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Be Gathered or Be Scattered

Posted on 26 October 2016 by patmarrin

"Behold, your house will be abandoned" (Luke 13:34).

Jesus' mission is cloaked in paradox. After a campaign of preaching and miracles, he arrives in Jerusalem, where his ultimate victory will begin with his crucifixion. He confronts the city with the lament that he wanted to gather everyone like a mother hen rounding up her chicks under her wings. Instead, Jesus is rejected and the fate of Jerusalem is sealed by the obtuseness of its leaders. On track to apocalyptic disaster, charlatans and so-called patriots will take the nation down in a war with Rome that destroys the city and kills or scatters its residents.

The paradox is that in death Jesus is affirmed and raised by God as a sign of divine mercy for sinners. The destruction of Jerusalem thrusts the church into the larger world where it will become the dominant influence on the world stage. Paul preaches the "paschal mystery" to both Jews and gentiles as the underlying pattern of history itself. By dying, we rise to new life. By surrendering ourselves to the common good, we advance the transformation of history with justice and love. What war and threat of force can never accomplish, God's Holy Spirit does in holy people and heroes of peace and nonviolence over the centuries.

We bring this mystery down to our daily lives by saying "yes" to the inner transformation the Spirit offers us now. Jesus stands before our world pleading with it to reject death and choose life. The tears Jesus wept at the gates of Jerusalem are the waters of baptism shed over us to cleanse us from selfishness and fear. The blood of Jesus' death surges in our earthly bodies joined to his Risen Body in every Eucharist we receive. The old creation is passing away. We are part of the New Creation in Jesus Christ. Let us live fully this gift of new life today, for this is the joy of the Gospel.

The Narrow Gate

Posted on 25 October 2016 by patmarrin

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

One of the hardest messages Jesus had to deliver was to the self-assured people who assumed that because they were observant Jews, members of the Chosen People, that they would automatically find favor with God.

He uses the image of a “narrow gate,” perhaps the same image he used in describing how hard it would be for a camel to pass through the “eye of a needle.” Some commentators say there was in fact a very narrow entry into the city for travelers and caravans arriving after the larger city gates had been shut and bolted for the night. In order to pass, a camel had to be stripped of all its packs to fit through this gate. Just so, a person preoccupied by material possessions and self-righteous attitudes will not be able to fit through the door of humility and love.

Likewise, Jesus was suggesting that anyone seeking intimacy with God had to leave behind all pride, sense of entitlement or accumulated merit. If heaven can be bought with status, privilege, wealth or connections, only important people will get in. If heaven can be earned with religious observance, perfect obedience to the law and unblemished moral purity, only saints will get in.

But this is the point. Heaven is not a reward, but a relationship with God, who sees the heart and shows mercy to the humble sinner who knows his or her unworthiness for such a total gift, and our human inability to ever love enough to match God’s generosity.

Anyone who has ever found true friendship or fallen in love knows that these miracles can never be obtained in a calculated way, won by great effort or expected because we are worthy. Love happens, friendship is a gift, love is a mysterious journey of the heart we only understand after we have experienced it. All we will ever know for sure is profound gratitude that someone has chosen us and called us through the narrow gate.

A Revolution Within

Posted on 24 October 2016 by patmarrin

"What is the Kingdom of God like?" (Luke 13:18).

Jesus preached a revolution, first in the heart, then in the world until it has transformed everything. To describe it, Jesus told parables, little stories using images that, like the process itself, were simple, subtle, invisible yet potent.

The will of God enters our consciousness, then our motives and actions, like a tiny mustard seed. Once we allow it into the garden of our hearts, it takes root and spreads. Or it is like yeast a woman mixes with flour that rises to make fragrant, delicious loaves of bread for everyone.

Audiences enchanted by these parables soon realized that the levels of meaning kept going deeper and asked new questions and made more challenges to those who had ears to hear and hearts ready to respond to God's invitation.

A mustard seed was hard to control once it began to multiply. A sensible farmer might not want mustard trees attracting birds. But this is how God works, bringing new life we cannot limit or control into our careful lives.

The woman hiding yeast in three measures of flour is making enough bread to feed a whole village. Can a woman exercise such mysterious influence in the community?

We are invited to let the parables of Jesus enter our imaginations today. How does your garden grow? Have you planted little inspirations that are quietly transforming your thoughts and feelings, compelling you to act in new ways? Is some mysterious hope rising within you like yeast at work in the hidden recesses of your motives, encouraging you to be more active on behalf of others, especially the needy all around you.

The adage, "Be careful what you pray for; you might get it" comes to mind. What is God doing within you that will soon be beyond your control, enlarging your life, starting a revolution?

Jesus Loves Women

Posted on 23 October 2016 by patmarrin

Author’s Note: Beginning today, Sunday, Oct 23, Pencil Preaching will post a day ahead of the calendar to accommodate preachers who have requested this to provide suggestions for their daily homilies. Readers can always find the thought for the day by scrolling down to the previous entry. Thanks to those who find these short reflections helpful. I encourage anyone to make the daily readings their way to enter the prayer of the global church by reading and praying over the Lectionary being proclaimed around the world each day in the liturgy.

Pencil Preaching for Monday, Oct 24, 2016

"The crowds rejoiced at all the marvelous deeds Jesus was doing" (Luke 13:17).

Much focus has been given recently to the issue of respect for women. Men have been challenged to examine their stereotypes and attitudes toward women's bodies. The larger culture, which continues to objectify and denigrate female beauty in sexually suggestive advertising and Internet porn, is being called out. Basic questions about fairness in women's compensation, healthcare research and social roles are on the table.

In today's Gospel, a crippled woman us healed, and a synagogue official scolds Jesus for violating the law about "working" on the Sabbath. The scene is familiar as one of many "tests" Jesus' enemies set up to discredit him. In another story, a woman caught in adultery is paraded before Jesus to see if he will oppose the law about stoning sinners. The Sadducees cynically test Jesus about a woman married to seven brothers to challenge the idea of resurrection.

In each instance, the women are used as objects by men with disregard for their personal welfare or identity. But in each instance, Jesus addresses the women as persons and acts to protect their dignity. In today's gospel, he calls the crippled woman a "daughter of Abraham" before restoring her to health. Her 18 years of bondage suggests an even deeper lesson, that since Abraham was called 18 centuries before, no legal requirement had ever saved anyone. Only grace can liberate, as he is doing that day in the synagogue by liberating the woman from the burden of the law by loving her.

We are all called to give love the first place in our lives and our expectations of one another. Love fulfills every law and sets us free. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Mercy Welcomes Us All

Posted on 22 October 2016 by patmarrin

“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else” (Luke18:9).

As the Year of Mercy draws to a close, we might ask just what Pope Francis hoped would happen to the church. His signature message about God’s mercy permeates every other message he has advanced: The recovery of the joy of the Gospel; the primacy of love in promoting morality; a more pastoral approach to people struggling with the church’s ideals; greater humility on the part of clergy; parishes as field hospitals freely dispensing the “medicine of mercy”; evangelization that goes to the margins, where suffering and uncertainty are the greatest.

Mercy places all of us before God -- including the pope himself -- as sinners. We are simply incapable by our own merits of "earning" the gift of salvation. The self-righteous and those who judge others have not begun to understand what God wants of them. Standing apart from other people, we separate ourselves from God. Only when we realize that, even if we have done everything perfectly, we cannot claim eternal life with God as a reward, only then can we grasp the reality of hesed, God’s unconditional and undeserved love for us, mere creatures totally dependent on God for everything, including our virtue and our very existence.

This is what the pope wants all of us to understand and live. God’s utter graciousness to us has to be passed on to others. No one is in a superior position to judge another. No one can lord it over others or set conditions for God’s mercy. All are welcome. Jesus seeks out sinners and eats with them. The Good Shepherd goes looking for lost sheep. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. All of his hand-picked Apostles were failures, losers and sinners who underwent conversion to find mercy.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican capture this message perfectly. A proud, self-righteous perfectionist goes home clueless and untouched by mercy. A notorious sinner begging for grace goes home justified. We can easily apply these caricatures to people we know, even politicians, but there is a trap in the story we should not fall into.

As with many other parables Jesus told comparing saints and sinners, the catch is that we are all both. Humility is the key to grasping this. If we are living a good life, it is because of mercy. If we are in need of conversion, mercy is always available and necessary. No one can judge another. We are all in this together, pilgrims on the way to God because God has called us and is sustaining us on the way.

Author’s Note: Beginning tomorrow, Sunday, Oct 23, Pencil Preaching will post a day ahead of the calendar to accommodate preachers who have requested this to provide suggestions for their daily homilies. Readers can always find the thought for the day by scrolling down to the previous entry. Thanks to those who find these short reflections helpful. I encourage anyone to make the daily readings their way to enter the prayer of the global church by reading and praying over the Lectionary being proclaimed around the world each day in the liturgy.

Reconcile Now, Free Yourself

Posted on 21 October 2016 by patmarrin

"I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (Luke 12:59).

Jesus was a preacher and not a therapist, but the imagery he uses in describing the need for reconciliation shows his deep understanding of how forgiveness sets us free.

"Settle early and quickly" is his first lesson. Arguments allowed to simmer and sink into our hurt feelings and pride are much harder to resolve if we let them continue over night. "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" is a wise counsel, especially for married couples. A simple heartfelt apology can open up a conversation that clears the air, while withdrawing into separate camps to review our grievance and rehearse our comeback only guarantees that the problem will grow and attach itself to every other perceived hurt in the relationship.

Jesus describes the process in legal terms. If we decide to litigate, the case will go to the lawyers, then to the judge, and someone will go to jail. His last detail is truly descriptive. "You will not be released until the last penny is paid." Reconciliation is not achieved until the issue is settled totally. So deal with one another early and thoroughly. Reconciliation sets both participants free. The relationship is saved and can go forward.

If there is some unresolved conflict in your life, today is the day of salvation. A letter, email, phone call or, even better, a face to face conversation with someone who has hurt you or you have hurt can open the door to a renewed life and a liberated conscience. God will always give the graces needed to accomplish this. All that is needed is the decision to initiate.

Baptismal Transformation

Posted on 20 October 2016 by patmarrin

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

The long election campaign leading up to November 8 in the United States is about more than political leadership. Profound cultural changes are exposing conflicts that go to the level of ideas, attitudes and assumptions about who will control the identity and direction of the country. People will vote more than their pocketbooks or patriotism; they will be voting their deepest beliefs and values, their darkest fears and prejudices, in a battle for the future that touches the roots of class, religion, race and ideology.

In today's gospel, Jesus describes the Good News as a revolution requiring a "baptism of fire" he and his followers would have to undergo to begin the transformation of human history itself. Another image he often used was childbirth. The world was pregnant with God's Will, and only in anguish and pain would a new creation be born. Powerful forces were being marshaled against him and the conversion he preached. The status quo of money and power, tribal and family loyalty, religious control and imperial designs masking Satanic resistance were at work deep within the culture.

Luke's gospel describes the generational divide and family conflicts that had opened up as the fledgling church drew converts from Jewish enclaves and from the gentile world. Parents disowned their children, conservatives blamed the new radicals for disrupting the community and destroying traditional values. The followers of Jesus were heretics who brought Roman persecution. Paul was demonized for dividing the Jerusalem church and trashing Mosaic Law. Diversity was polluting the purity of blood and ideology of the First Covenant community. For some, the rise of the church signaled the end of the world.

For us today, baptism must go beyond ritual to the reality of embracing a unique perspective and total commitment to "put on Christ" in a way that changes us from the inside out. Radical discipleship is redundant. Every baptized person is a new creation, like leaven within society and culture, ready to advance the transformation that is the goal of evangelization.

The Holy Spirit is the new life that invites us to take a deep breath and go forward each day.
Our baptism of fire and rebirth in hope is a daily affair, undertaken with courage and joy.

Get Up, Show Up, Do Your Best

Posted on 19 October 2016 by patmarrin

"To whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48).

We might apply Luke's parable of the steward in charge of the household to any church organization from diocese to parish. No doubt, Luke was writing for the early church as much as recalling Jesus' instructions to his Apostles 50 years earlier.

The early church had survived the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the great diaspora of both Jews and Christians into the Mediterranean world as far away as north Africa and Rome. Expectation of the parousia-- the return of Jesus in glory-- was in the air but slowly subsiding as church leaders realized that Jesus' Holy Spirit was at work in history for the long haul.

Yet, the image of a "thief in the night" still warned church leaders to be vigilant. Jesus could come at any time, and those stewards who were taking their ease and abusing others would be held accountable. We catch glimpses of the culture of household servants (slaves) who were regularly beaten by their masters. It is hardly an antiquated example for today's world, proficient in exploiting workers and trafficking women and children.

For Luke, quoting Jesus, the point was that for those of us blessed by grace to focus our lives on Christ, vigilance is how we stay faithful in every season. Whether in crisis or in the long stretches of ordinary responsibility, do your duty, stay the course, know that God is always watching. The evil of the day is sufficient thereof, as are the blessings. Those who have been entrusted with more will be held to a higher standard. So live each day fully and do your best.


Harvest Time

Posted on 18 October 2016 by patmarrin

"The harvest time is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvet to send out laborers for the harvest" (Luke 10:2).

We could not have a better reading than this for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. The seed of hope sown by Jesus -- his own body surrendered in death for the life of the world -- was what Luke and the other evangelists also scattered. Luke's Gospel has produced new harvests in every generation. To read and accept his narrative and parables is to imagine in faith God's plan of salvation for the world.

We are today both seed and sowers. If we give our lives to show the power of grace to transform everyone with love and peace, we are contributing to the next generation's harvest, even as we received our faith from our forbears and mentors. So the work of evangelization continues, ever expanding and taking root in our families, our culture and our society.

Luke's Gospel is often called the gospel of women, healing and mercy. He portrays the Jesus formed from infancy by Joseph and Mary, then by the many women he called to be evangelists with him. Luke extends the story of Jesus into the growth of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows how the church did everything Jesus had done under the power of the Holy Spirit.

We celebrate Luke by imitating him. There is a "gospel according to [your name]" that only you can write and preach. Every act you perform is the sowing of another seed by another apostle. If we sow generously, others will reap abundantly. Our self-emptying love promotes the life-giving love of the next generation. Is this not the joy of the Gospel, to be a part of this ongoing harvest? Let us do out part, and God will send forth other laborers to multiply the good we do in union with Christ, for the salvation of the world.


You Go, Girl!

Posted on 15 October 2016 by patmarrin

“Render me a just decision” (Luke 18:3).

Luke is often identified as the evangelist for women, and today’s gospel reading gives us a good example of his sensitive support for women’s issues.

In Jesus’ day, judges were enormously powerful figures who could rule on both religious and civil disputes. A corrupt judge was a scourge upon the society and a disgrace before God and the people he was supposed to serve. In the parable Jesus tells, the judge was haughty, biased, and unjust, serving his own interests and the needs of those he favored while disregarding the rights of the poor.

You could not be poorer or more vulnerable than a widow, lacking wealth or family, husband or son to represent your cause. Yet, because of her persistence, this widow wore down the unjust judge until she got her ruling.

The parable has two purposes: Jesus uses her example to urge anyone discouraged by life’s injustices to persist in prayer. After all, God, the ultimate judge, unlike the corrupt judge in the story, was eager to help the most vulnerable. But we should not miss the scathing attack on a corrupt legal system or his rebuke of the hypocrisy of religious leaders,

Jesus was on a collision course with power that would cost him his life. He goes to the cross for defending the poor, widows and orphans, outcasts and sinners. And women. The women he knew responded to his defense of their rights and dignity by being the ones who stood by him at the cross. He blessed them in return by making them the first witnesses to his resurrection.

Jesus stands with women today against anyone who would insult, abuse or threaten them. Their endurance, persistence and prayer will not go unanswered by the God Jesus revealed. That God, beyond male or female, is both Father and Mother to all of us, but especially to those the world has exploited and discounted. We are invited to pray for justice, and to persist against every obstacle or prejudice until those who oppress others are exposed and overthrown.