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One Thing

Posted on 02 May 2015 by patmarrin

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:4).

While there are few parables per se in John’s Gospel, the metaphor of the vine and the branches enabled the evangelist to express a great deal about Jesus' relationship with his disciples, and with us, the church.

First of all, baptism unites us to Jesus in an intimate, life-sustaining way. We are not just members of the group; we are incorporated into the risen Christ. What the Eucharist affirms is echoed in the union of vine and branches, namely that the very flow of vitality we need to be other Christs is not just an aspect of our lives: It is our life, our very existence. Separate from that source we have no life. Cut from the vine, a branch withers. Without the sap and nutrients flowing from the plant rooted in the earth, we bear no fruit, i.e., no gracious, redemptive activity or influence can flow through us to the community or the world.

Second, a necessary part of increasing the yield from the grape vine is pruning. A disciple can expect to be pruned of extraneous or unfocused activity in order to direct their energy into what is truly productive in God’s eyes. Gardeners who want the perfect rose understand this as they prune away others to concentrate the life of the bush into the prize rose. People in ministry learn quickly that too many activities only lead to exhaustion. Better to do one thing well, go for depth rather than distance, quality over quantity. Choose something you can throw your heart into, that gives you joy, and you will accomplish more good than the busiest apostle eager to save the world.

When Jesus says that his disciples are “consecrated,” the word implies being set apart, cut from everything except the mission. The verb “to decide” has the same meaning. To choose one thing is to set aside everything else. People who try to keep all their options open indefinitely accomplish little and enjoy none of the benefits of commitment. Trail boss “Curly” in the movie “City Slickers,” says that the secret of life is to focus on “one thing.” It doesn’t matter what it is, but if you want to be fulfilled, do one thing well.

Our Communion with Christ is the “one thing” that empowers us to do everything else God asks of us. Renewing our minds and hearts at the Table of the Lord is the secret of holiness and effective service. We cannot give what we don’t have.

The Carpenter

Posted on 01 May 2015 by patmarrin

"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places" (John 14:2).

If you could design your own house, what would it look like? My perfect place would have an upstairs and perhaps a tower room with large windows to catch the light, and a roof port so I could lie in bed under the moonlight.

You would design something different, of course. If a house is an extension of self, everyone would have their own idea of how their home would express and define their presence in the world. For some, the kitchen would be the most important room in the house, or a large central dining room, or a large living room with comfortable chairs where friends could enjoy each other's company. Would you have a walled garden, or a pool, or a large patio under shade trees?

For most of us, we are talking about heaven. Jesus reassures his disciples that when their earthly labors are complete, he will be waiting for them. The divine carpenter will have gone before them to prepare a place for each one, and there will be many to choose from, because people are different.

Variety and diversity in this world will continue in the next. And though our differences will be many, harmony will rule and everything will fit together peacefully and perfectly, because this is heaven, where the original occupants, the Holy Trinity, have already set the model for unity in diversity. All races, religions, cultures and histories of the world, and all the unknown mysteries of the universe will come together in love.

It is good to dream, to send our imaginations out ahead to scout out the possibilities for joy as our final destination. Despite this world's travail and limitations, it is God’s promise to us that all things will be gathered into Christ, God’s dream for us, and that nothing that is true and good and beautiful will be lost. But there is work to be done.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This carpenter taught his boy the trade and filled his imagination with the dream of a better world. Jesus the carpenter carried the blueprint for God’s kingdom in his heart, and he has shared it with us. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Send Me

Posted on 30 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Whoever receives the one I send receives me ..." (John 13:20).

The "send" button in an email program ought to make us stop and think before we click on it. What flies from our computer out onto the World Wide Web takes on a life of its own, but is always traceable back to us. Our words might be forwarded, reaching a few or going viral to millions; they can be misinterpreted or altered, quoted in other emails to support ideas we do not hold, triggering an avalanche of responses from people we do not know and did not intend to contact.

Whatever the impact, large or small, the original message will bear our name even after it disappears into some virtual graveyard as deleted or perhaps saved in a profile stored for some unimaginable purpose.

This can make us paranoid, but it should also help us understand the power of the word as self expression. In an absolute sense, God is as good as the divine Word, an expression of the divine will that is the source of all existence, including ours. To say that Jesus is the Word of God is to say that Jesus is God. The one sent bears the full authority of the One sending.

In today's Gospel, Jesus has just washed his disciples feet. It is a gesture worth a thousand words, a lesson in humility and a call to service for those who would lead. It is the Word in action -- Jesus revealing who he is, and therefore who God is. God is the One who serves, who lovingly washes the feet of his creatures, including one who will betray him, another who will deny him, and all those who will abandon him in his hour of self-emptying love for them.

More astonishing, Jesus includes his disciples in this dynamic mission of revealing God in the world. Anyone who receives them will be receiving Jesus, and anyone who receives Jesus will receive God, the divine presence.

To return to the metaphor of how we use our devices today: If we have downloaded this program called God, we have agreed to the terms it carries, and it has entered our identity as fully as software distributed in every folder and operation we are capable of. How joyful we should be, and in awe, that everything we "send" today will be a source of grace to those who receive it, because we are nothing less than members of the body of Christ, the beloved children of God.


Light from Light

Posted on 29 April 2015 by patmarrin

"I came into the world as light, so everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness" (John 12:45).

When I was a child I wondered why my red jacket lost its color when it hung in the dark closet. What in fact was color if not the interaction between the object itself, light and my ability to perceive it?

I did not grow up to be a scientist, but my curiosity helped me appreciate just how human intelligence assigns meaning and order to our objective world.

In today's Gospel, Jesus identifies himself as light. His presence in the world enlightens our minds to see the will of God evident in creation, which bears the image and likeness of the creator. To live in harmony with the underlying designs built into us and the world is to walk in the light of Christ, the perfect model of what it means to be a human being.

Sensitivity to God's gracious imprint on everything enables us to move with the flow of life. Jesus' example of compassion and his commandment to his disciples to love one another were not extraordinary, but the most natural way to live. When we love God, ourselves and others, we are being true to our nature. Peace and joy are signs of God's presence in us.

But we know from the suffering and death of Jesus that the light he brought to the world was resisted by sin, which prefers the cover of night. The harmony Jesus brought met the cacophony of violent competition to conquer creation and control others. Jesus was rejected and killed. Anyone who brings light threatens the hidden use of power to manipulate and distort reality for personal gain.

We pray for insight and courage. "Lord, I want to see" is the first prayer of the disciple. Give me the insight to know my role in this world that I can act in harmony with your love. When my small efforts encounter suspicion and rejection, give me the courage to reaffirm your healing hand present in all things.

God sees our true color, in sunshine or in shadow. Let us walk in the light of life.


Suspended Between Time and Eternity

Posted on 28 April 2015 by patmarrin

"How long are you going to keep us in suspense?" (John 10:24).

Have you ever been left hanging? Have you ever hung on someone's every word? The expression and imagery describe the experience of being left incomplete, anxiously awaiting resolution.

The mystery of God’s redemptive relationship with us is complete in eternity but still taking place in time. God’s eternal love meets our free decision to accept or reject our divine destiny. To accept is not to achieve it all at once, but to enter a lifelong process of development toward the goal of becoming other Christs. If we die with him each day through service and love, we rise with him each day to greater and greater strength and joy.

Jesus is the way to God, and along the way we find ourselves suspended between what is and what is still to be revealed. Salvador Dali’s awe-inspiring image of the crucified Jesus shows him hanging between heaven and earth, time and eternity. The redemption won for us by Jesus must reach the ends of earth and into the full scope of human history. This happens through us and our journey of acceptance and free participation in God’s plan for creation.

Humility and patience are foundational virtues because they enable us to endure the gradual process of grace working through human weakness and failure. We must remain faithful and hopeful even in times of great frustration and discouragement. God’s peace and justice will prevail, this we know, but the path is long and hard. What disciple has not experienced the stress of waiting for even small victories over selfishness and ignorance to advance the kingdom of God?

The Beatitudes tell the story of God’s holy people on pilgrimage through history. As members of the body of Christ, St. Paul reminds us, we have our share of the sufferings of Christ to make up, but this the road to glory. We rejoice to be part of the mystery.

Called to Be Shepherds

Posted on 27 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and out and find pasture" (John 10:9).

The pastoral images used in the scriptures to describe Jesus take many forms. He is the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins. He is the Good Shepherd who guides and protects the flock. In today's Gospel Jesus is the gate to the sheepfold. The sheep come in and out through the gate when they recognize the voice of their shepherd.

The versatility of this metaphor also applies to us. Sometimes we are like the sheep, innocent, vulnerable and in need of guidance. But while this might apply to children, adults are hardly sheep, docile, dumb animals who need to be told what to do. The negative aspects of the metaphor have often been applied to the faithful by leaders who expected them to simply "pay, pray and obey."

Adult Catholics, lay and religious, are called to be shepherds. As parents, professionals and responsible leaders in their own right, baptized disciples of Jesus come to maturity when they care for others. Many serve as gatekeepers -- members of the church called to teach, minister and steward resources for the common good. Wise bishops and pastors know they cannot function without the collaboration of men and women whose skills and gifts enrich the life of the church.

The Second Vatican Council had as one of its central goals the awakening and empowering of an adult church. Laity make up 99 percent of the church, and without their full, conscious and active participation, the church is deprived of all the gifts of the Spirit that bring to fullness her celebration of the mystery of Christ and her mission to evangelize the world.

Baptism activates the priesthood of all the faithful, including the clergy, to live the paschal mystery -- our share in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the world. Then we become with him the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd and the trustworthy Gatekeepers to the precious mystery of God's unfathomable love.

If today you hear his voice, follow him wherever he leads. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Good Shepherds

Posted on 25 April 2015 by patmarrin

“I will lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15).

When the U.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas in 2002 to address the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, their meeting ended with a Mass at which the scheduled Lectionary Gospel reading happened to be today’s selection from John 10 about Jesus, the “Good Shepherd.” If this was a coincidence, it sounded a stern warning to the church’s official shepherds. It was regarded by many as providential, and the bishops were quick to try and get out ahead of a pastoral and public relations disaster for the church by issuing a charter outlining clear procedures for dealing with the pedophilia crisis.

Only the so-called Dallas Charter, as critiqued then and in the 13 years since, came up short in focusing on problem priests but not on bishops who knew about them but did not act to remove them from ministry. Lack of accountability by bishops, the chief shepherds responsible for the Catholic people and their children, became the issue, and failure to address it at this level only extended and exacerbated the scandal instead of healing it.

For all the necessary programs set up to remove offending clergy and screen any other church employee ministering to children, no bishop was ever held accountable for his failure to uphold the charter. While the recent removal (resignation) of one bishop has suggested a shift in policy, questions remain: Why did it take so long? What are the church’s real priorities? When will Catholics believe that the church is really moving beyond this nightmare?

Preaching is about engaging the Word of God, listening to the living voice of Jesus speaking now to his church and to the world. Good Shepherd Sunday is the right time for homilists around the world to do a reality check and speak to the challenge Jesus puts before all of us. If we love the church, if we are the church, then God’s love compels us to be responsible for one another, especially the most vulnerable members of our communities, our children.

There can be no higher priority for the disciples of Jesus, at every level within the church, but especially its leaders. Our ability to evangelize and serve depends upon our credibility as witnesses to God’s tender love for everyone and our commitment to accountability for those in power and for anyone entrusted with protecting the innocence of children, the dignity of our elderly, the poor and the outcasts of our society. These are the people Jesus came to shepherd and to lay down his life to protect.

I in You and You in Me

Posted on 24 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you" (John 6:53).

The mystery of the Eucharist is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation. How can God, infinite and absolute Source of all that is, be among us as one of us, truly human and truly divine? What are the implications of this presence for us as human beings longing for life that survives death?

The fourth and final Gospel attributed to the "Beloved Disciple" takes up the central question of the identity of Jesus. For John, Jesus is the human face of God, the revelation of God's desire to complete creation by taking us into the life of the Trinity, in whose image and likeness we were made.

But because our union with God must overcome sin, the original estrangement from God rooted in the human freedom to say "no" to God's plan, we must come to God by way of a conscious journey of transformation. Jesus is the way to God, a human brother who models for us the fullness of life. But more than model, Jesus invites us into an intimate union that perfects our human nature and prepares us for our divine destiny. The Eucharist is this intimate and transforming union.

We participate in Communion as a ritual and communal act, but how can we make its hidden meaning real? We can know God only as human beings know, through our human experience. This is why Jesus revealed himself in a sacred meal.

To "break bread" with a friend is about more than sharing physical food. If you have experienced an intimate dinner with a friend or friends, you know that you come away with more than a full stomach. It is your heart that is expanded by the exchange of affection and knowledge. We come away having received others into our lives and letting others claim us. We become one in love, a mysterious mutuality that is life's most precious gift. We are no longer alone, but alive in one another, in the pulse of many hearts beating as one, in the shared breath of the circle of life we share with another or with others.

And because we are bodies, this union is expressed bodily, through our human senses of sight, smell, and hearing, touch and taste. Friends stay in touch, walk in the fragrance of each other's lives, which is a foretaste of heaven, perfect union in love.

No theology can adequately explain the Eucharist, our encounter with God in Jesus. Each time we receive Communion and in every moment when we live the implications of the indwelling of God in loving and serving each other, we come a little bit closer to what God has in store for us. It is the ultimate love story. Who does not want to love and be loved completely? This is the meaning of life. this is the joy of the Gospel.

The Grace of Conversion

Posted on 23 April 2015 by patmarrin

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (John 6:44).

The pull toward God is like the tide pulled by the moon, or the attraction of the face of the beloved. It is built into us, part of our human nature. The Source of our being is also our destiny, to come full circle back to the Creator, who reveals to us at last the full meaning of who we are.

Today’s story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch illustrates beautifully the mystery of God’s invitation to each of us to find ourselves in coming to faith in Jesus, who is the revelation of what a full human being is meant to be. The man is riding in his chariot and reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah. Just as he comes to the passage describing the Messiah as a “sheep led to the slaughter, the lamb silent before its shearer” (Isa 53:7), Philip the Apostle appears and the eunuch invites him to ride with him to discuss the meaning of the passage.

What happened to the Messiah describes what, in a sense, also happened to the eunuch, castrated as a child to make him supposedly trustworthy in the royal house. This humiliation has defined his life, and when he sees himself and his suffering depicted as redemptive in the life and death of God’s servant, the eunuch is moved deeply. Philip tells him about Jesus, and the eunuch insists on being baptized immediately when they pass a body of water.

This conversion story is powerful for what it reveals about God’s mysterious love for each of us. First, our suffering is part of who we are, and grace takes and incorporates it into our destiny. We might consider all the victims of sexual abuse or discrimination over gender issues.

Secondly, God is always present to victims of any kind of discrimination, blessing their struggle. Jesus, as God’s Suffering Servant, endured rejection and suffering and made it redemptive. He was the innocent lamb sacrificed to free all of us from injustice and sin. His death on the cross rejected rejection, defeated death and opened humanity to its divine destiny — life with God.

God’s love compels us, propels us ever more deeply into compassion for the suffering of others. God’s love awakens in us hope that our own sinfulness will not prevent us from being restored by the mercy that heals every hurt and frees every heart.

Always Enough

Posted on 22 April 2015 by patmarrin

"This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me" (John 6:39).

If there is one impulse that overshadows all human life, it is fear of loss. Our survival instinct is fundamental, and most people are willing to do just about anything to save themselves from any perceived threat. "Fight or flight," psychologists say, defines much of our behavior. This extends to our possessions. From hoarding to building up wealth makes us feel safer. But it can never dispel our anxiety about losing our money to some crisis. Socially, fear of scarcity quickly cancels the social compact of civility or shared sacrifice for the common good. We compete. Our economic systems are all about competition, winners and losers. Don’t be a loser.

Jesus, who lost everything out of love for us, lays down another foundation for our lives when he tells us, "Do not be afraid." Do not be afraid to love, which moves us to lose ourselves for the sake of another. Do not be afraid to be generous, for real security and riches are not about money, but about the network of relationships that are the real safety net of life. Share yourself, empty yourself into the community, and you will never want for what you truly need.

But why should we trust this message? Did not Jesus suffer and die for his trouble? Who really believes that if you want to save your life you should lose it? Like the Beatitudes, much of the Gospel overlaps time and eternity. The Kingdom of God is both real and mysterious, here and not yet here. Disciples live in a zone where hard work is possible because it is illuminated by hope, where self-sacrifice is possible because we are inspired by the example of others. Love drives out fear and brings a peace to our hearts that is hard to explain but solid and steady.

What Jesus promises is that God loves all of us so much that he does not desire that anyone be lost. So God entrusts us to Jesus, and he says that he will never give up on us. Nothing God has given him will be lost. He has our back, so “Don’t be afraid.” Give yourself away and, surprise, there will always be enough. And what you lose will be multiplied, in you and in those you share with.

Jesus came that we might have life, life to the full. This is the joy of the Gospel.