"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)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

(This is posted out of order, and is a homily from February 2010)

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C – February 13/14, 2010
Dignity – NoVA/Washington

Readings: Jer 17:5-8 ; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6 ; 1 Cor 15:12, 16-20 ; Lk 6:17, 20-26

One of the things that I try to keep in mind when preparing a homily is to find the right balance between the “general” and the “particular” aspects of what I might say.  By that, I mean making sure that my words are so rooted in the scriptural passages before us that the homily could almost be delivered to any community, while at the same time being very attentive to saying something – or at least trying to say something – that is relevant to the unique qualities and experiences of this particular, unique community. Obviously there are some things that those of us who preach can and do say in one setting that wouldn’t be said if we were preaching before a small community of retired nuns, or before a grammar school with young children.

Sometimes, however, a scripture passage or even just a particular line from a passage jumps out so boldly and so clearly, that this balance is upset, because that passage or that line seems to be almost uncannily applicable to the community being addressed, it would be difficult to preach the same message elsewhere.

I don’t know if it jumped out at you as it did me when I first read it, but there was a line in that Gospel passage we just listened to from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” that hit me like a ton of bricks.  In case you missed it, let me read it again:  “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”

Relatively speaking, there’s no doubt that you and I live in a gay-friendly part of the world.  Most of us are able to live openly and freely, with generally little fear about being known as part of the LGBT community. It’s quite probable that our neighbors and co-workers know this truth about who we are, and that this knowledge has very little consequence. There are bars and restaurants and other establishments that cater to a gay clientele, but even in those places that aren’t “gay” per se, gay men and women are accepted just like everyone else. In the more public sphere, progress continues to be made to advance the civil rights of gay people, as is evidenced by the impending legal recognition of same-sex marriage in DC, as well as the military’s movement to allowing lesbians and gay men to serve openly.

Yet, despite living where we do, there are still regular reminders from both society and Church that we are not fully accepted. Just this past week, Virginia’s governor chose not to include “sexual orientation” in the Executive Order about discrimination in the state’s workforce that new governors traditionally issue shortly after their inauguration, suggesting at least philosophically (if not legally) that it’s OK to discriminate against someone simply because he or she is gay. Several days before that, the highest ranking churchman in the U.S. issued a statement that was highly critical of the work and mission of a Catholic organization that has done so much good for over three decades in building bridges between the institution of the Church and gay Catholics. Two Fridays ago – Cardinal Francis George, who is not only the archbishop of Chicago, but is also currently the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – issued a statement that read, in part:

“No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination. Accordingly, I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”

While perhaps not hateful, such statements by religious leaders clearly do have the effect of saying to the wider Church community and society at large – “those people may claim to be Catholic, but they really aren’t; “they’re not….” – to use the bishop’s word – "‘authentic’ like us.” It is this kind of speech that is a perfect example of what Franciscan Father Richard Rohr calls “dualistic thinking.” This kind of thinking – this way of seeing and experiencing and living in the world – is constantly judging and labeling and categorizing. It is always thinking of terms of who’s in and who’s out; who’s superior and who’s inferior; who’s included and who’s excluded. Last September I was fortunate enough to participate in a small retreat with Fr. Rohr – a retreat sponsored by New Ways Ministry. One of Fr. Rohr’s common themes in his writing and his preaching about faith and spirituality is to encourage a non-dualistic way of seeing the world, of learning to see that – as one of the titles of his books states – “Everything Belongs.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s hard to hear such statements like Cardinal’s George’s coming from the leaders of our Church and not get just a bit angry. It hurts to know that some Church leaders think we are “less than fully Catholic” – simply because we seek to know and accept the authentic selves that God has created us to be; and in that seeking and knowing, we may have something to say that could disturb their static worldview and challenge them to see us and the world with new eyes.

This week we begin the season of Lent, the Church’s extended 40-day “Annual Retreat” as we prepare to celebrate the deepest truth of our faith – a truth that says life and love conquer hatred and death. Perhaps what we need to do is keep mind not only the words of Jesus from this passage of Luke that promises blessing and God’s presence for those are now hungry, poor, weeping and excluded, but also keep in mind the words that the editors of our Lectionary didn’t include – the next two lines from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain:  "But I say to you…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Monday, March 08, 2010

US Dioceses, Same-Sex Marriage, and a Straight Man's Comment

I usually find quite interesting many of the comments posted in response to online stories. While I know they don't represent any scientifically valid sample, they do provide a glimpse into the views of some -- even if the "some" are self-selected and limited to a very small population.

Today's National Catholic Reporter carries a story about how different dioceses throughout the US have responded to the issue of same-sex marriage in their jurisdictions.  This comment, posted by "Michael Bindner,"  is spot on!

"It will be Catholic families, not governments, that will force the Church to recognize the marriages of their gay children.

The purpose of marriage under the law (including Canon Law) is NOT procreation, but the creation of a separate family unit. It separates two people from their families of origin and joins them into a new family. The Book of Genesis says as much about what happens when a man marries -how he leaves his family and cleves to his wife (and now his husband or her wife)

It's not just about health insurance. If it were that simple, Leveda's choice would have been correct. Instead, it is about saying who your family is and is not. When I married my wife, I left my family and she left hers. We are owned by each other, not our families. When my brother married his husband, he should have the same protections from his siblings and mother. Put another way, his husband and my wife should be on equal footing with regard to familial rights and this footing should be recognized everywhere, and for the sake of both our Catholic family and my brother-in-law's Catholic family, this union should be celebrated in the Church."

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent – Year C (March 6/7, 2010)

  • Have you ever had an experience in which you sensed deeply the Presence of God?
  • Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you just knew – in a way that you couldn’t put in to words – that you were in the presence of something truly Good, truly Holy, truly Divine?
  • Have you ever been caught off guard by something quite extra-ordinary in the midst of the very ordinary, something that caused you to stop what you were doing and really, really pay attention?
That’s the kind of experience that Moses had as told in the first reading we listened to from Exodus.  Moses was busy about his daily work, simply doing his job of tending the sheep of his father-in-law’s flock. And in this midst of this … in the midst of doing something that probably had become quite ordinary and mundane … something very unusual happens. Moses sees this burning bush – a bush on fire yet not consumed.  This “burning bush” experience proved to be a turning point, a decisive moment in his life that helped him understand his true purpose in life, being called by God to be the one to lead the Israelites out of slavery and – eventually – toward freedom and dthe Promised Land.

Such “burning bush” experiences are not infrequent in Sacred Scripture, nor are they infrequent in the lives of holy women and men throughout history, women and men who do great things because of what they understand God to be asking of them.
  • For Mary of Nazareth, her experience of the angel-messenger lead her to say “yes” to something she didn’t fully understand, but which she knew was from God.
  • For her husband Joseph, his dream experience lead him to abandon his own plans of quietly putting Mary out and instead choosing to cooperate in God’s plan for his life, a plan which was at odds with what he saw as his future.
In more recent times ….
  • The self-described unbeliever, Thomas Merton, found himself drawn to a Catholic liturgy in a New York City church that changed his life and set him down an unpaved road of conversion, faith, and mystic spirituality, ultimately becoming one of the most influential Catholic writers of the last century.
  • For Teresa of Calcutta, her “call within a call” came on a train ride on the way to annual retreat when she was still a Sister of Loreto, a call she would describe as Jesus’ own plea to “satisfy his thirst” by serving the poorest of the poor.
These are all examples of moving and dramatic “burning bush” experiences.  They are identified in the lives of those who lived them as singular turning points, events that had the power to change the course of their lives and – in some cases – the course of history.

Perhaps you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions that I mentioned at the beginning. Perhaps you, too, have had a “burning bush” experience – a moment of great epiphany, an “Aha!” moment in which you knew that what was to follow in your life would be very different from what had come before.

Whether we have had such an experience or not, such moments of great conversion or personal drama are not the only way in which the Divine is known. In fact, it’s probably more often the case that God – self-identified to Moses as “the one who causes to be whatever comes into existence” – is present in the simple, the ordinary, and every-day.

Earlier this week, a colleague and I were both working a little late, after everyone else in our part of the office had gone home. She knows I’m Catholic and knows my background, and so she asked me, “Do you do Lent?”  This is a woman who describes herself as “not a very good Jew,” and so she was a little apologetic about her phrasing, not knowing if that was the right way to ask the question. She asked because she had been speaking earlier in the day with another Catholic colleague, and she also has a number of good friends and even some relatives who are practicing Catholics, and she hears them speak of “giving something up for Lent."  She also wanted to know if Lent for Catholics was like Yom Kippur for Jews, with its focus on atoning for the things you’re sorry for.  I first explained that it would be more accurate to speak of “observing” Lent rather than “doing” Lent, and then went on to say how our observance of Lent is not quite like Yom Kippur, most notably because of our fundamental Christian belief that the work of “atonement” was accomplished once and for all by Jesus with his full and complete gift of self through his death on the Cross.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t describe this little chat as a “burning bush” experience – no great epiphany that is leading me to major life changes. But it was, I think, an experience of the Presence of God. That little interaction caused me to stop – even for just a few moments – and enter a world that I can so often be blind to.

We all have busy lives, filled with responsibilities at work and at home; lives filled with endless voicemails and emails and text messages. We are constantly on the go, constantly moving from one thing to the next.
Lent invites us to slow things down – to put our cell phones on “silent” [or better yet, turn them off!]; to unplug our iPod earphones and experience the world – which, almost by definition, is an experience of God – in new and different ways.  It’s a time for us to rekindle a ‘burning bush’ experience we ourselves may have had in our past; or it’s a time to allow the experiences of others to ignite our minds and hearts to see the revelation of God in our midst.  It is a time to allow our Lenten practices of meatless Fridays and occasional fasting to be “planned opportunities” – providing the time and the space and the freedom in which we may become just that much more attuned to the possibility of an unplanned encounter with God.