Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
(Acts 2:14, 22-33; Luke 24:13-35)
The Jewish people have blessings for almost everything (actually so do Catholics, but bear with me), a blessing for food, for lighting candles, for special days, and for every day. And the most typical beginning for a Hebrew blessing are the words “Baruch Atah”.
Baruch Atah – Atah means “You.” The blessings are focused on the word You. One thing to learn from this is that one should not just relate to God as “He” (or “She” if you prefer). One should also relate to Him as Atah, You (notice the capitalization). We should relate to Him directly, personally, one on one, and heart to heart, not simply by speaking about Him, but speaking from your heart directly to Him! This is a big theological meaning behind Atah.
Any blessing, if we are to think about it, should start with God. God is first, everything else is second. Let that sink in a little. We certainly don’t live that way most of the time, do we? It is crucial to put God first. When we pray, we should try to not put our problems or requests first. This is difficult to do. I struggle with that – if we are honest, we all do. The focus and the beginning of the Hebrew blessing is the word Atah, You. The blessing is not me centered, but Atah-centered.
So, a life of blessing is an Atah-centered heart. Let go of yourself. Put Him first, His will first, His desires first, and His glory first. And to live an Atah-centered life, you must focus on the other atahs, on every other you in your life, putting them above yourself as well. It is a life of love that is the life of blessing. “Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now Baruch means to “bless” – you probably already figured that out, good for you! Therefore, you should not only live a You-centered life, but make it your specific aim to bless the You in your life. Make it the purpose of your life, above everything else, every other aim and purpose, to bless God! And then make it your purpose to bless every other you in your life.
Two simple words. Baruch and Atah. Make it your life’s purpose to Baruch your Atah. Bless your God!
This certainly seems easier said than done in a climate of social distancing. Often times we may find ourselves shaking our fist at God – our Atah. Not much Baruch for Atah sometimes. There is no easy prescription that I can give anyone during this trying time. But I can tell you, that God is certainly weeping with us.
Remember when Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus? All those people weeping, and mourning moved Jesus – moved God to tears. It is no different now. He is weeping again!
Yes, God could certainly intervene and just make all of this disappear but doing so would be counterintuitive to His approach to human free will and our existence in the way we have lived. Are we at fault for the Covid-19 virus? I suspect that question can be answered and argued on both sides of the pews, but the answer is something only God knows.
One thing I am certain of, God is not punishing us. I really dislike hearing those who claim to be religious leaders claim this is some sort of punishment – especially as a punishment for a specific group of people! NO IT IS NOT! God doesn’t work that way. However, He has indeed allowed this virus to continue for reasons we may never be able to understand. Neither has He abandoned us.
I think, as heart wrenching as it is, God wants us to do some of this work ourselves, with a little helping hand from Him here and there. We must take what we know and what we are learning and apply it. But we must also accept that sometimes God wants to respond in ways like He did with Job. Sometimes we need to shake ourselves a little and see things we don’t often see and/or refuse to see. As God told Job, there are simply things our finite minds cannot comprehend. We simply do not know what He is doing behind the scenes.
The reality is, we do not know God’s intention in all this. But, we do know that He is certainly in it with us. He hasn’t deserted us. He is most certainly in all our first responders who are on the front lines of the battle with this terrible disease. They are focusing on all the other atahs in their (and our) lives. Even if we may not see it or know it, God is in this with us. God is working through all these magnificent people.
It may be hard to focus on being good at emulating our Jewish brothers and sisters and sending out our Baruch Atah’s right now, but I encourage you to try. He is hearing our prayers!
The difficult part of this is that indeed it is a horrible time, but God will make some good of it. It is up to each of us to help make that happen. There are so many wonderful stories out there about so many people who are focusing on other atahs! Many people are in great need as well as great distress, and it is up to us to be there for them in any way we can. God wants us to not push it off all on Him, but to take action ourselves as well. Sometimes that action is as simple as staying home.
It is my hope, that not only will all of you take action in whatever small way you can – considering the social distancing we must currently embrace – but to also remember how fragile life can be at times. Because it is fragile, we should all spend more time Baruching, our Atah. We need to remember who created us and who saves us.
We have lost some people to this terrible virus, and unfortunately still more will be lost, but with faith and understanding that God is working with those who can turn this around, these losses will soon end. Know, that those we have lost and grieve and mourn over, are in the bosom of God now. They are looking down on us and helping to inspire us to continue on.
It is my prayer and hope, that as soon as this ends, and it will end, that many will flock back to churches – especially those who have been away – and lift up some Baruch Atah’s, lift up some thanks, lift up some the worship that we may not have always been so good at. That we will remember all those on the front lines of this and remember them in special ways and especially in prayer.
We will all be grateful for being able to have communion and companionship with our fellow humans when this is over. Let’s not let this turn us all into digital people to the point we forsake human interaction, that we forsake our community of churches and thus God too. God created us to be social beings!
The economy, it will take time to recover, but it will also depend on our faith in what lies ahead. That, my friends, depends more on us than we realize. It depends on us having some faith in the great Atah also!
I am not the most eloquent speaker (or writer in this case of social distancing pastoral approach), nor would I be a success at being a motivational speaker, but know that my prayers do not cease. My life has been quite rotten the past three years, as some of you know, but it cannot compare to that which so many are going though now. Even so, it helped to awaken within me that I needed to get back to doing more Baruch Atah’s. Blessing God!
So, this week, I encourage – in fact I challenge – everyone to find something to be thankful for in the coming weeks ahead. Take some time to sit with God. No social distancing is required to sit with Him. Remember to say to Him – Baruch Atah! I Bless You, my God!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Monday, April 20, 2020

April 19, 2020
Low Sunday/Divine Mercy Sunday
(Acts 2:42-47; John 20:19-31)
With our “isolation” going on, I decided since this isn’t a traditional sermon, in that there is no public Mass today, that I would be a bit different in my message approach. Think of this as somewhat a short story as well as something to make you ponder. Something to make you think deeper on something so simple. Maybe even motivation to spend some of your isolation time with a very important book.
A gentleman was holding in one hand a cloth bag and in the other a small shovel. He led another gentleman to a spot of soil that had been marked out for planting. He reached into the bag and placed in the other’s hand a sample of its contents.
“Seeds,” he said. “Potential miracles. Each one is filled with the potential for life, growth, blossoming, and fruitfulness. It’s all there in the seed—the plan, everything it will become, the plant, the flower, the tree. It’s all there inside the shell. Now what happens if the seed stays in the bag?” “Nothing. Nothing happens.”
“Exactly. All its potential stays unrealized. But if we take the seed and plant it in the soil, everything changes.
The seed becomes one with the earth. The shell opens up and the life inside the seed joins itself to the soil around it. It puts out roots and draws in life from the earth. The plan is activated, the promise unlocked, and the potential becomes reality.”
“So you’re going to plant the seeds?” the second gentleman asked.
“Yes,” he said, “but that’s not why I brought you here.” Reaching into his pocket, he took out a book and handed it to him. It was a Bible.
“What’s inside this?” he asked.
“The Word,” the second gentleman answered.
“Seeds,” he replied.
“The Word of God itself refers to the Word of God as a seed. The Bible is the container of many seeds. And every seed, every word is a potential miracle. And as is a seed, so is the Word of God. Each word has the potential to produce life, growth, blossoming, fruitfulness, and a miracle. It’s all there inside the seed, inside the Word.”
“But if the seed stays in the bag . . . ”
“If the Word stays on the pages and is never sown to life, then its life stays unlocked, unrealized. So the Word must be sown.”
“Sown to what soil?” the second gentleman asked.
“Sown into the soil of life,” he replied. “To the lives of others. And to the soil of your life. The seed must become one with the soil.
The Word must become one with your life. So you need to sow the Word into every situation of your life and let it become one with that soil—the soil of your heart, your thoughts, your emotions, your life.
For when the Word becomes one with your life, then its shell will break open, its plan will be activated, its promise unlocked, its life released, and its miracle begun.”
There are a couple of messages I wish to convey with this short story today.
First, some of you have either heard me say, or read in my sermons how much I love Lectio Divina. Latin, for Divine reading. Most specifically, Divine Reading of the Bible. I make it a point to try to do so every day. I absolutely love reading the Bible and meditating on the words.  I make it part of my hour-long morning prayer each day.
One can never get enough of Lectio Divina once one applies themselves to doing so. It is helpful to have a few different versions. Study versions are nice, because no two will give you the same commentary. There are a vast number of versions to choose from, though I admit, not all are of equal value.
When taking time to read the words, letting them sink in. There is great value in reading the before and after of the passage you have chosen, to learns its context. Knowing the background can be awakening. Even when not doing this, the words still can have an effect on you because of the wisdom you discover.
One can read the same passage numerous times in life, and yet the Holy Spirit could very well lead you to a different meaning some months or years later. Still yet, one might read it many times and not know what it is supposed to say to you until many addition times of reading it.
This is exactly part of the whole. You see, the Holy Spirit, or Holy Wisdom, if you prefer, will use the Sacred Scriptures to help you, instruct you, communicate with you and even motivate you!
As you continue to do this as a regular ritual, Lectio Divina will help you to be more spiritual and possibly even open you up to more mystical connections with our blessed Lord.
Second, we must always remember that the Bible is not about how heaven goes, but how to go to heaven! The Sacred Scriptures are like a guide book on a long journey. In this case, a long journey in the kingdom of God toward our Lord Christ and ultimately to heaven with the Most Holy Trinity.
To plant the seeds for a better life, not only here and now, but in the life to come, we must plant seeds. Through Lectio Divina, we can either be the seeds or the one who plants them. Either way, we must be part of the planting. The planting must happen and it must happen at all times in all places.
We are the trowel our Blessed Lord uses to make the small holes and trenches in the soil. The more closely we are joined to the Lord, the better our planting and seedlings. Always using our guide book, the Bible, as best as we can and as often as we can.
Know that the Scriptures have been twisted for evil or good. If we look at them all and look through a lens of love, we will grow in better understanding, even amongst those passages some commonly use as condemnation toward others. Remember Christ writing in the dirt when a woman caught in adultery was brought to him? Maybe he was writing out the sins of each of those people to weigh against that which they claimed she had. Certainly, we need to view the teachings within it to know right and wrong, but not to become smug and feel as though you are somehow chosen to point fingers, because we are not without sin, any more than those who chased this woman to Christ.
If we look at the Bible more as a love letter from God; as book on how to love as God loves. When the Scriptures are used as condemnation, God grieves. In Lectio Divina form of studying and meditating on its contents, with practice, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Seeds are planted in our souls to help us not only be helpers to others, but also have a closer relationship with God.
In Lectio Divina we allow our Blessed Lord to use that trowel and help us to be his beautiful creation. To learn to be true Christians – Christ-ians – In Christ.
So, during your isolation, take the Bible off the self, dust it off, open it up and do some Lectio Divina.
God Love You +++

Sunday, April 12, 2020

April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; John 20:1-9)
With the combination of the epidemic and having acquired enough PTO time on the secular job, I was able to take some time off to properly celebrate Easter, by spending the Triduum in prayer and reflection.
Nothing is more soothing that sitting with our Lord and speaking back and forth.
Nothing is better that simply sitting in His presence and feeling the love and majesty pour out to all who will welcome Him.
Our Lord will not force Himself upon us. He will not beat down our door. He will stand at the door and patiently knock – for as long as it takes – until we invite Him in.
How sad it is that so many people no longer attend church services (not that anyone can do so currently due to public gatherings being restricted). Have they truly lost faith in the church, or is it merely excuses? Probably a little of both.
Christ established the church for us. He chose the Twelve – the Apostles – for a reason. To have a church. To have a place where we can all gather together and worship our Lord, to be in His presence and receive grace. He created it that we might have the Eucharist and Communion. Some would say these words are the same thing, but in reality, they are not. It isn’t so much about being part of our human manifestation of a “church,” but to be a church as Christ wills it.
In the book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals it is put into
Eucharist is from the Greek eucharistein, meaning “thanksgiving.” Communion is from the Latin, meaning “union with.”
One of the church’s peculiar practices is communion, also called the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. The early Christians were accused of being cannibals because they talked of eating flesh and drinking blood together. It was a way of remembering, as Christ had asked them to remember him in this way.

“Re-member-ing” has to do with becoming something new, the body of Christ, in which we lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves; we are re-membered into a new body.
Sadly, and ironically, the sharing of the Eucharist or communion table is both the most unifying and the most divisive practice in the Christian church. After all, sacrament is a “mystery,” so we don’t want to try to systematically analyze the practice of Holy Communion. What we want to do is invite you into the deepest part of this mystery. We are what we eat.
When we take the wine and bread and eat it, we are digesting Christ — or an even better way of understanding might be that we are made into a new creation as we are digested into the body of Christ. Performing the Eucharist with a community makes us into the body of Christ. As often as Christians take the common elements of bread and wine, they re-member themselves into -Jesus. In the Eucharist, we don’t just remember -Jesus in general; we remember his suffering. The bread is a broken body, and the wine is poured like shed blood. Both grain and grapes must be crushed and broken to become something new together. If you are what you eat, the Eucharist is indeed the act of uniting yourself with the one who lovingly suffered at the hands of his enemies. If you ritually cross yourself (like we Catholics do), you are stamping upon yourself the sign of the cross; you are identifying with -Jesus’ suffering love. Those who ingest and become one with the suffering body of Christ all together become the Body of Christ.
We pray as we take the elements that the Blood of -Jesus would run through our veins and that we would be digested into the body of Christ. The early church used to say, “God became man that we might become God.” Certainly, none of us is God alone, but all of us are God’s body together. God has chosen to have no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Maybe this is the greatest sacrament or mystery of our faith — that these broken pieces become one body.
As we all suffer through this epidemic, it may be a good time to reflect on our lives. Sometimes we may not love the church, but we want to love Christ. As some of you have heard me say before, and I take this from the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “if the church were perfect, none of us would be allowed in!” It is an imperfect organism to help us become closer to what Christ wanted us to be, even if some pastors fail us sometimes.
As Christians, Christ wanted us to go through life together. He wanted us to “commune” with one another. He wanted us to support and lift each other up. He wanted us to be nourished on His Body and Blood. A Body and Blood that can and does work miracles.
He didn’t want us to suffer through life on our own. In fact, He never said we wouldn’t suffer. The question isn’t whether we will suffer, because we definitely will. The question is to whom do we turn when we do suffer!
During this epidemic, we are all suffering in some way. We are being asked to stay socially distant – in an age of great technology, one would think that is easy, but we have all quickly discovered that we still need real human interaction. Some die hard tech geeks are ready to throw away their phones and be back into the world!
Some have gone so far as to question ‘where is God in all this?’
Let us remember that we are not the first to feel this way. On the first Holy Saturday 2,000 years ago, the Apostles, Mary his mother, the other Marys and disciples were all confused and deeply troubled. If this was indeed our Messiah, then why? “Why” indeed.
We are living in our own Holy Saturday this Easter. God has not forsaken us, nor is this epidemic some punishment. The world is such as it is due much to our own doing. What are we doing to the environment? Have we overused antibiotics? Many things may have contributed.
However, God has not abandoned us, but He indeed will use this. He can make good come out of evil. Maybe not exactly in ways we might like or expect, but good all the same.
God is indeed working in our lives. However, we know how the story ends. Amid confusion, anxiety, and waiting we may experience during our dark “Saturdays,” we can be assured that God is at work in the world, giving us hope of Sunday – the Resurrection of Easter morning – and a new life through Christ.
I encourage everyone to stay hopeful. I encourage everyone to pray. And when this is over, and it will indeed end, lead yourself back to our Blessed Lord. Rejoice in His saving grace. Our God is a God of the living. And we must all go forth and live – live for Christ.
I pray that everyone has a Blessed Easter. May you reflect on not being able to celebrate the day as we might like but know you soon can. The Lord will see us through this time of suffering. He never abandons us.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA