"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen.1:27)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thank God for Bishop A -- whoever he is!

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of another is always a time for reflection. For Christians, this comes during the middle of the Christmas Season (despite the fact that retailers and buisness page editors perpetuate the myth that Christmas is over on December 26). During this season, we celebrate the fundamental Christian belief that God became "one like us in all things but sin." In and through Jesus of Nazareth, God the Creator knows even more intimately the heart, mind and soul of the human person.

Earlier this year, a wonderful organization called Fortunate Families posted responses they received from Catholic bishops around the country who replied to a letter asking the bishops to be in dialogue with gay and lesbian Catholics in their dioceses. Take a moment to read the response of "Bishop A" and thirteen other bishops who were gracious enough to reply. While some of these episcopal replies are less than hoped for, Fortunate Families should be applauded for keepeing the conversation alive. It's my prayer that this conversation will continue in the New Year and beyond.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve Homily - Dec. 24, 2007

Christmas Eve – Mass at Night
Dignity/Northern Virginia (at Immanuel Church on the Hill, Arlington, VA)
December 24, 2007

Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who is traveling this Christmas, visiting family. He knew I would be standing here this evening and he asked how my preparation was going, if I had my homiletic thoughts together. I told him that I had a few “thematic ideas” in mind, but that I didn’t have a good story or illustration to open with … after all, a good homilist, a good preacher always has a good story to tell, right?

Well, he then asked me what the scripture readings were, and I told him briefly about the gospel passage we just heard – about this passage from Luke where Mary and Joseph have traveled to Bethlehem because of the Roman census, how there’s no room for them where travelers stay, how the birth of Jesus takes place where animals are kept, and how this good news is shared by an angel with shepherds in the surrounding area.

There was this brief pause … and then he simply said, “well, isn’t THAT the story?” Of course, he was right. THE story for us to focus on and to reflect upon this Christmas night IS indeed the story of the birth of Jesus.

And so it’s good that we are gathered here in the quiet and stillness of this place – this place whose very name – Immanuel / God with us – is so closely connected with the celebration of Christmas – to pause at the end of whatever holiday preparations we’ve been pre-occupied with these past weeks, and before whatever busy or not-so-busy day lies ahead of us tomorrow – it’s good for us to pause and reflect on what the story we just heard really is all about.

Yesterday I happened to catch part of a show on the History Channel that was about this very subject – trying to understand what Christmas is all about. It was followed by another show that chronicled some of the various ways in which Christmas has been celebrated socially and culturally here in the United States, but this first show’s focus was on the "Jesus of the Bible" and interviewed theologians and biblical historians who were discussing what we really know about the historical facts surrounding the birth of Jesus. Although there are certain discrepancies between the accounts presented by Matthew and Luke, and also some historical inaccuracies in their accounts about what actually happened over 2,000 years ago, we come here this evening not as students of history, but as people of faith who believe that this rather unremarkable event (it was, after all, simply the every-day occurrence of a birth of a child), in an out-of-the-way and quite unremarkable place, involving relatively simple and unremarkable people, at a time so far removed from our own ....yet somehow this event still has meaning for us here in our 21st century world.

One of the ways we can get at that meaning is to think about what we call this feast that we celebrate. Certainly it is called “Christmas” – but that word, which is rooted in Old and Middle English and which literally means “Christ’s mass” – doesn’t really tell us much, does it? As the Gospel reading we just heard spoke of a birth, the birth of Christ, we also call this the feast of the Nativity, and so that gives us a little bit more to go on. But the word that I think means the most and that I believe has the strongest implications for us a people of faith -- is to speak of this celebration as the feast of the Incarnation. Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Christ, in time, into our world; it is the celebration of God becoming Incarnate – the “enfleshment” – of full divinity in full humanity. That, in itself, is almost incredible. Do we really believe and take to heart the fact that God – the Creator and source of all Being – chose to come among us, the created, to know our human life, to live and breathe walk and cry and love as one like us, like us who live and breathe and walk and cry and love? And if we do believe that, then does this belief cause us to live our lives in a way that is any different from how we would live if this event hadn't taken place?

The second History Channel show I mentioned noted that one of the more recent developments in the way that Christmas is celebrated is with the practice of gift-giving. Without getting into the discussions about the over-commercialization of Christmas, I think there’s something about this practice that helps us embrace the deeper meaning of this day. In gift-giving, there are always two parties – the one who gives, and the one who receives.

In the Incarnation, God gifts us not with a new sweater or an in-edible fruitcake or a new 52” flat-screen HDTV – no, God gifts us with God’s very Self. That's the "what" in this equation, but in the Incarnation, the “how” is just as important as the “What.” What are the circumstances of how this Gift of God’s very Self comes into our World? God does not come barging into the world or our lives with earthly power and might and force. God does not become Incarnate as one who can command armies or exert commercial or political power. On the contrary, the divine presence comes in a truly helpless human infant, a newborn child who is vulnerable and utterly dependent on others.

If Christ is both the Giver and the Gift of Christmas – then we, like anyone to whom a gift is offered, have a choice to make – and that choice is either to accept it or reject it. Acceptance or rejection -- what will it be? Mary and Joseph were the first to whom this Gift of God’s very self was given. Mary accepted the gift into her very body and being; Joseph accepted the gift into his heart and home.

We come together this evening as individuals and as a community who know both what it means to be accepted and what it means to be rejected. Most of us have probably been met with varying degrees of acceptance or rejection from family and friends. In so many ways the wider Christian community and the political structures of our day reject us, not because of anything we’ve done, but simply because of who we are. Fortunately, there are places like this community and other “islands of acceptance” in our lives where we are able to experience the acceptance and love of God, a love and acceptance made flesh in one another.

If that gift of acceptance has been given to us, are we not also called to extend it to all others whom we can so easily turn away from and forget? Are we too, not called to bear the gift of Christmas to the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, the imprisoned, the despised?

Allow me to end with what I found to be a very poignant thought about Christmas by Thomas Merton – the famous Trappist monk. Merton once observed that Christ came into this world uninvited, and when he came into this world, there was no place for him, no room for him. And because, in a certain sense, Christ is “out of place” in this world… Christ’s “place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, excommunicated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Homily: 4th Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Saturday, December 22, 2007 – Dignity/Northern Virginia

I’m not much of a sports or baseball fan, but this evening’s celebration is the first part of what could be called a liturgical double-header. Not only will I have the pleasure of being with you again two nights from now for the Christmas Eve celebration of the Nativity, but by an unusual occurrence, the Gospel reading we have for tonight will be – in part – the Gospel passage we’ll hear once again on Monday evening. At our Vigil liturgy for Christmas Eve, we will hear an extended version of this passage from Matthew, a version which re-tells the genealogy of Jesus’ family tree, demonstrating that – at least according to the Law – Jesus is a descendant of David and therefore can be seen as fulfilling the prophecy about which Isaiah writes – that a “almah/virgin” will give birth to a child and that child will be called Immanuel – God with us.

This passage from the very first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel tells us part of the story of Jesus’ birth, but from a different perspective than the passages from Luke that we are so familiar with. Other than the angelic visitor, the only other character in this passage is Joseph, the young man who is described as Mary’s husband. Marriage customs were a bit different in the Jewish culture and society of that day – marriage would usually be arranged by the families involved and so Joseph is spoken of as engaged, or betrothed to the young girl, Mary. They were, in fact, “married” in every sense except for the fact that they did not yet live together.

We are told that it was Joseph’s intention quietly divorce Mary, so clearly he knows that she is pregnant, that she is expecting a child – and he also knows that the child is not his. We’re also told that he was an “upright man” – which would mean that he follows the Law. And the Law in this situation was pretty harsh. It would have said that he had the right not only to “divorce her,” to not complete the marriage contract by taking her into his home – but the law from Deuteronomy also said that she – Mary -- should be brought to the entrance to her father’s house and stoned to death for bringing this disgrace not just upon her family, but on all of Israel.

And so, being the good guy that he is, Joseph doesn’t want this to happen to Mary, so it’s his intention simply to “divorce her quietly.” I don’t know what the population of Nazareth was at that time, but I have to wonder how easy it would be to do such a thing “quietly.” Family and neighbors all had to know that Mary and Joseph were betrothed, so I’m sure this would be the perfect stuff for gossip in the community. And, not only that, it would also be seen as quite scandalous in the wider community. Nonetheless, it is Joseph’s intention to divorce her and not to expose her publicly. This plan changes, however, when he has a dream – a dream in which an angelic visitor tells him, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”

You know, scholars tell us that the admonition – “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid!” – this occurs countless times both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Even those of us who are not scripture scholars just need to take a few moments to think about so many of the passages that are familiar to us and we realize that this is correct:

  • In Genesis, when Abraham is still Abram, God tells him to “fear not” before establishing a Covenant;
  • In a vision, an angelic visitor told Daniel not once, but twice, “Do not fear” – the second time saying “Do not fear, greatly beloved. You are safe! Be strong and courageous.”
  • The declaration to the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptizer, says: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”
  • And of course, we are all familiar with the greeting of Gabriel, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
  • At the birth of Jesus, an angel says to the shepherds near Bethlehem, “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you news of great joy!”
  • In Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, Jesus tells his disciples who had heard a voice from heaven, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
  • In Mark, we hear Jesus himself telling his disciples who have gone out fishing – they think he is a ghost on the water, but he tells them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

I suppose it’s reasonable to expect that such seemingly other-worldly encounters could engender a sense of fear and trepidation, and so it’s not unexpected that God or God’s emissary might offer a bit of consolation with these calming words. But even before the “divine encounter,” I wonder if these individuals – Abraham, Zechariah, Daniel, Mary, Jesus’ disciples, or the young Joseph from today’s reading – I wonder if there were other things that caused them to be afraid, to be anxious, to be worried about their lives or the situations in which they found themselves?
Let’s take the case of Joseph. We know very little about this young man, except that he was a descendant of David and that he was committed in marriage to the young girl, Mary. As most young people, he probably was looking forward with much anticipation to this new life that he was about to begin. He’s getting married – and I’m sure he probably had all the hopes and expectations that any young person might have at such a time in life. Although we have to be careful not to presume too much, it’s clear that whatever hopes and expectations he had to build a life with his young wife Mary – these hopes and aspirations are now gone. Who knows what this situation might mean for him in the community? I can’t imagine that this would be a very enviable position to be in.

When we think about our lives, are there things that we are afraid of? I’m sure if we take just a moment to think about where we are in life – our relationships, our future, the world in which we life -- there would be things that cause us to be fearful, anxious and afraid. For me, I know this is certainly true. As more my beard turns to gray and white, I am reminded that I am growing old and I sometimes am a bit fearful of what that experience of aging will be like for me. Not only am a sometimes afraid of growing old, but I’m also afraid of the possibility of growing old alone, wondering whether or not I’ll have someone to share that time of life with.
I’m blessed to have both of my parents still alive and doing well, but I’m afraid of the day that I know will come when that’s no longer true.
I’m afraid that someday the good health I’ve been blessed with might fail, and that I will become ill, and perhaps even no longer able to care for myself and dependent on others. I’m afraid that maybe I haven’t done all I should to prepare for the future, and that I won’t be able to meet all of my needs.

Looking beyond myself ...

  • I sometimes fear that our American culture and society is becoming less tolerant of people like you and me … and less tolerant and accepting of anyone who is “different” or “one of them” or “not like us” in one way or another.
  • At the risk of saying something political, I fear that the next resident of the White House might speak a good game of “being Christian,” but be someone whose understanding of Christianity – as a religion rooted in love, in charity -- is so different from those of us gathered here.
  • I fear, too, that bishops and other leaders in our own Catholic community will continue to close the doors to people like us – or welcome us only when we agree to remain quietly in the shadows – ostensibly telling us that really is no room for us at the tables they set.

Psychologists tell us that there are typically two normal, primal responses to fear. They speak of our natural “fight or flight” response. When we find ourselves in a situation that we perceive as threatening and potentially harmful – we either become combative and begin to lash out [like the animal who’s been backed into a corner], or we simply run away to a place where we feel protected and the threat can no longer reach us. Isn’t this what Joseph wanted to do? He wanted the situation in which he found himself to go away – his “flight response” was in high gear.

For him, it took the intervention of an angel in a dream, to help him understand that he didn’t really see the full picture. This dream – which I believe had to have been born of his fundamental faith in God, the “righteous,” good guy that he was – this dream helps him to remember that God is at work even in this situation in which his plans are being turned upside down and things aren’t working out as he had hoped.

And so, he realizes that in fact, there is a third response to Fear. Instead of “fight or flight,” he finds strength in his faith – a faith that tells him God’s hand is at work. In these next brief days before Christmas, let’s take just a few moments to think about those things which cause us to be afraid – remembering that the angel’s words to Joseph are spoken to us as well: “Do not be afraid.” Like this holy place in which are gathered, let us remember Immanuel -- God is with us.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Price of Preaching the Gospel

The following letter was sent to Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop Harry Flynn in reference to a recently preached homily by Fr. Leo Tibesar. Preaching on Lk 18:9-14 (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time) in which the boastful Pharisee prays, "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity," Fr. Tibesar preached a thoughtful homily that used a common preacher's technique of bringing Jesus' story into the present day.

Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
226 Summit Avenue
Saint Paul , MN 55102
(651) 291-4400

Your Excellency,

I am writing in reference to a recent and well-publicized homily by a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Fr. Leo Tibesar. While you may be in receipt of many messages criticizing Fr. Tibesar for the homily he preached on October 28, 2007, I am writing to express my support for Fr. Tibesar and his very thoughtful and challenging homily. As you may know, both the text of this homily, as well as an audio file of it, are readily available on the Internet. I have read the homily and listened to it.

The homilist is called each and every time he stands before God's People to break open the Gospel by helping them understand not only what the words of Jesus meant in His day, but more importantly what these words mean in our own time. If a homilist fails to connect the past with the present, if he fails to help others experience both the comfort and the challenge of the words Jesus proclaimed, then the Gospel is merely a collection of words of a by-gone era, without life or the power to save. A homilist who is worthy of the name is not afraid to raise a few eyebrows, challenge a few assumptions, and even remind us that, as the Magnificat tells us, the Lord "casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly." Fr. Tibesar's homily is a timely reminder that all of us -- regardless of politics or position or presumption of moral certitude -- are in need of that salvation to which we have no claim, yet which the Lord bestows to those who come to Him with an open and humble heart.

I found Fr. Tibesar's homily thoughtful, challenging, and inspiring. I pray that you will support him in his work and ministry.

Wishing you every blessing for a holy Advent season, sincerely,

Timothy J. MacGeorge
Washington, DC

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Winnipeg Archbishop Disinvites Gay Speaker

Here's just another example of how Church leaders are deathly afraid of the mere presence of someone who is openly gay. A former Iraq hostage, having been invited by to speak at a social justice conference in Winnipeg, had his invitation withdrawn by the local Catholic archbishop, just because he's gay.

If there's any doubt that "fear" is the right description here, just read the following quote from Archbishop James Weisgerber:

"He's not being excluded because he's homosexual. He's being excluded because he takes public opposition to an important teaching of the church......I kept hearing more and more objections, and I began to do some research and I realized that he has taken very public and a very clear opposition to the church's teachings in this area. That's a very different matter."

So, if Mr. Loney were just a closeted homosexual -- a man who was not public about who he is and how he understands his God-given sexuality -- then all would be ok? Church leaders like Archbishop Weisgerber do a grave injustice to the Church's mission to constantly seek the truth and to grow in understanding about all things. By encouraging silence rather than dialogue, the good archbishop is failing in his pastoral duty and responsibility "not to lord it over" those entrusted to his care. A truly good shepherd listens to and embraces ALL his people, not just those whose raise their voices the loudest in condemning others.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In Diversity is Strength

I don't often find myself quoting the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but at yesterday's Capitol Rotunda presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the president, referring specifically to the rich diversity in American religious life, stated: "This diversity is not a source of instability -- it's a source of strength."

One can only hope that the president would recognize the value of diversity not only in the sphere of religion, but in other areas of human life as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Tim. 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

Have you ever extended a simple kindness or courtesy to someone … like holding the elevator so that the person can get in, or holding open the door for someone coming into a building behind you …and instead of the brief “thank you” or simple nod of acknowledgment and appreciation that good manners would call for … the other person does nothing and simply continues on his or her way, with no indication he or she is grateful for or even aware of this simple courtesy?

I must confess, this is a pet peeve of mine and when it happens to me, I have often been tempted to respond in a less-than courteous way. On more than one occasion I have wanted to come back with an emphatic, “You’re welcome!” … even though no “thank you” had been offered. I have to wonder if this sense of being just a little peeved or ticked off is what’s at work in Jesus in today’s Gospel story from Luke. Here Jesus has performed another of his healing miracles as he continues on his long journey to Jerusalem. He hears the cry of these ten lepers – social outcasts of the day. This story, by the way, is unique to Luke and doesn’t appear in any of the other three Gospels. Hearing the cry of these lepers to “have mercy on us,” Jesus brings healing into their lives. This healing not only restores them to physical health, but also restores them socially to their families and friends who previously would have shunned them. And of these ten … only one has come back to express his thanks. Jesus asks, almost incredulously: “Ten were cleansed, weren’t they? Where are the other nine?” Jesus wants to know why all ten haven’t come back with this same sense of gratitude and appreciation.

Gratitude is certainly one of the main themes of the scripture readings we have before us. A sense of thankfulness and appreciation for what God has done and can do is something we are all called to cultivate and to express. This one healed leper, realizing that he has been freed from what must have been a horrible burden, comes back to Jesus simply to say “thank you.”

And he is not the only one we read about expressing thanks in today’s readings. Our first reading from the second book of Kings tells a similar story. There we hear just part of a very dramatic passage – the entire 5th chapter of the 2nd book of Kings – about the healing of Naaman, the commander of the army of the King of Aram. Naaman has previously been told by his wife’s servant girl – a Jew – that he should seek out the prophet Elisha who can cure him of his leprosy. And so Naaman travels to Israel and after doing what Elisha tells him to do – bathing seven times in the Jordan River – his skin, we are told, becomes like the “flesh of a little child.”

There are numerous points of similarity between these two stories – the healing of Naaman and Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers – but I’d like to focus on just three of them.

  • First, in both stories, the healing takes place in response to a request.
  • Second, the divine intervention elicits a human response.
  • And third, the ones who are held up as examples of faith – Naaman and the Samaritan leper – are not Jews, but are individuals who would have been considered to be beyond God’s embrace.

First ... Healing Occurs in Response to a Request
Leprosy or any illness or disease has the power to rob us of physical health and wholeness. But even if we are in the best of physical health, I’m sure that each one of us knows some part of our heart or spirit that is in need of God’s healing touch. The simple lesson for us from the example of Naaman and the lepers is that – recognizing our lack of wholeness – we must not be afraid to ask. In fact, this is something that we do at the beginning of every Eucharistic liturgy … even echoing the words of the lepers ... Lord have mercy … Kyrie eleison!

Second... the Divine Intervention Elicits a Human Response
Very few, if any of us, will likely experience the type of miraculous cure that we hear about in today’s scriptures. And yet, as people of faith, we must believe that God is actively at work in our lives and in our world. This work may not be what we want, but like Naaman and the Samaritan leper, are we first able to recognize that Healing Hand of God in our own lives? … and second, do we respond to that healing with a sense of gratitude and appreciation? The Samaritan Leper had just a “thank you” to offer to Jesus. In turn, Jesus’ reply tells us that this simple “thank you” was an indication of his faith. Likewise, Naaman is also filled with gratitude … so much so that he wants to express this gratitude with a gift. Elisha, however, will have none of it. As if to make sure that God gets the credit for this miraculous work, Elisha refuses Naaman’s lavish gift. Because Naaman has now come to believe in Yahweh, the God of Israel, Elisha does let Naaman take two mule-loads of earth with him so that he can still worship Yahweh “on the land of Israel,” even if he is geographically distant.

Third ... God’s Love is Universal
Finally, perhaps the most striking similarity between these stories is to take note of the one who is identified as “faithful.” Naaman not only was a not Jewish, but he was a warring enemy of the Jewish king. The grateful leper in Luke was a Samaritan. As non-Jewish lepers, they were “outsiders” in every sense of the word. Not only were they outsiders because of their leprosy, but because they were not part of Yahweh’s Chosen People; the “group” they belonged to was considered by pious Jews to be beyond God’s care and God’s love.

We humans are very good at emphasizing our differences, at seeing distinctions that separate “us” from “them” – however “us” and “them” are defined. We categorize people by:

  • age
  • gender
  • language
  • nationality
  • skin color
  • political party
  • citizenship status
  • religion
  • health status
  • sexual orientation
  • … the list could go on and on.

In itself, such categorization isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But – depending on our own ideas about any one of these categories – we run the risk of making judgments about people and groups of people. Too often we see others – based on some label – as either “in” or “out.” We marginalize them. We have a tendency to make differences into divisions and borders into barriers.

Sadly, religious people do this just as much – if not more – than others. Yesterday I caught part of a film on TV documenting the struggle in Massachusetts for marriage equality. I was struck by how much those who oppose such efforts wrap their opposition in religion and religious expressions. While filming one of the many protests at the State House on Beacon Hill, one young woman, a lesbian, told how she had seen her parents on the other side, protesting against the marriage rights that she was advocating for. With tears in her eyes, she described how painful that was and said, “God made me, too!”

Despite our penchant for labels and barriers, today’s scripture readings speak loudly that the way we see things and the way God sees things aren’t always in sync. Every person on the face of this earth can make those words their own: “God made me, too!” God’s call is universal and is not limited by the human boundaries we seem so fond of.

“Where are the other nine?"

Several comentators on today's reading ask the question – following up in Jesus’ own question. “What happened to the other nine?”

As we continue our celebration, let us realize that in a very real way, you and I are the other nine. We may not have the disease of leprosy, but we are in no less need of the healing touch of God’s love … a healing touch for our minds, our bodies, our hearts, and our spirits. Even as we recognize this, let us recognize even more so that with God there are no outsiders, no individuals or groups that are “unclean,” “outcast,” or “on the margin.” All people … regardless of whatever other label we can come up with … all people are part of God’s one family … and that with God as our loving Father/Mother, we are all brothers and sisters.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

The challenge of preparing for a homily is not to be able to find something at all to say; the challenge is to be able to find the right thing to say – or, to put it in terms of faith – to find what God wants to be said and what God wants us to hear.

This is what I faced when I first looked at the readings we have before us this evening. Each of these three readings – from Amos who speaks boldly to the leaders of his day about their luxurious way of life and their indifference to the poor; to the first Letter to Timothy reminding us to “fight the good fight of faith” with trust and integrity; and then to the Gospel story of the rich man and Lazarus – each is so very full of powerful words and images, that we could spend hours discussing them, reflecting on them, and – as every homily needs to do – asking ourselves, what they mean for us in our lives today.

Let me begin at the end by telling you that what kept coming back to me over and over again is this thought about the rich man: “He just doesn’t get it.” What the rich man fails to get – in life and surprisingly even in death – is the fundamental humanity, the worth, and the dignity of Lazarus. Even in death, the rich man fails to even acknowledge Lazarus. To him, Lazarus is merely a servant, an instrument, a tool … someone to meet his own needs or to do his bidding. “Father Abraham, send Lazarus to quench my thirst; Father Abraham send Lazarus to warn my brothers.” So, if you come away with only one thought from our liturgy, let it be this: As Christians we are called to recognize the inherent value, worth, and dignity of every human person, and to act accordingly.

Backing up just a bit, let’s look a little more closely at the story and see what Luke might be trying to tell us. In doing so, two questions come to mind:

  • First, why did Lazarus go to the bosom of Abraham?
  • Second, why did the rich man end up in that place of torment?

Did each end up where he did simply because of his state in this life? Is the Gospel simply telling us that the life to come will merely be a place of “role reversal,” telling us that if you’ve had it good in this life, the life to come will be one of misery? If that were the message, this would hardly be “good news” to us who, when compared with the vast majority of the rest of humanity, are pretty well-off. On the other hand, is the story telling us that the way to heaven is merely living in abject poverty in the here and now? Something tells me that there’s a little more to it than that.

The two main characters in today’s story – the rich man and Lazarus – couldn’t be more different. The lots that they’ve been handed in this life differ like night from day, even though we really don’t know much about either man. We know the rich man is rich because we’re told that he is, and because he eats well and dresses in fine clothing. We later learn that he has brothers, but we don’t know where he lived, what he does, how he came to be so wealthy – we don’t even know his name. We know even less about Lazarus. We don’t know how he came to be a beggar, or if he has family or friends. We know that he’s probably not in the best of health, as his body is covered with sores. But one significant thing we do know, however, is his name. The name “Lazarus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Eleazar” which means “God is my help.” Lazarus, therefore, is not just a poor man, but a poor man who believes and trusts in God. This is why he found himself in Abraham’s bosom in Paradise — because of his faith and trust in God, not just because he was poor. This, it seems, is the key difference between the nameless rich man and the beggar at his gate. Despite his poverty and lack of earthly wealth, Lazarus is a man who is able to recognize his utter dependence on God and to place his hope in God.

In addition to the thought that the rich man “doesn’t get it,” I’ve also been reading about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was mentioned briefly in last week's homily, as she has been in the news in recent weeks because of new revelations about her spiritual life. A new book by the director of the Mother Teresa Center and postulator of her cause for canonization tells us about the emptiness and darkness that this small woman experienced for decades after responding to a call to serve the poorest of the poor by founding the Missionaries of Charity. The book is entitled, “Come be my light – The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta.’” When I first saw the book’s title, I presumed the title was her words; that it was a prayer of Mother Teresa, praying that Jesus would come and be her light as she tried to respond to her call to serve the poor .. the many Lazaruses on the streets of Calcutta. As I started the book, I discovered that I was wrong. The words, “come be my light” are not Mother Teresa’s words to Jesus .. but they are Jesus’ words to her … words through which she understood that God was calling her to bear the light and life of Jesus to the poorest of the poor … to the Lazaruses she met every day.

If the challenge of the gospel is that we must recognize – as Mother Teresa did – the value, dignity and worth of every person, then we are faced with the question, “Who is Lazarus among us?” [adapted from "Celebration, Oct. 2007" www.celebrationpublications.org]

  • Lazarus lives in the children of this world who are dying each day from war, hunger, abuse, neglect and disease.
  • Lazarus lives in poor parents here in our own cities struggling to provide the even the barest of life’s essentials for their families.
  • Lazarus lives in the immigrants, refugees and other displaced persons on this earth.
  • Lazarus lives in the homeless, many of whom suffer from severe and persistent mental illness.
  • Lazarus also lives in those who languish in hospitals, convalescent and nursing homes – places where others rarely go.
  • Lazarus lives in people everywhere who are victims of torture and genocide.
  • Lazarus lives and cries out wherever people struggle for justice – from the streets of Darfur, to the streets of Iraq, to the streets of Myanmar.
  • Lazarus still lives in the millions of people around the globe, many of whom are children, facing the struggles of HIV/AIDS.
  • And, many of us know all too well, Lazarus lives in all those who are alienated from families, from friends, and from the Church … those for whom there is no “place at the table.”

In many ways, the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a study in contrasts, and I suspect that there’s a bit of the rich man and a bit of Lazarus in each of us. Part of us fails to recognize the humanity, dignity and worth of others … and part of us recognizes how utterly dependent on God we are for all things.

As we celebrate the living presence of Christ in this Eucharist, may become more and more like Lazarus who placed his hope and trust in God. In doing so, may we also bear the light of Christ to the Lazarus in one another and in every person we encounter each day.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good Enough to Serve, but not Good Enough to Mourn

An Arlington, Texas "Christian" church apparently changed its mind on a commitment to hold funeral services for a man - a U.S. Navy veteran , but only after they learned he was gay. What would Jesus do??

Friday, July 13, 2007

Real Guidelines for Pastoral Care

You may recall that the Catholic bishops of the U.S. issued a document last year (November 2006) entitled, "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care." The document was not well-received, most especially because of the patronizing process by which these guidelines were developed -- a process which excluded the very people it claimed to be about.

In response, the gay Catholic group DignityUSA has produced its own "Letter on the Pastoral Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People 2007." Though not yet published on its Web site, the brief letter should be read by every bishop, priest, deacon and pastoral minister.

I found the following paragraph particularly well-written, addressing head-on one of the main objections often heard by those who "don't believe in homosexuality":

"A revised theology of sexuality must acknowledge that many intimate relationships express unitive love, even in the absence of possible procreation. This must be affirmed as an expression of divine love. The church has long acknowledged that one of the primary functions of the sexual relationship within marriage is the unitive function, which facilitates the development of a bond of love and intimacy between partners. Furthermore, the church sanctions marriage between men and women who have no possibility of procreating, whether by reason of age or infertility. Sexually intimate relationships between same-gender couples must be affirmed as having the same potential for holiness as those between opposite-gender married couples. Guidelines for ethical expression of sexuality are welcome, to the extent that they promote respect, freedom from exploitation, honesty and mature love between partners. It is critical for church ministers, counselors and religious professionals to receive training and theological updating regarding the nature, purpose and development of the sexual relationships of LGBT people."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mass. Legislators Do the Right Thing!

The majority of Massachusetts legislators voted yesterday to preserve the right to marry for gay and lesbian citizens of the Commonwealth.

Thank God!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Save Marriage Rights in Massachusetts

Today is a significant day for retaining marriage rights for same-sex couples in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth's Constitutional Convention meets this afternoon to deliberate and possibly vote on whether or not to move closer to ballot referendum a proposed constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be only between one man and one woman.

As expected, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has continued to lobby against the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. Below is a letter to the editor of the archdiocesan newspaper in response to an inaccurate and mean-spirited editorial published last week.

June 13, 2007

Editor, The Pilot
2121 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02135-3191

To The Editor:

Catholicism has a rich intellectual tradition which encourages the use of our God-given abilities to think critically about the world in which we live and to bring the strength of human reason to bear upon the many challenging and sometimes even divisive issues we face together as a community. More often than not, this means discerning the varying shades of gray in which the truth very commonly resides, avoiding the easy, uncritical tendency simply to embrace the extremes of one position or another.

The Pilot’s editorial of June 8, 2007 entitled, “Marriage is not a civil right” fails to meet even the most basic standards of intellectual inquiry and critical thinking. Perhaps because it’s an “editorial,” The Pilot’s editors felt they could publish something so patently incorrect and lacking the tiniest degree journalistic integrity.

Take the title itself. The statement that marriage is not a “civil right” is false on its face. Is it an “absolute civil right”? Of course not; and no one supporting the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples is asserting that it is or should be. Is marriage a right that has been regulated by societies in different ways throughout time and across political and social boundaries? Every student of history knows that it has been. Countless citations from civil law and other sources could easily demonstrate the blatant error of the editorial’s title and mistaken premise, but let me include just one. The United Nations’ 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry [emphasis added] and to found a family” (Art. 16.1). Marriage is clearly an individual right, possessed by individuals, expressed in the lives of individuals.

The editorial goes on to state, “Once marriage becomes a personal right, the institution of marriage fades.” Without spelling out specifically what this “institution of marriage” is, this leads to the tired, ridiculous canard that the recognition of marriage rights for same-sex couples will lead to “polygamy, polyandry, incestuous relationships and all other manner of partnerships.” Are you serious? How many bills are pending before the Massachusetts or other state legislatures to provide marriage rights to grandmothers wishing to marry their grandsons, or to allow for women to have three legal husbands?

The Pilot’s editorial, rooted in ignorance about God’s gay and lesbian children, bases a political call-to-action on fear and hate. I pray that the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention will take no action that perpetuates the myth that gay men and lesbians deserve anything less than full and equal rights as citizens of the Commonwealth, including “the right to marry.”

Timothy J. MacGeorge
Washington, DC

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Faith, Science, and Truth

From today's Vatican Information Service:

"Since its establishment in 1891," said the Pope speaking English, "the Vatican Observatory has sought to demonstrate the Church's desire to embrace, encourage and promote scientific study, on the basis of her conviction that 'faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.'

Friday, June 08, 2007

Surgen General Should Promote Science, Not Ideology

The nomination of cardiologist Dr. James Holsinger has brought strong criticism from numerous circles inside and outside the gay and lesbian community (for example, see the statement by SoulForce). The reason for this criticism is not his medical credentials per se, but rather how his medical attitudes and practices relate to his religious views about homosexuality. In his role as president of the Methodist Judicial Council, Dr. Holsinger has taken numerous positions that continue to communicate the message that gay and lesbians are "less than" their non-gay brothers and sisters. Even worse, his church in Lexington, KY supposedly operates an "ex-gay" ministry (though a search of the church's Web site yielded no results; though so too did searches on the words "pastor" and "Jesus").

The statement by SoulForce executive director Jeff Lutes says it all: "If Holsinger bars gays and lesbians from his own church, how will he treat them as the nation's chief physician?"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Jesus Camp, the Horror Movie

The other day I watched a horror movie. It wasn't a nail-biting Hitchcock film or a blood-and-guts thriller, but Jesus Camp is without a doubt the scariest movie I've seen in a long time.

This documentary "follows a group of young children to Pastor Becky Fisher's 'Kids on Fire Summer Camp.'" There, instead of spending their time learning how to swim, how to use a bow and arrow, or engaging in other typical summer-camp activities, these children are instructed in the fundamentals of evangelical "christianity" and are taught how to be good foot soldiers in the army of American evangelicalism, purportedly for the purpose of 'reclaiming America for Christ.' In addition to their camp experience, the film provides an insight into the highly controlled and even somewhat isolated family life these fundamentalists maintain.

The Hitlerian style of indoctrination, with its cult-like methodologies and group-think tactics, verges on child abuse.

Throughout the movie, Pastor Becky, her fellow zealots and their pre-pubescent adherents repeatedly mouth what they claim are "Christian" values, teachings, or perspectives (including unhesitating praise for George W. Bush and his various wars). Despite their claims to follow biblical teachings, we hear very little about true Christianity. There's nary a mention of Jesus himself, the scriptures of the New Testament, or such Gospel values as justice, concern for the poor and the outcast, forgiveness, and the ultimate commandment to love -- including love of one's enemy.

Pastor Becky and her fellow nazis make repeated claims about the evils of this world and what's wrong with America. To support the claim that evil is alive and well, dare I suggest that the views she and others like her espouse are exhibit number one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gen. Pace's Warped Sense of Morality

Gen. Peter Pace, current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in the headlines today, having stated his belief that, "homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral."

How odd that a man who has played such a significant role in one of the most immoral actions in recent American history -- the launching of a pre-emptive war that has cost the lives of thousands of Americans and countless thousands of Iraqis, and that fails to meet every measure of a "just war" -- would call upon "morality" to condemn the physical expressions of love between individuals whom God created as gay.

The general, it would seem, has a very odd sense of morality.

No doubt it might be claimed that such a view of gay and lesbian people might be expected from someone who was raised Catholic and who has received Catholic recognition as someone actively living his faith. What else would you expect? If that's the case, however, then why would the good general -- being so concerned with morality, with living his faith and doing what is right -- fail to follow the teaching of the US Bishops who are on record questioning "the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force"?

One might surmise that the general believes the Church is right on the gay thing, but wrong on the war thing. Sounds to me like the cafeteria-style approach to "morality" so abhorrent to conservatives and others who have all the answers!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

When the Oppressed Become the Oppressors

Naively, I used to think that the experience itself of being part of an oppressed group would be enough to transform one's ability to see the injustice experienced by others who are oppressed, outcast, or unaccepted in society.

How wrong I was!

Recently, two friends and I were enjoying dinner upstairs at a gay restaurant in DC's Dupont Circle area. It was a cold night and the streets and sidewalks were still slick and slippery with the ice from snow earlier in the day. As we sat near our window, I looked out and saw that an eldely woman had slipped and fallen. An older man was kneeling down beside her as she lay on her back, dabbing at what appeared to be a bloody cut on her forehead. Fortunately, a passing police cruiser stopped and provided the needed assistance. As this scene unfolded, two patrons from the bar next to the dining room came closer to the window for a better view. As one turned around to head back to his martini, he said loudly for everyone to hear, "Oh, it's just some bum!" My dinner companions and I stared at each other incredulously, not believing what we had just heard. Collectively, we were embarrased that "one of us," another gay man, could so easily dismiss another human being.

It seems, however, that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is also quite able (and willing!) to forget the oppressions of the past. Katharine Jefferts Shori was elected last year to lead the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion. At a recent meeting of the primates, or heads of all Anglican Communion Churches meeting in Tanzania, she agreed to call upon the Episcopal Church not to consecrate any more gay bishops and to cease the blessing of same-sex unions. Does Jefferts Shori fail to remember that it was the courage and boldness of the Episcopal Church to allow the priestly ordination and episcopal consecration of women that brought her to where she is today? Does she not realize that she could never have reached her position of pastoral leadership in most of the other Anglican Communion churches which still do not allow women to wear the collar, let alone the miter!?!

Jefferts Shori claims that she still supports the "full inclusion" of gay men and women in the life of the Church. How then, can she reconcile this position with her signature on the Tanzania document? Perhaps she has been in the promised land of episcopal leadership too long and forgotten what life in Egypt was like!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Misuse of Marriage

In these days when there is so much vilification of the notion and supporters of "same-sex marriage," it has become standard fare for those who oppose efforts at legalizang same-sex unions to speak of heterosexual marriage in nothing short of glowing terms. "Marriage," "traditional marriage" and the "institution of marriage" are spoken of as if these could save any society from whatever cultural ills might ail it.

Thus, it was a refreshing dose of reality to read the remarks of Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations, atthe 51st session of the Commission on the Status of Women. In decrying many of the ways in which some nations, cultures and societies around the world fail to respect the human dignity of women and girls, Migliore stated that, "Even the institution of marriage is sometimes misused to give a safe facade to sexual exploitation and slave labor by means of what are known as 'mail order brides' and 'temporary brides'."

Monday, February 05, 2007

"Gay Parents" - an adopted daughter's perspective

The following letter appears in the February 2, 2007 edition of the National Catholic Reporter:

Gay parents

I am a 13-year-old Catholic girl who was adopted by two gay women at the age of 7. They have raised me as a Catholic, taking me to church, getting me baptized, receiving my first Communion and confirmation. Before I met them, I was not Catholic; now I am a well-formed Catholic. It has recently been brought to my attention that some of our bishops believe that gay people should be allowed to “participate” in Mass as long as they don’t “reveal” themselves to other church members. I was also informed that if you are gay it is sinful to take Communion. I don’t see any of this in the Bible or in the teaching of Jesus. Do you?

If we are all equal in the eyes of God, then we should all be able to go to Mass and be treated equally. People are people. We are the same: black or white, gay or straight. God created every one of us and we are who we are. Like the song says, “We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord.” If we are one in the Lord, it should not matter if you are gay. If it were not for my moms, I would probably still be in foster care or, even worse, in a group home. Before they came into my life I had been in seven different foster homes. I think women like my moms should be able to receive Communion like any other moms.

Chico, Calif.

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Are you going to argue with God's creation?"

That's the question that Mary Ann Cantwell asked an Indiana Senate committee holding hearings on the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. The mother of seven children, including two former elected state officials, told committee members that, "God made Mike and he made him a homosexual" and that none of her other seven children would in any way be harmed if their gay brother were given the same right they have.

Sounds to me like a woman who knows the true meaning of "family values"!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

God Is Bigger than We Are

Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing a sermon by retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. Speaking at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Bishop Spong preached a very simple yet profound message that any religious person, regardless of the faith tradition from which you come, needs to hear. The message is simply this: God is bigger than we are!

Using the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah as a springboard, Bishop Spong shared examples of his own life and the life of the Christian church that sadly repeated Jonah's error. Jonah, thinking that God surely must be mistaken in telling him to preach to the Ninehvites, did all that he could to avoid God's command. But God would not be deterred. Eventually Jonah came to understand not only were the Ninehvites the intended audience of God's message of repentance, but that Jonah, too, needed to hear the message that God is God of all people--including (and perhaps especially) those whom we consider "other," "outcast," "unclean," "despised," or whatever other term we use to look down our noses at individuals or groups who, no less than we, reflect the image and likeness of God.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Week of Prayer For Christian Unity
Jan. 18-25, 2007

With so many qualifiers available to place before "Christian," one wonders if Jesus' prayer that "they all may be one" (Jn. 17) will ever be realized, this side of the parousia. Though these days may get little attention in the wider world, it's good that many Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, continue to observe this special octave of prayer. (Catholic Resources for 2007)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007