Starting with this Sunday we enter the season of Advent. All over the world in big cities and small towns, in the church and in the secular world, in all countries and cultures and with all languages, the preparation for Christmas-the coming of Christ-begins.
We bless the circular Advent wreath with its three purple candles (for Christ’s royalty through the lineage of King David) and one pink candle for Joy-the 3rd Sunday is Gaudate (joy)Sunday. The circle is God’s unending love and the candlelight is Christ, the light of the world). At each week’s lighting the Presider may say: “Be still before God and wait patiently” (Psalm 37:7). Those present may reply “So I wait for you, God, my soul waits, and longs for you….for with you is abundant love and full deliverance”. Psalm 130:5-7).
Each Sunday we light a candle. They symbolize Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. And the readings of the day are about watching and waiting and light and darkness, loss and redemption, miracles of healing and and walking the walk. We are challenged this first week not to “fall asleep on the job”, to “stay awake” as we await Christ’s coming. (The Gospel is Mark 13:33-37).
Theologically, we await the coming of Christ in three ways. First, the celebration of Christ’s historic birth in Bethlehem , God’s entrance into history/herstory in human form- God as one of us! And that is always a WOW! to contemplate. Then, we become alert to seeing God in the events of our every day lives, God -With-Us and God among us-especially in the faces of all around us-especially the poor and the outcast whom we need to see to serve. And finally, we hope for the Second Coming of Christ when God’s kin-dom will finally fully be enacted on earth.
Today, Pope Francis, from St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, reminded us that there are two key words in today’s readings: closeness and watchfulness. The Hebrew Scripture reading from Isaiah 63 and 64 reminds us that God is with us as a parent is with a child, and as a potter works with the clay, so God is our potter and molds and shapes us, each one uniquely to be what we are called to be. Paul reminds the church in Corinth ((I Cor 1:3-9) that God is with us, faithful until the end, giving us all we need to follow Christ. In his homily today Pope Francis reminded us to actively invite Christ to come with us as we watch and wait and serve. Christ is always with us but our acts of invitation help us to KNOW that. So Advent is to be a time of active listening, waiting and inviting and acting with God in our midst.
In the secular world , especially this year with the anxieties and langor of Covid 19, elections, racial and other tensions, and myriad troubles,Christmas-waiting actually began early in November. People all over expressed the need for cheer, for uplifting, for joy and an end to darkness and sadness. Well before Thanksgiving there were Christmas Carols on the radio and Christmas movies on TV and the decoration of stores and homes with bright lights and Christmas themes long before Advent officially began-four weeks before Christmas in the church year. I am late in my neighborhood in getting my Christmas lights up as I only began the day after Thanksgiving. The light is literally and sorely needed this year so I am now hurrying. I do have a lit Cross on my house to break the darkness as we have no street lights here and it is a wonderful symbol of light year round (except on Good Friday when I shroud it). People tell me it means a lot to them to see it. But there is nothing like every house displaying Christmas lights in the dark night here. The world waits for Christmas.
So this Advent season let us light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love as we await the Light of Christmas. And let us see the light in all of the faces around us and be glad.
While we can not worship in close contact this year let us hold one another in spirit and in love.
Let us bring light and joy to one another.
And let us serve one another.
Let us have a little Christmas every day.
Watchfulness and charity will arouse us, according to Pope Francis, and praying,serving, and loving will bring Christmas near every day. Let us watch and wait and serve.
A Happy Advent to all.
Love and prayers,
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP
Pastor Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia,RCWP
and the people of The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers, FLorida
Today we celebrate the reign of God in Jesus Christ-the Shepherd King- “the Solemnity of Christ the King”. The word “KING” is alienating to many and comforting to some. It speaks of God remaining in charge of this endless cosmos from time immemorial and present in our troubled world. It is reassuring to think that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet”! But “King” also brings images of opulence, subservience, paternal(istic) power, and, sometimes, arrogance.
Instead the readings of the day are about the humble good shepherd who makes sure not even one is lost, or sick and alone ,or hungry or unsheltered and our responsibility to make sure this is so. Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17; Matthew 25: 31-46.
In the Gospel (Matthew 25) Jesus says that those who ACT lovingly toward others actually provide care to Jesus. Those who feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink, welcome the stranger, clothe and shelter and care for those who need care, and visit the lonely and those in prison will inherit the “kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world”. Most importantly, this is not a far away kingdom-or kin-dom- it is what we co-create with God on earth here and NOW as well as what we anticipate throughout eternity. The Epistle of the day, I Corinthians 15: 20-28, assures us that all who die in Christ shall be brought to life again as Jesus who gives life now and forever even ” put death under his feet”. For many of us experiencing loss this Holiday time the prospect of becoming part of forever with our loved ones lifts our broken hearts. And serving those around us now brings new meaning and joy.
This giving of self and much needed material and spiritual goods brings God’s kin-dom “on earth as it is in heaven” and gives total meaning to our lives. We experienced a little of this yesterday as we made our Thanksgiving visits to community members.
Yesterday, 11/21/2020, with the help of groceries provided by Lamb Of God Lutheran Episcopal Church in Estero, Our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers team distributed food and funds and other items for Thanksgiving to 15 of our Good Shepherd families. Kathy Roddy and her friend Angie and Carol Schauf and I were honored to visit with our friends who warmed our hearts with their own deep thank- fulness to God for their lives, and homes and for our visit. The unbounded joy of each one with the exception of one family who was very sick and unable to come outside at the moment, fearing covid, filled our hearts. With them, I talked on the phone and through the door and as we left the door opened to receive the offerings we brought. I am encouraging them to go to the ER but they are afraid due to their immigration status. They do not believe strangers are really welcome here. Even my words of assurance are not enough. Please pray that they will get the help they need.
How good it was to share the faith and hopes of each one visited. Kris Nasi lifted our hearts with his hopes for a gentler and more caring USA when our new President takes office. His love of his cat Hootie, with him before he finally got the home they now share, also moved us.
When Kathy and Angie visited Mr. Gary, our Good Shepherd church Elder, they reported that despite having just been through painful surgery and coping with both isolation and a wheelchair, Mr. Gary exuberantly shared God’s love and goodness with them. When we visited Mary and Brenda (above) as well we were met with unswerving faith and hope despite illness and isolation.
We also think of the selfless self-giving of our Associate Pastor Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, a Nursing Assistant, who works regularly with Patients who have Covid19 on a Rehab ward at Gulf Coast Hospital. This week she was able to visit and anoint our beloved Good Shepherd supporter Jack McNally who can barely walk as Covid lingers on. No Priests are able to visit during Covid. Jack was not on her service but she got special permission to enter his room and serve him. He was so responsive and thankful as was his wife our CTA President Ellen McNally who is home in Covid quarantine and cannot visit him. Please keep them and all who have Covid and their selfless caretakers in your prayers.
We are so thankful to witness the kingdom/kin-dom of God on earth in the lives of our Good Shepherd Community members. We pray that each of us may experience the true “high” of God’s kin-dom on earth as we serve one another, and the Shepherd King, in love.
Happy Thanksgiving and be blessed!
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A. B. Lee,
Good Shepherd Ministries of SWFL and The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers
Thanks Be To God!
4th World day of the Poor-IV Jornada Mundial de los Pobres-4e Journee Mondiale des Pauvres- 4.Welttag der Armen
A day to stop and think, pray and DO-ACT!!!
Today in Roman Catholic religious observance we celebrate the Fourth World Day of the Poor. This is a day set aside by Pope Francis in 2017 for remembering to “stretch forth your hand to the poor” (Sirach 7:32) on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Yet, strangely, my Sunday Missal Readings in the otherwise very good Guide “Living With Christ”, made no mention of this day. And, as I attended morning Diocese of Venice (my SW Florida Diocese) TV Mass sent from a church in Bradenton the Priest made no mention of this day in his homily. Fortunately,I tuned into a TV Mass on EWTN at 12 O’Clock and it was the Pope’s celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica of this World Day of the Poor. His homily was magnificent as he rolled in all the readings of the day with the theme of this most important day of consciousness of the poor, materially and otherwise, abounding in our midst and our Christian obligation to “Stretch forth our hands”. His full homily and earlier ones on this theme dear to Pope Francis’ heart can be found on the Vatican website Vatican.va. The whole texts are imminintely worth reading. I will only comment on some of his thoughts today as I share my own.
The readings of the day are: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Psalm 128:1-5; I Thessalonians 5:1-6 and Matthew 25:14-30. In Proverbs, the virtues of a good woman and wife who reveres God are extolled. She brings good to her spouse and the family and works hard “with loving hands” to do this. Yet we don’t often quote the following virtue listed in Proverbs 31 v. 20: ” She reaches out her hands to the poor;and extends her arms to the needy”. (In The Inclusive Bible this reads “She holds out a hand to the hungry,and opens her arms to the homeless”. Psalm 128, the response, says that those who revere God and walk in God’s ways will be blessed and surrounded with love. Thessalonians says that as children of light we will not be shaken by the disasters of the times but look beyond to seeing God at work in the darkest of times and stay alert for the coming of Christ in the midst of darkness. And the Gospel is what is often called “The Parable of the Talents“. A Talent was money in Jesus’ time but we can and do interpret this Gospel as speaking of more than money, of how we use or neglect our God-Given talents and gifts.
Simply,on one level, this Parable says regarding our gifts from God “If you don’t use it, you will lose it”. That makes a lot of sense-no matter what talents and gifts we are given, however great or small, if we fail to use them they shrivel up and die and us along with them. Yet, every time I read it I feel sorry for the one who received less because she or he had less abilities to begin with and who was so afraid of the Boss that the talent was buried in the ground for safe-keeping thus enraging the Boss who expected something back on the gift given. I didn’t like that the gifts given were uneven, and that giving back the gift was seen as an affront, rather than the act of a scared being. But as I reflect I must agree that that is the way of the world that Jesus was trying to capture here. The materially oriented world is unfair and uneven and capricious. And Jesus was conveying that each one of us has received gifts from God: free and wonderful gifts that we can share or hoard or bury.
What have your gifts been? What are they? No, don’t minimize anything- you CAN find your unique gifts. My Cousin Jackie has the gift of passion for a cause and her activities during this last election were unceasing and powerful. (And yes, we were so joyful when Biden, a man of faith and decency did win. Yet, we are also mindful to embrace everyone no matter who they voted for or why). A friend spoke to me the other day of her gift of music, and how she has not been able to use it of late. Suddenly, I wanted her play to her instrument again, and both of us would be lifted. Another friend spoke to me about how her sewing and quilt making grounds her and brings her joy in these times. She made masks for me and for many others, and a baby quilt for her new grand daughter and for my God-daughter’s newborn. The joy of giving filled her. Still another man, one of our Good Shepherd members, is a formerly homeless man who is not only homed in his own place, but is an Elder in our community, leading in worship and reaching out to others who are still homeless and others. He recently broke his leg above the ankle and had to stand an operation and living in a rehab when he was already stressed out by living in these difficult covid times. Yet his joy in God’s love and the gifts he has been given were never dampened. His niece helped him learn how to use Facebook since he can’t get out to share his joy in God’s love and he is writing beautiful messages for all to see.
I am overwhelmed as I look back on my life and realize all the gifts I have been given-gifts I can use, gifts I can share and gifts, especially of people and community, that make life worth living. I can empathize, I can love, I can write, I can speak, and I can outstretch my arms and serve others, especially the poor materially and in spirit. And if I do little or none of this, I am the poorer for it. This time of Covid shut-in has challenged me to keep using my gifts even in different ways. It has also challenged me not to become selfish or self-centered and not to pull in so far that I can’t reach out again. Like you, I am working on how to use and share my gifts in this difficult time. I am learning that a phone call or even a good message or a letter is another form of touch in a way I did not have to learn before.
Today Pope Francis reminded us that we are given such wealth to share. He noted that “those who do not live to serve serve for little in this life”. He noted that we have to take risks and not be overly cautious if we are to put our gifts to good use. We are not valued for what we save or keep for ourselves, but by the fruit we bear. We are not to seek “the good life” but the good we can do with our lives. We are to see those in needs, not focus on our own needs. We need hands outstretched, not grasping and clasping. In the parable, the first two given talents took risks and invested them. The third took no risks and buried the talent. Pope Francis suggested that we “hand over our life plans to the wind and serve. Those of us who only observe the rules and take care of ourselves take no risks. So we are mummified and our souls are mummies”. WOW!
He added that when we only “follow the rules” and fear making mistakes that fear can take over. The third person who received the one talent lacked initiative and creativity, and was full of fear. He did no wrong, but he did no good. He buried his gift. instead we are challenged to be generous, to conquer fear and passivity which becomes complicity. We are challenged to look fear in the face and let go of disinterest. For long term interest on our talent we are to “invest in the poor-the center of the Gospel”.
Pope Francis reminded us that the Gospel can not be understood without the poor. The poor among us often lack the very basics needed to live. Yet they are fully gifted beings loved of God who are symbols of Jesus. Jesus became one of the poor for us. He reached out to the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the stranger, the profoundly ill and the despondent regardless of gender, culture, race,religion or anything else. He was so rich in love and gives us all that love. We can accept and use it or we can instead develop a poverty of love and become the poorest of all. In the end of our lives, what we have will not matter-success, power or money won’t mean a thing. Our lives will be measured by the love given away. That is our true riches. To serve Jesus in the poor, to bring water and food and shelter to those who do not have it, hope to the hopeless and love to those who feel unloved or unlovely, is to share the riches we have been given, and seeing those riches grow will bring us joy and peace, now and forever.
So, and I return to Pope Francis words here : “As we face Christmas we must not ask what can I have, what can I buy-but what can I give, like Jesus”.
Be blessed and give it away this holy day!
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Florida
Rev. Dr. Judith A.B.Lee, DMin, DSW,MSW