Sunday, February 19, 2017

Holy Fools

February 19, 2017 - 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066
Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, San Diego, CA
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 15:1-4, 7, 11-12, 14-20
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 6:24-34, 7:7-11

This evening I’d like to take a moment to remember a historical event you might not know about. Today marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which led to over 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry being evicted from their homes and held in internment camps across the country. It was an executive order based in fear. Japanese Americans – many of them citizens – were forced to prove their loyalty and allegiance to this country while being treated like the enemy.  This afternoon, I was at the theater to see a screening of George Takei’s musical “Allegiance” which highlights the realties of this era. In speaking about what inspired the musical, Takei takes us back to his childhood. He remembers being five years old and watching as soldiers with bayonets came into his home and forced him and his family to leave. This was the reality. American citizens taken from their homes on the West Coast and transported to internment camps. It is part of our history and we cannot let it be our future.

It took until 1952 for individuals born in Japan to be allowed to be citizens. And it wasn’t until 1982 that a commission determined that the decision to incarcerate was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership". It is easy to condemn atrocities after they happen though. It’s harder to condemn them as they happen. Because it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens one step at a time, and it isn’t until much later that we see the truth of what has transpired.  It’s hard to go against the status quo, to resist the “wisdom of this age that is foolish to God” that we hear about in the letter to the Corinthians. But after all, we are being encouraged to “become God’s fools.” Which leads to the inevitable question – what does it mean to be a fool for God? What is a Holy Fool?

Fortunately, history gives us examples of these holy fools – people like Saint Francis of Assisi who rejected the social order, who disrupted the status quo, who sought something beyond this world. Who longed for God’s justice and compassion here on Earth. We have accounts of David dancing with wild abandon before the Ark, of Orthodox saints urging a different road for the church. It might seem that to be a fool is something not for everyone. After all, we like stability. It’s a reassuring luxury to have a roof over our heads and food on our table. To be able to worship together openly, not hidden away in some upstairs room.

I think there’s a way in which we can take this instruction to be a fool for God in another way. I think it connects to the holy resistance that we heard in last week’s gospel, to the radical love we are called to embody. Last week, a group of grassroots organizers gathered in California. Both Pope Francis and Bishop McElroy wrote remarks for the gathering.

Pope Francis condemned leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a ‘non-neighbor.’” He wrote, “Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not. You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart.” His letter continues “By confronting terror with love, we work for peace.”

In a similar vein, Bishop McElroy told the gathering, “Now we must all become disrupters. We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our communities to deport the undocumented, to destroy our families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men & women as a source of threat rather than children of God. We must disrupt those who would take away healthcare, who would take food from our children. But we can’t just be disrupters, we have to be rebuilders. We have to rebuild a nation in which all of us are children of one God.”

Holy Fools. Holy Disrupters. Holy Resistance. This is what I believe we are called to do. To not be swept up in the rhetoric of this age which disguises itself as wisdom, but is based on fear and insecurity. The wisdom we should seek is that of God – the wisdom that is based in love of our neighbor and love of our enemies. We are given a choice – will we choose fear or will we choose love? Are we willing to be holy fools? Holy disrupters?

It may seem a lot to ask, but it can start small. Every day we are faced with a myriad of choices. And with each choice, we make a decision. Fear or love. Thomas Merton, the trappist monk and poet, once wrote “No one can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” Let us not desire the wisdom of this world, then, but the wisdom of God. Let us desire the courage to be holy fools – because it takes strength and fortitude to go against the grain of society. Let us trust in a God who loves us, a God reflected in the diverse beauty of creation, a God who provide for the birds, for the wild flowers, for all the creatures of the earth.

Let us have the confidence to ask and to seek. Let us go forth without fear to be the holy fools we are asked to be, trusting that God will always walk beside us in love. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted

February 12, 2017: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MMACC – San Diego, CA

Leviticus: 19:1-2, 11-18, 33-34
Psalm 119: 15-16, 7-20, 33-34, 36-37, 38, 40
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:18, 38-48

The aspect of today’s gospel that is perhaps most well known to us is the exhortation to turn the other cheek.  “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Now, it may seem strange that the right cheek is specified, but there’s a reason for this. Jesus’ words here aren’t just a blanket statement that if someone punches you on one side, to give them the other side. This isn’t support for being a doormat, rather, it’s a new way of responding to injustice. To understand this, it’s helpful to get some background on the context.

If we remember, Jesus is preaching these words to a people under occupation. Roman soldiers considered the Jewish people their inferiors. The situation here isn’t about a fair fist fight, but of a Roman soldier (or any person with “superior” status) backhanding a Jewish person. Since most Roman soldiers were right handed, if you were to punch someone, you’d hit their left cheek, but if you backhand them, you hit their right cheek.[1] And this topic is one that a few biblical scholars, including Paul Penley and Walter Wink have done some work on. Jesus’ instructions to his followers both recognize the class structures that are at work in the surrounding society but also call for a peaceful subversion. Instead of retaliating in anger or meekly accepting the injustice, Jesus is advocating a response that demands respect from the Romans. A response that affirms the humanity of the Jewish people and their rights. By breaking the cycle of violence, by “taking the high road,” Jesus hopes to trigger the conscience of the perpetrator.  Of course, this peaceful subversion isn’t instant. We’ve seen in our own country’s history with the work of civil rights activists just how long it takes to accomplish change. We’ve seen it in the work of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It takes time. It takes persistence.

One of the soundbytes from the news this past week that has stuck with me is the words Mitch McConnell used in speaking about silencing Elizabeth Warren when she tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the floor of the Senate. "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” he said. These words of his have become a sort of rallying cry. She persisted. Elizabeth Warren isn’t the only one who persisted. Rosa Parks: she persisted. Ruby Bridges, one of the first black children in an integrated school; she persisted. Edie Windsor, whose lawsuit against the federal government paved the way for marriage equality; she persisted. Harriet Tubman, a former slave and spy who led hundreds of slaves to freedom; she persisted. Ida B. Wells, iconic writer, activist, and suffragette; she persisted. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black woman of a major party to run for president of United States; she persisted. Ilhan Omar, a former Somali-American refugee elected to congress in 2016; she persisted. Sylvia Rivera, the first 'trans activist' to call for a Gay Liberation movement inclusive of trans identities; she persisted.

Persistence doesn’t always make you popular. Indeed, people might tell you to sit down, shut up, or go away. They might call you annoying. Or worse. But there is something holy about persistence. Something holy about disrupting the system of injustice that exists around us. God does not call us to be complacent. God affirms our holiness – not because of our actions or our worthiness. Leviticus reminds us “You shall be holy, for I your God am holy.” How then do we carry out the exhortations form Leviticus – to be just, to welcome the stranger, to not seek vengeance…? We are, after all, only human.

We persist. We remember our shared humanity. That all of us are children of God – the construction workers waiting in the home depot parking lot, the clerk at the shopping store, the person who cut us off on the freeway, the undocumented worker, the family of refugees who has nothing left to go back to, the Muslim girl worried whether wearing a head scarf to school will cause her to be bullied, the trans child afraid to come out for fear of getting kicked out, the politician whose actions horrify us. Jesus asks us to persist. To persist in loving even those we might view as unlovable. To persist in working for justice in an unjust world. To persist in going the extra mile.

[1] Paul Penley, “Turning the Other Cheek: Jesus’ Peaceful Plan to Challenge Injustice,”

Monday, February 6, 2017

salt and light

Sermon from February 5, 2017
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are some days when you struggle to sense a theme among the readings, where each of them seems to go off in a different direction and there are some days where the three readings seem to be more cohesive. Today seems to be the latter. There is an urging in the readings. Maybe it’s the current socio-policital climate, but as I listen  these readings, I’m struck by the call to action, the admonition against complacency, the call to “rise up”, to be the light and the salt that the world so desperately needs.

The timing of the excerpt from Isaiah is interesting. We’re about halfway between New Year’s and Ash Wednesday. People who made New Year’s Resolutions might be struggling to keep them. Others might be looking towards Lent – thinking about what they might be giving up this year. And here comes this prophet and redefines fasting. No longer is it simply about giving up food or drink, but fasting is transformed into challenging injustice. “Releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, sharing bread with the hungry, clothing the naked.” Isaiah’s call to action brings to mind the “corporal works of mercy” I was taught as a child – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit those in prison, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor. But Isaiah goes beyond this. “Release those bound unjustly, set free the oppressed.” These are themes that we often find in liberation theology – of putting “the least of these” at the forefront. The poor, the hungry, the oppressed. What would it look like if this year – or this Lent for starters – we followed Isaiah’s call to fasting?  If instead of giving up chocolate or meat, we decided to look at how we could work to right injustice in our communities. Where could we get involved? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that a great deal of that work already goes on here. And in this world we live in needs it more than ever.  I also know how easy it is to get overwhelmed, to look around at everything in this world and wonder how we matter in it – how we can make a difference. Remember, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Here I come back to the words from the words from the first reading – “If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, your light shall shine…”

I’ll admit – right now I’m having to resist the temptation to launch into “This little light of mine” but the message is the same. How do we let this light of ours shine? Being a Christian isn’t about hiding away in some upstairs room. And as much as I love liturgy, it’s not just about coming together on Sundays for mass. It’s about living out the gospel in our daily lives, of allowing our actions and words to reflect the love and justice of God.

Here’s Jesus in the gospel, telling those who have come to hear him, “ You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Imagine how empowering that is – not only do you have worth, but you are essential. Salt and light are two things we take for granted – they’re common place in our society, but without them our lives would be difficult. We rely so much on light – the light of the sun, electricity that lets us have light on a cloudy day or after the sun goes down. Today we’re reminded not to hide our light under a bushel. The purpose of our light – is to shine for others. After all, we don’t light a lamp and stick it in the closet. It goes on a table or in a spot where it can shed the most light.

I’ve talked a bit about light, but let’s come back to salt. And not just because it’s Superbowl Sunday and some of us might be craving salty snacks. Salt has many uses. In Polish culture, it’s traditional to great a newlywed couple with bread & salt. Salt comes from the earth and is useful for life. A bit of salt is given to the newlyweds so that they can overcome the bitterness in life. When this is done at housewarmings, it’s so that life may always have flavor. Not enough salt, and food can be bland, or it can spoil. Too much salt, and well, no one wants to eat it. And if you’ve ever oversalted a dish, you know just how difficult it can be to overcome. But food without salt, without seasoning seems to be missing something. Salt can enhance food and flavor.

I think that’s at the heart of both these metaphors – salt and light. Neither are meant to be used alone. We don’t stick a lightbulb under a bucket and a chunk of rock salt won’t do us that much good if our food is bland. It’s about sharing our light – about taking our light and salt to those who are unaware of it. And We can rely on each other and our light will shine all the brighter. And if we feel ill prepared or not ready, then remember the second reading where Paul admits coming to the people of Corinth with fear and trembling, without any particular eloquence of wisdom. We don’t have to be perfect. I’ve often been reminded by my spiritual director “If we are willing, God will make us ready.” So I ask you – are we willing to be the salt and light this world so desperately needs? To challenge injustice at every turn, to set free the oppressed, to share our food with the hungry? If we our, then our light will shine brightly.

I’d like to close with the words of spiritual writer Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. .. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”