I. Bored one afternoon last week, I pulled up an online assessment that promised to help me discover my areas of high and low self-esteem. The results, I was told, would help me choose appropriate self-esteem activities for building confidence and positive self-worth. But a friend told me that he’d taken the test and felt worse than ever about himself. I try to avoid activities that make me feel like a loser, so I skipped the test.
II. The Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Whenever, in the gospels, the disciples confront new situations and are asked to respond out of their personal resources, they’re usually convinced that they lack what they need. They suffer from what might be termed, “low spiritual self-esteem.” Jesus consistently directs them to look inside and to reassess what they can bring to the situation. Today, Jesus points out that they don’t need more faith, but reminds them of the faith they already have—to see in themselves what he sees in them, what he knows about them. Jesus sees more in us than we see in ourselves. What we have, Jesus reminds, is nothing less than the very presence and power of God in us. English Benedictine Father John Main, a revered teacher of Christian meditation, writes,
This is what Christianity is about: experiencing the power of God in our own hearts and expanding in Spirit so that we expand into the fullness of God himself… Meditation is a journey to your own heart…to make the greatest discovery that it is possible for any human being to make: that the Lord Jesus dwells in your heart in love…that God not only is, he is here, he is always, he is in our hearts, he is love.
That’s the mustard seed, the kernel of all spiritual self-worth.
III. “Beloved,” writes St. Paul today,
I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have… God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love…Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
I. Among my many, many childhood accomplishments, I was an absolute champion at the “Hidden Pictures” page in “Highlights” magazine: finding the squirrel hidden in a hair-do, or a teapot in a tree.
Some would say the poor are likewise hidden: “the invisible poor.” But Lazarus, the poor man in today’s gospel, couldn’t be any more obvious, any less hidden, camping out at the rich man’s gate.
When the poor disturb our complacency by making themselves noticed, say, at freeway exit ramps, we look for something, anything, to look at, so that we don’t have to look at them. The rich man isn’t condemned because he’s rich, but because he refused to even look at Lazarus.
II. We say we know the poor but, of course, we don’t. We think we know Muslims, but we don’t. We think we know black men, but we don’t. And there are all those others whom we prefer to be hidden—immigrants, the unemployed, those with mental illnesses—who, when conveniently out of sight, remain conveniently out of mind. Only if we have relationships with someone beyond our boundaries and experience, only when we seek relationships with them — only then — do we see them and begin to know them.
Jesus teaches us today that the chasms we create, tolerate, and perpetuate between ourselves and the poor, the beleaguered, and the marginalized, will not be suddenly undone in some utopian afterlife. If we take our fear-inspired segregation into the next life, we may be shocked to find ourselves on the wrong side of the divide.
III. Today’s gospel compels us to focus on creating new opportunities to meet and know and love and help the poor, the beleaguered, and the marginalized: reconciling, bridging divides; to allow the communion we enjoy here, our union with God and one another, to fuel our mission to live Jesus Christ in the world. Even in my short 15 months here at Ascension, I have a new life because of so many new relationships with you and our scholars and our neighbors. These new relationships sharpen our vision, fire our love, and confirm our resolve to extend ourselves and our communion to others. All of us must strive to be champions of finding and seeing the poor, the beleaguered, the marginalized, the hidden. Who is the Lazarus camping outside your gate?
I. Those of you around my age—in your very, very late 30’s—will remember the 1966 film, The Trouble with Angels, about the hijinks at a Catholic girls’ boarding school, starring Hayley Mills, with Rosalind Russell as Mother Superior. Whenever Hayley (as Mary Clancy) comes up with her latest scheme to terrorize the nuns or her schoolmates, she says, “What a scathingly brilliant idea!”
In praising the scathingly brilliant idea of the devious employee, Jesus, as he intended to do in his parables, shocked his listeners, shaking up their moral and cultural sensibilities. If Jesus used the same technique today to shock and shake us, he might praise the efforts of those increasingly enterprising terrorists who find new imaginative ways of blowing up or gunning people down. Children of darkness, but shrewd, determined, zealous, with scathingly brilliant ideas.
II. Dr. Martin Luther King has warned that more dangerous than the actions of the bad people is “the appalling silence and indifference of the good people;” that we will have to repent for both “the words and actions of the children of darkness,” as well as “the fears and apathy of the children of light.”
Now whenever someone challenges my fear and apathy, I get really afraid and even more apathetic—paralyzed, perhaps. Jesus challenges our apathy today, our lazy pursuit of the ways of God’s Kingdom, while all the while being shrewd, determined, even zealous about our way, building our kingdom. We’re surrounded by voices that urge us to upward mobility, but that voice is absent in the gospels. There we encounter Christ, whose voice urges us downward into humility, service, and detachment. Henri Nouwen calls this “downward mobility.” This “descending way of Jesus,” Nouwen writes,
…is the way toward the poor… What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God.
III. If it were readily apparent to us that joy and peace were to be found among the poor, we would run toward them. Who, after all, doesn’t want joy and peace? Moving downward is not how we’re wired. Yet, time and again, our wisest Christian leaders, beginning with Christ himself, have urged us toward the poor, to gain the wisdom of their resistance to what’s inauthentic or secondary. For Pope Francis, poverty is a source of spiritual and moral truth as compelling as any dogmatic declaration or ecumenical council. He says, “The path of Jesus began on the peripheries. It goes from the poor and with the poor, toward others.” If we want to know the joy and peace that Francis knows, that Jesus knows, we would do what they do.
What a scathingly, brilliant idea.
Mass for Peace in our Communities
I. The first presidential debate is September 26. I can’t watch it. I can’t stomach all that anger and meanness and yelling. There’s enough of that in our daily lives.
Jesus was a man of peace: he was peace. The way of Jesus is “to live gently in a violent world.” At every turn, Jesus upends patterns of dominance, violence, and bullying, and insists on the holiness of the humble, holding them up as the standard for human behavior: not a popular position in the rough-and-tumble world of politics—or religion, for that matter.
II. Pope Paul VI wrote, “If you want peace, work for justice,” while Isaiah says today, “The work of justice will be peace.” Working for justice for all people—overcoming racism, for example—demands more than being nice to people of color. Racism is more than prejudice: it’s prejudice plus power. Racism is imbedded in the systems we live in, creating unjust situations, especially for people of color. If we’re serious when we say we’re not racist, then we must work for justice, actively engaged in undoing the systems that perpetuate injustice and inequality.
III. What will bring peace to our city and neighborhood? Obviously, there is no quick-and-easy solution for the problem of violence in our community and world. Nevertheless, we can’t remain idle: we must respond. That includes embracing our life as a multicultural community. What an opportunity. What a blessing. What a challenge. Why do we bother with all the multicultural and bilingual complications? It’s about more than the tamales. Diversity is a path to a larger goal. The distinctive character of each and every culture enriches and expands us. As uncomfortable as it may be, we need to know firsthand the fears and injustices that our immigrant parishioners face, and the racism that our black and brown brothers and sisters encounter every day of their lives. We enter another’s world through our relationship with them; our relationship fuels the passion to work with them to make changes. We can be a center for intercultural dialogue in our corner of North Minneapolis, and a place where we gather for food and conversation with fellow parishioners and neighbors. Further, forming alliances with other diverse religious communities and organizations on the Northside will make our work for justice even stronger. Are we ready to give of our time, change our schedules and ways of doing things for the work of justice and peace?
Why are we a multicultural community? Why do we bother? Because we want to be nothing less than the beloved community, the Kingdom of God, the gentle, peaceful people that Jesus desires. That’s why we bother.
I. I love to read. Whenever I want to deepen my prayer life, I read about prayer. Whenever I think about exercising more, I read about exercise. And I read a lot about being a Christian. I get a lot of new ideas that way. But we can’t just think our way into being a Christian, as convenient as that might seem. More than a way of thinking or believing, Christianity is a way of living, a way of doing things. In today’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear that being a disciple doesn’t mean being a student or follower, but a missionary. Too often, perhaps, we in the Church have stressed what we need to believe rather than talking about what we need to do. We’re not merely disciples, but always missionary disciples. As Pope Francis said just yesterday,
The mercy of God is not some beautiful idea but rather a concrete action. There is no mercy without concreteness… It means involving yourself there where there is evil, where there is sickness, where there is hunger, where there is human exploitation.
II. “Whoever does not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Being a Christian has a price; it costs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famed Lutheran theologian and author of The Cost of Discipleship, writes, “Once Jesus bids you come and follow him, he bids you come and die.” Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis—not for what he thought, but for what he did.
The cost of discipleship is putting Jesus Christ before all relationships and possessions. Nothing can conflict with commitment to Christ and his cross. Sacrifice is not just giving up things we want. Sacrifice is a self-emptying that opens us to encounter with Christ and others. Sacrifice is a self-giving that adds to Jesus’ presence and action in the world.
III. I read and think and talk a lot about dismantling racism, assisting immigrants, and accompanying the poor and struggling, but how do I move from thinking and speaking to acting? We employ many so-called administrative “best practices” here at Ascension to keep our parish alive and thriving. What about best practices in the matters of dismantling racism, assisting immigrants, and accompanying the poor and struggling? What might best practices be for a bilingual, multicultural parish in a challenged urban neighborhood? How do we transform our best ideas into our best practices? That’s what we have to figure out.
h/t: David Lose
I. Social convention dictates who sits where, and with whom at dinner parties. The table is a miniature model for rules of association. Of course, we like to sit with people we know — our own kind. Jesus’ table arrangements were a social nightmare: classes, sexes, ranks and ethnicities, all mixed up: Hillary Clinton next to Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump eating with the help, Beyoncé sitting with me. There wasn’t a separate “kids’ table.” These banquet seatings indicated how Jesus lived his daily life apart from the party: He didn’t make distinctions and discriminations. That’s why there’s always tension when Jesus is at the table.
II. Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t the heat; it’s the humility.” The word “humility” comes from the Latin words humus and humilis, which mean, respectively, “earth” and “on the ground.” Those who possess the virtue of humility are grounded: they know who they are and where they stand. Humility is the recognition that one is not a self-contained, self-sufficient being, that we are dependent on God and interdependent on one another.
Today’s scriptures call our attention to this fundamental human characteristic, difficult to admit, that we are, by nature, limited. We need more than we can give. That may explain why it’s often difficult to receive gifts, why we have such a need to return the favor. But in those areas of life that are most important, we have to be humble receivers.
III. In our class-conscious society, where those of us who happen to be white fail to recognize or resist our inescapable white privilege, let us humbly acknowledge it. Let us recognize and receive the gifts that only those whose life experience is radically different from ours can give us. Let us allow ourselves to be evangelized by them. Only then, our consciousness transformed, will we have the passion for the persistent work of changing systems where some always have to take the lower place, where black and brown lives matter less than white lives. Let’s create new social conventions of who sits where and with whom.
The ending of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation,” describes the vision revealed to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hard-working, church-going woman:
She saw…a vast…horde of souls…rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black [trash] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself…had always had a little of everything…They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
“Behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
I. For most of his life, Blessed Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador was a respectable, hard-working, church-going man. Everything changed on March 12, 1977 when his friend, Father Rutilio Grande was assassinated by rich landowners for his advocacy of justice for the poor. An old man who served as his sacristan, and a young altar boy were murdered with the priest. In death, as in life, Father Rutilio’s blood was mixed with the blood of the poor. Romero was compelled to do the same. He said, “I thought that I knew the Gospel but now I am learning to understand it with new eyes.” “I have experienced God because I have experienced my people…I came to know God because I came to know my people.” “The people is my prophet.” The Archbishop took up Rutilio’s mission, following the way of Jesus, following the way of the poor. The radical conversion that he experienced is considered by some to be a miracle.
II. “Away from me you evildoers!” Jesus’ unsettling message is for us: respectable, hard-working, church-going people. Many of us were taught to save our own soul, and not worry about the rest. The suffering were taught to hang on, be patient, heaven is coming. No, says Romero, that’s not right, that’s not the salvation Christ brought. “The salvation Christ brings,” he says, “is a salvation from every bondage that oppresses human beings.” Pope Francis agrees: “Charity that leaves the poor person as he or she is, is not sufficient. True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice; it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer.”
III. Transformation begins in the hearts of individuals, and those individuals can change institutions. Conversion is possible and necessary. Change is possible on a personal level, in the Church, in society, in the world. We must end the “appalling silence of good people” that Dr. Martin Luther King warned about. We must pray, listen, learn, think, speak, and act. “For behold,” Jesus warns, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
h/t: Edward Braxton, Martin Maier, Karl Rahner
--Fr. Dale Korogi
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
I. Well, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think?
Needless to say, Jesus was not violent: he never resorted to violence, nor condoned it. Yet, he says, he came to light a fire on the earth.
What emerged after Jesus’s death and resurrection cannot be reduced to an idea or philosophy, but a passionate way of living—a life enflamed, propelled by a divine Spirit. This Spirit moves us outward, to mission, to encounter with others. That’s why the communal celebration of Sunday Eucharist in our Catholic tradition is wisely obligatory: not merely to provide a weekly dose of needed grace but to get us out of the house and get us here, to be with others. It’s intended to undo the delusion that we can make it on our own, as well as undo the delusion that they can make it on their own. Both perpetuate isolation and inaction. There are inevitable tensions and conflicts that come with a life of encounter with others. You heard it in the Gospel. Harsh, but true.
II. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…in order that [we] may not grow weary and lose heart.
Our great cloud of witnesses are those faithful companions, living and dead, who have rescued us from our own brand of Jeremiah’s muddy cistern. And there’s you, all of us who surround one another here, witnesses who come week after week so that we don’t lose heart.
That is why we are committed to moving forward in building relationships between one another here at Ascension and in our neighborhood. It’s not easy doing that across daunting language, cultural, and ethnic differences. When we move into another world, and we ourselves experience the dislocation that our brothers and sisters regularly feel, that is our point of communion with them, a place of revelation. That is how the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us grows.
III. We find communion, not in conformity, but in diversity, a whole new brand of love. Perhaps that’s the terrifying fire Jesus came to light.
By Father Dale Korogi
I. In order to discern the direction of his future ministry, a priest went to work at Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Calcutta. When Mother greeted him, she asked, “What can I do for you?” He asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He responded, “Pray that I have clarity.” She said no. She told him to let go of any longing for clarity. When he commented that she herself seemed to have the clarity he sought, she laughed. “I’ve never had clarity,” she said. “What I’ve always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust.”
II. In about two-and-a-half minutes, we will stand and say, “Credo”—“I believe.” The roots of the word “credo,” in Latin and Greek, don’t mean simply that I agree with my intellect, but that, literally, I trust: I entrust myself—not to statements about God, but to God. Christian faith, ultimately, is not about getting beliefs exactly right: that’s tripped us up time and again, especially when some beliefs are problematic, even iffy. “We believe in God,” “We believe in Jesus Christ,” mean that we surrender to the Creator of heaven and earth, that we give our hearts to Jesus, the Lord of our lives. That kind of believing frees us from fear and anxiety, and allows us to be spent in service of God and the world.
III. We heard in the Letter to the Hebrews today that,
The faith of an immigrant. Not a lot of clarity, there. But loads of trust.
h/t: Marcus Borg
Amid these heartsickening days, I was reminded of a book of photography on my shelf. It’s titled, Touching Strangers. Photographer Richard Renaldi asked complete strangers to pose together for a portrait in ways normally reserved for family and friends. The photos include:
• An Orthodox Jew hand-in-hand with a young African-American in dreadlocks and jeans;
• A lithe gay kid standing with his hand on the shoulder of a very serious cowboy;
• An average-looking white guy with his arm around a woman in elaborate African dress, and holding on his lap the smallest of her three dark-skinned sons.
Some of the pairs embrace readily; others are clearly stressed, pushed past their comfort levels. Renaldi’s goal is to get people to think past the ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic divisions that often go unexamined. The concept sounds elementary, but the resulting portraits are complex, strange, beautiful.
II. Birds of a feather have always flocked together: that’s the way it is. As a result, we shrink from responsibility for someone of another tribe. However, in today’s parable, Jesus pulls us past our comfort levels, and asks us to touch strangers: to stand in the gap with those who are wounded or, if necessary, to get into the ditch with them; to risk reputation, wellbeing, or status, for the sake of healing. Being a neighbor means recognizing and reverencing another’s human dignity. “Go and do it,” Jesus says.
III. In an opinion piece in Friday’s New York Times, Michael Eric Dyson writes,
Black people protest—to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen—that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope—emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets. It is best not understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage…[To have] interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.
Isn’t it also the case that you have to have interracial communities to have interracial healing?
As people of faith who stubbornly believe in the inevitable victory of God’s righteousness, it’s time to get off the couch and Facebook, stop saying that we’re not racist, beg God for wisdom and courage, and work for justice and change. Violence and vengeance are easy, and talk is cheap. We must do the harder work of bridging the distance between knowing what should be done and doing it, and the costlier work of getting into the ditch, and daring to touch strangers.
– Father Dale Korogi
Hat tips: Charles Blow, Tom Fiebiger