Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sunday Sermon

October 3, 2010

St. Michael and all Angels

Feast of St. Francis

As some of you know, my secular occupation is that of a manager in retail. Quite the combination the Lord has led me to, I must say. However, in this occupation, it has afforded me something that some Roman Catholic Priests do not have the “luxury” of having. We have all heard the adage that one must be “in the world, but not of the world”. This becomes so much more true for those of us in ministry, as we have to set the example of having Christ as our focus, not the trappings that our life existence can give us here on earth. However, in my case I wanted to be far enough of the world, to have a firsthand knowledge of what life on the outside (of the church) is all about. I have found in these many years in this secular career an interesting caveat. Sometimes, it is downright depressing.

We read today in our Gospel reading, that Jesus states that Nathanael has no duplicity in him. Just what does duplicity mean? Well, I tend to see it a great deal in my secular job. As a manager and as a bishop, I tend to receive a lot of what is referred to as “brown nosing”. I don’t think I have to explain what it means and it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate here at this moment to state the actual translation, but to me it means duplicity. They think that by treating me in a particular way, or acting a particular way while I am around, that they will somehow gain my approval and thus they will be granted things like easier tasks, promotions or raises simply because they think they have persuaded me to do so by their actions.

Now, frankly I do not fall for many of the ploys, but it can be amusing at times watching and/or listening to them try to be something they are not, just to gain my approval. Of course, the great majority also know that I am a Bishop, so they tend to try and meld in moral and ethical views that they really have no clue about or really could care less about, into their endeavors to influence me to their design. Doesn’t work. I wasn’t born a week ago. But, for the most part, it is done in fun.

However, what about life in general? Here we are, sitting in our pews listening to a “man of God” speak, all in an attempt to inspire some sort of grace into the lives before him. I am not even slightly bamboozled into thinking that all of us in this room are perfect and do all things in the name of Christ, simply because we all show up here today. We all fall short of God’s design in some way.

So we see Nathanael walking toward Jesus. Jesus then states that Nathanael has no duplicity in him. Nathanael is confused by this. So Nathanael basically says, I have never met this man in my life and he is making a statement about my character. A character statement that is not bad, but good. We all would love to walk into a room and have someone whom we do not even know, and whom we think does not know us, but all the same would say something so flattering as Jesus has, and to further tell him that he saw him under a fig tree where he was just at, but obviously not within human eyesight. All because of this simple statement, Nathanael comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus continues to state that Nathanael will see much more wondrous things than this. Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see God’s Angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. He will see the Angels ministering to Jesus’ every need. Many of us believe in Angels, but to have someone say that they will actually see them must have been an experience beyond words.

So, we have a few things to think about today; as if it were not already complicated enough. Today we have a double fold feast. One of which was actually this past Wednesday; the feast of St. Michael and all Angels. Given my propensity for the supernatural and the omnipotence of God, I could not simply allow that day to be skipped by without some honor toward these beings that inhabit our spiritual and mystical plane, communicating to and protecting us. Second, we have the feast of St. Francis on Monday. Now we certainly cannot miss that day either. Not only is he our patron saint of our parish, he is also the guiding principle of the Order of St. George of Cappadocia that we inaugurated here last week. Not to mention that our animals love him.

Angels are great beings that are also creatures of God. God created them, just as He created us, although for two very separate functions. The Angels are blessed to be in God’s presence at all times, in a manner in which we are not. Much of what we experience of God comes either from faith or, if we are blessed, with a miraculous spiritual moment that helps us to catch a glimpse of God. These beings are our great protectors and communicators. Some of you are aware that early in the Mass on each Sunday, the Angels are summoned to be among us during our service; most especially during the Eucharistic celebration. There are two most prominent Angels that hover over, the above right and the above left, of the Priest who is saying the Mass, so as to “protect and transmit” the miraculous and mystical aspects that take place each time during the Mass. Thus, the teaching that no matter what state of life the Priest may be in, the Mass is celebrated in a perfect form, as the Angels correct the mistakes or fill in the missed spots, as it reaches out to the congregation here in worship, expands out to the surrounding neighborhood and rises to heaven. Life without Angels would be amiss.

St. Francis. Just who was St. Francis? St. Francis was radical in his age. He started out much like you and I, except that his family was a wealthy family. His father owned a lucrative textile business. St. Francis briefly joined the military. Finally, while selling cloth and velvet for his father, a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly scolded and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage. In so, Francis began his life of following the road less traveled, as we in Christianity sometimes equate to following Christ. He continued to help the poor and the mistreated and in time he miraculously received the Stigmata; the wounds of Christ

Probably the most well known aspect of St. Francis is that it was said that he was able to communicate with animals. In fact, legend has it that St. Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.

We too, here in our small parish, consider ourselves a little radical as well. Here we can have all people of every kind of life situation come and worship and not feel as though they do not belong; to not be ostracized or looked down on simply because of who they are, what they are or what they have done or not done. Christ taught that only those who have no sin should cast the first stone. We are all sinners here in need of Christ’s love. Those who may have been denied Baptism, Communion or some other Sacrament at other churches, come here are welcome in our fold.

There are millions of Roman Catholics in the United States. An impressive number, no doubt about it. But there are many more non-Roman Catholic. You are one, or you are the other. This tends to sometimes cause confusion or downright animosity.

So what does it mean to be Catholic? Catholics are universalists — people who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family. Catholics are convinced that “every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide.” Makes you think, doesn’t it? Yes, when we chose “Universal” for the name of our denomination, there was more to it than simply having a name that basically meant the same thing as ‘catholic’. I get questioned about this all the time. What people do not understand, because they were not in the room that day when we decided on this name, is that we wanted something that not only seemed to rhyme well with each other, but we also wanted something that would cause question, while easing the conscience.

Yes, ‘universal’ and ‘catholic’ seem to be the same thing to many people. But, we intended something different. For us, ‘universal’ stood for a way of emphasizing something that people seem to forget; that is until you put the two words together and then people raise an eyebrow as if we are crazy. ‘Universal” for us stands for much of what St. Francis stood for. It stands for what St. Michael and all the Angels are commissioned to protect. All of humanity. We wanted the added emphasis that we are an inclusive and open to all church, and that all people can be saved in Christ.

Catholics should be committed to loving outcasts in an extraordinary way. They should volunteer in soup kitchens, run foot clinics for the homeless, play bingo with nursing home residents, volunteer at family planning clinics, assisting those with AIDS and/or maybe devote a week of vacation every year to doing mission work, among a very short list of possibilities.

The question is: What kind of focus does God want us to have? The world tends to reward the rich and famous, the moral majority (if you really want to call those folks moral), and the conservative right. The Holy Spirit wants us to reach out to those who feel forgotten, that they do not fit in, or simply less welcome elsewhere, because of where life has led them.

Let me read you a passage from The Acts of the Apostles (10:9-29). The story in the text takes place in the coastal city of Joppa, a town famous for piracy and other port-city problems. It is a rough-and-ready center of commerce, full of Romans anxious to find an angle, do a deal, and turn a buck. And when the apostle Peter comes to town, he stays with one of these local entrepreneurs, Simon the tanner, a man who works with animal skins, a ritualistically unclean profession, something that must’ve weighed on his conscience, because it was on the rooftop of Simon’s house that Peter has a vision of clean and unclean foods, and hears God declare, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

St. Francis put this message given to Peter to work. We live on a planet, the God created earth, with about 6.7 billion people. And boy, are we an eclectic bunch. Roughly over a third of this number is Christians. When you think about the number of varying religions, we become a great majority. Why? I tend to think it is because it is the true religion that God intended.

Peter and St. Francis knew something that the rest of us are either trying to learn or simply have not been given the information to help us grasp the fact that God created this vast planet with a vast number of races, creeds and ways of life. He created the Angels to watch over this vast number of divergent people.

For over 30 years, Peter Gomes, an American Baptist Minister has served as a minister to the students of Harvard University, and he has seen them struggle with the expectations of their parents and their professors, as well as with questions of what they are going to do with their lives. While it is certainly true that most graduates of Harvard are not going to have any trouble finding gainful employment in the world, Gomes has discovered that many of them are consumed by a far bigger challenge. They are asking the question, “What will it take for me to make a good life, and not merely a good living?”

A good life, above and beyond a good living. Many know all about what it takes to make a good living, and most of them achieve this goal through tough classes, long hours, hard work and steely-eyed determination. But a good life? That takes a catholic sensibility.

Young people today are discovering that true happiness cannot be found in the culture of materialism. Nor can it be discovered in the patterns of the past, in lives based on the fantasy world of 1950s sitcoms. Young people want and deserve something better, says Gomes: They want a good life, real happiness and an opportunity to do something worth doing. They want to be able to live their lives and even offer them, if required, for something worthy of sacrifice.

Perhaps your Joppa is a post office or grocery store. In these environments, clerks can endeavor to face long lines of customers without haste or confusion. They can engage customers with smiles and conversation, and in so doing erase the annoyance of waiting. (And believe me; if you have stood in line at a post office lately, you know what I mean.) If clerks see their daily work as mission work, they can turn everyday transactions into meaningful human experiences.

Perhaps your Joppa is a large company. In that type of workplace, professionals can look for opportunities to mentor a young person, compliment a subordinate, or assist a colleague in need. They can also do well by doing good, by making sure that business is done with honesty, integrity and responsiveness to the community. Good Romans can also be good Catholics.

Or perhaps your Joppa is a home or a classroom. In these particular settings, there are so many chances to be a role model, set an example, and pass on an insight or skill. Children and young people are desperate for guidance about how to make a good life, and they are always looking up to their parents and teachers for instructions and examples. They may not ask for help, but they want it … and need it.

Further still, maybe your Joppa is working alongside the person that does not really have the morals you do, for any number of reasons, but needs and desires a friend. Maybe it is the divorcee down the block, living in a staunch Roman Catholic neighborhood with a Priest who weaves the topic of divorce into his homily every month and how morally wrong it may be. Maybe Joppa is the gay or lesbian person sitting next to you, who granted may not love as you do, but is a human being all the same. Maybe Joppa is the children of unwed parents; maybe it is the unwed parents. Maybe Joppa is the divorced lady in the pew next to you. Maybe Joppa is the person who is a drug abuser or been convicted of crimes. Maybe Joppa is the teenager who had an abortion.

Wherever your Joppa is, even if it is a place full of pirates and other scoundrels use it as your base for being a good Catholic. Don’t focus entirely on doing deals, creating products, and making money, because these achievements are bound to be limited. Be a person who can act like a Catholic, and love the outcasts of this world in an extraordinary way. All these Joppa's I mentioned may not be good things in themselves. We can still preach that these things people have done are wrong, but they are still children of God and are welcome in our midst. We may not have all the resources to help them, but we certainly will try in Christian love and we will not deny the Sacraments to anyone unless they are unrepentant or desecrate meaning. As Peter Gomes implies, we simply need to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and allow ourselves to be filled with joy.

This means:
• Loving the homeless woman who asks for your spare change every time you walk by.
• Loving the teenager who bangs up the family car ... again … and again.
• Loving the employee who can’t concentrate because of a problem at home.
• Loving the teen who has some new body piercings.
• Loving the student with the multiple piercings and Gothic garb.
• Loving the neighbor with the rusty truck up on blocks.
• Loving the nursing home resident who can never remember your name.
• Loving the child you assist through a lunchtime Big Brother program.
• Loving the families you serve through a church mission project … across town, or across the globe.

• Loving all walks of life, no matter their difference, and help them to see Christ in you.

• Loving in a way that shows you know full well, that you too fall far short of God’s design. As Jesus said, “You, who have no sin, cast the first stone.”

This is extraordinary love. It is the love that Christ was teaching when he said it “isn’t what goes inside that makes you unclean, it is what comes out...” Let what is inside of you come out as love, compassion, understanding and a willingness to be around people different than you. It’s the love that the Catholics of the world are challenged to show, love that treats everyone as an equal, as a precious child of God. Like Nathanael, let there be no duplicity in you. Peter learned it. St. Michael and the Angels know it. St. Francis lived it. This is the love that never runs out, because it is not a worldly commodity. Instead, it’s a gift of God.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.