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To Whom Shall We Go?

Posted on 22 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:69).

I have quoted the lyrics from a song from the musical "Cotton Patch Gospels" in this blog before, and I quote them again because they capture the moment described in today’s Gospel. Jesus has finished his discourse on the Bread of Life, ending with the incredible invitation to his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood if they want to have life. Many of the disciples shake their heads and turn to leave. Jesus looks at his apostles and asks, “Do you also want to leave?”

The song by Harry Chapin is called “Jubilation” and has these lines: “Everybody wants to touch his dream just one time, I know I’ll never ever get this close again.”

Peter, speaking for the other apostles, expresses the same anxious feeling. We have been with you all this while and something has captured our hearts. “To whom shall we go?” We have touched our dream, and if we walk away now, we will never ever get this chance again. “You have the words of eternal life.”

This moment in the Gospel is hard to explain to anyone who has not touched a dream or felt the deep longing to pursue a mystery that has appeared in his or her life. Those who have fallen in love and realized that if they turn away this may never happen again—they know the poignant urgency that characterizes the kind of life moment Peter and the others faced with Jesus.

Each time we receive Communion, we are touching and being touched by God. In Jesus, the divine source of all life comes so close to us it is more intimate than our heartbeat or breath, for it is the cause of our very existence, our reason for being. Even the most intense human experience of love is only a prelude and metaphor to this encounter with God in Christ.

The challenge of faith is that this mystery remains hidden until we are ready to receive and respond to it. We must be awakened to it, say yes to it freely before the grace can embrace and transform us. If communion is a kiss, we are invited to it again and again before love comes alive and leads to commitment, for the implications of this relationship are great and irreversible. We will not find it anywhere else, and if we turn away, we may never get this close again.

Wherever You Go, I Will Go.

Posted on 21 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Wherever you go, I will go" (Ruth 1:16).

Many love stories are included in the Bible, but none captures the poignancy of life's twists and turns and the place of God's loving Providence quite like the story of Ruth.

It begins with three married women; Jewish Naomi and her Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. They are then all widowed. Orpah returns to her family, while Naomi plans to return to Judah. Ruth asks to come with her, pledging her loyalty in the beautiful words, "Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you dwell, I will dwell, your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

But this first love story is only the beginning. In Bethlehem of Judah, Naomi encourages Ruth to approach Boaz during the barely harvest. Boaz, relative to her late husband and two sons, has an obligation under Jewish law to care for Ruth. In a scene Hollywood could never have scripted, Ruth goes to the harvesting camp in the evening, lies down near the sleeping Boaz, who awakens and covers her with part of his cloak, a sign of betrothal.

But an even greater love story will complete the tale. From Ruth and Boaz, King David will enter the genealogy of salvation history. Ruth, the Moabite woman, is the great grandmother of David, whose royal house will frame the promise of the future Messiah, born in Bethlehem. God takes our human love stories and fills them with mystery and grace. The Word made flesh in Mary of Nazareth, wife of Joseph of the House of David, and born in Bethlehem of Judah, is the greatest love story ever told.

Today’s Gospel passage about the Great Commandment only amplifies this truth. We are made in love and for love. To know God is to be intimately aligned with the source of life and the unfolding mystery of love that holds us in existence and prepares us for eternity. Our deepest prayer is the prayer of Ruth — to be with Jesus, heart, mind, soul and strength.

"Lord, I want to be with you, to go wherever you go, to dwell wherever you dwell. For your God is my God and your people are my people."

Choose Now the Future We Want

Posted on 20 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14).

The theme of decisive response followed by judgment characterizes a number of parables toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel. These stories clearly reflect the traumatic events that occurred some 40 years after the time of Jesus. The Jewish rebellion and Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE radically changed the religious landscape of the ancient world. Over a million people died and a huge diaspora of both Jews and Christians fled from the region into the Mediterranean world of Asia Minor and north Africa.

Matthew’s community in Antioch looked back on this catastrophe and asked the obvious questions about the meaning of these events for both Israel and the early church. The parable of the wedding feast the invited guests refused to attend and were replaced by outsiders was one of these interpretations, and it includes the detail that the offended king sent his armies to destroy those who had killed his messengers and to level their city.

The idea that the Jewish failure to accept Jesus resulted in historical punishment and the passing of the covenant to the church took deep root in the Christian narrative, becoming the basis for centuries of anti-Semitism and the idea of supercession, that God had abandoned the Chosen People and the original covenant with the Jews. Vatican II’s 1965 declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate, clarified this distorted view by affirming the eternal validity of God’s Covenant with the Jews and the intimate connection between Judaism and Christianity.

In Luke 19:41, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem for the failure of its religious leaders to hear his message of peace, thus averting the nationalist and apocalyptic violence that was to destroy everything. It did not to need to happen this way. What this means for us today is that history is largely in our hands and the future does not just happen of itself but is shaped by the decisions we are making right now.

This is an important message as we reflect on the prophetic voices of Pope Francis and others on the care of the environment and their warning that the crises being created by economic disparity, violence, the displacement of millions of people as refugees and the rise of religious conflicts are threatening to create a permanent state of war in today’s fragile world.

God does not need to judge or punish us, because if we ignore our prophets and set in motion forces that come full circle back upon us, we will punish ourselves. But if we respond collectively to change our world, we will live and prosper. God’s future is a wedding feast, and we are all invited to attend. RSVP today.

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The Challenge of Mercy

Posted on 19 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” (Matt 20:150.

The parable of the vineyard workers might have been named “It’s Not Fair” for the reaction it evokes from many listeners. The generous owner gives every worker the same full day’s pay, whether they came early in the morning and worked all day or were called into the fields for the final hour. This sparks outrage in the first workers, who receive what was promised them but then calculate their value against the full wage the latecomers receive to reason they should get more. They resent both the owner and the other workers. “It’s not fair!"

The parable seems designed to provoke this response. Like other parables of mercy Jesus told to the righteous people of his time (the Lost Sheep, Lost coin, Prodigal Son, Unjust Steward, Good Samaritan), Jesus is presenting them with a much different and larger image of God than the one they have projected based on their own standards. A God who welcomes sinners, invites gentiles into the plan for salvation, shocks us with his unconditional love for virtuous and sinful people alike, such a God is indeed a provocative call to grow beyond our calculating hearts and narrow minds.

What does it really cost us if God loves everyone equally? We receive the fullness of that love—our daily bread and a full day’s worth of grace. Just how generous is this God of ours, and what would change in our lives if we imitated this unconditional love? How much freer would we be if we let go of our need to judge others, calculate our worthiness compared to theirs, and if we could dump the baggage of keeping track of other people’s sins and weaknesses?

Every worker in the parable went home to their families that day with a full day’s pay, so every house ate and could celebrate. The only difference was that some workers were joyful and some were bitter. The story makes sense only in God’s economy and by divine logic, but that is the way it is in the Kingdom of heaven, both in this world and in the next. Meet the God Jesus knew and preached.

Money

Posted on 18 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Amen I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:23).

Why is it hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven? This statement by Jesus after the rich young man went away sad astonished the disciples, who saw wealth as a sign of approval from God. Wealth brought all the good things of life, including the power to help others, do good works and perform acts of charity.

The adage about camels going through the eye of a needle emphasized the burden of great possessions, the precise reason the rich young man turned away when Jesus invited him to give away everything and come follow them on the road.

If we think about it, houses and cars, bank accounts, investment portfolios, keeping track of tax deferral through capital gains, sheltering money in foundations, off shore accounts, or making interest income, business connections and social status takes up most of your time, monetizes your priorities and values and pretty much defines who you are.

How many people have imagined that if they became rich they would still be generous and wonderful people, tithing their wealth and helping the poor. But along the way to gaining wealth, they became totally focused on leveraging their position upward, competing with other get-rich types who abandon their friends, marriages, children and principles to get to the place where they could be good, respected people again. But by then they have forgotten how to be ordinary folks. And besides, managing and protecting their money takes up all their time and energy.

For Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven was always here, in the moment, in the freedom to respond to others, to enjoy the beauty of the world and the pleasure found in friendship and community. It represented an alternative to the attitudes of constant acquisition and competition, quantifying reality and people rather than seeing the mystery of life, the hidden treasures of love and respect that flow freely to those whose hearts are caring rather than calculating. The sadness of the rich young man was the sadness of the whole system that could only see life as a market in which quid pro quo defined everything.

Jesus never blessed poverty or the indignities of want and struggle. He saw a society based on family values of sharing, from each according to his gifts, to each according to his needs. If we understand this, we will live in the Kingdom of heaven today and know the joy of the Gospel.

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Money

Posted on 18 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Amen I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:23).

Why is it hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven? This statement by Jesus after the rich young man went away sad astonished the disciples, who saw wealth as a sign of approval from God. Wealth brought all the good things of life, including the power to help others, do good works and perform acts of charity.

The adage about camels going through the eye of a needle emphasized the burden of great possessions, the precise reason the rich young man turned away when Jesus invited him to give away everything and come follow them on the road.

If we think about it, houses and cars, bank accounts, investment portfolios, keeping track of tax deferral through capital gains, sheltering money in foundations, off shore accounts, or making interest income, business connections and social status takes up most of your time, monetizes your priorities and values and pretty much defines who you are.

How many people have imagined that if they became rich they would still be generous and wonderful people, tithing their wealth and helping the poor. But along the way to gaining wealth, they became totally focused on leveraging their position upward, competing with other get-rich types who abandon their friends, marriages, children and principles to get to the place where they could be good, respected people again. But by then they have forgotten how to be ordinary folks. And besides, managing and protecting their money takes up all their time and energy.

For Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven was always here, in the moment, in the freedom to respond to others, to enjoy the beauty of the world and the pleasure found in friendship and community. It represented an alternative to the attitudes of constant acquisition and competition, quantifying reality and people rather than seeing the mystery of life, the hidden treasures of love and respect that flow freely to those whose hearts are caring rather than calculating. The sadness of the rich young man was the sadness of the whole system that could only see life as a market in which quid pro quo defined everything.

Jesus never blessed poverty or the indignities of want and struggle. He saw a society based on family values of sharing, from each according to his gifts, to each according to his needs. If we understand this, we will live in the Kingdom of heaven today and know the joy of the Gospel.

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Travel light, follow me

Posted on 17 August 2015 by patmarrin

“When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Matt 19:22).

The rich young man who came to Jesus to ask how he could gain eternal life, goes away sad because Jesus identifies his preoccupation with his many possessions as the obstacle to a freer, more gracious life. The story is about individual priorities but could also be about nations.

A nation caught up in anxiety over money and the need to amass things loses its ability to see the real wealth that comes from relationships, higher purpose and the freedom of traveling light through this world.

Today’s first reading from Judges 2 describes the history of Israel’s failure to keep its covenant with Yahweh, abandoning justice and right relationships to engage in the idolatrous worship of other gods. It is punished severely within history for losing its identity and communal values. When preoccupation with money and possessions, power and status is more important than our covenant with God, our own consciences and our commitment to others, we are on the road to self-destruction.

There is much to reflect on in these readings as we listen to political candidates discuss the future direction our nation ought to take, including the use of our military, our economic interests, our regard for the poor in our own country and around the world, our responsibility for the planet and our accountability to future generations.

Failure here to keep our covenants is also a path to self-destruction. The rich man went away sad. We do not know the rest of the story. It is our own story, and the direction it takes is up to us.

“I put before you life and death; choose life.”

The Breaking of the Bread

Posted on 15 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you” (John 6:53).

The centrality of the Eucharist in Christian faith is undisputed. Our communion in Christ is the sign of unity in love made possible by the Incarnation – “God-With-Us” in our human flesh. Human maturity, nourished by ordinary food, now has a divine destiny, nourished by intimate friendship with God through Jesus.

The depth and richness of the Eucharist is found in the layers of meaning that link our Mass with the Jewish Seder and Passover. For Jesus and for the early faith community, this meal defined his death as Exodus from the slavery of sin and death to the promise of new life in covenant with God. By baptism, we enter the waters of passage to freedom by sharing the death of Jesus so as to share in his risen life.

Eucharist is the unfinished sign of the redemption of the world from the disparity and injustices that divide us. Each time we participate in the Eucharist we commit ourselves to the mission of the church to extend the communion of self-sacrificing love to others, to expand the circle of unity until it encompasses the whole human family.

In this sense, the Eucharist is the gathering point and focus of everything we believe. As preeminent symbol, literally “throwing together” of every doctrine and theme, it imprints us with the “real presence” of the crucified and risen Christ. This identity in turn commits us to be living signs of Jesus in the world, shared in service, consumed by self-sacrificing love for the sake of the common good.

The scandal of the Eucharist, reflected in the shock of the disciples in today’s Gospel, is less about the explicit invitation to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus as their acceptance of the entire mystery of the Incarnation and the redemption of the world through him. We ought to be staggered by the call we have all received in baptism to share in this mystery. We should know what we are doing each time we celebrate the Eucharist and receive Communion.

[For a comprehensive look at the full implications of the Eucharist, see Monika Hellwig’s essay at http://www.theway.org.uk/Back/s067Hellwig.pdf ]

A Sign of the Covenant

Posted on 14 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Not all accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted" (Matt 19:10).

Today' Gospel reading contains a dense layer of tradition and interpretation that reflects some of Jesus' positions on the indissolubility of covenant marriage, the reality of divorce and the mystery of celibacy. As we get closer to the October Synod on the Family and the debates over the church's teaching on human sexuality, we can gain insight into what was apparently an evolving situation in the very early church.

Jesus in Matthew's Gospel clearly defends the original mystery of marital union as a sign of God's covenant with Israel. As God is faithful, so marriage makes two into one, an intimate and mutual bond. Breaking the bond or consorting with another partner is like idolatry, the worship of a false god, a direct assault on the covenant. So protecting the ideal of an indissoluble marriage bond is a defense of the divine covenant.

At the same time, Jesus notes that Moses, the chief teacher of the Law, the basis for the life of the covenant community, accommodated the human practice of divorce and remarriage because of human weakness, a practice that fell below the ideal.

In today's terms, once a marriage is seen as sacramental-- a sign of covenant love -- it is permanent. Yet many unions are recognized as not achieving that status (the basis for annulments).

At the end of the passage, we also see the tension between life in this world and the world to come. The kingdom of God, described by the paradoxes of the Beatitudes, is life here and now but also in the future, a mysterious zone of what is and yet not yet. It is a state of longing for justice, mercy, meekness, comfort in a world still mired in injustice, cruelty, pride and sorrow. Those who can live in this tension by God's grace are witnesses to the world to come.

We all live in this unresolved striving, seeking perfection in an imperfect world, aiming for the ideal but encountering human weakness. The church encompasses this process of becoming, and we, as both saints and sinners, are a sign of all human longing for resolution. We are also a community that struggles with questions of mercy and justice, grace and law.

Jesus has called us to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. This is our journey from sin to grace, righteousness to compassion for one another as fellow pilgrims. This can only happen with mercy.

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Mercy Upon Mercy

Posted on 13 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?" (Matt 18:33).

This parable puts in stark contrast God's unconditional love for us and our limited love for one another. It goes to the heart of the challenge of mercy.

Peter had just asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive a brother who has sinned against him. "Seven times?" he asked, the most generous number he could imagine. Jesus shocked him by saying, “No, Peter, 70 times seven! No limit at all, keep showing mercy to those who offend you."

Jesus then tells the parable about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by his master only to turn around and demand that a fellow servant repay him a small amount or be sent to debtor's prison with his whole family. It is an outrageous act of ingratitude that puts in perspective our reluctance to show mercy compared to God's infinite mercy for us.

God’s name is Mercy, unconditional love for us in our weaknesses and sins. Pope Francis has repeatedly said that God never tires of forgiving us; it is we who tire of asking forgiveness. Our very existence is God’s gift, and as we make our way toward maturity learning by our mistakes and stumbling in and out of sin, God’s patience never abandons us. All God asks of us is that we have the same patience with one another.

The call of Jesus is not to be righteous or perfect by our own measure, but perfect in love as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Even more important than the effect it has on others, forgiveness defines us and makes us holy. This is the joy of the Gospel, for it frees us from the burden of judging others and the fear of being judged ourselves.

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