Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8, 2018
First Sunday after Easter
(Low Sunday)
(Acts 4:32 – 35; John 20:19-31)
“Hey Dad, what if I jumped out of the car while it was moving? What would happen?”

“Hey Mom, what if I stuck my tongue in the socket?”

“What if I only drank root beer floats for meals?”

Sometimes we might think kids sometimes ask the most off the wall questions. But are they really that off the wall?

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? But that’s not a kid’s question, it’s an astronomy book.

University of Maine science professor Neil Comins stumbled onto a teaching device from considering, or perhaps enduring, his son’s numerous “what-if” questions. He was convinced that science educators were stuck in a rut: always looking at their world from the same tired perspectives. He began to ask how “what-if” questions could become the catalyst for scientific discovery in his classroom. The result was Solon, and a number of other speculative what-if worlds.

Solon is a planet exactly like Earth but without the moon. Solon would have smaller ocean tides since the moon accounts for most high and low tides. No more tide pools of starfish and sea anemone for curious children to gaze into on coastal vacations.

The moon also affects the speed at which Earth rotates, so Solon would be a planet of 8-hour days instead of 24-hour days. That means we would all be three times as old and sleep one-third as many hours each night. The upside is that a workday would be from One to Four instead of Nine to Five.

Solon would be a world of regular 100 mph winds and horrifically more destructive tornadoes and hurricanes. We could forget about living or playing in any outdoor environments and we’d be reduced to pre-historic cave-dwelling for survival.

But truth be told according to Comins’ moonless model, Solon would not be a planet that could support any complex life forms. So overall, the moon seems to be working well for us and perhaps God was onto something when he spoke its existence into the Genesis void.

But beyond scientific education, “what- if” speculation is also the driving force of pop-culture curiosity. What if Jesus actually fathered a child? (Da Vinci Code) What if aliens invade Earth (E.T., Alien, War of the Worlds).
Consider the “what ifs” that make up our escapist adult thought patterns. What if I married the wrong person? What if I never went back to that horrible job? What if I never became a parent to these children? What if I hit the lottery?

In fact, one of the only places that “what if” isn’t a normal part of processing and engagement is the church: “What if God didn’t exist?” We shouldn’t ask that question here!

We’ve not always handled our outside inquisitors, our faith-teetering skeptics and our wearied doubters with gracious elegance and honest engagement.

So what if Jesus stayed in the ground after Easter?

That wasn’t just a “what if” for the disciples. That was their soul-shattered reality. Jesus was indeed God in the flesh raised from the dead, but for the first three days after the tomb they had no way of knowing. They found themselves suddenly living in a moonless Earth, of sorts.

We have to stop and put ourselves into their experience. These were confused faith-misfits who appeared to be totally wrong about the King of the new kingdom. Their rabbi was dead, and now they feared what could happen to them. They gave up careers and family to follow Him. Imagine all the haunting “what-if” questions they thought of, based on what they had seen and heard for the last three years.

To summarize their world in one word, it would be “doubt.” So how does God engage his skeptics or those whose faith is lacking?

Jesus meets with them behind closed doors. But in that room, what did the 10 disciples experience? Their world-ending fear was turned back into the joy they had hoped in. Their secluded gathering is turned into a powerful commissioning. Their despair was turned into the tangible presence of the eternal Lord and the empowering Holy Spirit.

In short, they had a religious experience.

But only 10 of them had that experience. One of the 12 may have never believed in the Christ and killed himself. Another of the 12, Thomas, was still an outsider to the Christ the 10 had experienced. He was still locked in the tomb of doubts. He was dwelling in his pre-historic cave.

What was the experience of Thomas? Was he so distraught that he just needed to be alone? Was he bitter and hardened because all he had learned of Jesus seemed a lie? Was he confused because he had to redefine all the supernatural as merely psychological phenomena? The text doesn’t tell us, but this is what our Thomases today tell us.

Their prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling. They don’t know how to relate to an invisible God. Life is hard so God hardly seems loving. They are beset with disbelief as they watch hypocritical church leaders ensconced in scandal. Pain is a problem, dinosaurs have evolved, and the supernatural is unnatural.

So when the 10 report on what they had just experienced, Thomas felt skepticism and doubt — Thomas had not had the same religious experiences that the other 10 did. Their experience seemed foreign. Well-intentioned but not well evidenced.

Thomas is tactile and needed tangible proof, and he’s merely expressing sentiments that countless pilgrims after him will echo. Jesus appeared to Paul, why doesn’t he appear to me? God spoke audibly to Moses, so why don’t I get a burning bush? God gave Gideon a wet fleece, so why won’t he tell me his will for my life?

We read that when Jesus did return to visit the disciples it was a week later. What was that week like for Thomas? Again, we can only conjecture, but maybe he was feeling the same things many who doubt in our churches feel — alienation from friends, not just alienation from what they believed. Those in doubt need community, but tend to avoid it. It’s like people who get laid off and no longer easily pal around at happy hour with those still gainfully employed by the company. It’s like alcoholics who, rightly, cut distance from the old party crowd. After all, their community holds dearly to things they are questioning and wrestling with.

As Jesus returns to engage his last doubting disciple, he appears as dramatically as he did when he met with the 10. He offers the same ironic words “Peace be with you” to Thomas who is miles away from peace at that point. And further understanding what Thomas needs, while Thomas stands there thinking this is some kind of cruel joke, He provides tactile evidence of himself as living and risen.

As we encounter those who doubt, we remember that God knows their needs more than we do. Maybe He is testing and strengthening them through their exploration. Maybe they need to lay down their idol god or their ideal god in favor of the Real God. In any case, God knows best what they need and God is working their doubt, like all things, for their good (Romans 8:28). Therefore, there is no better way to partner with people in their doubt than to pray that in His kindness God would address their deepest needs and make known the ways He is shaping them through their questioning.

But go back and notice what Jesus doesn’t do in the face of one doubting him. Punish. Ignore. Shame. Patronize. Marginalize. He doesn’t do any of that and never will.

Unfortunately, we Christians often eat our own when it comes to doubts. When people question God, we act more like Job’s friends than Jesus’ friends. We tend to toss our apologetics or trite “let go and let God” fideisms at people. We celebrate those who are “put together” and don’t question God instead of those who are honestly engaging him. We accidentally create sterile operating rooms of faith where questions are disease that must be avoided like contamination.

But God reaches out to those of questioning faith.

Remember the storm story in Matthew’s gospel? (8:23-27). A storm comes up quickly on the lake, and the little boat in which the disciples and Jesus are sailing suddenly is swamped by a mini-tsunami. Jesus is sleeping; the disciples are not. So they awaken Jesus, and Jesus says, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

You wish Jesus hadn’t said that. That he could’ve been more gracious, that he didn’t have to be tough as well as tender. No one likes to get rousted out of a nice nap. Maybe he got up on the wrong side of the boat or something.

But he said it. However, notice what Jesus didn’t say.

He didn’t say, “Hey, you people of little faith, come back to me sometime when your faith is strong, when you really believe, and then I might try to help you out.” Then, Jesus grabs his pillow and pounds it into a good sleeping shape, and goes back to his nap.

He didn’t say that.

Instead, after reminding them that they had room to grow in their faith journey, he immediately came to their rescue. He “rebuked the winds.”

Jesus rebukes the winds, we don’t. We can’t make having faith a good work. Thomas doesn’t “achieve” a coming to faith. Faith is something the risen Christ brings to Thomas.

Jesus gave Thomas the help he needed even when he was in a “what-if?” mode. Even though Thomas was wondering “What if Jesus is still in the tomb?” Jesus still was willing to meet him in the vortex where faith and doubt intersect.

Today many stand in the legacy of Thomas, who in the words of fellow doubter Philip Yancey, are reaching for the Invisible God: “How do you sustain a relationship with God, a being so different from any other, imperceptible by the five senses?”

But as was the case with Thomas, when the Way, the Truth and the Life engages the doubter, Christian reality prevails. “My Lord and my God” he cried.

Can we embrace, dignify, and journey with those inside and outside of the church who have doubts of the risen Christ? If so we will strengthen the blessed that Jesus spoke of: “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Let us pray.
That all persons who are plagued with doubt or weak faith, that they will seek out the Lord God and ask that He show Himself to them in a way that will erase their doubt in the same way as it did with St. Thomas. We pray to the Lord.
That, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, also known as Low Sunday, the Church will rededicate herself to living and proclaiming Christ’s mercy in all things and all lives. We pray to the Lord.
That leaders of governments will work to ensure that all people can live in full and unrestricted freedom. We pray to the Lord.
That the life of every human person, from conception to natural death, will be enshrined and protected in our laws. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to face the trials and difficulties of life with the confidence and certainty that come from the Resurrection. We pray to the Lord.
That all peoples of the world, and especially our government leaders, will work toward more peace and an end to violence and bloodshed. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, the Resurrection of Your Son gives us a new birth to a living hope. In our times of doubt, confusion, or ignorance, may we seek to be filled with the truth and the light of the Risen Christ; never being afraid to approach You in prayer and to invoke Your name during these types of difficult times. We ask that this Easter season be filled with joy and in that joy that each and every one will come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior and experience His nondiscriminatory mercy. We ask all these things Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April 1, 2018
Easter Sunday
(Colossians 3:1-11; John 20:1- 9)
Today’s Gospel reading speaks of Mary Magdalene arriving alone at the tomb of Jesus, yet the other Gospels speak of additional women arriving at the scene. Mary Magdalene appears in all four, the others seem to appear in the other three in some form. Is it safe to say that a few actually showed up, or is John’s Gospel an April Fools’ joke? No, merely a writer’s perspective. Two were actual Apostles, and two were writing what they learned second hand from Peter and Paul.
Today is April Fools' Day. It is also Easter Sunday. This unusual conjunction of dates cannot go without comment.

It is unusual. Since 1700, Easter has fallen on April 1 only 11 times! The last time Christians celebrated Easter April 1 was in 1956 -- more than 60 years ago when the world was so unlike the world and culture we inhabit today.

Although Easter falls on April Fools' Day again in 2029 and 2040, it will then not be observed April 1 for another 68 years -- 2108. And then another wait of 62 years ... 2170. I don’t think I will be around to see it in another 68 years, but who knows; it is April Fools day.

Some call it a holiday, although there is nowhere in the world the day is observed officially. You don't get to stay home and hide in the basement for a day, or take a picnic in the park. But in the western world, some version of April Fools' Day exists and merriment ensues.

Typically, a prank is played on a hapless soul who's forgotten about the perils of April 1. When the prank is completed and the “fool” humiliated, the perpetrator then yells "April fool!" As an example, there's the caramelized onion prank. Dip apple-sized onions in caramel, poke a stick in them, and serve them to office workers (or a boss!) who think they're biting into an apple.

Or, cut an outline of a large bug, something that might be an inch or two long, and affix it to the inside of your spouse's lampshade. When the lamp is turned on, the silhouette of the bug appears suddenly, freaking out your victim.

The BBC once broadcast a short documentary in a current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC was later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day. April fools!

Today is Easter. This is one of the highest and most holy days of the Christian calendar. As holy days go, it doesn't get holier than this. And since it is April 1, we have to ask: "Who, after all, is the April fool?"

A whole slew of candidates come to mind. I suppose the women who went to the tomb and found it empty on this day two millennia ago might fear an April Fools’ joke on them, had the day been designated as it is now. They run to the tomb, wondering who will move the stone away, and arrive to find it already moved.
Jesus was truly dead, and the tomb and stone are reminders of such. He didn’t merely pass out on the cross to play an April Fools’ joke on us all three days later. Or did he?

What about Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator? Was this an April Fools’ joke on him? He was the one who cowered in the face of certain religious potentates who said that failing to deal harshly with a treasonous villain like Jesus would not be viewed favorably by Rome. He is the one who washed his hands of the whole affair. He permitted the execution, and not only permitted it, but allowed it to happen in the name of the emperor.

Then, it's Easter and Jesus is risen! Sorry, Pilate! April fools!

Maybe the Apostles are the April fools. There's no doubt that many of the Apostles felt foolish as the crucifixion approached. They had given up their jobs for this Jesus. They had left their homes and families to follow this man on his peripatetic journeys up and down Palestine. Yes, they had been witness to some phenomenal events, stuff they could not then, and could not now explain. They had pinned their hopes and their futures to a man they believed would liberate them. And now he was being led away as a lamb to the slaughter.

So the disciples went home. They abandoned him, betrayed him and wanted to forget him. And now it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! Guess it is April fools on them also!

How about Annas, the high priest, and his toady son-in-law, Caiaphas – was it April Fools on them? Annas is a dark, malevolent figure in this Holy Week drama, something akin to Grand Moff Tarkin or Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars. He has had enough. He has corrupted witnesses, falsified evidence, placed a mole inside of Jesus' inner circle, tracked the movements of this radical insurgent and bided his time. But now, with Passover approaching, he must make sure Jesus is dead and buried and quickly! He pulls the strings. He plays Pontius Pilate like a West Virginia fiddler. He gets what he wants.

But now, Annas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! I guess it is April fools for you also!

Maybe the April fools are the soldiers guarding the tomb. You have to feel for these fellows. They're simply cogs in the Roman industrial military complex. They've got guard duty in a cemetery. They must've been caught drinking grog and playing dice, or maybe they inadvertently allowed a prisoner to escape their custody. So now, as humiliating punishment, they've been sent to the tombs to guard dead people! Haha! They are good, decent chaps. Ordinary, common, following orders. Guarding a dead person. Bet the teasing was brutal in the pub last night!

And now, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! I guess you didn’t see or hear the young men dressed in white come to free your dead prisoner, so it is April Fools for you also!

Or, the April fool is Peter, the commercial fisherman. Oh, Peter started out enthusiastically, no doubt. He defended his rabbi right and left. He was the one who identified Jesus as the "Christ, the Son of the living God." He swore never to abandon his Lord. He even drew a sword against a cohort of Roman security forces, and nearly decapitated one of them, but his swing was errant and deprived the solider of only his ear, not his head.

But then, Peter loses faith faster than a rock sinks in water. When Jesus at last is captured and led away, he denies he ever knew the man. And the person who said he would never leave Jesus, leaves. What a fool!

And now, Peter, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

Is Thomas the April fool, the one with a Ph.D. from Jerusalem Institute of Technology? Oh, Thomas thought he was so smart. He prided himself on his knowledge of the visible world. He delighted in understanding how things worked. He was a curious fellow, believing there's a natural explanation for everything. When Jesus talked about going "to prepare a place" for them, it was this scholarly fellow Thomas who asked, "We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (John 14:5). When his colleagues asserted that Jesus was alive, it was Thomas, ever the academic and scientist, who demanded to see the evidence. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

And now, Thomas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! So, April fools on you too!

However, we must be honest, the greatest of fools are all of us. Certainly, much of the world believes we're crackers, completely foolish souls who need Jesus and religion as some sort of emotional crutch. It's likely that a fair percentage of the general population, who -- although identifying themselves as religious -- think that we committed followers of Jesus take things too seriously. We who love Jesus, who follow his teachings, who obey his word, are regarded by many as the fools. The April fools.

But maybe there's another sense in which we're the Easter fools. We're fools when we claim to believe, but behave as though we don't. We affirm a belief in the resurrection of Christ. We declare that "He is risen!" But we live as though Jesus were still in the tomb, cold and decaying. We affirm our belief with our lips but do not confess Jesus as Lord with our lives.

So why bother? We are indeed fools. And now, friends, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

However, the biggest April fool is not Pontius Pilate, not the disciples, not Annas the high priest, not Peter, not Thomas and not you or any of us. Why? The greatest April fool is Jesus Christ himself. He is the Fool of Easter. He is the Trickster as it were. He is the one who called the devil's bluff in the greatest jest of all time.

Even during his ministry, he acted in foolish ways, according to most contemporary observers. He eschewed a comfortable lifestyle. For friends he had tax collectors, hookers, lepers, fishermen, the poor, the needy and he even spoke to a woman at the well who had more husbands than Elizabeth Taylor. There was not a CEO among his inner circle. He shunted aside angel investors, and instead told them to give away their wealth and follow him. He knew that there is power in being a somebody, but there is truth in being a nobody. He opted for the truth because he knew that power emerges from truth. He chose weakness instead of strength, vulnerability instead of aggressiveness, truth instead of practicality, honesty instead of influence. He stuck his fingers in the eyes of religious authorities and often seemed to deliberately bait those who had the power to kill him.

And then they did. But death could not hold him. The grave could not contain him.

On Easter Fools' Day, "God made foolish the wisdom of the world" (1 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus was God's Fool, "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," whereby God reconciled the world to himself (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18).

Today, Jesus is alive! -- he who "for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). It was Jesus who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

Pretty foolish, it would seem. But this is not the end of the story.

"Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
Death had no hold on the author of life. The tombstone could not seal God’s Son. Like the women finding the empty tomb, we are amazed and yet we should not be. After all, Jesus on more than one occasion predicted this would happen, and yet the Apostles were still astonished.

On this Easter Fools' Sunday, maybe this is what we have an opportunity to do: As fools for Christ, as God's fools, we might consider in humble reverence reaffirming our allegiance to the one who pulled off the greatest jest in history. Maybe we might reaffirm our belief that Jesus is Lord. We need to expect that God will do exactly as he said he would. That’s Easter.

Quite simple, actually.

Just a quiet reaffirmation that goes like this: "Lord Jesus, many people might not think it's the smartest thing in the world to follow you. In fact, they may think I'm crazy, and that you yourself were something of a lunatic. But I have just enough foolish faith to believe that you pulled it off, that you conquered death and brought life and light to the darkened world. So I recommit my life to you -- to be your fool, as it were, to live for you, and to seek support in that company of fools we call the church. Amen."
Let us pray.
That the Church may manifest in concrete ways the truth of Christ’s triumph over death. We pray to the Lord.
That oppression, prejudice, slavery, hatred, and injustice of every sort may be put to death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That Christ risen from the dead will bless our country and free us from fear and falsehood. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to be faithful in living our Catholic faith, especially through fidelity to Sunday Mass and the sacraments. We pray to the Lord.
That the event of Easter will deeply change our lives, renewing our families and blessing us with the new beginning we need. We pray to the Lord.
As always, we pray for those members of our parish who are ill, and our family members and friends who are ill, that the Lord will bless them with peace and heal their infirmities. We pray to the Lord.
That violence as a means to the end, will be eradicated from human nature. We pray to the Lord.
Eternal God, through Your awesome life-giving power, You gave Your Son the victory over sin and death. In our celebration this Easter season, may Your Holy Spirit be with us so that we can better appreciate the wonder what You have done for us. You have given us new life in baptism; may our hearts except all the faith, hope and love You long to give Your children. Deepen our bonds with one another and with You as we sing in joyful praise and thanksgiving. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March 25, 2018
Palm Sunday
(Philippians 2:6-1; Mark 14:1—15:47)
Palm Sunday. An interesting name the Church has given to this passage of Jesus’ life. As soon as the Church obtained her freedom in the fourth century, the faithful in Jerusalem re-enacted the solemn entry of Christ into their city on the Sunday before Easter, holding a procession in which they carried branches and sang the “Hosanna” (Matthew 21, 1-11).
In the early Latin Church, people attending Mass on this Sunday would hold aloft twigs of olives, which were not, however, blessed in those days – a custom/rite that came a couple centuries later. The faithful would continue to hold the palms during the reading of the Passion. In this way, they would recall that many of the same people who greeted Christ with shouts of joy on Palm Sunday would later call for his death on Good Friday-a powerful reminder of our own weakness and the sinfulness that causes us to reject Christ.
The Palm Sunday procession, and the blessing of palms, seems to have originated in the Frankish Kingdom. The earliest mention of these ceremonies is found in the Sacramentary of the Abbey of Bobbio in northern Italy (sometime at the beginning of the eighth century). The rite was soon accepted in Rome and incorporated into the liturgy. A Mass was celebrated in some church outside the walls of Rome, and there the palms were blessed. The prayers used today are of Roman origin and has spread to the many Catholic branches in the centuries since.

Palm Sunday is meant to be one of the most joyful days of the Christian year. It's a day that involves a king and a colt, plus crowds and cloaks. However, as we know, it has a tendency to be “clouded” by that which takes place on Good Friday.

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem as a king. He's riding on a colt. And crowds are laying their cloaks on the ground before him as he rides. They cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9). The people are tired of corrupt King Herod. They want Jesus to be their ruler. Little did they know, that he was not to be the political king they may have been praying for or understanding from the Scriptures.

However, all of this story we know well, and it's easy for us to grasp the meaning of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt while crowds praise him and roll out the red carpet by spreading their cloaks on the road.

The crowds go wild, and so do we. We wave our palm branches. We want Jesus to be our king and to rule our world with love and justice. Everyone is shouting, jumping and jostling to get a better view. The king, the son of David, is coming!

But the Palm Sunday story is not just about a king and a colt, or a crowd and their cloaks. It's also about kenosis. It's a Greek word to describe (in Christian theology) the renunciation of the divine nature, at least in part, by Christ in the Incarnation. It comes to us in Paul's letter to the Philippians, and it's much harder to understand than the meaning of the words king, colt, crowd and cloak.

Kenosis, although a difficult and captivating word of the Christian faith, it is very important to the Christian faith.

Kenosis means "emptiness," but has deeper significance in that it communicates the self-emptying that Christ voluntarily offered on the cross.

Kenosis raises a number of important questions for us as we enter Holy Week. What was accomplished by kenosis? How did this self-emptying result in fullness? And how can we empty ourselves so that God will fill us?

For starters, what was accomplished by kenosis? Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God, but did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.
The Kenosis theory states that Jesus gave up some of His divine attributes while He was a man here on earth. These attributes were omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Christ did this voluntarily so that He could function as a man in order to fulfill the work of redemption. Take Mark 13:32 for example. In it, Jesus said, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." If Jesus knew all things, as is implied in his divine nature, then why did he not know the day or hour of his own return. The answer is that Jesus cooperated with the limitations of humanity and voluntarily did not exercise his attribute of omniscience. He still was divine but was moving and living completely as a man.

Instead, Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.” This is where we run into kenosis in the original Greek, where its meaning is "emptied out." Christ Jesus "emptied himself," taking the form of a slave so that he looked for all the world like an ordinary, very common, nondescript, perhaps even marginalized human being!

What is accomplished by this? Our reading tells us that God "highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Palm Sunday would be easy to understand if it contained only the familiar: kings, colts, crowds and cloaks. In this version of the story, King Jesus would ride into town and confront King Herod, and the one with the biggest crowd would win. But kenosis turns our expectations upside down. Precisely because Jesus emptied, humbled, lowered and abased himself, God exalted him and made him the king of all creation.

The accomplishment of kenosis is fullness, glory and power. This is the opposite of what you would expect from one’s God-- emptiness, embarrassment and powerlessness.

Next, exactly how does this self-emptying result in fullness? For Jesus, kenosis leads to glory and power because it's based on humility and obedience. We turn to the Good News interpretation of the Bible to see it in a slightly different manner, and it says: “The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:  He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness.  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death - his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.  And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” He had the nature of God, but chose to accept the form of a servant. That's humility. That is the example he wants to see us emulate.
This is one of those paradox’s of Christianity – Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and thus he is God, but he lives within his divinity and humanity. Both fully divine and fully human. Just as he relinquishes some of his divine nature while on earth, he also relinquishes the sinful nature of humanity. All meant as an example for us to follow.

It's a counterintuitive attitude. In Lewis Carroll's famous book, Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through the mirror in the living room to find a world on the opposite side where everything is backwards: Alice wants to go forward, but every time she moves, she ends up back where she started. She tries to go left and ends up right. Up is down and fast is slow.

Similarly, Christianity is a kind of looking glass world where everything works on principles opposite to those of the world around us. To be blessed, be a blessing to others.

+ To receive love, give love.

+ To be honored, first be humble.

+ To truly live, die to yourself.

+ To gain the unseen, let go of the seen.

+ To receive, first give.

+ To save your life, lose it.

+ To lead, be a servant.

+ To be first, be last.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul explains that the way up is down. Down is up, up is down. The way to be great is to go lower. The way up is down. The logical flow of Philippians has been building up to this great truth."

An example might be a modern hero like Captain "Sully" Sullenberger who was at the throttle of Flight 1549 when he had to land his jetliner in the Hudson River, saving more than 150 passengers in the process. In the aftermath of that experience, Captain Sully exemplified humility as few could. According to one account, "In an interview after the crash, he was modest about his acts of courage, attributing his poise to his training over the years. 'One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years,' he said, 'I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.'" The event became known as "The Miracle on the Hudson," and was made into a 2016 movie starring Tom Hanks.

Or, you might point to heroes of the past, such as astronaut Neil Armstrong, a political leader like Nelson Mandela, equal rights preacher Martin Luther King Jr., a religious leader like Gandhi or a humanitarian figure like Mother Teresa and many others. Surely there are athletic heroes too that might come to mind, or some heroes in our own community.

Glory and recognition came to all of these people, although none of them sought it, nor did they think it important. But the glory came in a counterintuitive way.

The self-emptying of Jesus was based on both humility and obedience. Paul tells us that "he was in the form of God, [but] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Instead of remaining in the safety and security of his divine existence, Jesus entered human life as a fetus, a baby, a child and eventually a man. "If you want to get the hang of it," suggests C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, "think of how you would like to become a slug or a crab."

But Jesus said "Yes" to emptying himself and entering human life, and he did this out of obedience to God. Paul tells us that "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.” Because of this choice, God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, making him Lord of heaven and earth.

For Jesus, kenosis led to kingship. Because he emptied himself by being humble and obedient, God filled him with glory and power.

Finally, how can we empty ourselves so that God will fill us? Most of us are not going to be asked to follow Jesus to the point of death on a cross. But we are certainly challenged to show humility and obedience as we walk the path of Christ in the world.

We might try to develop a welcoming attitude toward others. Martin Hengel was a great New Testament historian who taught at the University of Tübingen in Germany. In that country, professors are highly esteemed and put on a pedestal. But Pastor John Dickson remembers how Professor Hengel would have his students come to his home on Friday evenings for meals and discussions. "He wasn't influential just because he was a brilliant scholar," says Dickson. "It was the fact that he let people come very close, that he shared his life with them -- that humility is what made his influence lasting."

We can show the same kind of humility, whether we are influencing students, coaching a team or leading a group of workers. People are grateful when we take them seriously and welcome them into our lives.

We might try to be the servant of others. Our practice of kenosis also includes obedience to Jesus Christ, who said to his followers, "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant" (Matthew 20:26). He wants us to empty ourselves, as he did, and act as slaves to each other, just as he "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

We might try to be generous with material things.

We might try thinking the best of others, forgiving them when they don't know what they're doing.

We might try praying for our "enemies," and those who "persecute" us.

We might try being a peacemaker.

We might try denying ourselves and carrying a cross for a while.

You want to know how to experience a self-emptying? An emptying of self? That's how! Think about it – some of those things are hard to do.

The good news is that this emptying does not lead to embarrassment and powerlessness. Instead, it leads to great fullness. Jesus says that "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).

Palm Sunday has always been a predictable story of kings, colts, crowds and cloaks. But the addition of the Greek word kenosis turns our expectations upside down. This self-emptying of Jesus, grounded in humility and obedience, is the unexpected key to his heavenly fullness.

And our fullness as well.
Let us pray.
That the suffering and death of Jesus Christ will strengthen the Church in holiness and give her new growth. We pray to the Lord.
That civil authorities will use their power to protect the poor, oppose injustice, preserve freedom, and promote lasting peace. We pray to the Lord.
That Christians everywhere will live this Holy Week with special reverence, self-giving, and devotion. We pray to the Lord.
That God will shelter all persecuted Christians and make their witness effective for the redemption of all. We pray to the Lord.
That our Lenten discipline will continue to transfigure the way we live so as to bring forth even deeper conformity to Christ, and to follow His example of kenosis. We pray to the Lord.
That all the peoples of the world will begin to see each other as brothers and sisters, not as people of different race, religion, or class. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick this week, that even in their infirmity, they may find the peace of Christ during this most Holy Week. We pray to the Lord.
Merciful Father, by the holy cross of Christ, Your Son has redeemed the world. Help us to take up His cross and to be united to Jesus in His passion, to be united in Jesus in our emptying of ourselves so that You may fill us. May we be united with our Lady Mary who saw firsthand her Son, our Lord, empty Himself that we might have life everlasting. We ask all these things, Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18, 2018
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
(Formerly known as: Passion Sunday)
(Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)
Some famous people have made famous exits. Elvis left the building. Lou Gehrig said he was the luckiest man on Earth and quit baseball. Jesus had more than one exit. He died, rose again and then ascended to heaven.

What is the best exit and/or exit line of all time?

To draw on recent history (and by recent, I mean the last 50 to 75 years), you'd have might mention Richard M. Nixon's exit address. On November 7, 1962, Richard M. Nixon conceded defeat to the successful candidate for the California governorship, Pat Brown. Addressing a crowd of reporters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Nixon gave vent to the bitterness of that campaign. He castigated the media, saying, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." (Seems US Presidents and media have animosity going back further than the current administration I’d say!)

Although Nixon -- and much of America -- thought it was his last exit line, it was not. In a remarkable comeback, Nixon returned to politics and in 1968 was elected president.

On August 8, 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, then-President Nixon resigned from that office. The final words of his speech on that occasion were: "To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: May God's grace be with you in all the days ahead." Unlike Nixon's 1962 exit line, that one stuck, and it was certainly more positive than his previous exit lines.

Or, think of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's retirement from public life with his observation to Congress that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away." That one seems to have been remembered a bit more.

Then there's baseball player Lou Gehrig's farewell speech. On July 4, 1939, Gehrig stood in front of the podium, speaking to the Yankee faithful, proclaiming despite his recent health issues that he considered himself to be "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." That was the last day Gehrig would ever wear a baseball uniform again as what is known today as Lou Gehrig's disease claimed his life two years later.

Finally, let's mention Randy Pausch, professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh. Pausch did not know he had pancreatic cancer until September 2006 and less than two years later he was passed on.
About a year before he died, he delivered an upbeat lecture called The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. It became a popular YouTube video, and later a best-selling book, The Last Lecture. Among the many lines that emerged from this lecture is Pausch's comment that if he only had three words of advice, "I'd say, 'Tell the truth.' If I had three more words, I'd add 'All the time.'"

His last lecture was an amazing exit and an equally inspiring exit "line" or lines. It is a touching nook that I highly recommend. I have the book here with me today in case anyone might want to glance at it.

In the religious category, one source says that three leaders are tied for the best exit of all time: Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha. You have to give them credit for the religions they founded, especially since more than 4 billion people combined now count themselves as followers.

It's hard to argue that Jesus' exit wasn't the most dramatic. And you might say that he had more than one. Jesus made a habit of leaving during his short ministry of three years. He makes an astonishing appearance at the Jordan River where his cousin John is baptizing people. After John baptizes Jesus, he disappears for 40 days into the wilderness.

He often made a quick exit from crowds to get away on a retreat.

He left the Last Supper to go to Gethsemane to pray.

And then the big exit. He died. On a cross. A few sympathizers got his body and put it in a tomb. He was dead and entombed. A final exit?

Noooooo, he reappears and spends some time with his disciples and then exits again. See Acts 1. Into the clouds. Poof. Gone. And the Bible says he now sits at the right hand of the Father.

As for exit lines, Jesus had a few of those, too. Of course, you might refer to the so-named "seven last words" of Christ on the cross, though they were more light seven last statements, but let’s not quibble.

You might refer to his post-resurrection exit line recorded as the last words of Matthew's gospel, "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

So Jesus not only had a fabulous exit or exits, he had a few good lines, too.

One of these lines, spoken only days before his death, is in today's text. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

Soon after Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover festival, some Greeks approach the disciple Philip and say to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip relays their words to Andrew, and then the two of them take the request to Jesus. He tells them -- in so many words -- that he will die soon, and then he compares himself to a seed. "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

These Greeks have grown up with Aesop's fables, so they know the power of a simple story to teach a moral lesson. But in case they do not get his point, Jesus goes on to say, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

In other words, although death is very close for Jesus, he tells the disciples that his own literal death is a metaphor for understanding how his followers must live every day: they must live by dying. When they do, like a seed in the ground, they will grow and bear fruit.

You can certainly understand the confusion of the Greeks. They know that the dead tend to stay dead. But Jesus is telling them that fruitfulness comes from going into the ground, and a loss of life leads to eternal life. And then he drops this exit line: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” When he is lifted up on the cross, he will not repel people. Instead, he will draw people. Fruitfulness and eternal life. Both are connected to the power of the cross, a cross that Jesus elsewhere says we must embrace as an instrument of our own metaphorical death. And when we do, we will bear fruit and live.

So the cross, in a sense, is not an exit but an entrance -- an entrance to a new level or plane of living.

For some, however, the cross is both metaphorical and literal.

For an example, we need only turn to events that happened 50 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On the night before his death, he gave a speech in which he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life -- longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land."

This was King's "mountaintop" speech, and it contained some powerful truths about his life and about the Civil Rights movement. He was right to say that "longevity has its place," and it would have been marvelous if he had been able to live out his life and die peacefully. But at the same time, he delivered a vision of the Promised Land that continues to inspire people today.

We are still on the path to that Promised Land, as we work for racial reconciliation and try to fight racism wherever we see it, in ourselves and in our communities. King's death did not kill his efforts for justice, but instead it gave life to a movement that is bigger now than it has ever been.

"I've seen the Promised Land," said King. "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land." He was right. He went into the earth like a grain of wheat, and his efforts have borne much fruit, even though hatred seems to still be very much alive, ever so unfortunately.

And how about eternal life? Jesus says that "those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Those who love life are those who are attached to the things of this world, and who want to become rich and famous and powerful. Jesus knows that you cannot take material goods and worldly achievements into the grave, so in the end these kinds of lives are lost. As the country song says, "I ain't never seen a hearse with a luggage rack."

Here's another example: This time it's an example of a metaphorical death, not a literal one. In this death, a baseball player "dies" to the temptation to put the god of money and financial reward ahead of his core values.

A couple of years ago, baseball player Adam LaRoche walked away from a $13 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. He did this because he wanted his son to spend a lot of time with him and the team, and the team's management did not agree. He announced his retirement on Twitter, thanking God for the game of baseball and ending with the hashtag “Family First.”

Fellow players responded by commending LaRoche for "standing up for his beliefs." One said, "Nothing like father and son in the clubhouse. It's a family game."

LaRoche is a Christian who once asked himself the question: "What do you want written on your tombstone? Do you want 'Adam LaRoche: Gold Glove, batting average, hit so many homers, and has a million dollars in his bank account,' or do you want 'Adam LaRoche: Man of God, integrity, raised a great family, loving.' Let's be honest: I don't know anybody who wants their [job] stats."

LaRoche is living -- by dying. He "puts to death" his natural desire for fame and money. What he gets is richly rewarding: fruitfulness and a life of meaning and significance.

You might say that it was easy for him to do this because perhaps he already had earned millions and stashed it away. Maybe. But how much money you have doesn't deliver you from the demon of greed and avarice. Sadly, some of us have had to learn that in hard ways.

Fruitfulness and eternal life are both found in the cross, the daily cross we bear. The Greeks who came to see Jesus were probably mystified by his exit line: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” They saw the cross as a scandalous death and a humiliating defeat. As the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, "Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).

We Christians proclaim Christ crucified because we know that the cross is the clearest sign of just how far Jesus will go to show us the love of God. Jesus died so that we could receive forgiveness and new life. He gave himself for us to demonstrate the value of a life of self-denial. Such a life is powerfully attractive, and people continue to be drawn by the power of the cross.
I want to end this with a true story.
“One day a Nazi called on a Jewish man, who along with his wife had become Christians. The man asks the Nazi, ‘How many Jews have you killed this week?’ The Nazi answered, ‘Oh about 25,000.’ The man continued and asked, ‘In this particular village, how many did you kill?’ The Nazi answered, ‘Oh, I killed everyone in that town.’ The man asked another question, ‘do you ever ask God for forgiveness?’ And the Nazi responds, ‘God doesn’t exist! There is any such thing as forgiveness!’The man continues and says, ‘Alright, my wife is upstairs asleep. She has not heard this conversation. And I’m going to ask her to come down.’ When the wife appeared before them, the husband said to his wife, ‘Levena, this is the man who killed your father, your mother, your three brothers, and your two sisters.’ The wife looked at the Nazi for a moment, and then threw her arms around him, kissed him, and said, ‘As God forgives you, I forgive you!’”

Let's follow where the Cross leads us, toward fruitful service and eternal life. Let us each find our cross and deny some natural desire in our lives and live for what we can take with us when we too make our exit. Let us follow Christ by offering forgiveness not only to those who may have hurts, by especially to ourselves. Let us walk with our cross with open abandonment and patience, because when we exit, we too will have an exit line. We know not when the Lord will take us, but we must always be ready. And with that, let me leave one last thing for you to ponder.
A man approaches the gates of heaven and asks to be allowed to enter. “Tell me one good thing you did in your life,” asks St. Peter. “Well,” says the man, “I saw a group of punks harassing an elderly lady, so I ran up and kicked their leader in the shins.” St. Peter’s impressed. “When did this happen?” “About 40 seconds ago.”
Let us pray.
That those in civil governance will dedicate themselves to justice, peace, authentic freedom, and the generous defense of the poor. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will grow in holiness so that we will always love one another with perfect charity. We pray to the Lord.
That God will cleanse the world of all errors, banish disease, comfort those who mourn, grant safety to travelers, love for those who differ from us, health to the sick, and salvation to the dying. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be ambassadors of Christ in the world. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week as we follow Lent toward Holy Week that begins this coming Sunday known as Palm Sunday, to live in greater faithfulness and love for Christ our Lord. We pray to the Lord.
We especially pray for those of our parish and their personal needs that they may be granted assistance and hope. And for those in our parish who are suffering from illness that they may be granted healing. We pray to the Lord.
We continue to pray for an end to violence and that within this country that allows the bearing of arms, that those who do bear these arms may not use them against fellow human beings. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, forgive our evildoing and remember our sin no more. Let us always be prepared for our inevitable exit of this world, by being Your faithful children throughout our lives. Help us to prepare our hearts for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Your Son. Help us to find greater peace and tranquility with a humble heart, as we continue the final weeks of Lent in preparation for the great solemnity of Christ’s resurrection. We ask all this, Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 4, 2018
The Third Sunday in Lent
(1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25)
Today, we hear of Jesus’ chasing out the money changers vendors from the Temple. I want to twist this a little and place out reading as an inspiration for our inner temples. By encountering Christ, we too can chase out the troublesome areas out of ourselves and become more fully aware of Christ this Lent. I want to talk about five ways to encounter Christ. With hearts full of devotion, humility and love, these encounters, which are part of the teachings of the Church and supported by sacred Scripture, connect us logically as well as emotionally. As we continue our journey through Lent, sometimes it helps us to find new ways to encounter Christ during this time of preparation.
If you were brought up as an evangelical Christian you would constantly be made aware of the need to develop a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I think being a Catholic we too can come to be aware of the true potential of such an idea. It may not be a common theme, but it certainly is subtly taught in ongoing ways.
In the evangelical world, the “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” sometimes seems as transient as a butterfly. It is difficult to catch and keep alive. Usually, the personal encounter with Christ is expected to begin when a person “got saved” or “accepted Jesus into his heart as his personal Lord and Savior.”
While such personal experiences are valuable, they can be difficult to pin down. This is because the personal experience encouraged by evangelicals is subjective and very often highly emotional. A typical way that an evangelical might “get saved” is to hear the Gospel preached at church or at a “revival” or at a “crusade.” Having heard the Gospel and felt the need to accept Christ, the person walks down the aisle and prays with another Christian — repenting of sins and praying to “accept Jesus Christ.” They are then considered saved and a Christian. For Catholics, it is a bit more intellectual, mystical and involved.
The problem is that many of these events are highly managed. The preachers have a formula for inducing feelings of guilt and shame. More psychological than intellectual. These feelings are often combined with warnings about hell and the promise of heaven. Before the preaching, there is emotional hymn singing that helps the person suspend doubts and get into a “group mentality.” If you think my sermons are long, the sermons of evangelicals tend to be very long and meant to be very persuasive, and they are followed with more music designed to tug at a person’s emotions. It is very likely, therefore, that emotionally vulnerable people will indeed feel sorry for their sins and go forward to tearfully accept Jesus.
They are told that they are now “saved,” bound for heaven, and nothing they can do could ever destroy the decision they have made. But, is this sufficient for them to enter eternal life when they die?
No doubt such decisions are helpful and are often a good first step toward a Christian commitment. I have known many people who point to such experiences as the true moment of their conversions to Christ. Therefore, I would not want to discount such religious experiences. They are very real and meaningful, and surely the Holy Spirit is present at such moments.
However, it is necessary to be honestly critical. The emotional conversion experience might be genuine, but, then again, it might simply be an artificially manufactured emotional moment induced by a well-meaning preacher in the lives of emotionally vulnerable listeners. It might be a genuine conversion experience, or it might be no more than a momentary emotional rush. Catholics who are not properly formed may also have a religious experience that is just as transient.
This is why the Catholic Church teaches that there are five objective means through which we can have an encounter with Christ.
Various catechisms teach in some fashion that Christ Jesus, who died and who was raised from the dead and who is at the right hand of God, is the one who intercedes for us and is present in many ways to His Church; in His word; in His Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name”; in the poor, the sick and the imprisoned; in the person of the minister or priest; and in the Sacraments, of which He is the author, and in the sacrifice of the Mass. But, we believe that He is most especially present in the Holy Eucharist.
The Catholic encounter with Christ is, therefore, not a vague, personal, emotional experience. It is a concrete, real and objective experience. The experience is objective because it is rooted in the historical events of the Gospel and the sacred history of the Church and her Saints. It is an experience that can be guaranteed no matter what our emotions might tell us. Regardless of our emotional state before or after receiving the Blessed Eucharist, Christ is truly present in the Miracle of the changed host.
As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, we encounter Christ in the sacred Scriptures. Reading the Scripture lessons of the day before we go to Mass, studying the Bible and reading the Bible on our own will bring us face-to-face with Jesus. Before we read the lessons, we should ask the Holy Spirit to enable this encounter. Study what Lectio Divina means and develop a practice of this form Biblical reading and prayer.
We encounter Christ in the assembly of the faithful. “Where two or three are gathered,” Jesus says, “there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). The Church is not only where we meet our Catholic friends and family. It is where we meet Christ the Lord.
The Church as the Body of Christ and the Body of Believers is a historical and current reality. It is not something we made up or something we wish existed. Whether we feel emotional about it or not, Christ is present there to meet us. The fact that the Church is often frail, wounded and flawed in her humanity is one of the marks of her authenticity. Someone once said, “If the Church was completely perfect all the time, wouldn’t you be suspicious that it was not real?” Not to mention, as I frequently say, if we were perfect, there would be no need for a church and on the opposing side, if the Church were perfect, none of us would be allowed in it because of our imperfection. Many who have stopped attending churches as a whole have forgotten this. We should not blame the church for an individual’s failings, because it is in the very church we criticize that Christ is truly present!
The third way we encounter Christ is in the person of the poor, the imprisoned, the sick and dying (Matthew 25). Whenever we are involved in working with the poor, visiting people in hospice care or in the hospital, or being involved in prison work and other charitable endeavors, we have a direct encounter with Christ. Saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Vincent de Paul affirm these truths. When we work with the needy, we have a chance to see Jesus in them, and this encounter with Christ is real, powerful and concrete. St. Mother Teresa might ask, “Do you want to encounter Christ? Work with the poor.”
The fourth way we encounter Christ is in the person of the priest. This is not simply that we see Jesus when the priest is celebrating Mass. We also meet Christ in a profound way as we get to know and love our priests. Jesus is hidden there not only in their gifts of love, mercy and administration of the Sacraments. Jesus is also hidden there in their human frailties and weakness. If we have eyes to see, then we will love and treasure our priests, because even in their humanity they are revealing Jesus to us.
We become emotionally angry when our priests don’t quite live up to the standard or pedestal that some put them on. No priest is a perfect Christ, because they too, like you, are human and imperfect. They represent Christ; they are not Christ. Though the Holy Spirit does work through these individuals, they do make mistakes, they do sin and sometimes they commit grave crimes. Fortunately, those who commit grave crimes, however, are very few, but so many will lose their faith over that one priest or bishop that somehow failed them. Studies show that those priests amount to a single digit percentage of the whole, however. Those few have made it hard for the rest of us, just as bad politicians ruin it for those who truly serve their constituents. Priests need our prayers to be faithful and remain fast in their own struggles.
Finally, we encounter Christ in the Sacraments of the Church. The seven Sacraments are not mere religious rituals. They are the objective, physical and historical means through which Jesus comes to meet us. They are physical signs of invisible grace. No emotional tugs, merely actual physicality’s of Christ’s presence in His Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and it is through these Sacramental signs that our covenant with Christ is solemnly sealed.
These five ways are real encounters with Christ, which do not depend on the fickleness of our emotions. Nevertheless, when we approach these five examples with hearts full of devotion, humility and love, these encounters will also be deeply emotional. As we read the Scriptures, pray with Christ’s Church, minister to those in need, learn to love our priests and treasure the Sacraments, with our hearts open to the mysteries of God’s love, we encounter in a real, powerful and personal way Jesus Christ the Lord.
So, even though we may not have revivals or crusades, we have physical reminders or spiritual powers that Christ bestowed on His Apostles that has been carried down through the ages and used to physically give grace without emotional feelings being induced. There is so much more than coming forward to be prayed over and waiting for the Holy Spirit to push you over. Here, we experience Christ ministering through His ministers in very real physical ways.
We do indeed have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but in different, subtle and physical ways through rituals long introduced by God Himself to the Israelites many millennia ago and handed down through the ages to now. God wanted us to worship Him in ritual and liturgy, made obvious by His command to the High Priest’s in ancient Judacia. Jesus respected and participated in these rituals that were handed down, and commanded the Apostles to do the same, and so here we are.
Being a Catholic is more than just a religion; we are encouraged to make it a way of life and in so doing, we have a personal relationship with Christ as well. It is more than Mass on Sundays. We should take use of the many mini rituals, prayers and practices that come to Catholics. Lectio Divina, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, Novenas, daily structured prayer, little statues and icons in our homes, holy cards/prayer cards, and so much more than what other churches have or teach. When we do all this, we have a relationship with Christ; we have a way of life.
Let us pray.
That we may obey the Ten Commandments as God’s gift pointing us toward a life truly free and fulfilling. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to terrorism and religious persecution, and that God’s peace will reign through the world. We pray to the Lord.
That our political leaders will stop the constant disagreements and to start to truly work for the safety of the people. That these same politicians will not side with a particular industry simply because they supply various financial assistance and finally, once and for all, commit to legislation that will make it harder for weapons such as combat guns and accessories from being allowed into the hands of those who commit heinous crimes such as we have been seeing ever increasingly, especially this year. We pray to the Lord.
That those suffering from mental illness, anger misplacement, inappropriate social behavior or other causes that create an environment for violence, will seek and/or be taken to the help they need to better manage their emotions without resorting to violence and that they will be lifted up through the power of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to renew and deepen our efforts at genuine Lenten observance and deepen our desire for an encounter with Our Lord Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, You have proved Your love for us through Christ who died for us. Let us always remain faithful to that love. Help us all to work together in love for our fellow human beings. Merciful God, You invite us to repentance so that we can find the happiness we are seeking. Help us to trust more deeply in the Good News of salvation so that we can turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. This Lent, as we pray more devoutly and listen to Your Word more attentively, may we encounter You in ways we have discerned today and thus may our hearts be transformed by the saving love of the Cross. We ask all these things, as we ask all things, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, February 25, 2018

February 25, 2018
The Second Sunday in Lent
(Romans 8:31-39; Mark 8:31-38)
One of the latest trends among the misnamed "slacker generation" is the growth of "extreme sports." Any sport, any activity, it seems, is better if taken to some new "extreme." Snowboarding is great; air-boarding (riding your snow-board down to earth after jumping out of an airplane) is extremely better. Mountain-biking, roller blading, skiing--everything is being taken to new, more daring extremes.

Of course, the only place most of us ever see the performances of these "extreme athletes" is from the depths of the lounge chair, safely parked in front of the TV. We watch these "crazy kids," shake our heads and preach about what ridiculous risks they are taking just to have fun. Just look back at the winter Olympics this year and see how medals went out to snow-boarders!

But do you know who's really taking the biggest risk? The most risk-laden recreational sports in the world today are the "armchair Olympics" or the "couch-potato championships." While we just sit there watching "extreme athletes," our own blood pressure slowly rises; cholesterol starts piling up in our arteries; internalized stress mounts; our lungs take wimpy, inefficient breaths; and our muscle tone deteriorates.

Contrast that with the "crazy athlete." While apparently risking life and limb, the extreme athlete keeps his or her body fit, stress levels are lowered and there is that euphoric, endorphic rush that just generally makes us feel good. In the long run, hurtling through the air may be a lot less risky than sitting there in a chair!
The church, too, is increasingly being tempted to take a safe, armchair attitude. We are just now waking up to the fact that secular society in the early 21st century isn't only not church-friendly; it isn't even church-broken! In fact, the church as a witnessing body of Christ is finding itself insidiously undermined on nearly every social, economic and political front by those who claim the old labels "conservative" and "liberal" alike. Instead of facing up to this extreme situation and extreme threat, we've generally responded by "playing it safe"-- a kind of "let's- go-along-to-get-along" attitude. More and more Christians in the public square are finding themselves engaged in rear-guard apologetics instead of front-line proclamation.

Why is it we feel we must somehow "protect" God from attacks launched by this post-Christendom culture? If God is so wimpy that the divine reputation is dependent upon an out-of-shape, overweight, soft-in-the-belly church for protection and defense, then we really are in trouble.

Christians need to stop worrying about protecting God's good reputation and instead start taking a few risks for the sake of the gospel. Guess what? We really do have a big-enough God to deal with whatever human sinfulness may try to dish out.

--We have a big-enough God to reach through the Internet.
--We have a big-enough God to break through cynicism.
--We have a big-enough God to push through the barriers of race, nation and culture.
--We have a big-enough God to wade through hatred, despair and anxiety.
--We have a big-enough God to fly through the vastness of the universe.
--We have a big-enough God to enter through the expanding possibilities in medicine and science.

Feminist theologian/novelist/Roman Catholic convert/pastor's wife Sara Maitland has written wittily about our overprotectiveness of the divine reputation. In her collection of essays, she tells a story that illustrates how ridiculously petty our concerns have become. Here is one essay as an example:

A few years ago, just a day or so after York Minster was struck by lightning, I was on my way to the local post office near my home, which is in a wretchedly poor part of Hackney, when I met an elderly woman. She was most distressed by this bolt from the heavens, this "act of God" as the insurance people call it (which alone gives you pause for thought). She was very upset. Did I think, she asked, that God had done it on purpose, as some newspapers were speculating? The post was about to leave, and I was in a hurry, but how can anyone resist such a subject? No, I said, I didn't really think so, did she? No, she said, she didn't really think that God was like that. There was a pause, and I was poised to escape. Then she added, in what I can only describe as a tone of affectionate criticism, "But he should have been more careful; he should have known there'd be talk."

God really is big enough to take the heat.

When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, he finally took a leap of faith, a genuine risk. He quit being an "armchair disciple," and for just a moment became an airborne "extreme disciple", risking everything for the thrill of claiming Jesus as Messiah totally and completely. But when Jesus followed Peter's big risk by revealing the God-sized risk He himself would undertake, Peter lost his nerve.

Peter had come to recognize Jesus as Messiah as a result of the "glory days" and good times of Jesus' Galilean ministry. Peter couldn't believe that his newly confessed Messiah was "big enough" to embrace the ignominy and defeat, the suffering and ridicule, the torture and death that Jesus predicted were to come. Peter thought he had to protect Jesus from this future, shield him from exposing the divine reputation to such a high-level risk. Despite his confession of faith, Peter's concept of the Messiah, his understanding of God's power and purpose, wasn't "big enough."

God took the biggest risk in all of history when God created men and women and gave us the freedom to choose or reject a relationship with our Creator. This divine risk was so huge that eventually it necessitated another God-ordained gamble--a crucified Christ. Jesus incarnated God's risk-taking love for humanity by offering us a new way back to the wholeness God intended for creation.

Peter's worries were ridiculous. With God's help, Jesus was big enough to shoulder the cross, big enough to bear the suffering of the world, big enough to endure the scorn and rejection, big enough to accept the judgment of death. Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, was big enough to endure all this, to take this ultimate risk because he knew first-hand a God who was big enough--big enough to break through the hate with love, big enough to relieve the suffering forever, big enough to roll away the rock at the tomb's entrance, big enough to break the bonds of death itself and big enough to bring about the glory of the Resurrection.

Jesus' first formal lesson on discipleship taught that there was no risk we can take that is so great it could ever separate us from God's redemption and God's love. Our greatest risk, Jesus cautioned, comes when we try to "play it safe" and avoid any risk-taking ventures--"those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

Jesus wants us to be "extreme Christians." The body of Christ must become the "extreme church." We have a big- enough God, a big-enough Savior, to handle whatever risks may emerge from our extreme behavior. We have a God who risked loving us beyond all else.
Let us pray.
The whole world; that our days may truly become the acceptable time of grace, salvation, and peace. We pray to the Lord.
For sinners and the neglectful; that in this season of reconciliation they may return to Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That this season of Lent will be a time of deeper conversion for our parish and all churches. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are downhearted or are burdened with difficulties; that they may experience a transfiguring power of God. We pray to the Lord.
That terrorism and violence will be seen as a great evil and that all will work harder to curb all these senseless deaths. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick, the hungry, the lonely, the homeless, the unemployed, and the depressed; that the Lord will lift them up and give them strength and bring miraculous blessings to their lives. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, You did not spare Your own Son but handed Him over for us. We trust that You will always give us what we need. Keep us true to You. Redeemer Lord, as we prepare to celebrate the great mystery of Your dying and rising, send Your Holy Spirit to guide us this Lent. May we be led to a spirit of true repentance for our sins and failures, and gain a grateful appreciation for the gifts of salvation. May we forgive as we have been forgiven, love as we have been loved and serve as we have been served. May we trust in You at all times, confident that in Your mercy You have willed the redemption of the whole world. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 18, 2018
First Sunday in Lent
(1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)
Say the words “Big Wheel” or “Schwinn Stingray” to just about anyone over 40 and they will likely pull back some thinning hair to show you a scar and tell you a story — a story that usually involves participating in some variation of a copycat Evel Knievel stunt involving cinder blocks, plywood, a hill, pavement and a trip to the emergency room. For many baby boomers, getting a few stitches in the scalp was a childhood rite of passage. My brother got stiches on his head due to tobogganing down a hill during winter in a cemetery. Headstones tend to not move.

Now that the boomers are parents, though, there’s no way they’d let their offspring be so scarred and scared by the ER doc and his needle (or worse). Many of the kids in the neighborhood are now fully helmeted, padded and protected by increasingly more high-tech and specialized safety equipment — whether they are riding their bikes or scooters or skateboards. Oh, and the formerly fearless boomers are wearing them, too — now realizing that their own bones and skulls are more fragile and are just one bad pothole away from being irreparably cracked.

And it’s not just bicycle riders who sport these multicolored brain buckets. Now there’s a helmet for just about every activity you can think of. An ever-increasing number of people are sporting helmets on the slopes — as much as 50 percent of the skiers and riders at some resorts. It makes sense to have on a helmet when you’re bombing down the mountain, though they’re probably more effective at staving off bumps and bruises than keeping you alive if, say, you have a run-in with a tree at high speed. (That would definitely be what would happen to me!)

Helmets are hip — even with teenagers, including the Tantrum Audex, a helmet with integrated headphones for snowboarders to listen to their iPods while thrashing some powder. Some models even incorporate a cell phone, though one wonders whether talking on one when skiing is even more dangerous than driving with one.

And it doesn’t stop there. Once mom piles the kids into the minivan, the day is coming when the kiddos will switch to another kind of helmet. The government has been reviewing a patent for a child-sized car helmet.

Wearing proper protection to keep your head together makes good sense. But what kind of protection do you use to guard your spirit when tempted to take some ill-advised risks? What kind of holy helmet is best?

The temptation narratives in the Gospels give us a clue as Jesus, venturing out on His own to begin His ministry, heads into the wilderness to engage in some extreme spiritual sports competition with Satan. Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, which is kind of a Reader’s Digest version of the story, gives us the sense that Jesus was prepared to take on the challenge, knowing that His thoughts and His spirit were protected.

As the passage opens, we find Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by His cousin, John. And though we do not see this in this Gospel narrative, we know from the others that a voice from heaven breaks through the sound of the rushing water and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. “You are my son, the Beloved,” says the voice; “with you I am well pleased.”

God, the Father, is the one who gives Jesus His identity, marking Him as someone special, someone who has God’s favor. In a very real sense, Jesus begins His ministry equipped and protected with nothing less than the full love of a divine parent. A child who is loved is more likely to take care of himself because parents express their love freely. They’ll put on the helmet at the parents’ request (usually) before jumping on the bike because they know that the folks have their best interests and safety at heart. Jesus goes forth into the wilderness with a similar feeling — knowing in a powerful way that He is loved.

As we go out into a world fraught with temptations and potential pitfalls, our first line of defense is to know that God loves us, too. That we are “beloved” because of God’s grace. The knowledge and experience, forged through the day to day relationship we walk in with God, are better predictors of heart, mind and soul protection than any high tech headwear. When we know that God cares for us, we can move out smartly to take on the bumps and jumps the day throws at us.
Mark doesn’t expound much on the temptations that Jesus faced out in the wilderness, but Matthew and Luke do. Foundationally fitted with God’s love, Jesus is able to switch helmets effectively to protect Himself against the tempter. Like a bullying kid standing at the base of a plywood ramp, Satan double-dog dares Jesus to do something risky. Using Scripture as a biblical brain bucket, Jesus doesn’t take the leap.

Satan says, “Satisfy your hunger and turn these stones to bread.” Jesus puts on the shell of self-denial, recognizing that everything comes from God and that God provides.

They go to the pinnacle of the temple. “Jump off,” says the bully, “and land unharmed. If you’re so great, God will protect you.” Jesus tightens the strap on the “skid lid” of common sense and knows that people who have real power don’t need to show it off or use it to suit their own ends.

Then there’s the big one — “All the kingdoms of the world can be yours,” says Satan, “if you’ll only worship me.” Jesus buckles on the helmet of humility and says that God is the only one worth serving.

Knowing who He was, what He was about, and what He had to do to accomplish his mission kept Jesus’ mind guarded and heart protected, not only in this wilderness temptation, but throughout His ministry and, ultimately, on the cross where He would again be dared to “come down” and do what a messiah was supposed to do.

Experiencing God’s love, knowing our Scriptures, and following Jesus’ example are probably the best ways to be spiritually protected as we roll through our days.

Lent is like a helmet for us. It helps us to get into a frame of mind of protecting ourselves from various temptations by fasting from them. Fasting doesn’t necessarily need to be fasting from food; maybe it is fasting from television once or twice a week; or fasting from technology on the weekends. Any number of things can be your fast. And these fasts will be your helmet to protect you from something that needs curbing. Whatever it may be, by putting on a Christian fast will always bring some good and definitely some grace from God.
Let me leave you with a Rule For Lent written by the late Arthur Lichtenberger, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, 1958-1964.
“Fast from criticism, and feast on praise.
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.
Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.
Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment.
Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.
Fast from pride, and feast on humility.
Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.
Fast from fear, and feast on faith.”
Let us pray.
That this season of Lent will be a time of greater prayer and fervent devotion for us and for all of the Church. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That these days of Lent will be marked by earnest efforts at peacemaking throughout the world. We pray to the Lord.
That we will be generous in our almsgiving this Lent, and attentive to the poor. We pray to the Lord.
That this Lent we will be faithful to fasting and to all the ways that the Lord sanctifies us. We pray to the Lord.
That God will rescue all those who live at a distance from Him due to self-absorption or sin. We pray to the Lord.
That this Lent, the Church will bear witness to the Gospel message of God’s love to those who live in material, moral, and spiritual destitution. We pray to the Lord.
That the 17 lives lost in the Florida shooting this past week, may rest in peace eternal in the bosom of God’s love. And that the family and friends and colleagues left behind; that the Holy Spirit will comfort them in their great time of sorrow. We pray to the Lord.
That senseless murders and terrorist attacks be stopped. That all peoples who are aware of any indications of any individual or individuals that plan to perpetrate these killings, that may help to bring those people to justice and save lives. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, at all times let us bless You as we ask You to make our paths straight and to grant success to our endeavors and plans. And that, You, Lord Jesus, in Your most difficult hour, You asked Your friends to watch and pray with You. We pray now for the courage to remain faithful to You, surrounded as we are by the difficulties of our own lives. Help us to learn from You what it means to take up our cross each day and to seek the will of the Father. As our Lenten prayers and actions bring us closer to You, open our eyes to the gift of Your saving grace in our lives. We ask all these things in your most holy name. Amen.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February 11, 2018
Quinquagesima
(2 Peter 1:16-21; Mark 2:23-28)
On March 4th, actors will speak and the world will listen -- or yawn, laugh or scoff.

The Academy Awards, or the Oscars, as it's more commonly called, is the biggest night in Hollywood. It's also one of the most widely-watched events on television with more than 40 million tuning in annually to watch the world's wealthiest people, most handsome actors and actresses and our finest directors give themselves awards.

Ask anyone who tunes in faithfully to each year's telecast why they watch the event, and they'll give you a host of reasons. There's the red carpet glamour, taking note of which beautiful outfit is worn by which beautiful person. There's the opening number, wondering if this year's host will fall flat on his or her face or become the next Bob Hope or Billy Crystal.

And, of course, there's the drama of the unexpected winners and the unpredictable acceptance speech.

To receive an Oscar in many ways is a cultural anointing. To win is to be instantly inducted into the ultimate Hollywood elite -- to grab an honor that has escaped even some of the world's most recognizable talents. But when an obscure actor surprisingly wins an Oscar, his or her life is instantly changed, and the full glow of Hollywood immediately rains upon him or her. In that moment the attention shifts to what he or she will say upon being welcomed into the ultimate clique of the cool and talented.

There's no telling who will win, or what they'll say. But one thing is for sure -- one thing that all of us watching at home are thinking: They must cherish this moment while it lasts, because even an anointing into the coolest club in Hollywood is no guarantee of perpetual relevance and enduring respect. Tinseltown is littered with cautionary tales of one-hit wonders who hoisted a golden statue only to have their bright lights fade behind them.

Peter, in today's text, is writing to Christians who had their doubts -- doubts about whether this resurrected Jesus upon whom they had pinned all their hope was truly special, or if his moment was over, and his light was fading. As time passed from Christ's resurrection and ascension, as persecution intensified and as the young church became dispersed and disconnected, it's understandable that some would begin to wonder if Jesus really was the biggest star that had ever shone. How much of the stories they shared about His deity and His power was truly fact, and how much was legend? How much of their reliance upon His imminent return was inflated? Can we really trust what He had to say?

Peter's response is to assure his audience of Jesus' lasting star power, of His genuine divinity and of the enduring impact of the Scriptures. To do so, he points back to the transfiguration, the moment Jesus first fully took the stage. At the top of that high mountain, Peter, James and John witnessed the bright lights of heaven shining down on Jesus, Moses and Elijah making an appearance, and the very voice of God saying, "This is my Son. Listen to Him."

For Peter, there are two things that set this moment apart from any other so-called divine experience that your run-of-the-mill wannabe messiah or overachieving rabbi might have. To take the Oscars analogy further, there's no chance that Jesus was some fly-by-night star who grabbed a golden statue for "Best Supporting Actor." No, this is the lifetime achievement Oscar -- the biggest of the biggest forms of recognition.

First, think of who presented it. Jesus didn't make this declaration of Himself, nor was it bestowed upon Him by the latest Hollywood starlet who struggled to pronounce His name and speak into the microphone. No, this recognition was given by God -- the biggest of stars -- publicly declaring this Man to also be the biggest and brightest of stars. Think about it: They don't drag out De Niro to hand out an award to just anybody.

Second, one must consider the body of work that brought Christ to this platform. Standing on the mountain with Him were Moses and Elijah -- two men whose lives and words sat at the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. Their presence was a not-so-subtle way of saying that their work was really Christ's work in disguise; that all they did was really a foretaste, a preamble and a placeholder for what this Man would accomplish. This recognition wasn't based on one good movie -- one great miracle or a couple incredible sermons. This proclamation of Christ's divinity and of His emerging kingdom which quickly spread around the world was based on the body of work that God had been doing since the beginning of time. Jesus, it turns out, was co-writer, executive producer and star of the greatest story ever told.

For Peter the implications are clear. If the Transfiguration really took place, which Peter as an eyewitness is staking his life on, then despite persecution, despite false teachers and despite a kingdom that's seen in part but still longed for in full, this Christ is worth hitching your hope to. He cannot fail us. Likewise, His truth -- both captured in what would be known as the Old Testament, and proclaimed among His first-century hearers in what would become the New Testament -- is absolutely trustworthy. After all, when someone rises from the dead, you believe what He tells you. You trust Him. And when the most respected religious figures in history come back from the dead to say the same the thing, you really, really trust Jesus and what He has to say.

But Peter goes even further. He refers to this truth of Christ, this "prophetic word," as more than a revelation in the past that we can trust today. He speaks of it in the present tense, as an active reality in our lives: a lamp currently, actively "shining in a dark place." Think of it like this: It's as if the moment Jesus stepped onto the stage to receive His rightful due as the beloved Son of God, He began his acceptance speech. But He's never stopped. His message is still meaningful, His truth is still tweeting and Jesus is still speaking. Sure, He's long since left the mountain, but, like a good classic movie that never, ever gets old, His words are still echoing, still reaching, still relevant and still cutting a streak of light into our world of darkness.

The message of Christ is alive and well, trustworthy and divine. And the reason it was important for Peter's audience to grasp this, so important for us to lay hold of, is because His words bring immeasurable and much-needed blessing.

At the 2013 Academy Awards every nominee received a gift bag. But this was not your run-of-the-mill gift bag. Each gift bag was filled with swag worth more than $47,000. It included everything from a luxury Australian vacation to thousands of dollars' worth of spa treatments and jewelry.

In some ways, the word of God, the truth of Christ, is like that. It's an opulent gift that keeps on giving way more than one would expect. It doesn't hand us Australian vacations, no. It speaks pardon to us in light of our sins. It proclaims that we are sons and daughters despite our rebellion. It guides our feet that are so prone to walking off the path. It convicts our hearts that are so easily clouded by sin. It fills our minds with peace in the face of pain and death. These are the gifts that Christ's enduring, divine and prophetic word gives.

And where do we hear it? Where do we find it? Where can we tune in to this beautiful and never-ending speech of the world's greatest star? We hear it in the pages of Scripture, for sure. But we also find it in the absolution offered by the pastor, in the baptism being performed for our nephew and in the supper being served in our churches. This is the Word at work, the light shining through and the never-fading celebrity of Christ bringing blessing into our lives. We need this Word. We can trust this Word. As Martin Luther once wrote, "We must have the light of the Word and cling to it until the last day. Only then shall we no longer need the Word, just as artificial light is extinguished when the day dawns."

Some Oscar winners, maybe knowing that their time in Hollywood's brightest light will fade, and fearful that they'll never make it onto the platform again, try to make the most of their moment.

Peter's audience was afraid that their Savior's time in the spotlight had faded. That the reason for their troubles was that Jesus had been played off the stage, or had faded into irrelevance after His moment in the spotlight. They're not alone. When stuck in stress and struggle, we often wonder if the light is still shining, if He still has a word for us. He does. Peter was there, and saw His moment of glory. God handed Him the spotlight. His body of work is unmatched and impressive.

Jesus' words are still cutting through and shining light in this world. No one has played Him off the stage or snuffed out His star.
Let us pray.
That the Church will act as mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, and the defense of human life and civil rights. We pray to the Lord.
That civil authorities will work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor. Lord hear our prayer.
That those engaged in business will serve society by working to make the goods of the world accessible to all. Lord hear our prayer.
That our parish will witness to the Catholic Faith by self-giving, service, and reconciliation with others. Lord hear our prayer.
On this World Day of the Sick that those who are sick, especially the chronically ill, may know healing, friendship, and strength. Lord hear our prayer.
For the grace this week to reach out with compassion to those who are hurting. We pray to the Lord.
For the victims and families of shootings and terrorism this week, that they may find comfort and peace, and that those of us on the outside that we will get involved in ways to decrease violence of all kinds. We pray to the Lord.
That our Olympians will compete safely, honestly and exceptionally, while representing their country with integrity and patriotism. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, You come close to us in our every affliction and bless us with new life. May we always remain true to the graces we have received. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, February 5, 2018

February 4, 2018
Sexagesima
Presentation of Our Lord/Candlemas
(Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40)

Today we are celebrating Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple. In the Church this day is celebrated on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birth. It is a major feast and is variously known as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Feast of Meeting, the Purification of Mary, and Candlemas. Each name highlights a particular aspect of the day.
This day may be thought of as a festival of light. We hear about the light in today’s gospel. We see it in the candles that are blessed and carried. We receive it as did St. Simeon. That light is Christ himself, our salvation and life.
It is customary on Candlemas to bless candles. The candlelight is an outward and visible sign of Christ who illumines our heart and inner being.
And so, today we see Jesus presented in the Temple. St. Simeon is overjoyed at being able to behold the child Jesus. What he was expecting to see in this child, we do not know, but if he was like any of us, he may have had images of what he thought the child Jesus would look like.
Has anyone ever thought of Jesus as a boxer? On the web, there are images of Jesus in this way. The image is no doubt offensive to many of us on several levels. The artist, however, may have been thinking about Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the devil. Knocked out. Down and out for the count.

Yet, even if this isn’t your image of Jesus, and it probably isn’t, it’s also true that no two people have the same image of a man who is still incredibly popular.

In American Jesus, a book by Stephen Prothero, it’s all spelled out. Jesus is a man “nobody hates.” According to figures Prothero reports, roughly 85 percent of the U.S. population is Christian. (Obviously these figures are flawed, as an internet search pulls up various figures, but usually in the 70’s.) Sure, that includes people who may not have been to church since they were baptized as an infant, but even subtracting those, there are a lot left. In fact, according to Prothero, two-thirds of contemporary Americans say they have made a “personal commitment” to Jesus, and three-quarters of our countrymen and women say they have sensed Jesus’ presence at some time.

But that’s not all. Almost half of America’s non-Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and resurrected from the dead. Here’s more from Prothero

Here [in America] atheists and Buddhists are active producers and consumers of images of Jesus, who in many respects functions as a common cultural coin. Talk to a Hindu and she might tell you that Jesus is an avatar of the god Vishnu. Ask a Jew and you might be told that he was a great rabbi. In a best-selling novel from 1925, Bruce Barton described Jesus as The Man Nobody Knows. Today he is the man nobody hates.

The same cannot be said for Europe, where Christianity isn’t showing much vigor and where half or more of the population of many countries claim no religious affiliation.

But in America, Jesus is very popular.

The only thing is, which Jesus are we talking about?

We ask that because, as Prothero tells it, we Americans have a history of continually remaking Jesus to resemble our current hero-types. Prothero distinguishes this popular chameleon savior from the living Christ of faith and the historical Jesus whom scholars seek by calling him the cultural Jesus or the American Jesus — “Jesus as he has been interpreted and reinterpreted, construed and misconstrued, in the messy midrash of American culture.”

Over the years of America’s history, this remaking of Jesus gradually separated him from the creeds, from the Scriptures and even from Christianity itself — with some people claiming that the religion about Jesus and the religion of Jesus are very different things — what really matters is what Jesus did and taught, not what the Paul and the church have said about him. And once Christ was disentangled from Christianity, Americans of any religion and even of no religion have felt free to embrace their own version of him.

Prothero identifies four different ‘Jesuses’ that have shown up in American Christianity, plus several reinventions of him that some other religions have welcomed. Let’s look at what he has to say for these four ‘Jesuses.’

Those ‘Jesuses’ within Christianity itself include first, the “Enlightened Sage.” This was the Jesus Thomas Jefferson envisioned. When he was president, Jefferson spent a few evenings scissoring out of the gospels all the references to miracles and Jesus’ divinity, ending up with a slim volume he called The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. Jefferson’s Jesus prayed to God and believed in an afterlife, but he did not die for anyone’s sins. In fact, that Jesus did not come to save, but to teach. Many believe that in our own day, the people of the Jesus Seminar are the children of Jefferson and un-enlightenment thinking. (Frankly, I agree that the Jesus Seminar members are very un-enlightened!)

Another Jesus is what Prothero calls the “Sweet Savior” who was a product of the evangelist fervor of the 19th and early 20th centuries. During that era, the style of preaching changed from doctrinal dissertations to storytelling, and the life of Jesus, often embellished by the puppeteer, became a central subject. The call of evangelism was to an intimate walk with Jesus — so intimate, in fact, that preachers felt compelled to talk more about Jesus as a buddy whom we could come to know and hang out with, rather than either an historical figure or an object of faith.

To make this work, this Jesus had to be described as approachable and friendly, meek and mild rather than harsh and demanding. That, coupled with the fact that a lot of religious training took place in the home under the tutelage of women, led to a viewing of Jesus as one embodying the more feminine qualities — warmth, caring, humility, piety and so forth. The religion of this Jesus was not so much to be thought about as one to be felt.

A third American version of Jesus, says Prothero, is the “Manly Redeemer,” a muscular reaction to the girly-man Sweet Savior. Beginning in the late 19th century and elbowing its way into the 20th century, Jesus as a testosterone-powered hero came to the fore. Books with titles like The Masculine Power of Christ and The Manhood of the Master appeared. This Manly Redeemer was no more linked to the historic creeds of the church than was the Sweet Savior, but at least he was more vigorous — a Savior with sex appeal.  This Jesus brought with him strenuous demands, and he was the one who was ready to lead Christians to war against the social ills of the culture. 007 Jesus! James Bond, eat your heart out.

The fourth and most recent incarnation of the American Jesus is the “Superstar.” In the 1960s, a Jesus movement began among the youth counterculture, and some started to see Jesus as a revolutionary, a leader of an underground Chris-tin liberation movement. When that movement fizzled in the ‘70s, that Jesus emerged unscathed, and became the sub-jet of the rock musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. He was thereafter adopted by rock groups and rap singers and heavy metal bands as an upbeat guy who offers an experiential high that is better than drugs. Eventually this Jesus morphed into the figure on whom is built Jesus T-shirts, bumper stickers, posters and other collectables, much of the Christian music industry, as well as some seeker-sensitive mega-churches and who gets cover story treatment every Easter and Christmas by Time and Newsweek.

During Jesus’ trip through mainstream American culture, other religions in this country were looking at him, too. There isn’t room here to go into them, but suffice it to say that the Mormons have made another version of Jesus their own, as have American Jews, as did the black liberation movement, as have some of the Eastern religions that are flourishing under the Stars and Stripes. Prothero details it all.

The upshot is that while many Americans cannot agree on religion, doctrine, worship styles, the role of the Bible, the place of the church, social action, political position and a host of other things, a great many find common ground of a sort in Jesus, or at least Jesus as they picture him. Even some who cannot believe that he was divine still see him as an example to follow. Thus, in the United States at least, Jesus no longer belongs exclusively to Christians.

But is this Jesus, or, more properly, this collection of ‘Jesuses’, the person we meet in the gospels? It’s like a room full of 25 Elvises. Reminds me of the old 50’s -70’s game show, To Tell the Truth, “Will the real Jesus please stand up!” or do something? Water into wine, perhaps.

One place to think about that is in today’s reading where Mary and Joseph encounter Simeon. This devout man had been looking “forward to the consolation of Israel” — the Messiah. When Simeon sees Jesus, he takes the baby in his arms, and praises God, for he knows that this one he is holding is the One he has been expecting.

Now given that Jesus was still an infant, a skeptic overhearing Simeon’s expressions of praise might have thought he was inventing a messiah to fit his own expectations. But the subsequent life, ministry and death of Jesus proved Simeon right.

Note, however, that Simeon did not rely on his own hunch about this baby being the promised Messiah. Rather there were two critical things. First, when the gospel writer Luke tells us that Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” Luke is saying that Simeon was steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. The term “the consolation of Israel” derives from references in the book of Isaiah to God comforting the people by redeeming them (Isaiah 40:1-2; 52:9). So first, Simeon was basing his pronouncement about Jesus on Scripture.

And second, Luke tells us that Simeon was being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Those two sources of understanding — the outward one of Scripture and the inward one of God’s direct inspiration — still stand today as means of deciding who Jesus is. So obviously, if you are going to take a razor to the gospels as Jefferson did, you’re not going to get the whole picture. The first place to look to decide who Jesus is, is in the Bible itself.

In that regard, the question of who Jesus is isn’t that difficult. The gospels, if we look at them in total, give us some basic answers.

Three are things the Bible tells us directly. We may not understand the implications of all that we can say about Jesus from Scripture, but those things are enough to help us frame an answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”, an answer that includes the words “example,” “teacher,” “guide” and “Savior.”

We can draw some conclusions about what he might do or say if he were in the flesh today, but we should do that only with humility, knowing that such judgments are speculation at best. I have spoken to people about Jesus and shown them things about him in the Bible and received a response of, “I didn’t know that about Jesus.”

But perhaps that should not surprise us. We are all affected by the various images of and ideas about Jesus that have floated around in our culture. Those things have shaped our thoughts about Jesus, and unless we read the Scriptures thoroughly, we may find ourselves confusing the American Jesus with scriptural Jesus, or, more likely, mashing the two together. The Bible is still the primary outward guide to who Jesus is and what his life means for us.

The other source of understanding Jesus, the inward inspiration of God’s Spirit. It is, however, something we can ask God for in prayer. To be a Christian means, by definition, to be a follower of Christ, and so it is important to perceive all that we can about who Jesus is, what he expects of us, and what he gives us.

Thus, asking for God’s guidance to help us see to “see the light” - Jesus as clearly as we can is never wasted effort for us who bear the name of Christ. In fact, it is necessary for our spiritual growth.

Simeon held the Child in his arms and saw the salvation of Israel. Whom do we see?

Let us pray.
Light from light, give the light of hope to those who seek Your face; give the light of faith to those who dwell in unbelief; give the light of the Gospel to those who live in ignorance; may the light of Christ triumph over every darkness and give the light of love to the aged, sick, and dying who await You in patient faith. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That the church will preach and teach with authority, winning many to the Gospel. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to terrorism in the world and for the healing of all hatred and division among peoples. We pray to the Lord.
That those who have material, political, or scriptural power may resist any lure of corruption. We pray to the Lord.
For those suffering from depression or mental illness; that the Lord will draw close to them and free them from their pain. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to grasp the hand of those in need and raise them up. We pray to the Lord.
And as always, we ask that the healing Archangel Raphael will be sent to our family and friends who are ill and raise them up in spirit and body. We pray to the Lord.
That those who perpetrate, whether in mind or act, any sexual assault, physically or verbally, will stop doing so immediately and follow the true Law of God and that those who have been victims of such, may find healing and peace in the bosom of Our Lady. May this evil and injustice be eradicated from society. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, in You we take refuge. Incline your ear to us and save us. Be our fortress and our stronghold. Oh God, true light, who created light eternal, spreading far and wide, pour, we pray, into the hearts of Your faithful the brilliance of perpetual light, so that all who are brightened in Your holy Temple by the splendor of these candles here may happily reach the light of Your glory. We ask all these, Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA