Sunday, August 18, 2019

Homily – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Deacons

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53
          Jeremiah is facing abuse for prophesying a bleak future: Jerusalem will be captured soon by Babylon.
King Zedekiah was actually placed on the throne by Babylon. But the King and his princes defied Babylon leading to a year-long siege of the Holy City.
Jeremiah’s words were exacerbating an already tense situation, angering the princes who felt they had everything under control.
Prophets speak truth to power and are persecuted for their words and their actions.  God is showing us the cost of following His voice.  Isn’t it the same today?
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is reminding us of the costs of following him. He’s talking about His ministry causing many divisions among the People of God.
Luke’s Gospel was written at a time when the early Christian community was being expelled from the synagogues, when the early Christian community faced persecution, imprisonment, and death for following Jesus. Fear can drive of bad behavior.
Jesus knew brother would betray brother. Son would betray father. Mother would betray daughter. And so on.
Jesus is using the metaphor of an earth on fire. This was reality for the early Christian communities.

Fire is a biblical image for purification (think of Gold being tested), but it’s also representative of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
As we know with fire, it can be warm and comforting, or it can be destructive and terrifying when out of control.   
These readings remind me of the life of a deacon hero: St. Lawrence of Rome.  His feast day was celebrated last weekend.
St. Lawrence was a deacon who served the poor in ancient Rome in the early Christian church. He was given great responsibility by Pope Sixtus II (the Second), and was charged with being the “keeper of the treasures of the Church.”
He lived at a time when the Christian Church was being persecuted and martyrdom was commonplace in the mid Third Century.
When the Pope and four other deacons were arrested and executed, Lawrence was released to gather up the “treasures of the church” to hand them over to Rome.  He was given three days to do this.                
When three days passed, Lawrence came before the Roman soldiers and the Prefect to surrender the promised “treasures,” but instead he presented the poor, the sick, street beggars of Rome and said, “Here are the treasures of the church.”
For his actions, he was roasted to death over a hot fire.
Lawrence is the patron saint of the poor, but also the patron saint of cooks for his famous line while roasting on the fire, “You can turn me over. This side is done.”  
Lawrence prayed as he was being burned alive that God would bring the entire pagan Roman Empire to Jesus Christ.  
His prayers were answered 55 short years later when Constantine legalized Christianity and eventually became a Christian himself.
The word “martyr” actually translates to “witness.”  We hear of the cloud of witnesses in our faith in Hebrews today.
Many famous deacons have been wonderful witnesses to the faith: St. Stephen, the first Christian martryr, St. Francis of Assisi (yes, he was a deacon), and St. Ephrem the Syrian, the only deacon-doctor of the Church noted for being a great homilist.
Recently, the Catholic Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate.
Popular Church commentator Rocco Palmo calls the restored diaconate one of the greatest success stories of Vatican II.
Deacons are the only religious vocation that’s actually growing in the Church today. Nearly 50-thousand permanent deacons serve the world Church in 2019. 18-thousand deacons are now serving in U.S. alone.
The permanent diaconate started as a conversation in Cell Block 26 at Nazi death camp Dachau. This was the place set aside for clergy called the “Priesterblock.” During the Nazi reign of terror, over 24-hundred priests were kept there. Most were put to death.
The priests were kept apart from the other inmates because the Nazis didn’t want the clergy to give fellow inmates hope.
Many priests in the prison camps lamented the lack of Catholic clergy with both a foot in the Church and a foot in public life. These priests felt the presence of permanent deacons could have helped prevent what happened in Nazi Germany.
A number of these priests survived the death camps and years later led the effort to restore the permanent diaconate during Vatican II. 
Deacons are not universally accepted by all in the Catholic Church.
The division Christ speaks of today is even present in His Church today over the matter of deacons.
On the right, deacons are sometimes rejected by people who don't believe in Vatican II’s reforms. On the left, deacons are sometimes rejected because there are no women deacons. This is the reality of the Church today. Deacons understand this.
As disciples, Jesus calls us all to places and situations that may not always be comfortable or easy.
As we are reminded today, Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”   
May we all accept Jesus’ warning of the costs and consequences of following Him. May we all accept the fires of persecution that come from following God’s voice and never lose our joy or our hope. May we all always celebrate and honor the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to show us the way.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Parable for Our Times

Ecclesiastes 1-2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

(Homily for Christ Our Hope Parish) 
          This weekend's message in Sacred Scripture is a cautionary tale on vanity and greed. Jesus calls us all to another way.
          Instead of closely examining these two sins, I'd like to share:

A Parable for Our Times
By Deacon Dennis Kelly
In a wealthy kingdom there lived a wealthy man called Asinus. He felt anointed by God and by all appearances led a holy life.
He prayed regularly in the house of worship and was pleasant to those he encountered there. But he always expected others to serve his needs and never stepped forward to serve the needs of others.
He wanted silence when in the House of the Lord and would become irritated when others would make noise. They were spoiling his time with God and he resented their interruptions.
Asinus would pass by people at the door of the church needing assistance and become angry in his heart. He thought, “What are those people, but a blight on our kingdom and its privileged people.”
 He roamed the streets of the kingdom seeing others with less than he, and his pride would swell in his fortunes and blessings. He deserved this. He was anointed by God to live well and scorned those who had less, for they, he thought, were cursed by God. “How else could you explain their misfortune?”
Then, one day, the wealthy man fell unconscious with a blinding fever.  He was very sick and near death.
In his fevered dreams appeared an angel who said,
“Asinus, turn back from your evil ways.
You say your fortune comes from God and that you are blessed, but your wealth has cursed you with blindness to the needs of the world. God expects you to bless others with your fortunes, but you do not.
Your worship is nothing, but vanity, done only to feel good about yourself. You refuse to hear God’s voice.
The Lord is sending you on a journey, Asinus. Learn well from the people you meet along the way.  They have much to teach you.”
Asinus found himself standing alone on a deserted cobble stone street in a blinding fog. It was very cold, a cold Asinus had never experienced before.
The first person he met was a frail old man abandoned by his family and turned away by those who care for the infirmed in the kingdom. He was riddled with sickness and was dying in the streets. The man said his name was Egenum.
Asinus’ cold heart immediately judged the man’s condition. But Egenum just smiled and bid him, “Hello.” He asked Asinus if he could help find him a blanket so he would not die cold.
Asinus thought, “I am in this foreign place and do not know where to find you a blanket!”  He said, “Sir, you will need to find a blanket yourself.”  But the man was so frail he could not move.
Asinus coldly wished the man blessing and continued on his journey unable to even look the man in the eye as he departed.
Asinus next met a pregnant woman crying at the doorsteps of the church. She, too, was cold and in need of a place to stay. But the church doors were locked.
She meekly introduced herself at Cupio and asked for his help getting into the church. Asinus thought to himself, “I have no time for this.”
Asinus tried the door, but could not get it open. He knocked once, but no one answered.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “There’s nothing I can do to help you. I am sorry for your misfortune. Do you not have a man to care for you?“
The women turned away and cried even harder. Cupio told him she was fleeing a husband who beat her. She was hoping for a better life for herself and the child she carried in her womb.
He didn’t ask her any more questions, but shook his head, and walked away, and continued on his journey.
Next he met a mute child who had a sign around her neck that read Fame. She was gaunt with one lame leg.
The child grabbed Asinus by the hand and slowly took him to the edge of town. Each step was difficult for the little girl. Asinus grew impatient as they walked together.
At the two iron gates that appeared before him he noticed a sign overhead that read, “Pauper’s Graveyard.”
There the child showed him two freshly dug graves, one large and one small.
            She pointed to him, then to the large grave. 
His heart sank as he realized he was staring at his final resting place. “But how could this be?  I am a wealthy man. I am still young. Surely I will recover from this fever and wake up from this awful dream.”
            As he looked down he noticed his reflection in a puddle next to the grave. He could see in the reflection he was no longer young, but a very old man. His face looked scornful and angry, and filled with contempt. Where was the pious man he believed himself to be?
           The child then pointed to herself and to the smaller grave. At that moment he realized the cold, stark truth.
He looked closely at the child. She smiled innocently, but her gaunt face told him she was dying of hunger.
He began to weep and prayed with all his might for the angel to return to him. But the angel did not.
Instead, a woman dressed in a white and blue flowing gown stood before him. She radiated light and her face was a thing of beauty and peace.
She began to speak. 
“Asinus. Asinus. God is speaking to your heart. But you refuse to listen.
He has sent you three messengers to teach you how to see the world differently. But your blindness prevents you from seeing beyond your own needs to needs of others especially those I hold most dear.
Your hardened heart and arrogance come from your wealth. They prevent you for hearing the cries of the poor.
I am the mother of your Lord and Savior. You know well my example of listening and responding to God’s voice. My Son is calling upon you to do the same.
First, he wants you to know the names of those you have met today.
The old man is named Egenum or 'needy.' He asked your help in finding a blanket. But you ignored his needs.
The pregnant woman is named Cupio or 'want.'  She desired entrance into your Church to find sanctuary from an abusive husband. But you judged her and refused to act on her pleas.
The child holding your hand at this moment is Fame or 'hunger.' She has shown you your future if you do not change your ways.
And, you, Asinus, do you know what your own name means? It means 'fool.' 
The man began to weep bitterly.  
The lady said, “This does not have to be your future.” 
            At that, the man awoke from his fever. He was young again. He felt healthy. In fact, he felt like a man renewed.
            As Asinus looked out the window of his warm home he saw all three people he met on his journey on the street below. He knew what he had to do.
            To the old man, he brought a blanket and took him to house of the infirmed and paid for his stay. He was there when the man died peacefully in a warm bed a few days later.
            Next he found the pregnant woman at the Church door, and he himself pounded on the locked door until the priest came to open it. He told the priest of the woman’s plight. She was given sanctuary. He visited her often and became like a brother to her as she built a new life for herself and her new child with his financial help.
            Next, he found the gaunt little girl and took her to the nearby home for abandoned children. He promised to fund her stay and be a part of her life.  He was like a father to her for the rest of his life. 
Years later she buried him in a beautiful cemetery, with an elegant tombstone. She would inherit his wealth and never again be hungry. She was both compassionate and generous, spending her entire inherited fortune helping those in need.
“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Katharine

Ecclesiastes 1-2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

(Homily for St. Patrick Parish) 
          This weekend's message in Sacred Scripture is a cautionary tale on vanity and greed. Jesus calls us all to another way.
          Instead of closely examining these two sins, I'd like to share a story about someone who spent their life devoid of vanity or greed, and instead built up treasure in heaven by pouring our their life for others.
          Katharine Maurer was a female deacon in the Methodist faith a hundred years ago. 
To thousands of people who knew her, she was called in Chinese Kaun Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. To others she was simply known as the Angel of Angel Island.
Angel Island was the Ellis Island of the West Coast from the early 1900s until 1940. Located directly behind Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, one million immigrants, mostly from China, came into the United States through Angel Island.
          The immigration station was mostly used to detain peoples from 84 different countries. Detentions lasted for months, even years. Many of them were family detentions
          Deacon Katharine was assigned to Angel Island upon graduation from diaconate formation in 1912.
          Protestant reformers in the 1800s envisioned a better world based on the principles of Jesus’s teachings. Some of these activist churchwomen were Methodists who launched a deaconess movement in 1888 to minister to the most-needy in society.
Deacon Katharine was initially dispatched by this movement to San Francisco to minister to picture brides sent from Asia to marry men in the United States.
But Deacon Katharine spent most of her adult years sacrificing her own life in service to immigrant sojourners who came through Angel Island.
          She served as Christ to people who didn't even believe in Him. She stood with the poor. She chose a life devoid of vanity and greed. Instead, she modeled love and mercy.
          She had no inherited wealth, but this unmarried woman gave all she had to the people to whom she ministered. 
Deacon Katharine understood what it was like to be an immigrant. Born in Canada, this German Canadian became a U.S. citizen at the height of World War One when Germans were viewed with much suspicion and contempt. This experience helped her to relate to her immigrant friends better.
Her greatest gift was an extraordinary ability to connect with people from all parts of the globe.
Deacon Katharine quickly became the station’s chief welfare or social worker, establishing English classes, a library, and organizing clothing donations for detainees.
Much of what she did was counsel people.
Maurer said in an interview, “often… there is little one can do except listening, trying to comfort, without trying to give anything, just helping to bring about that release that comes from sharing troubles, and sometimes in the telling one finds solutions.”
This is called in pastoral circles "the ministry of presence" and it's the greatest gift we can give to others.
Many left transformed by their encounter with the deaconess. Some families even honored her by naming daughters after her. 
Deacon Katharine never sought after honors in this world, but was treated like a saint by women and men who experienced her loving tenderness at Angel Island. 
She worked at Angel Island for nearly 30 years and served immigrants another 11 years in San Francisco after the detention center closed its door. She retired at age 71 and died about 10 years later in 1962.        
Deacon Katharine gave everything in service to the poor. She’s an example for us all on how to give one’s life for the Gospel and build up treasure in heaven. 
And that's Jesus' message today. 
Are we prepared to do the same?
You may ask what about women deacons in the Catholic Church?  Pope Francis asked scholars and theologians to study the issue. Pope Benedict said in 2008 the door is still open for women as deacons based on the early tradition. 
The sticking point seems to be the issue of Holy Orders and ordination.
As we know from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, there were female deacons in the early Christian  tradition. We read about a deacon named Phoebe.
Not much is known about the lives of female deacons in the early Christian tradition, but if more modern examples of female deacons, such as Deacon Katharine Maurer, are any indication, I, for one, am grateful to these women for their diaconal ministry.
          To stand in solidarity with the poor, we must be like Jesus and first pay attention. We must be like Jesus and respond. We must be like Jesus and lead others to respond in love.                    As we all strive to live Christ’s mission of solidarity with the poor and marginalized, may we come to a greater understanding of the contributions made by all cultures, all peoples and all genders to God’s Church. And may this understanding transform our Church forever.