"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)

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 A former Iraq hostage, having been invited by to speak at a social justice conference in Winnipeg, had his invitation withdrawn by the local Catholic archbishop, just because he's gay.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.