Homily – 7th Sunday in Extra Ordinary Time

Friends, I would like to begin with a story—one perhaps that some of you may have heard before, but one that within the given readings today, bears a repeat as it says well, I believe, that in our striving “to be holy” as the Scriptures ask of us;  we must remember to care for ourselves too.  Now “caring for ourselves” and this is probably directed more at the women, is not something that the Church fathers have necessarily directed over the years. And if truth be told, most women, in this day and age, are hardwired to give and give and give. The men though are not let off the hook in this—it is their job to see that the women they love are cared for too.

Thus, the story:   A daughter comes to visit her mother on her death bed and during the course of the visit, discovers a beautiful red dress hanging in her mom’s closet along with a line of drab dresses that she lived her life out in.  Asking her mother about the red dress, that she had never seen her mother wear; her mom called her to her bedside, to, in her words, “set a few things straight before her life was over.”

She told her daughter that she had always believed that a woman was supposed to give to everyone else first and to herself, last. She lived this out in her own life and taught her children to do the same.  For her personally, she always got everything her kids needed or wanted first, and if there was anything left, which there never was, she would get something for herself. She always ate the burnt toast and took the smallest piece of pie.

Having taught her sons and daughters to do the same, she was now upset to see the way her sons treated their wives and felt she had done them a disservice.  Even her husband, she had taught well—with her now dying, he didn’t know what he was going to do without her—he didn’t even know where the frying pan was!

The red dress had been a whim of hers—about a year ago when she found some extra money that she had intended to pay off extra on the washer and decided to treat herself instead. When she brought it home, her husband berated her with, “Where do you think you will ever wear that?” In fact, the only time she had ever worn it was when she tried it on in the store.  So, she made her daughter promise to do her the honor of not following in her footsteps. Her daughter promised and with that her mom died.  Servanthood, my friends, is all about considering the other, including ourselves.

Now granted, this is a delicate dance—how much do I give to myself and how much to others? I have two things to say about that: First, is that most women that I know are doing quite a good job of giving to others in their lives and need to consider themselves a bit more in the equation.  I heard a discussion on Minnesota Public Radio just the other day about what most of us know as the “sandwich generation,” a phenomenon with people living longer, that has repeated itself over time. I can remember when I was a young woman hearing about it, and living it too! The phenomenon, as you know has to do with women caring for their own families on one end of the continuum and their own parents on the other and they are “sandwiched” in between. And second, as we think about how much to give to ourselves and how much to others, our well-formed consciences will and do kick in if we would ever become too selfish.

So, the Scriptures today, beginning in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, instruct us, “to be holy as God is holy” and we might just ask, “What does it mean, “to be holy?” Moses, presumably the writer of Leviticus, says that we have to live—AWARE—we have to take responsibility in our lives “to tell our brothers and sisters of their offenses.” In other words, we can’t enable bad behavior in others.

Now, at first glance; we might balk at that—tell someone else to stop their bad behavior! Really?!  But think about it; we do it already in our personal lives—as parents, we instruct our children in the ways that they should go—we don’t allow their bad behavior. And we do have opportunities in our larger field of scope—if we take them.  Those of you who attend Mass here, have said to the hierarchical Catholic church in effect, “I want more than you are offering—I don’t agree with your exclusion of women in ministerial roles, your exclusion of the LGBTQ community through lack of meaningful programming, your exclusion of the varied races and cultures through lack of programming that sees all as equal, respect for life—not only at birth, but along the entire life spectrum.  And finally, we have opportunity to comment throughout our adult lives on the behavior and vision of those who wish to be our leaders in the State House and in Washington through the gift and privilege to vote. The Old Testament prophet Micah said all of this well: “This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”

At this point, friends, I feel a bit of clarification is in order.  Over our nearly 12 years as a parish, we have always stood on the premise that the weekly Scriptures will be tied to events happening in our world.  As your pastor; I feel it is my duty to make those connections, not for purposes of telling you what to do, or how to act, but simply to challenge us, as Jesus did the people in his time, to be our best selves.

In the regular Catholic church, meaning simply—not us, pastors are often stymied in making these connections because it is, “not the practice to upset people lest they cut their contributions to the parish. But I say, “The Scriptures are only worth looking at if we can make them meaningful and relevant in our everyday lives—otherwise we are simply wasting our time.”

There is always the danger though that some may see my comments as, “political,” but my intent is always to lift up, “morality,” or lack of it, shining the light of the weekly Scriptures upon those actions.  Over our 12 years as a parish, people have come to check us out as they look for a parish to be part of and some have decided not to stay because they don’t want to deal with those connections at Sunday mass.  I can remember one person who came in our first years as a parish who told me that they didn’t want to hear about all the negativity on a regular basis. I did try after that to interject as much hope as possible into our services. (Smile)  A concluding comment though to making the connections between our world and the Scriptures would be to say that our mission and vision statements, plus the memory of Jesus of Nazareth don’t allow me to proceed in any other way.  And if we are following Jesus’ lead, that is hopeful! Right?

So then, back to what it means “to be holy.”  The psalmist says today, “Our God is tender and compassionate.”  It would seem that if we are “to be holy,” as “God is holy,” tenderness and compassion must be part of how we behave in our world and with its people.  Joan Chittister, Benedictine Sister, takes a broader view of holiness and I would say, this is probably God’s view too!  “Everything that is, is holy, to the one who has the soul of a mystic.”  “Having the soul of a mystic,” it would seem to me, is about us seeing our world as basically good—seeing and hearing with our hearts.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians today calls us to this greater, “seeing and hearing”—seeing  and hearing in new ways as he asks us to, “remember that the Spirit of God dwells” within us, as “temples of God.”  With this knowledge, we have to strive for wisdom higher and deeper than this world has to offer, Paul continues.

And that leads us directly into the words of our brother, Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel today.  He too calls us to more than this world asks when he says, “We can’t just love those who love us.”  That’s easy!  Again, we must always go deeper—loving the one that may seemingly feel, unloved. Maybe, that is us—as in the story of the red dress.

So, what have we learned today?  We are temples!  Think about that! What do you think of when you hear the word, “temple”—grand, splendid, beautiful?  Perhaps.  Filled with the Spirit of God—we are wonderfully made, friends.  And with all these positive attributes; we have to consider that we are loved by the God responsible, ultimately, for our creation.  And with all good gifts; there is always the expectation that we will give back.  And that is why; this parish is and always has been, and always will be, about making the Scriptures given us each week truly a part of our lives and calling us to more than simply our own needs and desires.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 6th Weekend in Extra Ordinary Time

Friends, the exegesis of three years ago on today’s readings is still quite sound, so I thought I would run it by you once again.  Even a cursory look at the Scriptures for this week lets us know that each of us is called to goodness and that is a real rallying cry given all that is coming out of Washington these days.  We are given life—a wonderful gift and opportunity, to make choices that hopefully will reflect our best selves, not only for our own selves, but for others.  Our first reading from Sirach is a set of proverbs—“before [us] are life and death, whichever we choose will be given [us].”  The writer of Sirach makes it very clear, the choice is ours. The intent is that certainly we will choose the good, the right.  The writer says, “No one is commanded to sin, none are given strength for lies.” In other words, one has to work hard at being a liar, but as with all things, the more we do an action, the easier it becomes.  In this regard, it is instructive to keep in mind all the lies our president has told us in the past three years.

The psalm response affirms the choice for goodness—“Happy are they who walk in your law”—happy are they whose way is blameless.” Our prayer is one for strength that we may do what is right—“give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart,” the psalmist prays.

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that we, as followers of Jesus, the Christ, are called to more than this world asks of us—he speaks of a wisdom that comes from the Spirit and is held by “the spiritually mature.”  I am presently reading a new book by David Brooks, entitled, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life,  actually an unlikely pick for me—anything from David Brooks, in years past, as I have historically not agreed with his conservative ideas. I was drawn to it due to a PBS interview wherein he spoke about why he wrote it.  Climbing to the “second mountain” seems to be for Brooks, moving toward becoming more, “spiritually mature.” In his words, “Whereas climbing to the “first mountain” was mostly about him, the “second mountain” has become about service to others.” I can’t fault him for that.

Jesus of course, had this wisdom of the Spirit that Paul talks about today, that Brooks is in search of—Jesus lived life from his heart and that is the step each of us much discern and put into practice—we start with the law, but that is only the start.  Often, laws are established to guide and instruct—to give order to life.  But laws can be short-sighted, self-serving—thus Jesus calls us to a higher law—the law to love. I wanted to lift up, as we spoke of last week, that our walk with our brother Jesus is very much about responding from our hearts and not just our heads. That is the message again this week—in fact, where Jesus is concerned—that is always the message!  I believe Brooks would agree that climbing the “second mountain” is about this “heart work.”

In today’s gospel Jesus fine tunes what this law to love is really all about.  He was constantly being challenged in his life of preaching and teaching by the Pharisees who said he was trying to subvert the law.  He responds that he does not mean to do away with even one letter of the law, only to open it up to include everyone.  The law speaks clearly on the black and white issues—do not kill—but Jesus challenges the Pharisees and us to realize that we can also “kill” with our words—with our actions that exclude, with actions that say, one is better than another—one is more worthy.

The laws concerning divorce and remarriage are a case in point. Those who have written about this dichotomy in Jesus’ time make the point that the marriage and divorce laws were very one-sided, favoring men, and that a man could divorce a woman for little or no reason.

Because women had no standing in that society; there was no recourse for them. Becoming divorced put a woman and her children in great jeopardy, especially if she had no family to return to. There were no social programs for needy women and their children.  So much of the seeming harshness in Jesus’ words today concerning divorce and re-marriage was aimed at the men, accusing and convicting them of greed, lust and taking care of only themselves.

“The woman caught in adultery” may have resulted from a woman having been ill-used in a marriage contract and needing to take care of herself, turned to the only possibility open to her—Scripture doesn’t tell us who it is who is committing the adultery—that is why Jesus brings some even-ness to that situation and doesn’t join the crowd in condemning her. He simply encourages her to choose more wisely.  Jesus is advocating here for the law, but he is calling the people of his time and us to so much more—to the law of love and understanding.

In our time, we see Pope Francis doing the same regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage.  As we spoke of last week—some bishops are prone to deny communion to the divorced and remarried as a punishment and Francis has said that communion should not be used that way—it is food for the hungry.  Unfortunately there are present day bishops fighting him on his merciful counsel.

Women over time have struggled with this very text from Matthew when it comes to needing to leave a marriage and then subsequently choosing to marry again.  It is important to remember that we cannot always take Jesus’ words literally; that it is so important for us to understand the context in which they were delivered.  We need to realize that Jesus’ messages have deeper meanings than what are at first apparent.

He was always about equality—what was good for the men, was also to be applied for the women—something we continue to struggle with today in Church and society.  Jesus of course, set the standard and was a man of the law; but the “more” that he advocated for, was the law to love, to understand, to extend compassion. Certainly our loving God intended compassion and understanding to be applied here, with marriage laws and everything else—laws are not for the sake of laws, but for the good of people and when laws don’t bring about the gifts of the Spirit; peace, joy, mercy and so on, in the religious sense or what is best for the majority of people in the civil sense; they need to be changed!

So friends, we are called to follow the law of love, ultimately, but there is this caution—living out the higher law will not necessarily make our lives easier and in fact, may make our lives uncomfortable at times. Jesus, our brother, was not understood in his time—he asked too much apparently of the holders of the law and they responded by attempting to silence him. We know though that the mystery of Jesus, which is our hope, is that his death was not the end, but led to life—life in abundance. Paul speaks of this life today: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love God.”

We talk much here about how it isn’t the big things that we are necessarily called to in our daily lives in the attempt to live as Jesus’ followers; just the simple, everyday things—the reaching out in the ways that we can. Many of us have been very discouraged these past three years by what we see coming out of Washington—the untruths, the selfishness for the so-called, “needs of this country” over and above the needs of the world in which we live, under the guise of national security—targeting the innocent because of race and religion. The slashing of programs that support the arts, the free education of all of our children, the dropping of safe guards to protect the environment, our planet, making our schools safer from gun violence, against measures to uplift all our people of color, our women, and the list continues with each passing day.

We have our task set out for us friends.  We can’t tire in making our voices heard to our representatives in Washington—we need to attend marches, and demonstrations—this is way beyond political—it is truly about the integrity of our country, but more importantly, our integrity as individuals, as Christians—as followers of our brother, Jesus.

Mother Teresa, loved by many for her ministry among the poor and sick in Calcutta, often quoted from Damien of Molokai, “We may not do great things in our lives, but we live fully in doing small things with great love!” I know many of your stories and of how you do just that, day in and day out, giving where you can, giving as your faith calls you, reaching out in small, but most significant ways and you are making a difference!  We must never become disappointed, but keep struggling on, doing what we know to be right. A clear and present example of this is All Are One’s commitment to covering the month of February with Home Delivered Meals and Michael Maher’s leadership in making this happen.  Thank you to all who participated in this!

So, we are brought back to our Scriptures today. We, each of us, have the freedom to choose how our life will be—we can choose life or death and that choice will sometimes mean our life won’t always be comfortable.  We think of the heroes during the impeachment trials in Washington in this regard. But our lives will always be meaningful if we react to what life presents us, ultimately, from the heart.  The question that we must always ask—is this action that I am doing bettering the life of the many, rather than the few?  If we can answer, “yes,” responding from the heart, on a regular basis, we will be choosing life in all its abundance.  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 5th Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Those of us growing up Catholic remember devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There were pictures of the “Breck Hair” Jesus with a human heart stuck on the front of his robe and while the intentions of this pre-Vatican II devotion were good—to demonstrate in clear terms Jesus’ love for us; we sometimes lost that idea in the theatrics of the bad art. There were like pictures of the Sacred Heart of Mary—Jesus’ mother, with like meaning, but for my purposes here today, I will simply reference the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I have shared with you in the past the monthly publication from Sister Joan Chittister, The Monastic Way, wherein each month she uplifts a different theme and shares daily reflections on it. Sometimes she has a running theme for the entire year which is the case for 2020 wherein she will reflect on “Mary of Nazareth”—showing us through the many aspects of her life, “the sanctifying power of a human being who has become fully human.”
Sister Joan, in this year’s Monastic Way will show us the many great human qualities of Jesus’ mother, a strong, confident, peace-filled woman who gave our world not only the Sacred Heart of her Son, but the whole, divine-human package. Through Mary’s inner peace, compassionate relationships with others, her strength, as Sister Joan says in describing her; we will come to know the great love of her Son for all of humanity. “To become like the Sacred Heart means to open ourselves to the rest of the world. That is our calling,” Sister Joan prophetically says.  And the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus art by Brother Mickey McGrath is so much better than that of past times!
And all of this talk and reminiscence on the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” is very fitting as we reflect on the words of the psalmist in 112 today. The image of “heart” is uplifted twice in speaking of what God honors and that is further “fleshed out” in the word, “tenderhearted” in explaining how we are to be in our world. Also, the character traits of generosity, mercy and virtuous living are mentioned by the psalmist as presumably ways of showing that our hearts are “engaged” in daily living.
Acting with “a heart engaged” is also the theme for the prophet, Isaiah, as he says that we must, “care for the poor, the homeless”—those without the basics and if we do, then, “our light will shine.”
We never have really gotten away from the theme of, “shining our light” since the beginning of the Christmas Season and should not throughout the Church Year, even if the actual words aren’t there—Jesus, our brother, “the Light of the World,” will always expect that of us!
In these troubling times, when all that our wonderful country used to stand for is over-shadowed by leadership apparently stuck on itself and promoting the same; we all need to go on doing good, no matter what—we certainly can’t look to Washington for any moral guidance in this regard—at least from those holding the power for change. And please know, I speak from a clearly moral and faith-based stance in making these comments. Except for Mitt Romney, who broke with his party’s deplorable lack of leadership; there was little, “light-shining” to be seen in the recent impeachment process.
The Republican Party, guided by fear of not being re-elected sold their souls this past week, abused the oaths they took at the beginning of this trial to give an impartial judgement, when the facts were clear in the case.
On a segment of the PBS News Hour this past week, anchor, Judy Woodruff was asking selected guests how they saw our country moving ahead from the partisan divide and negative culture that it now finds itself in. One female guest spoke to the need for herself of staying away from all the negative tweets and emails that tend to turn one side against another and do nothing to uplift a sense of good or a way forward. She said that when she concentrates on all the good being done in our world, she is really quite hopeful that the good will conquer at a certain point. Seems some good advice!
The words of the prophet, Isaiah, give hope as well: “God hears our cries and will answer, if we do good and not evil.” And Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, gives additional hope in letting his hearers know that his ability to do good comes from the Spirit who is his strength,” and ours, I would add. And again, from the psalmist we hear, “For the upright, our God shines like a lamp in the dark.” And the Scriptures for today conclude with the wonderful images of light and salt—that we are to put our “lights” out there for all to see. Also, the image of “salt” that meant much more in Jesus’ time when people lived without refrigeration; but an image that we can make use of, even in our times—that notion that food is tasteless, insipid even—without salt, can transfer nicely into character traits that lack, “character.”
As I have mentioned in the past; I have been reading Sojourner Magazine’s editor, Jim Wallis’ book, Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus,
finishing it this past week. In a chapter on being, “Salt and Light” for our world, Jim had this to say:
“We have only so much control over what happens in the world…we don’t choose the times we live in, but it’s often the case that the times choose us. What this means about how we live out our calling to be salt and light will be different for each of us—different gifts and callings, but all for the common good. Speaking the truth and acting on behalf of what is right will take all of us to the deepest levels.  Preachers should preach ever more prophetically, teachers should teach formation and not just information, writers should write ever more honestly, lawyers should fight courageously for those who need their help, [and] reporters should report the facts ever more diligently and speak truth to power regardless of what the powers think about that.”

And he goes on through the arts—that artists would inspire, that those who know about climate change, would work for that, those concerned about a living wage, work for that—that human rights, voting rights, refugee and immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights would all be advocated for and advanced. Talk about “shining your light!” But friends, we are called to all of this!
And we can’t underestimate the importance of each of us doing our good, at times, in ways that are visible to others—not with the purpose of tooting our own horn, but instead, to give encouragement to others to do the same. Many times in my life, I have had people say to me that they were grateful for what I said or did—that it encouraged them to act in like fashion.
So my friends, much to reflect on this week as we, “hold the Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Jim Wallis asks of us, and with that in mind, I want to lift up just two more empowering ideas for our reflection:
1) February, as you know is black history month. In a piece in the National Catholic Reporter (NPR) this past week, the writer said this: [The fact] “That the country needs to explicitly set aside a time of recognition for black history unveils the uncomfortable truth that white people avoid facing that people of color reckon with daily. Structural racism is real, white supremacy is normative and the stories we tell about ourselves as a nation and a church are skewed in such a way as to subjugate and erase black oppression and white privilege.”

“While it is good to uplift black history, the commemoration also ought to remind white women and men—such as [us] that ours is not the only history, our experiences are not universal experiences and our perspectives and cultures should not be viewed as normative.” And friends, in our country, due to the racist rhetoric coming out of the White House, all this is exacerbated, and we as followers of Jesus must shine our lights into that darkness.”
2) A bit of hope from the leadership of the Catholic church comes from a recent speech by San Diego bishop, Robert McElroy, entitled, “Voting with Faith and Conscience.” In his talk, he lists 10 areas of social justice concerns repeating the Church’s teaching on abortion reminding his hearers of this single issue that Catholics have concentrated their voting choices on for decades, as demanded of them by their bishops, to the detriment of all others and is now calling us to become more conscientious in our voting choices.
He uplifts the need today, more than ever before, to choose a candidate for public office, not a stance or specific teaching of the Church—faithful voting, he continued, involves careful consideration of the specific ability of a particular candidate to actually advance the common good. “Voters, he said, must assess the intelligence, human relation skills, mastery of policy and intuitive insights that each candidate brings to bear, for voting discipleship seeks results, not merely, aspirations.” He also added that the ability to “build bridges and heal our nation,” are most important.

I want to simply uplift McElroy’s phrase, “voting discipleship.” I think conscientious followers of Jesus need to remember this—picking the right leader of our country is discipleship because the power that this person has affects so many people—God’s people.
My friends, Robert told me recently that I should write a homily that is totally upbeat, leaves out all the negativity and I think this one has more that is positive than negative, but holding the Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other really doesn’t allow us to leave the negative news out completely.
The positive piece though is that we are capable of so much good and hopefully, I have lifted that up for us today. I conclude with the words of Pope Francis in his 2015 address to our Congress. “A nation is great when it defends liberty as Abraham Lincoln did, when it seeks equality as Martin Luther King Jr. did and when it strives for justice for the oppressed as Dorothy Day did.” Bishop McElroy concludes, “Let us pray that our nation moves toward such greatness, in this election year and that faith-filled, prudent disciples are leading the way.” Amen? Amen!

Homily – Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

With Jesus and his life among us, there is always the two-tier, if not three-tier, and perhaps even more layers to all that he does among us.  Each action, at least those that are recorded, is loaded with meaning.  Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly parents, were fulfilling the religious laws of good Jews in bringing the little Jesus to the temple to be presented.  They were on the run from Herod, most likely—but this they had to do first!

Coming to the temple, which was Jesus’ first time of several that Scripture records for us, was about fulfilling an earthly, religious law, but it was also about the beginning of a short life, fully immersed within humanity, doing what his God asked of him. This, my friends, is a good reflection for each of us, “doing what God asked of him,” and ultimately—of us.  In the words of the prophet Malachi, “the messenger of God’s promises is surely coming!”

The basic action of bringing a newborn to the temple to be presented to God with the prayer that this same God would protect the child and assist them throughout life was the top tier of the meaning of this feast.  There was a dual purpose for Mary, his mother—or any mother, presenting herself as a way to be, “purified” according to the law, after the birth of a child.  And again, Mary and Joseph, being good and faithful Jews, would have felt the need to do, “all that was right.”

With these surface actions fulfilled—those that all good Jews would do; we then must go deeper, to have well-known prophecies fulfilled, in order to make the connections to a greater plan.  We read in Luke today that, “Simeon was prompted by the Spirit to come to the temple,” on the very day that the parents of Jesus arrived to present him.  We also know that the Spirit had spoken to Simeon earlier, “a devout and just man,” Scripture says, that, “he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah of God.”

So Simeon and his counterpart, Anna, had the task of confirming for Mary and Joseph that their child was indeed the Messiah of God! We can only imagine in the day- to-day life of caring for an infant, and those of you who have done that know what I am speaking of, the miracle of all that they both had learned along the way of how this child had come into their lives, would need confirmation throughout their life times of who he truly was.  Simeon and Anna were two such people in God’s hands to “shine a light” into so much that this young couple more than likely just didn’t know.

And the layers of meaning continue—Simeon lets Mary know that, “a sword will pierce her heart.”  A reality check, yes! Again, she didn’t fully know what lay ahead for her precious child, “meant to be the rise and fall of many in Israel—a sign to be rejected,” the prophet continues. And then there was Anna, a prophet in her own right.    Don’t you wonder—what in fact, she may have said to the young Mary?  I like to think, a woman to another woman would have said what Simeon said, but through a woman’s compassionate heart and words for another sister to hear.  This is yet another layer to think about as we try to make this story real for our own lives.

Because my friends, these Scriptures, or any Scriptures really only have purpose and meaning in our lives if we take their lessons to heart—make them our own.  The Scriptures can’t just be “nice stories” that we read each week and forget about until the same time next year—but stories in fact that help us reflect on our own lives and how we are “to be” in our world, as followers, we say, of this Jesus, from a backward town called Nazareth, of which some asked in his time, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?! Indeed!

We cry out with the psalmist today in our search to make sense of all of this, “Who is this holy one?” And we might add, “Where can we find him?” And why does it matter if we do?  The writer to the Hebrews tells us basically that, Jesus is “strength” for us in our search for right living—he was one of us, having gone through all that we do.  In other words, we must keep our eyes on him, checking—always checking, with each new situation—how would our brother Jesus respond to this?

Our present lives have many places for us as followers, we say—of Jesus, to first ask, what would he do and when we have figured that out, doing likewise.  And you see, for each of us, this is where we often get stuck—following through! We are often like Paul who said, “I know the right thing to do”—it’s doing it, is the thing!  I will offer just a few examples for you to consider that I looked at and reflected upon this week:

  • Jaimie Mason, writer for the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) wrote on climate change in this week’s paper, quoting Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s words. “We have to be converted to the Earth,” adding that our care for the planet must become, “an intrinsic part of our love for God.” She continues, “The ecological crisis makes clear that the human species and the natural world will flourish or collapse together.”  This seems true, doesn’t it as Australia and its wildlife burns, as storms—hurricanes and tornadoes become more lethal, as temperatures on the planet rise and ice sheets, long intact, melt.  We, each of us, who sees these changes and can make the connections, must do our part and speak out when the leadership of this country continues to weaken the safeguards put in place over the years by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect our planet. And when we realize that these protections are being done away with merely for momentary, monetary gain, we should feel righteous anger at this endangerment.
  • We recently watched a public television program on the sand dunes in Indiana and of how in the early part of the 20th Century, this complex system—home to a great variety of plant and animal species was almost lost forever to what some considered necessary material advancement in the form of a shipping port on the Great Lakes. In this case, through the advocacy of concerned citizens, a national park was eventually established, saving some of the dunes and establishing a shipping port as well. The point here being, all this natural beauty would have been destroyed except for concerned people speaking up.
  • Another writer for the NCR, Father Thomas Reese wrote this week about the appointment of Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland to replace retiring Archbishop Charles Chaput, an ultraconservative in the Philadelphia post. Chaput followed Cardinal George, also a conservative who died in 2015. It has been the practice of Pope Francis, in his papacy, to replace bishops when they reach the age of 75 if they have disagreed with him in his pastoral approach. Chaput’s offense was to respond to Francis’ directive that remarried Catholics should be allowed to take communion by stating that, in his diocese, he would allow this, but only if the couple refrained from having sexual relations! Francis’ contention has always been that communion is food for the wounded, not a reward for the perfect, and Chaput’s successor, Perez, sees communion as Francis does.  Reese makes clear that Perez won’t make all the changes that many Catholics long for; birth control, ordination of women, and gay marriage, but his focus will be care for the poor and marginalized as Francis has directed for his bishops—that they cease being about clericalism and return to being shepherds, and this is a least, a very good start!  With the naming of Bishop Nelson Perez, the memory of pastoral leaders such as Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died in 1996, and led American bishops in reforming the Church after the Second Vatican Council is again raised.
  • And finally, I will just lump together a few things in closing—the fact that 10 years ago, Citizens United was sanctioned by the Supreme Court of our country, allowing unlimited amounts of dark money into our elections, basically buying great influence for the rich and powerful, to the detriment of the rest of the people—an action in need of change! At present, the Senate of our country is basically preparing to say,  that for all time, the president is above the law—that the person holding this office can do whatever they want, (forget the checks and balances of the other two branches of government) if they claim that they did it in the national interest!

Now, if you are sitting there wondering if your pastor had gone off the rails here—what in fact all this has to do with the Scriptures—let me say, “it all fits,” as Father Richard Rohr would say.  Our God is all around us—not, “out there, somewhere,” —in our lives, in our beautiful world for all of us to enjoy—in all the plants and animals and people, given into our care to protect and love as we say we love God.

Today we remember Jesus’ presentation in the temple, basically being offered back in service to the God who sent him—the God who sends us through our baptisms and confirmations.  If we as his followers, truly wish to follow him, we too must present ourselves as servants, seeing as many of the connections as we can, naming untruth, injustice, lack of mercy and understanding, hoarding of this world’s goods by the top 1% to the detriment of the rest in this world, pursuing war to get to peace instead of pursuing peace by eliminating war and demanding that these infractions to the law of love not be allowed to stand! We are all better than this and it is time, as our world struggles with poverty and the lack of basics for so many, where violence rather than goodness seems the tone in our own country, to speak our truth, saying, “Enough is enough! Amen? Amen!

 

 

Homily – 3rd Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, let’s begin with the Scriptures—always a good place to start! Without being redundant, the 3rd Sunday as with all the Sundays in Ordinary Time must be considered “extra” as we have spoken of in the past, as it is full of challenge for us.

Isaiah, first off, tells us that as people who tend to “walk in darkness,” from time to time, there is hope, because we have seen a “great light in Jesus!”  And the challenge for each of us, as his followers is to realize that we cannot allow, bullying, name-calling, lying—basically, abuse of any kind to stand.  I was pleased to even hear Chief Justice, John Roberts, in the impeachment trial going on at present, call the members of Congress back to being their “best selves,” in this regard, as the halls of Congress demand, if they expect to truly be heard by each other.

I felt the psalm response this morning needed to be sung—“You are my light and my salvation,” that we beautifully sang, “of whom should I be afraid?”  Of whom indeed—when we have such a friend as Jesus.  The psalmist continues—“You are the stronghold of my life!” In modern parlance, we might say, “Our God truly has our backs!”  Therefore, fear is a “place” we really don’t have to go—at least not for long.

Jim Wallis, minister and creator-editor of Sojourner Magazine, in a new book, entitled, Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, in a chapter on “fear,” reminds his readers, unlike the apostles who found themselves in a “storm at sea,” to invite Jesus into “our boats.”  The Scriptures show us that it can make all the difference!

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians; we find the people squabbling over small differences, failing to keep their eyes on Jesus’ message—one of love, mercy, attempts at understanding—basically being—again, “our best selves.  In our present day Church; we see the same—factions for Benedict XVI, pope emeritus fighting against those of Pope Francis.  And yet, the Scriptures tell us that, “a light has shown in our darkness” and it would behoove all serious Christians to keep an eye on its glow.

Now practically speaking, someone has said that in future, and I think, it could happen now, if and when a pope retires, he (dare I say, “she?”) should discard the white cassock and go back to their pre-pope name and cardinal clothes in order to be most clear about who is in fact—the pope.  I respectfully agree.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians continues by saying the same—keep your eye on the message and who you are following! Let the Spirit of our great God do her work!  And in that regard, let us lift up the fact that Paul in today’s reading is taking counsel from Chloe’s household church community—a woman leader no less—let Church men take heed! We still need to shine light into that darkness—inequality.

This past week our country, as you know, celebrated Martin Luther King Jr’s holiday.  I read several articles and news items with regard to this great man and one in particular, about a lawyer; Bryan Stevenson with Equal Justice Initiatives in Montgomery, Alabama especially caught my attention. I would like to share a bit of his story here as we remember the work of Martin Luther King Jr., truly a light in our midst!

  • First, I was saddened to learn from Stevenson that in the State of Alabama, Robert E. Lee is honored on the same day as the King Holiday. In a new book and now a major motion picture—both entitled, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson has this to say, “ The Southern landscape is littered with iconography of the Confederacy—we actually celebrate the architects and defenders of slavery…this has to change if we are to get past this and to a healthier place.”
  • He goes on to document how the precedent has been set around our world and that we as a nation could learn from the example of others in order to get past racism. In Johannesburg, South Africa, there is a museum and monuments that talk about the wrongfulness of apartheid.  In Berlin—you can’t go two blocks without seeing markers and stones placed next to the homes of Jewish families that were abducted during the Holocaust.
  • But in this country Stevenson continues, we don’t have institutions that are dedicated and focused toward making a new generation of Americans appreciate the wrongfulness of what we did when we allowed lynching to prevail and persist. Yet, our Scriptures tell us that, “A light has shown in our darkness!”
  • Stevenson has worked for over 30 years with others against wrongful convictions, over incarcerations and excessive punishment of blacks. And it was because of the lack of institutions to address this wrongfulness that Stevenson and his organization opened the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Both are dedicated to the legacy of slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration of blacks in the United States.

  • For Stevenson, the above are a way to address the past and change the future—we need, he says, to create institutions in this country that clearly say, “Never again!” The museum tells the shameful truth about lynchings and of how when they stopped, they were basically, “moved indoors” through mass incarcerations and the death penalty for many blacks with a high rate of innocence among them!

As part of our trip last fall; we traveled through Montgomery and got there on the only day of the week when the museum was closed, but in walking around the block perimeter of the building, reading what we could about the site, realizing that it was built upon the spot of an actual “slave market,” the experience was quite soul-stretching.  Truly, we as a nation must shine a light upon such darkness!

Additionally, for this reason, when the leadership of our great country spews hatred for those who come to our borders who are different than those of us known as “white,” it should cause us to worry and vow to make changes.

Friends, our God calls us to be our best selves—always—to continue to shine a light into the dark places as Isaiah, Jesus and Paul spoke of in today’s readings—to see in fact when there is inequality, hatred, dishonesty, lack of mercy, justice, and do our part to better the situation .  We are capable as humans of so much good, but equally of so much bad—let us choose the good!  Amen? Amen!