Patricia La Cross’ Homily, December 4, 2016

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies 1 Comment

In today’s gospel from Matthew, John proclaims a Jesus who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus is the one singled out by the Creator to bestow the gifts of wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fearful wonder before God.

Jesus is the One who will restore justice and unite the world.

It is our mission as a faith community—from a hill no less—to signal to the peoples that this living God still calls us to live together in harmony, with patient courage.

As we entered this Advent season last week I was stifling a cough and couldn’t sing, so I sat in the back, listening intently to the music, to your singing, and watching.

Watching the reverence with which you shared the bread: eyes locked in intimacy with a loved one, or smiling hospitably to someone less familiar.

I watched the little ways in which some of you cued our guests by pointing to the words of our inclusive Prayer of Jesus, indicating how we hold onto the bread, making newcomers feel welcome. I saw smiles for the young children in our midst, and a few understanding looks for the parents as well.

These simple gestures can make any of us feel respected, and safe. I imagined those lovely kindnesses extended outside our assembly, all through the week. How our daily exchanges might extend kindness to those we meet.

Encounters of the truly human kind have for me served as witness, formation, and source of hope throughout my life. Maybe I best remember those that came in the midst of societal tension, meanness, or war.

While living on Willy St. in the mid-late 80’s I was a home visitor for St. Vincent de Paul. One afternoon I was sent to knock on the door of an upper flat on the east side. There I met a couple of weakened men in a cold apartment, both rail thin, and one of whom had the purpling of Kaposi Sarcoma lesions, a tell for AIDS. I had not seen that before, except in pictures.

When I stated that I was from St. Vinny’s the older-looking man wept “O thank God”; I had identified a safe connection. They had requested bedding, but needed food, and more. The two of them spoke of their intense isolation, so I stayed a bit. Because they asked me to return I did, maybe once. Their candor made me safe as well, in a time of hysteria and discrimination.

As friends here know, that was a time that for too many was filled with so much death and loss it must have felt like the end of the world. It was also a time marked with courage, resistance, and creativity.

Each of us has a history of transformative encounters. Times when suddenly we breathed the very Spirit of God and knew its Source: we felt serenity in the midst of fear, knew a non-judging love that took us outside ourselves, knew wisdom amid chaos. We walk away from these moments with our hearts and minds expanded, having been in God’s own home.

Pope Francis uses the word ‘Encounter’ to evoke dialogue, bridges, solidarity, fraternity, and charity.

The term ‘encuentro’ in liberation theology and in a Latin American movement of marriage retreats was a word often spoken with reverence by persons I met who had life changing experiences of faith in community.

Pope Francis talks of a diplomacy of encounter toward deeper mutual knowledge and mutual respect, of dialogue to resolve conflicts, of dialogue to promote unity and fight exclusion, of ‘caminar juntos’ as a concrete way of life.

Caminar juntos: walking together.

The cacophony of loud voices and competing accusations our nation was subjected to over the past year were the polar opposite of encounter, and much of the populace was left with what I suspect a bad hangover feels like.

But in the days that followed, the bigger surprise for some of us was less the result, but how differently it impacted our black friends and coworkers. Two black women I work with said that they hadn’t dared imagine that their needs, family members, or hopes would be respected in the political process. “Why now?” one asked.

And those with children spared no apparent energy to dwell on disappointment or fear. Because they need to put all their energy into helping their children navigate a hazardous path in our community. Every day. My friends’ fear for their beloved children horrifies me.

It hurts to think about how differently and more easily my own family can live wherever we have. Our prospects for financial stability, health, social ease and access to power are vastly different. This is not because we are smarter or better people, but because of the circumstances of our birth.

Those variances have been intractable for the history of our nation. That they have once again risen to a roar in both directions is perhaps a needed provocation to all believers, because it is so easy to ignore what is not greatly inconveniencing us. That racism has persisted for centuries does not make it normal, or impossible to address.

I strongly believe that all people of faith – and those who believe in a common humanity- must repent and resist racism in all its insidious expressions every day. I trust we are in that together. Because it is just, and because our shared and only future depends upon the development of the freedom, commitment and talent of every person.

I am not the first to suggest that the communities and cities in which we live are where our efforts will be most impactful. Working to stabilize persons and families in housing, health, education and employment is an act of faith and hope in a liberating providential God.

Reading with a preschooler or tutoring an Algebra student is part of the Radical Equation that assures high school graduation. Ours is a God of Steadfastness and encouragement, who can need these more than a struggling 9th grader? Both are needed in large measure by educators and students alike.

If you volunteer in a restorative justice program or teach photography, or simply befriend a perplexed parent, you bring that person into community, and we all prosper.

When you raise solar panels on your home—or geo-thermal your driveway—you stake a claim in our future, and raise the stakes for your neighbors’ efforts.

Standing in solidarity against threats to our drinking water is no less an act of faith than baking the bread we bless. This earth home needs our protection as we need its sustenance.

When you show up for local events aimed at community building, when you further invite into your lives your work friends, neighbors, and some people you just find, it’s like setting up a tent in the field where God’s home will be.

You then also have more people with whom to share food and sing! Creating community is a sure way to increase our joy. And joy bolsters our efforts, communicates the authenticity of our faith, and emboldens us to see justice for those on the edges of mercy.

It seems unlikely that we will significantly integrate this worship assembly anytime soon.

But let’s at least inform our worship by listening more closely to those who don’t come. At a community forum a week or 2 ago,

A local woman aptly named Sagashus said about black women in our city “They are not crises to be managed; be social investors instead so that these women can become problems solvers. Listen for their dreams.

And don’t ask me why I’m mad, be mad with me!” This Sagashus said with a laugh, and stories of her own improbable journey to a doctoral program, with 6 kids in tow.

It’s just possible that getting mad with those who have most suffered our politics and prejudices throughout their lives might lead to meaningful encounters that not only educate but energize us.

Caryll Houselander, one of my favorite Advent companions, wrote in the 40’s from and during the intense bombing of England:

“We go through life with dark forces within us and around us…with terrors and embarrassments, assailed by devils, but we are also continually guided by invisible hands; our darkness is lit by many little flames, from night-lights to the stars. Those who are afraid to look into their own hearts know nothing of the light that shines in the darkness.”

We can find our way through the darkness into which we journey this Advent by a series of humble, authentic encounters that light a path for us to walk together.

When we rely not only on our familiar but, importantly, our incidental fellow travelers as well, we weave a journey of trust that will take us to great light.

Pope Francis said in a recent homily “In this time of Advent we are called to enlarge the horizons of our hearts, to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness. In order to do this we need to learn to not depend on our own securities, our own established plans, because the Lord comes in the hour which we don’t imagine”.

“The Gospel does not want to frighten us, but to open up our horizon to another, greater dimension, which on one hand relativize every day occurrences but at the same time makes them precious, decisive. The relationship with the God-who-comes to visit with us gives every gesture, every thing a different light, importance, a symbolic value “.

Let our worship ring true here today, and as we go out to engage a world so in need of the joy and hope that are found in the experience of God’s abundant mercy. Peace.


Let us pray in thanksgiving for persons of faith and courage who have born witness in the hell of war, especially this week

Ursaline sister Dorothy Kazel, lay missionary Jean Donovan and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford on the 30th anniversary of their martyrdom in El Salvador, and Father Stanley Rother who was martyred in Santiago Atitlan Guatemala 35 years ago,  Let us pray………

For the conversion of all in our country to spread hatred against those who differ from them in race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity,  let us pray…


Holy One, with humble and grateful hearts we ask you to accept these our prayers in the name of Jesus, who made us all one family and meets us always on our way to you, Amen.

Comments 1

  1. Thanks for this homily, Patti. I will use Houselander’s words for a group I’ll facilitate in Puerto Vallarta. You (and she) will be going international.


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