Homily – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

Friends, we can hardly miss that last Sunday we were at the crib with the baby and now today we are with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.  Other than his visit to the temple when he was 12 on the occasion of his bar mitzvah; we don’t know much about those “lost” years between then and when he began to share publicly what God, his Abba had sent him to do.

With the help of our imaginations, as Joan Chittister names, “a distinct gift from God;” we can assume that this passage of time included much listening, much communing with his Abba—another term for Loving Parent, about just what he was to do.

He no doubt spent a good deal of time studying the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that all good Jews were knowledgeable in, the Psalms of David and the Prophets.  It was the words of the prophet, Isaiah that he would later come to proclaim and fulfill, “I have come to bring good news to the poor,” and so on.

It is good for us to try and imagine what this “coming out” must have been like for Jesus—he left the comfort of his hometown to show himself around the Jordan River where John the Baptist was preaching.  He apparently looked like everyone else—nothing outstanding as John had to point him out to his disciples and friends, “There is the Lamb of God!” and instructed them to follow him, now.  These two, Andrew and John must have had great faith to have left the Baptist and follow Jesus, whom they didn’t know.  Could we have done that?

Then, it is good to reflect on the interchange between Jesus and his first two disciples.  When they catch up with Jesus, he asks them, “What are you looking for?” At this beginning of another new year, we too might ponder Jesus’ question, “Just what are YOU looking for?” What would make your life better, in the truest sense of the word?” Could you imagine it?

Their response to Jesus tells us a great deal—they want to know where he is staying! This is a question that tells Jesus that they want to come to know him much better.  We might think about this question in terms of two people dating for a while and at a certain point they want to take their special friend home to meet their family—to share what they have found!

Jesus’ answer is equally intimate; “Come and see!”  These first two disciples found Jesus to be the One they had been waiting for—by spending time with him, listening to his words—which, by the way, is a very good definition of prayer.  In all of this, these first disciples came to know him as the Messiah.

The readings for this Sunday as we transition once again into Ordinary Time for a few Sundays before we begin the Season of Lent on February 14th, call us to be listeners, intent on hearing God’s voice.  Sister Joan Chittister, through her monthly calendar, The Monastic Way, is taking this New Year to look at women who imagined great things and acted upon those imaginings–St. Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic for claiming that God talked to her through her imagination and when questioned about this seeming phenomenon, she answered, “How else would God speak to me; if not through my imagination?”

Samuel, in today’s first reading is told to listen and if he hears God’s voice, he should reply, “Yahweh, I am listening.”  He already had a sense of being present to Eli, the prophet and knew that when he heard Eli call, he should say, “Here I am,”   which meant he was ready to do the prophet’s bidding. Samuel was soon to learn that his response to God should be the same, “Here I am!”

Are we ready to do what God may be asking of us on this day, in our time? And how will we know if it is truly God who is calling?  My kind of litmus test for if it is God calling is if “peace” also comes with the request—somewhat the feeling of, “I can do this!” And while I may not be entirely sure, I am at peace that I won’t do it alone, that God will be with me.  Maybe this is the year that I can step out of my comfort zone and respond to Jesus’ request to, “Come and see.”

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is basically a discussion between the material and spiritual world.  He is trying to help them see that following Jesus’ call means that they should respect themselves and others—try to be their best selves, try to seek after good and that good will come back to them.  It is through Jesus’ Spirit that we can come to know our God better, become more able to see God in others—which is really, “communion” again, in the truest sense of the word.”

The Spirit was alive and well at the Golden Globe awards a week ago when the whole program was transformed by women and the men who support them speaking their truth in a way they have never been able to before due to the unnamed sexual abuse and domination that was present in Hollywood. The climate this year was changed due to those brave women who have come forward this last year through the “Me Too” movement, exposing the pain and suffering which came to be accepted as, “the way it is!” Women in all walks of life have said definitively through another movement that, “TimesUp.”

Time is up to accept anything less than to be treated with the respect that is due each person.  Now-is-the-time, especially for Christians and all other believers, for those in fact, who claim to be human, to open their eyes to the abuse that we give license to when we do not respect the fact that we are all equal and treat each other that way—that I am not better than you and you are no better than me.

It is to each of us, wonderfully made by the Creator, that Jesus came to-be-one-with.  Let us make a New Year’s resolution that we will listen well to each other’s stories and remember that we cannot truly thrive in this world on the backs, the souls of others.  Our world needs now, people who can imagine a better existence for all of earth’s inhabitants and then act upon those imaginings knowing that we won’t be alone—that our brother Jesus is with us loving us into greatness.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – Feast of the Three Kings–Epiphany

Friends, our song today is—“Arise, shine, your light has come!”  We know that light attracts light, or we might say, “Good attracts more good!”

Another name for this feast is the “Epiphany,” which means, “manifestation.”  The Bethlehem star was seen by astrologers, also known as “kings,” and they were apparently so taken aback by its light that they put their lives on hold to follow its light.  A good question for each of us to ponder this day and week might be, what parts of my life would I be willing to put on hold or to perhaps change to follow this Star?

The astrologers’ understanding from a scientific viewpoint was that the showing of a new star in the heavens had to coincide with an equally grand event on earth, so they could do nothing but follow its light to where it might lead.

We, friends, are the recipients of this great event on earth! We have lived our lives knowing that Jesus, first born of our living God lived among us in time and each of us have been called to continue shining his light.

We conclude our official celebration of Christmas with this feast today, even though some of us might still be looking forward to celebrating Christmas when family members are able to gather, such as our family, this next weekend.  This is good though because, as you have noticed throughout the official Christmas season; we have prayed that the joy, peace and love experienced at this wonderful time of year might continue on throughout the year.  Remembering Isaiah’s prophetic words, “Arise, shine, your light has come,” seems to call us to more than twelve days, to, in fact live our lives, sharing the light that Jesus came to bring.

I believe we would all agree that we live in a time where much light, much goodness, is needed. Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke prophetically when he said, “Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that.”

The psalmist today is prophetic as well as he/she tells us what the true leader, true follower of the light will look like: One who rescues the poor when they cry out and the afflicted when they have no one to help them—having pity on the lowly and the poor and save their lives.  This doesn’t sound like Washington’s “trickle-down” policy of caring for those in need is what is being called for here.

An example closer to home is “Ashley’s Angels,” a non-profit organization which was started in 1997 by a driver for Ashley Furniture who discovered that a young girl was living with her mother in their car.  He worked with others to get these two into housing before Christmas that year and succeeded.

Seeing all the good this did for these two, the light of goodness spread throughout the larger organization that has distribution centers in Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  They work with schools to determine need and then raise the money needed to give every child in the designated family winter clothing, shoes, if needed, clothes, a blanket and a special Christmas present.    This past Christmas, 1,356 children were helped.  The non-profit, along with Ashley employees raised $262, 000 in support of the program.  Only light can put out darkness.

In our present times, from the White House down through Congress, it seems the thought is, to care for those who have the most and somehow, those at the bottom will be taken care of.  The writer to the Ephesians calls the lie to this type of distribution:  “All are heirs—all are members of the one body.” To me that says—all are equal!  In other words, “the light shining in the darkness” means that we must care for all—equally, no exceptions and support only those programs that do just that!

The gifts of the Christ Child were gold, frankincense and myrrh—that same Child lives today in all we meet in need—may we always see him/her and give from our plenty.  Amen?  Amen!

 

 

Homily – Holy Family Sunday

One of my favorite things to do during the Christmas Season is to sit in front of the Christmas tree and look at the lights along with the decorations and think about where each of them came from.  The most special ones are from family and friends over the years and speak to those relationships, for that is really, what Christmas is all about—relationships.  And of course, the primary relationship is between God and us and God’s generosity in becoming one-with-us, Emmanuel!

We name today, “Holy Family Sunday” in deference to the earthly family of Jesus—Mary and Joseph and more than likely, other children who came to this couple due to the love they shared with and for each other.  Jesus, our brother, most assuredly, was raised within a family of much love and caring to have allowed him to give back so much love to the world in which he lived and grew “in wisdom and grace.”  Nothing comes from nothing,” an old movie line goes.

This Sunday is for families because really, all families are holy, or at least have the possibility of being, “holy.”  I would dare say, most, if not all families begin with love, because that is what is best in all of us—we are, in fact, hard-wired for this best of gifts.  Life sometimes takes families in different directions, but at their beginnings, love is there.

Love isn’t always easy, either within families, or within the greater world and that is why, as we talked about on Christmas Eve, it is so important to live, “in the present.”  This week’s Scriptures do, in fact, call us to do just that—live in the present.  In the best of times—we can do what Sirach asks in regard to caring for our families—showing respect, kindness, love, understanding and mercy.  As we attempt to live in the present, it will mean that we have to let go of past hurts and just keep looking and reaching out toward the good, and expecting to see the good in those that we may have difficulties with in life.  The importance of the past is to learn from it, taking its lessons into the present where we can effect change.

Our families, for good or bad, have a deep effect on each of us, for this is where we came from.  Most parents love their children fiercely and in the best of times, parents let their children know of their love for them.  In some cultures, it was thought that letting children know this one special truth, that their parents love them, would in fact, spoil them.  In actuality, the opposite is really true—the “not telling,” or showing the love, dampens the relationship. We are each in need of knowing that we are loved, that we make a difference, and today might be a good day, to let those closest to us know of our love, and especially if we haven’t done it in a while.

Paul tells us beautifully today, in his letter to the Colossians, what this love looks like: clothing yourselves with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Each of us friends, have these gifts, because each of us came from God and God, we know, is good.  Anything we encounter in life that is not good, is not of God.

This past week, Robert and I viewed the movie, The Big Short which is basically the story of the 2007 economic housing bubble collapse. The piece that I was struck with in the telling of this tale was the greed that was operative in so many banks and money-lending organizations at this time.  Greed became infectious and the more one had, the more one wanted and the moral compass within some humans that spoke of treating others fairly, was thrown to the wind.

Paul continues in his letter today speaking of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, saying that over this, we must put on love, which binds the rest and makes them perfect.  He also instructs us to be thankful and to do whatever we do, in Jesus’ name.  Think what a different world it would be if we did everything in Jesus’ name! There would be much that we would think twice about doing!  Finally, Paul cautions us to take our relationships seriously—couples in love should avoid bitterness; if we are blessed with children; we shouldn’t nag them, less they lose heart.

Recently, I was reading ten suggestions for the New Year from Jim Wallis of Sojourner Magazine.  I was struck by his first suggestion—that we who claim to be “Christian,” or followers of a different religious group, would basically take what we believe and hold it in one hand, and the newspaper ( or our world) in the other.  For us, that would mean, the words and actions of our brother, Jesus must be in our thoughts, the very fiber of our beings and every action we do must reflect that memory.  The acronym, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) is a question that should always be close in our consciousness as we live our lives.

Our readings for this Holy Family Sunday conclude today with the beautiful gospel from Luke telling the story of Mary and Joseph presenting the baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem as prescribed by the law.  So what should this story tell us? First, it tells us that Joseph and Mary followed the dictates of the law that guided their lives.  God had been faithful and it was their place to be faithful too!

Secondly, it is important for us to remember the context within which this gospel took place—Mary and Joseph and the baby were, “on the run” as the baby’s life was in danger from one who was into his power and control, yet they made the decision that this point of righteousness must be done.  Presenting Jesus at the temple was a must  and it was within that action that their very life’s purposes were confirmed—this child put into their safe-keeping, was the “Messiah of God,” as was proclaimed by Simeon and Anna.

As we reflect on the lives of Mary and Joseph; it seems logical that there must have been times in the everyday-ness of life that they doubted all that was ahead of their sweet baby, so this confirmation was so important and one that, as Scripture says, Mary “would treasure in her heart.’

The more we can allow these Scriptures to come alive for us, the more the stories will affect us and allow us to live in like manner. There will be times in all of our lives that we will doubt God’s presence much like Mary and Joseph doubted, but that is the time for us to go deeper, to remember all that we believe in, all that we professed to at our confirmations, that renewed our baptismal promises made for us as babies and then move forward on the words of Jesus, that he would never leave us, but be with us—always! Peace and love and a blessed New Year!

Homily – Christmas Eve – 2017

Dear Friends, we wish you all the merriest of Christmases with family and friends wherever they may be. We are grateful for each one of you and you give us hope as we move into the New Year. Our gift to you is the following homily–may you each have the best gifts of Christmas time–peace, love and joy! Pastor Kathy and Robert 


Christmas is here once again with all that it means to each one of us. We all have a past of memories, many good, but also some we may choose to forget at this festive time of year. We know from all the Christmas stories that we view each year as part of our Christmas traditions, that the message is very simple –it is really all about, love.

It is true though, that we sometimes, myself included, get caught up in pieces of the past that don’t reflect the goodness that this celebration of love calls us to.  Some of the pieces include past hurts, times when we were misunderstood or not accepted, times when we were blamed for things that we had no control over.

So when we come then to this wonderful time of year that calls each of us to open up our closed hearts, even for a time, we may manage to do just that, for there seems to be a need within us to be Christmas people—rising to be our best selves. And the miraculous thing, my friends, when we make these efforts, the good flows back to us ten-fold. Not that we do good to have good return to us, but it seems to work that way.

An op-ed article this past week in the Winona Daily News by Gina Barreca gives some clues for how to allow our Christmas holidays to be simple, good and life-giving, given that each of us brings, unwanted “baggage” to the feast, unfinished business and other hurts.  Barreca’s answer is simple—“live in the present!” We many times can’t change or totally fix the past and when we continually take that path, “wearing down that road,” to no avail; we most effectively miss, living in the present and enjoying all that is there.

The prophet Isaiah tells us on this night that we are “people living in darkness” but that our hope is in seeing the light of Jesus that comes on this night, and really, whenever we choose to live in the light of his ways.  Joan Chittister reflects on this Christmas Eve—“We must come to realize where there are no lights and take some there –to the hospitals, and dark neighborhoods, and nursing homes and prisons and shelters, and refugee centers—every day of the year.”

Paul, in his letter to Titus speaks of the “light of Jesus” as our “salvation” and when we choose to follow the light, we become, “eager to do what is right.”

A friend recently shared the following story as an Advent reflection, but I think it works well as a Christmas reflection too, as it indicates how we can more easily, “do what is right.”  This story that I would like to conclude with comes to us from Jay Cormier. It goes like this:

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, [that I just proclaimed for us] the innkeeper is not mentioned, but he really is the linchpin of the whole Christmas story, Cormier says.  Were it not for him, Jesus would not have been born in a poor stable but in the Bethlehem Ramada.

It is the innkeeper who presumably refused a room to Joseph and Mary, forcing them to find shelter in a barn.  All Luke says is that “there was no room for them in the inn.” But every Christmas pageant includes the innkeeper, often portrayed as a gruff old bird who cannot be bothered with a poor carpenter from the sticks and his young bride.  Sometimes he is the harried host, overcome with the demands of running a hotel during the busy season.  And once in a while, the innkeeper is a compassionate soul who sympathizes with these poor travelers and offers the only hospitality he can.

The innkeeper never realizes who he is turning away.  It is a busy time; guests and customers need to be taken care of, and the place is filling up faster than he and his wife can keep up with.  “Nothing personal folks—it’s the busy season.”

Cormier goes on to say, “We should not be so quick to ridicule:  we are all innkeepers when it comes to this Child.  Things need to be taken care of; our lives fill up faster than we can cope.  “Nothing personal, Jesus…”   The innkeeper’s plight is the challenge of Christmas: to make room in our homes and hearts for this Child, to make room for him both when he is welcome and when his presence is embarrassing and inconvenient.  Some words from Henry David Thoreau for this night are these: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?”

Throughout this Christmas Season let us place ourselves in the “role of the innkeeper” and that each person we encounter, no matter our immediate situation, let us see in them the face of the Christ Child who is in need of our gifts of warmth, compassion and peace.

And if we can do that friends, then we will indeed be living “in the present” as Gina Berraca encourages in the op-ed piece, and that is a “present” we will be ultimately glad that we opened!  Merry Christmas to each of you!

Homily – 3rd Weekend of Advent–Gaudete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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