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Monday, March 06, 2017

5 March 2017-- 1st Sunday of Lent

Today's first reading and gospel are about hungers: hungers for power, position, and possessions rather than who one is before God. We are who we are—and—we are no more and no less than who we are before God. In the first reading from Genesis, we have the story of the so-called “Fall”. However, we can look at their sin as one of coveting the power of being “like God”. In their desire to be like God, they don't realize that they are not ready. 
If one is trapped in atonement theology, we think only of “The Fall.” However, we can look at this story as a metaphor for the beginning of humanity's journey toward wholeness. One can think of God's punishment in terms of a parent insisting the children do community service in a hospital ward so that the kids can begin to understand and learn from what they have done. Imagine, it went something like this:-- After they were cast out of the Garden, out of the beautiful paradise, they begin to forget Eden but they long for utopia, for paradise. Through the centuries, they begin to learn from the life experiences caused by their hunger for divine power. They learn the knowledge of good and evil and—with God's help, choose good. Imagine that it was a necessary lesson, not only for them, but for all of us. So that when we return to the Garden we will be aware of the fact that we are in Paradise. We will tend it, each other, and ourselves in a totally different way than if we were growing in it and never realizing the paradisiacal state that we are in. Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity, have to learn to appreciate the gifts of God and our responsibility to care for each other and our Garden of Eden. That is who we are. That is who we are created to be.

Now for Adam and Eve there wasn't much competition. But by the time of Jesus, hunger for the three “P”s: power, position, possessions had become seeds of division, injustice and oppression. In today's gospel, Jesus models how to be in right relationship by overcoming the hunger for power and position and the unbridled desire for possessions. 
In the first temptation, Jesus is being tempted to prove his power and position “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” But Jesus refuses. What feeds him is other people. He knows that to be fully human—which Jesus is—is to accept one's dependence on God and interdependence with all of creation. 
Likewise in the second temptation, Jesus is tempted to prove his power and position. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. ... He will command his angels concerning you”, et cetera. Jesus knows who he is. He doesn't need to prove it. He doesn't need to ask God to prove it either. He is confident of God's love and concern. Now, during this season of Lent, we Christians need to pay special attention to this. So often, because we have been sold the falsehood that we are not good enough, we seek approval from others and proof of God's love for us by trying to prove our goodness. This hunger for divine and human approval sometimes results in the need to prove we're better than others. We need to internalize the confidence in God's love that Jesus models for us in these verses. The Franciscan theologian Dun Scotus taught that God does not only love roses, God loves each individual rose for itself. The same is true for us. God not only loves humanity. God loves each one of us individually for the self that we are. When we internalize this, it becomes easier for us to love one another as Jesus commanded.
Lastly, Jesus is tempted with the words, “Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” This temptation deals with the hunger for possessions. These days individuals and corporations have prostrated themselves in the worship of money; in the desire for possessions and riches. In paying homage to greed, they have gone to war. They have subjugated peoples and whole geographic regions. They are oblivious of their own bondage and to the fact that they are destroying the earth that sustains them. Jesus shows us that the obsessive desire for possessions is idolatry. Matthew is trying to tell us here that—for Jesus—God is the God of Enough. Matthew's metaphor shows us that the idolatry of insatiable greed enslaves us. 
All is not doom and gloom. We must keep in mind that this Gospel gives us hope. Jesus reminds us that we too can be triumphant over our temptations through faith. The temptations in today's gospel represent the temptation to fulfill different types of hungers. I have touched on three. But what about the hunger hidden deep within our hearts, the hunger of who we are called to be in God’s eyes? Lent is a time to yield to God’s will for us, in us and through us. During his time in the desert, Jesus was able to clear the distractions of his own life and commit to his call, that is, to teach us how to live. So following Jesus example, rather than be disheartened by our own encounters with temptation, we should be strengthened by our desert moments. After Jesus had resisted all the temptors enticements, today's gospel ends with, “Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” Matthew is telling us that God was with Jesus all through this encounter. God is also with us, especially during our desert moments. Let us give thanks for the presence of God in our lives.

Please share your thoughts

19 February 2017--7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The phrase “dignity of the human person” is one of the fundamental teachings in Catholic Social Teaching. Its basis in the phrase from Genesis that we are made in the “image and likeness of God”. These concepts are explained and expanded by today's readings. First, I'll do a little word play with a key phrase from each of the readings before giving a reflection on the readings themselves.
In today's reading from Leviticus, we are told “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” Now the Hebrew word qadosh or qadesh translated here as “holy” also means “set apart” or “a sanctuary.” So one could interpret this verse as saying “be a sanctuary as your God is a sanctuary.” 

In the second reading Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The Greek word naos refers to Jewish Temple proper, that is, the sanctuary, the place where God dwells and manifests. So this could be interpreted as “Do you now know that you are a sanctuary, where God dwells and is revealed.”

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," the gospel tells us. Telios, translated here as perfect, also means complete or whole. In other words “be whole just as God is whole.” The wholeness and completeness of God is unity, harmony and union.

To summarize this wordplay, since we are all made in the image and likeness of God, each one of us is a sanctuary where God dwells and is revealed. The First reading tells us that we may have to correct one another when we go astray but we are not to hate or harbour revenge on one another, that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves.

The Second Reading from 1st Corinthians follows in a similar vein and warns us against destroying God's sanctuaries, that is, each other. Such destruction manifests itself in all forms of injustice. In his book, Globalization, Spirituality and Justice, Daniel Groody attributes the prevalence of injustice to what he calls, money-theism. He writes,

In large part, the root cause of global injustice is anchored in a fundamental theological and anthropological error that has been referred to today as “money-theism.” Money-theism deals with the idolization of capital, expressed as the worship of the gods of the marketplace, and is often practiced through the rituals of the stock market and the liturgies of global capitalism. In this system people are measured in terms of their net worth, accumulated possessions, and incomes rather than their human worth, the quality of their character, and their spiritual depth. The value and worth of human beings have become more and more reduced to a “market fundamentalism,” were the market alone defines what it means to be human.
But the Paul tells us that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” Gracefully, more and more people are beginning to realize that this desire for more and more and the taking of more and more—from people and more and more from the Earth—must stop. Gracefully also, across religious lines more and more people are beginning to realize that we all belong and to realize our inter-connectedness.

Just in case the people in Jesus' audience, including us, didn't get the message, in today's gospel Jesus makes it clear that it is not only our friends who carry God within them. Our enemies also have God dwelling within them. Bringing it closer to home, G. K. Chesterton says : "We are commanded to love our neighbors and our enemies; they are generally the same people." This is very true for all of us. It is very easy for us to love, in theory, all rich people or all politicians—even Trump and Trudeau, we'll never come in contact with them. They'll never leave dirty dishes in our sink. But it is our neighbors, our friends and acquaintances, those who know our vulnerabilities that can hurt us and thus become our enemies. But Jesus is telling us not to return hurt for hurt.

Jesus is reminding us that each and every one of us is a sanctuary. God is present in every person, regardless of their race, nation, sex, origin, affectional orientation, culture, economic standing, religion or lack thereof. Catholic social teaching asserts that we must love, honour and respect all human beings because within every person is both a reflection of God and a mirror of ourselves. “Be whole just as God is whole” so that by our unity, harmony and union in our diversity, we image the wholeness and completeness of God. Namaste, the Spirit within me honours the Spirit within you.

Please share your thoughts?

5 February 2017 -Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year A

In last week's gospel, Matthew gave us the Beatitudes. We often think of the Beatitudes as rewards for different groups of good people. They are not. Rather, they are the characteristics that each of us should strive to embody. One could say they are the steps, in no particular order, that can transform us. As we know Jesus was familiar with the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In today's first reading Isaiah gives us an instance of the Hebrew Scriptural basis of Jesus' teaching in last Sunday's and this Sunday's gospel reading as well as the corporal works of mercy.

Isaiah counsels us to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and the homeless; to clothe the naked, to remove oppression, false accusations and malicious speech from our communities. Then, Isaiah tells us, not only will our light break forth like the dawn but also, a light shall rise for us in the darkness and our gloom will become like midday.

In today's gospel reading, which follows immediately after the Beatitudes, Matthew tells us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As Richard Rohr says, we must keep in mind that salt is not the whole meal. To be salt of the earth is not to be better than others but to enrich the lives of others as salt enriches the flavour of a meal. If we do nothing for the good of others, we are like salt that has lost its flavour and therefore, useless. As always it is not big deeds that define us. Rather, it is how we are in the world. For example, take Isaiah's suggestion to “satify, or as some translations say, 'satisfy the needs' of the afflicted.” This could be as simple as giving a friendly smile to a woman who is wearing a hijab or planting indigenous plants in your garden that will attract bees or setting up a compost bin designed for apartments if you live in an apartment. To be salt includes the small efforts we make on behalf of our relatives human and non-human.

Isaiah has already told us that when we share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked, remove oppression, false accusations and malicious speech from our communities near and far, we become the light of the world. Some of these are things we can't do alone. We can either do them as a group or support, in various ways, groups that do. There is a lot of social justice work to be done in the coming months as political decisions at odds with the common good are being made south of the border and here at home. One example is the approval of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, which signals a call to action for the defense of our waters and the creatures that inhabit them. Another is the increase in Islamaphobia because of statements and policies being made south of the border, that have given licence to hate to those so inclined. Today's gospel tells us that our light must shine before others, [so] that they may see our good deeds and glorify [God]. In other words, Matthew is reminding us that the good we do can influence others to do good as well but also that the good we do should be based on our love of our Creator and all the Creator's works.

As salt and light we are called to shed any apathy we may still have, and live the gospel. But our activism needs to have a firm basis in prayer and contemplation so that we are strengthened and healed as we work for political policies that are just and in the interest of the common good. We need an activism based on a firm foundation of spiritual values as we work for the strength and healing of Mother Earth and her children.

Please share your thoughts!

29 January 2017–Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I reflected on today's readings, which at first glance could make us think they're about us and them, rich and poor. They are not. Rather they are about transformation. We all have of one foot in the camp of the proud and the other in the camp of the humble. Think of the first reading as a metaphor for God's honing us so that the humble part of us grows and the proud part diminishes. It is our response to misfortune as well as our response to good fortune that determines our character. The humility of which Zephaniah speaks, it not self-debasement or docility. Rather it is simply acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our dependence on God and our interconnectedness to all of creation. The righteousness of which Zephaniah speaks is not scrupulosity or piety. The Greek and Hebrew words, usually translated as “righteousness” would be more aptly translated as: equity, fairness, justice or, justness. “Seek humility, seek righteousness” means seek truth and justice. Will we act on it?

In the second reading, Paul tells us “God chose what is low and despised in this world.” Right now, the low and despised are refugees, especially Syrian refugees. Corporate interests have designated animal habitat, Indigenous lives and livelihoods—and—even the well-being of the Earth itself, as expendable. God has implanted in us a thirst for justice. Will we act on it?

Today’s Gospel turns the old world meaning of blessed on its head. In ancient Greek usage, makarios, which means blessed, referred to the gods who were beyond all cares, labours, and even death. The blessed ones were gods who lived in some other world away from the cares and problems and worries of ordinary people. In time, makarios came to refer to the elite, the upper echelons of society, the wealthy people. It referred to people whose riches and power put them above the normal cares and problems and worries of the common people, who constantly struggle and worry and labor in life. To be blessed, you had to be very rich and powerful. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.

Matthew however, reflecting Jesus' thoughts, uses the word makarios/blessed in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus like his mother, pronounces God's blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, the mourning. Throughout the history of this word, it had always been the other people who were considered blessed: the rich, the filled up, the powerful. Jesus turns it all upside-down. The elite in God's kingdom, the blessed ones in God's kingdom, are those who seek truth and justice and through their seeking—and acting—are transformed—no matter how little or how much they have. So, it isn't about the poor versus the rich. Rather, today's gospel is about truth, justice and transformation.

Lastly, the beatitudes are not about the rewards for different groups of good people. They are the characteristics that each of us should strive to embody. One could say they are the steps, in no particular order, that can transform us. So in the gospel sense, blessed is about the ability to hear, heed and live the gospel message. How will we act on it?

25 December 2016—Christmas—The Nativity

Mass During the Day

This is the first time we've had our own Mass on Christmas. Previously, I've attended either the Vigil Mass or “Midnight” Mass. Sometimes, though not often, I attended Mass on Christmas Day. In preparation for today's homily, I discovered that the readings were different for each of these Masses. I'll briefly share my reflections on each of the Christmas gospels before sharing a few thoughts on today's on today's.

The Vigil gospel is from Matthew, which begins with the genealogy of Jesus before recounting the story of the angel, who appears to Joseph to let him know that Mary has not been unfaithful. The angel counsels Joseph not to abandon her because the Child she is carrying is born of the Holy Spirit. We have to keep in mind that each gospel writer was writing with their specific community. Matthew's community consisted mostly of Jews and were still part of the synagogue. So Matthew's gospel begins with legitimizing Jesus as the Messiah through the genealogy and heavenly conception. 
Then at midnight Mass, we have the most familiar account given to us by Luke. It tells us the journey to Bethlehem because of the census. Luke describes the angels announcing to the shepherds that the Messiah is born and they could find him as “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Now Luke is writing for a predominantly gentile Greek-speaking audience. Luke was aware that Christianity was being criticized by people outside the church, who claimed that Jesus was a seditionist and he and his followers are enemies of the Roman Empire. Luke wanted to show that Jesus' life and message were filled with compassion, love and peace and that he had the capacity to heal people. All of which were compatible with being a good citizen of Rome. Luke also wanted to show the gentiles, who were discerning whether to join the Christian community, the miraculous yet humble beginnings of the Christ. 
Now today's gospel is written in a time of division, not unlike our own. The Jewish Christians are in a state of uncertainty because in addition to their expulsion from the synagogue, the Second Coming had not yet happened. John's community desparately needed their hope strengthened. John's gospel begins with the reason and meaning of Incarnation rather than a Nativity story. “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is with God and is God. “3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Christ was with us before we were and is the light and life within us still.

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it....9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. ” Some of us participated in a weekly program for Advent called, “In Praise of L/light.” In one of the sessions, we were asked to look at the darkness in our own lives and in our world. When we shine a light in our dark spaces, we can discover ways to overcome it. John want us to see in Christ's love, the Source of love, light and the hope of our own lives and be transformed by it.
In today's Gospel, referred to as The Prologue, John wants us to believe in Jesus and to live the words of our opening hymn, “O come let us adore him.” According to Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong, we don't adore Christ by becoming religious or by becoming missionaries who seek to convert the world to our own understanding of Jesus. We do it by dedicating our “energies to the task of building a world where everyone in this world has the opportunity to live more fully, love more wastefully and have the courage to be all that they were created to be”. We must resist any prejudice that would hurt or reject someone based on their external characteristic, whether it's race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,1 because God will's us all to be children in the Divine Household.

John tells us, 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Jesus came into the world to make God known to us. Today's gospel tells us the who and the why of the Incarnation. The author of John tells us this so that we might believe, that is, that we might live full of faith, hope and love. Let the Light that we celebrate today as coming into the world 2000 plus years ago, lighten our hearts and our burdens so that we live our belief that this Light lives within us. Emmanuel, Dios esté con nosotros, Dieu avec nous, God with Us, Merry Christmas.

Please share your thoughts.

Friday, April 22, 2016

17 April 2016 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

First Reading:
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Second Reading:
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:27-30
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which means for us, it's still the Easter season. But today's readings are a reminder that we are all destined for resurrection. Today's readings also remind us that suffering may be part of following Jesus. Working for the Kindom can be costly.
In the first reading we are told Paul and Barnabas were met with jealousy and their words contradicted by the Jews. These same people incited others to persecute the disciples. But they did not lose heart, they shook the dust off their feet in protest and went on. Then we hear the are comforted by being “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”.
In the second reading, John tells us that in his vision he saw a great multitude of those who had come out of the great ordeal. They were from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They will be sheltered by the one who is seated on the throne. They will hunger.... and thirst no more because the Lamb “will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Working for the Kindom can be costly. Working for the kindom involves struggle. For example, Honduras is the country with the most killings of environmental and land defenders per capita in the world1. The Garifuna people are the mixed-race descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib and Arawak people2 . In the early 1800s, the Honduran government gave the Garifuna communities along the Atlantic coast of Hunduras, the legal titles to 2,500 acres of land. Since then, they have held this land collectively, sustaining themselves with fishing and farming. Now these communities are being forced from their land, as proposals from multinational corporate interests to create mega-tourism projects and corporate-run cities gain momentum3. These corporations are mostly from the USA, Canada and European nations. In 1979, a grassroots organization, The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) was created to defend the rights of Garifuna peoples in Honduras.
There is also an Indigenous rights group in Honduras called COPINH4 founded in 1993. It struggles to defend Mother Earth and Indigenous rights and autonomy, and for a world where the rights of all people are respected. Since, the military coup in 2009, a new Military Police has been created. In addition to the police, military and private hit-men already active in Honduras, these new security forces are used to terrorize and murder those who defend natural resources and Indigenous communities from being plundered and destroyed.5 This March 3rd, Berta Cáceres, COPINH's founder was murdered. Two weeks after her murder, Nelson García, a 38 year old father of five and active COPINH member, was also killed.6 Since the murders, COPINH and OFRANEH have mobilized throughout Honduras “to demand the demilitarization of all Indigenous territories and the removal of all multinational corporations from their ancestral lands and seas.”7
Closer to home, most of the time we think of the so-called “haves” as lacking in concern for the so-called “have nots.” The reactions to North Carolina’s new anti-trangender law might give us pause in our generalized opinions.
  • PayPal dropped its plan to build $3.6M facility and Deutsche Bank is freezing its plans to expand into North Carolina in light of the law.
  • Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelled their concerts in protest of the law.8
  • Cyndi Lauper and like Mumford & Sons will not cancel their shows but will donate all profits made from their shows to Equality NC’s9 efforts to get the law overturned.10
Now it is true that the cost of these actions will not be a real hardship for PayPal, Deutche Bank or the performers. However, the actions are a stimulus for justice for an oppressed segment of the population in North Carolina as well as a warning to other states considering similar unjust laws. Whether they know it or not or whether they intended it or not, these actions work for the kindom of God.
Why am I telling you these “downer” stories in the joyful season of Easter? The first reason is because today's gospel says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” To hear and follow our Good Shepherd entails love for God and love for God's creation, people, flora, fauna, and all that is animate and inanimate. Pope Francis models this with his writings and in practice. For example, this week he brought three Syrian refugee families from Lesbos to the Vatican. They will be settled as residents of Vatican City. Pope Francis acknowledged that it is a small gesture and said, “It is these small gestures that all men and women must do to take into hand whoever has need.”11 Slain Indigenous rights leader, Berta Cáceres understood this when she said, “We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.”
The second reason is, in order to work for justice, we have to be aware of the injustices that exist. The final—and as Christians—most important reason is our belief in resurrection should be evident in the way we live our lives. I'll close with the penultimate verse of Julia Esquivel's poem, “They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection”
Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!

Please share your thoughts
1Global Witness (April 2015) How Many More?,
4Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras
9Equality NC is dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for LGBT North Carolinians.
12Esquivel, Julia, and Anne Woehrle. 2003. "They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection". Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. 3, no. 1: 96-101

Monday, September 07, 2015

6 September 2015 – Labour Day

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


First Reading
Proverbs 9:1-6
Second Reading
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

A few words and phrases stood out for me in today's readings. The phrases of the first reading, “a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!” speak to the conflicting moods of North America and Europe today. Our leader's are promoting a climate of fear, especially fear of the other. Yet, there are those who are inspired to be strong and refuse be paralyzed by fear. They refuse to give up hope for the world. They believe things should and can be better.

The words from today's Gospel, “‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened’”, just would not leave my consciousness. Could Jesus be speaking to us as well as the deaf and speech impaired man in the gospel? Is Jesus asking us to open our ears and hear the cries of the strangers, widows, and orphans asking the greed-world countries for asylum from wars, poverty and oppression? Is He asking that we open our ears and hear the peacemakers and climate activists pleading for an end to the war on nature and an end to wars between and within nations? Could Jesus be asking us to to open our ears and hear the cries of migrants and the working poor for fair wages and working conditions? Likewise, is Jesus asking us to loosen our tongues and speak plainly against all that is unjust?

This is Labour day. So today, I'll focus on labour injustice by reading “Our Path Forward” an adapted excerpt from the Labor Day Statement issued by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It states:

We share one common home as part of a larger, single family, so the dignity of workers, the stability of families, [] the health of communities [and the health of the natural world] are all intertwined. The path to a renewed society is built on authentic solidarity and rooted in faith. It rejects the individualism and materialism that make us indifferent to suffering and closed to the possibility of encounter.

Individual reflection and action is critical. We are in need of a profound conversion of heart at all levels of our lives. Let us examine our choices, and demand for ourselves and one another spirits of gratitude, authentic relationship and true concern. Pope Francis reminds us that “Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship . . . [and] break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” (no. 230). The changes we make to how we live and interact with each other [and nature] can help change the world.

Yet individual effort should not stand alone. Our faith calling to love one another impels us to share that vision of charity and justice with others, and to go forth and encounter those at the margins. Through collective action and movements, we have to recommit ourselves to our [relatives] around the world in [our] human [and non-human] family, and build systems and structures that nurture family formation and stability in our own homes, neighborhoods [and in our relationship with Mother Earth]. Sufficient decent work that honors dignity and families is a necessary component of the task before us, and it is the Catholic way.

In demanding a living wage for workers we give hope to those struggling to provide for their families, as well as young workers who hope to have families of their own someday. Unions and worker associations, as with all human institutions, are imperfect, yet they remain indispensable to this work, and they can exemplify the importance of subsidiarity and solidarity in action. This Labor Day and always, let us pray, reflect, and act, seeking to restore our work and relationships to the honored place God has ordained for them.

Please share your thoughts.

2 August 2015 - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Second Reading:
Ephesians 4:17-24
John 6:24-35

The Vancouver Pride Parade is taking place this afternoon. I'm wearing my rainbow stole as a sign of our community's inclusiveness. In this community of Christ, in all our diversity, we are one. As such God's commands and God's love includes all of us.

Today's reading from the Book of Exodus described the time after God through Moses has led the Israelites from slavery and saved them from Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. They are ungrateful for their deliverance. They have no food and fail to trust in God's faithfulness and that God will provide. Instead of anger, God responds with food and another chance to follow God's instructions.

This is a pattern that has echoed through the ages down to our times. We are ungrateful for what we have. We sometimes even vilify God for some mishap in our lives. Yet the Creator never ceases to be their for us and provide us with another chance.

The second reading tells us that we are not to live like those who are ignorant of the gospel and the will of God. But the Lectionary text omitted the two verses that Paul uses to describe living in “the futility of their minds.” Paul characterizes this way of living as “darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.” The last verse has also been translated as, “ They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” The biblical idea of impurity was not confined to matters of sex. Rather impurity relates to matters of intemperance, such as over indulgence, self-indulgence, selfishness, insensitivity and greed.

So Paul tells us we must we put away our old selves prone to the excessive desire to acquire and possess more, especially material wealth, than we need or deserves. Instead we are to put on our original selves that God created bathed with true justice and holiness. We are to live lives of kindness, generosity, and compassion, not only human to human, but also human to all other forms of life.

This brings us to the gospel. The author of the Gospel of John uses every day things like bread and water as symbols with multiple meanings. When he writes, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” we know immediately that we're not being told about ordinary bread.

Most Christian commentators suggest that “bread of life” refers to the Eucharist. What they don't often mention is that to follow Christ is to be Eucharist to and for each other. Jesus says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” and “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

To come to Jesus and to believe in Jesus means to live into our Christ selves and to live with hearts and lives full of love, kindness, generosity, and compassion. So that we who eat become bread for others and so with our God become co-providers of life to the world.

Please share your thoughts.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

19 July 2015—16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Second Reading:
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

Theologian Diarmuid O'Murchu recently gave a 2-day workshop in Vancouver. In one of his talks, he questioned why King David is held up as an icon and why the Gospel writers would want David as part of the genealogy of Jesus. David may have been a good shepherd boy but as a king, he was a tyrant and he set in motion events that would 'destroy and scatter' God's people. For example, David had at least seven wives not counting his concubines yet he coerced the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers to sleep with him. Then in order to hide his adultery, he sent the soldier on a mission on which he knew the outcome would be the soldier's death. David's lust is a metaphor for greed. He has more than enough but he still wants more even if it means another has to die.
Today's first reading suggests that perhaps world leaders have like David traded in their shepherd boy goodness for kingly power, ruthlessness and injustice. Today as always there are exceptions to unholy power-seeking but historically, we can see that religious as well as secular leaders are also prone to greed and the pursuit of power. Today, the injustice and ruthlessness of those in power all around the globe is more lethal than ever before. But the first reading is also telling us this is not then end of the story.
God will “raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing”, that is no one will be excluded. So I think the Gospel writers place King David in the genealogy of Jesus to show that Jesus is, as the prophet Jeremiah tells us, the First of the righteous Branch that God whom raised up to execute justice and righteousness. Just as Jesus is often referred to as the “new Adam,” the gospel writers may be suggesting that Jesus is the “new David”, who shows leaders how to get it right. The second reading appears to back that up. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that Jesus came to proclaim peace to and for all the “us's” and all the “thems.” If we take Jesus' teaching to heart, we will know that we all have equal access to God's love.
The setting of today's gospel is just before the feeding of the five thousand. Now remember that in the first reading God promised to “raise up shepherds” plural. What Jesus is doing in today's gospel is teaching his followers to be shepherds and care for the sheep. The gospel says he showed them compassion “because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus teaches them compassion by modelling compassion. When you consider that this is the prelude to feeding the five thousand, maybe one of the things he taught them was the value of sharing.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where today, 80 people own as much wealth as half the world's population and nearly a billion people can barely afford to feed their families.1” We live in Canada where the richest person in our country owns more wealth than the bottom seven million people.2” These statistics make me want to agree with Parker Palmer when he suggests the real miracle in the feeding of the five thousand was getting everyone to share the little food they had and in so doing everyone was fed.
Today more than any other time in history, people in countries all over the world, people of all faiths and no faith, are waking up. People not blinded by wealth or the pursuit of power are beginning to realize that we are all in this together. Perhaps now is the time promised in Jeremiah, when God's flock is united in the quest for justice, equality and wholeness. Not just for themselves but for nature and for everyone, everywhere, that is, justice and well-being for the Earth and all her inhabitants. All creation sings when we remember that when we share no one goes hungry.

Please share your thoughts.
2Oxfam Canada. “Voices for Change” Donor Newsletter, Summer 2015, p. 4

5 July 2015—14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Ezekiel 2:3-5
Second Reading:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6.1-6

Today is one of those times when the readings seem to fit together beautifully. For me, today's readings form a sort of, “User's Guide for Prophets” or “Prophesying 101”.
What is a prophet? In Biblical terms, a prophet is not one who predicts the future. Rather, a prophet is one who critiques their current society using futuristic terms or futuristic imagery. They call attention to deviations from God's plan for a just world. In today's world, we call them economic, environmental and social justice activists, liberation theologians. They feel impelled to speak truth and some even use science fiction writing and film as the vehicle for prophetic truths.
In today's first reading, God is talking not only to Ezekiel but to us. Today, just as in Ezekiel's day, people are transgressing against God. But instead of a 'nation of rebels', rebellion against God has has taken on global dimension because of commercialization and the systematic normalization of greed. As believers, we are called to speak truth to the powers that perpetuate this situation. What is the truth that we are called to speak? It is to cry out against any and all injustice, wherever it is.
Through our commitment to live in accordance with God's will, we are charged with speaking God's truth. We must speak out for climate and environmental justice for the Earth, our home. We must speak out for racial equality and for economic and social justice for our relatives, that is, all of humanity. We are called to speak out whether or not we are heard; whether or not we encounter those who refuse to hear us. We are charged by God to be prophets.
The second reading addresses our feelings of not being good enough or smart enough or whatever enough to be prophets. Like Paul, we too have our weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. Our foibles should serve to curb any self-righteousness we might lean towards. But more importantly, through the admission of our powerlessness and weakness to God and to each other, powerlessness and weakness are transformed into a whole and healthy and healing power rooted in God's justice.
Similarly, we know that Christ resides in the collective or community as well as in each and everyone one of us. It is our 'we-ness' in Christ that strengthens us. Gratitude for our we-ness enables each of us to join Paul when he says, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul's words “for the sake of Christ” implies and should be understood also as “for, with and in the community.” The one beneficial offshoot of globalization is we now know that “community” is to be understood as the global community because we are related to all that is.
But just because we know we are related to all that is, it doesn't mean that others agree with us. And so, today's Gospel tells us that as prophets, we can expect to be rejected by the very people whom we thought should be our allies. The gospel also reinforces the encouragement given in the first reading. We speak the truth and try to teach regardless of whether or not our message is received or heard. We speak—and just maybe—our message may help to cure the ignorance of at least a few people.
For example, how often do we hear people we dearly love say things like,
    • Why don't they just get over it? or,
    • Why should we taxpayers have to foot the bill for.... whatever?”
As prophets and speakers of truth, we must be combination history teachers and proponents of the return to the philosophy of the common good. Most of us move in many different circles. Like Jesus, even though we may be “amazed” by the refusal of some to hear what we are saying, we must move on and keep on.
As prophets we are called to speak the truth. Speaking, like preaching doesn't always call for words. We can speak the truth by the way we live our lives. We speak truth by living free. When we pour or invest our energy into the well-being of people, places and things rather than acquiring power over people, places and things, we are free. When we resist the societal norm of gluttonous consumption, we exercise freedom. With freedom comes the ability to see that for each of us, our personal well-being is tied to the well-being of the Earth and all its inhabitants. With freedom comes the ability to speak truth whether anyone chooses to hear us; to speak truth regardless of our own weaknesses; and to speak truth even when we are ridiculed by our families and friends. That, my relatives is Prophesying 101; that is what the Spirit said to me through today's readings.
Take a moment, then please share your thoughts.

Monday, June 22, 2015

21 June 2015—National Aboriginal Day

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Fathers' Day

First Reading: Job 38.1-4, 5-7, 8-11
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5.14-17
Gospel: Mark 4.35-41

Today is National Aboriginal Day and Fathers' Day. In preparation for each Sunday's liturgy, I consult the Ordo. The Ordo is the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual handbook for priests. It provides some liturgical suggestions, lists the Lectionary texts, vestment colour, and Sacramentary pages to be used for the day. In what should be a call to reconciliation, today's Ordo entry mentions Fathers' Day but makes no mention of National Aboriginal Day or reconciliation. In light of the Church's role in residential school's, I found this deeply disturbing.

Laurel, and Anglican priest friend of mine, struggled with the Anglican readings specially chosen for today, and how to make them relevant in light of recent events such as the closing of Truth and Reconciliation Commission's and the recent spate of violence against African Americans, including the shooting at the African Methodist Church in South Carolina. Like Laurel, I too struggled with how our Lectionary readings could be made relevant to National Aboriginal Day and recent events and still provide a hopeful and actionable message. In then end, I decided simply to share my musings with you. For example, although the Book of Job presents good messages on how bad things can happen to good people, it is not a text I would have chosen for today. In light of Canadian history and today's significance to Canada's Aboriginal people's the choice of a text about an all powerful God, who rains tribulation upon tribulation on a person just to prove their loyalty to Him—and I do mean Him in this instance, just doesn't fit. I'll continue with examples of how words are not enough to demonstrate a Christian heart by those in power positions.

For example, most U. S. Southerners claim to be Christian, yet the Confederate flag continues to fly over South Carolina's government buildings. The unwillingness to remove this flag sanctions the willful forgetfulness of sins against African Americans. Similarly, by ignoring National Aboriginal Day in the Ordo, the Canadian Catholic Bishops sanction willful forgetfulness of the sins against our Aboriginal relatives. Yet the bishops reinforce patria potestas by their reference to Father's Day. In Roman Law, patria potestas referred to the male head of the household's power, including the power of life and death, over all members of his household. Thus our bishops demonstrate that paternalism or patria potestas influences the Roman church more than the reconciling potestate amoris Dei, that is, the power of God's love.

The second reading speaks to Christ's love for all of us and urges us to see things with the eyes of Christ who died for us all. It tells us that we should no longer live for ourselves but live for, in and with the love of Christ. I suggest this can be expanded to mean that we also hear messages of love and justice others can teach us. For example, the midwestern states of the United States call themselves the “heartland of America” but their tendency towards the religious right's stance on various justice issues belies the term “heartland”. Conversely, we have the consistently peaceful Hopi Nation. They took to the high mesas of Arizona rather than engage the invading Dene, whom we call the Navajo, in battle. Today, the Hopi Reservation is surrounded by the Navajo Reservation, which in turn is surrounded by the—mostly hostile—rest of the United States. In my opinion, the Hopi Reservation is the true heartland of America.

The following message is from the heartland's Hopi Elders of Arizona. Its wisdom tells us how we can carry on in light of the past and current injustices to our Indigenous relatives and our relatives of colour—here in Canada and elsewhere. I believe this message is appropriate for this National Aboriginal Day because it is full of Indigenous wisdom and potestate amoris Dei (the power of God's love). So listen with the heart of Christ. Listen to the Hopi Elders with an open heart. The Elders say:

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour. Here are the things that must be considered:

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves! For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lonely wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

What I hear the Hopi Elders telling us is the same as the Gospels tell us. Our work is to put into practice the sacred tenets of our collectives—whether it's the Gospel, the Hopi Elders' message or the wisdom of other religions or the intentions of people of goodwill. The Law of Attraction says that you attract into your life whatever you think about, that is, your dominant thoughts will find a way to manifest.  So drawing from the gospel and the Hopi, what we have to put into practice is to know ourselves, which includes our inner as well as outer resources; to build relationships and share resources; to love our neighbours and ourselves; to not be afraid; to speak truth; to work, play, laugh and pray together. In this way we put on the mind of Christ and make manifest the transformation of hate into love. When we put on the mind of Christ, we can turn from denials to acknowledgment of our shared history and make the truth of our shared histories the basis of genuine reconciliation with each other and with the divine Source of all being, who loves us all.