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We Are What We Eat and Drink

Posted on 28 May 2016 by patmarrin

“Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25).

The miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, repeated in all four Gospels, is clearly a gateway to the kerygma, or basic faith proclamation by the church, about who Jesus was and is.

As a key historical memory, it confirms that Jesus was perceived in his time as a messianic figure by both his popular following and by the authorities. Ched Meyer’s cogent political reading of Mark’s Gospel posits that anyone who could assemble and feed 5,000 men in the wilderness while the Temple establishment was celebrating Passover in Jerusalem was a threat to the high priest and to Caesar.

The early church adopted the scriptural image of Moses and manna in the wilderness as fulfilled in Jesus, but backed away from any political reading as it sought its place in the empire and among its expanding gentile converts.

What was left of the multiplication event and its interpretation for the church as it moved toward a doctrinal understanding of Jesus was the rich theology of Jesus as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation we celebrate at every Mass. St Paul mined the Passover imagery and Eucharistic practice of the primitive church to articulate Jesus as the incarnate presence of God in history and the church as the body of Christ extended in time. When the faith communities he founded opened the scriptures, broke the bread and shared the cup around the Lord’s Table, they became what they ate and drank, the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. If baptism is our incorporation into this body, Communion is how we grow to maturity in our Christian identity. The Spirit of Jesus animates us as the body of God, the Trinity of Love indwelling us and empowering us to renew creation toward its original purpose as the image of God.

The Second Vatican Council rescued the Eucharist from sacred object of devotion to the dynamic “real presence” of the risen Christ in the Word, the consecrated bread and wine, the presider and the praying assembly. Today, on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate all four forms of presence, and we accept the implications of each one in our lives. First, we cannot know Jesus if we do not pray and study the scriptures. Second, receiving the Eucharist regularly is our privilege and absolutely necessary for our baptismal maturity. Third, those who preside in the image of Jesus must serve as he did. Finally, the entire assembly prays the Mass, offers itself in union with the crucified Christ and receives itself back in his risen life in Communion, which it then takes into the world as the church. Each of us is an evangelist and an agent of redemptive mercy. All of us together are the Beloved Community that reveals the future of humanity.

If this seems abstract, perhaps it is because it only becomes real if we live it. But if we trust the Holy Spirit, who never ceases to teach us in every breath we take that we are Jesus in the world, we will experience him in every thought and every act he inspires in us, and in the pulse of his blood in our veins, and in the glory that is even now coursing through our bodies as we surrender ourselves to his service. What other identity, purpose and promise can so fully match our desire to be one in love with God and with each other? What other dream is there that can thrill our hearts with such joy?

The Power of Faith

Posted on 27 May 2016 by patmarrin

"I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours" (Mark 11:25).

Mark packs so many themes into this beautiful Gospel passage that it is only at the end that we realize it is one of Jesus' most important teachings about the power of faith.

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem but is staying outside the city in Bethany. After witnessing the marketplace atmosphere in the temple, he returns the next day to show his indignation by disrupting the money changers and buying and selling. On the way into the city he stops to look for figs on a tree, but finds none because it is not in season. Jesus' apparent frustration is really focused on Jerusalem, which has shown no sign of the fruits of conversion. He curses the fig tree, then proceeds into the city to cleanse the temple, a bold act of protest that will seal his own death.

The scene shifts to the next day, after the uproar and anger of the leaders against Jesus is in full tilt. They are plotting to kill him. Jesus again encounters the fig tree, and Peter points out that it is withered to the roots. It is at this point in the story that Jesus launches into an exuberant affirmation of the power of faith to accomplish anything, even to move mountains. If we truly believe, anything is possible.

Remarkably, Jesus seems to be talking first to himself! Despite the resistance he is encountering in Jerusalem, his Father will advance the Kingdom and Jesus will complete his mission. Nothing can stop it, even the terrible sign of contradiction Jesus knows already is just ahead -- his rejection and death.

This is his legacy to us about prayer. Listen to the Holy Spirit in your life, then imagine the future in prayer. What you dream, believe in it, lean into it, wait for it but also work for it. It will happen, as sure as God's kingdom is coming, despite the resistance and fear that has always opposed important change. Bear fruit, in season and out of season, in joy and in sorrow. God's will has been sown into your hopes and dreams, and in God's own time, they will come true.

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Now I See

Posted on 26 May 2016 by patmarrin

"Take courage; rise up, Jesus is calling you" (Mark 10:50).

The story of the blind Bartimaeus is every disciple's story. Without the grace of awakening when Jesus "passes by," our lives remain in darkness by side of the road. We are blind beggars in the crowd until the sound of his voice stirs hope in us. Jesus is announcing good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberation to captives. To respond to that stirring, to cry out for mercy, is the first act, the decisive moment that signals our new life. Bartimaeus rises up, leaves behind his cloak and former life, risking everything for what is to come. We must do the same.

Every mature Christian is the result of a long series of conversions, fresh decisions to keep going forward, especially when the road with Jesus seems steep or goes around corners to places we cannot know in advance. Adversity becomes opportunity, suffering opens our eyes in solidarity with others, failure teaches us humility, uncertainty builds trust that God always provides. If we lose our life for his sake, we will find it. If we knock, seek and ask, doors will open, graces will appear, mysteries will be revealed.

Friendship with Jesus is both the way and the destination. There is nothing more precious than a long friendship, the wordless understanding between companions who know each other intuitively and intimately. What greater prize is there than someone who loves us just the way we are, yet also inspires us to grow?

When Jesus asked Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" he replied, "Master, I want to see." His prayer was immediately answered, and the very first thing he saw was the face of Jesus. Isn't this the answer to every prayer, the one thing necessary, the goal of all our heart's longing? To see him is to know our real selves. To see Jesus is the blessed assurance every disciple possesses. He fills our lives with that light that will guide us to glory.

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Servant Leaders Only

Posted on 25 May 2016 by patmarrin

"What do you wish me to do for you?" (Mark 10:30).

James and John, the "Sons of Thunder" live up to their reputation for brashness and ambition when they ask Jesus to make them his key lieutenants when he enters his glory. Jesus' patient response, "What do you wish me to do for you?" is the same thing he asked Bartimaeus the blind man along the road. Only James and John are even more blind than humble Bartimaeus.

At the beginning of this Gospel passage, Jesus has just explained to the disciples that when they get to Jerusalem he will suffer rejection and death. No one was listening. All the disciples are just as intent on status when Jesus is revealed as the messiah in the Holy City. In confronting James and John, Jesus predicts one of the tragic ironies about to infect most of church history.

Once its small faith communities began to gain a footing in the Mediterranean world, spiritual influence became institutional power, servant leaders became enthroned rulers and players in the game of wealth and status. A cursory look at the Vatican court today, color-coded to show rank and ensconced in ritual splendor, exposes the visible disconnect to Jesus of Nazareth, itinerant preacher and friend of the poor.

The desire for status and the influence money affords touched the souls of two simple brothers who accompanied Jesus, small-time fisherman with dreams of grandeur. It runs deep through all our souls, so the struggle is not just at the top. Preserving the freedom to surrender and descend with Jesus to the depths of shared human vulnerability is the ongoing conversion we must pray for every day. To be disconnected from the suffering and needs of others is to be disconnected from him as he moves among the forgotten and abused victims of the common and constant scramble for advantage and security that is the central temptation of life.

We know the lure to power, to lord it over others, to make our authority felt. "It shall not be so among you," Jesus says. The only glory worth having is to be harnessed to him in love. Then wherever he is, we will also be, and that is the secret of everything.

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Do We Trust God?

Posted on 24 May 2016 by patmarrin

"We have given up everything and followed you" (Mark 10:28).

It is not surprising that after the departure of the rich man who decided not to follow Jesus, the other disciples had questions about their own welfare. Peter, their spokesman, asked Jesus, "What about us? We have given up everything to follow you."

Jesus' response, typical of his other-worldly approach to everything, was in the form of hyperbole and parables. For entrusting their lives to his mission, they will receive one hundredfold of all the material goods they have given up. Houses, land, families. There is no small amount of irony in his answer -- the Apostles will find themselves responsible for whole communities. Then Jesus adds this: "with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."

As Jesus lives by Providence, so are they to trust that God will take care of them. Peter must have had some inkling that Jesus' program for them was not that of a sensible financial planner. They were yet to go through the trauma of his death on the cross, and the even greater shock of his resurrection, a transforming moment that broke the spell of ordinary reality itself as it swept them forward into the new age, both here and not yet here.

It must have felt to Peter and the other disciples like the day Jesus gave them the Beatitudes. They were signing on for a life filled with paradox where winners were losers and losers winners, where "the first will last and the last first." Jesus would leave this world an itinerant preacher with nothing to his name but a seamless garment that his executioners wagered over beneath the cross.

We all live in between the practical demands of prudent planning and the mystery of God's promise to provide for us as we do our best to follow Jesus. True riches come in relationships, in the interdependence of community life, in surrendering our personal welfare to the web of compassion that both takes and gives, from each according to his ability and to each according to his need. Jesus, most of all, asks us not to be preoccupied with money and our own security, but to think larger and give generously. This is his program. Can we entrust ourselves to it and to him?

Rich Man, Poor Man

Posted on 23 May 2016 by patmarrin

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17).

The word "enthusiasm" literally means "to be in God." There is evident enthusiasm in the man who runs up to Jesus to ask how he can inherit, that is, be in line to receive, the treasure of eternal life from God. He is already a rich man, at that time considered a sign of God's favor, but he wants to be assured that he will also possess the ultimate wealth of everlasting life.

In his eagerness, he calls Jesus "good," one the divine names, and Jesus immediately deflects the compliment to the Source; only God is good. Then, when questioned, the man lays out his worthiness to have eternal life. He has kept the commandments from his youth. In other words, he has lived in conformity to the Law, the one sure measure of perfection for a faithful Jew.

The Gospel tells us that "Jesus looked and the man and loved him." This is the same image we find in Jesus' call of others to discipleship. Jesus looks at Peter, who feels utterly sinful, and chooses him to follow him. Jesus looked at Matthew in the counting booth, transforming him from a life of sin to that of a disciple. (Pope Francis' papal motto: Misarando et eligendo" describes this moment -- "He had mercy on me and called me.")

But for the rich man, Jesus' look of love strips away his sense of self-sufficient virtue and worthiness. He is at the threshold of surrendering everything in order to receive a much deeper relationship with God, not something he can earn, but a pure gift, and he falters. The invitation to sell all his earthly possessions, his status and influence, his family identity and security, exposes his lack of readiness to encounter the purity of God. What Jesus is offering him is not the chance to make an even greater sacrifice to earn God's favor, but the chance to imitate God's kenosis-- total self-emptying in order to be filled with eternal life, divine friendship.

The man's enthusiasm turns to terror, and he goes away sad. He cannot let go of what he has to come empty-handed before God to receive this new gift. He cannot recognize that to follow Jesus is eternal life. The door is too narrow to squeeze through if he must bring his righteousness and wealth with him.

The Word of God challenges each of us to make the same choice today. Surrender all to have all, and even greater, more than we can imagine, friendship with God. It seems impossible, and it is. But for God, all things are possible.

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Trinity is the Image and Likeness of God

Posted on 21 May 2016 by patmarrin

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now” (John 16:12).

Any summary of international, national and even local news will show that the central issue facing human beings is whether we can get along. Conflict arises wherever there are differences or competing interests. Communities divide along racial, religious, economic and class lines. Nations dispute over trade rules, access to water and mineral rights, borders and ethnic purity. Wars and poverty produce refugees and immigrants no one wants, and politics is reduced to fear-mongering and demagoguery.

Unity in diversity and the use of dialogue to resolve problems have been the goal of civilization from the beginning, and yet we seem no closer to achieving them now than ever. How can we go forward together?

The revelation that the one God and Creator of all is a community of divine Persons is Christianity’s contribution to the Great Quarrel over unity and diversity. Jesus’ central teaching that God is Love is not just a feel-good divine name, but it affirms that God is the dynamic and defining principle of all Creation. Love is what holds the diversity within the created universe together and in balance. Without the collaborative interplay of cosmic forces and complex evolutionary systems advancing to higher and higher life forms, there would be no world, no human race, no conscious dialogue and participation between human intelligence and divine purpose.

Wherever human cooperation and tolerance have held diverse peoples together in community, great strides in learning and culture have occurred. The incalculable destruction now occurring in Syria, the ancient cradle of civilization, represents not just political conflict but the tragic devolution of a 4,000-year old, multi layered civilization that until only recently held together every major world religion and ideology within a culture of exquisite beauty and grace that observers for centuries have called a paradise.

Where such human tolerance and unity has been fostered, we see the face of God, the image and likeness of the Creator, the Trinity seated at the table of love as it has been depicted in Byzantine icons for centuries. Where this unity is being willfully destroyed, it is as though the presence of God is being driven out by human pride, selfishness and ignorance. Across the world, the struggle over whether order and unity will survive the forces of chaos runs along the seam of every society, including the United States, now witnessing, like a disease we assumed had long ago been eradicated, new forms of racism, xenophobia, and moral fascism rooted in fear and absolutism.

What can be done? Worship is the first act, the foundational commitment to a vision of the world and of our own future that God invites and empowers us to build upon into every aspect of our lives. Therefore, if we are the People of God, we are living exemplars of the Trinity, called to find unity in diversity, dialogue in conflict, reconciliation where there is fear and discord. This is the seal upon our hearts and our share in the redemptive mission of Christ. So let us celebrate the Trinity, because it is Who God is, but also who we are.

May They Be One as We Are One

Posted on 20 May 2016 by patmarrin

"The two become one flesh" (10:8).

Jesus quotes Genesis to defend the mystery of marital indissolubility, laying down an ideal that became the model for God's covenantal fidelity to Israel. A true sacramental marriage, fully and freely contracted before the community, then consummated, forms a bond so complete and sacred that it must not be broken. Husband and wife in such a union are no longer two separate individuals, but a new creation, one body, the full image and likeness of God. The breaking of that bond is the death of that blessed creation and sign.

This nuptial ideal is at the heart of the ongoing debate about whether every marriage is this kind of union, sacramental and indissoluble, whether every divorce and remarriage is adulterous, and about how the church -- the witnessing community -- is to regard those experiencing failed or abandoned marriages and a host of other irregular and less than ideal situations in which people's lives have been disrupted, families divided and the welfare of children put in jeopardy.

Pope Francis, in calling for a Year of Mercy, made it the context for addressing marriage and family questions. How does the church uphold the ideal while addressing less than ideal realities for millions of people as they try to work out their particular situations? How do mercy, forgiveness and healing fit into the picture of a global faith community committed to stability, fidelity and support for all families as the foundation for society.

Discernment is far more difficult than judgment, and the spirit of the law is more elusive than the letter. The balancing of mercy and justice in each situation is the heart of the pastoral church and the greatest challenge her ministers face. The many difficult questions about marriage, gender, sexuality and family touch all of us in the most intimate way, and in our own journeys often reveal the wounds of sin and the work of grace in our lives. Can we live in the tension between the ideal and the less than ideal, the dream on the horizon and the winding road that takes us there?

It is on this road that we will find Jesus, our patient teacher and loving master. This is the joy of the Gospel.

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You Are the Salt of the Earth

Posted on 19 May 2016 by patmarrin

"Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another" (Mark 9:50).

In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us a sample of how bracing and creative Semitic speech could be. He warns anyone who would harm an innocent child that it would be better if they had been thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck. He then tells his hearers that it would be better to cut off a hand, a foot, or pluck out one of their eyes, to avoid falling into temptation and losing entry into God's Kingdom. These warnings, like some of Pope Francis' colloquial expressions and images (he recently called employers who deny health insurance to their workers "leeches"), are more rhetorical than literal, but certainly get people's attention.

Mark's litany of sayings ends with another strong cultural proverb about salt and fire. While we only think about avoiding too much salt in our diets, for Jesus and the people of his time, salt had multiple uses and metaphorical meanings. It was a preservative, a seasoning, a purifying and therapeutic agent and something essential for life.

In the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5), Jesus calls his disciples the "salt of the earth." They were to enter the culture as flavor and force. If you have ever known someone who was "salty" in speech and personality, you will know how they can impact a conversation or group process. Of course, how much salt is a matter of discernment. We see politicians who distort issues and inflame the discourse by dumping their salt into the common stew to fire up the blood of their followers. Jesus had something far more subtle than this in mind.

Jesus encourages us to come alive and to participate in the world. Life without seasoning and flavor is hardly worth living. Bland and passive people have little influence. Disciples are to be the leading edge of truth and advocacy in society.

We might think of ourselves as carrying a full rack of seasonings. Wherever we are, we are to be master chefs who know just how to season an encounter with just the right kind and amount of spice. In today's food-conscious culture, people are flocking to cooking classes and buying up books and magazines on cuisine. In the same way, metaphorically speaking, a disciple ought to be recognized as a person of exquisite taste in everything they say and do. Isn't this a wonderful challenge?

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Cooperate!

Posted on 18 May 2016 by patmarrin

"Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).

John, one of the rambunctious "Sons of Thunder" among the disciples, complained to Jesus that some rival preachers were driving out demons in his name. He and his brother James distinguished themselves in another incident when they asked Jesus to call down fire on a town that had refused to let them enter. Or when they sent their mother promote their intersts to Jesus.

Their proprietary interest in the mission was less about proclaiming God's kingdom than about their exclusive role as Jesus' lieutenants. They didn't want others horning in on the glory. Jesus must have smiled even as he shook his head at their misplaced enthusiasm. The power of God was being manifested wherever they went, for both his disciples and others who caught the spirit of the campaign and wanted to help break the spell of fear and control cast over people by the forces of evil.

In addressing the competitive approach of his disciples, Jesus gave history a principle that must always define the church's ministry: "Whoever is not against us is for us." God's abundant gifts flow freely to anyone who wants to do good. Cooperation is better than competition when it comes to advancing justice and serving those in need. No credentials or affiliations or special rank and status are needed to do good and oppose oppression.

One of the positive and exciting aspects of today's highly connected world through social media is that movements for good are discovering each other and joining forces nationally and even globally. Workers' rights, tolerance for diversity, care for the environment, economic fairness, peace and nonviolence efforts -- all these advocates can recognize common goals. Those who want exclusive control or insist on ideological or religious exclusivity become obstacles to real progress.

It is the time of Pentecost. The Spirit is alive and grace is loose in the world. Despite many signs of breakdown and polarization, we also see breakthrough and new energy being released in the very naming of serious problems. Despite the poisonous rhetoric of some and attempts to divide, we are witnessing real public debates over the future. If we believe in and trust that God is with us in all our human striving, we should rejoice to live in "interesting times," and even more, in the earth-shaking, fiery and wind-driven Age of the Holy Spirit.