Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita—Feb. 8

Many people don’t know the story of Josephine Bakhita, but it’s one that should be told and retold. Born in 1869, she was captured by slave traders at the age of nine, and would never see her family again. One particular torture stands out in a list of horrors. Pinned to the ground, Josephine was cut with a razor in over sixty places. Salt was rubbed into the cuts to prevent healing and leave more visible scars, which increased the profits to slave masters when they were sold. She was then left on a mat for three months, without any care. Her only comment? “I thought I would die.”

Fortunately, she was later sold in the Khartoum market to an Italian diplomatic family, and accompanied their child to school in Italy.  Learning the Christian religion there changed her life dramatically. When the family ordered her to return with them to Africa, she refused. It caused an international crisis, but she remained adamant: “I can’t risk losing God.” Finally, she remained, free because slavery was illegal in Italy.

The former slave continued to marvel she was a daughter of God, and eventually became a sister, where she served the community as cook, seamstress and doorkeeper. To children who’d never met an African, she reassured, “I’m made of chocolate!” Steadfastly, she endured two world wars, humbly and faithfully warming plates in winter to make sure her dishes arrived hot and tasty. Her attitude toward her captors was, “Poor things! They did not know God.” “Survivor” is a term glibly tossed around on reality TV shows, but Bakhita gives the words new meaning—and redefines forgiveness.

Appropriately the patron saint for victims of human trafficking, Bakhita’s feast offers the opportunity to publicize the hot line: 1-888-373-7888, National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Anyone who suspects something amiss can be as heroic as the woman who tried to look out the window of her flight as it descended. Instead, she was shocked to see a text conversation on another passenger’s phone that alarmed her. In large print, a man was arranging videos of sex acts with two children aged 5 and 7. Quickly and discreetly snapping photos, the concerned passenger then alerted the flight attendant, who confirmed that airlines were actively engaged in combating sex trafficking.  She in turn arranged to have the police and FBI meet the flight; they probed and subsequently arrested the sender and recipient of the texts. Detectives freed the children and prevented further harm. Bakhita would be proud.

Retreat led by Kathy Coffey: “Those Feisty Gospel Women”

San Damiano Center, 710 Highland Dr., Danville, CA (925)-837-9141

www.sandamiano.org        March 27-29, 2020

Riff on a Linguistic Flub

Father Greg Boyle, SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries, known for his outstanding work rehabilitating gang members in one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, was saying Mass in prison. The inmates did the readings, so he relaxed to listen. To his astonishment, the prisoner read, “God is exhausted.” “What the H…?” thought Boyle, grabbing the readings. Ah… the original said, “God is exalted.” But what a felix culpa, “happy fault”!

We can connect far better with a God who is exhausted as we are. This is, after all, the God who in Christ “pitched a tent among us.” Most tents rest on the ground, not floating 3 feet above it, and it takes some work to keep them standing. Who feels close to God’s exhaustion and praises this God properly? The litany is endless, but for brief starters:

…the nurse who’s worked an extra shift to cover for a friend who has the flu

…the mom who’s been up since 5, worked 8 hours, commuted 2, and pulls herself out of a stupor to attend the PTA meeting so the second grade can win the attendance award

…the three-year old constantly struggling to keep up with his older siblings

…the family undergoing a long wait in the ICU with their loved one, sleeping in shifts

…the worker who confronts a mountain on the desk wildly disproportionate to what anyone could accomplish in a day, but plunges in anyway with enormous effort

…the caretaker for her father-in-law, a dementia patient, who’s also undergoing home renovation: constant jackhammers and loud radios

…the citizens who have tried since Columbine 20 years ago to enact sane gun control laws

…Bryan Stevenson, whose story is told in the book and film Just Mercy. Harvard educated, African-American attorney, he fought an arduous 30-year battle against excessive and unfair sentencing, freeing innocent death row prisoners. His Supreme Court victories include a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners with dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger

…the refugee who has carried her special needs child 1000 miles, wearing flip flops, and finally reaches safety at the border.

They’re all tired. But their valiant efforts praise a God who just might be exhausted too.

Retreat led by Kathy Coffey: “Those Feisty Gospel Women”

San Damiano Center, 710 Highland Dr., Danville, CA (925)-837-9141

www.sandamiano.org        March 27-29, 2020

Massive Problem, Tiny Solutions

Jesus’ words in John 15:4, “Make your home in me as I do in you” must be meaningless to those deprived of housing. In California, which ranks 49th out of 50 states in homes per capita, that’s a lot of people.

“Based on a January census widely believed to underestimate the true figures, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that the nation’s homeless population grew by about 15,000 people to about 568,000, or 2.7%. The number of Californians without homes, meanwhile, spiked by more than 21,000 to nearly 130,000, or 16.4%. While the nation’s homeless population remains about 10% lower than it was a decade ago, California’s has expanded more than 22% in that time.” (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/24/19) https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Editorial-Welcome-to-California-the-Homeless-14928730.php?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headlines&utm_campaign=sfc_opinioncentral

But heartening solutions are in the works.

On Jan. 8, ’20, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a budget of more than $1 billion to fight homelessness. His executive order requires state agencies to take urgent and immediate action by January 31 to make available state properties and facilities to rapidly increase housing and shelter options. Admirable action, when California has a shortage of 3.5 million homes. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf brokered a deal between a real estate investment group which owns properties that stand empty, the squatters Moms 4 Housing, and a non profit community land trust to convert these buildings to affordable housing.

While those are larger-scale responses, one with particular appeal is the effort of First Presbyterian Church, Hayward. It all began when Pastor Jake Medcalf met a desperate man at the door, and could offer him only a blanket. Realizing the man clearly needed shelter, the pastor looked around at his 4-acre space and said, “this is the best we can do?”

Thus began the tiny home project which could inspire other churches. The first project of its kind, it relied on the expertise of six for-profit developers who volunteered their services. As Jeff Scofield, one of them said, “I …believe that everybody deserves a roof over their head…. And the fact we have the skill set and relationships that can help with supplying homes puts us in a unique position to help with this problem.”

Once the first residents have moved into their six tiny homes on the church parking lot in February, Medcalf and partners plan to expand, bringing tiny homes to other church parking lots around the East Bay area. Each one is small, but has a toilet, shower, stove, heater, fan and bed. In addition First Presbyterian offers a safe-parking lot program that allows eight people at a time to sleep in their cars on the church lot. One of those, Ruth Soares is praying she’ll get a tiny home. Working as an in-home caregiver for the elderly, her monthly income of $2000 isn‘t enough for a market-rate apartment.

The initial process of permitting took two years, but construction took only six weeks, and the next projects should move more quickly since guidelines are now in place. As many churches, mosques and synagogues deal with the realities of ageing populations and extra space, could they too start thinking creatively about better uses for under-utilized areas? “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2).

 

Retreat led by Kathy Coffey: “Those Feisty Gospel Women”

San Damiano Center, 710 Highland Dr., Danville, CA (925)-837-9141

www.sandamiano.org        March 27-29, 2020

Feast of St. Prisca—Jan. 18

Prisca speaks: My husband Aquila and I were tentmakers. I never dreamt how cutting, sewing, and patching leather would lead to my great work: piecing together the fledgling Christian community like a big tent. Years later, John’s prologue would describe the incarnation as God’s “pitching a tent in us.” Our recorded story began when Paul asked us for a job. He stayed with us for eighteen months in Corinth, where we had already established our business, when he was new in town. To set the record straight, Paul didn’t convert us; we were already Christian.

 

It caused some buzz when my name was mentioned before Aquila’s, (in four of six references), but let me explain. I didn’t muscle in to threaten his status; it was simply a natural recognition of my leadership. He was always supportive and strong, but a man of few words.

 

So I was the talker, better known, but we thought of ourselves as equals, a team. Notice how Paul refers to “their” house, not just Aquila’s, as he would if more closely following the custom of our day. Oh, the male was head of the household in society, but no patriarchy for us! Everyone knew I was the feisty leader.

 

I wasn’t spared the fear of persecution either (Rom 16:3). We risked our necks to save Paul in Ephesus, and after that, authorities seemed to know me, to sneer threateningly whenever I’d walk through town. I was so frightened, I persuaded Aquila to return to Rome. Somehow, martyrdom didn’t seem the right path for us. Our work was—forgive the pun—cut out for us.

 

Paul did the original visioning and dramatic speeches. Then he’d turn the new converts over to us. Wise choice. Who know better than tentmakers how to shelter newborn, vulnerable people? I’d keep them warm and dry. A tent is a flexible place, open to wind and change. Unlike more rigid structures of stone or wood, its flaps can always accommodate one more. I spent so much time sticking my neck out to rescue, I couldn’t be bothered by excluding.

This excerpt is a sneak preview from More Hidden Women of the Gospels, which will be published by Orbis Press in 2020.

 

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

 TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to https://GIFT2020.EventBrite.com

 

Baptism of Jesus

Scholars say that the mythic elements in this story– the sky opening, the voice of God, the descent of the Spirit like a dove—are common to spiritual experiences in many religious traditions. What makes Jesus’ unique?

Even in later, more ordinary circumstances, he remained attuned to the source of that experience: to God his father. Whether he was engaged in hot debate, confronting hideous disease, or teaching in the marketplace, Jesus didn’t forget that voice, that spectacular affirmation. He acted always as God’s beloved child. Furthermore, he saw everyone else through that same lens—no matter how cantankerous, sick, or stupid they were.

Do we? When doing dishes or driving, do we remember we are precious? Confronting a crisis, do we carry into it the same qualities that have gotten us this far: our courage, strength or skill? When we’re angry, mistaken, rejected, exhausted, ill, betrayed, depressed, unemployed, or told we’re worthless, does that sense of affirmation rise up within?

What God said to Jesus, God says to us: “you are my dearly beloved child. I’m pleased with you.” That should matter more than all the applause or awards in the world. And we should in turn hear that same description of everyone we meet.

This experience marks a pivotal point for Jesus: he emerges from it energized and inspired for his public ministry. Even in the long desert days, he must hear the echoes of that voice. When we’re tempted to focus on the criticisms, we could turn instead with joy to that life-giving praise.

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to https://GIFT2020.EventBrite.com

A Third Way: Creative Resistance

Perhaps because regimes around the world which lean towards totalitarianism are proliferating, recent works of art have raised the question: how to best resist unjust authority?

It’s not a new question: Jesus himself faced the dilemma of whether to resist or ignore the Roman oppression. Human evolution has conditioned us for fight or flight. Over the centuries, those have been the most common responses to injustice. According to scripture scholar Walter Wink, Jesus proposed an alternate, a third way: creative nonviolent resistance.

“Jesus reveals a way to fight evil with all our power without being transformed into the very evil we fight. It is a way — the only way possible — of not becoming what we hate… Jesus abhors both passivity and violence.”

In the excellent film “JoJo Rabbit” (poorly titled—at first I thought it was a cartoon), a mother and child see bodies hanging in the public square of their German village, overtaken by Nazis. When the little boy asks, “what did they do?” the mother replies, “they did what they could.” As, it turns out, she did too—hiding a Jewish girl in her attic, distributing anti-Nazi fliers. And she met the same fate.

In the novel The Ventriloquists, by E.R. Ramzipoor, the Belgian resistance to the Nazis is diabolically clever and based on fact: writers produce a parody of the daily newspaper filled with Nazi propaganda. They know they’ll hang for their satire, but on one day, 60,000 Belgians buy the hilarious paper and laugh at their oppressor. The writers consider it a small price to be imprisoned and killed for their effort. The leader reflects on what he likes about the group: “former shopkeepers and teachers and builders, people with nice furniture and reasonable salaries, who could have done nothing, could’ve kept their heads down and gone about their business. But they didn’t. Those who could have done nothing instead did everything.” Even the postmistress intercepts a shipment of yellow fabric, imprinted with stars ready to be cut out and forced on Jews to wear. Oddly enough, all the churches suddenly get yellow altar cloths, distributed quietly by the resistance.

The final example is the most dramatic: Franz Jaggerstatter, an Austrian farmer in “A Hidden Life,” beheaded (and later named a saint) for refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the Third Reich. Franz’ decision leaves his wife, three children and mother to fend for themselves making a brutally hard living, with the added difficulty of their villagers ostracizing them.  As Malick’s film unfolds, Franz’ wife suggests they escape, or he do medical service. Those seemed plausible alternatives, which his conscience will not allow. Under the circumstances, everyone might make a different decision. After all, few criticize the von Trapp family for escaping Austria to Switzerland and eventually the US.

Interesting questions for us to chew over, we whose government is relentlessly cruel to refugees, heedless of its irreparable damage to the environment, and so unethical it deserves impeachment. How do we resist bogus authority, in our own spheres, with our own forms of creativity?

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to https://GIFT2020.EventBrite.com

 

Christmas

Just as the overture to a Broadway musical sounds themes that will recur in later songs, so the Prologue to John’s gospel read on Christmas day begins ideas that will be developed later. One that is especially relevant today is how God seeks out human beings, making them God’s own children. Always, God tries to change human darkness into stunning light.

To apply that truth to our own experience, we might reflect on verse 16:  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” What have been the special graces in our lives, spilling over from God’s fullness? Have we been aware of them, and thankful?

No matter what our worries are: about scarcity or loss, unemployment or loneliness, illness or death, today we set them aside and rest in the fullness of God’s overflowing love. This is a day to focus on the wonder of God becoming human, uplifting us all to be brothers and sisters of Jesus. Isaiah expresses the good news: “the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem” (52:9). In this case, Jerusalem stands for all of us: redeemed, graced, blessed, joyful.

On this day, we may sing carols around the crèche, worship with our faith community, ring the bells, enjoy the decorations, laugh, tell stories, eat the feast and relish Christmas cookies. If that sounds a bit self-centered, we’re also called to hospitality: as in the Benedictine tradition, to welcome all guests as Christ.

Kathy will be speaking at:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church 2601 San Ramon Valley Blvd. San Ramon, CA 94583

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 10:00-11:30 a.m, on:

“Will the Real Mary Magdalene Stand Up? Stand Back!”

And TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. on:

“Prayer In Chaos, Commotion and Clutter”

All are welcome. Free events require registration. To register, go to www.sjasr.org/GIFT