Homily – Palm Sunday in the Time of Pandemic – 2020

Dear Friends, once again, we are separated and we must wrap our hearts and minds around the notion that in order to keep each other safe, we must not be together! We begin tomorrow the holiest week of our Church Year–may it be a good one for you as we all continue to be “church” in new ways.  Who might you reach out to this week from the safety of your home? By telephone–email–snail mail…What group either in our local community, our country, or, our world might you share your bounty with? All of this friends, is being church.  During this time of pandemic when we can’t receive the Eucharistic bread, we are instead called to be “bread” to others in our world.  I invite your prayers for all those who have died around this good earth and for their families who grieve them as a result of this terrible virus. Please pray too for all healthcare workers that they can remain safe. Pray for leadership in our country that all that must be done to combat this enemy will be. And finally, let us pray for each other–that we will all stay safe and grow in the ways that God may be calling us,  in this time of crisis.

Peace and love to all–Pastor Kathy


Hopefully, you have the readings that I included with the mailing from this past week.  Also, after the homily, which follows next, you will find the Prayers of the Faithful and other responses for your use.


HOMILY

My friends, as we begin Holy Week, just a few thoughts. Let’s reflect a bit on the emotional side of what this day, Palm Sunday brings us.  We could spend time describing the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and of how he did everything as the prophets foretold, but when all is said and done, it is really all about love—love first for the God who sent him and then love for those who awaited a Messiah.  He, of course was a different manifestation from what the people thought they needed and wanted, a King to conquer the Romans—instead of a humble man of character and a servant—this was who they needed and only later would they discover, it was who they wanted as well.

In this strange time as our world is trying to live with and conquer a silent and unseen virus that is ravaging our planet as a whole and our own country in a most significant way—we are called to be “church” in new and significant ways, different than before, but “church” just the same.

We may feel ill-equipped for this “new normal,” looking to others to lead us out of this crisis, but as Clarissa Pinkola Estes of Women Who Run with the Wolves fame has said so well, “We are exactly the leaders that we have been waiting for—we were made for these times!”

We each must do what we can.  I read this morning that Oprah Winfrey has given $10,000,000 to organizations in our country to feed those in need. Leonardo DiCaprio, among others, has joined her.  Here in Winona, many are working to keep fed and housed 8 homeless folks who are sheltering-in-place at a local motel.  And our city will need to do more as this crisis continues. Others are financially supporting these efforts through donations to Catholic Charities and the Winona Community Foundation.  Yes, we must be the leaders in absence of others.

Paul, in his beautiful treatise on Jesus to the Philippians says it simply, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to it…but became as all people are.”  Jesus in his image as slave and servant showed us the way to go—not as this world sees greatness, but as God does. That is perhaps part of it, my friends, trying to see into the problems that others face that are not our own.  Each of us must respond to the grace of our baptisms, to the strength of the Spirit that lives within us due to our confirmations in the faith.

We saw these images, especially of “servant” throughout Lent in the form of the Good Shepherd, the Samaritan woman at the well to whom Jesus gave, ‘living water,” the man—born blind,  to whom Jesus gave much more than physical sight.  Each of us is called today to continue Jesus’ work through our hands, our eyes and our hearts.

This week will zero in on three very significant days—the Triduum—remembering first, on Holy Thursday—the institution of the Eucharist and the formal institution of the priesthood—ideally intended to be a calling to service.  Within this first day’s service Jesus demonstrates what being a servant means when he washes the feet of his apostles—not about him—but about others.  In this time of a “new normal,” we are being asked, perhaps, to humble ourselves, to “wash feet” in a new way.

The “feet washing” in a new way came to me in a very poignant story Thursday evening on the PBS Evening News.  The story shared was that of a black, woman doctor in New York.   I name the ethnicity of this doctor and her gender because both are at the heart of this story.  Amna Nawaz, interviewed this black, woman doctor as a human interest story of someone on the frontlines and what this crisis is calling forth from her.

This female doctor made it very clear that those in this country who are poor, black and brown and already compromised because of their poverty with heart disease, diabetes and the stigma of race which is built into the fabric of our society, are unfortunately put at greater risk in this pandemic.

This is something my friends, that we as a country must wrap our hearts and minds around—we can ignore it no longer!  My hope is that one good that might come from this terrible pandemic in our country would be that we, as a nation, could come to terms with the deep inequality that there is between the rich and the poor and finally, finally, do something about it!  And racism—our original sin, as someone has said of it, must be addressed as well.

Amna Nawaz finished her interview with this brave, black, woman doctor by asking her how this pandemic is affecting her own family.  This woman, in her personal life is married, has two small children and is worried, literally, about what her work could do to her family.  She said that she had a frank discussion with her husband telling him that she might not come through this and if that should happen; he must be sure to tell their children that their mother always loved them!

Good Friday, then, we must remember, is about the height and length and depth of our God’s love for us.  To be about love—to wear it as a breastplate as Christians means that as Jesus did, love is always the response to what we as humans can come up with by way of injustice, even if we must stand alone.  Jesus would not compromise this principle and he knew what the consequences were for that stance, much like the doctor who cannot leave her patients, knowing what it could do to her family.

The Easter Vigil concludes the Triduum as we remember and reflect on our salvation history—a story that delineates God’s over-the-top love for us—always directing the prophets of Old and New to keep us as a people on-track until the message of love could be given to us in perfect form—in the person of Jesus.

This, my friends is a wonderful week that we are beginning—one not to be taken lightly, one not to miss.  Let our prayer for each other be, that our God’s over-the-top loving for us, then, be something that we can give back as we respond to our world. And in that, we can all sing the Easter alleluias! Amen? Amen!


Let Us Pray

Opening Prayer

Loving, Ever-Living God, you have given the human race Jesus Christ, our Savior, as a model of humility.  He fulfilled your desire by becoming human, giving his entire life as a servant, out of love, even to accepting the death of the cross.  Help us to bear witness to you by following his example of total giving and make us worthy to share in his resurrection.  We ask this in Jesus’ wonderful name, in our loving Creator and with the Spirit, one God, living and loving us forever and ever, Amen.

Let Us Pray

Prayer after Communion

Jesus, you have satisfied our hunger with this Eucharistic food.  May your life, death, and resurrection give us hope and perseverance in this life and one day bring us home to you.  We ask this in your loving name, Amen.

Again we remember that our call during this time is that WE MUST BE THE BREAD!


Prayers of the Faithful

Response:   “Merciful God, hear us.”

 

  1. Loving Jesus, as we conclude our journey through the holy season of Lent, in this time of a “new normal,” be with us, teach us to live lives of loving service and never be afraid to choose justice for all as the way to go, especially during this time of pandemic, we pray—Response: “Merciful God, hear us.”

 2.  Loving God, help us to love the poor, the downtrodden, the present-day lepers

in our midst and to see them through your loving eyes, we pray—

Response:  “Merciful God, hear us.”

  1. Loving Jesus, as we remember your sufferings this week, help us to hold them

in perspective with your resurrection, we pray—

Response:  “Merciful God, hear us.”

  1. Loving God, be with our nation’s leaders enabling them to speak the truth that is so needed during these times, we pray,

Response:  “Merciful God, hear us.”

 5.  O God, help us strive to be people of peace, not war—let our tools be justice, love,  mercy, gentleness, and understanding, we pray—

Response: “Merciful God, hear us.”

  1. For our community, All Are One, give us welcoming, open hearts that can

invite any and all people to be part of us, always taking our lead from Jesus

who prayed that all would be one, we pray—

Response: “Merciful God, hear us.”

  1. Loving Jesus, be with all families who have lost loved ones this

week,—especially all the families who have lost due to Covid 19, give them

your peace, and help them to find their way through their grief, we pray—

Response: “Merciful God, hear us.”

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

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

we pray, then response 

Let Us Pray 

Loving God, be with us each and every day—we thank you for the blessings of this Lent.  Teach us to be true servant leaders in our world—give us courage, strength and patience, but most of all, give us love—the force strong enough that allowed you to make the wonderful choices that you made so long ago for all of us.  Teach us to graciously love those who we find most hard to love—help us to realize that each person, ourselves included, is greatly loved by you.  Be with all those suffering so terribly now due to the corona virus, those who have died and their families who are left behind. Be with all the brave and dedicated health care workers on the front lines working for all of us.  Assist our national leaders to lead our people well—let them not allow any of what they do to be about themselves, but only the good of our nation.  We ask this of you who are our Creator, Savior and the Spirit of the Living God—with us now and loving us forever and ever, Amen.


 

 

 

 

 

5th Sunday of Lent–Materials, Homily and Prayers

Dear Friends, 

Once again, we can’t be together, but we can pray with each other at our “regular” time!  Here I have included my homily, the readings for the day and the prayers of the Mass that we would pray if we were together. 

I have asked the board and they agreed that we suspend our Masses until further notice to keep all of us safe–this pandemic is indeed calling us to new ways of being “church.” May Jesus’ Spirit be with you all. 

I am attempting to be in contact with each of you in the Winona area during this time–please know that I continue to pray for each of you and ask your prayers for me as well. If there is anything that any of you are needing and no one to ask, please know that you can ask me–truly! 

Blessings to each of you, 

Pastor Kathy


Readings for the day: 

  • Ezekiel 37: 12-14
  • Romans 8: 8-11
  • John 11: 1-45

Homily

My friends, as a newscaster, or perhaps a doctor—or both, said recently; our country has not experienced such a time since the Second World War, that has so mobilized our nation, in so many ways—from civic organizations to church groups—all are being called on to do our part—to be our best selves, caring for ourselves, our families and others.  And in many ways, it seems strange that the BEST way to care for others is to stay physically away from them!

That, of course, excludes our immediate family members.  But, because “social distancing” is in place, please don’t, “heart and mind” distance! Reach out in many and wonderful ways to family, friends, church members—maybe a neighbor you don’t talk to that much—check to see if they are OK, from a distance, of course! You might find it surprising how much a person is cheered by your call—loneliness and alone-ness are terrible burdens along with physical illness.  I made several calls to church members this week and that was the over-all feeling—one of gratitude.

The Scriptures for this 5th Sunday of Lent are filled with the commands and prompts to do that “heart and mind” reaching out that is so important these days.  Ezekiel speaks of a God who, in modern parlance, truly “has our backs.”  The psalm response from 130 today says, “With you [God] is kindness and plenteous redemption—I trust in God—my soul waits for you” [!]  Paul to the Romans reminds us that the Spirit, (if we listen) “brings justice, allowing us to move above our selfishness.”

The beautiful gospel from John relating the raising of Lazarus reminds us of the words that Jesus, our brother, heard, in going to his friend—“the one you love is sick.”  Jesus often in his earthly life had to balance his personal and public life with a focus toward the greater mission he was called to.  We see this dilemma in his decision not to go to Lazarus immediately.  We also see his agony coming out in his human response to the death of his friend—“Jesus wept.”

This pandemic brings for each of us a reality that “breaks open our hearts.”  A good reflection for each of us today and through this next week might be to ask, “What is it that breaks open your heart?”

A story that I heard this week did in fact, break my heart open:  It was of a 40 something year-old doctor in New York who contracted the coronavirus while caring for his patients and once he became ill, he died within a week!  Now what does this story tell us?  We know from reparable sources out of New York that with cases skyrocketing and not enough staff and equipment to protect them in the way that they should be, some will lose their lives.

The stories abound of those in hospital and nursing homes who can have no visitors in order that we can protect them from an enemy that can’t be seen and with no real means to stop, other than measures that keep us physically apart at a time when “closeness” would be such a comfort to so many.

So again, the palpable need that we not distance, emotionally and spiritually!

This came across the “airways” yesterday from the executive director of United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry:

“God is still here…stepping in with love…stepping in through you…your hands, your feet…your words, your actions…You! Go be love!

Our Scriptures today, especially through Jesus, my friends, tell us convincingly that our God will always be crying with us in our sadness, will always be with each of us to reach out in safe, but profound ways, to assist, through Jesus’ Spirit within us, those most vulnerable in our midst.

Within our Winona community, through the advocacy of our Interfaith Council of Churches, 8 homeless people have been given motel rooms at a local establishment to provide a dignified place for them to “shelter-in-place” as our governor has asked us to do for two weeks to stem the tide of the virus-spread.

Others in town are providing food for these individuals. If you are reading this and would like to assist in any way, please be in contact and I will tell you how.  If you are reading this outside of the Winona area, listen to what your own communities, through charitable groups are doing and assist in ways that you can.

One final thought in closing: This pandemic is teaching us many things; chief among them is how much better we can care for those in our lives who live with so little.  In better times, we can perhaps, set aside this knowledge, even ignore the problems of homelessness, the injustice of people trying to survive with less than a living wage while others have so much that they don’t know how to use it all.

But now, when an invisible enemy threatens us all—no matter our status or position, it would behoove us to balance the world’s goods.  Along with the dire statistics each day, I choose to concentrate on all the good “heart work” being done,

the generous giving, and I dream of after this pandemic is over, making the temporary housing arrangements in Winona, permanent ones.  In other places where this has been tried, getting people off our streets, the homeless have proved worthy of this second chance and done well afterward.  Any of us friends, with a little bad luck, could find ourselves on the streets. Let one of the lessons of this dire time be the “breaking open of our hearts,” to be Jesus’ true followers!  Amen? Amen!


Entrance Antiphon

Give us justice O God, and defend our cause against the wicked; rescue us from deceitful and unjust people.  You, O God are our refuge.


Let Us Pray

Opening Prayer

Loving God in heaven, the love of Jesus led him to accept the human condition, complete with life in all its goodness and the cruel death of the cross that we might glory one day in new life.  Change our selfishness into self-giving.  Help us to embrace the world you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.  We ask this in Jesus’ wonderful name who lives with You and the Spirit, One God, loving us forever and ever, Amen.


Let Us Pray

Prayer after Communion

Loving God, may the power of these holy gifts free us from all that keeps us from You and help us to always please You in our daily lives. We ask this through Jesus, our brother and friend, Amen.

(Being that we can’t these days receive communion physically, I invite you to remember that our God in Jesus is ALWAYS with us!)


Prayers of the Faithful

Response:   “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

  1. Loving God, as we continue our journey through the holy season of

Lent, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and the strength to do your

work of love in our world, especially now during this pandemic,

we pray—Response:  “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

 2. Loving God, help us to love those that society has cast aside,

we pray—Response:  “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

  1. Loving God, help us to remember this Lent how much you love us

and help us to love you and your people in return,  we pray—

Response:  “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

4Loving God, be with your people through us, who most need you

today, we pray—Response:  “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

  1. O God, help us strive to be people of peace, not war—let our

tools be justice, love, mercy, gentleness, and understanding,

we pray—Response: “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

  1. For our community, All Are One, give us welcoming, open hearts

that can invite any and all people to be part of us, always taking our

lead from Jesus who prayed that all would be one, we pray—

Response: “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

  1. Loving Jesus, be with all families who have lost loved ones this week,—give them your peace, and help them to find their way through their grief, we pray—Response: “Compassionate Jesus, hear us.”

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

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

then response


Let Us Pray

Good and merciful God, you are our light and our love.  You have written your promises of love on our hearts—help us to remember and never forget your covenant with us and enable us to do our part in loving response.  As Lent draws to a close soon, continue to lead us in your path helping us to realize that our hour is upon us too—that now is the time to be your people and act as we say we believe.  Help us to remember that we are your hands, eyes, ears and heart for our world—help us to be generous with your love. All this we ask of you, in Jesus’ loving name and with the Spirit— one God, living and loving us forever and ever, Amen.


 

Homily – 4th Weekend in Lent

As a way, friends, to help us be connected in mind and heart, when we can’t be together physically; I offer this suggestion from one of our community.  When we would actually meet each week, (this week, it would be today,  Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 4:30 P.M.) read the Scripture selections (given below) within your own home—if you live with someone, read the selections to each other, knowing that you are in union with others doing the same.  If you aren’t able to do this at the regularly  scheduled time, then do it when you are able.  Follow this with reading my homily and if you have any comments, feel free to share those and we could have a bit of a dialog, for those who wish.  And do pray for each other that we can all stay safe and well. Finally, if I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. 507-429-3616. See readings for this weekend, below:

Readings:

  • 1 Samuel 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13
  • Ephesians 5: 8-14
  • John 9: 1-41

 

After reading the homily,  you can share your thoughts here by clicking “reply all” to this email.

Homily

My friends, a comment we have all heard of late; “We are in a new normal.”  The threat of a virus that we can’t even see has kept most of us in our homes along with practicing social-distancing from others when we do go out to take care of necessities.

Our response today from the beloved 23rd psalm gives us a beautiful prayer, especially when we put it to music:  “Shepherd me O’ God beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” 

This “new normal,” I believe, is bringing out the best in many in our country and around our world.  I share just a few examples here:

  • Just yesterday, the national news carried a story of two biological sisters returning from cancelled spring break plans, who set up a website for young people who were willing to “sit” with children for parents who needed to go to jobs, but were without the means to get sitters for their children who were out of school due to the coronavirus. These young “sitters” were willing to sit for free.
  • Musicians and vocalists in Spain, Italy and other places stood on their verandas, balconies or opened their windows to share life-giving music to those in their neighborhoods whom they were told they must not touch physically due to spreading the contagion. But, there are many ways “to touch” others!
  • Here in my hometown of Winona, MN, many wonderful, good, kind and compassionate actions are happening as I know are in so many other communities: Food is being delivered to homes for those who don’t have the means to get out.  Through our churches, messages of care and support are finding their way to parishioners through emails, web-sites and phone calls in the wake of these same churches closing their doors to keep parishioners safe.  A “new normal” indeed!
  • A group in my hometown of Winona is working creatively to find individual shelter for homeless people who have lost the group shelter areas that this community worked so hard to put in place prior to the pandemic.
  • And, I am sure that the readers of this homily—both my in-town community and on-line readers around our country can add your own stories of goodness and care.

This time, my friends, is calling us to be “church” in new ways—to care in creative ways, being in touch without physically touching, but “touching” just the same—being community.

There is much talk in this weekend’s Scriptures about “being light”—an extension from the Christmas message really, which calls us to follow Jesus’ words, “to be light for our world,” wherever we find ourselves.  You perhaps have seen on the news that a movement has begun to turn Christmas lights on again as a way to bring back smiles! We all need to have light in our darkness.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians reminds them that, “There was a time when you were darkness, but now are light in our Savior.”  John’s gospel this week relates the beautiful story of the blind man whom Jesus freed, first from his physical darkness and then from the darkness in his mind and heart, helping him to see how much he is lived by God. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” Jesus proclaimed. As his followers, we are called to the same—to be the light that each of us can be!

Now some of you reading this, might be asking, “How can I do anything of significance?  I certainly can’t preach of write, I’m shy—no one would listen to me, I’m too old, I’m too young,” and on and on might go our excuses.

But, my friends, it’s interesting—looking at the first reading from Samuel, we see that, “God does not see as people see” (God certainly doesn’t expect perfection), “people look at appearances,” (judging worthiness, capability), but [God] looks at the heart.”

Today we hear again about how David is chosen by God as the most fit among Jesse’s seven sons to be the King of Israel—not the oldest, the strongest—but the youngest, the least ready, seemingly, to be King.  This calls us friends to apply this message to ourselves and finally dispense of all our excuses too for not doing our part.

Paul, in his many writings to the churches that he established would many times call the people, “his children in the faith,” but when you really look at it, what Jesus asked of his followers and what Paul in turn, asked of his, was that they, and we must include ourselves in this, be “grown-ups” in our faith.

The individualism that has been touted for a long time in our country is in this new day of a pandemic, being challenged.  Those who are truly “grown-ups” in their faith systems, whatever that may be for any one group of people, have always realized that the God of us all, quite regularly, “turns things on their heads!”—not choosing those for leadership as the world does, by physical appearance, race or gender, we might add, but by what is in our hearts.

Wiser persons than myself have said that the God who is always part of our lives, cheering us on, grieving when we grieve, rejoicing when we rejoice, uses such times as, a pandemic, when we are most weak and vulnerable, as the “very door” with which to enter into our lives in a more meaningful way, just as God’s Spirit did in the story of the blind man, to give new life and purpose to our lives than we may have known before.

It seems that this pandemic has touched the hearts of many as indicated in the examples that I shared earlier.  If we are ever to hear our God’s voice, it will be through our hearts, not our heads, as we can’t figure God out! The gifts of the heart are lovingkindness, justice, mercy, truth, generosity and compassion for a world that God is so in love with.  So more than anything else, my friends, know that when you see any of these gifts, when you give any of these gifts through the ways you reach out to others—know that God is there loving others through you—loving you through others.

Yes, this is a “new normal”—calling each of us to new ways of loving.  Check in on elderly neighbors, friends, practice social-distancing while still reaching out in acceptable ways and as one Franciscan friar said in a message I received recently, “Wash your hands and then place them in the hands of God!”  Amen? Amen!


 

 

 

 

Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

My friends, we are to the mid-point of our Lenten journey to Easter, a good time to assess how we are doing with using these days to grow closer to our brother, Jesus, in how we live our lives.  In my surface look-over of today’s Scriptures, which I always do each week to get a sense of their key points; the following thoughts rose to the forefront.

  • Is our God in our midst or not?
  • Our hope will not leave us disappointed.
  • If you only recognized God’s gift and who it is who is asking you for a drink….
  • If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

So, let’s look deeper.  Moses’ flock, now in the desert, is clearly having a crisis of faith! Do they actually believe that the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt would abandon them to die of thirst in the desert?  Even Moses’ faith seems shaken by his unbelieving flock.

We can look from our sanitized, removed view of the Israelites’ lack of faith and become indignant, asking, “How can you be so faithless?”  Now, this is only fair if we shine that same light of introspection upon our own faith.  How are we ultimately in times of suffering and frustration—sickness, as with the Covid 19 pandemic, job loss, times when we are misunderstood, perhaps ridiculed?—this is always a good counter-balance to any judgment of others—how, in fact, we do ourselves!

Paul challenges us to always hold onto hope and if we do; we will not be disappointed.  This hope, he says, is dependent upon Jesus’ Spirit who is always with us.   Lent is a good time to ask if we believe that—do we, in fact, believe that Jesus’ Spirit lives and breathes and moves through us?—an important question if we say we are a follower of Jesus!

He makes an astounding comment to the woman at the well and I read it almost as if Jesus is imploring…”If you only understood—recognized God’s gift and who it is who is asking you for a drink…!”  Now for this Samaritan woman, the gift, as Jesus goes on to prove to her, is himself, the Messiah—the long-awaited One!  But for us, what is the gift that we are supposed to find?

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

This reminds me of several different folks we met in the early morning of Friday last as Robert and I did the 2-7 A.M. shift at the Warming Center here in Winona.  Because I was in the midst of work on this homily, two thoughts came to me as I engaged different people that I met there.  First, I thought, “There but for the grace of God, I am that person,” and second, “This is Jesus!”

Earlier I suggested that the fact that the Israelites lost faith in the desert was understandable if we look to our own lives and our, at times, lack of faith.  A friend recently shared of a time in her life—a period of years really, when she lost one significant person after another in close proximity.  Sometimes we don’t always know what these times mean until we have moved through them.  My friend shared that she found herself only able to basically exist during this period of loss—that she didn’t reach out to God during that time.  As I listened to my friend; I found myself thinking, and later shared with her, “But God was always with you during that time!—perhaps giving you the strength, to exist!”   Sister Joan Chittister once said, “God is always present to what God has created!”

This of course speaks to the graciousness of our God toward us rather than the old theology of, “God needing vindication for the sinfulness of humanity,”—a thought, I feel, is still too much on the hearts and souls of people as they journey through Lent.

This kind of theology sets us up in a very uneven relationship with our brother, Jesus—one devoid of any, “give and take,” as all good relationships should have.  For if, Jesus did it all—“saving us in one act, his death,” that leaves us, effectively, “off the hook!”

But if Jesus came, “not to die for us,” but, “to live for us”—to show us the best ways to do that, think of what a richer relationship we can then have with him!  If God loved creation so much as to want to become part of our existence, wouldn’t that knowledge entice you to love God more than if,  a mean, old God needed vindication so much that this same God thought it necessary to send Jesus to make up for our sinfulness with his death? For me, the decision is quite simple and I hope the same is true for you!

Much more intelligible, and worthy of such a gracious God as we have, is to imagine that Jesus lived under the assumption that everyone in God’s earthly kin-dom should be treated equally and that he in fact demanded that those who could do something about it, in his time, do it!  For this, they killed him! As someone once said, “that is how we do things down here!” Just so that we are clear here—Jesus died not because God willed it, but as a direct result of how Jesus lived his life—demanding justice for all!

As Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant says, and I paraphrase; if we focus on God’s graciousness, rather than on God’s vindictiveness, that puts us where we want to be on a continuum where we strive toward being our best selves.  This God of ours, she continues, is always, “calling us back,” wanting us to stay in a close relationship.

Finally, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well gives a map for right living, not only in Jesus’ time, but now.  We see Jesus addressing several taboos in his culture through his actions of reaching out—he talks to someone from a group of people, traditionally shunned by his own people.  Secondly, he talks to a woman in public, a taboo in his culture, and thirdly, to a woman considered of low character—and of course, her “low character” came about on her own—right?  In speaking to her, Jesus says in no uncertain terms—no one is ever unwelcome or unworthy.  Again, I think of the folks who frequent the Warming Center and of how, one of them, preparing to leave on Friday morning last, said to me, “Thanks for the hospitality!”

So thinking of the taboos in Jesus’ time, let’s fast-forward to our own time.  No matter your political background, or choice of candidate for office, it would behoove us all to look at a larger issue beyond who wins or loses in this election year and address the ever-present-yet issue of “sexism” plaguing our political process and other processes in State and Church.

This issue was spoken of rather eloquently by Elizabeth Warren as she commented to reporters after ending her presidential bid.  She was asked if “sexism” played a role in this contest and she basically said that a woman would be put down regardless of her take on this issue.

If she stated that women were and are held to a higher standard than are men as they strive for these positions, (sexism), she would be called a, “whiner.” If she went the other way and denied that, “sexism” was afoot, then all her female supporters would say, “What planet are you living on?!”

Friends, sexism is alive and well when candidates are considered, less on their abilities to lead and more on their presumed, “fragileness” of character. Sexism is alive and well in churches when women’s gifts for ministerial roles are discounted and they are denied access because of how they happen to have been born.

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

The psalmist challenges us to harden not our hearts—and so, it would seem that we should allow our hearts to become, “hearts of flesh,” that our “denying,” this Lent, reaches beyond ourselves to a wider world, so needful of this renewal! Amen? Amen!

 

 

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Lent

My friends, due to my hectic week of travel and illness—I have opted for some previously written comments with some update. Being that they were from nine years ago, some of you may be hearing them for the first time, and hopefully for the rest, a nice review.

We have completed a little more than a week of our Lenten discipline. Discipline is a good word I feel to describe what this time should evoke in each of us.  Whether we are concentrating on “giving up” something or “giving for” something, discipline is needed.  A reflection by Sister Joan Chittister entitled, “Why Give up Stuff for Lent?” speaks to this idea. And as is natural for Sister Joan, she lets us know the history of the practice within her comments.  Penance and sacrifice go way back, she says—in fact they are part of all religions.  Even though we may at times think negatively of doing penance and sacrifice, the purpose for such endeavors is really very positive.

Ascetics, those who practice austere disciplines of fasting and prayer, speak, she says, about conquering themselves and developing their souls—an admirable thing for any of us.  Joan continues, “Life, we come to understand, is not only about joy.  It is about the power to endure what is not joyful as well”—caring for a dying loved one and eventually laying them to rest as our family learned again this past week.  “How is it, that the notion of bridling the self can be as important as satisfying the self?” Joan asks. It seems that it is about balance in our lives.  Too much of anything is never good.

Even ascetics attest to the fact, Joan says, that the good things in life don’t have to be forgone, but simply held in balance.  The Talmud, that is, the oral tradition commentary on the Torah instructs, “If a person has the opportunity to taste a new fruit and refuses to do so, he [she] will have to account for that in the next world.”

It would seem that we are all on a journey to be our best selves. Lent, as I have said, is a gift of time to help us do that well. Asceticism, Joan goes on to say, is not about giving things up for the sake of it, but really it is about achieving more, like—making space in our lives for the better as opposed to the simply, good.  For me, spending actual, physical time with family and friends is better than a phone call, text or email.

For some of us, looking to the saints of old and perhaps even more present day saints—those who aren’t canonized, but we know to be saints just the same can be a help in being our best selves, by watching and listening to them and then, doing the same.  The month of March, on the 19th, to be exact, looks at St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.  The Italian community sets what they call, St. Joseph’s Table in honor of the saint.  This is a feast consisting of a heaped table of food that is then given to the poor.

Sister Joan related this story as a Benedictine commenting that St. Benedict instructed his community to partake in what he called, “reckless, magnanimous hospitality”—not just good, but better! A fine point that she puts on this idea is to say that we don’t empty ourselves just to trim our own lives…but to make the lives of others better.  In other words, to sincerely follow Jesus, there must be the responsibility to move beyond ourselves.

In our gospel today, we see the same kind of thing happening. Peter wants to remain in the glorious vision of the Transfiguration while the reality of ministry awaits him and the others.  The gift he and the others received is intended to help them more effectively share Jesus’ message with the people—it is never just about the person receiving the gift.  What they experienced was a theophany—Jesus’ self-revelation as God.  James, John and Peter shared something very special and with all such things for which we are not worthy and have done nothing to deserve, there comes a responsibility to use the gift for others.  The Three were entrusted with a special gift—Jesus’ expectation was that they would take the “good,” and use it for something even better–to draw many to follow in his path.

In the early days of my priesthood, there were those in positions of power within the Church and also other acquaintances of mine that accused me and other women priests of being after power and I could always answer truthfully that it was never about power for me personally, but about service for those who felt unserved within our Church.  My prayer then and now has been that I could always serve in this role with humility, knowing that the gift and privilege is not at all about me.  My hope in these disagreements with others, especially male priests is that they would likewise shine their light of introspection upon themselves with regard to power.

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

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

It is especially poignant for me to reflect on Abram’s plight in light of our family’s laying to rest our daughter-in-law’s Dad this past week. Patrick O’Flynn left his homeland of Ireland to come to the U.S. to make a home and raise a family. Each year he returned to his beloved homeland and as his children began to arrive, eventually—three; he couldn’t afford to take all of them each year so, each year he took one with him so that they could know their roots.

In the above story we see the generosity of a human father toward his children and in the story from Genesis; we see the five-fold generosity of God toward Abram:

1) God will make him and Sarai, later to be called, Sarah, a great nation, 2) God will bless his family, 3) God will make his family a great name, 4) God will bless those who bless his family and 5) God will curse those who don’t. We see this continued in Psalm 33—the theme of the graciousness of God—“The Creator loves justice and right.” Not only is God gracious but we hear hesed, that is, lovingkindness, used in this psalm to speak of the God who we are dealing with.

This theme of God continually bestowing blessings on the Chosen People, which we really should see as all of us, is one that continues through all the readings today. Paul in his letter to Timothy speaks of this “lovingkindness” as pure gift—not because we have deserved it or earned it.  Paul uses a Greek word, to further explain this pure goodness—charis, which translates as grace.   Paul then moves us into the 2nd theme for this weekend, which is, a new beginning.  Through God’s magnanimous gift of Jesus we have the hope of new life.   Our humanity is raised up and made perfect by Jesus becoming one of us and it is Jesus who calls us to holiness, to being our best selves Paul tells us.  Our choosing to walk in Jesus’ footsteps is the final theme for this weekend—in fact; choosing to follow Jesus is what we should always be about in our lives as Christians.

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

Jesus’ purpose was indeed to reveal himself as God while he was yet on earth.  The thinking at one time was that the Transfiguration occurred post-resurrection and was a foreshadowing of his future glory, but now most scholars believe his purpose to be the former—to help these first believers to know truly who he was.  Appearing glorified in the presence of Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah,  who represented the prophets, and himself who completed the equation, of all that the people had waited for, had to have been a tremendous strengthening of faith for James, John and Peter!  Jesus shows himself to them as God incarnate.

These followers of his clearly can’t take it all in—they, at first glance don’t know the full significance of what they are seeing. Peter speaks out of his compulsive nature—it is what we all love about him!  “Master, it is good that we are here!” Yes, Peter, it is,  but you can’t stay yet—this is a respite, a time away to become solidified in what you are being called to and for.  God instructs them further—“Listen to his, meaning, Jesus’ words.”

That is our call too friends, we must listen, watch and keep our eyes on Jesus—keep our eyes too on those who have followed him well in life—the past and present saints.  If we keep our eyes open, strive to be mindful, present to each day and moment, if we can; there will be those times when we too are very aware that what we are seeing and witnessing is of God and we will again have the hope to keep on following him—giving of ourselves for not only what is good, but what is better. And we have opportunities, my friends, each and every day in our Church and country to do just that!  May we each be blessed today as we journey through these Lenten days of grace.  Amen? Amen!