Saturday, September 8, 2018

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cries of the Poor

Isaiah 35:4-7a
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37
          “Be strong, fear not.”
These powerful words come from this week’s readings and are meant to help settle our hearts.  But are our ears open to hearing this hope-filled message?
Let’s face it, our hearts are heavy, angry, confused and burdened by weeks and weeks of bad news about the Catholic Church.
It’s a painful and ugly mess.  For many, it’s just too much.
Our first reading from Isaiah is a reminder of how suffering is always followed by salvation. This is God’s Covenant promise with His people.
Our Catechism teaches us that God will ultimately provide justice for the victims and the perpetrators. Only He can bring good out of even the gravest evils.
As the Catechism states, “The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil.”
"Two thousand years ago, while he hung on the Cross, Jesus saw the filth that would threaten to obscure the holiness of his Church. He saw each egregious sin now detailed in grand jury reports and victims’ testimonies. He knew that some of his clergy would abandon him like Judas. He knew that some people—right in the heart of the Church—would commit evil, abhorrent acts and others would work to cover them up. He knew that people would leave the Church, offended and wounded by these sins against God. Jesus cried tears of blood as these heartrending scenes flashed before his eyes. These sins and their effects were so burdensome, so unimaginably painful that the Son of God cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)," the words of Sr. Theresa Aletheia on social media this week.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain issued the following official statement on the crisis last month:
The sexual abuse of a minor is an intrinsic moral evil and a crime, and anyone responsible for such an act, or for shielding those who do, including bishops and other Church leaders, must be held accountable for their actions.”
In the flood of all this bad news, it was encouraging to read a story this past week about how young Catholics are reacting to all of this bad news.
Yes, some are walking away from the faith because of the scandals.  But many other young people are staying -- staying to fight for church reform, staying to help bring healing to the victims, staying because of the Eucharist and because of Jesus Christ.  “They are looking for a spiritual tradition to guide their lives.”  They are the future of our Church!
Yes, they’re angry. Some say they can defend the Catholic faith, but cannot defend the Catholic Church right now.  Many of them are channeling their anger into action.
This is the #MeToo generation and they have something to say – if our ears are open to hearing their message.
As one young adult put it, “That’s part of why the younger generation is having a different response: not because it’s new information, but because it’s the only story of the church we’ve known.”
So, many young people are organizing prayer vigils for the victims and signing petitions calling on Bishops and the Vatican to bring justice and transparency to this issue. 
A noted deacon and popular author had a powerful blog post this past week that may offer us all a way forward.
Deacon William Ditewig is a theologian who once headed up the office of the permanent diaconate at the USCCB. He’s also a retired Naval Commander who taught at Santa Clara University in recent years.
In his blog post he said this on the sex abuse issue: “It’s past time for action.”
He suggests we all (the People of God and our leaders) get “back to the basics.”
First, Ditewig says we have to live the profession of faith, the Credo, or Creed, we recite every week. We have to give our hearts to God, the Father Almighty; to Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord; and give our hearts to the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.  “Everything builds on that; without it nothing else matters.”
 Second, Ditewig says we have to rebuild from the bottom and become ones who serve. Recalling the lesson Jesus taught with the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, Ditewig says, “The reforms we need right now start from that perspective of humility, compassion and service, and the Church must be one which is in a constant state of reform, renewal and conversion.”
Lastly, Ditewig says, “’Religion’ refers to binding ourselves to God.  Our religion should be known first and foremost for how we care for those most in need, not by our vestments, our grand churches, our rituals or the brilliance of our teaching.  When people think of Christianity, may they come to think first of the thousands upon thousands of selfless people – laity, religious, clergy – who pour their lives out in service.”
This is how we bind ourselves to God.  
This week’s Gospel reading gives us an instruction manual of sorts for discipleship.
Jesus has headed into hostile territory. Today he’s healing in the District of Decapolis, an area known for pagan idolatry.  These people would have rejected Jesus’ message. Their ears would have been closed. 
The Aramaic language of Jesus is rarely used in the Gospels. In Mark’s Gospel it is used only twice. Today, we hear the Aramaic word, “ephphatha” or “be opened.”
Jesus’ powerful command helps him to make two important points to us, His disciples:  opening our ears to His voice – and –  opening our mouths to speak out on behalf of the poor.
To do this better we must first ask ourselves:  How is my prayer life?  Am I spending enough time with Jesus? Am I taking time from the distractions of daily life to hear what he’s trying to tell me? How do I know when I’m becoming deaf to the voice of Christ? 
Now is a time to increase our time with Jesus so as to make sure our connection to Christ is plugged-in and recharging us daily. 
Are we actively witnessing Christ in our daily lives? This is another sign of mature discipleship and precisely what the Letter of Saint James is sharing with us today.
Am I using my voice to speak out for the victims and to call on the bishops and the Pope to do the right thing? The victims should be our priority now.
How we treat the poor versus how we treat the powerful is a good indicator of understanding the message of Jesus Christ.
As we all step forward as Church to clean up this ugly mess, let us commit ourselves to working together in humility with our bishops and our Pope to promote accountability and transparency. Let us compassionately listen to our young people, our future, to hear their wisdom on how to fix things. Let our words and our actions help promote healing to those who have been hurt by the Church.
Deacon Ditewig has a dream.  His dream is that someday when a person googles images of the “Catholic Church” the first pictures shown will not be of St. Peter’s and the Vatican, but of advocates working humbly, tirelessly and fearlessly to meet the needs of others: teachers, medical professionals, volunteers and yes, spouses and parents giving their all for each other and their children.”
            This should be our dream, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Homily – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – God’s Eye View

                                                                                                               1st Kings 19:4-8
Ephesians 4:30-5:2
John 6:41-51

In today’s readings, we hear about Jesus experiencing murmuring from the Jewish people. Those opposed to what Jesus is saying about the Bread of Life also doubted the truth about God.
We see the Prophet Elijah both discouraged and despairing, fleeing into the desert in order to save his life from those who did not like his message. And yet once there, praying that he dies. Elijah would become one of the Jewish faith’s most important prophets for telling the truth despite stiff opposition.  He was also with Jesus at this week’s Feast of the Transfiguration.
And we hear St. Paul reminding us to remove all anger and bitterness, and instead be kind, compassionate and forgiving. And so be imitators of God.
These are stories of our complex human condition, our difficulty in trusting in our creator and our inability, at times, to hear the truth. 
I heard an amazing story about Pope Francis during my recent Maryknoll mission to the U.S./Mexico border to learn about border issues.
Days after being elevated to Pope, the Holy Father went to his Secretary of State and said, “I want to go to Lampedusa.” This is an island on the southernmost tip of Italy. The place has become a tragic shore for immigrants and migrants who risk life and limb to find a better world. Many have lost lives from capsized boats in the Mediterranean and washed up on those shores. Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures of these tragedies. 
The Secretary of State firmly reminded the new Pope that such a visit would take a year to plan and execute. It could not be done immediately. Pope Francis thanked the Vatican official, but said he still wanted to go to Lampedusa. The Secretary of State figured his new boss would come to his senses and realize the impossibility of his request.
A few weeks later Pope Francis returned to the office of the Secretary of State and again repeated his request: “I want to go to Lampedusa.”
At that point, the Secretary of State sternly told the Pope, you don’t want your first official action as Pope to be such a controversial trip. Immigration and Migration are political hot button issues in European nations, too.
But the Pope was insistent.  
A few weeks later, the Secretary of State got a call from the CEO of Alitalia Airline saying, “I think you should know a man named Jorge Bergoglio has just booked a ticket on our airline to Lampedusa.”
Francis did go to Lampedusa four short months after becoming Pope and his trip would set the stage for one of the biggest priorities of his Pontificate: changing the global conversation about immigrants and migrants to a Catholic perspective.
In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus saying something that brings the same kind of murmuring heard every time Pope Francis discusses Catholic teaching on the issue of immigration and migration. 
I’d like to ask you to go on a journey with me. First, if you would be so inclined, please close your eyes and try to envision what heaven will look like. Now, find your neighborhood in the Kingdom. Look around the streets and look at the faces of those there with you in the New Jerusalem. Notice anything? 
My bet is our neighbors in heaven will be the same people some might not want as our neighbors in this country now. There we will see neighbors of Mexican or Guatemalan descent or neighbors of Middle Eastern descent.
Now open your eyes.

Pope Francis sees the world through the eyes of God. As Catholics, he encourages us to do the same. 
The border issue is a complicated mess. No one would disagree with that. But it is one in desperate need of our Catholic common good, urgent attention and our prayers.
The U.S. Bishops, including our own, following the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and the example of the popes, have been resolute in their support of the duty of Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees. The Bishops affirm the right of nations to secure their borders while at the same time calling for immigration reform. They also firmly oppose any actions that break up families, dividing children from their parents, and husbands from their wives.
The Bishops in our state have a new website on the issue. I’ve linked it to our parish Facebook page (Link to Washington Bishop's website HERE).
Our trip to the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez border was eye opening and transformational in many ways.
There, we met with the Border Guard to hear what they do to protect lives at our borders. In many ways, we found angels not unlike those caring for Elijah’s physical needs in today’s first reading. When encountering people trying to cross the border illegally, they find and minister first to those needing food and water. Many times this means letting the so-called “Coyotes” go. “Coyotes” is a nickname for those who smuggling immigrants into the US illegally. 
We also met with families who had just been reunited after two months of separation. It was evident to us that the children and the adults had been traumatized.
Most we met had legally presented themselves at the border as asylum seekers, only to be separated and put into detention for two months. Men would go to one facility. Women to another. And the children would be taken from their mothers and fathers and put someplace else. 
Next we served at a Sisters of Loreto nursing home, where dozens of families were staying short-term until their cases were resolved. All the men wore ankle bracelets and all families had court dates scheduled on their asylum cases.
One mission participant is originally from Peru. Helena’s lived in the U.S. now for seven years and teaches kindergarten on a Native American reservation in Wisconsin. The minute the staff found out her background and fluency in Spanish, my friend was immediately placed with the kids.
Your’s truly was assigned bathroom cleaning duties. 
After finishing my assignment, I went down to see how Helena’s experience was going. There in the middle of the floor was a four year old boy crying, with his crying father looking on. Helena was comforting the boy. 
As we were leaving, the boy wouldn’t let go of Helena. His father cried all the harder. As Helena finally handed the boy back to his father, she turned to me and said, “The boy asked me if I would be his mommy. I told him I could not be.”
Helena immediately broke down in a puddle of tears as we departed the center.
Saint John Paul II said during his pontificate: “If the ‘dream’ of a peaceful world is shared by all, if the refugees’ and migrants’ contribution is properly evaluated, then humanity can become more and more a universal family and our earth a true ‘common home.’”  
Pope Francis reminded us during his 2015 trip to the United States of an important point to consider when thinking about immigrants and migrants: “We, the people of this (American) continent (north, south and central), are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as a son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to welcome the stranger. Solidarity with our neighbors and strangers are actually commands from Christ. 
Pope Francis wrote in his Message of Peace released on New Year’s Day something worthy of reflection: “Many destination countries have seen the spread of rhetoric decrying the risks posed to national security or the high cost of welcoming new arrivals, and thus demeaning the human dignity due to all sons and daughters of God. Those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great concern for all those concerned for the safety of every human being.” 
As St. Paul reminds us today: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God.” 
So, as we ponder what our neighbors will look like in heaven and who will be in our neighborhoods here on earth, let us reflect on our human actions in this world and ask ourselves: am I building up the Kingdom or tearing it down?” 
For in the Kingdom of God there are no borders.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Homily – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2018 – Mission Ready

Amos 7:12-15
Ephesians 1:3-10
Mark 6:7-13

Today, Jesus is getting us mission ready.
All of us are called to be missionaries in this world. By our baptism, each and every Christian is a missionary disciple commissioned to go into the world and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
When we step into mission we are asked by Christ to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We are asked by Christ to prepare properly and pack the right things for the journey. That’s the message to the Twelve today.
Pope Francis shared in detail what being a missionary disciple means in 2013’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium or Joy of the Gospel, co-written by Bishop of Rome Emeritus Benedict XVI.
In it Pope Francis explains how to prepare for missionary discipleship, the state of our world today, and our place in it. 
Here’s what the Holy Father said in the opening of Evangelii Gaudium:
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
Missionary discipleship begins and grows from a friendship with the person of Jesus Christ. Once we’ve experienced this close personal encounter our lives are never the same.
Like the first disciples — who moved from being fearful and discouraged to fearless and zealous as missionary disciples — we too can become transformed into messengers of grace and hope in the world.
This transformation happens here and now if we are open to it. Just as Jesus called his disciples as they went about their daily work, he calls us to missionary discipleship in our everyday lives, too.
We are sustained in our mission by praying, studying scripture, celebrating the sacraments, and striving to live a good Christian moral life.
This is the only path to peace and contentment in the world today. But first we must prepare, pack, and become mission ready.
Today, Jesus is getting his Twelve Apostles mission ready. He’s preparing them to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And He’s telling them what to bring, and what not to bring, for the journey, a divine packing list of sorts.
  Whenever I hear this Gospel I always think about packing for a trip and the unique ways each of us does this:
Some, like my wife Mary, are very prepared. The process starts weeks in advance, as lists are developed of what to bring and what not to bring. These people are very detailed in their preparations for the journey.
Others, like me, just pack the night before, using only a mental check-list. No actual list. And, yes, sometimes I forget things using this method.

                Notice how Jesus is telling the Apostles how to pack for their journey.
            Jesus instructs them “to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money…”  Yes, they can wear sandals, but no second tunic.
Scripture scholars see three big things happening here.
One is Jesus is asking his disciples to detach themselves from personal possessions.
       The best way to think of this today is to imagine telling a loved one not to bring their smart phone on vacation so that they might better enjoy the experience. I think we all know how that would go over.
           Jesus knows our attachments provide us with security and comfort in what we have. Jesus wants us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and rely solely on what God provides.
This allows us to be more focused on who we might meet along the way, on receiving hospitality from these new friends, and on a dependence on God for everything.
            The second big thing happening here is Jesus is sending out the disciples in pairs. Bible scholars suggest with two people the virtue of charity is better witnessed by those observing the actions of the disciples as they go about sharing the Good News.
     Jesus knows the two together will show charity toward each other, prompting observers to marvel at how these two collaborate, listen to each other, understand each other, and love each other.
      We are not on our mission as soloists for Christ. We best perform in concert with others. This is why Jesus is sending out pairs on their first mission.
Isn’t this true for each of us? Aren’t our journeys more rewarding and meaningful when we do them with another person. We see things differently because no trip is the same for everyone. Besides solo travel also can be quite lonely and not as much fun.
      The third big thing happening here: Bible scholars note the similarities in instructions to the Mission of Twelve to the Israelites at the First Passover before their Exodus from Egypt. Moses told them to be ready to leave with nothing, but the clothes on their backs. Moses said the Israelites could trust God to provide all that they need. 
As we saw in the Exodus, the grumbling Israelites seemed more comfortable trapped in slavery in Egypt than being free and relying on God’s providence in their lives.
Isn’t that true of us sometimes? We, too, can become comfortable trapped in our sin, not trusting in God enough to set us truly free from this enslavement. 
This is why mission is so important. In mission, we take our focus off ourselves and our own needs, and instead focus on others and their needs. In mission, we find Christ.
     Mission can be a scary place. Just ask the 21 parishioners who accompanied us to Guatemala in 2015 and got comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We have to be prepared to step into this new world. We must be open to learning from the people we meet and the relationships we build. If we’ve packed appropriately, we will be transformed by people who have so little (by our first world standards), but who have more joy than we do. Just experiencing Church in the third world can open our eyes to this reality. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, the poor have much to teach us.  Let us keep in our prayers the missionaries from our parish headed to Haiti in a few weeks.
But mission isn’t always traveling to faraway lands. Mission can be right here in our community.
Our missionaries doing homeless outreach and street medicine have learned how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and have prepared and packed for this mission.
     Experiencing others trapped in slavery to addiction, mental health crisis and poverty can be a powerful place to witness Christ.
         These missionary disciples trust in Jesus to take us to the people who need us the most. They are able to pray in the name of Jesus with many of the 50-75 people we meet with each night.
            It’s too early to tell if we’ve driven out any demons or cured anyone, but we know we are bringing Jesus to human souls living on the margins of our society. We’re also building wonderful relationships with our friends experiencing homelessness in the area.
        And this is just what Jesus calls each of us to do – to witness Christ to the world and share the Good News -- especially to the outcast, the despised, the poor and marginalized.
      Pope Francis says we cannot witness Christ locked inside of the Church. We have to be prepared to take Jesus out into the streets.

            Maybe it's time to check our own packing list to see if we are ready to travel as missionary disciples, ready to bring the Kingdom’s message of liberation and freedom to those we meet along the way.
So, I ask: Are you prepared to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Are you able to shed some attachments to help lighten the load for the journey?  Are you mission ready?