Jim Penczykowski’s Homily from May 6, 2018

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In my formative years of the 1950s and 60s I was acutely aware of the in-groups and out-groups that defined and described who I was.

Adults around me made much of their ethnic roots and their religious roots and their socio-economic roots and their political roots.

I suspect this is true for many people gathered here today.

My in-group advanced in the world in a competitive sort of way.

For instance, it was understood that the land-owning class of people in my hometowns of Racine and Kenosha tended to be White Anglo Saxon Protestant (or WASP).

It could be further diced and sliced.

For instance, it was said that the Episcopalians owned the means of production and the Presbyterians managed it for them.

In the larger world this competition for scarce resources or for the means of production or for political power prompts many persons and groups to cloak themselves in religious righteousness or zealotry to either hold on to what they have or to wrest control from others.

The number of hate-filled and heinous acts committed in our own day force us to consider if religion is any good at all.

Even competing groups of people whose DNA is identical sometimes go to war with one another using religious difference as one of the fault lines of the conflict.

The word pluralism is a noun and that is unfortunate, because it suggests that a religion or society or nation could somehow achieve a status quo in which diversity is celebrated every day in every way.

We are better served if we look at pluralism as a work in various states of progress or regress.


“The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. But what is pluralism? Here are four points to begin our thinking:

First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.

Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.

Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.

Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.”

—Diana L. Eck, 2006 [The Pluralism Project of Harvard University]



E Pluribus Unum describes an action: Many uniting into one. An accurate translation of the motto is “From Many, One” or Out of Many, One” – a phrase that captures the symbolism on the shield.



  1. As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.

Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith (6)-are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles.(7) Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.(8)

The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: “theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church’s main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ’s Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

  1. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).

No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)

– From Nostra Aetate, 1965


Many religions claim an origin date or year.

When I say a year guess which religion prefers to use that number rather than the Christian era calendar:

Islam, year 1439


Judaism, year 5778


Buddhism, year 2562


Hinduism, year 5,000?


Zoroastrianism, year 2500 plus


Mayan, year 5129


When we take for granted the knowledge base others should have about our beliefs and practices, but put no effort into knowing anything about their beliefs and practices we severely limit the ground for dialogue.  And the effort we put into it must go beyond satisfying our idle curiosity about a novel custom or exotic-seeming ritual.

We must look at pluralism from a prophetic and justice point of view.  This will prompt us to dialogue on an equal plane with others.  This will prompt us to listen humbly.  This will prompt us to speak kindly and prudently.  This will prompt us to act as the Torah teaches,

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. [Ex 22, 21]

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. [LEVITICUS 19, 34]

And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. [Deuteronomy 10, 19]


Is it not the foreignness of the person whose beliefs are different that stands out?  It is not fear that pervades the unease we feel?

We must not require, even in a subtle way, that the person different from us must assimilate or accommodate to us.  Rather, we must offer hospitality in a generous fashion that asks nothing in return but hopes for friendship.


Today’s passage from John’s Gospel establishes clearly a new relationship, one of friend to friend.

If this seems a stretch for us today, imagine how radical the statement seemed to the ears of John’s community members.


The concepts of the early Greek philosophers had spread throughout the Roman Empire, and John’s hearers of the Word would automatically understand that friendship in the Greek sense was a high calling.  In our world we might use the term, friend, rather loosely at times, for someone who is barely an acquaintance, someone we see a lot of at work or recreationally or because our children attend the same school.  Friend = “buddy” connotation, familiar term      – recreational relationships/ business relationships      – “friendly”


But the word, “beloved”, comes closer, I think, to what John intended.  Remember that John is often referred to as the “beloved disciple”.

So John the Evangelist properly extends the use of the term friend or beloved to all those whom Jesus chooses,

and whom, later, the Spirit of Jesus chooses.

I call you friend/beloved (filial).beloved = “affectionate” connotation, reserved for the more close friend.


The passage from John’s Gospel today is part of a lengthy discourse fitted between Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and his arrest.

The portion we have today is part of the discourse on the vine and the branches.


The theme of this uninterrupted discourse (15:1-17) is the relation of the Christian to Christ,

the community of life that they share, and

Christ’s life as the source of the good works of Christians.

The figure of the vine and the branches presupposes that the Christian life is essentially one of activity, of bearing fruit:

Union with Christ is not only the condition of bearing fruit,

it also demands this.


The challenge before us is the same challenge that presented itself to John’s hearers and to those that Luke addresses in the Acts of the Apostles.  Look around you.  Many can say, “I follow Jesus, the Christ.”  But you will know this to be true by their fruits.  If they are truly joined to Christ by the Spirit of Truth, then their actions will bear them out.


An important role we share with communities of faith throughout our world and in every age is one of recognizing the Spirit of Truth when and where she chooses to show herself in persons of truth and integrity and in communities of truth and integrity.


We also must bear fruit, by our service, by our advocacy for those whose voices are not easily heard in the cacophonous competition of our busy world, and by our efforts to build structures that are just.


We gather at this table of the Word and at this table of the Eucharist to be forgiven our failures as followers, to receive food for our journey in this life and the next, and to be united one to another and to Jesus the Christ, through the Sprit who is truth.


“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)



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Through your Son who lives in glory, send the Holy Spirit upon the Church, that it may be the sacrament of unity for the whole human race, we pray …


You have brought a new family into being through water and the Holy Spirit, keep us faithful to our baptism, and bring us to everlasting life, we pray …


Through Christ Jesus, exalted by his trust in you, we offer up the needs of those in distress, especially those in prison and those who are sick, and by your blessings give joy to the world, we pray …


For those trapped in harmful relationships due to inequalities of power in our world, for battered spouses and children, for those enslaved in sweatshops, for migrant workers, and for those exposed to brutality unleashed by civil discord, we pray …


For those who have chosen to serve in the military that they will find the courage to obey all lawful orders and find the courage to question misconduct in all its forms, we pray …


For those most in need of penitence and reconciliation this day, we pray …


For those who rule over others, that the Spirit of Truth will guide them, we pray …


For teachers and students, that they will be inspired and motivated during the remaining days of this school term, we pray …


That the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, will inspire individuals and nations to advocate for refugees and all those exiled from their homes, we pray …


For what else shall we pray?


Please quietly mention those whose needs you carry in your hearts and minds.  For these and all those listed in our book of intentions, we pray …


Holy One, in the great beauty of created space of which we are a part, we seek you the giver of the beauty.  In your great love you became one with us in Christ Jesus so that we might know you as friend as well as creator.  May we then have the courage of this conviction and befriend all we meet, rejoicing in our common human race and also rejoicing in the beauty of our differences.


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