There are many places in the Scriptures that give us a glimpse into the heart of God and the love that God has for us, a love rooted in God’s intimate knowledge of who we are. “I have called you by name; you are mine” quotes the writer of second Isaiah in the time of the Babylonian captivity. (Isaiah 43;1) and David’s beautiful Psalm 139-” YHWH, you’ve searched me and you know me…You created my inmost being and stitched me together in my mother’s womb…”(Verses 1, 13 ). In John 10:14 Jesus assures us: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. It feels good to be known. Some of us long to be more fully known by those we love. In a popular song of a few years back the singer almost cries: “If you don’t know me by now, you will never ever know me at all”. And for some of us, it feels good to be known and still loved, for we fear that if others truly knew us they would not love us. Yet we are assured that God both knows us and loves us. In the same way in these texts God is expressing abiding love for Israel and those chosen to be God’s people.
However,In Sunday’s texts, particularly Isaiah 66:18-21 and Luke 13: 22-30 the words of the the writer of third Isaiah and the words of Jesus are not so reassuring. Both texts establish that God has thrown open the doors of exclusivity and invited people from all over the world to serve God and God’s people, not only those originally chosen. While this maybe cause for our rejoicing as we too are included in the kindom of God, those who thought the kindom was their exclusive club probably experienced a sense of outrage and loss.
Now Jesus also taught us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16) that God has been generous with us and we are not diminished by God’s generosity to others. Yet, even in this parable he says that those who think they have it all sewn up , who have “done their labor”, done the “right thing” yet are critical of the way God gives to others may not have it right, including the religious who do not understand God’s loving inclusivity. They will need to learn that the “last shall be first” in God’s kindom. Strangers will come in and sit near the head of the table. And, imagine, Isaiah is saying to God’s originally chosen, that people from other nations and stations in life will even become priests and Levites ( that is priests in lines of priests). Imagine their anger and confusion and dismay. Is it not akin to the response of the Catholic hierarchy in discovering in their midst the presence of validly ordained women priests? They have responded like the workers in the parable, with anger- we have served you “the right way” and now You are not fair, how can You include them? And going further, “The church cannot ordain women” (And by extension God cannot call women!) “You women cannot be one of us anymore-out you go, you are “excommunicated” sent out from us-you will not be served at the Table.” And is this not akin to saying that the Table of Jesus is exclusive, only those belonging to the club and paying the dues exacted may come to the Table?
One of our Deacons recently told me the story of attending a dear friend’s funeral in a local parish. The priest who gave the homily did not know this wonderful woman and she could not recognize her friend in the homily. But, worse, when the time for the Eucharist came, the priest announced: only Roman Catholics who attend church faithfully on Sundays and have recently received the sacrament of Reconciliation may come to the Table. Most of the bereaved sat in the pews.
A few years back on a certain Sunday all members of a parish would wear rainbow ties or colors as they went forward to recieve holy communion to show solidarity with their gay brothers and sisters who were forbidden to come to the Table. A few weeks ago, it the Diocese of Venice in Southwest Florida under Bishop Frank Dewane, a group of Parents of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG Parents) were asked to not to meet in their parish church,Blessed Pope John the 23rd in Fort Myers. How ironic when we think of John the 23rd! Housing this important group of Catholic parents was a wonderful pastoral undertaking of this parish. The ejection of this group is a prime example of the Bishop enforcing that the Church club is exclusive and some people cannot belong.
Pope Francis has offered some hope to the church and to the world recently as he modeled simplicity and reaching out to the poorest and the outcast among us. While not making a doctrinal statement he also offered hope when he said of gays in the clergy and in the pews: “Who am I to judge?” Yet in the same breath he responded to a question about women in the church by saying that the church cannot ordain women. Well, Jesus did not ordain anyone but he made Mary of Magdala an Apostle to the Apostles by appearing to her and to the other women first and sending her to “go and tell” the good news that Christ Lives! Dear Brother Francis, thank you for a slim hope for the LGBT Community but in redeeming the outcasts, do not forget your sister priests.
So, what appears to be two very difficult texts to hear, where strangers are invited to the table and to the priesthood and, where Jesus says to those who plead that they sat at his table and heard him preaching in the streets (his church) “I do not know you or where you come from; get away from me, you evildoers!” are not very difficult at all. Jesus is challenging us to know him and to know our loving God. Jesus is saying that he does not know those of us who do not love as he loves, who want to belong to an exclusive club instead of welcoming and including people from all corners of the face of the earth to “take their places at the feast in the kindom of God” (Luke 13:29). Those who may come into the presence of Christ but do not love and who exclude those whom God has invited in will learn that “some who are first will be last”. There is still hope in this, the last in line may still be in the kindom, but they will not be given places of honor. And this is because knowing God means not knowing about God with our minds, or our doctrines or dogma, but knowing God in loving relationship and therefore loving our neighbors, all of them, as ourselves. And we want all of our loved ones at the Table with us.
When we know God we know love, for “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,and God in them…We love because God first loved us.”(I John 4: 16,19). When we know God we know love, we love God and all people-we live love. When we know Christ we know the Way of love. We know love that embraces all- the mentally ill, the poorest, the second class citizens, those of different sexual orientations, the lepers of our times, those who are not of our religion or country,even enemies of our country and those who are just plain difficult, ugly and not at all like us. We do not have lists of those we exclude and we do not say hollow things like “love the sinner and hate the sin”. Jesus asked us not to judge the sins of others, or those who sin differently than we do. Christ Jesus is building the kindom with everyone from everywhere!
In love relationships that continue to grow and sustain knowing one another is essential. A love song of decades gone by says “To know, know, know, him is to love ,love, love him, and I do…” Let us therefore know Christ and love him, living all inclusive love as he showed us. Then we will hear the words we long to hear, “I know you” because you are living in my love-and loving everyone!
Rev. Dr. Judith A. Lee,ARCWP
(“I know my sheep and my sheep know me”John 10:14-what wonderful reciprocity!
This is an embroidered symbolic picture on a priest’s stole (one of four or six symbols depending on the length) created by the Women’s Cooperative-Tejiendo Sororidades in Cali, Colombia.
The view was breathtaking as Amanda and Andy exchanged their vows to love and cherish one another forever on a hilltop in the beautiful wine country of Virginia in the late afternoon of August eleventh 2013. The bluegreen mountains in the background framed the scene as many shades of green punctuated by the bright yellows and oranges of huge butterflies and the bride’s lovely shimmering dress with beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers on either side of the couple, formed the altar where they were wed. The butterflies ,a symbol of new and beautiful life, were all around. One elegant rust and orange butterfly settled on the bride’s side as she, aware only of her handsome groom, said her vows. His eyes intently rested on her. One had a glimpse of that first Garden where life and love were ignited.
Rev. Judith Beaumont began the ceremony in an unusual way, asking the families and friends gathered there to state their intentions with an “I do” to vows of supporting the couple in the ups and downs of married life. The large group gathered were joyful as they pledged their support and love. They were also asked to raise their hands in blessing the couple along with the priest.
The Gospel reading was from John 15:9-12 (Verse 12) ” And this is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you”. In the brief Homily Rev. Beaumont located the love of Andy and Amanda and their families and friends in the heart of God’s love for them as expressed in the life and example of Christ. The couple also chose Adam Sandler’s song about growing old together and Apache (Native American) and Jewish Wedding blessings as readings.
Their vows were moving and loving,truly sacramental. Toward the end of the ceremony Rev.Beaumont wrapped their joined hands in her wedding stole and united them with a blessing including God in their marriage and naming the many ways their hands would comfort and enable them to serve one another and God’s people as they have already been doing in their service to others.
After the ceremony many attending thanked Rev. Beaumont and remarked at the deep and sacramental meaning of the holy, beautiful, simple and inclusive ceremony. Those gathered were a very diverse group of all ages, races and religions, but most were Roman Catholic by birth. Some were practicing Catholics and some “fallen away” but all welcomed Rev. Beaumont warmly. Many who never even heard about the existence of women priests said that they were so pleased to experience the difference a woman priest can make and to know that church renewal has begun.
Reported by Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, ARCWP 8/13/13
Rev. Judith Beaumont, ARCWP, Officiating
On Sunday August 4, 2013 Co-Pastors Judy Lee and Judy Beaumont,Roman Catholic Women Priests serving the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers, Florida blessed thirteen of our young people who were returning to school this week. The young people represented enthusiastic pre-schoolers, Fourth – seventh graders, three High School students and one College Student. We have five students in College but only Efe Cudjoe, a Junior at Brown University on Full Scholarship was with us today. Efe, who was our Youth Leader and Teacher for three years returns as often as possible to help us with the children she loves. Today she taught the Junior Class after Mass while Pastor Judy Lee taught the Teens. Natasha Terrell our High School Senior had a full summer taking three online courses and volunteering at a local Day Care Center. She received a stipend from Good Shepherd for some of her volunteer hours there and was glad to learn about teaching toddlers.
They received the blessings of the Pastors and the Congregation during Mass and they also prayed for God’s blessings in their respective classes. They discussed today’s Gospel about the Greedy Farmer and reflected on how they can share their gifts and talents and school supplies with others. School supplies were given and each family given school start up support according to their need. Our young people are eager to start school again and accept the challenge to do the very best they can do and to help other students by being the Christ Light for them.
Pastor Judy Lee, ARCWP
Often Ministry is simply responding to the needs before you with love and compassion. For me, like St. Francis (though I am no Saint), that includes the needs of all of God’s creatures, great and small.
The little lake and woods behind my house are like a private nature preserve. They keep me sane,refreshed, and close to God’s creation. About a year and a half ago three cats from the woods behind my house began to visit my cats on the lanai every evening. They made it clear that they were very hungry and two of them readily responded to both the food and the caring I offered them. One just ate and ran.
The one I called Bushy Tail was particularly in need of love and affection. He looked like a Maine Coon Cat with his big feet,swirly dark markings, and bushy tail, though his face was more like a Bengal with lovely amber tones, curly hair in his ears, and a long nose ending in a little red rubber stamp. He ran into my house when the door was open, not caring if “mean bigger cats” lived there. All three were very thin and flea bitten. The largest one eventually showed me that he could move right in and get along with my cats, and he did, after Vet care by Dr. Terry Sutton of Three Oaks Animal Hospital, who shares this ministry by discounting her fees and going the second mile for these unwanted kitties. Brooklyn Big moved in after a period of isolation to make sure he was well. The skinniest one, Dotsy, just ate and ran, He is still eating and running, but stops to say thank you now and let me pet him once in a while.
But, Bushy Tail was the most poignant and heart breaking as he wanted a home so badly, but also would run at the end of the evening. Then, before I could woo him to the Vet’s office for a check-up and neutering before finding him a home, he simply disappeared one day. I feared the worst as he was such a frightened and peaceful little cat. I promised God and myself that if he ever turned up again , I would make sure that he got a home. I found myself praying for him whenever I saw his friend Dotsy.
I watch the activity on the lake and out of the woods every day. But over a year passed and Bushy did not reappear. On the lake one can see magnificent birds stopping by from the North on their way to the warmth of Florida and the Caribbean. A family of coots have a little mandarin duck as a friend. Turtles of all sorts shoot up their long necks and fish pass by in little schools. Egrets, herons, anahingas and other sea birds stalk and dry their wings the morning sun. Sometimes river otters dive and chase each other, scrambling up on the shore to do circus tricks and play. Racoons, opossums and even tree rats often come by to see what’s for dinner.
And then there are the cats that daily make their way through the woods, around the little bend and head straight to my door. The woods is both a haven and a dumping ground for the unwanted cats and kittens that end up there one way or the other. Very few are feral and never come close, but manage to run through and get something to eat at the feeding station. Others are tame and needy as if someone loved them once upon a time. In the fifteen years that we have lived here, I have found homes for over 30 of these kittys-each one beautiful and so thankful for their homes. One tiny older girl kitty with a dainty lovely face, had a serious thyroid condition and one old gentleman had Feline Leukemia. Both loved their foreshortened lives with me and their new cat family. Some of the kitties from the woods have found a home with me but most have new forever homes. Additionally part of the ministry to homeless people has had to include ministry to their equally homeless animals. Our ministry gives out cat and dog food and takes care of Vet bills when necessary. I have placed seven of these kitties who lived with people who could not take care of them in the woods of North Fort Myers. I have had Lady Guinevere and three of her kittens who had Feline Aids for five years now. The two healthy kittens were immediately placed. The couple who lived so marginally in the woods broke up after caring for Lady Guinevere for four years. They begged me to take her and the new kittens. When I made my way into the woods, I was utterly surprised to see Lady Guinevere quickly guide her kittens right into the cat carrier! They are healthy (asymptomatic) and gorgeous but live separately from my other cats.
Two other wonderful kitties made their way in to our home after Brooklyn Big came in. Mary Jane,a sleek tuxedo, was terrified of people and cats but determined to get out of the woods. Her entire skin was flea ridden. Skye, a striking silver striped cat who looks like a white tiger with a broken necrotic tail literally ran in and would not leave. After Skye’s surgery and treatment for paralysis in his intestines, these two got along and made the last space in my house their home. And finally there was no more room in the inn.
Then a miracle happened. Bushy Tail reappeared. He came with his old friend Dotsy. He was skinnier than ever and full of scabs from scratching fleas. I so wished that he could tell the story of the past fifteen months. His ear was cut which indicated that he had at some point been caught, neutered and released. I couldn’t understand why he was ever released since he clearly wanted a home and was affectionate and relational. It took a few days of being welcomed back and he slowly warmed up to the caring as the food settled in his tummy. Soon he was himself again and began his pattern of running into the house and leaving again. He could not stand any aggressive cats that came near his food and he ran away when he saw them. But he was so tired that he literally fell asleep in front of the house while a large mother opossum stole his food. He only came at night after dark and I had no where now to keep him until the morning so he could see Dr. Terry. I knew that I could not keep him and spoke to my friend Ginger Delerme about adopting a second cat. Just this year she adopted her first cat since her marriage to Felix almost 40 years ago. Felix, a Child Psychiatrist, liked children but hated cats. Mercifully, he has now forgotten this along with his more serious forgetting. Her big beautiful cat, Ray, a manx, adopted her after seeing her twice at a mall. It was love at first sight. Felix and Ginger and Ray were very happy together. Could she possibly consider extending their wonderful home to Bushy Tail? She was doubtful about rocking the boat but agreed to think about it. After about two months of his night visits, he finally showed up on the morning of Saturday July 27th. He was examined, tested, given all of his shots, and, so far, was ready for a home after a period of isolation. Ginger was his only hope. I called her and she agreed to open her heart and home to Bushy-but he would have to have another name! And Ray would have to accept him.
Armed with pheromones to help make the cats mellow and ease the transition, Bushy went to meet Ginger, Felix and Ray. What ensued was one of the easiest transitions of a cat into a new home that I had ever seen. He took to Ginger right away nuzzling and settling on her lap. Ginger wisely involved Ray, first at a distance then closer,keeping them separate most of the time initially. Ray, who had tried to attack other cats visiting the house, kept a good distance but touched noses and let Bushy know that he might be accepted if he was submissive. Bushy said “no problem”. Each was to have his own space and only some joint time when they were ready. Bushy loved his new room, and adored his new parents. Felix enjoyed Bushy sitting on his lap,something Ray did not do. He was loved. It was a miracle.
Ginger studied him and decided to name him “Nosy”, because of his cute and unusual nose, and because he followed her and Ray around, nosing into everything and enjoying every corner of the house, and he loved playing with his toy mice. Ray was sometimes annoyed at his following and told him to keep his distance with a hiss, and he did. Ray would lay down near him but not close and generally tolerated him with a bit of distance. He did not want to play. But Ginger liked his curiosity and nosing into everything. She loved his affectionate loving nature. He fit right in. Nosy loved being loved.
And then the hitch. The FELV Test came back positive. He was a carrier for what is loosely called Feline Leukemia-though it is not really a Leukemia, but an immune deficiency disease. He had no symptoms and was young and active and so it may even clear up-or he could still live a long life with it, or he could eventually develop symptoms and a tumor. Perhaps more upsetting was that he and Ray would have to be separate when Ginger was not supervising as a bite could infect Ray,FELV shots notwithstanding perhaps. While infection through dishes is not likely it would also be on the safe side to have separate and private feeding stations. What an awful predicament. My heart was broken in thinking Nosy could lose his beloved home.
But this is what happened. Ginger already loved him and decided to structure their world so he could stay. We have been friends for over thirty years and the integrity and goodness of this woman has always moved me. Her loving devotion to Felix during his slow decline was already more than enough to expect from one human being-she should have no more difficulty in her life. But here she was accepting little Nosy with the same loyalty and caring that she extends to those she loves.
I am thoroughly moved at her decision and at seeing him with his new family. He is the happiest cat in the world, and I am one relieved “rescuer”. Thank you God, and thank you Ginger Delerme!
Judy Lee, shepherding God’s little creatures-8/2/13