Full Circle Catholic Faith Community
Archived Readings and Reflections
August 27, 2017
Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sermon: Matthew 16: 13-20
The account is also found in Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-22. The passage is treated similarly by all three Gospels. They all immediately follow the event with Jesus’ prediction of His death.
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
I will give you the keys to heaven.
So what the keys to heaven?
Jesus Himself said in the second half of the verse? "..Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven." Bind and loose were Jewish terms for ruling certain actions as either forbidden or permitted. It implies the church has the keys to determine what will be bound on people and what will be loosed. This passage is pretty clear—Jesus gave keys to somebody and they bind and loose things.
Presently, there are two predominant views concerning the “keys.” The first interprets binding and loosing as having to do with the church’s authority to legislate matters not specifically addressed in Scripture. This view sees the “whatever” of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 as referring to rules or law--disciplines. The Catholic Church can and does legislate other mandates not found in the Bible. Proclamations made by the collective church become as binding and authoritative for the church as the Word of God itself. The Church claims that what the collective church decides is law on earth, Christ also makes law in heaven.
The second--Since he would not always be with the Church visibly, Christ gave this power to others so the Church, which is the continuation of his presence throughout time (Matt. 28:20), would be able to offer forgiveness to future generations. He gave this power to the apostles, and it was a power that could be passed on to their successors and agents, since the apostles wouldn’t always be on earth either, but people would still be sinning.
So, one interpretation sees Peter as the celestial gate keeper, with the power to allow or deny entry into heaven. Another interpretation sees Peter as the chief scribe that made judgments on the Law within the Jewish-Christian community. This controversy continues to this day. The Roman Catholic Church adopted both interpretations.
Jesus gave the church “keys to the kingdom.” 2. These keys are about “binding and loosing” on earth. 3. Whatever the church binds on earth gets bound in heaven. 3. Whatever the church looses on earth gets loosed in heaven. 4. When the church remits sins on earth they are remitted in heaven.
When the church retains sins on earth they are retained in heaven.
Acts chapter 15 expresses the first documented instance of loosening and binding; what has been later termed the Council at Jerusalem. Here the early controversy of circumcision was resolved, and loosened from being a qualification for salvation and acceptance into the community of believers.
The decision: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”
Now, the Church cannot change its doctrines [dogma]. The doctrines of the Catholic Church are the deposit of faith revealed by Jesus Christ, taught by the apostles, and handed down in their entirety by the apostles to their successors.
There are, however, many examples of this authority to bind and loose in the arena of Church discipline. Here are a few:
The Gratian code of canon law was established by the year 1400 with 4,000 canons. It was replaced by the 1917 Code of Canon Law which had 2,414 canons—1,586 fewer. The 1983 Code of Canon Law has 1,752 canons, or 662 fewer laws. In total, 2,248 canons have been bound and then loosed.
In the early Church married men were permitted to be ordained as priests in the West. This custom was changed and since then, in the Latin Rite, candidates for the priesthood must be celibate.
Until recent years it was forbidden under pain of mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays. The Church has "loosed" this discipline and now the new revised Code of Canon Law states, “Abstinence [is] to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The old canon Law stated that a Catholic who wished to receive Holy Communion had to fast from midnight on. The current rules were introduced by Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964, and are found in Canon 919 of the Code of Canon Law: A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before Holy Communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law: canon 1262, stated: It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church and secondly that men… shall be bare-headed… women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord. This was dropped in the new ’83 code.
Canon 1101 and 1102 stated: It is not permitted to be present at the sacred rites of infidels and heretics in such a way that you would be judged to be in communion with them’. The reason for this teaching is clear: religious commitments are naturally manifested by outward acts; and to perform an outward act expressive of a false religious commitment is a sin against the true faith. Thus, attendance at other Christian services is prohibited. This ban was removed with the 1983 code.
Old law required that Catholics be buried in hallowed or sacred ground, forbidding cremation, but new canon law allows for cremation; however, ashes of loved ones are not allowed to be kept in urns at home. The new guidelines stipulate that cremated remains should be kept in a “sacred place,” most usually a cemetery. The scattering of ashes at sea, in woodland groves, or in volcanoes is now strictly prohibited. [Francis 2016]
The Roman Catholic Church made several authoritative declarations on the subject of limbo, stating that the souls of those who die in original sin only (i.e., unbaptized infants) descend into hell but are given lighter punishments than those souls guilty of actual sin. Benedict XVI regarding Limbo: Specifically he says: Limbo was never a defined truth of the faith. Personally, I would abandon it since it was only a theological hypothesis. The published April 7, 2007: study declared that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation.
( Priestly Ordination) is an ecclesiastical letter issued by Pope John Paul II on 22 May 1994 in which he discussed the Catholic Church's position requiring "the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone" and wrote that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women." [upheld by both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis]
Now, in the light of what I’ve just said, I have to ask: Why doesn’t the Catholic Church have the authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women?
Come on! The Church claims authority based on the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke to bind and loose anything on Earth. Because of these gospels the Church claims the authority to forgive sins, determining who can or cannot obtain salvation, but will not use the same scripture to authorized female ordination.
The Church used this concept to declare on December 7, 2016 that men “who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture” cannot become priests. This is new and as such has been bound by the Church. The fact that they mixed up the definitions of homosexual and pedophile does not seem to bother the hierarchy. [9% ped. and 58% hom.]
The Church cannot have it both ways—claim the authority to bind and loose on the one hand and then claim to not have that authority on the other. They either do or they don’t. Based on this scripture and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, I have to insist that the Church certainly HAS the authority to ordain anyone they wish. The fact that they, so far, refuse to ordain women, therefore, must be for some other reason. Could it be that male-only ordination is sexist on the Church’s behalf? Could the Church be in error with some of its disciplines expressed in canon law? I would answer, yes. After all, more than 2,000 previously bound truths have been loosed.
So what should we do as faithful Catholics? I would suggest that we do exactly what we are doing—promote full inclusion within the Catholic Church whenever and wherever we can. We should by our words and actions express our faith and our belief that Christ welcomes all people to the Church without regard for their gender, stature, sexual orientation, wealth or ethnicity, and we have the right and duty to do so. We also have the authority from the Church to pursue the concepts of inclusion and to correct the errors of the Church.
According to Thomas Aquinas, every conscience binds, even an erring one. This means that if there is something that you believe you cannot do (after having taken care to form your conscience as well as you can), even if the Church commands it, then you cannot do it without committing a sin. Likewise, if there is something you believe you must do, even if the Church forbids it, then you must do it or else commit a sin. Conscience is an authority, and, in the end, it is what one has to obey.
Catechism of the Catholic Church [New Section]THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON, ARTICLE 6--MORAL CONSCIENCE
Can. 1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."
Canons 1777 through 1802 basically follow the thinking of Thomas Aquinas in defining the conscience and the responsibility we each have to it.
New section of 1983 code of canon law: TITLE I : THE OBLIGATIONS AND RIGHTS OF ALL CHRIST'S FAITHFUL (Cann. 208 - 223)
Can. 212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, [Can. 215] The Christian faithful are at liberty freely to found and direct associations for purposes of charity or piety or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world and to hold meetings for the common pursuit of these purposes. [Can. 222 §2.] and they are also obliged to promote social justice, and [Can. 223 §1] In exercising their rights, the Christian faithful, both as individuals and gathered together in associations, must take into account the common good of the Church, the rights of others, and their own duties toward others.
Therefore, I believe, it is our responsibility and our duty to continuously work toward correcting the errors of discipline presented by the Church. We must follow our consciences! According to Alexander Pope: To error is human; to forgive divine, and I’m going to add: to reform is inspired.
August 13, 2017
Assumption of Mary
First Reading: Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 10
God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God; there she was taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26
Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56
Within a few days, Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.
Today we celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven. It is a Catholic tradition to honor Mary in this way. We believe that she was assumed bodily into heaven and on August 15, we celebrate this as a Feast Day. Protestants argue that this event is no where to be found in the Bible so there is no basis for it. Catholic theologians accuse them of Biblicism, a word I had never heard. Just like racism, or sexism—Biblicism is seeing the Bible as the only source of truth.
In Catholicism, we refer to other texts such as writings from early church leaders. St. John Damascene in 750AD calls Mary the true Ark as he recounts the story of Mary’s assumption, noting why she is seen as such an important woman. Her faith in God and her trust are repeatedly praised. Obedience is her hallmark—but what is overlooked is that she was asked, not TOLD to bear a child. It was a decision. God saw her as able to decide for herself. Somehow I have missed this point for so many years. Now I embrace it as another affirmation of women being fully able to be in relationship with God, a God who respects women and men and co-creates with them.
Having heard about the events in Charlottesville, VA, I wanted to be able to talk about Mary in light of all the violence. Mary was certainly a woman of peace and wisdom. When I thought more about this, I decided that perhaps I should tell the story of Maryam. How better to stop violence than to learn about other’s beliefs? So, let us hear about the story of Maryam, the mother of Eesa or Isa, Jesus in Arabic.
In the Quran, she is the only woman who is named. There is a whole chapter devoted to her and her name is used 34 times, more than Mary in the Bible.
Chapter 19 of the Quran is entitled, “Maryam.” Here is her story as told from the Quran:
“And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Maryam, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel [i.e., Gabriel], and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. She said, ‘Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God.’ He said, ‘I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy [i.e., son].’ She said, ‘How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?’ He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’” So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.” (Quran 19:16–22)
From the Quranic description of events, we can deduce that Maryam spent most of her pregnancy alone. What happened to her during this period is not mentioned in the Quran. The Quran picks up the story at the moment that Maryam goes into labor.
“And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.’ But he called her from below her, ‘Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.’” (Quran 19:23-24)
“And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. (Quran 19:25)
God, knowing the reaction of society, further guided her how to deal with the situation. When she carried the baby Jesus to her people, they questioned her; and as a baby in her arms, Jesus gave them the answer. The Quran describes this scene in detail:
“So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.’ Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, ‘O Maryam, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.’ So she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?’ [Jesus] said, ‘Indeed, I am the servant of God. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and he has not made me a wretched tyrant. And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.’” (Quran 19:26-33)
And so the baby Jesus defended his mother from any accusations of adultery, and in a nutshell, explained who he was and why he was sent by God.
In this tradition, Maryam maintains her virginity both before and after her pregnancy. This seems to be an essential belief; otherwise if she had been betrothed, it would’ve been said that her husband was the father. Also, she would have had to consummate the marriage and would no longer be a virgin. Upon her death, it is believed that she married Mohammed in heaven.
Knowing this story, having read it from the Muslim tradition, enables us to be able to converse with our brother and sister Muslim believers in a true honoring of Mary/Maryam. They continue to see Jesus as a prophet and uplift him but not as God become man.
This is a beginning of trying to understand a faith that is different from ours but not so different. We assume so much, about others and their differences.
How can we promote dialogue with others of differing faiths? How could the people in Charlotte, VA have avoided such violence?
July 23, 2017
Weeds and Seeds
First Reading: Wisdom of Solomon 12:13-19
For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people, to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly; nor can any king or monarch confront you about those whom you have punished.
For your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.
Second Reading: Romans 8:26-27
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:24-43
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
We know all about weeds and seeds here in Iowa. This is the time of year when our gardens need to be fully weeded so that they can bear the fullness of their fruit. Jesus puts a twist on this logic—in the parable, the owner tells the servants to allow the weeds to grow. He shows mercy to the weeds. Later, he explains that the weeds are those who follow the evil one and yet, he allows them to grow. Some believe this shows God’s hope for people, that at any time, we can change and begin living FOR God—even to the end. Allowing those who have done evil gives them the opportunity to amend their ways, to learn how to live well WITH God. There’s always that chance, that hope for all of us.
The other unspoken piece here is that God is willing to take a risk for us. Allowing the weeds to grow along with the good seed is a risk—the weeds could affect the good seed, interfere with its growth, keep it from reaching its full potential. The weeds might grow stronger than the good seed, taking up the resources of sun and water. Why risk this? Again, this is the mercy of a God who loves us and wants to see all of us grow for good, not evil. God is willing to risk out of love. In the end, God must believe that we are worth that risk.
Finally, there is wisdom at work here. Wisdom to see what can be—to hope for what needs to be. So, without saying it, the owner shows wisdom that perplexes the servants who do not understand. They suggest tearing out the weeds, since that seems best but no, God sees beyond this initial impulse. With great wisdom, God sees things in a very different way; not obvious to us, but full of love, mercy and great hope for what might be.
Just two weeks ago I attended the RCWP Council. There were 79 of us womenpriests from across the nation. It was a powerful, renewing time to be together, to do liturgy and to sing. We also had a wonderful facilitator who helps churches and work groups learn how to thrive. She taught us the “Seeing Things Whole” model for organizational health. In this there are 3 dimensions. First, Identity/Culture: Who are we? Second, Purpose: Why do we exist/whom do we serve? And third, Stewardship: how do we manage our resources? Each of these dimensions needs focused energy in order for us to survive. These three dimensions exist in a creative and holy tension. Each dimension fights for our energy/for resources so the challenge is to balance these necessary parts. Based on this, we spent time in small groups discussing each of the three dimensions as they apply to RCWP. But of course, I kept thinking about Full Circle and our need to survive and thrive. And I’d love to know how we’d answer these three questions or dimensions. Rarely do we talk about our resources but now I see why that’s a very important dimension. In the end, it helped us to identify some “elephants in the room” and to commit to renewed efforts for the future.
What was most exciting was how fired up the Council made me. Here were amazing, strong women with a passion for moving forward, despite many obstacles. I’m now determined to make bumper stickers that say, “Women Priests are Here!” with our logo and I want to spread them far and wide.
One woman priest named Mary Kelderman lives in Philly with Bishop Tom Paprocki who has banned any sacramental support of gays. Her church which is called Holy Family Inclusive Church, “Where all families are holy.” They are in the shadow of the cathedral and wanted to do something in response to Paprocki. So they took out an $850 full page ad in the local paper. It was risky and it was brilliant and it took effort to raise that $850. Here’s what it said:
All Catholics/LGBT Catholics…it’s all so simple, really.
We have confidence to believe Isaiah when he wrote, “I have called you by name, you are Mine.” We take to heart Ezekiel’s writing: You shall be my people and I shall be your God.” We take it very seriously when week after week Jesus tells us to “Take and eat. Do it and remember me.” There are no caveats to his directive, no lists of who can or cannot eat the bread.
It’s all so simple, really. Just as Jesus would have welcomed all into his home in Nazareth, everyone is welcome at Holy Family. We would love to have you join us. We have formed a catholic community where “all families are holy—all are welcome to communion. No qualifiers.
Then they give the time of their mass, “every Saturday at 4:30pm” which I think is an interesting time to meet.
Pretty bold, don’t you think? The ad was on the opposite side of an interview with Paprocki which they didn’t know would happen. Also, there was a cartoon lambasting Paprocki in the same paper. Those last surprises were part of God’s doing for sure. So, if God is willing to take risks with us, I think we should be willing to take risks as well. We’re going to send Paprocki a letter once we all agree on what it should say. And I think we should send it to Mary’s church and the local paper as well.
Then, I want to invite us to think about doing a rather large project. Victoria Rue, another womenpriest and professor at San Jose University has written a play about the similarities of Mary and Maryam of the Quran. The stories of their lives are so similar that many believe they are the same person. Maryam is the only woman’s name in the whole Quran; it is written 34 times and one whole chapter is devoted to her. Victoria showed us a video of the play from a performance in LA. She is wanting others to do the play or to do a reading of the play where both Christians and Muslims come together to talk about it. It is an act of outrageous diversity aimed at unity. I think our community could pull this off, especially if we use the help of the Comparative Religions Dept at the U. But I would need your help.
I’d like us to begin risking more. Will you join me? What other risky things might we do?
May 28, 2017
We give very little time and little thought to the ascension of Christ. There are no pageants, no out-door scenes in front of our churches, no gift giving, no hymns of praise, no ascension rabbits or ascension “peeps” in ascension baskets, and no ascension tree branches or ascension flowers, yet the ascension of Jesus into heaven should be one of the greatest celebrations in Christianity because it marks the beginning of Jesus’ new position as High Priest and Mediator of the New Covenant. It is the great event of reversal and continuation into new life.
The ascension, however, cannot be understood unless we look at the 40 days between the resurrections and the ascension. Put the 4 Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles together and we get the following:
Mary Magdalene and some women [the other Mary, Salome and Joanna] go to the tomb. They are commissioned to tell the other disciples. Mary Magdalene sees and touches Jesus. They tell the other disciples but are not believed. 2. On the road to Emmaus, Cleopus and his companion [wife] see the risen Jesus. 3. On their return to Jerusalem, they are told that Simon Peter has seen the risen Jesus. 4. Ten disciples [not Thomas] see Christ. 5. Cleopus and the other disciple see Christ a second time with the other disciples. The ten disciples [and those who were with them] see Christ a second time. 6. The eleventh disciple [Thomas] sees the risen Christ for the first time, along with the other disciples. 7. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James & John Zebedee, and two others saw the risen Christ at the Sea of Galilee. 8. On a mountain in Galilee, eleven disciples saw the risen Christ. 9. More than 500 brothers and sisters saw the risen Christ, according to Paul, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 1 Cor 15.4-6. 10. James saw the risen Christ. 11. Then by all the disciples. 12. At the mount in Bethany, the Apostles saw the risen Christ, and watched as He ascended in the clouds. 13. 120 disciples—both men and women—saw the ascension and 9 days later receive the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire.
The disciples touched Christ's body, felt His wounds, heard Him speak, & sat with Him as He ate food. In summary, the FORENSIC FACTs of Christ's resurrection are attested to by hundreds of eye-witnesses, who saw Jesus during multiple appearances over a period of 40 days.
I think the key to the new covenant lies in the very actions of Christ during these forty days, and although the future Church tried to “malinize” [made up word to be opposite of feminize] the new covenant of Christ, we can still see God’s grand commission in Jesus’ words and actions. Let me be clear: What I’m going to say is not the stance of the Catholic Church, so if you want to cover your ears or leave the room to avoid blasphemy, heresy or corruption, please feel free to do so.
Why did Jesus choose to reveal Himself first to Mary Magdalene and the other women after His resurrection? Why did He send them forth to the disciples as the first witness of His Good News of resurrection? What does this mean? 2. We begin to answer these questions by noting how Jesus again broke with tradition. In first-century Israel, women were not allowed to testify in a court of law: They were considered unreliable witnesses. Yet when Jesus was raised from the dead, and He wanted this fact proclaimed to the world, He first commissioned His female followers to spread the news. 3. This is Christ’s first commission and “a great reversal” of what I was taught by the Catholic catechism, but by using the garden imagery from Eden on the morning of His resurrection, God made it clear that He was breaking the curse of sin that came on the earth after the Fall—which became known as original sin. He was also saying that He has a new role for men and women in His plan. 4. Under the curse of original sin, the woman—Eve—not only came under the bondage of sin in a general sense, but was placed at a disadvantage in her relationship with men. God told her that her husband would rule over her (see Genesis 3:16. She would know pain, oppression, abuse and heartache. And she would also lose her voice. After the “Fall” [original sin] women did not exercise the authority that Eve enjoyed in the Garden. 5. Through the redemption of Christ, the woman got her voice back. Mary Magdalene was appointed to go and tell. She was commissioned to preach. Jesus did not limit her, restrict her or tell her to stay out of the pulpit. Instead, He ordained her to be a carrier of His glorious Gospel. 6. This tells me that women are no longer to be subservient; they are no longer relegated to suffer in silence in the face of abuse; they are no longer expected to blend into the background. Jesus has now called women to be His missionaries and His preachers.
7. This was dramatically illustrated on Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene was sent by Jesus to announce His Good News. Jesus did not pick Mary to be the first evangelist simply because she woke up earlier than the others that day. He was making it clear that, in Christ, there is “neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Under the New Covenant, through the power of the Holy Spirit, both men and women can serve as ministers of His grace. And when He was raised from the dead, He commissioned His faithful disciple Mary Magdalene and the other women to blaze that trail for all women to follow. 8. In most of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, women are present as equal disciples with the men.
So why is the ascension so important?
It is about the ongoing function of Christ in the world. When we say in the
Apostles’ Creed, “he ascended into heaven,” we as Christians are making the claim that there is something cosmic at work here, something too big and grand to be limited by our narrow earth-bound categories. Jesus took all of human life, which he cared for so deeply, and brought it to God—to Herself. And as if that is not dramatic enough, Jesus says his on-going work will be enacted through us, his church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The work of Jesus continues by the power of the Spirit wherever and whenever an act of goodness, or kindness, peace or justice, is done in Christ’s name by us—God’s disciples. This is what it means for the church to be the Body of Christ, to reach out to the suffering refugee, the abused child or spouse, the victim of war, the lonely one in the nursing home, the student who struggles with depression or a lost sense of worth, those who are sick, all who are in difficult transitions in life.
This is what it means to be empowered by the Spirit. The ascension then is not a doctrine to be puzzled through in our minds and proved with a data set, but rather is to be embodied in our daily living.
Today we celebrate the ascension of Christ—God’s communion and commitment and commission to us. The bread that we will share today is a tangible reminder that we are the body of Christ in the world.
By being here today, we are saying that we accept and believe in the new covenant and commission given to us by Jesus. We accept the covenant to evangelize the good news, to bring people to Christ through our words, and actions, and to teach others how to carry out God’s desires. We attest by our presence here today that we affirm the new covenant to include all people in God’s Kin-dom, to see the dignity of all regardless of their station in life. We profess the rule of God in our lives and strive to enact God’s on-going work here on Earth. I’d like to end with a prayer written by St. Mother Theresa.
“Christ has no body on earth now but yours. No hands but yours. No feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look at Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. And yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
Let us live our lives as the voice for the new covenant of God. Let us carry on God’s work in each of our lives. Let us strive for inclusion, justice, dignity and peace in our world as commissioned as purveyors of the new covenant of God.
Anyway, that’s my take on the Ascension. Would anyone like to comment or discuss?
Mother’s Day 2017
May 14, 2017
First Reading: by Joan Chittister
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Jesuit poet, said in his poem, “The May Magnificat,” that the reason May is Mary’s month is that it is the season of growth. In Mary grew the vision that made her open to the Incarnation; in Mary grew the image of the strong and independent woman; in Mary grew the Christ who changed the lives of all of us. Mary is not a plaster statue. Mary is the woman whose commitment and courage saved the world from self-centeredness.
Mary, our mother,” is one of Mary’s most common titles. We cling to it all our lives. Why? Because “mothering,” the sense of being cared for and protected, supported and understood, is the human being’s primal need. “Mother’s Day” is the call to all of us to remember those—both women and men—who have “mothered” us in life and then be conscious of our call to mother those around us, as well.
Hear the Word of Joan. AMEN.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:4-9
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The Word of God.
Gospel Reading: John 14:1-12
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
What if this were the picture of the Blessed Mother? (Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell) We are so used to the cowering, subservient images that I think it is difficult for us to remember how strong a woman Mary was. Any of us who were raised by mothers know that it takes a strong woman to make a household work. All that was just assumed—but for those of us here today, we live in praise of strong women.
My mother is still alive but her mother, my grandmother is my role model. She was a strong woman, who when I was about twelve, on a hot summer afternoon in Cincinnati, washed off ice cream from my hands with the sponge from the holy water font, to my delight and horror. She said, “Don’t worry. God understands. Just don’t tell your mother.” And that’s what made me love her. She truly knew what God was like, gentle, nurturing and with a good sense of humor. That’s the God I soon began to believe in once I got to college. That’s still the God I most resonate with, Grandmother God who chuckles, who is a little sneaky and who knows that rules are more important to the men in power than to those of us who simply want to live life, not control it.
In our gospel from John, Jesus is trying to reassure his disciples, trying to help them understand his message. He offers the image of home in the afterlife, a place that has been prepared for each of us. I often read this scripture passage to those who are dying, to help remind them that all of us have a home in God. That’s a mom thing to do, to help others feel that they are taken care of, always. Both Thomas and Philip ask for clarification—they want to better understand exactly what Jesus is meaning. And Jesus responds first with talk about the Incarnation which I’m not sure helped. That theology had yet to be developed. But the part they could understand was about his works, that we are to do what he has done, that our works are what matter.
Who imitates Christ more than a mother does, typically being very other focused as part of who she is. Mothers who work to show their children a better life. Mothers who clean and cook and clothe their children to show them love and nurturing. Mothers who show great emotion with the highs and lows of life, teaching that being emotional is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of love, deep, enduring love. Men are not exempt—they too can be oh so mothering if they are confident enough to allow their strong side to show. Strong in terms of caring, encouraging, being sensitive. That’s how Christ would act.
Jesus goes one step further and says we will do greater work than he has done. That’s a bold and intimidating statement. Who of us has suffered? Who of us has healed another person? Who of us has been able to love without condition? All of us have—and such love is what can change the world.
Today, we honor Mary who was strong and defiant, who broke the rules and transformed societal norms. She is a modern day Rosie, who challenges us to see beyond expectations of what a woman should do.
This past Thursday, there was an article on the front page of the Gazette about a woman trying to do good works and being punished by the religious leaders. She’s a Methodist minister who officiated at the wedding of a lesbian couple—an official act of sanctioning love. How terrible! Seventeen of her male clergy have filed a complaint against her for a second time. Her first offense was outing herself as gay. Such a brave stepping forward, out into the light.
In response, this woman named Anna Blaedel, (of course her name is Anna) said, “I knew that officiating at this wedding could cost me my credentials, could cost me my job.. But I also knew that saying “no” to one of my best friends would cost me my integrity and my soul.” Do you hear that? She is trying to help the good ole boys hear the word of God, that of love and inclusion. Just like Mary, she is trying to be brave and independent and to save the world from self-centeredness, like Joan Chittister (another very strong and prophetic woman) said. The Methodists use the Book of Discipline, which is probably the first problem. No ‘Book of Love’ here or ‘Book of Affirmation’. Maybe that’s where they should start in their complaint process. I called and left a message of support for Anna. Maybe we could all send her a Mother’s Day card, as she mothers all clergy who live in fear.
For today, let us remember all those who have helped grow new life, whether that be through physical birth or emotional, spiritual birth. Peter in our second reading reminds us: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” As we step back into the sunlight of today, feel empowered to continue the work of many mothers and do what you can to do good works that will birth this world beyond its current state. Happy Mother’s Day.
April 23, 2017
If doubt is an attitude of uncertainty or a wavering of belief, then Thomas is anything but doubting. I believe that the tried and true sermons on doubting Thomas are not true to the text, and other approaches should be tried.
From the start, it is important to realize the story is not about Thomas. Rather, the story is about varied responses to the reality of the resurrection. Thomas’ response (though quite vivid) is but one in an assortment of responses presented in John 20. Various initial responses to the resurrection in 20:1-18 include:
Mary Magdalene's first response is one of consternation, because she concluded that Jesus' corpse was moved to some unknown location. Then, depending on the account, Mary sees the risen Jesus, believes and accepts the commission to tell the other disciples.
Peter's response is quite ambiguous. He sees the immediate evidence (the position of the linen clothes and the face cloth) but comes to no definitive conclusions.
The response of the Beloved Disciple is to see and believe even without knowing the scriptural prophecy regarding Jesus' resurrection.
Subsequently, Jesus moves Mary Magdalene to a response of faith in which she carries out Jesus' commission and testifies to the fact that she has seen the Lord.
As the text opens, the disciples display an initial response of fear because of the Jews. They are letting the world, rather than the risen Jesus, control their actions and attitudes. Jesus, however, breaks into their locked up, fearful lives and bids them peace as fulfillment of his promises. This triggers their new resurrection response of joy. The gift of the Holy Spirit enlivens the disciples to continue Jesus’ ministry without rendering them perfect believers.
Jesus immediately imparts the Holy Spirit onto those present, and commissions them to participate in the ongoing mission for which God had originally sent Jesus. As Mary Magdalene responded obediently to the commission the risen Lord gave her, so it is anticipated that the disciples will respond obediently to the commission the risen Jesus has given them regarding the forgiveness and retention of sins.
Thomas is missing when the other disciples encounter Jesus. Yet he hears from them the same proclamation they heard from Mary Magdalene: “We have seen the Lord!” Like Thomas, the disciples were not immediately transformed by Mary’s proclamation of the good news. They remain behind locked doors, where they are gathered out of fear. Like Thomas, the disciples only respond with joy to Jesus’ presence after he shows them his hands and his side.
Thomas presents a very different response to the reality of the resurrection. For their part, the disciples continue to reflect the proper Easter faith response in their report that they have seen the Lord, virtually repeating Mary's Easter faith response. Thomas responds, not with doubt, but with definite and emphatic conditions for believing.
The Greek construction is a clear-- "if this...then that ..." condition stated negatively. Essentially, Thomas is saying that if the conditions he establishes are not met, then he will definitely not believe.
Rather than "doubting Thomas," the text presents "conditional Thomas."
How often do we approach our faith relationship as a legal contract in which we seek to establish the terms by which we will respond with faith? "If I have historical proof...If I have a sign...If near-death experiences can verify...If God would do...If Jesus would cure...Then I will believe in Christ...Then I will know that God exists...Then I will know that there is life after death...Then I will make a commitment of faith."
We replicate the folly of conditional Thomas each time we establish for Christ how Christ needs to operate in our lives and each time we ground our faith in what we demand from God, rather than in what God does in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. An initial reading of this gospel might lead one to conclude that Thomas comes to believe because Jesus meets his conditions. John's text, however, is more subtle than that.
On the one hand, Jesus gives several commands to Thomas, echoing the conditions Thomas had established in the first place. On the other hand, Thomas never physically examines or inspects Jesus' wounds as he claimed he needed to do before he would believe. Instead, the key is the closing command Jesus gives, "Don't be unbelieving but believing." Thomas responds, "My Lord and my God."
Through the series of responses to the reality of Easter presented in this Gospel, we discover that believing is neither a matter of physical proofs nor having our conditions met. Likewise, believing is not simply a matter of seeing but transcends seeing, as Jesus' congratulatory remark makes clear —“You have become a believer because you saw me. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Although the narrator proclaims “blessed” the one who has not seen and yet has believed, this is true of none of Jesus’ disciples, except perhaps the beloved disciple. Instead, John portrays the disciples as still reaching toward belief in Jesus. Even Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God!” does not mark the completion of faith. His statement is a significant confession, but it is not the end of the story. The disciples embody a belief that reaches toward but never quite achieves complete understanding of Jesus.
The question this Gospel raises explicitly is the reader’s relationship to Jesus’ disciples. What is expected of later followers of Jesus, and should they understand themselves as like or unlike the disciples of the story? Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. Is this a special possession of the early church? Some interpreters imagine “the disciples” here as a limited group of the twelve (minus Judas and Thomas) who are commissioned as official apostles with particular duties that raise them above the level of the average believer. Jesus’ words to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them...” reinforces the perception for many that the disciples have a unique role.
Yet it may be better to understand the disciples as a group that reflects John’s understanding of discipleship as a whole. As is often the case in John, “the disciples” are unnumbered and unnamed. Although John clearly knows of the designation “the twelve,” he uses the phrase to identify disciples who are part of Jesus’ most intimate group of associates rather than to specify the actions or characteristics of the group.
Although readers may be primed to expect Jesus’ last supper to be eaten with the twelve, or that he will appear to the eleven alone in his resurrection, John specifies only that “the disciples” are present in each case. This designation suggests a more open-ended group of people included in Jesus’ words and actions. After all, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus—one of them is named Cleopas, Jesus’ uncle, and the other is unnamed, but arguably would be his aunt Mary who was present at the crucifixion—before he appeared to the disciples of the “inner” circle.
But what then does it mean for Jesus to breathe out the Holy Spirit and to tell this larger group of disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”? Remember, after all, that Thomas was not there when the “disciples” received the Holy Spirit—he would not have been commissioned then. The passage is, instead, a commissioning scene for believers—a commissioning of the church as a whole, not an elite group of leaders. It is a commissioning for us.
John’s language seems to grant broad powers to the church to forgive or retain sins, and we are the church. It may help to remember that throughout John’s Gospel “sin” has referred to the rejection of Jesus and his ministry. Jesus’ presence already reveals and condemns people’s belief or unbelief. In Jesus’ absence the church steps into this role. The image is not a narrow one of a priest assigning penance but a broader recognition that the church [we] becomes the arbiters of acceptance or rejection of Jesus.
Even so, part of our modern difficulty with this text may be that Jesus leaves this authority in the hands of disciples who are not themselves free from sin. John seems well aware of this, having positioned the story of commissioning in the midst of the disciples’ struggle to come to terms with their resurrection faith. Instead of trying to “solve” the problem of this responsibility granted to the church, I would say instead that the passage seems consistent with John’s portrait of the disciples. They are called to do much more than they are capable of. Yet they occasionally achieve great clarity, and in those moments they manifest the hope of the resurrection. We too are called to do much more than we are capable of doing, yet we can occasionally achieve great things in the name of the risen Jesus Christ and manifest, too, the hope of the resurrection.
With that being said, how can we, Jesus’ disciples, forgive sin, bringing people into the belief of the risen Jesus? I would suggest that one way is to do what Jesus told us to do—feed the hungry. We may do this with our pens by writing letters to our Senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst in support of the Bread for the World letter writing campaign to our U.S. Senators. This letter writing campaign is not a charity asking, it is an advocacy request. Here’s why:
The important Safety Net and Poverty-Focused Development Assistance Programs will be cut by [at least] 10% with the new 2018 federal budget.
These cuts will adversely affect programs like SNAP [food stamp], WIC [supplemental nutrition assistance program for women, infants and children, the SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAM, PFDA [poverty focused foreign assistance] and the IFA [international food assistance program]
Social security/ unemployment and labor are 36% of the budget, Medicare and Medicaid is 24% of the budget, defense if 20% of the budget, net interest on the debt is 8%. This leaves 12% of the federal budget for all other programs and only 3% is allowed for the department of Agriculture which administers these food programs—down from 4% last year. This is a 25% reduction in money and services.
These programs are vital for the poor of this country and have been proven to lift people out of poverty in an effective manner.
What we are asked to do is to write a hand written letter to our Senators and to other representatives if you wish encouraging them to pass legislation that will protect those who are hungry, poor and vulnerable in the United States and abroad. This sort of personalized letter is the most influential way to influence a member of Congress. Each hand-written letter is logged in and the number of letters received for or against a certain issue show members of congress how important the issue is to their constituents. On-line petition and mass post card mailings are generally ignored.
I have some sample letter ideas here and if you are so inclined to forgive sins and manifest the hope of the resurrection in others, please write letters to our legislators requesting that they fully fund these needed food programs.
Sunday- March 26, 2017
In chapter 9, the miracle story is told first in quick strokes. Following the miracle story itself John presents several dialogs that take place between various parties, all of whom are in one way or another trying to resolve a dilemma created by the miracle.
Perhaps the overall theme can be stated succinctly in terms of light and darkness, seeing and blindness, faith and unfaith.
The first dilemma addressed is the issue of sin and blindness that the disciples raised at the beginning of the story. Such views of God must surely be put to rest once and for all. Yet when tragedies occur, people instinctively ask, why did God do this to me? Why is God punishing me? Jesus says that there is no connection between sin and physical problems, ailments or disasters—none whatsoever, but even such tragedies may be an occasion for God’s manifestation to us.
The blind man's neighbors raise another sort of question. They don't believe that this is the same man that was blind. This, they say, cannot happen. It's never heard of that someone born blind should receive their sight. There is no suggestion here that we believe everything that comes our way; however, there is a suggestion we certainly cannot understand God. People with genuine faith recognize the limitations of their knowledge and reserve judgment until such time that there is a better understanding. The church in past history has condemned people like Copernicus, Galileo, and other scientists because of their novel theories about the solar system. Later the church had to retract its condemnation of these individuals when their theories became established facts. Even now, the Catholic Church continues with condemnation of new views. Hasty pronouncements in the name of faith may not be genuine faith at all.
The parents of the healed man demonstrate another type of spiritual darkness. Fear of speaking out and failure to stand up for truth and justice will keep us in darkness. In this narrative John presents the negative example of the Pharisees. They persist in their religious heritage so staunchly that they turn a deaf ear and close their eyes to new things that God was doing. That is blindness! One can apparently be extremely religious and faithful to the old-time religion and still be blind. I would point to women as priests as a current case in point.
On the other hand, the narrative presents an opposite picture. At the center of the controversy is the lone figure of the blind man who was healed and now has to answer questions. His healing leads into turmoil instead of jubilation. Where is Jesus when the man is being questioned, harassed and attacked? Why is Jesus absent? While this healed man is trying his best to answer questions, it is obvious that his knowledge of Jesus is far from perfect. Yet in these circumstances there is no sudden flash of revelation and insight from heaven. The man simply stumbles along, doing his best with his limited knowledge of Jesus. But the more he is attacked, the deeper he seems to grow in his understanding of Jesus.
The question for John's circle of believers was how to go on living the life of faithfulness to Jesus when Jesus was not around. How do we answer difficult questions that opponents ask? How does a second, third or fourth generation faith community continue its life when the original founders of the movement are no longer around? How should a life of faith be lived out in these new times? What does it mean to be faithful to one's tradition and heritage and at the same time find answers to new questions that are being asked?
The Gospel of John is a good model for us. John takes the old stories of Jesus and recasts them in such a way that they bear witness to Jesus with great power and luster in a new setting that is linguistically and culturally so different from the Galilean, Judean, Palestinian setting where Jesus had lived and ministered. The Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus in an entirely different way than the other three gospels. Do our doctrines, theological language and categories of thought have to remain as they were fifty, one hundred, or two hundred years ago? We can learn a vital lesson from the Gospel of John--how to remain faithful in our witness to God's work in Christ while adapting our modes of expression to the cultural setting in which we live.
Yet in a real sense, Jesus was not absent in the story of John 9, nor is he absent from our own story today. Jesus is at the center of all the controversy, the questions, and the insults that the healed man is experiencing. He is giving witness to the work of God that Jesus had done. His witness is at times weak, incomplete, inadequate, but it is growing. And in the end, when he is kicked out by the Pharisees, Jesus finds him and leads him to a fuller understanding. Jesus does not abandon him. The blind man receives his sight, a miracle in the physical realm. But much more significantly, his spiritual eyes are opened and his darkness turns to light as he falls on his knees before Jesus and says, "Lord, I believe."
We must also open our spiritual eyes, remain faithful in our witness to God’s works in Christ and continually adapt our modes of expression to the cultural needs in which we live. Jesus will not abandon us but lead us to a fuller understanding of God.
Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: A New Beginning
Feb 12, 2017
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Second Reading: Hebrews 2:14-18
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[a] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b]
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[d]She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
As the third oldest in our family of eight, I can remember mom bringing my younger siblings after they were born to church to offer them back to God. We’d go during the day because, of course, churches were always open back then. And mom would do the praying. There was no priest involved, no community. Just us and I thought it was lovely. A wonderful way to bless our new family member and to remind the rest of us that God was primary in our lives.
Today we examine and celebrate this ancient Hebrew tradition that ultimately represented a love of God: Jesus Presentation in the Temple. But before we focus on the Jesus part, I think it’s important that we understand what’s NOT said in today’s reading. It was typical Jewish practice that a woman, after having given birth to a male, was deemed unclean for 40 days—so no going to Temple, no male visitors. On the 40th day, she was to show herself to the Temple high priest (having been forbidden to enter prior to this time), have the purification rites performed and was then welcomed back to the Temple community. Had she given birth to a girl, her wait was double, 80 days until she could be “purified” and returned to her community. Do you see how direct the implication is? Having a girl is much worse than having a boy—doubly worse. Underneath this archaic ritual, was the primary belief that God was holy and deserving of all good. Our messy human experiences like reproduction had to be cleansed, redeemed somehow, thus the purification rituals. It makes me sad that this was simply an accepted part of Jewish tradition, no questions asked. Mary did her part and life went on.
But we are a very different generation from Jesus’ time. We’ve come a long way. After the Women’s March of recent weeks and more recently, the woman Senator, Elizabeth Warren, debating the legitimacy of the new Attorney General Sessions, and being told to “shut up”, it would be understandable if we balked at today’s liturgical celebration. Yes, Jesus is the focus and thanks to Jesus, we have come a long way in truly appreciating the value of all people. Still, our focus needs to be on what is not seen, the stories that are not told so that we do not simply accept what appears to be the norm—a ban on Muslim travel, an Attorney General who has a history of racism, a president who is not above the law. We must speak out in truth whenever possible even when we have been warned, we have been given explanations. Still we must persist. That is what we are reminded of today at the Presentation of Jesus. Times have changed, should change, must change until all people are seen as valuable. You have been challenged to speak the truth because of Mary’s silence—
Now we can shift to Jesus. Mary and Joseph come to offer their child back to God and instead God says, No, this child is my gift to you, for the whole world to see anew! This is not what Joseph and Mary expected. To have both Solomon and Anna affirm Jesus status as the One is fabulous! Let us not miss the significance. This is big. Joseph and Mary knew their child was special and held their secret close, trusting that he would become who he was meant to be. But to hear such public pronouncements made by respected religious leaders, must’ve been overwhelming. What was it about Mary or Joseph or Jesus himself that made Solomon so certain he was the one? This was an average family, offering two turtledoves to the high priest. And yet, Solomon says aloud in prayer to God, “You may now dismiss your servant in peace. (Or, in other words, “I can die happy now.”) For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Mary and Joseph’s beliefs have been confirmed by a higher authority. Jesus has been offered back to God, been presented and has been received as God’s embodiment. So this presentation is a new beginning. It’s a text that confirms Jesus as God’s gift to us. Can we embrace this truth? Can we see that this is a profound text. Can we reclaim our passion for belief in Jesus? I believe that this is a new beginning, an opportunity to affirm our Christianity, to proclaim that we believe—and we will persist in our efforts to continue what Jesus started.
February 2, 2017
Baptism of Jesus
First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Second Reading: Acts 10:34-38
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God show no partiality but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Own, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.”
Sermon: (Have water nearby)
Mortality stinks! Lately I’ve been surrounded by reminders of my mortality and it has not been a good thing. I was sick for almost three weeks and felt how dependent I was on others. Rarely have I been sick and it was a humbling experience. At times, I needed help getting out of bed. And I slept hour upon hour. Ridiculous. Then, last Friday I went to Louise’s funeral and that was truly a difficult experience. Louise was my age, mother to 4 children, spouse of a doctor—there were too many similarities to ignore. Finally, this past week, I’ve been caring for Anna who was very sick and out of school from Tuesday through Friday. At times, I’d become angry with how stuck and frustrated I felt, like reliving the same bad dream over and over again, listening to her cough, hour after hour, time seemed to crawl and I found myself despairing. Some of you live with chronic illness and know what I’m talking about in a very real way. I cannot imagine how you endure. I now appreciate how lonely it can be, how dark and disheartening. Illness puts us in the grip of doubt, fear and death. Perhaps this is what Peter meant when he talked about “being in the grip of the Devil.” It felt very much like that—when all hope seems lost.
Which is why today’s readings made my heart sing. Isaiah, the prophet, foreshadows Christ’s coming—calling Jesus a servant, God’s chosen one, covenant of the people, a light of the nations, someone who will open the eyes of the blind, free captives and release those who have been living in darkness—like me. How encouraging!
Peter was becoming more wise and mature in his faith and comes upon his own aha—that God shows no partiality. Mindblowing for a man of his time where everyone was judged by who they are, their family, their standing in the Temple. He says, “No, I’ve discovered that those who fear God and do what is right are acceptable to God.” Boom. Done. Such a proclamation. Intention is everything—regardless of one’s status. We are still trying to live that in this day and age, especially with a paranoid president who demands walls instead of bridges, judgement instead of mercy. No partiality? We’ve got a long way to go to help fight for the 11 million undocumented people in our midst.
Then in our gospel, Jesus comes to John to be baptized. John wants no part of this. He knows he is not worthy to perform such a sacrament. But Jesus insists. Jesus insists that John perform the rite, to fulfill the order of things, to do his baptism in the way that people will know and trust. John complies and what happens? The heavens open up! Was there really a voice, God’s voice, God actually saying something that profound, to affirm the truth of who Jesus is? Remarkable. Miraculous. Enough to change the world forever more. Jesus wants us to reclaim hope, to defy the darkness of despair to challenge the norm of fear and division. We are the baptized. We are the chosen. We are the ones Isaiah called the people, the captives. And we have been set free, if we but notice and embrace the promise of our faith. It should be enough to ignite our passion once again, to help us when we are faltering under life’s stress and strain, when we are overpowered by the Devil’s tenacious grip.
Jesus wanted us to be the ones to move his word into action—to be Christ in the world. I’ve been reading Teilhard de Chardin who was a mystic to help inspire me in my faith. For Teilhard, Christ today is not just Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead, but rather a huge, continually evolving Being as big as the universe. In this colossal, almost unimaginable Being each of us lives and develops in consciousness, like living cells in a huge organism. At various times, theologians have described this great Being as the Total Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Whole Christ, the Universal Christ or the Mystical Body of Christ. We are that Christ, not separate from a person who lived in the past but here and now, within and through us.
May today be a beginning for us, as a church and as individuals to reclaim our baptism, our choice to live as Christians who dispel darkness and defy darkness in all its forms, even when we are trapped by it ourselves. May the water we feel, renew our faith to be active, to choose the light, the way and the truth. Teilhard says, “All that is really worthwhile is action—faithful action for the world, and in God.”
The action I invite us take today is to see water here in a new light. We will be blessing each other with the water from the baptismal font before we receive communion. It’s a gesture of unity in memory of our baptism. And it’s also a gesture of empowerment. We are made of water, God has created us and gives us life through water, the birthing waters of our mother and the daily water we ingest to sustain life. Whenever we encounter water, we engage with the divine. That’s what today is about—Jesus being washed clean by the water (even though he didn’t need that). Jesus being in the water, of the water at one with us. We rely on water for survival. We read stories of brave immigrants who cross the border with only water to sustain them. Water wars in California with their droughts. Today we bless the water of our baptism and reclaim its power to move us beyond our mortality. We are mortal and immortal. May our immortality always help us to choose the water, the light of God who rises above our mortality and invites us to do the same.
Sunday, January 23, 2017:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Mass
First Reading: Words from MLK: “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”
Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-15
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.
Gospel Reading: Taken from “I Have a Dream speech”:
We have (also) come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. Let the People say, Amen!
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. for how much his life compelled to move us forward towards unity. His words affect us still today, just as they deeply affected those who first heard them on August 28, 1965 some 51 years ago. His words have the rhythm of his culture, that call and response pattern which black people know so well. It comes from their spirituals, hymns of hope and patient endurance. Martin speaks to inspire, to encourage, to empower. Which is why he repeats his words, so we can remember: Now is the time…I have a dream…you can hear it resound in the crowd like a mantra. His words are steeped in faith—a deep, passionate belief that God is with him and will, in time, enable all people to get along, to share God’s goodness equally and without prejudice. We are still a long way from his dream. But not as far as when his words were first spoken. Can I get an Amen. Amen.
Friday was Trump’s inauguration. I didn’t watch it. Instead I sat in a dark movie theater and watched two movies in a row, with friends. We were trying to avoid the reality of what the day meant. We wanted to have our own anti-inauguration day. It was a difficult day. But yesterday was the Women’s March. Can I get an Amen! Watching those crowds (and knowing my son was somewhere among them) empowered me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Not just in DC but in Chicago, New York, Des Moines and 600 cities across the world, including London. Listening to women speak about being strong and fearless, about acting up and acting out if necessary, taking a stand and staying involved, volunteering and not backing down, not going back.
America Ferrera was probably the most powerful speaker when she said, “The president is not America. The cabinet is not America. The congress is not America. We are America and we are here to stay.” She also added, “We will not go from a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance.”
And that’s when I realized that I am not alone, that we are not alone. What we have been grieving and sadly anticipating on Friday was spoken and heard and opposed around the world yesterday. I kept staring at the women and men who were wearing their pussy hats in opposition and in love. One Muslim black woman said that if you are wondering what to do now, you should follow women of color. They are the ones who’ve been fighting this fight for a long, long time. I’m ready to get in line.
I feel encouraged to do more. My new mantra is “Inclusion revolution.” Did you hear that? That’s a phrase I’d not heard before but when I heard it, I wrote it down. And, I’ve been saying it over and over. Inclusion revolution. It’s the drumbeat that I want you to remember today. Inclusion revolution. We are part of this revolution for inclusion. That started six and a half years ago, right? We are willing to take a stand for inclusion in the Catholic church, to not be silent when we witness division or prejudice. We are moving forward despite what has happened. Inclusion revolution, here we come.
Prof. Claude Steele, author of a book on racism tells the story of a black male college student who began to notice that fellow students on campus would avoid him or cross the street to get away from him. He realized from this kind of behavior that they were seeing him through the lens of a negative stereotype about African-Americans in that neighborhood. That perhaps as a young male, black male, he might be violent. And it was making his whole experience tense and awkward. So, he became very creative. He learned how to whistle Vivaldi (a famous Italian composer) to deflect that stereotype. When people heard the classical music being whistled, they said ‘Oh, this is a man of refinement’. And they treated him with respect. Isn’t that crazy? And so brilliant. It’s the world we live in—and need to help change. Here’s Vivaldi. (play) See? We know it too. The book is called, Whistling Vivaldi.
Professor Steele says that no one is immune from stereotype. Every one of us has something that we are judged for. We are all part of some group affected by negative perceptions which I don’t think we realize. Whether it is having a chronic illness or living with a family member who has mental illness, or not being able to lose weight, each of us has felt judged or shamed. And that’s where our compassion needs to come from. A place of discomfort and hurt—That’s where healing is found—when it is joined with another person who is hurting. Together we find a way. Together we find hope. Together we find strength to move beyond fear.
God is with us in this space. God gives us the desire to reach out when we most want to withdraw. That same God who empowered MLK to preach and mobilize others is with us now. She is the God who empowered all those women and men to go to these marches and speak truth to power. This is the God who moves us to an inclusion revolution! A time when we will not go back to our closets or corners of society (or dark movie theaters) but when we give voice to unity. God will help us make a way out of no way. God will help us whistle Vivaldi when we are in doubt. Let’s keep whistling all the way to the Kin-dom. Can I get an Amen? AMEN.
Epiphany—a time of discovery and surprise. The kind of surprise that empowers us—a new meaning that causes us to pause and reflect. Why do we love this holiday? What is it that draws us in? Is it the magi—so closely tied to magic? Is it the stars and their prediction of a child King? Is it the travelers who firmly believed that they would find THIS child, the One who was to bring true peace? There is much in this story that intrigues us and that calls us to ponder. Above all, it is a story of a quest, discovery and deeper meaning—which is all our stories too. We are born, we seek meaning and purpose and we journey to the unknown, questioning, hoping, trusting to make meaning out of life’s mysteries. No wonder we love this celebration, not to mention the hats, the cake, the frankincense.
I can remember when my first son was born. Before that, I had some idea of what love was about, but after his birth, I knew love in a very different way. I felt a deep, fierce protectiveness of him—that no harm touch him. He was that precious. That’s an aha, an epiphany that comes from loving a child. Love itself is a mystery beyond words. We cannot fully name why we love so deeply, why we care so much. That’s the power and the beauty of love. It’s the thread throughout this story of Epiphany.
In Isaiah, we can’t help but get excited. You hear the prophet’s triumphant pronouncement: darkness is conquered, all people are coming together, God is here and all is well. We may need to read this over and over in the next four years. As much as I fear that darkness is settling in, let us take hope in Isaiah’s words. One epiphany I’ve had about this whole Trump election is that now it is in the hands of the people to make change and that may be a very good thing. My son Jon has been working with students from Harvard and Yale and they got 4,000 signatures from health care students that were delivered to Congress last week saying that if the ACA is repealed, there are six issues that must be addressed. How good is that? Our youth are rallying.
Let’s look at the characters involved in today’s gospel: the Magi, Mary and Joseph and of course the child Jesus. The Magi are intelligent men, dignitaries, foreigners who all agree on a theory, an interpretation of the stars and what they mean. They believe so much that they are willing to plan and carry out a long journey, trekking to a faraway place to find a child who is to be great. And the purpose of this quest? To pay homage, to affirm a new truth. Some say it took them two weeks, others say two years. Because so much of this story has been pieced together, we don’t really know, which adds to its allure, its intrigue. What we find riveting is that these magi represent the truth that the love of God is for all nations—the potential for unity for us all. All nations coming together to pay homage to the One, a God whose greatest purpose is that all be One. That’s what Paul reminds the Ephesians—that the Gentiles are heirs to God’s kin-dom. We all are heirs.
Mary is key to this story--how she miraculously delivered her child Jesus in a cave, by herself with no midwife or doctor at her side, with only her husband to help. No medical care, maybe no clean water either. Mary would’ve been careful to nourish her newborn son with her own breastmilk, keeping him warm and clean. Who brought her the water and clean sheets? Joseph must’ve done his part to help. Together they were good partners because they had to be; they enabled Jesus to survive such unpleasant and unclean beginnings. Because of their love and belief in God, they trusted that this child was the One. Some of us parents hold that belief of each and every one of our children—they are special. They are going to do great things. Mary is our model of how to nurture, how to believe in the not-yet.
And then there’s Jesus, a tiny, vulnerable infant, no different from all the innocent baby boys who would be murdered because of Herod’s fear. What made him unique? At that time, before he could speak, it was the belief, the faith of his parents. They made sure he would survive and grow to become who he was meant to be. When the magi arrived with all their entourage, Mary must’ve smiled and felt proud that what she believed was being acknowledged by others, by men of great honor and rank in their countries. She allowed them to pay homage, trusting that they would tell others of his birth—that one day the whole world would know and believe in her son, Jesus the Christ.
Little did they all know that they would be remembered thousands of years later as we do our own searching for God. What are the signs we trust? Is it the stars, the news, the weather? What helps us to be hopeful amidst difficult times. That’s what Epiphany is all about. Helping us to renew our hope that God is with us, here and now. We celebrate Epiphany because it is a story that touches deep within us and helps us to remain hopeful. It empowers us to trust. Finally, it insists that we, like Mary, Joseph and the Magi, devote our lives to a very simple belief, that Jesus is the One, the One teacher who can bring us deeper meaning and life eternal.
So I ask us these questions to ponder: What signs do we follow? How do we commit to a journey towards the Divine? What are the essentials to our journey? What gift will you bring for Christ?