“BLESSED ARE THE MEEK WHO CALL OTHERS TO MEEKNESS.” A homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021

Biblical Readings may be found at Fifth Sunday of Lent | USCCB

There is a Young Adult Novel frequently assigned to Junior High School students in 7th and 8th grade throughout our country. We need to know what the new generation is reading and discussing, don’t you think?[1] Thankfully, this book is truly noteworthy: Mildred Taylor’s ROLL of THUNDER HEAR MY CRY, the 1979 Newberry Award winning novel about her African American family in Mississippi during the great depression.  What made me think of it?  The Gospel’s reference to “thunder:”

“Then a voice came from heaven — The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.”

Like Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus’ miracles, Taylor’s novel ROLL OF THUNDER reveals deep truths about family, friendship, prejudice, fear, and redemption.  In one episode, nine-year-old Cassie is repeatedly demeaned by a slightly older and far more privileged girl of European extractions, who treats her as if slavery were still in vogue. With threats and beatings, she forces Cassie to carry her books and run errands.  One day, Cassie decides to take on the role of servant with fervor—not only to stave off the slaps but as part of a more noble goal to bring this girl back down to earth.  In a sense, “blessed are the meek who call others to meekness.” And so, under the guise of a “change of heart,” Cassie eagerly volunteers to carrying the girl’s books without being asked.  Tenderly she combs the girl’s hair, straightens the girl’s wrinkled clothes as they take the path to their respective schools—one for blacks, one for whites. As a result, Cassie becomes the girl’s confidante, learning about her girlfriends – who is loyal, who is deceitful, who she really likes and really cannot stand, her crush on a certain boy, and about her less-than-ideal life at home, including her fears concerning her father.  Nevertheless, the girl’s arrogance and condescension did not abate. Having a confidante and a supportive companion was not enough for her to see the light of what true equality and true friendship was. Cassie had to put her original plan, “a great day of reckoning,” into action.

Fully armed with a treasure chest of knowledge of her adversary, and, with no one else in sight, Cassie pushes the girl to the ground, besmudging her smirks, soiling her selfish, self-satisfied soul.  When her victim threatens to tell the teacher and all her friends, Cassie counters with the knowledge she has gained about her adversary, her conceits, and fantasies, and offers a realistic prediction of all what lies in store for the girl should these confidences come to light.  Stunned into silence, the girl rises. With Cassie helping her, at last they stand together.  The girls get along royally after that.

Sometimes it takes a push, a shove, to get the attention of the ignorant, the blind.  The mighty must be overthrown and brought down to earth.  Jesus surrendered to the Cross to hold a mirror up to the world: SEE HOW YOU HARM YOURSELVES AND ONE ANOTHER!  SEE HOW YOU OFFEND GOD!  We need thunder to see ourselves and fellow human beings as God sees us: sinners in constant need of redemption.

Society today offers innumerable signs that transformation is in order.  Interestingly, John’s Gospel is known as THE BOOK OF SIGNS.  Seven signs have preceded the conversation quoted in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ fellow Jews had witnessed:

  1. Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 – “the first of the signs”
  2. Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
  3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15
  4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
  5. Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24
  6. Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7
  7. The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45

Yet, for all this, people preferred the ordinary to the extraordinary: the complacent to the dynamic; climbing, climbing, rising without the corrective dying and submission to deeper truths, beauty, integrity, charity, humility. So, of course, only some would believe in Jesus, although, interestingly, some outsiders, “Greeks,” came to believe not from what they themselves had seen, but from the faithful testimonies of Jewish witnesses.   Together, this assembly of believing Jews and Greeks began to transform the world in Christ’s Paschal Mystery. 

In John’s Gospel, “the ruler of this world” is Satan who builds walls amongst people, inflates egos and illusions so we think that “we are not like others,” and, worse, “better.” Often, we think we are “better” than others because we do not have the same set of problems others have. But, in truth, all problems are interrelated due to the principle of “cause and effect.” Jesus tears down walls, solidifies humanity through identification with suffering that invites investigation of what causes suffering. Saying that Jesus died because of our sins is far too simplistic.  The passion insists we follow Jesus into the grave to specify and innumerate the sins that cause death even unto this very day.  Dying with Jesus is what RAISES US UP!  As the Gospel says, God spoke in Jesus and through Jesus, announcing God is glorified through the SON and through all who follow Him.  His is the sound of thunder.

Today, we must ask, what kind of push do we need to see Jesus at work in us? To see Jesus in others?  To honor others as ourselves? When push comes to shove, we can return to the “safe haven” in which we take care of ourselves and let others suffer-as-they-will. Or we can follow the One who said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 

Jesus draws us to himself in this Eucharist, he draws us into compassion through broken bread tied to that same broken body we ponder on every Crucifix. He continually reminds us that he took on human suffering so that we would not isolate ourselves from other people’s sufferings, nor fail to address the roots, the causes of their fears, the deprivations, the indignities inflicted upon them.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”   Jesus literally allowed himself to be buried to show the transforming power of dying and rising.  To what “OLD ways,” must we die for Jesus to awaken us to something new?  MOREOVER, “Who are the people in our lives we need to invite into the Paschal Mystery?”  Are we content to be the ones who strive to transform the world OR do we want company?  Who among our friends and relatives need to be “brought down to earth?”  Who needs to consider Jesus? Who needs to know dying and rising as the only way not only to enter eternal life but to have experiences of heaven on earth?  Elsewhere Jesus said, “be cunning as serpents and gentle as doves.” Some people will respond to a simple invitation; others need a push. Jesus is like that little girl Cassie pushing us down to earth, so we approach every aspect of life rooted in our common humanity and dependence on God’s Holy Spirit. ROLL of THUNDER HEAR OUR CRY!


[1] Take a look at what is recommended reading for 7th Graders these days: 7th Grade Reading List Books | Goodreads   Many of these books were assigned to me in high school! 

IS THIS HOW GOD LOVES US?

A Reflection on a Lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s musical play PASSION


I re-watched a DVDI have of Stephen Sondheim’s PASSION. In the play, a man who has run away from a woman’s obsessive love finally surrenders to it. Georgio addresses Fosca with these lyrics by Sondheim. I’ve been thinking we could almost say the same thing to GOD.

Here’s the lyric:


“No one has truly loved me

As you have . . .

Love without reason,

Love without mercy,

Love without pride or shame.

Love unconcerned

With being returned —

No wisdom, no judgement,

No caution, no blame.

No one has ever known me

As clearly as you.

No one has ever shown me

What love could be like until now.

Not pretty or safe or easy.

But more than I ever knew.

Love within reason –that isn’t love.

And I’ve learned that from you. . . “

The Way of Christ toward Friend and Foreigner

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A Highlighting Exodus and Matthew (All Readings featured at the conclusion of the homily)

At the invitation of the Paulist Father’s National Office on Ecumenical and Multi—Faith Relations I have recently become a Board Member for RELIGIONS FOR PEACE, (RFP) USA with its offices here at the United Nations.

This week RFP conducted an online symposium on Immigration and Refugees that was provocative and inspiring.  Is it Providence or coincidence that having participated in the 5-session symposium this week, I found that our Reading from the Book of EXODUS explicitly addresses how we are to treat foreigners in our midst?  You tell me!   But let me tell you, how often I heard representatives of different faith repeat in their own words, from their own faith traditions, words so closely aligned to those of Jesus we heard today “Love of God and Neighbor as ourselves.”  These two commandments are the constants meant to be observed in every Christian’s life.  Still, the purpose for which God bestowed these laws upon us has yet to be fulfilled because along with grace, sin is always in evidence.

Yet, we have come to mass to be humbled—have we not?  We have come to be grateful for charity, generosity.  Indeed, the largess of the human heart continues to pervade our world. Grateful that, wherever we are on our faith journey, whatever our attitudes toward foreigners, immigrants, or any people unlike ourselves may be, God gives us yet another chance for conversion, for transformation, for renewed commitment to the Great Commandments.

I would like to share a story told by Rev. Bill Jenkins, of Christ Ministry Center in San Diego and his alliance with the United Methodist Refugee Assistance Program– a wonderful sign of HOPE for us all: In 2009, a great and terrible Earthquake devasted Haiti. With lives lost, and so many homeless with no signs of constructive reconstruction, all seemed hopeless. Yet through Providence or because of sheer mercenary considerations, Representatives of Brazil’s government travelled to Haiti.  They recruited some 46,000 Haitians to work in Brazil, to prepare for and maintain the 2016 Summer Olympics.

When the Olympics were over, however, the Brazilian economy collapsed, the Brazilian president impeached, and the Haitians who had made their homes there, with babies who were born there, were ordered to leave. Meanwhile, the living situations in Haiti went from bad to worse. Thousands had no reason or justification to return home.  So, the Brazilian Haitians began a march through that country– some by foot, some with carts, and on through Central America to find homes elsewhere. Crossing 11 borders, they were mistreated by each successive country: spat upon, ridiculed, and bullied; women were raped, men were killed.  Despite this, many found ways to remain in one Latin American country after another as day laborers and harvesters.

 It came to pass that 600 Haitian men, women and children made it to Tijuana, Mexico to apply to the US Immigration Court in San Diego.  There, their passports were stamped, and they were told to return in four months’ time for their individual court hearings. Not welcomed back into Tijuana, and not understanding English or Spanish (native language is French and Creole), they kept themselves in small groups and slept in San Diego’s streets and outdoor malls awaiting their turn.   

Now it so happened that there was already a small contingency of Haitians in Rev. Bill Jenkins’ San Diego Methodist Church. When they heard of their fellow countrymen’s plight on the streets, the Haitian church members drove through their city to find them.  Over the course of a few days, the Methodists found all 600, offering them food and shelter in their (fortunately large) church, with space enough for all to sleep in the pews at night. News of the Methodist’s hospitality spread and in five months, 5,000 Haitians came through the Center–not at all at once, of course, but as many as could be assisted at one time as they awaited their Court appearances. Other organizations stepped in to help, although, initially, no one was able to provide decent temporary homes or apartments.  Instead, more church pews and basements were opened for nightly shelter.

         Today San Diego Churches and other organizations have expanded their refugee ministries to include a network of temporary housing– all because of the Haitians’ stories and the witness of the Methodist Church. The biblical mandate from the Book of Exodus was and continues to be fulfilled by people of faith there. And here’s a touching footnote:  five years ago, when all this began, Rev. Bill Jenkins and his wife, at the age of 68, took in an 8-month-old boy separated from his mother somewhere between Tijuana and Sand Diego.  He is now their adopted son, Harry, and recently Harry’s birth mother was able to locate them and now all three adults are raising Harry together.

Beyond the San Diego story, there are legions of stories of compassion from the efforts of our very own Catholic Relief Services, local Catholic Charities in here in New York and in cities throughout our nation and the world.  The number of agencies for immigrants and refugees are legion.  There’s Amnesty International, World Vision USA, Jesuit Refugee Services, and dozens of other faith and secular based asylum initiatives.   I got a taste of some of these this week, but all of them repeatedly impressed upon me this truth: Most immigrants don’t flee their countries of origin because they desire “a better life,” most flee in fear because they just want to be able to LIVE!   

I’m not taking up a collection today for Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities but I think that it is important to remind us that as the governments of the world continue to argue as to what can be done, what can’t be done, what won’t be done for the neglected, the weary, the poor of this world, by the grace of God, people of many different faiths are upholding the Golden Rule.  We may take heart today that Good News is a reality and will continue to be a reality because of us, good people of faith.

So, now you have heard the Scriptures and one example of how FAITH COMES ALIVE! As we approach the altar to receive Jesus Christ again, may this Eucharist inspire us to persevere in making the Good News a living reality. I will close with this passage from the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4:  

Book of Wisdom Chapter 4

My child, do not mock the life of the poor;
    do not keep needy eyes[a] waiting.
Do not grieve the hungry,
    nor anger the needy.
Do not aggravate a heart already angry,
    nor delay giving to the needy.
A beggar’s request do not reject;
    do not turn your face away from the poor.
From the needy do not turn your eyes;
    do not give them reason to curse you.
If in their pain they cry out bitterly,
    their Rock, (our God) will hear the sound of their cry.

THE SCRIPTURE READINGS

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1: EX 22:20-26

Thus, says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. 
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. 
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry. 
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him
by demanding interest from him. 
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. 
What else has he to sleep in?
If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”
 

Responsorial Psalm

PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

R. (2) I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
The LORD lives and blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.

Reading 2: 1 THES 1:5C-10

Brothers and sisters:
You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. 
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,
receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit,
so that you became a model for all the believers
in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth
not only in Macedonia and in Achaia,
but in every place your faith in God has gone forth,
so that we have no need to say anything. 
For they themselves openly declare about us
what sort of reception we had among you,
and how you turned to God from idols
to serve the living and true God
and to await his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

Alleluia

JN 14:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord,
and my Father will love him, and we will come to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: MT 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Exploring Feelings of Oppression

Commentary and Questions Prepared for you by FR. James DiLuzio CSP

Reflecting on Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 1, vs 5 through 25, I invite you to identify with the way they and those hearing or reading Luke’s Gospel were experiencing oppressions.

  • Oppressed as a childless couple, stigmatized in an ancient culture
  • Oppressed as a people conquered by the Roman Empire and formerly oppressed by other empires
  • Oppressed by not having citizenship, deprived of all the rights and liberties thereof
  • Oppressed by fear their religious traditions will be compromised by Rome’s official religions and/or that the religious freedom they enjoyed could be taken away

To feel oppressed is to feel “put upon,” to be denied a say in what impacts you.  It can mean feeling taken for granted in ways that evoke a sense of helplessness and loss of basic human dignity.  It can mean living in fear, under the threat of violence, imprisonment or death. One may be oppressed by the economy, social mores, unjust laws, or oppressed by people in authority—an unreasonable boss, an overbearing teacher or team leader—or even feel oppressed, taken for granted, by family members and friends.   Knowing as we do that marriage in today’s Church and in modern societies is understood as a true partnership of equals—male and female, still, how often we hear one spouse say to another, “Why is it we always have to do things YOUR way . . . DEAR?”  So now, focus your group on these three questions.

1.  What do you imagine it would be like to live in an occupied country, or to live in your own country with lack of citizenship? Explain.

2. In what ways might you feel “oppressed” in your current life situation?”  

3.  What may be some of the most productive ways you and others can address your feelings of oppression?  Some resources such as “Non-Violent Communication Skills” are featured on the web.  You’ll find some suggestions in the footnote below.[1]

4. Does naming your personal oppressions enhance or detract from your ability to enter into this part of the Gospel and other stories like it?  Please explain.

5. Does naming your personal oppressions enhance or detract from your ability to empathize with other oppressed people?

6. Explore the topic of Religious Freedom.  How important is “religious freedom” to you?  What about religious expression?  For example, what is your opinion regarding displaying personal, religious symbols in public? And, what feelings are evoked within you as you discuss this topic? It would be best to start with how you “feel,” before you go into the topic.

7. To what extent is a person entitled to freedom of religious expression in the workplace?  What is your opinion? What ethical principle grounds your opinion? For example, you could say, “The Golden Rule,” or “The Platinum Rule,” or “The US Bill of Rights.” Or perhaps you ground your opinion in a political philosophy, or a passage from the Bible, whether it is TANAKH (the formal name for the Jewish Bible) or the Christian Bible, Koran, other religious source, or, perhaps, some combination thereof.

Would you like a PDF copy of these Questions to print out for Small Groups or Personal Reflection? Write to jamesdiluzio@hotmail.com I’ll be happy to send it to you God bless!


[1] http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/aboutnvc/4partprocess.htm

https://www.cnvc.org/Training/10-steps-peace                

http://www.theccnv.org/

https://www.wikihow.com/Practice-Nonviolent-Communication

A Method of Response to Scripture -A New Lectio-Divina for Groups or Private Spiritual Reflection

Created by Paulist Father James M. DiLuzio from LUKE LIVE! See http://www.Lukelive.com

1.Observe a moment of Silence.  Collect your feeling responses to the passage.  For example, you may feel peaceful, sad, intrigued or uneasy.  If you need help identifying your feelings, CONSULT the FEELING BELOW.  Place no judgment on your feelings.  Simply let yourself “be.”

2. Have each participant in your group share (or write in your personal journal) one or more genuine Feeling words. (NO insights or discussion at this juncture.)[1]  Afterwards—after each person has shared a feeling word or two– observe another moment of silence.

3. What aspects of your own life do you associate with the biblical story and the feelings that it evoked?  After you clarify that for yourself, invite each person in your group to share his / her associations.

4. After you share your associations, you are now ready to ask “What does this scripture passage mean to you?” OR “What do you think it is supposed to mean, if anything?”

5. What insights or questions about the passage have not yet been addressed?  Invite everyone to offer their thoughts or questions.  (NOTE: Some questions may be answered in my Commentary Segments in this or the subsequent Luke Live! Session on YOUTUBE.)

6. What stories or events in other faith traditions, literature or world events are similar or in contrast to this segment of Luke’s Gospel? Discuss. Conclude by emphasizing the similarities.

7. Is there a song that comes to mind after engaging in the segment or from your meditation or discussion?  Do the thoughts or feeling evoked in the song match or oppose something in the Scripture?  Reflect / Journal / Discuss.

8. Is there something from the passage or the discussion you can incorporate into your daily life right now?  Has the passage inspired a new or renewed goal?  OR do you need to continue to think, pray,  process, or wrestle with all that you’ve heard and the feelings evoked?  Each person should follow up as needed.

Would you like a PDF copy of these Questions to print out for Small Groups or Personal Reflection? Write to jamesdiluzio@hotmail.com I’ll be happy to send it to you God bless!


[1] To gauge whether you are claiming a “feeling” in opposed to “a thought,” place your word or words in the phrase “I think” instead of “I feel.”   If your word make sense in this context, it is not a genuine “feeling” word. For example, your initial response to a passage may be “I feel this is nonsense.”  You actually are making a judgment, not expressing a feeling because your word (“nonsense”) makes more sense in the phrase “I think this is nonsense.” The appropriate “feeling’ words in this instance could be “uncomfortable,” “alienated,” “put off.”  In that case, try to translate the religious language or context of the scripture in secular terms or find a secular equivalent and share that with your group.  For example, “Miracles” becomes “Unexplainable coincidences.” Then share how you feel about “unexplainable coincidences” with words such as “grateful,” “puzzled,” “dismayed,” etc.

Feelings Vocabulary Chart

Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 12 January 2020

Here’s the Scripture Readings:

Reading 1 IS 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smouldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10

R/ (11b)  The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Reading 2 ACTS 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Alleluia  MK 9:7

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened, and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel   MT 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfil all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

We’re leaving a Season of Symbols – Evergreens representing God’s eternal, undying love will be grounded into mulch or used to stabilize sand dunes in beach communities; twinkling lights that witness to Christ as the light of the world withdrawn to attics and corner closets; candles, the burning fire of the Holy Spirit– snuffed out. Poinsettias–plants with striking red leaves branching out in star-like fashion akin to the Star of Bethlehem—perhaps lingering longer in homes and churches than the other signs, might provide us with a remnant of  Christmas Spirit to carry us through the mischief of March and the coming of Lent.  Oh, Lent!  Those perennial forty days that annually insist we repent for not keeping Jesus close, not letting Jesus guide us in all aspects of our lives, asking, “Why is your manger vacant?”

Yes, the Christmas Season concludes this weekend, but not without offering one more Christian symbol, this one perpetual and unchanging: Baptismal water. The Baptism of the Lord is the fourth and final of the “First, Initial Epiphanies” of Jesus’ manifestation to the world.  First: His birth set before lowly shepherds and innocent of animals. Second:  his presentation in the temple to people of faith—Simeon and Anna who lived, longed for rejuvenation, “new hope” in “God. The third Epiphany: Magi, models of the world’s Wisdom figures seeking eternal truths worshiping Jesus. The Magi—representatives of all discontented Gentiles drawn to Judaism’s God—THE GOD who created the cosmos not through the riotous and ravenous warfare as in most pagan world’s religion or atheism’s accusations through some cruel and indifferent power, but out of infinite, all-consuming love.  The fourth “First” is Jesus’ Baptism through which the Christ inaugurated his public ministry.   

That Jesus submitted to Baptism is but an extension of his submission to human nature.  So deeply united to humankind, Jesus identifies fully even with human sin, though He Himself was completely innocent and without sin.  Through Baptism, Jesus attested to the power sin holds over humanity while offering a way out–a remedy to sin’s oppression. And what are these “sins,” rooted in the primordial evil pulling humankind away from God?  Nothing more or less than the world’s compulsion to advance at the expense of others; arrogance and pride that denigrates the weak and the lowly; hate and prejudice leading to violence and murder, sacrificing others—often innocent others—to manifest human will against God’s will.  Jesus enters the waters to show that  in the words of the prophet Hosea, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice,”  i.e., mercy toward the guilty and innocent alike for only mercy, only compassion will establish the reign of Peace that is God’s justice, not human justice. Remember when all humanity’s sins were exposed on the Cross, Jesus offered mercy.

Through Baptism Jesus offered the fullness of God’s mercy to the nations. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, Jesus is “the Chosen One,” in complete possession of God’s spirt – a spirit that does not demean or diminish anyone.  That is the meaning of Isaiah’s words “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smouldering wick he shall not quench”  In modern parlance, Jesus would never kick a dog when its down, or prey upon the weak to make Himself powerful or give himself advantage.  Through Baptism He invites us to trust in compassion as God’s reality–THE Christian reality– and to participate in it.  It’s time we face it: most of the worlds’ history is a story of the powerful sacrificing the weak – be they children or women or people with darker skins or people who don’t fit any consensus of attractiveness or conventional wisdom.  It’s time we repent.  We must re-appropriate our Baptismal charism and start over.  This is the great challenge of the 21st century.  It’s now or never.    

And it is our Baptism that give us hope, assuring us God’s mercy is forever.  Baptism invites us to be courageous and humble.  Let God’s will, not our will, win out–not populism, nationalism, racism, ethnocentrism, antisemitism or any other “ism.”  God puts people first. God puts Mercy first. It’s time we are shocked into Baptism’s deeper reality and submit to it.  This is how the fullness of the Christmas Story will brace us to face the new year. 

Whether it’s the teacher unkind or cruel to a student, a manager demeaning his crew, a spouse impatient and unfeeling, a politician snidely dismissing one ethnic group or another, world leaders out for themselves and their constituencies with no consideration for their neighbours, businesses with no concerns for their impact on local communities, Church leaders who protect themselves against the innocent and  the poor–ONLY REPENTANCE AND SURRENDER T0 GOD’S MERCY WILL TRANSFORM MINDS, HEARTS, NEIGHBOURHOODS AND NATIONS.

Follow Jesus through the water of life again and again, a life force perpetuated for us through frequent Eucharist and, when needed, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, offer us the grace to let go of our resentments, humble ourselves to offer mutual repentance for society’s sins and invite reciprocal learning and shared responsibility.  Of course, we must hold people accountable for their sins yet not without supporting them in mending their ways, helping them accept the consequences of their actions, remedying the situations together without blame, malice or rancour. Why?  Because no wrongdoing emerges from a vacuum but rather erupts from a convergence of many personalities and many situations left un-mended, unattended to or outright ignored.  That is why we needed a Saviour and still need one.

The more we participate in mercy –putting ourselves in the place of others, walking in their shoes, patiently working towards understanding and exploring choices of genuine mutual benefit and sacrifice (for all live by God’s mercy)—the more true Christianity becomes a viable way of life for the world’s consideration.  

The Gospel insists that Jesus fulfilled this righteousness (right way to live/ God’s way to live), inaugurating it through His Baptism because only Mercy empower us to start our lives over, beyond guilt, remorse, regret, revenge to live in the present moment with hope.  Baptism and our Sacramental life provide us with the grace we need to let God’s will work through us to make a better present, a better future. Yes, the Christmas lights have dimmed, but remember Jesus has made you light for the world. Think of that each time you dip your fingers into the Holy Water fonts—for that water is the water of our Baptism, the water of fullness of life and peace and joy, the true Spirit of Christmas.

Re; HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM – a book by NYTIMES Staff Writer Bari Weiss

As a Catholic priest committed to fighting anti-semitism, I attended Bari Weiss’ NY Times Talk on Thursday evening, Sept. 5, promoting her book (2019, New York: Crown) which I just finished. There’s also a NYTIMES magazine piece 9/8.  I think this very short book (206 of 7” x 4 ½ “pages) is best in its definition of Anti-semitism and its overview of its history (the “HOW TO segment is shorter and addressed primarily to the Jewish community itself),  I want to share some of Bari Weiss’insights (and mine–IN PARENTHESIS) with you:

  • Judaism is not only a religion, it is an ethnicity, a people and a nation.  Not acknowledging all three opens critics to contributing to antisemitism .
  • Anti-Semitism comprises a goal of eliminating Judaism and the Jewish people.  (In that sense, I believe Christian supersessionism is Anti-Semitic)
  • Anti-Semitism includes superstitions, lies and falsehoods about Jews and Judaism’s but can include misunderstandings that are not fact checked.  There is also a strong illogic– Jews and Judaism are blamed for whatever! –with no basis on reality. E.g., ” controlling the planet, controlling banks/ Wall Street/ education / Hollywood/ government policy / responsible for the spread of communism/ engineering wars for profit.”
  • (Anti-semitism is in evidence whenever inquiry into the standard ” who, what, when, where, how?” questions go unanswered.)
  • Anti-Semitism includes Denial of, and/or refutation of, the distinct ethic, moral, faith, social and literary contributions of the Hebrew Bible and the major contribution of Jews to Western Civilization. 
  • The FAR-LEFT ideologies contribute to Anti-Semitism:
  • “The Politically Correct”  dynamic makes adherents  of left-leaning ideas disproportionately fearful of offending Islam (Islamophobia), thus they downplay the acts and rhetoric of  Radical Fundamentalist Islam ignoring its extreme hatred of Jews.
  • There is  disproportionate blame and outright scapegoating of Israel as a nation that is essentially anti-semitism.  In contrast, holding American and Israel to their highest ideals and constitutional directives is not Anti-Semitism. E.g., one may fairly state that “the current policies of the Jewish state betray Jewish (and American constitutional) values.

The FAR-RIGHT: White Supremacy ideology forms hatred of Jews because of its biblical ethics, sensitivities to immigrants, minorities; hated for its internationalist character. It is threatened by Jewish civilization

HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMTISM:

Weiss offers this:

  • Follow Abraham’s example: refuse to worship false idols (incl. lies, biased reporting) and nurture courage to keep out-of-step with the status quo;  risk acting on behalf of deeper, biblical values; don’t be afraid to stand alone, even while cultivating community within and beyond Judaism
  • Remind people that the American values of liberty, freedom of thought and worship, the notion that all people are created equal—are Jewish values coded in Genesis 1 and throughout the Hebrew Bible.  So, too, the very notions of Hope and a present that nurtures a more positive future for humanity are specific Jewish contributions to Western Civilization. 

I offer this:

  • Hold all comments made in conversation about “The Jews” (or any group) to the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How” standard
  • A foundational aspect of the Bible’s inspiration is the way the Jewish community writes of its great accomplishments and its failures, often with more accounts of the failures and the sufferings it endures.  All peoples would do well to do the same, holding accomplishments –positive contributions to wisdom, world values and cultures while remaining humble of all the failures.  I think one aspect of antisemitism is that others are not secure about their own ethnicity, heritage, strengths and failures and so let themselves become envious and resentful of the Jewish identity and its outstanding contributions.  More HUMBLE pride all around could help!

See: See:  https://www.bariweiss.com/                                           Twitter:  @bariweiss

See: https://forward.com/culture/books/431220/bari-weiss-anti-semitism-how-to-fight-review/

Keeping Us God-centered – a Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reading 1:IS 66:10-14C Responsorial Psalm   PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 Reading 2  GAL 6:14-18 Gospel   LK 10:1-12, 17-20 

Jesus said Satan was being conquered by the Gospel. How did that happen then?  How does it happen now?  Are we still applying the Gospel to advance the good and limit if not eradicate the bad by the grace of God?

There are many ways to live and many different foundations of faith to stand on.  Christianity and Judaism are rooted in worship (which teaches us humility, reverence and awe in God’s presence). Faith assures us that God willingly shares a divine spark and spirit with every member of the human race.  Faith invites us to see each other differently than  the world views us—i.e., as consumers, numbers, quota or constituencies.  

With many abandoning organized religions these days, the most popular “alternate religion” is humanism, which, although it denies God and the need for worship, continues to reverence the human being. As it abandons the Jewish and Christian belief in the Divine Spark, the soul in every person, humanism maintains the importance of people as individuals.  It champions “free will” not as a God-given right but a right, nonetheless.  It values “liberty” while softening its tendency to selfishness by borrowing the biblical ideal of unity among peoples for the common good. 

Yes, Humanism promotes tolerance and good will, respect for differences but without the profound Eucharistic dimensions of true acceptance.  Humanism has difficulty with Jesus’ insistence on forgiveness and reconciliation rooted in the Jewish Covenant.  Humanism promotes a vision of the future in which everyone gets along but that lacks the profundity of the Biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth guided by cooperation with a loving God.  

Why are these distinctions important?  Because without God there is no true humanity.  Without God there is no true humility;  no deference to a wisdom and  love greater than our own.  Humility rooted in submission to God acknowledges human weakness, limitations, tendency to selfishness –what we call “sin”—without which we see ourselves as little gods, tribal leaders, kings and queens  or their modern counterparts, presidents and prime ministers of our own design. The Bible does say, at times,  “You have made us little less than a God,” but the emphasis is on “less than.” 

 In contrast, humanism trusts not in the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit but in a trinity of its own inventions—commerce, science and technology.  It is time we realize that, more and more,  humanism surrenders human dignity to these newly created gods making “Progress” the greatest good.  If not kept in check, progress will advance at the expense of all religions and even humanist values.  

Saint Paul insisted on humility as a faith foundation, an essential ingredient in true goodness when he wrote: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Covenant with Israel insisted “”Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,  sing praise to your name!”

And Jesus saw evil being conquered through the efforts of 72 disciples (both Jews and Gentiles at this juncture) participating in His Gift of the Holy Spirit when he said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. … Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,  but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  i.e. God is at work through you.  That is the faith that will bring you to eternal life.  Life is not about us, but God in all.  We view ourselves as “masters of the universe” at great peril.

Jesus’ commandments to the 72 disciples emphasized God, not humanism, not commerce, nor science.  Jesus sent the 72 abroad to experience God through deference to the kindness of strangers, requiring disciples to see every individual and family as members of God’s family.  Jesus’s instructed them to “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals”  Why?  He did not want them to find their confidence in material things but in the Spirit alive in them.  Jesus said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” Notice the “payment” is not gold or riches or social advancement but a sustaining meal; meals in which people truly listen to one another, attend to each one’s feelings and share questions that evoke conversation of values, of faith, of rights and wrongs.  And, since no one is always “right,” but all are sometimes wrong, with forgiveness and hope.   Today’s counterpart to the 72’s experience would be meals without cell phones and private texts, meals without tv, computers or other distractions, meals where monetary concerns are put aside.

Today’s Scriptures offer lessons that teach us how to engage in the modern age.  We must be consistent in posing critical questions to our neighbors, employers, politicians, doctors and heads of corporations and technological conglomerates:

“Who will benefit from these business decisions, from these economic standards, these political views and who will be left out? Will these new technologies advance the health and wellbeing of all or a select few?  Who may be harmed by these decisions and advances?  Do we want to repeat the sins of the past or learn from them instead?

Commerce, science and technology offer amazing possibilities but without God, without you and me and other people of faith, they have no motivation to value a common humanity over a privileged humanity;  no value system to nurture mother earth for the common good.  Instead they will nurture advancement for its own sake, over and above everything and everyone.

Building on the Jewish prophets, Jesus has empowered us to keep commerce, science and technology in check. We must align ourselves with the 72 disciples as we approach the Eucharistic table today.  We must ask the Lord to strengthen our faith -filled convictions, to expand our reverence for God, for all God’s people and God’s good earth.  If  we do not leave this church today with that kind of reverence, what will become of our world? To which Trinity will we have allegiance?  Whose people will we truly be?

Mini-Movie Review: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is an animated morality tale about the blessings and challenges of friendship.  With typical top-notch Disney animation, the script offers remarkable character development of its two protagonists from the first Wreck It Ralph film.  As before, Ralph and Vanellope are expertly voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman.  Each vocal performance conveys outstanding character chemistry. There’s also a wonderful surprise in a character with the warmth, beauty and sophistication of none other than the outstanding Gail Gadot (Wonder Woman) although her character’s initial appearance indicates a person of an almost villainous persona. Bits of wisdom abound throughout the movie as Ralph and Vanellope explore the benefits and burdens of the Internet and aspects of their relationship to it and one another.   Younger viewers may get a bit impatient as the plot takes its time to unfold, but there’s lots of eye-popping visuals to encourage perseverance. Still, I’d recommend it to ages nine and up.
Theologically, I found myself meditating on God’s complete non-manipulative, unconditional, genuine love. Because of this, God bestowed the Divine Gift of Free Will upon humankind. Although this truth engages us in the problem of evil in the world, more importantly, it inspires awe in the blessed assurance that God’s love for us insists that love is freely chosen. God’s love remains constant whatever we choose–guiding us to return to the most generous state of loving that only wants the best for others.Each time we may be tempted to control or manipulate a loved one we do well to remember that Imitation of God is our greatest calling.

 

A fine family film.

Know the Past to Improve the Future: Knowing Jesus

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  Lectionary: 101

Reading 1 Ez 2:2-5  Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.  But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD!  And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house— they shall know that a prophet has been among them.they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 123:1-2, 2, 3-4   Our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud.

Reading 2       2 COR 12:7-10  :     for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel  MK 6:1-6   Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”  So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Two men rummaged through the remains of their deceased Uncle’s estate.  They happened upon a stack of canvas paintings, unframed, piled high in a corner.

“What a waste of money, buying all this junk” said the older brother to the younger. “He was a foolish man.”

“You didn’t know him as I knew him,” said the younger.  “He enjoyed supporting the locals, the shops that were on the verge of closing. Maybe some of these are worth something. I’m going to have them appraised.”

His brother retorted: “Don’t waste your time or your money. Not much of an inheritance. That’s all I can say,”

In time, the paintings were appraised.  Alas, all worthless, except for one. It brought a great price.

“Here’s your share,” said the younger to the older.

“It’s yours,” said the other. “I didn’t want any part of it.”

“If you knew him, you would know he wanted us both to have something from him. He was a very generous fellow.  Take it.”

He does.

The crowd in Jesus’ home town didn’t really know him.  They couldn’t have. Evidently, they didn’t take the time to know his story – Angels at his birth, light and revelations at his Baptism, conflict with religious authorities through which he stood his ground and healings that occurred through him in Capernaum and other villages south of the lake.

What’s more, they didn’t know their own stories very well.  Not necessarily their personal stories, but their collective stories; stories from the Torah and the prophets:  Remembrances of things past meant to inform the present.  Why were these stories recorded on scrolls if not for edification, for learning, for hope?  Inspiration and Wisdom to be gleaned from reviewing the conflicts among the great patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings; Passovers of deliverance on more occasions than one; battles between good and evil within human hearts as much as among and between rival tribes and nations. They must not have personalized their own biblical and national histories, otherwise those stories of arrogance and humility, greed and generosity would have kept them constantly aware of the human condition ever in need redemption.

Ignorant or forgetful they were—probably  some combination of both—the people who dismissed Jesus. They reduced him to his contemporary family links. No one special. No one unique.  Didn’t they realize that negating Jesus’ uniqueness they were denying themselves of their own uniqueness, and their universal needs? How foolish they were.

How foolish are we!  It is essential that we  be mindful of our pasts if we are to live fully in the present.  I’m not speaking only of our personal pasts–our families’ pasts, but that of our nation and our biblical heritage as well.  These are the realities that impact our minds and hearts consciously and subconsciously every day; they are the realities that bring our need for Jesus and His communion of disciples—those on earth and in heaven—working together in prayer and action to  navigate the rights and wrongs, the truths, the lies, the generosity, the self-serving aspects of human nature and society in every generation, in every age.

The Good News is whether we know Jesus or not, whether we claim our identity and our heritage as His Disciples or not, His love and Wisdom is for everyone.  And, on wider circles, the same is true for God the Father as the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures reveal God – generous, kind and forgiving to all including the ungrateful, the clueless and the wicked.

Let’s face it, even we who know, we who follow Jesus and seek communion with him, exploring, discerning, illuminating Christ’s Spirit in ourselves and others, yes, even we could be more knowledgeable of Biblical, Church History and that of our nations.  All offer innumerable examples of virtues that triumphed, goodness that failed;  hospitality and selfishness, of peace and violence, the ever-constant approach / avoidance of God we all experience – a treasure chest of knowledge with great potential for Wisdom for today.

Come to the Eucharist today with a greater willingness to wrestle with our past—the failings of Saints and Nations as much as their successes. Gauge them alone and with others as to the degrees of our ancestors’ cooperation with God, with 10 Commandments, the extent of their  identification with Jesus and the Spirit.

Confident that Memory is one of God’s most vital gifts to humanity for Growth and Wisdom, may today’s mass motivate us to keep learning from our mistakes, acknowledging our ignorance, inspire us to know more who of we are, who we’ve been and what the signs of our times call us to be.  Pope Francis has written encyclicals that urge us to attend to care for the Environment and our relationship with the animal world (Laudato Si), to re-evaluate the way business and commerce commence (part of Lumen Fidei—light of faith—an encyclical that insists we engage the world not just our individual souls).  And let us not forget the 1986 US Bishops “Economic Justice for All” – so much of the wisdom and compassion of that document has yet to reconcile our culture to the values of Faith. Nor should we forget the warnings of Pope Saint John Paul II on that same topic: Centesimus Annus – on Capital, Labor and Catholic Social Teaching.

May we trust Christ’s indwelling in us will strengthen us to name the sins of the past, undo the damage done that continues to threaten the land, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the relationships among nations and within and among peoples. May faith, hope and love be strengthened in us through today’s sacrament, moving this entire generation of Christians forward –ever-ready, ever-willing to access every possible opportunity for GRACE, knowing that Christ Jesus and his truth make him not just yesterday’s Savior, but Our Savior for today, tomorrow and always.