A God for All People – Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
Dignity NoVA/DC – January 7/8, 2012


Today the Church invites us to continue reflecting on the Mystery of the Christmas message as we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany of the Lord.  The traditional day for this celebration is January 6, and in some cultures it’s commonly referred to as Little Christmas. The word “Epiphany” means a “manifestation” or a “showing forth” and it commemorates the visit to the infant Jesus by the “astrologers” from the east, the Magi of whom Matthew speaks in today’s gospel.  When we examine this passage along with the other Scriptures that are before us, we see that the theme and message of this feast is really very simple. Essentially, this day reminds us that the salvation which is to be bestowed on the House of Israel is not restricted to the House of Israel – that the gift of God’s very self is intended for all nations and all peoples.  I suppose the message can be summed up quite easily in that one line from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which he describes as his “insight into the mystery of Christ.” Paul tells us “… that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The dawn of a new day and a new year - sunrise at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, January 1, 2012.

“So what?” you might ask.  “What is so new about that? After all, our tradition for over two thousand years has acknowledged that the message of the Gospel is to be shared with all people.”   The answer for us today, I think, can be found when we really reflect on the question, “What does it mean to be ‘members of the same body’ and ‘copartners of the promise’?”

The people of Jesus’ day believed that God would one day save his people – and so they looked forward with hopeful expectation to the coming of the Messiah.  But for many the Messiah for whom they looked was not the apparently powerless infant of Bethlehem, but rather they awaited the coming of a powerful descendant of the House of David who would free his people from the oppression of foreign domination, bringing judgment and condemnation to those who were not of the Chosen People.

This feast we celebrate today reminds us that such a limited hope was misguided.  It reminds us that the great gift of God in the person of God’s Son is not given merely to a single person, a single family, a single town, a single culture, a single nation, a single religion, or a single Church.  No one – no priest or pope; no president, politician or presidential candidate; no bishop or pastor; no woman or man has a monopoly on that presence of God now Incarnate in the world.  Epiphany reminds us that all peoples are the intended recipients of God’s gift of self and all that flows from this connection with the Divine.  At is core, the message of the Lord’s Epiphany reminds us that the Gospel is characterized by inclusion, not exclusion; letting us not forget that there is more than enough room for all at the Lord’s Table and in God’s Kingdom.

Such a realization has great implications for those of us whom Paul refers to as “copartners,” or sharers, in the promise of the Gospel.  We believe that we do indeed share in the gift of God’s promise to Israel and that the blessings of new life in Christ are ours. But there are two dimensions to that sharing. We are not only sharers in that we have received this gift in the passive sense; but we are also called to be sharers in the more active sense, being called to share this great gift of faith and of life with one another.  We are called to share our gifts and our talents, to share all that we have and all that we are, to open the doors of our hearts and our lives to be a people who welcome and embrace others.

That’s not always an easy thing to do.  One thing that can help us live up to that call is to develop a keener sense of being able to see – as did the Magi – the presence of God Incarnate in our world.  Yes, it’s very, very easy to see situations in which God seems to be absent … but can we develop our senses of the soul so that we see and hear and touch the Divine so very present in the world all around us?

I don’t profess to be any better at this than anyone else, but here are just two examples from this past week in which I recognized God’s presence.   I was fortunate enough to get away for a couple days last weekend and see the beauty of the dawn on New Year’s Day as the sun rose over the horizon.  That sunrise – including time spent with a few special friends – was clearly painted by the hand of God, and for it I am very thankful.  More recently I think we need to recognize the presence of God as seen in the very public apology delivered by a Cardinal of the Church, something that doesn’t happen very often.  Chicago’s archbishop Cardinal Francis George publicly recognized the harm and hurt his words had done a week before in comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan.  Just as I had been shocked by his initial comparison, I never expected that he would apologize has he has done. The cardinal said:

“I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused. Particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it’s part of our lives. So I’m sorry for the hurt.”

May our prayer this Epiphany day be that we are a not only able to see and name God in our midst, but that we may also be more faithful copartners in the promise of the Gospel by sharing God’s love, hope, presence and peace with everyone we meet every day of our lives.

Thank you, Cardinal George

Most of us are pretty good at calling someone out when they say mean, untruthful, or outrageous things.  Thus, it was no surprise that recent remarks made by Chicago’s Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, comparing the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan were met with justified outcry and condemnation.

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago

The Chicago Tribune is reporting today that His Eminence has publicly apologized, stating that he is “…truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused.”

Just as quickly as we stand up against that which is wrong, we must also stand up quickly in support of that which is right.

Cardinal George deserves to be thanked for recognizing the real impact of his words and the potential harm they could have done, had they been left as is. He should also be thanked for providing the example of what any Christian should do whenever he recognizes he has made a mistake. The simple word “sin” has many variations in our Hebrew and Greek patrimony. Among these various terms are words that mean “missing the mark” or suggest that a relationship has been harmed or broken. Cardinal George’s apology publicly recognizes that whatever point he was trying to make, his comparison to the KKK was way off the mark. He also recognizes that words are powerful — they can both build up and tear down. While they can never be unspoken, they can and must be corrected whenever we realize that something we have said has done harm to others. This, Cardinal George has done. And for that, he should be thanked.

My prayer this Saturday morning is that the Cardinal’s apology will be welcomed and met with forgiveness. Perhaps this will be the dawn of a new day in the Church, and I pray that a spirit of reconciliation will help create an atmosphere of openness and dialogue between Church authorities and those of us who seek a deeper and richer theology of sexuality in light of the lived experience of God’s LGBT children.

Cardinal George Crosses the Line

At first, one might think that Cardinal Francis George’s uncharitable comparison of the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan was simply an unfortunate, off the cuff comment.  Watch the video of the interview with the local Fox station in which the comment was made, and you might have a different impression.  George is polished man when it comes to media interviews, and both his KKK reference and response to the pointed, followup question seem just a bit too prepped.

What should have been a story about how the LGBT community adjusted the schedule of its annual Pride Parade out of respect for the worshiping community at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish has since become yet another example of how certain individuals in the Church’s hierarchy will go out of their way to speak ill of gays and lesbians. As Equally Blessed correctly states, the Cardinal’s comment is truly “unworthy of his office.” I would go even further. Such a statement is mean-spirited and damaging, not to mention simply untrue.

In these final days of the Advent Season, Catholics and all Christians look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus and the presence of the Living God in all creation, especially in each and every person who reflects the image of the Divine.  His Eminence’s hurtful and hateful words tarnish him more than they do those of whom he spoke.

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.”