Homily – 11th Weekend in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends,

Being that we are celebrating Fathers’ Day this weekend, I invited a younger Dad, in our midst, to reflect on the Scriptures today in the light of his role. He shall remain anonymous in this venue for personal reasons. I think he has given us some rather good thoughts to ponder–enjoy!


 

Thank you, Kathy, for the opportunity to speak here today. Kathy asked me to speak to
everyone gathered here because Father’s Day is tomorrow and I’m a father. I haven’t been one for very long, so what I say here today may very well be wrong – and I hope the fathers in the room will tell me as much afterwards. More fathers need to talk to fathers about being fathers.  I, of course, wouldn’t be much of one without [my wife]. You may have met our little guy in back there. He’s new to all of this, but he’s doing a very good job of learning and we’re very proud of him for that. I know it can be disruptive at times, and I thank all of you for your patience with that. But as I’m sure you all know from your experience with All Are One, learning and progress are disruptive. For that matter, Christ was disruptive, and Christianity is disruptive. And I think that’s because love is disruptive and all of these things are in their strongest form when they focus on love. Of course it is also a trying time to be a father, having to fight a resurgent toxic masculinity that urges simple and destructive answers. The last two weeks have been no respite as we learn of the violations of human rights occurring on our southern border where children and infants are being taken from their parents and held in inexcusable conditions because their parents did not happen to be born in the right place. There cannot be a just society that puts children in cages, and if there were ever a task to test how disruptive of the status quo love can be, this is it.

In the Gospel today (because I have no idea what to do with the other two readings), we hear about Jesus trying to teach the disciples about the reign of God using stories of things that start small and then grow and flourish. Around Father’s Day that might remind us of parenthood and seeing our little ones grow from tiny mustard seeds into beings we can read with, and talk to, and on whose branches birds can come nest (you do have to wonder where Jesus’ audience were getting their mustard seeds). The analogy gets a little strained because I don’t think we should ever intend to “harvest” our children; I know I’d be more partial to [our little boy] growing unharvested to have metaphorical birds rest in his metaphorical branches. But Jesus was using
these stories to explain the “reign of God”, and presumably God is the “sower” of the seed in these stories.

At least that’s what I thought at first. There are many places in our society and our philosophy where notions of fatherhood are undergoing significant change today. We might traditionally be expected to understand a father as the sower of the seed—a simple creator. But I think that as more men resist limiting patriarchal norms and come to understand what women and mothers have always known about what children need, we should consider that the seed can be sown in any manner of ways, but what makes the real difference is the soil. In fact, our roles as mothers, fathers, and community members might be better understood not as sowers but as soil. For it is the soil that nurtures and teaches and provides what the seed needs to grow. While the soil cannot supply everything and plants will always face challenges that restrict them from growth, it is the soil which essentially says “yes” to the seeds and it is this “yes” that spurs their growth. As the ground and soil for the next generation we shelter our seeds and have to be firm with our “no’s” when it comes to something unwise or dangerous. But these “no’s”
never need to come from a place of belittlement, anger, or jealousy. They are always “no’s” in service to some greater ”yes”: wisdom, life, the benefits of less processed sugar. A parable is also a way of teaching that says “yes” by connecting to ideas that are already familiar in an audience. It teaches by saying, “Yes. You already know this, but in a different form.” Maybe a good way to think of fatherhood, whether it be in God or a human father, is as the art and work of saying “yes”. We may want to move on from simply being creators, and explore the part of creating that lives on in creat-ivity — a work that is never done. Just as the parable assumes the soil has a (complicated) way of saying yes to the seeds that grow in it, so we as fathers should commit to the art and work of saying yes to those who depend on us, whether it be at our southern border, our congregation, or our very own families.

 

Homily – 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Celebration of 10 years of Ministry

Friends, it only seems appropriate on the occasion of this celebration of 10 years of ministry that we take a bit of a trip down memory lane, because this truly is a significant milestone that we, as a Vatican II parish, headed by a woman priest, a real “no-no” in the Catholic church and in the backyard of the bishop, would have begun and persisted and grown over these 10 years.  Reminds me of the words said of Congresswoman Elizabeth Warren by Mitch McConnell, “She was warned, given an explanation and yet persisted!”

But you see, it was never totally about me, but about all of us who listened to the Spirit and heard in our hearts the call to be all that we could be as a parish.  Many of us who first gathered at the Holzinger Lodge in Winona, one fall evening in 2007, after my diaconal ordination, to discuss the possibility of becoming a parish, were looking for more than we were finding in our present parishes—we wanted everyone to be welcome at the table, regardless of life-style choices or relationship changes; we wanted the calls of women as well as men to be accepted; we wanted to praise a God who is bigger and more inclusive than what we were being told in our churches. Very simply, we were dreaming of a parish that would be fruitful to the changes of Vatican II.

For me and for Robert, the process started more than 25 years ago as it became more and more difficult for us to attend Masses that were designed to appeal more to men—God came in one form—male, the language was male in form for God and for people and there was no one at the altar who looked like me.

Even though, as a chaplain at the hospital, nursing home and in hospice care, I did many of the ministries that were priest-like, bringing both the Eucharist (big E) and little “e” and if you are wondering, the little “e” is the love of God that we all bring made up of all the small kindnesses, the love of each day.  In listening to people’s stories that were often confession-like in nature; I unofficially gave God’s forgiveness and mercy.  I was there for the joy of live births and for the sadness of babies whose lives were cut short, I was there during the stressful times of physical illness and depression and at the deaths of loved ones after full and good lives spent.  Priestly ministry? I would say “yes,” but my Church said, “No.”

My Church was willing to baptize and confirm me, but not ordain me—they said God did not want it because women couldn’t image Christ. Somehow, as Sr. Joan Chittister says, and I’ll paraphrase, God who is all powerful, all knowing and all wonderful—really, is totally inept when it comes to women!  But, I’m getting ahead of my story.

We, Robert and I, looked for a time, for what we couldn’t find in the Catholic church, in other denominational churches, often finding them lacking as well—we often found God in those years in the “Cathedral of the Great Outdoors.”

By this time, our children, Isaac and Eryn were off to college, so our questioning wasn’t, as we say, “in their faces” all the time.  This is something I often worried about—if our questioning drove them from the Church we had raised them in.  But, upon checking with them; they were both able to say that they had many of the same questions, so understood.  And, they are both here today, along with their families!

So, when it came down to it, in the end, Robert and I realized that we were really “Catholic” at heart and even though some other churches were more welcoming, the Catholic church was the only Church  we really wanted to call our own.

So one day, the now quite well-known story, to some of you, of the Spirit interjecting herself into a conversation that Robert and I were having, happened. To my statement,  “The only way we will ever find a church that is meaningful to us would be if we created one, ourselves, he responded in a way that was very unusual, for him. It is important for you to know that he is usually the one to get me to think twice about something this important, but he simply responded, “Yes, I think you are right!” All I could say was, “Really?!”

From then on, my path was clear.  We came to see that my original statement about forming a church that we would find meaningful was the work of the Spirit and she has been present ever since.

Our daughter Eryn remembers the first meeting in the fall of 2007 at Holzinger Lodge—we were to meet at 7P.M. and as she waited on the porch for the people to arrive, hoping that of the 24 invitations sent out, someone would come, at five minutes to 7, a noticeable wind blew through (think Spirit) and a line of cars followed!

We had about a dozen people that night dreaming a grander church and some are still with us.  Of all the ways we tried to advertise, the best was always, word of mouth.  We had more meetings and more, different people came.  On May 4, 2008, at Winona State University in Kryzsko Commons, I was ordained as Winona Diocese’s first Catholic woman priest!—a marvelous thing really, when you think about it, and again, not for me, but for our community!  Because the Universal Catholic church will not say, “Yes” to the Spirit, the people are moving ahead and saying, “Yes,” this is what we want—please join us when you can!”

I always look to any situation of import and if there is peace and general good around it, (the gifts of the Spirit), I know she is present.  At my ordination, none of my brother priests from around the diocese, who was invited, attended for fear of repercussions, but my Protestant sisters and brothers in ministry came to give affirmation that my call was truly a call to ministry for the People of God.

One of those, Pastor John Carrier, was present that day. After the ordination ceremony , he came up to me and asked if we had a place to do liturgy and when I said, “No,” he offered the Lutheran Campus Center, here, rent-free.  His only stipulation was that we support Mugby Junction for our fellowship needs, who of course share this building. No problem then John, nor now as the three-some, AAO, LCC and Mugby have developed a wonderful symbiotic relationship over the years.

Over these 10 years, this ministry has grown to some 60 strong who actually come to services when they can, usually about 20 a week.  We always said that if everyone came at the same time, we would be at critical mass, no pun, in this space, which I think we truly are at today! In addition to those who physically attend, my weekly homilies go out to many, many more—I don’t know the circulation rate as people frequently tell me that they share these words with countless others.

And if what I write each week stirs, comforts, or challenges you in heart, mind and soul, I credit the Spirit with that too.  I can’t tell you the number of times that I have marveled at what comes out of my and her work in a week’s time.

Speaking of the Spirit, I wanted to make mention of why I speak of the Spirit of God with the feminine pronoun, “she.”  This isn’t just a “cutesy” way to interject some of the feminine into an otherwise male God, but it is in fact, from Scripture.  The Old or First Testament speaks of the Spirit of God in the Aramaic in feminine terms, “ruach” and the wisdom of God is named, Sophia. So, if it is good enough for the Bible, I think we should speak this way too! As Sandra Schneiders, scripture scholar says well, “God is [truly] more than two men and a bird.”

The Spirit also makes herself present in our weekly homilies when I open them up to your comments—as I always tell you, She uses you as well as me in our hearing of the Word.

So, my friends, these 10 years have been about the work of God, for the People of God.  This community is most generous, financially and materially, in time and in talent.  Because we are blessed with this space, rent-free, we are able to gift back to our city, country and world approximately 75% and sometimes more of what is given in the collection basket—our board truly enjoys this aspect of their job—giving our money away and of course the ministries of the Lutheran Campus Center are frequent recipients of the generosity of this parish.  There will be a book on the table later showing some of the many other places that have benefitted as well.

And then there is the outreach in time and talent to the community through Home Delivered Meals, Catholic Worker monthly meals, Winona Volunteer Services Food Shelf and soon through the Winona Sanctuary Program as All Are One will be serving as a Sanctuary Support Community to the eventual Sanctuary Church for which we all pray can happen soon.

So, as we look back and we look forward in faith, our Scriptures today have much for us to reflect on.  The reading from Genesis speaks about the fact that the natural human reaction to wrongdoing is fear.  Fear keeps us from not doing many things that love would otherwise call us to do.  Like this parish for instance—like me going against the bishop and getting ordained. I did, by the way, ask him to ordain me, but he refused! The bishop used fear tactics at the time to dissuade me—my certification as a Catholic chaplain for which he gave his episcopal endorsement required for lay people seeking certification within the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.  He also threatened me with excommunication from the Church I love, if I did not recant.

Paul tells the Corinthians and us today that “this life is momentary, that the next is everlasting, so do not lose heart at the troubles here.”

Jesus tells us today, as recorded by Mark that anyone who does the will of God is his sister, brother and mother. It is my hope that in Jesus’ Spirit we are about God’s will and I believe that by the fruits of this parish, as delineated earlier, this is so.

When Jesus walked the earth, those who opposed him said his works came from the devil—we might ask as he did, why would you assume that when someone comes in strength and goodness that it has to be of the devil? The bishop was concerned that I would lead people astray—not that I might do any good!

And the good done over these 10 years has not been without much help, love and support from so many. I wanted to make mention of the former editor of the Winona Daily News, Darryl Ehrlick, who so generously and graciously introduced me and my journey to the people of Winona through several wonderful articles back in 2008.  To this beautiful parish of people that I am so privileged to serve, many who have been here for the long haul, witnessing to the goodness of a parish that welcomes all to the table. I think especially of Michael Maher, who has given so much to this parish and who was hospitalized this week with pneumonia and is with us in spirit today. To my family, my great kids, Isaac and Eryn and their spouses, Lauren and Adam and our grandson, Elliot who says so much to me about the playfulness of our God. To my sisters by marriage, Ann, Joan and Theresa, here with us today—Theresa’s husband, Don and others who couldn’t be with us except in spirit. And finally, to my husband Robert, who has always had my back and given me all the love and support one needs to do such an audacious thing as pursue ordination in a Church that says, “No!”

So, my friends, “When our earthly tent is folded up,” Paul tells us today, “The grace that is reaching more and more people,” and it seems this is true of All Are One Roman Catholic church, may [that grace] cause thanksgiving to overflow.”  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – Corpus Christi Sunday

 

On May 31st, in her monthly publication, Monastic Way, Sr. Joan Chittister shared these words from Robert Kennedy:

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance!”

Today in the country of Yemen, people, many of them children are literally starving to death while Saudi Arabia and Iran fight with each other for power and control of the area.

Closer to home, this country debates, whether the rights of gun owners are more important than the rights to life of our school children.

In both examples, you may be thinking that I have simplified them too much as to not understand the total picture.  Sometimes when problems appear so big that we seemingly can’t do a thing to make a difference, I think the simplest answer might be the best one!

If fighting is keeping the food from those who are starving, then it behooves all of us as responsible people living in a world that has become incredibly small, to do what is necessary to feed the hungry.

If guns kill people and we know that this is so, then as responsible people in this country, we can’t make it so easy for those who want to kill people, to do so!

The Catholic hierarchy that supposedly follows in the footsteps of Jesus who was nothing if not inclusive of women in life and ministry, reiterated its 10 year ban on the ordination of women this past week.  Coming at this one with the simplest response, I would say, “Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus!”

Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi—The Body of Christ.  This is a beautiful feast if we see it in its fullness.  Contrary to what the Catholic church Universal has lifted up for us over the centuries—that of respect and love and honor shown to the elements on the altar—which we should do; this feast calls us to so much more.

We are grateful to our brother Jesus for leaving us a tangible way to be close—the Eucharist, but I believe he never intended it to end there, as a personal, intimate  comingling with the divine.  Jesus was always a person of action in his humanity—always reaching out, uplifting the poor, the down-trodden and calling the powers-that-be to do the same!

The gift of the Eucharist that Jesus left us on that first Holy Thursday was meant to be an action word and substance, a verb, if you will, not a static noun, to be honored. When we receive the bread, the wine, made, by our words at the consecration, Jesus’ body and blood—a mystery we can only take on faith, the intent, I suggest, was always to transform this gift, make it part of ourselves and carry it to our world, through our actions of justice, as Robert Kennedy once suggested that we do.  The real transubstantiation that needs to take place is that we, each of us would become “bread” for our world.

So, you see, this feast isn’t a complicated one at all, but really quite simple!

Friends, if, when we receive the Eucharist—we do not allow it to transform us, then we, have fallen short of truly walking in Jesus’ footsteps.  The examples I gave in the beginning are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak of areas in our city, country and world that need the love, mercy, understanding and justice of our brother Jesus, so let’s continue our work! Amen? Amen!

 

 

Homily – Trinity Sunday

 

Each year friends, our Church sees fit to celebrate a Sunday that not only allows, but actually implores us to look deeply at who God is for us.  The word, “trinity,” we all know, speaks to the phenomenon of a God who is present to us in theology and in other ways as three distinct persons, yet comprising one God.

We are asked to believe this whether we can fully understand it or not.  And when it comes to matters of faith, things that we can’t really get our minds around; I think it is best to come at them with our hearts.  Our hearts are wiser.

Whether we can truly understand the concept of three persons in one God is not as important, I think, as understanding the idea that we are truly loved by our God.  And how do we know this? We know it in Jesus, who as the second person of this Triune God became one of us humans in time.  That too; we can’t truly understand, but we can understand the motive behind the action—LOVE.

Contrary to an older theology, still touted by some today that Jesus came primarily to redeem us from the fires of hell by dying on the cross; Jesus actually came as many present day theologians suggest and I agree, as a direct and pure expression of a God, who as Creator, loved creation beyond all measure.  Jesus lived, loved, taught and shared life with us humans, always showing us the way to be our best selves.  And in time, he died a cruel death designed for those who didn’t follow the rules. He died because of how he chose to live, demanding that all were equal and that we, as his sisters and brothers, must do the same. Understandably, his demands were met with some push-back, especially from those in power.

Now, to design a theology of errant humanity in need of redemption is perhaps an easier way to go than to give humanity the true picture of a God who loves over-the-top.  When we teach the later, that of a God who loves without end, our task in this world becomes much more pronounced too—we can hardly do less!

Today’s readings give us three pictures of God.  It is important, I think, to see them in progression to get the full image of who God truly is for us.  If we were merely to stop with the first reading from Deuteronomy, we might tend to see our God as exclusive, choosing a small band of Israelites over all of creation. Better that we continue on through to the New Testament readings from Paul and Matthew to see the completion in Jesus who said upon leaving the earth, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world!”

Paul fleshes this out for us in his letter to the Romans expanding the theology.  He says that through the Spirit, our God has adopted us, adopted us all—we are heirs, with Jesus, in the great family of God.

Now the notion of God choosing us as a people in Deuteronomy is a good starting place as long as we see the completion of that in Jesus’ stories of the Prodigal and that of the shepherd leaving the 99 to go in search of the lost one. Both stories depict the over-the-top love of the Creator for the created!—a love intended for all!

So, on this Trinity Sunday, a day that calls us to consider who God is for us; I will share who God is for me.  I often speak of God in the Trinity as Creator, Savior and Spirit.  This concept is devoid of gender, per se, except in the person of our brother, Jesus, who when you think about it, probably gave us the most androgynous view of the good of both genders, female and male.  I can most effectively have a relationship with Jesus because of his presence, in time, as a human being, and I believe this was the wisdom of our God in appearing in human form—to tell us in a way that we could understand, how much we are loved and cherished, each one of us.

God as Creator, I choose to see in all of created life—in all the beauty, the joy, the attempts to be people of peace and understanding.

The Spirit, for me, is that force within that gives me the courage to say the hard things, to do what I might not always want to do for fear of being rejected.  The Spirit is really the life of Jesus, in a new form.

Friends, let us pray today for each other to allow God to be who she/he is as we each come to know this force in our lives ever more profoundly. Amen? Amen!

 

 

 

Homily – Pentecost Weekend

 

Friends, as I said in the bulletin this week; Pentecost is our clarion call to walk the talk of Christianity—Pentecost is about action, about moving out of our comfort zones, not looking to anyone else for guidance, but our brother Jesus, who truly showed us the way to go, even to the cross. Now, you might be wondering, why would I want to do that, especially the cross part? And, I can only answer, because that was what you signed on for on your confirmation day!

That day was not just about getting a new set of clothes, having a party with family and friends, receiving gifts, but about making a conscious effort to live more from our hearts, than our heads.  The heart will lead us out of our comfort zones, whereas the head, alone, will never do that. If our confirmation day was the beginning of us as individuals, living more from the heart, then, that was something worth celebrating! And, it is never too late to start!

The older liturgy of confirmation used to include the ritual of a “slap on the face” which was meant to indicate that we must be strong in our faith because we will be tempted in many ways to do less than our best.  In present day, this ritual is no longer used for obvious reasons, but a ritual that might be used could be a gentle shake to perhaps wake us to the realization that being a grown-up follower of Jesus means that we might be called upon at times to do or say the right thing whether we do it with others or stand alone.  We should not be followers of the crowd, so as to be safe, but stand for more.

Our Scriptures today let us know that our forebears in the faith experienced something life-changing on that first Pentecost—tongues of fire, violent, rushing wind, speaking in other tongues.  Scripture goes on to say that barriers of language were broken—people could now understand each other where before they could not.  What a wonderful thing—something our world so needs today—to be able to really listen and hear the concerns on another’s heart—to basically understand.

In a very simple example this comes home to me. Our little grandson, Elliot speaks very well and he speaks often and continuously throughout the day when I am with him.  Because, as is normal for someone his age, certain letters are still hard to say—r’s and l’s for example. When these letters are part of words he wants me to hear and I don’t understand, he and I get frustrated—“No gramma, I mean…and he says it again and still I don’t know what he means.  Because I love him, I keep listening and finally, I get what he is trying to say!

Peace in the world, the peace that Jesus brings to us is all about that—our ability to keep listening, checking it out with our “supposed” adversary to see if that is what is meant and then trying to understand what the meaning is—not just for myself, but for the other.

When I look around the world and see the troubles people face, one can usually break it down to the basics of life—people need food, water, clothing, shelter and safety.  This is something we all should understand and be aware of when people are living without necessities and then, ask what part perhaps we as individuals are doing to either make life better for others, or make it worse.

It has been a known fact for many years that the developed world far surpasses the developing world in the amount of resources it uses.  This fact is one that the serious Christian needs to wrestle with.  No one of us can do all that is needed in our world, but we have to at least try.

Here at All Are One, we have many opportunities to share our surplus—through Home Delivered Meals in February of each year, our monthly food collections of non-perishable items, Catholic Worker monthly meals and now, as a Sanctuary Support Community—we will have added ways to extend love and understanding in the future.  The money you all share so generously in the collection basket, except for some office supplies, yearly licenses, insurance and some professional development for the pastor, goes back to our local community, country and world at a rate of 75% for social justice activities and outreach.  We are very fortunate to be in a symbiotic relationship with the Lutheran Campus Center which allows us to share space and work and make our outreach possible.

So friends, on this Pentecost weekend, when we remember the Spirit coming to each of us to strengthen us to move out of our comfort zones, reflecting on Paul’s words to the Corinthians is of merit.   He speaks in a somewhat theological way when he says, “We cannot be under the influence of the Spirit and curse Jesus.”  Additionally, we cannot claim that Jesus reigns over all except under the influence of the Spirit.”

In other words; when we do not assist those in our lives/our world who need assistance, that is, in effect, “cursing Jesus.”  Likewise, we can’t claim that Jesus rules in our lives unless we are striving each day to be our best selves—Jesus always wants us to see the bigger picture—to truly walk the talk! And some days we aren’t going to feel up to the task but we must remember Jesus’ words after all the suffering, the death and the rising—“peace be with you” and we must believe that he means this gift to be ours!  Amen? Amen!