Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Sermon

June 27, 2010

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Intent: God as Love

St. Alban Sunday
Atheists are all the rage these days. Most of us have seen them displayed at Barnes and Noble or Borders, caught a morning-show interview with them or heard them referenced at Starbucks between friends grateful to have discovered champions for their skepticism.
Richard Dawson’s The God Delusion has sold 8.5 million copies, spending a year on the New York Times Best Seller List. Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great became a number-one New York Times Best Seller. Bill Maher’s film Religulous was the highest-grossing documentary of 2008. And a few more.
New Atheism is hot right now … and lucrative. It also has encouraged a common-ground ecumenical response. Muslims, Christians and Jews are standing together. Of course, to counter the atheist agenda, there have been almost equally as many books written to counter their claims. In the litany of interfaith responses, Rabbi David Wolpe’s stands out. He’s known as a beloved but controversial leader in the Jewish community. Named Newsweek’s “#1 Pulpit Rabbi in America,” he’s spiced up his temple by holding Friday night “rock ’n’ roll” services, inviting Will and Grace producer David Kohan to preach and questioning the historicity of the exodus … all at the Passover service! A service that is somewhat to the significance of Easter for us.
Rabbi David’s book Why Faith Matters is his response to the new atheism agenda. He feels their discussion of religion has completely missed the positive benefits of religion. He cites the apologetic power of religion’s gifts to society: interdependent community, a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to charity, believing in something larger than oneself, promoting healthy personal boundaries and submitting to a “higher power.”
We could call this the apologetic of virtue. In essence, these are God’s ways of demonstrating God’s self through the followers of God. We have the power to be a strong argument. The virtue apologetic crystallized for Rabbi David early in his ministry career. In a story of inadequacy relatable to many clergy, he tells of being called to the hospital bedside of an elderly woman to offer final prayers for the dying. He took her comatose hand but felt like a fraud. Who was he to shepherd a soul to the edge of the next world? Dutifully, he proceeded to pray familiar words anyway, letting their power carry him. I too have been there and understand quite well what he must have been feeling. Talking to his wife about it afterward, Rabbi David confessed his feelings of inadequacy. “You’re right,” she said. “You’re unworthy. Anyone would be unworthy doing such a thing. That’s okay, though. It’s not you doing it. It’s being done through you.” Rabbi David writes, “That was a pivotal moment for me. Suddenly it became clear to me that we bring light into this world not as a source but as a prism; it comes through us. As electricity requires a conduit, so spirit moves through human beings to touch others in crucial moments. As soon as I stepped out of my own way, the prayer felt real. I could believe in blessing when I felt that it did not depend on me.” Novelist Edith Wharton put the same idea this way: “There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it”.
Galatians 5 raises the light or prism, candle or mirror question. The fruits of the flesh or the Spirit are set up in a larger context in which Paul is dealing with the influence of Jews in Galatia who insist on adding law to grace. Reminding the Galatians of their freedom from the law, he asks them to use the holiness encouraged by the law for each other. In living by the Spirit, they are to be slaves to one another, embodying the grand intent of the law, which is neighbor-loving.
The “fruit” or the result of living in the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on, and these latter qualities are the very things that mirror the light of God into the lives of others. We could rename these qualities the flames of the Spirit, instead of the fruit of the Spirit. We can’t be the candle. Christ is the candle. We can be; we must be the mirrors.
Most light metaphors fall into two categories. One, from Isaiah and John, Christ is likened to light; “the people living in darkness have seen a great light”. And two, from Matthew, his followers are light — “You are the light of the world”. The metaphor of a candle and a mirror encompasses both. Christ has set us free, and ultimately he is the light of the world that we all reflect. But when God changes us; when we are led by the Spirit and produce fruit demonstrating that, then we reflect that light in the same way that a mirror does candlelight. That means the response of the Christian is to polish up the mirror. Clean up the smudges and the water spots. Make it a bright reflector of God. So what would be the best response to “new atheism” readers who will never read books such as Rabbi David’s? The most powerful apologetic for Christianity is the changed lives of its adherents and the way they love their neighbors through their transformation. We’re God’s first option on evangelism. It’s a consistent biblical theme: ~ Genesis 12: All nations will be blessed by Abraham’s family obeying God. ~ Matthew 5:16: Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your God. ~ 1 Peter 2:12: Live lives that silence the false accusations of pagans. Plato was once told that a man in the city had been spreading slanderous charges against him. Plato’s answer: “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.” What if we took his example, the scriptural example, and Rabbi David’s virtue apologetic seriously and committed ourselves to winning the hearts of God’s skeptics by living better lives right in front of them? Rabbi David tells of a season where he lost his faith, bolstered by the writings of an “old atheist,” Bertrand Russell. A graphic Holocaust documentary introduced him to “evil and a world without God’s protection.” Russell became a logical, witty guide to a world that was merely the product of blind forces. The Holocaust was enough to make anyone lose their faith. Rabbi David was enamored with the philosopher until he began reading biographical works that showed how depraved his life was: four broken marriages, alienated from his children, unabashed about his infidelity. Despite Russell’s brilliant mind, the fruit of his philosophy made a far more compelling argument. Claiming “it was better to be Russell’s reader than his wife or child,” Rabbi David stumbled back into faith through the apologetic of virtue. We all have experienced those periods in our live in which we fall away from our faith or beliefs. Life just doesn’t seem fair at times. Challenges in life tempt us to think God simply does not exist. However, haven’t we all met the Christian who’s so compelling to us that his or her presence inspires our faith? And haven’t we also met that sister or brother whose words, actions or attitudes cause us to literally doubt our faith? We all need a faith boost in our Jamba Juice of life. For me, it is sometimes as simple as stopping outside my front door, turning to the roses, taking a big sniff and realizing right then and there, that there is a God. Taking time to smell the roses as it were, reminds me that life is not so simple that it can be explained away scientifically or by some atheist agenda. There’s no problem with the Candle. It’s the mirror that needs polishing. We aren’t the source of light, but the prism. Not the candle, but the mirror. As long as there are neighbors and family members who don’t know Jesus, and as long as a new crop of atheists find God-bashing a fashionable and profitable thing to do, let’s just reflect Christ. Let us be the virtuous apologetic.
God Love You +
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunday Sermon

June 20, 2010

The Third Sunday after Trinity

(Father’s Day)

Intent: God as the Ruler of the Angels

“A barrage of bullets tore into Ronnie Lee Gardner’s chest where a target had been pinned over his heart. Two minutes later, the twice-convicted killer was pronounced dead as blood pooled in his dark blue prison jumpsuit.”

That macabre was printed in yesterday’s Union Tribune. I thought we put away the firing squad for the death penalty. Well, this shows how much I know. Does doing this senseless act really deter crime? Studies have been done and proven over and over again, that life in prison is far less expensive that simply keeping them in prison. I understand that the families of the victims need some sense of closure, even revenge, whether it is Christian teaching or not, however things like this doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

Further, one would think that killing them is far too lenient. Lenient, simply because once you kill them, they no longer live with the guilt of the crime; they die, and no longer have to think about what they did. Seems to me that keeping them alive and punished with life in prison without parole and very few amenities to make their life comfortable in prison, they would be punished far more. They would have to live with that memory. However, that’s too deep a topic for today, so let’s simplify it in Jesus terms.

Some criminals today are doing more than sitting sullenly in a cellblock. They're accepting the challenge to repent, make restitution, restore relationships, and change their ways. But, are we ready to shift our focus from revenge to reconciliation?

When I was just a baby,
my mama told me, "Son,
always be a good boy;
don't ever play with guns."
But I shot a man in Reno,
just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin'
I hang my head and cry.
I bet there's rich folk eatin'
in a fancy dining car.
They're prob'ly drinkin' coffee
and smokin' big cigars,
But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free,
But those people keep a movin',
and that's what tortures me.

That's "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash. Most people would probably say that anyone who'd shoot "a man in Reno, just to watch him die," deserved prison and a lot more. So what if he envies people on the outside "drinkin' coffee and smokin' big cigars." He did the crime, he does the time. Period.

Pierre Allard understands, perhaps better than most. In 1980, his brother Andre was brutally murdered - shot in the face and then dumped in a field outside Montreal. His killers were never found. Pierre went to see the frozen body of his brother because he wanted, he says, "to see the ugliness of evil." Pierre had been a chaplain in one of Canada's roughest prisons, Archambault Penitentiary, and the whole experience nearly drove him out of the chaplaincy. He had been preaching about reconciliation and forgiveness, but all of a sudden he wanted something else. He wanted revenge. Raw, naked revenge.

Who can blame him? Certainly not some outspoken Christians. Some advocate tougher justice; not only longer jail sentences and work camps for young offenders, but also capital punishment. There are many devout Christians who agree with this approach, absolutely and enthusiastically.

Fact is, you can go straight to Scripture if you are looking for support for tougher justice. If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, and bruise for bruise. "Life for life". That sounds like crystal-clear justification for capital punishment ... if not raw revenge.

But Pierre Allard found a different foundation in the faith. One night, back on the job, he found himself alone in the prison chapel, looking at the cross; looking at an ancient means of capital punishment. "I started crying," he confesses. "It was a real healing. The feelings of revenge just melted away."

Pierre started to reflect on the true meaning of justice, and decided that it must include both the victim and the offender. He discovered that within Christianity, you don't have the freedom to exclude anyone. Even if you become enemies, you're challenged to love your enemies. Jesus didn't call for revenge on his killers, instead, he said "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing".

This isn't "tougher justice," but it sure is tough. In fact, it may be the most difficult type of justice to achieve. But a growing number of people are trying to pull it off, including Pierre Allard, who now says that he would like to meet those who killed his brother and tell them: "I forgive you." Revenge has been replaced. Replaced by reconciliation.

The apostle Paul approves. In fact, if there is any biblical character who benefited from reconciliation, it is Paul himself, who started his career as a violent anti-Christian. On the road to Damascus, he was "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord", having just approved of the killing of the deacon Stephen. A light from heaven caused him to fall to the ground, but he was not killed - he was given a second chance. He converted and went on to serve the first-century church.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul recalls that "before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed". Call this the "tougher justice" approach. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, following the divine law that Paul describes as a "disciplinarian" for us. "But now that faith has come," he goes on to explain, "we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith". In Christ Jesus, we are all children of God. Jew and Greek. Slave and free. Male and female. Victim and offender. All one in Christ Jesus.

This is tough justice. It's tough because it doesn't feel fair. It doesn't seem right to lump together good, law-abiding citizens and bad, law-breaking criminals, and say that in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith.

But listen to what a woman named Wilma Dirksen has discovered, just a few years after losing her daughter to an abduction and killing. She realizes that many people believe that there are certain people who are bad, and if we get rid of them we'll have a good world. "But the Bible says, for good reason, that if we extend our hand to our enemy, we will eventually find that our hand is extended to ourself." She confesses, "That's what I found when in the end I had to face myself."

All are one in Christ Jesus. All. One. Good and bad. Saint and sinner.

It's an idea that benefits us. We ourselves are a forgiven people, so why is it so hard to believe that what works for us might not work for others? If God forgives us, requiring only confession and repentance and a restored life that bears witness to our repentance, then why can't such an approach work between ourselves in the human family.

This is so alien to our current justice system, which emphasizes the punitive approach. These days, if you commit the crime, you do the time. Three strikes and you're out - locked up for life. But evidence is mounting that where feasible, restorative justice has a chance to alter criminal behavior.

There's nothing naive or touchy-feely about it. It can actually work. Thirty years ago, when he was a young reporter at the Edmonton Journal, Bob Harvey took on the task of starting a program for teens at a neighborhood church. One of them confessed a deep, dark secret: He and several other bored teenagers had broken into a number of nearby homes. Bob Harvey and a co-leader met with these young offenders and made a surprising suggestion: Let's go in a group to the homes that had been broken into and apologize.

Now the homeowners had suffered damage to their homes, loss of property and a sense of violation, and the teens quickly realized that a simple apology was not enough. So they started holding bottle drives and car washes so they could at least pay back the cash they had stolen. They also received a lecture from a couple of burly detectives about what would have happened if they had not worked so hard to repair the damage: an appearance in juvenile court. The result? That was the last crime committed by any of those teens, and their victims became some of their biggest supporters. Restorative justice.

The key to dealing with most criminal behavior may well be the application of basic Christian principles: Repent, make restitution, restore relationships and change your ways. In our rush to extend jail sentences and build more prisons, we have forgotten that offenders are people and that people can be transformed by the love and discipline of a committed community. "Crime is not primarily a breaking of the law," claims Chaplain Pierre Allard. "Crime is primarily a breaking of relationships in a community, where real people have hurt real people." The secret to healing broken relationships is restorative justice, not punitive justice.

So, should we let criminals off the hook, provided they show sincere faith in Jesus Christ? Hardly. They still need to repent, make restitution, restore relationships, and change their ways; and this work can be much tougher than sitting sullenly in a cellblock. Not all will be willing. But to those who want to change, we should give chances.

Faith and love. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Restorative justice. They're never easy. But they are the call of a convict named Paul.

And a crucified Lord. He willingly went to the cross for you and me. He went to the cross innocent and suffered as one of those who were not. On that cross he hangs dying, but still he asks his Father in heaven to forgive them. Can we do that if and when we are called to? On Father’s Day, I think we are being called to do just that, just as the father forgave the prodigal son.

God Love You +

+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor - St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday Sermon

June 13, 2010

The Second Sunday after Trinity

Intent: God as Light

The alarm clock failed. The dog threw up. The kids couldn't find their shoes. Finally, you're out the door, armed with a cinnamon latte in the travel mug and the car phone on speaker. Meeting begins in 30 minutes? Commute takes 40 minutes? Speed limit remains 70? No problem.

Hang a left to glide casually into the "Carpool" lane set aside for cars with two or more passengers. You hope that nobody will notice that it's just you and the radio. Accelerate to about 80. Gotta love these commuter lanes! Even if the law's out in full force, the price of a ticket is worth every dime. Sixty bucks for shaving 15 minutes off the clock? A great deal, especially considering the half-dozen times nobody caught you. A cost-effective no-brainer.

In our time-crunched, multitasking world, drivers who are ordinarily law-abiding citizens are increasingly disregarding the rules of the road. Speeding tickets and Carpool violations have basically become the cost of doing business. The same people who would argue that shoplifting a roll of Life Savers is a crime will slide through red lights and roll through stop signs without the slightest pang of civic-minded guilt. Gotta keep moving. Can't spare a minute.

The consequence for a don't-have-time-to-follow-the-rules-of-the-road culture is an occasional ticket. So what? Society has come to regard ticketed drivers not as criminals but as victims of overzealous law enforcement. After all, troopers do have a quota of tickets they have to give!

Need to double-park to pick up a quick package? Scoot into a handicapped spot to drop off a colleague? Nothing personal. Just a time-saving tactic. And who can argue with saving time?

Jesus grew up in a culture with more legal codes to throw at people than a state trooper waiting for an out-of-state city slicker on a rural back road. Flip through the pages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy for a colorful sample of infractions. Often, the most serious offenses demanded the most serious penalties.

Many of the Jews of Jesus' day were serious Jews who took their lives and their law seriously. Then along comes Jesus, who plucked grain on the Sabbath and consorted with an array of unclean people from lepers to bleeding women. And he did it without remorse, to the utter infuriation of first-century law enforcement officials.

Jesus himself refrained from imposing the stiff penalties of the law upon others, choosing instead to pass out warning tickets with a grace so foreign to the culture that people staggered away from his presence with a mixture of bewildered relief and evangelical zeal. Once he even charged a law-abiding citizen to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus let the sinners go with a word of encouragement, but challenged those who followed all the rules to make a dramatic detour.

In ancient Judaism, there were many laws and holiness codes written by Moses and the prophets that are recorded in the first five books of our Bible. What you can and cannot eat and when; what can or cannot wear and when, etc. Most of us know what I am speaking of. One wonders if these laws and rules were not simply designed as a method of “world order” as opposed to things that God really demanded. The Ten Commandments, appear to have the bigger relevance as we see later from Jesus. He frequently challenged the people of that time who would quote these laws and codes to him.

All of which brings us to a few observations: The church has a history of being legalistic. We enjoy the idea that there's some sort of litmus test for Christian spirituality. A moral or political line is drawn in the sand; step over it and you've stepped out of communion with the ChristBody. We do, after all, need some rules, lest we have chaos.

Unfortunately, these notions change over the years. Yesterday's heresy is today's orthodoxy, and, this being true, we tend to trivialize sin. For starters, we don't call it sin; we prefer, instead, to call them mistakes, shortcomings and failures. We regard ourselves as morally challenged, perhaps, but not sinners. Mistakes were made, but nothing that can't be fixed - by us.

The trivialization of sin results in a meaningless - or absence of - confession of sin. No point in confessing what we not only consider venial and unimportant, but scarcely sin anyway. Granted, we may read a printed prayer in unison as a part of the liturgy, but we're not likely to wrestle much with the spirit-crushing, soul-wrenching reality of our sin. We simply do not want to hear or discus sin. We would rather take a swig of castor oil!

Of course, the functional equivalent of the confessor today is our therapist who is likely to blame the mess we've made of things on some dysfunction or as-yet-unnamed syndrome. We prefer the jargon of psychobabble or medical language because it sounds reassuringly guilt-free. We rely on the latest pharmaceutical product because popping a pill is an easier fix than plodding through penance, or even popping a prayer.

By now we've learned that it's not sin at all: it's a hereditary predisposition, a chemical imbalance or temporary insanity.

Then the apostle Paul weighs in. He seems to lend some weight to the antinomian argument: "No one will be justified by the works of the law". If following the rules of the road will not get us to our destination, then why bother at all? Paul, of course, is writing to Gentiles who were - from a Jewish standpoint - natural-born sinners, and to Jews who prided themselves on their connections: The rules of the road would save them. Or so they thought.

Paul, however, sees us as humans in need of salvation, and in this text he talks about transcending our humanness through Christ Jesus. Life is not merely a journey simply traveled by obeying the obvious rules of the road. Life is meant to showcase the grace of Christ to a world filled with people who are terrified of detours, people abandoned on the side of the road, people who have been dented and crushed by repeated hits, people sputtering along with very little fuel left to keep them moving forward. Maybe our business is something more than getting ahead. Maybe our business involves something higher. Maybe we are called to help others along their journey too, in the great hope that we will all end up in the presence of the living God.

The cost of doing business in our 21st century world involves making daily decisions which have us choosing between the legal and the illegal, the ethical and the unethical, the graceful and the sinful. Paul's point is that from the standpoint of the law, we try to see what we can get away with. But from the standpoint of grace, we try to see what we can give away. In the first case, we function out of an ethic of duty and obligation; in the second, we work out of an ethic of love.

Where does the power for this rule less living come from? It comes from our total identification with Christ in his suffering. "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul writes, "and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."

This life is a life of faith, he goes on to explain. Faith renders the breaking of petty laws, and pursuing petty and self-serving agendas unnecessary. In other words, the cost of doing business has changed. We need to turn on a light, if you will.

The Hawthorne Effect was named after a socioeconomic experiment done in 1927 among workers in the Hawthorne Works Factory of Western Electric Company. Up until this experiment, it was thought that only wages and working conditions had direct bearing on work performance and output. This famous experiment proved that increasing the lighting improved work performance. The business world responded with one voice, "We need better lighting!" Sometimes we need God to enlighten us or to enlighten our way. Sometimes we need something or someone to simply make old things appear new, or if not appear new, to fashion in a new light.

Today, we see Jesus dining with a Pharisee, and the story makes it clear that his host had not provided the usual gestures of hospitality. A sinful woman in the city, seemingly without permission and with no fear of recrimination, prepares well to approach Jesus, for she brings a flask of ointment. But she brings no water or soap or towel. One clear purpose of her visit, to anointed Jesus, apparently leads to an unplanned response when she actually encounters Jesus; she is moved to tears and bathes his feet with her tears and wiped his feet cry with her hair, a most humble of an act.

The Pharisee responds with indignation. But was he concerned about the woman, or simply embarrassed because she provided what he neglected to provide - cleansing water, a welcoming kiss, or a reverent anointing revealing regard for the dignity of another? Contrary to what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus was a most profound prophet, for he was able to see into the woman’s heart and forgive her. He looks into the heart of the Pharisee, and sees there is a lack of love. The deeper issue of true hospitality this incident raises is how we see others, as we encounter them, and respond to their needs with care.

Jesus asks, do you see this woman? The Pharisee looks at her and sees only a sinner. Jesus looks at her and sees a sinner who repents. He sees her tremendous humility her great sorrow, her desire to minister to him in his need, her great love, her saving faith. The woman sees Jesus as one whom she can love and who loves her in return. This relationship brings her salvation and peace. Jesus is able to do for the sinful woman what he might have done for the Pharisee, who needed only to truly encounter Jesus for who he is.

While the woman and her actions seem to be the centerpiece of this gospel, what is really central is openness to others, accepting them for who they are, and seeing rightly into our own hearts before we judge the heart of another. Jesus is the model for seeing rightly.

So, one would wonder at this point if I am advocating having rules or not. Yes, I am. As I said earlier, rules were meant more as a protection of world order, not as a method of ordering ourselves in line with God. Yes, some were set up as a design that God wanted, (such as the Commandments) but some of it humans dreamed up as something God wanted. Jesus simply wants us to search through our conduct and determine if we harm ourselves, others or God. If so, then the law has relevance. We have heard Jesus speak that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. However, we also saw how when he was challenged on some of his acts and teachings that seemed to be in violation of some of the laws of Judaism, he also made it clear that the law was being read too literally. Picking the grains of wheat on the Sabbath as an example.

Much of these laws and codes were written to help us be better humans toward one another and as guidelines on what God desired from us toward him. We all know that we could go to the Bible today and write down every law, rule or code listed and find that we do not even remotely follow them anymore. Caucasian Americans, as example, have no problem eating pork and doing so on any day of the week, yet many Jewish people still will not.

By taking Jesus’ example, we realize that not all of these laws have relevance at all times. God is not so imperialistic that he is going to send a bolt of lightning down on anyone who is not adhering to any of these codes 100% of their lives. He is more concerned with how we lead our lives in relationship to one another. If what we do or say will harm ourselves, others or God, then we have something wrong. However, if a grown man, say, wants to wear a “Toto” in his home privately with no one else around, has he broken the dress code? Now if he did so with say a minor in the room, I’d say we had a serious problem, and I am many of you would agree. Maybe we are simply splitting hairs, and to what end?

As always, Jesus has a way of taking our notions of right and wrong and turning them upside down, forcing ourselves to look at the situation or ourselves from a whole new light. We all have weaknesses and faults. We all make errors, and when we get right down to it, we should all see how undeserving we are of God’s love. Yet, through it all, I know God does love me and all of you too. God looks at our heart and intentions behind the actions, not just the actions themselves.

Let me leave you with some words from Summa Theologiae, of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Because of the diverse conditions of humans, it happens that some acts are virtuous to some people, as appropriate and suitable to them, while the same acts are immoral for others, as inappropriate to them.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunday Sermon

June 6, 2010

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi. What can be said of Corpus Christi to help everyone see the importance of this day as well as see what and why the Church teaches and believes what it does for this particular feast day?

I am sure most of you here even if you haven’t seen, you have at least heard of the movie Avatar. The story begins around the year2150 something. It appears we humanoids have taken to replacing oil with a whole new source of energy. This energy source is located on some very distant planet. So, it seems the humans have sent a company of explorers, scientists and some form of what we visualize as our modern day U.S. Army and Air Force to this far distant planet.

The story opens with us looking into the life of a disabled Army soldier, apparently injured in a previous conflict. He is now cooperating with this company and its team of scientists. These scientists have been attempting to create a way of communicating and blending in with the life forms on this planet. Obviously, for Hollywood, these life forms are some blue colored, half human, half lion something or other. Through some form of machine, that looks like one of those massaging tubes you see in shopping malls, they are able to take the consciousness of a human and transplant it into some form of mutation that resembles exactly that of the aliens on the planet they have come to. They do this to assimilate into the alien’s lives in the hope of communicating with them and acquiring the energy source they want.

Long story short a conflict begins, but all the while we catch a glimpse into the life of these aliens and how some of the humans finally see and learn the value of life within them.

So, what has all this to do with us today? The movie has many religious overtones to it. It tends to take some New Age, Judaism and Christianity and rolled them into one. So, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. When I look out at society today, I see that we have lost our real direction and purpose. I see how, as the centuries go on, and as modern science takes us into so many technologies, that we have lost the sense of sacred. We have lost the sense of God. We have lost the realization that all of this; the entire world was created by Him and for Him.

When you watch this movie, you see a life of peoples (the aliens in this case), that not only live to survive, but also live for the unknown force that is their life force, much like we do (or should) for God. The whole planet is a life force that lives and breathes with one another, much like we relate in some form to the Holy Spirit. The peoples are the main life, with all the other life around them as support structures that not only sustains them, but lives with them. In the center of all this is a tree that glows and has some form of mystical powers. This reminds me of the earth as God meant it to be and originally created it to be. The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life.

When things do not go right as the people know it should, the peoples gather around this tree, they join arms and join in some form of what I attribute to being prayer, even if it was a bit rhythmic. Two of the main characters were at a point of death. Both at some point were brought to this tree and all joined in a ritual in hope of bringing their physical forms back to life. One was brought back to life, and the other was not. Much like when we think of prayer; we always get an answer from God, it just that sometimes the answer is yes, and then sometimes it is no.

When the planet was in danger of annihilation, one of the heroes suggested that a request be made of the “Tree of Life” as I am choosing to call it, and see if a miracle would take place. One of the chief spiritualists of the peoples explained to him that the “Tree of Life” did not work that way. In the end, in some odd sort of way the “Tree of Life” communicated to all living beings that they needed to work together to save their planet, and thus they did. So, in the end, the “Tree of Life” did work a miracle.

The significance is two things.

First, and foremost, we have to believe in miracles. When we put our limitations on God and on miracles, then we expect nothing and lose faith. But, we must understand, no matter what limitations we may place on them, miracles can and still do happen. Sometimes, we have to ignore whatever is around us that may be telling us that a miracle will not happen. When the peoples first tried to save one of the lives, the person did not survive. However, that did not discourage them from trying a second time when they tried with the main character, and in this instance, he lived! When, they did not think that the life energy would do anything to help them save their civilization, it did just that.

Second, we can learn that no matter the difference in our various races, nationalities or any other differences we can imagine, we are all in this together and we should make every effort for all of us to cohabitate together in harmony. When the peoples needed the assistance of the “Tree of Life”, they joined together in communion to one another, even with all the differences, and put all their energies and minds into one space and time as one and miracles arose. They help show us that we should find some common ground to be in unity with one another.

We will return to this later, but now let me read a short selection from the book of Genesis. (Read Genesis 14:18-20) We see from ancient times, the priest Melchisedech offering up bread and wine. This is significant simply because we see Jesus do this in the story of the Last Supper. He, with His Apostles, took bread and wine, blessed it and they each ate. Melchisedech’s offering was a prefiguration of what Jesus was to do with His Apostles. It was a very much a prefiguration of what God intended for us to do.

Jesus’ priesthood was not governed by the law, but by linking the offering of bread and wine, showed that Jesus’ priesthood was a prophetic one. Psalm 110 foresees the Messiah as a being a priest not in the line of Aaron, but in the line of Melchisedech.

Over the centuries the Church has pondered over the mystery of the Eucharist. The many theologians through this time humbly acknowledged that human reasoning was limited when probing divine and supernatural. The Church, however, has been able to offer reasonable defense of its doctrine on the Eucharist from the objections that unbelief and heresy has hurled against it. In the modern world, where materialism, scientism, and skepticism seem to reign supreme, the mysterious change that the Church calls Transubstantiation, seems to fall to disbelief.

As human beings, we can choose to change our hair color or styles of hair; we can change careers, addresses of habitation, tastes in interests and any number of various aspects of our lives. However, we do not cease to be the same person we were before these changes. Substance is the permanent underlying characteristic. So, no matter what change we may undertake, we are still the same person underneath it all. We may change ideals and even personalities, but we are never going to be anyone other than who we were created to be by God.

Why is this important? When one is to read or hear an explanation of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, they may encounter the use of the word “substance”. Such as, the substance of the bread and wine remain the same, but it becomes a “host” for the life and breath of Christ. The Body and Blood of Christ. The term “substance” came into play when the Council of Nicea defended the Divinity of Jesus, when it stated that Jesus was of the same substance as God, yet still the second person of the Trinity known as the Son. So, in simplistic terms, one can be two things and yet still be of one being.

To understand why the church uses the term, Transubstantiation for the miracle that occurs at the moment of consecration, two truths are presupposed: first, that the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ, and second, as a necessary counterpart, that the bread and wine really change into the body and blood. Both of these truths are taught in Scripture, namely the Gospels. The Latin term Transubstantiation appeared first in the late eleventh century and then became Church teaching during the Fourth Lateran Council in the thirteenth century.

Pope Urban IV was overwhelmed with a miracle in Bolsena. A Priest who had doubts about the real presence of Christ in the hosts of bread and wine, saw a host change before his very eyes into a bit of bloody flesh that left stains on corporal. Hence, Pope Urban extended the feast to the world wide Church. Further, in the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent, in an effort to oppose the heresies of the Reformers of the time, restated the doctrine.

Now, the substances of the bread and wine (or in our case, wafers and grape juice), would seem to indicate to our brains that they are nothing more than bread and wine. The color, taste and smell of the bread and wine, tell our brains that they are indeed thus. Transubstantiation is rightly called miraculous, that is, altogether outside of the ordinary course of nature, because in this mysterious conversion, the substances of the bread and wine continue to remain, while the inner substance, the essential reality, comes to be entirely different.

The Church teaches that at the very moment the effectual words of our Lord are spoken by His minister, the entire substance of bread is changed into the Body of Christ and the entire substance of wine is changed into the Blood of Christ. Bread and wine cease to exist and the full reality of Christ comes to be present under their appearances.

It is a marvel to behold, of the means chosen by our Lord. Bread and wine are evident sources of nourishment for the body, thus perfectly symbolizing the spiritual nourishment the soul receives in Holy Communion, and the lingering substances of these foods permit the communicant to receive the true flesh and blood of Our Lord, and thus His soul and divinity, unbloody, in a manner well suited to us and our powers. Obviously, civilized humanity does not partake of cannibalism, thus the Lord willed that the Eucharist be given in a substance our senses would readily accept without repulsiveness.

Thus, while the human body transforms ordinary food into its own substance, in receiving Christ Worthily, it is we who, bathed in His grace, are transformed by degree into His image and likeness. It is therefore, why the Church places so much importance on attending Mass and participating in the Eucharistic miracles, fore we really and truly take within ourselves the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ. His full divinity is given to us, to sustain us as the week goes by and to fill us with His grace and power. This tends to provoke an euphemism that “you are what you eat”.

Through the words of consecration, the bread and wine are no longer thus, but now the Body and Blood of Christ. They are the living flesh and blood of the risen Lord in heaven, and thus contains His Body, Soul, and Divinity and are inseparable. It is because of this, that what hosts remain after we have partaken Communion, are placed in a tabernacle to safe guard, fore they remain our real Lord Christ. So, when we genuflect and make the sign of the cross before the tabernacle, we are not doing so to a lifeless box and table, but to a true and divine God, hidden behind a tabernacle in the substances of bread and wine.

We exercise the supernatural virtue of faith to accept the mysteries of our holy religion (such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the virgin birth, the Resurrection), and take them as word value, so we must exercise this virtue above all when worshipping and approaching our God hidden under the humble appearances of bread and wine. As our Blessed Lord said to St. Thomas: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe…”! And so, in every Mass, our Lord says the same to you, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe”.

Scientists or philosophical people could argue that a substance cannot change without its appearances also changing. We must not limit God in His omnipotence. God, in His all powerful nature, who created all that we see, feel, and smell, can also cause characteristics of one item to remain, while the characteristics of another joins the first. That He can do so, should not be so difficult to accept when we consider that God, in creating the world, the Angels, and each human soul, brings forth being or life out of nothing; an act that surpasses every miracle.

1 Corinthians, shows us that although many (and in many lands at the same time) Jesus Himself is received by all Christians at all times in all places. As with a telephone call, a speaker is present to someone far away as well as to the other, even over time zones, so is Jesus present to all, at all times, in a multipresence and multilocation. Christ gives mankind bread to eat, a sign both of the Eucharist and of the messianic banquet. He is the eternal High Priest, and the Eucharist perpetuates the exercise of His Priesthood under the signs of bread and wine.

The disbelief and hostility that some modern people, especially among non-Catholics, is really a poor rejection of the existence of God or the very possibility of miracles. The disbelief that a miracle is taking place at the hands of the Priest of the Mass, at which he states the words of consecration and thus Christ works through this said Priest as an instrument, a power to which a Priest is given special access to through the Sacrament of Ordination, does not make it any less a miracle.

Here is where we circle back to the movie Avatar. We see in the real world that we live in, that there are many separations of religions. Which is the true church? Which is the true religion? Who teaches the truth as God put forth and desires? Only faith can answer these questions. In our branch of the Catholic Church, we do not formally discuss or teach the belief that we are the one true Church. The Church of Rome does. As part of this heritage, we naturally agree that we are part of that Church started by Jesus with the Apostles. We do understand the theology that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus created. However, we do not insist in this belief upon the people, as that of Rome would.

But, my reason for bringing up this topic today, while we discuss Corpus Christi, and mingle Avatar with it is this – The Church of Rome, as many of you know, will not allow non-Catholics or non-believers to come forward for Communion. There is some good theology to this that I do not discount, even if as a church, we do not formally agree. The belief is something that modern society is suffering with, unbeknownst to most people.

We have lost the sense of communion with one another. We have lost the sense of communion with the Church. We have lost the sense of obligation to Church; the worshipping of God! The ideal here is that if we come forward for communion, we are coming forward in unity with one another; that we are in agreement with one another. This is where the final comparison of Avatar arrives. The peoples of the planet still knew and celebrated unity. We have lost that unity.

Now, I do not propose that we suddenly join all churches into one monopoly of a church. As a denomination known as Universal Catholic, we do understand the need for unity; we also know that coming forward to Communion to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus does signify this unity. We simply believe that although we may disagree on the fundamentals of some theology, and certainly on the real presence in the Eucharist, we still understand that we are all Christians or spiritual people seeking the Divine, and thus in some form of unity, even if a bit defective.

Therefore, our official teaching on the Eucharist matches exactly that of our Roman brothers and sisters. The only point we depart, is that we open our altars to all mankind to come to our altars in respect and reverence, and hopefully not in a state of mortal sin for adults; and being 7 years of age and baptized for children.

So, as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, know that a simple sermon cannot possibly discuss all there is to know about the Eucharist, but we can come away with a new found faith that as we partake of it, we are really receiving our Blessed Lord within ourselves. When we do this in faith, we will receive many graces and blessings. It is not some magic, but a supernatural grace of becoming more like Christ in our way of life.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.