Homily – 6th Weekend in Ordinary Time

This weekend in Ordinary Time once again gives us so much to think about.  Each of our writers; Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul is speaking from their place in history and beyond, to us, now, messages of challenge, hope and love.

Having just celebrated a whole day dedicated to love this past week; I’d like to concentrate on this topic.  I think it’s wonderful to have one day that calls us to remember in special ways those we profess to love, but maybe in the busy-ness of our lives, forget to often tell them.  Such a day gives us that opportunity.

Now while it is true that Valentine’s Day or Christmas Day or any other holiday in the business world is about the bottom line, with us being encouraged to buy; what I am talking about is so much more than that.  Like following our brother, Jesus, which always involves more than meets the eye, telling someone we love them goes so much deeper too.  The giving of flowers or candy is hopefully just a token of our day-in and day-out feelings.

I always think of Tevye’s question to his wife, Golda in Fiddler on the Roof: “Do you love me?” Golda goes through a series of tasks that she has done for him for 25 years; cleaning his house, preparing his food, giving him children and so on.  He persists, “But Golda, do you love me?” To which she finally says—that basically, doing all that, “I guess I do!”

As Jesus always said while among us, “You will know what is in someone’s heart by their actions”—the fruit on the tree!

Jeremiah in attempting to tell the Israelites what is best in life, that is— putting their trust in God, for it is God who gives us hope, says a curious thing with regard to the “heart,” the place where most of us locate, or at least, associate with love and I find that I must disagree with him. The human heart, Jeremiah says in today’s first reading, is more deceitful than anything else.”  In defense of Jeremiah first off; I would say that he is referring basically to the heart as the source of our emotions and therefore can’t be trusted, because many things can affect them.

There has been a great deal of study done on the human heart since Jeremiah said these words and during a week that annually devotes an entire day to love; I think it is appropriate to share some of the wisdom of the ages.

In an address given recently by Rochester Franciscan Sister Charlotte Hesby to the Sisters and Cojourners, she shared the words of author, Cynthia Bourgeault:  “According to the great wisdom of the West (Christian, Jewish, Islamic), the heart is first and foremost an organ of spiritual perception. Its primary function is to look beyond the obvious…see into a deeper reality…where meaning and clarity come together in a whole different way.  Amazingly she says that the heart is not a metaphor, rather points to Ezekiel 36:26, and Eastern Orthodox tradition which both make clear that it is the “heart of flesh,” the physical heart which is meant.  So the muscle pumping so faithfully in our chest is likewise that which sees the Holy in all that is! This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.  The prophet’s words, [given by God], “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

So, where am I going with all of this?  I would say that of the messages that are contained in today’s readings; those of challenge, hope and love, love is the one that we have to really grow to understand in our lives as Christians, as followers of Jesus, especially if, as Cynthia Bourgeault says, [the heart is that], “which sees the Holy in all that is.”  What better action for any of us to be about than seeing the Holy in all that is?

I believe most of us would agree that love—true love, is that feeling-emotion-action that originates in our hearts.  And as Bourgeault seems to indicate, the heart that can truly love and act upon that love is a spiritual and ultimately, very good thing for us spiritual beings here having a human experience.

I believe she is talking about a greater purpose than was Jeremiah in today’s first reading; but then, he was making an all-together different point—that trusting in God is the best thing we can do. I would add though, that the God who gave us hearts capable of love that can at times “break them open,” would want us to trust our hearts as well, because the heart, it would seem, is so much a part of what makes us spiritual beings.

Love is the only answer for Jesus’ life among us—teaching, preaching, speaking truth to the powers that were in his world, knowing that full well, such actions would not bring him to a good end—but love to him was more than safety.

This past week; I read a talk given recently by Roy Bourgeois, former member of the Maryknoll Priests and Brothers who lost his status and place within Maryknoll, a community he gave 40 years of his life to because this organization thought it more important to be safe, than to allow their hearts to break open with love.

Roy lost all because he acted on the call of the Spirit to support his friend Janice Sevre-Dusynska who told him she was being called, just as he was, to be a priest.

Roy, coming out of a culture in the deep south and a Catholic parish that relegated blacks to the last 5 pews in the church, claiming, even as they professed to believe in Jesus and his Scriptures, that this was “tradition” and not racism, finally awakened as he listened to more and more women claiming that God was calling them to priesthood and that, as he had learned, “tradition” could no longer be the reason to commit sins of racism or sexism.

This awakening allowed Roy to proclaim, “What I came to, is that as a Catholic priest; I was in a profession that discriminated against women.”  Being safe wasn’t enough for Roy anymore and even though he lost much, he said, he has never been more, free.

So, my friends; we might say with Jeremiah today that we are blessed who put our trust in God and in all the good our God gives us to share with our world, love being a most significant gift.   We simply must give from our hearts allowing them to break open for our world, actions that may not keep us safe, but will surely allow us to “see the Holy in all that is.” Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time continues to call us, due to our baptisms, to follow our brother, Jesus.  The call comes, down through history, even before Jesus’ time among us through the words and actions of the prophet, Isaiah.  Isaiah, like us at times, doesn’t feel up to the task, but through encouragement; he answers God’s call, “Here I am, send me!”

Paul is fully aware of his background, of how he tortured the Church of his brother, Jesus, yet Jesus chose him anyway, calling him to be his best.  “By God’s favor, I am what I am,” Paul explains.

And if we needed anymore assurance that we are called and that Jesus will walk alongside us, it is our brother who confirms with words that encourage, “Do not be afraid!”  In today’s gospel, it is mere fish that are caught, but this is only the beginning for Jesus as he lets these fishers know that now they will “fish for people.”

And again, we should see that this is not just a story telling of a great catch, once in time, but a story showing us the way.  Jesus came into humanity for more than fish! He came for each of us! He came to make our human experience here not only good for us, but good for all humanity through us.

Lately, many of us have felt discouraged and appalled even, by actions of those with the responsibility to serve, both in State and in Church and we wonder if there is even anything to be done because there seems to be one standard for us to follow and when it comes to those with responsibility to serve, there is a whole different standard, if any at all.

But it is this kind of thinking that we absolutely must not let ourselves fall into—we must continue to hope and give those around us reason to hope as well. We should not take our lead from those who have abused their power through self-serving actions aimed at power and control, but listen with our hearts to the needs of those around us.

One story of this past week that gave me hope that some change might be on the horizon within our Church was part of a series that the National Catholic Reporter is doing on seminaries in this country.

We know that Pope Francis has spoken against clericalism—that affliction that allows priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes to see themselves as a step above the people they purport to serve instead of as servants among the people, who are only there, as Paul says, “by God’s favor.”

As we might imagine, NCR’s coverage of seminaries has uncovered those who are against Francis and any change to the way things are; but in the 4th part of their series, a seminary in Oregon, at St. Benedict, Mount Angel Seminary is combating the tendency toward “clericalism” through “screening, service and reflection.” Instructors, as well as students there, say that they see little, or none of it.  Being aware of it and having tools in place to curb this tendency, seems to make all the difference.

Another example from this past week came on the PBS News Hour’s regular segment, Brief, But Spectacular.  This particular segment addressed a young woman’s “Brief, but Spectacular Take on Being Deaf.”  She told of how her mother didn’t teach her sign language when it was discovered that she was born deaf because her mother wanted her to learn to speak. She relayed how her mother practiced and practiced with her to get her to say the word, “up,” by picking her up, getting her to go upstairs, saying after each action, “up.” She even took the little girl’s fingers and pressed them against her own throat so that she could feel, “up” even if she couldn’t hear it.  She said, she will always remember the day when she was finally able to say, “up,” and her mother cried tears of joy! It was then that her mother knew that one day, her daughter would truly speak!

And the story takes another twist that makes it even better. The little girl grew up, became a speaking adult, telling of all the struggles along the way, from those she encountered who weren’t deaf.  When someone can’t hear, their learned speech is always going to sound different from those who can hear, thus comes the ridicule from those who don’t know better.

One day, another deaf person came up to her and began signing as a way to communicate.  She told of how she was then embarrassed because she didn’t know how to communicate.

The gospel today telling of the great catch of fish lets us know that the only way that all the fish could be brought in was if they all worked together, sharing their boats, their strength and their expertise.   None of us manages in this life trying to go it alone.  We need each other for hope, for mutual support, for added strength when ours runs low, as in both the stories that I related today.

There are many ways to bring “the fish” home and that is why we are all so wonderfully, but differently made.  It is simply ignorance to say that Jesus cannot be made manifest in a woman as well as in a man. And it is simply cruel to say that couples who are of the same sex cannot have as committed and meaningful a relationship as those who are of different sexes.

And when so-called, “men of God” have been allowed for so long to live clerical, dishonest, power-over lives, more about themselves than those that they are called to serve, it is time to say to them, “Enough!”

Jesus’ love incarnate was always about seeing the whole, big picture of how really big our God’s love is, for each of us, in all our diversity, called to serve and to bring each other home.  Amen? Amen!

 

 

Homily – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Once again this week, we hear Jesus saying, “In your hearing, the Scriptures are fulfilled.”  We can only imagine what that was like for his family, friends and acquaintances to hear.  There was no doubt jealousy on the parts of some, hatred even on the parts of others—how can this be?—they more than likely asked. We have known him all our lives—we know where he came from? A good man perhaps, but not the Messiah! And when one thinks about it—who of us ever can totally know another?  After 46 years of marriage, I know quite a lot about Robert, but not all!

What indeed was it like for his mother to hear these words?  Were his words something that once again she, “treasured in her heart?”—for she and Joseph carried throughout his growing years and into adulthood the knowledge of the special way that he came into their lives.  How does one ever convey a miracle?  How do any of us ever adequately make known what God has done within our lives and not seem pompous, arrogant, or simply, self-serving?

Jesus probably knew the answer best and conveyed that to all who would listen to his words, then and down through history. “You will know them by watching their actions,”  he was known to have said.  The section that comes just before today’s text spoke of there being a new time when the blind would see, the deaf would hear, those in prison would be set free and so on; so even though Jesus’ neighbors and acquaintances couldn’t see past his words, rejecting him, it would be the wider “village” who would see his actions and make the connections. As an aside, it is interesting to think about the fact that in order for a miracle to be seen, belief is part of the equation.

But going back to the rejection piece—in our own lives; we know that rejection is part of the day to day.  The same human qualities demonstrated in Jesus’ time that got in the way of him being clearly heard and understood about who he was, what God had called him to do and be, will plague us as well when we try to be who God has called us to be.

Jeremiah the prophet, a forerunner to Jesus spoke the words that would comfort our brother and us in those times of rejection, misunderstanding and lack of acceptance. The prophet said, “They will fight against you, but will not overcome you!”

It would seem that truth and truth-telling was a great deal of what Jesus’ mission on earth was all about.  First, and foremost, he wanted us to know of Abba God’s desire that each of us would know that we are loved.  This was the one over-riding message he wished to convey throughout his entire earthly life—we are loved by God and God asks that we love in return.  Pretty simple concept—but perhaps not so simple though, in living out.

Paul, in his well-known selection today to the Corinthians, used at many weddings, says well what our “loving” should be about.  If we were to say it simply, in a few words; the message of this beautiful reading, a piece that all committed couples would do well to reflect on each year of their married lives, it would be, “without love, we are nothing!”  We can do every good deed out there, but if love isn’t behind the action, it is nothing!

So, what is love?  Paul says that it is being patient and that there can be no limit to our patience.  Love, he continues, is kind; not jealous, not putting on airs, not being a snob.  Love, he says, is never rude or self-seeking and is not prone to anger. Love does not brood over injuries and it does not rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices in the truth.

I read an editorial from the staff of the National Catholic Reporter recently that was basically decrying the untruths coming from the commander-in-chief of our United States with regard to the made-up crisis on our southern border.  This made-up crisis is adding to the growing national unease, the author stated.  The bishop of El Paso, Texas, Mark Seitz, shed some light on this situation and seemingly, some truth too when he said, [the border can seem] “a place where one reality ends and another begins…For us it’s a place of passage; it’s a place of encounter; it’s a place you cross in order to join your family; it’s not this place of armies confronting one another.”

I applaud this man of God for his willingness to speak the truth as given him by God—would that more of his brother bishops would do the same! The times in which we live call for more than one issue people who see so narrowly what constitutes life.  To embrace the self-serving lies and deceit of a man in power who promises life to the unborn, yet is willing to snatch it away from immigrants seeking a better life, from women that he sees as mere objects and from the earth that we all call home by refusing to care for and protect it from global warming is, at the least, tragic and at the worst, criminal.

So, my friends, it is all about love.  Love is the only law that any of us ever need remember when we come up against the question of what is the right thing to do.  If love is served, than right is too!  Paul says, “Love never fails.”  How much better would be our world if more people, whether in Church or State applied the law of love in all its wonderful manifestations to their daily dealings with others?

Paul concludes his piece on love by saying that love trusts, love has hope—which is something, by the way, that we all need to hold onto in these uneasy times. Sister Joan Chittister says it like this: “Life is not one long party. That’s exactly why parties are so important.  They remind us of God’s eternal goodness.  They help us to remember on difficult days that the sun of the heart will surely rise again for us.” She is surely a prophet!  And finally, Paul says—“Love has the power to endure.”

This again brings us back to the prophetic words of Jesus in his home town synagogue: “Today, in your hearing, these Scriptures are fulfilled!”  My friends, it isn’t enough that people saw Jesus doing the loving thing once in time, even if it got him into trouble: our world now continues to need to see, through us, Jesus doing the loving thing, even if it gets us into trouble! Amen? Amen!

Homily – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, we continue our 2019 journey of faith just a month old with this third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  And as we always say, “ordinary,” meaning no major feast time, but never “ordinary” in the message of the Scriptures for us.  Our daily lives as Christians call us to so much more than ordinary, “run-of-the mill” responses.

Each day, we are called to be good listeners, hearers of other’s stories and to respond in the ways that we can.  Sometimes, as we look at the inaction in Washington, at the lack of openness in our Church to hear the voices of all the baptized; we wonder what can be done.  Sometimes we feel hopeless, but we cannot stop praying, asking for guidance from the Spirit of Jesus, asking for the strength we need to speak our truth to the powers-that-be, to our elected officials, to our Church fathers.  We cannot let them remain inactive when we know they can do more.

I personally have gained a bit of hope recently as I work on a spreadsheet recording the ministries of the Rochester Franciscan Sisters and Cojourners.  Many Sisters after countless years of ministry in education, nursing, social services and more still record in later years that their ministry continues—that of “prayer ministry.”  They do not stop and nor should we!

Sometimes we are like the people in the first reading today from Nehemiah. This reading reminds me of the Mayan people that I spoke of in last week’s homily. If you recall, their approach to worshipping their Goddess was always to be “stooped” before the all-powerful one—their way to show respect for her.  You will also recall, the doorways into their temples were built low so as to keep them in the posture of being bent low before their God.

Nehemiah finds the same thing going on within the Chosen People of Israel.  Today’s reading finds them just newly back from exile and presenting themselves as “bowed down” before God and worshipping their God with their faces to the ground.  There is a definite fear within them because of their past failings with regard to serving God as they should.  But fear should never be our response to our God who loves us so completely and Nehemiah says as much!

He, as all good and true prophets do, tells them the truth—“Today is holy, do not be sad, do not weep—for the joy of our God is your strength.”  In other words, where God is concerned; we need never fear, but only trust, only believe, and know that we are loved.  What we can understand within this context, when it comes to God and our relationship with God is that we will always be given another chance to do that which we were given life to do.

With regard to the stalemate in Washington, somewhat relieved as of yesterday, the reckless disregard for the needs of real people versus the need of one in power to have his way like a petulant child, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians has some words of wisdom for us as we try to respond.  We are one body and what one does affects the rest of the body.  We all have been given gifts with which to respond to our world and we must discover those gifts and use them every day of our lives. At the very least; we can pray as the Sisters do every day!

Some of us have the gift to speak words of wisdom to others (tongues, as Paul says), some, the gift of writing, discerning for others the words of wisdom (interpreting, as he would say), some the gift of advocacy—standing with those who are suffering and working for justice for them.

A branch of the Winona Interfaith Council, The Sanctuary Movement in Winona is attempting to do just that.  The Wesley United Methodist church in Winona has become the host church to assist the undocumented among us find their way toward legal status in our country.  People from many different church denominations came together for an initial training time yesterday to prepare themselves to assist our undocumented sisters and brothers as needed.

There are so many ways among all of us to help and I know that all of you are involved in countless ways—from feeding the hungry through our city’s food shelf, to Home Delivered Meals, staffing Winona’s Warming Center so that the homeless or those in need of a warm place to be can have that respite.  Many of you gave warm clothing this winter when asked and I want you to know of my gratitude for your generosity.

Every bit of this helps—please know that it does! Sometimes we feel that we can’t do much to affect the bigger issues of Church and State, but know that you do, every time, as Joan Chittister says, “You listen with the ear of your hearts.” ( the Rule of St. Benedict).

“Listening with the ear of our hearts” in the small everyday things of a city, feeding and clothing those in need strengths us for the larger tasks of speaking up to our Congress, our president, our bishop and our pope.  Listening with the ear of our hearts will not let us rest or say that I can’t do what needs to be done in any situation.

Sometimes we just need to try to do a new thing that we haven’t done before and we may surprise ourselves—we may find that the words we need to say or the words we need to write are suddenly there! Remember the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth, through us if we allow her to!

I list all these good actions that all of you are already doing not so that you will become complacent and say, “I’ve done my part,” but that you will know that you are making a difference and to keep at it!

“Listening with the ear of our hearts” is what allows us to speak kindly to another, to show patience in the midst of upset, to try and see another point of view, to understand that others may be carrying a heavy load and are doing the best that they can.

We know from the gospel of Luke today that our model in all of this, Jesus, prepared most of his life for his public ministry—no doubt much prayer and reflection went into the day when he was able to walk into his home town synagogue, knowing perhaps that he would be rejected, read the words of Isaiah and speak his truth, given by God, that yes, today these words, telling of the coming of the Messiah, in your hearing, are fulfilled!

My friends, to follow Jesus, our brother, calls us to the same—lest his strength, his courage, his vision, his listening with the ear of his heart stop there; we too must step up and let his words be evident through us—that glad tidings are being brought to the poor, so many poor in so many ways, that the blind, who cannot see, in so many ways, now have sight, that those who are prisoners in body, mind and spirit have been set free and that truly these Scriptures are continuing to be fulfilled! Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 2nd Weekend in Ordinary Time

My friends, it is good to be back! Good to go and good to return and as we always say to one another, good to have a home to return to as that is not the case for many of our sisters and brothers in this world, even in our own country.

We have returned to the Season of Ordinary Time in our Church Year with the commemorating of Jesus’ baptism last weekend.  As a homilist, Sr. Mary McGlone, from the National Catholic Reporter, whose reflection I read for today’s gospel on the wedding feast at Cana said well, [The problem] “is not wine, but passivity.”  We might say that “passivity” is always the danger that we have to be conscious of in our lives as Jesus’ followers; but more on that later.

Our time away took us to the Mexican island of Cozumel, which means, “Island of the Swallows.”  We were able to visit several Mayan ruins while there and at one particular site the emphasis was placed on the fact that their culture was about three key ideas: family, birth and love.  Equal emphasis and more was placed upon the fact that their culture did not practice human sacrifice, even though on the mainland, they did. This particular Mayan culture was all about birth and love with the family gathered round.

The goddess that they worshipped was pictured as an old, wise woman, looking almost more masculine than feminine, with the emphasis being on strength. In all the temples where she was worshipped, the doorways were purposefully kept low so as to keep the people in the proper position with regard to her.

The Mayan peoples’ emphasis on family, birth and love is a good jumping-off place it would seem in looking at the dynamics going on in today’s readings.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that as a couple in love rejoice in each other, so our God rejoices in us. When we think of our ability as humans, at our best to love and care for each other; we should not be surprised that our God would love us in the same way and so much more.  A bit different focus it seems from the Mayan notion of keeping low to the ground in regard to their goddess.

The story of the wedding feast at Cana is not so much about the marriage of the particular couple on that particular day, Mary McGlone tells us, but about “the extravagance of our God.”  We see that God, through Jesus produces not only enough wine, but much more than enough wine!—150 gallons would go a long way to keep the new couple from being embarrassed for lack of wine.

But as the NCR homilist goes on to say, this story really isn’t about the wine—as we see with so many stories, parables where Jesus is concerned; it is the deeper message that he wants us to get.

Mary McGlone said we know this story isn’t just about a particular couple that Jesus helps out of their predicament of “lack of wine” by performing a miracle that establishes who he really is in the presence of those gathered at Cana because the story is really lacking in details about this couple.  We know no names, nothing about the ceremony—the only one really mentioned is the groom who is eventually congratulated for keeping the best wine till the end.

No, we are to see more in this simple story McGlone says.  Because we always know that the particulars of Jesus’ stories have deeper meanings; she suggests that the six empty stone jars represent the old ways, old rules that the people prescribe to because it has always been done that way—so long in fact, that the people no longer know why they do what they do.  Probably some truth in that in our religious practices today.

Mary, Jesus’ mother represents the Mother of Israel, who like all good mothers is always looking out for “her children.”  Her instruction to the servants lets us know that, Mary McGlone says, in the words, “Do whatever he tells you!”

Friends, we are called to the same today as the Israelites of old—we are called out of our passivity as we might think we can be during, “Ordinary Time” to be people of passion, expressed in the good wine, the best we have to offer—to extravagance in our loving and caring, like our God, who loves us all, unconditionally, and over-the-top! Like the Mayan people who are most concerned that visitors know them to be people of new life, love—surrounded by family.

Being Jesus’ followers won’t allow us to be less than this good!  It is interesting and sad to know that 83% of our elected officials in Congress in Washington claim to be Christian, yet so few seem able to follow Jesus’ lead, to lead themselves, to work for and stand up for what is best in all of us, for all of us!

This isn’t always easy to do that is true—even our brother Jesus, in his humanity responded to his mother’s request that he step up, with, “What does this have to do with me?”  She seems to believe in him more than he does in himself at this point. She knows what he is capable of and therefore instructs the servants, “to do whatever he says!” Mary McGlone suggests that because Jesus is present, his time is now!

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians and to us says that God is working through the Spirit in all the gifts bestowed within each of us, in all the ministries we partake in to produce that “very best wine.”  We are here now, my friends, our time is upon us! Amen?  Amen!