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A HOLY DISRUPTION
Homily for the First Sunday of Lent - Year B
St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY
I talk quite frequently with a 16-year old boy who lives in Harlem. Mpiana is a refugee from Congo who lives with many hardships that are different from most teenagers. Through it all he is a remarkably resilient student-athlete determined to succeed.
Mpiana goes to a Baptist church with his little brother and, impressively can recall passages from the Bible. He once told me he believes God does not test us beyond our ability to be tested; that God does not leave us alone; that God helps us deal with the tests that come our way. (1 Cor 10:13) Mpiana is nourished by God’s promises.
Mark’s gospel today (Mk 1:12-15) asks us to pay attention to “Biblical precedents where God does test people to play a significant role in the story of salvation.”  Think of Abraham being tested to sacrifice his son Isaac. But this gospel is not just about Jesus being tested. (The Greek word also means temptation. One could say all temptations are tests.)
The gospel also tells us how Jesus was called to ministry when his cousin John baptised him. According to the story, during that event God broke through the world order with an earth-shattering, roaring voice, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Jesus was being called out loud by God to a life of service that would engage him in a conflict with world powers.
David Schnasa Jacobsen, biblical scholar at Boston University, noted that Mark’s narrative pointed out the urgency of the gospel. “In doing so, we’ll understand Jesus’s temptation as the first skirmish of his vocation and a harbinger of the apocalyptic battles to come.”  Those are the struggles that confront us today.
In so many words, Jacobsen wrote that Jesus’ baptism in Mark is portrayed as an act of apocalyptic, cosmic, holy disruption that will usher in God’s plan for the coming kingdom. It will be a time that includes healings, liberations from bondage caused by evil, announcements of forgiveness, and calls to social transformation.
But the devil and evil are still at large. How do we respond to the tests that often can lead to a change of heart? The reading from Genesis (Gn 9:8-15) is a good reminder of the covenants God created with us. A covenant is an ancient formula wherein two parties promise to do something or not do something. Some of them are worth remembering. In the covenant with Noah God promised no more floods. It was a sign of God’s faith in people but the people did not return the favor. The psalmist (Ps 25:4-9) today reminds us God’s ways are love and truth for those who do keep God’s covenants.
So God tried again. The covenant with Abraham and Sarah prompted loyal relationships with God. What is our bond with a God who wants to be our friend? The covenant with Moses at Mt. Sinai included a code of conduct (the 10 commandments) to help us live together in harmony. Are we abiding by those moral barometers?
The covenant with David included the promise of a messiah who would save people from all oppression. And, the new and everlasting covenant embodied by Jesus assures us that God forgives sins and restores communion with all of God’s people. (1 Peter 3:18-22)
So, how do we keep our part of our covenant with God today? Can we set complacency aside? Advocate for justice? Can we disrupt the work of evil doers? Or, are we being tested beyond our abilities to handle the test? These are urgent questions for us as we begin our march toward Easter.
Lawlessness is rampant; lying is normal; negotiated diplomacy doesn’t seem to matter; covenants rooted in love are broken, civility is trumped by rudeness, distinctions between classes are distorted and the rights of marginalized persons are minimized. These challenges require a “moral reinforcement in [our] collective beliefs.” 
Of course, Lent can be an intense period of prayer, reconciliation, initiation and even fasting. More urgently, however, it is a time to confront those forces that alienate us from God, one another and ourselves. Can we figure out “what we are willing to sacrifice for a more important good.”  Our task is to balance competing interests that can cause anxiety, even sickness.
On Ash Wednesday Pope Francis said Lent is about rediscovering our call "to love the brothers and sisters all around us, to be considerate to others, to feel compassion, to show mercy, to share all that we are and all that we have with those in need.”
Yes, Lent calls you and me to renew the values that Jesus invites us to embrace — loyalty, commitment, solidarity. It is a time to cause a holy disruption that will bring about the kingdom of God here on earth. Getting into “good trouble”  is grounded in our longing for God to set things right. If Mpiana, that young teenager from Harlem, were here he would say: “Hey, Bro, don’t you know with God on our side anything is possible.” (Mk 10:27)
1. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press) 2008, 33.
2. David Schnasa Jacobsen. <https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-mark-19-15-6
3. See Karen Fields and Barbara J. Fields. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. (NY: Verso, 2012), 227 in Joerg Rieger Theology in the Capitalocene: Ecology, Identity, Class and Solidarity. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2022) 96.
4. David Brooks “The Cure For Ails Our Democracy” <https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/15/opinion/democracy-good-evil.html>
5. John Pilch. <https://liturgy.slu.edu/1LentB021824/theword_cultural.html>
6. “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.” John Lewis made this statement on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 1, 2020 commemorating the tragic events of Bloody Sunday.
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Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B Cycle
Presented at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY
There are many stories in the New Testament about the healing miracles performed by Jesus. The evangelist Mark uses these episodes to describe Jesus exercising his messianic ministry; a redeemer who had definitive authority over anything having to do with evil spirits, sickness, oppression, and death.
Some believe Jesus cured people from whatever afflicted them. The word “cure” is in the gospel we just heard. We all long for miraculous cures for cancer, dementia, Sickle Cell Anemia, and other diseases that plague our minds and bodies. But did Jesus actually cure people or did he heal them? In the Bible healing is different from curing.
When Jesus healed people it was not just about fixing things in the moment — making them see, walk, feel better, rise up again. No, the purpose of those actions was to inspire the healed person and those who witnessed the act to transform their lives, to follow Jesus, to become healers of humanity themselves.
In the Bible healing is a long transformative process, one geared to bring about the kingdom of God on earth through acts of loving kindness. In today’s gospel, once Peter’s mother-in-law was healed from her fiery fever, she started offering hospitality to others in the room.
Jesus does not tell us why suffering exists. However, he does show us how to deal with it. As the long awaited “eschatological prophet”  it was his vocation to heal humanity from pain and, in doing so, deliver people from oppressive regimes — what Paul calls the powers and principalities. That’s the political message of the gospels that has been entrusted to all Christians.
Through his miracles Jesus revealed a time, an end-time, when all people would experience freedom from illness, disease, oppression, persecution. We refer to that time as eternal life. But who can wait that long? Jesus was slowly fulfilling the promise of liberty from dictators, power mongers, greedy financiers. It would be a time when justice is the hallmark of every country and institution.
Jesus of Nazareth performed those redemptive acts before his execution on a cross. Proclaiming freedom was a costly mission for him. His antagonists were suspicious of his words and actions. They wanted to get rid of him. What does it cost you and me to be followers of Christ, healers of humanity?
The author, Murphy Davis, a tireless advocate for homeless people and incarcerated persons on death row, once wrote that we cannot just go with the flow. To do so, she wrote, is to “give silent assent to the realities of war, oppression, violence, crushing poverty, mass imprisonment, executions, [and] the destruction of the earth.” When she was alive Murphy Davis urged her colleagues and others to make good use of their time on earth to “perform redemption.” 
But every healing process takes so much time. Addicts overcoming addictions, unemployed persons hunting for a job, hungry people waiting in line at food pantries and soup kitchens, incarcerated persons spending time in correction facilities, immigrants reaching across borders — all these persons know what it means to be resilient and steadfast as they search for inner peace and sustenance.
In the worldview of the gospel physical illness is no less a mark of the evil spirits in the world. There is continuity between the healing that took place in the house of Peter and the exorcism in the synagogue in last week’s gospel.  So too there is continuity between these ancient biblical stories and our own modern lives.
Our world order is off track. Of course, we can choose to ignore the facts about inequality, climate change, and looming threats to freedoms but these factors are eroding lives of millions of young and old people. The story about Job is our story. Job’s life was turned upside down and he began to think he would never see happiness again. This tale is commonplace today. Life is a terrible drudgery for people all across the cultural, educational, financial spectrum — people who are afraid, lonely, poor, disoriented.
Yet here we are. We gather in this holy place to be sustained by one another in a ritual sacrament to remember who the Christ was, what he did and why he died. We also remember and believe in being raised up again like he was.
Our faith is not just in the mission, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Our faith and our hope rests with all of us, each of us. Our love for one another, family, friends, and strangers alike, should stir in us a desire to be proactive working for peace, justice, reconciliation among all peoples. The psalmist says God heals the broken hearted. God does that through us. Our passion for doing good is the same that Jesus had for healing the world. He showed up to dispel evil spirits and evil doers. Now it is time for us to do what we’ve been called to do — “perform redemption.”
1. Eschatology is a study concerning the final things, such as death and the destiny of humanity.
2. Murphy Davis, “It’s about time,” Hospitality 28, no. 9 (October 2009) 9-10 in Jennifer McBride, Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel (Fortress Press: Minneapolis) 2017, 102
3. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press) 2008, 46
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Theresa "Terry" P. Doyle died October 3, 2023
This is the homily delivered at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY
October 13, 2023
Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Dublin was a boarding school, convent and farm established by the Irish branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1822. The founder of the Institute was an Englishwomen Mary Ward whose ideas of religious life were so radical that her Institute was suppressed until 1877. Our sister Theresa Doyle, whose life we honor and remember today, went to that school as a youngster. She must have absorbed some of the fiery spirit of the women who taught her there.
Given all that we know about Terry it could very well be that her passion for teaching, her desire to end injustices, and her unrelenting commitment to the gospel truth took root in the hallowed halls of Loreto Abbey. Nurtured by her parents and informed by her teachers, Terry grew into a loving and kind human being — daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, educator, and a fierce advocate for human rights.
After Terry died many comments about her were shared by volunteers at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, her friends from this St. Vincent de Paul parish, and, even, her students from Albany public schools. They all remembered her fondly.
One former student wrote: “You could tell at first sight that she was a force to be reckoned with.” Another mentioned: “Terry was a rebel, but she was usually right.” Some who volunteered with her at bible studies for incarcerated persons noted how the men were always touched by Terry’s prayers and thoughts and how eager they were to read out loud the meditations she wrote for them.
No matter what topic she tackled, Terry, firm in her convictions and often with a faint smile on her lips, revealed a Christ like social grace. Her moral fiber coupled with her Irish wit would be not be shaken by anything or anyone who tried to distract her from her mission.
Terry identified with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. His mission and message continued to transform her and fuel her desire to share her faith and hope with others — young children, teenagers, adults, and, yes, those incarcerated persons in prison. Her no-nonsense message revealed how the presence of God is found everywhere in both the joys and sorrows of life.
The first reading (Wisdom 3:1-9) this morning was an exhortation to Jewish leaders to pursue wisdom and justice. It encouraged them to take pride in their faith at a time when tensions between Jews and non-Jews incited anger, hate, murder. Filled with wisdom, Terry fearlessly embraced that message as she proudly shared her faith with others by doing good works for them. She believed that “grace and mercy are always with God’s holy ones.” She was that amazing grace.
The messenger St. Paul saw that some members of the Corinthian congregations were departing from the moral lessons of the gospels. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10) He reawakened them to the reality that none of the tyrants of an earthly age or political rulers who are hostile to humanity, understand the wisdom of God expressed in the gospel texts. Paul claimed they overlooked how that wisdom can help resolve local, regional, and global conflicts.
Terry took that teaching seriously. The Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, wrote about it this way: “We, who have been given much, whose voices can be heard, have a great duty and responsibility to make our voices heard with absolute integrity for those who are powerless.” And, that’s what Terry did.
Fittingly the gospel (Matthew 25:31-40) we just heard sums up the dedication Terry possessed for the sake of the gospel and human beings. It is the Evangelist Matthew’s most powerful ethical statement regarding performing works of mercy for those in great need in the present world:
“When I was a stranger you welcomed me.” And Terry did so by participating, for one example, in the Albany Tula Alliance inaugurated in the Capital District in 1991. She helped a Russian family from Tula, an industrial city south of Moscow. With others, she provided mutual support and inspiration to immigrants seeking to improve their lives.
“When I was in prison you visited me.” And Terry did so by encouraging others to join her in prison programs such as Residents Encounter Christ and weekly bible study sessions. She insisted that the incarcerated persons sitting in the pews, who so appreciated her candor, should pay attention to what she had to say. She often told them without mincing words: “Listen to me. God loves you and don’t you dare forget it.”
That explains perhaps why Terry also believed the line in the hymn we will sing later while sharing communion — “For You are My God.” She was convinced that God would not leave her for dead and that her happiness would be at God’s right hand forever. Yes, the Terry Doyle we knew is gone now but in so many ways … she will not be forgotten.
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Homily delivered at the funeral liturgy for Diana K. Bangert Drowns
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, New York
“All artists operate out of a faith in abundance and the experience of hope, despite the propensity of our egos,” wrote novelist Makoto Fujimura.  Fujimura also mused that without beauty and mercy, the gospels will not change the world; for beauty and mercy are the avenues of imagination that transfigure us into what God intends for us.
As we gather today to bless the creator of an unfinished cosmic enterprise we remember Diana, who lived and worked in this environment by making beauty and advocating for loving kindness. Known for her humility and generosity, her sense of collaborative justice and truth, Diana was a maker of art. She gave expression to the gifts of creation, she revealed the love of the creator God … in her music, her art, her cooking, her marriage, her motherhood, her friendships.
Like many artists we know, Diana also experienced times of transition where self doubt clashed with confidence, where mental fatigue bumped up against clarity, where physical inabilities stifled creative ingenuity. But because her life flowed on in endless song, no storm could shake her inmost calm … through all the tumult and the strife she heard that music ringing, sounding, echoing in her soul, hailing a new creation. Diana trusted God was always at her side.
What kept Diana going? We know Diana because of her loyal and loving presence to Bob, Chris and Mike. And, her passion for ministering in the church was apparent. Before she got sick she biked briskly to worship. Determined not to give up she soon shuffled slowly with a walker back to the piano bench. She organized members of this community to create a monumental mobile of 1,000 cranes. Making art with symbols of peace and longevity. Was it resilience that kept her going? Her love of making art?
In her final hours of sickness Diana asked questions that are often set aside until shades are drawn down in life. She wondered about the word “meaning.” It was not so much about probing why her illness was happening as much as it was about her purpose, her role in God’s creative process. What meaning would her life’s portfolio have now?
The scriptures we heard this morning give us a glimpse of what made Diana a maker of art, a lover of Christ and humanity, a spirited explorer, a holy and wise woman. The passage from Isaiah (Is 25: 6a, 7-9) suggests a new level of communion and intimacy between God and God’s family. Did Diana believe that God actually “swallows up death?” Is that why she eventually wanted to transition from life to death to an alternate reality, an after life?
Diana lived on earth in a communion of saints … in the presence of God. (Ps 116 sung this morning) She perhaps also reflected on the apostle Paul’s letter (Romans 8: 31b-35, 37-39) about the meaning of God’s justice and holiness and that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Is that what hastened her desire to let go, to move forward, to fully embrace the love of Christ? Her body said “Go, Diana! Go!” But her mind said “No! Not yet.”
Maybe Diana saw herself as Martha did in this gospel text (John 11:17-27). As illogical as it sounded in this story, Jesus brings the future promise of resurrection and eternal life into the present. The artist Makoto Fujimura wrote that Martha perceived what no one else could understand at that time, that Jesus is the resurrection and life; something to be fully embraced now. Maybe Diana sensed that her life was not ending but that she would transition somehow into someone wholly new, somewhere else in a vast borderless extraterrestrial realm.
So, we ask, how does Diana live on? Another word she wrestled with was “God.” It is normal for a believer to question God, to doubt God, to reject God’s words when suffering and dying, poverty and hate overwhelm us. For Diana’s inquiring mind she wanted something else. The contemporary understanding of God as “More” gave Diana something to ponder. In fact, the idea energized her as she began to imagine that God is always something more than what is known to us.
In her art making Diana gave us a sense of beauty and mercy that is essential for giving life new meaning. She was transfigured by her art making. Those who knew Diana were also transfigured to make a difference in the world. Her life’s work contributed to an understanding of the love of God, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, expressed in a Holy Spirit. Diana, made in the image and likeness of God, gave us “More.”
Wanting to make art in the midst of dying troubled Diana. Tired but not despondent, troubled but not angry, breathless but not silent, Diana uttered, “I am spent.” Like many artists who have completed the most important work of art in their lifetime — a concert, a sculpture, a painting, a poem — there was nothing more Diana could give. Ever eager to explore something new, she said, “I think I will now try to find out what it is like to die.” And she did. Gone now, but not forgotten.
1. Fujimura, Makoto. Art + Faith: A Theology of Making (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020)
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Holy Thursday 2023
Homily presented at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, New York
For many years I had a place at the family Seder meal led by my friend Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman. Each year he would write a contemporary Haggadah (narrative) to mark the feast of Passover. Jews keep Passover so as not to forget what it means to be freed from bondage.
The main story is the Exodus — a passover from slavery to liberation. For the Israelites the narrative became a memorial feast, a time of remembrance, which all generations shall celebrate. (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14)
For Jews the powerful memory (zikkaron) of the Passover makes it possible for them to identify with that event in their own lives. It is not just a story about their ancestors. It is their own story. Each year it takes on new meanings always including the story of the Holocaust and this year, rising anti-semitism and the slow eradication of liberty and justice in Israel and Palestine.
Why is that Jewish story important for us to hear tonight? Why do we tell it? Why should we not forget it? Jesus of Nazareth was Jewish. He was born a Jew, he lived as a Jew, and he died as a Jew. During the time of Passover in Jerusalem he wanted to have a last meal with his followers before his execution. 
At that “last supper” Jesus did not start a Christian religion to replace Judaism. Scholars continue to probe if he himself actually intended to create a Christian liturgy of the eucharist or to institute an all male priesthood. Knowing that it was the custom at that time, women, children, and strangers would have been present in the room as shown in the 16th century painting by Tintoretto.  They were all there — women, children, men. Perhaps Jesus called all of them to a priestly ministry of service!
For the Jews gathered with Jesus at that supper the bread on the table reminded them of the bread of affliction carried by their ancestors who hastily fled Egyptian captivity. (Deut 16:3) Jesus, remembering the Exodus, held the bread in his hand and identified with it in such an emotional way that he called it his body! Not the bread carried by his ancestors but his own body.
At the end of the meal he raised the cup of blessing. It reminded the Jews of the sprinkling of the blood of young bulls on the people to confirm their covenant with God (Ex 24:8) and the forgiveness of their sins. (Lev 5:9-10)
Today, we think of all the broken covenants with God: blood spilled in Ukraine, school shootings, migrants reaching across their own Red Sea in search of a promised land, our failure to act when injustice prevails. Jesus identified with that cup of wine and called it his blood shed for all! But then he said something most important for us to think about tonight: “Do THIS in memory of me.” What’s the THIS?
John’s gospel is the only one that describes the washing of the feet. (John 13:1-15) In this familiar story Jesus once again turned the status quo upside down. In all humility, by washing dirty feet of everyone in the room — children, women, and men — he modeled what it would be like if every person on this planet were respected and not be shunned because of who they are. Gay, straight, trans, male, female, young, old, able, not so able. Imagine if every person were respected because they are human beings.
This is the THIS Jesus spoke of: Feed the hungry. Refresh one another’s being. Visit incarcerated persons. Comfort the sick. Console one another in times of trouble. Lend a hand to outcasts living on life’s edges. Open doors of possibility for those who are vulnerable. Teach children to know the difference between right and wrong. Practice loving kindness to all. Acts of social justice and mercy cannot be separated from our worship of God. One action cannot be done without the other action.
Scholar Hal Taussig commented on tonight’s second reading: The apostle "Paul presents ‘the body of Christ’ to the Corinthian assemblies as a concept and as an image of social and spiritual connection.” (1 Cor 11:23-26) 
Washing one another’s feet here tonight is an expression of our communion and our responsibilities for one another. It is a practice session for what we must do to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) and to stop any authority from depriving us of our human rights. It is a responsibility that we cannot ignore.
Jesus, who never forgot the Exodus experience of his ancestors, identified with it. He was going through it like his ancestors went through. His entire life was all about passing over from grief to joy, from anxiety to hope. In this sense, Christians have come to know Jesus as a passover. He is the blessing cup (Psalm 116). He is the bread of life. (John 6:35)
Whenever we enact the liturgy of the eucharist as a priestly people (and we do it together) it is not only a remembrance (anamnesis) of who Jesus was and what he did. It is now our story. We are called by our baptism to identify with that paschal mystery as our own. We are his body. We are his blood.  Jesus said: “For now I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do for one another.” (John 13:15)
1. Note that John’s gospel says that the meal took place before the Feast of Passover.
2.Tintoretto’s The Last Supper (1592-4), which hangs in the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, depicts women, beggars, and others in the same room with the apostles.
3. Taussig, Hal. A New New Testament. (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 263.
4. Augustine of Hippo said in a 5th century homily quoting Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.“You are the body of Christ, member for member." (1 Cor. 12:27)
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Third Sunday of Lent Year A
Homily presented at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY
We’ve often heard the expression “you can’t get water out of a stone.” It usually means we are up against enormous odds to get something done. Well, apparently Moses knew how to do so. In the first reading he was told to “strike that rock and water will flow.” And, the water did flow and it kept the Israelites hydrated on their arduous, dangerous journey to the promised land.
According to legend a wellspring was beneath the rock that Moses struck and is known as Jacob’s Well. It is mentioned only once in the Bible, in today’s gospel, where Jesus and the Samaritan woman had a forbidden but life changing conversation. Eastern Orthodox Christians call her Photina which means “luminous one.”
The Jews and Samaritans were old enemies even though they shared borders and Torah teachings. The two groups argued over what was the exact cultic location for the worship of God and they never came to peace, never reconciled. So, it was dangerous for Jesus and his team to travel through Samaria back to Galilee.
But, Jesus was thirsty and stopped for a drink of water in Sychar. The woman he met there apparently was worn down, troubled and perhaps wondering what to do with her confused life. To dwell on Photine as an immoral woman is to miss the point of this gospel. She had no idea of what to expect when she found Jesus waiting for her. Often, when we wonder what to do next in our lives, Jesus shows up to give us advice, to get us back on track, to take us to new places.
Then, two unusual things happened to Jesus and Photine. First, she prompted Jesus to identify himself as the messiah and he did. Scholar Jennifer Garcia Bashaw wrote: “it is the only time that Jesus reveals this truth to another person. That the person he trusts himself to is a Samaritan and a woman is deeply significant.” 
During this rendezvous the woman Photine also learned something life-changing about herself, something that made her feel alive again and that she mattered. She becomes an influential evangelist, a leader among disciples. Biblical scholar John Pilch wrote: clearly, a cultural subversion took place at the well. "Modern social scientists would probably call this interaction [between Jesus and the woman] a cultural innovation.” 
The clear message in this gospel is that Jesus brings about a new way of living for all peoples. Anyone or anything today that prevents living water from nourishing lives and helping people to grow and change, must be removed.
Maybe that scene in Samaria could be considered the very first International Women’s Day. Now an annual event this year focuses on “embracing equity.” We owe thanks to the evangelist John for pointing to the importance of women in a community.
The story about Moses reminds us, too, about those times when we strike the rock and no water comes out? How often has a synodal church called for “embracing equity” so women can experience what Photine did? How often have the global cries for women’s rights been ignored by patriarchal hierarchies who want to keep their power?
Recently, African philosopher Françoise Diarra wrote: “Women have been the backbone of the church when it comes to the hard work … but when it comes to giving the reins to women, it is not so easy. Men are in charge of everything that happens in the Church, and women take a back seat.” Diarra called for a special Synod to address women’s roles in the church.
Jesus was a spirited advocate for equal rights for all people. Photine and other women found new life because of Jesus’s radical action and courage to break boundaries. Each of us is called by our baptism to do the same, to erase barriers that prevent all people from being nourished at the font of living water. We cannot harden our hearts once we hear the voice of Jesus.
Today’s readings about water are important to us at this time of year. Lent is a season for transformations. It calls us to think anew about our baptismal identities as Christians in a secular world.
If we ourselves thirst for life giving water, if we want others to drink the same water of life, we must be proactive. We just have to keep striking the rock!
1. Garcia Bashaw is associate professor of New Testament, Campbell University <www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-commonlectionary/third-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-john-45-42-6
3. Diarra is professor of philosophy in the Archdiocese of Bamako, Mali. https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/the-church-needs-a-synod-on-women-says-african-professor/17417
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JESUS GETS US, BUT DO WE GET HIM?
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
Presented at Our Lady of Grace Parish, Ballston Lake, NY
Millions will watch the Super Bowl tonight and millions will not. Still, surveys tell us Americans are obsessed with football. It seems that the sport is a metaphor for American rugged individualism and the fighting spirit that gave us revolutionary independence. Some suggest, even for those who do not like football, that it is the most popular cultural and social event of the year. Others think we are only interested in the pageantry, the halftime show and the clever commercials.
One commercial tonight deserves our attention. Maybe you’ve seen the ads on social media, TV, the Internet and billboards. “He Gets Us” is a movement created to reintroduce America to Jesus of Nazareth and his radical way of living by loving and forgiving. Tonight’s two Super Bowl commercials will cost about 20 million dollars.
Theologians, pastors and others are suspicious of the movement. Some say it portrays an incomplete and simplistic view about who Jesus was and what he did, that it focuses on his human but not his divine mission. Others are critical of it as a subtle effort to promote Christian nationalism in this country disdaining other faith groups and minority races that have emerged in the course of American history.
In the meantime, last week Pope Francis, with a bad knee and a broken heart, challenged corrupt civic leaders and corporations to stop pillaging the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pope Francis called upon them to stop child abuse in the cobalt mining industries, to treat women as equals in cultures that breed exaggerated masculinity, patriarchy, and dictatorship.
The pope’s African journey to South Sudan had many agendas. His speeches were powerful reflections that Jesus himself may have delivered if he were alive today. The pope reminded all of us, who often live far away from the injustices in other countries or our own, that the cultural caste systems in the world that divide people in haves and have-nots are driven by prejudice, ignorance, power and greed.
The first reading this morning is from Sirach, a book of wisdom. Originally, it was used as instructions for Jews whose cultural system and values were threatened by dominant foreign leaders and internal conflicts. This passage urged the Israelites to remain faithful to the guidance, the commandments, given to them by God.
Today, many sociologists and historians claim that cultural systems that promote the common good and a decent way of living for all people are slowly being thwarted by powerful and privileged members of society whether in Ukraine or here in the United States.
Is religion helping to heal the wounds? The polarization that exists within our church and other faith groups is also discouraging and troubling for many. Different generations, especially younger ones, are feeling disenfranchised. They are moving away from religious institutions in search of spiritual direction.
The gospel this morning is a section from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It offers ethical guides that are relevant today. They summon us to practice loving kindness toward one another rather than hate and anger. Biblical scholar Melanie Howard, wrote that these are teachings that Jesus endorsed and “can be understood under a larger paradigm of upholding trust and compassion within [the] human community.”
Taking action to end divisions, social inequities, and other injustices that tear us apart can lead to experiences of peace and harmony. This is true not only in our own lives but also in our relationships with others.
The psalmist proclaimed that we will be blessed for doing so. Much later in the Bible, after Jesus died, Paul urged the Corinthians to live by the wisdom of God and not the dictates or empty promises of rulers who come and go. Such good advice for us these days.
These biblical texts are challenging. Whether or not the religious movement “He Gets Us” is the right path toward spiritual harmony, peace and justice in this country remains to be seen. Right now it is an eye-catching commercial designed to invite Christians to refashion their lives after the life of Christ. Maybe Jesus “gets us” but do we get the message that Jesus left us?
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Preached at St. Mary's Parish, Crescent, NY, USA
Recently, I had a conversation with a young woman who has a Muslim father and a Baptist mother. I asked, somewhat reservedly, if she celebrated Christmas at all. She said not really. But I will get together with my friends and we will probably go out for something to eat.
We read in many studies that different people of various generations no longer practice a religion and do not keep the traditions. They feel left out or disenfranchised. Some say religion does not speak to them about what matters most to them.
Early reports from the Synod in the Roman Catholic Church tell us that young people want to be recognized; they want their opinions heard; they want truthful answers to their questions; they want to have a role in making decisions that govern the church.
The young woman I met believes in God (perhaps she calls God Allah). She told me she prays and volunteers to help others when she can. She is a spiritual person, who has little need for institutional religions that do not welcome her or acknowledge her as a fully human person. In many ways, like Joseph and Mary, there is no room for her in the inn. Many women feel the same way.
There are plenty of people — children, women and men — who feel left out, left behind. They have no place to call home. Immigrants and refugees pressing in at our borders; Ukrainians fleeing their country in fear of the Russian war; Americans in our own cities who cannot afford decent housing. They live in shelters and cardboard boxes on the streets. So many people are not respected for who they are as fully human beings. There is no room for them in the inn.
Jesus’s teenage mother, we read, when she discovered she was pregnant, promised that her son would deliver captives to freedom. Powerful, greedy autocrats would be defeated. Vulnerable people would gain respect and power. Perhaps she had in mind the downfall of the authoritarian rulers of the Roman Empire who saw themselves as saviors and kings. But they only cared about their own concerns.
Before Mary, the prophet Isaiah imagined, “there would be a prince of peace.” The psalmist envisioned “someone who will reveal justice to the ends of the world.” They were hoping for a different kind of messiah who would show the world a new way for people to live in harmony. It would be a victory won by peace and love rather than military might.
Years later, the evangelist Luke, in his infancy narrative (featuring curious shepherds and jubilant angels) noted incredibly there was no room in the inn even for this Wonder Counselor, God-hero.
It is so good for us to gather here, to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. He grew up practicing loving kindness toward everyone. His powerful but peaceful message was ridiculed by some and spurned by others. He suffered an unjustifiable death for protesting against injustices.
Like his mother Mary, Jesus did what he was called by God to do. We continue to believe that his Spirit and vision for living resides in each of us. This year’s festivals of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa remind us that we are the bright lights in a world that can be cold, dark, and bleak.
The holidays bring cheer to many of us but not all of us. We cannot cover up the reality that we live in a world torn by unbridled corruption, cruel wars, rampant hunger, homelessness, and hostility.
What do we do now? In the scripture attributed to Paul we heard about the qualities of the ideal church leaders of his time. It says that they are to be eager and ready to do every good work. For us that means opening doors for strangers, and making room for everyone in the inn.
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Please note that this is my last homily until September 4, 2022 - Labor Day Weekend. Taking some time to refresh -- read new topics, write other essays. Many of you have commented how you appreciate reading a voice from the vanguard. Thank you.
Pentecost Sunday - Year C
For many years I used a 1492 Venetian woodcut, “The Building of the Tower of Babel,” for the logo on my stationery. The mythical story of Babel refers to the origins of multiple languages on earth that prevented people from understanding one another. (Genesis 11:1-9) Babel is a Hebrew verb and means to jumble or confuse. In my work I tried to do the opposite, to bring diverse voices together to work for the common good.
Today is Pentecost. The familiar story in Acts 2:1-11 offers a constructive way to look at the baneful Babel story. The dissimilar groups that gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles  understood the words of the disciples in their own languages. To stress this point, the author Luke went to great length to list all the different ethnicities present.
Theologian Greg Carey wrote: “The pleasure of visualizing this diverse crowd hearing the gospel reinforces the power of the miracle.” Comparing the Pentecost story to Babel, Carey added, “Language no longer poses a barrier. The gospel reverses the misfortune of Babel … it names, respects, and embraces diversity”
Pentecost is a story for our time. The reality is this: we are all linked with different voices from all across the planet. The Internet gives impetus to the notion of globalization where economies, ideas, politics and cultures converge. No one religion or nation can be parochial, nationalistic or dominant in this human ecosystem.
To survive in this age we have to find ways to reach out to all of God’s creatures, to listen to one another, to elevate the unique gifts and identities of all people who wish to live in ways that are interconnected with the environment and other human beings.
The psalmist (104:1, 24, 29-31, 34) begged God: “Send out your spirit to renew the face of the earth!” Some linguists suggest that “advocate” would be a more appropriate word than “spirit.” Advocate, used in one of today’s gospels (John 14:15-16, 23b-26) is both a noun and a verb.
Philosopher and theologian John Kavanaugh wrote that this Advocate is not found in one place, one group or one person. It does not reside only in laws, sanctuaries, hierarchies, sacraments, scriptures, or people who are rich or poor, powerful or weak. 
The Spirit of Pentecost advances new hope for all oppressed peoples whose voices are most always misunderstood or not heard — people of color, women, children, the LGBTQIA+ community, refugees and immigrants. This holy Spirit broke language barriers, blew down walls of division and opened up doors of justice.
As advocates we do not work alone. We advocate for justice by relying on each other’s gifts and strengths. (1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13) Our task is to peacefully synch a diverse human race with the borderless divinely infused cosmic enterprise where there is no geo-theological heaven or hell.
Here and now, a boundary-less cyberspace offers us endless possibilities for communicating with others to spread goodness and not evil. Some call it working to bring about the kindom of God on earth.
In commenting on the work of American contemplative Beatrice Bruteau, scientific theologian Ilia Delio wrote: “Bruteau describes a ‘grid of wholistic consciousness’ whereby the world is seen as a pattern of inter-independence, complementarity, cooperation, friendship, and creative joy.”  Achieving such harmony may appear as an elusive goal but given the evils that confront us it is urgent that we advocate blessings for all.
This ever evolving Advocate is not a “spirit of slavery.” (Romans 8:8-17) It will continue to growl and grow inside everyone of us until at last all are transformed, liberated from whatever holds us back from becoming all we can be, from doing all we can do. We can choose to ignore the Advocate but we cannot avoid its incomparable presence. Where, actually, is that Advocate? It is already deep inside our beings waiting to burst forth.
1. The Feast of Tabernacles - Sukkot — is a celebration of God’s provision for the Israelites all through their wanderings in the wilderness and during harvest time. Today, Jews understand it as a time to renew their covenant with God.
2. Kavanaugh, John. The Word Engaged: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures (Maryknoll: Orbis Books) 1997. 72-74.
3. Beatrice Bruteau, “The Whole World: A Convergence Perspective,” The Grand Option, 39-52 in Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe: Reflection on God, Science and the Human Journey. (Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 2021) 99.
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The Seventh Sunday of Easter Year C
Firearms now kill more American children than car crashes, with this country’s gun sales on an unrelenting rise. The National Catholic Peace Movement Pax Christi reports: “Almost half of all the civilian guns in the world are in the hands of people in the United States, who make up only four percent of the world’s population.”
The murder of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, TX has once again raised up a call for more restrictive gun laws. A Gallup poll found that 52% of Americans said laws regarding the sale of firearms should be made more strict, although the numbers differed across party affiliation.
Last week, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr angrily criticized the U.S. Senate: “There’s 50 senators, right now, who refuse to vote on H.R. 8, which is a background check rule that the House passed.” He continued: “I ask you, are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children, and our elderly and our churchgoers?”
Scarlett Lewis, mother of Jesse, who was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook School shootings, has lost hope in politicians and believes Congress will not make gun laws more restrictive. The founder of the “Choose Love Movement” said we “have to do something ourselves.” Lewis now travels world-wide urging everyone to become part of the solution to the issues the world is facing.
In today’s gospel (John 17:20-26) we read Jesus’ final words to his followers before his arrest. Wherever he went, whatever he said, the Nazarene revealed God’s love for people and all of creation. Jesus had hoped to unite everyone around the theme of love, peace and justice.
Jesus’ message appears to be forgotten even by many who profess to be Christians. Disciples of Christ minister and veteran Army chaplain Richard Niell Donovan wrote: “A divided church loses its persuasive force.”
Unity stems from being in a relationship with God and Jesus who are united in the Spirit. It is a spirit that then drives faith communities to work for peace. In writing about God in the midst of pain, theologian Ilia Delio wrote: “When we are united to God, we become new again.” She added that “God will not clean up the mess we have made, but we are constantly invited into a new future.” 
Civic and religious figures have important roles in encouraging people to continue to work for justice and peace. However, as civic citizens and members of diverse faith traditions we cannot stand by waiting for them to actually do something.
The Spirit that hovers among and within us is divine love. We are urged to infuse that exuberance into every aspect of our beings. By the way we choose to live — work, study, pray and play — we can create cultures built on love and compassion rather than hate.
The Book of Revelation (22: 12-14, 16-17, 20) paints a picture of a cosmic realm stimulated and sustained by an eternal God-head — Creator Redeemer, Sanctifier. We are interdependent with this enterprise. Divinity and humanity are united. Caring for all of the fruits of our planet, human and otherwise, is our duty in this relationship.
Finding ways to plug into this measureless, infinite, ever developing, colossal, spiritual energy is a healthy, holistic way to go through life. It recharges us to unite with one another to do something good for humanity and the eco-system of which we are a part.
On the night of the Uvalde shootings, an infuriated Chris Murphy, D-Conn, pleaded with Congress to pass legislation to address gun violence. He repeatedly challenged his colleagues: “What are we doing … why are you here … if not to solve a problem as existential as this one?”
His provocation to end gun violence, to establish common sense gun laws, is a question addressed to each one of us: What are we doing?
1. Delio, Ilia. The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey.” (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021) 38.
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The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year C
Early last Sunday I posted my homily with a focus on Jesus’ command: love God, your neighbors, and others who are different from you. That same day we heard news about the white-supremacist-hate-crime in a Buffalo, NY super-market. Later, another shooting took place in the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, CA, a Taiwanese congregation.
Those tragedies were two of 198 similar shootings that have occurred so far this year in the United States. The root cause for these heinous evil acts needs our attention. Known as the great replacement conspiracy,  it has superseded the critical race theory (CRT).
Extremist conservative politicians, talk show hosts and Internet trolls disparage CRT while supporting the great replacement theory. They loathe people of color, minorities (e.g., Jews), immigrants, and those who advocate for equal rights for all humans beings.
Vice-President of the NAACP Patrice Willoughby wrote: “Unless there is … a holistic approach to stamping out hatred, we are never going to have the type of society in which people are free to live and work without fear.” Christians and others have work to do.
In this week’s gospel (John 14:23-29) Jesus tells his colleagues they should not be afraid of bringing his message of love and justice to everyone because his Spirit will be with them. Elisabeth Johnson, a Lutheran pastor and missionary in Cameroon, wrote that Jesus concludes this farewell speech by wishing his followers shalom, which “signifies more than the absence of conflict; it is a profound and holistic sense of well-being.”
Those who advocate for justice and peace are called to provide for the well-being of all. Although access to basic goods, security, education, and prosperity are human rights there is a growing number of narcissistic government leaders and domestic insurrectionists who either commit evil acts or encourage them. Their aim is to eliminate anyone who threatens their identity, power and authority. The shooting in Buffalo is the latest example.
Jesus’ primary concern was to liberate Israelites from ongoing oppression. As a Jew he understood the long history of persecution his people suffered; he wanted to stop it. In fact, he was executed because he challenged Roman empirical autocrats and corrupt religious leaders.
While he sought to break down barriers between people of different tribes, Jesus did not have to deal with all the issues that confront us — gun control, women’s rights, human trafficking, global warfare or racism as we know it. His geographical field of dreams was small but his virtual vision was global and eternal. It would replace the old order and laws with new ones. Love and compassion would prevail.
In commenting on the Book of Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23, Methodist New Testament scholar Israel Kamudzandu described what that new order might look like: “The orderliness of night and day, the changing seasons, physical laws, and biological rhythms [would] reveal the presence of God in human lives.” Every person matters. God’s love is abundant, borderless, not contained nor stamped out. Hatred and evil deeds have no power.
And, in the words of Lutheran pastor Sarah S. Scherschligt, in this last book of the Bible “Scripture ends where it begins, with harmony among humans and creation …. Sin is nowhere to be found. Civilization and nature exist together. There is utter peace in all that God has made.”
That day, when “utter peace” dwells on this fragile planet, is what gives us hope. Advocating for human rights is the antidote to the great replacement ideology and other crimes against humanity.
1. The conspiracy is based on ethno-nationalist false news and fears that people of color will eventually take over the United States rendering white oligarchs powerless.
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Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C
One of the popular and challenging hymns often sung during liturgy at the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Albany, NY is “Go Make a Difference.” It calls us to be voices of peace, lights to the world; reaching out to those in need. It is not easy to make such a difference in the world these days.
It may be helpful to look back a bit to see how far we have come as we plot what our next steps might be to implement the values Jesus of Nazareth taught and practiced. The situation described in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27) is a place to start.
Paul and Barnabas worked hard to spread Christianity in Anatolia, present day Turkey. In the middle of the first century that region of the Mediterranean was once called the cradle of civilization.
Under Roman rule the area was prosperous and secure. A theocratic form of government combined obedience to the gods (Zeus and Apollo) with loyalty to the emperor. It was quite a challenge to live as Christians at that time and welcome new members into the community.
Today about 95% of the population in Turkey is Muslim with the majority practicing Sunni Islam. Although Christians have lived there for two thousand years political scientist Ramazan Kılınç writes “their future is uncertain.” Why is it such a problem for Muslims and Christians to live together with the same liberties and benefits without fear of higher taxes, prejudice, or retaliation?
Sean C. Peters, CSJ, wrote recently about looking back at the past and forward to what is to come. “I definitely want to leave behind any sense of powerlessness, the feeling that I make no difference in our world … believing that my actions have no effect in the ‘global marketplace’ lets me off the hook — allows me to pull back into a life aimed more at my own comfort.”1 
Christians and people of other faith traditions believe that God dwells with us, that God walks with us along our journeys. With God “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain for the old order has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-5a) Quaker scholar C. Wess Daniels described the new order. “This is the empire of God that is seen replacing the empire of Rome … in the new city, God dwells.”
Many have tried to replace the old order with a new one that stresses service to humanity. Pope Francis, for example, has introduced measures to reform the the governing body in the Vatican. He intends to make it a reflection of the “image of Christ’s own mission of love.”
The pope indicated a need to “provide for the involvement of laymen and women … in roles of governance and responsibility.” It is an invitation to participate in the Synod on Synodality — to raise the voices of the faithful people of God, to make a difference in the life of the church.
Behind those voices is the Golden Rule repeated in today’s gospel. (John 13:31-33a, 34-35) “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This commandment includes everyone, our families, friends and even our enemies. (John 3:16)
Lutheran pastor Elizabeth Johnson reminds us that the context for this gospel passage is the last supper. Jesus realizes his hour has come and he also knows Judas, Peter and others will soon betray him.
Jesus was most likely disappointed, thinking that his message of truth, justice, and love would be forgotten. To refresh their memories, in an act of humility, he washes their dirty feet and then, at the table, tells them “do this in memory of me.”
Although some think he was just referring to the continuation of the eucharistic meal, he was also saying feed the hungry, clothe the naked, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, visit the sick, give hope to prisoners, love your enemies.
“These are not easy options for Christians,” insists Dominican Adrian McCaffery, but … “rather mandates; they are imperatives; they are characteristic of the kind of life, the kind of love Christ is talking about here … We either love as Christians or cease to be what we are, or what God calls us to be.”
Elizabeth Johnson agrees. In her words: “Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts—acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.”
We have come a long way in all these years. Our voices and actions do matter. Go, make a difference!
1 Peters, Sean C. “What I’m Carrying into the Future” in Carondelet, May 2022, Vol 7, 17
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St. Vincent De Paul Church
Albany, New York
High above the city of Assisi on Monte Subasio is a mountain top retreat called Carceri. St. Francis would go there to get recharged, to pray, to be still. One of the several sculptures near the hermitage shows Francis lying flat on the ground staring up at the starry night contemplating his place in the cosmos.
Mountains are sacred sites where one gains a higher perspective on life; where Moses met God in a burning bush and later received the commandments; where Jesus was tempted and transfigured, where Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and the El Capitan wall where Lynn Hill completed her first free ascent.
Like St. Francis, David Edwin Burtis also spent time looking at the stars contemplating his place in the cosmos. He often did so while climbing and sailing; reaching high peaks, catching the wind. David would come away refreshed and serene but determined to share his broad view of creation with others, to work for human rights, and to save the planet.
Using econometrics to analyze relationships between variables in data was rewarding for David. But, no predetermined formula could explain the unbridled excitement he would experience in nature and the adventuresome journeys he would take with Linda and others at his side.
The first reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes, was written during a time of change and upheaval for the Israelites, a period of history not unlike today. Not everyone was enjoying equal rights, or the benefits that come with liberty.
The passage identifies “time” in terms of life’s ups and downs. In the face of trouble the author encouraged listeners to embrace life as gifts from God — work hard and cry but do not forget to love and play. There is a time for everything.
Jews read the same text from Solomon (Qoheleth in Hebrew) during the Jewish festival of Sukkot when they celebrate joy in the midst of hardships, the enigmatic nature of life for which we are all responsible. Although so minute in the vast cosmos we are all nevertheless here for a reason. David understood that.
This quest for harmony and peace on earth must have been the mantra that David practiced on his life’s journey, what Buddhists call the noble eightfold path, part of the Fourth Noble Truth that leads to the end of suffering. Mindfulness, compassion, understanding, contemplation all result in a lifestyle where wisdom, ethical conduct, and action are the lifelines.
Little wonder then that David would be passionate about saving the planet, rallying for peace, using less gas and more renewable energy, electing politicians who speak the truth. Perhaps David prayed like Francis “make me an instrument of peace, to bring hope where there is despair.”
The passage from Matthew we just heard suggests we should not worry about our own lives because there are more important things that require our attention. David believed this advice. Some scholars say this entire gospel is a subtle rejection of empirical power and religious establishments.
David found that his spiritual development energized him. He believed there was an overarching power that fueled life in the universe, an enigmatic divine power. It made him shine like the sun; it provided him with sustenance to live life to the fullest while helping others along the way. As with many faith traditions, this is also the Christian way of living — caring for the planet and loving one another.
David trekked upward to the highest mountain peaks from which he could envision brighter skies on the horizon. He knew how to tack throughout life to catch the Spirit-filled wind. He could read the currents that would guide him to his diverse destinations and his goals in life. He surely walked in the presence of God in the land of the living.
The reality that death happens to all of us is hard to accept. Here in the presence of David’s deceased body we imagine that the energy that drove David is not dead but continues to work through us. We can harness that power and use it to advance justice and compassion for all creatures. It is the commandment of Jesus the Christ whom we remember and celebrate in this liturgy.
David’s passions were sustained by you, Linda, who journeyed with him through life and lovingly labored to keep his mind and body comfortable as he neared death. David also cherished his daughters Rachel and Sarah and their families. They filled him, I am certain, with hope for the future.
Recently, I asked David if he had any regrets about his life. He raised his eyebrows to say no. Did he have any unfinished business? No, he did not. Like the disciple Paul who, while in prison, wrote to his colleague Timothy, David did his best to fight the good fights — to protect this planet, to make it a safe harbor for his family and all human beings. For his part, David was a faithful person who, now, has finished the race.
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The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year C
Last weekend I gave a talk at the Mount Saviour Monastery in Pine City, New York. The event took place in the chapel while out in the fields countless ewes were “lambing” — giving birth. I asked if they needed help in delivering their babies. The answer I heard was — only if there is a problem … otherwise the sheep are perfectly capable of lambing by themselves.
Sheep and shepherds are used in the Bible as metaphors and analogies. In the Hebrew bible God is depicted as a shepherd who herds and brings sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. (Psalm 23)
In the second testament Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. (John 10:14) Although he may not have actually spoken these exact words the quote points out the importance of the metaphor and how it could serve to identify a growing relationship with Christ.
In the Acts of the Apostles the early followers of Jesus would soon need more than one shepherd to lead them. Their numbers were growing; disciples were criminalized; diverse Christian sects adhered to different beliefs; divisions surfaced. Unity would be required if the young church was to survive. Gifted women and men emerged as administrators of the communities and, as the texts suggest, there was one Spirit.
Eventually, only some leaders were referred to as shepherds who would provide direction, preside at the breaking of the bread, protect the church from heresies, and keep the flock together. Bishops began to carry a shepherd’s crook to symbolize their office.
Scripture scholar James Rowe Adams wrote that the sheep and shepherd imagery in the Bible is problematic. “It suggests that members of congregations are to follow their leaders without question or protest. It assumes that ordinary people are to have no say in the direction the church is taking.” 
It could be deduced from this commentary that sheep have very little to contribute to the life of the church and need direction. However, according to Nicky Ellis, editor of Farm & Animals: “Clearly, the idea that sheep are stupid and helpless is completely wrong.” Ewes can find their lambs lost in a large flock. They can recognize human voices, faces, and emotions. They know which food is good for them. As members of the flock they have a sense of direction even though some stray off the path in search of other experiences.
When Pope Francis described the current synod on synodality as a model for making decisions in the church he said: “In the one People of God, therefore, let us journey together, in order to experience a Church that receives and lives this gift of unity, and is open to the voice of the Spirit.”
The current synod on synodality is a bold opportunity for all members of the “flock” to voice their hopes and concerns for the future of the church. In another speech the pope said: “What concerns all should be discussed by all.” But, for some reason, he left out the part that said: “and be approved by all!
How can the age old understanding of Jesus as a sheep gate, a caring shepherd, have staying power in a time that needs creative and imaginative leaders? If it cannot, it will become more clear that sheep are not so stupid. They are perfectly capable of caring for one another, moving forward, birthing new possibilities. On the other hand, is there still a place for intrepid leaders on the world stage who are honest and humble?
In the Book of Revelation (7:9,14b-17) John of Patmos had a vision of a great multitude from every nation, race, people and tongue seeking relief from the autocracies of his time. He imagined a mystical Lamb (Christ) occupying the throne of the emperor. This was a bold political statement.
Then, in a twist of titles, the text reads that the Lamb [a baby sheep] “will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water .…” Could this be a 21st century call for sheep and shepherds to be interdependent?
Sheep and shepherds can journey together seeking fields flowering with compassion, sustenance, and kindness. Members of all faith traditions can work with those who practice no religion to eliminate the thrones and principalities that deny people justice and their rights to make informed decisions without fear of reprisal.
We are urged to tune into the voice of the Spirit and to speak truth to justice in this critical time when personal and communal liberties are at stake. This type of advocacy is not an easy task. Hope arises when sheep and shepherds, equal members of the same flock, listen to one another and then take action.
1. Adams, Jame Rowe. The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors. (Cleveland OH: Pilgrim Press, 2005) 270.
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The Third Sunday of Easter - Year C
Every year around Easter time my sister leaves a few potted hyacinths for me. I can tell they’ve arrived as soon as I open the door. The sweet fragrance and wondrous colors make me smile. After they flower I plant the bulbs in the ground and each spring the hyacinths reappear with new life. They do not know death.
These days it seems as if we are in the cold dark season of winter rather than the transformative joy of spring. Flowers and Easter hope offer relief but they cannot actually soothe the real pains of humanity.
In the Acts of the Apostles (5:27-32, 40b-41), the passage assigned for today, the early disciples were thrown in jail and cast out of the region for preaching the values taught by Jesus.
No matter how hard we try to address the gloom of the night we too are up against real and symbolic voices telling us to “stop teaching in the name of Jesus.”
The biblical texts in the Easter season comprise a stimulus package for us. Buoyed up by the testimonies of the post-resurrection followers of Jesus we search for spiritual and intellectual enlightenment to help us move forward to care for one another with confidence and the strength of our common bonds.
After Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross the disciples could not get him out of their minds. They actually imagined he was still with them. The gospel stories say that he appeared three times after his crucifixion. Like hyacinths rising from the cold ground death could not contain the Spirit of the Human One also believed to be divine.
Christian doctrine says we have been rescued by the life, suffering and death of Jesus. Given this belief, as the psalm for today suggests (v. 3:2,4,5-6, 1-13), how do we now turn mourning into dancing? Or in the spirit of the gospel (John 21:1-9) do we dare, once again, to “launch out into the deep sea” to reel in fresh nourishment?
Stirring up both fear and hope the apocalyptic Book of Revelation (5:11-14) reminds us that a person named John saw and heard the voices of angels. Scholar David E. Aune commented that Jewish apocalypses “often reflect a sharp distinction between the present evil age and the imminent future age of blessing.” It is a hope-filled literary message that requires action.
We are the holy spirits who are to give voice to justice and peace today. Our task is to distribute blessings amidst the imperfections of life on earth. Like the bouquet of hyacinths we can temper bitterness with sweetness.
We gather for liturgy to sing hymns, say prayers, and to be in communion with Christ and one another for a common cause. Together we take our Christian message to the streets, to join with others from different faiths, or no faith at all, to deliver hope and promise.
The familiar gospel of John 21:1-19 is not asking us to convert people to the message of Jesus. It is a summons to carry on the mission that Jesus could not bring to completion himself, a ministry of kindness and compassion toward all peoples.
Casting our nets into the sea of humankind is a metaphorical strategy about evangelization not indoctrination. By example we can touch those who are victims of injustice as well as those who inflict the pain. We are in a partnership with God and one another.
We draw insights for our spiritual and intellectual relationships from the blessings we get by living a sacramental life. These sacred experiences embolden our spirits. They rehearse us for living in ways that make others around us ask some serious questions about reconciling differences, obstructing oligarchies, ending crime, feeding multitudes, and respecting diverse identities.
The hyacinth is noteworthy among the many perennial flowers that blossom at this time of year. In one Greek mythology the flower is associated with devotion beyond death. It can remind us of our loyalty to Christian principles. And, because of its colors and fragrance, the hyacinth is also linked to joy, playfulness, and fresh starts. It is a perfect flower for Eastertide. Thanks again, Sis!