Weekly Reflections from National Catholic Reporter for 23rd week in Ordinary Time

Let us pray for people to have a change of heart and stop the VIOLENCE against each other! Starting with our LEADERS!

Pray for our world, country and church Leaders!

NCR Reflections for XXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2019

Chosen

Pencil Preaching for Tuesday, by Pat Marrin

“He spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

At the start of his ministry, Jesus is at the height of his popularity. Large crowds from Judea and the coastlands are following him. Fresh in his mind is the baptismal affirmation he received when the voice from heaven called him “beloved son,” and the deep blessing he felt as he read from the Prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me …”

Among the crowds are many aspiring disciples who hope to be chosen to accompany him on what appears to be a triumphal march from Galilee to Judea and Jerusalem. In the thrall of this energy and the many signs of success, Jesus withdraws onto the mountain to commune with his Abba to discern one of the most important decisions he will make — the selection of his inner circle of companions.

We do not know the talents and potential of the many not chosen, but if Jesus was trying to form a community representing the full range of human problems, he succeeds. Among his fishermen friends, Peter is boastful and unreliable, James and John are ambitious hotheads, Nathaniel has little confidence in anything coming out of Galilee, Matthew is a former Roman toll collector, Thomas has his doubts, Simon is a zealot, and Judas Iscariot will betray him.

If we assume that this group was inspired by Jesus’ night of prayer, then God’s plan is clearly not human success. It is a demonstration of the power of grace to redeem fallen human nature, to draw saints from among sinners and to heal a broken world not by force but by the gift of divine mercy. The disciples will be models for what love can do with human weakness.

We glimpse this process in what happens next. Jesus comes down the mountain with the Twelve and begins to minister to the crowds.  Every kind of distress and frailty is present in people, including those tormented by unclean spirits. Not just physical damage, but Jesus is able to free people from internal disorders and mental afflictions by simply touching them. Wholeness flows from him, for Jesus exhibits the image and likeness of God, the template of creation as it was in the beginning, before human nature was marred by sin.

The Twelve will live intimately with Jesus during his public ministry.  He loves each of them, including Judas. Their stories are invitations to us to come as we are into discipleship. Our membership in a faith community and through the Word and sacraments are the lifelines that keep us in touch with Jesus, whose love is gradually restoring God’s image in us.

He is coming down the mountain now after a night of prayer. He looks out over the crowd, and then he calls each of us by name.

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September 9, 2019

If I forget you

Pencil Preaching for Monday, by Pat Marrin

“Stretch out your hand” (Luke 6:10).

The scene in the synagogue is a set-up.  Jesus’ opponents have placed a man with a withered hand in the crowd to see if Jesus will heal him so they can accuse him of breaking the sabbath law of rest.

Luke’s use of the story is also a set-up to show that Jesus was not a lawbreaker but a fulfiller of the deeper law of love. The scribes and Pharisees are again cast as heartless villains in what was an ongoing quarrel between the early church and the synagogue party of rabbis who had expelled the Jesus sect from Judaism after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

It was a serious quarrel because up until that time, the Christian church was still largely Jewish and had been accepted in the Temple community as one of many variations of orthodox believers, including Gentile admirers of Judaism who observed its feasts and laws. To be expelled in the aftermath of the Roman-Jewish war was a crisis for the Christian church, which was still absorbing Gentile converts from the missionary efforts of Paul and other evangelists.

Luke dramatizes the debate to defend Jesus’ orthodoxy and also to build a deeper connection between his teaching and the original call to fidelity that the Jewish leaders had forgotten in advancing their narrow, legalistic version of God’s Covenant.  Every detail in the story is important,

The poor man selected as a pawn in the synagogue is suffering from a withered hand. We are reminded immediately of Psalm 137: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.” The speaker is a captive during the exile in Babylon, longing for his homeland. When he is asked to sing one of the songs of Zion, he vows to never forget the holy city and the Covenant God made with Israel.

In the context of Luke’s story, it is this promise that Jesus keeps by healing the man with the withered hand. The leaders who are rejecting Jesus have forgotten God’s covenant, and because of this their faith is withering.  By making the sabbath law more important than the law of love, they are choosing death instead of life. Jesus tells the man to “stretch out his hand” to show what they must do to find wholeness again.

The story ends with Jesus’ enraged enemies plotting to dispose of him. They will succeed, but even in that, they will end up revealing and fulfilling God’s plan to save Israel by the death of the Passover lamb fulfilled by Jesus. The church is the path forward because Jesus fulfilled both the Law and the Prophets by his sacrificial death.

We never stop growing as disciples. The source of our formation is never to forget that love is the heart of our faith. Love is the first commandment. Even if we have to “stretch” our discernment to put compassion before rules, this flexibility is what real life feels like, and it is far better to err on the side of love than to have our hearts wither from disuse or narrow, cautious fear of making a mistake.

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September 8, 2019

Shoulder your own life

Pencil Preaching for Sunday, by Pat Marrin

‘Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

A savvy politician will expand his message to broaden his appeal to more voters. Give them what they want to win the majority.  As Jesus’ popularity increases, he seems to be doing the exact opposite. He sharpens his message to dissuade all but the most determined followers. Only those willing to “hate” their own families, to give up their own lives, can be his disciples.

While this may be Semitic hyperbole, the message is clear. The decision to follow Jesus is absolute. No half-hearted conviction will be enough to bring a disciple through the paradoxes and sacrifices they will face in order to finish the journey he is inviting them to make with him.

Two short parables illustrate the need to assess if you have the resources to finish the course before you begin. The tower builder is a laughingstock for starting to build before he has what he needs to complete his project. The king who picks a quarrel with a rival who has twice as many soldiers as he does will end up suing for peace before he is defeated.

Not just the crowds, but Jesus’ closest disciples do not seem to understand the radical nature of his mission or the total cost of it. They only see the glory of victory after their experience of Jesus’ powerful campaign of miracles and preaching and his rising popularity as they approach Jerusalem on the eve of Passover. His repeated predictions of suffering and rejection fall on deaf ears in the din of the welcoming crowds and swirling rumors of a messianic breakthrough.

A recurring image is at the heart of Jesus’ demand for total commitment. The idea of carrying your own cross may foreshadow Jesus’ crucifixion, but more likely, some scholars say, it referred to another expression using the Greek letter tau, or T, to mean that only those willing to shoulder the burden of their own lives and decisions would be able to complete the journey.

Being carried along by the crowd, or indulging a fantasy of personal heroism, or jumping in without considering the full consequences of such a life-decision will not be enough to survive the conversion experience of laying down one’s life as Jesus was about to do.

The truth is that few of us grasp the radical nature of following Jesus. We are like the disciples who had to go through a series of baptisms before they realized the cost of imitating him, dying with him in order to rise with him. Like them, we can only continue to say “yes” to the small, daily invitations to die to ourselves for the sake of others, to listen for the voice of Jesus in our own circumstances to hear his instructions for us.

Our personal transformation in Christ and the fulfillment of our baptismal journey is not a program of self-improvement but a surrender to God’s will as it is uniquely revealed to us one step at a time. Losing ourselves to find ourselves is more than a metaphor, and the dark interval of our crossing over will be unmistakable. God loves us so much that every false self we cling to will be taken from us to prepare us for the gift of Gods image in us, our true self.  We rejoice that God will accomplish this in each of us.

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Sept. 8, 2019, Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Who locked the door? by Mary M. McGlone

One thing Jesus lacked was good PR advice. Compare any advertising you have seen with his talk about what it takes to be his follower. Unless it’s aiming to make you a Navy Seal, advertising tries to entice with comforts and perks, with the wonderful reasons for buying their product.

Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalm 90; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

Not Jesus. Just when he has a big crowd chasing after him, he turns around and tells them that if they want to follow him they have to abandon family ties, get over their instincts for self-preservation, and be ready to shoulder the worst things they can imagine. St. Teresa of Ávila tried to explain that this was a problem. She told him, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.”

Today’s Gospel suggests that many of us who assess discipleship by baptism, confirmation, liturgical ministry, etc., are far more comfortable than Jesus’ followers should expect to be. We may occasionally stand up for a principle, go beyond tithing, or open ourselves to ridicule by claiming to be Christians in the midst of more sophisticated people who have learned about religion from Marx or Freud, but that’s chicken scratch compared to what Jesus calls for in today’s Gospel.

If we want to contemplate a contemporary example of the sort of commitment Jesus is talking about, we should get to know some of the Central American migrants who abandon their homelands to seek a new life for themselves and their families. They get on the road with only what they can carry — and that might be nothing more than their infant children. They are convinced that the existence they know, disfigured as it is by violence, corruption or lethal poverty, does not measure up to the promise that is every person’s birthright. As they make their pilgrim journey, they create communities of the desperately hopeful, nurturing solidarity as a skill that allows them to survive as genuinely human beings.

Jesus advised would-be followers to calculate the cost of discipleship. He reminded them that smart people gauge the expenses before taking on a construction project. They must decide if they can afford a project that demands so many bricks per square foot at so many shekels per brick, plus labor and permits, bribes and a cushion for the unexpected. Ultimately, the key question is not the price, but how much do you want the goal? Is what you are seeking worth the cost?

Jesus was telling the crowds that following him is an all-or-nothing proposition. In that, he was living up to the reputation of Israel’s God as a jealous God. This was not the first time that he’d said something like this. Twice he sent missionaries out empty-handed, telling them to rely on the results of their preaching rather than their wallets. In his days in the desert, Jesus had to overcome temptations to autonomy in order to rely only on God’s love and leading.

Before he was born, his own mother had to give up her plans and risk her reputation so that God’s will could be fulfilled through her. Handing everything over to God was in his genes, and he wanted to bring others into the family tradition.

The Book of Wisdom says, “The deliberations of mortals are timid and unsure are our plans.”

In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to think like immortals. Lest we call that a contradiction in terms, he shows us the way. Over and over, Jesus invites us to become free of all that ties us down, of all that keeps our focus on what older religious traditions called “temporalities.” Those are things that come with a guarantee of a lifetime or less.

We can learn today from the immigrants who are fixed on hope for the future. Like our ancestors who came from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Vietnam, Korea and many other places, they are renouncing everything because they believe human life was created for something greater than the reality that surrounds them. Even more than tower-builders or generals, their journey demonstrates what it means to pay the price of discipleship.

Jesus’ command, “Do this in memory of me,” is a call to follow him along the road of total commitment. If we let the migrants challenge us to discipleship, every time we meet them or see their picture, we should ask Christ where he wants us to go and what we should leave behind.

[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph currently writing the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the U.S.]
Originally published by National Catholic Reporter. Used with permission. NCRonline.org.
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