Homily – 6th Weekend of Easter

Friends, as we have seen throughout the Easter readings, the apostles are trying to come to terms with all that it means to truly follow their friend and brother, Jesus of Nazareth.  He, in his time here, had shown them so much: wonderful teachings of God’s love for them that truly, “broke open their hearts.”  They could hardly do anything but follow him!  The miracles—beyond words really, were such that they could proclaim him, the Messiah!

   Yet, throughout this Easter Season, we see their “starts and stops,” so to speak, in truly following him.  Some teach and preach and likewise, perform miracles in his name—yet they keep checking themselves, going back—from time to time to their previous occupations—fishing mainly.  Should they fish for those in the lake or those on land—the people, as did Jesus? 

   The readings this weekend show the uncertainty too at times, of these first followers in being able to see the bigger picture that Jesus was always presenting to them through parables and such and apply it to their spiritual lives. 

   The 1st reading from Acts today is a very good example of this:  Some zealous folk (the rules people) from Jerusalem seem to be upsetting Paul’s new converts so that Paul and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem to seek out a “meeting of minds” with the powers-that-be there, Peter and all. 

   Those who were stirring things up were advocating that the rules of Moses be rigidly followed—circumcision and all. Apparently, this group hadn’t heard Jesus’ message that he was, “doing something new!”

    Even the compromise that is reached seems lacking in generating Jesus’ simple, yet profound message.  As you will recall, the message Paul was sent away with was that converts, “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from illicit sexual union.” Now, I don’t know about you, but this would have left me, “wanting.” 

   I would have thought Peter and the others who spent three years with Jesus would have lifted up the words spoken so well in John’s gospel for this weekend and in the continuing chapters: “That they love one another as Jesus/God loves them,” and this knowledge would, “give them peace” so as to not, “let [their] hearts be troubled.”  All the other rules and regulations are superfluous.

   The reading from Revelation today also seems to be stuck in surface thoughts—temples and such.  John says of it, “I saw no temple” … “for God Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the temple.”

   In fairness though to the apostles in Jerusalem, it may have been that they hadn’t yet received the power and strength of the Spirit to, “go deeper,” sifting “the chaff from the grain,” so to speak.  As I often say, this, “being Christian, is not easy!”

   Additionally, if any of us were Jesus’ first disciples, we may have been prone to the same narrow kind of thinking.  One thing that can be said in general though, with how people view their world and whose messages they are open to hearing, has much to do with where they find themselves in any given society.  The poor, the sick, women and children—those basically with no power, no voice, and no importance would have been much more open to Jesus’ message of love, than would those who had all or most of what was needed in life to live reasonably well.  Those on the fringes were the ones that Jesus was continually advocating for.  We have to remember that this is why he was crucified –his message was nothing if not, subversive to the “powers” in his time and place. 

   So friends, where does that leave each of us on May 21, 2022?  A few things come to mind: (1) We can’t fix everything that needs fixing!  Now, that may sound strange after what I said above, but it is just, the plain truth.  Having just begun my 72nd year, I know this to be true. (: (2) But, (and remember the most important thing always comes after the “but”) as someone significant once said, and I paraphrase, “That doesn’t however,  give us permission to do nothing!”  (3) The other thing that I will lift up today for our reflection is the importance of us at least trying to be consistent in what we say is important and necessary in our world.  A few current examples:

  • If our goal in life is to “protect life,” or be “pro-life,” then we must protect ALL life, not just that which is in the womb—at the least, as laws are crafted, the women carrying these new lives-to-be should and must be part of the equation.  Also, adequate food, clothing and shelter should be provided for these new lives once they are here—to do less, is to be totally dishonest! Justice for all people, of every shade, means that, the conversation that dark-skinned parents have with their sons—everyday, “to watch themselves,” lest they are stopped by the police, will become a thing of the past!  And we could go on.
  • Our country, by way of politics and the Congress in part, seems to be caught in a web of populism that uplifts the images of mean, self-centered dictator-types who promise much and do little to better life for all in our country.  And in order to be in the good graces of those in power in this nasty web, others will emasculate themselves rather than lose whatever power they have.  The original ideas upon which this country was founded—that of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are apparently, only for some. 
  • Within our churches and I will point my finger basically at our Catholic church, even though the other denominations are culpable too.  The equality that our brother Jesus brought to our world and demonstrated so well in his own life must be uplifted by those in power, charged with walking in his memory.  To our brother Francis I would humbly say, “Live up to Jesus’ memory now, opening up leadership roles, including ordination of women called and tested by the Spirit to serve.

   As I said earlier friends, none of us can do it all—fix every problem, but let it not be said of any of us, that we didn’t do what we could.  When you see or hear a wrong, speak up, write a letter or postcard, make a call, and tell those with the power that now is the time to act!  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 5th Sunday of Easter

   My friends, we continue on through the joy-filled season of Easter, proclaiming our “alleluias” in gratitude for all our loving God has done.  And rightly so!  Our God is truly good, truly good, in bestowing love upon us—for that is what the Incarnation is all about—letting us know we are loved.  And because we are loved, our God wants us to be the best people we are capable of being—thus, enter Jesus, our brother.  Following him will make this as near possible as can be within the confines of our humanity. 

   So, the Easter Season calls us to a balance—that of gratitude for life and love, but challenged too, to be about love in our own lives.  An overview of this Sunday’s readings describes, precisely that.

   The 1st reading from Acts shows Paul and his disciples spreading the Word throughout the ancient Greek world, and not just once, but returning to see how in fact, they are doing.   Now, even though the reading doesn’t say, in so many words, one has to believe that spreading the Word, for Paul, was “all about love,” realizing what an arduous trip his 1st missionary journey was.  It is thought that he and his companions traveled 500 miles by sea and 700 miles overland. 

   Beyond “love,” Paul’s character seems to be one of persistence—he seemed to let nothing get in the way of sharing the Word about the One who had so captivated his life.  And additionally, as today’s 1st reading shows, Paul was consistent in his praise of God for all he was able to accomplish in this regard.  I think we could say of Paul that he did in his life what Easter asks of each of Jesus’ followers—“rightful praise” of the One who gave, and continues to give us so much, and commitment to give back in action a portion, if not all, what we have been so generously given. 

   The 2nd reading from Revelation in this Easter Season takes a turn from the message given in the previous Sundays of Easter—that purely of praise to One that clearly says, “Our God will not abandon us to the task, but will stand with us, now, “making all things new—taking away tears, mourning, crying and pain.”

   And the deal seems to be sealed with Jesus giving us a “new commandment—love one another.”  And not to put too fine a point on it, our brother Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms— “this is how people will know that you are my disciples—by how you love one another [!]”

   So friends, how do we each do that?!  As you are thinking about it, I will share a couple of things that came across “the wires” this week that we should be aware of.  As we spoke of last week, the issue of abortion is still front and center and no doubt will be until the Supreme Court gives their final ruling next month—one that seems all but done, already.  And as we said last week, this issue is not, “black and white,” but one that falls into a “gray area” as it affects individual lives, differently. Perhaps best said, “It’s messy.”

   This past week, an issue that came to the forefront is in this same category as it involves a woman—the case of a 50-year-old accused of killing her newborn son in 2003.  She also has been accused of killing a newborn daughter four years earlier and this apparently was discovered through the wonders of DNA testing. 

   Now on face value, this looks very bad and something that shouldn’t happen, but we need to look deeper when we as Christians make a determination about what should be done—about what the most loving thing is to do.

   While this woman’s actions are appalling, so apparently was her life when she was being asked to bring a new one into the world.  I personally found it incredibly sad to see the diligence that area police officers (men) put into finding the mother, and “bringing her to justice,” in their words.  And at the same time, I found it incredibly sad that these same officers could not recognize the injustice that this woman faced in her personal life that brought her to such an end.  One has to wonder, were there no fathers of these children? Additionally, why is there so much passion around laying blame on women, for actions that both men and women and our society cause in general.  

   Another story in the news this week was that of the horrendous crimes done to our native sisters and brothers in taking their children from them in the past, attempting to rob them of their own culture and remake them into people resembling their conquerors.  I won’t say more now, except to name this grievous sin. 

   Our brother Jesus tells us that people will know that we are his followers by the way we love.  So how is it that we can claim to be Christians when we pit one life against another? How is it that men in Church, in State, and in the greatest court in the land, including one woman, can claim to be Christians as they contemplate taking away the rights of women in general over their own bodies, with little or no concern for the women carrying the new lives-to-be? Additionally, why is it that Church and State, and Supreme Court don’t put into place rules/laws regarding responsible behavior for men where new life is concerned? 

   I have to believe, in the Churches and in the State, in which we all live, men would come out much better than do women who carry, give birth to, and many times sustain life into adulthood, often to the detriment of their own lives because our country, supported by many Church groups treat women and their rights so unjustly.

   The Minnesota woman who took the lives of her newborns was apparently in no position, emotionally, or physically—on drugs and running from the police, to care for new life.  So, my friends, when we attempt in our own lives to be our best selves—in life that many times is quite “messy” let us all pray that we can try to see the whole picture.  In that regard, I believe there was purpose in Jesus’ request that we love others as we would hope to be loved! 

   In conclusion, so as not to leave us in the depths of sadness and despair, let us remember that keeping a balance in our lives between speaking truth when needed, and loving as close as possible as Jesus did, will bring us far more happiness and hope than if we choose the easier, “black and white” path that merely leads to judgment, not to resolution of real, life problems.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 4th Sunday of Easter

   My friends, this 4th Sunday of Easter and as those before and those to come, each, call us, as I have previously said, “back to life.”  This Sunday’s readings have a “shepherd” theme, and the action is that of “shepherding the People of God.  And even though none of us are shepherds, and perhaps never have been, nor will be, we can understand the concept of “shepherding” others in the broader context of simply, “caring for them. It is what Jesus did, and it is what we are called to do. 

   Those of you who have been with us for a while, know that I will always take the Scriptures of any given Sunday and direct us back to our everyday lives, because as Jesus’ followers, “Christians” by name, that is what he always modeled for us—what we say we believe coupled with how we live our lives. 

   And further, we must recognize and be aware that connecting what we read in the Scriptures to our daily lives will often get us into trouble, as it did Jesus, with those who choose to look at life in a very, “black and white” way. 

   A case in point of course is the discussion across our country about possibly overturning Roe v. Wade—the right of a woman over her own body—more specifically, the right—should she choose to seek an abortion.  Friends, as you may know already and accept, but I need to say it anyway for clarity here; this is not a “black and white” issue.  For those who want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, it is of course, “black and white”—thus the problem. 

   Those who have been part of this nearly 50-year-old fight to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision to make abortions legal across our land call themselves, “pro-life.”  Unfortunately, as we know, this desire to “protect life” only seems to extend to the life within the womb— “a life” that most times would be unviable outside of the womb. 

   Whenever women and men who advocate for an end to Roe v. Wade, are asked about the life outside the womb, should a woman carry the pregnancy to term, these same advocates for life early-on, have no plan for their care once here, and will often be against the social programs needed to care for these individuals, which for their lack, many times caused the women to seek abortion in the first place.  Perhaps those who so stridently claim to be “pro-life,” were to support care for those already here, they would be doing more to end the need for abortions in the first place. 

   I believe the part of this discussion that is most disconcerting to women is the complete lack of consideration for the women carrying the potential new lives.  Why, many ask, are their lives not considered as well, when we discuss the right-to-life? 

   The stories abound of women who sought the care to terminate their pregnancies in order to save their own lives, yet their lives are seldom, if ever considered by those who advocate to overturn this right for women, which, by the way, is also a right for men.  And if you don’t believe that, then consider how this discussion would go if it were the men asking for the right to choose about the care of their own bodies.  When we are making “life” decisions for our world, we must consider all who will be affected; that is what makes life good for all.  So, suffice to say, this current discussion is messy.  There is not a “one size fits all.” 

   Looking back to the Scriptures for today, the first reading from Acts gives us a few ideas to consider:  We are told to, “hold fast to the grace of God” [because], “I have made you a light to the nations.”  For me, this says, in the “messiness” of life, to always believe that our God is with us, giving the “grace” needed to do the most, “loving thing” for all considered. 

   Such “life” decisions call each of us to be responsible persons in the “life” we say, “yes” to.   Not just bringing life into existence but doing all that we can to assure that such life becomes “meaningful” and “viable” throughout its entire existence. 

   The month of May also calls us to reflect on a very special woman in our religious history.  Of course, I am speaking of our mother, sister, and friend, Mary of Nazareth—not at all, a “wallflower” or a “yes-woman,” which generally means, unfortunately, “a door mat” for the hierarchy.  To be clear, saying “yes” was definitely part of Mary’s life—but her “yeses” had to do with supporting justice, mercy and most of all, love—as did her son, Jesus. 

   This Sunday is also Mothers’ Day, a day we remember all mothers; those blessed with giving physical birth, but also those who have gifted many with emotional and spiritual mothering.  All are so important because just as we need those who can give physical birth, we likewise need women who can have others’ backs supporting them through the ups and downs of life.  Sometimes “physical” moms can give emotional and spiritual mothering too, sometimes not and thus the need for mothers of all kinds.  I personally am grateful for all the mothers I have had in my life and so grateful too for those who helped me to mother my own kids. 

   Again, this “mothering” issue is not, “a one size fits all.”  We get a sense of this too in the second reading from Revelations where John speaks about, “the shepherd… [and how this one] will lead [the sheep] to springs of water.”  This [mother] we might say, “knows [their young] “and will never let them perish”—words spoken also by John in the gospel today.

   So friends, much on our spiritual plates again!  I think sometimes we can get frustrated when all is not, “neat and clean”—at peace, perhaps—but life calls us to all of this.  We have been promised “the grace” we will need, and we must anchor our hope in that belief and trust it.  I know personally that if I thought I had to do what I do all alone, I know I could not do it!  I depend on God, in Jesus, on all of you, on family and friends, to all help me and to help those in all our wider worlds to do what is most loving in every situation. 

   And for that reason, as we are all called “to be light” in our world and I will end with this; I find it so discouraging that those in positions of leadership within our Church are so reluctant to lead.  Where are they in promoting “life” for all people, not just in the womb, but for children and adults—all along the life continuum?  Where are their voices when it comes to eliminating the real threat to life by the proliferation of guns in our society—where are they when it comes to valuing the lives of all our non-binary, LGBTQI+ folks—where, when it comes to taking lives by execution –many times innocent lives—where, when this country incarcerates black people at 5 times the rate of white people?  I often wonder why these so-called Catholic leaders don’t drop “Christianity” from the names used to describe themselves. 

    My friends, as you can see, the right to a decent, good, and peace-filled life is so much broader than those who claim to be “pro-life” are willing to look at.  When they can see beyond the beginning of life, they will acquire so much more credibility in the view of those who consider right-to-life from birth to death as the Good Shepherd did. Amen? Amen! Alleluia!

Homily – 3rd Sunday of Easter

   Friends, if we are taking a careful look at the events of this Easter Season, which, by the way, are the same during each season of Easter; we have to notice that the Resurrection of our brother Jesus, leads us right back into action.  So, what do I mean by that?

   The Scriptures for today give us a clear explanation of what I am saying.   The reading from Acts finds the apostles proclaiming “the truth” as they know it to be—Jesus of Nazareth, came, taught about the best ways to live, and paid the civil price in his time for speaking against the State. 

   For those without faith, his death was the “end of the story.”  For those with faith, he rose to a new life that continued his life and goodness in the same ways that he first demonstrated in his own humanity, but now that “goodness” would continue through the lives of his followers should they, should we, choose to continue his work. 

   In the reading from Acts, Peter clearly states the choice that he and the other apostles have made: “Better to obey God than people.”  I often talk about laws and rules that we humans come up with as “head stuff” that causes us then to propose “black and white” answers to complex world problems that show themselves in more “gray” ways.   In other words, the solutions aren’t always clear.  

    John’s gospel selection today gets at the problem we all must face as we live out our Christian lives.  Recalling the apostle Peter’s life with regard to his following in Jesus’ footsteps, we remember that when “push came to shove” during Jesus’ passion, Peter was identified by others three times as Jesus’ follower, to which we know that Peter denied three times to even knowing him. 

   Today’s gospel gets at this seeming discrepancy. Jesus isn’t reprimanding Peter for his denial, but is clearly showing him a better, truer way to go.  By asking Peter three times of his love for his master, Jesus lovingly and without anger or malice shows Peter just what “love” means—the words aren’t enough, Jesus says, there must be action too. 

   And as Peter and the others will find out, “feeding and tending the sheep” won’t always be easy—and will probably even be “messy” at times, as Robert and I have been discovering of late in trying “to launch” our Honduran family on a path that will lead to success for them in their new country. 

   I think the “messiness” in any endeavor where we start from a seemingly apparent place of love, comes especially when a group of people such as that working with our Honduran family, bring with them all the baggage of their own personal lives and somehow try to work out all that “baggage” by doing “good” for others.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes our basic humanity gets in the way of the good we would do.  Peter learned that, but moved past it in order to do the good that his brother was calling him to. 

   My friends, most of us have experienced some measure of suffering in our own lives and hopefully our personal suffering has made us more attentive to the suffering that others in our world experience, which many times, if we are truthful, is far worse than our own. 

   The Easter story, which our Church in wisdom dedicates six weeks to, does each of us a good turn.  Why so?  As we initially rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, as is displayed in the readings from Revelations, our brother and savior, Jesus, calls us through the other readings to our new, and continual work in the world.  Jesus’ physical presence won’t be there, except in us, in the ways we now choose to “touch” our world, but his spiritual presence will be, supporting and inspiring us “to feed” and otherwise care for our sisters and brothers as he did. 

   And I would be remiss if I didn’t say—to remember ourselves in the equation—we can’t share out of “an empty cup,” anymore than should we keep all the contents for ourselves—it’s a balancing act. 

   I just finished a very good book by Fiona Hill, who came to our country’s attention during the first impeachment of Donald Trump.  Her book, entitled, There is Nothing for You Here, is her personal story of growing up in poverty in Northeastern England and of how she was eventually able to make a success of her life through many others giving her a needed, helping hand. 

   Over her lifetime that began in 1965, she tells of how she made connections with others who believed that people basically wanted to succeed in life, but that many times, the “doors” just weren’t open to do so.  She makes many like comparisons to her second country and its people, the United States of America, with regard to what people need to make their way in life.  She quotes a philanthropic friend who wisely said, “We don’t try to make things easy for people, but to make things possible for them.”

   In reflecting on my work as a Christian in general and specifically in my present, daily life, the above quote seems to give that balance that not only looks out for others but for ourselves.  Amen? Amen!  Alleluia!

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Easter

My friends, each Church Year, we are taken scripturally through the life, death and resurrection of our brother, Jesus.  During Lent especially, we are called to ponder just who this God-human-person was.  During Holy Week we are encouraged to spend time with our human brother, trying to understand as fully as we can, why he came among us, for what purpose, what his death and resurrection meant for him and for us—but even more so, what his life meant. 

   Now for me, growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, before the 2nd Vatican Council, the message was always clear— “Jesus came, died for our sins, so that we could go to heaven one day and be happy with him, there forever.”  That sounds good on the surface, but I feel that Jesus’ coming was much simpler, much more loving than that. 

   I believe for many people, it is easier to get our “heads” around the fact that “God needed to come and clean up the mess we humans made, taking our failings, placing that guilt upon Jesus’ shoulders and “wha-la,” all is good!”

   But you see my friends, the above is much more of a human outlook than that of the Loving God, that Jesus, in his life presented to us.  Jesus was always more about applying the “heart” than the “head” in any situation. 

   In our Catholic church today, just as in the Jewish faith of Jesus’ time, men ran the show and we would all probably agree that setting up a list of dos and don’ts (the Jews had over 600 and Christians, a good many too) and a storyline that neatly answers all the questions is much easier than suggesting, as Jesus often did, that we simply do, the most loving thing!  Granted, doing the most “loving thing” is a lot messier! 

   Throughout history, the virtues of goodness, kindness, mercy, long-suffering, and so on have been looked at as the “gentler” virtues and relegated to the “gentler, weaker sex”—that of women.  But make no mistake, my friends, doing the “most loving thing” in any situation is far harder than following a set of narrow rules and regulations as Jesus proved throughout his life.  We must always remember that Jesus’ one, beautiful human life was taken because he relentlessly chose to do, not what the law said, but what “love” said—the two, as we know, are often not the same.  And for any of us who have ever followed his lead, we know that it is not easy, nor a weak action. 

    The Scriptures chosen for us to hear in the days and weeks after the Resurrection show the apostles sometimes in the same situation as Jesus in his life—people were attracted to him many times because of the physical cures that he was able to do.  The same was true for the apostles, after his death.  But for Jesus and the apostles, as we read today in Acts— “through [their] hands, many signs and wonders occurred among the people—women and men, in great numbers were continually added to their number.” 

   Given the above words, we can only imagine that there were many others, for Jesus and the apostles, who experienced what Jesus was really after in them, “a change of heart.” Those who were just after a messiah who would vanquish their physical enemies or cure their physical bodies, didn’t discover the “messiah” who Jesus ultimately was. 

   In the simplest of terms, Jesus came out of the loving heart of God who wants only good for us, not bad.  Such a God would never ask for reparation for the failings that were part of the humanity given us.  But such a God would give us chance, after chance, after chance, to get it right.

   Look at our Scriptures today:  The Revelations’ reading is about things not understood, except for our God’s words, “Don’t be afraid”—the piece understood, but not said is— “I will be with you.”  In the gospel reading from John we read times two— “Peace be with you—just as the Creator sent me, I [am] sending you”—to do, like me, the most loving thing! This gospel selection also lets us know that we will have great powers—the power to forgive and many other loving things, if we so choose. 

   Eastertime my friends, is all about gratitude for a God who has loved us so much in Jesus as well as a great time of grace to choose a “change of heart” –big enough to follow him, doing always what is most loving, in our world, that today, as we all know is in need of, just that!  Amen? Amen!