Homily – 2nd Sunday of Advent

      My friends, as we continue our Advent journey to Christmas, preparing ourselves for the great gift of Jesus, among us, and with us, for that is what “Emmanuel” means, the readings for this Sunday are all about “justice,” and making sure that it is available to all—especially to the least among us. And it would seem that we humans would know how to bestow justice by keeping our eyes on our brother, Jesus.  None of this should be a surprise to us, as the Scriptures again and again, tell us that this is what Jesus was about.  And if we wonder whether or not we can do this, we are told that Jesus’ Spirit will give us “wisdom” to know how to act justly in our world.

   The other operative word then, in today’s Scriptures, along with “justice,” is “Spirit.”  Isaiah, in the first reading, describing the coming of the Messiah says, “The Spirit of God will rest there [with Jesus, that is].  This is really an affirmation that Jesus will not only be human— “a shoot will sprout from…Jesse,” but indeed, Jesus will be of God.

    Let’s look further then to the Scriptures today, for this “straight” path toward living “justly” that Isaiah foretold the Baptist would preach about.  The prophet Isaiah gives us the beautiful reading envisioning a time when, the calf and the lion, the wolf and the lamb, will lie down together, in peace.  We can hardly imagine such a thing –it is almost as if we turned on the morning news and heard that Vladimir Putin had decided to declare peace with Ukraine, and we might understandably think that we had heard it wrong! But this is exactly what Isaiah is prophesying about today, even imploring us to consider. We must envision what we hope for to make it possible, to happen. 

      This reminds me of when I have in the past, misplaced something, and I keep looking, and just can’t find it.  Robert usually tells me in these cases, “Kathy you have to believe it is there!” When I approach it this way—believing, I often find what I am looking for in the same place I was looking previously, to no avail.  And for us all, friends, we have to believe that the “goodness” we hope for, in our world, our nation, our city, our families, can actually come about—and very likely, it will need to come through us!  And when I say, “us,” I mean, all of us, each doing our part—together!

   That is what our brother Jesus was all about in his life—preaching and teaching that we could, “move mountains,” –be our best selves if we wanted to, and truly believed that it was possible.  Advent is all about encouraging us, each one of us, that the time is now! John, in the gospel today, basically tells us that the time is now to reform our lives and Jesus continues this message throughout his earthly life—we don’t have to wait till a future time when all will come to fruition—our baptisms call us to allow, “justice to flower” –and to “judge wisely” what is of God and what is not, and then, to do our part.

   And even though our journey now in Advent, and throughout our lives won’t always be, “black and white” –easy, that is, Paul in his letter to the Romans today, assures us that,” “The Spirit of Christ Jesus [will allow us] “to live in perfect harmony,” by doing the part, in our world, that is ours to do.

  And friends, this will all come about as Isaiah continues to prophesy today— “the poor will be judged with justice and the lands afflicted will be given their rights.”  In our own time, we can apply these words saying, women will break that glass ceiling ever more consistently, in Church and State, the LGBTQ+ community will come to be accepted, more and more, the wisdom of the elderly will be more and more appreciated and sought out, and the poor in body, mind and spirit will be nurtured and cared for more and more.  We could go on.  We may not see it in our lifetimes, but we can trust the words here as the mission of Jesus was foretold by John, with the call to us, to do the same!

   So, my friends, I have thrown a lot at us to consider today, and we can’t as individuals do it all, but if we were to do nothing more than to wrap our hearts around the idea that God thought enough of us to send Jesus to show us the way, to make peace with those we can’t seem to make peace with, to be kind, merciful, patient, just in our dealings with others—ultimately, loving, not only when that is easy, but more so, when it is hard, then we will have made a good job of Advent and prepared well for so great a gift as Jesus!   Amen? Amen!

Homily-1st Sunday of Advent

My friends, here we are once again, beginning a new Church Year.  Of all the things that I disagree with concerning our beloved Church, the practice of setting up each Year of Grace, with the beginning of Advent, that does not coincide with our secular beginning and ending of a year, is NOT one of them.  In other words, the Church hierarchy got this one right! 

   Additionally, giving us specific readings for each Sunday of the Church Year to ponder, allowing the Spirit to speak through those readings, is a wonderful thing.  And I have to believe that Jesus’ Spirit has a sense of humor, because two people reading the same reading can come up with totally different explanations, as to meaning. 

   An example to flesh this out:  The Scripture passage from John 17, “that they all would be one,” the genesis of our church name, “All Are One,” which means, as you know, that everyone is welcome at our table, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, even religious background—basically, if you want to pray with us, you are welcome! This same Scripture was used against me by the male bishop in Winona at the time of my ordination with Roman Catholic Women Priests, stating, [on that day when we] “all are one,” (meaning, everyone believing what the Catholic hierarchy says is so) we can then move forward, together. 

   So,  let us look at this season of Advent—what it means and what it calls each of us to through the chosen Scriptures.  A good thing to consider as we think about the fact that any given Scripture can be used for opposing ideas as in my example above, is that whatever we read in Scripture should call forth the best in us—call us to more, not less.

   As we know, Advent is a four-week time of waiting; a time that calls us to, “slow down,” even a bit, and be conscious of our world, its joys and sorrows and consider how our presence in this world brings either joy or sorrow.  This request that we adequately prepare for the feast of Christmas, by retreating a bit into, “the basement of our hearts” to steal the title of a piece I have shared with you in the past, comes during one of the busiest times of the year. Now, granted, we do have some control over our “busyness,” but that is another story and homily. 

    It’s also a matter of deciding what is most important in our lives.  I would be one to say, “we can bring the “seemingly” secular into the “seemingly” religious and with the gift of “balance,” find a place for both.  Sometimes, we discover how something that seems to be “secular,” can really be quite “a holy thing,” seen through bigger eyes and hearts.  Father Ed Hays, in his many writings and artwork did a wonderful job of uniting the two, and calling it all, good.

   So, back to today’s scriptures that can have many meanings for us as individuals depending on our focus.  In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet, he says, “God’s home will be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.” He goes on to say, “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks—one nation will not raise sword against another, nor will they train for war again.” So if we were thinking that the prophet is merely saying that “the highest hill around will belong to God,” we would be missing the point.  The “highness” has more to do with us—how we live our lives—how we strive to be our best—how we most consistently choose “love” over “hate” or any other negative response in our lives. 

   For those who have lived through many Advent Seasons, you know that the Scriptures for this season always have a sense of urgency about them –Paul, in his letter to the Romans today, says, “…now is the hour for [us] to wake from sleep.”  And from Matthew’s gospel, that urgency continues, “[we] do not know the day [our] Savior is coming.” One final comment as we reflect on “urgency” is that the apostles, including Paul, thought that the Second Coming of Jesus was going to happen sooner, rather than later. 

   So friends, for all of us these 2,000+ years since Jesus walked the earth, we may doubt that there is any “urgency” in getting our lives in order.  And again, we must remember that our striving in this life to be our best, is not simply about “getting ourselves into heaven one day,” but about being the type of person that makes life and our world better.  And when did we need the “touch” and actions of Christians in our world more than now?

   Perhaps a way to conclude here as we begin this new season of Advent, along with a new Church Year, that really calls us to remember that we have a God, who loves us mightily, “Just the way we are,” to quote a modern-day saint, Fred Rogers, is to ask ourselves where we stand on several current issues.  And not only where we stand, but if we have resolved to do something about them.

  1. If as Isaiah mentions today, “we [can] train for war,” why can’t we then, “train for peace?” Ask yourself if you agree on this one and perhaps share your view with someone who can make a difference—Thursday Morning Post Card Group at Blue Heron, 10 o’clock.
  2. Why are we as a country so accepting of weapons of mass destruction—rapid-fire, high-capacity guns used to slaughter our country’s people, from young to old?  Each of us needs to get serious about this one as only we, each of us, can make the change we want to see. 
  3. This year was the 20th anniversary of the Danube 7, who in 2002 defied Church authority and chose to be ordained, by three, male, and anonymous bishops in good standing with the Church, following their God-given calls, which in other words, means that the ordinations of the Danube 7, just like those of any man, can be traced back to “apostolic succession.”  This began the process by which your pastor was ordained in 2008.  By then we had moved ahead, and women bishops (3 of the original 7) had been consecrated and things progressed from there. 

   So, my friends, if that causes you any joy or hope for more inclusion in the Roman Catholic church, perhaps a letter to Bishop Robert Barron, 55 West Sanborn, Winona, speaking of your joy and hope might be appropriate this Advent. 

   Whether any of the above actions speak to your heart or not, we are still called to do our parts in whatever way we choose—the only choice we don’t have is to do nothing.

Amen? Amen!

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

   My friends, I will begin today letting you know once again, why I choose to not name this feast, “Christ the King.”  First of all, this title was not claimed by Jesus—it was a title we humans gave him and one, he did not want.

   People, mainly some of his early followers, wanted a “Messiah” who would take on their enemies, the Romans.  They didn’t realize that Jesus’ mission was about so much more—to show humankind, the way, the truth, and the life—that of justice for all. 

   It is important for us to remember that this particular feast is only about 100 years old, so fairly new for us Catholics and other Christian denominations.  All the Christian denominations carry in their belief systems the notion of Christ as “King” who will come to judge us at the end of time. 

   Pope Pius XI, in 1925, established this feast as he felt that Catholics were forgetting about Jesus and that this feast would re-establish his place in our lives.  It was too bad that the emphasis was in “Jesus’ power over us” rather than uplifting his life and encouraging us humans to “walk in his footsteps.” 

   All of the Scripture readings for this weekend give us aspects of what it is to be a “king” or “leader,” in the best sense of the word.  Let’s take a look.  In the first reading from Samuel, the people came to David calling him forth to lead them.  Their prophetic words, “Here we are,” thus presenting David with a community to lead.  This people saw previously, David’s ability and reminded him, a former shepherd, that God was now calling him to “shepherd” people. As an aside, in the early days of Roman Catholic Women Priests ordinations, many of us, myself included, placed the words, “Here we are,” on banners, and added, “We are ready” as our statement of faith in what God was doing within us. 

   One of the reasons why it is important to use the correct names for our leaders is our human tendency to “take the power” and run with it, forgetting “why” this power was entrusted to us in the 1st place.  The story of David lets us know this—he forgot to “shepherd” and opted for “reigning” instead, until he once again found his way. 

   In present day, we see those with power in our Church wanting titles and other privileges—we call it “clericalism” –something Pope Francis has cautioned against.  In fact, he has advocated that those called to serve, remember that they are “servants” and to be more like “shepherds” than “lords.” 

   In the second reading from Corinthians, again we see Paul’s lack of having known Jesus in his humanity.  Paul’s relationship was with “the Christ” and unfortunately, he is, kind of stuck in the language of, “forgiveness of sins” and that the Christ, in the person of Jesus took care of that by “dying on the cross.” 

   Let’s look then to the gospel from Luke and jump into the conversation between Jesus and the “more open-minded criminal” dying next to him on the cross to perhaps get some clarity around the issues of “kingship” and “servanthood.” 

    The more open-minded criminal is taking issue with the one on the other side of Jesus, complaining to him about if he is the Messiah, why then doesn’t he save himself and them. “We deserve it after all, [he says]—we are paying the price for what we have done, but this one has done nothing wrong.” Now we know Jesus’ answer that indeed the more open-minded one would be with him, in paradise, soon.  But for our purposes, let’s look at this more open-minded criminal’s assessment of Jesus. 

   The fact is, what he said about Jesus is not entirely true—that “Jesus had done nothing wrong.”  In the eyes of the powers-that-were in Jesus’ time—he had done plenty wrong! Jesus was advocating that the leaders deal out justice for all, especially the least among them, and criticizing them for not being the “servants” that true kings and leaders should be.  The only way to silence such a one was the punishment that Jesus was suffering. 

   So my friends, if we are to be true followers of our brother Jesus, then we cannot get caught up in the theology “that God sent Jesus to die for our sins.”  If we stay there, then Jesus “does” it all—there is nothing for us to do, but live, without ever questioning, never looking at ourselves, never taking the responsibility for our own actions and doing our part. 

   Jesus came to show us how to live our human experience in the best way.  Sometimes that may get us into trouble, as it did Jesus, but we will be standing on some pretty strong shoulders. We are expected as Jesus’ followers to get out into our world, in the midst of the sometimes mess we find there and to do our part to make things better.  A friend recently shared a favorite quote from Dan Berrigan with me, which seems appropriate here.  “If you want to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood!” 

   In conclusion then, let’s hone in on Jesus’ true mission for each of us—anything that isn’t ultimately about attempting to be our best through kindness, mercy, and justice for all, including ourselves—basically about love, should not be wasting our time.  And you will notice that I included, “ourselves,” as we can’t, in love, be there for others if we forget ourselves. It’s a balance.

   So, we end where we started—what to call this feast.  As we conclude one Church Year and start another next Sunday, with the beginning of Advent, I would suggest that we remember Jesus, our brother, as a “servant” instead of a “king” as walking in the footsteps of the first might be much more doable than the second.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

      My friends, even a cursory look at this Sunday’s Scriptures, gives us a clear picture that we are being asked to reflect carefully on our lives, who we have been, and what we have been about during this last Church Year, soon coming to an end—in fact, next week with the Feast of Jesus, the Christ, our Brother, and Friend.  Many of us have known of this feast, in the past as, Christ the King—one that I have suggested that we move away from as Jesus never claimed to be a “king.”  More on that next week. 

   I have always appreciated this time of year, in its physical and spiritual aspects.  For us living in the Midwest, specifically in Minnesota, this time of year calls us to “putting to bed” outside plants, securing our homes for the onslaught of colder temperatures that living here demands of us. 

   Colder temps and less light in our days move us indoors more, “looking for light” in other ways.  I will just let you imagine for yourselves, what brings “light” into your lives when outdoor light is less.  For me, it allows more time to be creative, as in getting back to “painting” as art, something that I have taken up in the last several years.  And for each of you, there is no doubt something that you enjoy doing when you are freed from many of the outdoor activities that take up our lives in the warmer months. 

   In a spiritual sense, this time of year, as I indicated at the beginning of this homily, calls us to assess our personal lives, how and if we have been faithful in our Christian journeys, in somewhat of a consistent way, both, “when convenient and when inconvenient,” as Paul says in another place. 

The Scriptures for this week have a bit of “urgency” about striving, as I always say here, “to be our best selves,” but there is the “realization,” in Jesus, who lived our human life, that this isn’t always easy. 

   Jesus, in Luke’s gospel selection today, lets us know, in no uncertain terms, this reality.  “All will hate you because of me…[but] have patient endurance”— [I will be with you.]  It seems that Jesus is letting us know that the important thing is that we keep trying!  So, this time in our Church Year gives us the opportunity to, “take a look and see where change is perhaps needed. 

   Earlier I stated that today’s Scriptures do call us to a bit of “urgency”—our God does keep wanting and expecting us to be about “justice” in our world, as the psalmist says today, even if we don’t always do it perfectly.  The prophet Malachi lays out this urgency— “the day is coming …when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble.” 

   Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians basically says, and I paraphrase, “present [your] selves as an example for [others] to imitate.”  Additionally, he tells them, “to be disciplined” [in their lives]. It might be good for each of us in these last days of the Church Year, as we assess, how we are doing in, “our walk with Jesus,” to imagine if we would be proud to have others “imitate our actions in the world.”

   The words of the Alleluia verse for today might be a good reflection as we prepare for a new Church Year soon— “I chose you from the world to go and bear fruit that will last.” 

   A good friend of mine and Robert’s over the years, Jim Fitzpatrick, died three years ago at this time Jim had been an active priest in our diocese for 10 years before needing to leave that ministry and go on to spend the remainder of his almost 50 years of life, in what the Church hierarchy would call, “inactive” ministry with his wife, Karen. The funny thing is that even though he ceased his “active” ministry as a diocesan priest, his life was anything but, “inactive.”  He and Karen were great supporters of women being ordained and could be found at many women’s ordinations, just one activity for justice that kept them both “active.” 

   One of the things I loved most about him, when he was my teacher in Old Testament my first year of high school, was his enthusiasm—we might say, “his fire for life!”  In fact, he was always saying, “C’mon, catch fire,” when we as students were less-than-interested. 

   At his funeral, another of his students, a School Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Catherine Bertrand, who gave the homily, shared that the gospel used that day was Jim’s favorite—that of the Transfiguration, because it is the only place in Scripture, he told her, where it says, “It is good for us to be here.”  I personally have always loved this passage too, and it does speak so well of what Jim was about in his life and what we are all to be about in our lives.  Think what it would mean if even on occasion we thought in our daily lives, “it is [indeed] good to be here.” How might all that we do then, change? 

   Our mission as Jesus’ followers is to get out into our world, do our piece as that is made known to us, and basically, “catch fire” as my friend Jim always encouraged in his students. 

   When we claim to follow our brother Jesus, it should be obvious to our world, that this is what we are about—making a difference, as he did!  Another prophet, not truly appreciated in his lifetime, Teilhard de Chardin had this to say: “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love.  Then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” 

   So my friends, as we reflect on this past year, who and what we have been in our world, and if we haven’t yet “caught fire,” perhaps plan on doing so in the next year. 

Amen? Amen! 

Homily – 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

My friends, some of you may have wondered as you heard the chosen readings for today, “Of what good are these messages for me in my life.”  My first read of these Scriptures left me feeling somewhat the same.  From the standpoint of a homilist, I found myself thinking, what can I say of any merit here? Some homilists have been known to choose alternate readings to speak on when confronted with such readings. 

   I will begin by saying that I never have swayed from the readings of a particular Sunday, unless the Mass takes on a different view such as when we do our Mary Magdala service each year on a Sunday.  I choose not to sway from the given readings for the most part because I truly feel that the Spirit can and does work through even the most seemingly negative and hard to apply readings, giving direction for our present day lives.  This week’s set of readings definitely call us to get beyond the surface level and dig deeper for a meaning that we can hold onto.  This is true definitely for the first reading from Maccabees and for the gospel reading from Luke as well. 

   The first reading from Maccabees is hard to get through as we contemplate the cruelty of the Greeks toward their Jewish captives, much less attempt to find a meaning to carry into our day-to-day lives—but we must try. 

   The gospel reading from Luke finds Jesus trying to take the powers-that-be, in his day to that deeper level as well, rather than quibbling over who should have possession of a wife in the next life, that all were married to in this life. Jesus, as in so many other cases must simply tell his challengers to, “get out of their small boxes,” realizing that God is offering them so much more, “that we can’t even imagine,” now. 

   The second reading from Paul to the Thessalonians is probably of most comfort and direction as it bears a message, that at face value, is of meaning for us today.  “Pray that we may be delivered from confused and evil persons.”  And additionally, “pray that the Word of Christ may progress and be hailed by many.” 

   It is always important that we remember, who we are, who we profess to follow, and as the Scripture says, [make present through your lives] “the Word of Christ.”  At the end of the day, the “prayers” must be translated into action, if we are to claim that we are “Christians”—followers of our brother Jesus. 

   Taking today’s readings, as a whole, I would say, they question us about, “what we are willing to commit to, in our lives, to make life better, and not just for ourselves, but for others too!”  As in the first reading, we are definitely called to faith, no matter what life may bring. 

   This past week, our president, Joe Biden, spoke to the nation –to all of us, in a non-partisan way, even though his detractors would disagree, asking that we would all protect our democratic way of living –that our actions as a nation would reflect the rights of the many, not just of the few, looking for power over the others. 

   He made this speech knowing full-well that many hearing him don’t hold the same values, but trusting that some, if not all, would rise to their best selves and protect our democratic way that looks out for the good of all, against the selfishness and ignorance of some. 

   Additionally, he spoke against the violence arising from individuals and groups who will only accept results that play into their needs to control as we move into elections this next week.  The president didn’t say it in so many words, but it is good to remember that our country was founded because of such abuse of power where the rights of all were not considered. 

   The Scriptures today, as I have said, call us to “dig deep” for the values that guide our lives—those things that get us out of bed every day—those things that are about our own good and that of our families, and additionally, about the good of all others too! Christianity calls us to no less! 

   You are all aware that Robert and I were away for almost three weeks this fall visiting friends and family members in somewhat of an epic trip across the western part of our country and back, covering some 4600 miles by car.  Given that we just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and the fact that we are both in our 70’s—age-wise, the thought came to us many times, that this is likely our last trip of this kind. 

   Now, while that may sound disconcerting to hear or think about, we realized the beauty too in thinking over these past, many years, both the ups and the downs, the joys, and the opportunities, and coming to a place of gratitude for all that has been. 

   As I listened to our president speak this past week, I heard his call, from the standpoint of his many years, to strive for our own personal best, not only for ourselves, but for all.  He moves and acts out of his own, personal Catholic faith and Christian values, as does each of us—values that don’t allow any of us to stop caring, even when discouraged by actions in our world that seem far less than, good. 

   So, because we all need the hope that good does win over evil, I will leave you with a few “nuggets of gold” from my last week or two:

  • (From the news) –a little boy who had lost both his mom and dad, in separate ways, and was now living with an aunt, decided not to dwell on sadness, but to turn his grief on its head, so to speak, and instead strive to make others, smile.  He asked his aunt if they could buy some small plastic toys and go out into the community, gifting a toy to people they met in order to get them to smile.  He was able to make many smile, as we can imagine, and who knows how far the goodness went!
  • A little dog named Charlie, who has come into the lives of our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, has become, an, “in-your-face” lover, and so it goes…
  • I shared this last week, but it bears repeating, lay-led Unitarian Universalist communities are encouraged to begin all their services with a warm welcome to everyone present, making it most clear that the welcome is to each one, “just as you are”—happy, sad, disappointed, disillusioned—ready -to-quit, it doesn’t matter—you are welcome!

   Friends, there is much to be sad about in our world, but just for today, let’s “dig deep” to be hope-filled, faith-filled, loving, and willing to be our best, for ourselves and all others. And if you haven’t yet voted, do it soon, voting for those individuals who are committed too toward being their best, if they are given the chance to serve.  Amen? Amen!