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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!