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Friday, August 22, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 17 August 2014

Shared Homily Starter


First Reading:
Isaiah 56: 1,6-7
Second Reading:
Romans 11.13-32
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 15.21-28

The theme of all today's readings is that God's plan for humanity is inclusive, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”. I'm going to focus on the second reading and the Gospel. The second reading from Roman's amplifies the inclusive plan of God, especially the 13 verses omitted from the lectionary. It's focus is on the Gentile followers of Christ and the Jewish communities, who follow Christ and those who don't. These readings are of significance today for the whole Christianity Community.

If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. 
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 
In the early church in Rome, some Jewish and Gentile Christians alike were of the mind that they were better in God's eyes than the Jews who remained true to the Jewish faith. Paul, in this part of his letter, was reminding them that the Christian faith is rooted in Judaism. That although they might be considered enemies of the Gospel in the eyes of Christians, in the eyes of God, they are still God's people and beloved, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” The message for us is twofold. The first is that Paul's message to us is to remember that our tradition is rooted in the Jewish faith. The second is that no matter what the foibles of our leaders, whether they are in Rome, Ottawa, or a local independent church leader, our roots are in Christ.

While the Gospel too, is of significance today for the whole Christianity Community, it is of particular significance to those churches in the Christian family that practice ecclesiastic legal exclusion.

It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

"Jewish people did not regularly call non-Jews “dogs.” Jesus is making his point by way of illustration, as wise teachers in his day often did. In Jewish Palestine, dogs were regarded as scavengers, but in well-to-do households influenced by Greek custom, dogs were sometimes pets. Jesus is making an illustration: the children must be fed before the pets, and the Jewish people therefore had first claim.i

Further, the Greek word for 'dog' here is not the standard, 'outside' dog--which MIGHT BE an insult-- but is the diminutive word, meaning 'household pets, little dogs'ii. The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. Picture, for example, supper-time, with little kids at the table, and their pet "puppies" at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or to play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably also very dear to the parents, are to be fed AFTER the children, not DENIED food. We know that Jesus came and taught, first to the children of Israel. But the main lessons in this Gospel passage seems to be that it demonstrates Jesus' willingness to engage in open dialogue with an outsider. Through their short conversation, transformation happens, for all of them: Jesus is moved to help, the woman's faith is deepened, the disciples get lesson in compassion and inclusion.

I watched a film yesterday called, Trembling Before G-d. One concept touched me deeply, the speaker gave the examples of Moses and Abraham to show that humans have the human's ability to influence God, who has compassion for us in our struggles. It seems some churches have traded in compassion for legalism; confused conformity and exclusion with unity.

The Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous warns against “contempt prior to investigation.iii” In our tradition, people are excluded from the table and full participation in the Church because they have breached one or another Canon or Church Law. There are Canon lawyers who act as prosecutors but there are no canon lawyers who act as public defenders or defense lawyers. In most cases people are condemned and excluded without a hearing or any consideration of their circumstances. There is no meaningful mechanism for mounting an appeal. Yet, Yahweh listened to people. God heard the cries of not just Moses and Abraham, but also “the cries of the poor”. In the Gospels, Jesus enters into dialogue or considers the circumstances, then acts, for example, his hungry followers on the Sabbath, the Hemorrhaging Woman, the Woman at the Well and today's Canaanite Woman. Jesus acts to alleviate the person's suffering and address their spiritual and physical needs. So let us remember to follow Jesus' example. In our daily lives, let's investigate living with hearts empty of contempt and growing in union with the inclusiveness and compassion the Divine Heart.

Please reflect for a few minutes on, “God's house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” then respond to, How can we make it so?

ii Footnote on . The saying in Mt. 15:26; Mk. 7:27 brings the claims of children and house dogs into comparison. The choice of κυνάριον shows that Jesus has in mind little dogs which could be tolerated in the house [footnotes point to Rabbinic sources, b. Ket. 61a ("woman who plays with little dogs or chess"), and b.Shab., 155b on feeding little dogs]." [TDNT] "κῠνάριον, τό, Dim. of κύων, little dog, puppy, Pl.Euthd.298d, X.Cyr.8.4.20, Theopomp.Com.90, Alc.Com.33" [Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1010). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.]

iii Wilson, William Griffith, et al. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More that One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism. Reproduction of the first printing of the first edition. Malo, Washington: The Anonymous Press, 1999.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi - 11 August 2014

Shared Homily Starter

Please keep the Dominican Sisters in Iraq and Jordan and women religious in conflict areas around the globe in your prayers. I'm sure St. Clare is also holding them close to her heart. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious or LCWR is starting their annual assembly tomorrow (August 12, 2014) and I think the feast of St. Clare is an appropriate occasion to honour women religious. And so, today's homily explores the Gospel themes, “If the salt loses its saltiness... It is no longer good for anything” and, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” In other words, we are meant to flavour faith and practice, that is, to keep it meaningful and relevant. We are not to hide the divine light that God has placed within us. But In order to be salt and to be light to others, we need knowledge and understanding-- and the willingness to grow in both.

Now, a little story.

Long, long ago, a great holy man became the leader of a monastery. His cat was his constant companion. He started the tradition of an annual procession on their feast day. On the day of the first procession the holy man's cat followed him grabbing at the hem his robes as we walked. He gently kicked the cat. It ran back to the holy man's hut and the procession carried on. This happened each year for many years. Death came for the holy man and his cat followed him in death soon after. For the procession the next year, one of the monks brought a stray cat. During the procession, the monk put it down, kicked it, and it ran away. Every year for years, a cat was brought, then kicked. No one knew why kicking a cat was part of the procession. It began because of the affectionate relationship between a particular cat and her master, the deceased holy man; but became a meaningless ritual with no significance in their teachings, the feast day, or in the procession.

One of the Vatican II directives for religious congregations urged each community to revisit the life of their founder and their foundational charism. A charism is the particular gift that the community brings to the church and the world. The object of this exercise was for congregations to rediscover why they were kicking the cat, so to speak, and if it was of any significance. The women religious of the United States and Canada took this directive seriously. They went out of their convents and assessed the needs of the local people and reflected on ways their congregational charism could address those needs.

Unfortunately, today the LCWR is under sanctions for following and acting on the Vatican II directive. It seems that today's Church leaders want the women religious to keep kicking the cat, which has no meaning, rather than focus on the feast day, the reason for the procession. Put in today's terms, for the Church leadership, denouncing gay marriage is more important than working towards God's justice and peace or reflecting God's compassion and love. Somewhere along the line, knowledge of the reason for a rule or practice, as well as the need to understand people's lives got lost.

Jesus, and later the disciples, were able to gather people to them because they understood their own religious traditions and also understood the lives of everyday working people: fishermen, tax collectors, dyers and sellers of purple. The listened to and addressed people's needs even as they taught and modelled a new way to live out their faith tradition.

The Sisters understand this. From the time of Vatican II to the present, Sisters go to the prisons and the inner-cities. They go to the barrios and Indian Reserves or Reservations. They go to the suburbs and the well-to-do communities. They continue in the universities as students and professors in a wide range of disciplines, including but not limited to, theology and science.

They go out to the people and find ways to serve. Often, they even broker collaboration between communities on different points of the socio-ecomomic ladder. They put their lives and freedom on the line at home and around the world to live the Gospel. These women religious, present company included, understand that to follow the Gospel, to bring the Good News, requires a knowledge of your neighbour and a deeper and wider understanding of the Gospel and what it means to follow Christ. In her blog post, Old Monk's Journal, Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki, wrote:

Dearest Sisters, you have done nothing wrong. It is your obligation as religious to ask the questions that need to be voiced. It is the holy responsibility of religious to stand with those who are most bereft. Be proud of the questions you have asked, the speakers you invited to your assemblies, the statements you issued, the liturgies you celebrated. Go to the microphone and say: We believe in feminist theology and in women’s ordination; we believe in the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender population and we will continue to speak aloud on these issues. Respectfully, we will not comply with the order to submit names of speakers to our annual assembly to Vatican representatives for approval. If this means that the LCWR is no longer recognized by church authorities, so be it. Though we have given our lives to the church, we have not given our consciences to anyone but God. Though we recognize the legitimacy of church law, we believe it sometimes conflicts with the Gospel. And our hearts—since we were young women--have been afire with the radical message and life of Jesus of Nazareth. To act otherwise would barter our integrity. As members of LCWR, we stand with our sister, Catherine of Siena in reminding the faithful, “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues. I see the world is rotten because of silence.1

I, for one, am thankful for these Sister role models. They are not going to kick that cat, just because its been done that way for a long time. That's how they keep the salt from losing its flavour. That's how they let the light and love of God flow through them, and their works, to others.

My journey of healing, my journey to service, would not have been possible without the women religious God places in my life. Pax et bonum vobis sorores! (Peace and all good to you, Sisters!).

Now, I ask you to think a moment, then please share an experience when a Sister was a light in your life?

Sunday, August 03, 2014

July 20, 2014 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Downtown East Village Pride Week

Shared Homily Starter

The Lectionary Readings were not used this week.  Instead readings that emphasized the unconditional love of God were chosen. 

First Reading: Isaiah 49.1-7
Second Reading: Romans 8:28-31
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 139
Gospel Reading: John 14.1-28

Today we heard messages that should make us all confident in God's love for us.
  • We are fearfully and wonderfully made!
  • If God is for us, who can be against?
  • I will not leave you orphaned.
  • Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

This should reassure us of God's constancy and love for each one of us. Deep within us we know these things about God's love for us are true. Yet, we have let other soul-killing messages dominate our opinions of ourselves and often of others. For some of us these messages led us to self-hatred and by extension a loathing of those like us as well as those who demean us. This is especially crushing when the disdain of others is prompted by something about us that we were born with or something we can't change.

As an African American child in the 1950s Brooklyn, I experienced thinly veiled segregation in the Catholic churches and in school. On the TV news I saw police attacking Black People with dogs and fire-hoses and Black churches bombed. What could we Black people have done to warrant such hate?

Similarly and contrary to Gospel values, who one loves can be criminalized. Until as late as 1960 in 22 U.S. states, it was illegal for anyone except married, heterosexual, same race couples to have sexual relationships. Homosexual relationships were criminal code violations in Canada until 1969 and were illegal in some U.S. states until 2003. Although things are changing slowly with regard to these issues, the messages and the attitudes of the intolerant still echo in that stubborn voice at the back of our heads.

Many of our churches persist in making sure that everyone is tainted by self-devaluation. They stress our unworthiness, sinfulness and complicity in the death of Jesus. Secular society, not to be outdone, tells us we are too fat or too thin or shouldn't look old, shouldn't have grey hair or wrinkles, or we need this, that or the other. One is telling us they have the cure for our unworthiness and the other is telling us they have the cure that will help us to be who and what we are not. Both fail in encouraging us to love who and Whose we are.

Nevertheless, somewhere deep in our hearts, we know God loves us-- just as we are. Today's Psalm and first reading tell us that God formed or knit us in our mother's womb and that we are wonderfully made! This means God has made us and through God's intention, we are worthy and that God has made us innately good. Jesus was sent by God to remind us that we are alive with the breath of God. It was not for atonement that Jesus came, but to teach us how to live in a way that returns us to wholeness. Because God truly is for us.

Jesus taught that every person and all of creation is precious to God, even people who hurt us or do horrible things. God's love is like the warming rays of the sun on a cloudless spring day. The only way to separate oneself from it is to will-fully move into the shade of a closed heart and mind. To get back into the flow of that Love, one only has to step back into the Light by opening one's heart and one's mind will follow. So, even people who do horrible things can choose to return to the Light.

Jesus doesn't talk about race or sex or one's looks, but he does talk about love. He says those that love him will keep his commandments and become the dwelling place of God. Jesus' commandments are to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. We often forget the “as yourself” part. To love yourself is to love the artistry of God. To love your neighbour is to follow Christ. To do both is the act of loving God.

When we acknowledge that God dwells within us, we have the peace of Christ. This peace and God's love, Jesus tells us, is not given to us as the world gives, but is given to us unconditionally. So my relatives, let us not have hearts that are troubled but hearts and minds at peace, confident in God's love for each one of us.

So I end with this question, which you can respond to now out loud or just ponder it silently. The question is:

Can you recall an experience where you could almost taste or touch the reality of God's love?


August 3rd, 2014 - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Isaiah 55.1-3
Second Reading:
Romans 8.35, 37-39
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 14.13-21

Our last Sunday service took place during Downtown East Village Pride Week and this week the Vancouver Pride Parade is taking place as I speak. The focus of the readings last time was God's unconditional love for us. Today's readings expand on that. They speak of God's concern for our sustenance and nourishment. God wants us to be fed not just spiritually but physically and emotionally. God accomplishes this through us.

Now, some religious people try to convince us that God's love is conditional. They say it depends on belonging to the right church and obeying the rules, even when the rules are devoid of love and compassion. They say it depends on loving the right people instead of just loving people. This week's readings reiterate that God's love is unconditional; nothing, in all creation, can separate us from the love of God. The starting point of Christian ethics is God wants us to be happy. God wants us to neither hunger or thirst.

According to Isaiah our God says, “You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The prophet is telling us that God's economy is a gift economy. The gift economy removes the artificial scarcity caused by the commodification of almost everything, which then becomes accessible only to the moneyed few. God's economy is based on abundance. It fundamentally challenges our perceptions about ourselves. It transforms our self and world understanding by reminding us that we are being given gifts all the time from many known and unknown sources. It graciously invites us back into our sacred role as active gift-givers – from homo economicus to homo giftus1. In God's economy we are able to recognize and re-value our own gifts as well as those of others.

Jesus knew God's economy. As the Embodied Living Word of God, Jesus demonstrated it. Through his actions, He shows us how to live God's words. Jesus knows we are God's masterpieces. God engraved compassion on and in our hearts. He also knew, sometimes, compassion has to be coaxed out of us. We need to be shown the way. So when the Apostles said ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ Let's imagine that instead of saying, ‘Bring them here to me’ Jesus said, 'Anyone who has food with them, bring it here to me.' The Apostles were thinking of worldly scarcity, whereas Jesus was certain of God's abundance. Thought of this way, the feeding of the five-thousand is just as great, or maybe even a greater miracle. The miracle is, getting everyone to share so that no one went hungry that day. Did Jesus model an enduring lesson in Godly economics, that sharing leaves no one hungry?

Physical hunger is only one of our needs. God is concerned with our other needs as well. Therefore, there are times when we need to be agents of God's love for a specific individual. Take for example, Scott Jones of Nova Scotia who was left paralyzed after he was attacked by a man who stabbed him twice in the back, then tried to slit his throat2. All because he is gay. People were touched by his story and responded. On his website, Scott wrote:

After the attack on October 12th left me paralyzed, I didn't know what to do. I was scared of what my life was going to be like. Initially, all I could feel was my fear. I was so angry at my situation, and the man who attacked me. Some days it was hard to breathe.
Then love started to pour in around me- and it poured hard! People were so, so helpful- visiting, sending messages, donations, bringing food, organizing events. People empathized deeply with my pain and wanted to help in any way they could. There is something so beautiful about human beings trying to help other human beings in need.3

Another feature of God's economy is the “pay it forward” concept. Some of you may have seen the film, Pay It Forward. In this movie, a young boy, for his social studies project, comes up with the idea of paying a favour not back, but forward, that is, repaying good deeds with new good deeds done to three new people. Each of the three new people are asked to pay the favour forward to three other new people. The boy's idea brings about a revolution not only in his life and the lives those around him, but in an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.

A contemporary real life example of paying it forward, is again, Scott Jones. Scott wasn't content to just bask in the love and support he received after his attack. So he payed it forward by starting the “Don't Be Afraid” campaign. The “Don't Be Afraid” awareness campaign aims to dissolve the fear that surrounds homophobia and promote a deeper level of acceptance.

But, paying it forward is not a unique or new idea. It is part of the fabric of our being. We all do it, without even knowing it. It is how we live out our faith. We must keep reminding ourselves that God wants us to be happy. Scripture abounds in stories that tell us that if we participate in God's economy instead of the world's economy, we will be happy. Obeying rules that are devoid of love and compassion, is not part of God's economy. Loving the right people instead of just loving people, is not part of God's economy. Viewed through the perspective of God's economy, today's readings express God's concern for us to be fed not just spiritually but in all the ways we need. God has invited us, and through Jesus, has shown us how to be the co-nurturers and co-sustainers with God ̶ to and for each other.

In a moment I'm going to ask you to share an example of when you felt nurtured by God, either directly or through others. But first I'll give you an example from my life. When I was drinking, all my friends drank. Even at school, I spent a lot of time in the pub. When I decided to stop, I was afraid to give up my drinking buddies because I could only envision the loneliness that would follow. But God intervened by putting people in my life who didn't drink. Not just at AA but more importantly, at school. Through the support of these new friends, I was able to make through that first year. Although, we have lost contact with each other, if it wasn't for those people, not only would I not be standing here today, I might not be here at all. God, through those friends, nurtured me and guided me onto the road to spiritual, physical and emotional health.

Now, each of you take a minute and think back to a time when you felt nurtured. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share it with us.

1“Reclaiming the gift culture”