Homily – 3rd Weekend of Advent–Gaudete

This weekend’s liturgy is entitled, “Gaudete”—in our vernacular, “Joy.” We are almost to Christmas, when we remember, Emmanuel—“God with us” coming into our lives. We signify it by lighting a rose or white candle. I am wearing a rose stole today.

All the readings speak of joy.  Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks for everything!” Isaiah’s reading begins with the famous lines that Jesus quotes, making them his own at Nazareth when he begins his public life. “The Spirit of God is upon me, sending me to bring good news to the poor, to heal broken hearts, to proclaim release to the captives and liberation to the imprisoned. This tells us in no uncertain terms where justice will be meted out.  We saw this same message in our sung psalm today—Mary’s ballad of justice for the downtrodden in Luke—her Magnificat!

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its end, he was about bringing us to life and that life to fullness. It is precisely in bringing the good news to the poor, imprisoned, those held captive, that as Isaiah says, a year of favor will come upon them and their suffering will be over.  It is good to remember that in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ time, every 50 years was a Jubilee Year wherein land and other good things taken from the poor were to be given back.

In doing good things for the least among us, we become people who like our brother Jesus, “turn things on their heads”—break from the status quo, to be his true followers.

Now at first glance; we might agree with this, but upon further reflection, we might ask, why we would want to change things–why can’t we be satisfied that while life isn’t perfect—it’s OK?   And my friends, Jesus’ life among us answers that question—as long as the least among us lives in unjust circumstances; we cannot rest.  As long as everyone is not given their voice, is not allowed to live by their well-formed conscience, even if it goes against orthodoxy; we cannot rest. When we think of what it is to be Christian, even human—are we not called to do all we can to make sure that people have at least, the basics in life, as I spoke of in last Sunday’s homily about the homeless in Winona, across this country and around our world?  Can we truly enjoy the extras in life when there are those without the basics? Can those who are privileged to be the gender of choice in church and society stand by while women are discounted because of how they happened to have been born?

Jaimie Mason, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter spoke well to the issue this past week in an article wherein she drew the connection between the sexual abuse we are currently hearing about in every walk of public life to that of the sexual abuse within the Catholic church and rightly names its cause, in both instances, as “patriarchy.”

In her article she quotes feminist author and activist, bell hooks, who speaks about the roots of this male aggression and violence.  She said that since the first revelations about Weinstein, she had read many commentaries and hardly any commentator had used the word, “patriarchy” to explain the root cause of all this bad behavior. “We want to act like this is individual male psychopathology,” hooks said, rather than admit that this behavior has been normalized for men by a patriarchal system.

Mason goes on, “Lately it feels like every day another man vanishes from the limelight, as if taken by a plague.  But in these cases, the pestilence was of their own making.”  And as hooks points out, patriarchy created the conditions under which it could breed.

Patriarchy is any system in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it.  In a patriarchal structure, powerful men dominate women, children, nature and other men.  Frequently, one of the key ways that men predominate over women is by fixating on and controlling female sexuality.

Mason continues, “The Catholic church may not have invented patriarchy, but it has certainly sanctified it.  The patriarchal system that allowed famous actors, producers and newsmen to move about like gods is not much different from the patriarchy that has for centuries told priests that they are divine, exceptional men, set apart to rule over a lowly and lost laity.”

In another NCR article this past week, Bishop Vincent Long Van (new-yen)Nguyen of Australia comes at this abuse by addressing the Church culture wherein patriarchy thrives—that of clericalism and told his priests, in so many words that it must end if the Church is to recover from this scandal and truly be the Church of our brother Jesus.  Priests and bishops should not see themselves as above the people they are called to serve—they are servants, not little gods, as Pope Francis has spoken of so many times and tries to emulate in his papacy.

Isaiah speaks today of being “wrapped in a mantle of justice” and “clothed in a robe of deliverance.” As prophet, his challenge is to speak this word—our challenge as Jesus’ followers is to try to live this out in our daily lives.  “Just as a garden brings its seeds to blossom; our God makes justice sprout,” proclaims Isaiah. Our loving God can simply do nothing else but strive to bring justice.  And how does that justice happen, my friends? It happens through each of us, or it doesn’t happen!

Paul tells us that “we should not stifle the Spirit,” that we should accept only what is good.  John the evangelist gives us the Baptist’s words in a slightly different script than last week and we are reminded that he is one “crying in the wilderness” that we make straight our God’s road.  When I think of prophets, “crying in the wilderness,” I can’t help but think that this past week, we remembered that five years ago 20 six and seven year-olds and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary school and of how the parents of the children have cried out in an apparent wilderness to our so-called leaders in Washington that they pass legislation that would make it harder for those who shouldn’t have access to guns to obtain them, to no avail.

So, we know that making the road straight is about filling in the valleys, moving mountains if need be.  We aren’t given a necessarily easy task—making the road straight is as Paul says, about “avoiding any semblance of evil.”

But yet, this is “JOY Sunday.” Again, Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks for everything.”  I believe we are able to do all that is required and asked of us today if we do it in balance—no one of us can do it all—but each of us can do something with our own gifts and talents that no one else can do just like us.  Each of us needs to find our own way.

The rejoicing comes out of our prayer and out of our grateful hearts—for everything that comes to us—both the good and the bad. Now, is it always easy to be grateful for everything?  Of course not! The parents of the 20 children from Sandy Hook are certainly a case in point.  Some of those parents have spent the last five years coming up with the Sandy Hook Promise, a program that is being utilized across this country to help children to get to know each other, to care about each other and to be aware when someone might be in trouble and help them before things escalate. Everything—each piece of our lives is part of our unique journey to God and possibly only when we achieve heaven will we know completely what the journey was all about.

Maybe our usual way of doing things won’t be good enough anymore.  It has always been my conviction; that we, as Christians, if we are true to the name—should not look just like the crowd! We should resemble Jesus and be shaking things up a bit.

In this next week, as we make final preparations to remember Jesus’ first coming among us, the words of my friend, Jim Callan, co-pastor with Mary Ramerman of Spiritus Christi parish in Rochester, New York are good ones to reflect on: “Jesus is coming and coming and coming throughout time and history, he comes anew each day, in each person we meet if we believe truly in his words, ‘I will be with you—ALWAYS!’ ”    Amen? Amen!

Homily – 2nd Sunday in Advent

Friends, it would seem that silence is one of the gifts of Advent if we can find the space in our days to slow down a bit, ponder our life as a follower of our brother Jesus and seek the wisdom that his Spirit brings us.  Silence, it would seem, is the necessary component for us to really hear what is going on all around us, to really hear what is on people’s minds.

On Tuesday evening, Robert and I spent the night at the Winona Warming Center offering shelter for homeless people living in Winona.  I believe that knowing that there are people in our midst who are homeless should be a cause for great concern for all of us who do have homes.  It isn’t ours to judge why people are homeless so as to blame them, as much as it is ours to look on them with compassion, realizing that we could find ourselves in such a state if the right set of circumstances befell us.

As I listened to the stories of two people who talked with me individually at different points in the night, as each suffered from wakefulness; I came to understand this very truth—if I hadn’t had good support people in my life at certain key moments, had the “intestinal fortitude,” as my high school principal, Paul Nelson used to say; I could perhaps be homeless today too.  It seems that one major psychological-emotional or physical hurt in a person’s life can trigger a lifetime of what may appear to others, not experiencing the same thing, as bad choices, while the person afflicted is merely trying to make the pain go away.

And the truth of the matter is, as life happens to each of us; we are all fragile and could find ourselves falling through the cracks too. Given that reality, that we are all vulnerable, what if our country, as other countries have done, had a safety net for when people fall on hard times and were offered a hand up?

The ailments that can befall a person are many such as the woman I talked with on Tuesday evening related. She described herself as a single, adult woman, homeless, an addict, and with mental illness—she came from alcoholic parents.  This is a multitude, in my mind, of afflictions to befall a person and she told me that when her depression is really bad, she turns to alcohol and other drugs just to feel better or to perhaps, feel nothing.

Sometimes, those of us, who aren’t so afflicted, might wonder how people can be like this, when there are social programs to help—right?  And depending on who is in Washington, those programs can be more, or less.

We might wonder too why people have no homes. The woman I talked with told me that she has five children, but no one wants her because of the choices she has made.  She told me through tears, because she deeply loves her children, for them to be in her life again seems contingent on her getting drug-free and dry.

She spoke very intelligibly to me of how our country looks on all of these problems, from caring for the mentally ill, to housing and feeding our people. She spoke of such people, including herself, who are alienated from others, when being with people is what they most need to get better. Being alienated leads to spiraling downward. And in a very poignant moment she said to me, “I can tell when people don’t really understand how it is out there, and no offense intended, but I can tell talking with you that you don’t know what it is really like.”  I responded that she was right, I have never experienced being homeless and couldn’t imagine what it is like!”

We might also think that some people choose to live off of government assistance and that we enable them by continuing such programs.  My experience with these sisters and brothers of ours, for that is who they are, is that they don’t choose ultimately to be this way.  The woman I spoke of told me of spending a night in an outdoor port-a-potty.  It was safe and out of the wind. Now, you don’t choose to live this way if there is any other way!  But now, she has a choice with the Warming Center and we as a community should be so grateful to the Community Bible church for offering their facility.

One gentleman who availed himself to the care of the Warming Center on Tuesday evening told me that he is presently being treated with chemotherapy for bone cancer and that after his treatments, he doesn’t feel very good.  He went on to say; rather matter-a-factly, that it is hard when you don’t have anywhere to go afterward to lie down.

I asked him if the doctor knew that he was homeless?  Again, rather matter-a-factly, he said, “Yes.”  Maybe that is how we all act in the face of situations that seem too big to handle—we do nothing.

Two of today’s readings speak to us about, “a voice crying out,” about “clearing a path,” about “making it straight.” Jesus, our brother, came to do just that.

Advent calls us friends to silence in order to hear our God’s call in the voices of the homeless, the addicted, the hungry, the lost and alone—to not only help the immediate need, which I think we all do to one extent or another, but to get to the root causes of why our country tolerates these conditions.  Once we have that answer then we must cry out to our legislators and whoever else will listen, to make the needed changes.  If we are all truly sisters  and brothers, then we must work to have a safety net in place for any of us who might at one time need it so that none of us ever has to go without a home, without food, clothing or someone to befriend us.

Peter’s letter to us today speaks of “awaiting new heavens” and that “God’s justice will reside” and finally, that “God will wait for us” –to do what is needed.

As I have said so many times here—God’s work will only get done if we do it!”

May we all be challenged!


Homily – 1st Sunday in Advent

These past few days, as I have gathered fresh pine boughs and filled my outdoor pots, replacing the dried and withered flowers of the summer past, saving some of the boughs for my Advent wreath; I was called to reflect on the coming of Advent—a time of preparation to welcome our brother Jesus at Christmas. Advent calls us to slow down a bit—to consider what is most important in our lives.  And in this month before Christmas, we might balk, protesting—“I have so much to do and you are asking me to slow down?” Yes, and if we do, reflecting on this  great mystery, all that we do in preparation for Christmas will take on new meaning.

Advent is such a precious time—a gift that our Church gives us each year to prepare our spiritual selves. Our spiritual self is really our essence—our heart.  It’s what makes each of us unique—without which, we wouldn’t really be much.  During my years as a chaplain, I often did spirituality groups at the hospital and I would tell the participants, our spirituality is who we really are—made up of our values, what we hold as meaningful in life; what gets us out of bed every day—even what we would live and die for!   So, when we think of preparing our spiritual selves, which really includes our physical and emotional components too, because that which makes us up as humans, can’t be divided; we are addressing the best that we have to offer.

Having just completed one Church year last Sunday, praising Jesus, who lived not as king above us, but as servant among us; we now today, have a new beginning with this first Sunday of Advent—whatever the last year in the Spirit has been—we can put that behind us because we are once again given a second chance.  That is the wonder and blessing of our great God, who loves us so much and is always drawing us back.

The whole notion of expectant waiting is such a rich and life-giving concept.  For those of you who have been blessed with physically carrying new life, the idea of pregnant expectation can be very meaningful this time of year.  But whether or not one has actually carried physical life within; we have all grown the “life” of new ideas within, or made plans to renew our world through education and projects that benefit not only us, but the wider world.  And, we know the joy of carrying such tasks to completion.

That is where we are in our Church calendar—expectantly awaiting the time when our God will be fully present in our midst—a phenomena that happens little by little our whole lives until it comes to completion at the end of our time here—at the end of our journey of love.

At Christmas, we remember that first wonderful coming of Jesus into humanity—each year Jesus becomes present anew if we allow it to happen.  Jesus is always present but the full effect of Jesus among us only comes if we—each one of us, is willing to show Jesus to the world.  We do this by making faith, hope, love, peace, justice, forgiveness and mercy flesh in our lives—by sharing these gifts with our world—with God’s people, God’s family. It is the same with the Eucharist, which we will soon celebrate—Jesus’ flesh and blood only becomes flesh and blood in our world if we allow him to do so through our lives of love and service. During the Prayer over the Gifts, which I will pray for us shortly; we acknowledge that our God expresses the Godhead through us—singing and dancing, speaking and writing, loving and creating.

Paul prays today that we will recognize that we are the work of God’s hands and when we do, the work of our hands will be beautiful. All the preparations to receive family and friends to our homes take on new meaning when we invite Jesus to be part.  Our first reading from Isaiah today likens us to the clay in the potter’s hands and the artist shapes the clay into something beautiful. Our loving God is the potter and can shape us only if we are willing. We are called upon likewise in Mark’s Gospel to open our eyes in faith and see the ways that God is present and active in our lives.  I often find that God is the gentle stirrings in my heart to do something—God comes again and again—never forcing us—just continually present—asking and waiting for each of us to respond.

We are also called upon today to open our hearts and our homes to God who comes to us daily both as stranger and friend.  Who are the strangers/the friends/the acquaintances in our lives, knocking and needing to be let in/perhaps given a second chance?  I personally think of the people who have hurt me, whom I have hurt in the past and ask, “Am I willing to move past the hurt, become a better person myself, and bring new life to these situations?”  Sometimes we come to realize that there isn’t a lot we can do in some broken relationships, except be open to “new life”–new opportunities, should they happen.  The times that each of us has each year to gather with family and friends gives us the potential to try again, listen with our hearts, not just our heads. When I think of those I have hurt; I can vow to be more sensitive going forward.  All of this helps us to “prepare the way of our God to enter into our lives.

As one writer suggested when contemplating the words, “Prepare the way of our God,” we can recall the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to a strange land and finding no room at the inn. A kind innkeeper gives them a place to stay in a stable out back.  Later, after Jesus was born, they traveled to another strange land, Egypt. They were basically, undocumented immigrants, much like those traveling to our country in present day, much like our forebears of another century.

This writer continues to suggest that we imagine for a moment, if this story had been different. How would it have been if the people of Egypt had been tired of strangers crossing their boarders, fearful of who they were and what they might do once here—if they would be a burden upon society? What if the Egyptians had built a wall to keep “such people” out? What if they routinely rounded people up and deported them? This would have left families split apart, children separated from their parents, wondering what had happened to them.

And further, suppose Joseph and Mary, under these conditions had made it into Egypt and one day, upon leaving the shelter of the workshop where he had been trying to eke out a living for Mary and Jesus, after fleeing the terror of those who wanted to kill his innocent son, Joseph, himself, was picked up by the authorities for not having the right documentation. Mary was at home awaiting his arrival, preparing their evening meal, caring for Jesus, who was probably only two or three at the time.  When he didn’t arrive, she and Jesus went looking for him at the place where “illegals” are taken and she can’t find out anything about him.  She is worried and frightened and doesn’t know how she and Jesus will survive. Jesus cries every night wondering where his Daddy has gone.

Listening to the stories that present day immigrants tell of fleeing the fighting and terror in their everyday lives; we can easily link the plight of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to theirs.

The story of the Incarnation would have been quite different Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network says had it happened today and Mary and Joseph were from Mexico and traveled to the United States.  Advent calls each of us, friends, to look at our world with largesse—be accepting of all people, trying to include all, be present in some way to all, seeing the possibility of ourselves in this situation, see all as equals, no greater, no less than ourselves, but one as God created us, as Jesus lived among us and showed us the way.

We are called upon today to accept the challenge to stay awake—to be alert for the times to bring life and hope to a world that is so badly needing these gifts and awaiting their arrival. We try here in small ways as a Church as we help with the monthly meals at the Catholic Worker, bring groceries each Sunday for the Winona Food Shelf, participate in home-delivered meals in February, give of our time to staff the Winona Warming Center for the homeless, give of our wealth in the collection basket each week to support justice needs around our city, nation and world, as well as what each of us do individually, separate from our church community.  A reminder of the initiative of the Franciscan Water Group that I shared on the web for us to be aware of our water use and look for ways to save. We are presently in the 10 Days of Giving to restock the Winona Food Shelf—let’s remember to bring in non-perishable food items to help this worthy cause.  Our board has agreed in addition to give a $300 donation to assist. Hope is paramount in Advent and that is perhaps why I so treasure this time of year—the new beginning—the chance for new life—the possibilities are endless, really.

This next month tends to be a busy time for all of us as we prepare for Christmas—and I would remind and encourage each of us to not let this beautiful season of Advent get passed over and rush head-long into Christmas and all the festivities.  We wouldn’t think of having a big event and do none of the preparations.  The same is true here for the season of Advent. Give yourself each day, even a small amount of time to be quiet with God—maybe when you are driving to work or elsewhere—turn off the radio—when you get stopped for a train, rather than being frustrated, quiet yourself for a few moments, get in touch with God who loves you so much— however you do that best and prepare your heart for the coming of this great gift among us—Emmanuel—God-With-Us!”

Homily – Last Sunday of the Church Year–Feast of Jesus, our Brother and Friend

Today, the Christian Church Universal celebrates Jesus Christ as King.  The trouble is; Jesus never proclaimed that he was a “king,” at least not in the way that people wanted a king.

It would seem, according to Ezekiel that Jesus came as a servant and a shepherd.   Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was out among the people tending to their needs, calling the powers-that-be to justice—challenging them to stop filling their coffers with the hard-earned money of the people, and making sure that everyone, especially the least among them, had what was needed to simply live—a clarion call to each of us today.

Our need to proclaim Jesus as king goes back to Old or First Testament times when the people then begged God to give them a king and God acquiesced because they were, as Scripture says,  “a stiff-necked people.”  They constantly wanted, as we do, to make God into their own image rather than allowing God to be who God is. Even up until the crucifixion, the apostles, those who probably knew Jesus best, outside of his earthly parents perhaps, thought of him and wanted him, in fact, to be a king who would put down the Romans. They were thinking as humans think, not as God thinks, as Jesus once told Peter , but Jesus was calling them to so much more.

The gospel chosen for today from Matthew describing the last judgment is a good place to start in describing Jesus’ true presence on this earth. Exegetes tell us that our task as commanded by Jesus is not to simply do humanitarian service, but to work at getting to the heart of why people are hungry, thirsty, homeless, in prison, lost and alone.  I believe many of us do the humanitarian work as is evidenced in the outreach activities of this parish and that is good, but Jesus, who was not a king in worldly terms, but a shepherd, servant, brother and friend, encourages us to indeed, get to the heart of the above problems—to see the faces of the people that go along with the statistics—searching out every lost one.  A good case in point is that of the immigrants in our country, those who are afraid of deportation with the current administration in Washington and those still wanting to come here.

If we get caught up in celebrating Jesus as king that puts the focus on him to save us from whatever danger is out there, and then the attention is shifted from our need to be engaged with our world, as he was with his. As you recall from last weekend’s gospel; we are called to risk, which will sometimes bring discomfort, even be messy at times, but it is the way of Jesus, it is the way to peace wherein fear of judgment, in the end, is not a worry—in other words, if we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, judgment should not be something we have to be concerned about.  Jesus came to show us the way by being a servant and the example he took for himself often was that of a humble shepherd, one who cared for sheep who would often wander like us, off, get lost and need to be found.

Even though most of us aren’t familiar with what it means to be a shepherd as none of us takes care of sheep, the tenets of such work can be carried forward—that of selflessness, patience, understanding and love. We know that shepherds, men and women were all about caring for their sheep, the good ones at least, bringing them to good sources of pasture and water, binding their wounds when they wandered off, when they were lost, the good shepherds would seek them out, basically keeping them safe.

This weekend calls us to see Jesus as our Brother and Friend—through the shepherd stories and the beautiful 23rd psalm. We learn that our God doesn’t want to lord it over us, as a king might, but to be among us, that our God, as the Good Shepherd, will go any distance to find us when we are lost and will always listen, will always understand, will always love us.

It is good for us to reflect on this most comforting message of our loving God as a follow-up to last weekend’s parable of the talents wherein some of us found the harsh words of the master in that story, hard to take—that the rich will be given more and that “the more” will be taken from those who have the least.  This is definitely a scripture message that we don’t want to take literally, as it seems to fly in the face of what we believe Jesus usually preached—in fact, today’s gospel would seem a contradiction to that.  Again, the context is so important.

In last week’s gospel, Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for the End Times and the harsh language was to impress upon them the importance of doing the right thing, now! Don’t wait, he was saying, in order to catch their attention.

A better way to look at the statement that the rich will be given more and the little the poor have, will be taken from them, is to get beyond the surface story told here.  Reflecting on what Jesus is saying in Matthew’s account of the Last Judgment, we have to believe he means more than the idea given at first glance in the seemingly, “offending” statement of the rich having more at the expense of the poor.

When we do the right thing—that is, care for those with less and the other Corporal Works of Mercy, when we risk our safety at times for the good of others, when we use the gifts given to us, multiply “the master’s good” (as in last week’s story) in the world, we become richer as persons.  When we “bury the master’s good,” our gifts, refuse to share in order to take care of ourselves, we become poorer, and the gifts given to us, do, in effect get “taken away.”

That friends, is the beauty, perhaps the frustration of Scripture—the Spirit of Jesus is always, “alive and well,” so to speak, calling us to be open to more, to stretch ourselves beyond what comes to us at first glance.  Jesus, our brother and friend certainly doesn’t promise that it will be easy, it will in fact be messy, but in the end, it will be life-giving, all will be cared for.  We will have created a world worthy of the God who created us in love, gave us Jesus in love and has called each of us to do the same.

So friends, today let us celebrate Jesus as our brother and friend, one of us, not one apart from us, which the title “king” seems to suggest. When we get familiar with Jesus as brother and friend and see, truly see how he was with others, it is much less easy to discount him or to not recognize him in the suffering humanity of our world.  We move forward friends, as we complete the liturgical year this week and prepare for the next with the beginning of Advent next Sunday. May each of us be blessed as we share our gifts, our love, with our world.

Homily – 33rd Weekend in Ordinary Time

My friends, I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.  It is one of her older selections, with a 1996 copyright and in it she documents her personal journey to come into herself as a woman, to in effect, find her voice.  I had come upon this book early in my own process of finding my voice and hadn’t read it then, but reading it now was good for me, as it served as a wonderful review, especially now in the watershed time that we find ourselves for finally hearing the voices of women abused, for finally, it would seem, hearing their collective voices as one and the same—as credible.

Sue Monk Kidd came out of a Southern Baptist upbringing wherein women “knew their place” in Church and society and they knew it so well that they didn’t question the fact that they had no voice that was their own, that wasn’t first “approved” by the patriarchal system within which they lived—a system supported by both Church and State.  This system, as we all know, puts men in charge, is controlled and policed by men in order to keep women and children, especially girl children, “in place,” in order to serve the whims of these same men—all nice and tidy.

The author lived as a dutiful daughter, the wife of a Baptist minister under this system, questioning not, until the day she walked into the local drugstore and saw her daughter, a teenaged employee there, on her knees, stocking shelves and being ridiculed by two men. The gist of the ridicule was a comment by one of the individuals that, “This is how he liked to see women, on their knees!”  The other individual, laughed!

It was at this point that Sue Monk Kidd found her long lost voice. She noticed that her daughter’s reaction was to hang her head, swallowing the abuse as women had so many times before.  In Kidd’s reflection over the next few years as she was “coming out” with her true woman’s voice; she realized that she had sat idly by listening to comments from men in the general society, in church, unaffected, like other women, but when the abuse was dumped on her daughter, the awareness of what she had gradually been coming to, through dreams, study and reflection, was made apparently clear in the rude comments thrust upon her daughter—the intention being that this was women’s place!

So, it was with a lion’s heart that she marched up to the abusers and stated in no uncertain terms that this young woman was her daughter and they may like seeing women on their knees, but that this was not women’s place!

What followed for Sue Monk Kidd were seven more years of digging deep, reading women scholars in Church and society, of the likes of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-language, Sallie McFague, “God as Mother,” in Weaving the Vision: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality and others.  Little by little; she acquired the inner strength to begin proclaiming publicly what she only sensed in the example of her daughter—that women, in society and in religious settings were made the pawns of men, with one intent, to use and control them, and for the most part, women were taught to enable this behavior by not speaking out.

With  a great deal of trepidation and second-guessing, which, by the way, are the feelings women have to overcome in order to hear their own inner voices and respond to them, Kidd began sharing with her husband her experiences and learning, her deepest yearnings to disavow herself with the Baptist church, the very church he served in as a minister because she could no longer abide being told from the pulpit that “Women were the first to sin, the second to be created and that they were made for man’s benefit”—that because of their disobedience to God and their temptation to men, beginning with Adam, they would forever be in second place.  All nice and tidy.

Well, needless to say, this was unsettling to her husband, but much to his credit, perhaps his deep care for her and their relationship, was, over time, able to listen and truly hear what his wife was struggling with and trying to articulate, and eventually, saw that change was needed.

The readings that the Church has given us today are great reflections on this watershed moment for women and men in our society and Church.  I include men here because this awareness that many women come to in mid-life, if at all, is something that men must come to as well if true change is to happen.  There must be the realization within men that if the birth right that women come into this world with is taken from them to serve the other half of the population, then the conquerors are left with only half a life too.  Each of us is created as a reflection of the Creator and that must not be taken from us for any reason, least of all, to control others.

The beautiful reading from Proverbs today was in past times entitled, “The Virtuous or Valiant Woman.”  The Priests for Equality text, that we use here, in their wisdom, have made this a gender-less specific reading in order to impress upon each of us, male and female that the traits espoused here are universal and genderless—we are all called to strive after perfect love—instilling confidence equally in each other, bringing advantage, not hurt, doing our work willingly for the benefit of each other, holding out our hands to the poor—these are the traits that are to be praised at the city gates, because these traits last, unlike physical beauty.  We have to wonder that if these traits were more universally practiced across the genders, would we ever have abuse that allows one to be first to the detriment of another.

Paul is his letter to the Thessalonians writes with confidence to his converts that because they are “children of the light,” they need not worry for when God comes, they will be ready! And yet, knowing the weakness of humanity, he cautions them to not live as though “asleep.” Our ability to reflect the Creator calls each of us to stand in the light, to not allow darkness to take over any of our sisters or brothers.

And finally, as the Church Year is coming to an end and we are coming closer to the beautiful season of Advent preparation; we are confronted with the gospel reading from Matthew today about being “good and faithful servants,”  “being willing to risk” and that, in the end, there will be judgment for our actions. I have always thought that if we keep our eyes on Jesus, walk in his ways, we will risk at times, our comfort, for the greater good, but we won’t have to worry about judgment. Amen? Amen!