(Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on January 29, 2023 at Santo Spirito in Sassia in Rome, Italy; See Matthew 5:1-12)
Art’s revelatory power has become more important than ever as the current state of the world resembles a disorienting spin. In times like these, art conveys our collective emotional state better than conversations can. Music — particularly conscious music — has been seen as the perfect way to discuss current affairs through a culturally relevant lens.
Most songs that proliferate this genre are sermons disguised as lyrics. Artists who are determined to raise their listeners’ consciousness disregard the negative emotions that come through experiencing institutional decay at such a rapid pace. They take pride in authoritatively telling their listeners to persist and persevere.
Weirdly enough, their approach resembles a philosophy of toxic positivity that makes for a predictable experience. Nowadays, most artists are moving away from the « conscious » artist superlative. Instead, they aim to be empathetic scribes, poetically describing every little detail, regardless of its implications.
One such artist is Jeshi, a 27-year-old alternative rapper hailing from East London. He started establishing himself as an independent artist through touring with fellow English rapper Slowthai in 2019, appearing on R&B songstress Celeste’s EP « Lately, » and dropping his own body of work « Bad Taste » in 2020.
His newest project and debut studio album, « Universal Credit, » is one of 2022’s best contributions to rap. Jeshi’s empathetic worldbuilding devices allow him to creatively discuss the emotional, physical and mental tools of austerity without sounding brash or disconnected.
Throughout the album, Jeshi embodies the exhaustion and frustration of trying to survive an austerity riddled England. Take for example, the second track, « Sick. » He illustrates disappointment, as he’s
Sick of tryna sleep, close the blinds from the light
Sick of seein’ colours every time I close my eyes
Sick of things goin’ wrong and never goin’ right.
Here, Jeshi acknowledges how the everyday disappointments plague his everyday life, causing restlessness and hyperactivity. Life’s unrelenting harshness forces him into a corner he can’t escape. Melodically, Jeshi conveys this untainted melancholy by utilizing distortion and chaos through manipulating his background vocals and electronic instrumentation.
« National lottery, » arguably the best song on the album, showcases his ability as a descriptive and emotionally involved orator. In the song’s first few seconds, Jeshi seems to show glimmers of optimism and confidence.
Wish you were here
I make ice caps disappear
Watch the world burn at the bar sippin’ beer
How many units? Can I move whips?
I’m a nuisance, stop actin’ stupid.
A few moments later we realize that his attitude comes from his lottery addiction:
National lottery every week (Every week)
Itchy palms, can’t get to sleep (Sleep)
National lottery every week
Itchy palms, can’t get to sleep.
Instead of spelling out the subject matter quickly, he lets us sift through it ourselves. He trusts us enough to let us experience the emotional highs and lows he’s going through, letting us decipher what this all means.
Despite the emotional turmoil, Jeshi acknowledges the relationships that have positively impacted him. « Two Mum’s, » is a joyful yet realistic dedication to his mother and grandmother.
Jeshi never feels ashamed of his familial situation and proudly enumerates it:
Ain’t got a dad
Won’t see me moan ’bout the cards in my hand
Walkin’ to school
Holdin’ my hand
I’m happy that you never went back.
Jeshi succeeds where other artists fail because he immerses himself and the listener in emotions that are overwhelmingly unfavorable. Time and time again, Jeshi makes himself defenseless so we can exercise empathy for others and ourselves,
Humility is an integral part of storytelling and journalism because people often put their needs and wants at the behest of the story. Many journalists in the climate sector are trying to figure out better methods to report on issues such as global warming, unpredictable weather patterns and a climate migration crisis in order to increase direct action.
Statistics-focused reporting has piqued the public’s interest, but hasn’t spurred a wave of mobilization outside climate activist organizations. While it may seem surprising, statistical reporting is often devoid of emotion and personal connection. Information about the climate crisis effect can reach its liberatory potential only if we truly highlight its effects on the human psyche.
If we want to report on how weather patterns may make islands, forests, and coastlines disappear, we need to creatively display the emotions of those who occupy these spaces. Thankfully, we have bodies of work such as « Universal Credit » that illustrate moments of political and social instability through empathy and understanding.
The best art undoubtedly imparts new perspectives that seep into our everyday lives. Jeshi’s « Universal Credit » is a masterclass in heartfelt and vulnerable social commentary that is full of creativity. Through this album, we see that telling the truth requires humility and compassion.
In God’s Works Revealed, author Sam Albano takes us on a well-sourced journey of the history of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the LGBTQIA+ experience. Sam currently serves as the national secretary of DignityUSA which « works for respect and justice for people of all sexual orientations, genders, and gender identities — especially gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual and intersex persons — in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy and support. »
God’s Works Revealed: Spirituality, Theology, and Social Justice for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Catholics is written for both straight and non-straight people. As a queer, millennial Catholic, one of the main issues I perceive in the Catholic Church today is the lack of education on all things LGBTQIA+ from the people in positions of authority within the church. Decisions are being made and statements are being released by people who do not know what they are talking about because they are not in communion with the LGBTQIA+ community in any significant capacity. In speaking of what they do not know, church officials have created confusion that has led to a lot of pain.
The pain of belonging to a religion that does not want to recognize your humanity is apparent throughout God’s Works Revealed. However, the author remains respectful in his expressions of dissatisfaction and hurt. This book is not someone railing against an institution; it is a sincere attempt at dialogue from a viewpoint that has largely been ignored by those in positions of authority within the Catholic Church.
Too often LGBTQIA+ people are misrepresented as rebels who seek to destroy or desecrate church teaching and tradition. The author demonstrates what I have found to be true in my own community of Catholic LGBTQIA+ friends: a love for fellow humans, a yearning for truth and years of prayer and study of what the Catholic Church teaches. There are 12 pages of sources listed at the end of this book. God’s Works Revealed proves that LGBTQIA+ Catholics are not entering conversations about dogma and theology uneducated or unprepared, and it is time non-LGBTQIA+ Catholics had the decency to do the same.
Knowing in advance that Albano and I have differing conclusions about church teaching on the sexual act, I expected to be somewhat put off by this book. But I was unprepared for how impactful it would be to have someone speaking within the context of church teaching from and for my viewpoint as a queer person — an all too rare phenomenon in Catholic media.
Since most church teaching and documents on the LGBTQIA+ experience are written by people who are straight, they tend to sound like « us against them » statements. This is not to say that straight people cannot effectively minister to people within the LGBTQIA+ paradigm; rather, it shows that when all teaching and ministry for LGBTQIA+ persons comes only from straight people it is not life-giving or effective. The queer community are important members of the body of Christ, and leadership in the Catholic Church does a great disservice by ignoring us or not seeking to spiritually shepherd and strengthen us. The systems currently in place are not working.
To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about this book. I appreciate the lengths the author was willing to go to in providing people with accurate information: on the experience of being LGBTQIA+ and Catholic, how the phrasing of church teaching has affected that experience (largely in a negative capacity) and how it is all closely linked with social justice. Whenever I am presented with the opportunity to speak on being queer and Catholic, I worry that what I say will be received as me trying to prove I am worthy of being alive, that I am worthy of participating in society and worthy of being a part of the Catholic Church. Books like God’s Works Revealed are certainly necessary, but I can’t help wondering if they feed into the mindset that LGBTQIA+ individuals have to « earn their place » here.
Albano and I have studied many of the same church documents. I am sure we have raised many of the same concerns within our prospective communities. Yet we have managed to come to « opposing » conclusions in several ways, even with our openness and desire for truth. Typically, this would be where we go to church teaching to « settle » the discussion, but I imagine Albano and I are united in our apprehension of trusting an institution that has been the source of so much misinformation, misrepresentation and harm when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. If the Catholic Church wishes to remain authoritative, then the people running it must cease being pastorally irresponsible and needlessly blunt when it comes to LGBTQIA+ matters.
Even though we have differing opinions, I trust Albano has come to his conclusions after years of prayer and agonizing — indeed, this book is proof! — and I ask the same trust and consideration be given to me. I do not see it as a conflict of interest or a betrayal of my belief system to encourage people to read this book. The Catholic Church is not meant to be an echo chamber. We need to be listening to all the members in order to truly love and care for each other.
I could have passed over this opportunity or written this book off as leftist propaganda. I didn’t. You shouldn’t either.
Author’s note: I am aware that the non-LGBTQIA+ experience is too broad to be accurately described with the terms « straight » or « heterosexual » but lack of widely understood terms and a need for brevity have forced me to use them in this instance.
For two marketing classes taught at North Catholic High School in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a career and college counselor at the school invited three owners of a local store to talk about how they run their small business. As part of their visit in December, the store owners offered each student a small crystal.
That’s because the business, Elemental Magick, sells books, jewelry, candles and other items used in various metaphysical practices. The three store owners, married couple Tabitha and Tamara Latshaw and their sister-in-law Kari Latshaw, are all Wiccan high priestesses.
« We sell crystals, » said Tabitha Latshaw in a video statement posted to Facebook. « If we sold gum, we would have handed out a pack of gum. »
But after some students complained to North Catholic administrators, according to reports, the counselor, who has not been identified publicly, was questioned, then, in early January, asked to resign.
In an interview with KDKA-TV, Michelle Peduto, a diocesan school administrator, explained that educators at diocesan schools are required to sign a statement saying that their instruction will align with Catholic teachings. Both the visit and the crystals were not a « good fit, » she said.
« It is because, as we know, our faith is in Jesus Christ and not in objects necessarily, » Peduto said in a separate interview with KDKA. « Rosary beads? Yes. But crystals, no. »
North Catholic, founded in 1939 as a boys school and staffed traditionally by the Marian order, is an anchor of Catholic life in Pittsburgh. Alumni include former CIA Director Michael Hayden and the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney.
Formerly known as Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, after the former bishop and archbishop of Washington, D.C., the school removed the cardinal’s name in 2018 at his request after he was criticized for his handling of sexual abuse cases there.
According to the KDKA-TV report, letters were sent home after the store owners’ appearance in the marketing classes. The letters asked families to « dispose of the crystals » and to cleanse their home by saying a prayer to St. Michael the archangel. The Diocese of Pittsburgh reportedly labeled the employee’s actions « inappropriate » and, in a letter to the former employee, « egregious. »
The Latshaws did not know of their friend’s departure from North Catholic until last week when a reporter asked for their reaction. After learning the news, the store owners have used the situation to demonstrate the popularity of crystals across various religions and in society at large.
A recent survey by Springtide Research Institute shows that 44% of Gen Z use crystals and herbs for spiritual connection or entertainment.
« Crystals are everywhere and are exclusive to no religion, including Wicca, » said Tabitha Latshaw in the Facebook statement, pointing out that in the jewelry industry, crystals are more commonly known as semiprecious gemstones.
The store owners labeled their weekly Sunday crystal sale #Godcreatedthis. « You don’t have to be a witch to use crystals, » Latshaw said in a video statement. « We have people of all walks of faith come in here. »
The Latshaws say they weren’t there to talk about witchcraft or religion of any kind. « We went to North Catholic High School to discuss being entrepreneurs, » Tabitha Latshaw told Religion News Service.
She told KDKA-TV: « God made these. They come from the earth. That’s all I can say. »
The former school employee told the local reporter that she did not believe that the crystals or the owners’ religion would cause a stir. In hindsight, she recognized she should have thought the visit through more carefully, but she was surprised that the situation was not used as an « opportunity for me to grow and develop as a professional and as a Catholic. »
Ukraine’s religious leaders asked Pope Francis to visit Kyiv, said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
In a meeting with the pope Jan. 25, members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions once again extended the invitation to him. Shevchuk said they did not receive a clear response on the possibility.
« We know that the Holy Father is following the developments in Ukraine and is looking for the right moment to come, » he told journalists at the Vatican Jan. 26. « We wanted to show him that not only Catholics are waiting for him (to come). All Ukrainians are waiting for him. »
At a separate meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, the representatives said they discussed the necessary conditions for beginning peace negotiations with Russia: « the liberation of Ukrainian territory as recognized by international law, » and a commitment by Russia to pay for damages caused by the war, said Shevchuk. He also advocated for international tribunals to address war crimes.
« A peace without justice and the truth does not exist, » said the archbishop. « We have so many wounds to heal. »
Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv said that the Ukrainian people « greatly appreciate what the Holy Father and the Holy See are doing for Ukraine, » but noted that « it can be difficult for Ukrainians to understand the pope’s position » on the war, and that it often falls on bishops and priests to explain his rationale.
« Some words were not taken well by our people, and we tried to calm them down and show them, for example, that (the pope) going to the Russian embassy was him showing who the aggressor was, who started this war, » said Mokrzycki.
Shortly after the war broke out, Francis took the unusual step of leaving the Vatican to go to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to plead for peace and offer the Vatican’s services as a mediator. He has asked for prayers for the « martyred Ukraine » at his general audience and Angelus prayer each week since the war began in February 2022.
Shevchuk explained that in Ukraine « the credibility of the Christian message is in play » due to the Russian Orthodox Church’s role in endorsing the war.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has been a vocal advocate of Russia’s war effort, and recently renewed calls for prayers and donations to support the Russian army.
« If a Christian church gives rise to an ideology of genocide, it has grave moral effects. Not only for that church, but for the entire Christian message, » said Shevchuk.
The Russian Orthodox Church aims to « pin one (form of) Christianity against another, » said Valerii Antoniuk, head of the All-Ukrainian Union of the Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. He noted that Ukraine’s many Christian confessions, bolstered by the Vatican, are united in their commitment peace.
« We believe that the Holy See’s voice can beat this ideology, » he said.
As war ravages Ukraine, the country cannot be divided among religious confessions but must be united behind « mother Ukraine, » Pope Francis said.
« Jewish Ukraine, Christian Ukraine, Orthodox Ukraine » are not as important as Ukraine as a whole, the pope told members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions during a meeting at the Vatican Jan. 25.
« I thank you for your unity, for me this is a great thing, like the children of a family » that are dispersed, « but when the mother is ill, they are all together, » he told them. « It is an example in the face of so much superficiality that we see in our culture today. »
The delegation, composed of leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, was in Rome Jan. 24-26. In addition to their audience with the pope, they met with officials from the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue and the Dicastery for Communication. Representatives from the council also were scheduled to join Francis at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls for vespers to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
After apologizing for being a « slave to time » and needing to get to his weekly general audience, Francis put aside his prepared remarks and spoke off the cuff to the religious leaders, expressing his closeness to those working for peace in Ukraine.
« I am close to you and I regularly receive envoys from President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy, » the pope said. « I am in dialogue with representatives of the Ukrainian people, and this leads me to hear you and pray. »
The pope also shared how at 11 years old he learned to serve the Byzantine-rite liturgy from a Ukrainian priest in Argentina. « From that moment my sympathy for Ukraine has grown, » he said.
The delegation included Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church; Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Latin-rite Archdiocese of Lviv; representatives of the country’s Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Lutheran churches; leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish and Muslim communities; and representatives of the Bible Society, which is interdenominational.
“Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
The Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle
When we realize that the letters of St. Paul predated the four gospels and were in circulation as they were being composed by the evangelists, we see the profound influence he had on the formation of the entire New Testament and the early church.
Paul appears to have received his whole Christology all at once from his conversion experience. His encounter with a light so bright it blinded him reminds us of the transfiguration of Jesus witnessed by Peter, James and John. Paul claims to have seen Jesus in glory, a total shock to him because he was convinced that Jesus was a blasphemer. Instead, here was the crucified one, standing at the throne of God. What Paul realized was that the person he had been persecuting was none other than the Christ.
From this encounter, Paul is appointed an Apostle, sent by Jesus to the gentile world. By his own assessment, he is the least of the Apostles, “untimely” called because he was a persecutor of the church, but equal in authority to the Twelve. He is destined to extend the mystery of Jesus Christ beyond its Jewish roots into the non-Jewish world, a mission that at first was resisted by the Jerusalem church led by James, Peter and others.
From deep reflection on his encounter on the road to Damascus, Paul understood the mystery of Christ dwelling in every baptized person and emerging when they live the pattern of his death and resurrection —the Paschal Mystery. This is the most basic idea of Christian formation and spirituality. Paul understood baptism and the Eucharist as how we are incorporated into the body and blood of Christ, sent to extend his redemptive presence and mission in history to the whole world.
Paul’s preaching and pastoral founding of the first faith communities beyond Asia Minor into the Mediterranean basin became the basis for the young church that survived the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple in 70 CE. He affirms that the Holy Spirit of Jesus was alive and active in the great diaspora, extending the Gospel universally, to the “ends of the earth.”
Paul rides the waves and storms of history as a profoundly controversial figure. He opens an originally Jewish movement to the gentile world, moves the early Council of Jerusalem to affirm faith in Jesus as sufficient for universal salvation. His letters contain the groundwork for all subsequent theologies of Jesus as fulfilling the promise made to Israel. He preaches his redemptive death as fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. He proclaims Jesus as the new Adam, the pioneer of a New Creation and the model for our destiny as heirs with him to divine life.
Paul’s role was so preeminent, some have even called him the “Founder of Christianity,” though we know from his own words his total dependence and devotion to the Christ who had saved him and loved him beyond his comprehension.
His message to us on this feast of his conversion is that we are also meant to experience what he experienced. Somewhere, somehow in our own life journeys, we all will find ourselves on the road to Damascus, and the same Jesus will take hold of us with love and show us who he is and who we really are. All of life is a preparation for this and the direction our lives will take because of it. This is our path to wholeness, the meaning of our baptism and the answer to every prayer we pray, for it is our destiny.