Homily and Other Prayers for the 2nd Weekend in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends, we can’t be together for the next few weeks–at least, due to the rampant rise in COVID cases in our area and our desire not to put anyone in more of harm’s way than necessary. As a result, I will be sending ahead of regular Mass times, the readings, accompanying prayers and a homily for your reflection. As we move into February, we will reassess this plan and see where COVID stands in our area. Please, all stay safe and let me know if there is anything that I can do to help during this time. aaorcc2008@gmail.com or 507-429-3616. –Peace and love, Pastor Kathy

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Entrance Antiphon

May all the earth give you praise and glory O God, and break into song to your name, that is good and holiest of all names.

Let Us Pray

Opening Prayer

Good and ever-present God, your watchful care reaches from end to end and orders all things with such love that even the tensions and tragedies of our failings cannot frustrate your plans for us and this world.  Give us the strength to follow your call so that your truth may live in our hearts and reflect peace to all of creation.  We ask this in Jesus’ wonderful name, with you our Creator and the Spirit who lives and loves through us, forever and ever, Amen.

Readings:

  • Isaiah 62:1-5
  • I Corinthians12: 4-11
  • John 2: 1-12

Homily:

   My friends, last week we heard the Scriptures of Jesus beginning his public ministry with his baptism—in effect, showing his followers, which includes each of us, “the way to go” in our lives.  This week, he gives us our first, concrete lesson in just how we are to do, “ministry,” in his footsteps. 

   Let’s look at his lead.  We all know the very familiar story of the Wedding Feast at Cana.  Most of us recall this event as Jesus’ first miracle.  Staying just on the surface, we see our brother is helping out a young, married couple who seem to be, “low on wine,” at their wedding feast, that in Jewish tradition, often lasted, several days.  We see Jesus helping out in a most generous way—not only giving enough to tide them over, but in fact, in great abundance!

   My friends, we don’t want to stay on this surface level though, of seeing our brother, Jesus doing a good deed for an unnamed couple, but we must go deeper to realize that Jesus is indicating how our God is willing to deal with each of us—giving not just what we need, but helping in an over-the-top way.  Throughout Jesus’ public life, he will show this idea and make it clear in many other stories, such as that of the Prodigal, the female sinner who washes his feet, and Jesus’ compassion in return, the woman (and don’t forget the man) caught in adultery, and her accusers, and so many more showing our God’s magnanimous love for us. 

   Isaiah the prophet proclaims today, “For our God takes delight in [us].” And the idea, as Isaiah continues, that our God sees us, and “rejoices in us” as a newly married couple do in each other, is, in my mind quite wonderful! It seems it should cause each of us, along with the psalmist today to, “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

   My friends, Jesus our brother always calls us, “to be our best” because he, as part of our all-inclusive God, knows that this is how we will be happiest.  I believe a part of the turmoil today in our public/civic and religious spaces happens because we have forgotten, “to be our best”—always, not just watching out for ourselves, but bringing, as much as possible, all others in our world, with us. 

   Paul, in his beautiful, first letter to the Corinthians, reminds us today that, “there is a variety of ministries, but the same One we serve.”  And all of our personal gifts, bestowed on us by our loving God are intended for our well-being, and that of others as well. 

   In John’s gospel today about making more wine and more wine in abundance, we learn that Jesus’ first miracle is not only about “abundance’ in what we give, but it is equally, if not more, about the “best” we have to give.

   In today’s gospel, we are introduced to this idea through the words of the steward who receives the miraculous water changed into wine, to the newly married couple, “People usually serve the choice wine first, then after the guests have been drinking awhile, a lesser vintage is served. What you have done is keep the choice wine until now.”

   It is interesting to apply the example of the “good” and the “best” wine to our personal lives.  This reading today falls in the Season of Ordinary Time—a time that can sometimes leave us looking at life in a passive way.  Ho-hum-Ordinary Time—nothing special here.  But in actuality, this is not so.

   Christmas time is past—a time that generally lifts the spirits of most of us as we gather with family and friends and bestow on each other actual physical expressions of the love we hold for each other throughout the year.

   In contrast then, Ordinary Time might feel like a bit of a let-down.  But as you all know, I have, in the past suggested that we really look at this time in our Church calendar, in between other seemingly more significant times, in addition to Christmas, such as Lent, Easter and Advent, as a time that is really, “extra-ordinary.”

   I say this because throughout our Christian lives, following our brother, Jesus, we are challenged in the Scriptures that we read, Sunday after Sunday, to be, like the example of the “best wine,” our “best selves,” each and every day.  And, as we look around our world, we are cognizant of the fact, that our very best is exactly what is needed and that being Jesus’ followers doesn’t allow for less, in his memory. 

   An interesting fact to consider is the following:  In our U.S. Congress, 9 in 10 claims to be Christian—that’s 88%–which is up 5% from when I looked at this figure 3 years ago, yet the actions to prove this fact don’t seem to be evident for many of them.  They all were given these “precious” positions through the will of the peoples’ votes, and it seems that many of these elected officials don’t realize that they have the great responsibility to try and meet the needs of all the people in their districts, and not just in a partisan way. 

   And while calling into question the actions of others as “seemingly less than Christian,” I am finding the need to shine a light in my own direction of late for my lacks in being “truly Christian” as well—making unfair assumptions because I don’t have all the facts, not giving, “the benefit of the doubt” where another is concerned, and so the failings go…  I say this because I want you all to know that I realize how hard it is at times to be, “our best selves,” but our lives, as Jesus’ followers, as I said above, call us to no less. 

   Today’s gospel, within a few lines, show us, our brother Jesus saying, “his time has not yet come,” and within a few more lines, when he does act, his time had! It makes me think that even Jesus struggled within his humanity, “to be his best” self.  But when his time did come and he found the strength and courage, compassion and ultimately, love, to act, be gave his best from that point forward.

   So friends, let us see this Ordinary Time which is actually, “extraordinary” because of what it calls us to do, as Jesus’ followers, as the time—right now, to be our best, with no turning back either.  Amen?  Amen!

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Prayers of the Faithful:

Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”

O God, as we see Jesus today demonstrating over-the-top generosity to a young couple, let us come to see that your generosity to each of us will be the same, we pray—Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”

  • Loving God, be with all elected officials—instill within each one, the wisdom of your Spirit to always have the needs of those less fortunate in mind, being their “best selves.” Help all world leaders, to find the ways to peace, we pray—Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”

3.  Loving God, give each of us health of body, mind, and spirit—give each one your strength and wonderful gift of peace, we pray—     Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”

  • O God, help us to be true followers of Jesus, to be present, willing to speak truth to power for those who most need our advocacy today, we pray—Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”
  • O God, help us to strive to be people of peace, not war—help us to remember that Jesus has glorified our humanity by his presence in it and help us to treat people and our world accordingly, we pray— Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”
  • For our community, All Are One, give us welcoming hearts to be open to all who come to us, and inspire us in new ways to reach out this year to those most in need of our ministry, we pray—     Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”
  • For all those who have died this week, from COVID, from ignorance, and all other causes, and for their families—may they be at peace, we pray, Response: “Jesus, Abundant God, hear our prayer”

***Let us pray for your particular needs—you may say them aloud, then response

***Let us pray for the silent petitions on our hearts—pause, then response

Let Us Pray:

Gentle God, you who loves us beyond all imagining—be close to us each and every day, shadow us under your wings and be the strength that we need to live as you did, conscious of being inclusive of all, loving others when it is easy and when it is not so easy. Give us the strength and courage to live out our task given by you for the people of God. Give us your deep and abiding peace that we would not worry, but trust and believe that you will always be with us. All of this we ask of you who are God, Creator, Savior and Spirit, living and loving us forever and ever—Amen!

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Prayer of Communion:–we can’t today receive the Bread of the Altar, but we ask you to be with us in other ways—

Loving God, you are always with us–send us your Spirit and be one with us today and every day in peace and love.  We ask this in Jesus’ wonderful name, Amen.

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Homily – Baptism of Jesus

My friends, this week’s Scriptures find us far removed “from the crib” where I have invited you to stay during the 12 Days of Christmas.  Jesus is now fully grown with a grown-up job to do. 

   Because we did not meet on the Sunday after Christmas, Holy Family Sunday, you may have missed the Scriptures telling of the boy Jesus being “left behind” in the temple when the caravan with his family returned home.  That Scripture piece let us know that once Jesus was again, “found,” he returned willingly with his parents and “grew” in wisdom and grace.”

   The Jesus we see today in Luke’s gospel is the product of that growth, “in wisdom and grace.”  I think like everything else we read in the Scriptures, we need to try and put ourselves into the words, into the situations expressed, to better know, their full import.

    I think the danger for us in attempting to be fully engaged when we read these stories over and over, year after year, is to simply take them, at face value and in this instance, “Oh yes, Jesus was baptized by John,” and think no more about it. 

   But this Jesus, from the backwater town of Nazareth, as he did, in fact, “grow in wisdom and grace,” coming to know what God wanted of him, in this world of humans, had to have struggled with his dual identity—that of God and that of a human.  I think we make light of, as in, “not of much importance,” Jesus’ incarnation in our world, if we simply think it all happened, rather, matter-a-factly.  This week, it might be good for us, “to sit with” this reality—because then Jesus’ life among us becomes, so much more real.   Jesus’ baptism that we read about today, really marks the beginning of his ministry—as an adult, and he is making an adult decision – “showing the way” for us to go. 

   If we look to our own situations here, for the most part, our parents chose baptism for us during a time in our church when it was thought that without this ritual, we wouldn’t earn heaven upon our deaths.  For those of us in that situation, at our confirmations, after the age of reason, we had our own opportunity to say, “Yes” to following our brother Jesus in a more personal way. 

   For Jesus too, being baptized was what was expected of him, if he were to lead his people—to step in and complete the work that John the Baptist began—to in fact, become the Messiah that his people awaited. 

   But for just a moment or two, let us “look” into the heart and mind of our human brother, Jesus, at this pivotal moment in his life. Perhaps Jesus’ baptism was for him a confirmation of what he was sent to do, and his purely human nature needed to hear the words that God made audible—Scripture tells us.  [This is] “my beloved, my Own—on you my favor rests.”  Other translations are even more familiar— “in [you], I am well-pleased!” 

   This need within Jesus, we might say, was the same need his mother, Mary had in traveling to be with her aunt, Elizabeth; to receive that confirmation that what she thought had happened—truly had!  We recall Elizabeth’s words, “Who am I that the mother of my God should visit me?” I believe that when we immerse ourselves in these Scriptures, we can get a much clearer appreciation of the love our God has for us in going to this extreme to make that affection for us, known. 

   So friends, once we can see that Jesus is not only divine, but human too, his journey, becoming, “the light” that each of us needs to see and follow in our world today, becomes so much easier.  That he was human too makes a difference when we ask him for help in our own human lives.  It seems we need to remember, once again, that we were created to be generous, and not selfish, as we live our lives, something our country seems to be struggling with mightily, at present.

   Jesus lived his very short life always attempting to be his best within the constraints of his humanity, coupled with his divine nature, that each of us shares in, always showing us, “the way.”  The prophet Isaiah, in today’s first reading, foretold who this Jesus—the Messiah would be:

  • He would not break the bruised reed, or quench a wavering flame
  • He would open the eyes of the blind (and we know that we can be blind in more than physical ways)
  • He would free captives from prison (the prison that our minds can many times be)
  • He would free too, those living in darkness (of their bodies, minds, and hearts)
  • He would be one that would serve the cause of “right,” bringing true justice for all

   Isaiah’s words today, of what it is to be a servant are a wonderful definition and call to each of us as baptized Christians to move among God’s people doing what we can, what we must, to make sure that Jesus’ justice—God’s justice, is there for all. Bringing justice is what Isaiah’s servant does—nothing less. Today, let us recall our own baptisms and in our confirmations, that which we personally promised to do.

   Luke, who is also given credit for the Acts of the Apostles attests to the fact that the God of Jesus, “shows no partiality,” that those who revere God and do what is right, “are acceptable.”  Just as our brother, Jesus, immersed himself in our humanity, our imperfect state, to show us how to be perfect; we must follow his lead.   And then, as the psalmist says today, “Our God will bless [us] with peace,” –a peace that comes from doing what is right, not just for ourselves, but for others. 

   In conclusion friends, as we prepare in this New Year, 2022 to pick up the challenge once again of following in Jesus’ footsteps, I will leave you with the words of another, brother, in the faith, my friend, Fr. Paul Nelson, who said well, “We are called to dignity, to rise above excuses in life, to engage our best selves.” Amen? Amen!

Homily – Epiphany – January 2, 2022

   Friends, our official ending to the Christmas Season comes with today’s feast, even though we should go on celebrating through January 6th which actually completes the 12 Days of Christmas.  That having been said, let’s look at just what this feast is all about, whenever we celebrate the coming of the Three Kings.  And as always, the Scriptures show us the way. 

   The prophet Isaiah probably says it best, “Arise, shine, your light has come!”  As with much in Scripture, we are aware that there is more than a surface message here—one that takes us deeper.

   The Magi, another name for the “Three Kings,” saw a star, and evidently, it was more than a usual star that any of us might see in the night sky.  In fact, it was so unusual that it caused them to pick up their lives and move—and it seems, they acted out of urgency.  You will recall that a few weeks back, Mary, our mother and sister, mother of the Messiah, Jesus, moved with the same “urgency” to go and be with her aunt Elizabeth, in their time of mutual waiting.  

  It would seem when the call from God is significant, right—just and true, something within us people of faith, has the strength, the conviction to move, even though we might not know, “the end of the story,” or what lies ahead.  It was that way for me when I said, “yes” to God’s call to ordination within a structure that said, “no!”  No doubt you have experienced like times. 

   It would seem that this was the sense that these Kings had—there was no choice worth considering that was great enough to hold them back from following the “star” that was made visible to them.  And we must remember that beyond the fact that this trio were “kings,” and considered, “wise,” they were also, “astrologers” who studied the night skies and would be more apt than most, to recognize a star that was “different” signifying a likewise significant event on earth.

   But how about us friends?  Do we need to be learned, with some sort of special expertise to follow, “a star,” “a light,” “a call,” to change course and act differently? It would seem not, when we realize that shepherds—poor and simple, left their flocks and followed the light of the star to Bethlehem.  They did, of course, in addition, have a visitation of heavenly beings to augment the sight of the star! 

   So perhaps an obvious question might be to consider what this “star” or any “light,” “new idea,” might mean to our every day lives.  Throughout Advent, I had spoken about being, “on a journey to Bethlehem”—a journey not just to a place, but inward perhaps, to see what we find there, what, in fact motivates our day to day living.  Now that Christmas has arrived and proceeded through many of the 12 days of this special time, my message from the beginning, has been, “to remain at the crib” and not hurry away, but seek out the lessons that we may find there. 

   Even a cursory look at the story from Bethlehem shows us that Mary and Joseph were a poor couple, who were willing to bring new life into their poor existence, believing, trusting that his One, single life had the power to change the lives of everyone.  Do we have such faith in the lives that we lead? 

   For those of us who really believe that a force greater than us—that many of us name, “God,” is part and parcel of our lives, we do have the faith to believe that if we avail ourselves to this entity, God—if you will, we will not walk alone, but will have a force beyond ourselves, to do the good that is ours to do, in this world? 

   And that friends, is really what the coming of the Three Kings signifies—an epiphany, an awakening, a movement—to do something.  And this awakening is not just for us, but for everyone.  We, as Jesus’ followers, have been shown the way.  We have been made to realize, in many ways, that we do not walk alone, that God is always a “constant” in our lives.

   In my prep for this homily, I came upon a piece that Pope Francis did a few years back, where he spoke of the “Star of Bethlehem,” perhaps not being the “brightest star,” but certainly, he said, “It was the most constant star”—it remained visible as long as there were those who needed, “its light.”  Francis went on to say that this is like our relationship with our God.  God is visible and willingly offering a relationship as long as we need and want that relationship. 

   Earlier I mentioned that it is important to remain, “at the crib” to see the lessons that this “time” and “space” provides for our life now, in 2022.  First off, we should not miss the fact that our God chose to come into human existence in a simple and poor way in Jesus of Nazareth, to a poor couple—Mary and Joseph, who literally had to run for their lives early on, just as immigrants are needing to do, in our time, arriving daily at our southern borders. 

   The fact that Jesus came into human existence, as a poor baby and would remain a poor man all his earthly days, “with no place to lay his head,” as prophets foretold, signals the types of people that his earthly life would be advocating for.  We can’t and shouldn’t miss this point, especially if our brother Jesus is who we say we follow! 

   This idea reminds me of a time, several years back, when I was still serving as a chaplain at Winona Health.  I was considering purchasing a crib set for the chapel at Lake Winona Manor that is home to many of Winona’s elderly as well as those recovering from surgery.  The hospital gift shop was offering a crib set that depicted the Holy Family dressed all in gold trimmings and something within me was triggered with how, “all wrong” this depiction was. 

   It may be more comforting to our senses to ignore the poverty with which the Christ Child first appeared, but it would be missing the point entirely.  Even in Franco Zeffirelli’s epic depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, he addresses this fact of the Wise Men coming expecting to find the Child, “in glory” instead of “poverty” and upon seeing him in poverty, they saw, “the rightness” of it!  The Magi saw that the “Holy Child” will be seen, “here” and in other places, “where we do not expect him,” as Pope Francis has said. 

   Francis, in that earlier message said, that if we do not find “the Child” in the here and now, perhaps we are not aware of what we are seeing.  Jesus’ coming among us, from the very beginning, was to “lift up” his future mission, which, as his followers, must be our own—to see to it that the gifts of this world, are for everyone—that was the “rightness” of what the Magi saw,

 in the poor crib-manger and it was the message that they took back to their country—a message that we must see too, and it would seem, with some “urgency,” in the here and now—the poor of this world and work our entire lives—if need be, to alleviate that poverty and want, in the memory of our brother, Jesus.  It’s time now my friends, “to leave the crib” and move into our world, doing the piece that is ours to do!  Amen? Amen!

Homily – Christmas Eve

Dear Friends,

Merry Christmas to all! May peace, joy, and love be yours this day and everyday of the New Year!  As I said in the homily last evening, which you can read below, how would it be in our world if “Love” were applied more liberally and more often to address the problems of Church and State.

Being that we won’t be meeting again before the New Year, I wanted to take this opportunity to express to each of you my deep gratitude for all that each of you does to make the ministry of All Are One Catholic church in Winona a blessing to many. We don’t know how many people are touched by what we do here in Winona—us who attend, yes, but my homilies are shared far and wide, people tell me—so there is that and then, all the financial gifts which you so generously give do bring respite to people here in Winona, to our nation and to our world.  Thank you all, so much!

I always say this to you each year, but I truly want each of you to know how humbled I am to pastor such a fine group of people—I am blessed!

A happy and holy New Year, 2022 to each of you!  Let’s be the change we want to see in our Church and World—Love and peace—Pastor Kathy

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Recently, I was asked by two young women who are interested in doing a documentary on the issue of women being ordained in the Catholic church to interview with them. As you might imagine, I was humbled to take part and time will tell, what comes of it—so stay tuned!  One of their questions to me within the interview was, “Why have I remained a Catholic? One of the interviewers, a young woman with a one-year-old said that she was raised a Catholic and struggles with remaining Catholic due to several issues and I think was looking for some reasons to remain. 

   I told her there were a couple of reasons for me.  First, it is because of the rituals within the Catholic church—something other Christian denominations don’t have to the extent that the Catholic church has, if at all.  I know this because in my own personal, religious journey—that of mine and Robert’s, we have checked out many of these denominations and found them, “wanting.”  The notion of “rituals” will be the heart of this homily, which I will get to in a minute.  But, because “inquiring minds” “want to know,” the second reason I gave the interviewer, in not leaving the Catholic church is because, “it is my Church too,” and even though the hierarchy, or as a friend of this ministry named them, the “lowerarchy,” have said, “In choosing to ‘attempt’ ordination, I have left the Church,”  I say, “No, it is the, priests and bishops who have left me and the other women following their God-given calls to ordination, by not realizing that “the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth.” 

   But for our purposes here, let us just turn to the wonder and blessing of rituals within the Catholic church and Christmastime, 2021.  The prophet Isaiah proclaims in tonight’s Scriptures— “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…for a child is born to us.”  Within these two lines, we see the beauty of “ritual” in both literal and spiritual ways. 

   First the literal.  Christmas Scriptures and other stories about this time, always revolve around the Star, which both announces a special happening on earth and “shows” the literal way for those traveling to Bethlehem to see this “happening.”  We think of the shepherds on the hillsides and of the Three Kings, who traveled a long distance as they studied the stars.

   The spiritual or extended meaning of course is that a child, Jesus, who will become, the Christ, and also become, “Light” in a new way, showing us all, his sisters and brothers, the way, to live, each one of us, our one wonderful life, by how he in fact lives his own.  For Catholics, whenever we light candles throughout the Church Year, we should recall how, our brother Jesus, is a light in the darkness of our sometimes, dark lives.

   So, because my thoughts during this last week of Advent have been about this one “ritual” of “light” and “a light shining in the darkness,” I have been attracted to those who have specifically addressed this one beautiful symbol of light. 

   Sr. Joan Chittister penned a very instructive piece for the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) this week which basically speaks of how the “light” of Christmastime allows us to open wide our hearts.  And of course, we must realize that she is speaking of more than, physical light.  Her piece is entitled, “Christmas is not for Children.”

   She makes a point of laying out how Christmas is different for people depending on a person’s age and certainly when one is either a child or has children in their lives, Christmas is about children.  But from the standpoint of an octogenarian, which Sr. Joan is, with life, “waxing and waning,” as she says, her view is understandably, a bit different.

   Being 80 and past, she says, “Christmas is about finding life where we did not expect it to be.”  “Christmas,” she says, “calls us to live again.”  Additionally, “Christmas calls us to hope—in the life of the crib—that this time, we can get it right,” she says.  I would add, and in the life of any newborn, as I think it is fair to say that all parents of newborns have great hope in what this new life may bring.

   “Life is for living,” Sr. Joan continues, “and we find the hope to do that each year, at the crib.”  That is why, I think, it is important to keep our focus on the crib at Christmastime and not jump ahead to the “cross,” which will come soon enough, as we all know, as life “waxes and wanes.”

   Sr. Joan concludes by saying and I paraphrase, for those who remember that “life is for the living,” “Christmas never finishes.” And this is what we all seek isn’t it? —that the joy and good will—love, actually, that so many display at Christmastime might be more, “the norm,” rather than, “the exception,” throughout the entire year. Someone this past week said as much on Face Book, in this time of COVID: “May love become the dominant variant!”  Soon, I would say, soon! 

   Every year since 2012, we remember across this country, the slaughter of 20 six-year-olds at Sandyhook Elementary School. These innocents died due to the fact that, “in the darkness” of our inability as a country to come to terms with the madness of gun proliferation, we do not take our national obligation of dealing with, “this right” responsibly.  How would it be different if love were truly the dominant variant here?  A good Christmas question!

   In another article in this week’s NCR, Michael Leach writes too about the “light” of Christmastime, basically saying that, “Our work on earth is “to glow” for God and become “light” to each other.”  Here we see the extension of that “literal” notion of a star or a candle giving, “physical” light, to ourselves becoming that “light,” “glowing,” in the darkness of as Michael Leach says, “the weak and the strong, the celebrated and the ignored, those on the inside and those on the outs, those in the shadows and even the despised.” 

   Sometimes my friends, we feel overwhelmed by the needs of this world and our seeming inability to bring about change.  And rather than do the perhaps small part that we can, we throw up our hands and do nothing.  Michael Leach, in the above piece, reminds his readers, that through the Mystical Body of Christ, we “all belong” and what affects one of us, really does affect all of us, so that we feel the pain of a mother on the other side of the world who has no food for her children, and we do what we can to help.  And when that sometimes doesn’t feel enough, Michael Leach gives us an additional piece of hope, “in the darkness.”  He says that because of the “mystical-ness” of our spiritual body, which we can’t truly understand, that because our God loved us enough to send Jesus, to be that “first light,” we can literally send, “peace,” the gift of peace, which is that generous, spontaneous gift of God, known as “grace” which Titus speaks of tonight in the 2nd reading, and those suffering, will, in fact, feel it!  And in the spirit of Christmastime, I believe this is so!  

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not lift up two final images from tonight’s readings.  Luke’s gospel tells the story of two, poor travelers coming to Bethlehem and finding, “no room at the inn,” and when they did find a place of respite, in a cave, it was the poor shepherds and not the “powers that were” who first heard of the birth of their child.  I mention this, friends, a fact we all know, but I think at times, we all forget, because it signals what we must do next, how we must, in fact, be in our world. And so as, not to forget, in order that our mission as Jesus’ followers would be clear—each and every day, we must not look in high places, necessarily to find, “a light shining in the darkness,” but more so first, in simplicity and in beauty –we will always find, “the child” there and ultimately, the God of our hearts. 

And finally then, because my first and best critic, Robert, tells me to share some good things along with the challenges, let me close with these good things:  

  • 2021 has brought several wonderful vaccines to combat COVID 19 and its variants and rather than lament those who won’t avail themselves to this protection and help us end this virus, just for tonight, let us be joyful that because of the vaccines, many, many more people have been spared.
  • Doctors, nurses, and other hospital support staff have given mightily to care for and protect us—some even losing their own lives—let us be grateful for their dedication.
  • Let us applaud the work and dedication of many within the Winona Sheltering Network (WSN) and its affiliate, Great River Asylum Support Partners (GRASP) in bringing this past April a Honduran family here seeking asylum and caring for their needs throughout this year—of housing, food, education, medical, and legal support for their case.
  • Let us be most grateful for those within this sheltering network who have pursued buying a house for on-going assistance to those seeking a better life in our country along with all those who have so very generously contributed to making this purchase possible –yourselves included.  I can most joyfully report to you tonight that on Tuesday next, we will be closing on this first house with a down payment equaling 2/3 of the purchase price!
  • Finally, let us rejoice that during this Christmastime, another local group, Winona Afghan Support Network (WASN) will be welcoming an Afghan family of 4, two adults and 2 children to Winona –next week in fact—a holy family who will be moving into our newly closed upon house that will be 2/3 of the way paid for by then. If one was looking for the miraculous, here it is!  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 4th Weekend of Advent

My friends, today begins the last week of our Advent journey and perhaps a good question to ponder these next days might be, “What was God really up to in the Incarnation?”  And in order to fully consider this question, let’s check out the themes of today’s Scriptures. 

   There seems to be a “sense of urgency” in Luke’s account today of “Mary’s haste,” to go and be with her older relative, Elizabeth, sometimes called her aunt or her cousin. The relationship one way or another isn’t as important as the fact that she went!  In actuality though, it would have been customary for a younger woman to go and attend to an older one in this situation, but it would seem that more is going on here than just one family member helping another. 

   Other players in this incarnational story, beyond Mary and Elizabeth, are of course, Joseph, and the families of these two young people who in so many ways, said, “Yes” to God and all those past prophets who announced this wondrous, coming event. 

   The prophet Micah says of this Coming One, [he] “will stand firm and shepherd the flock and this Ruler will be their Peace.”  This line says much to me about how this Coming One will “save” us—not by dying for us, but truly by, living for us.  Micah basically says, that this Coming One will, “shepherd us,”—read, care for us, as a shepherd watches over their sheep—leading us to all the good things that we need.  Micah says that we will know “peace” through this Coming One. 

   Each of us friends, struggles throughout our lives with our human condition.  We are capable of great good, each of us, but also, humanity has the capability of much evil—and this is evident with even a cursory look around our world, so we each pray with the psalmist today, “Make us turn to you O God.” 

   The writer to the Hebrews foreshadows for us what the grown Jesus will be about—more of “what God is really up to.”  “I have come to do your will.”  This writer lets us know that all the covenants made in the past between the People of God will be fulfilled in a new covenant begun with Jesus and all of us. 

   But, as I said last week, Advent calls us “to the crib” and what we can learn there.  Additionally, this is an event that we shouldn’t rush—12 days allotted to Christmastime are hardly enough to take in the full meaning of the Incarnation—and what “God was truly up to!” 

   So, let’s begin with today’s gospel from Luke and Mary’s need, it seems to indicate, that she gets to the little town of Ein Karem, in the hill country of Judah, to be with her aunt Elizabeth.  Sources tell us, and we have all long known the story, that this happened after the Annunciation telling her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah and that her relative Elizabeth, who had long been childless, was now—finally, blessed too, and would produce a son meant to be the forerunner of the Messiah!

   So friends, when we let all this sink in, we can understand, I think, why Mary would, “make haste” to visit Elizabeth. If for no other reason than to give credibility to the fantastic things happening and about to happen! Scriptures also don’t tell us how the families of Mary and Joseph accepted her news, so credibility would have been an important piece of all that was going on.

   And the credibility sought by Mary, the Scriptures tell us, is just what she found!  “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb.”  Other sources tell us, that until this greeting from Mary, Elizabeth had yet to feel confirmation that the child in her womb was alive!  Remember, she had been childless, and no doubt feared that this “happening” might not produce a child either. 

   And with this realization for Elizabeth, that indeed her child was alive, she was able to give credence to what Mary believed had happened within her.  “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice: ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” 

   I mentioned the other players in this incarnational event—Joseph, for instance—betrothed to a woman who was now found to be “with child” by someone other than himself.  He, as a good Jewish man knew the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah—but we can imagine that credulity was stretched as he came to terms that this may happen, in his time, and place, and through his wife!  And we can’t forget the prophets who foretold the coming events without any assurance that they would live to see the outcome.  A lesson for us perhaps as we do the good we do, planting seeds for another time that we may never see.

   I lay all this out friends, as others have done through historical novels in the attempt to make the Incarnation as real as possible, so as to make this action on the part of our loving God more real, more palpable. 

   And when we think about, “What Was God Really Up to in the Incarnation,” we can more easily conclude that it was all about love.  Our God first gave us life—a chance at a human experience and then came to be, one-with-us in order to show us how best to live our one wonderful life, because up until that time, we hadn’t gotten it exactly, right.

   And make no mistake about it—we see what was uppermost in our God’s mind in sending Jesus.  He came as a vulnerable baby to poor parents in order to show us that the very least among us are as important as those who have the most, materially. 

   We can see, if we have eyes and hearts to see, that the poor and destitute at our present-day borders are Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus coming into our lives again and again.  That is why what many of us in our Winona community, All Are One Catholic church included, through the Winona Sheltering Network are about in purchasing our first house to shelter those in need, seeking asylum or just a better life is so significant.  And that this is coming to fruition during the 12 days of Christmas is simply awesome! We humans are capable of much, both good and bad, but I personally see more good in this world than I do bad.  I said earlier that the more important piece in today’s gospel was the fact, “that Mary went,” –she made the decision to do something, something good!  Praise God and all of you who have so generously given to this endeavor—this dream in Winona! And the story continues… Amen? Amen!