Happy Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Little Christmas, Coming of the Kings Day, to all of you! May the brightness of the star that led the Magi blaze in your lives, and may God’s many truths bless your minds this year. I asked that we reflect on the question of how we see the light coming into our lives, because I think, for many of us, 2017 was a rather dark year. But we have faith that 2018 will be brighter, and already I can see some signs of that. That’s the point of Christian faith, right? To not get stuck in the Crucifixion, but to always look for the Resurrection, to never doubt God’s love, but to always seek a way to feel and share it.
Light definitely entered my life in a new way this week, literally. Perhaps some of you shared these experiences. Did any of you see the Supermoon? How about the sun pillars? Did you see the sun pillars? I didn’t know what they were at first. The first time I saw one, was at sunrise, and, besides some really beautiful colors, I saw a bright band of light, the width of the sun, extending from the horizon all the way up into the sky. Did anybody else notice this? Now, some of you may know all about sun pillars, but I had never seen one before. I wondered if there was something wrong with my eyes, or my glasses. It was so beautiful, this gorgeous wide beam of light, shining straight up from the sun. Then I saw it two times more, these times as the sun was setting. That same bright column of light. So beautiful! I knew my eyes were not deceiving me now, but I still didn’t understand what it was.
Until two days later, on the internet, there was an article on sun pillars. Then I knew what I had seen! The article explained that a sun pillar is a phenomenon that happens in very cold weather, from light refracting off hexagonal plate-like ice crystals falling horizontally through the air. There was a photo, which matched exactly what I had seen.
Light is something we often understand first through our senses, I think, or our feelings, or our spirits, long before we understand it intellectually, just as happened to me with these sun pillars. Because light, like love, and art, and animals, and so many other elements of life, are of God, and I believe God reaches out to us through many other routes than just the intellect. This is the wisdom of the mystics, right? That we are all made in the image of God, that we are all One in God, and that the only separations are those we impose on ourselves. We can know God through every cell of our bodies, every molecule of air, and every beam of light. And also through liturgy, and community, and theology, and philosophy, of course.
The story we read from Matthew’s Gospel today had many elements that were hard to understand intellectually, especially for the Jewish Christian audience to which it was first addressed, I’m sure. Like why is the Messiah portrayed as a child of poverty, instead of a child of an elite political or military or religious family? Why was this couple of questionable reputation chosen to be the Messiah’s parents? And why is his coming announced to Herod’s court and the Jewish Temple hierarchy by these foreign, non-Jewish, astronomers? We get the idea from the account of the very beginning of Jesus’ life that things will not be as we expect, and that inclusion of all will be an important characteristic of the Way Jesus teaches. This idea of inclusiveness, of the salvation of all the nations, is echoed of course, in the first reading, from Isaiah, which proclaims, “Rise up, Jerusalem, your light has come… Nations shall walk by your light… they all gather and come to you.” And the reading from Ephesians states clearly Paul’s teaching that Jesus’ message is for all, Jews, Christians, and Gentiles.
Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: To be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.” God’s light, and wisdom, and love, is always streaming into our lives. So how do we perceive it? And do we reflect God’s light to others, by our following Jesus’ directive to be inclusive, to make sure all are made part of his Body? Can we be mirrors for others?
I’d like to hear your reflections on how you see light coming into your lives.
Third Sunday of Advent Homily 12/17/17
Our first reading from 2 Samuel, reflects David’s concern that he is living in a house of cedar while the ark of God remains in a tent. We will hear how that concern unfolds through God’s perspective. Paul admonishes us to rejoice in all circumstances and Mary does just that as she embraces her prophetic call in salvation history.
The readings today are taken from the Advent 3 of the Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary. Jane Via, an RCWP bishop, scripture scholar and Nancy Corran a theologian, constructed this lectionary. The purpose is to include every significant story of women from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that are not included in the Roman Catholic Lectionary; it is to avoid exclusive language for God and human beings; and to familiarize believers with the broad spectrum of Biblical readings and history. I chose to use these readings today because it puts Mary as central to our Advent and Christmas celebration.
The Samuel reading reflects that David wants to unite the ark and its symbolism into a new decision, building for the home of the Ark, a house of cedar. This would ensure the stability of the monarchy in David’s mind. Up to this point the ark, the symbol of God’s presence, has had the freedom to move with the nomadic tribes and to act independently of the people. God has another plan and is not taken with David’s proposal. God resists the plan of David to build a house a cedar. Instead God would build David a house, a lineage, which makes human beings the living testimony to God’s presence. This kin-dom would last forever.
So…God’s saving presence will not be limited to a place or object, but will be manifest in the people. To this end God raises up an individual as leader. The hope of Israel lies with these individuals. The symbolism is powerful. God’s presence and power in the world lies with these persons. The human being or king, as this person is known, is the instrument for establishing the reign of justice and peace.
This week I read an article from Patheos.com titled: No More Lying About Mary by Nancy Rockwell. It debunks the saccharine sweet, meek, passive Mary that has been handed on to us for generations. This is the Mary that so many women rejected and dismissed after VVII and the movement in the 60’s and 70’s of feminism. That Mary just did not have anything to say to us about our experiences and who God was for us. Our image of God was radically changing and Mary was being dismissed as irrelevant as well.
We, women, are now reading the Scriptures with greater biblical knowledge, theology and clarity about our experiences as women. These are informing our understandings of scripture stories such as the Annunciation.
We pair the reading from Samuel, in which David desired to put the Holy of Holies in a house, with Luke’s Annunciation. Mary became the house or the human ark where God would dwell. Mary has embraced and consented to her part in God’s dwelling with and in human beings independently. We cannot underestimate the historic reality of such a ‘yes’. She becomes the arc of the covenant. Mary grants life by her yes. I think, we need to reconsider Mary as an active participant in salvation history, rather than a passive recipient of the Word of God that just went along submissively.
She must have known the stories of her ancestors and how God had formed and lived with them. It was a very dangerous thing for her, in the climate that she lived, to consent to be an unwed mother. When God calls us, it is to live in the margins often and on the edge of what is seemly acceptable. It frequently puts us in a position that we look unfaithful, undiscerning, at odds with the establishment. Mary was living consciously and deeply her relationship with the God who created her. She is called virgin, not from physicality, but because she is a woman of strength and clarity of purpose. This opens her to the Spirit and a new and deeper consciousness. She is open to what Love brings to her.
We, like Mary, are called to be Mothers of God, as Meister Eckart reflected centuries ago, for God is always waiting to be born.
At the heart of winter lies the moment when the fullness of eternity—the life of God’s own self—is made visible in human form. God finds expression in the cavern of an empty womb. The fullness needs the emptiness in which to make itself manifest—and all this in the silence of the night while the world sleeps.
—By Margaret Silf in Daily Inspiration for Women
HOMILY, December 3, 2017, 1st Sunday of Advent
What a perfect time in history to talk about “Lamenting!” Let’s let it all hang out. Most of us don’t have Christmas shopping done yet, or cards or letters finished. Maybe family is not all getting along. We’re living in a time of political upheaval, homelessness and persecution running rampant. Yes, we can help on a small scale, but the problems are never-ending! Let’s not run away from the situations or turn off the TV too soon. There’s real pain out there and in here.
Isaiah laments to God, saying: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would shake before you! … All of us have become unclean and soiled, even our good deeds are polluted. … Yet you are our mother and father, YHWH; we are the clay and you are the potter, we are all the work of your hands.” The people are lost without God. They feel like God has abandoned them, when instead they have abandoned God. They had to wake up to that before they could be converted. There’s joy in just that!
We know that story as well. Blaming is a dead-end game! When we realize that and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions life is more real. At that point we’re ready to listen to the voice of wisdom, often called “Sophia.”
Advent is a time to do just that, practice listening to the voice of wisdom. How do we actually take the time to do that? Each of us has been trying to do that for many years. Let’s take a fresh look at what wisdom has to teach us now. Our motto at St. Mary of Magdala is “Grounded in tradition, soaring with the Spirit.” Where is the Spirit guiding the Christian churches today? Many people and congregations are picking up the concept and strain of the “emerging or emergent church.” This has been in the air for many years. Remember the Week of praying for Christian Unity, January 18 – 25. That concept has evolved. I think the “emerging church” has taken us further into a Christianity that seeks together to go back to Jesus’ life and vision of his divine commission: teaching people to “stay alert!” Now we can see that we are invited to stay alert for opportunities to listen and learn from other Christian groups. We can learn how to be more effective in bringing about a peaceful, compassionate world. Through Christians being united we can accomplish changes we could never have imagined as Catholics.
Together with other Christians we can do much more to change people’s attitudes and behaviors regarding such things as the role of money in society, the importance of education based on equality and love.
Show pictures of the Indiana Interchurch Center.
We can become a church that leads and encourages people to look for where the Spirit of God, Holy Wisdom, is leading us, and then take the steps to follow that lead.
Jesus, the Christ, has been seen in the New Testament as the personification of Wisdom, the “wisdom of God,” folly to the wise of this world. (1Cor.1:18-25.)
View Christ Pantocrator, meaning “sovereign” or Sophia, the Sinai Christ, from the Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai, Egypt, also called “The Blessing Christ,” later, “The Lover of humankind.” (Find ”Christ Panocrator” on the Internet)
His hand is raised to bless and almost seems to reach out to touch those viewing the painting, while his face is still and timeless. Christ appears to be looking out straight ahead beyond the frame.
As we look into the face of Christ let’s each ask ourselves if this Advent I dare risk beginning again to discover my own truest and deepest self. His face invites me to trust him. Is it time for me to start again the life-long journey of learning to love my shadows that I fear and project onto others. The Sinai Christ encourages me to trust the deeper meaning of judgment and compassion.
I think it’s time for deep prayer and reflection. Let’s bring up those secret thoughts and emotions into the light of day. Sophia will guide us personally and as a Catholic Community in the Emerging Church beyond lamenting into the joy of being Christ.
The Eucharist teaches us how to be Christ. Let’s be there enthusiastically.
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
December 3, 2017
by Sr. Tracey Horan
Six weeks ago I took vows for the first time as a Sister of Providence. I committed to live out poverty, chastity and obedience with the support of my community. In preparation for professing these three big scary words in front of hundreds of people, I engaged in study and conversation with my Sisters to deepen my understanding of exactly what I was getting myself into. When asked by my director which of the vows I imagined I’d find most difficult, I answered without hesitation: OBEDIENCE. Those who know me may not be surprised by this. I’ve never been big on doing things just because someone told me to…my parents, teachers and formators can affirm this. I always wanted to know WHY…what was the reasoning behind a request – who would benefit?...What would be the impact of following given directions? My stomach turned when I thought about publicly promising to be obedient to anyone.
So, I was surprised when the reading assigned on obedience spoke to my heart most of all. Sandra Schneiders, in her book Buying the Field laid out a description of what it meant to live PROPHETIC OBEDIENCE – an alternate approach to freedom and power. At first glance the words seemed opposed – how could someone be prophetic and obedient at the same time? But when we consider that the root of the word “obey” actually means to listen, hear or perceive, and that the word “prophet” means hearer or interpreter, the connection seems obvious. Prophetic obedience is not a contradiction at all – one word actually reinforces the other. The woman prophets we heard about today lives out deep and sometimes unfathomable contradictions. This is precisely what makes them prophet material. I want to explore with you this role of prophet, drawing heavily from Sandra Schneiders’ writings, how we see it in these Biblical women and in women prophets today in our own city.
One contradiction we see is that a prophet’s reality is both deeply connected and marginalized at the same time. A prophet is…
These and other women prophets occupy a stressful and conflict-ridden space: deep connection and isolation.
Women prophets also hold a tension in their message: they speak truth to power and hope to the oppressed. Hard truth and joyful hope; lament for the way things are and energy for the way they can be.
Hard truth and joyful hope. Lament and possibility. None of these women chose the structures of oppression that would walk them into the role of prophet. Yet, their deep awareness and connectedness to the Spirit led them to be obedient to the signs of the times; to occupy a stressful and conflict-ridden space, knowing deeply that things CAN be different.
We celebrate these women today and many others who go unnamed and unrecognized even as they occupy the space of prophet.
In closing, I want to share my gratitude that today’s collection will go to our Sisters of Providence community. As a true middle class white girl from the suburbs, I’m quite uncomfortable talking about money, but this act of investing resources has a particularly prophetic meaning for me today. I’ll explain why. The day before I took first vows, a member of our Missions Advancement staff informed me that a donor requested to drop their name from our list because they saw me as a political activist. Of course I didn’t get a chance to explain to this person that a community organizer is actually distinctly different from an activist, because I don’t know this person. They had never met me personally. I have had a sense for some time that this day might come, but it still hurt. I still struggled with mixed feelings about how the public aspect of my ministry might impact our religious community. The timing was also not ideal as I was preparing to deepen my commitment the next day. You wanted prophetic obedience? You got it…A couple conversations with my Sisters affirmed that religious life was never created to uphold the status quo, and this was actually a sign that we are right where we need to be. Two days later, I received an email from Maria asking me to speak at this celebration and mentioning that the collection would go to our community. In that series of events, I saw lament move into hope. I saw the mind of the oppressor give way to energy for something new. All that to say: those who give today are participating in a truly prophetic act. And I thank Maria and this community, all women prophets, for reminding us of who we can be.
Collected $522.00 for Sisters of Providence, Terra Haute, IN
Feast of Corpus Christi
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
June 18, 2017
The phrase, “flesh and blood” is rich in meaning, especially for families. Think “She is my own flesh and blood.” For Jesus, saying that the bread was his body and the wine his blood was an allusion to his incarnation and looked forward to his death on the cross because of his love for the neediest. Today we remember and focus on his saying, “Do this in memory of me.” We share the ritual meal in which we are nourished by Jesus’ very person. It is in the fullness of life that he gives a participation in God’s own life, endless and complete love.
That ritual meal has gone through various adaptations throughout time. Fifty years ago Pope John XXIII called the 2nd Vatican Council to bring the Catholic Church into better resonance with the realities of the 20th century. The first area that was ready to be dealt with was the liturgy. For more than 50 years before that, first in abbeys, then universities in Europe, there was a great energy and enthusiasm for simplifying the Mass. That movement quickly spread to the United States. People wanted to make that memorial meal clearly recognizable and filled with the power of Jesus’ intimate love for his followers.
The sound theological principles of the reform of the liturgy of the Mass and sacraments focused on the Church as the People of God. In other words, the Church is not just the clergy. All baptized persons are part of the Body of Christ and are called to give the complete gift of themselves to God for the benefit of all and especially the neediest.
I encourage all of us who are used to saying “The Church teaches, says, etc.” to change it to “The bishops say, etc.” to get away from that attitude that “The Church” equals the official authorities only, and not all of us. We are the people of God.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states that everyone is to actively participate in the rites of the Mass. The Mass had gotten overlaid with extra ceremonies and elaborations that obscured what Jesus was really expressing through his command to the group gathered with him. He told them to eat his flesh and drink his blood, meaning to become mirror images of him. His followers, as a whole people, were to become him, alive throughout time and place, giving their lives, as he did, so that all people could have the fullness of life and love.
That leads to the question, “How do we best do that in our time and place?” Much of that is for this community to answer for ourselves. We are a community founded by a woman preparing to be a Roman Catholic Womanpriest and the people who supported her in that endeavor. Their goal was to establish a Roman Catholic worshipping community. That meant it was to be a community that followed the principles of Vatican II without the restraints of past embellishments of the liturgy that do not express the needs of our time. That was seven years ago. We are those people and those who later joined us. How do we continuously become more “grounded in tradition, and soaring with the Spirit?”
A group of RCWP leaders recently answered the question, “What does a liturgy need in order to be considered Catholic and Eucharistic?” Some of the answers offered can be helpful to us as we strive to express our faith in a way that is faithful to what Jesus was asking his followers to do and ritualize. For example:
As for humankind today the realization of the Kingdom of God here on earth has become a matter of survival or extinction.
6th Sunday of Easter
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
Albert Schweitzer once wrote: As for humankind today the realization of the Kingdom of God here on earth has become a matter of survival or extinction.
This afternoon we begin with a true story from the not too long ago of Apartheid in South Africa. As you know in those days laws prevented blacks and whites from mingling. When an official died who had worked within system to humanize life for the oppressed blacks, other officials refused to let black people in to the funeral.
The deceased official’s family had requested that black people be allowed to attend but they were refused. It was a real insult to them. A black pastor visited the white chief justice who the pastor believed to be a friend to the oppressed black people. The pastor invited the judge to participate in their Good Friday service that included the practice of washing each other’s feet. The judge agreed to attend and asked that no announcement be made before he arrived.
During the service the judge approached Martha, the person who had been a servant in his home and cared for his children. He came forward and washed and dried her feet. Then he took her feet and kissed both of them. That action that demonstrated God’s love had a ripple effect of setting in motion the end of apartheid.
That reminds me of the first Reading from Acts. Philip went to Samaria, of all places! Jews from Judea and Galilee didn’t do that. There was long-standing animosity between and Jews and Samaritans. Here was Philip on his first mission to bring the message of God’s love and the example Jesus gave of how to respond to it. How wonderful that the people heard Jesus’ message of inclusion and decided to take it to heart! Samaritans were ready to hear that challenge and respond to it, following Christ in their own area!
The judge in the Apartheid story had internalized Christ’s self-sacrificing love. His action spoke volumes to both white and black people around him. Jesus’ fundamental message through everything he said and did was the same. He even promised to send another advocate to stand up for them, like a defense attorney in a courtroom.
We all have that same advocate to guide us in the courtroom of our everyday lives. We have each other to help us be obedient to the call to love. We don’t have to worry if we are following God’s desire for us. Just put ourselves in God’s “hands.” …………… Sure, “just!” How many times have we all started out with the best of intentions, gotten scared and went back to our own merger resources which got us in trouble in the first place.
What better time to realize again that the Kingdom of God is within us, and realize that “us” refers to the loving family and friends, people in our faith community who are there for us. They will help or advise if we will just let them know our needs, without excuses like “Oh it’s nothing!” or “you’re too busy,” or ”it’s too far!” Will we speak in love to one close to us whom we believe has stepped outside the bounds of accepted behavior?
We middle class, white, privileged Americans have a hard time asking for help. We think we should do whatever we can by ourselves. What we really need are community and national and planetary needs. We can look around and pay attention to needs in our neighborhood and our church community. What about neighbors who are just learning English?
I guess Albert Schweitzer knew what he was talking about when he wrote: As for humankind today the realization of the Kingdom of God here on earth has become a matter of survival or extinction.
What are some ways you reach out in love without expecting anything in return?
Where do you meet Christ along the way?
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
Yesterday, Nancy and I, along with a packed house at Clowes Memorial Hall, celebrated the ordination and consecration of Jennifer Baskerville-Bowens as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. As part of the ceremony Bishop Kate Waynick, her predecessor, gave her the pastoral staff of the diocese, with these words: “On behalf of the people and clergy of the Diocese of Indianapolis, I give into your hands this pastoral staff. Walk in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd as you carry it in his name.”
Today’s gospel compares Jesus sometimes to the Good Shepherd, sometimes to the gate through which the sheep go in and out in safety. In Jesus’ time the shepherd would sometimes be the person to stay by the gate all night to keep away those who would steal the sheep. There were times when the shepherd gave their life for those in their care.
What an example of compassion that is for each of us in our own roles! We here are all leaders in some way. Someone or someones are looking to us to be for them the example that gives them courage to follow their real path, freely accepting God’s self-communication. It takes dedication and focus to be attuned to other’s needs, like the Good Shepherd who can call each of the sheep by name and knows their needs. That dedication and focus comes from learning and following that guidance from God on a regular basis.
Like the sheep that know their shepherd and won’t follow anyone else,
we can choose to travel toward the light of Christ and get the message that is meant for each of us. That’s how we begin to get the ability to lead others in the way of truth and love. As the reading on Compassion tells us, that movement happens “within the context of freedom.”
What does that mean practically? I think “freedom is a “slippery” word. When I was teaching high school religion the kids used to talk about “freedom to find their own truth.” Basically it was an excuse to experiment with what felt good. Most of us have been there, done that – and have transcended that way of living in favor of activating true freedom through accepting the grace that God has given us through the choices we make.
The other night in the TV show “Survivor” a young woman just couldn’t do the task that everyone else on her team had done, but her teammates challenged and encouraged her until she believed in their belief in her and finished the challenge on her own. That life lesson will stay with her long after the memories of winning or losing the game of Survivor will have faded from her memory.
Helping someone pull through a difficult time is an example of what community members can do for each other. But it means that we need to take opportunities to get to know one another better, so we connect at deepening levels.
I’m reminded again of the celebration yesterday of the ordination and consecration of Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows. The genuine enthusiasm in Clowes Hall was infectious. To add to the already auspicious occasion, Bishop Jennifer is the first Episcopal woman bishop to succeed another in this country. She is the first Episcopal African-American bishop in the United States and, it is happening in Indiana.
The Episcopal Church will care for their new shepherd, as she will care for and lead them. She will empower them to grow in compassion after the example of Christ. Together they will more forward, transcending their faith-life as they know it today.
We can transcend where we are in our faith-life and be what we are called to be for the good of ourselves, our families, the people of our city, state and country, and all of life. The opportunity and challenge are in front of us. Let’s seize the day!
Now it’s your turn. What does it mean to you to lead others in the way of love within the context of your freedom to be your real self?
God of the Living
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
November 16, 2016
My grandparents were married for 64 years. They got married in 1913. They endured many hard times together—WWI, when my grandfather fought in France; the Great Depression; WWII, in which their 3 sons fought; and the rapid social and technological changes of the 20th century. For instance, when they were young, my grandparents used horses for transportation, and their family farms were pretty much self-sufficient. But by the time they were adults, the economy had become much more industrialized. They had to adapt to the automobile, the TV, the phone, the computer, and the urbanization of the rural areas they had grown up in. Plus they had the heartaches most families deal with—illnesses, lay-offs, a house fire. But Grandma and Grandpa had many years of happiness, as well, with their 5 children, and 38 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They had to be really committed to each other and very adaptable to cope with that much change. They were a wonderful example of love and loyalty to all our family. Their unity helped them overcome the stresses in their lives.
Even the most dedicated of couples has the occasional conflict, and my grandparents had their share. In our Gospel today, Luke gives his account of a confrontation Jesus had in the Temple in Jerusalem. It occurs after the cleansing of the Temple episode, and is one of a series of subsequent run-ins Jesus had with the Temple hierarchy. Earlier in the chapter, Luke relates how the chief priests, scribes, and elders had challenged Jesus’ authority, how he answered back with the scathing parable of the wicked tenants, and then how he silenced the officials with his clever solution to their query about paying taxes. Now these officials are back to challenge Jesus again. They are trying to embarrass him and dilute his popularity with his followers, maybe even gather evidence for a future prosecution. They want him gone.
“They” is actually two groups. The Sadducees were a religious party who considered sacred only the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. They couldn’t see any specific mention of the resurrection of the dead in those 5 books, so they didn’t believe it existed. The Sadducees cooperated with the Roman occupiers of Palestine, and benefitted financially and politically. Life for them was good. The other group is the Pharisees, a less affluent party whose sacred literature included the Prophets and Psalms, in addition to the Torah, and who were pro-resurrection. Life for the Pharisees, and for most Jewish people back then, was not so good. The Roman occupation was brutal. They were loyal Jews, and believed God would stand by the promises made to them. But they could see that their political and financial situation was not likely to change any time soon. So they kept hope alive for the life after death. They’d read about it in Isaiah, where it said God would destroy death forever, and wipe away the tears from all faces. (Is 25:8) And in Hosea, where we read, “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?” (Hos 13:14) That hope of salvation someday is what kept them going.
So, the Sadducees and Pharisees had different beliefs and normally didn’t get along, but in this story they were united in opposition to Jesus, after he’d called them out for their hypocrisy. This time, they challenge Jesus by bringing up levirate marriage. That’s what it’s called, this law, from Deuteronomy (Ch. 25) that states that if a husband dies childless, his brother owes it to him to marry his wife and give her a son, for the first husband’s legacy, and the mother’s financial support. The Sadducees believed the dead father would live on, so to speak, in his son. Then they added on six more dead husbands to their hypothetical question, in an effort to discredit both Jesus, and the resurrection belief.
But Jesus comes back with an explanation of resurrection life completely different from life on earth. In Luke’s version of this story, Jesus says that in the hereafter, marriage, and passing women from one man to the next like property, will not be necessary, because resurrected people are “like angels” and “cannot die anymore” so have no need of progeny or family support. They are children of God, children of the resurrection, united, not with just one person, as in marriage, but with God, and all others, forever!
The clincher is that Jesus proves his point by referring to the Torah itself. Demonstrating that he knows more about Exodus than even the Sadducees do, he cites the passage (Ch. 3) about Moses and the burning bush, where God claims the name, “The God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebekah, and the God of Jacob and Leah.” Jesus says God is the God of the living, so somehow these forefathers and foremothers must still be alive to God. The Jewish officials are again speechless, and go away amazed by Jesus’ insight.
To Jesus and his followers, the resurrection represents the Second Coming, the Parousia, that already-but-not-yet time when justice will reign for everyone. This Realm of God, this time of God’s justice, was what Jesus came to both foretell and initiate. Some people think this Apocalypse will happen with a blast of the trumpet, and angels descending to earth, in a cataclysmic event like we read about in the Book of Revelation (8-11). Other people think we begin to glimpse moments of this time of God’s truth little by little while we’re still on this Earth. I agree with the latter group, and I think we experience this resurrection preview at transformative moments in our lives, when we’re most open to it. Like when we commit ourselves to someone, when we ask forgiveness, or when we extend authentic generosity. We perceive a flash of what eternity with God will be like when we look around at a strongly united group, when we pull together as a team, when we hold a newborn baby. We feel it when we converge on the altar at Mass to commune with God and one another, and unite with Jesus by consuming his resurrected Body and Blood.
When we read this passage at Mass, we join the Sadducees in asking, “Is there really life after death? Is there more than this life on Earth to look forward to?” And Jesus gives us a resounding “YES!” Yes, life with God for eternity does exist. Yes, one day the discrimination and pain and poverty and abuse will end. And yes, we can help to bring it to an end here in this life, little by little. We can begin to bring the moment of God’s truth here and now by living in love. God works through us when we do things like: fight for just treatment for prisoners and refugees; when we help to elect conscientious government leaders; when we work to get fresh produce into the food deserts in our city. We can even work on getting the Catholic Church to recognize women as human beings, as deserving of decision-making positions as men are. Hopefully our bishops will get that message when they receive the “ballots” we signed at our Equali-Tea on Thursday. God brings the time of justice to earth through us in these kinds of efforts.
I remember stories my grandparents told of feeding homeless travelers who would come to their door during the Depression. They could always at least come up with a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Later, I remember my grandfather doing free house repairs for their neighbors, fixing leaky faucets, replacing broken window glass. And he and Grandma always put out a much bigger garden than they needed, just so they could keep those same neighbors supplied with fresh vegetables. No, there was no food desert while Grandma and Grandpa were around. They were always helping somebody, quietly, without making a fuss. They’d been blessed with good health and a big family, now they believed God expected them to share. They let their love for God and one another spread to everyone around them.
Those of us who have felt that kind of unity with at least one other person in life, have known moments, glimpses, of the resurrection experience. If that kind of unity is achievable here on earth, think what it will be like when we are one with God in all. My grandparents know it now, I’m sure. They shared a few glimpses of that love and oneness while they were here with us, and they did their best to make it grow. Now it’s up to us. Now it’s our turn to keep the faith, and look for the resurrection.
Introduction to Preaching
What’s wrong with this town, what’s wrong with the church (I’ll stick with the Catholic Church because that’s what I know) that following the advice of Paul in 2 Thessalonians can’t fix?
Let’s look at some examples. First, the City of Indianapolis. A headline this week, on October 26, in IndyStar reads – COURT: WORKER CAN SUE OVER DCS CASELOADS
Caseworkers’ caseloads continue to rise, because the money appropriated by the state legislature has not been sufficient to allow Department of Child Services to hire enough caseworkers to meet mandatory caseload standards. That means more children will continue to be abused and neglected. Some will die from mistreatment and even starvation. Why is this situation allowed to continue?
Another example: Let’s review a situation in the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a situation that is multiplied many, many times across the United States and the world.
On July 1, of this year, three parishes in Richmond, IN—Holy Family, St. Andrew and St. Mary—were officially combined and named St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. The new parish includes the territory of the three former parishes, maintains three worship sites and is served by one pastor. The new parish is made up of over 1100 households.
Yes, there are not enough case workers to serve children who need to be taken to a safe and supportive environment that is regularly supervised on site. There are not enough priests to serve people’s spiritual needs. Who are the ones responsible for these situations continuing year after year?
Meanwhile there are many social workers who would love to work for Child Protective Services if there were job openings, a supportive environment and a living wage.
There are many men who were ordained as Catholic priests but left the active ministry either to get married, in disgust with the politics of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, or some other reason. Then there’s the issue of the many Catholic women who would love to be ordained and have the credentials, but the all-male hierarchy says that women can’t be priests because only men have ever been ordained as priests in the Catholic Church. That, by the way, isn’t true. There is plenty of proof to the contrary.
Who are the ones responsible for these situations continuing year after year?
Many officials of the State of Indiana and Roman Catholic Church are the ones who ignore these situations. They are the idlers. They don’t have any excuse like “the end of the world is coming. It will be all over soon.” They are politicians looking out for themselves and what they want instead of serving the people they were elected or ordained to serve. Of course, this doesn’t refer to all office holders, but enough to have the power to stifle change.
Now let’s look back at today’s reading from St. Paul. What does the writer of 2 Thessalonians, have to say? Paul’s main concern was to ensure harmony within the community and assure that the community would have a good reputation. He gave his own life of service to the community as an example. He told them that he worked day and night so not to be a burden to them and to be an example. The health of the community was most important. He showed them that it is not enough to preach the gospel with words, but more importantly by one’s actions.
Paul noted that he had heard that some people were not pulling their own weight. Some people were not disciplined enough or used the excuse that the end of the world was coming soon, or that the judgement had already happened, so they might as well not even try. As a practical solution, Paul counseled the leaders to hold to this norm: “Anyone unwilling to work, will not eat.”
Paul also knew about the fine line between being helpful and butting in where one is not wanted. His advice in regard to that situation was for everyone to do their work quietly and earn their own living.
Yes, as we know, there are moochers today. I know a story of an elder in a church in a small town. John had grown up poor. “We weren’t just poor. We was ‘poar.’ When Mama said there was pork chop for dinner, that’s what she meant. One pork chop and everyone got a bite.” He was one of the fortunate ones. People had helped him along the way. He had gone to college and was now a grade-school principal. He was eternally grateful for what had come his way, so he always tried to help others when he could. He lived in a poor town there was always an opportunity for that. One day a man approached John with a great tale of woe. He had not eaten in days. John was street smart enough to temper his desire to help with some cynicism. “I’m not going to give you money, but I will buy you a sandwich. What do you want? Roast beef? “Sure.” “With Mayo?” “Sure!” It was a good sandwich. John felt he had done the right thing, until he heard a voice behind him calling out to a passerby, “What will you give me for this good roast beef sandwich?”
How does the letter to the Thessalonians help people today? Here’s an example from right here in our city. Youth who live in poor areas of Indianapolis often think and say that they know they don’t have long to live because all their other former friends and gang members have all been shot and killed. The young people can’t foresee any future for themselves, let alone a positive future. They think they have the right to take whatever they want from others while they still can.
As we all know, gangs are a powerful influence on lonely, discouraged, frightened youth. There is much more work to do to counteract that influence. That includes providing jobs and mentors that help teens develop a sense of self-worth from being successful in something productive.
There are places like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Indianapolis that provides a safe, educational and positive space where youth can realize and develop values and skills. This enables them to prosper and reach their full potential. That’s not just a Mission Statement. It’s the lived experience of the young people who take part in their programs and of the staff. Then there are teachers, and coaches and music and art instructors that by their lives and by their instructions help students develop both a positive view of life and work ethic.
Some of you have been involved as staff and/or volunteers in programs like these. How have you seen that your positive impact on even one young person has made a difference in their life, and yours, too?
Back to church problems. You know that the “priest shortage” is really a false problem. There are ordained married men, gay and straight, who would love to return to the ministry if they were allowed. We womenpriests serve those on the margin of the Catholic Church, many who are shunned by the institution.
Yes, the problems in our city and in the church can be fixed by following the teaching of Paul to work hard and be a positive example for the good of all in the community.
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP October 30, 2016
Reflection: We hear Moses in our first reading praying to win the battle against Amalekites.
When his hands grew weary and are lowered he begins to lose the battle. When his hands are held up Moses wins. Our gospel, when I was growing up, was named the parable of the unjust judge. Today we call this parable the persistent widow. We might want to Sing-a-Song about "you can't keep a good woman down" parable. Prayer, persistence and justice are part of God's message today.
It was the archdiocese celebration for those married 25 and 50 and 60 years. The Archbishop has singled out Luigi, a Golden Jubilarian, to come up to the microphone and answer a few questions. “How had he managed to stay married to the same woman for 50 years”? Luigi responded, "I treat her well, I spend money on her and the best is that for our 20th anniversary I took her to Italy. The Archbishop immediately ask, "Luigi, you are a remarkable man. What are you going to do for you your wife for your 50th anniversary?" Luigi proudly responded "I'm going to go and get her!"
The Archbishop nor did we expect that response! There is certainly an unexpected twist to the story.
Jesus told a parable today that is as unexpected.
Luke talks about prayer more in his gospel and any of the other three Gospel writers. The original parable as told by Jesus is most probably verses 2-5 and not necessarily about prayer.
Both of the characters that Luke introduces to us are not stereotypic. The judge who does not fear God nor respects human beings is not acting as Scripture prescribes for him. It would be alarming to encounter such a judge who does not act according to the prevailing codes of shame and honor. He is unmoved by the widow’s unrelenting pleas. What does move the judge is that the widow ‘will come and wear him out’. What that really means in the Greek is that she will give him a black eye...as the Greek word used implies. It is a boxing term. There are lots of subtleties in this story.
Widows are often portrayed as powerless, meek, without resources and defenseless throughout Scripture. This widow boldly faces the judge and returns every day again and again to plead her cause. She is relentless and does not fear retribution. She has nothing to lose because she has nothing.
The judge does not have a conversion of any kind. He just wants to get this woman out his court and out of his life. He does the right thing for his own peace. He simply wants to get rid of her.
Now there is a theological problem of casting God as the unjust judge. The problem is if we badger God long enough God will give in because we wear God down and we get what we want.
With the widow seen as the God figure she names injustice, faces it, denounces it and acts as God acts. We are invited by this parable as disciples of Jesus, to take a stance in the face of apparent weakness. We can take this widow and emulate her by persistently pursuing non-violent confrontation for justice. Rosa Parks and many others are modern day widows who do the same.
Our widow gives us an example not to weary as we work for social justice, justice in our government in the face of incredible odds. In our weakness is our strength. Jesus certainly showed us that way.
Nancy L. Meyer, RCWP
OCTOBER 2, 2016
Have you ever gotten lost, and had someone come and rescue you? I know a little girl who went to the zoo with her mother and aunt. They were walking around admiring the elephants and the giraffes, and especially the lion who roared and scared the little girl.
All of a sudden the little girl looked around and couldn’t see her mother and her aunt. She looked everywhere. Finally a lady came up to her and asked if she was looking for somebody. She said tearfully that yes, she was. The lady took her to a nearby first aid station. After a while the little girl’s mother and aunt found her there. What a happy reunion that was!
Doesn’t that sound a little like what Jesus and his parents went though? What did Luke want his readers, which includes us, to learn? In what direction is he pointing us? Jesus, sitting with the teachers in the Temple, is a powerful image of him seeking from the very beginning of his adulthood to learn more about his heavenly Father. I think Luke wanted his readers to yearn for the same thing, to learn more about God and God’s transforming love for all creation. Let’s look a little deeper into the story.
Why did Luke tell the whole story of Jesus’ life growing up? None of the other gospel writers did. Let’s remember that the purpose of Luke’s gospel was to show that Jesus was the One sent by God as the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures. Luke began his narrative by telling the story that demonstrated what an extraordinary person Jesus was from even before he was born. Then we are treated with the beautiful narrative of his birth and infancy with angels and prophets and magi praising God because the long-waited child had been born.
Then all is quiet until Jesus, when he was twelve years old, went with his very faithful, observant parents, Mary and Joseph, along with other family members and friends, to Jerusalem for their annual pilgrimage. Remember that men and women did not travel together in those days. Men stayed in their group and women in theirs. Thus the spouses probably had no contact with each other until the end of the day. That was when Jesus’ parents discovered that their son was not with them.
Age twelve was about the time when a Jewish young man began to function as an adult in the community. Jesus could have been with the women and children, or with the men. Each parent thought their son must have been with the other group. Luke uses this to demonstrate that in the new communities as well as in their former ones, the group was more important than individual men and women.
At the same time Jesus understood the significance of the moment for him. He wasn’t thinking about going home. He was eager to join a group who were sitting in the Temple with a rabbi, studying in the manner of Jewish instruction, asking and answering questions. So that’s what he did. How we wish we could have been there and heard that conversation!
Luke made the point that Jesus showed unusual abilities, exhibiting insights into the verses of scripture that were beyond his years. In fact the Greek word Luke uses to express this was often associated with the end time. The word was used to describe people’s reaction to a demonstration of divine power.
Jesus’ anxious, terrified parents went back to Jerusalem and found him in the Temple three days later. They questioned him as to why he didn’t go back home with them. Luke has Jesus show surprise or disappointment that they didn’t understand that he really was grown up and had to start being about what he was called by his father, God, to do. Looking carefully we see that Jesus’ mother alone “held these things dearly, deep within herself.” His father is not mentioned again in the rest of Luke’s gospel.
The story is reminiscent of those in the Greco-Roman tradition about the exploits of a hero while still a child. The point was to show that the powerful deeds of heroes as adults were a continuation of their behavior in childhood. They were living out life with divine powers they were given from birth.
Another aspect of this event is one of Luke’s main themes, namely that people close to Jesus often didn’t understand him. He realized that he had responsibilities in the much larger family of God. He must begin to attend to them. Yet he would have a long spiritual journey to prepare for that life. Thus he did go back home and obey his earthly father and mother and live a quiet, ordinary life for the next several years before he began his public ministry.
Like Jesus and the people in his life, each of us is on our own spiritual journey. We are given clues as to where the path goes next. Our role is to be ready to take that next step. It appears that Luke wanted his readers, like Jesus, to yearn to learn more about God and God’s love for all God has created. What a help it is if we are members of a supportive community of faith that is on the same journey! The more we live by the values Jesus demonstrated in both ordinary and extraordinary events the more deeply we will be able to experience the road with Jesus the Christ to the realm of our Creator God.
Maybe that next step on the road is to give encouragement to a young person who has abilities but is shy and afraid to let their gifts be seen. Maybe it’s setting aside a special time each day to be alone with God and listen to God’s voice. We could spend time talking and listening to a friend that we’ve ignored for a while. We could speak out about an injustice which many pretend doesn’t exist.
Our talents are given to us for the benefit of ourselves and others: family, friends and beyond. We are a part of that large community that came from the love God has for all creation. Jesus gradually learned that he was sent to be an example of that love for his family, his faith tradition and those beyond those borders. Luke wanted his readers also to yearn, as Jesus did, to learn more about God and God’s love and compassion for all. Let’s keep that in mind as we go to the altar table for the Eucharist.
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
October 2, 2016
Comments/Reflections on our October 2, 2016 Celebration
Yesterday was the second time that we have taken time out from the regular liturgical year to celebrate “A Children’s Sabbath,” honoring children as sacred gifts. The Children’s Defense Fund founded Children’s Sabbaths in 1992 to encourage congregations to honor, protect, and advocate on behalf of children. As founder Miriam Wright Edelman stated at the time: “Children come into the world with God’s commission to live and learn and sing and dance and grow; then, too, many are decommissioned by adults who prey on them.” We pray today that all children will soon be able to develop into strong, healthy, and loving adults.
It has been a joyful time to be childlike in our worship of God. On Sunday we had a sweet little girl with us who made us smile and laugh. We also sang children’s songs like ‘He/She’s Got the Whole World in His/Her Hands” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Oh, and we finished with a reception with different flavored Oreo cookies and sang “Happy Birthday” to our pastor, Maria, Goodies included a 3-cupcake birthday cake with candles which she blew out. On the whole it was a special community celebration! We congratulate Maria and are grateful for her many, many years of dedicated and inspired service to God's people. Thank you, Maria.
JULY 17, 2016
Sr. Barbara Battista, SP, speaking on the Feast of St Mary of Magdala
at St. Mary of Magdala Catholic Community, Indianapolis, IN.
Includes excerpts by Schenk & Miska from Catholic Women Speak and a reading by Gina Messina-Dysert A Need for Multiple Confessions. John 20: 1-18
Claiming Our Space, Our Place in / as the Body of Christ
Mary of Magdala in her deep sadness peers into the empty tomb…angels greet her… she sees someone, only partially, … then, Mary!... and, Rabboni!... and Jesus, the Risen One, commissions her: ”go, to the sisters and brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Abba and to your Abba, to my God and your God.”… Mary, in her wholeness goes and spreads the word!
We just heard the story. And, if you’re like me you have some questions: Why didn’t the angels appear to Peter and the beloved disciple? Why did those two look inside and seeing an empty tomb just leave? Why did Mary get to see and converse with angels? Did her deep love, her communion with Jesus compel her to stay? Did Mary and the other disciples have different motivations for going to the tomb that morning? I would like to propose that Mary’s seeking Jesus, her willingness to look inside that tomb, to recognize and talk to the angels had a meaning for her unlike anything she had ever done before. Could it be that in her relationship with Jesus she found wholeness, found herself centered, at peace, and ever more able to love without limits? So, in searching for Jesus Mary was searching for, and finding her authentic self. I suggest Mary’s encounter at the tomb shows us how to be whole, to be fully human, fully alive, fully who God created us to be. She shows us too, how to go forth and spread the word! More on that later.
Back to the story. Notice please. She went to, actually into the tomb in her searching. A tomb, more likely tombs, are in our story too. As followers of Jesus, the Risen One, we know that the tomb, our tomb even, is not the end of the story. We also know that tombs come into our lives wrapped in a variety of events: stressful relationships; gravely ill children / spouses / friends; discrimination or exclusion because of who we are or who we love; deep emotional crises; spiritual challenges; and so forth. Seemingly least often is the tomb that receives the sacred remains of our earthly form. And yet, our faithful movement into any of these losses offers us the possibility of new life, of transformation, of claiming wholeness. In our fidelity to the journey, our willingness to look “into the tomb” with our yearning for healing and wholeness, we too, like Mary, can be made whole. We too, can hear our name and be called forth into new life.
So, what might it look like for us to go searching today? Where and how are we being called to search for that fullness of life? Might claiming A Church for our Daughters be another way of saying we are searching for full communion with Jesus, with the People of God that is the Church, that is the Body of Christ? Can we claim that in our searching, in our longing for full communion that we, too, are being made whole?
Angela Nevitt-Meyer proclaimed Gina Messina-Dysert’s Confessions. Such apparently contradictory statements made no less true by their juxtaposition. Just as when Mary heard Jesus call her by name she recognized him, so might we hear our name being called into full communion when we are able to seek out and name those basic realities that sound so contradictory and yet function as the bedrock of who we are as active, faithful, justice-seeking Catholic Christians today. No doubt, there surely is tension in this naming.
Did hearing Messina-Dysert’s multiple confessions help you get in touch with your own confessions? I propose that this way of naming, of taking stock of who we are and where we are in the midst of so many contradictions within our church may in fact free us to be ever more credible witnesses, as Mary was to Jesus’ resurrection, to the full humanity and dignity of women in church and in our society.
Here’s one of my confessions:
I confess that I am happy in my vocation as a Sister of Providence
I confess that my Catholic church, the church I love practices misogyny.
My public confession gave me more clarity, afforded me less anger and frustration, and the grace to be more loving in the midst of such contradictory experiences. I now talk about the oppression of women in our church with my own Sisters, and others, in a true dialogue being respectful and open to another’s experience. This is surely grace!
Consider what your multiple confessions might be. Choose to name them for yourself and perhaps share them with trusted others. I believe that act of naming can become a catalyst of growth for us and our communities. By befriending the paradox, the “both/and” within us, we can live with integrity in that creative tension, allowing something new to germinate and in time be called forth in us.
I believe A Church for Our Daughters is one of the fruits of that tension: A declaration of what our church can be, must become; a description of the beloved community that is whole and wholesome, full and inclusive, proactive and vigilant, recognizing the sacred in all creation. The declaration describes a community within our reach. Among its fifteen points: “(a community that) celebrates and promotes a spirituality that recognizes an inclusive God, beyond gender, and incorporates language that is inclusive and representative of God’s feminine, masculine, and non-gendered attributes in liturgy, doctrine, and pastoral practice.”
A Church for our Daughters is an invitation to revitalize our Church, to welcome Sophia, Wisdom and her power for reforming and transforming our Church into a Church where all are welcome, where all know themselves to be the beloved of God. I encourage you to check out the Facebook and/or webpage for A Church for our Daughters. There you will find the declaration to sign and share. Post it to your social media feeds; discuss it in your book clubs and other faith community gatherings. And, like Mary, spread the word, most especially in your ‘other’ parish.
In welcoming the gifts and leadership of women, all persons will be welcomed into contributing as one among equals. Isn’t that a description of the beloved community? A Church for our Daughters has the potential to help us become a Church for our sons, for those pushed aside, for the least among us, truly for all. For, when we recognize the truth that all are one in the Body of Christ, and put systems in place that support that reality we will no longer tolerate attitudes and systems that breed subordination nor will we support actions that dominate and exclude parts of the Body of Christ.
And so we pray with the closing statement of the declaration: “We pray together as a family of the faithful with the vision of a Church community that at its core upholds the full equality of all of its members. So that our daughters and yours may know radical inclusion and justice, equality without qualification, and an institution that transforms oppression into love without bounds, let us build a Church for our daughters.”
Let us, like Mary of Magdala go to the sisters and brothers today and spread the word!
Barbara Battista, SP
St Mary of Magdala Inclusive Catholic Community
July 17, 2016