God With Us and the Need for a Church- With Bishop Andrea Johnson and Rev. Chava Redonnet
First we present a powerful homily by our RCWP-East Bishop, Rev. Andrea Johnson who shares her homily: God with Us for Advent Four. Then we present reflections on the need for a church building that will also be a Catholic Worker House for the migrant worker community in Rochester.New York by Rev. Chava Redonnet. We invite you to look once again into your end of the year giving and consider building a church for Christmas.
Love and blessings,
Rev. Judy Lee, RCWP-East
Homily For Advent IV
December 20, 2015
Andrea M. Johnson
God With Us
Throughout this season of Advent, we have been on a journey – a journey of hope and anticipation, – in some ways, a journey inward, but also a journey that has brought us into contact with the many signs of the times all around us – many of which disconcert us, filling us with anxiety. We have been confronted with humanity’s long, sinful history which seems to have us ensnared; but at the same time, we are being reassured that in Christ all can and shall be made new. The readings have slowly unfolded for us a plan of salvation which God has for us, and we have also learned that, in the end, everything depends on our response (as in Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel). We are encouraged by the prophet, Baruch, along with the people of Israel to shed our mourning rags – our hand wringing over the ills of the world – and to clothe ourselves in God’s justice, to reach out to the poor and oppressed, – and to place our trust in God who has promised to visit us with his mercy – to be with us. Paul goes so far as to exhort us to REJOICE! And now, here we are on the last Sunday of Advent, and we are at this juncture hearing more particulars about the promise to which we cling; – we are about to experience deeply how the presence of God is among us – the mystery of God-with-us.
In chapter five of his book, the prophet Micah actually addresses himself to tiny Bethlehem in Judea, lifting up this village which was the ancestral home of the great King David, and was also the burial site of Rachel, the beloved wife of the patriarch Jacob. As such, it was considered holy ground – the cradle of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. In this prophecy, Micah says that Bethlehem, the root of Israel’s vine, has not ceased to be fruitful. Indeed, a successor to David, a great leader –a messiah – will bud forth from this vine to shepherd the people –the Remnant returning from exile. This great ruler will shepherd them in the strength of Yahweh, who loves them and keeps faithful covenant with them. “They will live in security, for now the ruler’s greatness will extend to the ends of the earth,” says the prophet. “They will say, ‘This at last is the one who will be our peace!”
So, while Father love, or Creator love, has accompanied the people all along the way, the new Christian community now sees in Micah’s prophecy, not only a great leader, but also that Creator love is birthing into the world a human/divine love – a Messiah and anointed leader – who will be God-Presence in a new way – in a way that people can identify with more intimately, can experience more palpably, and can trust more readily.
The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews has Jesus himself speaking; and he is clarifying for us what is meant by the salvation that he brings and by the meaning of sacrifice in the New Covenant. Sacrifice is nothing more and nothing less than totally putting oneself in alignment with the will of the Creator at whatever cost. It is striving to be at one with the Creator. It is essentially a spiritual conforming to the will of God, but it is played out and made manifest in material ways. Jesus, quoting the words of the prophet Samuel says: “God, here I am. I come to do your will.” The good news is that the coming of Christ into the world in bodily form gives a whole new meaning to our relationship with creation – with the cosmos – with the God who willed it into being and who sustains it. That same God-with-us!
And finally, the gospel passage from Luke, chapter one, depicts for us Mary’s visit to her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth. We are all familiar with the story. Ostensibly, Mary is visiting in order to be of assistance to an aging cousin, who is about to deliver her first child. The hidden story is that Mary herself is with child by the action of the Holy Spirit as a result of agreeing to the will of God as expressed by the Angel Gabriel. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit (the spirit of wisdom – a grace that comes with age and growth), recognizes the true meaning of the visit. The two pregnancies are inextricably bound together; – two manifestations of the same Spirit; – two signs of the same Presence which blesses the whole of creation. It is the Spirit Presence in Elizabeth that recognizes the universal blessing that Mary and her Child represent, and of which her own pregnancy is a part. “Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished!”
What Luke has done is to place the story of Jesus in the continual story of God’s faithfulness to Israel, while opening his audience to the expansive love of God that reaches beyond Israel, even to the Gentiles.
Mary and Elizabeth are two unique women representing God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel, and God’s “new thing” being born in Jesus Christ. We, the church, can learn much by standing in the tension that Elizabeth and Mary represent; – learning from God’s covenant faithfulness – and using that groundedness to welcome the new thing that God is doing among us now. In the melding of the old and the new, there appears the continuity of God which brings about life even in impossible circumstances. The encounter of Elizabeth and Mary brings together the past and the future of God, and points the church to a faithful way of relating across generational divides. The shared celebration of Mary and Elizabeth can show those of us who struggle with difference –whether generational, cultural or racial – in communities both religious and civil – how to learn from, equip, and inspire each other. Respect and mutual learning between generations, cultural and racial groups can be a great blessing in church and society. Then praise of the older or more established can bless the younger or more newly arrived with confidence to give their own prophetic witness to God’s work in the world albeit in new ways. Elizabeth and Mary are a model of how the past and the future can come together in the present as prophetic witness to the abundance of God.
The great Protestant theologian Walter Brueggeman once observed: “A myth of scarcity will never generate ‘bread for the world,’ but only ‘bread for us and ours.’ The lyric of abundance asserts that, in the hand of the generative and generous God, scarcity is not true!”
Luke’s gospel makes clear that Mary relies solely on God for fulfilling the daunting mission she has been given. She is singing the ‘lyric of God’s abundance.” Elizabeth also totally depends on God for her fruitfulness. Together they are a powerful witness – both of them singing the lyric of God’s abundant justice in the fulfillment of God’s faithful promises to them.
The question for all of us is, “Can God be enough for us? Can utter reliance on God empower the rich to relax their death grip on goods long enough to see what is enough? Can utter reliance on God teach a lyric of abundance that leads the rich to listen with compassion rather than with pity to the poor, and so respond with generosity? Can utter reliance on God empower the poor and marginalized to speak the truth of God’s abundance with compassion and dignity and strength? Their testimony, like that of Elizabeth and Mary, is imperative to the spiritual liberation of all who seek to be disciples of Jesus.
So on this last Sunday of Advent, we have come full circle from the first Sunday, when Jeremiah announced that God would not fail to raise up a righteous branch who will bring justice and integrity, safety and security. We are to rejoice. Our hope is now to be fulfilled in Emmanuel, God with us. Our act of faith is to be open to receiving the Creator Presence, now Word-Made-Flesh, and ever-present, yet ever elusive Wisdom-Sophia. Our act of faith is to believe that Jesus, the long awaited one, will draw us into the lyric of abundance that bids everyone to come together.
“This at last is the one who will be our peace,” says Micah. May it be so!
And From Rev. Chava Redonnet:
Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church
Bulletin for Sunday, December 13, 2015 3rd Sunday of Advent
Ever since the migrant ministry began in June 2011, I have thought it would be good if eventually we could have a building – a place where we not only could meet for church, but for ESL classes and other needs in the community. Over time that dream has taken shape. After three summers of meeting in various migrant dwellings, in 2014 I asked a local farmer if she had a vacant building we could use. For two summers we met in a small migrant house the farm wasn’t using. This past summer, a number of things happened. First, the family that had been the mainstays of the church were deported. Later, my significant other, Santiago, was granted administrative closure of his deportation hearings and is no longer in imminent danger of deportation, meaning that I’m now able to think about a long-term commitment like owning a building for the church. Finally, the building we have been using developed a persistent mold problem this summer. Besides making the house unsuitable, it underlined for me the difficulty of using a property that is not our own. Besides the possibility of being asked to leave at any time, if they happened to need the house, there was the difficulty of getting needed repairs done in a timely manner by a landlord who is trying to run a very busy and productive farming empire.
So: it’s time to start making that dream come true. But what, exactly, is the dream?
I’ve set a goal of raising $50,000, and started looking to see what might be available in Genesee or Orleans counties. At that price we might find a trailer on a bit of land; or several acres on which we could build a simple dwelling; or perhaps an old house. Exactly what we do with the house once we have it will be in part determined by what we are able to get, and where it is.
Members of our migrant church have said that they would like the church to have a ministry of outreach to men who are released from the Batavia Detention Center and brought to the Citgo station nearby to wait for a bus. (It is only men that are held at the detention center). They have stories of encounters with men with various needs for help in contacting family, picking up money from western union, and generally with translation. They spoke of men being left at the station in bad weather when the buses had been cancelled. They would like us to be able to respond as a church.
If we had a house, we could offer a chance to take a shower and make phone calls; a place to stay overnight if needed; help with troubleshooting whatever issues they might have in trying to get back home. Men at the detention center might have been picked up anywhere in the country and brought here: one man encountered recently was trying to get to Utah. This would be an opportunity for trained volunteers. I envision teams – an English speaking person who can drive working together with someone from the migrant community who can translate – if the translator can’t go in person they could be available by phone. It would be an opportunity for empowerment and cooperation between the English and Spanish speaking communities.
Depending on the location, we could use the house as a place to hold English classes, which is something folks have asked for a lot. I dream of art classes – of being a place where folks can explore their creativity. We could have community dinners, movie nights, be a welcoming space where people are known and called by name.
Most of all we need to be about liberation. That means not coming in as “helpers” to fix the problems of migrant farmworkers, but to be in solidarity, to be equals, to be aware that each of us has ways to grow as well as gifts to share.
I would like the house to be a Catholic Worker house: Oscar Romero House of Hospitality. At this writing, there is a young couple considering living there to be anchors for the community. Depending on the size of the house, we could bring in other Catholic Workers and the work could grow. We could offer a place for kids to do homework after school – a place for AA and Al-Anon meetings in Spanish – support to mothers with small children. Like the art classes, those dreams depend on how big and where the house is. If we were to end up only offering hospitality to men coming out of detention, it would be enough.
Also depending on size and location, we would have Mass weekly, probably in the living room. If size and location make that unfeasible, we can continue doing what we did the first three years, and go to people’s houses for Mass.
So far we have raised $4,200 towards the buying of this house. Last week was very exciting because our fund grew exponentially – we had $900 already, then a check came in for $1000 from the community Mary Ann Schoettly started in New Jersey, Sofia, that is now led by Mike Corso. A couple days later came a check for $2000! Since then, several donations of $100 each have arrived.
If you would like to support this effort, you can mail us a check made out to Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church with a note that it’s for the building fund, or if you prefer you can go to http://www.oscarromerochurch.myevent.com/ and donate there.
A Blessed Advent to you… may you find time for peace and silence and prayer in the midst of all the pre-Christmas bustle!
Love to all , Chava
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Words used by Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, activist and educator from Queensland, Australia.
Oscar Romero Church An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in Catholic Tradition Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph’s House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620
A member community of the Federation of Christian Ministries