Homily – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, this parish, All Are One Catholic church has always been about inviting everyone to the table—this was one of our founding tenets, to welcome all who want to be with us, to pray and to share our lives as we journey to be closer to our God in Jesus, our brother.  This parish has never been about judging who is worthy or acceptable—we leave that to the person and God. In that, we are, I would humbly say, like our God as the theme for this Sunday is all about “welcoming” and the fact that the invitation goes out to everyone, no exceptions, is quite a wonderful thing to celebrate, I think.

We, of course, have to keep what the Scriptures say in context to get their full import.  We might scoff at the thought that after the host of the wedding feast finally got a full house, among strangers from the streets, because the first guests didn’t come; he is willing to throw one of them out because he isn’t dressed properly!  And here is where we need to understand the customs of the times and remember that wedding dress was provided, so even the poor could come and be dressed appropriately—this person chose not to rise to the occasion!

And once again; we must remember that the stories Jesus told while among us always had deeper, secondary meanings, so we don’t want to read the texts literally. The wedding feast spoken of in Matthew’s gospel today and the banquet that is being prepared as related by the prophet, Isaiah, are both about the end times reminding us at this point in the Church Year to be serious about “checking our own houses,” so to speak, to see that we are on the right path—that we have a clear vision of that which is most important in our lives.  Are we searching after that which gives us life, or are we about more selfish pursuits?

Paul gives us a sense of this in his letter to the Philippians.  He is writing from prison, one of the many times he suffered in this way to spread the Good News of our brother, Jesus, which we know from our own study of Scripture, can be very challenging at times.  We know too as Paul relates, that we must try to keep Jesus’ message “to love” foremost in our minds and hearts, never losing sight of that, so, as he says so well, “whether on a full stomach, or…empty…, in poverty, or plenty, I can do all things through the strength of Christ.”

This summer and fall thus far have been full of tragedies from nature; hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and now, horrendous fires in California.  Whenever such events occur; we see that the people so grievously affected are called to see what is most important in their lives, often hearing from them, “We are sad for what we lost in a material way, but all of our family is safe, and that is what is most important!”  And the fact is, everyone doesn’t get through these events with their lives and it is then for the rest of us to do all we can to be in communion with those who suffer.

This is what Paul is expressing to his converts in Philippi—his gratitude to them for being remembered in his time of suffering.  The longer I live, it becomes so apparent how small our world really is—how closely we are connected and because of our faith in Jesus, are truly sisters and brothers!

That brings us to the wedding garment spoken of in the gospel.  It is provided for all of us to put on and now we are speaking of the greater sense of this gospel and this garment is made up of the virtues of compassion, mercy, justice, long-suffering, patience, and when we roll all that into one, it is love for our world, for its people.

This week, yesterday, in fact, I had the privilege of presiding at Joe Morse’s funeral—really a celebration of his life. Joe was a social justice advocate for many issues that affected people and the earth in the Winona area and greater world. If it could be said of anyone, it could be said of Joe that he had it straight in his mind and heart what the priorities were for right living.  He was motivated by the likes of Pope, Saint John XXIII, whose feast day was yesterday and who said, “All …are equal in human dignity” and by John F. Kennedy who asked us all to think, “What can you do for your country.”

So, back in the early 60’s this inspiration took him to the South to work with the Freedom Fighters to give our black brothers and sisters’ equal status in our country.  Throughout his life from that point there was no turning back for Joe—he was always about advocating for what was best for all, not just for some.

We saw this in his work with assisting men to be inclusive and respecting of women through the Beyond Tough Guise program and its MENding project to encourage businesses and tradespeople to donate work to fix the damage caused in homes by abusive men.  Joe was a friend of and advocate for the Women’s Resource Center assisting women in being safe from abusers.

Joe cared for the land and keeping it healthy—his work to ban sand-mining in our Winona County, which ultimately protects our water, protecting the bluffs from erosion by working to prohibit building on its slopes and his continual work through the Land Stewardship organization in Lewiston is testament to his concern.

Now those who knew Joe well would probably agree that he was relentless in challenging and encouraging all those he knew to do the right thing,  kind of like the host of the wedding feast wanting to fill the hall with guests.  To get a call from Joe was guaranteed to be about helping with some project.  We can be grateful for the “Joe’s” of this world who are persistent in choosing the right, even if the path is hard to follow.

So friends, we began today talking about getting the invitation from our loving God to come the wedding feast, an invitation that is continually extended to us and we live our lives between the time of that invitation extended and the actual banquet to be held. Each of us is dearly loved and appreciated by God—we shouldn’t lose sight of that.  This loving God, each and every day, gives us the strength and wisdom, and all-abiding peace to do God’s will with and for others. And as St. Paul so wonderfully says today in the reading to the Philippians: “I can do anything through the One who gives me strength.”  Amen.

 

Homily – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

   Friends, the message that calls to us this week in the Scriptures is a simple one—we are mightily loved by our God, and additionally, there is nothing that God wouldn’t do to show us this great love.

The use of the vineyard in both Isaiah’s first reading and in the gospel of Matthew was an example that the people in these times would have understood—being a vinedresser was a job that really was a life’s occupation–one needed to be at it continually, preparing the ground, the plants, fertilizing the new shoots and watching and caring for the growth of the vineyard, each and every day and into the harvest—steadfast work, in other words.

Anyone who works the land knows that nature doesn’t always cooperate, but for the farmer, the vinedresser, there is always hope that this year all will come to together and produce a bountiful harvest.

Now, of course, we realize that the message is grander/larger than the plight of one vinedresser.  The prophet Isaiah lets us know of the sorrow that the vinedresser—read, God, feels at the vineyard not producing as expected, because the vineyard is merely the example used by the prophet to call the peoples’ attention to the ways their God loves them—wanting only good for them and not bad.

The story of the vineyard that Jesus tells in Matthew’s gospel is really a recitation of Salvation History and of how God tried so many times to let the people know that they are loved, through one covenant or promise after another,  and each time, the people turned away.

So why do we continue to hear these stories?—is there purpose for us and in our lives when we aren’t vinedressers?  I believe there is.

These simple stories are the ways that our God addresses the people of old—we might use the terminology of  “family” to understand God’s love for us in this day and age—we always need to apply the words of Scripture to our present day.  Within the family unit then is where most of us first learned of love and care—if not in our family of origin, then hopefully within the families that we supported and raised through love given and received.

So much of what we read in Scripture brings us back to this one message—we are loved by God and that is what our God wants us to understand.  Each of us were brought into existence out of the love of God and are called then, to come to know that love in our lives, and finally, to share it with others.

In all times and places, all the work in the vineyard, within the family doesn’t always go well—people are led astray and that very simple message that “we are loved” and expected to give back the loved received, falls away.

I would say that we are living in such a time now with yet another mass shooting in Las Vegas this past week. To many of us, it seems clear what needs to be done—the passing of comprehensive laws that would limit much of the high-powered and high-capacity weaponry that is not required to protect oneself.  We must have back-ground checks so that those unable to responsibly handle weapons, don’t acquire them. We demand back-ground checks for anyone wanting to work with our children and vulnerable adults—why would we not require the same of those that we are going to arm with lethal weapons? It has been proven in other countries where guns are out-lawed or drastically curtailed, the number of homicides is drastically curtailed as well.

To say, as someone did recently, that,  “mass shootings are the price we pay for freedom” is simply thoughtless when in actuality, our freedom should give us the peace and safety we all seek if those in control were thinking of the whole and not just the individual.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the United States Congress have acted abominably in this regard—refusing to listen to the pleas of those who have suffered at the hands of their selfish decisions.

It would seem that Paul’s words to the Philippians are appropriate in all of this:  “Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise.”

The whole concept of freedom is thrown around rather loosely and not really reflective of what the founding fathers and mothers had in mind.  I have included the “mothers” here because even though they received no credit, we have to assume that they had their husbands’ ears.  Those who do throw the concept of freedom around loosely seem to think that living in a free country means that I have rights for certain things and can’t be told what to do within those rights. In reality, I can only be truly free, if my sisters and brothers are free.  Those founding folk always intended, I believe, that the rights we enjoy in this country come with responsibilities toward the rest of the people.  If I think that I have the right to own high-powered  rifles that would then also be available to those who are incapable of using them responsibly, I would be wrong!  The present situation in our country makes it possible for terrorists to thrive! Not as Paul has instructed, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise!

I just finished reading a book by Joan Chittister, entitled, Called to Question wherein she talks about the differences between power and strength.  Those with power can wield it in ways that are not always for the greater good of all.  We have seen examples in present times in both Church and State of this abuse of power. In the matter of responsible gun control, the powers-that-be in the White House and the Congress are listening to the god of money, depicted in the NRA instead of the God of Love and are trying to say that this is all about freedom.

Sister Joan  goes on to speak about the personal strength of each of us that is so needed in these times.  We have to speak up, we must be getting our messages to Congress, to the president and demand that they do what is in their power to do for the good of all.  In many of the current polls, people want background checks, want guns restricted and Congress and the administration in Washington are ignoring that in their unwillingness to take decisive action to keep our people safe.

Yet, Joan is not without sympathy or understanding for what is needed on our parts and of how being strong, persistent, and consistent in the work of justice can be very hard, but it is something that we must do! We can’t let ourselves off the hook, as so many have said in recent days, by sending our “thoughts and prayers” and thinking that is enough.  These times call for our actions at fixing what is wrong.

We can’t be cynical as President Obama cautioned recently.  We must, I believe, not give up especially when we are down, but remember that our God believes in us and in all the good we are capable of, even in the face of the terror unleashed in Las Vegas this last week.

So friends, let’s do all that we can to be true followers of our brother, Jesus—in your conversations with family and friends , talk about all that we can do, even if people don’t want to talk about it—let’s remind each other of the strength we have as individuals and groups to bring change so needed for ourselves and for everyone. This is our work to do in God’s vineyard—in God’s family. May we all be blessed as we endeavor to do this great work.

Homily – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The call for each of us to live lives of goodness cannot be taken lightly.  In just 10 weeks we will come to the end of the Church Year and during these weeks will focus on the end times and judgment.  It should give us great comfort though that the final Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday. The image of the Good Shepherd—of one who will leave the 99 and go in search of the lost one gives us a huge clue into the heart and mind of our loving God—of, in fact, the way we will be treated—our God will always come searching for us, no matter how far away we may have strayed.

The call to each of us during these final weeks of the Church year will be to seriously look at how we can grow closer to our God who loves us beyond all imagining.  We will see in the upcoming weeks, beginning today, that people in privileged positions seem to be passed over in favor of those who appear to be “undeserving.”  The workers in our Gospel message, who were hired at the end of the day, seem to have acquired the first place.  In truth, they were probably the workers who weren’t as capable for whatever reason—and had been standing there all day waiting to be hired but were not chosen—kind of like choosing up sides for the ball team; the smallest, seemingly less competent players are always chosen last.

This is a good time for each of us to ask ourselves whether our love is only extended to the people that we like and who are good to us, or do we have place in our hearts for those who are different, who are difficult, who may in fact live in fear of what life will do to them, thus they put on a “hard, unfriendly face” to the world.  Last week, one of you, mentioned POTUS, the President of the United States, without actually mentioning his name.  The gist of the comment was that you found him, hard to love.  You aren’t alone in that and perhaps we need to spend some time understanding where he came from, and while not accepting many of his unpresidential ways, trying to find a place in our hearts for what is unfinished in him and at least pray that he will grow into the position.

Isaiah definitely does not take lightly his duty to call the Israelites and ultimately, us, to conversion. His whole message is to give up our unloving ways and return to God.  The Israelites have this wonderful history of being in covenant with God—which, as we recall, means that God has promised to be their God and they will be, God’s people. They, in other words, are the chosen of God and should be faithful as God is faithful. And just so we can understand Isaiah’s task here, he isn’t speaking to the people because of random failings, but about a clear pattern of turning away from God and living less than good lives.  Isaiah is challenging them to make an “about face”—to begin again to live humble and good lives. Do we hear his call today to do the same?

This challenge to return to God is laced throughout the readings today.  Also, within the challenge of returning to God is the warning about not being smug in our “apparent” goodness.  We recall the words of the Pharisee from the Gospel, “Thank God I’m not like the rest of these people!”

Some of you may be watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick film, The Vietnam War that began this past week.  It was perhaps smugness and righteousness on our parts as Americans that allowed us to become so entrenched in this South Asian country.  We reacted to a long-held fear of Communism, making many ill-conceived decisions that were so detrimental to our country and to Viet Nam, a nation that had struggled for many years before we arrived, to simply be free of foreign interference.  Viet Nam was fighting a civil war and we missed that most important fact. Like our own civil war, it was for them to fight to become the country they needed to be.

There is clearly more of this “smugness” going on in the Gospel reading today, but for now, let’s focus on God’s eternal response to this covenanted people and to us.  We need to remember that to make a covenant with someone was a solemn promise—something not to be taken lightly.  So for this people to turn their backs on God was really an act of betrayal. But even in the face of this betrayal, God is forgiving and merciful and pardons their sins once again.

The psalmist then offers praise and blessing all his days because God’s goodness is unfathomable, even beyond human understanding.  We get a sense of this in our Gospel reading today. It’s a reading that most of us on a purely human level find hard to get our heads around—giving the person who worked only one hour the same pay as the one who sweated and labored in the heat of the day.  Really, the only way to understand it is through our hearts.

If our faith goes no deeper than what is just and fair and right on a human level, we will never understand Jesus and his mission on this earth.  A bit of “going to the heart” would have aided us greatly in our conflict in Viet Nam.  Jesus, in all the Scriptures of the New Testament is about telling us that we are loved mightily by our God—a God who will never be out-done in generosity, love or mercy.

This loving God wants to share goodness with all and could it be that those who find it easier to maneuver in this world are being passed over for those who seemingly have so much less? For all the times that these workers stood the entire day waiting to be hired and were passed over, could it be that the owner (God) is telling us that all the debts will be settled or perhaps evened-up one day?  This was the thinking behind the old Negro Spirituals—that one day, there would be justice. Could it be that for those of us who smugly bask in our goodness; God might be instructing us to bring everyone into the fold—to remember that divine goodness is extended to all—clearly demonstrated in this Gospel reading, today.

When I think of this reading and its message, that indeed God’s goodness is meant for all—no exceptions, I find it hard to believe that any church ministers of any kind or denomination would even dare to exclude anyone from the table of communion—for any reason, if that person wants to receive.  Communion means, in its best sense, “unity” and that it would ever be used as a power play to control the People of God, is nothing less than, sin. The Winona Interfaith Council, of which Dick Dahl and I are members, operates out of this message—that all are welcome and acceptable.

So, again, perhaps more questions than answers, but keeping our eyes on Jesus will always show us the way—I remind us of this often, but it is so true.  Our way of doing things is always lacking, because most of us are never without some selfishness.  I am presently reading Joan Chittister’s book, Called to Question, a small volume that addresses some of the smugness that the rule-keepers among us live under. It is convenient to have all the answers to all the questions—questions that many times, we as church denominations have asked and answered without any input from God. What happens when questions arise that don’t fit the neat, little answers? Chittister, in her book challenges us all to ask such questions and to see that the answers respond to the needs of all in our present world.

Most of us have to work quite hard to keep ourselves out of the equation, of whom God loves and why.  But our God is always about extending justice to all—to everyone who asks and God’s justice, unlike ours, is grounded in mercy.  Isaiah prophesies   today—“My ways are so far above yours!”  And that is why this parable today is so perfect—by human standards, it makes no sense, but by divine standards—it is so completely of God—for God’s love is insurmountable!  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 24th Weekend in Ordinary Time

My friends, we are faced this week with our purely human selves and our responses as humans to what life brings.  While it may be purely human to respond to hatred, lack of mercy, violence of all kinds with more of the same; it isn’t what our brother Jesus, who was fully human and fully divine, asks of us as his followers.  We see in the Scriptures that at the summit of his earthly life on Good Friday; Jesus chose to forgive those who had treated him so badly.

Thinking more fully on Jesus’ response to the ultimate suffering of the cross, he asked his Maker, his Abba, to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing.  Perhaps that may be a way for all of us to forgive the wrongs done to us in this life—that the perpetrators of evil didn’t know, nor understand what they were doing.

Most of us have lived long enough to know that the Old Testament formula of “an eye for an eye” does not bring resolution or peace, but only more of the same.  Jesus tells Peter in today’s gospel that he must forgive 70×7—or in other words—always!  Forgiveness must always be our response to evil done.

A more present day prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., as we recorded last week said, “Only love can bring an end to hate; only light can bring an end to darkness.”  It would seem that we are called to more than a human response.

Jesus struggled too with his humanity—to love as he saw his God loving, responding to his world in more of a divine manner.  Jesus, like us, encountered peoples’ ignorance, arrogance, lack of mercy, selfishness—that was what the cross was all about and all the hate called forth the very best in him—rather than hate the perpetrators of the cross—in the end, he simply loved them.

We have to wonder how many who played a part in his actual death, who may have watched him die, were ultimately affected for the good.  Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I believe; they had to have been changed for the good.

This past week, our country remembered the 16th anniversary of September 11th 2001 when our country was attacked with the bringing down of the Twin Towers in New York City.  I was moved more this year by what the suffering all those years ago has done to some of the children of the more than 3,000 who died that day.

Rather than holding on to the rage, the violence—the ultimate grief, some of these children, now adults, have chosen instead to follow in their parents’ footsteps, reaching out to save rather than kill or hurt others.

The two wars of the last 16 years, one fought in retaliation, one basically out of greed, in the lands, hearts and minds of the “enemy” with victims on both sides are still going on today and only love, only light can bring an end to the hate, to the darkness.  Only forgiveness—only forgiveness can ultimately bring peace.

We have to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us the Golden Rule, the prophets of all times, Sirach, Jesus, all the rest tell us so passionately.  Maybe the greatness of this country is yet to be realized when we give up our weapons of mass destruction and invite the rest of the world to do the same.  We have no ground to stand on asking North Korea to give up theirs, yet hold on to ours.

So friends, on this 24th weekend in Ordinary Time when we hear from the psalmist that our God “is tender and compassionate, slow to anger and most loving,” and Paul tells us that, “we don’t live for ourselves,” we have no simple answers to these very complex questions of living out our humanity coupled with that in us that is divine, only that we keep our eyes on Jesus and as his followers, see the light that will lead to peace.

 

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, the framework for this homily I put together six years ago and it’s there that I am beginning today, updating to this present time.  Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law and the other readings confirm this notion. That may sound easy as it rolls off our tongues, “Love is the fulfillment of the law,” but we need to ask ourselves just what that means and how would it look in our lives, yours and mine if we lived as though we believed it!

Would it mean that if I truly love—behaving in a loving way; I wouldn’t have to keep any laws—does the act of loving supersede the law?   In the best sense, laws are intended, to make life more orderly, fair, safe, and just for everyone.  What I as an individual think and believe—is that how we should do things? or do I need to take what others think into account as well?  What ultimately should be the measure for how things are done?

We see in the first reading today that God knows how things should go—that indeed each of us must listen to the Word and respond accordingly.  Ezekiel’s task is to make sure that the Israelites hear the Word.  What they do with it once it has been preached to them is apparently their business—their choice. God will not force anyone to hear the Word and act accordingly.  Our loving God simply offers and then we have to choose.

We get a strong message in all the readings today of how God would like us to respond.  That is the beauty and the heartbreak of it—that God loves us so much—wants us to choose the most loving way for ourselves and others—but will never force us.  Psalm 95 proclaims the message, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts!”   This psalm gives us the sense of a very relational God, one who shepherds the flock.  The people who originally heard this psalm were a pastoral community—they were shepherds and they understood their connection to the sheep as a very intimate one because they would literally lay down their lives for their sheep—this was their livelihood—and if God’s love for them and for us was/is like that; wow!– that is a wonderful thing!

Our responsibility then, is to not harden our hearts, but trust that all will be well in our lives even when things seemingly aren’t.  A God who loves us in such an intimate way will never leave us, but will walk with us, loving us until we find the way out of darkness as the first hymn today so beautifully spoke of—sending us comfort and assistance in the form of family-friends-colleagues.

You each were invited to take a stone today when you arrived—a reminder to us that our hearts are sometimes made of stone.  The Scriptures throughout the year give us several times to reflect on this theme—that we basically need to “soften up!” Perhaps the stone can be a part of your reflection this week in that regard, as we continue to make the efforts to “get out of our boat.”

In today’s reading from Romans, Paul says that our only debt to another is to love them.  In that loving, we have fulfilled the law. Will that loving always be easy? No. Sometimes it will mean speaking the truth even when that is hard, as Jesus instructs in the gospel today—sometimes the law doesn’t go far enough, doesn’t keep everyone safe, isn’t just for all and lacks mercy. Pope Francis said as much yesterday in Colombia.

So, this brings us full circle to my original question to all of us—what would it look like in our lives if LOVE truly, every time, fulfilled the law?

  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, we would take care of our poor; no one in this great country or around the world would ever be without the basics of food, clothing and shelter. And the thing is, our world is capable of feeding, clothing and sheltering everyone—we just have to decide to do it!—to make it a priority.   And this underscores the importance of making alliances around the world so that we can get to the root causes of why so many people suffer needlessly.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, we would wage peace, not war—we would find a way to talk to each other, both as countries and as individuals—again the need for making alliances. We wouldn’t be wasting time playing school boy games, flexing our muscles as our response to aggressive actions, at home and abroad.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, the seminaries would stop teaching male clerics that Jesus is only fully manifested in this world through men. It is time that ordained male clerics stand in unison with their female colleagues and friends, proclaiming the Christ that they see there! In fact, it is time that men across our world, those in power and control take a second look at the women around them and see their capabilities and give them equal pay for equal work. Our Church leaders could be instrumental in this task—“Shortage of priests”—indeed! Yes, there is work to do so that the Jerome Kulases of this world would stop proclaiming untruths about women, namely that, “there are no women priests” as he stated this past week in a letter to the editor of the Winona Daily News.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled over law, everyone, absolutely everyone would be welcome at the communion table—no exceptions.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled; the responsibility to pay for the benefits of freedom would be equally shared in our country—that the rich and the big corporations wouldn’t be exempt.
  • I believe if LOVE truly ruled; the president and Congress would do the work of the people with compassion and justice for all—a current example is the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). In another letter to the editor this past week, in both the Winona Daily News and The Post, author Jean Gunderson wrote about the ability we have as a nation to do the right thing for the greatest amount of people, citing current programs that make life better for the disadvantaged among us, including DACA. In conjunction with our question this week of determining what LOVE perfecting the law would look like, Gunderson’s use of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. seems appropriate: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Friends, the days when life was really simple–do 1-2-3 and heaven is a shoe-in are really over, if that was ever true at all. In following Jesus’ admonition to love one’s neighbor, Paul takes this to mean, everyone—not just the neighbors and family members we like and agree with, but the cranky, disagreeable and aggravating ones too!

When we go that extra mile to follow the law to love over following the law to obey, we really have chosen the harder part as Paul suggests—that is why he can say that love is the fulfillment of the law.  Our brother Jesus, it was suggested by one of you, was the first, perfect example of living completely the law to love.  Love can be very satisfying—it was designed by our loving God that way to allow us to have a heavenly experience even here on earth. Love can also be very demanding at times—there will be crosses to carry as we heard last Sunday from Jesus, but if we truly are about loving in his footsteps, then we will be willing to carry the crosses.