Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Dignity NoVA/DC
January 26/27, 2013

Scripture Readings

Before I say anything about the scriptures we just listened to and what they might mean for us today, I think I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that – as Americans – we are gathering today as a different people than we did one week ago.  While many people who listened to the President’s Inauguration speech on Monday may have had to look up what his references to Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall meant, no one could misconstrue the meaning of his words when he went on to say this:  “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”  Regardless of whether we voted for Mr. Obama or not, or whether we agree or disagree with his stance on this or that political issue, there can be no doubt that – for us as gay and lesbian Americans – a page of history turned last Monday.  There can be no doubt that his speech marked the dawn of a new era and the beginning of a new chapter in the long road of LGBT Americans to see our full acceptance and inclusion in American society.  For this, I’m sure you join me in being very thankful to God.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View from Whiteface Mountain, New York

Sadly, the corresponding chapter in the history of our Church has yet to see the full light of day.  But let me suggest that the pages of that chapter are being written right here and right now, week in and week out, as we gather to celebrate in Word and in Sacrament the faith of our ancestors – a faith that, as today’s scriptures remind us, brings healing and liberation to those who both listen to and live God’s Word in daily life.

By now you all know that last fall marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  One of often repeated beliefs frequently heard after Vatican II is that the Church is most fully itself when it gathers for Liturgy.  Today we have 3 scripture readings that remind us of this – two of them call to mind the Liturgy of the Word, and one of them reminds us of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Ezra the priest reads to the people who have recently returned to Jerusalem form their long captivity in Babylon.  Jesus of Nazareth, “as was his custom,” entered the local synagogue, reads to a gathering of people who surely knew him well, and tells them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And finally Paul, in that unusually long passage from his first letter to the Corinthians, reminds a somewhat troubled and fractured community that they are, indeed the very Body of the Christ in whose name they have been baptized.  When you hear those words, “Body of Christ,” I suspect that for many of us the first thing that comes to mind is the Eucharist – the bread which we will soon bless and break and share among us.  Those are, after all, the words to which we say “Amen!” when the minister of the Eucharist offers us the Communion.  Using the image of the human body, however, Paul provides us with a related and dare I say deeper meaning of what “Body of Christ” means.

Paul is writing to a group of Christians in about the year 55 – some 25 years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This small group of people – perhaps 50, but probably not much more – had embraced Paul’s message when he had traveled to the Greek city of Corinth the year before.  They had heard him preach, been baptized in Jesus’ name, and had made an initial commitment to what we today would call Christian discipleship.  In the year since Paul had gone to preach elsewhere, Paul has learned that things aren’t so good in Corinth.  He’s heard that there is tension and division and jealousy; that some people are straying from the message he had taught, that others are living what we can euphemistically call “less than virtuous” lives, and that they were neglecting the poor in their midst.

It is to this small group, this Church, that Paul writes. He probably knew all the people at least by face if not by name, just as we know one another gathered here.  He also knew that this was quite a diverse group of people – men and women; Jews and Gentiles; young and old; married and single and widowed; rich and poor; some free and sound bound in servitude and slavery – each with their own gifts and shortcomings, their own weaknesses and strengths. Knowing all this, Paul goes on great length comparing this community, this local Church, to a body.  Just like any human body has different parts that all must work together for the good of the whole, so must every member of this body work with all other members for the good of the whole.  And just like every part of a human body as its own unique purpose and function, so too does each member of this body have his or her own unique talents and skills and blessings to contribute to the greater good of the whole.  And so for Paul, the Body of Christ refers to you and me, gathered as we are in the name of Christ.  His words are clear: “… you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”

Even though the Church today is very different than it was in Paul’s day – much larger and even more diverse than two thousand years ago – Paul’s message remains unchanged:  Through Baptism into his death and resurrection and through the sharing the One Bread and the One Cup, we are all members of the One Body of Christ.

As LGBT Catholics, we’ve often heard quite a different message from many quarters within our Church, haven’t we?  We’ve been told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we either are somehow de-formed parts of the Body of Christ, or that we aren’t even a part of that Body at all.  You and I know in our hearts that such claims are patently false.  We reject positions that would disparage our full humanity or our full Christianity – positions that would seek to exclude us from the Body of Christ.  And yet, hearing such claims as we sometimes do, we can feel like the hand or the foot or the eye that says to those other parts, “I do not need you.”  In our anger at being rejected, we can reject in turn those who dismiss us … especially those who wield great power within the Church and who … unlike the President in his speech … would never even speak the word “gay” let alone engage in fruitful dialogue with God’s LGBT sons and daughters.

And so for us, if God’s Word is to be fulfilled in our hearing, then there is a new challenge.  Like our Corinthian ancestors, we are called to see fellow members of the Body of Christ not only in the faces of one another gathered here – people whom we know and care for and even call friend – but also we are challenged to see as members of the Body of Christ those who may still be blinded by prejudice and bound by ignorance.  And … if our blindnesses are healed … we may even have cause to see some signs of hope for our Church.

Some gay Catholics were pleased, for example, to see seeds of hope in this week’s statement from the Bishops of France where, as you probably know, the issue of same-sex marriage is being hotly debated.  While their statement would hardly be endorsed by gay rights groups, the French bishops’ statement at least:  Recognizes that homosexuality has always existed; Rejects homophobia in any and all forms; Recognizes that there can be value in loving, committed same-sex relationships; and Recognizes that the concerns and needs of gay people themselves must be listened to directly.

The passage of Scripture that Luke tells us Jesus declared “fulfilled in their hearing” was from the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

May these same words of Scripture reminding us that we are Members of the Body of Christ, united in love for one another and called to bring God’s love to a world and a Church that is broken, be fulfilled in our hearing and usher in a new era of healing and liberation for all God’s holy people.

(material for parts of homily is drawn from a variety of sources, including homilies by Fr. Joseph Komonchak, In verbo veritas).

(c) Copyright 2013 – Timothy J MacGeorge

“What should we do?” – Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

Note: As I was heading out the door last night to church, I was moved almost to tears by the words of a young father, Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emilie was killed in Friday’s horrible event in Newtown. He began by extending his own family’s condolences to the many families who lost loved ones — including the shooter’s family!

December 15, 2012 / Dignity NoVA

I’ve been thinking and praying this past week about what words I might offer on this, the third Sunday of Advent.  As you know, I sometimes like to begin with a little levity, a little humor… and so thought about coming up with something humorous to say about the unique Liturgical color we have for today and our gathering as a community of LGBT Christians, because there’s no doubt something “gay” could be said in that regard! Some clergy, by the way, go to great lengths to make the point that the color is rose and not pink!

I also thought about pointing out that we have a unique Liturgical color because today, this Third Sunday of Advent, is also known in the Liturgical Calendar as “Gaudete” Sunday … Gaudete being the first word of the opening prayer of the Latin mass:  “Gaudete in Domino semper – Rejoice in the Lord always!” “Iterum dico, gaudete! – I say it again, Rejoice!”

But then … yesterday happened.  I had taken the day off from work on Friday, and I was proud of myself for not sleeping in too late and for going to the gym in the morning.  But then, on the way home, I heard the first coverage of the horrible tragedy that had only just occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.  I heard first on the radio, and then I turned on CNN as soon as I got inside.  I spent much of the day absorbed by the media coverage of that awful tragedy.  I also watched and even participated in various conversations online as people expressed their outrage, their anger, and their thoughts about the issues related to inadequate gun control laws and the insufficiencies of our fragmented mental health system.

And so, as I thought further about the liturgy for this evening, it didn’t seem like the appropriate time to be making light of things or trying to be humorous.  And, it seemed even less appropriate to be speaking about “Rejoicing” when there was clearly no rejoicing, but in fact just the opposite – such incomparable sadness and grief and a whole host of “non-rejoicing” emotions – unfolding in that small New England town, and dare I say, around the country and beyond.

The sudden and tragic deaths of twenty-eight people – most of whom were little children less then ten years old – have caught the world’s attention, as the emerging news of this sad event continues to do so even now.

And so I found myself – appropriately – focusing even more closely on the scriptures. The one line that I kept returning to over and over again is in that opening exchange in the Gospel of Luke where Luke has the crowd put this question to John the Baptist:  “What should we do?”  It’s a question that was spoken by many seeking to find some way to respond to yesterday’s sad event.

In the passage immediately preceding the Gospel passage we just listened to, followers of John the Baptist heard him speak forcefully his message of Repentance. They heard him minimize the significance of their claim to being “children of Abraham” – as if being “children of Abraham” would be enough to bring them to salvation.  But John tells them that God can raise up out of the very desert stones countless “children of Abraham,” so there’s really nothing special in that! They also heard him say that the ax is at the ready – ready to cut down those trees that do not produce good fruit – knowing full well that they were the trees about which he spoke.

And so they ask, “What should we do?”  They come asking not what we should believe, or what we should think.  They come not with a question about what is in the mind or even in the heart … but wanting to know what action they should pursue in order to come to know the salvation that the Baptizer proclaims.

John does not disappoint. And though it is certainly not meant to be exhaustive, he gives a list of things to do, actions to take, in order to be the true “children of Abraham.” These actions are ones that many – even many Christians – would reject out of hand.

  • Got two cloaks? Give one to someone who has none.
  • Got more food than you need? Give it to someone who has none.
  • Even to the tax collectors and soldiers who also ask what to do, he admonishes them not to abuse their power, but to use their authority with restraint, with honesty, and to be content with what wages they earn.

In short, John tells all to be attentive to the needs of the less fortunate, to be content with what we have so that others might not go without; and to use power and authority with restraint, free from abuse, and never use it to meet selfish or self-serving interests.  John’s “to do list” is rooted in a biblical sense of what is right and what is just, understanding that ultimately we can claim nothing as our own, that all is from God. To use language of a later theology, John reminds us that all is grace, and that if we are to live grace-filled lives, we must never forget the graciousness and justice of God.

I’m sure that this time of year – and even all year long – most of us try to support those in need and to be attentive to helping the less fortunate.  But the crowd’s question asked of John is one that we also ask, especially when faced with situations of confusion, of hurt, of anger, of rejection, or even of violence:  What should we do, how should we respond as people of faith and children of God?

Specific answers to that question each of us must find for ourselves. But, regardless of what struggle we face, what tragedy we encounter … we should remember this:  It is a fundamental truth of Christianity that no matter what has happened in the past, what might happen in the future, or even what is happening however horribly in the present, the Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, this very Jesus is in our midst right here and right now. It’s a Truth we proclaim so loudly every time we gather to break open the Word and to share in the Eucharist. This belief in the ever-presence of Jesus whom we call Lord should guide us in whatever we choose to do and in every action we choose to pursue. As Americans, we know that greed, selfishness, and abuse of power and position are still with us – and all-too-often with us in abundance. Where, we may ask, in our day is there a voice crying in the wilderness?  Perhaps what we should really ask is a question of ourselves:  What am I doing and what choices am I making to live a life of grace, turned always toward God by looking squarely in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, trying each and every day to live as fully as I can the Good News that John and Jesus proclaim?

(c) Copyright 2012 – Timothy J MacGeorge

Apocalypse and Presence: Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dignity NoVA/DC – November 17/18, 2012* 

Rugged hills at Joshua Tree National Park

Readings

Apocalyptic.  That’s the word that describes the readings we just listened to, as we hear both Daniel and Jesus speak about “those days after the tribulation.” And if you have any doubt that these are, indeed, times of tribulation and impending doom…well, just listen to the news.  We can’t listen to the radio, or pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing of the impending “fiscal cliff” that lies ahead for the US economy and the dangers that await us all if we plunge off that cliff into some unknown abyss.  Some in our country who may have a particular outlook on politics and society see in the outcome of the recent elections signs that the end of civilization as we know it is surely in sight … After all, the presidential election did not go as they had hoped; the first openly gay woman has been elected to the US Senate, and the citizens of four US states voted either to recognize same-sex marriage explicitly, or at least not to prohibit it constitutionally.  But for me, however, the clearest signal that the end of the world is in sight came this week with the horrific news that Hostess is going out of business! What could be a more clear sign that the tribulation is at hand than the fact that Hostess Cup Cakes, Ding Dongs, Ring Dings and Twinkies are no more?!

Clearly, I’m joking.  But it is true that all of these things are happening in our world today, just as it’s true that they are reported or discussed with great urgency and angst.

It’s also just as true that these types of readings that we have on this, the second to last Sunday of our Liturgical year, can be difficult for many people, especially those who don’t understand what the Bible really is.  Those who think that the Bible is a single book and who take literally all that it contains fail to understand that the Bible is actually a collection of books – a small library, as it were – of books that were written over the course of many centuries, in different times and places, even in different languages, for different audiences and with different purposes.  Biblical literature comes in many genres – including poetry, history, gospel, as well as the type of apocalyptic literature that we have today.

Today’s first and third readings are clearly apocalyptic writings. Historically, this type of literature seems to arise in unsettled times, times when the authors experience either imagined, exaggerated, or very real tribulation and crisis.  It’s the kind of writing that comes about when people who are experiencing great hardship need to know that the hardship will not last forever and that they will survive.

Specifically, the passage from the Book of Daniel describes the time in the 2nd century BCE (Before the Christian Era) when Israel was occupied by the Syrians under the Syrian King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Under his leadership, the Syrians tried to impose their language, culture and religion on the Jews. The Jews did not have the political or military strength to defeat the invaders, so they found solace in the belief that someday the Syrians would be defeated and leave. That belief gave them courage to endure present trials.  They clung to what we as Christians, speaking of the Resurrection, call the “sure and certain hope” that God and God’s goodness would ultimately prevail.

Our Gospel passage from Mark was written when the community of Christians was still quite young.  Christians were outsiders – and therefore despised by people and persecuted by the government. Although they were not seeking to replace Roman rule with Christian rule, it was this same experience of being excluded from the wider community that directed their vision to a world beyond the present day, to a time when their faith would be vindicated and the Reign of God, ushered in by God’s Son, would prevail.

I have to be honest and say that I typically pay little heed to Apocalyptic literature – even in the Scriptures.  Probably that’s because it seems to attract an odd type of person, but also because they tend to generate in us a sense of anxiety and worry over things that we can do nothing about.

And yet, I also have to wonder if there isn’t a message for us in our own day about what these sorts of writings have to say, some two millennia further down the road of history?  Is there a lesson to be learned, a truth to be uncovered, a pearl of wisdom to be appreciated in such writings?

Obviously the answer is yes.  Two things come to mind.  First, these writings, in drawing our attention to the future, remind us that the present day is passing away and that the world as we know it will not last forever.  Our experience of life and the world tells us that all things evolve and change and ultimately pass away … pass away into we know not what.  And so whether our future lasts for one year – or a trillion years – it really doesn’t matter, does it? Whether the Second Coming of Jesus happens in our lifetime or not – as it probably will not – it really doesn’t matter, does it?  What matters is, as one scripture scholar put it, we need to see these apocalyptic writings “not so much [as] a warning about the end of the world, [but rather] as … a commentary on living in it. This day, this moment, this life, … NOW is the time to bear the fruit” as faithful disciples of the Lord. Now is the time for us to live lives rooted in justice and charity.  These writings may draw our attention momentarily toward the future; but they also serve as a reminder that the only real moment we have is NOW.

And so NOW, we believe that life is meaningful and has purpose.  We believe that in some way unknown the hand of God is at work in human history.  We believe that goodness and not evil will have the last say.  And most especially – coming from our own experience as outsiders, as individuals and as part of communities who know what it means to be excluded – we believe that every person on the face of this earth reflects the eternal beauty of the Divine Image and is worthy of dignity, respect, and love.

As we come to the end of this church year, as we celebrate our national day of Thanksgiving this week, and even as we struggle as a Church, a Nation and a World to work together for the good of all, let us make our own the words of the Psalmist:  “You are my inheritance, O Lord! You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”

*I typically draw upon many sources in preparing my homilies. But this one owes a particular debt to Roger Vermalen Karban and James Smith, Preaching Resources for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Celebration Publications (www.celebrationpublications.com).

(c) Copyright 2012 – Timothy J MacGeorge

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dignity Nova/DC – September 15/16, 2012

Readings

Our first reading for today should be very familiar.  It’s part of a long section from the prophet Isaiah that includes what scripture scholars refer to as the “four servant songs.”  Beginning in Chapter 40 and going through Chapter 53 of “second Isaiah” or “deutero Isaiah,” these poetic passages introduce the Servant of Yahweh in what we as post-resurrection Christians see as prophecies about the Messiah.  The sacred author describes this Servant:

  • First, as Chosen – “My chosen one in whom my soul delights.”
  • Second, as Missioned – “I will make you a light to the nations.”
  • Fourth, as Suffering – “He was oppressed and afflicted; … like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”

It’s from the third of such poetic songs that we hear today, as the Servant of God is described as steadfast and obedient. Even when faced with the violence and cruelty of rejection, God’s Servant has set his face “like flint,” trusting in the presence and promise of God, believing that whatever may befall him, God is there.

That’s the backdrop by which we must hear the words of Mark in today’s Gospel. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s a prelude to the real question that the disciples must answer – and one that we must answer as well:  Jesus wants to know, “Who do you say that I am?” This is a question not of Identity, but of Being.  Jesus wants to know if they have yet grasped who HE IS?

And while Jesus must surely have been pleased with Peter’s quick declaration, “You are the Christ – the anointed one – the Messiah,” we know that Peter the Rock quickly becomes Peter the stumbling block.  In not wanting to accept the fact that Jesus’ Messiah-ship is different than what he (Peter) thinks it should be, Peter in that all-too-human, cocky, “just like a guy” kind of way, stops being a disciple, a learner, a follower … and figuratively jumps out in front of Jesus.  Peter at least did have the good sense to rebuke Jesus in private – and you can almost see the two off to the side with Peter saying some version of, “Hey, look Boss, you’re supposed to be the Messiah, not some common criminal who is going to suffer and get rejected and get killed. Where’s the victory in that? Where’s the Kingdom in that? You’re sounding not like a winner, but like the worst possible loser.  C’mon, get with the program!”

But Jesus will have none of it.  Then, Jesus does an interesting thing.  He “turns around” and looks at his disciples, and then he rebukes Peter.  It’s almost as if both by his actions and his words, Jesus teaches Peter the lesson he needs to learn.  Jesus rebukes Peter, calling him “Satan” and telling him to “get behind me.” In doing so, Jesus is telling Peter that he has forgotten who is the leader and who is the disciple.  What Jesus is saying is that ‘on this, my journey of doing the will of the Father – a journey that leads ultimately to rejection and pain and suffering and even death – you as my disciple belong behind me, not in front of me. I am leading the way, because I am doing the will of my Abba/Father. ’

And then, Jesus speaks in a way that certainly must have been confusing to those disciples and the crowd that heard him – as it’s certainly something confusing to us.  The Christian scriptures and the teachings of Jesus are often filled with paradox.  Paradox is the sort of statement that seems contradictory; it’s the type of statement or declaration that makes no sense to our rational, logical, Western way of thinking – to what many spiritual guides calls the dualistic mind.  If the way we experience life and the world and others and reality is dualistic – namely, always in terms of right and wrong, good and bad, yes and no, in and out, included and excluded, black and white … or, for that matter … Democrat and Republican, male and female, American and foreigner, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old… the list could go on and on! … if we experience the world only on this way, then we will never fully understand and grasp the many paradoxes of Christian faith.  In this instance, Jesus proclaims what is perhaps the ultimate paradox of Christianity – life means death, and death is life. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.

Earlier this week I was listening to an audio book by a psychotherapist who has worked in the gay community for a long time.  He made a comment almost in passing that struck me.  He said that we as gay people – especially gay men and women of a certain age, though I suspect it’s true of many of us regardless of age – sometimes have difficulty accessing our feelings, sometimes have difficulty being fully aware of our emotional self.  And, he pointed out, when we do have access to that side of ourselves and are “in touch with our emotions,” the feeling that very many of us have the easiest access to is our anger.  The therapist was making this point in the context of gay men and their relationships, having grown up largely in a society and culture that was, more likely than not, unwelcoming. Having to hide who we are for much of our lives, being taught by the dominant culture that we are some sort of abominable aberration, and having the experience of being rejected in so many direct and indirect ways – it’s no wonder that many of us have such anger.  As I heard that, what struck me was not only the probable truth of his observation, but also how equally true it probably is for us as Gay Catholics in our religious context of “the Church.” Perhaps I’m just speaking for myself and engaging in a little projection, but I know that I have anger – dare I say, a “righteous anger?” – toward the institution I love so dearly called Church.  I suspect I’m not alone in saying that.

Whether we can see that in ourselves or not, each of us is challenged by the Gospel of Jesus to follow him even when and perhaps especially when we experience anger, when we feel hurt, when we know pain, and when we are rejected.  In those situations our first tendency is to be not like Jesus or the Servant of God, but rather like Peter, isn’t it?  Our inclination is to put up our defenses, saying this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, and change the game plan to what we want. Now … don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that situations that give rise to anger and hurt and pain and rejection are necessarily part of God’s plan and that we should simply be passive and docile in the face of what may truly be situations of injustice or even evil.  What I AM saying is that the mind and heart we must bring to those situations – and really to every person and every situation in life – is the mind of Jesus, the heart of the one sought always to know and do the will of God.  After all, doesn’t the passage from the Letter of James remind us that action is essential to a life of faith … that claims of faithfulness are empty and meaningless if we don’t put that faith into concrete practice that make better the lives of others in need? Let our prayer this day and every day be that we do, indeed, have what it takes to be faithful disciples of Jesus, following him wherever the Spirit of God may lead us.

(c) Copyright 2012 – Timothy J MacGeorge

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption – 1987

I wrote this homily twenty-five years ago, just a couple of months after being ordained.  I share it now because I think the message — simple as it is — is relevant today as it was then.

SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION – St. Anne’s Parish, Littleton, MA

August 15, 1987

Today we celebrate the feast of Mary’s Assumption — a day on which we affirm that Mary, as the earthly mother of the Divine Son of God, now lives body and soul and the fullness of her person in the presence of God.  But even as we affirm the truth of Mary’s existence in heaven, if we are truly to celebrate this feast, we need, in a sense, to bring Mary a bit more down to earth.  I say this because on such an occasion the tendency seems to be to see Mary only as the Queen of angels and saints now reigning gloriously in heaven.  And while she may be all this and more, to see only this aspect of her is to rob her of the power to speak to each and every one of us in this church today, to speak to us as a model of faith and obedience to the will of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, we find Mary’s beautiful song of praise — the Magnificat — and in that passage we hear Mary describe herself not as a Queen but as a lowly servant — in the original language, ”anawim,” one of the little poor ones, one of the powerless on the lower rungs of society’s ladder.  She was on earth without privilege or rank, yet God chose her to bring His only Son into the world.

“Well,” we may say, “that in itself is certainly greater than any earthly glory” — and while this is true, we do well to remember that Mary’s saying “Yes” to God’s will for her did not bring her a life of joy.  For she endured society’s scorn for being an unmarried woman with child, thus allowing herself to be placed at the risk of being ostracized from the society in which she lived.  And then, she lived to see this son grow up to be rejected, arrested, and executed as a common criminal or a slave would be on a cross.

She knew the pain of a parent losing a child.  Surely her faith was challenged to the core, yet indeed she did keep faith.  She continued to believe in spite of all that she saw and experienced.  For she trusted that God would somehow make things right, that her son’s sufferings and her own in turn were not in vain.  Mary was not blessed with foreknowledge or superhuman powers.  Like the other disciples, she too had to suffer and endure until she saw God’s promise fulfilled in her son’s resurrection.  Thus, for her obedient “yes” to God’s will, for her persevering in faith in spite of the cost to her personally, in spite of her own sorrow and suffering — it is for these reasons that we celebrate Mary today.  For on earth, she was one of us, and as such she is a model for us so that we too can follow her lead, we too can say “yes” to God’s will for our lives; we too can persevere in faith in spite of what sufferings come our way in this life, and although the Assumption we reserve for Mary, we too can trust that if we keep faith, we shall one day live as Mary does now, body and soul in the presence of God.  For as we are now, so once was Mary — as she is now, so we hope to be.  This is truly cause to celebrate the feast of her assumption.

In Response to Hate: Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dignity Nova/DC – July 28/29, 2012 (Readings)

No doubt the biggest news items you’ve heard over the past week or so include:

  • Coverage of the horrific violence that happened last weekend in Colorado when a heavily armed man – who is probably mentally ill – shot up a movie theater, killing and injuring so many; or
  • The build up to and the non-stop coverage of the Olympic Games that are getting underway in London; or
  • Local coverage of the 19th International AIDS Conference that was finally able to be held here in the US; and
  • Of course, the coverage of this year’s campaign as President Obama and Governor Romney continue to slug it out for the keys to the White House.

What you might not have heard, however, are these stories about…

  • The man in Oklahoma City who sustained 2nd degree burns after his car was vandalized and fire-bombed; or
  • The 17-year old young woman in Louisville, Kentucky who was attacked by a group of adults as she walked home from a convenience store with two younger boys, who are neighborhood friends; or – and most troubling of all,
  • The 33-year old woman in Lincoln, Nebraska whose home was set on fire after 3 masked men broke in during the night and mutilated her skin, carving slurs that justified the classification of this horrific act as a Hate Crime.

The common thread between these last three is that all three victims are gay.  All three were known to be gay or lesbian and were simply going about living – just like you and I do every day – their daily, fairly mundane lives.  Suddenly, out of the blue and without warning, a violence borne of hate tore their lives apart in ways they will never forget and in ways that will leave lasting scars – both literally and figuratively.

Today’s Gospel reading is the first 15 verses of the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Over the next several weeks – in fact for the entire month of August – we will hear practically the entire rest of this chapter and its more than 70 verses.  For the most part, this section of John’s Gospel is referred to as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” and it starts off with this passage we just listened to, the miracle story of the multiplication of five barley loaves and a few fish so very familiar to us all.  As we move through the following weeks and hear Jesus explain in various ways that the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven, is indeed his very Body and Blood, the final Gospel reading of August will conclude with these words:

“’The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe’….  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

To be a follower of Jesus is not easy – it never has been and never will be. If we doubt that, we simply need to hear again that even among those who knew Jesus in the flesh, even among those who saw him with their own eyes and who heard him with their own ears – even among these some came to a place where following him was too difficult, where being his disciple was too demanding, and so they turned around, they went back to a “former way of life” and could not find it in their minds or their hearts to continue accompanying him, allowing their lives to be transformed by the Gospel of Love and of Peace that he preached.

What I’d like to draw our attention, to, however, is not the theological and spiritual significance of these very important Gospel passages.  These Scriptures are indeed quite formative for us as Catholic Christians, and especially for our understanding of sacramentality and our unshakeable belief in what we call the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine of Eucharist.

No, what I’d like to draw our attention to is the second reading from Ephesians – especially in view of those news stories I mentioned.  Scripture scholars tell us this letter was written probably not by Paul himself, but by a disciple of Paul. As a whole, the overall theme of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks to the Unity that should exist among the followers of Jesus. As the letter states, we are called to preserve unity in the Spirit through the bond of Peace.  The author challenges us not simply to believe something, but actually to live our lives marked by virtues that characterize Christian behavior. The three virtues named here are humility, gentleness, and patience.  By embracing these and living these, we will then be united in the Spirit through that bond of Peace.

That’s all well and good for us who believe the same things, who see the world through similar eyes, and who place our faith in the same God Whom we believe is indeed “over all and in all and through all.”  But what about those who may not only believe differently than we do, but who even hate or despise us for whatever reason?  How do we respond to those who speak words of hate to us or to any one else who is “other” simply because of who they are? What do we when face to face with those who who teach their children to hate, and who say that it’s OK to do violence – which is the offspring of hate – towards those who are different? What do we do when words which sew the seeds of hate sometimes come from those in our midst most called to preach the Gospel and its fundamental assertion that we are all the beloved sons and daughters of God? And … when we see what others can do to our LGBT brothers and sisters, how is it possible to be humble, gentle, and patient in the face of that!? And of course, perhaps the most difficult question of all is, where might there be hatred in our own lives and hearts, and how do we respond when the forces of this world tug at us incessantly, trying to pull us back to a “former way of life”?

I ask these questions not because I have any answers, but simply to remind us that the world in which we live and the Peace that God alone gives will shine forth only when we who claim to be Jesus’ disciples live our lives each day with greater humility, gentleness, and patience.  Even for those who would do us harm, is not this our call as disciples? Let us pray that even in the face of the most horrific acts of violence as well as the daily acts of unkindness we may encounter, we may always respond to one another and to all with humility, gentleness and patience.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Dignity/Washington

June 10, 2012

Today we celebrate a feast that has been a part of the Church’s liturgical calendar since the thirteenth century.  In English we call it the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, but it’s also commonly known by the abbreviated version of its Latin name, Corpus Christi.  Although I’ve never actually participated in it, one of the special ways in which this feast can be celebrated is to have a public Corpus Christi Procession.  While the liturgical norms provide great detail on how to conduct such a procession, it essentially is quite simple.  After Mass, the gathered community is lead through the streets of their city or town by the celebrant of the Mass.  He carries the Eucharist, which in turn is held under a canopy of some sort – a sign of respect for our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

I couldn’t help but think of that image yesterday as a group of us – over 40 members of this community – joined with many hundreds of others in marching in yesterday’s Capital Pride Parade.  Thanks to the artistic skills of Larry Ranly, we had our own version of such a Corpus Christi canopy.  Constructed in the shape of a chapel, our lightweight canopy was draped in the colors of the rainbow, and it was carried by six of us as we walked the parade route behind a banner indicating that we were the Dignity/Washington contingent.

Even as I thought of that image in relationship to today’s Feast, I couldn’t also help but think of what this feast – the feast of Corpus Christi – means for me personally.  For the past quarter of a century, it has been a very special day. Although it’s been quite a few years since I was in active parish ministry, it was on this weekend twenty-five years ago that I was ordained a priest. And so it was on this feast day that I had the great joy of presiding at the Eucharist as a priest for the very first time.

In the diocese where I was ordained, the tradition is that a newly ordained priest would often invite someone else – perhaps a close friend, maybe a classmate from another diocese, or someone who had been influential in one’s years of seminary study – to give the homily.  And so it was that I asked my good friend Gerry – ordained several years ahead of me and who, sadly, has since passed away – to give the homily at my first Mass. In that homily, Gerry talked about the room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem that has been venerated as the site the “Upper Room” since the 4th century.  In that room, there is a carving at the top of a stone pillar.  It’s a carving of a mother pelican feeding here young with her own flesh and blood – a symbol of Jesus who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us, who gave us the gift his very self on the cross, a gift which we remember and receive again and again every time we share in Eucharist.

It you either marched in or were present for yesterday’s Parade, you know what a wonderful spirit was there – a spirit of celebration blessed by the beautify of a warm June day, but also marked by a sense of a changed or changing landscape for the LGBT community in the U.S.  When we look at past Gay Pride events – events which have become the “High Holy Days” for the gay community around the globe – one cannot fail to recognize how different things are for us in 2012 than they were say, in 1987 when I was ordained … and maybe even before some of you were even born!  So much has changed, in fact, that I’ve heard a number of people say over the past year or so that the struggle for gay rights and for the full inclusion of LGBT people in civil society here in the US is just a matter of time.  I think perhaps the general consensus is that, although there are goals yet to achieve, it really is just a matter of time before the barriers toward such full inclusion in civil society are greatly diminished or eliminated.  Indeed, I think there is strong evidence to support this perspective.

If that is true – and I hope and pray it is – I think it presents to us as LGBT Catholics an important time for reflection.  At the heart of this is the fact that what can be said about civil society, the broader culture, and even many other branches of the Christian family tree … those things unfortunately cannot yet be said about our Catholic community. While there are many positive indications about where we as LGBT Catholics are today when compared with two decades ago … it is not quite so clear that the tide has turned, or that full inclusion of LGBT Catholics into the life of the Church at all levels is in any way imminent.  If it is indeed, just a matter of time for such inclusion to come about, I daresay we’re probably talking in terms of decades and even longer, rather than months and years.

So if that is true, then what does this mean for us as a community of LGBT Catholics? Where do we want to be in 5, 10, or 25 years in terms of our relationship with the broader Catholic community … and how do we get there? What does this mean for how we will move forward in ensuring that popes and bishops and other leaders of our Church – as well as those of our lay brothers and sisters who still accept what the media call the church’s “official teaching” regarding human sexuality and the rejection of God’s image and likeness reflected in people like you and me – what does this mean for how we ensure that they understand that we, too, are members of the one Body of Christ?  How do we share with our fellow Catholics at all levels of the church’s structure the truths of our own lives? How do we help them to understand that the there is indeed room under that Corpus Christi canopy for ALL members of Christ’s Body? How do we do all this and still remain faithful to our call to live our Christian faith in the context and tradition of Catholicism?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but if we are to take seriously the fact that through our Baptism we have been made part of that One Body of Christ, then I think we at least need to think about this unique moment in time, recognizing who we are, where we are, and being thoughtful about where we are heading. While I don’t know all the answers, I have no doubt that sacrifice will be involved. Just as that mother pelican gave her life for her young, and as Jesus gave up his very self so that we might have access to the fullness of life,  we too must be prepared to give up and let go of what is non-essential, so that our voices may be unified and the core truth of our message will be not only heard, bur received.

As you’ve heard before and I’m sure will hear again … this year marks a very special anniversary.  It’s the 50th year since the Second Vatican Council began its work in Rome in 1962. If you’re not familiar with that Council’s 16 Constitutions, Declarations and Decrees, maybe you should pick up a copy and add it to your summer beach reading list!  There is in those documents great richness for today that goes beyond what is sometimes minimizes the Council’s work by referring to the “spirit of Vatican II, ” as the documents themselves paint a picture of a Church very different than what some current leaders would have us see.  In the Dogmatic Constition on the Church, Lumen Gentium (#12), the Council Fathers wrote:

“The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.”

I don’t know how you could be more clear in declaring that every member of the Body of Christ has a role to play and a voice to speak in discerning matters of faith.  As we claim our rightful place within the Body of Christ – as we become more fully what we receive in Eucharist – our task as faithful members of Christ’s one Body – is to discern rightly and to live out that discernment in faith and in hope and in dignity.

Happy Pride!