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Monday, August 27, 2012

August 26, 2012 - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


First Reading:        Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:15-22
Second Reading:     Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel Reading:     John 6:56-69

The passage reading from Ephesians that we heard today is often interpreted in terms of spiritual warfare but I think it would be better understood as Paul telling us that God's way, in light of the teaching of Jesus Christ, is spiritual peace-fare.  To be strong in the Lord is to surrender to God's grace.  The whole armour of our God is love and justice.  The Word of God is a living word and must be understood in terms of our lived experiences.  As we can see today, when things look so hopeless, our elected leaders are abandoning social structures that promote the common good to entities that are not blood and flesh but are transnational economic interests that are exploiting human as well as natural resources.  In the United States corporations have been deemed persons, yet they are not accountable for their behaviour as an actual flesh and blood person.

The Greek word usually translated as “righteousness” would be more aptly translated as fairness or justice.  The breastplate refers back to the breastplate or hoshen, in Hebrew, of the high priest mentioned in Exodus.  Therefore, we could rightly say that we are to arm ourselves with justice. 

We can explore what putting on the whole armour of God means for us.  If we keep in mind the words of today’s Psalm:

·       The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, those who act with justice,
·       The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
·       Many are the afflictions of the righteous, those who act with justice, but the Lord rescues them from them all.

The apostle also tells us that the word of God serves as our helmet and sword. So, I would say that for Christians, the whole armour of God that the apostle is talking about is prayer, love, peace, justice and truth, informed by the Gospel.

It may all seem so daunting because in all parts of the world today, it appears that corporate well-being is more important than the health of all living creatures and the planet.  I have watched documentaries showing that corporate practices have made environmental degradation a global illness affecting all areas of our planet; and where certain scientific and military endeavours are posing threats even beyond our planet.  This could indeed be seen as “cosmic powers of this present darkness.”

In 2006 and 2007, I went with Christian Peacemaker Teams to the Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong) First Nation in north western Ontario.  We had the opportunity to see, experience, and learn from people who remember how to live in away that respects the sacredness of life.  We saw how a natural forest is a diverse, interdependent ecosystem.  We learned how the forest supports the plant and animal species that also support human life. 

Unfortunately, we also saw clear-cuts and their results.  We saw people being forcibly disconnected from the very life that sustains them.  The trees, the animals, the plants that they coexist with and had a living relationship with are being destroyed.  The areas that have been clear-cut have been replaced with a mono-culture of genetically engineered trees. 

In a short one hour drive we passed several of these tree farms.  The clear-cuts destroyed the habitat of several species of animals, birds and plants and in turn the loss of food, medicines and other resources that sustain three of the community’s families. 

Even closer to home, now, oil is being extracted from the tar sands in Alberta.  The oil sands produce the world’s most harmful type of oil for the atmosphere, emitting high volumes of greenhouse gases during development, which contribute to global warming.  In addition, there is a strong government push to construct pipelines from the tar sands through British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean.  There are oil tankers that are coming and going through our waters now, and plans to increase the number of these tankers.

But to demonize those commanding harmful economic practices that are causing global warming, poverty in most of the world, water, air and environmental destruction on a cosmic scale is not what we are called to as Christians.  The apostle Paul tells us to put on the "breastplate of righteousness", that is, to align ourselves with justice, and to make ourselves ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

To refuse to demonize those that are doing so much wide-spread harm is not easy.  However, we must remember that if we demonize we are playing the same game as the rulers, the authorities, and the cosmic powers of this present darkness.  

It’s a huge task, where do we begin?  I’m can’t give you the answers but I will give you some things to think about.  How do we begin to make ourselves ready proclaim the gospel of peace?  Although we can start with ourselves, the road to salvation and the way to follow Christ is not a solo act. 

Some starting places for us would be
·       To cultivate peace within ourselves. 
·       To heal our own alienation from the natural beauty that our loving God created. 
·       To look at the natural world as God did and see that it is good, not because of it’s usefulness to us, but because like us, each item in nature is infused with the breath and word of God. 

As a congregation, you are a member of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.  This organization unites Canadian churches and religious organizations in a faithful ecumenical response to the call to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). So KAIROS is a good place for a group to
·       To obtain resources on human rights and/or eco-justice and learn about the issues
·       To participate in KAIROS justice actions and initiatives
·       To contact the local chapter of KAIROS
·       To host a KAIROS workshop

As I said earlier, I don’t have the answers but I do know that we are called to work together to bring about the kin-dom.  I know that if we work together in organizations like KAIROS, we can transform the urge to demonize by working to bring about the transformation of darkness into Light.   As the song says:
We are called to act with justice. 
We are called to love tenderly. 
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
Peace and All Good, Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

HOMILY - FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION 2012


First Reading: The Assumption
Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46-55
Second Reading: Acts 1:6-14
Gospel: John 2:1-11

Feminist theologians dispute the view of Our Lady as the docile woman, untouched by the every day life of a woman with a husband and a child or children.  They point out that, when Mary said “Be it done according to Your Word”, she was, in fact saying “Yes” to disobey the religious and social conventions of her day.  Betrothal, in ancient Jewish law, was akin to being married, except the couple did not live together.  Therefore, Mary could have been charged as an adulteress.  As we know, an angel stepped in and told Joseph not to press charges, so to speak.  We also know that she did not abandon her Son; and was at the foot of the cross even though it was probably dangerous to be there. So Mary was no pushover, she was faithful to the call of God in her early life and, later on, even when that meant going against the authorities.

Now, let’s look at today’s readings.  Some of us are familiar with the responsorial psalm, which is an adaptation of the Magnificat found in Luke 1:46-55.  It tells us that Mary was familiar with the scriptures because what she says is very similar to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  But Mary says something quite peculiar, she says, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  On hearing that, with our understanding of the word “blessed”, it sounds a bit arrogant.  However, the word used in the original Greek is, “makariousin”.  In Greek usage, makarios came to refer to the elite, the upper crust 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 lesser people, who constantly struggle and worry and labour in life. To be blessed, you had to be very rich and powerful.  The blessed were those people and beings, like the gods, who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people1.

Luke has Mary use this word in a totally different way, which is reflected in the remainder of the Magnificat.  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, Mary, like Jesus pronounces God's blessings on the lowly─ that is─ the poor, the powerless and the hungry.  Throughout the history of this word, it had always been the other people who were considered blessed: the rich, the filled up, the powerful.  Mary, like her Son, turns it all upside-down. The elite and the blessed in God's kin-dom, are those who are at the bottom of the heap of humanity2.

Next we look at the second reading; we hear Mary, the mother of Jesus, mentioned only in passing.  However, if we think about it, we know that in addition to “constantly devoting themselves to prayer”, the women were probably looking after the mundane and womanly chores of cooking and cleaning.  But, more importantly, we must also remember, that it was these women who did not run away when Jesus was arrested.   They stood by Him at the foot of the cross, while the other disciples were hiding.  Mary, like women today, stands firmly in opposition to repression and oppression, but doesn’t overlook the everyday needs and worries of her friends and family.  For example, in the Gospel story, Mary notices that their hosts have run out of wine.  She knows that this situation would be a very embarrassing situation and the bridegroom and his family would lose the respect of the community.  So Mary, asks Jesus to do something about it.  He says, “No”, He’s not ready to reveal himself yet.  The scriptures don’t say that she said anything to Him, but I can just imagine her giving him a, “Don’t sass me” look.  I also imagine that she was sure enough of the effect of that look ̶ and Jesus’ response to it ̶ to tell the servants to follow what Jesus told them to do.

We so often forget the humanity of Jesus and Mary.  In so doing, we lose some of the more reassuring examples of their faithfulness to God: the faithfulness and holiness of the every day and mundane things.  We forget that as a man, Jesus might have been unsure of himself and needed the prodding of a loving mother to jump start him on his way.

We also forget that their humanity made them conscious of the human condition.  They taught us that our God is also concerned with the everyday conditions of the poor and the oppressed.  Jesus didn’t just forgive sins, He healed the sick.  Mary didn’t just pray or go around looking up to the sky, she cooked, she cleaned, she was concerned about people running out of wine at a wedding, and, she was astute enough to perceive God’s preferential option for the poor.  In other words, they showed us how to love our neighbour and how to be a neighbour.

In our times, when asked, “who is our neighbour?” We need to include our planet and beyond.  Our earth is now, among the oppressed more than ever before.  For Mary, like her Son, justice was central to the kin-dom of God.  We use the word kin-dom to denote that all of creation is made of the Breath and the Word of God; hence we are kin to the rocks, trees, fish, animal, waters, air and all that is in the Universe.  So, what does all of this mean for us?    I think it means that the Universe is God’s estate, and we should help to keep it safe.  It means, we too can find holiness in the every day. 
All my Relations.

1.       adapted from The History of the Word “Makarios” (“Blessed”) found at: http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/allsaintb.htm
2.       Ibid.






Monday, August 06, 2012

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 5, 2012


Shared Homily Starter

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15, 31
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:17-24
Gospel:  John 6:24-35

To start the shared homily, I will just share a few thoughts on each of the readings and give a brief discussion of what questions the readings raised for me.

When I looked at today's readings, the idea of gift kept echoing in my mind.  The first reading from the Exodus tells us that the Israelites quickly forgot God's gift of freedom from Egyptian oppression as they began their journey in the desert.  It tells how our loving God sent heavenly bread and meat to feed them when they complained they had no food.  I think it is important to situate this reading in the context of the whole chapter in which it appears.  You see, the only requests God made was that they should gather enough to eat and that they not try to save any of the bread or meat for the next day.  However, some of them did not heed the Creator's instructions and gathered more than the needed and tried to hoard what they did not eat.  When they did, scripture tells us that their hoardings "bred worms and became foul."   They did not trust in God’s love or beneficence.  This happened a few times until the Israelites finally got it.  

The second reading tells us that Jesus taught us how to live as beings Created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  In Spanish translations of the scriptures the word righteousness is translated as justice.  The word holiness comes from an Old English word meaning "wholeness", which denotes the presence of sacredness in an object, being, person, place or idea.  So, we could say that we are created in God's image and gifted with a sense of justice and the spark of the Divine.  Therefore, knowing this, we are not to act like those who are unaware of who they are and Whose they are.
In the today's Gospel, we are again faced with people who do not realize the gifts they have been given.  They have just witnessed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.  They see Jesus on the other side of the lake and they know he didn't get there by boat.  Jesus knows they are looking for him not because they recognized the gift of witnessing miraculous events but because they were looking for more food.  Parker Palmer suggests that the miracle was not literally a multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Rather, that Jesus got those present, who had food with them, to share their food with the others.  When they did this, there was enough for everyone.  This would be no less a miracle.

Jesus recognizes that they have not learned or appreciated what they have just experienced.  He tries to tell them to put their efforts into what is life-giving.  By the exchange between Jesus and the people, we know that they are familiar with the scriptures.  So they know the word of God but seem to be unaware that the Torah and the Prophets, like the gospel, actually call upon us to act.  The Creator has told us what is good; and what is required of us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

The people who had this verbal exchange with Jesus are like many of us.  We may know this or that passage or parable, but don't really want to do what is it calling us to do.  For example, I said that these readings spoke to me of gift, that is, of the gifts that God gives to us.  I ask myself, how often have I refused to share these gifts?  I'm not speaking of financial gifts; these are easy, relatively speaking.  Rather, I'm speaking of the gifts of our time, talents, knowledge, of small kindnesses and considerateness.  Also, I ask, how often have I not given my all?  How often am I short with those close to me and generous to those I'm trying to impress or influence?  Do I not share myself because I'm afraid I won’t look as good, as talented, or as knowledgeable as another?

God doesn't ask us to be perfect but as the second reading says, we should be restrained in our wants, take no more than we need, and practice our faith in a way that is not watered down.  I say this because the second reading mentions licentiousness, greed and impurity.  I want to think beyond the headlines and the Catholic preoccupation with the sexual.  Licentious also means unrestrained; and, impure also means adulterated or watered down.   If we look at this reading through this changed lens of meaning, it has individual as well as social, economic and climate justice implications.  Showing our thankfulness and appreciation of God's gifts to us includes sharing our gifts.  This has implications for us as individuals, and, as participants in our political, social and economic structures.

Please share your own thoughts on any of the readings.