Back to Blog
Christmas and the Holy Family - Year C
During this past week the Associated Press released an article that read: “In the darkest days of the year, in a very dark time, there is a longing for illumination. And so, all around the world, the holiday lights go on — some of them humble, some of them spectacular, all of them a welcome respite from the dark.”
Whether it is the luster of Christmas trees in our homes or the gigantic displays in parks and streets across the globe the radiance casts a glow of cheer and hope. The bright lights offer us a brief but much needed break from the fears, the sadness, and the darkness caused by the gloom that surrounds us everywhere.
The gospel (John 1:1-18) for today’s Christmas liturgy today reminds us that Christ is the word of God in the world. John wrote: “What came to be through [the birth of Jesus of Nazareth] was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Christians will find ways to unwrap the light of Christ burning inside them, to “enlighten everyone.” In the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-16), the unknown author challenges us: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, God has spoken to us [my emphasis] through the Son .…” 
This summons, to act for justice on this fragile planet was echoed at the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council regarding Christians and their momentous task in modern societies. They “are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.” 
Responsible citizens of heaven and earth have much to do in these United States. We are exasperated by myopic self-serving politicians, a new unconscionable military budget, reluctance to build back America, disagreements over climate control, unrelenting pandemics, and the sad fact, according to the Forbes magazine, that over 42.5 million families are trying to survive while living below the poverty level.
New Testament scholar, Gayle R. O’Day  stressed that today’s gospel promotes relationships among humanity. It is a call for human beings to emphasize blessings, peace, and justice. She wrote, [the gospel] is about the “purpose of Jesus’ ministry … to create a new family of God …. People who have no families, who come from destructive families, or who are alienated from their birth families” can become children of God.
The liturgical celebration of the Holy Family this weekend is a fitting complement to the Nativity narratives; and it raises more questions for us who are called to be luminaries in our communities.
Simply the word “family” cannot be defined in one way. Relational experiences are overriding the traditional — wife and husband with children — household. How do we greet and treat emerging familial associations?
In his commentary on defining family Dan H. observed that many families today are blended and extended, a mix of stepparents, half siblings, and couples without children. For some, family is made up of people who are not related to them. Rather than biological ties those relationships are rooted in loyalty, love, and shared responsibilities.
In the United States the number of single parents is on the rise. Same sex partners, married or not, are birthing, adopting, and raising children. Partnership without a marriage certificate is a rewarding relationship for more and more couples. Countless LGBTQI and transgendered persons find caring companionship with those they love. Immigrant families seek to be reunited.
The second reading for the Holy Family liturgy, from Colossians 3:12-21, is the switch that could turn on more light in the world. It begins with a list of virtues that the community should “put on” — heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another .…”
This letter has baptismal overtones. The charge to “put on” refers to the early Christian initiation practice of disrobing before entering the water and then dressing with new clothing after being baptized. To be baptized is not about saving one’s soul. It is about joining a community that practices the social gospel in the public square.
All of us who are baptized Christians are members of God’s holy family. This is not an exclusive club. It extends beyond denominational roots. In communion with other religious and non religious members of the human family Christians are humble and loving luminaries casting light on their respective communities.
As we ponder familiar biblical stories this holiday weekend, the James Webb telescope will be launched into space. It is designed to capture the light of some of the first galaxies that coalesced after the “Big Bang.” It will explore a wide range of questions to help us understand the origins of the ever expanding and contracting universe and our place in it.
Nothing stays the same. Scientific advancements and our life experiences tell us that Christ is always being born and reborn and is constantly emerging in new electrifying ways throughout the cosmos and our lives. The radiance of Christ will continue to shine as long as we keep the lights on.
1. In another letter Paul writes to the Philippians 2:15 and states that the believers [in Christ] are luminaries in the world.
2. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965, no. 43
3. O’Day, Gayle, “The Gospel of John” in Women’s Bible Commentary. C. Newsome, S. Ringe, J. Lapsley (editors), Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 517 ff.
Back to Blog
The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year C
For those living in the Northern Hemisphere Tuesday December 21st is the Winter Solstice. It will be the shortest day and longest night of the year. Different traditions will gather to celebrate the “birth of the sun” while Christians, in a homophonic way, will focus on the “birth of the Son.”
Christmas celebrates the arrival of Jesus from Nazareth as the revelation of God. His mission was to save not only the Jews from Roman empirical oppression but to proclaim a time of peace, prosperity, and salvation for all people. Christians believe that the world order would be significantly altered because of the justice-filled ministry and sacrifices modeled by Jesus.
Much of the world’s problems are caused by those who wish to control the destiny of this planet and its occupants. Theirs is not an egalitarian or peaceful agenda. Christians and others who care about the earth and vulnerable citizens are called to counter tyranny with justice.
On this fourth Sunday of the Advent season the biblical texts speak of resilience. The prophet Micah (5:1-4a) predicted the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. But he also promised a future ruler who would come from Bethlehem-Ephrathah, a small remote and unknown town. It was the birthplace of the underdog David, the future king of Judah and Israel. God dwells among those who are least familiar.
The Psalm (80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19) is a communal lament that was used in times of national oppression. It calls upon God to save the people from danger. The psalmist implores the Creator to “take care of what you have planted.” This prayer is relevant today as we ponder how to reap goodness in God’s garden while many societies appear arid and parched.
Americans are at odds with one another and the role government plays when it comes to immigration policies, environmental regulations, taxes, vaccinations, and voters’ rights. Nineteen states have enacted 33 laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote. This last issue is only one example of several efforts underway to undermine the foundations of our democracy.
Many wonderful pastoral initiatives aim to serve people in need. The irony is that while this is happening membership in American houses of worship is at an all time low. A modicum of imagination and courage would breath new life into congregations. This could mean letting go of worn out religious customs. Also, in allegiance to the gospels, preachers could make more biblical based statements criticizing government for its negligence in caring for every citizen.
Faith thrives along with social action. Like the prophets of old and Jesus himself, there is a need to publicly decry the behavior of those politicians who have become adept at twisting biblical aphorisms. They do so to justify their agendas, which often decry or ignore human rights. Pulpit apathy and silence hurts powerless people.
Adam Hearlson, Pastor of Overbrook Presbyterian Church, wrote about radical and courageous preaching. “One of the marks of the prophetic imagination is its resilience. It refuses to be trampled. To be a prophet is to take the external possibilities and resist allowing their internalization. The outside possibilities ought never hinder our imagination of what remains possible.” This is so true as the media, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, more so than the Bible, are shaping opinions and value systems.
Who will rise to the occasion? Will it be a power from on high? Or, will it be someone we least expect? In the gospel story (Luke 1:39-45) we hear about two previously unknown women. An unwed teenager from Nazareth connects with her old barren cousin from the hill country of Judah. Both Elizabeth and Mary are mysteriously pregnant. Elizabeth was too old and Mary was a virgin.
Both of them were about to give birth to miracle babies who would, in principle, challenge people to fix societal corruption, to level self-serving governments, to care for creation, and to celebrate a simple way of living. Mary was not a recognized leader of people. John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark, affirmed that Mary [like other women] was “de-humanized by a condescending and patriarchal hierarchy.”
Still, like many feisty, independent-minded teenagers today, Mary spoke her mind, and forecast how the baby she was bearing would eventually make life better especially for the working class. Mary broke into song and fearlessly broadcast that the powerless will be made strong and the strong will be made weak.
Niveen Sarras, a Lutheran Palestinian Biblical Scholar, who was born in Bethlehem, sees the birth of Christ, as told in Luke and Matthew, as a political and religious response to Roman Imperialism. She wrote: “The narrative of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth speaks to us about Mary’s participation in the salvation of her people … Mary’s song voices themes that appear in every culture, society, and generation. People are still anticipating deliverance from unjust rulers and unjust law.”
It is apparent that privileged white men are not the only ones who can declare the word of God or establish peace on earth. Women, people of color, poor, ostracized, incarcerated, and vulnerable people all impart the real presence of God in our midst. New Zealand storyteller, Joy Cowley, rendered Mary’s Song with a refreshing and encouraging adaptation. “My soul sings in gratitude. I’m dancing in the mystery of God. The light of the Holy One is within me and I am blessed, so truly blessed.”
For those of us who see Advent as a time to regain our confidence as Christians, strengthen our resilience and take action against inequities, Mary’s Song is our anthem. We too are called to “dance in the mystery of God.”
Back to Blog
The Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary Cycle C
In the United States unemployment numbers are down but inflation continues to rise. Extreme weather conditions are destroying communities but some politicians debunk the cause of climate change. Many countries have more open borders but Pope Francis chastised other nations for turning vulnerable immigrants away.
The first of two Summits for Democracy was hosted by President Biden while Russian troops are pressing in on Ukraine’s borders. And, December 10th was International Human Rights Day as millions of refugees and minorities are held captive by tyranny.
Resilience, transformation and hope are the resounding themes in today’s biblical texts. But given signs of fragility in the world how do these words help us? The message from Zephaniah 3:14-18a is one example. The prophet encouraged the Judeans as they made their way to Jerusalem with plans for reconstructing their Temple. 
Zephaniah urged: “You have no further misfortune to fear, God is in your midst. God will renew you in God’s love.” Where’s the good news? These “chosen people” once gave up on God. Now they are singing a different song of renewed assurance that God never stopped walking with them.
In today’s section from First Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6 the people of God are encouraged to “cry out with joy, that they be confident and unafraid. Make God’s deeds and glorious achievements known among the nations.”
How are people who have no power or wealth expected to cry out with joy? Where is the good news for them? This text summons anyone who lives in freedom to do something about breaking the chains of poverty. The expectation is that, somehow, the divine presence that radiates in their lives will make freedom possible for others who are helpless.
We hear this same message throughout the liturgical year — that God calls us to be caretakers of every facet of creation that has been gifted to us. That charge is emphasized today on Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday when the entrance antiphon resounds: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” These lines are found in today’s reading from Philippians 4:4-7. Paul is still in jail urging his readers: remain united, do not be anxious, be thankful, be kind to everyone, and pray.
Why should the Philippians have paid any attention to this message? Why should we? Paul is quick to answer: “The peace of God surpasses all understanding and God has anointed us to bring glad tidings to the poor [meaning anyone living on the edges of society].
According to Carla Works, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary, “Joy, for Paul, is not a feeling that is dependent upon circumstances. It is a theological act. It is choosing to reflect on God’s actions to redeem the cosmos even when all the present circumstances might indicate that some other power had won.”
Putting faith into action can be hampered by the busy-ness of this season, anxieties over an unrelenting pandemic, concerns about dwindling democracies, and the emergence of new places of exile. In her latest book, Ilia Delio, scientist and theologian at Villanova University, adds: “… if you stay true to what you see because the power of God is the light of your vision, then you will change the world because you yourself will be changed.”
Delio believes contemplation and the eucharist are helpful tools in bringing about this vision. For us it could mean learning to meditate. To meditate we have to sit still more often to get in touch with our inner being. “Relaxing and calming the body as we breathe in and out” can bring us joy.  Once energized and transformed we can join others to spread that joy in the world.
We are called to be in communion with all people and not only with members of our respective congregations or cliques of like-minded friends. Catholics will recall that the Church is a “sacrament of Unity.”  Those involved in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogues continue to imagine the creation of a common bond uniting people of all faiths in working to establish a peaceful kin-dom of God now.
Countless people are busy making this goal a reality. There are regional food banks and local food pantries, community collections of toys, refugee centers, neighborhood soup kitchens, counseling services, shelters for homeless families and programs to educate incarcerated women and men. These are examples that God’s sovereignty on earth is slowly emerging.
In the gospel from Luke (3:10-18) we read that everyone came to be baptized  John informed these seekers that personal transformation is essential if they want to follow the Coming One. Initiation into the life of Christ is a life long process involving a constant awareness of our place in the ever unfolding cosmic enterprise. Dealing with injustice and treating all people with kindness and mercy are expressions of gratitude for the favors (graces) of God.
The value of our many religious traditions is that they call us to focus on the gifts of first fruits, light and joy. We are urged to share these blessings with those living on the edges of society at least in our own backyards. These are the best presents we can distribute. They also can nourish and shape our consciences, strengthen our purposes, and bolster our behaviors in the public realm.
Where is the good news? We are the good news.
1. Thanks to the Edict of Cyrus the Babylonian captivity ended in 586 BCE.
2. Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Sit. Berkeley CA: Parallax Press, 2014, p. 51.
3. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 26 is a reference to the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishops. Since the Vatican II Ecumenical Council the word “church” has been used in reference to all Christian churches.
4. From the Greek language the expression “to baptize” means to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe.
Back to Blog
The Second Sunday of Advent - Lectionary Year C
The Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa celebrations converge at this time of year in an annual relational dance. Each one is a festival of light and first fruits. A deeper examination of the biblical texts for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, also reveals more about who we are and what is our purpose.
Kwanzaa, originally thought to be a Black alternative to a “White Christmas,” has developed as a celebration of the first fruits of African American culture, history, art, and music. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa after the 1960s Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles. He wrote: “The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose and direction.” Today we might add to his explanation — this is why “Black Lives Matter.”
The larger context for the fantastic miracle story of Hanukkah, which, is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah, is also about culture and identity. Simon Shama called it the “Hasmonean liberation festival.” It commemorated breaking away from the tyrannical clutch of the Seleucids, a Macedonian Greek [Hellenist] oligarchy.
The Hasmoneans, the ruling and ruthless dynasty of Judea up to 64 BCE, saw themselves as both a religious and military power. They were known for colonizing every nation they conquered. (Think of how many Christian missionaries later in history repressed indigenous cultures even while teaching them about Jesus Christ.)
According to Shama, the Hasmoneans saw themselves as the “appointed guardians of Torah Judaism against Hellenistic contaminations … [and] invented Hanukkah” presumably as a festival to keep the story of victory over enemies in the collective memories of Jews. 
According to free-lance author Bari Weiss, “Contained in this story [of Hanukkah] are the themes that have run through Jewish history. The tension between universalism and particularism. The battle between assimilation and self-assertion.” Weiss’s commentary could be applied to tensions currently experienced in Christianity as well as in other religious institutions and nation states.
The Hanukkah story, John the Baptizer’s announcement of the Coming One in today’s gospel (Luke 3:1-6), and the eventual emergence of Christianity — are linked. The Christmas festival (the 25th of December is also without a biblical backup), is truly a celebration of light and first fruits.
We recall that the 4th century date of the nativity was established to counter secular celebrations during the winter solstice. That year (336 CE) officially marked the birthing of the promised One into history, a commemoration that continues to stimulate the religious imagination, the stringing of lights, as well as the secular holiday industry.
Luke wrote this gospel after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, long before Jesus’ assigned birthday. Luke’s purpose was to depict John the Baptizer as the precursor not only of the Coming One but also of a new way of amalgamating differing cultural groups.
Some scholarship suggests Luke was sympathetic to Jews before he became a Christian. He urged his Greek speaking readers of today’s gospel to adhere to Jewish customs. Remember the Hasmoneans aimed to protect Jewish culture from the Greeks. Luke’s vision was for a “pluralistic community of Jews and Gentiles, Romans and non-romans in the common people of God.” 
In the mid-50s CE, and much earlier than Luke’s writings, Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (3:26-28) “There are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Biblical scholar Richard B. Hays wrote that this letter to the Galatians reflects a critical moment in defining the identity and purpose of the Christian movement.
This biblical quote is not so much a call to a singular Christian culture or global religious practice but a summons to all people of different creeds, races, and ethnic groups to learn to work within a common ground. The three holiday festivals mentioned here remind us how all humans want to maintain a purpose in life that reinforces their identities, teachings, values.
The Hasmoneans wanted to guard Jewish identity against other super powers. Christians sought to strengthen an emerging Jesus cult against heretical movements. Blacks and people of color want to retain their unique identities and not be subjugated to White power and privilege.
While he was in prison Paul urged the Philippians (1:4-6, 8-11) to focus on things that really matter especially in the face of personal and communal setbacks. He summoned his audience to become partners with God in achieving peace on earth. He believed that the gospel message would advance against all odds.
Christians can heed this advice by striving to advance values shared by different cultures to counter the tensions that Bari Weiss described in her commentary on the origins of Hanukkah as “the pull between fundamentalism and secularism.” Weiss is raising “the complicated question of how far the bonds of peoplehood can strain before they break.”
During the season of Advent Christians frequently see John the Baptizer as an unusual desert-dweller who calls us to repent from evil ways. Make crooked roads straight. Level the insurmountable hills. Fill in the potholes. Was he preaching to corrupt leaders or the peasants who were victims of corruption? To “repent” means having a change of heart — an inner transformation that will bear fruit and cast light on others.
Urging diverse groups to share a vision for justice and peace seems to be an unlikely objective in a world ruptured by cultural clashes and societal problems. Will those of us who come from different classes, myriad religious traditions, and varying political postures be willing to have a change of heart, to eliminate unwavering and divisive agendas?
The Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa festivals of light and first fruits are three celebrations that remind us we can do just that if we are willing to take some risks.
1. You can read more about the Hasmoneans in the apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees.
2. Christopher R Matthews in David Attridge (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible RSV (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1989) p. 1761.
Back to Blog
First Sunday of Advent - Year C
Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, was also famous for his unusual quips such as it is “déjà vu all over again.” There are various stories surrounding these memes. 
The season of Advent is “déjà vu all over again.” We’ve been here before. Every year about this time Christians recycle the liturgical countdown to the mythical date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  At this time in history, when troublesome realities are mixed with visions of hope, we are compelled to rethink the significance of Advent. 
The passage today, from Jeremiah (Jer 33:14-16), recalls the trouble that God’s chosen people were in. Apparently, they forgot their part of their covenant with God to keep the commandments. As they readied for the invasion of the ruthless King Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, who was in prison at the time, pleaded with the people of Israel and Judah to once again trust in God and change their ways.
The Bible reminds us that the path to reconciliation, peace and justice is through acts of kindness and mercy. (Psalm 25) Margaret Odell, Professor Emerita of Religion at St. Olaf College, remarked: “In the ancient world, justice was not an abstract concept. It was always a personal practice of care and attention to the needs of others .…” We’ve heard this call to discipleship over and over but now there is some urgency.
In the apocalyptic gospel passage (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) Jesus claimed that things would get worse before they got better — “on earth nations will be in disarray.” We could take this dire prediction as a call to change our ways. Or, we could consider it a wake up call to be more aware of what is going on all around us today.
During his ministry Jesus cared for the underdog promising them better days ahead. He also opposed the imperial style of leadership practiced by both secular and religious leaders. The time was ripe for someone like the itinerant preacher Jesus to shake things up and promise deliverance from evil doers.
Today, many wait in joyful hope for the coming of a saviour to repair the world. This kind of hope (waiting for someone else to save us) is not a good strategy. Too many hard-hearted powers working against humanity are out of control and gaining strength. The strains of autocracy, plutocracy, and oligarchy are infecting other countries and making America sicker by the day.
This weekend the biblical message is familiar … all over again. Yes, “people will die of fright” but not only because of the “roaring of the sea and waves.” The refusals by governments and ourselves to accept responsibility for climate change are unnerving. The gnawing presence of infectious viruses is tiring and frightening. Stormy political and religious culture wars over other prickly ethical issues are dividing this nation into clashing camps.
Advent is not about “preparing the way” of the Lord or St. Nick for that matter. The Christ of faith is already walking among us. The problem is that God is not always recognized in our streets, classrooms, offices, congressional halls, or our homes.
Christians often fail to see the radiance of Christ’s face not only in the environment but also the stranger, the outcast, the prisoner, the teenage prostitute, the drug user, the homeless person and even people who are most familiar to us.
To make a dent in the maelstrom we are enduring it is important to accept that the Spirit God energizes and implores us to follow the path that the Nazarene prophet laid out for us. Action is required. The disciple Paul, who changed his way of living, urged his followers: “strengthen your hearts, conduct yourselves to please God. You [do] know the instructions we gave you from Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2)
Our task this Advent is to find ways to stop thinking only about ourselves and our destinies. While personal domestic responsibilities cannot be ignored completely we can tailor them to include others living on the fringes of the human family.
Mindfulness is a good practice to focus on what is happening around us. Although the new Omicron Variant is already spreading globally, tourists are visiting this country again. They ogle Times Square, gasp at the Grand Canyon, and revel in the Magic Kingdoms.
However, other travelers have been on the move for ages. They are the refugees and migrants seeking a land of milk and honey where they can settle and live with dignity. We have to prepare a land where all lives matter starting with those who are people of color.
Responsible persons have shown incredible resilience in countering many similar troubles before us. Audrey West, Associate Professor of the New Testament at Moravian Theological College, wrote: “The ability to interpret a future-shaped present depends, in part, on reference to the past.” As spiritual sojourners we remember that history often repeats itself with both good and bad news.
We can learn to be advocates for the good news, the human rights taught by our ancestors. The voices of women like Sarah, Ruth, Lydia, Esther, Mary, as well as Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Mohammed gifted us with the same sets of golden rules that are being presented to us, all over again, by the teachers and prophets of our time.
There is still time to make sure there is a better tomorrow for all of us especially our children. This was the promise of the One called messiah. As a legendary baseball catcher once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over!” 
1. Yankee fans might maintain that Yogi uttered this particular phrase after Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit back-to-back home runs in 1961.
2. Most sources agree that the 25th of December was formally established as the date of Jesus’s birth @ 336 CE.
3. Advent was originally a time of preparation for Christian initiation at Epiphany.
4. Thank you Yogi Berra!
Back to Blog
Solemnity of Christ King of the Universe
In his recently published memoir,  Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese multi-media artist and human rights activist, writes about how his progressive minded and artistically gifted grandfather and father endured the punishments of Chinese dictators. Wei Wei himself suffered similar indignations and intimidations as the government sought to “remodel” free thinkers, artists, writers and others who opposed authoritarian control.
I started thinking about the freedoms enjoyed in this country. Most people, with determination and a bit of luck, can still pursue the careers and lifestyles they envision for themselves and their families. I am also aware of those who have no opportunities for advancements; whose rights are snuffed out by the whim of insensitive and self serving government leaders. What does God have to do with these problems?
Today, for many Christians, is the liturgical commemoration of Christ as King of the Universe, whose dominion is eternal. (Daniel 7:13-14) Christian doctrine asserts that Christ is the sovereign over all earthly matters. Today’s feast marks the conclusion of a liturgical year and sets the cyclical stage for Jesus of Nazareth entering world history. In our faith-filled imaginations Christ is called prophet, healer, peace activist, king, and savior “whose decrees are worthy of trust indeed.” (Psalm 93:1, 1-2,5)
In commenting on the gospel for today (John 18:33b-37), Samuel Cruz,  remarks: “This passage … shows how the powerful do not like it when they do not control the discourse … just as the powerful elites are accustomed to determining/controlling the ideology and the discourse in our day.”
In this context it is discouraging to think that the time honored liberties enjoyed in the United States and rooted in democracy are slowly crumbling due to an endangered election system coupled with the self-serving agendas and ideals of an elite class of politicians, wealthy individuals and corporations.
The global trend toward dictatorial government leaders is frightening. Those countries, where a single person or political party, has absolute power include Belarus, China, Nicaragua, Syria, Turkey, and Russia just to name a few. In some places dictators act like religious leaders while the religious leaders act like politicians.
One cannot, therefore, avoid thinking about any institution, especially religious ones, where a privileged class monitors the spiritual and secular lives of the memberships. If equal rights for all human beings is the objective in society then hierarchical and patriarchal forms of governance have to give way to leadership roles that include all people regardless of race, gender identity, class or wealth. This act of justice, established by the Sovereign Christ, is a law based on love of neighbor.
Francis, the bishop of Rome, is right to initiate a world-wide synod calling for bishops to listen to the members of their churches, their joys and hopes, their griefs and anxieties. These words are found at the beginning of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World where it also states that respect and love for humanity is expressed “by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.” (No. 3)
Professor Cruz continues to comment on what Jesus meant when he said to Pilate his “kingdom was not of this world.” Cruz wrote: “The values of Jesus’ kingdom are so vastly different from those of this world that often we Christians fail to understand them. The church, which purports to—and should—represent Jesus’ kingdom, is here to serve in humility rather than to seek earthly power.”
According to a new study  congregations that work for justice and peace are more proactive in the public square when they are exhorted to do so from the pulpit. South African Methodist bishop Peter Storey, in an interview on the role of Christians in the world, recently remarked: “The church is only the church when it is engaging the world. The rest of the time it’s just getting dressed for the job.”
We find our place in the cosmic enterprise, where the Creator and Sovereign God continues to move about, by carrying “forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit … Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.” (John 18:37; Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45) 
Ai Wei Wei wrote about the joys and sorrows of being a Chinese artist and social activist. Jesus of Nazareth said that his followers’ lives would also be filled with difficulties and delights. It is up to us who practice a religious tradition to join others who hold similar values to find ways to assist those who have no power to determine their destinies. It may be for us both a costly act of discipleship and a worthwhile one.
1. Ai Wei Wei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir. Trans. Allan H. Barr, New York: Crown, 2021
2. Cruz is Associate Professor of Church and Society at Union Seminary in New York City,
3. Race and the Power of Sermons on American Politics by R. Khari Brown, Ronald E. Brown, and James S. Jackson. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press, 2021
4. Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 3.
Back to Blog
The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Homily at the Sunday Liturgy, the College of St. Rose, Albany, NY
According to tonight’s gospel Jesus was deeply disturbed about the grave inequities in the economic and social system of his time.  He publicly criticized the hypocritical behavior of the religious leaders who, under the guise of their piety, took advantage of the weaker members of society. 
In this gospel and the Book of Deuteronomy we read that, even though they had very little, the widows gave what they could. In this sense the widows are the exemplars of the ways we should serve one another.
Theologian Amanda Brobst-Renaud suggests the “widow’s offering is both an expression of trust in God in the midst of the world comprised of broken people, systems, and communities of faith.” Brobst-Renaud suggests that the undocumented alien, the widow, and the orphan are frequently forgotten.
This gospel is not only about what the widow gave. It is a biting criticism of the behavior of the privileged class of scribes who ruled the Temple and the lives of the people. The widow in the story had no access to food stamps, soup kitchens, social security, medicaid, medicare or health care. Neither do many women today.
Although some studies suggest the percentage of widows’ living in poverty has fallen, largely due to education and employment opportunities,  women who are widowed and women who are single parents continue to struggle to make ends meet. Women of color suffer even more so. The gospel makes us mindful of their plights.
If Jesus, the itinerant Jewish prophet, were standing in the halls of Congress today he might be railing against self-serving politicians who have placed their careers above the needs of their constituents. On the public record there is little evidence of their passion for helping families who live below the poverty level.
A lesson from history may be helpful here. Heather Cox-Richardson reminds us that, after the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover could not find support for a program that would get this country back on its feet. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, trying to pick up the pieces, would later propose a New Deal.
Congressional leaders at the time — liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican — felt a national emergency existed and passed Roosevelt’s programs quickly. The New Deal created opportunities and a social safety net for all Americans including widows, orphans, and the elderly.
These two political parties, that once advanced economic and social liberalism, are now competing for power and wealth in our country already torn apart over racial issues, the pandemic, education, falsehoods, voting rights, religious liberties, and the economy.
Although the infrastructure bill was passed, Congress must now pass the social and environmental package. To do so, politicians need to stop operating in secrecy, which makes it easier to push their agendas and avoid scrutiny and criticism from the very people they are elected to serve. 
Where does religion come in? Working for the common good is a corporate responsibility. Civic and religious leaders need to listen to one another and learn to work together to promote new programs and strengthen existing ones to serve those in need. Individual agendas have to be set aside.
Psalm 146 reminds us that God secures justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry. How will those of us who gather here to worship God and share communion respond not only to the voices of the widows in these biblical stories but to our local and global societies that desperately need repair?
In her book, Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel, Jennifer McBride, professor of theology and ethics at McCormick Seminary, urges that we must learn to connect our participation in the eucharist with social action.
McBride comments: “Since the gospel demands discipleship … it is inherently social and political. It concerns how we structure society in a way that demonstrates love for the neighbors, strangers, and enemies, a love that leads to both social and personal transformation.”
Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti, we can seek “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (no. 154). These hope-filled words are challenging for political and religious leaders as well as you and me in a time that is both unpredictable and troubling. Change requires all of us working together with all our “might.” Every person matters.
1. Adams, J.R., From Literal to Literary (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press) 2005, 310.
2. Byrne, B. A Costly Freedom (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008, 194.
4. Editorial, The Sunday Gazette, November 7, 2021, D1.
Back to Blog
The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
God is my help? Who will prove me wrong? These words are from the 2nd part of the Book of Isaiah that contains four poems of the servant of Yahweh. Sometimes the servant identifies with a group of people; other times, an individual. New Testament authors interpret these passages as a reference to Jesus of Nazareth.
The key point for me is that the servant is depicted as listening closely, attentively, to the word of God. Frankly, I am never sure when God is speaking to me. I cannot even grasp whatever message there might be. I do believe God continues to be present to us on our journeys but I cannot tell for sure.
Listening is a way of knowing and empowering others — the immigrant, the single parent, the person of color, the transgendered person, the entire LGBTQIA community.
Such attentive listening is difficult because restlessness in this country and elsewhere is pervasive. Covid variant continues to be a threat, finding the right job is a challenge, studying in school or at home is not ideal. People of color are afraid for their lives, immigrants everywhere are looking for security, families are recovering from fires and floods in need of water, food, housing.
Knowing that God is my help is a difficult claim and to assert “prove me wrong” is even more unbelievable— as voters’ rights, women’s rights, human rights, democracies in general, erode all around us.
Listening is hard to do even in good times. The practice of not listening is increasingly more apparent in this country built on independence, individuality, entitlements. The meme “cancel culture” is no longer aimed at celebrities and politicians -- some studies suggest we are canceling each other out. What you say or believe does not matter so why should I listen to you.
Consciously or unconsciously, some of us often focus on our own ambitions and strategies for living without regard for others. Some politicians seem more interested in their careers than the common good. Some religious leaders are intent on maintaining doctrinal power rather than listening to the concerns of dwindling congregations.
As a Church and a nation, we are polarized and divided. Pope Francis reminds us to respond by building a “better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (Fratelli Tutti, no. 154).
Of course there are thousands of people who labor for the common good — we are reminded of the first responders on September 11th twenty years ago, the heroic women and men who work endless hours in our hospitals trying to save people’s lives, the teachers who want to teach, and YOU who want to learn more from these teachers and from one another in social connections.
So how do we learn to listen to others which is to listen to God?
Mindfulness is one way but it is also difficult to practice. We have to take the time to be still, to believe in ourselves, to ponder what it means to be alive, to be grateful in order to take our place in the larger family. It means to be aware of others and the environment we seek to protect.
Like Peter in the gospel you probably continue to assert that the wandering Jew from Nazareth was the One to come to show us how to choose a better path. His sermons and actions were based on truth, justice, reconciliation and peace.
As I think about what is a moral crisis in our society the response is not to depend only on hope. Hope is not a good strategy when faced with struggles. The faith we have in a God whose presence is constant but often unpredictable must be coupled with resilience and good work. The second reading from James is clear about this. Like hope alone cannot save us, faith cannot save us if it is not accompanied by works of justice.
It is not our job to end the sin and suffering of the world or to stop the mindless march of violence. Nor is our charge to bear the cross like Jesus did, to suffer pain and die a horrific death.
Rather, our task is to follow a different way of life, a lifestyle that is unique -- to take opportunities, small as they may be, to reduce poverty, injustice, fear and hatred in our midst; to let go of our own fears and to live simply within our means.
We can find the strength and resilience to develop an ever new identity together, in the eucharist and in our solidarity knowing that we are among other human beings — people of faith or no faith at all — who share our convictions.
Back to Blog
RECEIVE WHO YOU ARE
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ 2021 Year B
I never knew my older brother, Stephen Jr. He drowned when he was 2 1/2 years old. My parents didn’t talk about him much at all. They mourned his death for a very long time. Sonny (his nickname) was too young for the obituary to tell us anything about him. He did not leave any personal effects behind for us to cherish. All we have now are faded photographs and our imaginations.
I never knew Jesus of Nazareth and yet I am audacious enough to talk and write about him all the time. The only intel I have on Jesus is what I read in the Bible and those testimonies were written by authors who were originally anonymous. We cannot be sure if any one of them actually knew Jesus firsthand.
Of course there are avowals from people we know now who, without doubt, share their experiences of God acting in their lives especially when they are down and out. Our personal and public prayers and songs affirm the belief that God continues to be present to us, walks with us on our journeys. The Spirit God takes root within us.
Generally speaking there are two kinds of death: to die and to be forgotten. The first is bad enough; the second is even worse. How do we not forget someone? Photos? Cemetery visits? Stories? Meals? How do Christians remember Jesus of Nazareth, the One who came to be known as the messiah the Israelites were waiting for? How did all the non-Jews in subsequent years come to believe in someone they never met?
Today’s solemnity, the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, recalls the final dinner Jesus had with his friends. Although the scriptures for today provide a biblical context for the liturgy not all Christian calendars observe it.
According to legend the festivity originated in 1246 when Saint Juliana, prioress of Mont Cornillon (1222–58), had a vision and persuaded the bishop of Liège, Robert de Torote, to establish the feast in the diocese. Eventually, Pope Urban IV ordered the annual celebration of Corpus Christi in all parishes.
I remember, as a young altar boy, carrying candles and incense through our neighborhood streets on the feast of Corpus Christi. Crowds trailed the priest who, shaded by a decorative canopy carried by parishioners, held high the shiny, gilded monstrance that contained the consecrated host.  Along the way we stopped at three porches decorated by the homeowners. We sang songs while kneeling in quiet reverence of the exposed sacrament.
Recent studies point out that the practice of adoring the sacrament has become popular again especially with students attending Catholic universities. Being still and quiet in the presence of the hallowed host creates an atmosphere of prayer and meditation. It is a welcomed and serene setting in a very stressful world.
This feast, however, is not an endorsement of the popular practice of eucharistic adoration alone. The body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ cannot be left in a container. The real presence of Christ is also about remembering and creating relationships like the ones Jesus engendered and counted on while he was here on earth.
Yes, Jesus of Nazareth gave his life, his body and blood, to free others from whatever held them captive. He was resilient until he commended his spirit to the Creator whom he called Father. But, during his life this itinerant preacher needed a support system: his mother Mary, his friend Mary of Magdala, his disciples, and others touched by him. He also managed to find quiet time to reflect and pray alone.
The eucharist is not an object, a reward for following rules. It is a way of life embraced by believers. The ritual enactment of the eucharist reminds us of our obligations as Christians to establish kind relationships with others. This liturgy is carried out by the whole Body of Christ, the church, with its designated leader. It is not something delivered to us by any one individual.
When Jesus said “do this in my memory” he was not ordaining only those present in the room to carry on his mission. He was commissioning anyone who chooses to follow him to wash each other’s feet, heal broken bodies, stop senseless blood shed, feed hungry children, house street people, support prisoners, welcome strangers, and, to make his challenge even more relevant, protect the whole environment in which we live.
The ritual celebration of the body and blood of Jesus the Christ is the memorial of his life, death, resurrection and eternal presence. But all liturgical action must be accompanied by social action. In fact, we cannot do one without doing the other. The research that documents those young persons who are keeping vigil over the reserved sacrament also states they are interested in doing something about racism, food insecurity, immigration and climate change.\
I cannot be sure what my brother Stephen would have become in life had he not died as a child. I can, however, think of him as part of my body and blood. Likewise, to remember who and what Jesus Christ was and is for us today I can think of the sacrament as my body and blood. St. Augustine preached about this notion as well as the reception of the eucharist a long time ago. In so many words he said: “Receive who you are.” 
1. A monstrance is receptacle used to display the consecrated host, the body of Christ, for adoration by the people. Some are more elaborate than others.
2. “It is your own mystery that you are receiving!” St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) Sermon 272, Latin text in J.P. Migne, Patrologia Latina 38:1246-1248. Translation by Nathan Mitchell.
Back to Blog
Trinity Sunday 2021 - Year B
Memorial Day this year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Hundreds of Blacks were brutally killed, their homes and businesses were wiped out. They were casualties of a furious and heavily armed white mob of marauders and arsonists.
Remembrance of the massacre has been stifled, resisted and contested ever since it took place. It is not commemorated like Memorial Day a celebration that emerged out of the Civil War tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers.
Given all the deaths suffered because of war, racism and other disparities (e.g., people without money, food, water, and shelter) tomorrow is a day to imagine a better world for all people.
And, today is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar. What can we make of this unexplainable mystery in a world torn by so much inequity, vitriol and division? Liturgical theologian Cláudio Carvalhaes reminds us the Trinity “is a Christian belief where God is one in three persons: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You would think this is craziness! But for Christians, it is how God moves, relates, dances, and manifests Godself in the world—always through relations.”
While the word “trinity” does not appear in Scripture, nuanced references are found in Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. We can can gain some insight from today’s biblical texts that might help us understand the importance of treating one another with fairness.
In the Psalm (33: 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22) we read that God’s works are trustworthy, that God loves justice, and that the earth is full of God’s kindness. But to keep the presence of God engaged in our lives we need to cooperate with God with acts of love and kindness. (Deuteronomy (4:32-34, 39-40)
The commission in the gospel to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:16-20) needs interpretation. We can encourage others to join our efforts to establish peace on earth through evangelization and by example but not through proselytism or violence.
Right relationships, are key in any community organization. Imagine what the world would be like if there was a congenial and respectful interdependence among all peoples. Nation states, organized religions, political parties, and local neighborhood communities would not be at such odds with one another. Different races, genders, and ethnic groups would no longer hate one another.
Dr. Carvalhaes continued: “In many ways, the Trinity is an entanglement that keeps unfolding back and forth, a sign and metaphor for our own ways of living together, being different and yet being a part of the same life.”
Karen Kilby uses the term social trinitarianism to describe the Christian interpretation of the Trinity. She sees it as consisting of three persons in a loving relationship, which reflects a model for human relationships. 
There are countless people and groups of individuals who, in the steps of their forebears, continue to support and sustain diverse relationships among human beings that can be both complicated and wonderful.
One example is an artist who contributed to social concordance her entire life. A current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — Alice Neel: People Come First — is a retrospective of this radical American portrait artist who died in 1984. Neel’s life was marked by sorrow and joy, depression and resilience. Nevertheless, she was always an advocator of social justice. She exuded a creative commitment to humanist principles that inspired her life as well as her art.
Art historian Hall Rockerfeller wrote “Her [Neel’s] work was undiscriminating … Her sincere and thoughtful engagement with her subject regardless of their color or creed was unusual for the time, and men and women of varying race, sexual orientation, and religion can be found throughout her oeuvre, all rendered with the same honest brush.” Neel herself once said: “For me, people come first, I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.”
On this Memorial Day weekend we remember lives lost because of war and hate crimes. Our association with a God who continues to create, a child of God (Jesus) who made God known to us and a holy Spirit that steadily sustains us can energize us to become more resilient in a period of history where we cannot be sure of anything the tide changes.
1. Karen Kilby is an American theologian and is currently the Bede Professor of Catholic Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University.
Back to Blog
THE UNBRIDLED SPIRIT
It was not the fierce wind, flaming tongues or the instant translation of foreign languages that stunned and frightened the people huddled in that Pentecost room. It was the pressing question: “Now what do we do?” Jesus was no longer with them and they were not sure how to organize themselves. How would they continue the work of their deceased leader? The biblical texts (Acts 2:1-11) provide an answer — a powerful Spirit took hold of them.
But the next steps were not that simple or fast paced. History tells us the early Christian movements took different routes and not everyone was on the same path. The tension between the Jewish Christians and the converted Hellenist (Greek) Christians is one example.
New Testament scholar Harold W. Attridge wrote: “The Christian movement probably began not from a single center but from many different centers where different groups of disciples of Jesus gathered and tried to make sense of what they had experienced with him and what had happened to him at the end of his public ministry.”
Another biblical expert, the late Holland Lee Hendrix, added: “Christianity, or one would rather say "Christianities," of the second and third centuries were a highly variegated phenomenon. We really can't imagine Christianity as a unified coherent religious movement.”
We can see something similar happening to Christianity today. It is not a “unified coherent religious movement.” Many moral issues are affecting each of us directly and indirectly. The information from politicians, research centers and religious leaders is not always clear. Our interpretations of the same message are wide spread. We can easily become confused, overwhelmed, and disparate.
One would think that, if all of us were on the same biblical page or even in the same book, this country and the world would be a more peaceful and equitable place to live. It is not. For instance, it is well publicized that Catholic Christians and their bishops do not agree on everything. We are divided on many issues and we have very different ideas about how to achieve various agendas.
Catholic doctrines assert that different gifts and offices are all united in one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13) The church itself is called a “sacrament of unity.”  Could it be that there is not only one Spirit but many life forces at work in different people and groups in dissimilar ways.
Linda Thomas, professor of anthropology and theology, provides a welcomed and important feminist view point. She writes about the work of the Spirit in the struggles of black women. “Black women have particular insight into the power of the Spirit because their historical radical marginality puts them in the center of myriad realities in which deeply rooted, unacknowledged, and unconventional wisdom dwells.” 
Diversity is everywhere, in everything, and in everyone. Variety or heterogeneity is a healthy and rich ingredient of life. Unity is also wonderful where it exists. But collaboration, which, ideally, is a good strategy for finding a common ground, can lead to an uncontested, single-mindedness. A balance between standing together on issues and accepting perceptions and solutions that challenge long standing assumptions is required.
One way to reach this accord is to employ a practice of intersectionality — a bringing together of divergent energies, spirits, talents, and gifts to a common ground. It starts with listening to and respecting what different people and groups have to say about the issues affecting them and what they would do to seek reconciliation. This is an interfaith strategy that reaches out to all races, creeds, genders and nationalities seeking peace and harmony.
In a Catholic example, Pope Francis is changing the way the Synod of Bishops operates. The Pope wants to make synodality the main driving force in the life of the church. To do so he is requiring bishops to “actively listen” to the views of church members before making proclamations that affect their lives and the lives of others.
Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, said: "the time was ripe for a wider participation of the people of God in a decision-making process that affects the whole church and everyone in the church.”
Skeptics are doubtful that all bishops will agree to this strategy. Some bishops, like some politicians, are reluctant to give up their power and privilege. How then are we all suppose to work together to renew the face of the earth in peace? (Psalm 104; John 20:19-23)
Pentecost was a celebration marking the early wheat harvest. For our Jewish friends it is the feast of first fruits, Shavuot. For Christians it marks the infusion of the Spirit God into the lives of all people. That spiritual appropriation was not a one-time deal. It is a never ending process of growth and development.
The acknowledgement of the different ways the Spirit is present in the lives of all peoples requires a sense of solidarity and respect of the other. The holy Spirit is unbridled and cannot be contained or possessed by a privileged few
1. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 26.
2. Thomas, Linda E. “The Holy Spirit and Black Women: A Womanist Perspective” in Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice. Daggers, Jenny, Ji-Sun Kim, Grace, eds. (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) 73-88.
Back to Blog
WHAT IS TRUTH?
The Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B
Every so often during a pick up basketball game there is disagreement over the actual score. In one contest, a player argued the score was not true. A guy on the other team cried out, somewhat jokingly, “you can’t handle the truth!”
This meme was heard in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” LTJG Kaffee (Tom Cruise) pressed Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) on whether Jessup ordered a Code Red.  “I want the truth,” Kaffee queried. Infuriated, Jessup angrily shouted back, “You can’t handle the truth.”
In today’s gospel (John 17:11b-19) Jesus is praying to God to keep his disciples united, protect them from evil, give them strength to carry on. And don’t forget, Jesus adds, “consecrate them in truth.”
To be consecrated is easy to understand. It means to be set apart for a purpose, to be dedicated, to have a strong commitment. Christians celebrate their prophetic and priestly voice in baptism. Their role in the world is strengthened by a holy Spirit. They are sustained in their vocation by celebrating the eucharist with others.
However, the expression “in truth” is more difficult to interpret because there can be variable theories of truth. In a biblical context the word truth refers to the life of Jesus of Nazareth, his way, his light, his message, and his respect for all people. To be committed to that “truth” is to stand for what Jesus stood for — justice for everyone.
The question “what is truth” is at the heart of many problems we are experiencing in this country and perhaps elsewhere on the global stage. The adherence to and promotion of falsehoods and outright lies serve to establish a collective feeling in a large segment of a population. When the lie is repeated over and over it no longer appears to some to be false but actually something they come to believe as true. The earth is flat … the earth is flat … the earth is flat ….
The fabrication is designed to strengthen the ideologies of a sector of a social, political or religious establishment. Most often those who spread the falsehoods are threatened by what is proven to be true either by science or evidence. The escalation of falsehoods creates confusion and doubt among people who are simply searching for honest answers.
Consider these few examples of where facts and truths are blurred or rejected because of the proliferation of misinformation, speculation, and conspiracy theories:
The number of deaths actually caused by the virus. The effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines. The validation of the 2020 presidential election. The cause of Middle East conflicts. Voters have rights. The implications of religious doctrines on public and private lives. The prevalence of racial bias.
To lives as a disciple of Christ and his standards in these confusing times one discerns what must be done so that people do not suffer or die because of injustices — lack of money, food, water, decent housing, and health care. Lies and falsehoods that threaten these basic human rights must be stopped.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God he was not referring to a romantic heavenly place. He understood his life’s mission was to create a peaceful, equitable place for everyone here on earth. If we continue his undertaking the world will be better not only for us and our families but also everyone else.
Luke, the author of the first reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26), was concerned about who would carry on the work of Jesus. The passage specifically tells of the selection of Matthias as an apostolic minister to replace Judas. A good questions for us is are we to be counted among the disciples?
The first place for Christians to start is to make a commitment to spreading the gospel truth. Then we will link arms with those from other traditions dedicated to the same mission.
Of course, when it comes to abiding by biblical shibboleths, there will be different interpretations and skepticism. One could argue because the scriptures are not history books but testimonies the stories could be fabrications.
It seems clear, however, that the underlying long term message found in all of these texts is that, in order to create a world where justice and equity are experienced by everyone, truth must prevail. Lying and perpetuating falsehoods has no place in this narrative. How we handle truth and share it with others will make a huge difference in the future of the worlds we live in.
1. In the movie, In the film, the “Code Red” is used for a punishment or action taken against marines that is extrajudicial or, outside of existing military law.
Back to Blog
CAPTIVE NO MORE?
Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year B
Thanks to the nudging of a good friend I am reading His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope. This gripping book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham is hard to read and … hard to put down.
As I track the chronology of the ongoing civil rights movement, I keep asking myself where was I and what was I doing in the 1960s. That was the period when John Lewis and others, in their early 20s, were feverishly fighting and risking their lives for human rights especially for people who are Black.
The life story of John Lewis is rooted in the Bible. Meacham wrote: “For a youngster of great imagination and quickening faith there could be no more moving saga than the biblical epic of fall and resurrection, of exile and deliverance.” From his youth Lewis felt there was no justification, no reason at all, for Blacks to be held captive by a racist culture. And, he spent his life trying to end the prejudice, the brutality, the slavery.
For some people the fear of being held captive, of suffering and dying, is countered with hope, resilience and a yearning for new life. Many believers find strength in the life story of the Nazarene Jesus, his promises and how he himself rose up from vanquishment. Today’s gospel (John 15:9-17) is comforting. Jesus said: “I no longer call you slaves but friends.” 
One commentary suggests that Jesus wanted to have a relationship with his followers that included honest communication and support, rather than tyrannical dictatorship. Jesus trusted that his disciples will carry on his mission (“if you keep my commandments”) in the same way he honored the vision of the creator God — truthfully, kindly, and without compromise.
In the Acts of the Apostles (10:34) Luke imagines that a mission to the Gentiles will result in social integration rooted in respect for the other. Peter appears to accept this task. He encouraged both Gentiles and Jews to associate with one another: “God shows no partiality” he said. This line underscores the constant message in the second testament that God judges no one.
This is why, in light of the Christian calling to work for justice, it is exasperating that so many people are still held captive in our country and around the world. Those who are oppressed are good people who keep God’s commandments and try to live honest, decent, faithful lives. The slavery they experience comes in many forms. Here are some examples. I am sure you can name other subjugations.
Teenage girls and boys controlled by a sex trafficking industry. Street people hooked on drugs. Americans trapped by the need to consume more goods than they need. Powerless families struggling in totalitarian countries. People stereotyped because of color, age, gender, religion, ethnicity.  Couples mired in abusive relationships. Children and adults subject to slave labor. Members of religious institutions disenfranchised by difficult doctrines. And, to the point of John Lewis’s story, people of color held captive by centuries old cultural chains that deprive them of civil liberties.
Something is wrong in this country when elected politicians use misinformation rather than truth to stay in power; when religious leaders rash judge the members of their own spiritual tribes; when citizens, normally helpful in emergencies, can be self-serving the rest of the time; when extremist groups claim that America was founded to be a powerful, wealthy White only country.
The rise in hate crimes  and other acts of insurrection is a wake-up call for us that this republic, founded on democratic principles and the value systems of diverse faith traditions, is about to be held captive by nativistic prejudices driven by lies, power, wealth, and greed. This is not the freedom from oppression that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died for. This is not what John Lewis and others worked for, risking their lives for equal rights in the United States.
In her study of the second testament, Jin Young Choi wrote that the evangelist John "invites us to see the life Jesus has given to the world in the midst of wounds, pains, and traumas.” We are the ones who are healers and comforters. We are the ones who can release afflicted and exploited and misjudged people from whatever and whoever holds them captive.
1. In some bibles you will find the word “servant” instead of “slave” but linguists agree that the Greek masculine noun δούλος is translated as “slave.”
2. The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) published this statement
3. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups has risen exponentially in the United States since the election in 2016.
Back to Blog
WHO ARE YOU?
Fifth Sunday of Easter B
Years ago I was part of an interfaith team that worked with Navy chaplains stationed around the world. Our primary task was to help them design, use, and evaluate worship services. In one of the exercises we asked them to tell us how they would describe themselves. Was their primary identification based on gender, occupation, vocation, rank, relationship, ethnicity, race, religion or something else?
In today’s gospel (John 15:4a, 5b) Jesus uses yet another metaphorical expression to describe himself — the true vine. It was the seventh figure of speech in this gospel that included: I am the bread of life, the resurrection and life, the light of the world, the sheep gate, the way, truth and life, and the good shepherd.
One wonders if the carpenter Jesus from Nazareth had a little trouble discerning his identity. Or, did he use so many illustrations to help his followers understand who he truly was and what he had to offer them?
Jesus’s reference to vines and branches is pertinent today. Often the passage is explained in ways that are quite demanding. If we do not identify with Jesus or follow his ways we will wither on the vine and be burned in a fire. But, if we bear good fruit we will flourish and be saved.
Once again, as with the good shepherd passage, this portrayal speaks of our relationships not only with Christ but with each other. Commentator Mary McGlone suggests that “By using the image of vine and branches, Jesus explains that we are an intimate, inextricable part of him and of one another.”
We are slowly coming to understand how closely connected we are to other inhabitants and plant life on this fragile planet. The spread of the Covid-19 virus is universal. Climate change has a worldwide impact. No country is isolated from the global economy. Conflicts within foreign nations affect every other nation.
How we identify ourselves as key players in the world will make a difference in our lives and those of our neighbors here and elsewhere. The international vineyard depends on how much we share the fruit each one of us produces in this land of abundance and liberty.
Who are we as a nation? There are different opinions about our identity. Are we an egalitarian republic that welcomes and supports racial, ethnic, and gender diversity? Are we a country defined by a caste system that divides us into racial and economic parcels? Is our national vineyard slowly shifting from being a democracy where all voices and votes matter toward a plutocracy dominated by a minority of the wealthiest citizens?
Who are we as a Catholic Church? The pastoral vision of the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council invited all faith traditions into spiritual solidarity and a liturgical and social action agenda for all to participate in. Are we a synod of laity and clergy working together to maintain an effective voice amidst changing religious, cultural and moral frameworks? Are some privileged patriarchs making solitary decisions that cause feelings of disenfranchisement among even the most faithful Catholic citizens?
The pandemic made us aware of how important our identity as a nation and a church is. We rallied together to care for one another. Parents, teachers, partners, health care providers and volunteers of all kinds stepped up in their respective roles to ease the pain caused by a relentless virus. The biblical text for today both affirms our efforts and challenges us to look more deeply at our identity as people of faith and how that affects our causes in the public sphere.
Theologian Gennifer Benjamin Brooks said the vine and branches narrative “speaks of interdependence rather than the independence and self-dependence so highly valued in these United States.” In this context a social safety net is necessary so that the fruits of our labor are distributed more equally.
The “new deal” set forth by government leaders on the national level aims to rescue those who are just barely clinging to the vine. The plan needs our endorsement. We realize that all of us belong to the same human sheepfold. We can identify with shepherds responsible for keeping the flock safe from all harm. Likewise, we are the vines where branches grow and flourish and are expected to yield good fruit.
Back to Blog
IT TAKES TIME
The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year B
I watched a movie last week called “Time.” It is a documentary about a Black mother of six children and her 20-year struggle to get her husband paroled. She calls herself an abolitionist fighting for prison reform. At her speaking engagements she argues: people of color receive harsher sentences than White people do.
“Time” as used in this film might mean doing time in prison, the time it takes to be granted parole, or losing time with your children while incarcerated. It takes time to change an unbalanced criminal justice system.
Christians are in the fourth week of Easter time, a grace filled period marking the raising of Jesus. It is presumably a mystical time untethered by chronology. There is no reason to keep the season unless you believe in the risen Jesus. Yet, day by day, we live in real time when we deal with palpable things that happen to us or are caused by us.
Jennifer M. McBride reminds us: “Christians participate in God’s movement in the world through concrete [my emphasis] acts of discipleship that anticipate Easter liberation and embody the good news of the promises of God.” This proactive Christian posture takes time to accomplish. Three recent examples:
The indictment of Derek Chauvin is a welcomed anomaly in terms of police convictions. But it will take much more time to end the racist structure that feeds mistrust and hate. It will take time to find sensitive ways to keep the peace in our communities without resorting to the use of lethal force in every situation.
Though progress has been made to reduce carbon footprints during this Earth Week, even with a White House pledge to “slash U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases in at least half by 2030,” it will take a long time before we find ways to erase our individual carbon footprints.
Vaccines are available to fight the COVID-19 virus but it will take time to reach herd immunity when we can feel safe about going to work, worship, school, and elsewhere without worrying about being infected with or transmitting the disease and its variants.
What does “time” have to do with the Good Shepherd, a nomenclature used by Jesus of Nazareth (before his crucifixion) to describe himself in today’s gospel (John 10:11-18)? The story is usually interpreted this way: Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. Jesus will take care of us if we follow his path. Even when we stray off course the shepherd will seek us out to protect and save us.
What if we understood this familiar meme to designate you and me as the shepherds, the leaders, who can help others find refuge, be free from harm, sickness, and plunder? Not all shepherds are good ones, of course. Some government guides, elected or not, are dictators undermining especially those living on the margins of society. Some clergy are patriarchal, dismissive of women and guilty of abusing the sheep. Some custodians of the peace are prejudicial in their judgements on our streets and in our courtrooms.
There is a need for more good shepherds. Theologian Gennifer Benjamin Brooks suggests that the good shepherd narrative invites us to a “clear understanding of the call to oneness in the name of Christ, and to address and welcome diversity in whatever form it is represented in the wider community.”
Whose stories do we listen to? What is the make-up of our congregations or the people we serve? What color? What gender? What age? The sheepfold in America is not homogeneous.
There is the saying that “time heals all wounds.” The woman in the documentary “Time” implied that that aphorism is ludicrous. There are simply too many open wounds in society that need healing. Time alone will not suffice.  People want justice now. Coming to closure on the divisions and struggles in Congress, in our streets, in our congregations, in our homes and places of work requires action now, not procrastination.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) for today is not to be overlooked. The story begins when the Sadducees imprisoned Peter and John because they healed a man who could not walk.
Eventually the high priests were impressed by the healing, the bold testimonies of the disciples, and the crowd of 5,000 who witnessed the miracle. Many centuries later our task is to pick up where Jesus and those early disciples left off, to give testimony to the healing presence of Christ in our midst.
Protests against the incongruities and corruption in our governments, our criminal justice system, our economy, our schools, our health care organizations will slowly diminish and eventually erode the fraudulence that exists in our societies.Time ran out for Jesus.
Time may not heal all wounds but, like the aspirations of the tenacious woman in the film, something can happen. A steadfast determination to offer healing to those suffering from divisions and disparities in society is our vocation. All it takes is some of our time.
1. This is not reference to those in long term treatments designed to help them return to a healthy life.