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Principalities and Powers

Posted on 30 October 2014 by patmarrin

“Our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:12).

It is hard to identify the underlying forces in a culture or within large, complex social systems because they are actually ideas. The clash of basic ideas over the direction a society will take is what politics is about. When politics fails, conflicts can become wars. It is said that Charles de Gaulle, the great French leader, saw World War II as a struggle between enormous “angels” representing liberty and national socialism (Nazism).

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians describes a decisive spiritual battle going on between God and Evil being played out in the persecution of the young church within a corrupt Greco-Roman culture intent on expanding and absorbing the Mediterranean world militarily and culturally. The ancient world was in transition, one civilization showing signs of collapse as new ideas appeared and took hold, among them the revolutionary spirit of the Gospel with its message of freedom and joy won for all people by Jesus Christ, a victim of Roman crucifixion who rose from the dead to proclaim victory over the world.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees that he is not afraid of King Herod (“that fox”) because nothing will keep him from fulfilling his mission to go to Jerusalem to die like all the other prophets before him. Jesus then issues a final warning to the city: “How many times I yearned to gather your children together as hen gathers her brood under wings, but you were unwilling” (Luke 13:34). The powers of darkness will fill the vacuum of their refusal to grasp God’s invitation to find peace. But he will overcome the darkness. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We also live in decisive times. Faith seeks to understand the powerful ideas that drive our personal and communal lives — media saturation promoting consumption, mindless entertainment, exaggerated individualism, political and social polarization, xenophobia, racial paranoia, the use of force to solve all our problems. The Gospel invites us to enter the same revolution of mind and heart that propelled the early church to challenge the dominant culture and offer alternatives to its values. One thing is sure: Who we become will be determined by which angel we listen to and follow.

In Luke 18:8, Jesus confronts us with the same challenge he set before the city of Jerusalem. “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” We must be ready to give an answer to that question, then be ready to live it with courage and commitment, as though our lives depended on it.


Enter Now! Today!

Posted on 29 October 2014 by patmarrin

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate” (Luke 13:23).

Many of the Gospel passages we will hear as we approach the end of the church year will begin with this reminder: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In the light of this, his instructions to his disciples and his encounters with his critics take on a special urgency. Time is running out. Conversion must be decisive and total. If you expect to enter the Kingdom of God, there are no half measures. Enter the grace of the moment, no matter the risk or the cost. Do it now.

In today’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus uses two images about gaining entrance; a narrow gate and a closing door. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” recalls his teaching about the impossibility of getting a camel through the eye of a needle. Some scholars think this was a reference to a narrow passage into the city after the main gates had been closed for the night. A fully laden camel could not pass unless it was stripped of all of its goods. So also, a disciple must leave behind all of his advantage and status to follow Jesus.

The other image is of a householder who has closed and locked his door for the night. Latecomers plead with him to be allowed in, claiming, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” But the master of the house tells them this is not enough. Ritual or social connections do not compare with the deeper response of hearing and carrying out his message. He does not recognize them.

This message is repeated throughout the Gospels: Only those who actually follow Jesus, i.e., imitate him, will be recognized. Matthew’s famous Chapter 25, the parable of the last judgment, says it all. Those who served the poor, the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick and outcast, will be counted among the saved. Even those who did these things without knowing it was Christ they were serving will be welcomed into God’s embrace.

What is the narrow gate for each of us? What attachment or prejudice prevents us from slipping freely through the passage to greater intimacy with God? What door stands open to us now but will be closed if we do not believe, choose, act quickly and decisively to align our lives with Jesus in solidarity with the many people our world deems invisible, last in line, unworthy of concern? Jesus makes clear that it is these victims of our failure to create the common good, equal opportunity and a place at the table for all, who will be first in the Kingdom of God.

Enter by the narrow gate. Come now -- today -- and enter the house of God’s mercy before it is too late.

A Few Good Apostles

Posted on 28 October 2014 by patmarrin

“You are no longer strangers and sojouners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones” (Eph 2:19).

Jesus prays all night on the mountain, communing with his Abba, then in the morning gathers around him his disciples, and from them chooses the Twelve. He is the new Moses;they are the new representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel, the starter leaven for the transformation of the entire human family. Everything Jesus does is about fulfillment. The Law and the Prophets converge on him and on the mystery of his death and resurrection.

Among the Apostles are Simon and Jude, whose feast we celebrate today. Also chosen is Judas, who will betray Jesus. The perfect formula for completing Jesus’ redemptive work includes his betrayal, abandonment by nearly all of these chosen followers, a public and brutal death by Roman crucifixion before a jeering crowd. The Savior rejected will reject rejection and turn to embrace a sinful world with unconditional love. You can show no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. But how about an enemy? Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, making the unloved lovable, the enemy into an intimate friend. There is no tragic hero quite like this, but Jesus is no ordinary hero. He completes his sojourn and is revealed as the divine Liberator, the new Adam, the incarnate Mercy of God.

Catholic theology tells us that the Apostles are the foundation of the church and that today’s bishops are their successors. How can we know this is true? Where we find a bishop ready to lay down his life for his people, we will find a true Apostle. So we pray for our bishops, that they will live up to their calling.


Stand up for Justice

Posted on 27 October 2014 by patmarrin

"Woman, you are set free of your infirmity" (Luke 13:11).

I will take wild guess in attributing the following story, which I cannot find on Google but which is firmly etched in my memory. I think it was Dr. Tom Dooley, the young doctor who went to Southeast Asia in the late 1950s. He noted that the streets were swept by older women with short-handled brooms, which caused them to be permanently stooped over. He, or someone, introduced long-handled brooms, which allowed the women to work upright but also affected their sense of dignity and lifted their status as important workers.

Today’s Gospel story about Jesus healing the woman in the synagogue has similar multi-layered implications. The woman had been bent over for 18 years. Jesus raises her up on the Sabbath, only to be criticized by the leader of the synagogue for “working” on the day set aside for rest to imitate God, who rested on the seventh day after creating the world. The symbolism of the story is evident in the situation of a daughter of Israel bent over under the burden of the law. Jesus liberates her and restores her to uprightness. Jesus completes the creation story and fulfills the Sabbath. An unfinished world distorted and limited by sin is made whole by the gift of love, which replaces the law, whose purpose was only to guide people to love.

The story has special significance today because it is also clearly about the situation of women who carry so many burdens in male-dominated societies and even in the church. Restoring them to full dignity always has wide-reaching implications in any institution that has thrived on patterns of gender discrimination and the exclusion of women from the councils of power and decision making.

So the Word of God comes to every level of the church, from the Vatican to diocesan offices and parish ministries to church organization serving the needs of society. It is not enough to praise women for their service or speak of their feminine gifts. It is all the more incumbent on any community that claims Jesus as teacher and leader to challenge gatekeepers and rulemakers who insist that rules and rituals are more important that the welfare of people.


A Whole New World

Posted on 25 October 2014 by patmarrin

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt 22:36).

If we look at the larger context of today’s Gospel about the Great Commandment in Matthew, we find it positioned right before Jesus launches into his devastating indictment of the religious leaders of his time. Jesus has been in a series of confrontations with his critics, who want to test and trap him into saying something they can use against him.

Jesus’ response to their obtuseness and insincerity is a series of parables about God’s offer of deeper life. God is like the owner of a vineyard who sends messengers and even his own son to ask for a share of the produce. The vineyard tenants abuse and kill the servants and the son. God is a king who hosts a wedding feast for his son. The invited guests refuse to come to the feast.

The Sadducees try to trip Jesus up over the question of resurrection, and in today’s short Gospel the Pharisees quiz Jesus about the most important commandment in the Torah. He responds by reciting the sh’ma, the central prayer of Jewish life: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is God alone; you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” He then makes this inseparable to the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The leaders see their role as guardians of the Law. Jesus reduces the entire law and the message of the prophets to love, about which the rule keepers seem to know very little. The Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees have made careers of constructing a complicated and often self-empowering system of tithing, animal sacrifice and detailed rules that have more to do with money and control than love. It is no wonder they resist Jesus’ liberating message of mercy and grace. If people really believed that God is this accessible, the clergy as gatekeepers to God would be out of a job.

The Word of God comes to us in our own time. Religion itself is undergoing a revolution from power to service, legal control to listening and dialogue. A new world of greater participation, an outpouring of the Spirit, an ever widening circle of inclusion and compassion will be the result. It is time, it is absolutely necessary for the human family to move forward toward the wholeness God wants for us.

Parables in the Skies

Posted on 24 October 2014 by patmarrin

“Judge for yourselves what is right” (Luke 12:56).

Jesus uses nature’s patterns and the signs of coming weather to illustrate the obvious lessons we ought to apply to the rest of our lives. If we can predict rain by a cloud rising in the west, or a hot day tomorrow by the wind coming up from the south, why not grasp the inevitable implications of our actions. The failure to reconcile with an opponent when the problem is small can lead to much deeper divisions, hardened positions and major consequences.

As we approach the end of the church year, more and more scriptural passages will speak of reading the signs of the times to track the trajectories of what we are doing or not doing now. If we know that failure to act now will result in later crisis, we should act now, decisively and effectively, to stem the tide of complications from an unchecked problem we should have addressed when it was first presented to us.

Whether we are talking about the national crises of racial inequities in our cities and suburbs, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, global migration, climate change, or a myriad of violent international conflicts, if we do not act now the wisdom Jesus says is obvious will come back to judge us severely.

The natural world speaks to us all the time. We will reap what we sow, so sow generously to harvest a bounty of goodness. What goes around comes around, so send out compassion, justice and peace to receive it back in full measure. Conflict and competition are inevitable in life, but bitterness and failure to seek reconciliation are choices we make. Learn from the sky, the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. They teach us wisdom and patience, acceptance and prudence. Judge for yourself what is right, and then do it.


Baptism of Fire

Posted on 23 October 2014 by patmarrin

“There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and great is my anguish until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50).

We think of baptism as a spiritual cleansing from sin — original or personal – so we can emerge clean before God. While this symbolism is applicable, the deeper meaning of baptism is that we go down into the waters of death and emerge into a different kind of life as new beings. We leave behind the old self with its ego agendas and self-referencing strategies for personal survival, to take our true place within a relational and communal identity as incorporated into the crucified and risen body of Christ, destined for eternal life within the Trinity. Membership within the church is a sacramental foreshadowing of this divine destiny, when all things will be one in Christ, and Christ in God.

It is an awesome theology, and for this reason easily lost to us as abstract and unimaginable, like arriving by train in a major city bustling with humanity and asking for directions to God. How do we get from here — our faulted and conflicted selves — to there -- our glorified selves? The answer is found in today’s Gospel.

We must pass through a baptism with Christ that feels like dying, a baptism of fire that purifies our authentic self as God sees us in the future from all that is false, illusory and distorted. For Jesus, who was carrying all of sinful humanity in his body, his impending death on the cross would strip away everything that had alienated creation from its Creator. His death would put death to death and liberate the New Creation, new life animated by the Holy Spirit, poured out in gracious, reconciling love to all who opened themselves to it.

What Jesus describes in today’s Gospel is the anguish he knew was coming as new was separated from old. Liberation would mean leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of our former selves, our accommodations and complicities within the brokenness and fierce prejudices of the old order and the status and identity it gave us. We must to plunge into the waters of this new baptism not really knowing just how total its death will be to prepare us for rebirth. We stand before that baptism in rehearsal of our physical deaths, with the same fears and the same challenge to trust God completely as we let go.

Jesus went before us, the firstborn of the New Creation. As our model and pioneer, he surrendered himself completely, was then revealed as the Christ, the anointed One of God. He turns and looks at us from the other side of that baptism and says, “Don't be afraid. Come, follow me.”



Posted on 22 October 2014 by patmarrin

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much” (Luke 12:48).

Today’s Gospel about Jesus’ instruction to Peter and the other disciples about being good servants seems a perfect text for the first commemoration of St. John Paul II, who was canonized last June together with St. John XXIII.

JPII held the chair of Peter for the second longest papacy in history (1978-2005), a tumultuous period that saw the struggle for reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council, the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the second millennium. The pope used his authority to enforce orthodoxy and tighten control inside the church and his enormous popularity to take its bully pulpit and mission into the global community with trips to 129 countries. He survived a 1981 assassination attempt and in 2001 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a debilitating illness that marked his final years.

As chief shepherd of the Catholic church for 32 years, the pope bore the heavy burden of leading a divided church in a world facing continuous war and crisis. Even his canonization was caught up in the controversy of clergy sex abuse and charges that Rome had done too little too late to address the problem.

The scriptures for today’s Mass remind us that all power in the church is for the sake of service. Pope Francis reminded his brother bishops of this at the close of the Synod the Family, that whatever status they have is for the sake of serving God’s people. This is the same measure by which all Christians will be judged before God, but bishops and popes bear an especially weighty responsibility for caring for the flock entrusted to them.


May they all be one

Posted on 21 October 2014 by patmarrin

"Christ Jesus is our peace; he made the two one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity" (Eph 2:14).

The early church saw its share of conflict as its first established communities and emerging leaders hammered out a unified understanding of who Jesus is and what his mission is through his church.

The author of the letter to the Ephesians delves into St. Paul's profound insights about how the death of Jesus on the cross reconciled Jews and gentiles in God’s universal gift of salvation. Unity is the sign that God’s love has been poured on the world. The promise made to Abraham is fulfilled by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We have a powerful witness of this message of unity from Pope Francis, who addressed the 200 or so bishops at the end of the first session of the Synod on the Family with some issues still unresolved. The pope said his role was to serve the church by holding all sides together in love. The witness of the church in a divided world is to show that even profound differences need not split the community, but rather spur it on to deeper discernment to find consensus for the sake of the common good.

The church is a work in progress, like the household Jesus describes in today’s Gospel from Luke. The faithful servants must await their master’s return from a wedding. Their vigil is a time of obedience to the teaching they received, but also a time of learning and openness to what is not fully revealed. Those who think they have all the answers become rigid and severe in their treatment of others, while those who relax or neglect their role as servants bring confusion within the house.

Pope Francis has emphasized the process of growing together toward the truth about family life in today’s world. Openness is difficult for some who want the questions answered definitively. Patience is difficult for others who are eager for change. Jesus reigns within the community as its source of unity in love. "May they all be one," he prays, and so must we pray with him and for one another.


By the Grace of God

Posted on 20 October 2014 by patmarrin

“We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good work” (Eph 2:9).

Today’s commemoration of St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th-century founder of the Passionist Order, offers us a glimpse into the way grace works in long chains of influence. Started in Italy, the Passionists took root in Spain, and its missionaries were sent to Latin America. In El Salvador in the 1970s, two Passionist priests deeply influenced the conversion of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who modeled his episcopacy on the image of the shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.

The Order’s devotion to the Passion of Jesus found its true focus in the reality of the unrelenting suffering of the poor. Romero’s assassination in 1980 drew worldwide attention to the systemic violence being inflicted on the poor by ideological and economic forces propping up post-colonial regimes. Romero’s formal canonization under Pope Francis will provide the flashpoint that defines the pope’s vision of a “church of the poor, for the poor and with the poor” that will challenge the structural injustices that continue to exploit the “crucified peoples of history,” in the words of martyred Jesuit Ignacio Ellucuria.

We are invited to see the breath of the Holy Spirit in a 15-year-old Italian boy who was moved in 1709 to devote his life to the crucified Christ—stirring the heart of a reluctant bishop in Central America 260 year later, which has led to a revolution in the life of the church in the 21st century. We rejoice in how God can use any one of us to change the course of history, if only we are open to the call that comes to each of us, no matter how insignificant we might feel.