church.  I share her journey because I want to lift up all that was asked of her to say, “Yes” to God. 

   She had been a Religious for 18 years, was established within her order of Franciscan Sisters, and had many friends.  Following her call meant leaving all this behind, including in some ways, her Catholic faith and its rituals, as she pursued ordained ministry within the Methodist denomination. 

   If you asked her, I believe she would tell you that she has always remained “Catholic” at heart, but in order to minister in the way that she felt God was calling her, meant that she would have to give up the Catholic “practice” that she knew.  As a result, Marianne continues today in retirement, after more than 25 years leading Methodist congregations, to advocate for denomination-less communities, where, much like our All Are One community, “all are welcome at the table,” because we are more alike that we are different. 

   Marianne, I believe, like me, knew that her call was stronger and more important than the law that said that she couldn’t do what God was asking, so proceeded with faith and trust, knowing that if this was of God, she would not fail.

   So, my friends, for each of us, we can’t use excuses, “that we are not worthy, or capable, or any other excuse.  David, in today’s 1st reading, is our witness and model, as is my friend, Marianne and others who have listened to their hearts, above their heads. 

   Today’s readings call us to be “grown-ups” in our faith—I believe, Joan Chittister said this.  In the same way that Jesus asked the then, cured, blind man if he believed in the Chosen One, we are being asked that same question today.  The cured man wanted to be sure, so his follow-up question was, “Who is he that I might believe?” Jesus’ response, “It is he who is speaking to you” [!] Upon recognition, the cured man gave his answer, “I believe.” 

   My friends, each time we learn that someone needs help, our brother Jesus is inquiring of us, if we too believe.  We must earnestly try and see Jesus in all who come our way—we may not always be able to physically help, but we must not fail to recognize the needy among us, and perhaps help at another time.  This won’t leave us feeling comfortable, nor should it.  Someone once said, the suffering we experience is sometimes the “very door” where God will enter—to draw us closer. 

   We continue our Lenten journey toward Easter—spring, and new life.  I began this homily reminding us where we were 3 years ago as we learned of a deadly virus among us.  We are most grateful to have come through that time and look forward to continued faith and strength as we become more open to one another again.

Amen? Amen!

Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

My friends, each week as the Spirit and I prepare a message, I look to the Scriptures to see what is there for us to ponder.  I continue to think it is important to reflect on the readings that the Church Universal uses in order to tie us, as it were, to the rest of believers.  Sometimes, I think we wonder at what we find there, but we then have the opportunity to unite the themes and “mine,” so to speak, or dig into, what is given, either accepting the message, or trying to clarify that what we, “are to get” –is it this and not that, or what?

   We sometimes see, in letters from Paul, which we know, weren’t all penned by him, and probably reflect more the cultural underpinnings of the times, such disparaging texts as with regard to women, “being silent, etc. and we question whether he wrote these as we know that Paul was often very complimentary of women that he ministered with and of how they assisted him. 

   So, looking at the readings today from Exodus, Romans, and John, along with Psalm 95, I have highlighted the following for us:

  • A question that I would assume we all ask, especially in times of trouble comes from Exodus, the 1st reading today.  We find our ancestors in the faith struggling in the desert and lamenting, “Is God in the midst of us or not?”  As I write this, I think of a dear friend who is walking through a new diagnosis and perhaps pondering this very question. 
  • Paul, who in my mind, as I indicated above, doesn’t always get it right, does in fact have a pearl for us today in his letter to the Romans: “Hope in Jesus, the Christ will not leave us disappointed.” These words he wrote to the community in Rome as he assured them that as they struggled to “become all that God has intended,” they would not have to do it alone—God, [Jesus] would be with them.

   He was asking this community and us to believe that Jesus’ Spirit lives and breathes and moves through us.  This perhaps is another good question to ponder this Lent—do we believe this statement?  I shared with my friend who is learning to live with the new diagnosis that as, a wise person once said, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” If we can wrap our “hearts” around this truth, we might experience what Paul is talking about today. 

  • Then, we have from John’s gospel today, a wonderful invitation from Jesus to the woman that he meets at the well, and, by all “cultural” mores, should have ignored.  “If only you recognized God’s gift and who it is who is asking you for a drink…”  Jesus speaks of himself as “living water” in this reading, which confirms for the woman in question, as well as us, that we must always “go deeper,” “mining” the wealth that the weekly Scriptures hold.
  • Psalm 95 seems to encourage this “deeper look” –“if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”  Sometimes we need a tangible reminder of this and for that reason, I have supplied us with stones to carry in our pockets this week. (:

   We know from so many other places in the New Testament that Jesus expects us to go deeper, to see him in those we encounter each and every day.  Our lives as his followers, are truly not about reading stories each week about, “a good and holy man,” with no carry-over into our own lives—“If you only recognized who it is who is asking you for a drink, for some food, for a bed, for respect, and so on…”  Friends, it only matters that Jesus gave himself as gift so many, many years ago, if we can then see him today in the imploring of the needy in our midst.  “Open your eyes and see, [he says], the fields are ready for the harvest!” 

   Again, studying and reading about Jesus in the Scriptures only makes sense if we carry over that message to the present and act.  With regard to the prayer of Psalm 95 today that we “harden not our hearts,” the alternative is that we would respond from, “hearts of flesh.”  This is perhaps the only thing that can once again make our Church Universal something that is truly vibrant in our world. 

   It is “hearts of flesh,” not of “stone” that recently passed House bill 28 in Minnesota which reinstated the right to vote to citizens on parole.  It would have been a “heart of flesh,” not “stone” that would have moved our current bishop in the Winona/Rochester diocese to “even” respond to our board’s letter and subsequent request that he join us for a meal to discuss the reality of our All Are One Catholic parish on his very doorstep.

   Our brother Jesus became, “one with us” to show us the best ways to live out the wonderful gift that each of our lives is.  His hope, I am most sure, was that as we looked around our world, following his example, seeing any suffering—the homeless, the down-trodden, the abused, we should see the deeper presence, there, of him.  Truly, that can only be done with a “heart of flesh.”

   This month of March has been designated as one to remember women—all the women who have been important, meaningful, helpful and often, unsung in our lives. We all have these special women in our lives, who have made a difference for us, and March is a very good time to tell them so. 

   I would personally like to give a shout-out to the Rochester, Minnesota Franciscan Sisters and Cojourners for sponsoring an evening to hear the stories of two Catholic women who followed their God-given calls to ordination as priests, one in the Methodist church and the other within the Roman Catholic Women Priests—me.  They also go on to say that the stories of the two women are “our” stories.

   If we really believe that the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth, then we as Jesus’ followers must be open to how that same Spirit is working, in so many different people and places to bring about the kin-dom. 

   In conclusion, I would challenge each of us during this month of March, dedicated to remembering and celebrating our women and girls, to “mine”—dig into the whole issue of “sexism,” alive and well in our world.  If you are a woman and don’t think there is a problem—this challenge is for you.  If you are a man and don’t realize that by the very nature of the way you happened to have been born, you have a “step up” in society and Church, above every woman, then the challenge to you is two-fold! 

   I believe the truth of this uneven playing field was explained so well after the selection process for the Democratic Candidate for president in 2020 by Elizabeth Warren.  She was asked if “sexism” played a role in this contest, and she basically said that a woman would be put down regardless of her take on this issue.  If she stated that women were and are held to a higher standard than are men as they strive for these positions, (sexism), she would be called a “whiner.” If she went the other way and denied that “sexism” was afoot, then all her female supporters would say, “What planet are you living on?!” 

   Friends, sexism is alive and well when candidates are considered, less on their abilities to lead and more on their presumed, “fragileness” of character. You may recall at the Democratic Convention in 2016, celebrating Hillary Clinton as the 1st woman candidate of any major party where male reporters commented, not on the rightness of her candidacy and her lifetime qualities and remarkable talents to do the job, but ON WHAT SHE WAS WEARING!!! This type of thing would never have been mentioned if the candidate was a man.  And unfortunately, these attitudes run deep, so that often times we aren’t even aware of them. 

   One of the most wonderful gifts that I ever received for ministry came from a Southern Baptist minister who was my supervisor during my residency in Clinical Pastoral Education to become a chaplain. I had been struggling with the fact that women should be allowed to become priests in our Church and this same supervisor said to me one day, “Kathy, you don’t need permission from anyone to do what God is calling you to do!”  This was in 1994 and it took me a while to follow, but his words were the affirmation I needed to act when the time became right.

   This example of women “trained” to “need permission” from men to follow God’s call is called, and is, sexism, and it is alive and well in churches when women’s gifts for ministerial roles are discounted and they are denied access because of how they happen to have been born. 

   Interesting isn’t it that the same types of “taboos” that Jesus dealt with in his time, still run amok today? This is the kind of thing that Jesus calls us, in our lives, as his followers, to address.  When something in your heart and soul says, “This is wrong, we must speak out, whether for women, men, the poor, the sick–whomever! 

 Amen? Amen!

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Lent

My friends, today’s Gospel passage that I just proclaimed gives us the beautiful story of the Transfiguration.  This event was a special grace given to Peter, James and John because they would later need this knowledge and the accompanying strength that it gave to truly proclaim to others, especially in times of doubt, that their friend and brother, Jesus of Nazareth, was and is, the Christ—the Anointed One, the Messiah, whom their people had so long awaited. 

   Peter, the impetuous one, who many of us love for that very reason, speaks with abandonment, the joy he feels in this moment: “How good it is that we are here” –a sentiment perhaps, for life in general.  He further expresses his joy by wanting to make it more permanent—wanting it to last: “With your permission Master, I will erect three booths, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

   But Peter, like us, must be reminded that the time for this “more permanent joy” is not to be realized now, but must await a time, in the future, when the work of bringing justice for all is accomplished—a challenge I definitely felt as I finished reading, Subversive Habits, by Shannen Dee Williams, documenting racist treatment of black women within white Catholic orders of sisters, an action that was reflected in the general culture of our country, unfortunately.  

  The gift that Peter and the others received was intended to help them more effectively share Jesus’ message with the people—for them as for all others who will receive Jesus’ call to serve, it was and is, never just about the person receiving the call/gift.  What the three experienced on the hillside was a theophany—Jesus’ self-revelation as God.  James, John, and Peter shared something very special and with all such things for which we are not worthy, and have done nothing to deserve, as Paul speaks of in the 2nd reading today from Timothy, there comes a responsibility to use the gift for others.  The three were entrusted with a special gift and Jesus’ expectation was that they would take the “good,” and use it for something even better–to draw many to follow in his path. 

   In the early days of my own priesthood, there were those hierarchical folks within the Church who accused me and other women priests of being after “the power,” and I could always answer truthfully that it was never about power for me personally, but about service for those who felt unserved within our Church, me included.  My prayer then, and now, has been that I could always serve in this role with humility, knowing that the gift and privilege is not at all about me, or for me, alone.  My hope in these disagreements with others, especially male priests, is that they would likewise shine their light of introspection upon themselves with regard to power, and strive going forward, to work with all who called to serve, for the greater good of the People of God.   

   You will recall from last Sunday’s homily the work of Sister Sandra Schneiders in defending her sisters in religious life against the investigations of their lives and missions in the world in 2010.  She said the same to the powers-that-were, at the time, basically looking at women Religious and their lifetimes of dedication and reflection upon ministry, and the renewal asked of them by the 2nd Vatican Council, challenging the hierarchy of the Church to focus their attention upon themselves instead of upon women who were earnestly trying to live prophetic lives in the footsteps of their brother, Jesus. 

   This brings us to our first reading today from Genesis.  Here again we see the theme of this entire Lenten Season—God’s gracious goodness lifted up for us in the exchange between God and Abram.  When we see what is being asked of Abram, who will later become, Abraham, we realize that there had to have been a strong relationship already between him and God—why else would Abram be so willing without any question or argument to pick up family and basically leave all that he knows for a strange land and situation?  Even so, given the already existing relationship, it couldn’t have been easy for Abram to do.

   It is good for us to remember that what God asked of Abram was momentous in the culture within which he lived. A person in this culture was closely connected to family—one’s people.  The place from which a person originated was seen as paramount—one didn’t leave that place lightly.  God was basically asking Abram to leave his past, present, and possible future behind! And Abram said, “yes.” 

     This theme of God continually bestowing blessings on the Chosen People, which we really should see as all of us, is one that continues through all the readings today. Paul in his letter to Timothy speaks of this “lovingkindness” as pure gift, and as I said above, not because we have deserved or earned it.  Paul uses a Greek word, to further explain this pure goodness—charis, which translates as grace.   Paul then moves us into the 2nd theme for this weekend, which is, a new beginning.  Through God’s magnanimous gift of Jesus we have the hope of new life.

  Our humanity is raised up and made perfect by Jesus becoming one of us and it is Jesus who calls us to holiness, to being our best selves Paul tells us. Our choosing to walk in Jesus’ footsteps is the final theme for this weekend—in fact; choosing to follow Jesus is what we should always be about in our lives as Christians.  It is what Sister Sandra was challenging the “accusers of wrong-doing” with regard to women religious, to look at.  She and the Religious she was defending had to 1st follow the call of Jesus, even if, and especially if, doing so, went against Church law. 

   Coming back then to the Transfiguration, it is an event that is good for us to reflect upon on several fronts.  First off, if we needed something to confirm for us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, there is much here to confirm it.  Jesus, knowing the culture and beliefs of his time, would have been aware that he needed to choose a high place for such a revelation. “Location is everything,” the realtors tell us—high mountains were thought to be places where gods dwelt. 

   Most scholars now believe that Jesus’ purpose was indeed to reveal himself as God while he was yet on earth—to help these first believers to know truly who he was.  Appearing glorified in the presence of Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, who represented the prophets, and himself, who completed the equation, of all that the people had waited for, had to have been a tremendous strengthening of faith for James, John, and Peter!  Jesus shows himself to them as God incarnate.

   These followers of his, clearly can’t take it all in—how could they?! Peter speaks out of his compulsive nature— “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” Yes, Peter, it is, but you can’t stay yet—this is a respite— a time away, to become solidified in what you are being called to and for.  God then instructs them further— “Listen to… Jesus’ words.” 

   So, my friends, coming back to this time of Lent, taking the readings for today, and trying to make sense of them, we must at least come to the conclusion that times such as the 40 Days of Lent are not meant for looking down on ourselves, pounding our breasts, and feeling guilty, but more so, about realizing the gift our God has given us in Jesus—not as One sent to die for us, but One who came freely, to live for us, to show us the way. And while true that following in his footsteps, may lead to our own, “crucifixions,” as it did for him, that was never God’s intent in sending him!

    With the knowledge that, “we are loved” by our Creator, rather than a God determined to have reparation for human failings, even including the death of Jesus, we will be much more strengthened and prepared to love others—to in fact use this one tool—yard stick, as it were, to measure the “rightness” of any action we ever question doing in life.  Is this about love?  If not, we have our answer. 

   Paul tells us, “Do not be ashamed…of God” and Jesus reminds us that we have nothing to fear.  So Lent, then, my friends, is intended to be a special time to look at how, “each of us is” in our world—to check if our actions are, “just about us,” or are we, in addition, “about others” in our world?  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 1st Sunday of Lent

My friends, in preparing for today’s homily, I found that much of what I shared with you three years ago is what I would advocate for today, so I will start there and just update some of the examples to present day.

   As we begin the holy season of Lent, I am sure that within some of you, there is a sigh, an “ugh” feeling, or maybe for others, a sense of, ah, a new start for me to get right with myself and God.  For those of you who have the “ugh” sensation, that is understandable as the readings for this 1st Sunday of Lent direct us to our sinfulness.  They also direct us to God’s graciousness, but those who have put together these readings seem more intent on lifting up our “sinfulness” than they do God’s graciousness and mercy. 

   Take the first reading from Genesis today—did anyone other than me think it strange that we start out with the “earth creature” whom we assume from other translations to be Adam, enjoying the beauties of the garden that God has created, and then the jump of a chapter to introduce the woman just in time to bring “sin” into the world? 

   Granted that, “our sinfulness” is what is trying to be lifted up throughout the readings, but I also suspect that the ages-old tendency, “to blame the woman” is afoot here as well.  And it is a subtle thing in a patriarchal culture, but it is one to note just the same.

   Interestingly enough, I am presently reading a small volume by Sister Sandra Schneiders, theologian, known to some of you perhaps as the writer of the America magazine article some 25 years ago, “God is More than Two Men and a Bird,” who in this volume, which is a collection of articles she did in 2010 for the National Catholic Reporter, documenting and perhaps trying to explain the investigation of women Religious by the Vatican.

   Throughout these several well-resourced articles, she makes clear the frustration of so many Sisters as to the “why” of these investigations. Through discussions with many of her counterparts, the only reason that seemed plausible was that a very small group of hierarchy and unfortunately some very conservative Sisters wanted to return religious life to pre-Vatican II days when the Sisters had a more “controlled” life, or we might say, “were more controlled by the hierarchy. It seems that they really didn’t want these perpetually-vowed women living their lives following their consciences, and the memory of Jesus of Nazareth, which remarkably was often against the agenda of the powers-that-be. 

   Again, she notes, that if “something was wrong” with the lifestyle of the Sisters, why were the orders of Brothers and Priests not also investigated, as they lived similar lives?  In a patriarchal culture, the Sisters were always a prime target, she concluded.  Speaking of Jesus, with relation to women Religious living according to their consciences, and being persecuted for it, Sister Sandra makes the very valid connection to his life in Palestine and the “why” of his death—he was advocating justice for the common folk which was against the agenda of Rome and the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem.

    Continuing then with the Scriptures for this week, pointing to our collective “sinfulness,” it seems that in the reading from Romans, Paul protests too much. His intent in preaching to the Romans who knew little or nothing of Jesus, was no doubt to have them get a clear picture of who he was, but I for one, object to the picture he is portraying here.  Why does the act of making a human choice have to be carried on through all of humanity and their history? This is faulty reasoning if we are to believe in the graciousness and mercy of God. 

   It is probably this reading where the notion of original sin comes from, and the need for God—and not a loving God, at that, to be appeased through the death of Jesus.  This so-called “theology” is so flawed, as it makes God so small-minded, so small-hearted, as Sister Joan Chittister would say of such theology, so vindictive—more like us than God, who in other places—we are told, “is all-loving and all-merciful.”  Sister Sandra speaks of Jesus’ God, thus, “God was not only compassionate, but compassion itself.”  We can’t believe both narratives—that of a vindictive God and that of an all-loving, all-understanding God—as the God of the “Prodigal,” a story of over-the-top love which we will read later on in Lent. 

   The Good News that we should celebrate this Lent and every year at this time is not that Jesus died for our sins— “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa”—or as a friend recalls feeling, “I am scum, I am scum, I am really scum,” but the fact that Jesus came and lived for us to show us the best way to live.  Granted, his advocacy for the poor and down-trodden, kept in place by the powers-that-were in his time, and his demand that these same powerful ones do the right thing, caused his death, but certainly, not because our humanity needed reparation.   

   Why would a God who made humanity imperfect then demand reparation for their flawed natures? No, it makes no sense that a loving God, wanting only the best for these creatures, enough so to be humbled in Jesus, living among us, showing us the way—the best way through life, death and resurrection would then demand the life of Jesus to appease God’s vindication. 

   Even the terminology that we use in the ritual of distributing ashes, “Remember, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” has the wrong tone.  So friends, when I distribute ashes today, I will remind each of you and me that instead of remembering that we are “dust and will one day return to such,” I will instead let us know that we,  “came from the good earth and will return there one day.” The true intention in marking us each year with ashes should be to simply help us know our place in relationship to our loving God—that we have been gifted with life from our good earth and all that this entails—no more, no less. 

   In the past few weeks, I have come to appreciate anew, “good health” and when my body works properly.  I have acquired a new, persistent pain in my R knee and while on our cruise around Greece, I had a doctor on board look at it, and as a result, he told me to see an orthopedic surgeon when I got home as I most likely have ligament damage.  Old age? Perhaps, as I am not aware of having injured it.  I have added a cane to my life, which helps getting around, only it is humbling to have to admit that I need it. But being in relationship with this “good earth” and life, in general, brings all of this.

   Coming back then to today’s Scriptures, the Gospel from Matthew is all about Jesus’ preparation for ministry—anyone called to leadership will always be tempted by the power that can come with the role.  Jesus is aware of this and thus tries to make himself strong through fasting and prayer, in order to avoid this very strong temptation and keep focused on his mission. 

   Fasting from food has its place in our lives if it prepares us to better focus on moving out of ourselves to see the needs of others, to in fact be better people.  Even the confidence that comes naturally with good health, that I mentioned above, is something to be aware of, and balance, in appreciation of that gift.  Also, with this comes the need to appreciate that our “personal goodness,” our worth, extends beyond physical health. 

   I personally tend, as you know, to shy away from fasting as prescribed by the Church during Lent as I can’t seem to separate it from the notion of “dieting” and this conundrum was validated for me a few years back in a piece that I read in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) on fasting and the different take that many women have on the topic.  Of course this article was written by a woman!

   Because many women have grown up with the false impression, created by our male-centered culture, that women are only acceptable if they have a certain body type and shape, fasting takes on a whole different notion for women than it does for men, the writer said.  There is a reason friends, why more women than men, in our culture, suffer from anorexia and bulimia.

   The men in charge say that you can’t unite the two, that is, using a time of fasting to lose a few extra pounds, the writer continued.  And that is why I have stopped trying.  If I happen to be dieting during Lent, (when am I not trying to lose those extra pounds?!), I call it “dieting” and forget about fasting, for what that is worth.

   So, my dear friends; I see Lent as a gift our Church gives us to grow closer to Jesus and we will—if we keep our eyes on him.  If fasting from food helps you to do that, I am not discouraging it, but if it simply leaves you with an “ugh” feeling, then you may want to “fast” in a different way:  you can fast perhaps from nagging a loved one, or from using your sharp tongue or tone to denigrate another, a personal fault I have been reminded of recently, or from selfishness with your time, or from judgmentalism, or snobbishness, or the need to have things done your way, and the list can go on.  This discussion always makes me think of someone in my extended family that did a perfect job of fasting and abstaining from food during Lent but might have been better served, herself and her immediate world, if she had instead, fasted from her negative ways. 

   I think if we don’t come out on the other side of Lent knowing that we are mightily loved by our God, then, I would think we had missed something important.  When you really look at Jesus’ earthly life, you have to conclude that he was a really astounding fellow—to follow in his ways—actions and words—we certainly could do worse!  He was one who saw the goodness of his Abba in all he met and continually worked for the good of all—he saw all as, “his Body and Blood—the eucharist, in the best sense of that word…and so should we.

   So, let us pray for each other during these days that each of us can more fully follow our brother Jesus’ ways in gratitude to our God who has given us this awesome opportunity of 40 days to become more of whom we are called to be! Amen? Amen!