AN END OF THE YEAR APPEAL
It is that time of the year again when we reach out to you for
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them. Judging from the emails I get, that is exactly what is
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Many people do not really know what this feast celebrates. It does
not celebrate Jesus’ conception, or his virgin birth. According to
Pius IX’s definition of this dogma in 1854, it celebrates Mary’s
deliverance from sin. The doctrine states that in view of the merits
of Jesus, who saved all people, Mary was kept free from sin from the
very moment her life began. The teaching was promulgated after
Pius’ inquiry of the bishops around the world of the people’s faith
(“sensus fidelium”) concerning Mary. The bishops’ response about the
people’s beliefs and devotion assured him and so he declared the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
To the epistle. The central message of Ephesians is unity. It
is trying to encourage the unity of the community; both the
community in the home and the community of the culturally diverse
church gatherings. Today’s section from Ephesians reflects the
feast’s celebration of deliverance from sin through God’s gracious
choice. Mary was chosen to be Jesus’ mother and because of that
choice, God prepared Mary for her role as “theotokos” -- bearer of
God. In preaching from this passage, I would try to be faithful to
its tone, to the kind of genre it is: it is a prayer of praise,
blessing God for God’s work among us. Mary is the prime example of
what God has and can do in our lives. This feast does not celebrate
her goodness, as if it merited God’s favor. It is clear from the
doctrinal teaching and from this reading (both keep us focused),
God, as always, is the prime mover in our salvation. God is the
cause of her and our goodness and suitability.
Our selection today is from the very beginning of the epistle.
The opening verse addresses, “the holy ones,” or “the saints”. It
makes the epistle more general in nature, rather than just being
addressed to one community in Ephesus. These lines also set the
tone for the whole epistle. Why not encourage people to use this
selection as their personal prayer as well, praising God for what
God has done in their lives? There seems to be a very specific work
of God that the author has in mind, for this text was part of a
baptismal liturgy. So, it may have been a prayer said at the
“washing,” or “cleansing” of adult converts. Baptism has delivered
us from sin, incorporating us into union with Christ and the
Christian community. God’s good will for us has been carried out
through and “in Christ.” Salvation is already present in believers
who have been blessed in Christ, “with every spiritual blessing in
The entire epistle shows the effects of baptism; we are in a
new relationship with God. This relationship is expressed as our
being “adopted” by God. The reading shows how God plays an active
role in our lives, by blessing and choosing us in Christ. We have
been adopted, a dignity we did not choose for ourselves, but that
has been given us by God.
The sound of verses 4 & 5 has been the cause of many heated
discussions over the centuries about predestination. It does sound
like God has predestined, or elected specifics ones to be saved. But
you cannot draw such an important issue from merely one verse. The
New Testament has many other balancing texts which discuss the
responsibility of humans to cooperate with the divine plan for us.
This verse is not to be an occasion to restrict the gracious
activity of God to just some few “elect.”
Paul (the authorship has been a question of debate among
biblical scholars) wants to encourage us to cooperate with God’s
intended plan for us. He is stressing the present reality of the
divine redemption. We have the responsibility to respond to God’s
initiative, but at this point in the epistle he is praising God, the
first Actor in the drama of our salvation. God has freely acted on
our behalf through Christ, who is
the source of all unity and community, the One who unites the
cosmos, the One through whom God has created a new world. What does
salvation look like? In this epistle it is described as our being in
God’s family together, division among us broken down and a new way
of being community begun.
There is, as a result of our baptism, a power at work in us that
can help us in our struggle against the great evil powers that
cause division in the human community -- the big evils like,
racism, addictions, violence, ethnic conflicts, materialism, etc.
Nor are we alone in our struggle against the lesser shadowy forces
that cause divisions in our personal daily lives -- our impatience,
greed, harsh judgements, insensitivities, etc. These leave us
feeling less worthy of God like some kind of “damaged goods.
My plan for preaching this day is to work around the notion of
gifts. With Christmas upon us gift giving is in the air. When we
receive, or buy a damaged article, we want to take it back to the
store and exchange it for a new one. Similarly, the forces we
struggle against in our lives, can make us feel like “damaged
goods.” We may feel this way because of traumas from our childhood;
neglect, abuse, unfavorable comparisons to our siblings, failures of
others to appreciate our uniqueness, etc. We can also feel like
damaged goods because of daily failures to measure up to ideals we
have for ourselves about how good or successful we should be. We
just don’t measure up to the ideal society projects on us.
Ephesians assures us today that God has a good plan for us. This
letter invites us to remembrance -- to remember our baptismal
identity. We are not “damaged goods,” but adopted children of God.
We are chosen. We
may not always feel this way, but we are invited to trust the
promise of these words from Ephesians that assure us of God’s favor
on us. As adopted children God will not let go of us. God has a
plan for us. Look at how wonderful God’s plans for us is -- see how
it worked out in Mary!
Blessings on your preaching.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
This is a
particularly difficult time for people in jails and prisons.
death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system.
Each week I
post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite
you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we
have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about
them through North Carolina’s, “People of Faith Against the Death
If the inmate
responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
Wilkerson #0900281 (On death row since 12/20/2006)
Williams #0441044 (5/1/2007)
Waring #1025501 (7/2/2007)
Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to
Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the
interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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