Today is called both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday in Christian worship. It opens both Jesus’ short lived triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his and our own entry into the events of the most holy week of the year, the last week of his life before crucifixion, the week of Jesus’ passion, culminating in crucifixion and finally, oh finally, in his rising. Let us begin this journey together. Let us take up our palms and wave them.
Palm Sunday celebrates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a donkey in fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9-the people rejoice as their King and Savior was to come riding on a young donkey) where he was greeted with a cheering crowd of followers and others, the ordinary people, the people Jesus cared for always, probably not many of the religious or political leadership. The people shouted and waved palm branches (in recognition of God’s provision for the Light to finally shine -Psalm 118:27) and threw leafy branches and their garments on the ground where he rode on the back of a young donkey, also covered with their garments. They exclaimed “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God!” “Hosanna” is an expression of praise that literally meant “Save” in Hebrew. The people were praising God for Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah who was promised, the one who healed them, taught them, loved them and included even the outcasts and strangers among them and brought hope to them. This was a day of triumph for Jesus and for the people who loved him, the poor and ordinary folks, not primarily the big shots who would soon get their way with him, but the ordinary people.
The poet Mary Oliver, in her book Devotions, in her deep understanding of all of Creation from leaves of grass to animals to people, ponders on the donkey. She says:
“On the outskirts of Jerusalem/the donkey waited./Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,/he stood and waited…./he let himself be led away./Then he let the stranger mount./Never had he seen such crowds!….Still he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient./I hope, finally, he felt brave, I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly on him,/as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to forward”.
Indeed both Jesus and the little donkey had nowhere to go but forward on that ride. How blessed was that little donkey for carrying him, and how blessed are we if we too can carry him forward as we are chosen and called to do that.
In some Christian churches Palm Sunday is celebrated without the forward look to the passion of Holy Week that takes place in the RC Church in the same Mass or Service. This can be very good, to allow Jesus and all of us to savor the triumph, the victory of his teachings, his ministry and his work among the people who returned his love. While he knew what was ahead, this same Jesus who wept over Jerusalem, and at the death of Lazarus and grief of his friends Mary and Martha, also must have cherished this moment of acceptance. Perhaps he wept silently within his heart for both sadness and joy, or perhaps for a few moments, his heart was glad. I hope so. For me Palm Sunday is a challenge of living in the moment. Of accepting and enjoying the joys there are, even while knowing suffering is inevitable in all lives. A moment of thanking God for all of the good in our lives, of knowing good will ultimately reign. Of knowing that life is the victor not death. That is not to diminish the pain life entails, but it is to put it in perspective. That even the worse pain of death and loss will give way to life again because of Christ who went through such loss, grief, rejection, betrayal, belittling, injustice, and physical misery of the greatest order. And, I think the latter is the reason that in the RC church an in depth Passion of Christ account is given in the same Mass. This year the Passion is from Mark’s gospel-Mark 14:1-15:47. Reading the Passion account together as a congregation with roles for all of us, also gives us a chance to have an overview of the week ahead that ultimately will end not on the cross, or in the grave, but in the resurrection. This week will end in Life but we still have to get through it.
Perhaps the actions and words from the cross are the most important words and acts we have from Jesus. Both the cross and the empty tomb, the resurrection, are the heart and center of our Christian faith. It is not possible to have rising from the dead without death. We can never minimize the cross. Nor should we enshroud it and forget about the resurrection. Rising again is what Jesus was all about and the hope of our lives.
On the cross we see Jesus, after extreme torture, hanging in great pain with two men, one on each side. In various translations of the Bible, these men are described as criminals, robbers, thieves, rebels and revolutionaries. Perhaps they were all of those things. At least if they were rebels or revolutionaries, Jesus was in like company. For indeed, his life and teachings were absolutely revolutionary. While he taught and embodied all that the Law gave and asked of people, he also put it in perspective as he put loving one’s neighbor even above sabbath law and other laws. And he put ordinary, poor, foreign and outcast people, most especially including women, above the religious and political structures that, after all, left such people out. What a revolutionary he was! What a revolutionary religion true Christianity is and should be. That is Christianity that is lived, not only spoken or quoted. And so there he was on the cross, in that day intended to be the most shameful death, and in Luke 23:34 he says “Father/Abba, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Wow! Pause and think that over. Focus on his love. Focus on the love of God in the gift of Jesus. Focus on Christ’s loving all of us. No exceptions.
In both Mark 15: 34 and Matthew 27:46. Jesus cried out in a loud voice “Eloi/Eli, Eloi lama sabachthani-“which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”” All three of the synoptic Gospels have Jesus crying out in a loud voice at the end, Matthew and Mark without a description of words he may have said-just loud crying out. Luke (23:46) has Jesus calling out in a loud voice “Father/Abba into your hands I commit my spirit”. John(19:30) captures just the end of that and says, after being given vinegar/cheap wine for his thirst, “It is finished; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” The agony of the cross is conveyed in the terrible thirst and the loud cries but the words of feeling abandoned, forsaken, finishing the job Jesus came to do and committing his spirit to his Abba’s(Daddy’s) hands, say more and deserve a closer look.
The quotes given above are from current translations of the Bible (NAB,TIB,NKJV,KJV,NIV) used in Catholic and Protestant churches today derived from ancient Greek and Latin and Hebrew. But there is also a translation from the authorized Bible of the Church Of the East, the Peshitta which is translated from the ancient Aramaic which Jesus actually spoke. It is interesting and important to note that the “Eli, Eli” quote which has Jesus feeling abandoned by God, and which is taken by Jesus from Psalm 22:1, has a different meaning in the Aramaic. Psalm 22 does indeed have a feeling of both the Psalm’s writer, David, and the Messiah of prophesy, being forsaken but it also concludes with praise to God for caring for the poor and for God’s people, both Jews and Gentiles, of all nations, and, basically- for always coming through. I do not doubt that Jesus could feel forsaken on the cross when others taunted him saying “if you are the one, let God deliver you now”, or “come down from the cross.” Yet, I also believe that he deeply knew that he was not abandoned and that however we may feel, God does not abandon us either-ever. Psalm 22:1 in the Western Christian translations is “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”. But the Aramaic translation is : “My God, my God, why have you let me live? and yet you delayed my salvation from me…. (v.11) Be not far from me…”.” It is a prayer for God to be close. Or maybe to feel God’s closeness in the midst of the worst things one can go through. And , Matthew 27:4 and Mark 15:34 which reads forsaken in the Western translations reads “…Eli, Eli, lemana shabakthani! My God, My God, for this I was spared!” It is more like the “It is finished” of John 19 but even more is in it- like, “I did it” -this is why I was alive, this is why I lived, this was my purpose, and I have completed it. No matter how hard, I did what I came to do in loving you! And there is a satisfaction in this, a release in this so that Jesus could commit his spirit back to his beloved Father/Dad. “For this I was spared”…. Amen!
Now, “I was spared” is also older English usage- where one might say-“I was spared from…from what? from a terrible fate, for example. Or from an empty life, or from a foolish choice I may have made, or from a bad relationship that I managed to avoid, or , or ??? OR “I was spared for…the work that God had for me, for the good relationship, for the life and future God had for me…”. This latter seems to be close to the meaning of “For this I was spared”…what Jesus was spared from since he went through so much is not clear, but what he was spared for was humankind and this included the cross. Indeed, his whole life of love and including all in God’s love, his teachings and ministry and, finally, the cross were what he came to do. The cross was not all he came to do, but because of the politics and religiosity of the times, it became inevitable. So he had to include it as the final act of what he came to do. Yes, his crucifixion, horrible as it was, brought him and also us an at-one-ment with God. Within the context of the Judaism of his time he became an expiation for the sins of the world but what if he had been well received instead of a threat to the powers that be-his job may have been completed without such a death. Yet it remained to conquer death in its finality. Death would be conquered in three days as the account ends with his rising again and vanquishing death’s finality himself and for humankind. And it is for this that he was spared….Thanks to Jesus, the Christ, death ends in resurrection but that is yet to come. First we must go through the events of the Passion, the events of Holy week.
For what has my life been spared? For what has your life been spared? What is God asking of us to do with, as Mary Oliver says, our “one precious life”? Perhaps we can contemplate this as we go through Holy Week, the Passion, with Jesus. The answer will include that we are spared not to avoid pain and suffering-but to have the courage to go through it and come out on the other side. To rise again and to help others to throw off the shackles of injustice and to live Love fully- now and forever.
In his Palm Sunday homily today, Pope Francis encouraged us to preserve our sense of amazement and astonishment without which everything is dull and tasteless. As you go through this Holy Week, be amazed and be astonished at what God endured for the love of us. And then love as Jesus did.
Above, Michael Murray, a formerly homeless Veteran who found a home and a renewed relationship with God and the love of Jesus. Also in the pictures are our Deacon Hank Tessandori and Elder Harry Gary. Michael who was with our Good Shepherd Ministry since 2007, carries the cross on which our petitions are nailed for our Stations of the Cross in Fort Myers in 2014. Here we are in front of Lions Park where our ministry began and where many homeless were recently evicted from a tent city. Hopefully they were helped to real homes and not just pushed aside. Michael lived in his home happily and with peace, loving his neighbors and his cats for nine years, until his death in 2017. Continue to Rest in Peace, Mike. We miss you but know you are with our loving God living forever.
We wish you a most Blessed Holy week.
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A.B.Lee
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Church, Fort Myers, Florida
“Oh, happy day when Jesus taught my heart to pray, and live rejoicing every day…”
These words from an old hymn describe best the feelings of all of the members and Pastors of our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers Florida, as we met for the first time since Covid 19 invaded over a year ago! Three Roman Catholic Woman Priest Pastors presided assisted by Pastor Sarah Faulkner from The Abundant Grace Fellowship that also serves the homeless population here. I, with great thanks, am Senior Pastor and my Associates are Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, RCWP originally or Colombia, SA and Rev. Judith McKloskey, RCWP of Kansas City Missouri who is with us seasonally. Thanks be to God for those who serve and for this congregation many of whom have been together since 2007.
Twenty faithful members from all walks of life gathered outside the homes of two of our members Harry Gary, our church Elder, and Quay Crews whose dear Grandmother Jolinda Harmon (also with us on this special day) helped us to start and build this diverse “inner city” community. Three of our other members, Roger Richardson, Joe Baker and Jewell Simmons also live in this wonderful Goodwill Housing complex that provided a way out of homelessness and inadequate housing for many disabled people. The sheer joy of gathering together and worshipping our loving God together was palpable.
It took a lot of cooperation and love to put all the parts of our afternoon together. The three Priests planned and served the Mass and Pastor Sarah read the Hebrew Scripture and picked up and brought Brenda Cummings and Timothy Vanderwarf and our esteemed CTA President, Ellen McNally with her. Brenda brought a stack of drawings that she made as Easter gifts for all and we put them on the altar with the gifts. Roger picked up Mary Flowers. Natasha Terrell brought her Grandma Jolinda and sister and little nephew, necessitating several trips. Pastor Marina and Jose brought 8 plastic chairs and with Carol Schauf’s kind help we brought assorted goodies for dessert and eight folding chairs and the Altar table, sacred items and linen. Stella Odie-Ali brought the Birthday cake for Timothy and Jakeriya Maybin’s birthday celebration afterward and Dan Shaw, Pastor Judith’s husband, brought water and boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken for each one for our meal afterward. Mr. Gary opened his home for hospitality and so we also had some inside space as needed. We put our chairs in a big circle and began our worship service with eager anticipation. I welcomed the congregation with the words used by Ecclesia Ministries in its out door services with the homeless and others : “Come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest….” Several of our people are battling cancer and other serious illnesses and many have other worries in daily living on very limited incomes. These words of Jesus reach them immediately.
We began singing as we always do with “This is the day our God has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” The Mass intentions included our beloved ones who were now home with God, our beloved Pastor Judy Beaumont, our beloved sisters and brothers: Ann Palmer, Jack McNally, Nathaniel Chester (who lived and died two doors from where we were worshipping), Linda Maybin, beloved mother, and daughter of Jolinda Harmon, Lauretta Rasmussen and Dr. Teresa Sievers. Our community of Saints was very much alive with us on this day.
The Scriptures were the ones used for RCIA on this day as we were also affirming the promises of Confirmation made by our Congregation in 2014 and 2016 when Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan and then Bishop Andrea Johnson confirmed 25 members of the church, many here today. Ezekiel 37:12-14 (read by Pastor Sarah Faulkner of AGF); the 23rd Psalm also used by Ecclesia Ministries was led by Harry Gary; Romans 8:8-11 was read by Pastor Marina Teresa and the Gospel John 11:17-45 read by Pastor Judith.
My homily was based in the Gospel, supported by the other readings which shows Jesus as loving friend who takes a chance of entering enemy territory where he was recently stoned, to be with his grieving friends, who weeps with us when we are grieving, and who promises us eternal life beyond death-resurrection-now and forever. How good it is to have a God who is our Friend and who cries with us when we are sad. (AMEN!,AMEN! agreed the people). This account of Jesus raising Lazarus from death (after being dead four days) included calling Lazarus from death with the words “Lazarus, come forth” and Lazarus rising with his grave clothes still wrapped around him. Jesus loved his friends deeply, Jesus made the promise of himself as the way to Resurrection and Jesus prayed, then called Lazarus and waited for response. When Lazarus came forth, Jesus asked those there to remove his grave clothes and let him be free. We focused together both in the homily and in interaction after it and in the prayers of the people on the ways in which life’s events can wrap us in grave clothes-the sickness, fear and isolation of Covid 19-Pastor Marina works directly with Covid patients and requests prayers for all on the front lines, the hate crimes all around us, the gang shootings (Mr. Gary’s grandson was killed by shooting earlier this year), loss of loved ones to both illness and violence, the loss of incomes and the difficulties in making ends meet to survive. All of this and more can cause despair such that we are not really living as we live. Jesus calls us forth to live, to throw off the grave clothes. Mr. Gary made the point that Jesus asked the community to take the grave clothes off Lazarus whereas sometimes we are busy putting grave clothes on others-with our uncharitable words and deeds. And we have the ability to help others remove their grave clothes with love.
And so we focused on what rising again now means, and the promise of life after death as well. With nods and thoughtful looks and AMENS and interaction on these themes the scales of despair and death began to fall away. And hope and joy replaced them all around. Thanks be to God!
The Prayers of the Faithful are always a blessing with this community and today was no different. Almost all present offered his or her own prayer for the world, for the dead, for the church and for the sick. Given the number of those with serious illness present, as part of prayers for the sick the Congregation is asked if anyone would like anointing or prayer and about half present raised their hands. The pastors went to each one and raised hands while I laid hands on and used the oil of Anointing where it was wanted. All would raise hands while the persons next to the one who requested prayer would participate with the pastors. This was a particularly holy time as all prayed.
Pastor Judith McKloskey ended our prayers for the sick with “Holy and life-giving God, sustain us and all people we hold in prayer, by Christ’s presence; help us to know the healing power of Christ’s love…..” We then sang the AMEN from Lilies of the Field with everyone saying our departed Nathaniel’s part: Sing it over! Pastor Judith then gave the Peace of Christ and asked the people to gesture peace to one another. We then sang HOLY GROUND which is the anthem of this congregation . We pronounce all present as Holy Ground. We then began the Eucharistic Liturgy with all of the Pastors and the Congregation consecrating together. The congregation united in saying the prayer Jesus taught us. Oh God, our Father and Mother, Hallowed be your name….”
After Communion Pastor Judith McKloskey sang a beautiful hymn: “Gentle Resting Place”. Then we all blessed one another and Mr. Gary said: Go in the peace of Christ. Let our Service Begin”. And we concluded our worship with earnestly singing “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”.
Then we removed the altar and set us a serving table for the Birthday Cake and many individual cupcakes while the KFC dinners were passed out. What a joyful group this was as we celebrated Timothy and Jakeriya’s birthdays and also clapped for Grandma Harmon who would be 70 in May. What a blessing it was to be together on this Holy Ground and to share worship and fellowship once again. Indeed, God was present with us, and Jesus was smiling this time, not weeping.
THANKS BE TO GOD!
AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU AS YOU TOO RISE AND LIVE-NOW AND FOREVER!
Blessings and prayers,
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP
Pastor Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia,RCWP
Pastor Judith McKloskey,RCWP
This is a most joyful day that was always celebrated in my extended family in New York and in many families and communities all over the world. I think there is something about the Irish courage, wisdom, wit, humor, and victory over domination and oppression and the glorious green countryside and the warm people of Ireland, that invites music, melancholy, singing, dancing and joy. On this day everyone is just a little Irish. According to Ancestry .com and their DNA base I am about 10 percent of Irish background. But according to 23AndMe and their DNA base I am 60.9 percent British and Irish with strong roots in Counties Galway, Cork, Donegal, Clare and Mayo and also though less strongly from Kerry, Kilkenny and Dublin. I have a special love for Irish music and how much is learned and how much inherited I will never know. A distant cousin with roots from from Kilkenny was actually in communication with me two years ago. But it is hard to track down the exact roots. Yet this does not matter for on this day the world is Irish. Everyone can identify with joy and maybe, for one day, or even a little while in one day, put aside the pain of emigration, immigration, meeting with prejudice and discrimination, wars, famines and all that can kill life and that joy. God bless the Irish people for sharing their joy with all the world.
St. Patrick was the son of a noble British Romanized family born at the end of the fourth century who was captured at age 16 by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland where he worked as a lonely shepherd for 6 years before escaping and finding his way back home. While in Ireland he learned to love the Irish countryside, and culture and also became deeply committed to loving and serving Christ. After 15 years of religious study and becoming a Priest, Patrick was convinced that God called him to return to Ireland. He did so and while there was a small Christian presence already there he devoted himself to evangelizing the Irish with a respect for including Irish culture as part of his evangelization (which may well be why he was successful). Patrick gave his life to Ireland and died on 3/17 in 460AD (CE). He became a Saint by popular acclaim and the day of his death is celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Europe, the USA and throughout the world. His is a story of God’s love overcoming “ugly”-overcoming slavery, indenture, violence, greed, oppression and domination on all sides. It is a story of the worst things people do to one another changed by and into love by Love. May we ponder his story today as we enjoy this special day.
Here is a link to his story though there are endless sources for it. https://www.britannica.com/biography/saint-patrick/
(Just click on Britannica on the page that shows up).
Above in the pretty blue hat is ARCWP BIshop Bridget Mary Meehan who was ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2006 and ordained a Bishop in 2009. She was born in County Laois in Ireland, immigrating to the USA in 1956 with her family. Her father, Jack Meehan had a popular Irish band and filled life with music and happiness. She presides, with other women priests at the Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota Florida. Below she is with me and two of our Good Shepherd members. She is a fighter for justice and an inspiration to us all.
And God bless each and all of you on this special day. May you take some time and allow the joy even with the difficult journeys your people and you may have made in this world and the troubles you may still face. Be joyful!
(The beautiful picture below is from one of our SWFL CTA, Members-John Hancock-thank you, John.)
Love and blessings on this special day,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A.B. Lee, Good Shepherd Ministries of SW FLorida
“Rejoice...all you who mourn…” Isaiah 66: 10-11. So begins the entrance antiphon for this Sunday in the Lenten season. For this Sunday the priest wears a rose colored chasuble and unlike other Sundays in Lent flowers may adorn the altar. Why? Because we are anticipating getting beyond suffering, our Beloved Christ’s suffering, and that of the world, and our own, to the joy of the resurrection on Easter- to our rising from the dead. How good it is to stop the mourning on all levels and anticipate the rising again. This Sunday highlights that even Lent itself is not about penance, or atoning for one’s faults, but it is for the renewal of love-love expressed in caring service and giving. The Gospel for the day (John 3: 14-21) gives us the depth of the reason for this joy in the midst of any suffering: “For God so loved the world…” It is about God’s love – God’s love of the whole world, God’s immense, all encompassing, amazing love! And this love gives us the hope of rising again and of learning to love as Jesus did, to love the WHOLE WORLD!
John 3:16-17-“Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One, that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life. God sent the Only Begotten into the world not to condemn the world, but that through the Only Begotten the world might be saved”. (The Inclusive Bible, Priests for Equality Translation). God so loved the world that God gave….God’s Only Begotten Son....
When I first moved to Florida my next door neighbor was a woman who was battling brain cancer. Her name was also Judy and we immediately loved her. One night she came next door in great pain and we helped her back to bed and stayed with her until she rested. A few days later she was watching her favorite Buffalo Bills game. When I dropped by she said she had a question for me. There was a sign at the Football game that said “John 3:16” What was that? I was happy for this opportunity to explain God’s love to her and assure her of it. She thought a while and she said “I do believe”. I was joyful with her. I asked to pray with her and affirmed that her life was eternal. Indeed, we die but we live on with our loving God. As Christ rose from the dead we too rise and join Christ whose love never lets us go. Judy D. was very much amazed and , I think, relieved. And I was amazed that the opportunity to share the good news came from a sign at a football game! Yay, Buffalo Bills!
God so Loved the World– this Sunday of Joy is based on God’s embracing each one of us, AND all the world. Ours is not a small, or national or parochial faith, or mainly a personal faith, but it extends with God’s love to all the world. Yes, each of us can rouse ourselves on this Sunday as individuals, families, communities, groups, and nations but weneed to know that our God’s love belongs to ALL the world.
On this Sunday, 3/`4/2021 Pope Francis celebrated Mass with the Filipino/a Community at St. Peter’s in Rome commemorating the 500th Anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. He said that he was taken with great joy as he watched women. men and children in their native costumes dance down the aisle to begin the Mass. (The third largest number of Catholics in the world reside in the Philippines while many Filipinos/as live throughout the world witnessing to their faith in Christ). In my own life a wonderful Filipina woman was my great role model in faith: Virginia Maniti Williams, a Methodist Deaconess and wife of the African- American Pastor of my youth, Rev. Melvin G. Williams. Beloved Virginia visited me in Florida after Pastor Mel’s death over 20 years ago, and she is home with our loving God now. She then shared with me how she struggled first with women as Pastors in the Methodist church , then with accepting the LBGTQT community as Pastors. At first she could not accept this but as she got to know women and LGBTQ Pastors of deep faith and service, she was moved to accept the pastoral service of all people to our loving God. She concluded that those who love and serve our God with all their hearts and loved their neighbors as themselves not only should but must be given the opportunities to serve within all churches calling themselves by the name of Christ. She was way ahead of her times. Her love was the love of Christ within her and it shined brightly. I pray today for the spreading of that love.
Pope Francis noted in today’s homily that God’s love is the good news, and is the heart of the Gospel “because God loved, God gave…” And it was not words, an idea or doctrine that was given but it was Jesus whom God sent to show us how much God loved us. He said that God cannot help but give God’s whole self to us. “In Jesus we see the face of God’s love”, he said. We can pray that because of God’s love within us we too will become capable of giving.
Here, I expand with many of our Lenten Gospel readings, in Jesus we see the acceptance and inclusion of all people and not only the religious or “righteous” , we see what Pope Francis calls self-giving not selfishness. We see Jesus with tax collectors who were despised, we see him with women, even “sinful” women of other cultures that no one would speak to, we see him with those ostracized and set aside in chains, freeing them, loving them. We see him making no exceptions and putting the law in perspective by healing the blind, the mute and the lame, even on the Sabbath. The law of God is the law of Love, not a bunch of rules to be blindly followed while people suffer. The law of love leads us to the light. The Pope said that lovers exemplify self-giving over self-preservation. “Couples in love love each other so much that they give their very lives for one another”. And this is the way God loves us-and all the world. ” Love always gives of itself and shatters the shell of our selfishness”.
Pope Francis’ Trip To IRAQ March 5-8: A Living Example of Christ Loving the World
Pope Francis then recalled his trip to Iraq last week. He noted his own joy at the joy with great abandon of the Christians who greeted him in the Hariri Soccer field where he held Mass openly for ten thousands of Christians. He said that there and everywhere the people who suffered so much rejoiced and were glad! Pope Francis made an unprecedented trip to Iraq despite the coronavirus, and the highly precarious security situation, and threats against his life. There, oblivious to his own safety, he visited the many sites of terrorism and slaughter of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis and reached out in peace and love to people and leaders of all religions and cultures. He said that he hoped ” the world would take a journey from conflict to unity.” He noted “How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed”. He noted that thousands of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis were cruelly annihilated by terrorism and others forcibly displaced or killed”. This is a link to wonderful pictures of his journey to Iraq. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/world/middleeast/pope-francis-iraq-pictures-html.
What was particularly moving to me was his meeting with the Ayotollah Ali-al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims. He walked to the Ayotollah’s humble home and sat with him on wooden chairs for 45 minutes speaking of the situation of all faiths in Iraq. After the meeting, the Ayotollah spoke publicly for the safety and freedom of Christians and all minorities. Also particularly moving was his Mass at St. Joseph’s in Baghdad where he celebrated the Mass in the Chaldean Rite, another unprecedented move of love. But most exciting was seeing the joy of ten thousands of Christians gathered at the Soccer Field where he moved among them in his “Popemobile”. He brought such hope to them, and such joy.
May our love be renewed as we too embrace the love of God for the whole world, and do our best to work for acceptance, tolerance and , yes, unity of all the world this Lenten Season.
Bless you as you continue through Lent with joy and love,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A. B. Lee, Pastor Good Shepher5d Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida
** Please remember that we are meeting outside for the first time since Covid 19 came on this Saturday, March 20th at 1 PM. Ask me for details if you are able to join us and join us please in prayer and spirit. .
“I will make roads through all the mountains and my highways will be raised up… because they are on their way from afar…Shout for joy you heavens! Exalt you earth! For YHWH consoles the people and takes pity on those afflicted….Does a woman forget her baby at her breast, or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you. Look and see: I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands….”( Isaiah 49: 11-16 excerpted TIB). How blessed are we that our loving God regards us as a mother regards her children and will never forget or abandon us. I am struck with the feminine voice of God here. There is no love like a mother’s love and that is God’s love for us. But it is even better, because, the prophet allows that human mothers may forget their children, but our loving God will not forget Her children.
So no matter what happens on the road, we may well experience affliction, we may get ourselves into trouble and forget the way, but we will not be lost and we will not be harmed and we will find the way back into God’s loving arms. Indeed we also ponder the return of the “prodigal son”( or daughter as we are to put ourselves in the story) in Jesus’ parable of the two sons in relation to their father who deeply loves and welcomes home the one who did everything wrong (Luke 15:11-31). If during this Lent we can confront where we have turned away, God is so eager to welcome us back. This is also what King David sings of in Psalm 51 when he responds to the counsel of the prophet Nathan after his adulterous encounter with Bathsheba. “Because of your love and your great compassion wipe away my faults (other translation- “transgressions”);wash me clean of my guilt;…for I am aware of my faults/transgressions….O God, create a clean heart in me, put into me a new and steadfast spirit….be my savior again, renew my joy, keep my spirit steady and willing; and I will teach transgressors your ways….” : Let us pause and think that over.
Pope Francis said about the start of the Lenten season, Ash Wednesday: “Ashes are sprinkled on our heads so that the fire of love can be kindled in our hearts”. He points out that “Our earthly possessions will prove useless, dust that scatters, but the love we share–in our families, at work, in the Church and in the world will save us, for it will endure forever.”
Are you feeling that love in yourself, in your life? Or has your love dried up and shriveled with so many things choking it out. Sometimes my daily life is all I can manage. There is also the daily care for over 20 abandoned and sometimes ill cats, living inside and outside. I am blessed to have a young man, Gaspare Randazzo to help me with these chores a few days a week. And out of this work together he has maintained his mental health and completed his GED and obtained not only his first jobs but a car. Yes, my every day contains loving but there is so much more I can do to love. I am praying with you that love will come alive as lent progresses.
It strikes me that as we find love and renewal with our loving God, then our joy flows over to others to reach and thereby teach and heal them in their pain and trouble. We then share our loving God and God’s ways with others. We do not simply feel better ourselves, we share the love we have been so freely given -we let the light shine!
The words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 49 tells of God’s relationship with “the suffering servant”, the Israelites. And the promise and love described here is for the whole people of God, of Israel, who will be (and were) returned to their land. We also see it as applying to Christ as Master Teacher, best love and friend, and, yes, as suffering servant,and to ourselves and all who inevitably face suffering and all manner of troubles on our journeys. Christ Jesus who knew knew no transgressions suffered fickle rejection and the extreme punishment of the cross and he rose three days later destroying death forever as foretold in Isaiah 25. The final and stark reality of death is one that only God could address and God did this through our loving Jesus, the Christ.
I have been struggling with thoughts of retirement from Ministry- not ministry in general but from pastoring my Good Shepherd congregation which continues over time whether we meet regularly or not! It simply continues as the people of God. I am well beyond retirement years. In order to pursue ministry full time I retired from a career as a Master’s level University Professor (of Social Work) of 27 years. I retired again from jobs serving the youth of Lee County in the Middle Schools, and instead in 2007 Judy Beaumont and I developed Good Shepherd Ministries where we worked full time for as long as we both could. Now my work with GS Ministries and Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community here in Fort Myers is part time, at least some of the time. Other times it takes all I have to give. I am blessed to have friends, Judy Alves, Rena Kopp and Carol Schauf who share ministry with me, and Ellen McNally who encourages me even in the midst of her own grief at losing her beloved husband Jack. And I am blessed to have seasonal supportive help in Rev. Judith McKloskey, RCWP from Missouri and part time help from my Associate, Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia though she also must work full time. ( Her job is also her ministry. In her CNA job at the local hospital’s covid rehab ward, she was able to anoint and pray with our beloved Jack McNally as he lay dying of Covid).
I am so grateful for their help, but I get tired and that is a major struggle for me. Part of that struggle is being tired in natural ways, but part of it is wrapped in the grief of losing my life and ministry partner, Judy Beaumont. Part of being tired is also facing what it is like not to be young anymore. Part of it is realistic and part of it is giving up. What I have confronted this Lenten season is the part that is just giving up. I am praying to let that go! And then I find instead renewal of my spirit and the strength and will to respond to the needs of my people, of God’s people, all around me. As they call on me I can respond. I can anoint and visit the very sick. I can bury the dead and console the grieving. I can counsel the young and those with very difficult problems. I can be there for God’s people. I think as every Pastor knows deep inside- there is no full retirement. (Indeed, every Christ follower knows this). Nor need there be for God gives the strength to do what is needed. There can be a slowing down as needed. But once called and committed one simply cannot ignore the needs of God’s people. So here is how I just “kept on keepin’on” as pastor and minister of the Good News in the last few months.
In Isaiah 25 the promise of life is broadened for “all peoples”. “On this mountain YHWH omnipotent will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines,…On this mountain God will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, the shroud covering all nations, destroying all death forever. God will wipe away the tears from every cheek….On that Day it will be said, ‘This is our God, this is the One for whose liberation we waited. YHWH is the One in whom we have hoped! We rejoice exultantly in our deliverance, for the hand of YHWH rests on this mountain!” (Isaiah 25: 6-9 excerpted TIB). God is there on the mountain, in the midst of our troubled times and even our giving up, God is destroying all the ways we find to die while living and death itself in its finality through Christ who rose again vanquishing death itself. God is offering us life NOW and FOREVER! Wow! We are so blessed!
Here indeed is the joy of my salvation, for I am joyful in God’s presence-in creation-in nature; in quiet and contemplation so I can write; and mainly when active in the lives of God’s people whom I am privileged to love and serve.
Here I am with Felice and her baby Daniel and sister Maya. I am so thankful for the young that God has given me to love and sometimes guide.
Above I am blessing our friend and Good Shepherd supporter, Stella Odie-Ali before she undergoes a difficult medical procedure. On this same day I anointed our dear GS member Ann Palmer, who was in Hospice care weeks before her 91st Birthday. GS member Judy Alves assisted me with this as did about twelve members of Ann’s family. What a loving family surrounded her. Ann’s singing of “This is Holy Ground” and saying of Jesus’ prayer was loud and clear and beautiful to hear. Ann was a most special member of our GS Church. As a traditional and cradle Catholic and community Matriarch she found the ministry of two women priests to be “just what she was waiting for”. She attended Mass, services and all of our gatherings as she was able since my Ordination in 2008. She loved the children of the church especially and always donated funds for ice cream for them. Everyone looked forward to her gentle and happy presence. Finally her great heart began to wear out and two weeks after her anointing she was peacefully taken home to God. Pastor Judith McKloskey and I did the graveside ceremony, commending her great loving spirit to our loving God forever.
Jesus also takes us aside and asks us to rest with him. This is the little lake behind my house where I renew my spirit every day as I feed and visit the ducks, water birds and turtles. This is my best time with God as I give thanks for Creation. And below I am at Fort Myers Beach also renewing my spirit with Creation.
Last week we met with Mr. Gary and Roger Richardson and Quay Crews and Joe Baker for Eucharist and anointing and for planning our first outside church gathering since Covid 19 invaded one year ago. We consulted with many church members including Jolinda Harmon, Brenda Cummings and Kathy Roddy. Our plan is to meet outside of Gary and Quay’s home at Goodwill Housing in East Fort Myers. This will be on Saturday March 20th,2021. If anyone is in the area and interested in joining us, please get in touch with me and i will give you the details. All will be welcome!
Thank you for sharing a little of my Lenten journey. I would love to hear about yours and keep you in my prayers.
Love and Blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A. B. Lee
Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Fl and
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers