Homily – 3rd Sunday of Advent

My friends, today we find ourselves in the middle of our Advent journey of waiting, of preparing for the wondrous feast of Christmas.  I say, “wondrous” because what Christmastime, the whole 12 days should say to us is that we are mightily loved by our God! If you and I were to allow just one “seed to set roots” within us during these four weeks of preparation, it should be this—that the God of us all loves and cherishes us, each one of us—with no strings attached.  Why else would this Being, who didn’t need us, choose to be one of us?  We will leave that thought for now. 

   Let’s look to our Scriptures for an overall theme for the beginning of this week.  The prophets, Zephaniah, the writer of the Psalms, thought to be David, and Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, all speak without a doubt of “joy” and “rejoicing,” because this is Gaudete Sunday. 

   “Gaudete” is Latin for joy and being that for centuries, all Catholic liturgical prayers were in Latin, we can understand perhaps why this Sunday is called, “Gaudete.”  That, and the fact that Catholics are ever so slow to change!  In the Hebrew/Aramaic language that Jesus would most likely have spoken, “Simcha” means “joy” and we can assume that to be, “joyful” or “full of joy” was seen as a good thing as some people even used “Simcha” as a given name.  So much for your language lesson today.

   The prophet Zephaniah says of it, “Be glad and exult with all your heart…fear not…your God is in your midst.”  Additionally, “Our God will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in love” and “Our God will sing joyfully because of you,” says Zephaniah. 

   For the psalmist David, we are called to, “joy and gladness with the action of, “crying out”— one that denotes great emotion. 

   Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, “ups the ante,” as it were, with the time frame of, “always”— “rejoice in the Savior—always! —because this same “Savior,” is near! 

   And finally, from the gospel of Luke, we learn from the prophet, John the Baptist what this Savior has come among us to do—what he himself does, and this is what we too must do.  Our Savior Jesus has come to show us the right ways to live in our world in our one beautiful life.  Those “who have” are called upon to share with those “who have not.”  Those who “collect taxes” are “to be just, exacting no extra.”  Soldiers are, “not to bully.”

   And we my friends can transpose the meanings of these instructions to our present day.  We must “share” what we have, “be just” in our dealings with others and show respect for all. 

   Further, we learn from the Baptist that we must “learn our place,” coming to know, as John did in his life, who he was, and who he was not— “I am not the Messiah,” in fact, “I am not fit to untie his sandals.” 

   So why is it important that we come to know, as did John “who we are and who we are not,” we might ask.  John accomplished in his life what he was called to do because he came to know who, in fact he was, and even though he had a significant following and could have run with that, he didn’t; but in fact, “did his piece,” which was, “to be a voice…preparing the way.”

   For all of us, the lesson is clear—we must never get in the way of, “the message.”  For each of us, as Jesus’ followers, it should always be about, “shedding more light” on our brother, Jesus—allowing him to become greater in this world. 

   So any attempt then, on any of our parts, ministers and pastors included, to concentrate on anything that is not about “love” and “love shared” as we can see from the example of Jesus in his life, is clearly, a waste of time.  Hard and fast rules and regulations are generally about, “black and white” issues and the ultimate end is usually about controlling others, rather than, “setting people free” to express the God-given love that has been placed in each of our hearts by this same God.  Why else would Zephaniah say that our God, [has renewed] “you in love” [?]

   Why? —because this is our ultimate call as Christians—always, always—to show love!  And for those who are worried about “rules being followed,” for whatever reason—trust me, that if your response to life, however it presents itself, is primarily, “to do the most loving thing,” then the most important rules will be abided by as well. 

   So, is this “loving thing” always easy to do? Not at all!  All the prophets who have ever lived—who have asked great things of the people they have prophesied to, always include the words, “fear not,” because when we are asked to do the “hard things,” speak the word that perhaps no one else will speak, our human condition calls up “fear” in us—fear that others won’t understand, speak ill of us, and in some cases, abandon us. 

   And while the reading from Luke “pushes” us beyond “the joy of the crib,” it is good to remember that that time will come soon enough.  I believe the majority of the readings for this “Joy Sunday” call us to this simple, yet profound realization that we are loved by God and that our God came among us for that profound—while simple, reason—alone.  Because you see, for God, it never was about, “needing” us, but always about “wanting” us—to be close, as anyone who loves another, knows. Amen? Amen!

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Advent

So, my friends, we are on this journey to Christmas, trying to balance our time preparing interiorly and exteriorly for the “coming” in ever greater ways of our brother, Jesus into our lives.

   I often speak to you during Advent about “carving out” some moments in each day to nurture your relationship with Jesus, our brother who was willing in the great plan of God to immerse himself in humanity for no other reason than to show the over-the-top love of our God for each of us.  We don’t want to lose sight of this one key idea.  We also don’t want to get lost, lost in the busyness of this time of year, when this season is so much about being found—found by our God who loves and cares for us beyond anything that we can imagine! I have shared here before the beautiful new translation of Scripture from The Message, and specifically the 23rd Psalm where we read about, “God chasing after us all the days of our lives…”

    In John Shea’s Creed, that we use here at All Are One, he speaks rather poetically of, “God risking” in sending Jesus.  I have always found this notion that, “God would risk,” seemingly something that an all-powerful God would not be capable of, very compelling! I find it so because the “risking” is not about the “all-powerful-ness” of God, but about God being willing to be vulnerable in Jesus, with us humans.  In choosing to be, One-With-Us/Emmanuel, God “is able,” to risk. 

   For this very reason, the feast coming up this next week, the Immaculate Conception is really a contradiction to the great love of our God who chose to become part of our humanity.  

To say that Jesus’ mother was conceived without sin is to say that she was not human as the very definition of humanity is that we are not perfect and the best part, is that our God loves us anyway! So, if the only way that Jesus could be part of us, and our humanity was that his mother needed to be perfect, or not human, then where did the human component in Jesus come from? Clearly, the theologians and clerics need to clean up their act on this one. And if they can do that, then some of the negative thinking around sexuality might be able to be done away with as well. The beauty of the Incarnation is the realization that God loved us from the get-go and chose to be immersed in our humanity that is not an “original sin,” but an original blessing! Talk about risking!

   Having put forth the idea that our loving God chose, “to risk” and become One-With-Us, the next piece to consider in today’s readings is what Jesus, living among us wanted us to know about our own human experiences in life. 

   From Baruch in the Old Testament to Paul and Luke in the New Testament, it seems evident that Jesus wants us—each of us, to live lives of mercy and justice. Baruch says, [There is] “peace through justice and honor through devotedness.”  He continues, “For God is leading Israel (and us) in joy by the light of divine glory, escorted by mercy and justice.”  The psalmist prays, “God has done great things for us” [and this should make us glad and help us to persevere, in times of trouble]. Additionally, Paul, writing to the Philippians affirms this notion, “the One who began [this] good work in you, will keep perfecting it.”

   Paul continues, “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and discernment…that you may learn to value the things that really matter…that you [may] be found rich in the harvest of justice. 

   Luke then gives us the wonderful message of John the Baptist and his “herald’s voice” in the desert—a line that each year we all connect with Advent, “Make ready…clear a straight path.”  And Baruch foretells this command, “Every lofty mountain [will] be made low and age-old depths be filled to level ground,” suggesting the Baptist’s, “straight path”—made ready. 

    My friends, in today’s world, there is so much that calls each of us to be people of mercy and justice—gone are the days when it seemed OK to come up with a “black and white” answer to any problem.  Paul encourages, “understanding and discernment” when considering issues and how we live our lives—praying that “our love may more and more abound,” which all indicates that “simple” black and white answers will never do when we say, as Christians, that we follow, (or try to), Jesus’ lead. 

   A cursory look at current issues facing our world shows this truth, that there are generally, no easy answers:  Consider the issue of abortion before the Supreme Court, systemic racism emanating from the very foundations of our country, our legal system that often appears to deal out, “justice” unfairly to people of color, which directly stems from systemic racism, as written about and proven in the last several years through the works of Ibram Kendi, Bryan Stevenson and more,  our inability as a country of seemingly intelligent people to get our hands and hearts around the COVID epidemic as well as our inability through our legislatures on State and National levels, to work together for the good of all our people, especially those who live on the margins—giving them the justice that we all deserve.  Unfortunately, we could go on…

   Sometimes, this may feel like more than any one of us can handle and that is when we need to truly keep our eyes on Jesus—first to know how best to act, and then, to know that our brother Jesus will always “have our backs,” simply because that was his final message to us upon physically leaving the earth— “I will be with you all days…”

   The Scriptures for Advent leading into Christmas time and beyond tell us, in no uncertain terms that Jesus, our Brother came not as royalty, but as a poor baby of poor parents, choosing such an existence, to teach us all a powerful message about “mercy and justice” that today’s Scriptures call us to—the goods of this earth are intended for all and none of us can be truly happy until each of us have a measure of the “goodness.”

Amen? Amen!

Homily – 1st Sunday of Advent

   My friends, the Christian Church universal follows the “beat of its own drummer,” as it were, each year beginning the Church Year, not in conjunction with culture, on January 1st or as those interested mainly with monetary issues, on October 1st, but following their own timetable.  Each and every year, for the Christian, begins and ends with our brother, Jesus, the Christ. 

   Advent, that wonderful, four-week period, give or take some days, leading up to Christmas, is intended to be a time of “expectant waiting.”  And, we might ask, what are we, as Jesus’ followers waiting for?  The simple answer is, for Jesus to come more fully into our lives.  In reality though, it could be said that “Jesus is already here!”  And with that thought in mind, perhaps a better word might be, “remembrance.”  We are “expectantly awaiting” that special season of joy wherein we “remember again” how much our God has loved us by choosing, as Creator, to come and live for awhile in the person of Jesus, among the “created.” 

   We might ponder during these 4 weeks of Advent and this year we are given a full 4 weeks of time, (determined by when the 25th of December falls each year) just why our Creator God would choose to do such a thing. 

   The perhaps, simple and easier answer in the past, especially before Vatican II was to paint a picture of a sinful people, us, in need of redemption and because our sins were so great, only the Son of God could repair the human “damage” done—through his own death on the cross. 

   Prior to Vatican II, we all were taught to believe this erroneous “truth,” and also not to question the belief.  With the Second Vatican Council, when good Pope John rightly said that the Church, “needed to open some windows, letting some fresh air in,” were we, the faithful, given permission to question the beliefs that for eons we were required to blindly believe.  Because after all, we know that having a people all believing the same thing, no questions asked, are by those in charge, thought to be must easier to control. What ever happened to the notion of, “the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth?!”

   Also, the idea of a Supreme Being choosing to come among us—not as a “vindictive despot,” but as a loving brother, friend—for no other reason than, to show us that we are loved, treasured and to show us the way, are concepts that at times, can be, without a doubt, “messy.” How are these, “in charge,” “to corral” folks in?  And that is perhaps the point.  The hierarchy of the Church are not called to “corral or force,” and punish when “their” wishes are not followed, but as the psalmist says today in number 25—to instruct, lead and teach—in other words, “the steadfast love and faithfulness of Adonai,” who simply wants to be in relationship, “friendship” with us. 

   The term, “Adonai,” if you are not familiar with it, is one of, “reverence” for God in the Greek, used in the Priests for Equality translation of the Scriptures that we use at All Are One.  It is another way of saying, “lord” which they chose not to use as it indicates a top-down relationship which by much of New Testament Scripture seems to indicate that our God, in Jesus, doesn’t want. 

   The Church in its wisdom treats us in each new Church Year to one of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  “Synoptic” simply means, much in all three is similar.   The differences tend to show themselves due to the population that the book was primarily written for.  In this Church Year, 2021-2022, we will be using Luke who was writing for the Gentiles—folks like us and it is thought that he never knew Jesus in his lifetime but learned of him through Paul. 

   The “Jesus” that he shows us will appear as a teacher—one with ethical wisdom—someone who is confident and serene in his teaching, interested in placing the virtues of “compassion and forgiveness” before the followers and encouraging their living out these virtues. 

   So the fact that Luke will be raising the concept of “ethical living,” the first reading from the prophet, Jeremiah, is fitting— “The land will be called, Our God is our justice.”  Also, “I will raise up a branch of David who will do what is right and just.” 

   Additionally, Luke is the best of the three synoptic Gospels in sharing stories uplifting women.  This is true from the first chapter where two women, Mary and Elizabeth have prominent roles to Anna, in the temple when Jesus is presented as a baby, to Mary of Magdala in the garden after the resurrection.  For this reason, your pastor, along with other women in ministry, delight in this Gospel. 

   So, my friends, this season of Advent, just beginning, calls us to remember reflectively, the true reason for our brother Jesus coming among us—simply put, to show us that we are truly loved by our God, and to help us live our one, wonderful, human life in the best of ways—by watching how he did it. 

   The writer to the Thessalonians— Paul, says it like this: “May our Savior make you grow and overflow with love for one another and for all people—may Christ strengthen your hearts.” 

   From this it would seem confirmed that Jesus advocated more for a “heart” response than for one coming from the “head.”  And as in all of my homilies, friends, I try to bring us back to the present—how are we to see these Scriptures in our day-to-day lives?

   Luke’s Jesus seems to be calling us to “balance” in our lives—enjoy, but don’t get lost in over-indulgence.  Additionally, we are to “pray always.” I would like to suggest that the “praying” called for here might be more about daily realizing that we are in the presence of our God, than about the recitation of words.  And this “presence” that we should be aware of, is all around us, in all of created life.  And when did our world need this kind of realization more?

   There is a bit of apocalyptic writing in today’s Gospel—a topic that those in Jesus’ time were often mentally engaged in.  I for one don’t think that kind of “mental engaging” is important if we rather, keep our eyes on doing what is right and good, just and loving. 

   May each of you be blessed with love, peace, and joy during these days of “expectant waiting.”  May we each, always, hold the gratitude expressed at Thanksgiving time in our hearts for all that we have, and do all that we can for those who have less and struggle every day—some even, to eat. 

   Additionally, as we expectantly await Christmas, let us pray for our beloved country, so divided at present, to have an awakening to the fact that in order to survive in any meaningful way, we must BE for each other—listen to each other, and collectively find the ways toward justice for all.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – Feast of Jesus, the Christ, Our Brother and Friend

My friends, as you know, this feast brings us to the official end of the current Church Year with next Sunday beginning the new one and the holy season of Advent—a time of expectant waiting.  If we were simply to take a cursory look at the chosen readings for today, you would think we are celebrating, “kingship,” as we humans understand that— “a lording over others.” But a deeper look really does say something more. 

   The reading from Daniel is probably closest to this human definition of being “a king” in that it places, “this One” in a “power over” position, saying that this is an “eternal” condition.  It would seem the question we need to ask is, “What is it that designates the ‘rightness’ of this ‘power over’ by Jesus?” It seems that the other two readings give us our answer. 

   The reading from Revelation speaks of Jesus, the Christ as “sovereign of the rulers of the earth.”  This writer, whom it is thought to be, John the apostle, further speaks of, “Christ—who loves us,” and goes on to say that “he freed us from our sins by shedding his blood.”  I would submit the part that makes Jesus, the Christ, “sovereign” is that [he has loved us.]  Let me say that again, perhaps in a bit different way:  Jesus, the Christ is “sovereign,” not because he has “died” or “saved us from our sins,” but primarily, and for no other reason than that, “he has loved us!”

   Finally, the gospel of John confirms this notion.  Pilate asks Jesus if he is, “King of the Jews.”  Jesus’ response seems to come from a man exasperated once again that the message of his life has been misconstrued.  It is almost as if he is saying, “If you want to think of me, as a king, so be it, as I can’t seem to convince you otherwise.”  But then, Jesus gives us the clarification; “I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth,” [and] “everyone who seeks truth hears my voice.”  And we do have to give Pilate credit, because if we read further in the Scripture story, we see that he asks Jesus, “And what is the truth?” We see that Jesus isn’t going to answer Pilate’s question because his whole life had already given the answer. 

    And friends, we know that the “truth” is about God loving us so much so as to become one of us. Paul states in Philippians 2, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to that, but humbled himself and became like humans are.”  And we know that his most remarkable life was all about showing his human sisters and brothers, the way to live and to love, which is really the “truth” that Pilate was asking for but didn’t realize at the time.

   So if that was God’s intent, to be one of us and with us, why did the Church inaugurate this feast that really removes Jesus, putting him on a pedestal away from us, rather than with us? 

   Upon checking, we see that this feast is only a little less than a hundred years old being proclaimed by Pius XI in 1925.  It was a time in our Catholic history when Church fathers feared that God wasn’t being given due respect, so it seemed to them appropriate to inaugurate such a feast.  Too bad they didn’t look back to Jesus’ words to see what God truly wanted from and with humans—not a top-down relationship, king to subjects, but a “one-with” relationship, friend to friend.  So, it is for that reason that I suggest the name of this feast be changed to Jesus, Our Brother and Friend. 

   When we pick up on the discussion between Jesus and Pilate in today’s gospel and realize that Jesus isn’t about being a “king” and claiming an earthly crown, but about sharing the “truth” with us humans that we are loved by our God, nothing more, nothing less, then we can come to the truth that this feast is all wrong! 

   In truth, this proclaimed feast is really more about whom we as humans are—concerned with power, than whom our God is.  Further, and more distinctly, this reflects who Church Fathers are more than who God is! 

   So, my friends, seeing where this feast came from in our Church history and with my suggestion that our brother Jesus might want us to have a different view of why it is appropriate at the Church Year’s end to celebrate him, let’s refocus then on our present day, facing our world as he did his, not with a notion of “power over” as in “kingship,” but as in, “one-with” others, represented by, “kin-ship,”  as in “brother/sister/friend. 

   In my years as a chaplain, I was often in the position of facilitating a “Celebration of Life” for those who had died, and I always reminded families that they could best remember their deceased loved ones by emulating their good qualities in their own lives going forward.  In other words, if their deceased loved ones “showed love” by spending time cooking, playing with family members, teaching a skill, whatever it might be, then we would best emulate them by doing the same in our lifetimes.  And it would be the same with our brother Jesus.

    Jesus-with-us, Emmanuel, as we will celebrate in a few short weeks calls us to truth, justice, mercy, and compassion.  Sometimes, to act thusly can bring us upset and fear that we stand alone.

   At that time, we must remember the messages coming from the 1st and 2nd readings today—basically that Jesus, the Christ, our brother, and friend in our humanity is eternal, is forever! Also, that this eternal brother and friend sends us grace and peace through the Spirit of God to do that which we must do. 

   So friends, as we move toward the beautiful and holy season of Advent beginning next Sunday, let us focus on the One who came to be one-with-us, keeping our eyes on him and receive the strength we need to be his true followers, not as people who, “lord it over others,” but as ones who, “walk with others” in what life brings! 

   Psalm 93 gives us perhaps a final idea on the theme of, “reign.”  The psalmist says, “holiness adorns your house.”  Perhaps “holiness” which comes from being people of justice, mercy, compassion, and love, is more of a reason than, “power over” others to celebrate Jesus, on this last weekend of the Church Year.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

   My friends, the official church calendar names next Sunday as the last Sunday in the Church Year, but in my mind, I always think of this Sunday, the 33rd in Ordinary Time as the end, looking toward next Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King as one to celebrate, with gratitude, all that Jesus, the Christ has been for us—a true brother and friend.  And with that in mind, that his and God’s purpose (3 in 1) was never that he come as, “a king” to “lord it over us,” but really as a brother and friend, to show us the way to live and to love; I, as many of you know, have taken the liberty of re-naming next week’s feast, Jesus, Our Brother, and Friend. 

   But I am getting ahead of myself—we need today to concentrate then on all that this 33rd and last Sunday in Ordinary Time really means.  Primarily, it is a time of “transition,” a fact that seems clear in today’s readings.

   “End times” seem to be today’s focus and in order to understand the totality of meaning here, we need to remember that the Israelite people are dealing with two distinct meanings when thinking about “end times.”  These two meanings are about, “end times,” yes, but also about, “the end of time.”

    The “end times” were thought to be a time of transition, when suffering and hard times would be no more, when the Chosen One, whom Christians believe is Jesus, the Christ, will come again in glory to make all things right and the kin-dom will be celebrated before the face of God, in that wonderful reality.  It is a tremendously hope-filled image that is attractive to many people. The cinema has played into this image of a time of justice when good, will reign—in the epic series, The Lord of the Rings, and in the Star Wars movies.  

   The “end of time” is another time, and when that time will come, none of us knows, or in fact understands just how it will be—it would appear that Jesus, in his humanity didn’t even know. We will just have to trust that all will unfold according to God’s loving plan. The reading from Hebrews today says as much—that in fact, in Jesus, all will be well.  So why, we might ask, are we given frightening images—of the sun and moon going dark—of stars falling from the sky?  Exegetes tell us that some of this talk in Mark’s gospel today may have been a “cover for the people” from their enemies as a result of the subversive tone of some of Jesus’ teachings

   The Israelites were told overtime, that what they were suffering would come to an end—the Chosen One would eventually alleviate their sufferings—this was their hope.   This knowledge that their God did hear their cries and would come to save them, gave them the will to go on.  In faith, we must believe the same, especially in these times of so much upheaval in Church and State—talk about “frightening images!”

   The Church in its hierarchy just can’t seem to do the right thing—coming together for the good of all—truly speaking the message of our brother Jesus, where women, the disadvantaged, and the abused—in so many ways, are concerned. Pope Francis is trying, but alas…

   Our nation is struggling at present, with many “navel-gazing,” as it were, on themselves, unable to see that individual actions do affect, and in the case of COVID, “infect” others. When our personal rights and privileges stand in the way of those same rights and privileges for others, something is wrong that could benefit from looking at the example of our brother Jesus in his life with us. 

   Our nation as well as the nations of the world, meeting in Glasgow, Scotland these past two weeks to discuss climate change, would do well to listen to the Spirit that is being proclaimed through the young people who are attending this conference, who will inherit the continued devastation of our beautiful earth if we don’t come together and make the needed changes. 

   Their frustration, felt by many, over the lack of collective, meaningful ways to care for the earth was probably said no better than by 18-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden who in response to the promises made by those present, pledging changes in the future— “bla, bla, bla!”  Greta and other young activists don’t believe that those of us who can actually bring about change, mean it! 

   So, my friends, the placing of “end times” and “the end of time” readings on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time is most appropriate as we wind down one Church Year and move into a new one with the coming of the holy, preparatory season of Advent in just two weeks. We are called to reflect on what has been, what we have helped to change that has needed change and how we propose to move forward.

   The changes that are needed are many—none of us can do all, but together, we could do so much!  From the valiant, on-going work of the Thursday morning writers—to our own personal contacts with legislators, demanding that they stop wasting time and get the peoples’ work done. Pray for those in these positions where change can happen that they do what is right in Church and State and pray for those who have no intention of changing, as they are just in it for themselves.  And pray for all the “closed minds” in the general public who are responding rather selfishly.  And most of all,  never lose hope my friends—never lose hope. 

   Our forebears in the faith never lost faith or ceased to hope, at least, collectively—nor should we.  Determine what needs to be done in any situation and then do the “piece” that is yours to do. 

   The first reading from Daniel lets us know that “The wise will shine like bright heavens and the leaders of justice like the stars forevermore.”  A symbol, good and true for us as Christians, followers of our brother Jesus has always been, “light.”  We believe that he is “our light” in the darkness.  Knowing as he told us, when gracing this earth, “that I will be with you always— “lighting the way,” as it were, we really have no reason to doubt, no reason to fear, but simply live in the present, attempting each day to do our best. Amen? Amen!