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The Joy of the Gospel

Posted on 16 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (John 3:34).

Before telephones, email and text messages, even before post offices, official messages were memorized by the messenger and delivered orally to the recipient. Exact wording was essential, so the messenger had to know his sender’s message “by heart,” so to speak. The messenger represented the sender and had his or her full authority.

John’s Gospel uses this imagery to say that because Jesus was sent by the Father, his words and actions were those of the Father. When Jesus sends his disciples to preach, their words and actions are those of Jesus. The breath, or Spirit, of the source is poured out when the disciple of Jesus delivers the Word of God. This delegated power is an expression of the intimate relationship that now exists between the one sending and the one sent.

This whole process is an expression of love. Jesus tells his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so have I loved you, and so must you love one another.” God’s love radiates forth in each successive exchange. The one Spirit of God, Jesus, the Church, and each of us as baptized members of Christ, animates the whole mystery. To be part of this radiant mystery is our privilege and our joy.

As you move through this day, think of yourself as a messenger and a message from God to others. What you have received, give freely. The Holy Spirit flows through you in full measure, being poured out in your words and actions. There is no rationing of such a gift. It will fill everyone and everything it reaches, limited only by the receptivity of the one receiving or rejecting it.

After a long winter indoors, we fling open the windows and take a deep breath of Spring. So it is with the Spirit. Breathe deeply, in and out. This is life. This is the joy of the Gospel.

A Tithe Upon Our Hearts

Posted on 15 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34).

It is probably just a coincidence that today, Tax Day in the United States, the responsorial is Psalm 34, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Today is the day the IRS, the intake engine for our enormous government system will formally replenish its coffers from our likewise enormous economic system. Top wage-earners and corporations, with the help of an army of accountants and lawyers, and perhaps a few Congressmen, will have found ways to pay no taxes, while millions of ordinary working people will ante up.

Today will also witness protests across the country to raise the minimum wage for those at the bottom of the system. The idea of a “living wage,” part of Catholic Social Justice Teaching, will be discussed in the context of another key principle – the Common Good – and, for better for worse, the tenuous marriage of interests between labor and management, finance and debt, privilege and poverty, will negotiate a path forward.

Religion has often looked on from the sidelines as economic questions were considered. For staying out of politics, churches have received generous tax exemptions, and for their silence on justice issues they have benefited from philanthropy from questionable sources of wealth in the global economy.
But of late, and quite publicly under Pope Francis, economic questions are back on religion’s table as income disparity, exploitation and environmental damage come under greater scrutiny.

How does any of this relate to Easter faith? The heart of the Gospel is found in Jesus’ inaugural address in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to captives, freedom for the oppressed, and to announce a year of jubilee from the Lord” (Luke 4:18).

In today’s first reading from Acts, the Apostles are miraculously set free from their jail cell so they can preach the new freedom won by Jesus death’ and resurrection. In today’s Gospel from John, the source of that freedom is revealed: “God so loved the world…”

God is in the world. God’s preferential love for the poor is an overwhelming call for justice and the common good. There is no real security, financial, social or personal, apart from God’s love. God’s love is the tithe upon our hearts that no one should fail to pay, today and every day.

The Common Good

Posted on 14 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32).

Fabled NCR correspondent Gary MacEoin was born in Ireland and his long life nearly spanned the entire 20th century. Having witnessed all of its events, he had stories about everything. One of them described an Irish socialist candidate holding forth to a crowd of farmers about the benefits of socialism.

He asked, “If you had two cars, wouldn’t you be glad to share one?” No one owned a car, so it made perfect sense to share if you had two. “And, Seamus,” he said, pointing to a poor neighbor, “if you owned two houses, surely you’d share one of them?” Two houses! Who could imagine it?! Of course, everyone would share if they had two houses.

Then a man in the crowd asked him, “Tom, if you had two pigs, would you gladly share one of them?” The candidate scowled and said to the man, “Ain’t fair, Doherty! You know full well I’ve actually got two pigs!”

Today’s reading from Acts gives us a glimpse, idealistic to be sure, of the early Christian community in which all property was shared communally. Those with houses and property sold them and brought the proceeds to the Apostles, who distributed it to each according to need. The practice of voluntary poverty survived mostly in religious communities, though some communes have also flourished.

But private property became the backbone of most societies, and the idea of redistribution of wealth has always been debated, though practiced through progressive tax systems as essential to maintaining the public good of all, including the rich. Take this one idea into the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign, and it will help you position of all the candidates relative to Catholic Social Justice teaching.

What is noteworthy in the Acts account is that life was defined by belief in the resurrection. Life here and now was judged in the light of the Life to come. Christ’s self-emptying love led to abundant life, and his followers witnessed to God’s gift of eternal life by living generous and sharing lives in the short time allotted to us in this world. What would it profit us to be selfish to the point of gaining the whole material world if it cost us eternity with God?

The Christian rule remains: From each according to his or her means, and to each according to his or her need. This produces a community in which everyone can flourish in love. As challenging as it seems, it is up to us to apply this principle to our everyday lives.

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Our Rebirth in Water and the Spirit

Posted on 13 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Nicodemus came to Jesus at night" (John 3:1).

Nicodemus the Pharisee is on the threshold of faith in Jesus. But the Gospel adds one small detail that tells us he is still in a state of indecision and skepticism. Nicodemus comes at night so no one will see him. It is simply too soon and too risky for him, a brilliant scholar of the Law, to be thought a disciple of this new, hill country preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.

Like Thomas in yesterday's Gospel, Nicodemus wants proof before he will commit to faith in Jesus. Under cover of darkness, he approaches him and acknowledges that the many miracles and the power of his teaching are signs that Jesus must be from God.

Jesus engages Nicodemus and goes to the heart of faith. Unless he is "born again from above," Nicodemus will not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Only by a baptism of water and the spirit will this great scholar be able to begin again like a newborn to understand what God is doing through Jesus.

Nicodemus is stuck at the literal level: "How can a man grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb?" Jesus tells him that he is still in the "flesh," whereas only when he is in the "spirit" will he understand what it means to be born from above. Faith comes like the wind. We don't know where it comes from or where it goes, but know it only by its movement through the trees.

We are given an Easter season of 50 days to begin to grasp the need for a rebirth of mind and heart that will open us to the mystery of risen life in Jesus. The gift of Easter is not something we will know only after death. It is for now, the second wind that lifts us to a new level of understanding and purpose. Come at night if you need to, but find Jesus and begin the conversation that will change your life forever. He is waiting for you.

Are You Filled with Easter?

Posted on 11 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

The story of Doubting Thomas was added to John’s Gospel to reassure believers two generations after the fact that the resurrection was real, but also that it was part of a larger mystery of salvation that was just as accessible to them as it was to the first witnesses. Therefore this story is for us. It also encourages us to bring our doubts and questions into our faith formation process.

Thomas asks for tangible proof that the crucified Jesus had appeared alive to the other Apostles the previous week. Make no mistake about it, he demanded to put his finger in the nail holes in Jesus’ hand and his hand into the wound in his side. But Thomas’ insistence on physical evidence gives way to an overwhelming sense of awe in the presence of the risen Jesus. He can only utter “My Lord and my God” in response to a theophany, a profound encounter with the divine mystery of God incarnate. Like the experience of Saul on the road to Damascus, Thomas’ entire way of grasping reality is flooded with insight that can only lead to worship.

The Thomas story is an invitation to us to open our minds and hearts to the same experience. John’s entire Gospel is an unfolding series of signs that open people to the presence of I AM, the divine name revealed in Jesus. This appearance story also contains the gift of the Spirit as Jesus breathes on his Apostles, a reference to the creation. They are the new creation. Their mission is now to go forth and heal the first creation, broken and distorted by sin. They are given the power to forgive sins.

The Easter story stops short if it is only about Jesus. The full story is the mystery of his presence in us and our mission to extend his redemptive transformation in time and place. With every breath we take, we share his healing word. Even our suffering is joined to his wounds as we extend his healing touch to the suffering lives we encounter. Our doubts and questions enter the dialogue of real evangelization as we encounter the skepticism of others who want proof that all this talk of love and forgiveness is for real. We must show that it is by the way we live.

Easter is our invitation to become the storytellers who draw others to the faith by exhibiting in our lives the signs of God’s living, breathing presence in the world. Are you ready to be an Easter person?

Let's Go Fishing!

Posted on 10 April 2015 by patmarrin

“I am going fishing” (John 21:2).

Today’s Gospel tells one of the most beautiful reconciliation stories in the Bible. After the disastrous and mysterious events in Jerusalem at Passover, Peter and the other Apostles have retreated to Galilee. Peter’s abject failure to stand by Jesus must have weighed heavily on his heart. Lost and at odds over what to do next, Peter decides to take up his old trade and go fishing.

The seven men in the boat fish all night but catch nothing. Early in the morning, a figure standing on the shore calls out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Thus begins a key encounter with the risen Jesus that will define the mission to come. Peter will be reconciled to Jesus in a scene that replays his triple denial with three pledges of love. His leadership will be founded on this intimate moment of mercy. Who better to preach mercy than one who has been utterly saved by mercy?

Each of us has his or her own story of coming to faith. For some it involves profound failure and recovery. For others, an original call has deepened over the years with regular habits of prayer and reflection. For many, the journey has barely begun, but God loves us and will deal with everyone in a personal and timely way.

The lessons of today’s Gospel are many, but here are a few to ponder. It was in their ordinary lives and activities that Jesus entered the lives of Peter and his companion fishermen. What we know and do best is what God uses in calling us to be disciples. It is love that recognizes the presence of Jesus before any intellectual or theological insight. A night on the water catching nothing is often necessary to learn our need for God’s help.

Baptism, or many baptisms, mark the ongoing encounters we need with Jesus to understand his love for us and the implications of that love in our lives. Suffering and failure are fast tracks to compassion and service.

There is so much to learn from this story. Why not just take the day off and go fishing.

With Us Now

Posted on 09 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Why are your troubled? Why do these questions arise in your minds?" (Luke 24:37).

Do you believe in the resurrection? How do you imagine it? If you had been one of the first disciples, what would you have seen and experienced?

If such questions cross your mind, you are not much different from the second generation of believers who received the tradition but were not themselves eye-witnesses. Today's Gospel from Luke was probably composed around the year 80, or some 50 years after the events it describes, The first Christian communities had been dispersed to North Africa and Asia Minor following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. Luke is writing for them.

Luke describes Jesus coming to the Apostles to reassure them that he is no ghost, but alive in a risen body that bears the marks of his crucifixion. He is able to eat with them and to be touched. This scene follows yesterday's Gospel about the two disciples who encounter a stranger on the road to Emmaus, so it continues a faith tradition that says that the risen Jesus was present in both mysterious and tangible ways.

Doubts about the resurrection may have arisen in the Greek culture the church had entered in the diaspora. Greek dualism held that human beings were divided into flesh and spirit, and at death the immortal spirit, or soul, was freed from the body. Jewish belief, though similar, insisted on the inseparability of the human person as breath and body. We do not have bodies; we are bodies. So when the body dies, the person dies.

The church held to the belief that the risen Jesus was not a disembodied spirit or ghost, but a human being transformed and in glory, raised by God to the final stage of human development as a new creation in God. The end of the story had visited the middle of the story to reveal the purpose of life and the path to glory. What the Apostles had witnessed was Jesus, their crucified master, now revealed as the Christ, God's Son in glory.

It would take three centuries for the precise formulas to be hammered out by church councils that dealt with the identity of Jesus as a divine person with two complete natures, human and divine. But for the early church, what mattered was a living encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus available to all believers, and most especially in their communal gatherings to share the Scriptures, to break the bread and in their ministry to one another in love and to the poor.

We are living our Christian faith in this way. We do not worship a disembodied God watching over us from outside history, but a God who is with us and one of us, intimately engaged in our lives here and now and in our shared work of transforming the world with justice and love. We are the body of Christ, crucified and risen. This is our life-giving encounter with Jesus in the same way that disciples of every time and place have known and loved him.

Easter Surprise

Posted on 08 April 2015 by patmarrin

"While they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him" (Luke 24:15).

The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has been called a gospel in miniature. It describes the journey the early church had to make to understand how the apparent defeat of Jesus was in fact God’s secret plan to save the world. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” If you attended the solemn Easter vigil service, you made the same journey by listening to the seven Scripture readings that culminate in the Easter proclamation.

It takes a stranger on the road to reinterpret everything the disciples saw as failure to be God’s plan. The facts were overwhelming: Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem and his followers had scattered in fear and despair. The pair on the road were no doubt fleeing the scene for their own safety when Jesus shows up to accompany them. They are blind to the truth. “How foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”

Jesus the stranger, his identity hidden from their eyes, walks them though the scriptures from Moses to the prophets. As the disciples begin to understand, their hearts burn within them, but the full revelation does not happen until they beg the stranger to stay with them for the night. At table, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it with them. It is then, in the midst of their eucharistic meal, that their eyes are opened.

Jesus, really present in the breaking of the bread, becomes invisible to physical sight, but their faith now sees, their minds are opened and their hearts are filled with joy. The disciples immediately set out for Jerusalem to tell the others. The story describes how the early church came to faith in the risen Jesus, who was their message to the world.

It is just when we think we understand that God enters our world to reinterpret everything in the light of Christ. Our despair is changed to hope. Our failure leads to a baptism of mercy that enables us to preach forgiveness to others. The shattered community reassembles at the Table of the Lord, where the broken body of Christ is the source of our unity, his death the source of our life.

Faith is a journey of surprises. What strangers will enter your life today, and will your eyes be open to them and your heart welcome the good news they will reveal?

The Heart Sees First

Posted on 07 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Woman, why are you weeping?" (John 20:12).

In the 1943 classic, The Little Prince, author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes an encounter between the boy and a fox he is trying to befriend. One of most famous quotes of the book is when the fox says, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The resurrection appearance stories in John’s Gospel emphasize this same mystery. It is only love that truly enters the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mary, the one disciple who understood his impending death when she anointed Jesus’ feet in Bethany, is the first to grasp the joyful truth of his resurrection as she weeps near the empty tomb.

Mary comes to the tomb to complete the burial ritual of anointing the dead body of her Lord. In her determination she grounds the faith of the early church in the bodily resurrection. It is not a spirit that escapes the tomb, but a human body in transition to its final form in glory. The continuity of the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth and the risen body of Jesus the Christ is crucial to the church’s belief in Jesus as not only God, but God incarnate.

John’s Gospel is called the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple because the witness behind the tradition that became the fourth Gospel makes clear that love is the key to discipleship. Jesus loves the disciple, and this love opens him or her to an intimate knowledge of Jesus. The disciple Jesus loved is the voice of the Gospel, present in all of the appearance stories.

When Mary delivers the message to the Apostles that she has seen the Lord, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved race to the tomb. But love outruns the official leader, then waits for Peter to enter the tomb first. Love sees the arranged burial cloths and in faith grasps the reality of the resurrection the official church will makes its founding doctrine.

Today’s Gospel passage and the others we will ponder this Easter week are both beautiful and powerful in the formation of our own faith in Jesus. We are invited to read them with both our minds and hearts. Faith is formed in a personal encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus, who is both our brother and Lord.

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We Are Easter People

Posted on 06 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" (Matt 28:10).

Miracles create shrines. But the greatest miracle of all became a traveling tour of revelation and manifestation that defied prediction and control. From the empty tomb and the appearances to the women, the resurrection quickly disappears into history. Jesus' triumph over death signals the end of the old creation and the start of the new, where the seeds of new life wait to be sown by the disciples of Jesus.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus tells the women to instruct his apostles to go to Galilee. He is going before them into the world, and there they will encounter him again and again in different circumstances, sometimes mysteriously, other times directly. The death and resurrection of Jesus is now the pattern of their lives and the engine of history toward full transformation.

We are now part of that transformation. If we die to ourselves in order to live with him, the risen body of Christ will extend through us in time and place to renew the world, restoring creation to God’s original plan in which grace perfects nature, love liberates those in captivity to sin and destined for death. Our share in the risen life of Christ through baptism holds the promise of full lives here on earth and life with God in eternity.

Wherever the Gospel is preached, grace is at work in the rhythms of everyday life. When we trust God’s love and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will experience the presence of Jesus in our midst. The Apostles’ mission to teach, heal and reconcile continues in us. We are Easter people, sent to demonstrate that God’s promises are true, active and effective. Our “Happy Easter” to one another and to others, in word and deed, is the heart of our evangelization and the source of our hope.

Do not be afraid. Death is overcome. Hope is kindled and shines brightly in the night as Jesus rises like the morning star announcing the dawn of the new creation.