Homily – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, if I were to choose just one word this week to offer up from the combined Old and New Testament readings, it would be, “hope.”  But we can hardly speak of “hope” without including faith, because as we all know, it takes a great deal of faith, at times, to keep “hoping” that somehow we will as a country, and a Church, find our way to truly become the great nation that we so often claim to be, as well as, “the best people we can be,” following in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus, the Christ. 

   This summer, if you have been watching the news, you have witnessed the stellar work of a bi-partisan group of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, trying to get the whole story about what happened at our Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, when our democracy came frighteningly close to being over-turned.  For me, this episode in our history was the clearest in my lifetime of what can happen when the privilege of serving goes awry—when the responsibility is put into the hands of the self-serving and irresponsible.  And now, with a new bishop for the Winona/Rochester diocese in Southern Minnesota, we can hope that service and service to the least among us is a big part of Bishop Barron’s agenda. 

   Speaking of January 6, 2021, this past week I prepared and sent out nine letters to the members of this January 6th Committee thanking them for their courageous work in exposing the crimes of that day, from the president on down, so that this can hopefully never happen again.

I concluded each letter with a personal note letting that member know that their individual and corporate work gives me a great deal of hope to believe that we, as a country can be better than what was displayed on that fateful day. 

   The writer to the Hebrews speaks of faith saying that it, “is the confident assurance of what we hope for, the conviction about things we do not see.”  In other words, “a mystery”—but one, I personally feel that we must cling to, must hold on- our- hearts, and must believe that the greatest majority in this country and in our Church are capable of. And again remembering that we are spiritual beings, here, having a human experience, so that it is possible for us, “to be our best!” 

   The Wisdom writer in today’s 1st reading calls us, “holy people” and I believe the greatest amount of us will step up and be that “holy people,” not just in name, but in action too.  And that is the most important part—that we act, that we show just “what” we believe in through our actions. 

   Our brother Jesus, who has shown us the way, has said so succinctly in today’s gospel from Luke— “wherever your treasure lies, there you heart will be.”  Additionally he tells us, “Not to be afraid,” and the enjoiner is most assuredly, as he told us before physically leaving us— “I will be with you, always!” 

   It is most interesting and tragic really that three years ago when I was reflecting on these same readings, the issue of gun violence was front and center and for the first time in my memory, news casters were using the word, “crisis” to speak of this national problem.  And here we are three years later, and in my mind this issue of proliferation of guns and the violence caused by them has become, “epidemic.” 

   In the Wisdom letter that names how we will know “holy people,” the writer goes on to say that “holy people” [will] “share all things—blessings and dangers alike.”  In other words, when one person dies from gun violence, all of us should mourn whether we knew the person/s or not, because as followers of our brother Jesus, this is what he calls us to.

   This reminds me of four years ago already when 17 people, were murdered and 17 more wounded at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I was so proud of the students at Winona Senior High School under the direction of their teacher, who held a prayer service in support of this community–students that they didn’t know.  Probably the most poignant part was when 17 students laid down in front of the school and other students drew with chalk their shapes upon the ground to keep before our eyes that 17 lives were ended needlessly because our country can’t responsibly deal with this epidemic. What we as a country are saying is that our “right” to bear any arms that are available, is more important than the lives of our children and Jesus’ words should be ringing in our ears—wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be too[!]”

   I have said it before, but just to be clear, as a pastor I can’t advocate for one candidate for public office over another, but I most assuredly can say that those claiming to be Christians should never be voting for candidates who do not advocate for stronger gun laws that would rid our country of weapons of mass destruction, allowing them into the hands of the public, and this is just one among many other issues that do not show care and respect for the least among us!   Our right, in this country to vote should never be taken lightly—it is a precious responsibility!

   Our prayer today can and should be that of the psalmist, “May your love be upon us God, as we place all our hope in you.”

   The times in which we live my friends call for great faith and hope, trusting in our faithful and merciful God.  Our faith calls us to be our very best, each and every day, to show up, and do our part—call and write our Congress people, insisting that they too be the servants that we all sent them to Washington to be, serving not just their own constituents so as to be re-elected, but all the people, especially those in this country with little or no voice. 

   In conclusion, when our faith and hope seem low and hard to hold onto, it would be good to remember our parents in the faith, Sarah, and Abraham, “as good as dead,” as the writer to the Hebrews says, but in actuality, began a family of descendants, “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore.”  And finally, as our brother Jesus reminds in the gospel today, we have been given much, and “much is required” as well. It is what Christians are called to…

Amen? Amen!

Homily – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, the writer of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, in today’s first reading seems to be stating what many of us are feeling or have felt in times of sadness, grief and loss: “Everything is futile.”  And our enjoiner might be, “Why try then?” Here is why.

   First, we must remember that we are spiritual beings, here, having a human experience.  I dare say, for many of us, perhaps most, we are grateful for this experience, this opportunity—for life, for love, for the chance to experience much that life has to offer.

   But is it all bliss? No, it is not! We all have been hurt in life, disappointed in others that we have called, “friend,” or respected elder. If we live out our human experience “on the margins,” of society; we know how disappointing and hurtful life can be at times—as a dark-skinned person, as a woman of any color, as a child tied to parents who want to continue their human experience through their children regardless of the wishes of those children. 

   This past week we viewed again Ken Burns series on Country Music and one of the individuals highlighted was the very gifted, singer-songwriter, Kris Kristofferson.  His early years were very scripted; he did what his parents expected of him—higher education, the military, and eventually, a corporate job, marriage, and family.  Now to some, his parents included, he had arrived, but deep within, he had another calling.  You see, he was a poet and had a great ability to join words together in profound ways and add them to the music on his guitar, and to many in the music industry, he was the most talented songwriter in the country.  It is thought that over 450 artists besides himself, recorded his songs, including Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. 

   Unfortunately, his new choice in life was not appreciated by his parents who, in the words of his mother, told him not to come home again as he was no longer considered their son!  I have to believe this rejection played a big part in his slip into alcohol and other drugs later in his life.  All may be “futile” as Qoheleth says, but most of us really need little more than to be appreciated and accepted for who we are in life. 

   The other readings for today speak to a path, if taken, can and do lead to happiness.  Each of us come into our human experience complete with a free will which as we grow and mature can become a wonderful gift for ourselves and others if we learn to balance its power in our lives in just, merciful, and loving ways. 

   A book that has been part of my reading of late is one by Shannen Dee Williams, entitled, Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle.  This is a story that I was completely unaware of, and as it is unfolded in the book, I would guess that all the white Sisters’ orders refusing to accept black and brown women’s vocations simply because of their skin color, (and this was quite universal until the middle of the 20th Century) would be something they didn’t want made public.

   One could say, “Well, this was the culture of the time.”  Even so, I would expect those in ministry, supposedly following in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus, to have a higher bar—to stand for a bit more. And this was the case for most male priests at this time too.  In some white Sisters’ orders, black women were admitted, but once within the convent walls, they were often bullied until they eventually left, or given the most menial tasks.  Now in justice, I have to hope that I might have been among the few priests and sisters who could see Jesus in these “outcasts” and give them a helping hand. 

   Some colored women called to ministry got around this by joining complete black orders, of which there were a few, but then these sisters would face all kinds of impediments with rejection of them to white colleges for training and if they managed to get trained, then white parents didn’t want black sisters teaching their white children!

   It is interesting to me that the Catholic church which during these years claimed to be the only true church, would be so racist.  But friends, just like the issue of Native children being stolen from their parents to be assimilated and summarily, abused, we must all look at these issues and reflect on what our response may have been as well.

   And we all know the issue of women in our world and Church that I keep you all abreast of and will do more of at our Mary of Magdala celebration. 

   My friends, by nature of our baptisms, I believe our loving God is always calling us to be our best, but will not interfere with our freedom to choose, “that which is best.”  But I do believe,  in the modern words of the 23rd psalm translation in The Message that God will keep “chasing after us, all the days of our lives,” setting people and messages in our paths to “show us the way.”  The psalmist confirms this idea in today’s response: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” 

   Sometimes, as with Kris Kristofferson, it will be through failure that we find the way.  Others of us, “swinging” too far on the continuum of “need to greed,” find the balance, to be happy in our human experience. 

   I have always loved the story in Luke’s gospel today and have smiled over the farmer’s answer to his great harvest— “I know, I’ll build bigger barns!” –instead of being satisfied with “enough” and sharing the surplus.  Luke tells us to “be rich in God.”

   And finally, Paul, in his letter to the Colossians has this to say.  “Set your heart on what pertains to higher realms.”  Simply put, work at being your best for yourself, but also for others.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

   My friends, as we move through Ordinary Time, we continue to see how this time in the Church calendar is anything, but “ordinary!”  In fact, our lives as Christians should always, or at least often, stand above the fray. What do I mean by that?

   Human nature tends many times toward, “not making waves,” so to speak, because it is usually, much easier, “following the crowd” than it is, “to stand alone or apart” and call the crowd to be, “better than this.”  Our brother, Jesus, called all who would follow him not only to be, “better than this,” but to the “best that we can be!”  So therefore, we cannot say that “we are Christian,” and strive to be anything, but the best that we can be—most of the time. 

   Our nation, in the last several weeks has, literally, received this call, “that we are better than this,” from the Select Committee attempting to uncover the truth about the January 6, 2021, insurrection at our Capitol in Washington, D.C.  One has to applaud and be very proud of two courageous Republicans on that committee, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who are standing on character and conscience to speak the truth, for all of us, regardless of whether it loses them political favor among their peers or from the voters. 

   Our brother Jesus asks no less from us!  Remember, as someone wisely said, “We are spiritual people, here, having a human experience, just as Jesus did.  And because we all come from the same, “spiritual dust,” we must, simply must, be true to his legacy, especially if we want to claim to be his followers.

   The Scripture selections for this Sunday take us on an interesting journey showing us just who our God is through the lives of Abraham, Jesus, and Paul.  The story relayed from Genesis in the first reading seems almost impossible to believe.  One gets the impression that Abraham thinks God looks at the world as he and other humans do.  Humans, being finite, often deal with the world, lacking mercy, justice, and goodness, and then, likewise, think God will respond to failings in the same way, as we see Abraham continuing to implore God to save the city, for fewer and fewer people.   

   Now, in order to better understand Abraham’s questions of God, we must remember that he doesn’t have the benefit of Jesus, who told us over and over of his Abba’s unending and inclusive love for all of creation through the stories of the Prodigal, the woman and man caught in adultery, and the Good Shepherd and its feminine counterpart, the woman who lost a coin and turned the house upside down to find it.  We, coming off all these stories know, instinctively, that God would spare the city if only one person would be found who had repented. 

   Jesus, in the selection from Luke today, speaks the truth about who God is, “If you know how to give your children good things, how much more will your loving God give the Spirit to those who ask.”  Jesus continues, “ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened.”  Our response today from Psalm 138 says the same: “O God, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” 

   Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, speaks his truth out of the knowledge he too has of God.  Paul never knew Jesus, in the flesh—his knowledge of God came from his relationship with Jesus, the Christ.  The Christological Jesus, theologians and Scripture scholars tell us, “is big enough” for all believers in God and from all different starting points.   

   It is for this reason that Paul could preach to the Gentiles, of his God who was indeed, “big enough” to include them all. Simply put, for Paul, following Jesus, the Christ brought all good, because it was his view that Jesus, in his lifetime had shown us, “the way, the truth and the life,” and we only need to follow…

   As we look at our world friends, there is much, in my view, that needs a closer following of the ways of our brother Jesus.  You all know our present-day issues: Legislation that purports to speak for life at its beginnings is only worth taking seriously if life is considered along the entire continuum and protected and cared for at each point.  To do less, rings hollow.  Having basically, no limits on firearms in this country is insane because we all know, that the issue is not about, the individual’s “right to bear arms,” but in fact, “the industry’s “want to sell weapons,” at the expense, lately, of the lives of our children! When our beautiful earth, in different areas is either burning up or being flooded by more and more powerful storms, to not do everything in our power to attempt to halt climate change is irresponsible in the very least and life-threatening at the other end of the continuum. 

   My friends, many times we think that all these issues: the well-fare of our democracy in this country, rights, and privileges for all, and the care of our planet among other things have swung too far to be helped; but we do have strength to make a difference and for many of us, it comes down to the ballot box.  As a pastor, I cannot responsibly advocate for one candidate over another in a public way. But what I can do is follow our brother Jesus’ lead and advocate for candidates on the merit of “the fruits,” I see in their lives. 

   Jesus, in his life faced such questions about how to know the good, the truth of a person, and he simply said— “see what they produce.”  None of us who claim to be Christian should be voting for individuals who do not take seriously their oath of office to serve all the people, especially the least among us.

   Unfortunately, too many in positions of power today, in our country are more concerned about their popularity and getting re-elected than they are about serving the needs of the people, all the people, and such individuals should not have a second chance.  Unfortunately, this is true of many in Church leadership too!  “Check the fruits!” Amen?  Amen!

Homily – 16th Weekend in Ordinary Time

   Friends, our readings for this weekend address three themes: first, that of “traveling” and each of us as “travelers” through our lives, second, “hospitality” as a way to be in our “traveling” and its counterpart—that of “gratitude” for the gifts given in life, and finally, the stance of being a good “listener” as we “travel” through our lives.  Let’s take a deeper look.

   The story from the Old Testament book of Genesis is one we have all heard.  Abraham and Sarah, an elderly couple, give “hospitality” to three strangers traveling over land who happen to come by with “good news” for the couple.

   The first thing we need to understand to truly appreciate this story, is that the Israelite people lived out of a deep conviction of “serving”—giving “hospitality” to the stranger and they went so far as to put themselves in the position of giving that hospitality to every “traveler” who might stop by, even if that person was someone, they considered to be an “enemy.” 

    The Israelite people were nomads—they were travelers, and one could find themselves stranded in the desert, of which much of the land was, and so were dependent on the generosity of others.  So, it is out of this mindset that Abraham greeted the three strangers who came to his door.

   Another aspect that is important to understand and one that a male priest would most likely not lift up, is the fact that it was the men who would offer the hospitality, but the women would be the ones who would get it ready. Now this is important to take note of as it will make a fine bridge to the gospel story today.  We will get to that in a bit. 

   The other thing that you more than likely noticed, was when the travelers arrived, the “steer” was still walking about.  I think this indicates the lengths that people would go to give hospitality to “the stranger.”  Also, these travelers who brought “good news” must have had time on their hands to be able to save the “good news” until the physical hospitality was done.  And again, keep this idea in mind when we discuss Jesus’ apparent reprimand of Martha in today’s gospel. 

   The gospel from Luke tells a familiar story too of another traveler and apparent close friend, our brother Jesus, who stops by his friends’ home for a bit of respite—the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

   In the tradition and culture of the time that Jesus lived, it would have been customary and expected by most, that physical hospitality, that of food and drink, would be offered—enter Martha.  But, as we know, Jesus was always one to turn things “on their heads”—he was about doing something new.  Trouble erupts then between the two sisters because Mary apparently isn’t helping to get the meal ready.

   Now probably as long as this gospel passage has been used, there has ensued the question, whose “hospitality,” that of Martha, who did the physical work of preparing the meal, or the “hospitality,” that of Mary who simply sat and listened to Jesus’ words, and no doubt offered emotional comfort that good friends do for each other.  So, most of us have heard the issue of “work”—that of Martha and that of Mary addressed through the years, wondering whose work is most important. 

   Now, if we read this gospel literally, which, by the way, we should never do, it does appear that Jesus is downplaying the physical work of his friend, Martha. And, as one woman to another, I get that!  I think Martha did too!  All the women here know the feeling of preparing for guests, getting food ready, cleaning, and all that is needed to show, “hospitality” to the “traveler.”

   The hurt that Martha feels, and expresses to Jesus is real and true, and women hearing this story are her allies—but again, Jesus is always about, saying and “doing something new!” 

   Granted, and I take issue with him too, for not having been more sensitive and saying it better.  Here we see Jesus’ humanity getting in the way for him as it does for each of us at times.  This is the trouble with taking “bits” of Scripture to make a point without also including the whole story. What I know of Jesus in all my study of him over the years, telling of his goodness, kindness, and mercy toward us all, tells me that there was more to the discussion when he realized that his words truly hurt the giver of the hospitality he was enjoying. 

   His purpose, again turning things on their head, was to encourage and call Martha to the other piece of hospitality –sitting quietly and listening to what a guest may need or want to talk about.  Those in this world who may want to compare the “active” life with that of the “contemplative,” often site this story.  I don’t think this was Jesus’ aim though, but more so, to find a “balance” between our busy, active lives and the slower, more peace-filled times that allow us space for reflection. Both are needed as Jesus indicated so well in his own earthly life.  The Scriptures tell us of the times he left the crowds to be alone.

   Let’s go back then, to the first reading from Genesis, and all the physical preparation in giving hospitality to the strangers.  Think of how much sooner Abraham and Sarah would have known the very good news that their long-awaited baby would indeed be a reality, if they had balanced physical (active) giving with the more contemplative piece of hospitality—that of listening.  This is a lesson for all of us. 

   Regarding Jesus and of how he most likely ministered to Martha, because comparing the work of the two sisters, was clearly not the way to go; he probably sat them both down, asked them to work together on the physical meal, so then both could enjoy the “spiritual” meal of their friendship with each other. 

   So friends, we have discussed the themes of being a “traveler,” which we all are in life—that of giving “hospitality,” physical, emotional, and spiritual to each other, which includes, “listening,” and a slower pace so as to really achieve all of the above. 

   And the piece, which Paul speaks of so well to the Colossians is that of “gratitude,” a virtue that really makes all of the above complete. Paul is always grateful to Christ for the ways his life has been changed through his relationship with our all-inclusive God, and for Paul, that was Christ.

   We too friends, have the same call as Abraham and Sarah, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Paul—each of us are “travelers” here, having a human experience and asked to give “hospitality” in all, conceivable ways, and to always respond with deep gratitude for all the gifts received from our loving God. Amen? Amen!

Homily – 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

   Friends, if I were to pick one word today to highlight the readings for this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, it would be, “compassion.”  All three readings speak to this virtue and when we think about following in our brother Jesus’ footsteps, it seems that we couldn’t really choose a better way to go then, “to walk compassionately through our world.” 

   Now, that having been said, I want to underscore that this isn’t something that will necessarily, of itself, make things better, at least, right away.  The more we come to understand the Scriptures, Old and New, we see how our God has worked and continually works through our lives and those of others, to make them good. 

   Each of us, as the spiritual creatures that we are, here, having a human experience, as someone once wisely said, come into existence already hard-wired to love.  Of course, as we all know, living and exercising our free wills sometimes get in the way of making the most compassionate and loving response. 

   So, as we think about the struggles each of us faces in this life, trying to balance our call to “walk compassionately through this world,” while exercising our free wills to sometimes choose what we think is best for ourselves without perhaps, doing what might be good for others too; let’s look to today’s Scriptures for some guidance. 

   In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, in other words, that they are indeed, “hard-wired to love,” by saying that “the Word of God is [already] in your mouth and in your heart.”  He encourages them by saying, [all you really need to do is] “return to the Most High with all your heart and soul.”

   I think the distinction that is being made in this first reading is significant and one that we shouldn’t miss!  What Moses is really talking about is “how,” we choose to live in our world.  He is basically contrasting what I will call, “head versus heart living.”  If we respond to our world, our God, and to others through our hearts, basically, instead of our heads, primarily, we will have a much better chance of acting with compassion to what life brings. 

   Unfortunately, too many in this world respond to life and its people through their heads—rules and regulations and get stuck there.  Rules and regulations are about, “black and white” answers—this or that, right or wrong. 

   If I had followed my call to priesthood through my head alone, I wouldn’t be here today, nor would any of you!  The hierarchical church sees the ordination of women as impossible! This is significant, I think, as on June 29th of this year, Roman Catholic Women Priests celebrated 20 years since the Danube 7 said, “Yes” to being the first women to be ordained!  The hierarchy see “imaging” Jesus, the man, at our altars, which ultimately, in their minds, excludes women, instead of “imaging” Christ, who includes us all.  The fact that each of us came into this world, hard-wired to love, allows us to widen our thinking, directing it through our hearts so as to do the most loving thing in every situation.  “Heads,” guided by laws alone, may not be able to see women as priests, but “hearts,” guided by love and the message of Jesus, certainly can!  But make no mistake, the most loving thing can and will cause division at times, but it will always, ultimately bring peace too, for those who can break out of the box of the simple, “right and wrong.” 

   Paul, in his letter to the Colossians today gives us a glimpse of this wider thinking—he says, “Christ is the image of the unseen God” [and] “all things were created through and in Christ.”  Somehow, friends, even though our “heads” can’t quite encompass or completely understand, our “hearts” can know that through Jesus’ living, loving, dying, and rising, he became the Christ, who includes and loves us all in a non-hierarchical way.  And if we too can more often live our lives through our hearts, the compassion that our world so badly needs, now, may become more obvious. 

   Our final reading today comes from the gospel of Luke—a story well known to us all—that of the “Good Samaritan.” So, we might ask, why, a Samaritan who is, “good?”

   Samaritans, in the minds of the Jewish people were a group to shun, much like through the history of humankind, the majority, or the powerful, find someone to blame for what may not be “right” in life: blacks, native Americans, women, LGBTQs+. It is always easier to blame others than it is to look squarely at a problem and find our fault there too. 

   Actually, Samaritans were of the Jewish faith, but were those who had grown lax in that faith and intermarried during the time of the Exile, when some Jews were taken, and some left behind.  So, until the time of Jesus, Samaritans became the “ones” to look down on.  We see the wisdom then of our brother Jesus in forming a story depicting a loving act being done for someone that both a priest and a Levite refused to help—by someone who they both shunned in their daily lives. 

   So friends, that is why I said earlier that Moses was really lifting up the importance of “how” we live our daily lives. It doesn’t, in the end, matter who we are, or where we come from—but really, “how” we live our lives.  Jesus too knew this –you will recall it being said of him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

   I think some very current examples of this truth are the mis-guided, “locked in the box,” decisions coming out of the highest court in our land in recent weeks.  It seems to me that the recent Supreme Court decisions regarding climate change, Roe v. Wade, and guns were black and white—head responses to issues that needed compassionate heart answers to very difficult questions. 

   The right-to-life may start in the womb, but it certainly doesn’t stop there!  Any high court ruling regarding nonviable human substance outside the womb that doesn’t include the life of the woman is simply a sham.  Now of course, we all know that this isn’t “simple”—not by a long shot. 

   Laws granting rights to companies to misuse and abuse our planet through what they emit into the atmosphere, without regard to global warming, a condition detrimental to all life, is once again, a sham. 

   And finally, laws “respecting” the rights of individuals to own guns and use them without consideration for the harm done daily in this, our beloved country to people of every age, sex and nationality is, as well, a sham.  We have trusted those with legal power and understanding to work for justice for all—to hold a delicate balance between right and good and that which is wrong, irresponsible, and evil and I fear they have squandered our trust for political gain!

   Our brother Jesus wisely taught us in the story of the “good Samaritan” to always see a bigger picture than at first meets the eye. He tells us that we don’t or shouldn’t judge actions on the merit of nationality—where someone comes from, their gender, their rank; but more so on the “heart”—what does the heart produce? 

   So friends, no easy answers to these very big questions of our day—except to keep doing our part—each of us!  If you are in a box that doesn’t allow a new way to look for solutions, break that box open where the light of day will show you the way to your heart where the answers based on love reside! Amen? Amen!