“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst and putting his arms around it said to them: ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me,and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me”. (Mark 9:36-37).
How do we draw closer to God? How do we become more like Christ?
The first reading from Wisdom(2:12,17-20) shows that the just one, the one who lives the law of love and justice makes other people very uneasy. The response is to torture that one to see if one who lives for love and justice will break under rejection, torture and threat of a shameful death. The deuterocanonical book of Wisdom was written between 50 and 80 years before Christ was born. It spoke to the difference of Jews adhering to God’s law and pagans or non-believers who felt reproached by them. Matthew, Mark and other Gospel writers also applied this to Jesus who indeed met the fate of the righteous and just one described here. In this passage we are charged to grow close to God by living the law of love and justice as Jews who understood and followed the Law did and as Jesus did. If this sometimes brings us big trouble we are to expect it-we are not embracing popular culture but God’s culture of love and justice. We are to become comfortable in out difference and not conform to those who live for hedonism and pleasure, bring death upon others, oppress the poor and widow, disrespect elders, and live by the slogan “might makes right”. (Wisdom 2:1-11).
In the Epistle of James (the brother of Jesus and the bishop of the church in Jerusalem) we read that to follow Christ ambition and selfish desires must be put aside. We need to live for God’s passion, not our own passions that serve the self first. Disorder,discord and all that is evil result when ambition trumps service even in the church. Pope Francis has gone far to challenge the church to return to humility and service of the poor and outcast. This week, regarding the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe, Pope Francis challenged religious institutions to take in these strangers fleeing for their lives and religious freedom. He went so far as to say that if the religious institutions would rather make money using their premises as hotels and had no room for the refugees, they should pay state taxes. They do not deserve church exemptions because they are not doing what church does. ( In the book of Acts it is noted that there were no poor or needy because those with money sold off their property and shared with the poor.) He is showing the church and the world how to get closer to God-live God’s law of love and justice. Receive the little ones, including the strangers in your midst. I have no doubt that Francis has angered many powerful in the Church and in the world. This week as he visits both Cuba and the USA he will no doubt upset more of the rich and the powerful. He may fall in popularity and favor with the powerful, but he will show us how to live love and justice, to live the Gospel.
In the Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) Jesus is revealing the truth of Wisdom 2-he lives and teaches love and justice completely and he will meet the fate of those righteous/just ones who live love. Moreover, they will kill him, but the grave won’t hold him-he will rise in three days. The disciples do not yet get that Jesus’ Way will lead to rejection and punishment by those who are in power for their very power base is challenged. Might does not make right but right living draws us close to God. The discussion in Mark 9 where the disciples vie for power and rewards is to say they still do not get it. So Jesus tries again to help them understand the role of those chosen to bear the Gospel is not to become Number One but to take the last seat in the assembly and to serve all. It can’t be much clearer than that.
But, Jesus gives them still another example of what is needed. The example of Jesus receiving/welcoming the children is an object lesson. If you want to draw close to God and to Jesus the Christ then welcome those who have the least power in this world. This includes children and a host of people living in bare subsistence and poverty as well as those who are overlooked and marginalized for a variety of reasons dealing with ethno and egocentrism, prejudice and discrimination. When we receive these little ones we welcome Christ and we welcome God. We draw close to God. In essence, we take the little ones off the cross and are willing to carry it ourselves.
Let us consider hungry children and individuals to take only one example from today’s world (2012-2014 statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) )- 805 million people out of the world population of 7.3 billion or one out of nine are suffering from chronic undernourishment. Three.one million children die of malnutrition annually. Poverty is the greatest cause of hunger. In most nations those at the top live and eat well and those, (the great majority) at the bottom struggle with hunger and its ramifications in poor health and death. Over 1 billion people in developing countries live,or barely live, on less than 1.25 a day. (www.worldhunger.org/articles) In the USA,48.1 million or one in seven struggle with hunger. Fourteen per cent of American households experience food insecurity. Seventeen.two million and 20 % of America’s children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. (Feeding America, Elaine Waxman, Report from Urban Institute-www.feedingamerica.org). While many churches and non-profits do work hard at feeding the poor directly and others of all religions tithe to give to the poor, many simply grow bigger, grander and fatter while children go hungry. Pope Francis has clearly become today’s moral compass for those who think they are close to God in their prosperity while their neighbors go hungry. In a recent prayer from the Vatican he said:
“God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live. the poor and the earth are crying out. O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life….”
Pope Francis is simply saying what Jesus said in today’s context. “Receive, welcome these little ones”. Receive them in Baptism, receive them at the Table. Take them in your arms. Feed them. Notice in Mark 9:36, Jesus takes the child in his arms and then teaches us about receiving the little ones that brings us close to him and to the One who sent him. We are not only to give our Peter’s pence we are to embrace and to love in very real ways. This is the picture of God’s love for all little ones, all who have no power or money in this world-they are in God’s arms, and we are to open our own arms in a similar way to draw close to them and also to God. This will be our joy and reward, closeness with God’s people and closeness with God. How beautiful is that! Amen.
This is an in-depth and astute analysis by James Carroll of the New Yorker. I am with James Carroll here although I do begin with God comfortably, and not my ability to think which follows. I am very thankful for Pope Francis’ moral leadership at such a dark time in human history. The only thing I would add to it is that given his challenging clarity on priority on the poor, shelter for immigrants and refugees, a humble priesthood, the sacred nature of all of creation including mother earth, and the stance of not judging the GLBT community, there are only two lacks. First, not to judge is not the same as challenging church doctrine on the GLBT community where “disordered” is still taught and believed. And, while Pope Francis praises the abilities of women, if women cannot be ordained to meet the call of God to priestly vocation, and the needs of a failing church still losing people by the droves,and to reach out to the poor and outcast it is the Church and the people that continue to suffer. For the life of the Church and the life of the world,I hope that he will add real moral clarity on women to his impressive guidance,including accepting women’s ordination.
Rev Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP-USA-East-
Pastor, Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Fort Myers
SEPTEMBER 16, 2015
What to Make of Pope Francis Now?
BY JAMES CARROLL
Under Francis, the Catholic Church continues its slow march toward modernity.
As Pope Francis heads to Cuba and the United States this month, with an itinerary that includes visits to the Castros, the U.S. Congress, the White House, the United Nations General Assembly, and a major Catholic convocation in Philadelphia, the measure of his accomplishments and further promise remains confused. Is he a radical or merely a liberal? Does he seek to revise Church dogma—to bring it in line with some ethical ideal—or to formulate a pastoral response that is rooted in reality, and that leaves the institution unchanged? Among Roman Catholics, conservatives emphasize that, for all the hoopla about gays, divorce, women, and dogs going to heaven, he is not changing Church doctrine. Liberals, on the other hand, recognize in him a longed-for reformer of Vatican corruptions and cruelties. In the secular world, where his reach is astonishing, he is celebrated as a prophet of compassion and economic justice, even as his stern pronouncements on climate change, global capitalism, the plight of migrants, and a host of other issues are dismissed as lacking “practical strategies for a fallen world,” as David Brooks put it in the Times.
The prevailing commentary so emphasizes the once-unimagined uniqueness of Francis that the larger and longer context of his arrival goes unrecognized: the real meaning of this surprising Pope is being missed. Rather than seeing him as a cult-worthy personality who represents something wholly new in Catholicism, it is better to understand Francis, even in his stylistic deviations, as the culmination of a slow, if jerky, recovery on the part of the Church from its self-defeating rejection of modernity.
That process began centuries ago. Galileo Galilei may seem like the ghost of another era, but by Catholicism’s slow-ticking clock he was alive practically yesterday. When Rome’s inquisitors condemned the seventeenth-century astronomer to house arrest, declaring him a heretic for his support of heliocentrism, the Church imprisoned itself in the preference of abstract ideology over testable experience—of what could be read in Scripture over what could be glimpsed through a telescope. In effect, Galileo had said that if hard data contradicted doctrine, then doctrine must be reinterpreted. By the twentieth century, the Church’s rejection of modernism—not only scientific thinking but also democratic liberalism, pluralism, and individual rights—had become so rigid that it was bound to crack, and crack it did.
With the Second Vatican Council, which lasted from 1962 to 1965, the Church began the process of leaving behind the most egregious of its dogmatisms—like the notion that there was no salvation outside Catholicism. Inevitably, there was pushback, embodied most notably in the Vatican’s condemnation of birth control, in 1968; in the words of one dissenting cardinal, this was “another Galileo affair.” But the Catholic reconciliation of oppositions between reason and faith, between change and tradition, between freedom of conscience and magisterial imperative, moved inexorably forward, driven mainly by the common sense and moral independence of the Catholic people. They found ways of affirming the faith—loyally attending Mass, for instance—even as Church authority was hollowed out and the clerical culture disgraced itself.
Ultimately, the new thinking had an effect even on conservative figures in the hierarchy, including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The former apologized (more than three hundred and fifty years after the fact) for the denunciation of Galileo, and he was a champion of the Jewish people, advancing reforms that, implicitly, at least, involved the most radical transformation of theology in Christian history. The latter, although he railed against “the dictatorship of relativism”—the abandonment of absolute standards of thought and conduct—actually relativized the absolute claims of the papacy by resigning his office, conduct that itself upended how the Vatican is perceived. Francis’s two reactionary predecessors, in other words, prepared his way. True, the power of his presence in the Church and the world is a function of his magnetic temperament, his wily use of the levers of governance, and his uncanny sense of word and gesture. But that Francis is one of a kind achieves its potency only when joined to his being part of a larger historical current.
To those, both inside and outside the Church, who want less talk of ultimate justice and more talk of immediate policy—less mercy, more moralism—the Pope gave his answer early on. “The structural and organizational reforms are secondary,” he told an interviewer in 2013. “The first reform must be the attitude.” Pay attention to what’s really going on with people; begin there and change will follow. The recent breathtaking papal call to the Catholic parishes, monasteries, and convents of Europe to warmly receive migrant families—a practical strategy if ever there was one—did not come out of thin air. It was anticipated by the reform of attitude that Francis began, two years ago, with his prophetic journey to Lampedusa, the Mediterranean island on which many thousands of refugees have been landing. (One can’t help but ask what would have happened, in 1943, if Pope Pius XII had similarly instructed every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a Jewish family.) And as Francis demonstrated earlier this month in his surprisingly compassionate statement about abortion—an acknowledgment of “the agonizing and painful” decisions involved in a woman’s choice—his starting point is affirmation, not condemnation. A large-hearted feel for moral complexity trumps the narrow-minded moral rigidity that has mostly been the mark of Church responses. This shift in attitude is more than the mark of a nice man, and it has been a long time coming.
If Francis is not expressly overturning Church doctrines or the structures of the world economy, he is certainly overturning how Catholics think of doctrine and how savage global inequality must be regarded—the reform of attitude in religion and politics both. But attitude is defined, above all, by vantage point. “You have to start from the ground up,” Francis said in the same 2013 interview. This amounts to a watchword for a Pope who looks at power from below, and it explains his unrelenting emphasis on the poor. Doctrine and policy—the indissolubility of marriage, say, or cap-and-trade approaches to pollution control—must be evaluated, first, by their impact on the vast population of men, women, and children who have been tossed onto the garbage heap of history. What are the abstractions of religion and politics actually doing to people?
Starting from the ground up implies a clear preference for experience over dogma. Whether consciously or not, Francis upholds the revolutionary principle that has gripped the Western mind since the Enlightenment—that the human project begins not in divine dictate (“In the beginning, God…”) but in self-awareness (“I think, therefore I am”). Ethical insight opens onto theological insight, not the other way around. The perception, for example, of the goodness of a person who happens to be gay suggests that the creator of that good person does not condemn him. Therefore, so famously: Who am I to judge?
Galileo was right, but his insight extends well beyond the solar system. Hard data—migrants washing up on the shores of an amoral capitalism, the planet laid waste, wives trapped by the rules that tie them to abusive husbands, the evident connection between gender equality and justice for all—requires the reinterpretation of traditional beliefs, religious and secular both. In the various spheres within which Francis operates, experience over ideology means, yes, doctrinal change, economic reform, political transformation. Whether or not such change, reform, and transformation actually follow from the Pope’s advocacy, and whether or not he himself would specifically affirm them, he is pointing to a hopeful future. Practical strategies for a fallen world begin with moral clarity. In offering it, Pope Francis is helping his Church come of age at last.
“Jesus summoned the crowd and the disciples and said, ‘If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps’” (Mark 8:34, TIB The Inclusive Bible).
“Okay then” as my foster son Marley used to say mocking Pet Detective Ace Ventura in a slow questioning voice when reckoning with a hard truth, actually meaning “let’s head for the hills.” I can still hear him at eleven, at fourteen, and in his thirties and see his face as he says it. Sometimes it was said when homework was due greater consideration, sometimes when reprimanded, sometimes when things did not turn out the way he initially envisioned it, sometimes when he himself discovered daunting effort was needed in sports or doing a job. He then had to make up his mind if that effort would be given. In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:7-25) we have an “okay then” Scripture. And in the Hebrew Scripture of the day we do as well, Isaiah 50:4-9 is part of the prophet as “suffering servant“ writings. And the Epistle of James (2:14-18) reminds us that if good deeds/works do not go with faith, faith is dead.
Today we have a group of hard scriptures-hard if one envisions life without suffering and hard selfless work. Hard if we see faith as a form of religious ecstasy or self- gratification. Hard if it is about saving myself and not necessarily others. Hard if we have been faithful in living the Gospel of love and justice and are tired from the many efforts, only some fruitful, that this implies. I can identify with this last level of hardness telling God that I am tired and need a rest from service, and I can even sometimes hear God responding: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden”. True, but I would sure like that rose garden!
In the Markian Gospel , Jesus is telling Peter and his other disciples, and I bet Mary of Magdala and several women were there too, “the Promised One had to suffer much, be rejected…be put to death, and rise again three days later. Jesus said these things quite openly.”(Mark 8:31-32 TIB). Now, some of today’s scholars think that Jesus did not say this –how could he predict his own death? Certainly, they reason, this is not in oral tradition, Mark is putting this on Jesus lips some 35 years later knowing about the Cross. Well, ask Martin Luther King, Jr. how he knew he would not get to the promised land? For he said “I may not get there with you…” Ask Nelson Mandela if he knew he would be jailed and tortured. When one knows that one has been prophetic enough to totally aggravate the powers that be- civil and religious, it is not a big jump to know the consequences and the likelihood of sustaining them. Jesus knew the world of Roman occupied Judea, he knew that people who offended Rome and the religious hierarchy hung on crosses and died in torturous public humiliation. Peter, in faith, had just identified Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, but he was not willing or ready to think of the costs of such a job description and how this may end. He began to rebuke Jesus for saying this, probably wanting a happy ending with all his heart. But for Jesus, who still had to remain faithful to his calling and take on the powers that be, Peter was only a hindrance at that moment to Jesus, and his sense of what Jesus should be was a deception. (Jesus called him Satan, which in Aramaic simply means deceiver, hindrance, not another-worldly force). This is the same deception Christians tell themselves and others when they preach Christ without a cross, and discipleship without the hard work of loving until it hurts and then some, and seeking justice when there is none to be found. One of my dear friends, a religious Sister from Australia introduced me to the concept of “an airy fairy God”. She served mentally ill homeless women at home and could not envision a Christian life without selfless service-she said often that she cannot believe in “airy fairy theology”. We got along well because neither could I. Peter was happy with the Jesus who was a great orator, teacher and healer, a wonder- worker. He was not happy with the Jesus who gave it all away, including his very life.
We are having an adult baptism this week at Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community. Brenda, in her fifties, is a woman who has faced many challenges in life. She had epilepsy and was in Special Education. She was rejected by family for some of the early choices she made and trouble she got into, and reconciliation barely came before both parents died earlier this year. She has been serially homeless and grieving her many losses. Yet, Brenda is a woman of strong faith that ultimately gets her through a disproportionate amount of hard times. She feels connected to Jesus who ,as she says, “suffered lots more than I did or ever will” She feels loved by God and beloved in her church. Church is home for her. She has been part of our church since we met in the park in 2007. She moved out of Lee County and we still remained in contact. Finally after many more trials in life she came back to Fort Myers and to our church last March. Although homeless once again, having lost everything except her little dog, she simply announced: “I’m home”. Once housed she became our greatest ambassador, bringing many others young and old to church. She also helps to shepherd our littlest kids on Sunday, coloring with them and sharing stories from a children’s Bible. Her prayers each Sunday moved many to tears in their depth and compassion for others. It did not dawn on me that she had never been baptized, but a few months ago she came to me and asked if she could be baptized. She wants to be part of our Church and she wants to be strengthened in following Christ. I truly believe that she does know what this means.
The words of James 2: 16 hit me like a ton of bricks this week when I had to tell some callers who wanted financial help to be saved from eviction the equivalent of “we don’t have it, good-bye and good luck”. We had just been through another costly save from homelessness for a family of seven reduced to living in a rented van so money to help was low, but I am putting down my cross if I don’t find some way to help. For the cross we carry in Good Shepherd Ministries is the cross of the poor and all it entails. Jesus challenges us: “take up your cross and follow in my footsteps”-show by your love and service to whom you belong. There are crosses of illness and troubled relationships and personal crosses that only you can define that you must take up to do the work of the Gospel, the work of love and inclusion as Jesus did. This also means for all of us, not just clergy or religious, to take up the cross of the poor, the outcast, the marginalized and the hated. Identify those issues of injustice that are close to you, in your community, and in our world, homelessness, hunger, blatant discrimination in the world and in the church against the gay, lesbian bisexual and transgendered people and the still second class citizenship and objectification of women, the plight of the immigrant and refugee, and take up that cross. Taking up the cross means “do something about it, from the gifts God has given you, do something about it!
So in today’s Gospel, Jesus is patiently giving those who would follow him a second call. It was great to be called by Jesus at the seashore, to respond to Jesus’ wonders of a full net of fish, but that entailed no hard work or disillusion. Sure we had to leave our fishing job behind, but that was a hard job and following this charismatic teacher is exciting and probably much easier! Wrong! So Jesus calls again, more explicitly-“Okay then, it’s going to be very hard work to live the law of love, inclusion and justice, it’s going to be hard work to forgive those who take advantage of you and hurt you even as you try to help them, it’s going to be exhausting and endless. It’s going to be hard to put God’s work first and your wants second. You are not going to be loved for your risk taking and your efforts to change the status quo and it can lead to your own suffering as you try. But, you belong to me, you belong to God, I’m calling you to do it so God’s kin(g)dom may reign in this world.” Wow!
Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for calling us again. We hear you. Help us to follow you wherever that leads and no matter how hard it may be. Help us to put God’s Kin(g)dom first and our own lives second. Fill us with your Spirit so we can respond to your call with our eyes wide open. Fill us with your love so we can love as you do. “ Amen.
This is today’s CNN article by Carol Costello. And my response is open your eyes dear friend, Carol, we are already here. There are almost 210 validly ordained Roman Catholic women priests in the world and more are prepared every minute. Go to our website romancatholicwomenpriests.org and meet us. Look up our ministries, ours is goodshepmin.org ,and see us at work. We are here, now. And you are invited to see us ordained in our future ordinations so your dream can come true. Ah, if you are waiting for the Pope’s blessing on it, you may have to wait a little longer. We pray that Pope Francis who has welcomed the outcast back in will welcome his women priests and realize that we are very much alive and serving all over the world, but we are not holding our breath until that happens. We are simply going on serving God’s people especially the poorest and the outcast sacramentally and with all our hearts. It is what we are called to do.
In Service, Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP-USA-East
Pope Francis, women are waiting
By Carol Costello, Anchor CNN
Carol Costello: I will not see a woman ordained a Catholic priest in my lifetime
The number of American Catholics will decline more rapidly if Pope Francis doesn’t do more for women
Carol Costello, who anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom” each weekday, is writing a series of columns related to Pope Francis’ visit to North America this month. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
(CNN)I will not see a woman ordained a Catholic priest in my lifetime.
I don’t agree with it, but I heard Pope Francis when he said the issue of female priests is “closed.”
Traditions die slowly, but so can great religions. And, I posture, as a Catholic woman, that in the not-so-distant-future the number of American Catholics will dwindle ever more rapidly if Pope Francis does not follow through, in some way, with what sounded like a promise.
“It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas,” the Pope said. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” just like “Mary is more important than the apostles.”
His words blew my mind. But then came a series of baffling statements from the Pope. In 2013 he told a group of nuns, “The consecrated woman is a mother, must be a mother and not an old maid (i.e., spinster). …” In 2014, he told the European parliament, “Europe … is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant. …” And, in December of last year, the Pope told a group of female theologians they were, “strawberries on the cake.”
Perhaps Pope Francis was simply talking like most 77-year-old men. But words matter. And deeds matter even more.
As Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center at the University of Notre Dame, told me, “We’ve been good soldiers, but this generation of women — not so much.”
According to a 2014 Pew Research study, just 16% of American women between 18 and 29 identify as Catholic. The low percentage is troubling enough, but Cummings puts the numbers into stark perspective. “For the first time in history, young Catholic women are more disengaged than their male counterparts,” she told me. “That is a huge, important shift. If you don’t have women, you lose the children.”
In other words, a sizable number of those young mothers the Pope cherishes do not consider themselves or their daughters “strawberries on the cake.” They are the cake. And, until that sentiment fades completely, those young mothers will not instill their Catholic faith in their sons — and especially NOT in their daughters.
Today’s women are growing up in a world, Cummings says, “where all doors are open to them and the Catholic Church is still closed.”
That’s not to say the door to the priesthood should be opened immediately, but it would be helpful if the Vatican learned to effectively talk about — and partner with — women.
Here’s an idea: Allow priests to marry.
Hear me out: If priests married, the number of women who could, at the very least, rub elbows with the Church’s hierarchy would increase immediately.
I say that because so few women do. According to Vatican Radio, just 18% of the Vatican’s workforce is female. Keep in mind that workforce includes Vatican museums, post offices, and the Holy See that governs the Roman Catholic Church.
If priests had wives, those numbers would most certainly increase. At the very least, the mere presence of women would force Church leaders to relate to them in a more natural way.
Here’s another idea: Loudly trumpet what Catholic women have accomplished in a world that is often inhospitable to female achievement.
Allow me to regale you.
The Vatican, at the Pope’s urging, appointed a committee to combat sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Roughly half of that 17-member committee is made up of women, including Marie Collins.
When I asked Collins if she was surprised by the Vatican’s request to serve, she laughingly told me, “You could say that.” Then, she added seriously, “They said, we are calling from the Vatican, they were ringing on behalf of the Holy Father, they asked if I would accept it — I didn’t believe it at first, it was difficult to be sure if this was real.”
Collins was not skeptical just because she is a woman, but because she was raped by a hospital chaplain — a priest — when she was 14 years old. She is now working to convince the Vatican that transparency and criminal charges are the only effective and moral ways to deal with those who abuse children.
Collins is the first to admit the Catholic Church has a long way to go before it “gets it right,” but the fact the Vatican is allowing her — a woman wronged by the Church — to speak on its behalf is something the Vatican ought to proclaim loudly.
There are other powerful women who serve the Church as well. Sister Donna Markham is the first female president of Catholic Charities in its 105-year history. Keep in mind, Catholic Charities is an organization that supports more than 70,000 employees — and serves 10 million people in need across the United States. Markham’s organization is also in charge of lobbying on Capitol Hill.
“I certainly knew I wasn’t selected to be president of Catholic Charities because I was a woman. I think I was asked to do it because people trusted my ability,” Markham told me. “Now, is it thrilling to me that, in this day and age, we can see the page turn a bit and see women called to exercise leadership in our church in some very important ways? That is thrilling to me. But, I stand with other women who do that. Not just Catholic Charities.”
Perhaps the Pope will extoll the accomplishments of these amazing women during his visit to the United States and spare us the “strawberries on the cake” comments.
And here’s an idea, courtesy of Kathleen Cummings. The Pope could announce a standing Vatican commission on women in the church. A small thing, perhaps, but a strong signal that Pope Francis is serious when he says women are more important than bishops and priests.
“See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” is an excellent description of the healing powers of Jesus Christ and is also a famous line from Peter Townsend’s (The WHO) 1969 Rock Opera Tommy. They are a refrain that has replayed in my head and resounded in my heart since I first heard them plaintively sung. I applied them to myself and my own life as well as to the lives of those I serve, especially those who receive the least human touch in their poverty and outcast status.
This week our readings are : Isaiah 35:4-7a speaking about the time God comes with “divine recompense” to save God’s people.This is a time when” the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared… and the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35: 5-6). The Psalm is Psalm 146:6-10 where God keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed,gives food to the hungry and gives sight to the blind. The Epistle of James (2:1-5) exhorts us to show no partiality as we adhere to the faith of Jesus Christ-not to treat people by their status in society, not to put the rich above the poor who seek to assemble and worship with us, noting that God chooses those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kin(g)dom. The Gospel, Mark 7:31-37 shows Jesus healing a deaf and mute man in the cosmopolitan district of the Decapolis, near the sea of Galilee. (The word for muteness, mogilalos in Greek, is also the word used in Isaiah 35 and is closer to speech impediment-such that the man could not speak his joy or thanks and praise to God). In this healing in an area where people are likely Gentiles, non-Jews, Jesus touches the man intimately, putting his finger into the man’s ear and touching the man’s tongue with his own spittle, then from the depth of his being (he groans) Ephphatha!-“Be opened” and the man could Immediately hear and speak. (This opening of the ears and mouth is also a part of early and possibly contemporary baptismal celebrations).
There is little doubt that the meanings in these readings are metaphoric as well as literal. God is to open the ears of all people to know God, to know the gospel, and to know that ALL are welcome in God’s family. Jesus himself opens the ears of the deaf and frees their tongues to sing God’s praise. Jesus reaches beyond his people to ALL people. Jesus touches the outcast and marginalized intimately and brings healing. This healing comes from the very depth of Jesus’ being, as such outreach should come from our inmost heart. The reign of God is to free the oppressed and feed the hungry actually and metaphorically and to create a place where all can be felt, touched and heard.
And yet, for those who suffer as pariahs and for those who suffer illness of any sort or the diminishing of their senses and well being, the Jesus who reaches out,touches and heals is the one we seek. We have been called to make several hospital and hospice visits recently. And in doing so we enter especially sacred space. In offering the rite of sacramental anointing we literally lay hands on the very ill person, and we touch also with sacred oil. Some want to hear the words of the traditional rite and are comforted as these words are said. Others do not care about the words but grab our hands as we touch them, not wanting to let go. There is a sacredness in touch. Linda was visibly relieved when I placed my hand not only on her head but on the part of her body causing great pain. Claire grabbed our hands and said the warm touch warmed her whole body as she feels very cold, and her skin was indeed cold. Ruby said the oil felt good upon her forehead. Brenda and Gary enjoyed a big hug and I was soaked with their perspiration. Mary held on to my hands tightly as we prayed. I was aware of my strength pouring into her, and her faith infusing me. Whenever I pray with Roger and touch his shoulder or his ulcerated legs just above the sores he says that he feels better. He now has decent medical treatment but when he lived outside and met me in the park, this form of healing touch was the only treatment he received. Thank God, it got him through.
How wonderful it must have been to be touched by Jesus. And yet, it is clear we are still being touched by Jesus, and Christ is in the caring touch we give one another. While there are some people who do not feel comfortable being touched in any way, most people long for it. In my contacts with people the Spirit guides me to touch, hold, hug or just establish eye contact or sit next to and say comforting words. I am so thankful that I am able to offer these most basic of comforts. Sometimes they give actual healing and sometimes they are healing comforts. There are so many who are alone and who need human and divine touch.
We are particularly blessed and honored in our ministry now to have a Minister to the Sick who assists us with our hospital and home-bound calls. This is Mrs. Patricia Byrne a Nurse and a Masters level Pastoral counselor with experience in Chaplaincy who joined our congregation a few months back. She is dedicated to the poor and outcast as well as to those who suffer from illness. Our people are already enjoying visits from her and asking us when she will return. We thank God for providing this critical support to the people of the Good Shepherd and to us as we have much to carry.
Peter Townsend and The WHO were so right: it is touch that heals. In the rock Opera Tommy, Tommy was a young deaf,blind mute who became a leader in a religious movement. The “rules” were too hard for people and they abandoned him. People who wanted a feelgood short-cut to God did not want to be told what they should not do, or what they should do. But throughout the opera and particularly at the end, the haunting refrain punctuated the theme that “we can’t take it anymore” (the world with its unjust politics and rigid world orders and in general things as they are, especially for the outcast.). The hope was in calling people together and in allowing people to speak and be heard and respected, to be felt, to be touched. There was a hidden Gospel message in this, and from the world of hard rock, a most unlikely place. For the sick and the outcast even here in “the land of freedom and plenty” the level of injustice remains something that we can no longer take. Roger’s medical needs were so obvious yet he was denied both Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits and SSI benefits repeatedly until much advocacy made a way for him to get it. With Linda, we have a woman,a mother of five children living at home, who works very hard and earns less than Obamacare would subsidize and who had no medical coverage of any sort. She was in extreme pain from June to September at intermittent periods. In June she was seen in an ER but never admitted. The pain returned and returned. Finally now in early September she has received temporary Medicaid and has finally been admitted to the hospital where good diagnoses and treatment has begun to happen. How can we call ourselves righteous and tolerate the complete lack of medical care for the most needy amongst us? They have been freed to speak, it is we who must listen and make sure that medical care is truly for everyone.
Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. When the man was healed in today’s Gospel, he simply could not remain quiet. He had to tell his good news-he could hear and speak. Why can we not hear the cries of the poor, of the immigrant, of the outcast? And why can we not speak until we are heard?
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee ,RCWP-USA-East