Homily – 25th Weekend in Ordinary Time

   My friends, we live in a time of COVID 19, and its stronger variant, Delta, climate change that has blasted the west with more and more deadly fires, and the coastal states with ever greater storms—more frequent and with ever more deadly amounts of rainfall.  In the middle states, especially in farming country, the breadbasket, we might say, of our nation, droughts have been prolonged.  What to do?

   Then, there is the political climate in this, seemingly, “great” country of ours that equals, if not “trumps” the seriousness of the changes in the environmental climate named above.  Rather than doing what is best for the greatest amount of the people, some, too many, so-called “legislators” choose what is best for themselves and what they think their constituents want to hear, so as to benefit their own re-elections, successfully doing nothing to address current problems plaguing our country.

   The fact that 24 attorneys general would file a suit against our president objecting to his call that large companies mandate vaccinations as a way to curb and slow and hopefully end a virus growing ever stronger, filling many hospitals to beyond capacity, so as to take all room from those with day-to-day medical needs, is to me, simply appalling.  What to do?

   Then, there is, since the time of our previous president, the equally devastating phenomenon of an ideology that appeals to the primarily selfish instincts of many within our country—those who don’t want their “freedoms” curbed in any way and who see our country as, “first, best, and great” among all others. 

   I believe I can speak with a bit of authority on the ideology of the previous president that became the mantra of too many in our country because it has majorly infected many in my family of origin to the point that discussion within that group is next to impossible. 

   And within our Catholic church—are we any better?  Those of you here last week will recall the discussion after the homily where one of you raised the issue of our Catholic belief, as expressed in the Gloria, that our brother Jesus is the “first born of the Creator,” asking, “Do we know that to be so, that Jesus was ‘first,’ or is that just our basic need to think so?” 

   A good discussion followed, and I believe, for the most part, we agreed that we don’t know, and a further consideration might be, does it really matter, or is it simply more important that Jesus did in fact come, to be one of us?  To Christians, the fact that Jesus did come, has made all the difference, just like Buddha and his teachings to his followers, and the belief in the Great Spirit for Indigenous People, and so on—each helping their followers to live their humanity to its fullest. 

   But probably the most puzzling to me has been to witness some within religious groups who have taken to following this selfish, mean-spirited ideology of our former president, giving it a new face to justify it, and even suggesting this ideology as the voice of a “new messiah.”  In this, I go back to Jesus’ words, “By their fruits, you will know them.”  If the words of anyone do nothing but separate people, then perhaps, we should question their authenticity. 

   And that brings us to today’s readings.  Wisdom literature presents us with a bit of foreshadowing of what to expect when we object to others not living for the good of all.  The most obvious case in point—getting vaccinated against COVID.  Objecting to the behavior of another is always a very tenuous thing to begin with and one I think most of us take on with a bit of trepidation.  Only when the stakes seem high enough, or are about a serious moral concern, do we take the chance within relationships, whether family or friends. 

   The Wisdom writer tells us how it might go: “Let us set a trap for the just, who greatly annoy us by opposing what we do.” 

   James, in the second reading, instructs us, “to pray for what you want,” but beware, “If you do not get [it], it is because you have not prayed properly.”  In terms that perhaps we can better understand, it might be good to say that our prayer might not have been pure or done for the right reasons. 

   With regard to COVID and people getting vaccinated, I have found myself thinking that the only way that the “anti-vaccination people will ever be convinced is if in fact they do get sick, but I have stopped short of praying for this.  This fact has happened though within hospitals and been reported that unvaccinated people, on their death beds have begged for the vaccination, because now, they understand!  This is such, “crazymaking” stuff!

   Our brother Jesus, in today’s gospel gives an added piece, I believe, as we live, move, and pray, and be part of our world.  He says, “If you would be first, [main object in a few of the apostles’ minds today] you must be last.”  I read this, connecting with James’ thought, that all we do should be for the highest purpose and motive –or, as we always say here, do the most loving thing, above all.    Does that answer adequately or even, at all, the questions I have raised here today?  Probably not, but maybe it is a help for each of us to refocus our efforts, especially when the “crazy-making” times come.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

   My friends, I wrote this on a morning after not sleeping well the night before, so you can imagine that my level of faith and hope might have been somewhat diminished, due to tiredness, yet that seemed not to be the case—I will let you decide.  Additionally, the Scriptures for this Sunday are full of challenge, which for someone without enough sleep, might feel off-putting, but remarkably, it seemed not so as I wrote.  Again, I will let you decide.

   The three readings today are all about “relationships,” with God, with others, with creation—relationships with each and all.

   Isaiah’s reading today is a foreshadowing of the Messiah—about how this long-awaited One will appear among us—then and now.  As we spoke of it last week, God choosing to be among us was not just a “nice story,” “once-upon-a-time,” but for us now, in our time too.  Our faith in God, as I said above, is about “relationship” with this entity that we can’t fully know in this life, or perhaps, ever, even in a “next life.” 

   Many of us have no doubt read in more recent years of the work of cosmologists, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and a host of others who spent their scientific careers advancing the work of their predecessors, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, and others to let us know, very simply, that our universe is ever-expanding—that we can’t, in fact, know its ending.  That is why our ideas about God, formulated for most of us, as children must grow too, so as to encompass a God more worthy of who this entity truly is. 

   Theologians such as Ilia Delio, Richard Rohr, and Diarmuid O’Murchu, advancing the work of Teilhard de Chardin, are doing just that in our present time.  These theologians are tapping into the grand scope of our universe, presented by cosmologists and astrologists, to confirm the other—that in fact God is part of this grand scope that we can’t fully understand.  These theologians are really answering Jesus’ question in today’s gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

   Jesus, our human and spiritual brother, part of a Trinity that we have come to know and believe, as much as that is possible, to be God—Creator, Savior, and Spirit, chose to come and be One-With-Us, so as to show us the intent of this Original One—that we might as spiritual beings too, have a human experience, living to our fullest.  Within all these words, I simply want you to hear that our God, whom we can’t fully know is yearning to be, “in relationship” with us—each of us.  If we seek to know how to do that, we should keep our eyes on Jesus— “listening to his words,” “watching” his actions.

   Jesus lived for others—his whole coming into humanity was about others.  If we would follow in his footsteps, we must be “for others” too.  And the most present and immediate example of this is the need for all of us in this country to get vaccinated as our president implored us to do this past week.  This is a time to get beyond political parties, personal wishes for freedom and comfort—this present need is what will eventually, sooner rather than later, truly free us from an enemy we can’t even see—this action is about others, not just ourselves.  And the wonderful thing is that when we act for the good of others, we are helped too, in ways we can’t always imagine. 

   Isaiah speaks today of a long-awaited Messiah, one who will confront us, as we must “confront” others, to be our best selves.  This Messiah, the people of old would need to realize, was not coming to help them vanquish their enemies, but to help them to, one day, be “in relationship” with them.  It is always easier “to fight” than to make peace. 

   Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the day here, in our country, that planes became bombs on 9-11-2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.  Newscasters have sought out survivors of that horrible event that took place in New York City, at the Pentagon and surrounds and the overriding thought in all the interviews was of “relationships” to loved ones who survived, to the thousands who didn’t, to the need of our nation to reach out and in some way try to help in a situation that initially made us feel so helpless. 

   And while not only one war, but two would follow, this wasn’t what was on the minds of any of the people who remembered this date, 20 years ago.  What they spoke about was where they were that day, and where the people who they were in relationship with, were on that day. 

   Last week, we ended the last of the two wars, the 20-year long war in Afghanistan.  Our president’s overriding message, in my mind, was about “relationships” —we all, on both sides, have lost enough, he said—it’s time to stop doing something that clearly isn’t working.  He has been ridiculed by some, but as the prophet Isaiah says today, and I paraphrase, all our adversaries will wear out like a piece of clothing.  This same prophet says that “God awakens my ear to listen,” and I would add, to see—see beyond our small world—to understand that we are to see how we are called to be in “relationship” with the wider world—each group of people and each nation given the chance of life and to live it to the fullest. 

   As we study more and more, and learn more about the fantastic cosmos that is, minute by minute, hour by hour, stretching out further, we must realize how insignificant we are and rather than puff up with pride over whatever we may have accomplished, rather, stand in awe, of all we are, “in relationship” with—all we are called to stand in solidarity with, to love and protect, rather than, conquer. 

   James tells us today that “faith” and action go hand in hand –you can’t really say you have “faith” if no action follows.  And that certainly brings us to our present day—so many needs—so much that calls for big-hearted people, each striving for our own good, yes, but for the good of all as well. 

   Jesus came among us to show us how much we are capable of as human beings—how flexible we can be, and of how, like the cosmologists who see a bigger universe than they ever imagined and the theologians who see a God even bigger and more inclusive than ever expressed by our small-minded churches—we can too.

   We are now, in our time, being called to see not only a God who lives in a building, or in a piece of bread—but in all created life, and when we can do that, we will have solved many, if not most of our problems and perhaps truly answered Jesus’ question in today’s gospel, “who do you say that I am?”  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

   My friends, each week when I come to writing my homily; I first go to the Scriptures of the day to see what the prophets of the past, which of course includes our brother, Jesus, are saying to the people of their time—messages that we must examine and then of course bring to our time to find the meaning for us.  Because if the Scriptures we read each week, are just, “nice stories,” that don’t have any meaning in our time—for us—here—in 2021, then we are missing the point! So, let’s examine. 

   The prophet, Isaiah is foreshadowing a time when the long-awaited Messiah will come and how they will know this One: “When the blind see, and the deaf hear, and the lame walk, you will know that God is in your midst.”  And we all know that people experience the inability to see, hear, and walk in more than physical ways. 

   As we look around our country and our beloved Church; we see this inability in physical, emotional, and within our Church—spiritual ways, as well—to see, hear, and act in ways that can unite us and help us to do what must be done for the good of us all. 

   Three years ago, at this time, we were grieving from the reporting that over 1,000 of our children in Philadelphia had suffered the loss of their innocence through sexual abuse by their priests over the years.  And to this day, many of the systems, mainly, clericalism, that make this kind of abuse possible, are still in place.

   Our country seems so divided in its ability to come together to face certain issues—global warming being one.  There are some, but less now, who are still in denial that this is even happening, but with fiercer storms and wilder fires plaguing us at present, more are connecting the dots—and some, never will, until it is too late.

   Storms like Ida, that did so much damage in Louisiana and along the eastern coast, “are the new normal,” we are told.  But, the prophet Isaiah, foreshadowing our brother Jesus, says, “Take courage, do not be afraid.”  I place my hope in that friends, and I hope you can as well—because what Jesus is really saying here is, “I will not leave you.” 

   Our Church too, from its most conservative end, is joining others in preaching misinformation about vaccinations that is keeping people from being inoculated not only from a virulent virus that has killed well over 600,000 of our people, just in this country, but continues to then mutate into ever stronger variants. This is something that we should be united on, yet, we are not, and it has divided families and friends.   

   And then there are those on the other end of the continuum in both Church and State who seem to see clearly what needs to be done for the good of the many where climate, vaccinations, immigration, racism, sexism, and the list continues, who are simply moving on—some, leaving the Churches of their youth because they see no one leading to bring about the needed change, or speaking a relevant message for their lives, or acting upon the message of Jesus, that should truly, include us all. 

   At present, our country too, is so divided—unfortunately, in my mind, recent leadership gave voice to an element in our country that felt unheard and manifested itself in a rather, selfish, me-centered philosophy that touted, “Make America Great Again!”  Indeed, we should do just that, but in ways that the group chanting this slogan, haven’t yet considered. 

   As followers of our brother, Jesus, we must always hold that image against his words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In today’s gospel, we have a truly beautiful image of this:  A blind and deaf man is brought to Jesus, who compassionately takes him aside—touches him, speaking words of comfort, showing us what the coming of God, in our midst, looks like—as the prophet, Isaiah foretold— “when the blind see, and the deaf hear—then, then….”  The gospel continues—”the one healed began to speak plainly” and, in my mind, he no doubt, “walked” as he never had before!

   Friends, the impasses we see in both Church and State, fueled often by misinformation begs for truth-telling, for compassion, coupled with strength that allows everyone to truly, “walk” in ways that are good for all—it’s a “seeing the forest” kind of thing, instead of getting, “lost in the trees.” 

   Being a Christian and even a citizen calls each of us to get beyond the needs of the one to see the needs of all.  This is a tricky thing because it calls for balance—we are called to see the needs of each one amidst the needs of all and come down in a place where no one is slighted at the expense of the other. Friends and acquaintances of mine have, in the recent past been forced from jobs because the powers-that-be have the need to, “control the message,” that fails to include us all and sadly, these are jobs within institutions run by religious orders, and more broadly, the hierarchical Church.  

   In this life we can’t have all that we want because then some, may have little, or none.  We need a Church and a State where all are considered and a system set up where no one, “falls through the cracks.” 

   To make this just a bit more plain,  if you have a friend or family member who believes the conspiracy theories where vaccinations are concerned, or believes a theology that is basically, “black and white,”—right and wrong, no in-between, or gray area with which to view life, then you have probably understood most of what I have said here today.   Usually those with a very narrow view of life, be it in Church or State, won’t allow any discussion unless it affirms their beliefs, which makes moving ahead in meaningful ways in our world that includes many who think and feel differently, to say nothing of cultural differences, most difficult.

   My best advice is to then, as always, keep our eyes on Jesus—who said to the deaf man today, “Be opened.”  We must walk into this world with hearts and minds engaged, as we need both—speaking truth as we come to know it by the Spirit and asking for the strength to do what is right, as much as possible, for all.  And this is how the Eucharist, which we all will receive in a bit, truly becomes, “bread” for our world. And this is what, amid all the suffering in our country, Church and world gives me hope, because I believe that there is the will for many of us, to be that “bread” that so many need. Amen? Amen!

Homily – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time gives us a selection of readings that calls us to ponder the place of law versus love in our lives.  Moses, James, and Mark, speaking for our brother Jesus, are asking, encouraging, and even imploring at times, for the people, to consider the laws given—yes, but to not get stuck there.  Laws are guides, which must always be laid upon our hearts, to get their full meaning, their full import—in my view, this is what our brother, Jesus did. 

   Mark gives us Jesus’ words, who is actually quoting Isaiah, in this regard.  “These people honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”  Jesus is trying to get the Pharisees and us, by extension, to see that what makes us, “unfit” or “unacceptable” (which, by the way, we never are in God’s eyes) doesn’t come from the rituals we do or don’t do—evil, but just as much, good, and the capability for either, reside in our hearts and just as selfishness, injustice, and all other evils come from our hearts, so do, mercy, understanding, kindness and all-abiding love. 

   It may be easy for us to incriminate the Pharisees today, as did Jesus, saying, “They just don’t get it!”  But, my friends, how about us?  Are we any better? 

   Most of us here are old enough to remember pre-Vatican II times when our lives were pretty well ordered by fasting, abstinence from meat, obligations for Mass on Sundays and holydays.  It might be good to reflect back on these times and truthfully answer whether those practices and laws were done out of love, or more so, out of fear—fear that I might not go to heaven when I die.

   I have memories of being at weddings, complete with Mass on Saturdays and people asking the priest if this would “count” for their Sunday obligation?  When I was ordained, there were people on both sides of my family who couldn’t bring themselves to attend because, “Father said they shouldn’t.” Even the bishop scolded me for “confusing” the people. Both these examples are about following the law, not much else.

   Some might say that in pre-Vatican II times it was easier, “to be good” –we knew if we did, 1-2-3, we were a, “shoe-in” for eternal reward.  After Vatican II, we were more encouraged to do the “loving thing,” whether or not there was a law demanding it, or at least this is what my read of the Scriptures told me.  Vatican II encouraged us to dig into the Scriptures more, which previously hadn’t been encouraged, and see what in fact, Jesus did—what in fact, the powers that were operative in his time, crucified him for.

   When all is said and done; it was because he advocated for the “widows and orphans,” that James talks about in the 2nd reading today, that those in Jesus’ time, with power to make a difference, would afford justice to these abused and forsaken ones. Not sharing with these lowly ones, of course added to their power through accumulated wealth, so they weren’t about to change.

   Jesus, many times, had to stand alone, as he sought justice for those who needed it.  We, my friends, if we choose to follow our brother can really expect no different as we advocate for the “widows and orphans” of our day.

   And who are these present-day “widows and orphans?” They are those in our midst without homes, not enough food, immigrants seeking asylum at our borders who can’t make it past the “red tape.”  They are those suffering today as a result of climate change—too much rain, not enough rain—resulting in wild fires and crop loss, more powerful and devasting storms, and the list goes on to include those in this country whose government was formed to recognize all as equal and free—with justice for all, who still today carry the burden of racism, sexism and every other “ism” that seeks to divide rather than unite us as a people. 

   Yet, the Scriptures today give us hope.  Moses tells the people, and again; we are meant to see ourselves by extension, that their God is very close to them and has given them the commandments to help them live well. 

   James tells the people and us that, we should, “humbly welcome the Word planted in [us] because it has power to save [us].”  But he continues, don’t just listen, but act on the Word! 

   In today’s Gospel, it is precisely, failure to act on the Word that Jesus is getting after the Pharisees about.  They are only, “scratching the surface” with all their ritual acts of cleanliness, “on the outside” –he wants them to look inside to see if the actions that are coming from within are, likewise, “clean.”

    My friends, there is always that tendency for any of us to just follow, “the letter” of the law, instead of the “heart” of the law.  The pre-Vatican II laws told us to get ourselves to Mass every Sunday and that apparently was enough to be within the law.  Vatican II said, “Yes, come to Mass—receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but then remember your call to, “be bread” for the world.  Or, as I shared in an earlier homily, from a black sister priest within Roman Catholic Women Priests, “Do Jesus, just do Jesus!”

   It is always easier to stay, on the surface, it’s less messy there—but going a little deeper opens up so many more possibilities for being all that we can be—our best selves. 

   Perhaps then, a way to tie everything together would be to say that living, “out of our heads” may help us to do the sensible—perhaps even, “right thing,” as it is determined by law; but it seems to me that our brother Jesus demonstrated quite clearly throughout his earthly life that it is always better to do, “the loving thing” and if we get “crucified” for that, we will at least know, that we were part of the solution, instead of part of the problem, plus we will be in some very good company.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 21st Weekend in Ordinary Time

My friends, we come together again—to be community, and we thank our loving God who has called us to be such.  We are also grateful that in the milieu of a sitting bishop who does not accept our existence as a church—in good standing, nor its pastor as legitimately ordained within its ranks, we have the faith to believe and to accept what we do here as legitimate, good, and holy, so I applaud all of you for that. 

   The readings for this weekend call us to add another theme—that of “faith” to what we should be pondering this week.  The past 5 weeks have called us to concentrate on what being, “bread for the world” is all about. 

   In most countries around the world, “bread,” in some form, is a staple of everyday sustenance, so to take that element of daily food and enlarge upon it, saying in faith, as did our brother, Jesus, that when you eat this bread, in the context of the liturgy, you are eating, “my body,” is quite an astounding thing! Do we totally understand how this happens? No…., but our faith, which is stronger than our doubt, helps us to believe in what we can’t truly fathom.  Additionally, when the Eucharist is introduced around the world, it would behoove those who do so to have communities use whatever form of bread that is common to the people, to bring home the point that our God, in Jesus, “sustains” as does the bread of their daily lives, in the same way, only in so much greater a way.

   As we think about what “bread” represents in whatever form it takes around the world, we can understand more fully the greatness of the gift that Jesus left us.  “Bread” is a universal term for “life”–that element that keeps us physically going and as a result, emotionally and spiritually as well.  It is for this reason—that our physical bodies need to be fed, that when missionaries go into a country, they see to peoples’ physical needs first, because until the basic needs are met, nothing of a higher nature can be attempted, and accepted. 

   I have mentioned in past weeks that I am reading, Ibram Kendi’s book, Stamped from the Beginning, on racism, and given the above truth that our physical bodies must first be fed before our minds, hearts and souls can be lifted up, one realizes the fallacy of the Europeans coming to our shores thinking they could, “use and abuse” even, the bodies of slaves, yet, “save their souls.”  And in fact, to add insult to injury, that this ultimate, “saving” they thought, justified enslaving their bodies!

   Each generation has its own issues to deal with and to somehow make sense of as humans, as perhaps followers of a greater entity than themselves.  Joshua, preaching to the Israelites, puts the question to his people— “Do you believe in Yahweh?” He lets them know that it is important to believe in some god, either Yahweh, as Joshua does, or another one.  This belief, he makes clear, will make them strong, following someone who guides and shows them the way.  Joshua reminds them as well that this God, Yahweh, has been there for them in the past and will continue to be there in the future. 

   Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians says as much as he teaches the people about how they should be, in relationship with others.  This should be an equal relationship—no one should be over another—no one master—no one slave.  All of you will remember today’s reading, as in older texts speaking of “wives obeying their husbands,” which speaks to an inequality within relationships.  The group, Priests for Equality,  has made this reading more inclusive for women in the current form, plus has opened up an otherwise “closed” reading to gay couples.   

Paul continues, “Love others as you love yourselves,” which would seem to point, in action, to each of us being inclusive of all others and treating them with equality.  Groups like, Priests for Equality, encourage us to look at our Scriptures from time to time, to see if, in fact, the written words are true to the message of Jesus, or if the words that at one point in time, had meaning, still hold true to our experience and understanding today. 

   A very good case in point is the recent feast day of Mary’s Assumption, body and soul into heaven and its adjacent feast, the Immaculate Conception, which both really call into question, Mary’s humanity and likewise, that of Jesus; if in fact, Mary was truly conceived without original sin.  Until very late in our history, women were not given credit for supplying half of the chromosomes making up a fetus but were seen merely as a “receptacle” for the growing child. 

   Now that we do realize this significant role that women play in the conception of every child, it would behoove us to update the Marian feasts as well.  It is always good to remember that our loving God made us imperfect as we are and chose in time to enter into our “imperfectness.”  If God is OK with that fact—we should be as well and not come up with untruths that “support” a certain way of thinking!  In my mind, it says so much about this good God of ours choosing to come into our “imperfect” existence showing us how to make the best of this gift.

   We move then to the gospel today from John which continues the previous weeks’ selections from this same chapter where John is recording Jesus’ words about,  “Eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” and that if we are going to be part of him, must be accepting of these and other, hard truths.  

  It is at this point that we need to reflect back to my earlier words about the place of “bread” in the lives of us all, of how we need physical, emotional, and spiritual “bread” to sustain us in life.

   We know from reading Jesus’ teachings in Scripture that his words were always meant to be taken more than just in a surface way. Jesus was known for, “turning concepts on their heads” such as when he preached on, “caring for your friends,” something everyone already believed and probably, for the most part, practiced.  But, he taught something new—sharing that he also wanted us, as his followers, to care for our enemies. 

   We know too that Jesus’ teachings most often had a deeper, or second meaning such as in the parables.  Take that of the “Pearl of Great Price”—not just about an actual pearl buried in a field, but about what we truly hold most dear in life—what are we willing to give up to have what we consider most dear in life?  This question then calls to mind, “Is my life just about me, or is it truly about, others, too?  Many today, by the wider world, are being called upon to reflect on their responsibility to get vaccinated to assist those they share this world with, because this action is truly not theirs to decide, just for themselves—personal freedom is always about considering how that freedom affects the freedom of others.  If one lives on an island by themselves, that is another story!

   The people in Jesus’ time as people in present day experienced and will continue to experience things that we just can’t understand, like, “eating his flesh and drinking his blood.”  Perhaps Jesus meant so much more than the physical body and blood, maybe, he was speaking about, “his life—his teachings, all of him,” shared for the world.  Sometimes the confusion can call us to turn from the true message of Jesus because we want to believe in something we can get “our heads around.”  If that is the case, then Jesus’ message won’t be for everyone, especially those living just, “out of their heads.” The message of Jesus calls us to more—to living, “out of our hearts.” 

   May we each today pray for the strength to believe and have faith, even when we don’t always, “have the sight!”  Amen? Amen!