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I Have Chosen You

Posted on 29 April 2016 by patmarrin

"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last" (John 15:16).

Perhaps it is only in retrospect that we begin to understand that our lives have been shaped and directed by God's grace. Of course, we must make decisions, respond to opportunities, face adversity and seem to be guiding ourselves. But in the end, anything of lasting value we accomplish is revealed as pure gift, the result of being given resources and relationships that lift us up out of individual effort to something larger than we could ever have imagined.

This was certainly true of Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today. Catherine was gifted by God from childhood with an extraordinary sense of the divine presence. She rose from obscurity to guide governments and counsel popes. She was unlettered, yet produced a profound theology of the Incarnation of Jesus from her intimate encounters with him in prayer. In her brief 33 years, she changed the course of church history and left us with the model of woman who would not take no for an answer once she saw what needed to be done.

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, "You did not choose me; I chose you." Our yes to him carries us into the mystery of the Incarnation, God present in the flesh, our flesh, our lives active in the world. We rejoice to be part of the body of Christ, the community of men and women whose very lives have become love stories and adventures in grace.

Remain in My Love

Posted on 28 April 2016 by patmarrin

"Remain in my love" (John 15:9).

Constancy is the secret of any enduring relationship, whether a friendship or a marriage. People who stay in love over time build familiarity into continuity, develop precious trust that comes from having survived together through the best of the times and the worst of times.

Jesus invites us into this kind of relationship over time. If we "remain in love," we will realize that he is always there, through every dark night, every loss and disappointment. He surrounds us with patience, pulls us through the bad times when we are ready to give up on ourselves and can't believe that anyone, even God, could still love us.

This is the "Joy of Love" Pope Francis writes about in his exhortation on the family. It is not the euphoria of passion or pure affirmation all the time, but rather the steady accompaniment of people who really know us and believe in us no matter what. It survives the seasons of life, the stages of failure and recovery, it blesses and encourages us when we ago astray and make mistakes or are ready to quit.

Wherever communities survive there are usually lots of love stories going on, especially long-term commitments, tried, true and tested friendships that keep the group going when discouragement hits or everyone is tired or bored with every day maintenance. Over time, everyone realizes what a gift it is to belong to such a community. When everything else fails, it helps to define and motivate us to be much larger than any one individual.

The church is going through some hard times, lots of disillusionment and serious failings to face and deal with. A lot of people have given up and left. Now is the time to remain in love, to be part of the problem solving and hard effort every mature community has to grow through in order to go forward. The good news is that Jesus is with us, always and everywhere, encouraging us to love one another. He is that constant light in the darkness, all the brighter and clearer because we need it so much.

The Joy of Love

Posted on 27 April 2016 by patmarrin

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Pope Francis' letter to the church, "The Joy of Love," is the culmination of the two sessions of the Synod on the Family. It contains the pope's summary observation and guidance on a wide range of issues. The letter has been praised for its open-ended and creative approach to many questions about marriage, divorce, sexuality and family. It has also been criticized by some church leaders who believe these matters are closed to any further discussion.

If anyone thought the letter of the law was the final word in church teaching, today's readings from Acts 15 provides a window into the process the early church actually engaged in to decide fundamental questions about how to broker a Jewish church into the gentile world. Traditionalists thought all converts had to submit to circumcision and full observance of the Mosaic Law. Others, led by St, Paul, asserted that faith in Jesus was sufficient to receive God's grace of salvation.

The debate was resolved at the first formal church council meeting in Jerusalem, which sided with Paul's understanding of the creative freedom the church had to adapt tradition to evolving needs and questions as the church expanded into uncharted territory on its way to permeating the whole Mediterranean world.

A dynamic tension between tradition and innovation, law and love, has always marked the life of the church. Pope Francis' letter reflects this dynamism as he tries to move the church forward by emphasizing pastoral needs over theological and legal approaches that have excluded so many "irregular" situations from church life. He has placed the burden of discernment and compassion on bishops and clergy who are called to minister to millions of Catholics struggling to live out their Christian faith in the real world.

As today's Gospel reminds us all, traditionalist and progressive alike, the only absolute measure of God's will for us is Jesus himself. His compassionate heart and challenging call to discipleship are the authentic path to life. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Get Ready

Posted on 26 April 2016 by patmarrin

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27).

At this point in the 50-day Easter season, the Lectionary readings are already beginning to turn the corner from the celebration of Jesus' resurrection to his departure (Ascension, May 5) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, May 15).

In human terms, we might imagine our closest friend telling us that in a few weeks they would be going away, but to trust that they always be with us to support and love us. For the disciples, the trauma of Jesus' death on the cross, then his astonishing reappearance in the resurrection, is now leading to the most critical transition in the life of the church. The power of presence of God in Jesus will be transferred into them; they will become the body of Christ in the world.

The beautiful Last Supper discourses in John's Gospel are about this transition. Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid when he is gone. He must "return to the Father" so that the Holy Spirit can come. If he remains, they will be focused and dependent on him and never go through the birthing experience that makes them his presence in the world. No institution has survived and grown without this transfer of the charism of the founder into the next generation of leaders.

The disciples of Jesus seem totally unprepared for this transfer of responsibility. We can take some comfort in their sense of inadequacy, for isn't this our own anxiety? How can we, weak human beings, ever be the presence of Jesus to one another and to the world? Yet this is exactly what Jesus promises us as we approach Pentecost. "Stay in the city. Gather together in prayer. Open your minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit. Let the terrible emptiness you feel be the space into which the Spirit will come. Be pregnant with God; give birth to God through your lives and your service to others. Let the miracle of grace happen. Rejoice to be part of the redemptive transformation of history, for this is the glory you were destined to help carry out."

Do we believe this? The first sign that God is at work in us is the stirring in us of faith in anticipation of what God wants to do in us and through us. Get ready. Something wonderful is about to happen.

Question Mark Gospel

Posted on 25 April 2016 by patmarrin

"They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them" (Mark 16:20).

The last lines of Mark's Gospel are an appropriate tribute to him on his feast day as one of the evangelists who told the story of Jesus. Thought to be the first of the four Gospels, Mark's account lays the foundation of faith for the early Christian community. His Jesus is the most human, struggling within his own growing awareness of who he is and how the Spirit of God is alive and working within him to proclaim the Good News.

The evangelists remind us that it is the storytellers who brokered the mystery of Jesus into human history. Mark's trademark theme of the "messianic secret" showed us how Jesus' identity was at first hidden by his humanity and, in an even more challenging way, by the apparent failure of his mission and his death on the cross. Only faith can grasp the truth in this paradox. The good news preached by the early church was that it is through suffering and self-sacrificing love that Jesus revealed God's unconditional mercy to save a sinful world. Without suffering, love is not revealed in its full depth.

Mark's style in Greek is very simple, almost childlike. He pours out the story without the literary sophistication and layered theology of the later evangelists: "Here it is! Believe it or not." Mark's Gospel instills faith not by assertions but with questions. We are left with the same mystery of Jesus the first disciples encountered, and believing it requires a personal surrender to him.

The original Gospel text ends abruptly with the empty tomb and the bewilderment of the women. We are left with the same faith questions they faced. Only when we commit to the revelation that love does indeed overcome death are we are able to then cross the threshold of faith to understand the resurrection.

There is no better way to commemorate the life of St. Mark the evangelist than to bring our questions to God and pray for an increase in faith. Mark's symbol was the winged lion, power that transcends earthly limits to know the truth revealed in Jesus.

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A Brand New World

Posted on 23 April 2016 by patmarrin

“Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Eileen Egan, a close friend of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa and a renowned peace activist in her own right, once described witnessing the devastation of Europe after WWII and thinking that all of the Corporal Works of Mercy had been carried out in reverse. Instead of feeding the hungry, millions had been left to starve; instead of clothing the naked, millions of families had been dispossessed of their homes and all their belongings; instead of caring for the stranger, most of Europe and eastern Europe and the Pacific had been estranged from humanity itself by the brutality of a world war that killed 50 million people. Where and how could we begin again to restore civilization and fundamental compassion?

Jesus lived and died in a world of unspeakable violence against human dignity. The so-called Pax Romana had imposed imperial order on much of the known world through military conquest and subjugation, enslavement and a system of economic extraction of resources and service from millions of people. Petty dictators and compliant priests stayed in power by bowing to Roman interests, and anyone who got in the way was quickly disposed of.

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God challenged this world order and promised a new world of justice and love. Both the message and the messenger were crushed by Imperial power, but then mysteriously reappeared in the preaching of a small band of Jesus’s followers who claimed that he had risen from the dead and sent them to preach liberation and reconciliation to the ends of the earth. Even in the midst of persecution, the early church grew in numbers and by example, offering a whole new way of living in the world based on compassion and community. Who could have imagined that such a movement would emerge from a simple carpenter from the corner of the empire who had been executed by Rome and rejected by the leaders of his own Jewish religion?

We live in a world that, despite our claims to progress and reason, is as unjust and violent as any period in history, with far greater destructive technologies and income disparity, slavery and ideological warfare than any previous generation could have imagined. All the more reason this generation, you and me, are called to practice love and reconciliation in our own neighborhoods, workplaces and social networks. Every baptized person is a member of the body of Christ, and thus called to be Christ to the world in their own setting.

We gather to celebrate the Eucharist, to hear the Word of God and find communion in God’s purposes. This is our identity and destiny, and without living this call we will never become our true selves or achieve the maturity God intends for each one of us. We need one another to keep the faith and carry out our small part of the mission. So let us pray for ourselves and for one another in these crucial times. Much is at stake, and the world is depending on us. A different world is possible. A new world is necessary.

Don't Be Afraid

Posted on 22 April 2016 by patmarrin

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).

How many believers have found deep comfort in Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” On the night before his own death on the cross, Jesus is attentive to the fears of his closest friends, who do not fully understand what is about to take place, and whose own concerns are about being left alone, like orphans, as Jesus prepares to depart.

We say it to each other: “Don’t worry, everything will be all right.” But in times or real crisis and loss, it is impossible to feel confident and unafraid, and comforting words help, but they are not enough.

The greatest comfort, whether from a friend or family member, comes from those who have themselves been through crisis. A patient awaiting surgery gets a visit from someone who had had the same surgery. A parent who has lost a child is embraced by another parent who has endured the same loss and anguish. This is comfort with authority, counsel from experience.

Jesus can comfort us in an ultimate sense because he has experienced the full range of human struggle and suffering, to the point of death. When he says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” we hear the voice of one who has endured every kind of suffering imaginable, both physical and psychological, in his own person and in all his relationships. There is no horror or humiliation that he does not understand from the inside. And because he God among us, our Lord and brother, to be with him is to have the ultimate hope in the face of any threat.

Fear is the enemy of faith. How much good was never risked because good people were afraid? How many movements of hate and exclusion might have been stopped early on by a few courageous people who stood up in their communities and said, “This is wrong.” Every corporal work of mercy involves some risk, but how many have been fed, clothed, accompanied and comforted by those who took that risk, overcame their discomfort at plunging in among the needy, the rejected and those labeled as dangerous or unworthy?

So Jesus addresses us in the darkest hour of his own life: “Don’t be afraid. I am right here beside you. Open your heart to me and nothing can truly harm you or separate you from my love.

The Darkness Before Dawn

Posted on 21 April 2016 by patmarrin

"I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM" (John 13:19).

Jesus has just finished washing his disciples feet, including those of Judas. Night is overtaking everyone with fear and confusion. Before the dawn breaks, Jesus will be in custody, condemned by the Sanhedrin, betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. It seems the shocking end to a story once filled with hope and promise. Jesus is about to be crucified and his disciples will scatter, filled with anguish and incrimination.

So Jesus, in the final hour at the table in the upper room where they had gathered to celebrate his final earthly Passover, foretells this great failure in order to prepare them not to let despair overwhelm them. His suffering and death are necessary to make clear that the victory over love revealed by his resurrection is the message God is sending the world. God's mercy is greater than any human weakness and sin. The life being offered is greater than death. Don't be afraid, but believe.

The pattern of goodness emerging from evil runs like a thread through our human experience of failure and defeat, reflected in art, literature and religion. "It is always darkest before the dawn" captures this intuition. But it takes real experiences and real models of this paradox to convince us that goodness and truth do triumph over any disaster that can befall us. It also takes deep faith and the inspired patience believers must pray for to endure and never lose trust that God is always there and always in charge.

The Church in the World

Posted on 20 April 2016 by patmarrin

"I did not come to condemn the world but save the world" (John 12:46).

One of the central goals of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was to reconnect the Catholic church to the modern world. Pope John XXIII wanted to shift the focus of the church from the image of a fortress of doctrine over against modernity to a partnership in dialogue with the modern world to help guide it by promoting values the church believes are necessary to real human development. The pope's first encyclical was titled "Mater et Magistra," to present the church first and foremost as a "mother and teacher."

Church history contains a long argument among theologians over the concept of dualism, a view of reality divided between church and world, spirit and matter, heaven and earth. Many thinkers and leaders accepted this oppositional view while others, beginning from the Incarnation, emphasized that God is in the world, working through creation, sanctifying everything from within.

Today's Gospel reveals the early church's view that in Jesus, God loved the world and sent his beloved Son to save, not condemn, the world. Just as Pope John XXIII sought to restore this perspective, so Pope Francis sees the church's immersion in the world as essential to her identity and mission. This principle underlies every other program and policy change the pope has initiated, especially the year of mercy and his emphasis on pastoral ministry and evangelization.

We are part of this perspective. To believe that God loves us and the world is to commit ourselves to engaging everyone and everything with the belief that grace is always present and at work in everyday life. Our own words and actions, however insignificant they seem, are channels of God's love.

I Call You Friend

Posted on 19 April 2016 by patmarrin

"How long are you going to keep us in suspense?" (John 10:23).

When we read the Word with faith, we encounter Jesus. His voice whispers into the space in our minds where our consciousness dwells, where other inner voices carry on a constant stream of interpretation as we move from our waking moments into the day. This interior running commentary is one of more fascinating aspects of what it means to be alive and human.

Whether we actually listen to the Word is another matter, and most of us live each day caught up in the practical demands of getting from here to there, remembering names, tasks to be done, schedules and obligations. Or we daydream and fantasize as feelings and memories intrude. Habits of prayer help shape our day, and taking time to read a passage from the Gospels -- what Pencil Preaching promotes -- can also guide our thoughts.

The image of the Good Shepherd in John 10 focuses on how believers become attuned to the voice of Jesus. Without faith, this is meaningless, but with faith, we grow into a companionship, a constant awareness of a living presence as near to us as our heartbeat and breath. The intimacy of human friendship is a kind of prelude to friendship with God. This is challenging because God seems so distant and so spiritual. But because of Jesus, we can encounter God in human terms. Jesus is the face of God, and a lively, intimate friendship with him is possible.

And like all real friendships, we grow in love through trial and error, conflict and resolution, absence and presence, even estrangement and recovery at a deeper level. We often find ourselves in suspense, not knowing how things will work out. We know we have a real friend when we survive failure and misunderstanding, because the gift shared goes deeper than surface tranquility or artificial peace.

The Good Shepherd shows his love for us by laying down his life that we might grow to wholeness. Our passage to eternal life is possible because of Jesus’s death and resurrection. If we listen to his voice and follow him, we will make this same passage through death to new life. In the final analysis, this is why friendship with him is the most important decision we will ever make.