Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15, 2016
Mini catechism. In case you’ve ever wondered …. The mitre (pointy hat) I and all bishops wear… The head covering worn by Bishops is called a mitre, (from the Greek “mitra” 'headband'). It is made with two triangular pieces of stiffened material which are sewn together at the sides with an opening at the base for the head. The shape represents the Holy Spirit which according to the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 verse 3 rested on the apostles in the shape of tongues of fire.
The two strips of material (lappets) which hang from the back of the mitre are often seen as representing the bishop’s dual role in Church and State. In their present form they are actually a reminder of the original mitra /headband which after it had been tied around the head would have also have had lengths of cloth falling down the back.
In the Old Testament, the High Priest and other priests wore a distinctive garb which included a mitre: "For Aaron and his sons, there were also woven tunics of fine linen; the mitre of fine linen; the ornate turbans of fine linen; drawers of linen (of fine linen twined); and sashes of variegated work made of fine linen twined and of violet, purple, and scarlet yarn, as the Lord had commanded Moses. The plate of the sacred diadem was made of pure gold and inscribed, as on a seal engraving: 'Sacred to the Lord.' It was tied over the mitre with the violet ribbon, as the Lord had commanded Moses" (Ex 39:27-31; cf. Lv 8:7-9).
To become strong and healthy disciples of our risen Lord, we have to ride without training wheels. If you want better health, you’ve got to hop on a bike and pedal like crazy. 

And if you want stronger faith? 

Do the very same thing.

Grant Harrison had a brainstorm one day, as he was working at the Innovation Center at the Humana health-benefits company in Louisville. The Innovation Center is a think tank, so Harrison was … thinking. It was dawning on him that health-insurance companies need to change, that they can’t focus solely on health-policy reform. Then the light bulb went on: Humana had to become “a health-creation company”!

Not health insurance. Health creation! And the goal had to be “to make fun things healthy.” But how to do it? As they say, the devil is always in the details.

Harrison thought of bicycles and how they could become a healthy way for people to commute to work. “Fifty percent of people drive to work less than five miles in their cars,” he says. “They could be doing this on a bike. If somebody starts commuting this way, within a year, he or she will have lost 13 pounds on average.” Plus, “when you get people on two wheels, you unlock this feeling of being a kid again.”

Biking to work and back. That’s a good way to make fun things healthy. 

So Harrison created a system at Humana called B-cycle — automated kiosks that let riders rent bikes at prices that are comparable to mass transit. Out of Humana’s 10,000 employees, 2,400 signed up to use the bikes within the first six weeks. A national rollout will now bring 50,000 bikes to a dozen cities in the next three years.

B-cycle is a great example of health creation. And it’s fun as well. As we know, San Diego has caught onto this craze, thus we see bicycle rental stations in many places now. There is one four blocks down next to the Starbucks. (Seems a bit cliché to me!)

The Church is sometimes seen as a divine insurance company, providing protection against spiritual disaster and eternal damnation. You’ve probably seen the church sign that says, “The way some people live, they ought to obtain eternal fire insurance.” 

But shouldn’t the church be in the faith-creation business? When the risen Jesus appears to his followers in the Gospel of John, he doesn’t ask them to take out an insurance policy to provide protection in the afterlife. Instead, he says, “Peace be with you,” “I send you,” “Receive the Holy Spirit,” “Forgive sins” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus comes back from the dead to do the work of faith creation so his followers will move forward as strong, healthy and vigorous disciples.

He gives them a bicycle — or maybe a faith-cycle — and sends them out, saying, “Ride!”

But just what exactly does this spiritual cycle look like? In this case, God is in the details.

The first thing to see is that this cycle has a sturdy frame. The disciples are scared to death on Easter evening, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews,” and when Jesus pops in among them he says, “Peace be with you”. He immediately assures them that they are safe and secure in his presence and that their world is no longer in danger of falling apart. When he gives them his peace, the disciples feel a sense of health and wholeness that has been missing since his death, and John tells us they rejoice when they see the Lord.

The peace of Christ is a sturdy frame that the disciples can lean on and trust, knowing that it can hold them up as they cross any terrain. It was true for them then, and it’s true for us today.

But Jesus doesn’t let them stand around admiring the cycle. He says to them, “As the father has sent me, so I send you”. Jesus pushes them out on what we would call today “a mission” — a word that comes from the Latin missio, which means “to send.” The faith-cycle that Jesus is creating for them is not meant to stand still. It comes equipped with strong wheels and knobby tires so the disciples can travel to the ends of the earth on their mission from God.

Of course, pedaling is hard work, so Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. He literally inspires them by putting the Spirit into them; to “inspire” means to “breathe into” or to “put spirit into.” Jesus fills his followers with divine energy and insight so they will move forward with God’s own power and guidance within them. While competitive cyclists today might get strength from a PowerBar, these followers of Christ receive their power directly from the Holy Spirit of God.

Then Jesus points to the handlebars on their cycle and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. Forgiveness is the course that these disciples are challenged to ride, as difficult as the path may be. 

Here’s an example: In the winter of 1993, theologian Miroslav Volf finished a lecture on embracing enemies and was asked, “But can you embrace a ãetnik?” 

At that time, the Serbian fighters called ãetnik had been doing violence in Volf’s native country, raping women, burning down churches, destroying cities and herding people into concentration camps. He had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ, so the question was concrete, penetrating and personal: Can he embrace a ãetnik — the ultimate other, the evil other? 

“What would justify the embrace?” wondered Volf. “Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat?” It took him a while to answer, but he knew immediately what he wanted to say. “No, I cannot,” he answered, “but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.”

That’s the direction Jesus challenged the disciples to travel: toward forgiveness, toward reconciliation, toward embracing our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. It’s a rocky road and sometimes very difficult to travel, but as followers of Jesus it’s the course we should be pursuing. After all, Jesus says, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

So Jesus presents his followers with this shiny new cycle and encourages them to ride it hard so they can experience some life-changing faith creation. But one of the disciples, Thomas, is out of the room when Jesus makes his presentation. He doesn’t believe what the others tell him about Jesus’ return and says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”.

For Thomas, this talk of resurrection and faith-cycling seems pretty wobbly. He wants proof.

One week later, the disciples are gathered again, and this time Thomas is in the house. Jesus pops in and offers them his peace, which is the sturdy frame of his faith-cycle. Then he says to Thomas, “I know you want some training wheels before you will hop on this bike.” Obviously, that’s a very loose translation. What he really says is, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe”.

Thomas receives the proof he needs and answers, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus removes the training wheels from the cycle and says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.

That’s where we find ourselves standing today: in front of a faith-cycle without training wheels. Our challenge is to ride on two wheels, with nothing but faith that Jesus will keep us from falling. We cannot put our finger in the hands of Jesus, or our hand in his side. We cannot take the place of Thomas and see the risen Jesus face to face.

Or can we?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. The message of this passage is that we welcome Jesus our king whenever we welcome a stranger, and that our place in God’s eternal kingdom is connected to the place we make in our own lives for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison or a stranger to us.

So if you want to see the risen Jesus, welcome a stranger. If you want to experience some real faith creation, show hospitality to people in need.

This is a workout that will move you from doubt to faith and make you a stronger, healthier and more vigorous Christian.

Your faith-cycle is waiting. Get on and ride.
Let us pray.
Father God, You are the consoler best, and of each of our souls a most kindly Guest; giving quickening courage to us below. In hard labor You are our rest; in the heat You are our refreshment - and solace in our woes. O most blessed Light divine, let Your radiance in us shine; in our inmost being fill. Nothing good by man is thought, Nothing right by him is wrought; when he spurns Your gracious Will. Cleanse our souls from sinful stain; wet our dryness with Your rain; heal our wounds and mend our way. Bend the stubborn heart and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill, guide the steps that go astray. On the faithful who in You, who trust with childlike piety, deign Your sevenfold gift to send. Give them virtue's rich increase; saving grace to die in peace; give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 1, 2016
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Do you recall the day you first learned to write in cursive?

Most of us probably don’t; we merely hold onto a memory of doing it. You probably don’t remember when you learned to read either.

You may remember the process. You might remember life in first grade when you were taught to read, or life in third grade when you were taught to write in cursive. But you don’t remember when reading and writing actually “happened.”

Not like learning to ride a bike. You’re either pedaling like crazy and keeping your balance, or you’re lying in a twisted heap with your ankles through the spokes. You might remember when you learned to ride a bike.

Back to cursive writing. The S had the bends in the right places, and the W rose and dropped wonderfully at the command of our tiny fingers clutching that big pencil. Then, beaming brightly, we unveiled the writing to our parents, who happily approved our advancing skills. It was a moment of victory to slant those letters precisely the way the teacher instructed and within the lines, too. Mastering cursive writing was one of those skills that marked a rite of passage; not only was our schoolteacher proud of us, better yet, writing in cursive clearly meant we were becoming grown up. 

Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But only slightly. 

But cursive writing and the teaching of cursive is on the way out. Cursive writing is gradually being deleted as more and more students rely on keyboards for communication. Text messaging, instant messenger, email: These are the skills that students are relying upon, and with that reliance has come a steady decline in handwriting skills. 

So, cursive writing is disappearing. One could say, so what? Isn’t digital communication better, easier and more efficient? 

Maybe, but easier and more efficient is not always better, especially when it comes to developing character and building relationships. The question is: What happens when you gradually begin to lose skills that were once used to build character and demonstrate that a person was maturing because she was able to master a skill through careful practice? It is not surprising that along with the gradual disappearance of cursive writing has gone the habit of letter writing; a habit often called an art. So the culture loses cursive writing and no one notices, because in its place is faster, easier and efficient — the triune god of our time. 

But while this god is wooing us night and day, Alan Wolfe, author of the Transformation of American Religion, comments that cursive writing is not the only thing that is gradually disappearing. A host of important religious concepts along with the moral practices that undergird them are also disappearing, and not only in secular culture but among many, if not most, congregations.

For example, over the last two generations, the notion of a Holy God whose love will not tolerate sin and to whom all lives are accountable has nearly disappeared. It has been replaced by a benign Being whose love winks at personal sins. This God is often described in the vaguely religious language of contemporary spirituality and defended by those who decry the punishing, grace-less God foisted upon the people by fearful religious institutions and the preachers who offer a poisonous brew of guilt and shame. People do not want to hear about sin nor even a hint that they might be sinful.

Sin itself is a concept that depends upon a biblical moral universe of duties and obligations where people are accountable to one another and answerable to God. The concept has disappeared, rendered hopelessly quaint or even tacky, a sign of poor taste in public conversation, replaced by personal choices whose consequences are measured by their effects on one’s sense of personal well-being, rather than a larger universe of moral obligations that have their foundation in a response to a righteous and just God. 

As C.S. Lewis famously reminded readers in Mere Christianity, a fuzzy, tolerant God is a far distance from the God whose mercy and grace are amazingly profound for the simple reason that God despises immorality. Grace is meaningless when there is no sin to be forgiven. In the wake of this steady cultural trend to throw off oppressive moral codes, including those of institutional religion, people have also thrown off the notion of binding moral obligations that are nonnegotiable. We believe that whatever good we do, we do because we want to, not because we have any obligation to do good. Think about it; in most cases, you know I speak the truth.

Under these conditions, where everything is optional, how shall Christians respond to the instructions of Jesus to keep his word? In his final conversation with the disciples, he repeatedly tells them that loving him and obeying his commandment belong together. Cutting against the grain, Jesus actually says that by our obedience we show our love for him. The very thing that many associate with feeling and personal choice — love — is what Jesus says his disciples are to do because he commands them to do it. 

This is not simply a possible option among many options that we can keep when it’s convenient for our schedule. It’s a binding moral obligation for the followers of Jesus. Period. 

But, there’s more: Jesus promises that the consequences of a life of obedience to love are peace, intimacy with God, the abiding presence of the Spirit. In other words, according to Jesus the path to human fulfillment — peace, meaning, integrity — lies in a life of obedience to him made visible by our loving others, day in and day out. 

This kind of life requires hard work and practice. You could call it Cursive Obedience.

And it’s not something you remember learning to do. It doesn’t “happen.” It’s a learned process. It’s a life. It’s a lifestyle.

Remember how hard you had to work to learn to write in cursive? The purpose of all that practice was not just cruel punishment, (those old nuns will be glad to hear that said) but the ability to communicate well in writing. Without the practice, there is no fulfillment. 

Thus, to practice the commandment of Jesus in a cursory way, choosing if and when to obey him based upon our own inclinations, will never lead us to a deeper relationship with God where we know that peace that is promised. We don’t like to link obedience to fulfillment; it seems graceless and stern. But in fact, those who live a life of obedience often testify to joy and peace. 

Love is neither easy, fast, nor efficient.

Annalena Tonelli was a humanitarian who spent her life working for human dignity and setting up tuberculosis centers in Kenya and Somalia. When she was assassinated in October 2003 in Somalia, by rebels who objected to her work among the poor, The Washington Post featured a story about her life. She was asked what gave her the motivation to devote her life to some of the poorest and sickest people on earth, especially over so long a time when most people give up in despair or exhaustion. 

What was it that enabled her to be so positive and even filled with gratitude? She rarely ever talked about her religious foundation, thinking that people would dismiss her, but on this occasion she spoke of the key to her sense of peace and fulfillment and named the reasons that others often fall away. 

The reason that more people don’t feel this way [peaceful, joyful, grateful] is that they don’t try hard enough. You have to give time, you have to be patient; and then year after year, you’ll see that what matters is only love. But if you are impatient because people are not grateful or you were full of limits, you will not be happy. You need time.” 

You need time. But then, you’ll see that what matters is only love. Annalena Tonelli said it, and that is what Jesus said to his disciples, too. Keep my commandment, love through thick and thin, day by day, year after year, and you will know the peace of God. 

How do we obey Jesus’ commandment to love over a lifetime without becoming grim or simply falling away? After all, love is only easy on Hallmark cards; in actual life it can be quite demanding. On the one hand it is akin to the practice of learning to write in cursive or learning any other skill. You simply do it in faith. 

But there is something else, too, something that brings the necessary delight into our obedience. In his book Living the Message, Eugene Peterson comments on the secret to faithful obedience in Jeremiah’s life. He says, “He did not resolve to stick it out for 23 years, no matter what; he got up every morning with the sun. That is the secret of Jeremiah’s persevering pilgrimage — not thinking with dread about the long road ahead but greeting the present moment, every present moment, with obedient delight, with expectant hope: ‘My heart is ready!’” 

What a wonderfully hopeful way to imagine discipleship over the long haul: with obedient delight offering our hearts to God day by day. 

This obedient delight, says Jesus will bring you the peace that this world can never give. Learning to follow Jesus’ commandment and living it, helps make all the other “sins” disappear. Because, when you think about it, all those laws, rules and moral codes come down to one thing; loving your fellow man!
Let us pray.
Father God open our minds and hearts to living as You have commanded us. Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who came among us, He has fulfilled the law and by so doing, helped us understand how we meet the expectations of the law by Loving as He loved us. Following the law became so much easier. 
Yet, still today, we find that we do not like doing some of the things that loving one another would require us to do. Help us to understand to love others is to love You. To love those whom we find hard to love is to Love You. As Jesus made it clear; all of the law of the prophets and Moses fall under two commandments; to love only You, our Lord God and to love our fellow man. Give us the help and motivation we need to love all whom we meet. Help us to learn by Your Son’s example, but to also know that we each are not perfect either ad one day may need the same love we give to someone else today. Thru Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.