Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All Saints and All Souls Sunday Sermon

November 3, 2013
All Saints and All Souls Sunday
Typos. When you run across them in your daily reading, they might catch your attention, but they are no big deal. But, when the errors occur in Holy Scripture, then you have a problem of biblical proportions. Imagine if our now deceased loved ones or the Saints of the Church had lived with typos? Let’s look a few real typos missed by the publisher’s proofreaders that were actually found in some bibles after they had already made it into some hands.
“Thou shalt commit adultery” is what one bible said. That mistake in the 20th chapter of Exodus could have started a sexual revolution. Of course, in some cases, people already live as if the bible does indeed say that!
“Know ye not that unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God.” The unrighteous lobby certainly liked the sound of that one. The carter especially likes the typo. After all, money laundering has to stay alive somehow!
“Go and sin on more,” said Jesus in John 8:11. Well, to be honest, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” but the printer was looking for a loophole. Oh well, there goes that fun!
“Let the children first be killed.” Must have been written by a frustrated parent or school bus driver. What Jesus really said in Mark 7:25 is “Let the children first be filled.”
And in Matthew 5:9, part of today’s Scripture we hear, “Blessed are the place-makers.” That’s almost as bad as the line that Monty Python misunderstood and mangled into, “Blessed are the cheese-makers.” Of course we all know that Jesus actually said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” the proofreader who failed to catch that typo did admit to wanting his place in heaven.
Fortunately for us today, the Peachtree Editorial and Proofreading Service is working hard to catch and correct such biblical blunders. According to their website, this company is dedicated to proofreading Bibles and making sure that such misprints never make it into a Sunday Scripture reading. You might say that typos are this company’s daily bread.
With an ordinary book, you can put up with more mistakes “because it’s not something you’re basing your whole life on,” says June Gunden, who founded the company along with her husband Doug. “It’s information, but it’s not really life-changing information.” With the Bible, however, people expect perfection.
Just think of the problems that would have arisen if the Gundens had not caught several errors in one recent edition of the Bible. The phrase “our ancestors” would have been “sour ancestors.” Interesting, I’ve heard of sour relatives before.
Instead of condemning “factions,” the Bible would have called for an end to “fractions.” Not that America’s young math students would have minded that one.
However, on a serious note, what’s so shocking about today’s passage from Matthew is that it sounds like it is full of typos even though it is completely accurate. When you read this stuff, it is so counter-intuitive that you figure that there must be a misprint here.
“Blessed are the meek”? The meek? How can the meek be blessed some might ask. What is blessed about being in last place? No one wants to be last! The Saints in heaven could certainly tell us I am sure.
The only way to see these words clearly is through the lens of the kingdom of God. A proofreader’s magnifying glass cannot help us to spot the truth here. We need to be looking through the divine optics of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus Christ. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” ... “Blessed are those who mourn” ... “Blessed are the peacemakers” ... these are not prescriptions from the self-help section of your local Barnes and Noble bookstore. Instead, they are statements of what is true about the new reality that the Lord is inscribing on the world. There are no typos here. Only the God’s-honest truth.
So what can we learn from these counterintuitive realities? For starters, we need to realize that these blessings, known as the Beatitudes, are not descriptions of human feelings. When Jesus says that we are “blessed,” he is not saying that we are necessarily “happy.” To be reviled and persecuted because you follow the Lord might turn out to be a blessing, but it certainly is not going to make you feel particularly cheerful. When it is the holiday season and you work in retail and you have a customer using every possible rude and crude word to scream at you, you certainly are not happy and what is going through your mind at that point is not blessed either!
The nine Beatitudes which Jesus proclaims in this passage are so much more than nine “be-happy-attitudes.” To be blessed, in the manner Jesus was speaking of, is to be made privileged or fortunate by the action of Almighty God. It carries with it a sense of salvation and peace and well-being. You might say that the opposite of blessed is not “unhappy,” but rather, “cursed.” To be blessed is to be given the gift of divine favor, a gift that we all have a deep human hunger to receive.

Said this way, it’s clear that the blessing of the Beatitudes is not about us, and it’s not about how we feel. Instead, it’s all about what God has done for us (even though you may really want Him to do something that probably is not very appropriate with that customer that was screaming at you!)
With this perspective in mind, we can get a clearer sense of what Jesus is talking about when he describes his disciples as “blessed.” What he is saying is that these former fishermen are blessed because they are experiencing the coming of God’s Kingdom, and they are in the process of discovering that their lives are being reshaped by this new reality. No longer will the meaning of life be defined by the culture of the town of Capernaum, or the expectations of their extended families, or the size of the fish being pulled out of the Sea of Galilee. From now on, the dominant reality in their existence will be the Kingdom of God, and the blessing of God will come to all who make a place for this Kingdom in their lives.
When you think about it, there was some truth in the typo that read “Blessed are the place-makers.” Although, not a real Beatitude, blessed are those who make a place for the Kingdom of God. That is what we feel on this day. All Saints and All Souls Sunday is the day we remember not only those men and women whom we feel led a holy and exemplar life, but also those loved ones of our own who are now experiencing the Kingdom of God as God so wants all of us to do; simply observing the Beatitudes.
So, what does it mean for us to make a place for the Kingdom in our lives today? What kind of blessing will we experience if we allow ourselves to be transformed by the radical new reality that Jesus offers us? What kind of renewal will come our way if we take seriously the invitation to open our hearts and minds to the arrival of God’s Kingdom? Why should we make the Beatitudes a bigger part of our life?
Nothing seems to shock us anymore. So much has changed in America over the past generation. The culture is so debased; many of us really are not surprised at the latest scandal or tragedy. As Catholics, we tend to look upon the Beatitudes a little heavier than other Christians do. However, they seem to be looked upon as nothing more than some “nice sayings” from Jesus.
However, as Catholics we need our sense of shock, our sense of outrage. We need to reclaim some innocence and purity for our own individual souls. We need to start by realizing that many things should still shock us and rightly so. It should not just be the past Saints that sought a life with God and sensed the misplaced focus of those in the world. It is easier to build up a wall of defense and say that we cannot be shocked, when in truth, if we are attempting to live the by the Beatitudes, we should very well be shocked every day.
We might discover, for example, that we are “poor in spirit.” A term that describes people who find their true identity and security in the One Lord God. There is nothing weak or pathetic or shameful about being poor in spirit, but instead it means that we are not deluded enough to think that we are masters of the universe and in complete control of our lives. This spiritual poverty is really an excellent quality to have in this world of terrorist threats, international tension and lingering economic uncertainty. It means that we are dependent on God, first and foremost, and that the Lord will reward us with the gift of his Kingdom. That is the example the Saints led us to follow.
We might also find that we are among “those who mourn.” People who feel grief as we look around and see pain and crying, suffering and dying. We mourn because there is evil in us and around us, erupting in bedrooms and boardrooms, back alleys and battlefields. There are temptations all around us, and weaknesses deep within us, that make it an everyday struggle to follow the Lord in faith. But the promise of today’s passage is that this grim and often grotesque reality is not the final chapter of human history; there is going to be an unexpected twist in the tale with a turn toward love and peace and justice. God is writing a surprise ending to this story, and he invites each of us to play a part by doing what we can to live by the values of Christ’s Kingdom. If we do, we’ll be given a sense of comfort we never dreamed possible. We’ll find ourselves blessed, not cursed.
As we know, for Jesus, it was not so much about following rules as much as what Jesus called the second greatest commandment; loving your neighbor as yourself. It is much more than how we live our lives; it is about how we treat others in our lives. Yes, we have rules. Jesus never said we didn’t, after all He was a devout Jew, but it isn’t so much about every rule we break so much as every spirit we step on. It’s not about whether we went to the casino last night, or if we got drunk or even who we are in a relationship with currently, so much as how all these effect who you are as a person, as a Christian and as a Catholic. Are we doing these things in ways that keep us close to Christ; or draw away?
Maybe we are also what Jesus calls “the meek.” Gentle people who are trying to reject the power-hungry and violent ways of the world we live in. Sounds a lot like St. Francis.
Or are we men and women who hunger and thirst for righteousness by actively doing the will of God. St. Paul reminds us that “…our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against rulers of the world of darkness.” Our work must have a spiritual foundation. Prayer, Sacraments, fasting, sacrifices, and the Mass are effective ways to help us live a life worthy of the Kingdom of God.
Maybe we are “pure in heart,” willing to show the world in word and deed that there is nothing more life-changing than single-minded devotion to God.

Or we are “merciful,” showing others the very gift that we are so anxious to receive for ourselves? Forgiveness takes a big space in this one. Have you forgiven others? Have you forgiven yourself? God has, but He wants you to also!
These are not mistakes or misspellings, as strange as they look to us. Instead, they are kingdom-based qualities that can open the door to inner peace and everlasting salvation. The challenge for us is to open ourselves to God’s Kingdom, and receive this radical new reality that Jesus is inscribing on our hearts and thus making a place for the Beatitudes. A person’s life must be consistent to have peace of soul. Catholic spirituality is a way of life, not simply a practice on occasional Sunday mornings. A car only goes so far before it runs out of gas. You can only go so far in a cultural war before refueling on what really matters; the Kingdom of God. The Church is a gas station, but not the only one, on the road to Heaven.
Blessed are those who open the door to the Kingdom of God, says Jesus — blessed are the place-makers.
That’s no typo.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, today we remember all Your Saints. We remember them not only for what they did or even what they meant to us; but also because they helped to show us how to find You. As we go through our day today, help us to live our lives in service to You thru service to others. We know we are not perfect and continually pray for Your help, but we also need to know that every step that we do in earnest attempts at living out the Beatitudes, we bring ourselves closer to You. Help us to see that even though being “blessed” does not necessarily mean “happy”, it can become happiness if we learn to live them each and every day in faith. 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 26, 2013

Sunday Sermon

August 25, 2013
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
With choices come consequences. You can choose between alternatives. You cannot choose the consequences of your choice.
When you hear T.G.I.F., what comes to mind...? What about R.S.V.P...? A.S.A.P...? P.C...("Politically Correct"). N.W.O.... ("New World Order"). I am sure there are plenty more we could all add.
All these acronyms are shortcuts conveying an important message in shorthand form. There is one other acronym that should soon be making its way into our common vocabulary - one whose abbreviated form reflects our attempts to cut corners in our own lives - A.Y.O.R.: At Your Own Risk. What we eat and drink, where we live, who we love, what we throw away - all have literally become matters of life and death.
An enduringly popular early TV game show many, many years ago was called "Truth or Consequences." A selected contestant was first interviewed by the show, and then asked to answer a nonsense riddle. If the contestant failed to answer the riddle (few ever could) before the Buzzer sounded, he or she had to pay the consequences. This usually meant performing some silly stunt for which the contestant was amply rewarded.
Perhaps what made this game so popular was that despite its name there really were no bad "consequences." True, you might lose the game. But you couldn't end up in any worse shape than when you started. Even the losers received some sort of consolation prize. Basically, contestants simply got the chance to win big prizes - neither truth nor consequences entered into the game at all.
The days of consequence-free behavior are long gone. We are now facing an age where the choices we make are likely to have major implications for our lives. This weighty concern for consequences coincides with a similarly hefty increase in the number of choices we are being called to make on a regular basis. Life holds so many variables and options, that choosing is a given. The fact is: Our freedom of choice is no longer a choice. We now live in a choice-culture, where choice is not an option. Choice is a value and virtue in and of itself.
People expect, even need, choices. We stay away from places and people that don't give us choices. How long would any restaurant last today that only offered one food on its menu? Even McDonald's, who has always offered tempting temporary new items to their menus and learned they must offer some health food. Likewise, the age of singular big movie theaters is long over. We expect the choices offered by the Cineplex, which might pack 12 movies into one location or one that serves a gourmet dinner while you watch.
What we forget is that, even as our choices have increased, so have the responsibilities associated with them. We are free to make our own choices. We are not free to choose our own consequences. Consequences come with choices. Certain choices come with specific consequences attached. Some consequences are obvious. If you spend all day in the sun at the beach without sunscreen on, the consequences are visible to all - sunburn. However, choosing to expose yourself to the sun every day may result in something less noticeable but far more dangerous - skin cancer.
The delayed consequences of some choices are coming home to roost most tragically for those who unknowingly choose to have sex with a disease-infected partner. But that is only one in a series of deadly consequences our self-centered, choice-addicted, post-modern lifestyles have reaped. Exterior consequences are the most obvious: Our choice to drive a car instead of using some form of mass transit results in layers of smog and dependence on huge supplies of foreign oil. Our choice of convenience over conservation has depleted our raw materials and overflowed our landfills and incinerators. Rainforests and animals are going extinct due to our choices.
The shock waves from this choice explosion have rippled deep into our individual souls as well as across our society. Steven Waldman has drawn up a kind of checklist of the personal consequences suffered by people by the choice conflagration.
First Waldman claims that "choice erodes commitment." He points out that the pressure to upgrade, to always be the most current "...can help explain everything from the rise of the pathological channel switcher who can never watch a TV show straight through all the way to staggering divorce rates and employer-employee disloyalty".
I believe it. I see and hear every day through people I encounter.
Ironically the demand for greater freedom of choice has resulted in less time to make all those choices. Thus less free time goes with all these new so-called freedoms. It is not just hazy reminiscing that makes us believe we used to have more unscheduled moments in our lives. Sociology professor John P. Robinson of the University of Maryland studied the "time diaries" (daily appointment books like Day-Timers) of busy people for three decades. His findings not only confirm our own suspicions that we are busier than we used to be, but he suggests just what it is that is eating up all our days and nights. "Much of our free time," Robinson concludes, "is absorbed by the process of deciding what to do with it". Consider how many traffic jams you have sat in on your way to the local mall's Cineplex so that you could stand in line to get into that great new movie. (Fortunately, I have not had that much problem with traffic jams going to Disney, but it crosses my mind each time!)
Given more and more choices, we become less and less concerned with making good decisions. To make a truly informed decision would take so much time and effort researching all the options that we just give up. Waldman relates that his own observations among his friends reveals "...several friends [who] confessed that the selection of car models - 591 and rising - has become so dizzying that they tossed aside Consumer Reports and relied entirely on the recommendation of a friend".
An addition to increased choice is political alienation. This suggests that alienation comes from our sense of social fragmentation. We have grown used to being identified as so many sub-groups, consumer markets, minority opinions and economic divisions, that we can no longer envision ourselves as part of a whole - not a whole city, county, state or nation - nor a whole person or a whole human race. We choose our own identity but consequently lose our sense of unity.
In essence then, choice erodes the self. Some people suffer from "multi-phrenic" - a condition where the self "frantically flails about trying to take advantage of the sea of choices". We have all had our bouts with multi-phrenic. Its consequences are that instead of feeling satisfied and choice-satiated, we are filled with self-doubt and gnawing anxiety.
The point about choice overload as we experience it is that we are obsessed with making the "right choices" about small potatoes and small, unimportant things while shutting down on the important decisions and big issues of life. Are you spending all your energy on decisions about what color carpet will go in the education wing, or who should chair the new committee on handicap accessibility, while ignoring the biggest commitment in your life, your commitment to Christ? The author of Hebrews cautioned his readers in the sternest tones about the finality of the consequences of some choices. His use of Esau spoke clearly about his belief in no second repentance. They had the freedom to choose to abandon their commitments to Christ, but they must realize the attendant cost.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we live the life of faith by participation. We need to accept God’s grace to live a life of faith. Our free choice and willing consent is a crucial step in conversion to Jesus Christ.
One of the gifts Christ's presence in our lives gives us today is not freedom of choice but a freedom from choice under certain circumstances. A commitment to Christ gives us guidelines which, though broad, allow certain options to fall along the wayside. It doesn't tell us whether to vote Democrat or Republican, or what car we should purchase or where we should live. But our commitment to Christ is a commitment to life, to love and to hope. Our choices, therefore, should testify to Christ's presence in our lives by engendering respect, integrity and justice as their "consequences."
Jesus Christ calls us to enter into a loving relationship with God, not just to be aware of God’s existence. Jesus invites us to participate in the life of faith, by saying “yes” to this relationship every day through our words and deeds.
That choice for Jesus Christ will enable you to better facilitate the myriad of choices before you, and thus leave behind many of those choices that would be of more harm than help. We are called to place our faith in God and not the computer screen of life that has 100 commercials going at once vying for your “choice” to be made. Enter through the narrow gate where the choices are few, but more appropriate to our needs instead of our wants.
Make that choice for Christ today by making the choice to spend more time with Him in prayer, and He will strengthen you to make better choices each day.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday Sermon

March 24, 2013
Palm Sunday
Jesus died. It was a small event. Just another execution, a diversion for the people, entertainment for an afternoon. People enjoy hovering gawking at other’s misfortune.
He died and nothing changed. It was a minute victory for Roman rulers -- one suspected revolutionary was dead. It was a small victory for the religious establishment -- one dicey leader died. It was a sizable tragedy for his followers.
At the time, historically speaking, his death was barely a blip, quite forgettable, quite unremarkable, quite unexceptional. Certainly not what sociologists might describe as a generational defining moment.
Carl Manheim, one such sociologist, argues that generations can be shaped by a singular event that becomes the ruling metaphor for their approach to life. "Depression era children grew up wary of being wasteful," he says. "The baby boomers came of age in a time of great prosperity, but also great uncertainty in witnessing the assassinations of Martin Luther King and JFK and the Vietnam War. By contrast, Generation X, roughly those between 29 and 40 years of age, had no defining moment."
They didn’t when he wrote that, but they do now. We all do.
There have been numerous defining moments in our national history. Each event was personal in impact.
The sinking of the Titanic. Pearl Harbor. Hiroshima. The assassination of JFK. The Challenger explosion. The Pan Am crash over Lockerbie. Columbine. 9/11. Sandy Hook.
Jesus said to the thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” With what amount of confidence, do you think, that thief lived the rest of his life? What amount of confidence do we live our lives in Jesus’ promise? Jesus said to his Disciples and to us, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” The thief’s life was only a matter of a few hours. The test of faith was brief. Our part of “the age” may last until beyond what our current sensibilities conjure up.
Shortly after President Kennedy was murdered, telephones rang in schools across our nation. Classes were canceled. School children were sent home. Machine shops closed. Gas stations stopped pumping. Shops and markets drew their curtains. Mothers stopped working. Architects laid down pencils. Lawyers put down pens. Doctors stopped doctoring. Clergy opened churches for prayer. Citizens in mourning went to their homes, turned on their black-and-white sets to watch and try to understand the assassination of JFK.
This was a sudden end of a new beginning. Our nation grieved for a magnificent dream, and for our president, both lost. That one November day shaped a generation.
JFK, his brother Bobby and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. --all killed. The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, flower children, napalm and the secret bombing of Cambodia defined a generation, leaving it splintered, fractured and alienated. Anti-establishment children left their homes, turned their backs on their families, leaving their square mothers and flat-topped fathers confused.
There was the attempt to kill President Ronald Reagan and then Pope John Paul II. What evil lurks in our hearts and lives. Fortunately they survived.
On September 18, 2001, an elderly woman named Mrs. Kestenbaum went to her post office in Cape Elizabeth and found a package from her dear son, Howard Kestenbaum. The package was his Rosh Hashanah gift to his mother. It was a jar of golden honey and a note that read, "May your New Year be sweet. Love, Howie."
On September 11, 2001, in the morning, on his way to his job at the World Trade Center, Howie Kestenbaum had stopped at his post office to mail her present. Howie died that morning, in a tower, one death among 4,000.
All these events, just like that of JFK, all made the residents of this nation stop – it made many around the world stop.
When Jesus died, his generation wasn't defined. When Jesus died, except for some women at the foot of the cross, no one mourned. No one knew this death was exceptional. There was no press report. No news briefing. No shocked nation. Few took notice of another Jew's execution.
He did change the course of history, which we now realize. But at the time, who knew? Who cared?
The disciples didn't know. They had fled and returned to their former occupations, hauling nets, collecting taxes, pounding nails, trying to forget, trying to blend in, trying to hide.
Religious leaders didn't know. Many rejoiced that an agitating rabble-rouser was eliminated. They were anxious to get on with Passover.
The political leaders didn't know. They just wanted to get rid of that troublemaker and keep peace in an unimportant Roman province. "Keep the peace" equaled "keep their jobs."
The people didn't know. They were thoroughly disillusioned.
The soldiers didn't know. They gambled for his clothes.
The thief hung dying on the cross, spent the rest of his life in agony. After hearing the promise, it would be one thing to have some level of hope while there still was movement, even words, from the center cross. But what about after Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”
What about the hours left to the thief after it was clear that Jesus had breathed his last and there was no evidence of life or concern or possible help from that center cross? A thief, who dying on the cross could not tell that there was a three hour darkness and a temple curtain torn in two? What could possibly sustain confidence for the future when the promisor could not hold out in the present? And then, after hours of silence from the dead savior, soldiers came to break the legs of the crucified three, one more insult, one more demonstration of the domination by evil. They did not even bother to break the legs of Jesus, seeing that he was already dead. No possibility for faith in the promise and the future.
Is our situation so very different? Hanging between earth and heaven, day by day, year by year – a painful reminder of our human existence. For many of us, suffering is as life-suffocating as Jesus’ suffering. For those who were not affected directly by the tragedies I mentioned before, they are tormented only with meaninglessness, guilty of sins not realized, under judgment for crimes too well remembered. Many of us are confused, ignorant of life’s meaning and goal, certain only of doubt. Some circumstances would seem to justify a stance of doubt. How could a good God permit so much evil to fall upon creatures whom God purposes to love?
With each Lent, and especially holy week from Palm Sunday thru Good Friday, the image of the dying Jesus is impressed on the eyes of the world. We read throughout the week the seemingly morbid scenes of his trial, suffering and crucifixion. What a somber note for church. Instead of being lifted up, we are being brought down. But are we?
Do we know? Do we understand choosing the cross can be for us the defining moment of our spiritual lives? Have we encountered Christ in a way that affirms that Jesus was not just a good man, not just someone who showed us how to love one another, but as the Savior, who died on that Good Friday many years ago, in a specific time and place, died for the sins of the world?
It was a tragedy. He died that day. Yes, he did, and his death was a terrible tragedy, but it was also a magnificent victory. It was a Tragic Victory that, over the centuries, has become pivotal, formative and earth changing. He was buried over in the garden, and some of the soldiers of the squadron were sent to guard the opening of the grave where the great stone had been rolled.
Yet, the next Sunday you should have heard their story! The stone was rolled away while the guards were in some magical trance; fore they knew if they slept during their guard, they would have been executed to failure to do their duty. And when they came out of their trance and looked to the grave, the stone was rolled away and the grave was empty! The word is that he was alive! He had risen from the grave, risen from the dead!
What if the thieves had known what we know now of Jesus’ resurrection even in their moment of dying? Is not that the very way God has made good on the promise that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have everlasting life? How differently the phrases “Today, paradise” and “with you always” sound when the “I lay down my life and on the third day I take it up again” is known to be true. How different all the promises sound when remembered with the resurrection.
There is a true story of a couple who lived during the WWII who were Jews but had converted to Catholicism. The husband was acquainted with one of the Nazi soldiers who one day came for a visit at their home. In a conversation, the husband asked the Nazi soldier how many Jews he thought he had killed thus far. The Nazi soldier answered many thousand. The husband asked how many he killed in a small town he named. The Nazi answered a few hundred. The husband then asked how many he killed in the home town of the husband’s wife’s home town. The Nazi answered all of them as if to boast.
The husband then asked the Nazi if he ever asked God for forgiveness. The Nazi soldier said no, I do not believe there is a God so there is no such thing as forgiveness. The husband then stated that his wife had been upstairs all this time sleeping and had not heard this conversation at all; however he was going to call her down. She did, and when she arrived the husband said to her that the Nazi soldier in front of her is the one who killed her mother, her father, her brothers and sisters and all her family. She looked at the soldier for a moment then went up to him, threw her arms around him, hugged him and stated, “As God forgives you, I forgive you!” The Nazi soldier threw himself at her feet and cried in deep sorrow.
In his rising, through his holy transformation, he became our only hope that life is more than flesh and bone. Jesus Christ, through death and resurrection, becomes our open channel, our willing vehicle, our ransom, who can and will lead us home to God, if and only if, we are willing. Unless we open our hearts, souls, minds and lives to Christ, his great victory will remain but a tragedy ... not for him, but for us.
Our Blessed Lord is not content simply to repeat over and over, “It is I, myself. Behold, I live!” He says to us as he said to those first Disciples, “Have you anything to eat?” And when they gave him a piece of broiled fish, he took it and ate before them and their eyes were opened. To us he says, “Take and eat, take and drink.” And so we eat with Him and know He is risen, and we trust ever more surely that He is with us even to the end of the age.
Still the tendons tear, the bones are broken, the wars continue, the shootings seemingly never stop, the agony goes on. But the promise is made sure in the Resurrection; the promise remains for every day. And look; the table is set, the cloth is spread. Come, for all things are now ready!
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sunday Sermon

February 24, 2013
The Second Sunday in Lent
Our Father Who Art in Heaven,
Don't interrupt me. I'm praying.
But -- you called ME!
Called you? No, I didn't call you. I'm praying. Our Father who art in Heaven.
There -- you did it again!
Did what?
Called ME. You said, "Our Father who art in Heaven" Well, here I am. What's on your mind?
But I didn't mean anything by it. I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day. I always say the Lord's Prayer. It makes me feel good, kind of like fulfilling a duty.
Well, all right. Go on.
Okay, Hallowed be thy name.
Hold it right there. What do you mean by that?
By what?
By "Hallowed be thy name"?
It means, it means. . good grief, I don't know what it means. How in the world should I know? It's just a part of the prayer. By the way, what does it mean?
It means honored, holy, wonderful.
Hey, that makes sense. I never thought about what 'hallowed' meant before. Thanks. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Do you really mean that?
Sure, why not?
What are you doing about it?
Doing? Why, nothing, I guess. I just think it would be kind or neat if you got control, of everything down here like you have up there. We're kinda in a mess down here you know.
Yes, I know; but, have I got control of you?
Well, I go to church.
That isn't what I asked you. What about your bad temper? You've really got a problem there, you know. And then there's the way you spend your money -- all on yourself. And what about the kind of books you read?
Now hold on just a minute! Stop picking on me! I'm just as good as some of the rest of those people at church!
Excuse ME. I thought you were praying for my will to be done. If that is to happen, it will have to start with the ones who are praying for it. Like you -- for example...
Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups. Now that you mention it, I could probably name some others. I haven't thought about it very much until now, but I really would like to cut out some of those things. I would like to, you know, be really free.
Good. Now we're getting somewhere. We'll work together, -- You and ME. I'm proud of You.
Look, Lord, if you don't mind, I need to finish up here... This is taking a lot longer than it usually does. Give us this day, our daily bread.
You need to cut out the bread. You're overweight as it is.
Hey, wait a minute! What is this? Here I was doing my religious duty, and all of a sudden you break in and remind me of all my hang-ups.
Praying is a dangerous thing. You just might get what you ask for. Remember, you called ME -- and here I am. It's too late to stop now. Keep praying.
(. pause . . .)
Well, go on.
I'm scared to.
Scared? Of what?
I know what you'll say.
Try ME.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
What about Ann?
See? I knew it! I knew you would bring her up! Why, Lord, she's told lies about me, spread stories. She never paid back the money she owes me. I've sworn to get even with her!
But -- your prayer -- about your prayer?
I didn't -- mean it.
Well, at least you're honest. But, it's quite a load carrying around all that bitterness and resentment isn't it?
Yes, but I'll feel better as soon as I get even with her. Boy, have I got some plans for her. She'll wish she had never been born.
No, you won't feel any better. You'll feel worse. Revenge isn't sweet. You know how unhappy you are -- Well, I can change that.
You can? How?
Forgive Ann. Then, I'll forgive you; And the hate and the sin, will be Ann's problem -- not yours. You will have settled the problem as far as you are concerned.
Oh, you know, you're right. You always are. And more than I want revenge, I want to be right with You. . (Sigh). All right all right. . I forgive her.
There now! Wonderful! How do you feel?
Hmmmm. Well, not bad. Not bad at all! In fact, I feel pretty great! You know, I don't think I'll go to bed uptight tonight. I haven't been getting much rest, you know.
Yeah, I know. But, you're not through with your prayer are you? Go on.
Oh, all right. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Good! Good! I'll do that. Just don't put yourself in a place where you can be tempted.
What do you mean by that?
You know what I mean.
Yeah. I know. Okay.
Go ahead. Finish your prayer.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Do you know what would bring me glory -- What would really make me happy?
No, but I'd like to know. I want to please you now. I've really made a mess of things. I want to truly follow you. I can see now how great that would be. So, tell me . . . How do I make you happy?
YOU just did.

In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul says something that many of us hear from the Church and her ministers quite often. It is amazing when you think about it; the reading was written almost two thousand years ago, and yet it speaks as if it were written today. “…their minds are set on earthly things.” In other words, they are set on worldly things. No matter how much time changes things; things remain the same. We think the technological advancements seem to give us much distraction, yet it appears even without these advancements, people addressed as the Philippians apparently had similar issues of distraction from God. Our minds are set on worldly things.
How often do we hear this from various ministers of the church? Probably, sometimes, more than we would like. We will listen to the words and rationalize our lives as if somehow we are having the same conversation with God as the man who was trying to pray the Our Father prayer. We try to make ourselves believe we are really living a good life and not allowing all the distractions and temptations from making us detour in our life’s cycle.  But are we really? Truth be told, we are too distracted and tempted.
St. Paul makes it clear that he has not yet reached his goal. He has not yet been raised and not yet perfect. Resurrection and perfection are, for Christians, goals to be pursued, not ones we already have. St. Paul states that the Philippians, and thus we, should imitate him. Obviously, he is not asking us to imitate him completely, but in the manner in which he is attempting to reach the goal as a follower of Christ. St. Paul is making it clear that this is continuous work.
This goal should be like that of an Olympic athlete, such as like a runner, who goes on to win the prize, not concerned with whom they have passed by, because they have their eyes on the prize. The athlete is in the world; running in the world; even uses the world to be the best athlete he can be; but seemingly oblivious to those things in the world that would distract them from the prize. He has to be in the world. He has to have the proper running clothes and shoes. He must have a trainer and do an immense amount of training. In-between these things, he has his life away from the track, but still with his mind on the prize and how he must live his life off the track, to keep his life on the track in step. He cannot eat multiple pounds of candy and snacks; smoking excessively; spend many nights out in the clubs; skip his training sessions; and still expect to perform with a winning performance on the track. He simply can’t do all that and win. Period.
Our lives are much the same. Living a life that is not in line with being a winning track star – a faithful follower of Christ – will not win the ending goal and win the prize. Those who do not live in this state of almost constant training and temperate non-training time, are like those St. Paul refers to as the “...enemies of the cross of Christ.”
How easy it is for our minds to be set on earthly things. Daily responsibilities and the lure of a good life quickly consume our thoughts and energy. Are we living in the moment, keeping our eyes on the goal, or are we living for “me”? It is easy to become entrenched in this. We can be with a group of people, and easily become disappointed if the group is not following what we want or going where we want to go. Is it important in the end? Are we focusing too much on ourselves – are we too focused on what is driving us at the moment? Are we so engrossed in the present, trying to live in ease and luxury?
We are enemies of the cross when our goals are fixed on this life, be it looking out for our own economic well-being without concern for society, striving to fulfill personal drives and pleasures regardless of the impact on others, or living for the moment contrary to the teachings of Scripture. Like St. Paul, we should count everything in our lives as loss, because our citizenship is in heaven. We are merely foreigners in a foreign land, on borrowed time. Our citizenship is in heaven. Christ is there, interceding for us, our advocate before the throne of the Father.
Our hope as Christians is found with Christ in the heavens. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we will find the answer to all our desires. As we fix our eyes on Jesus; we will find answer to all our desires. We will begin even now to know the power and love of God through Christ in a way that will bring life and hope to the world as we interact with those around us and respond to the suffering we see.
A father wanted to read a magazine but was being bothered by His little daughter, Stacy.
Finally, he tore a sheet out of his magazine on which was printed the map of the world. Tearing it into small pieces, he gave it to Stacy and said, "Go into the other room and see if you can put this together."
After a few minutes, Stacy returned and handed him the map, correctly fitted and taped together. The father was surprised and asked how she had finished so quickly. "Oh," she said, "on the other side of the paper is a picture of Jesus, when I got all of Jesus back where He belonged, then the world just came together."
Sometimes our life is like the map of the world. It fits together better when we put Jesus together, thus into our lives, and the rest becomes easier to see. Like I say so very often….. Being Catholic is a way of life, not just a religion. Today’s reading helps us to see how this little teaching of mine can be so true.
When we take the principle of Jesus, knowing we are not yet perfect and have yet to be raised from our own death, all the while trying to live a good Catholic Christian life. It can be as simple as in the conversation of the man with God that I relayed to you earlier. It can be as simple as remembering to say grace at meals, even in public, even further if no one with you normally does or is even a practicing Christian. Maybe it can be as simple as saying just a few short prayers at morning and before bed. How about reading a short Bible passage each day. How about forgiving someone that is hard for you to forgive. Maybe spending an hour each day with our Blessed Lord. Doesn’t have to necessarily be prayer, it can be reading something Christian or religious based. Or working a crossword puzzle on the Bible. Anything that helps your mind focus just a little bit more on God. Just as Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, may He be transfigured in your life events also.
I will end with this little missive that that a variation of was posted on Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
The biggest man with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest man with the smallest mind. Think big anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
If better is possible, then good is not enough.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

sunday sermon

February 10, 2013
A soldier walks forward slowly in the jungle. He has been ordered to protect some villagers from a terrorist cell; each step could lead to danger. Suddenly a command reaches him on his radio. His senior officer has seen where the enemy is hiding. The soldier must obey quickly, not for his own sake, but for others. It isn’t what he is expecting, but he has been trained to do what he is told without hesitation.
This kind of authority and obedience to the authority is vital in many dangerous jobs. An order goes from the top down and each rank in their turn must not only convey the order, but carry it out immediately as directed.
Most of us do not live under this kind of authority or structure. Granted, there are always people at our place of work whose decision we carry out and go along with. As children, we learn to respect and obey our parents, though we do not totally realize why until we are much older. We take for granted this authority and even sometimes challenge it. But, if we were a soldier in the field, our choice to accept or challenge could mean the lives of himself as well as others.
How often is it that we treat God with the same respect and obedience? Do we treat God with the respect the soldier does for his commanding officers, or do we challenge God and His laws? Of course, God’s sovereignty over the world is exercised with such love and compassion that the image of a commanding officer organizing a battle or route march is hardly the best picture to use, unless, of course, you might be the ancient Israelites fighting their enemies who to expect a warrior type of God .
There are multiple facets to today’s Gospel reading, and the Epistle which ties into it as well.
The biggest piece of the Gospel account is first and foremost the faith of the Centurion. Here was a middle ranking Roman officer, stationed at Capernaum. He would have roughly a hundred men under him, hence the title ‘Centurion’. He would regularly receive orders from a commander, probably from Caesarea fifty miles away. Men would be assigned to him to perform tasks locally and even keep the peace (in the old Roman sort of way).
It was common for officers of the Roman army to despise the local people as though they were an inferior race. However, our Gospel tells us that this Centurion did not despise them, but loved them it would seem. He even paid for the building of their local synagogue. (I have to meet this guy. We have some things that could use some work right here! Anyway…) Luke presents this Centurion as a humble Gentile looking in on Israel and Israel’s God from the outside, if you will. It would seem that by so doing, he was opening himself to learning a new truth from this seemingly strange and ancient way of life the Israelites led.
As we advance in the story, we see something quite out of the ordinary. We see Jesus emotionally astonished. Normally, it is the people who are astonished at Jesus, not Jesus being astonished by one of them. The reason of Jesus’ astonishment? The sheer faith of the Centurion! This is no abstract belief in God or the learning of dogmas or laws. It is simple and humble belief that whatever Jesus commands will in fact be done. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The Centurion knows whatever Jesus commands will be so. He regards Jesus as he would a military officer with authority over sickness and health. If Jesus says get well, they will.
We do not know where he got this faith. Neither this Gospel or in the Gospel of Matthew where the story is also written, is there any reason for the Centurion’s faith. If he had been living in Capernaum for some time, there is no doubt he would have probably heard of Jesus. Keep in mind; cities of that time were not of the populations of San Diego. News would spread and it would spread quickly. He may have even seen Jesus at some point perform a miracle. This Centurion grasped the very center of the Jewish faith; that the one true God, the God of Israel, was the sovereign one. The Lord of heaven and earth. Whatever the cause, this Centurion in faith was willing to risk more than the Jews that followed Jesus.
Contrast this situation with the Centurion and that of our own prayer lives. We all too often might say to ourselves, “Lord, I would like you to do this … but I know you may not want to, or it might be too difficult, or maybe even impossible…” We then go on our way puzzled, worried and not sure whether we have really asked for something or not. Of course, sometimes we ask for something and the answer is ‘no’. God reserves the right to give that answer. But this story and Jesus’ subsequent astonishment shows us that we should have no hesitation in asking. Is Jesus the Lord of the world or isn’t He?
Now, let’s move on to something else about this Gospel reading that many people do not know. As you all know, the country is in a little stir about same sex marriages. Now, without getting into that topic directly, I bring this up only because this passage is sometimes used as a defense by gays and lesbians that are advocating the ability to be married as heterosexual couples do.
Why is it used as a defense? I will try to make this as short and uncomplicated as I can and still get the point across about the text.
First, as many scholars will admit, Jesus is suspiciously silent on the topic of Homosexuality. Nowhere in any of the Gospels does Jesus mention Homosexuality by name or otherwise. The argument could be made that he speaks of marriage, and the answer to that would be correct, but he does so only in so far as in that of “traditional marriages”, as they are so being called today. His discussion usually centered on the topic of adultery and divorce, not on the topic of whether Homosexuals could marry of if they were even sinful in being so. We have to be careful not to try to put words in Jesus’ mouth where they don’t exist. He simply did not speak of Homosexuality, period. Homosexuality was known in the same context then as it is now anyway.
Now, in the Gospel of Matthew, the identical story uses the Greek word, pais. This word could mean ‘son’ or ‘boy,’ ‘servant’ or ‘slave,’ or ‘junior/younger male partner.’ This was the common meaning at that time, and additionally, it was a common practice at the time as well. Roman soldiers or affluent men would have this type of slave. Luke uses a different description of the sick man; he calls the man the Centurion’s entimos doulos. The word doulos usually means ‘slave;’ it did not normally mean son or boy. Entimos means ‘honored’, so the combination would produce ‘honored slave’, as we read today. This would be a contradiction of terms and meaningless unless it applied to a ‘junior or younger male partner.’ Thus the meaning of pais in Matthew is limited to the partner in a same-sex relationship (reportedly, the shield bearers for Roman soldiers were their lovers). In the only example in the Bible where anyone asked for healing for a slave, Jesus was not only healing for a conquering overlord, he was healing his male partner. So it would seem anyway.
We need to allow reason to be our guide here. Romans viewed slaves as nothing more than a possession that were there to wait on them hand and foot and do whatever they were told. Their life as a slave was usually pitiful and thankless. Most slaves would be allowed to die instead of their owner even taking the time of day to acknowledge that the slave was even ill. There obviously was something more to this slave. Maybe it was an earlier form of ‘bromance’.
However, the point is this: If Jesus cared about whether people were engaged in such activities, given how common it was among Greeks and Romans, he really missed a good opportunity to ask, and potentially offer a rebuke. I wonder how those who think the answer to “WWJD?” is to “condemn homosexuals” will explain the fact that Jesus did not even bother to ask or address the issue, apparently missing an opportunity that his conservative followers today would not have passed up.
There is no denial that Jesus may have had many “missed opportunities” in addressing sin, but as we in this church teach, Jesus was not as preoccupied with every law we break, much less with what goes on in some people’s bedrooms. Why? He was far more concerned with our relationships with each other and our relationship with God our Father. Remember what He said are the two greatest commandments. He taught us that the commandments were not so much laws, as they were a guide to the treatment of others and in so doing, our involving God in our lives.
Now, this topic can be argued for hours, however I am not intending on giving a doctoral thesis on the topic in the limits of a sermon, or even argue every possible point that could be brought up by it. I merely bring this up for two reasons. First, this understanding of the passage is not readily known by the average Christian. Most on the conservative right would rather no one even thought about it. Secondly, as some of you know, in September of 2011 the Bishops of our denomination passed a resolution allowing for the marriage of Gays and Lesbians within our churches if the pastor of any our church parishes were so requested and he or she were so inclined. Our denomination does not agree with some other branches of Christianity that Homosexual orientation is ‘disordered’, ‘sinful’ or ‘evil’.
Now, finally, how does the Epistle reading tie into all this today? First, let me read the entire passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Our Epistle misses some of the passage and it loses some of its meaning because of it. (I Corinthians 12:1 – 13:4).
As we have seen by the Gospel reading, Jesus wants us to have faith. Not only have faith, but be willing to put that faith to work, as it were, by praying for what we really want and need fully knowing He has the authority and power to make it happen. By Jesus’ willingness to help a Gentile Centurion and his slave who would appear to be a bit more than a slave, he is making a statement to all of us, just as Paul has done to the Corinthians.
We have to learn as humans that every fellow human being is deserving of the kingdom of God and we are all called to treat each other in a manner that is appropriate. As St. Paul points out, we are all believers in the community of faith. A church is a community of believers. We come from all walks of life with various backgrounds and abilities. We are all a part of the Kingdom of God. We each are given certain faculties by the Holy Spirit that is a benefit for the path we are called to follow.
This is another example of the importance of being a part of a faith community; a church. No one person can act out life on their own any more than the hand can say to the arm ‘I do not need you’. Many of us have gifts that are given to us to use for the greater good. Some of us go through life never using them or even realizing them sometimes. Not only must we have faith to pray for our needs, but we must put faith into action by treating each other with Christian love and using our gifts as a church community for the benefit of others if and when we are called to do so.
We all have our commanding officers, no matter whom or what they may be. We have a sovereign commanding officer that is calling upon each of us to do something; Our Father in heaven. Let us open our hearts and ears to that command and carry it out as soldiers of Christ. Let us do this by letting our faith build and be willing to ask for that help when and where we need it knowing full well He has the authority and power. Jesus is waiting on our call; let’s call Him!
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.