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Showtime for Sparrows

Posted on 14 October 2016 by patmarrin

"There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed" (Luke 12:3).

Reality is more real than a reality show, and truth endures and surfaces eventually, despite every effort to keep lies and illusions going. History teaches this lesson over and over again. The Truth will out. Imposters and hypocrites, no matter how hard they try to conceal their motives, will be exposed. The "big" lies, hiding like coiled, poisonous snakes in the layers of culture and protected by powerful interests, wither and die in the light of truth.

Jesus dares to call out the hypocrites and the powerful of his time. The crowds surge to hear such bold talk. His message is the the cry of the poor and the oppressed of history. His promise is the same promise his mother sang of in her Magnificat before he was born. The powerful will be pulled from their thrones, the rich and self-satisfied will be sent away empty while God's anawim will celebrate at the banquet of love.

For exposing the nerve of complicity between wealth and power, Jesus faced the fury of this world and died on a cross as a warning to other truth-tellers. But he rose again and reappears in every voice and movement for truth and justice, an unstoppable force on the side of good, affirming that reality as stronger than fantasy and that God is in control of history.

Jesus ends his indictment of hypocrisy with a word of comfort for those discouraged by what they see as the triumph of evil in the world. "Don't be afraid. If God watches over the sparrows, the smallest of birds, will God not care for you?" We are like tiny sparrows, lifted up against threatening skies and gathering storms. But God sees us and will never stop loving us. This is the joy of the Gospel.



Posted on 13 October 2016 by patmarrin

"They were plotting to catch Jesus at something he might say" (Luke 11:54).

As the U.S. elections come down to the wire, the media are flooded with attack ads depicting the candidates in the worst possible light for everything negative or questionable they have ever said or done. The presidential contest has become a race to the bottom to unearth the most lurid scandal or criminal charge imaginable to persuade or scare voters from supporting either candidate.

Political historians can assure you that this is nothing new, but today's social media and web reporting have accelerated and saturated global attention with 24-7 coverage of every skirmish or disclosure, whatever its actual merits or motivation.

Luke's gospel today tells us that Jesus was subjected to this kind of vicious scrutiny in his stand-off with the religious leaders of his day. They tried to undermine his reputation, declare him a heretic, bring down Roman power on his head and even divide his movement with secret plots to betray, arrest and execute him.

What brought the gentle, patient Jesus we know from so many gospel stories to this level of indignation and counter attack? Jesus reserves his sharpest rebukes for leaders he saw as hypocrites, those who said one thing and did another, who used their positions to mislead others and who, in effect, were blocking access to God's mercy by ordinary people who looked to them for guidance and compassion. "You hold the keys, but do not enter and keep others from entering!" he says to those who were using legalism and theological confusion to condemn others in need of God's mercy.

The doors are open and the light is on for anyone looking for God. This is the joy of the Gospel, and no authority on earth can prevent people from encountering the loving face of God in time of need, failure and sin. There are no toll gates or moral checkpoints that can keep people from forgiveness and union with the merciful Abba Jesus revealed in himself and in his preaching. He gave his life on the cross that we might have the gift of eternal life.

It is always darkest before the dawn, so let us walk forward together into the light, saint and sinner, winner and loser, whole and broken. All are welcome. God calls us friends and waits to embrace us at the door to eternity.



Posted on 12 October 2016 by patmarrin

"You are like unseen graves over which people walk unknowingly" (Luke 11:44).

Jesus reservef his harshest criticism for religious leaders who misled and exploited the people they were supposed to be guiding. He called them "hypocrites," a Greek word meaning one who wears a mask. They appeared to be upright and caring, but underneath were self-serving and blinded by their own sense of importance. They killed the Spirit of God within themselves, and were therefore like dead men's graves, whitewashed on the surface but containing corruption and skeletons. They kept the small rules but failed to obey the greatest commandment to love.

Jesus' greatest indictment was that these so-called moral guides had piled rules and scruples on the shoulders of struggling people, but had done nothing to help them.

St. Paul tells the Galatians that integrity rests on which spirit you exhibit. Whatever we appear to be, what reveals our true character is who we are inside. He contrasts the qualities of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, patience, gentleness, self-control, with the enslavement of others who indulge in rancor, envy, jealously, divisiveness, impurity and selfishness.

Jesus has said that God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks for it. We must pray for the Spirit, but then be ready to surrender our entire lives, inside and out, to that Spirit, for holiness is wholeness. There can be no half measure or compromise in our desire to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit. But this is the path to joy, peace and love. What more can we want out of life than this?


Good Pope John

Posted on 11 October 2016 by patmarrin

"Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free, so stand free and do not submit to the yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).

It is more than coincidence that today's Lectionary selections mark the church's commemoration of St. Pope John XXIII.

In St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, he opposed those in the early church who insisted that converts to Christianity, especially gentiles, observe the Mosaic Law, including circumcision. This legalism, Paul argued, negates the gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. In today's gospel from Luke, Jesus challenged the legalism of the Pharisees over ritual cleanliness while ignoring inner purity of the heart.

When Pope John convened Vatican II in 1959 as a pastoral council, he faced stiff opposition from traditionalists who demanded strict adherence to doctrine and rules as the most important sign of Catholic identity. Pope John insisted that the "medicine of mercy" and openness within the church and to the world were the key to a much needed renewal of the church's mission.

Pope Francis has echoed the voice and spirit of Pope John in his emphasis on God's mercy as the heart of the gospel. He seeks a renewal of the pastoral church as a "field hospital" and has challenged his fellow bishops to give primacy to the care of people struggling to meet the legal ideals the church teaches. Some in the hierarchy have publicly opposed Francis as being too lenient with sinners, while the pope has said that he himself is a sinner in need of the gift of mercy. We are all sinners, and no one has ever earned salvation by keeping the rules. It is God's gift given to anyone who trusts God and opens his heart in faith.

St. Paul rejoices in the freedom Christ has won for us all by his death and resurrection. It is a freedom that frees us from obsessive fear over our failures or the need to judge others. But it also places us under the "law" of love, which challenges us far more than any set of rules. With the help of God's grace, we walk in love, from the heart and in everything we say and do. This was St. Pope John's vision for the church, and we rejoice today to celebrate his life and influence.

The Sign of Jonah

Posted on 10 October 2016 by patmarrin

"This is an evil generation that seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah" (Luke 11:29).

Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was mentioned by Pope Francis in his address to the U.S. Congress as an example of an American Catholic who had been a prophetic voice on the justice issues this country faced in the 1950s and 60s. Merton, who lived in a cloister in Kentucky, emerged through his writings as the conscience of a generation. He described himself as living in the "belly of a paradox" like Jonah, the reluctant prophet. He had left the world to be a monk, yet challenged the world from that still point and, even in death, became a sign of contradiction to the violence, racism and exploitation of his own country.

Jesus challenged his own generation with the sign of Jonah, saying they expected God to give them a special sign to repent, while they had ignored the prophetic call already before them to practice justice and compassion. The Ninevites had repented at the preaching of Jonah. The Queen of the South had come all the way to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. But the current generation had rejected one more powerful than either Jonah or the Queen of the South when he preached conversion of heart. They would receive no other sign. The crucifixion of Jesus was their answer, and disaster followed.

In Pope Francis' call for radical change in global capitalism, environmental destruction, income inequality and violent exploitation of the world's poorest people, do we not hear the voice of both Jonah and Jesus? They challenge an "evil" generation, blind and procrastinating before urgent problems that threaten the survival of the planet and global order. Repent while there is still time. God's mercy must meet our justice to be effective.

As we enter the autumn and approach winter, even the seasons plead with us to know the shortness of our days and the paradox of dying to self to give life to others. While there is still time, let us seize the day and do our part in prayer an action to heed the call of Pope Francis and the gospel he is preaching. There will be no other sign, and no further sign is needed.

Saving Touch

Posted on 08 October 2016 by patmarrin

“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:18).

The gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with the 10 lepers is certainly about the importance of gratitude, but there are other dimensions to it as well. One of these is Jesus’ outreach to those on the margins. Lepers were some of the most outcast people in a society fearful of contagion. They were “unclean” physically, driven out of the community and even their own families, but also seen as under judgment from God. Curiously, among them is a Samaritan leper, twice outcast for his disease and as a hated foreigner, yet part of the motley group of Jewish lepers.

Jesus lets these “untouchables” approach close enough to cry out for pity. He sends them to the priests to show themselves for validation as fit to reenter the community, and on the way they discover that they have been healed. The nine Jewish ones go joyfully as instructed to the priests, but the Samaritan, awestruck that even he was healed by this Jewish preacher Jesus, returns to thank him.

He falls at Jesus’ feet. Something more than a physical healing has occurred: The Samaritan leper has been “saved.” He has felt and responded to the deeper gift of eternal life flowing from Jesus. “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you,” Jesus says. The Samaritan has been “raised up” beyond human healing to new life in union with Jesus. The other nine were healed, but have yet to understand the deeper invitation to eternal life that comes with faith in Jesus.

Pope Francis’ call to leave the comfort zone at the center to go to the margins of the church is explicit in today’s Gospel. Jesus is among the outcasts, the poor, the unclean, aliens, refugees and strangers, regardless of their race or religious faith. To welcome them, even sinners and enemies, is to accompany Jesus beyond the borders of theological and cultural security in a world polarized by fear. This is where the Good News is needed and where we come alive to the new life Jesus gives to us as disciples.

May our eucharistic assemblies and pulpits ring out with the joy of the gospel this weekend, and may our communities welcome the rich human diversity God draws to Jesus every day. We are all untouchable until we know the healing touch he gives freely to anyone who comes to him. Once blessed, our own touch extends to others the same compassion and risen life we have received. This is the meaning of our baptismal cleansing and mission to the world.

A Kingdom Divided Against Itself

Posted on 07 October 2016 by patmarrin

"If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20.

Jesus' critics were confounded by his apparent command over evil, and so they accused him of being in league with Evil. He exposes the absurdity of this by asking if evil would drive out evil. No, power divided against itself would collapse. The only explanation for his authority over demons is that it is from God. He is the "finger of God" that heals and restores everything he touches.

This gospel passage goes on to describe a person who gets free from one evil spirit but fails to fill his life with a good spirit. His "house" is unprotected and soon invaded again by even more evil.

What a powerful description this is of the recovery process from addiction without building a counter force to the original causes of dependency. Temporary success turns to self-deception, which opens the door to compulsion and need, and the victim is back to old habits. As AA predicts, without replacing the spirit of dependency (the "stinking thinking") with new habits and a new life-giving spirit, the addiction only tightens its death grip.

Discipleship is not just an option but a matter of life and death. Faith is not just an idea but a personal surrender to the embrace of a loving God, which alone can protect us from the lure of counterfeit lifestyles and empty promises to make us happy and free. We cannot serve both truth and lies, evil and good, or we will be a house divided waiting to come crashing down in a moment of crisis.

But grace is always stronger than sin; love is stronger than death. God is the "higher power" always there when we ask for help, especially through the community of support we all need to become whole.


A Knock at Midnight

Posted on 06 October 2016 by patmarrin

"Knock and the door will be opened" (Luke 11:10).

Why should we pray? Does it really influence the outcome of any situation we are concerned about? Does it change anything in the unfolding series of causes and effects that underlie physical reality?

Jesus encourages us to pray with many parables and images that affirm God's presence in our lives. An intimate and trusting relationship with God ought to reassure us that however things work out, God's loving purposes are always at work, always cooperating with our efforts to bring about good.

Today's gospel compares human persistence and logic to God's readiness to bless anyone who asks for help. A man wakes his neighbor in the middle of the night to get bread for a surprise guest at his house. The reluctant, irritated householder gives him what he asks because of his persistence. The point Jesus makes is how much more will God hear us if we ask, seek and knock. If parents know enough not to give scorpions and snakes to their children asking for eggs and bread, will not our loving Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?

To pray is to participate in God's desire for good in our lives. If prayer does not change God, it often changes us. If prayer is not simply presenting a list of our wants and wishes to God to be automatically, even miraculously, fulfilled, it actually engages us in doing our part to meet human needs. When we pray, we are inspired and motivated to act. Grace joins our effort and our perseverance to find the outcome that is best for us and others.

Do we trust our Father enough to take all our needs to him in prayer? If we do, not only will our relationship with God deepen, we will learn to be instruments of divine purpose, the hands, feet, hearts and faces that reveal God to others in need. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Posted on 05 October 2016 by patmarrin

"Father, hallowed by your name ..." (Luke 11:2).

The setting for this gospel account has Jesus praying while his disciples observe him. We can only imagine what it was about Jesus that moved them to ask him to teach them how to pray, but there must have been something in his posture, gestures and demeanor that struck them.

The prayer he taught them was more than words. He invited them to step into his own relationship with the Abba, his intimate name for God. The prayer is short and reflects all the elements of the most basic prayer every Jew said each day: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your spirit and all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Likewise, the "Our Father" commits us to a total surrender to God, then demands reconciliation with neighbor as the sign we are one with God.

The essence of the prayer is an intimate union with God and with one another. The whole thrust of the Good News is that God is inviting us into the divine life, unconditional love received and shared. This is the life of Christ, the communion we are incorporated into at baptism. This is the life of every disciple: We are the children of God, and our mission is to extend the Beloved Community Jesus initiated by our love and service of others. We pray the Our Father together at every Mass, right before we receive Communion, the sign of our identity and mission.

To say the Our Father frequently is to remind ourselves of who we are and why every day holds meaningful ways to deepen our relationship with God and one another. As a kind of Christian GPS built into our hearts, this prayer will keep us the path through life to eternity. For when we pray it, we are standing right next to Jesus in a face-to-face moment of love with our Abba, our merciful Father.

Listen, Then Serve

Posted on 04 October 2016 by patmarrin

"There is need of only one thing" (Luke 10:42).

The Feast of st. Francis of Assisi today gives us a chance to reflect on the readings in the light of his extraordinary life and charism and, also, on the work of Pope Francis.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells how his entire life was turned upside down by his encounter with the crucified and risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He goes from being Saul, persecutor of the church, to Paul, Apostle to the nations.

St. Francis also underwent a profound conversion from soldier to saint, the patron of creation and the Gospel of poverty and simplicity. His gentile spirit and example became the impetus for a larger reform within the medieval church from wealth and power to greater authenticity. Pope Francis, in choosing the name Francis invoked the saint's commitment to the environment and to a church of the poor for the poor.

In today's gospel reading from Luke, the familiar story of Jesus' visit to the home of Martha and Mary reminds us that before we can serve we must first listen. Mary is praised for understanding this as she sits at the feet of Jesus while her sister frets about preparing the meal. Both forms of hospitality are needed, of course, but prayer is what informs our ministry. St. Francis was first a mystic and contemplative, entirely focused on God. But from that intimate encounter with Jesus, Francis knew his vocation to promote simplicity and service to the poor as the mission God was calling him and the order he founded to carry out.

Pope Francis has taken this same spiritual compass in focusing the church on the joy of the Gospel -- knowing Christ in our hearts, in the poor and in the gift of planet Earth, our fragile, common home. Francis' witness to the poor has challenged a global economic system that must respect workers and the environment if the world is to survive.

St. Francis invites us today to find Christ in our own lives, to listen to his voice and follow his lead as he goes among the poor. Pope Francis invites us to know the joy of the Gospel and the primacy of love in all our relationships. This is God's will, pure and simple, and whatever we need to live it will be provided. Thanks be to God.