Homily – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Friends, here we are at the 2nd week of our Advent journey.  “Journey” is a good way to think about these four weeks of preparation for this most wonderful season of Christmas.  We are on a journey of preparation that will prepare us, if we are conscious of this opportunity, in the most profound ways we can imagine.

Each Advent for the last ten years; I have spoken to you about not rushing the season—lingering a bit in the days of Advent to check not only our lists of gifts, cards, special foods, etc., but of ourselves as “spiritual beings, here, having a human experience,” as someone once said.

I often speak to you during Advent about “carving out” some moments in each day to nurture your relationship with Jesus, our brother who was willing in the great plan of God to immerse himself in humanity for no other reason than to show the over-the-top love of our God for each of us.  We don’t want to lose sight of this one key idea.  We also don’t want to get lost, lost in the busyness of this time of year, when this season is so much about being found—found by our God who loves and cares for us beyond anything that we can imagine!

And my friends, for this very reason, the feast of yesterday, the Immaculate Conception is really a contradiction to the great love of our God who chose to become part of our humanity. Because you see, to say that his mother was conceived without sin is to say that she was not human as the very definition of humanity is that we are not perfect and the best part, is that our God loves us anyway! So, if the only way that Jesus could be part of us, and our humanity was that his mother needed to be perfect, or not human, than where did the human component in Jesus come from? Clearly, the theologians and clerics need to clean up their act on this one. And if they can do that, then some of the negative thinking around sexuality might be able to be done away with as well. The beauty of the Incarnation is the realization that God loved us from the get-go and chose to be immersed in our humanity that is not an “original sin,” but an original blessing!

I was visiting with a woman this past week that I am a mentor for on her journey to becoming a Cojourner with the Rochester Franciscan Sisters. We were talking about her notion that, “God is love.”  I suggested to her that a way to “see” her God more was to be conscious of the fact that when she experiences good in this world in any way, she is seeing the face of God.  Our God infuses all of creation, animate and inanimate objects with the God-head—God’s fingerprint is on all of it!  So if we are looking for God; we must realize that God is all around us, ever present, ever-wanting to be a part of our lives. I think of the joy of a little boy, our grandson, Elliot, who turned 5 yesterday and amid the goodness of his family gathering with him for a party at the bowling alley, our God was there!

Advent calls us to this and more—not just that our loving God is in all that is good, but in all that is not-so-good.  That becomes the harder part for most of us—that in parts of this world—in people specifically, where good does not seem to be present because we humans have camouflaged the image of God—God yet remains. In other words, we are called to love that which on face value seems, unlovable.

Paul tells the Philippians today and us vicariously, “my prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and discernment.”  The prophet, Baruch, confirmed by the prophet, John, tells us, “Make ready the way of God, clear a straight path—that every valley will be filled and every mountain will be leveled.”  Nothing is impossible for God! The prophet Baruch continues, “For God is leading Israel (and us) in joy by the light of divine glory, escorted by mercy and justice.”

Always, my friends, we must remember the importance of keeping our eyes on Jesus, because he will truly show us the way to navigate in a world that can sometimes seem, loveless.  We are saddened when we do not see people in power, in Church or State, acting as the true leaders that we need them to be.

It is equally sad when our so-called leaders act more out of their heads, than their hearts.  Advent and ultimately, Christmas is about getting this one idea right—it is love, always love that opens hearts and changes minds, not lofty rhetoric devoid of caring actions.

Jesus, our brother, on this spiritual journey came not as royalty, but as a poor baby of poor parents—parents who would become refugees in order to save their baby from violence and death.  We can’t miss the blatant connection between Mary, Joseph and Jesus and our present day refugees.  Our God is part of all creation and to reject and not care for any one member of that creation is to reject and not care for Jesus.

As we continue our Advent journey, let us take some time each day, if only a few minutes, to focus on keeping our hearts open to seeing Jesus in our world in perhaps new and different ways—Amen? Amen!

 

 

 

Homily – 1st Sunday of Advent

My friends, Advent is upon us! This is one of my favorite times in the Church Year! It is a bit counter-culture as the season calls forth from us a time of quiet and simple preparation unlike the pace that many of us keep during the holiday season. Advent though, is a time of taking stock of who we are as followers of our brother Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us!”

In the culture in which we live, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, the push is on for Christmas to come.  That is not bad in itself, because for many, Christmas marks a joy-filled time spent with family and friends and we want to be about that!     But, setting something wonderful aside for a time and working toward it makes the celebration all the more wonderful when it does come.

I can remember when I was in grade school at Cathedral here in Winona.  One of the practices we had which originated with one of the Sisters was to present us with the empty crib at the beginning of Advent and a bowl full of straw that we could line Jesus’ crib with—on this particular year, I even brought the straw from my grandparents’ farm in Rollingstone, which made the ritual even more special. We were told we could put one piece of straw in for each good deed that we did throughout Advent.  By Christmas time there was enough straw to make a comfy bed for the baby Jesus.

This is a simple practice, but it called our attention to the fact that we must prepare ourselves to receive such a good guest, just as we prepare our physical homes when guests are coming.

Now as an adult, blessed with pastoring this good parish of believers; I still see my personal and ministerial task of preparing myself and guiding you all as well to becoming “shining lights” as it were, to better assist our brother Jesus in being seen in the world in which we all live. Jesus will only be seen in our world if we allow him to be through our actions of reaching out to those in need, perhaps through food collections, through assisting at the Warming Center for the homeless, by our presence or by our gifting of warm clothing and monetary gifts, through our monthly meals at the Catholic Worker House and through our generous gifts to the Food Shelf of Winona Volunteer Services—we are presently in the Ten Days of Giving for this cause—I know you will be generous!   And as all of you may be aware, soon there will be the opportunity to assist our immigrant brothers and sisters through the Sanctuary Program here which has taken an additional step with Wesley United Methodist church agreeing to be the “host” congregation to house those needing protection as they strive to get paperwork in place and move toward citizenship.

Catholic social justice programs have always talked about “our time and our talent” as ways through which we can give back to others in gratitude for all that our God has given to us. The Second Reading today from 1 Thessalonians says as much, “May our Savior make you grow and overflow with love for one another.”

Besides being aware of giving to others during Advent as a way to prepare for the Season of Christmas; the next best thing or perhaps it is the best thing that we can do is to allow the Christmas story to become real in our lives.

Remembering that Jesus’ earthly mother, Mary, was but a young woman and faced with a monumental decision, to become the mother of the Messiah. Clearly, if she said, “yes,” this would forever change her life.

Let’s complicate things even further and say that the relationship between Mary and Joseph was a love relationship, not one of an old man, and a young girl, as sometimes depicted on Christmas cards with the man’s role being more of a guardian, than a loving spouse.  Let’s try and understand what it might have been like for Joseph to hear that his beloved was already pregnant with someone else’s child, even if that someone was God!

My friends, we only have our humanity with which to make sense of such a story and it is, I suggest, that through our humanity that this story can really become most beautiful to us. Advent is a time to really ponder the mystery of all that was being asked of this young couple from Nazareth over 2,000 years ago.  Put yourself in their places and think of your own significant relationships in life. How would you have responded to being asked to put your own intimate plans aside in order to say, “Yes” to God?

I believe it is only in making this biblical story personal that we can truly find the meaning of the holy season of Advent or of any season in our Church Year.  In our world today; we are being asked as followers of our brother Jesus to give birth to him just as surely as Mary and Joseph did all those years ago.

Through All Are One’s commitment as a Sanctuary Partner Congregation; we give Jesus, birth in our world—when we stand up for those who have fallen on hard times, the refugee, the lonely, the lost; we give Jesus birth in our world—when we hear others’ stories with compassion, and a desire to understand; we give birth to Jesus in our world.

Our world at present my friends, in our country and Church especially, never needed “the birthing” of Jesus more!  Through our speech, our actions of solidarity with those in need, our truthfulness about what is right and what is wrong, beyond ourselves; we will prepare in the very best ways to receive Jesus into our hearts at Christmas time.  And with that focus, all the festive preparations—colorful trees, special foods, gifts to one another, time with family and friends, take on the special glow of God-with-us!

The Gospel today from Luke instructs us well in not letting ourselves “be bloated” [with the things of this world, but that we would] “stay alert, pray constantly” [for all the ways that we can make the plight of others better, basically doing what Jesus did].  The prophet Jeremiah says, “In those days, Judah will be safe and Jerusalem will be secure.” Have a happy and hope-filled Advent!  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – Feast of Jesus, our Brother and Friend

My friends, with today’s feast; we come to the official end of our Church Year, 2018.  I think it is significant that the official Church Year runs to its own beat, not keeping time with the calendar year, January 1—December 31, or the fiscal year for some businesses, October 1—September 30, but to its own tune—the First Sunday in Advent, usually the last Sunday in November or the first in December through its end with today’s feast.

Our model, Jesus, our brother was counter-culture from the beginning so it is appropriate that the yearly reminder and renewal of his life among us wound be counter-culture too. Unfortunately, in many respects, that counter-culture aspect often ends here.  What do I mean? Let’s start with the official name of this feast, “The Solemnity of Christ the King.” By careful look at today’s gospel from John; we see that the title of “king” was not something that Jesus aspired to, but something Pilate gave to him.  Jesus’ response to Pilate’s question, “So, you are a king?” is, “You say that I am a king.” Jesus goes on to say that what he is about is, “truth”—that is why he came!

And friends, we know that the “truth” is about God loving us so much so as to become one of us. Paul states in Philippians 2, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to that, but humbled himself and became like humans are.”

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

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

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

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

If we are looking for real answers to the problems in our Church today, we would have to name clericalism among our clergy as a significant part of the problems—the notion that they are better than the people they serve—that they must be listened to and obeyed with no discussion among the people into the most serious and vital notions of our faith.

The Diocese of Winona/Rochester has filed for bankruptcy this past week as you all know.  The bishop has stated that this is being done for the victims of clergy sex abuse so that they can be adequately compensated for the abuse they received at the hands of those who were ordained to serve them.  At face value, this may seem like a good step, but we must remember that it is being taken now only because they are being forced into it.  Where was this concern 10 years ago when John Quinn was first made bishop of Winona? At that time he would have been made aware of the cover-up and passing on of abusive priests in this diocese. Where was the concern then?

Clericalism is the reason that these crimes have been covered up for so long because   clericalism sees controlling the power of the Church, held by so-called celibate men more important than the safety of its children. Until these same clerics, and for us, Bishop John Quinn can tell us that he has walked away from this powerful tool to control his subjects, it does not matter how many programs he puts in place to protect the children, the abuse will continue because there are no checks and balances.

This bishop and all bishops need to have listening sessions and truly hear the concerns on peoples’ hearts and together and this is important, TOGETHER, come to solutions that will truly protect and care for the most vulnerable among us.

We, as the People of God look forward with hope to the meeting that Pope Francis has called for the bishops of the Catholic world to address this most grievous of crimes.  It is the hope of many that he will jump-start real change within our Church. He, at least has named the sin of clericalism and of how these so-called leaders must move away from this distinction—we can only pray that this time, true change can happen!

I find too, many similarities to clericalism as I look at the present administration in Washington. Politics aside; I believe that as citizens of this country that we love, for us to tolerate a president who is apparently above the law, self-protecting, greedy and amoral in his behavior, is clearly wrong. It would be one thing for a person of power, and here I mean in Church or State, to act amorally, but when the fall-out affects others, then it is time that people of conscience speak up. As I have said before, wrong is wrong whether it comes from the common human, the president or the pope. Jesus calls us to no less than to speak the truth as we know it.

Jesus-with-us, Emmanuel, as we will celebrate in a few short weeks calls us to truth, justice, mercy and compassion.  Sometimes, to act thusly can bring us upset and fear that we stand alone.  At that time, we must remember the messages coming from the 1st and 2nd readings today—basically that Jesus, the Christ, our brother and friend in our humanity is eternal, is forever! Also, that this eternal brother and friend sends us grace and peace through the Spirit of God to do that which we must do.

So friends, as we move toward the beautiful and holy season of Advent beginning next Sunday, let us focus on the One who came to be one-with-us, keeping our eyes on him and receive the strength we need to be his true followers.  Amen? Amen!

 

 

 

 

Homily – 33rd Weekend in Ordinary Time

My friends, times away, as Robert and I experienced these last three weeks are good, reflective experiences as the time away from daily tasks and concerns, allows us to focus on the perhaps, deeper meanings of what each of us takes for granted in the comfort of our own homes.  Even this aspect, “the comfort of our own homes” was called into question for us as we traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to check out what was happening there.  Our intent was not to be active, but just to observe.

The fact that became clear to me after going through several check points in our country near the border was that we would never be detained, because of course; we had the right color of skin!  The questioning from the very cordial border patrol people went something like this:  “Hello folks, are you both U.S. citizens? Our response—“Yes.” Where are you heading?”  We usually said we were from Minnesota and heading home, just here vacationing.  We were then asked if we had anyone in back to which we answered, “No.” Now, we could have had the whole back of our camper full of immigrants (which we didn’t), but they didn’t ask to look, nor did we have to actually prove that we were U.S. citizens.  But again; we had the right color of skin! I had to believe that if I was dark-skinned; I would have had to show my papers and our car would have been searched—we saw as much at these stops when dark-skinned individuals came through.

But amid events like this that were a bit disconcerting; we did experience many wonderful days marveling at the grandeur of this beautiful country that we call home.  In the midst of gigantic, sequoia trees one can only look up and say, “Wow!” Trees that tower above you more than 200 feet, that have lived thousands of years makes my own life seem, minuscule in the face of that!

We saw cliff sides in Yosemite National Park in California that again, left us speechless in their grandeur.  Arches in stone in Utah in the Arches National Park carved beautifully by Mother Nature over eons, deserts that go on and on in their dryness, yet muted, beautiful colors.

We even took some time to visit a sister of Robert’s and her husband in Arizona as part of our trek south and west spending time sharing life memories and of how those experiences made them who they are—they smiled remembering, we laughed and enjoyed each other.

I can’t do justice to all we saw, experienced, thought about, meditated on in our time away, but I can say, gratitude is a great part of what I feel as I look back on these days—gratitude to those who cared for our doggie, and other things around home and church and gratitude for the opportunity just to be away.

This time of year in the Church calendar calls us as well to this deep kind of reflection, something that is good to do whether we can leave our homes for a time or not.  Today’s readings bring us to the end of our Church Year, a good time to look back, assess our times of faith and living out of that faith as well as  a time to look forward, with hope to a new season, Advent, in just two weeks. Next Sunday we will celebrate in a very special way, Jesus, our brother, our model, our friend and with gratitude, look to him in thanksgiving for showing us the way, the truth and the life.

Today’s readings speak of “end times” and without proper understanding of the true meaning of these readings, they can be disturbing.  First, we have to understand that the ancient Israelite people had a concept of two different times—the “end times” and “the end of time.”  The end times were thought to be a time of transition, when suffering and hard times would be no more, when the Chosen One, whom Christians believe is Jesus, the Christ, will come again in glory to make all things right and the kin-dom will be celebrated before the face of God, in that wonderful reality.  It is a tremendously hope-filled image that is attractive to many people. The cinema has played into this image of a time of justice when good, will reign—in the epic series, The Lord of the Rings, and in the Star Wars movies.

The “end of time” is another time, and when that time will come, none of us knows, or in fact understands just how it will be—it would appear that Jesus, in his humanity didn’t even know. We will just have to trust that all will unfold according to God’s loving plan. The reading from Hebrews today says as much—that in fact, in Jesus, all will be well.

So why, we might ask,  are we given frightening images—of the sun and moon going dark—of stars falling from the sky?  The reading from Mark has an apocalyptic tone, and part of that, the exegetes tell us, was a way to cover the subversive tone of these writings from the enemies of the people.

The Israelites were told overtime, that what they were suffering would come to an end—the Chosen One would come to alleviate their sufferings—this was their hope.   This knowledge that their God did hear their cries and would come to save them, gave them the will to go on.  In faith, we must believe the same, especially in these times of mass murders through firearms that we as a people can do something about.  Through cataclysmic fires and storms brought on by climate change, also within our power to fix.

It has been thought that the reference to the “heavens and earth passing away” referred to the destruction of Jerusalem.  It encouraged fidelity when the people’s world seemed to be crumbling around them.  And for each of us, this type of reading gives us courage in our struggles through life because there is reason to hope—we are not alone, our God is with us.  Mark tells us today that “the heavens and the earth may pass away, but not Jesus’ words”—God will always be with us.

The placing of the “end times” reading on this weekend is appropriate as our Church Year is winding down, setting the stage for the wonderful season of Advent.  This weekend’s readings serve then as a beginning to a time of transition in our Church Year, but also in our personal lives.  They also remind us of the end of time, whenever and however that might come to be.  The end of time—our personal time, when our life as we know it, comes to a close, need not frighten us if we strive in our lives to do our best, always keeping our eyes on Jesus, who truly shows us the way.  The thought then of our God—Jesus, the Christ, coming “in the clouds,” with great power and glory,” should bring us joy and anticipation, not fear and dread.

Many people over time, from those people who were the first Christians, followers of Jesus, thought that the “end times” were inaugurated with Jesus and that the end of time would follow shortly.  Jesus, they thought, had come to make all things right, get us on the path of goodness—mercy, love, justice, compassion and once we got it, Jesus would return and take us all, the faithful, with him, to heavenly glory.  It seems it has taken us all, collectively, longer to “get it” then those first Christians thought.  It is evident, if we look around our world that there is still much that we as a nation need “to get” our heads, but mostly, our hearts around, and at the same time, much to be hopeful about as well. And when the end of time will come, no one knows, and perhaps it is not something we need worry about, but rather, to concentrate on the transition in our own lives.

As we look around our world, the culture in both Church and State seems to be in need of some deep reflection and transition—from a culture that seems to be about the individual more than about the collective, especially those most in need.  In Daniel’s first reading; we read also about, “a time of turmoil,” and Daniel’s counsel that, “the wise will shine like the bright heavens.”  Friends, let us pray today and each day that we will find within ourselves the strength, the will, to be those “bright lights” doing the piece that is ours to do.

This week then, as we ever so relentlessly move toward the end of our Church Year, anticipating the beautiful season of Advent, recalling that our brother Jesus is always with us, showing us the way, let us pray for each other that we might let his example of truth, goodness and justice for all seep into our hearts in order that our encounters with others might more regularly move from the surface to become empathic encounters, true communions with them, and through them, with our loving God. Amen? Amen!

Homily – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends, here is Pastor Dick Dahl’s homily from yesterday–enjoy! Pastor Kathy
P. S. See you next Saturday!

At the end of the War of 1812 over 2,000 British solders were killed in the battle of New Orleans with only 15 American casualties. This bloodbath took place because news that the Peace Treaty had been signed in Belgium two weeks earlier had not crossed the ocean yet. Today, however, thanks to satellites and modern communication we seem to know about every tragedy, both of natural and human origin, within hours, if not minutes of its occurrance.

So while we were still in shock from the horror of the slaughter of our Jewish brothers and sisters at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, we heard this week of an even more deadly killing of teenagers at a dance hall in Thousand Oaks, California. Next came word that the neighboring town of Paradise had been incinerated by an out-of-control fire in which nine more people died. We also hear daily of some decision by our own President that shows no compassion or understanding for the suffering of people coming to our southern border, seeking refuge from unbelievable fear and suffering in their countries of origin.

With such awareness, sometimes one wants to turn off the news, close one’s ears, withdraw and hide somewhere. Yet when we come together here and gather to celebrate the Eucharistic meal, the Word of God speaks to our hearts, challenging us and enabling us to face the reality around us.

Today’s first reading takes place during a devastating draught that affected not only Israel but people in neighboring regions as well. To save Elijah the Lord sent him to a city in Sidon where he met a widow about to prepare a meager meal for herself and her son with the last bit of food she had. Elijah first asks her to bring him a small cupful of water. Then he asks for a crust of bread, and finally for her to make him a little cake. She was not a Jew and she responded to his request, “As the Lord, your God lives, I have nothing baked and only a handful of flour and a little oil left.” But when he entreats her in God’s name to fulfill his request anyway, she gives him all she has.

This story of response to the needs of a stranger, of responding to a God she did not even know, with all she had is an incredible example of generosity .

In the Gospel reading, Jesus observes another widow. He watches her literally putting a pittance, two coins, into the Treasury, but it was all she had. Again an astounding example of giving with all one’s being.

The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews focused on Jesus who gave all he was and had as his blood poured out in the new Covenant–in which we participate in this meal of bread and wine.

What does it mean, then, when the first and greatest commandment calls us to love God with our whole being?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), the brilliant French Jesuit priest, mystic, and paleontologist, had much to say about love. For Teilhard, “love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces.” Divine love is the energy that brought the universe into being and binds it together. Human love is whatever energy we use to help divine love achieve its purpose. . . .

Religion, from the root religio, means to reconnect, to bind back together. We must all overcome the illusion of separateness. It is the primary task of religion to communicate not worthiness but union, to reconnect people to their original identity “hidden with Christ in God,” as St. Paul states in his letter to the Colossians (3:3).

Christianity has put major emphasis on us loving God. But some speak of their overwhelming experience of how God loves us! In the 1890s the Englishman Francis Thompson wrote a poem called The Hound of Heaven. In it he describes God as a great hound ever seeking us, running to find and save us through the endless byways of our lives. God’s loving us comes through in most of the writing of mystics: God the initiator, God the doer, God the one who seduces us. It’s all about God’s initiative. The mystics invariably find ways to give that love back through forms of service and worship; but it’s never earning the love, it’s always returning the love.

To love God is to love what God loves. To love God means to love everything . . . no exceptions. In his book, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Love [people] even in [their] sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Of course, that can only be done with divine love flowing through us. In this way, we can love things and people in themselves, for themselves—not for what they do for us. That’s when we begin to love our family, friends, and neighbors apart from what they can do for us or how they make us look. We love them as living images of God in themselves, despite their finiteness.

Now that takes work: constant detachment from ourselves—our conditioning, preferences, and knee-jerk reactions. Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, from whose daily meditations most of this homily was formed, writes that we can only allow divine love to flow by way of contemplative consciousness, where we stop eliminating and choosing. This is the transformed mind that St. Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans (12,2) that allows us to see God in everything and empowers our behavior to almost naturally change.