Monday, October 15, 2018

October 14, 2018
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
(Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)
Lip balm is apparently addictive to some.

Are you constantly licking your lips? Do you look for an excuse to buy a bundle of balm? Do you need a Chap Stick fix?

If so, you may be addicted to lip balm. Time to consider joining "Lip Balm Anonymous" and join thousands of others in a protest to "Ban the Balm!"
Maybe your addiction is more conventional: nicotine, drugs, food, sex, videos, gambling. Maybe you're a confessed chocoholic. Maybe it's shopping.

Maybe - you're one of an estimated 6 million with a virtual addiction. Your relationships with your spouse, your employer, your friends have broken down because your addictive personality has driven you into chat rooms and all manner of cyber-deviancy.

In an addiction afflicted society, there is no shortage of possibilities. New addictions are popping up every day, each with its own weekly church-basement support group and "Anonymous" organization.

Addiction has even visited television. Some years back I used to watch a program on MTV, called, Real World which seemed to kick-start reality programs. The series stumbled on to a case of addiction one year. The show presented (or “presents” if the show is still on the air – I stopped watching it years ago) what happens when you put seven young strangers under one roof for four months. What occurs is real, and to everyone's surprise - pushing the ratings to an all-time high – one year there was a real-time alcohol addiction of one of the students, Ruthie Alcaide.

In one episode she falls down drunk in a disco, throws up half-naked in the shower, and has her stomach pumped in an ambulance. Other scenes show her drinking at home, then at a club and later being carried by a bouncer. A promotional spot for the program shows her lashing out at cast members who urged her to check into rehab.

No way would you confuse this with a rerun of Happy Days.

MTV producers at the time said the show offers valuable lessons on the dark side of alcohol, and one executive observed that "if you saw what was happening to Ruthie, it would be very hard to think that alcoholism or excessive drinking is glorious."

Addiction. It's a crippling affliction. Addictions keep you focused on one thing, while other important – even more important possibly – things that one should be focused on. In our Gospel today, Jesus sees it in a rich man who is looking to inherit eternal life. Although the man is obsessed with the law - and confident that he has kept the commandments against murder, adultery, stealing and fraud - he has an even stronger obsession that Jesus tries to diagnose and treat with his challenge: "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21).

He can't do it.

But just exactly what is his addiction? We're likely to conclude that he's hooked on wealth. He can't let it go. It controls him. It is his master.

And if we say this, we are wrong.

The man's a model citizen, a promise keeper and a truth seeker. He doesn't use his wealth to oppress the poor. He doesn't go on a phony TV show and pick a wife out of a lineup of gold-diggers. He doesn't squander his money on immoral pursuits.

It's hard to see how money is his addiction, because let's face it: Addictions are usually destructive. On a certain level they are irrational, they make no sense, and there is no good reason to have them. But money, in and of itself, is not necessarily destructive, irrational or insane - in fact, a steady cash flow can help to irrigate good fruits throughout the world. In the first century, it was assumed that wealth actually made possible the performance of religious duties, for Jews wealth was viewed as a blessing from God for being a faithful believer - that is why the disciples are "perplexed" at Jesus' words.
So it's hard to pinpoint money as a necessarily dangerous addictive substance. But if it isn't money, what is it? Clearly, there's something here that has the rich man hooked.

When we find ourselves powerless over drugs or alcohol, it is in our best interest to get rid of the addiction. When showing self-destructive behaviors and impulse-control problems, it is a rational course of action to seek out treatment and support. But for the rich man to sell everything he owns and give to the poor – that seems irrational.

How would you respond if called upon to give up your material possessions? You'd balk, as any of us would probably. After all, is it wrong to have money to feed and shelter our families, to put our children or grandchildren through college, to pay our tithes and offerings to the church? Having resources doesn't necessarily mean that our possessions are our masters or that we suffer from a consumerist addiction affliction. Having many things and/or wealth that allows for such a life, in and of itself is not necessarily bad. However, do these things occupy all of our time; do we obsess over having them and getting more? Does having possessions become our master – our god?

In this case, Jesus finds the hot button. The call is clear: Give up what defines your life, and follow me. In this case, it clearly was the man's toys and playthings, the possessions he had managed to scrape together. He became addicted to his belongings with little room for being a faithful follower. His belongings took up all his time. Jesus challenges the man to make an exchange: drop what limits him in exchange for what frees him - opens him up to a wider and more meaningful life. Jesus didn’t ask him to stop being wealthy - merely to stop using the wealth in ways that restricted him from God. The wealthy man needed to use the money for good and in ways that still allowed him to make his faith the most important aspect of his life.
He wasn’t making endowments to the San Diego Zoo or for a new wing at Mercy Hospital.  This is Jesus’ statement to the man. The man needed to remember his responsibility to his neighbor. Was he being a good steward with the gift of wealth, or was he wasting it? It just wasn’t as fun to endow a million dollars to the homeless shelter, because it didn’t satisfy his addiction of having all and everything for himself. The homeless shelter wasn’t something he owned, controlled and was able to enjoy.

The rich guy can't make the exchange Jesus asked of him. But Ruthie Alcaide of Real World could. The addiction in her case was clearly destructive. When she was asked how she felt about going into rehab, she said: "I did it for one reason and one reason only: to find out from the 'experts' if I was an alcoholic or not. After laying it all down on the table and all is said and done, they said I had a 'potential' to be one, but they also said, 'most college students have a potential.' I don't crave alcohol. I enjoy it."

And that's precisely the danger of addictions. They're so enjoyable. It's a struggle to be rid of them.

Maybe you're addiction-free. You don't struggle as a Christian with the hard-core addictions of alcohol, food, tobacco, sex, drugs or the Internet. Yet, is it possible you cling to addictions less visible but just as insidious? Pride, ambition and work can be home-wreckers and life-destroyers, too. And they can all keep you from enjoying the plentitude of God's blessing.

In any case, Jesus' advice is the same: Break away from what defines and limits you outside of your relationship to me as my disciple. Only then will you be free.

If there is such a dependency, Jesus advises that we give it up. "Dump it, drop it, ditch it," Jesus says, "and follow me."
Let us pray.
That leaders of nations may learn to value wisdom over riches and use that wisdom to make decisions that benefit all of the people entrusted to their care. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, for those who cannot afford what most of us take for granted, that they may know the generosity of God’s people. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have renounced wealth in order to dedicate themselves in service of the Lord, especially religious sisters. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our young people that, in the midst of the conflicting messages they receive, they may discover the truth and wonder of true love and compassion as shown to us in the life and teaching of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
In our prayers today we remember the survivors of Hurricane Michael and all those who have suffered loss of family, friends and homes as a result. We pray also for those volunteers and emergency workers who have risked life and limb to provide medical care, food and shelter for those in distress. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those on the margins of our society, the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the mentally ill, that their needs for love, care and understanding be remembered and remedied. We pray to the Lord.  
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
All-powerful God, all things are possible for you. We are powerless without you and so we turn to you in our inadequacy. Hear our prayers and look kindly on us in your mercy. Jesus challenges us to detach ourselves from the pursuit of money and material things. We pray for the wisdom to see our own lives, and the lives of those less fortunate, as Christ would see them and to live in the spirit of his message of love and generosity.  O God, through these prayers we seek wisdom and prudence; we seek freedom from the things of this world that constrain us from responding fully to your call to come and follow you.  We ask that you respond to our pleas knowing our failings but offering us what we need to inherit eternal life. We make our prayers through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, September 9, 2018

September 9, 2018
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
(James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37)
Friends. Who needs 'em?

Some argue that friends are the latest casualty of the lifestyle wars as we struggle to balance the full-time demands of career and family. With spouse, mortgage, kids, schedules, work and travel, or any plethora of other responsibilities, there doesn't seem to be room for anything else. Something's got to give. Friends seem expendable, so friends are the first to go.

A New York Internet executive once said, he's too busy, and friends are a luxury he can no longer afford. With a wife, a young daughter and a busy job, "I'm already at 120 percent, there really is no room for anyone else." No big deal. About twice a year, when he can't handle the guilt anymore, he sits down and answers neglected e-mails from a half-dozen pals he hasn't seen in ages: "Sorry I stink as a friend," he begins.

Or ... maybe it is a big deal. Recent research tells us what we've long suspected: friends are important. That's why so many organizations use the word "friend" in their name: Friends of the Sea Otter, Friends of Libraries, Friends of Israel, Friends of Freedom, Friends of the Environment, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Ocean, Friends of Japan and the list goes on.

The medical community says, the value of friendships is dramatically underscored. Fewer friends lead to higher stress and a shorter life. In a study of 2,800 men and women over the age of 65, those with more friends had a lower risk of health problems, and they recovered faster when they did develop them. A Yale University study of 10,000 seniors showed that having friends reduced the risk of death by about 50 percent over a five-year period. Friends can help you reduce stress, improve the quality of your life, live longer, get a better job, expand your business, improve your marriage and derive more joy from your life.

There is value to having friends over the long term.

What is intriguing is the notion that our friends will come and go throughout life, and that this is absolutely normal. Dr. Jan Yager, in her book, Friendshifts, argues that it is very rare for a person to have a friend for a lifetime. Instead, we tend to shift our friends as our own needs and circumstances themselves shift.

Typically, adults today have one or two "best" friends, four to six "close" friends, and 10 to 20 "casual" friends. But let's be honest: Even these numbers seem high. Healthy friendships take time just to get going, up to three years according to some experts. Then they require nurturing and attentive planning.

But just when the friendships are in place, they vanish, victims of some new component in the social equation: new job, new school, new baby, new spouse, whatever.

The bottom line is that we not only don't have as many friends as we used to, but we're going to lose the ones we have. But that's okay. We will pick up new friends in a cyclical pattern of friend shifting that will continue for the rest of our lives.

Author James Allen takes the discussion to another level. Christians tend to exaggerate their claims of friendship. We've got the friendliest church in the world, but we'll walk right by the stranger in the narthex. We love one another, but we're just as likely as the next guy to badmouth a brother, or scandalize a sister.

We say we'd never stoop to the behavior of the nearsighted usher in today's text, but we forget that the church has a shady past. For example, the church must never forget its complicity in promoting slavery and segregation and in resisting their demise. Have we forgotten that there were plenty of Christians who had their hands on the ropes when they were stringing up a black man, leaving him swaying in the wind from an oak tree during the 1930s? (See the explosive book on this subject edited by James Allen, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.)

But that was then; this is now, we say. True. But James argues that it is not enough to assert love and friendship. There must be signs of this friendship or else both the friendship and the faith are dead. Partiality is not a sign. Withholding forgiveness is not a sign. Refusing to feed and clothe the hungry and homeless is not a sign.

Moreover, James makes it clear that we can't be an enemy to our friends (neighbors) and still be a friend of God. To be a FaithFriend of God, we've got to keep faith with our friends.

And therein lies the lesson. We must keep faith with our friends. If we don't, we have neither faith nor friends. James is adamant. There must be signs. Friendship - whether with our neighbor or with God - requires faithship which requires workship and results in worship.

So who is our friend? Our friend is our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? See the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What does it mean to keep faith with our neighbor? Consider the following:

Shifra Penzias, a rabbi, tells of her great-aunt, Sussie, who rode a bus home on a snowy evening in Munich of Nazi Germany. Suddenly, SS storm troopers stopped the coach and began examining the identification papers of the passengers. Most were annoyed but a few were terrified. Jews were being told to leave the bus and get into the truck around the corner.

Sussie watched from her seat in the rear as the soldiers systematically worked their way down the aisle. She began to tremble, tears streaming down her face. When the man next to her noticed that she was crying, he politely asked her why.

"I don't have the papers you have. I am a Jew. They're going to take me."

The man exploded with disgust. He began to curse and scream at her. "You stupid (expletive)," he roared. "I can't stand being near you!"

The SS men asked what all the yelling was about.

"Damn her," the man shouted angrily. "My wife has forgotten her papers again! I'm so fed up. She always does this!"

The soldiers laughed and moved on.

Sussie never saw the man again. She never even knew his name.

If we must keep faith with our friends, we must also keep faith with God. This is one friendship that need not shift. If it does, it is not God who is doing the shifting. James describes our fidelity to God as a faith that is "active." It was characteristic, he says, of Abraham the patriarch, and Rahab the prostitute. They both, when push came to shove, kept faith with God.

The result: Abraham was called a "friend of God."

God may be omnipotent, impassible and transcendent. Wholly Other. Beyond Knowing. The I AM THAT I AM. But God seems to need, or value the friendship of his creatures. It's what he was after in the Garden of Eden, it's what he sought in Abraham. It's what he wants in us.

God wants - needs - friends who will keep faith with him.

No shifting allowed.
Let us pray.
That we do not take for granted our friendships and other relationships, by nurturing them and not allowing them to drift away. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church, that God will heal our deafness so that we may hear God’s invitations to service and recognize the cry of those who are suffering. We pray to the Lord.
For a spirit of listening, that God will free us from the noise that blocks our ability to hear the Word of God and the distractions that obscure the hopes that God has placed within our hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For a spirit of compassion, that God will help immigrants and refugees establish new lives and experience justice and respect in their new homeland. We pray to the Lord.
For a spirit of welcome and hospitality in our parish, that all who join us for worship, community or service may experience the love of Christ and a warm welcome. We pray to the Lord.
That as our nation recalls the attacks of September 11, we may renew our gratitude for the liberty we enjoy in America, under God. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are suffering may receive God’s peace and those who have died may be welcomed into God’s heavenly kingdom. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God our Father, we offer you our prayers.  Merciful God, you open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. Open our eyes to your truth and our ears to your word and grant us the courage to proclaim the Good News throughout our world. May we always cherish and stay close to those whom we call friends and loved ones in our lives, knowing that in so doing, we are loving you. We ask this through Christ our Lord.   Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, August 6, 2018

August 5, 2018
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
(Ephesians 4:17-24; John 6:24-35)
A guest in a posh hotel’s restaurant called the headwaiter over one morning and placed his order.
“I’d like one egg undercooked so it’s runny and one egg overcooked so it’s tough and hard to eat,” he said. “And I’d also like grilled bacon that’s a bit on the cold side, burnt toast, butter straight from the freezer so it’s impossible to spread and a pot of very weak, lukewarm coffee.”
“That’s a complicated order, sir,” said the bewildered waiter. “It might be quite difficult.”
The guest replied sarcastically, “It can’t be that difficult — that’s exactly what you brought me yesterday!”
We’ve all probably had situations in which we might have wanted to do what this quest did, but most likely wouldn’t have done so. We can be particular about our food, when we get right down to it.
Are you crazy for cheese curls? Passionate about popcorn? Nuts about nuts?
What you snack on says a lot about who you are.
Alan Hirsch is the neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Some years back, he had 800 volunteers take personality tests and then asked them to name their favorite snacks. The results were astounding. People who share a personality type choose the same snack 95 percent of the time.
Lovers of cheese curls have a high sense of morals and ethics.
People with a passion for popcorn are the take-charge type.
Folks who are nutty for nuts are even-tempered, easy to get along with and highly empathetic.
While this link might sound like a stretch, Hirsch says it makes perfect sense — biologically. “Food preferences reside in the olfactory lobe,” he says, “the same part of the brain where the personality resides.”
You are what you munch. Gives some truth to the old adage “you are what you eat!”
Jesus runs into some serious snack lovers in the text we’ve looked at the past two Sundays. As the story begins, a large crowd is following him because of the signs that he’s doing for the sick. He feeds this crowd of 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish, and then he withdraws to a mountain because “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.”
That evening, the disciples set out for the town of Capernaum by boat, and Jesus catches up with them by walking on the water. The next day, the crowd follows him to Capernaum, and Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
In other words, “You have the munchies.”
So what does this particular craving say about the people of the crowd? They’re enthusiasts — people whose basic desire is to be satisfied and content, to have their needs met. Afraid of being deprived, they want more than anything to maintain their happiness, avoid missing out on worthwhile experiences and keep themselves excited and occupied.
Enthusiasts look for Jesus — why? Because they ate their fill of the loaves.
But there’s a problem with this personality type. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” warns Jesus, “but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The barley loaves that Jesus used to feed the 5,000 are “food that perishes,” and he tells the people that they shouldn’t focus their enthusiasm on this kind of bread. Instead, they should work for the food that endures for eternal life.
In a nutshell — or one whole loaf — this verse captures the reason that Jesus has such mixed feelings about performing amazing miracles. Any loaves that he multiplies are going to be eaten, and then the people will still be hungry the next day. Any water that he turns into wine is going to be consumed, and then the wedding guests will still want more. Any paralytic that he heals is going to become old and then become crippled again. Any dead child that he raises to new life is going to grow up and then die of natural causes.
Miracles are tricky because they make a big impression and then disappear. In most cases, they don’t last forever.
Jesus doesn’t want us to feast on a steady diet of miracles because these amazing works don’t provide complete nutrition in themselves. They’re the cheese curls, popcorn and potato chips of Christian living — a tasty snack for someone who already has faith, but not a life-changing meal for a nonbeliever.
It’s true — you can look it up. A little later in the same gospel, the Jewish opponents of Jesus are preparing to stone him. “I have shown you many good works from the Father,” says Jesus. “For which of these are you going to stone me?” His opponents answer, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
No collection of miracles, all by itself, is going to turn a hater of Jesus into a disciple.
This is why Jesus turns the attention of the enthusiastic crowd from miraculous munchies to “the food that endures for eternal life.” Work for this food, says Jesus, the food “which the Son of Man will give you.” Then the hungry people ask, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” And Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
This is the work of God — that you believe in Jesus, whom God has sent.
Believe in Jesus. The bread of God. The bread of life. Living bread. The body of Christ.
That’s good eating.
The problem is, Jesus can be difficult to swallow. We gag on his hard sayings and tough teachings. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Jesus can stick in our throats, no doubt about it.
He would be so much easier to digest if he said, “Love your friends, do good to those who like you, bless those who compliment you, pray for those who help you.” Yes, if Jesus said these things, he would be feeding us spiritual candy bars, doughnuts and french fries — food that isn’t bad in moderation but can hurt us if we overeat it.
And Jesus certainly doesn’t let us snack on the tasty morsels of sin that are always sitting so deliciously in front of us. He won’t let us say, “Well, I’ll taste a little revenge, just this once,” or “I’ll have a helping of unfaithfulness, but just a spoonful” or “I’ll have some of that irresistible gossip-mongering, just a mouthful, but no more.” “I will be just a little negative and disrespectful to my fellow man, but only to a few.”
To all of this, Jesus says, “No. Put down the spoon and walk away.” In an ethical and moral Christian life, some of this stuff we want to feast on is just bad for us. It will cripple us or even kill us. And Jesus knows it.
Jesus wants to feed us the good stuff, the food that endures for eternal life.
So how do we become better eaters? The people of the crowd say to Jesus, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” They fail to see that Jesus has already given them a sign of his power and glory by multiplying the loaves and fishes. Instead, they review the history of God’s work in their lives by saying, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus cannot believe that they’re missing the good food that’s standing right in front of them. He shakes his head and says, “I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
I’m the bread of God, says Jesus. The good stuff. Part of a perfectly balanced spiritual diet that gives new and everlasting life. Yes, the law was given through Moses, just like the manna that was given to the people of Israel in the wilderness. But now grace and truth are coming through Jesus Christ, the bread of God.
Slowly, slowly, the lights begin to come on. The people are starting to get it, so they say, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
We shouldn’t be surprised at this. It’s always a challenge to improve eating habits — to turn away from spiritual junk food and turn toward the food that endures for eternal life. Jesus invites us to refocus our attention and see him as “the true bread from heaven,” the one who comes down from heaven to give life to the world. He also invites us to believe in him and trust him to fill us with his grace and his truth.
Seeing and believing. These are the actions that enable us to connect with Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, when we come to the table to eat the meal that he has prepared. We see the bread that is broken for us, an outward and visible sign of Jesus’ inward, invisible grace. We believe that Jesus is present with us, offering his grace and his truth, his forgiveness and his strength.
This is the good stuff. The food that endures for eternal life.
If we’ve been given a warning about bad food today, then we need to hear some words of encouragement and instruction about good food as well. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus to the crowd, and to each of us. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Let us pray.
We pray today for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are bodily and spiritually hungry, that through the inspiration of Jesus and the generosity and example of Christians, they have food on their tables and love of the Lord in their hearts. We pray to the Lord.
We remember today all those who died this week in the California wildfires and those survivors who are recovering in hospital and for those who lost their homes. We pray also for their families that the Lord console them in their loss and sorrow.  We pray to the Lord.
For those who have become discouraged in the face of hardship, that they may know Jesus’ loving care of those in need. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have wandered away from the practice of the faith, that they will be gifted with a new and deeper love of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick and those who struggle in mind, body or spirit, that they be touched by the healing love of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.    
O God, source of all that gives life and hope, you responded to the hunger of your chosen people with manna in the desert. Listen to our needs here today and grant them according to your will. We pray for the grace to be always receptive of that invitation and that we enjoy life everlasting at the table of His heavenly banquet. Blessed are we who see ourselves in the suffering and injustices of this world, and who work to alleviate others’ pain. We entrust these petitions and those we hold in our hearts to God, confident that God will answer our prayers and give us the strength, wisdom and resources we need to respond to our world’s needs. This we ask, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, July 23, 2018

July 22, 2018
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
(Ephesians 2:11-18; Mark 6:30-34)
New Jersey. Drought-resistant wheat seeds. The Trojan Horse. The World Wide Web. Human freedom. Penicillin. A green bike. Jesus Christ.
What do the items in this list, as diverse as they are, have in common? All are gifts. Maybe the greatest gifts in history.
New Jersey was given as a present in 1665 by the Duke of York to two royalists, Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley. Fortunately, the territory did not remain in their hands; it reverted to the English crown in 1702, and later became part of the United States. If the land had not been returned, the descendants of Carteret and Berkeley would now be in control of nearly nine million people and a half-trillion-dollar economy. Not to mention Princeton University, the New York Giants, the New Jersey Turnpike.
Another great gift was much smaller, but was equally significant. A man named Norman Borlaug developed tiny wheat seeds that were resistant to drought and disease. These seeds were planted across Latin America and South Asia, and ended up feeding more than one billion people. They also put many poor countries on the road to self-reliance.
Clearly, good things come in small packages.
Another significant gift was The Trojan Horse. Well, maybe it was not such a terrific present for the Trojans, since Greek soldiers hid inside the horse and then conquered the city of Troy. But the destruction of Troy led to the foundation of Rome and the Roman Empire, which had a profound effect on Western civilization.
How about the present given to the world by Tim Berners-Lee? Tim Berners-who, you might ask? He gave us the World Wide Web, choosing to make it a public good instead of a personal cash cow. The benefits to people around the world have been tremendous.
The idea of human freedom. This has been America's gift to the world, from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom for all people has always been the guiding light of our foreign policy. When we are true to ourselves, freedom is what America is all about.
And freedom is what Jesus Christ is all about -- and he is the greatest "gift of all" (John 3:16). He is our God-and-neighbor connector, our peacemaker and our wall-breaker. He becomes for us the cornerstone of a spiritual house, one that serves as a home for us all.
The Apostle Paul knows Christ's worth, which he describes in lavish detail in his letter to the Ephesians. Writing to a group of Christians who had grown up as Gentiles -- people outside the Jewish community of faith -- he reminds them that they were once "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
What did it feel like to be a Gentile in Ephesus? Hard to say. Archeology tells us only so much about what life was like for residents of this Roman city on the sun-baked coast of Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. But as we read the letter to the Ephesians, we can imagine what they were going through, feeling hopeless and cut off from God. Paul says they feel like aliens. We know what it is like to be alienated -- removed, withdrawn and estranged from a community and from God.
Today, alienation can be caused by too much of a reliance on technology. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, believes that social media can isolate us and cause us a lot of harm. She has written a book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, and in it she talks about how we have so many opportunities to communicate today, using emails, texts, instant messages, Facebook messages, Twitter messages, phone calls and Skype.
Such light-speed communication is great for making links. Which is good. This is not an anti-tech rant. But, unfortunately, as we get bombarded by messages and make hurried responses, the content of our conversations gets dumbed down. Conversation with depth and meaning -- the kind of thing that connects us as humans -- often gets lost. We find ourselves linked by technology, but, sometimes, we also (as a consequence) feel alienated, estranged from community and from God.
Alone. Cut off. Isolated. Even in the middle of a bustling city.
This was how the Ephesians were feeling, almost 2,000 years before the invention of the Internet. But fortunately their lives were transformed by the gift of Jesus, who became their God-and-neighbor-connector. Paul tells them that their alienation is over, for "now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Through the death of Jesus we are forgiven and restored to right relationships with God and our neighbors.
The cross is a symbol of connectedness. The sacrifice of Jesus brings separated parties together, and the cross itself serves as a symbol of this victory. Just look at the structure of the cross: The vertical beam is a symbol of the new connection between people and God, and the horizontal beam points to the connection between people, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, one to another. Through Christ, those who were "far off" and separated by sin have been "brought near" and united through forgiveness.
In the first-century Herodian temple where the Jews worshiped, there was a series of courts separated by gated walls. Each court moved progressively closer to the Holy of Holies. The first gate was the gate of the Gentiles, and you could walk around in that court if you were a God-fearing Gentile.
If you were a Jewish woman who was ceremonially clean according to Jewish law, you could enter the next gate and go into an inner court. Beyond that lay the gate to the innermost court, where only Jewish men who were ceremonially clean could go without fear of death.
And then came the gate for the Temple Priests, and so forth.
Several years ago, archaeologists found an inscription in the wall of the outermost court, the court of the Gentiles. It read, "Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death."
That's some pretty hostile language. But hostility is exactly what existed between Jew and Gentile for centuries.
Christ is our peace-maker and our wall-breaker, says Paul, that Christ in his flesh has made both groups into one. Christ makes peace between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, between black Americans and white Americans, between Baby Boomers and Millennials, between immigrants and the native-born, breaking down "the dividing wall” that creates the hostility between us.
Hostility between different groups leads to separation, but walls break down when we identify ourselves primarily as Christians, as disciples of Christ and members of his body. Today, on campuses across the United States, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (an Evangelical Christian group made up of differing Protestant denominations) is trying to become more racially and ethnically inclusive. Members are stressing racial reconciliation in large-group meetings for praise and worship, small-group Bible studies, and summer camps for leadership training. Their focus is not on political correctness, but on the Bible: Leaders point to Jesus' prayer in John 17 that his followers would all be one, and to Paul's words in Ephesians about Christ breaking down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile.
Racial reconciliation is now part of the training for campus staff, with the goal that it will become part of ongoing small-group meetings. The objective, according to Paul Fuller, an InterVarsity vice president and director of multiethnic ministries, is "to create witnessing communities on campus that are growing in love for every ethnicity."
Growing in love. Not just for our own ethnic group, but for every ethnicity. That comes only from seeing Christ as our peacemaker and wall-breaker.
Paul tells us that Jesus is also the cornerstone of a spiritual house, one that serves as a home for us all. "Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." What a gift this is!
In this house, we have access "in one Spirit" to God the Father. In this house, we "are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." In this house, we know that we are resting on something solid, "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone."
We live in an uncertain world, in which generous gifts can be taken away, such as when the gift of New Jersey suddenly reverted to the royal family. We live in a dangerous world, in which gifts such as The Trojan Horse turn out to be curses in disguise. We live in an ambiguous world, in which innovations such as the World Wide Web can be used to disseminate both digital treasures and digital trash.
None of this is true with the greatest gift of all time, Jesus Christ. He connects us to God and neighbor, makes peace, breaks walls and offers us an eternal home with God. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving, as we grow in love for God and neighbor as members of his spiritual household.
I encourage you to hold on to this gift. It will maintain its value forever.
Let us pray.
Father of all mankind, have compassion for all of your flock and open our eyes to the message of the true shepherd. We pray to the Lord.  
For refugees, immigrants, the poor and oppressed: that God may lead all to places of welcome and safety. We pray to the Lord.  
For a strengthening of all families: that God will heal divisions and draw family members into deeper bonds of love. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are homeless or without friends, that they will feel the warm touch of a loving community. We pray to the Lord.
For all peoples, that we all will be instruments in helping to end all discord, divisions and hostilities among all peoples of the earth. For victims of discrimination and victims of gun violence; that mankind make a commitment to address the complex problems of poverty and injustice. We pray to the Lord.
For families who live with addiction, for those who struggle with mental illness or depression, for all among us who are sick. We pray to the Lord.
For nations who are at war, and all places of conflict in our world; for all of us that we find the will to imitate the love of Christ Jesus who breaks down walls of division and preaches peace to all people. We pray to the Lord.
For those who died in this week’s Duck Boat accident, that they be brought to God in peace eternal, and for those families and friends left behind that they find comfort in this horrible tragedy. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, Shepherd of souls, we trust in your promise to care for all of your flock and so we surrender our prayers to you, both spoken and unspoken, with trust that you hear us and fill our every need. In a world sorely in need of your peace and begging for right relationship with all peoples, we ask you to make us instruments of your compassion and grace. May we bear witness to your love with the witness of our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord, your Son. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June 3, 2018
Corpus Christi
(Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)
Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread and simple chalice of wine?
St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the Sacrament of the Eucharist:
"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord's death till He come."
And so, today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ. In a book by Dr. Tom Curran: "The Mass: Four Encounters with Jesus That Will Change Your Life," it talks about, "Why do I have to go to Mass?" Using understandable language and appropriate comparisons, Dr. Curran describes four "presences" of Jesus: in the community, the Word, the priest and the Eucharist. Each presence of Jesus is vital, however, today, of course, we will focus on that fourth presence: Jesus in the Eucharist.
To illustrate how Jesus' presence in the Eucharist differs from the first three, let me tell you about a story of a conversation between two priests. The first priest was arguing that - since Vatican II - we now have to emphasize the presence of Jesus in the community. "Jesus," he said, "is not only present in the Eucharist, but in every person." The second priest said, "Yes, we have to reverence each person, but can I ask a couple of questions?"
The first priest nodded and the second priest asked, "Would you worship the Eucharist?" The first said, "Yes, of course."
The second priest then asked, "Would you worship me?"
Now, as we know, Jesus is present in the priest - but I hope no one is foolish enough to worship me. There is a great deal of difference between giving reverence and worshipping. And Jesus is truly present in community, but should not genuflect to each other either. We do, however, worship Jesus in the Eucharist and when we approach a tabernacle, we do bend the knee in genuflection.
There is a difference between Jesus' presence in other human beings and His presence in the Eucharist. In the Mass - the Holy Spirit, working through the Angel of the Mass, transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The bread and wine become Jesus. For that reason we worship the Blessed Sacrament.
From earliest times Christians have recognized Jesus' real, substantial presence in the Eucharist. There is a true story of a twelve-year-old boy named Tarcisius, he was an altar server. Being a time of persecution, they could not celebrate Mass openly as we do, so they went underground – in the Catacombs of Rome. After Mass, they chose Tarcisius to take Communion to someone who could not attend. The priest placed the consecrated Host in a special container, which Tarcisius held under his robe, near his heart. On the way some boys were playing ball. Needing an extra player, they called Tarcisius to join them. When he said he could not, they asked him what he was holding. The priest had told Tarcisius that could not show the "Sacred Mysteries" to unbelievers. The boys gathered around him and began to taunt him. As he held the Host tightly, the boys became furious, hitting and kicking Tarcisius. Eventually a man came who shouted and chased the boys away. Tarcisius was beaten so badly the man had to pick him up. He died on the way and was buried in the Cemetery of St. Callixtus.
Like Tarcisius, many Christians have given their lives for the Eucharist – not just in the early centuries, but in modern times. In Nazi concentration camps, priests celebrated secret Masses so they and other prisoners could receive Communion. A priest in a Vietnamese prison celebrated Mass by holding a tiny particle of bread and single drop of wine in the palm of his hand.
If the Eucharist meant so much to these Christians, what about us?
In my time here at St. Francis, I have tried to emphasize worship. Yes, I want to teach and to uplift, but above all, I want to exalt God. Our very gathering is an act of worship. We should, of course, be friendly and courteous, but we should always keep in mind that we are here for a sacred purpose: to worship our Maker, our Savior, the One who gives us his very self under the form of bread and wine.
St. Augustine said, "No one eats this flesh unless he first adores it." I encourage you to worship Jesus when I lift up the bread after repeating Jesus' words, "This is my body."
So, to return to our original question: Why do I have to go to Mass? The answer is simple: To worship and to receive Jesus - as Lord and Savior. Remember your purpose in this life is not to earn a million dollars or to make a name for yourself. Although, these things may make us feel great, they will ultimately vanish like smoke. Your purpose and mine is this - to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with him forever in heaven. That means worship. For Catholics, here on earth the object of our worship is the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus himself.
The Eucharist is essential to Catholic belief and fundamental to Catholic life. Today’s celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord gives us an opportunity to focus our attention on this basic mystery of our faith, the Eucharist, and to explore the meaning of the Eucharist in our worship and in our daily living. What is the Eucharist? The Eucharist is both a Sacrament and a Sacrifice. The Eucharist is a Sacrament, an outward sign in and through which we meet Jesus who shares His life of grace with us.
In this Sacrament of Eucharist, we do meet Jesus Himself who comes to us under signs of bread and wine to nourish and strengthen us for our journey through life. We see with human eyes what looks like bread and wine. We see with eyes of faith, not bread and wine, but the Risen Living Lord Jesus. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, the re-presentation or re-living in an unbloody manner of Christ’s Death on Good Friday and of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The Eucharist is the highest expression of prayer and the summit of worship. The Third Commandment reminds us to worship the Lord on His Day. Because Christ’s Resurrection and the Coming of the Holy Spirit took place on Sunday, the early Christians made the first day of the week "the Lord’s Day," also known as the Christian Sabbath. As Catholics, we fulfill the Third Commandment by coming together to worship. Through the celebration of the Eucharist. There is no other form of contact with God so intimate and as deep as the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, especially at the moment of Communion, the Risen Lord as a Person and each of us as a person become one. Two persons become one in Communion, truly, an interpersonal union. We pray in many ways and in many places and we should. These various kinds of prayer do join us to the Lord and foster a union with Him. But no form of prayer gives the intimacy and the union that the Eucharist gives.
Imagine, the Lord Himself, Body and Blood, soul and divinity, comes to dwell within us! That is why we worship the Lord through the Eucharist. That is why regardless of how good or bad the music may be, how wonderfully or poorly the priest preaches, how close or distant we feel to the priest, what the motives are of those around us, we should come to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday and Holy Day. No one and no-thing should be an obstacle to our coming to be one with the Lord and, through that oneness, to find the strength we need to live life, with faith, hope and love. Because the Real Presence of Jesus continues, we believe that He is present in a special way in the tabernacle in our churches. We ought to visit the Blessed Sacrament often.
In giving us the Eucharist, Jesus said: "Take; this is my body." "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." Jesus not only said those words, He lived them by a life of self-giving and by giving His life on the Cross. You and I are to do the same.
I know that some find it difficult to believe that bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I can understand your doubts. We don’t see any change in the bread or wine. There is no difference in the taste; the bread still tastes like bread and the wine still tastes like wine – sometimes horrible wine at that. It is going against logic to say that the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus despite no change in appearance. With our intellect we can understand that God must be keeping the universe together, that God is the origin of everything, but reason will only take us so far. Then we need to add faith to our reason and intellect. As Paul says, in the Christian life we go by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). We need to be humble and open to God performing a miracle every time in this church, the miracle of the Eucharist. Can you be humble enough to add faith to your intellect and reason, to admit that intellect by itself does not provide all the answers, and that God can perform miracles every day making it possible for bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Jesus while keeping the same appearance? Can you add faith to your intellect? When you submit to God you will not lose anything, you will gain everything. Add faith to your reasoning and receive the love of God for you! The Eucharist is the gift of God’s love for you.
To help us believe, from time to time, God has allowed visible miracles of the Eucharist to occur, Eucharistic Miracles as we call them. These are miracles that occurred during Mass when the bread changed into the form of flesh during the consecration and the wine changed into the form of blood during the consecration. Many such Eucharistic Miracles have occurred in various parts of the world and throughout the two millennia of Christian history and have been authenticated by the Church. And, as I tend to do each year, I want to give you a couple of stories on some real Eucharistic Miracles to help your faith and intellect to connect.
In the year 1263 a priest from Prague was on route to Rome making a pilgrimage asking God for help to strengthen his faith since he was having doubts about his vocation. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena 70 miles north of Rome. While celebrating Mass there, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal. The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast, Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris Hostia. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto.
Although that is the Eucharistic miracle that led to the institution of this feast, a more famous Eucharistic miracle is the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, also in Italy, which took place many centuries earlier, in the year 700. A monk who feared he was losing his vocation was celebrating Mass, and during the consecration the host turned into flesh and the wine turned into blood. Despite the fact that the miracle took place almost 1300 years ago, you may still see the flesh in a monstrance which is exposed every day and the blood in a glass chalice. The blood has congealed and is now in five clots in the glass chalice. In 1971 and 1981 a hospital laboratory tested the flesh and blood and discovered that the flesh is myocardium, which is heart muscular tissue, so we could say it is the heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, and the blood is of the blood group AB. In 1978 NASA scientists tested the blood on the Turin Shroud and interestingly also discovered that it is of the blood group AB. (The Sudarium, Face Cloth of Christ, in John 20:6 is also of the blood group AB.) Despite the fact that human flesh and blood should not have remained preserved for 1300 years the hospital lab tests found no trace of any preservatives. One final interesting point about the five blood clots in the chalice is that when you weigh one of them, it is the same weight as all five together, two of them together weigh the same as all five. In fact no matter what way you combine the blood clots individually or in a group to weigh them, they always weigh the same.  One might say, this shows that the full Jesus is present in a particle of the Eucharist no matter how small.
Let us pray.
That today, the Feast of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the great gift which Jesus has bestowed on us, the spiritual nourishment that is His Body and Blood. We pray that in uniting His Body and Blood with ours in the Eucharist we are strengthened in our faith and love of God and neighbor. We pray to the Lord.    
For the priests of our Church, that they may continue to offer the gifts of the people faithfully, like Melchizedech of old. We pray to the Lord.
For all who share in the celebration of the Eucharist, that they may appreciate more deeply the real presence of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those oppressed by starvation in soul or body, for those who live in want; that Jesus the Bread of Life will be their sustenance, and that we will bring the mercy of Christ to all those in need. We pray to the Lord.
For the community gathered by God at this Mass, that in our lives we may always hunger for Christ, the living bread from heaven. We pray to the Lord.
For the faithful departed, that through the eucharistic sacrifice they may come to eternal life with Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, the gift of the Eucharist blesses us with the presence for which every human heart longs.  Through the grace of the Eucharist, let us become more perfectly the body of Christ. Most generous Father, you provide for all our needs with the sublime gift of your Son in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Receive our prayers through him, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Monday, May 14, 2018

May 13, 2018
Ascension Sunday
(Acts 1:1-11; Mark 16:15-20)
Love it or hate it, we live by our calendars.

There was a time when many of us carried them in our pockets, briefcases or purses. Paper calendars showed us when we had to be where.

Then came the digital revolution, and some of us traded in our leather-bound planners for PDAs, personal digital assistants. We learned a new way of writing the alphabet so that we could quickly add new appointments to our Palm Pilots using the stylus.
Then Steve Jobs and the people at Apple combined our PDAs, phones and MP3 players into smartphones. While we might have left our planners or PDAs at home on a Sunday morning, today most of us have our calendars with us even in worship. I never quite got over using the stylus of my former Palm Pilots, however, so I have owned a Samsung Note of one variation or another just so I can still have the stylus that I got so used to in the 90’s and after.

Digital calendars can do things our paper calendars never could. They remind us of things we need to do based on our time and / or location. Like remembering when Joe’s interview was this week so I could stop what I was doing and send up a text message to the Holy Spirit. Siri/Cortana/Alexa/Google/Bixby, remind me when it is time to leave for my doctor's appointment." Then, based on your location and the traffic, your phone can tell you when it is time to leave. Isn’t it wonderful? It’s like having our moms with us all over again!

Once we put an appointment into our phones, we never have to look at it again. We can simply wait for that little buzz to interrupt us, sometimes during worship, to remind us of what we need to attend to later in the day.

Digital, paper or in our heads, our calendars tend to drive large portions of our lives. We are a time frenzied humanity.

In our Monday-through-Friday lives, many are required to be connected to their company's calendars through Outlook or some other calendar / planning app. Supervisors and colleagues can put things on our calendars, and expect us to be in the appropriate place at the appointed time. No time to slack off at work any longer.

Truth is, we rely on our calendars to organize our lives. From the boardroom to the classroom, it is hard to get by without some idea of what will be happening -- and when.

So imagine how the very first followers of Jesus must have felt about his answer when they asked about what was next. This is the nature of the conversation in Acts 1 -- today's reading. Basically, Jesus is having a final debriefing before leaving on a trip -- a vertical and heavenly one. And, of course, they have questions.

"Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" the disciples asked. The question makes sense. They had been on an emotional roller coaster with Jesus in recent days.

For three years, they followed him. They heard him talk frequently about a special time to come. He started his ministry telling them that the kingdom of God - the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

They listened as he told stories about banquets, mustard seeds and treasure buried in a field that he said were ways of describing this new reality to come.

They were with him when he entered Jerusalem several weeks earlier. They saw the crowd waving palm branches and shouting their praises. By riding a donkey into the city, Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy that announced God's rule and reign. It was a huge statement. Surely, they thought, this must be the time.

At the Last Supper, he seemed to confirm it. "I will not drink the fruit of the vine again until I drink it with you in my Father's kingdom." Next stop, the kingdom of God, they must have thought.

Instead of a coronation, however, there was a crucifixion. It appeared to be over. Their hopes were dashed. The dream of the restoration of the kingdom seemed to vanish. What now?

Then, as quickly as it was over, it was back on. Jesus is alive. Hope is not lost. Certainly, the kingdom must be coming now!?!

After 40 days of being with a post-resurrection Jesus during which he continued to teach them about God's kingdom, he calls a special meeting. Expectations must have been high. What was he going to do? What was he going to say?

It had to be time for him to announce how the kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven, just as he taught them to pray.

The question must have hung in the air that day, like questions saturate the space among and between us in some of our interactions.

~ When the company calls an all-staff meeting during a down economy, everyone wants to know, "Are there going to be layoffs?"

~ When the person you are dating says, "We need to talk," you want to know, "Are we breaking up?"

~ When a teenage child enters a room, head down, and says, "Mom? Dad?"  heart rates accelerate. We want to know, "Is something wrong?"

For the crowd that day, the tension is almost unbearable. "Now? We want to get this on our calendars, so if not now, when?"

They want to pencil in the kingdom day. They want to know which week they need to clear for this world-altering event. They want to know the deadline so they can be sure to be ready.

To these questions, Jesus gives a bewildering answer. "That's none of your concern."

He actually says it more politely, but that's the gist of it. "Let me worry about the timing," he seems to say. "You just get to work on what you are supposed to do."

Then he's gone like Superman … up, up and away!

The disciples and the rest of the followers are left bewildered, staring into the sky.

The disciples have a scheduling problem, and for them, and for those of us who live by our calendars, Jesus' attitude is frustrating.
It's hard to leave things in the hand of God; Hard to let go and let God take care of details; Hard to trust in divine providence to be faithful to promises made.
How are we to respond to this? It's not for me to know the "times and seasons"? Really?! How am I supposed to function with so little information? As the British would say, “I must have a sssheshual!”
The problem is that the kingdom of God doesn't fit into our calendars – or sssheshuals. Jesus doesn't give us a list of tasks we can put in our phones.

Instead, he calls his followers to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The timing concerning any ultimate physical expression of the reign of God on earth, he says, is for him to worry about and, in any event, he himself doesn't know! He had already told his disciples (maybe they forgot) that "about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:26).

Our concern is to live into the mission of the Church and the call of God today. It is not about getting ready for some later date. Our role is to be the people of God every day, and do what God wants us to do right now.

We aren't cramming for a final exam. We aren't trying to meet a deadline before the Supervisor in the Sky calls us in for our performance review. This is a here-and-now, everyday issue.

Jesus calls his followers, both those on the hill that day and those in our pews today, to live for him at home, work and school, in our traveling, while running errands and wherever else life takes us.

This includes our calendars and our schedules – and even sssheshuals. It's time to take our calendars and bless them, sprinkle them with holy water, say a prayer over them, but do something to sanctify our time and put it wholly in the service of God and for God's work.

This means, of course, penciling in time for worship, prayer, Bible study, performing random acts of charity, being faithful to your relationship responsibilities and being flexible enough to respond when God interrupts you, messes with your calendar and lifts you, like Philip in a whirlwind, to minister in some wholly unexpected way.

Thing is, when you sign up to follow Jesus, you're going to have a ton of scheduling problems. Get used to it. Get over it. It is part of the thrill and challenge that we call ... discipleship!
Let us pray.
We pray for the wisdom, the faith and the love of God to be witnesses in today’s unbelieving world to His Holy Word. We pray to the Lord.            
We pray for those in our church who have followed the invitation of Jesus to proclaim the good news to the world, that they may be true witnesses to His Truth, by word and example. We pray to the Lord.            
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers. We pray to the Lord.
That in moments of doubt we may always remember that Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age. We pray to the Lord.
That as members of the Body of Christ we be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, being the presence of Christ in the world. We pray to the Lord.
That those who have looked on Jesus with faith, in this life, may now enjoy the glorious inheritance among the saints. We pray to the Lord.
That the Ascension may increase our awareness of the dignity of every human life, created to share life forever in the heights of heaven. We pray to the Lord.
That those who are in need of hope be inspired by the Ascension of our Lord and trust firmly that God offers them eternal happiness and the means to obtain it. We pray to the Lord.
That all mothers may experience the profound joy and gratitude of being vessels of life and of faith for their children. We pray to the Lord.
God of glory, as we commemorate this day when your Son Jesus was exalted in great triumph, hear our petitions and send us your Spirit of truth. Thanks to the Ascension of your Son, our human nature is now at home with you in heaven. And Father God, by no small significance, we also commemorate this day to all mothers; in your divine will, you made Our Lady Mary pure from the moment of conception so as she might be a model of all mothers. May her inspiration live on in all mothers this day. Fill us all with you spirit this day. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

Sunday, April 29, 2018

April 29, 2018
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
(Acts 9:26 – 31; John 15:1 – 8)
Change is difficult. We all are resistant to change at times. Our branches need some pruning now and again.

It's a challenge in families, in businesses, in churches, in communities and in entire countries. Certainly, it was a challenge for those following Jesus and maybe it was for the eunuch in today’s Epistle reading also.

In fact, the only person who really likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. That's a welcome change.

Throughout history, people have been afraid of innovation. The list includes:

German writer Johann Georg Heinzmann, who warned people in 1795 about reading. He said that consuming words leads to a "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria and melancholy." Be careful about reading! Kind of an odd concern for a writer to have.
Then, in 1803, preacher Jedidiah Morse said, "Let us guard against the insidious encroachments of innovation, that evil and beguiling spirit which is now stalking to and fro through the earth seeking whom he may destroy." Safe to say that he wasn't open to new forms of praise music in his Sunday services.

In 1906, composer John Philip Sousa lamented that phonographs were causing "deterioration in American music."

In 1926, the Knights of Columbus warned that the telephone would "break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends."

About the same time, a dean at Princeton observed that cars were becoming a threat to America's young people. "The general effect of the automobile," wrote Howard McClenahan, "was to make the present generation look lightly at the moral code." He worried that youths with cars would begin to drive all over the place on Sundays ... everywhere but church.

And finally, in year 2008, The Atlantic magazine asked the question, "Is Google making us stupid?"

The jury is still out on that one.

Resistance to change is a constant in human life, even around innovations that have proved to be beneficial: Reading, telegraphs, phonographs, telephones, cars and the Internet. Yes, there are problems associated with each, but, on the whole, they've been a huge help to people around the world.

In the eighth chapter of Acts, an angel of the Lord challenges a Christian named Philip to innovate. “Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.” The angel is ordering Philip to leave the city of Jerusalem, and to go in a new direction off the beaten path.

As he begins his journey, Philip meets "an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians,". This man has two strikes against him from a religious point of view: First, he is a foreigner, and admittance to the assembly of the Lord is generally reserved for the Israelite community. Second, he is a eunuch, and the Torah is explicit: "No one [who is an eunuch] shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 23:1 The actual text is a bit graphic for polite company, so I will let you read the actual words at your leisure, should you so desire).

But the Ethiopian eunuch believes in the God of Israel, and he has just made a long and difficult journey to worship in Jerusalem. He is now on his way home, and is reading Isaiah.

Why Isaiah? Maybe because Isaiah gives him some hope as a foreigner and a eunuch. In chapter 56, the prophet gives encouragement to "the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths" and "the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord.”

At this point, the Holy Spirit gives Philip another innovative order. "Go and join up with that chariot," says the Spirit, even though the man is an Ethiopian and a eunuch. This is a change from what Philip has been doing in Jerusalem and in Samaria. But, whatever. Doesn't seem to bother Philip that God would take him from Jerusalem where he's having huge revival meetings, performing many miracles, bringing many to Christ, and send him out to a desert to talk to one man, a foreigner at that! No more Pentecostal services; there’s work to be done!

The Bible says, "He got up and set out".

Notice that the Angel of the Lord basically says, "Get up and go,” and Philip "got up and went." Simple. God says "Get up," we get up. God says "Go," we go.

Philip immediately runs up to the chariot and hears the man reading the prophet Isaiah. "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.”

Fortunately, Philip does not share the concern of Johann Georg Heinzmann, who saw reading as the cause of "nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria and melancholy."

He is not even worried about running alongside a chariot, a vehicle which might have earned the condemnation of the car-hating Princeton dean.

No, Philip is willing to innovate.

"Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch.

"How can I, unless someone instructs me?" the eunuch replies. And he invites Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Philip moves in a new direction by joining the Ethiopian eunuch and helping him to understand Scripture. That's what we are called to do - to take steps and help someone to understand. Call it the Ethiopian Innovation.

So what happens when we sit beside and guide? Sometimes we have to give straight answers to tough questions. The Ethiopian eunuch asks, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?”

Philip doesn't answer, "I think you need to undertake a careful examination of present-day studies in biblical history in order to assess their diverse orientations and different methodologies, while, at the same time, not neglecting the risk that the exclusive use of one methodology runs face to face with a comprehensive understanding of the biblical testimony and of the gift of God given in Christ."

No, Philip simply says that the prophet is talking about Jesus. He tells him that Jesus died on the cross like a sheep led to slaughter, to demonstrate just how far he will go to show his love for us. This sacrifice brings us forgiveness of sin and the restoration of a right relationship with God, whether we are American, Ethiopian, man, woman or eunuch. And then, to prove that death is not the end, God raised Jesus from the dead and raises us as well.

That's the Jesus story, as simple as can be. It's what the Ethiopian eunuch needed to hear, and what the outsiders of our society need to hear as well. It's a story we can tell if we are willing to sit beside and to guide.

Don't fall victim to the fears of preacher Jedidiah Morse, who said, "Let us guard against the insidious encroachments of innovation, that evil and beguiling spirit." Maybe we should skip reading any bible verses online – it might be insidious.

There's nothing evil about the Ethiopian Innovation, because it brings people to Christ. That's often the result of giving a straight answer and telling people about Jesus. As Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch are going along the road, they come to some water, and the eunuch says, "What is to prevent my being baptized?"

Philip cannot think of a single thing to prevent it, so he joins the eunuch in the water and baptizes him. Then the Spirit of the Lord snatches Philip away, and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. The Ethiopian eunuch who had struggled as an outsider is now an insider - an insider in the community of Jesus Christ – and probably a shocked one at that, given Philip was “snatched” away.
When we "sit beside and guide," we give straight answers to tough questions. Change will sometimes come due to the answers to the tough questions. We mustn’t be afraid to be innovative and help others on their road to understanding Christ. Any innovation that helps someone to better understand or become closer to Christ, is always a good thing.
Let us pray.
For people throughout the world who are victims of religious extremism or who fear those who believe or practice differently. We pray to the Lord.
For pastors and teachers, catechist and theologians, mystics and prayer leaders, who are dedicated to enhancing our relationship to Christ, that they be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Lord.
For hearts and minds to be open to knowing Christ in this community; and for all among us who need the healing of this relationship, especially the sick, the dying and all who suffer. We pray to the Lord.
That the Church may continue to make Jesus known to the world through words of hope and works of love. We pray to the Lord.

That world leaders may cooperate with one another in an effort to seek peace and prosperity for all. We pray to the Lord.
That our love may express itself in concrete actions of visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, and protecting all life. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, Your Son taught us to ask for what we need.  Fill us with confidence in those moments when we too are called like Philip to proclaim Your Truth.  May Christ’s words always remain in us. We thank you, Father most holy, for the wonders of your generous care. Show again Your love for us as we call upon You.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA

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