Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 19, 2017
The Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity
(I Thessalonians 5:16-27, [John 12:44-50])
Religious books are big business. In the United States, sales revenue has recently been around $500 million per year.

About 50 million religious books are sold each year, both fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary. But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which ones have value? Which ones are bad, which ones are good and which ones are great? What would you say is the best Christian book of all time?

Now, although the Bible is still the all-time biggest seller in books overall, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship tried to figure this out a few years ago. Their Emerging Scholars Network had a "Best Christian Book of All Time Tournament," and the final four turned out to be:

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Confessions by Saint Augustine.

Let’s look at Lewis' book.

Mere Christianity was published for the first time 65 years ago, in 1952. Oddly enough, it wasn't even written as a book. During the darkest days of World War II, Lewis prepared four sets of radio talks on basic Christianity, and these evolved into the book Mere Christianity. Since 1952, the book's popularity has grown, and between 2001 and 2016, it sold 3.5 million copies in English alone. On top of this, it has been translated into at least 36 languages.

So why is Mere Christianity one of the best Christian books of all time? According to church historian George Marsden, Lewis "was determined to present only the timeless truths of Christianity rather than the latest theological or cultural fashions." The book is his attempt to explain and defend "the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times."

Timeless truths. Basic beliefs. Common convictions. Mere Christianity.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul is trying to do the same.

He is determined to present timeless truths, and to explain and defend the common ground of the Christian faith. Paul is not interested in creating a distinctively Thessalonian Christian; instead, he wants to help people to be merely Christian. He knows that such Christians will be "sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

So what are the timeless truths that Paul presents? He begins with three imperatives: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." Such orders strike us as odd and out-of-touch with the painful realities of our lives -- illnesses, breakups, failures and job losses. We would understand if Paul said "rejoice often" ... "pray regularly" ... and "give thanks whenever good things happen." But instead he says that we are to rejoice, pray and give thanks constantly, without regard to the difficulties of our lives. Seems like a perfect reading for the week of Thanksgiving!

Paul takes this tack because he is focused much more on God and on Jesus than he is on himself. His eyes are on the culture of heaven, not on the ways of the world. Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks are important because they are "the will of God in Christ Jesus for you," Paul says. Since there is nothing or no one more important than "God in Christ Jesus," and nothing more true than the facts that "God in Christ Jesus" has created us and redeemed us, then following the guidance "God in Christ Jesus" is at the very center of the Christian life.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis offers a similar perspective. He stands aside and points toward God rather than toward himself. He doesn't say "look at me," notes Marsden, but instead he says "look at that." Lewis guides us from unbelief to faith, pointing to "the time-tested beauty of God's love in Jesus Christ."

By opening ourselves to God's love in Jesus, we are able to love one another. By trusting God to be at work in every situation, we are able to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing [and] give thanks in all circumstances." All of this comes from God, who instills in us the ability to love and rejoice and pray and give thanks. "When you teach a child writing," says Lewis, "you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them." The same is true for God -- we love because God loves, and God "holds our hand while we do it."

Being focused more on God and Jesus than on ourselves, and trusting God to work through us -- that's the first step in being "merely" Christian. It requires leaning more on divine power than on human power, more on the Lord than on ourselves. "Give up yourself," writes Lewis, "and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day ... and you will find eternal life." As Jesus himself said, "Those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).

The next timeless truth Paul gives concerns Christian behavior: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil." A person who is "merely" Christian is open to the power of the Spirit of God, blowing where it will and doing the work of transformation. Lewis is clear that "becoming Christian isn't an improvement but a transformation, like a [regular] horse becoming a Pegasus."

Sometime back, in the magazine Leadership Journal, Gordon MacDonald wrote an article on "How to spot a transformed Christian." These folks don't look different from the general population, but they do have characteristics that are signs of inner changes. One of the most important is a passion for reconciliation.

"They bring people together," writes MacDonald. "They hate war, violence, contentiousness, division caused by race, economics, gender and ideology. They believe that being peaceable and making peace trumps all other efforts in one's lifetime."

Transformed Christians "do not despise the words of prophets" - prophets such as Zechariah, who says, "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace" (8:16). Transformed Christians follow the apostle Paul in holding fast to what is good and abstaining from evil.

On campuses across the United States, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is stressing racial reconciliation in large-group meetings for praise and worship, small-group Bible studies and summer camps for leader training. Their focus is not on political correctness, but on the words of the Bible. Leaders point to Jesus' prayer in John 17 that his followers would all be one, and to the description in Ephesians 2 of Christ breaking down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile.

People who are "merely" Christian tend to behave in a particular way. Instead of quenching the Spirit, they let it fill them and transform them. Rather than tumbling into evil, they hold fast to what is good. Listening to the words of the prophets, they work for peace and reconciliation. All of this prepares them well for "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The Advent season is right around the corner and there is no better time to focus on the coming of Jesus. His arrival at Christmas gives us a chance to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing [and] give thanks in all circumstances." His life of love and service shows us how to "hold fast to what is good [and] abstain from every form of evil." Best of all, we don't have to do this by our own power, because the God "who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do this."

With the help of God, we can be "merely" Christian. And that's the best type of Christian to be.
Let us pray.
That the Church will stand before the world without stain or blemish, always staying holy and obedient to God’s word. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That Christians in all areas of the world, bearing witness to the Gospel in word and deed, may promote dialogue, peace, and mutual understanding, especially with those of other religions. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to terrorism and for the blessings of peace throughout the world. We pray to the Lord.
Four Christian husbands and wives; that the Lord will give them the graces they need to live in faith the Sacrament of Matrimony. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the aged, the lonely, the grieving, those who are out of work, those who are facing financial difficulties, and those who have no one to pray for them; that God will raise them up and answer their needs. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to remain sober and alert, attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We pray to the Lord.
That in all ways and all situations we may all find reasons to rejoice and give thanks. We pray to the Lord.
That we as Catholics may devoutly adhere to precept and practice in our faith journey without allowing in any form of discouragement to cloud our path. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, our souls rejoice and abide in confidence because You will never abandon us. Keep us always strong in faith. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Here is this week's sermon, everyone. I hope you gain some inspiration from it. Please remember me and and St. Francis in your prayers and St. Francis with your donations so we can become a more vibrant community with the openness that we preach! Donation link is below and I will share the post separately as well.

November 12, 2017
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
Reading about the secret files on the JFK shooting and the jockeying back and forth with North Korea over nuclear arms has reminded me of emergency preparedness.

Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke about the possibility of nuclear war, calling for the stocking of "fallout shelters in case of attack." These bunkers -- equipped with food, water, first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival -- were designed to protect families from an apocalyptic war.

But the year 1961 was not the first time that people spoke of the world coming to an end. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "Apocalypse" because it speaks of the uncovering of God's plan for the climax of human history. Apocalypse is a Greek word which sounds awfully scary, but it simply means "uncovering" or "revelation."

The apostle Paul did his own bit of uncovering in his first letter to the Thessalonians, probably the earliest of his numerous letters to the Christians of the Mediterranean region. Paul had to flee the Greek city of Thessalonica because of persecution, and he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians to prepare them for the return of Jesus Christ.

You "know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," he says to them. The "day of the Lord" was the moment that Christ would return to act as judge over the world, bringing God's work to completion. "When they say, 'There is peace and security,'" warns Paul, "then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!"

Sudden destruction! Labor pains! No escape! These are apocalyptic images nearly as frightening as nuclear war.

Fortunately, Paul gives his followers guidance on how to prepare for the end. His first letter to the Thessalonians is a kind of guidebook on emergency preparedness, and it is one that we need to read today. It is more pertinent than ever, because many Americans are already doing their own kind of prepping.

Yes, that's right. Many people today are prepping for the apocalypse. And some of them aren't focusing on the minimum essentials for survival. They're not the kind of rugged survivalists who define "running water" as a nearby stream.

Searching for a possible replacement home for me in the event we sell our land next door, I have discovered that luxury bunkers are trending. High-end shelters are very hot right now. Sales of units costing more than $500,000 have increased 700 percent in one year! One model includes "a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot." Clients include Hollywood actors, sports stars, bankers and businesspeople. Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers under his houses in Washington State and California.

Also popular today are entire survival communities. A 700-acre development in Texas will include "a hotel, an athletic center, a golf course and polo fields." The community is slated to have 600 condominiums, each with a waterfront view. But here is the emergency preparedness part: "90 percent of each unit will be underground, armed security personnel will guard a wall surrounding the community, and there will be helipads for coming and going."

Wealthy condo buyers are now prepping for the apocalypse.

This luxury-bunker trend includes "not just a couple of fringe groups," says Jeff Schlegelmilch, an expert in disaster preparedness at Columbia University. No, "there is real money behind it -- hundreds of millions of dollars." Lots of people are motivated by anxieties about nuclear war or civil unrest. Others fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism from the far-left and far-right. Survivalists now include liberals, right along with conservatives. We are a military city, so it should concern us as well. Sadly, San Diego could be a target.

All of which leads to the question: How should we be prepping during these perilous days? In the face of the "day of the Lord," the apostle Paul does not recommend building a bunker with a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot. Instead, he wants us to be "preppers" who "put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." In difficult times, Paul certainly wants us to be safe, but he doesn't suggest that we seek the protection of a walled compound patrolled by armed security personnel.

Instead, he recommends a suit made of faith, hope and love.

These qualities are gifts of God that will endure until the very end of time, until we see God face to face. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that "faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

When God gives us a suit of armor, he wants it to be made of the most durable materials available. That is why he chooses faith, hope and love. A Presbyterian pastor named Jeff Krehbiel was wearing this equipment as he served churches in New York City, Wilmington and Washington, D.C. For 30 years, he did urban ministry and community organizing, always showing deep faith in God and in the people around him. With a passion for biblical story-telling, Jeff led worship services that were full of creative and interactive experiences.

Instead of retreating into a bunker, Jeff lived with hope. He worked hard to change the world around him, moving it slowly and surely toward the kingdom of God. And through it all, he always had a lot of love -- love for his church members, his colleagues and the residents of the city around him. Jeff wore the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet he had the hope of salvation. This equipment helped him through many perilous situations.

But then one day, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In a message to his friends, he wrote that his cancer made him sad but not depressed, and he thanked everyone for their support. He said, "I am floating on the buoyancy of God's love." Within two months he was dead, but he reached the end of his life completely wrapped in faith, hope and love.

Paul knows that we are all going to die, and that no preparations can save us. For this reason, he challenges us to step out into the world with confidence, determined to live by our Christian values. Paul says that we are "children of light and children of the day," people who leave the darkness of underground bunkers and go into the brightness of the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

In his book Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." When we live by our values, we shine light into dark places and put love in the place of hate.

In apocalyptic times, we are not supposed to hide in a bunker. That's a defensive posture, one that is usually adopted by people motivated by old anxieties such as nuclear war and civil unrest. Instead, we are to take the offense, bravely going out into the world to show active faith, hope and love.

Every Christmas, a local police department puts its faith into action. According to The Virginian-Pilot (December 23, 2014), a single mother was driving with her children when she saw blue lights flashing in her rear-view mirror. She pulled over, fearing that she would get a ticket. The police officer walked up and asked, "How many kids are in the car?" She answered, "Three."

Returning to his patrol car, the officer gathered an armful of gifts, which he proceeded to put in her trunk. "This can't be happening to me," she thought to herself. "Merry Christmas," said the officer.

"Why did you stop me?" she asked, after thanking him.

"Each year the police department tries to find ways to give back to our community," said the officer. "We just step out in faith and give where we think there may be a need." Instead of taking a defensive posture, these police are going on the offense -- showing their faith and hope and love.

Our challenge is always to build up instead of building down. Yes, it is tempting to dig a hole in the ground and construct a luxury bunker -- especially when we fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism. But Paul challenges us to "encourage one another and build up each other." He could have dug himself a hole when he was facing persecution in Thessalonica, but he didn't. He chose to build up his friends instead of building down into the ground.

In numerous letters to his fellow Christians, Paul says that building up means "speaking the truth in love," instead of avoiding difficult topics (Ephesians 4:15). Encouraging one another means that we "please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor" (Romans 15:2). Instead of focusing on our own talents and abilities, we should see that God is working through members of the entire Christian community. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit," says Paul, "and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:4-5).

Faith, hope and love are tough prescriptions for modern day folk. During my crisis this year and as it continues, some have questioned my actions. It is because many today do not put their faith, hope and love out there today. How many of us really, truly have faith that God will answer our needs and be the one who carries us? We know the poem footprints in the sand. As difficult as it is right now for me, I am looking over my shoulder and looking for those sets of footprints. Sometimes, I only see one set – that is when the Lord is carrying me. I have to believe this – it is my motto on my coat of arms – it is my protection outside of a bunker.
Jesus does not want us to prep for the apocalypse by hiding in a bunker. Instead, he wants us to put our various gifts to use in ways that are far more constructive and lasting. So let's step out into the light and encourage one another to serve our world with faith, hope and love. I – We – do not know what tomorrow will bring, but we can be certain Jesus will be there with us.

There is no better way to prepare for the "day of the Lord" -- today and every day.
Let us pray.
That, through the Church’s faithful announcement of the Gospel, God’s Word may give full meaning to pain and suffering. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the wisdom of God will guide and direct all those who govern. We pray to the Lord.
For police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, servicemen and women, and all those who risk their lives for us; that God will bless them and keep them safe. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life. We pray to the Lord.
For widows and orphans; that the Lord will protect them and grant them friendship and relief. We pray to the Lord.
That the people of God may put forth the right energy into helping all those of our fellow humanity who are in desperate need for faith, hope, and love. We pray to the Lord.
For our family members and friends who suffer from illness; that the healing Archangel Raphael will visit them in this their time of need and grant them healing and peace. We pray to the Lord.
That those who have committed or plan to commit violent crimes or acts of terrorism; that they to find faith, hope, and love; and a greater understanding of their obligation to our Lord and thus to our fellow mankind. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live our lives in faithful devotion to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry, set captives free, and raise up those who are bowed down. For You are the God that we seek; for You are what our flesh and soul thirsts - like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. And thus we gaze toward You in the sanctuary to see Your power and Your glory - for Your kindness is a greater good than life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca

Sunday, November 5, 2017

November 5, 2017
All Saints and All Souls Sunday
What if Jesus said, "I am the peach of life"? Not the bread -- the peach?

"I am the peach of life, from Xi Wang-mu's garden. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

The communion services in churches around the world would be forever changed. Instead of squares of bread, we'd be eating slices of peaches. Of course, the breaking of the bread would be a bit of a problem physically with a peach.

But peaches have a connection to eternal life, at least in China. The peaches grown in the garden of the goddess Xi Wang-mu are an example of godly gastronomy. 

According to Chinese mythology, the gods are nourished by a steady diet of special peaches that take thousands of years to ripen. Called "the peaches of immortality," they come from Xi Wang-mu's garden, and give long life to anyone who eats them -- in fact, 3,000 years from a single peach. The goddess was famous for serving these peaches to her guests, who would then become immortal.

One time, the trickster god Monkey devoured an entire crop in one year. As punishment, he was expelled from heaven and sentenced to a lifetime of stone fruit. Bad Monkey. 

But Jesus doesn't say, "I am the peach of life." Instead, He asserts, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.The person who eats this bread is promised endless satisfaction -- freedom from hunger and thirst -- and life everlasting.

But not everyone believes what Jesus says. Some people listening to Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee are very skeptical -- much as we are when we hear the myth of the Chinese peaches of immortality.

In particular, the Jews complain about Jesus because He said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They know that he's the son of Joseph and Mary, a couple of regular Galileans that they know personally. With the two of them as his parents, they wonder how he can say, "I have come down from heaven.

Good question. If the 10-year-old daughter of your next-door neighbor claims, "I have come down from heaven," you're going to assume that she has an active imagination. If the 30-year-old daughter of a neighbor says, "I have come down from heaven," you might recommend a visit to a mental health professional.She's not peaches. She's bananas.

The Jews in this passage aren't necessarily opponents of Jesus. No evidence that they're as antagonistic as the religious authorities who plan to kill Him and hand Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. These Jews are merely confused and concerned.

Maybe Jesus has been spending time with the Gentiles. After all, Galilee was a multicultural place, sometimes referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matthew 4:15). As a resident of this region, Jesus might have heard about the Greek gods who ate sweet ambrosia, a heavenly food consumed on Mount Olympus. Some scholars think that ambrosia was honey, while others speculate that it was psychoactive mushrooms. But whatever it was, it bestowed immortality on whoever consumed it just like those wonderfully bready peaches.

But Jesus doesn't say, "I am ambrosia." Instead, He claims, "I am the bread of life." He goes on to say, "Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. This is the first clue to understanding what He's talking about: Belief is the key to receiving the benefits of the bread of life. Immortality does not come to those who eat peaches from Xi Wang-mu's garden, to those who get their hands on some sweet ambrosia or to those who grab a loaf of pumpernickel. Instead, eternal life comes from putting faith in Jesus Christ. It's not about the bread. It's about the belief.

Just a few centuries after Jesus said "I am the bread of life," Saint Augustine preached about the connection between faith and the bread of life. In a sermon on Holy Communion, he says, "What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice the blood of Christ."

With your eyes you see bread, of course. But with your faith you receive the body of Christ.

So Jesus is inviting us to believe in Him and to receive the eternal life that He offers us. "I am the bread of life," He says to the Jews by the Sea of Galilee. "Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. The ancient Israelites ate the bread that God gave them, but it was physical bread -- the kind that you can see with your eyes and taste in your mouth.

In contrast, Jesus offers the gift of himself -- living bread. "This is the bread that comes down from heaven," he explains, "so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” So, the second clue that Jesus offers is that living bread is not bread at all -- it's a living person. He does not want the Jews to get stuck on the idea of physical bread, even though they know the amazing story of manna in the wilderness.Don't get distracted, says Jesus. Remember: Belief is the key. And if you want to see living bread, look to me.

"Whoever eats of this bread will live forever," promises Jesus; "and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Jesus wants us to believe in Him and to take Him into ourselves, much as we would eat a piece of bread, digest it and incorporate it into our bodies. Jesus invites us to trust that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven -- bread that is broken in communion, just as Christ's body is broken on the cross. 

These words echo earlier lines from the gospel of John, when "the Word became flesh and lived among us, and when "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

Bread. Flesh. Life of the world. Love for the world. The bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is nothing less than his very own flesh.

There are many stories about heavenly beings and food, but most of them involve the gods taking something instead of giving something. In China, the trickster god Monkey devoured an entire crop of the peaches of immortality. In the Australian outback, a gluttonous god named Luma-luma took more food than his fair share at local feasts. He was shunned for this behavior, but then went too far. After raiding a mortuary for a snack, the tribesmen banded together and drove him into the sea.

But Jesus is all about giving, not takingAnd so, this is the third clue for us to see. The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his very own flesh -- the body of Christ, broken for us. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

It all begins with belief.

We then discover that living bread is not bread at all. Instead, the bread of life is a flesh-and-blood person. In Jesus we see God at work, offering people the nourishment they need for life. He teaches, preaches, heals, helps, forgives and guides. He's our most fundamental spiritual food group, the one who speaks, according to his disciple Peter, "the words of eternal life.Without this bread, our souls will surely starve.

Finally, Jesus is all about giving, not taking. We see Him offering his welcome to tax collectors, his healing to lepers, his blessing to children, his forgiveness to sinners and a feast of fish and bread to thousands of hungry people. As his disciples, we're challenged to take the same actions by showing hospitality to the strangers at our doors, supporting medical missions to underserved communities, helping children to feel welcome in worship, offering forgiveness to the people who hurt us and feeding the hungry families who are living all around us.

Believe. Look to Jesus. Give. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

That's a menu for eternal life. That is our message on this All Saints and All Souls Sunday – That all who have gone before us are actually still alive – They are in their mansions in heaven enjoying all there is to offer, all the while helping to keep watch all those of us left behind. 
Let us pray.
That the church will be fervent and diligent in proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That those who hold public office will imitate the goodness of God, who secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. We pray to the Lord
For blessings on all our nation’s veterans, and for the protection of those who serve our country’s military. We pray to the Lord. 
For the relief of those around the world who are victims of war, human trafficking, drug running, and slave labor. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be humble in our dealings with others. We pray to the Lord
For those victims this week who have died or been seriously injured by various shootings and terrorist attacks; that they might be protected and healed and demand that the world’s governments will come together and find a way to end these atrocious acts. We pray to the Lord.
For the many people who use their constitutional right to have guns to kill other people senselessly, that our own government will come to the realization that something more needs to be done to protect her citizens than blanketly allow every person to have a gun simply because do not have proper statutes in place to protect the general public from those who intend great harm on their neighbor. We pray to the Lord. 
That the various terrorist and/or religious fanatics will come to a better understanding of what our Creator wants and learn not to kill innocent people to merely get their message across or to somehow fulfill their belief of doing something in faith. We pray to the Lord.
For all the souls who have gone on to heaven before us that they may be peace and rest and in the glorious happiness of your kingdom. We pray to the Lord.
Please hear our prayer for the 4 shooting deaths here in the USA since last Sunday and  for the 26 others who were wounded in the same shootings. And be beg You, dear Lord, hear us and help the world to better brotherly love is severely lacking as shown in the 115 deaths from terrorist attacks throughout the world and the 119 injured. We especially pray for the 8 killed and 12 injured in the attack on New York City this week. We pray to the Lord.
Heavenly father, help us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Help us to know that all humanity is bound together by the common mortality in which Christ Jesus came to share. With us He died, so that in Him we might rise to everlasting life. Let us learn from those who have gone before us how to live well so that we may die well, and let us accompany them on their journey with our love and prayer. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Monday, October 30, 2017

October 29, 2017
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
The text before us is perhaps the best known biblical illustration of what is commonly referred to as Murphy's Law.

Nonbiblical, contemporary examples abound. You've made arrangements to receive a call from a client on your cell phone at 3 p.m. and you've been taking calls all morning, but as 3 p.m. arrives, your battery goes dead, you don't have a charger and you miss the call.

Your 6-year-old kid has been rehearsing her part as a turkey for the Thanksgiving school play about the Pilgrims and the Indians. When you get to the performance, you take a couple shots, then the battery dies and you miss the shots you really wanted.

You're not going to be late to work, but to make it on time, the universe needs to cooperate. And, of course, it doesn't. You have a flat -- bad enough -- but then you discover that the spare is also flat. This all happens today because yesterday you told your boss you were late because you had a flat tire -- which you didn't. Now you do.

It's mid-evening and you're reading some trash novel, and your neighborhood has a blackout. Not to worry: You're a fanatic about preparedness. Semper fidelis is your mantra. You reach for the flashlight, which you store in the space below the kitchen sink, and push the switch. Then you remember that a flashlight is just a metal tube to store dead batteries.

It's Murphy's Law. The correct version goes thus: If anything can go wrong, it probably will. Notice "probably." That's not much comfort. You can get a slice of bread and examine it on both sides, but you cannot predict which side will land on the kitchen floor -- until you butter it. Then you know.

The good news is, if we know ML, then it's possible to invert it, because ML is part of the universe as well. Thus, if anything can go wrong, and probably will, then the law itself can go wrong. But to invert the law, certain things need to happen.

Some of the women of our text were aware that it's possible to invert ML, and they took steps to do so. Notice that none of these women went to the wedding reception unprepared. They all had oil in their lamps. In that respect, early in the evening, there was no noticeable difference between the wise five and the foolish five. Moreover, they all became weary and took a nap while waiting for the party to begin. The only difference between the women, unnoticed at first, is that some carried a spare vial of oil on their person just in case ML reared its ugly head.

Oil was as important then as now. Maybe the "foolish" girls didn't carry an extra cruse of oil because it was expensive; it was going for $4 a gallon. Who knows?
On a side note, oil is widely regarded in Scripture as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The implication is that without the Holy Spirit, our light fades and grows dim.
The five wise women carried an extra supply. When they refueled, recharged, renewed their light source, they turned to an extra resource outside of themselves to save the day. This is a reminder that we cannot expect that the resources we have in our "lamps" will be sufficient for all times and occasions. We must realize that in the ongoing experience of living in the world, the fuel will begin to run low. The question is: Are we carrying an external source of extra fuel? Do we know how, when our spirits grow dark, when the light seeps from our souls, to replenish the supply?

The wise women were in no mood to share their oil with the foolish women when the Bridegroom finally showed up. And who can blame them? They needed the oil reserves to take them through the rest of the evening, because at midnight, they were about to get their groove on! Their party hats were on and they'd need that oil to celebrate into the early hours of the morning.

That said, it should be different in the church. Or not.

Timothy Merrill, senior editor of Homiletics magazine, tells the story of running out of light while visiting with a family in Israel. One day, they -- two adults and two little kids -- went out to the bus stop below the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where they were staying and rode an Arab bus into Jerusalem. They got off at Jaffa Gate and then walked through the Armenian quarter to Zion Gate where one can still see the results of the Six-Day War in 1967 in the rocket-shelled walls. From there they walked along the walls and then down a hill toward the Kidron Valley to the Pool of Siloam. Here they began their hike through Hezekiah's Tunnel.

The bore is not more than 30 inches wide and the height varies from 10 feet to 5 feet in some places. When they walked through it, the water came up to their knees in places. They knew that at different points during the day, the water level rose considerably depending on what was happening in the spring that fed this channel. That concerned them somewhat.

"This is safe?" his wife asked the Palestinian sitting at a little wood table. The green paint was peeling off revealing bare wood beneath. From the table hung a sign with black letters on a white background. The words were written in Hebrew. The sign probably said, "This is safe." Who knows?

"Yes, yes, safe," he said, passing his hand over his unshaved chin. "Very safe. No problem." Merrill asked him how long it would take to walk through it.

"You walk twenty minutes. No problem," he said. Merrill gave him some money and he gave him four candles, one for each person, not more than a third-inch thick and about five inches long. These candles were to provide light for the 20 minutes it would take to slosh through Hezekiah's Tunnel.

The candles illuminated the tunnel for only a few feet. As they felt their way through the tunnel, they sometimes had to stoop slightly as the tunnel shaft was not high enough to accommodate their height. After 10 minutes of wading hunchbacked through the water, Merrill began to think this trip might take longer than 20 minutes. He decided to blow out his candle. Since he was the last one -- the youngest child, 7, went first, then his mother, followed by the older child, 10 -- he had no trouble following his wife and the boys without his candle lit. He rightly thought they might need his candle if the others' went out. After 15 minutes of sloshing through the tunnel, following its curves and bouncing against its cold sides, and ducking to avoid bumping their heads, he noticed that Jeanie, his wife, was getting a little edgy. "Are we there yet?"

Twenty minutes elapsed and they were still in the tunnel, with no indication that they were close to the end. Twenty-five minutes passed, 30 minutes, and now the candles were just about out. First one candle burnt out, then another. Thirty-five minutes. Merrill says, "Jeanie's candle was just about gone, and I was about to produce my candle when, at 40 minutes, we felt a rush of cool air and heard the sound of water flowing. This development energized our flagging spirits and we pressed on with fresh zeal. Soon we were at the other side, the end of Hezekiah's Tunnel!"

Merrill goes on to relate that while he didn't carry an extra candle, as a group they had extra light -- his unlit candle -- in reserve should it be needed. He says that the church, a diverse body of people of different sizes, backgrounds, needs and perspectives ought to have "candlepower" and "candle people" who can help to refuel, rekindle and recharge the soul-lamps of those people whose flame is flickering.

In this experience, Murphy's Law was applicable. The man said 20 minutes. It took at least 40. The man said the candles were sufficient for the journey. They weren't. But in this case, as a family, they were able to invert the law.

In the Church, the same thing can happen. It's a U-Snooze, U-May-Lose World.

The success of the Church in the world is predicated in part on its taking advantage of critical opportunities. If the Church misses the moment - the moment may be lost. In the parable before us, the failure of the five latecomers to respond to the Bridegroom's call - a tardiness occasioned by their lack of readiness - is ir-rectifiable.

This parable is often interpreted eschatologically – as in the end times. But why not consider the possibility that the "Groom" is calling the Church now?

The Groom calls the Church to the banquet now, to fulfill its mission now, to open the door of opportunity now, to take the step of faith now.

It may very well be that the Church, our specific local church, is snoozing -- if not snoozing, there's a real sense of waiting, wondering what's going to happen next. But in this parable, Jesus offers no specific condemnation of the girls who fell asleep. They all did. But when the trumpet sounded, when the call came, when the bells were rung, five of these women were ready; the others were not. The first five snoozed, but didn't lose because they were ready should the trumpet sound. The other five should not have been snoozing; they should have been shopping -- for some candlepower.

Do we need candlepower? A church with candlepower is a church that shows and glows. That is, it's a church that shows up -- it has the candle of preparation. The spadework has been done. The foundation has been built. The groundwork is finished. The plans have been drawn up. Everything needed for the success of the mission has been gathered. A church with candlepower has its candles. It shows up -- with candles at the ready, wicks trimmed.

It also glows. It has both the candle and the flame. It has an external source of power that gives all the prior preparation its explosive and enlightening energy. A glowing church is one which is more than a mere candle, but rather a torch that lights the way. Such a church is a church which prays, a church which studies, a church which worships, a church which remembers the sacraments, a church which offers praise and thanksgiving.

With such a church, Murphy doesn't stand a chance.

Let us pray.
That through the Church’s announcement of the Gospel, God’s word may increase love and give full meaning to pain and suffering. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That civil leaders would use their authority to protect and provide for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will reach out to those on the peripheries with the charity and compassion of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those facing difficult decisions; that the Lord will stand by them and enlighten their minds and hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the sick, the elderly, the grieving, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, the addicted, and the unemployed; that the Lord will help them in his mercy. We pray to the Lord.
For those members of our parish family who are ill that they may be strengthened with Your healing touch and Your grace. We pray to the Lord.
Grant that we may all have serenity this week as we deal with the many facets of life that sometimes challenge each of us. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to love God and to love our neighbor without fail. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, You have done great things for us; we are filled with joy. Keep us united with You in all things. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 22, 2017
The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Today’s Gospel is a great teaching moment for Catholics. Many Protestants claim that when Catholics address priests as "father," they are engaging in an unbiblical practice that Jesus forbade: "Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9).

Often non-Catholics ask me, "Why do Catholics call their priests 'father'?" In so doing, they invariably point out this passage we read today. How should we as Catholics answer?
A Catholic might respond, "How do you refer to your mother's husband? What do you call him?" If a Catholic is wrong in calling his priest "father," then everyone who refers to his own natural father as "father" is also in the wrong. Both usages would be prohibited by a literal interpretation of Jesus' words. I am not trying to sound like a smart Alek here; merely pointing out a fact we can all relate to.

Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill the Law of the Old Covenant (Mt 5:17). If in our Gospel reading today He literally forbids us even to acknowledge our natural fathers as our fathers, how can we keep the fourth commandment ("honor your father and your mother")? Taken literally, Jesus' words in Matthew 23:9 contradict his claim in Matthew 5:17, but we know that the Son of God never contradicts Himself.

Look again at the passage in which Jesus says we must call no one "father." In contrast to the attitudes of the Pharisees and others, Jesus is specifying the qualities Christian leaders must exhibit. The Pharisees aspired to being called "rabbi" (or "master" or "teacher"), leaders of schools of thought. It is known from Jesus’ address in this that the Pharisees not only wanted, but virtually demanded they be called by one of these titles. They expected to be “revered.”

One must first understand the use of the word "father" in reference to our earthly fathers. No one would deny a little girl the opportunity to tell someone that she loves her father. Common sense tells us that Jesus wasn’t forbidding this type of use of the word "father."

In fact, to forbid it would rob the address "Father" of its meaning when applied to God, for there would no longer be any earthly counterpart for the analogy of divine Fatherhood. The concept of God’s role as Father would be meaningless if we obliterated the concept of earthly fatherhood.

But in the Bible the concept of fatherhood is not restricted to just our earthly fathers and God. It is used to refer to people other than biological or legal fathers, and is used as a sign of respect to those with whom we have a special relationship.

For example, Joseph tells his brothers of a special fatherly relationship God had given him with the king of Egypt: "So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 45:8).

Job indicates he played a fatherly role with the less fortunate: "I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know" (Job 29:16). And God himself declares that he will give a fatherly role to Eliakim, the steward of the house of David: "In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah . . . and I will clothe him with [a] robe, and will bind [a] girdle on him, and will commit . . . authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah" (Is. 22:20–21).

This type of fatherhood not only applies to those who are wise counselors (like Joseph) or benefactors (like Job) or both (like Eliakim), it also applies to those who have a fatherly spiritual relationship with one. For example, Elisha cries, "My father, my father!" to Elijah as the latter is carried up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2:12). Later, Elisha himself is called a father by the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 6:21).

Some Fundamentalists argue that this usage changed with the New Testament—that while it may have been permissible to call certain men "father" in the Old Testament, since the time of Christ, it’s no longer allowed. This argument fails for several reasons.

First, as we’ve seen, the imperative "call no man father" does not apply to one’s biological father. It also doesn’t exclude calling one’s ancestors "father," as is shown in Acts 7:2, where Stephen refers to "our father Abraham," or in Romans 9:10, where Paul speaks of "our father Isaac."

Second, there are numerous examples in the New Testament of the term "father" being used as a form of address and reference, even for men who are not biologically related to the speaker. There are, in fact, so many uses of "father" in the New Testament, that the Fundamentalist interpretation of Matthew 23 (and the objection to Catholics calling priests "father") must be wrong.

Third, a careful examination of the context of Matthew 23 shows that Jesus didn’t intend for his words here to be understood literally. The whole passage reads, "But you are not to be called ‘rabbi,’ for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called ‘masters,’ for you have one master, the Christ" (Matt. 23:8–10).

The first problem is that although Jesus seems to prohibit the use of the term "teacher," Christ himself appointed certain men to be teachers in his Church: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Paul speaks of his commission as a teacher: "For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Tim. 2:7); "For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher" (2 Tim. 1:11). He also reminds us that the Church has an office of teacher: "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers" (1 Cor. 12:28); and "his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). There is no doubt that Paul was not violating Christ’s teaching by referring so often to others as "teachers."

Non-Catholics themselves slip up on this point by calling all sorts of people "doctor," for example, medical doctors, as well as professors and scientists who have Ph.D. degrees. What they fail to realize is that "doctor" is simply the Latin word for "teacher." Even "Mister" and "Mistress" ("Mrs.") are forms of the word "master," also mentioned by Jesus. So if his words in Matthew 23 were meant to be taken literally, non-Catholics would be just as guilty for using the word "teacher" and "doctor" and "mister" as Catholics for saying "father." But clearly, that would be a misunderstanding of Christ’s words.

Jesus criticized Jewish leaders who love "the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men" (Matt. 23:6–7). His admonition here is a response to the Pharisees’ proud hearts and their grasping after marks of status and prestige.

He was using hyperbole to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.

Christ used hyperbole often, for example when he declared, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matt. 5:29, cf. 18:9; Mark 9:47). Christ certainly did not intend this to be applied literally, for otherwise all Christians would be blind amputees! (cf. 1 John 1:8; 1 Tim. 1:15).

Jesus is not forbidding us to call men "fathers" who actually are such—either literally or spiritually. To refer to such people as fathers is only to acknowledge the truth, and Jesus is not against that. He is warning people against inaccurately attributing fatherhood—or a particular kind or degree of fatherhood—to those who do not have it or are merely looking to be treated with high elevation of status than they are due. Jesus was not hung up on the word “father” or “teacher”, but that He condemned the practice of some leaders in heaping titles on themselves out of pride and self-importance.

As the apostolic example shows, some individuals genuinely do have a spiritual fatherhood, meaning that they can be referred to as spiritual fathers. What must not be done is to confuse their form of spiritual paternity with that of God. Ultimately, God is our supreme protector, provider, and instructor. Thus, it is wrong to view any individual other than God as having these roles.

He is not forbidding the perfunctory use of honorifics nor forbidding us to recognize that the person does have a role as a spiritual father and teacher. The example of His own Apostles shows us that.

Possibly the most pointed New Testament reference to the theology of the spiritual fatherhood of priests is Paul’s statement, "I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:14–15).

Peter followed the same custom, and the Apostles sometimes referred to entire churches under their care as their children. John said, "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1); "No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth" (3 John 4). In fact, John also addresses men in his congregations as "fathers" (1 John 2:13–14).

By referring to these people as their spiritual sons and spiritual children, Peter, Paul, and John imply their own roles as spiritual fathers. Since the Bible frequently speaks of this spiritual fatherhood, we Catholics acknowledge it and follow the custom of the Apostles by calling priests "father." Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on the Church: the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood.

Catholics know that as members of a parish, they have been committed to a priest’s spiritual care, thus many cases they have great filial affection for priests and call them "father." Priests, in turn, follow the Apostles’ biblical example by referring to members of their flock as "my son" or "my child" (Gal. 4:19; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:1; Philem. 10; 1 Pet. 5:13; 1 John 2:1; 3 John 4).

All of these passages were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and they express the infallibly recorded truth that Christ’s ministers do have a role as spiritual fathers. Jesus is not against acknowledging that. It is He who gave these men their role as spiritual fathers, and it is His Holy Spirit who recorded this role for us in the pages of Scripture. To acknowledge spiritual fatherhood is to acknowledge the truth, and no amount of anti-Catholic grumbling will change that fact.
It is right and proper that we should feel both respect and affection for our clergy; respect because in ordination they have received the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a priest in the church of God; affection because they play in intimate part in the happiest and the saddest events of our lives and often become our cherished friends.
For some, it difficult to remember into how high a dignity, into how weighty an office and charge he is been called to carry out.
Familiarity neither expresses nor encourages respect. On the other hand, to call a priest simply “Mister” is very commonplace, it does not convey any of the warmth with which we like to regard a man, who though he may be a stranger to us in some circumstances, administers the Sacraments to us, shares so many of our joys, and comforts us in so many of our afflictions. It is because it is a form of address that expresses both respect and affection that Catholics use the address “father” when addressing a priest.
As some of you noticed, I inserted an article on a mystical revelation reported to have been given to a Mutter Vogel. Although, her book is extremely difficult to find, it can be found in the Pieta Prayer booklet. She actually existed and was a member of my wife's family. She is buried at the Waldfriedhof in Munich, Germany. She devoted her life to praying for priests. I also inserted a prayer for priests that is attributed to her as well. (I highly recommend the Pieta book, incidentally, though some of the prayers are intense.)
Let us pray.
That all will defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That those engaged in the business world will work for the spread of solidarity. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. We pray to the Lord.
That our priests and bishops in the world will be given the wisdom, grace, strength, and perseverance to carry out their calling this difficult world. We pray to the Lord.
For children with special needs, their parents, and their families; that they will be given all the love and support they need. We pray to the Lord.
That You lead those in our world who by either wrong inspiration or who are in need of mental assistance, will be guided to the appropriate resources so that terrorism and hate will be greatly reduced in the world. We pray to the Lord.
For our parish members who have sick family members and friends; that they be given the strength and grace to continue helping their family members in illness; and that those who are ill may be given courage and healing during their time of need. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be good citizens and to witness the grace of the Gospel. We pray to the Lord.
That we may all use tact and tolerance toward all those we meet on daily path, most especially with whom we may not agree. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, let Your mercy be upon us as we place our trust in you. Be with the many thousands of priests throughout the world, that they may be a true witnesses and examples of our Lord Jesus Christ to all Your people. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15, 2017
The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
If you've ever gone down to your local office supply store to buy ink cartridges for your printer, you know that the cost of said ink can feel like the equivalent of the national debt. There's some basis for this feeling, however. Compare the cost of printer ink, say, to the gas you put in a car, for example, and you'll find the relative cost to be staggering.
According to Consumer Reports, printer ink costs between $13 and $75 per ounce or a whopping $9,600 per gallon. (Toner cartridges for laser printers are even worse, so I won’t get into that!) Based on that pricing, you could get 2,917 gallons of regular gas for the cost of a single gallon of printer ink. In fact, it might be cheaper for you to buy silver (about $17 per ounce as of this writing) than print out my sermon every week.
To make matters worse, a lot of that precious ink gets wasted and never actually reaches the page. Some of the ink gets used for cleaning the print heads, some is residual and some just evaporates. That explains why you're constantly running to the store and emptying your wallet for more, not to mention the cost of the paper upon which the ink gets printed. Add to that the fact that about 40 percent of the printed paper in an average office is thrown away after just one reading and it's easy to see why hitting "print" on your computer might just be the most expensive thing you do every day. I used to print most everything (in some cases we were required to do so) where I previously worked, and it was amazing how much toner and paper we used in an average month. I’d be rich if I had that expense as income! I could use that right now while I am unemployed, well anyway ….
Professor Sean Xiao-An Zhang of Jilin University in China has a solution to this red ink problem that might just change the way we use paper and print in the future: enter the "water-jet" printer. You might be familiar with the concept of disappearing ink from watching spy movies, but this innovation uses it on a whole new level.
The printer uses paper treated with "water responsive dyes" and replaces the ink with water. When the water touches the paper it unlocks the color from the dyes and disappears when the water dries up after about 24 hours. In other words, the printed text is there for a day and then fades away. Using this method, a single piece of paper can be used multiple times for printing since it's blank again the next day. The resultant cost is only 1 percent of regular ink-jet printing.
But what good is a printed piece of paper that you can only read for 24 hours, you ask? Well, it's great for those memos that only need to be read once or for newspapers and magazines that can be printed out one day and then the paper reused for the next day's edition. It's an intriguing concept for those who prefer reading on paper but don't want to fill up the recycling bin while emptying their wallets.
The water-jet printer is great for temporary reading, but it's hard to imagine paper and ink ever being completely replaced. Figuratively speaking, however, most ink disappears after time. Think, for example, about how many documents, files and books are permanently printed but are rarely ever seen again once they're put in a file cabinet or placed on the shelf of a library. Sure, there are classic works and papers we want to preserve, and we look at them from time to time, but how much ink in the world has faded from memory? With all those trees felled and ink spilled, what is it that really lasts?
We don't know if Jesus ever put pen and ink to paper. The only time He is recorded as writing something was when the elders of the town were chasing a prostitute through town and ended at Jesus’ feet. He was said to have written something in the sand, but it was not recorded as what He actually wrote. No record exists that he ever kept a library of his own. We do know, however, that Jesus was immersed in Israel's Scriptures in a way that did not require him to carry a Torah scroll with him or keep a filing system. The text never disappeared from his memory, and the words that he spoke were so important that among tons of paper and gallons of ink ever used in history, they are the most important -- so much so that precious ink is still used to show them to the world. And maybe none of those words are as important as those spoken by Jesus in this week's passage, known to history as "The Great Commandment."
In Matthew's gospel, this passage appears in a series of rapid-fire questions from the religious authorities who are grilling Jesus in the temple. The Pharisees maintained huge libraries of commentaries about the Torah and believed themselves to be experts in the law as it appeared on ink and paper. When they heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, another religious literate group, they gathered together and had a lawyer among them ask Jesus a question designed to "test" him. The test question, or "trick" question was: "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

There were, of course, a lot of commandments to choose from. The rabbis of Jesus' day counted 613 commands in the law (known as “precepts”) -- 248 positive commands, corresponding to the number of parts of the body, and 365 negative commands, corresponding to the days of the year. The view was that all the commandments were equal, with any ranking of them seen as the height of human arrogance. The lawyer may have been trying to get Jesus to make a statement that disparaged one part of the law over another, like declaring the moral laws as being more important than the ceremonial laws, the latter of which Jesus already interpreted differently than the Pharisees. It's no coincidence that Matthew uses the same word "test" here as he used to describe what Satan was doing to Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). It's a trap to see which words Jesus will keep and which ones he will allow to disappear.
And so Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Jesus answers with words that were familiar to every Jew, words that were (and still are) recited every morning and evening as a prayer. The "Shema", “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) was so important that pious Jews took the commandment to "bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" literally. Little scrolls containing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 were (and still are) worn on the foreheads of pious Jews in leather boxes called phylacteries and attached to doorposts in little containers called mezuzahs. I have a mezuzah on my front door as a matter of fact. It was a command to be carried, worn and touched. (There is one on one of the doors at Disneyland too! Of course, I had to throw that in there.)
But even more than that, it was a command to be lived. In a sense, the words on the scroll were unnecessary because they were prayed and recited daily. The irony of the "test" is that those standing in front of Jesus in their phylacteries had the text in paper and ink and yet they did not realize that in their desire for religious correctness they were allowing it to disappear.
In fact, Jesus tells the crowds to listen to the teaching of the Pharisees but not to do as they do "for they do not practice what they teach." Of all the commandments in their scrolls, Jesus says, this commandment is "the first and greatest" -- not just to be taught, but to be lived. Even if the words on the scrolls disappeared, this commandment remains permanent.
The second commandment is "like" the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". This commandment from Leviticus 19:18 wasn't just to be worn on the forehead, but it was to be kept in the heart and obeyed through the hands. For Jesus, love of God naturally works its way outward in love for neighbor, and love for neighbor can be an expression of love for God. If you put these two commandments together, says Jesus, you will boil down all the words of "the law and the prophets". The words printed by the water-jet printer may disappear every 24 hours, but the words of Jesus will never disappear.
In fact, it would be proper to say that we carry these words of Jesus written on us in water every day. When we're baptized or when we baptize our children, we express our love for God -- heart, soul, mind and strength -- and we are commissioned to love our neighbors. The grace, love and forgiveness we receive in baptism is to be shared, which is why the last command that Jesus gives his disciples in Matthew's gospel is to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
The command of Christ is written in water on us as a permanent mark that can be used again and again for his glory. When we love God and love our neighbors, the word of Christ will always be visible. Real simple, but it seems so hard in our modern times.
Printer ink may be ungodly expensive and destined to be thrown away or forgotten. The watermark of love, however, is designed to last forever!
Let us pray.
That all Christians may increase their faith to know that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer)
That politicians and economists will commit themselves to resolving the world’s ills so that all may enjoy a true quality of life. We pray to the Lord.
That our government will see to helping the victims of our recent hurricanes, especially that of the devastated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, with help and commitment in rebuilding what they have lost. We pray to the Lord.
That all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good. We pray to the Lord. (This prayer was suggested for this day by Pope Francis.)
For an end to terrorism, and for the protection of all those who serve in our country’s armed forces. We pray to the Lord.
For those suffering from debilitating illness or chronic pain; that God may strengthen and uplift them. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live by faith in every circumstance of life. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, let Your merciful work be seen by your servants. May we experience Your gracious care. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
 + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8, 2017
St. Francis Sunday
Born in Italy circa 1181, St. Francis of Assisi, though revered today, began his life as a confirmed sinner who was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. Francis was born to a wealthy family, therefore he was not in want during his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom. He spent nearly a year in prison—awaiting his father's payment—and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison. During this time, while praying before an old Byzantine crucifix at the church of San Damiano, Francis reportedly heard the voice of Christ, who told him to rebuild the Christian Church and to live a life of extreme poverty. Francis obeyed and devoted himself to Christianity. He began preaching around Assisi and was soon joined by 12 loyal followers.
Later in life, Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ—marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified—making Francis the first person to receive such holy wounds. As we know, during his life he also developed a deep love of nature and animals and is known as the patron saint of the environment and animals.
One day, as legend has it, while riding on a horse in the local countryside, Francis encountered a leper. Prior to the war, Francis would have run from the leper, but on this occasion, his behavior was very different. Viewing the leper as a symbol of moral conscience—or as Jesus incognito, according to some religious scholars—he embraced and kissed him, later describing the experience as a feeling of sweetness in his mouth. After this incident, Francis felt an indescribable freedom. His earlier lifestyle had lost all of its appeal.
Subsequently, Francis, now in his early 20s, began turning his focus toward God. Instead of working, he spent an ever-increasing amount of time at a remote mountain hideaway as well as in old, quiet churches around Assisi, praying, looking for answers, and helping nurse lepers.
Some regarded Francis as a madman or a fool, but others viewed him as one of the greatest examples of how to live the Christian ideal since Jesus Christ himself. Whether he was really touched by God, or simply a man misinterpreting hallucinations brought on by mental illness and/or poor health, Francis of Assisi quickly became well-known throughout the Christian world.
Francis's embrace of Christ-like poverty was a radical notion at the time and would be even more radical in modern time. Francis set out on a mission to restore Jesus Christ's own, original values to the now-decadent church. With his incredible charisma, he drew thousands of followers to him. They listened to Francis's sermons and joined in his way of life; his followers became known as Franciscan friars.
Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, at the age of 44, in Assisi, Italy. He was canonized as a saint just two years after his death, on July 16, 1228, by his former protector, Pope Gregory IX. Today, Francis has a lasting resonance with millions of followers throughout the world.
Certainly, St. Francis led an un-conventual life to be sure. Can you imagine someone in similar, yet in a modern manner, choosing a life such as St. Francis chose? Not something the average person could do for sure. Yet, some men and women still do throughout the world, though in declining numbers.
However, let’s be honest, I am sure St. Francis would not recommend to each of us to take such an extreme change of life. Still, he is an example to each of us to emulate many ways. We may not have riches to leave and take on poverty, but some of us do indeed live in simple forms. We may not be given the grace of the stigmata, but some of us do live with other forms of sacrifice in our lives. We may not have the various spiritual gifts he had, such as the gift to communicate with animals, but almost all of us have a gift, even though many of us have not learned what it is and/or have not learned how to use it. Some gifts are as simple as the gift of making someone laugh, or listen to someone who needs an empathetic ear, or maybe something less common and more charismatic.
Still, as the patron of our humble chapel, St. Francis does present us an example for us each to follow; he presents an example that is in imitation of Christ. He calls us as a prime example that what Jesus calls us to do in our lives and for our relationships with each other is not only good, but something that all of us are very capable of living out in our lives as well.
Francis, following in the example of Christ, ministered to the lepers and undesirables in the world. He lived a simple life, yet a complex one for many of us fail to understand. He was so filled with faith, that the Lord blessed him with the stigmata; the wounds of Christ. The closest we have in our modern times to have these marks, was Padre Pio who died in 1968. To have this miracle happen to oneself, is beyond imagining.
Soon, it will be our 50th anniversary here in our humble chapel. Like St. Francis’ ministry, we minister as we can with humble means. But we do minister. Like Francis, we welcome the “lepers” of society. We know there are few true lepers in comparison to Francis’ time, but  we have our modern day “lepers”. Those either in society who are shunned or less fortunate. Those in the Church who are made to feel unwelcome because they are different; whether it be in thought or action.
It has been my dream, as most of you know, to take St. Francis Chapel to the next level. There are so many people who are made to feel as though they are lepers - and we need to follow Christ’s example; we need to follow St. Francis’ example and not be afraid to touch them, whether in their physical, psychological or social pain. We must not leave anyone out. We offer an openness that is welcoming. We could be like some who would argue about who should be allowed access to the Sacraments or not, but this does an injustice to those who need the church.
As it has been stated before, and I state again – if we are to insist on perfection of our members, the sanctuaries will become empty because no one is perfect except Christ. As it is, the Church is here for ALL people – perfect or flawed – but we are all flawed my friends – we are all flawed. We all need the merciful love of Christ in our lives and we must make our door open to all the modern day “lepers”.  The divorced “leper”, the addicted “leper”, the LGBT “leper”, the “leper” who just had an abortion, the refugee “leper”, the homeless “leper”, the any type you can think of “leper”. We must be Francises to them all.
We cannot correct the ills of society unless we are willing to become passionate about it. We cannot correct the ills of society if we are unwilling to get our hands dirty. Yes, we live in a very fast paced world, much unlike that of Christ’s and St. Francis’ time, but we still can spare a little time; a little ear to listen; a little support to the misunderstood; a few coins or bills to the one on the street without judging what put these people them. None of us can do everything; but we can all do something!
Let us go forth from this day with a commitment to the “lepers” and non-“lepers” alike.  There is a prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta that which she often prayed, “Lord, open our eyes, that we may see You in our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears, that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts, that we may love each other as You love us. Renew in us Your Spirit Lord, free us and make us one.” And in so doing this work she also said when asked how she was able to do so, “It is God’s work that has done it, not my work. I am like a pencil in His hand … The pencil has only to be used.”
Let me finish off with a story that I read from one of my Lectio Divina booklets I read each day, in which Keith Osmun wrote:
The meeting with the eighth-grade boys was getting nowhere. They seemed more interested in making jokes and distracting one another than in deciding what to do on their service day. Finally, the leader sitting next to me had had enough. “Guys, stop!” he began. “You’re in eighth grade now. You’re the leaders of this junior-high ministry. Those in the lower grades and the friends you bring are going to look to you as examples. We need you all to be invested.”
Sometimes we adults in the church need to hear the same admonition. We might think that we can just show up but not actually participate. I used to make the mistake of thinking that my witness of the gospel to others consisted solely of telling them about Jesus and bringing them to church. Then the rest of the work would be done by the Holy Spirit and the ministry staff.
That’s not the picture that our reading in Mark [Mark 6:35-44] gives us. The disciples told Jesus to send the people to buy food. But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus wanted the disciples to be part of his work. Despite our faults and limited resources, God can do miraculous things when, like the disciples, we invest ourselves in God’s work.
And that is what we are called to do. That is what Christ is calling us to do. It is also what St. Francis came to know and did. We need to be passionate about this. Christ doesn’t expect us to be like Him, because we are mere humans, but He does want us to follow His example. Most of us do not, and may never have, the gifts that St. Francis had, but what we are called to do is emulate his faith and work as best as we can. That is all that is being asked of us; and we can do it! Let’s move mountains!
Let us pray.
That the church will go forth toward those who are wounded and in need of an attentive ear, forgiveness, and love. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That God will direct the minds and hearts of those in public office for the true peace and freedom of all. We pray to the Lord.
For refugees and displaced persons; that they will be kept safe and be given a new home. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will truly live as God’s people, following in the imitation of Christ and His servant, St. Francis. We pray to the Lord.
For all those who lack meaning, purpose, our good direction in life; that Jesus will draw close to them with his love. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for peace and eternal rest for the victims of the latest shooting in Las Vegas; and we additionally ask that love and comfort may come to those family members and friends left behind after this terrible incident. We pray to the Lord.
For our servicemen and women throughout the world, that they be kept safe from harm while serving our country’s interests. Grant rest eternal on the soldiers who were ambushed in Nigeria, and peace and comfort to their families and friends. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the peace and eternal rest for Patty Maruszewski mother of our parishioner, Stephanie Maruszewski, and we also ask peace and comfort for Stephanie and her sisters and all family members and friends in this difficult time of loss. We pray to the Lord.
And as always, we ask for God’s blessings on our family members and friends who are still struggling with illnesses and other needs; that they may find comfort and healing and hope. We pray to the Lord.
Let me close with one of my many prayers that I say each day. I feel it fits into today’s message.
Father God, Your wisdom, power, and goodness are beyond my full realization. May understanding this keep me humble – especially in my daily dealings with Your people – my brothers and sisters, and in my acceptance of Your will without questions, anger or doubt.
I thank You for all you have given me for Your forgiveness, for my faith, for hope, especially for Your love and the love of my family and friends. I also thank You for all You have not given me, because through lacking, my need for You is made more evident.
God, I am unworthy and fail to act out of love time and time again. Forgive me for knowing Your will and choosing otherwise. Forgive me for my selfishness, pride, jealousy, greed, lust, vanity, laziness, dishonesty, prejudice, anger, impatience, and hatred. Forgive me for my insecurity and lack of faith in You.
Father, through Your Son, send Your Spirit to guide me through this day. Give me the wisdom to seek You always and in every one, give me the power to resist evil which preys on the weakness of my human nature. Give me the strength and courage to be more like Your Son every day. Help me to love and forgive those who hurt me, or whose actions I don’t understand. Help me to see You in them, to see their pain and suffering and to see their need for love. Please bless and protect my family. Please bless and protect my friends. Bring us all closer to You each day. Grant us peace and through the intercession of our Lady Mary we pray for world peace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

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