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.”

“Right” vs “Rights”

Here’s something for the Guns and Mental Health debates:

What’s really at issue: In essence, the ideal of right (what is true, good, and mutually beneficial for all and not a few, I.e. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS) has ceded to the ideal of rights (there’s a law that says I can do this, so I can and I will. The impact on others is of no concern for me. ). Big Difference.

Consider reading this article for more in-depth exploration of this distinction:

ASH WEDNESDAY

by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 

 

Ash Wednesday is the second most popular church day throughout the year–second only to Christmas. “Why?”   Because this day, these rituals expose what everyone knows yet tries to avoid or pretends to forget: Death is inevitable.  Death comes for all — no matter our faith, our politics, our ethnicity or culture. Death reminds us of our common humanity.

 

Ultimately, acknowledging DEATH is the FREEDOM to put our lives, our worries, our anxieties, our prejudices, our fears into proper perspective. To live our lives well, with dignity, morality and charity, we need to be reminded of DEATH. Yes, we need to be conscious of DEATH to be more fully alive.

 

In its opposition to LIFE, to joyful existence, to loving fully, SIN is also death. It is as universally ubiquitous as death — no matter our faith, our politics, our ethnicity or culture, SIN is in evidence. And thus, SIN ALSO reminds us of our common humanity.

 

Acknowledging SIN is also freedom.  When we admit, we are wrong we free ourselves from pride, from having to make excuses, from pretending we’re perfect when we know we are not. Sin exposes our delusions that we are above and beyond the common folk, that we are somehow superior specimens in contrast took our competitors, our classmates, our friends—or, dare we acknowledge, the many ways we may be better than some of our family members. Yes, sin makes evident we are more like everybody else – a truth we don’t often like to admit.

 

Yet, we know that Confessing our sins Is Freedom. The truth we all are sinners frees us from oppressive guilts and insecurities that chip away at our self-esteem– no matter the pride or false bravado we project to others. Identifying our sins frees us from the burdens of hypocrisies, and offers HOPE for change, for growth, for transformation.  Blessed are the meek and humble, indeed, for when we get honest, we get humble and it is humility that strengthens our belief in the God of Jesus Christ, that His Holy Spirit is within us and present and at work in our world.

 

That is the reason we arrived here today.  Drawn to the Church, to renew our commitment to Catholic Christianity in part for the ways it acknowledges the power of signs and symbols.  So, we put ashes on our foreheads, publicly witnessing to THESE FACTS:

1.                 Death is reality

2.                We are sinners,

3.                And that all are dependent on the MERCY OF GOD in whom we live and move and have our being.

 

In addition to these ashes on our foreheads, we return to the Mass which includes the Confession of sin and the Hope and Realities of the WORD and EUCHARIST.  We return to fortify our relationship with Jesus as our Christ and to improve our relationship with others.   That is perfect freedom. This is HOPE INCARNATE.

 

Our RECOMMITMENT TO THESE TRUTHS of OUR Christian Faith invite people of all religions to consider and articulate how their respective faiths and lives witness to a Merciful God.  When this happens, we shed light on to the same realities that death exposes: our common humanity and the need for God.

 

If asked today by others ” Why are wearing ashes on your forehead?” answer plainly and with confidence:  “there’s value in admitting our wrongs and believing in the Loving and Merciful God Jesus revealed.”  This can –and should — and WILL– make a difference. It will change the ways we see ourselves and the ways we treat others daily. This entire Lenten season strives to imprint this truth on our bodies and souls: LORD, JESUS CHRIST, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US SINNERS. Making this our continual prayer Is our Freedom and our Hope.

 

Here’s an example of the difference CHRISTIAN Faith can make in our lives:

 

I invite you to imagine you are back in grade school– 3rd or 4th grades– you are 8, 9 or 10. You’ve had a bad day and, on that day, your faith was no consolation to you.  You forgot Jesus was with you, that you could turn to GOD for consolation.  So instead, you turned to another kid on the playground, the one with a dirty shirt, who rarely combed his or her hair, and you picked on him. You teased her unmercifully. Name calling, ethnic slurs and brutality ensue and you left the playground angrier than before.

 

On arriving home, your parent or guardian asked “What was the matter?” You tell what you did. Now that parent or guardian may or may not have been present to Jesus at that moment. If not, if he/she forgot that we are all sinners AND temples of the Holy Spirit equally. So, that parent or guardian screamed, “Go to your room and get out of my sight. I’m disgusted with you.”   And, if that was their response, in retrospect, we can forgive them for it.  After all, we were not in touch with Christ ourselves on that day.  But if they were –ah what a difference!

 

If in a more prayerful mood, our parent or guardian would ask what caused us to act that way.  They would have reminded us that we all make bad choices, hurt ourselves and others but in faith we can turn to God whose mercy inspires us to admit our wrongs and do something about them.   They may have invited us to pray over what happened and discuss how we could put things right.  They would have invited us to look at the choices before us – we could perpetuate the hurt, the guilt, or make changes for the better.  Perhaps the love and mercy they showed us motivated us to phone that other kid and say we were sorry and say that we wanted to make it up to him.  Perhaps we went to his or her house and apologized in person, inviting them to play a game with us or we offered to help with homework.  If that was in your childhood experiences, that would have been an experience of GOD.

 

If this or something like it happened to you as a young person, I am here to assure you that that day was one of the best days of your young life. If it didn’t happen, if your parent or guardian condemned you and did not help you so something about it, if you kept your wrongdoing to yourself and perpetuated it because you felt guilty and ashamed, if you indulged your anger even further, FEAR NOT. For today, with Ashes on your forehead, you can change what you would do TODAY—you can act differently NOW—with anyone you may have hurt or who has hurt you.  You can appropriate the gifts of your Confirmation now: the courage to speak the truth with mercy, with patience and kindness for yourselves and for others because we are all going to die. You can DIE to the Past and be present to God in Jesus Christ right NOW and let God’s tender mercy fill you with grace.  That is the Freedom of Ash Wednesday; the Courage of Ash Wednesday; the Truth of Ash Wednesday and what this season of LENT encourages us to embrace.

On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

There appears to be significant self-loathing in the emerging portrait of the murderer at the gay-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  The best thing religious leaders can do for their constit…

Source: On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

There appears to be significant self-loathing in the emerging portrait of the murderer at the gay-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  The best thing religious leaders can do for their constituents is to promote love of self– the self-acceptance and full dignity of being a unique human being, that includes our ethnicity, physical traits and sexual orientation. Love, compassion and empathy toward others begins here.  There is no other healthy foundation for faith.

I invite people of ALL Faiths to persevere in spreading this message that we are, indeed, children of a magnanimous, benevolent God whose love is unconditional, who delights in diversity and the many colors and shapes and sizes of every living creature on the face of the earth. Condolences to all the bereaved. Together may we cultivate Hope together.

My LukeLive! ministry includes a central segment on the importance of love and self-acceptance.  This meditation comes right after I’ve invited listeners to reflect on the day of their birth.  You can listen to it here:

I invite you to support my ministry by downloading this and other segments, or the entire album of Luke Live! Highlights at

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/revjamesmdiluziocsp

For more in this conversation on the tragedy at the Pulse club, read this blog post from Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, FL.  This is the BEST statement from a Catholic Bishop regarding the murder of gay men, lesbians and trans-gender:  Please read: http://bishopsblog.dosp.org/?p=6644

Here’s an appropriate image for this week:

Pala Baglione, Borghese Deposition or The Entombment – Bing images

Gut Response to Republican Debate Sept. 16, 2015

I watched ALL of the Republican debate on CNN.  Here’s my gut response:  Jeb Bush comes across as the most humane (and yes, he had more energy); John Kasich quite sensible.  The rest?  Ugh.  I take particular umbrage with Marco Rubio.  Could anyone be more myopic? His tirade against environmental concern is so extreme.  Is there no middle ground with him?  If some jobs are lost, wouldn’t more jobs be gained in the new technologies?  Has he no concern for clean air and water?  He likes to drink water.  God help him.

Trump was a bit more cordial than the last time.  He is so very entertaining.
Carly Fiorina comes across as a solid hawk, perhaps even more than most of the men.  Do you think she overdid it to show that she is a strong person?  I don’t know.  But I applaud her statements not to fund Planned Parenthood (NO reason tax dollars should support abortions not only because it’s a great moral issue but also because the tax paying public is so divided on the issue.  PP will have no problem getting funds from the private sector anyway) and I appreciated her passion against legalized marijuana as a gateway drug. For all that, I think all of the candidates want to take funding away from  PP.
Sadly Jeb didn’t get to summarize his tax plan, although Carson and others did.  Having read Jeb’s in the NYTIMES, it definitely seems reasonable.  Carson’s tithing (10 %) across the board for everyone is intriguing, but he’s not a viable candidate and the tithing thing doesn’t seem practical on some levels, although it would totally simplify everything. Plus it’s biblical!
I wish these debates would focus more on the issues than the usual political rants and idealistic speeches.  The moderators don’t ask penetrating questions!  E.g. on the hot issue of the Iran deal:  during the considerable number of sanction years, Iran has built up considerable uranium deposits and, without any Western communication , sources say it would be ready to build a bomb in the next three months.  So what good did the strict sanctions do?  They only isolated a sick and diseased country and allowed its leaders to do what they wanted while the common people suffered there.  Why would no one state the obvious here? Sadly, central points like these are never brought up in most debates.  At least some of the potential candidates did state the obvious:  with or without this agreement the USA can bomb Iran any time it likes.  And so can Israel for that matter. So what is the big deal here?  In the past, some diplomacy with an enemy has had greater potential than none at all even when war became inevitable. And as Kasich repeatedly stated, we gain more support from Europe when we at least try the diplomatic way first.
Have a wonderful day.  You deserve it!