Archive | February 2015

Seeing in New Light: Rev. Judy’s Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, 3/1/2015

 

Seeing In a New Light

In Sunday’s Gospel we see that as we climb to the mountain top we see God in a new light.  Mountains are special places in the Holy Scriptures and they are also special places in many of our lives. Last week we saw Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:11-12), an arid desert place with high mountainous points. There Jesus struggles with gaining perspective and clarity on his mission and ministry and the difficulties that would lie ahead.  He deals with the deceptions of power- political power, religious power and even magic power so that his own human needs would be met. Jesus laboriously sorted out those distractions from his purpose which was to proclaim that the kin(g)dom of God has arrived, he preaches that it is time to turn our lives around and to give our lives for God’s inclusive love and justice for all. Jesus often went to the mountains to pray and to commune with Abba God. He also preached in the hills and mountains. All three synoptic Gospels record Jesus taking Peter, James and John up the Mountain where they experienced who he was and saw his divinity in a new way. Mark 9:2-10, our Gospel for this Sunday is Mark’s account of this encounter. It is a centerpiece of Mark’s Gospel. The other sources are Matt 17:1-9 and Luke 9: 28-35.

Mountains are the favorite places of many who seek both challenge and perspective including my life partner and co-Pastor Judy Beaumont. Her memories of touring the Canadian Rockies and mountain climbing in Colorado are among her most cherished. As part of an executive leadership group from Hartford, Connecticut the Colorado Rockies was a magnificent place to learn new skills and build working relationships. This secular group was moved to prayer as they climbed a high mountain and, surrounded by crisp clear beauty, saw Pike’s peak in the distance. When we lived in Connecticut she liked to take me up to the top of Avon Mountain and point out all we could see below, including the city of Hartford. Our work with the homeless in Hartford was difficult and trying at times and the perspective of seeing the whole city before us somehow opened new ways to think about concerns.  Through her I learned that one can be especially close to God in the mountains. When we visited Medellin in Colombia, South America we were thrilled to see the city below from the top of the mountain and the contrast was stark between the busy, crowded very modern city and the rural path to the top of the mountain.  The very air was different. Similarly when we traveled upward to the Salt Cathedral in Bogata, Colombia the mountains provided a totally new view of the world below.

Sadly, many of our people born and raised here in Florida have never seen a Mountain. Florida is extremely flat. When we took our teens to Washington DC a literal highpoint was climbing the hills of Arlington Cemetery to the Custer-Lee Mansion where there was a beautiful and profound memorial to free blacks and to the slaves of George and Martha Washington. Metaphorically this was a place of new light for our African-American teens.  But standing on the precipice of the high hill looking down on Washington D.C. was an equally new and exciting experience. One of the teens felt dizzy at the height but after some nausea she made herself look down despite her fear.  She was delighted at what she saw. All but one who was fearful also loved seeing the world from the height of the Washington Monument. We seek our own heights in buildings and towers when they are not presented to us naturally.

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In the Scriptures God’s holiness and purposes are often revealed to God’s prophets on the Mountain top. We see the prophet Moses communing with God on Mt. Sinai described as the holy mountain (Exodus 19:28) and the God- symbols of a thick cloud and thunder and lightning and smoke frightened the people while giving  Divine authority to the Law Moses gave them (Exodus 20). In Sunday’s reading from Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18 we follow Abraham up the mountain at Moriah with his beloved child Isaac. Ultimately here Abraham is willing to give that which he loves most to God and God is not accepting a human sacrifice. But Abraham’s love of God and his faithfulness is rewarded with a covenant from God that Abraham’s descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore and all nations on earth will be blessed through them (Gen 22: 17-18). Indeed adherents of the three faiths springing from Abrahamic roots are “like the stars in the sky”.

In Mark 9:2-8 Jesus is presented in divine light and connected to Moses and Elijah who suffered greatly even as they led God’s people. Jesus is seen on par with them and as the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  He looks different.  His very appearance is radiant including his clothing, indicating their perception of his divinity. The disciples are amazed and frightened. Then in the cover of the cloud they hear God’s voice affirming Jesus as also happened in Jesus’ baptism:  “This is my beloved, my Own. Listen to this One.” Now there is divine authority to do what Jesus asks, to follow him.

In Mark 8: 31-33 Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. He then invites his followers to “take up their crosses and follow him” (Mark 8:35). This is a heavy invitation to accept, and one for which the disciples need to be strengthened. The trip to the mountain top is to give them just the surety and strength they need to take Jesus up on this invitation. As they descend the mountain the disciples are talking about what “rising from the dead” means (Mark 9:10).  Earlier (Mark 8) Peter just rebuffed Jesus for saying such a thing. Now, they try to understand what this means because they see him in a new light.  Whether experienced in a dream or another type of experience, they have new vision of Jesus, the Christ.

This is what Pope Francis said about the Transfiguration:

“We need to go to a place of retreat, to climb the mountain and go to a place of silence, to find ourselves and better perceive the voice of the Lord. We cannot stay there, however. The encounter with God in prayer again pushes us to come down from the mountain and back down into the plain, where we meet many brothers and sisters weighed down by fatigue, injustice, and both material and spiritual poverty.”

Angelus talk on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 16, 2014
When we have those wonderful mountain top experiences in life, times that all seems clear and we are close to God, when we feel awe and new purpose, we long to stay there. Yet, like Jesus and the disciples, we must come down from the mountain and continue the work God has given us to do-to be faithful to the Gospel of love and inclusion and justice no matter how hard that is to pursue with those who have the greatest material and spiritual needs. Let us then, seek to follow Christ whether to the top of the mountain or to the cross and grave, for we too shall rise, and do rise daily with Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP

Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community

Fort Myers, Florida

February 27,2015

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RCWP BIshop Nancy Meyer Visits The Good Shepherd Community

On Sunday February 2nd, 2015 our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community was blessed with a visit from +Nancy Meyer, RCWP Bishop of the Midwest Region.She was accompanied by her friend Mary Core who visits Fort Myers annually as a seasonal visitor. The community welcomed both of them with open arms and greatly enjoyed their visit.

They participated in a spirited worship service as we all considered God’s steadfast love-from the rainbow, through the desert/wilderness to the cross and the empty grave and the surety of everlasting life. God’s  covenant to be with us always gives great comfort in our own desert  and wilderness times. In this Lenten season we are trying to keep our promises to God, to love God with all our hearts and to serve one another and all of God’s neediest children. From the waters of the flood to the waters of our baptism, we have the grace and the gifts to love God and serve one another.

This is Bishop Nancy with some of our parishioners before the Mass. Our church is filled with so much light and our camera’s battery was low so we are sorry that the pictures are less than distinct.  IMG_0102IMG_0104IMG_0101 IMG_0108 IMG_0109

After our joyful celebration we gave ashes to those who couldn’t be with us for Ash Wednesday.

IMG_0130 IMG_0131IMG_0133And then we went on to celebrate the Birthdays of Robert Swanson who is a remarkable man of faith, and of Pastor Judy Lee. This was an overwhelming feast of love.

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Sunday was a wonderful day of celebration even as we determined to walk with Jesus and give ourselves to service throughout the 40 days of Lent.

IMG_0138IMG_0139 Thanks be to God!

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP

Co-Pastor The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community

FullSizeRender-02 FullSizeRender FullSizeRender-01FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender-02Thank you for your visit, Bishop Nancy!

Further Reflections on The First Sunday in Lent Readings From a GLBT Perspective with Francis DeBernardo

This reflection by New Ways Ministry Francis De Bernardo adds another dimension  to the Homilies of Rev. Dr. Roberta Meehan and myself for the day posted here on February 19th.

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Rainbows, Deserts, Wild Beasts, and Angels

by newwaysministryblog

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent are: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1:12-15.   You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

I have always liked that the rainbow flag is a strong symbol of LGBT equality and justice. It is such a colorful, happy symbol.  And it is strongly connected to how Christians view the symbolic power of the rainbow. In today‘s first reading, God tells Noah that the rainbow will serve as the symbol of God’s never-ending love for us.  God says:

“I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

Rainbows help me to remember that no matter what hardship or tragedy or injustice we experience, God will be with us, loving us, and helping us find new ways to continue in spite of negative forces.

Today‘s gospel reading has a similar message.  It is a short passage, only three verses long, but filled with an important message.  In two sentences, St. Mark packs a profound theological lesson:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.”

In his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus, Year B, José Pagola, one of my favorite Scripture interpreters, provides the following insight into these lines:

“According to the evangelist, ‘the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”  He doesn’t go on his own initiative.  The Spirit sends him out until he finds himself in the desert. Success is not going to come easily to him. Rather, trials, insecurity, and dangers await him. But the desert is at the same time the best place to listen to the voice of God in silence and solitude. . . .

“Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert. . . . He will appear no more in the whole Gospel of Mark, but Jesus sees him in all those who want to lead him astray from his mission, including Peter.

“The brief account finishes with two strongly contrasting images: Jesus ‘was among wild animals,’ but ‘angels attended to him.’  The wild animals, the most dangerous in all creation, evoke the dangers that will always threaten Jesus and his plan.  Angels, the best beings in creation, evoke the nearness of God who blesses, takes care of, and protects Jesus and his mission.”

If you are an LGBT person or someone who works for LGBT equality, then you are most likely someone who has great familiarity with being in the desert.  Work for justice and equality is often a painful, desolate, discouraging experience, and one where temptations to give up, give in, or just becomes cynical and bitter abound.

I take hope from Pagola’s reading of this passage, however. Like all people, I have experienced “the desert” several times in my life.  I usually think of it as a negative experience, but Pagola’s interpretation reminds me that the desert can be a place not just of isolation, suffering, and temptation, but a place where God speaks to us most intimately.  It’s a place where we can find our deepest, truest selves.  A place where we can experience God’s care even though we may feel that we are being attacked.

I’ve been working in LGBT ministry and advocacy for over 20 years.  While I’ve seen some remarkable advances both in civil society and the church, it can also sometimes feel like the desert as I ask “How long, O God, before justice is made real?”   What I need to do is to turn that experience around.  Instead of focusing on what is not happening, I should instead focus on what God is doing for me in this desert time, how I am growing personally, how I am meeting incredible people, and how God is building something new–usually something so new that I often don’t recognize it.

While LGBT equality is not a reality in the Catholic Church, I am thankful for the desert experiences I’ve had because they have helped me see that God is working in mysterious ways in my life and in the life of the Church.  While we still have much work to do to educate the hierarchy, in the past 40 years, we have seen incredible growth in support from the laity.  More importantly, we have seen that in the desert, the laity have had to become more mature Christians than they might otherwise have been.  Sometimes the exile or desert experience that progressive Catholics have felt over the past few years has forced them to rely on prayer, community, and the development of their individual consciences.  In doing so, they have actually formed the model of the church that they want to see.  Without the desert experience, this would not have happened.

The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s love, and it is easy to see how its beauty and diversity of color symbolize divine love.  I think we also have to start to see that the desert can also be a sign of God’s love, if we look at it as an opportunity for listening to God’s word more intimately.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Theologians from Twenty Universities Gather at St. Thomas University 3/12-14 For Conference on Vatican II’s ‘Gaudium et Spes”

This is important news from  from ST Thomas NEWSROOM- (stthomas.edu./news)

May the energy and heat of this important and timely Conference unthaw the frozen positions of church leaders that are immobilizing today’s church!

A national conference on “The Church in the Modern World: Teaching and Understanding ‘Gaudium et Spes’ After 50 Years” will be held Thursday through Saturday, March 12-14, at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota).

“Gaudium et Spes” (Latin for “joy and hope”), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, was issued in December 1965 at the end of the Second Vatican Council. The document, the last of four constitutions to come out of the council, is the most important conciliar document of Catholic social teaching in the areas of family, economics, poverty, social justice, culture, science and technology.

Theologians and historians from more than 20 U.S. colleges and universities have registered for the conference. They will discuss the state of the Catholic Church in the 21st century, the continuing impact of “Gaudium et Spes,” and how well universities are meeting the document’s call to educate students for “the good of the community and of the whole society.”

Dr. Massimo Faggioli

“‘Gaudium et Spes’ was one of the most important documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council and today … 50 years later … it is more relevant than ever,” said University of St. Thomas theologian Dr. Massimo Faggioli, who will be one of the conference’s four keynote speakers. “The document is mentioned often by Pope Francis. Not only is ‘Gaudium et Spes’ an important key to understanding the pope, it is key to understanding what direction the Catholic Church will head in years to come.

“Dialogue with the world outside the church was a central reason for which Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council,” Faggioli said. “Pope Francis has now renewed that call by urging the church away from preoccupation with itself and by modeling dialogue with all peoples of faith, as well as those who espouse no faith.”

This will be the St. Thomas Theology Department’s second national conference dealing with the Second Vatican Council. Theologians also gathered at St. Thomas three years ago for “Vatican II: Teaching and Understanding the Council After 50 Years.”

While registration is required to attend much of this year’s conference, the four keynote lectures are free and open to the public. They are:

  • “’Gaudium et Spes’ 50 Years After: Its Meaning for a Learning Church” by Massimo Faggioli, assistant professor of theology at St. Thomas. The lecture will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center.
  • “Joy and Hope: Catholic Social Teaching After the Second Vatican Council” by Cathleen Kaveny, the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Law and Theology at Boston College, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, in the Woulfe Alumni Hall of Anderson Student Center.
  • “Hope and Anguish: A Grass-Roots Look at the Catholic 1960s” by Leslie Woodcock Tentler, professor of history emerita at The Catholic University of America, at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 14, in the Woulfe Alumni Hall of Anderson Student Center.
  • “Return of the Golden Calf: Economy, Idolatry, and Secularization Since Gaudium et Spes” by William Cavanaugh, professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University, at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14, in the Woulfe Alumni Hall of Anderson Student Center.

Also open to all is a Mass that will be celebrated by Father Larry Snyder, the new vice president for mission at St. Thomas, at 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.

For more details and registration information, visit the Theology Department’s website.

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Rev. Dr. Roberta Meehan’s Homily For the First Sunday in Lent 2/22/15 with Commentary by Rev. Judy

I am pleased to present here Rev. Dr.  Roberta Meehan’s insightful homily for the first Sunday of  this Lenten season.  Rev. Roberta ,who lives in Arizona, is also a biologist and a professor of biology. Her faith-filled homilies are a blessing for this season of self-examination and service as we walk the forty days with Jesus. The forty days represent Jesus’ time in the desert and (not counting Sundays) walking with Jesus to the cross and ,thanks be to God, to Easter.

Last night we celebrated Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season at our Good Shepherd Church. I looked into the eyes of those assembled-I saw those who were tired from the heavy work and heavy blows of life-from hard manual work and demanding professional work,  to  seeking work where there was no work, from serious bodily illnesses, from family strife and living in neighborhoods where drive-by shootings have become common place, as recently as yesterday. I saw faithful followers who came to renew their vows to live like Jesus removing any obstacles from the path.  I saw steady golden glimmers of the hope that faith brings.  I saw the burdens of sin laid down in baptism and the mantel of life put on. I easily recalled their baptisms as I had baptized several of the young people and adults who came to accept the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. I easily remembered with regret my own sins and affirmed the joy of my own baptism and all of the sacramental blessings I have received.  I  saw the freshness of life in the eyes of the youngest and the constant hope in the tired eyes of the oldest.  As I looked into the eyes of those assembled it was not hard to embrace the fragility of life and know that whether it be star dust or good rich earth our bodies are temporal and will all too soon return to the earth while our spirits are united with our Loving God in life forever through the covenant that Dr. Roberta discusses-God’s promise to be our God forever and lead us to eternal life. As Christian’s we live in the sure hope of the resurrection- that Christ leads us to God (I Peter 3: 18),that  through Christ and through the water of our baptism we do not end up a pile of ashes. When I said this to the congregation, I heard “Amen, Amen”.

And I saw before me those struggling, as I am, to lead a life in imitation of Christ. Beyond our shortcomings I saw the intentions to get closer to Christ in this Lenten season, not only by giving much less priority to those things that may take us away from God,(our teens have identified technology addiction as something to fast from this Lent and they are so right) but by actively increasing our service to others. It was so helpful when our Co-Pastor, Judy Beaumont said,”… and if you find yourself doing the same things that keep you from God over and over again, forgive yourself and just start again-but don’t give up, DO start again”. One of our young people is stricken with AIDS and is so (understandably) angry that possibly imminent mortality dawns so early and curtails so much.  All close relatives have learned to duck at the anger that sometimes gets strongly (verbally and physically) mis-directed at them. Thank God for a God that understands and forgives. After Mass,a family member told me, “The rage is so hard. We, here, are the only ones in our large family that forgive the rage that gets directed at us. Everyone else strikes back. It is because of our faith and trying to follow Christ”. “Amen”, I said, holding her in my arms, and reaching out to the sufferer who stood nearby and heard this, saying, “I am trying, I am trying”. “Amen”, I said “and they are forgiving you, as our loving God does, we understand your terrible hurt and pain, but you do have to control the striking of others” widening my embrace and holding them gently together. I imagine that is what God is doing with all of our sins,asking us to change our ways, and forgiving and holding us close.

As Jesus struggled in the desert for 40 days we too struggle with those things that challenge, dilute and diminish our dedication to the Gospel of service, love and justice especially to God’s poor,outcast and struggling. In the Aramaic translation of the “trials/temptations” of Jesus in the desert, we see that the word “dnethnasey” means less being tempted and more trying out or being tried out. And Satan is not a supernatural being but a deceiver and the battle is with deception. So we see Jesus struggling with what his mission is to be and if he will accept it and live it. He knows how hard it will be. He emerges- preaching repentance, preaching turning our lives around, changing our lives and believing the good news, with all our hearts. “Believe” in Aramaic connotes “believing in” in the sense of loving another. So, as we have accepted the cross signed on our foreheads and either recalled that we are dust, or as we say, ” turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” may we try in these forty days to imitate Christ in the way that we love and serve others.

As  Rev. Roberta  says: Welcome to Lent!  Thank you, Dr. Roberta Meehan for sharing your wisdom with us. Dr. Meehan also has a Play out entitled “The Trial of Judas Iscariot” that can be enacted to deepen our understanding during this Lenten season and at any time. It can be purchased on Amazon .com. I would advise getting your copy.

Lenten Blessings, Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP

Pastor Good shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Fort Myers, Florida

Rev. Dr. Roberta Meehan’s Homily  

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent – Cycle B – 22 February 2015

PSALM

LESSON 1

LESSON 2

GOSPEL

Roman Catholic

Psalm 25:4-9

Genesis 9:8-15

1Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:12-15

Revised Common

Psalm 25:1-10

Genesis 9:8-17

1Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

Episcopal

Psalm 25
or
Psalm 25:3-9

Genesis 9:8-17

1Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-13

Copied from http://www.lectionary.com/index20112012.html

Today is the First Sunday of Lent. We are all familiar with the desert and water symbols so often used for Lent. The desert represents the barrenness as we await the events of Holy Week. Water represents the fullness of life and our re-birth with the fulfillment of Easter.

Today we know that the desert is not barren; it is teaming with life. Those of us who live in the desert know this very well. We also know very well the value of water. Not only are we constantly reminded to stay hydrated, we are also vividly aware of the need to conserve water for ourselves, our animals, our crops, and for all generations to come.

Our biblical ancestors had a slightly different – maybe slightly less sophisticated – view of the desert and the water symbolism. Nevertheless, they definitely knew of the need all of creation has for water. They also knew of the problems of being caught in the desert without a water source. That has not changed.

Because our understanding is slightly different than that of our ancestors, perhaps we should look at these scripture passages in a slightly different way by taking these symbols one step further and showing how they relate not only totoday’s readings but also to our lives as people of the desert – as well as to people of the 21st Century.

While we think of the desert and the water, let us also remember that one of the prevailing themes in today’s readings is covenant. A covenant is a contract – but it is more than just a contract in the sense that we think of contracts today. A covenant is a solemnly binding contract. For that reason, today we often speak of the marriage covenant – a contract between the couple and God.

Throughout Scripture, we have numerous examples of covenants. These covenants were solemn contracts between God and the People of God. If we read the Old Testament, we find that these covenants were often sealed in very elaborate and ritualistic ceremonies, usually involving the slaughter of animals, the best and unblemished of the flock in order to be the perfect symbol of this lasting contract between the people and their God.

Let us look at today’s readings and see how we can find the concept of covenant and bring that concept of covenant right up to our present day and our First Sunday of Lent.

The first reading is from the Book of Genesis. This is a familiar story. It takes place immediately after the flood as God tells Noah over and over in a very few sentences about this covenant – God’s solemn promise that never again will the earth and all living creatures be destroyed by a flood. God sealed this covenant with a sign for all ages. That sign, as we all know, is the rainbow. Today, of course, we are cynics. We understand the physics of the rainbow. We can even demonstrate this sign with simple soap bubbles. But, think of the people back in the time of Genesis. They had no understanding of physics. To them the rainbow was a wonderful and beautiful sign of God’s promise. Not only that, after the Deluge, the earth was refreshed and clean because water is refreshing and cleansing. Do we not still feel this same way today? Think about your last shower. Did you not feel clean and invigorated? Or think of the last time you saw a rainbow. Rainbows are always fascinating – even when we understand the physics. Did that rainbow not get you just a little bit excited? I know my last rainbow got me excited! Now think about this passage from Genesis. We have a marvelous reminder of God’s covenant with us. Yes, us! Not just our religious ancestors, but with all of us. And we still have that sense of wonder when we see the sign of the covenant – the covenant for all of humanity.

Now look at the second reading – from the first letter of Peter. During our ecclesiastical year, we do not read a great deal from Peter. Part of this is probably because not much is written under the name of Peter but another part is because our liturgical cycles have so much to cover. But notice! All of the major lectionaries use exactly the same reading from Peter. That is a critical point. Covenant is not mentioned specifically in this reading, but the events of the flood are. Furthermore, Peter draws a correlation between the flood waters and the waters of baptism. Baptism is a part of our covenant! Baptism initiates us into Christ’s church. Baptism signifies the new covenant. Baptism is the seal of the new covenant that we Christians have with our God. Everybody – regardless of Christian denomination – accepts that. And we do indeed have that covenant with our God! We are bonded to our God by baptism – just as the people who left the Ark were bonded by that rainbow. Not only that, in addition to baptism, we still have the rainbow to remind us of our covenant.

What does our third reading from the Gospel of Mark have to say about this concept? Jesus was driven into the desert and remained there for 40 days. The most important thought we can derive from Jesus having been driven out into the desert is twofold. First, we must ask why Jesus was driven out. It must have been because he had something important to say! Second, we must look at the symbolism behind the 40 days. The number 40 comes up over and over in Scripture. And, 40 was a special number to the Hebrews. Think of all the 40’s that come up in Scripture – from Moses wandering in the desert right on down to Jesus in this passage here in Mark.

But, what does Mark say? He says that Jesus says that the time of fulfillment is at hand and that we are to repent and to believe in the gospel. That is rather straightforward but how does it relate to our theme? If we look at it, we can see the connection very clearly.

Jesus says, “Repent and believe.” What does that mean? Simple. We acknowledge our wrongdoings. We walk in the desert. Yes, 40 days is a symbolic number but it is still meaningful! And when our desert walk is complete, we will come out of the desert and we will be refreshed by the waters of life. For us as Christians, that means we will be baptized and if we are already baptized, we will be cleansed. But, for everyone in the kingdom of God, that will mean that we will be washed and we will be ready to continue on our journey.

You have been washed by the flood of Noah. You have been baptized by the blood of the Lamb. Now you have been sent on a journey through a desert (a desert whose trail you know too well!). At the end of the journey you will be washed again and you will know the purpose of your Lenten covenant.

Welcome to Lent! And welcome to your 40 day journey toward the Resurrection of Christ! Do you see the Rainbow that Noah saw? It is there! And it is waiting for us! The covenant our God has made with us has been sealed.

— Roberta M Meehan, D.Min.

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Hope From Pope Francis For The GLBT Community?

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I humbly suggest that Pope Francis and I were on the same wave length along with many priests and others who preached on Jesus restoring the leper to community for Sunday’s homily.

Here is Francis Bernardo’s New Ways Ministries Blog coverage of the Pope’s address to the new cardinals.

I agree that it is hopeful and yet I am waiting for a more explicit message to over one tenth of the world population who are a part of the GLBT community either openly or secretly. If Pope Francis can be more explicit many who live their lives in secret can fling open the doors.

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP

Pastor of The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in fort Myers, Florida

Pope Francis delivering homily to cardinals

New Ways Ministries Blog

Francis DeBernardo

While Pope Francis may not have spoken about LGBT themes in his Sunday homily to the Cardinals gathered in Rome for a consistory this past weekend, his message certainly can be easily applied to this community which has too often been ignored or ostracized by Church leaders.  His talk is filled with echoes of how LGBT people have too often been mistreated in church and society. (You can read the full text by clicking here.)

Speaking about Sunday’s Gospel where Jesus heals a leper (Mark 1:40-45), the pope exhorted the new cardinals to conduct a ministry of outreach to the marginalized.  He began by noting:

“Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!”

While Pope Francis did not mention LGBT people by name, the details of his description of marginalization will surely ring true to many of these people who have experienced suffering and oppression during their lifetimes:

“Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

“In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.”

The allusion to LGBT people is particularly strong, since so much of the oppression and marginalization that they experience is due to church institutions, structures, and leaders.  Pope Francis criticizes such ritualistically pure actions:

“Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being “hemmed in” by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!

“Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).”

Church leaders, he adds, must make it their priority to go beyond their comfort zones and approach people they might not otherwise be inclined to associate with:

“The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. . . . The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. . . .

“Dear new Cardinals, this is the ‘logic,’ the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. ‘Whoever says: “I abide in [Christ],” ought to walk just as he walked’ (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!”

While in other talks,  Pope Francis has revealed that he does not support marriage equality, there was one section from his homily today, which could easily be applied to an argument in support of marriage equality.  Too often, we hear from marriage equality opponents the false threat that extending marriage to gay and lesbian couples will harm heterosexual couples. Pope Francis’ logic in the following section shows that such thinking is inconsistent with Gospel values:

“In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother’ (cf. Lk15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt20:1-16).”

Let me be clear that I do not think that Pope Francis is criticizing the gay-marriage-threatens-straight-marriage argument.  What I am saying is that the logic and Gospel values he extols in this homily contradict the type of thinking that such an argument carries.

And, as I mentioned, I don’t think that the pope was necessarily speaking of LGBT people in this homily. The descriptions he offers, however,  very much apply to the LGBT experience.  I believe that Pope Francis was discussing all sorts of marginalization experienced by a wide variety of human groups.

Pope Francis has not been as forthright about supporting lesbian and gay relationships as was once thought by many.   But his call to new cardinals to reach out to the marginalized can be thought of as making it possible for church leaders to initiate much greater outreach to LGBT people than they have been doing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: Francis tells cardinals not to be ‘closed caste,’ seek contact with marginalized”

newwaysministryblog | February 16, 2015

Living Outside the Camp: Rev. Judy’s Homily for 6th Sunday in OT Feb. 15,2015 with New Ways Blog

The Gospel for Sunday is one of the most beautiful in the Scriptures-Mark 1:40-45. Jesus was approached by a person with leprosy whose faith was great: “If you are willing, you can heal me. Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out a hand, touched the person with leprosy,and said, “I am willing. Be cleansed”. Immediately the leprosy disappeared,and the person with the disease was cured”. Then the person is so happy that he runs and tells his good news leaving Jesus besieged by the crowds once again and having to seek out lonely places to stay. This Gospel builds on a theme of Jesus’ inclusive love and risk taking, of stretching the law to embody its real meaning. That is in contrast with the first reading in Leviticus 13:1-2 and 44-46 where lepers are considered ritually unclean as their skin diseases mean having sinned to the ancient world then and in the times of Jesus. True lepers are to be shunned, banished from the community. The Epistle reading (I Corinthians 10:31-11:1 ) then challenges us to “imitate Paul as he imitates Christ”. Wow, what would it look like if we imitated Christ in touching and embracing the unclean of our world?

The practice of banning lepers from the community as discussed in Leviticus Chapter 13 has some good as its intent, the protection of the community from what is seen as a contagious and awful disease. The chapter goes into great detail as to which kind of skin diseases or eruptions merit cutting off from the community and which can warrant only a seven day period of  examination and evaluation by the priest (whose expertise seems to include medical diagnosis) who, based on the nature of the presentation, says the person does not have leprosy and is clean-it seems both physically and ritually, for sin was associated with all blemishes. But not all blemishes or rashes were seen as leprosy.  Those persons with minor blemishes and only superficial white sores are then free to remain a part of the community. “If the sore has faded and has not spread on the skin,the priest shall declare that person clean: it was only eczema” (Lev. 13: 6). But those with a white sore and white hair around it that is deeper than the skin and other signs of what they saw as a contagious leprosy shall be declared unclean: “A person infected with leprosy must wear torn clothing and leave his hair uncombed….and cry ‘unclean, unclean’. As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean and live away from others: he must live outside the camp”( Lev 13: 45-46).

While the leprosy of Scriptural times may or may not have been what we now call Hansen’s disease where skin and body parts are eaten away by the disease, there was a particular condition well beyond ezcema that merited isolation, ostracism and cutting off from the community. If one with that disease was healed the priest then offered a purification offering/sacrifice of two birds with a particular ritual and the person, now declared clean, was also told to bathe him or herself and wash clothing thoroughly. Later in the process a lamb is also involved in this ritual purification. (Mildew was also seen as leprosy on a house and had to be cleansed). We can see how these laws were health related as well as related to ritual cleanness.

But let us now put ourselves into the shoes/the sandals or bare feet of the leper who had to live outside the camp. In Judaism the community is everything- to be cut off from the community is to be cut off from life itself, is to be a branch cut off, a dead man walking. It is in this context that Jesus both touches and heals the man with leprosy. It is in this context that Jesus is “moved with pity” or “deeply moved” (MSG translation). This is a most human and most divine moment as are all moments when we are deeply moved by another’s suffering.

I can remember distinct moments when I was so moved by the cries of the homeless here in the USA and in other countries that their cries became God’s holy Spirit asking me to respond and to serve the homeless. I could no longer teach about poverty and homelessness, I had to do something about it. In 1982 I began my work in Washington Square Park that led me to the women’s shelters on the Lower East side. That experience changed my life as I realized that prayer and compassion was as necessary as the provision of clinical and social services and practice for me also became ministry. It was also the suffering of some of my gay students at NYU that gave me the courage to “come out” as gay(on the LGBT continuum) in the late 1970’s early 1980’s. These students would share very painful stories of being cut off from families, religious affiliations and friendship groups. They would cry in my office and sometimes feel that life was not worth living. I risked more than I knew professionally and personally by coming out openly, but it was worth it for them. If a Professor whom they revered could be gay, then maybe they too were “okay” and worth something precious and invaluable to God and to humankind.  A gay male Professor and I offered to become the advisors to a GLBT Club on campus, and where community had been lost, for some it was found again. We both paid the price for this as our school was actually more disease oriented and conservative than any School of Social Work, especially one located in Greenwich Village, NYC, ever should have been and we were a little ahead of the times. But we were moved by their isolation and loneliness we would pay whatever we had to pay. We could each recall our own bearing of the stigma and rejections by important aspects of our communities-we could identify with being “cut-off”. For both of us our religious communities( Jewish for him and Christian for me) were painful sources of rejection.   In retrospect, our courage also opened the door for progressive forces at the school, and the changes ,in time, became life-giving for the school as well as for the students who bore the stigma of gayness.

Jesus knows that the leper is suffering physically and socially having to live “outside the camp”. He also knows the man’s deep spiritual suffering.  He risks the touch and he did not have to, his words would have been enough, but he touched the man who no one had touched since the onset of the disease. How wonderful is human touch for those untouched by love and compassion. Jesus then wills the man of great faith to be clean physically and ritually and spiritually. After the man is pronounced clean by the priest he will be restored to the community, grafted back to the tree of life that his religious faith and community represents. In this healing Jesus goes beyond the raising of Peter’s mother-in-law from serious sickness, he restores the man to community, to full participation in all that is life giving. The man is no longer marginalized, people will no longer avoid him. His dignity is restored. Jesus’ healing the man with leprosy spoke to the religious of his day- lepers are no longer unclean, the law is thereby extended by compassion although he adheres to the form of it by sending the man to the priest to pronounce him officially clean. For in this case that is how to restore him to community. But what of the lepers of our time, what restores them to full participation in community, and church?

In my lifetime I have had two friends with severe psoriasis that at times covered much of the skin, and this may have been considered leprosy in Jesus/time. They tried so hard to hide it when it flared up and covered most of the body, and they also became isolated in the attempts. As noted above, hiding one’s poverty or sexual orientation are also attempts to flee from expressions of rejection, revulsion and the bestowal of sinfulness and second class citizenship. Many of the youth and families we serve at Good Shepherd are poor but they work hard to hide this from others and even from themselves. Homeless kids are particularly conscious of this attitude and rejection. So in addition to living in a car or in a shelter or a homeless camp, or tripled up, they feel unaccepted in the community of peers and “regular” (housed) people.  The attitude that there is something wrong with poor folks beside not having enough money to live has been conveyed to them, sometimes even by people who may come to help. I remembered that subtle rejection and communications of “not good enough” well enough from my own youth where relative poverty was a simple fact of life in our neighborhood and in our homes.. I understand why it is important to look like and dress like other kids, though some feel this way more than others. Jesus saw the dignity of each human being no matter how society or religion saw them. It is unconscionable to me today as it is to Pope Francis that the finery and gold in many churches could better be used to free people from poverty. It is also unconscionable to think that gays (LGBT people) and others(divorced, co-habiting, married civilly, etc) who don’t meet the “moral standards” of the RC Church are not served the Eucharist at the hands of many priests. Babies from these unions are also often not baptized. The Sacraments are denied, effectively cutting these branches of the tree of life, precious to God, off the tree.

The Psalm of the day (32) says “You are my shelter;You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance”. Indeed, Jesus delivered the leper from ostracism and both healed him and made him completely whole, a valued part of the community again. For all who have experienced “outsiderness” Jesus the Christ is there-deeply moved to touch, to heal the pain of being cut-off, to make whole and to restore to community. For the poor and homeless this means action to end poverty and homelessness and full human acceptance, for the LGBT community it means full inclusion at the Table and in all aspects of church life including sacramental marriage and baptism for the children.

How can we who imitate Christ do anything less?

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP

Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community

This is a recent blog by Francis De Bernado of New Ways Ministries that shows priests who are very much trying to imitate Christ, and at great cost. 

Although a Swiss bishop has asked a Catholic pastor to resign from his parish, after learning that the priest had blessed a lesbian couple, the parishioners of the community are supporting the cleric.

According to Gay Star News:

“Wendelin Bucheli, a priest in the municipality of Bürglen in the west of Switzerland, gave his blessings to a lesbian couple in October 2014 after discussing it with other members of the clergy.

Bucheli gave careful consideration to the action, and decided that blessing a couple was the right thing to do:

” ‘There was no considerable difference between this blessing and a wedding ceremony,’ the priest told Swiss newspaper Urner Wochenblatt, speaking about the occasion last October.

“Bucheli said he carefully considered his options before discussing the matter with a Jesuit priest.

“His main question was: ‘Can I give this blessing in the name of God and would it be his will?’, to which, so Bucheli, the answer was yes.

” ‘These days people give blessings to animals, cars and even weapons,’ he said, ‘why shouldn’t you give your blessing to a couple deciding to walk through life with God by their side?’ “

Not surprisingly, the local bishop did not approve of the action:

“Vitus Huonder, bishop of the diocese of Chur where Bucheli currently works, did not agree with the priest’s actions.

“He spoke to the priest and the bishop of Bucheli’s home diocese of Lausanne, Huonder said they want the pro-gay religious leader gone by summer at the latest and returned to his former pasture.

“Huonder’s spokesman Guiseppe Gracia told the Urner Wochenblatt: ‘His actions created attention, even across state borders, and angered many believers.’

“He claimed Bucheli’s actions could have ‘clouded the church’s teachings on marriage and family.’ “

But parishioners have come to the priest’s defense, organizing a petition, which, in a few days, has garnered over 3,000 signatures.  TheLocal.ch reported on the community’s response:

“ ‘We stand behind priest Bucheli,’ Peter Vorwerk, vice-president of the parish council is quoted as saying.

“Christianity is based on charity so it is difficult to understand why the church should deny someone the blessing of God, he said.”

Fr. Bucheli has declared his intention not to resign:

“Bucheli defended his blessing of the lesbians and said he would not submit his resignation.

“He said it was his jobs as a ‘shepherd’ to address the weak, the injured and the marginalized, he said in an interview with the Nueue Urner Zeitungpublished on Wednesday.

“In a joint press release issued by the priest and the parish council, Bucheli reiterated that he wanted to stay in the village.

“ ‘I feel comfortable in Bürglen,’ he said.

“ ‘My work is not finished and I see no reason to leave the community at this time.’ “

Reverend Richard Estrada

In a somewhat related story, a Claretian priest in California, has resigned from the priesthood because he can no longer accept official Catholic teaching on LGBT and women’s issues.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Father Richard Estrada, a longtime immigrants’ rights advocate, has moved to the Episcopal Church, and said he could no longer tolerate the Roman Catholic practices regarding these minorities:

“For decades, Estrada saw the pain of gay and lesbian parishioners who were ashamed of their sexuality, and of women who he felt were treated as second-class citizens. He saw the Catholic Church evolving on those issues, but the changes felt too slow.

” ‘I saw a lot of people who were struggling,’ he said. ‘I just felt like I don’t fit anymore. Maybe I’ve grown, or shrunk or whatever, but I just don’t fit. And I haven’t fit. So let’s be honest.’ “

As we continue to pray for change in the Roman Catholic Church on LGBT issues, let’s remember especially our priests who speak out and act for equality and justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Brothers and sisters, let us ,like these priests, imitate Christ!

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