Sunday, January 27, 2013

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily -- "Those People"

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

I love that we get to peer inside the strange and wonderful world of the Luke the Evangelist this year.  This is the Year of Luke in our Catholic lectionary.

A unique characteristic and central theme of Luke’s Gospel is Jesus’ ministry to the oppressed and those excluded from society.

Isn’t that the point of what he tells the people in the synagogue in today’s reading?

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is always lifting up oppressed groups (the poor, the captives, the blind, the lame, the deaf, lepers, Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors).  The reviled in society.  “Those people.”

Another one of Luke’s Gospel themes is salvation is for everyone.   From the very beginning of the Gospel, Gentiles are included in Jesus’ plan to save the world.   Not just the Jews. 

We have much to be thankful to Luke’s Gospel for opening the door for all of us to enter the Body of Christ.   

It’s also interesting to note something in the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. 

The very opening to Luke’s Gospel refers to “most excellent Theophilus” in launching the story of Christ.

For years, scholars thought Theophilus was some wealthy benefactor who paid for Luke’s Gospel. 

Many scholars now challenge that thinking by pointing to Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel where Mary says,He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.”

Eliminating the cultural divide between rich and poor is such a strong message in Luke.

The name Theophilus actually translates from Greek to mean “all the friends of God.” 

Perhaps Luke was using a literary technique to get everyone’s attention and show we are all friends of God equal to one another.

Many scholars say Luke was trying to bridge the gap between Israelites, followers of Jesus and the Romans with his writings in both the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles.    

A bridge-builder perhaps.  But his words at times were designed to provoke, make people mad, get people riled up.  Or at least get people to look deep inside their hearts and see a reality that is far beyond their own prejudices.

Luke and St. Paul are both showing us a radical equality in their scripture messages today.  Not everybody likes that idea.

On Friday evening, I returned from a two-week Maryknoll trip with priests and brother deacons, to see the sites of the Catholic martyrs in Guatemala and El Salvador.  The Stoll I’m wearing was given to me by the Tzutuhill Mayan people for serving at their Mass last Sunday in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

I used to see Catholics promoting social justice in Central America as “Socialists” or maybe even “Communists.”  I used to ridicule “those people” for their actions.

One thing as Catholics we are all called to do is look at the world through the eyes of Christ by using the lens of the Gospels. 

The Gospel that always speaks the loudest to me is Luke -- because it challenges me not to buy into my own human thinking, but to buy into the divine thinking of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was feared by the liberal left when he was appointed Archbishop in El Salvador.  He was considered too conservative.  He would maintain the status quo power of rich families of El Salvador.  He would refuse to rock the boat on dangerous waters where the divide between rich and poor was far greater than here in the United States.  Far more deadly.

But after opening his eyes to the plight of the poorest of the poor in his country, and especially after the assassination of a close priest friend Rotilio Grande who fought for the poor and was the first priest assassinated before the Civil War started, Archbishop Romero became a hero to the poor, his “most excellent friends of God.”

For doing this, Archbishop Romero was accused of being a “Communist” by the military Junta running El Salvador and became a target. 

One day, while serving Mass in San Salvador, a military sharpshooter put a bullet into the heart of Archbishop Oscar Romero through the open doorway of a hospital chapel steps from his rectory home.

Romero had just finished his homily and was preparing the altar for the Eucharistic sacrifice when he became the sacrifice at that altar.

One day earlier, in his Sunday homily, he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order -- to stop carrying out the government’s efforts to repress the people, to stop terrorizing them with murder and torture, to stop violating their basic human rights.

Archbishop Romero’s only real crime:  he believed deeply in Luke’s gospel.  He bought into Mary’s Magnificat.  He shared the Good News to the oppressed, the captives, the poor.

He lived the life of Jesus Christ.

And for his actions, he was assassinated on March 24th, 1980.

In a Civil War that lasted 12 years, 1 Archbishop, 19 priests, 4 religious women were assassinated in El Salvador.

75-thousand of the poor peasants, “those people,” were killed and 5-thousand went missing.

I’ve asked God for forgiveness for uttering the words “those people” in the past while praying over the graves of Archbishop Oscar Romero and others. I actually stood on the exact spot where Romero died while I was serving at Mass 10-days ago.

That’s a phrase we hear far too often in our own society today: “Those people.”

It’s a phrase that should be forever banished from our vocabulary if we truly are followers of Christ. 

 “Those people” is code for a stereotype that is about to be conveyed by the speaker of the words, Those people.”

“Those people” are usually those considered “below” or unequal to the speaker.   

I know.  I’ve uttered those words way too often in my lifetime.

I hear “those people” from friends on one side or the other of the political divide when commenting on the behaviors or beliefs of those on the opposite side of the divide.

I might hear my conservative friends talk down about “those people” when referring to liberal thinkers in our community. 

­Or hear my liberal friends talk down about “those people” when referring to conservative thinkers in our community.

Sadly, this division and this strife are tearing apart our nation.

“Those people” many times refer to the poor and marginalized in our human societies.  The people Luke’s Gospel raises up. 

I have heard some in our own parish community use the words, “those people” to refer to the occasional street people who come join us at this Mass weekly, parishioners who roll their eyes when they see them take seats at our Eucharistic celebration.

In our English-speaking culture in Everett, Washington, “those people” usually targets cultural minorities.

I most often hear “those people” in our church community from people inside our English-speaking community when describing the people in the Spanish or Vietnamese speaking communities of our parish.

But I also hear the words “those people” in a Hispanic community just as divided -- usually by the land of their national birth.

When I hear these words, it makes me sad and mad. 

To God we are all one human family.  Being “those people” is a human concept.  Not a divine concept.

As Disciples of Christ we are called to be better than that.  

As Disciples of Christ we are called to raise up, not put down our sisters and brothers no matter our differences. 

As Disciples of Christ we are called to promote the human dignity of all just as Christ did during his earthly ministry.

As St. Paul makes abundantly clear in today’s second reading from Corinthians, “we are many parts, but we are all one body” to paraphrase the passage by using a popular hymn.

We may not see eye to eye with each other, we may not understand our cultural differences; we may not be able to look beyond our own private prejudices.

But Christ calls us to do just that.

Maybe these words are provoking to you.  Perhaps you’re thinking, “Who is he to be saying such things?   In many ways, I would agree. 

I’m not casting the first stone, because I myself am not without sin.

But my “most Excellent friends of God,” I feel deeply called by Jesus Christ to share this important message today and challenge our human thinking.  To raise our thinking and speaking to a divine level.
          I heard a beautiful quote by Catholic spiritualist Thomas Merton while on my trip to Central America.  It was shared by an 82-year-old Maryknoll Brother named Marty Shea who has spent most of his life serving the Mayan people in the remote jungles of Guatemala. 

They are “those people” in Guatemala and in the years of civil unrest 250-thousand were slaughtered and 50-thousand “disappeared” in a government-backed genocide.  In other words, 300-thousand of “those people” were systematically eliminated.

Here’s the quote of Thomas Merton Brother Shea used:

“I am one with them.  They are not “they.”  But my own self.  There are no strangers.”

Please let us commit to banish from our mouths the words:  “Those people.”  Let’s commit ourselves as a parish community to never speak those words again.

Let’s replace them with better words, living words, words that promote dignity and respect and call others to join us as followers of Christ. 

Let’s replace the words “those people” with the words “My most excellent friends of God.” 

For in doing so, we will do our part to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Faces of the Tzutuhill Mayan People in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

This girl sat next to me at Mass on Sunday and was quite curious about the pictures and videos I was taking on my phone.

So, I turned the camera around a snapped this shot of her. When I showed it to her she broke into a big grin.

It was a blessed moment on a day of many blessed moments.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Homily - Celebration of Life Memorial Service for Nicholas Anthony Lowe - October 21, 1992 - January 4, 2013

​I love the Gospel story of the Healing of the Paralytic.

Isn’t it true that sometimes in life we all need a little help? We cannot make our way in this world all on our own, no matter who we are and what hand we are dealt in life.

We need the loving care of others to help us to get to where we are going, to lift us up, to join us in the struggle, to be our right hand, or left hand, to help us open the door.

I think Luke’s Gospel story is fitting as we celebrate the life of Nicholas Anthony Lowe.

Nick had so many friends and so many loved ones in his life, a network of support and care these past two years.

They all wanted to help Nick in any way they could.

So many helped him to overcome whatever barriers were in his path in this life and some helped Nick find eternal life.

What beautiful signs of faith,of hope and most of all of love from a village of friends and family who joined Team Nick.

The compassion shown to Nick and his family sometimes from complete strangers is an example of what life should be all about.

There is a beautiful lyric in a song by the band U2 that helps us to better understand today’s Gospel message in light of Nick’s life.

It comes from the song “Walk On.”

“Love. It’s not the easy thing. The only baggage that you can bring. It’s all that you can’t leave behind.”

Let me repeat that...

“Love. It’s not the easy thing. The only baggage that you can bring. It’s all that you can’t leave behind.”

Our human lives are short on this earth. If we follow the example of the Jesus Christ, healer of the paralyzed man, we know that the only real thing that matters in life (the only thing) is love.

Or put by another musical group, Mumford and Sons, “Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be.”

Nick became that man in the end. He embraced the love. He shared the love. He lived the love.

Whether it was his special recipe BBQ sauce or a chance to go fishing with family on Puget Sound or hanging with his best friend Stachio playing X-Box.

God is the author of that love. Christ’s human actions here on earth were the embodiment of that love to help us all to better understand how much we are loved by God.

As we see in the Gospel story, love is more than just an emotion or a feeling.

Love is the self-giving acts we share with one another. It’s the things friends do for one another. It’s what family does for each other. It’s the random acts of kindness done by complete strangers.

This is the only baggage we get to take with us as we step into heaven. And nothing else.

All that we build. All that we make. All these we must leave behind. But our shared love with one another is what we get to carry with us on the journey. That is the key that unlocks the door.

Just like the people who so loved the ailing man in today’s Gospel story they brought him to Jesus, the people who have surrounded Nick these past two years so loved him they wanted to make sure the door was open for him to meet his Creator.

This should give us all hope. That someday we too will enter the splendor of heaven, where every tear will be wiped away, where there’s no such thing as pain and suffering, where we will be together again for all eternity.

That reality was the reason for Christ’s self-giving action of love on the cross. Jesus wanted to make sure the doors to heaven were opened for all of humanity

I had the humbling honor of being with Nick and his family in the end.

Nick had told his mom he was having a hard time finding the door. Lisa asked him to promise to give her a sign to let her know he’d made it through the door.

As we both held Nick’s hand last Friday night, we prayed for the door to be opened.

As he breathed his last breath, the door stood before him and Nick walked through it. And in that moment on his face there appeared a smile, the sign his mother asked him to send her to show he had found the door. He had found the way into paradise.

What a beautiful memory we can all keep until we meet Nick again.

As we heard in the first reading, “There is an appointed time for everything. A time to be born. And a time to die.”

Nick understood that. Nick understood that his suffering was his cross to bear and he never complained about it. Not once.

Because of Christ loving act for all of us, death does not have the final word. Life has changed. Not ended. When this earthly dwelling turns to dust, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.

For all of us today, this temporary separation is painful. But Nick would not want us to be sad or shed too many tears. He would want us to live our lives to the fullest as a way of honoring his life. Can you hear his voice now?

For his mother, Lisa, Nick was her voice of reason, her wise-beyond-his-years baby boy. She will forever hear his voice in her heart as she navigates this life now without him. But she will do so with the hope that this life is not the only thing there is. There is something more. Something eternal.

For Nick’s family and friends who got tattoos of a sparrow to show support for Nick, the same tattoos of a sparrow I found on both of Nick’s hands, my friends that sparrow has been set free to soar.

So, as we remember happier times with Nick, as we remember that beautiful smile, as we remember our beloved Nicholas Anthony Lowe, let us also never forget:

This is not goodbye. Only see you later.


Nicholas Anthony Lowe's Obituary

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Catholics Come Home - Lou Holtz Edition

Catholics Come Home is calling an audible as the college bowl season heats up.

It's substituting at QB former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz as its pitchman to welcome Catholics back the pews.

Here's what the new TV spot looks like and below is an article about the latest release from Catholics Come Home.

(Reprinted from National Catholic Reporter)
Former Notre Dame coach's latest play call: Come home, Catholics
Brian Roewe | Jan. 2, 2013

Sports fans who gather around TVs to watch this year's college football championship game will see Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly calling defensive formations and audibles to his players. But during commercial breaks, they'll see a former Fighting Irish coach making a call of his own -- for Catholics to "get back in the game" of going to Mass.

"For victory in life, we've got to keep focused on the goal, and the goal is Heaven.

The key to winning is choosing to do God's will, and love others with all you've got," says Lou Holtz, coach of Notre Dame's 1988 undefeated championship team and the star of Catholics Come Home's latest national commercial campaign.

"If you or your family haven't been going to Mass every week, get back in the game. We're saving your seat on the starting bench this Sunday," says Holtz, himself a Catholic.

The commercials began airing Dec. 27 and run through Jan. 8. The timeframe runs parallel to college football's bowl game season, which reaches its apex Jan. 7 with the 2013 BCS championship game in Miami between Notre Dame and the University of Alabama.

The 30-second Holtz "evangomercial" is set to air in various markets and programming, and estimates to reach 70 million households. Cable sports network ESPN, where Holtz works as an analyst, will broadcast this year's BCS championship.

"All those viewers who follow the wisdom of Coach Holtz -- keeping focused on the goal in life: Heaven. They will be the true winners when their final down is played," Catholics Come Home president and founder Tom Peterson said in a news release.

Catholics Come Home is a lay-led media apostolate that seeks to use television ads as an evangelism tool, and has multiple bishops on its advisory board. It formed in 2008 and has run campaigns in unison with 35 dioceses across the U.S., including Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago and Phoenix.

In December, it crossed outside U.S. television markets for the first time, heading north to Canada for a campaign in Vancouver, British Columbia. The football-themed ad comes a year after Catholics Come Home's first national campaign, which aired commercials in 10,000-plus cities during the 2011 Advent and Christmas seasons. Citing Nielsen data, it said that campaign, dubbed "the largest family reunion in history," reached more than 125 million viewers an average of 10 times each.

In January 2012, NCR first examined Catholics Come Home during the national campaign, finding varying degrees of success for the commercials in actually bringing Catholics back to church and retaining them once there. In responding to that story, Peterson reiterated that the benefits of his organization's ads extend beyond numbers and can act as a catalyst to increased evangelization efforts in the diocese. "

[Catholics Come Home] cannot be responsible for keeping people in the pews over the long-term, as that is the mission of the parishes," he wrote in an email. With Holtz a familiar face to fans, Peterson hopes the coach's pep talk will help those who see it rediscover a passion for their faith on par with their passion for football. Ultimately, that requires not just passive watching, but an active commitment to God, beginning with weekly attendance at Mass.

"Faith is not a spectator's sport; it must be lived," Peterson said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer.]