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Happy the Feet that Bring Good News

Posted on 06 December 2014 by patmarrin

"I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Mark 1:7).

John the Baptist's job was to proclaim the Incarnation. If that sounds overwhelmingly theological, consider that God’s entry into world was the body of Jesus, complete with hands and feet. Tiny to begin with, but nonetheless intimate and familiar to us for whom he came.

John ends his announcement with awe: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” This was the task of a slave. In the ancient world, slaves went barefoot while serving the powerful, who wore footwear.

Google "shoes" and learn that only 20 percent of the world’s population today wears shoes. Some by culture and choice, but many because the shoes they assemble in sweatshops for first world consumers are too expensive to buy. Search further to learn that Americans spent $48 billion on shoes in 2012, at 29,000 shoe stores employing 189,000 people.

Aside from John’s assumption that the Messiah would wear sandals, there is no mention in the New Testament that Jesus wore shoes. When the soldiers gambled for his garments at Calvary, there were no shoes mentioned. A barefoot Jesus is possible. Moses was told to remove his Egyptian-made shoes before the burning bush (Exod 3:5). Jesus made the ground beneath his feet holy wherever he walked. Women loved his feet, could not keep their hands and kisses off of them. He returned the gesture by washing the feet of his dusty, reluctant disciples at the Last supper, including the feet of his betrayer.

If you are in church this weekend, consider the joy of Psalm 122, recited by pilgrims arriving at the temple.“Our feet are now standing at your gates, O Jerusalem.” God is coming to us this Advent. Can you hear the divine footsteps? Open wide the gates of your heart to welcome this Emmanuel.

One small step for you; one giant step for all of us.

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Can't You See?

Posted on 05 December 2014 by patmarrin

“Do you believe that I can do this?” (Matt 9:28).

Misery loves company. The Gospels offer several instances where distressed people band together, the 10 lepers being the best example. They have something in common in a sea of rejection. But today’s story about two blind men describes both their solidarity and the hopelessness of their situation. The they are the blind leading the blind.

They hear that Jesus is near, passing by, and they somehow make their way to the house he has entered, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us.” This a messianic title that evokes Israel’s hope for full restoration to past glory. Jesus engages them to determine whether the essential ingredient in all his healings is present — their faith. “Do you believe that I can do this?”

The two blind men say, “Yes, Lord,” and Jesus touches their eyes and says, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” It is a central Gospel theme that “faith” is about “seeing” at several levels. We say, “My eyes were opened” to describe insight or sudden revelation. So it is in this story. The two men, formerly blind, now can see, and, despite Jesus order to keep this healing secret, they become evangelists.

We who read and entrust our hearts to this living Word today are invited to deeper faith that leads to even deeper faith, new sight that leads to insight, then mission. Until we make this move, we are blind together, wandering in a world blind to the presence and purpose of God. Our Advent prayer starts here, with the courage to cry out in our darkness, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us.!”

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Bridges Not Walls

Posted on 04 December 2014 by patmarrin

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Matt 7:24).

What is the rock foundation that survives the storm? The history of Christian theology shows a long back-and-forth dialogue to achieve the precise balance in our understanding of God, right relationship with God, self and with one another. Extremes collapse, while patient dialogue leading to consensus stands firm and becomes the common ground for authentic teaching.

St. John of Damascus (676-749), a Syrian monk called “Golden Mouth” for his eloquence in helping shape church doctrine, was a bridge figure between East and West, Christian and emerging Islamic theologies, between ecclesial and civil interests. He is known for his defense of icons, aids to help people access divine mysteries in a human way, thus affirming the sacraments as our way to know God, incarnate in Jesus.

In our own world of profound polarization and ideological divisions on a global scale, holy people like John stand out as fearless models for openness to dialogue. In his recent visit to Turkey, Pope Francis echoed this approach by declaring his willingness to seek common ground even with the Islamic State now fighting Western forces throughout the Middle East.

Each of our lives reveal faultlines over race, status, wealth, religion and politics. More bridges are needed and fewer walls. Who will step into the breach between sides poised for conflict? Who is brave enough to challenge the demonization that makes community impossible by declaring the truth that God is in all things?

Find more images of John on the Internet like this Arabic icon.

Come to the Mountain

Posted on 03 December 2014 by patmarrin

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples” (Isa 25:6).

“Jesus went up on the mountain, and sat down there” (Matt 15:29).

Today’s Advent readings give us a clear look at how Matthew’s Gospel matches Old and New, images from the prophets with their fulfillment in Jesus.

Yahweh communed with his people through Moses on the mountaintops. Food, water and healing flowed in those encounters to sustain Israel on its pilgrimage across the Sinai to the Promised Land. Jesus goes up the mount near the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds come to him for healing and food. We glimpse here the reign of God. Seven loaves and a few fish satisfy everyone, and seven baskets show God’s abundance. Creation is complete. The covenant is fulfilled. The community has arrived on God’s holy mountain.

Advent renews the promise for us. We sharpen our anticipation and stir up our faith. Despite the evidence of division and suffering, want and violence in our world, God is affirmed as the source and destination of our human pilgrimage. Advent is desert time, winter in our hearts, darker, shorter days as the sun moves lower on the horizon. These are the worst of times, but also the best. As eyes grow keener in the shadows, so our hearts lean into the silence, listening, waiting, trusting.

Advent is a birth announcement. Out of death and despair will come new life and fresh hope. Come to the mountain. Heaven will come to earth in the Incarnation, Word made flesh, God among us. Every dream, wish and need will be met in the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

To understand is to stand under

Posted on 02 December 2014 by patmarrin

“What you have hidden from the wise and learned you have revealed to the childlike” (Luke 10:21).

Sister Corita Kent (1918-1968), a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary community, gained international fame for her vibrant serigraphs during the 1960s and 1970s.

One of her posters captured the secret of seeing the world honestly: “To understand is to stand under …” It is a message with wide application, but helps explain why the poor and powerless people of the world understand the systems that control them far better than those in or above the same systems. The perspective from below sees the exposed attitudes and structures of oppression because the full weight of any bureaucracy is felt most by its victims.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises his Father for revealing to the poor a wisdom hidden from the wise and learned. God’s preferential love for the poor becomes clear at the grassroots level, the bottom-up perspective that sees how top-down power is wielded in the world. The kingdom of God, Jesus says over and over again, is an upside down world: The first shall be last, the last first; leaders must be servants; true greatness is found in humility.

Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit to see this revolution underway. He was not fooled in the desert by Satan, who tried to convince him that he could save the world by seizing power. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus lays out his mission by quoting Isaiah 61. His anointing is not to affirm the status quo but to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives and sight to the blind.

The journey of Advent is a downward mobility that sheds privilege and power in order to stand with the poor under the false economies that blind us to those on whose backs we are standing. Freedom and joy begin with seeing things as they really are, as God sees them. Only there and then do we have a place to stand, to understand, to begin to see the hidden face of God.

Much of Sr. Corita’s work is on the Internet. I take the liberty to share one small image with this reflection to encourage you to see more of it.

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

Posted on 01 December 2014 by patmarrin

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isa 2:4).

Today’s Advent readings join the famous passage from Isaiah about demilitarizing the world, with the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill. The coming of the reign of God will transform the implements and soldiers of war into the tools and producers of peace.

The centurion – literally, an officer in command of 100 soldiers – expresses his faith that Jesus has the authority to heal his servant, even from a distance. It is the same authority he wields in directing his soldiers in battle. Say but the word, and it will happen. Jesus praises his blunt grasp of the effectiveness of real authority, and proclaims that this pagan soldier has more faith than he has found in all of Israel. Jesus knows that the Spirit of salvation is universal, going out ahead of his Jewish ministry to extend God’s grace to the nations.

We begin Advent with this same confidence that the Incarnation is not a local event or a belief touching only the Christian community, but meant for the whole world. To accomplish this transformation means that every warring, quarreling, competing, fear mongering, threatening force and angry heart in the world must be touched by the authority of God. Like a parent who steps into the conflicts between his children, God reveals in Jesus the model for peace making, the one who is willing to lay down his own life before he will take another, the one who loses himself in the common good, the one who befriends his enemies and overcomes hostility with love.

What better way to begin our Advent journey, with these thoughts in mind and the grace to do our part to prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Wait Up For Me

Posted on 29 November 2014 by patmarrin

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved” (Ps 80).

Advent is the season of waiting. By analogy, a body that seldom experiences thirst will also never know the thrilling taste of cool water after a time of dehydration. If you have never longed for something with all your heart, you cannot imagine the overwhelming joy of welcoming a friend after a long separation or relief at receiving important news.

Advent invites us to live with hope as a way of life; it encourages us to long for what is never fully complete, to hold in our heart prayers so deep they are never finished, the kind of prayers St. Paul tells us the Spirit prays for us because we don’t know how to pray. All we have are sighs and groans, but the Spirit interprets our needs and aligns our own spirits with the will of God.

Advent describes the Beatitudes. Think of those who anguish over the racism that permeates our national identity and history. How will we ever change this to prevent future outbreaks of anger and hurt. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” When and how is the work of grace, groans and sighs reaching critical mass with the help of the Spirit.

A familiar phrase, “Don’t wait up for me,” becomes God’s invitation to us to do just the opposite. Like the faithful servant in today’s short Gospel, Jesus wants us to be on the watch, at the door, ready to open ourselves at the slightest knock. To behold his face is the deep prayer we do not recognize is the answer to all our other prayers. When Jesus appears and takes his place within our hearts, all shall be well, complete, holy.

For now, this Blessed Assurance is not the end of the story but its beginning. Welcome to Advent.

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Signs of the Times

Posted on 28 November 2014 by patmarrin

“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees” (Luke 21:29).

As difficult days for the country cast a shadow over the holidays, newspapers and TV stations look for stories of inspiration that cast a spotlight on individuals who have made important contributions to the community. In each story, recognition always reveals a much deeper narrative of long-term effort, steady discipline and generosity. No one bears fruit without a season of planting, cultivation and growth that makes a harvest possible.

The parables of Jesus reveal just how organic his understanding of life was. God’s grace works within the seasons. Goodness is a seed of possibility that must be sown, sinking roots below ground, lying fallow, then appearing, fragile at first, facing the adversities of sun and rain and cold. If what is begun survives, it flowers and bears fruit.

There is no other way, no miracle as great as the laws of life that underlie reality: You will reap what you sow; what goes around comes around; the measure by which you measure will be measured back to you. Every effort has its seasons. Patience lets life unfold naturally. Why be surprised?

No matter what the situation, the reign of God is near, at hand, the finger of God is here, you are not far from the kingdom. Enter and stay in the zone, for when we do, grace facilitates our small efforts, supports our networks of relationships, connects the dots.

If you want something good to happen, begin today. What God begins in us will be brought to completion in its own time and season.

The Other America

Posted on 27 November 2014 by patmarrin

“When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28).

“And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:13).

There are two options in the Lectionary for today, two gospels from Luke, one about the end of the world, the other a familiar story about the gratitude of a Samaritan among 10 lepers cleansed by Jesus. The first set is for the ordinary weekday readings and the second set is for Masses in the United States celebrating Thanksgiving Day.

Two themes, one of apocalypse and the other of gratitude, might prompt another option-burdened question today: Is there more than one America on this Thanksgiving 2014?

In 1962, a book titled The Other America: Poverty in the United States renewed the public debate about economic and racial inequality in this country. Author Michael Harrington, born in St. Louis, educated by the Jesuits and formed by the Catholic worker movement, became an important public intellectual whose stark assessment of disparity influenced the War on Poverty and the civil rights struggle for a generation.

Events in Ferguson, Missouri, cannot but stir up the same debate today as income inequality and our consumer culture leave more and more people behind, aliens and outcast within their own nation.

Jesus identifies with those at the margins. The twice cursed Samaritan leper is the only one who recognizes the full gift Jesus offers by restoring both his human dignity and divine destiny. The leper’s experience of exclusion and discrimination leads him to the source of God’s unconditional love. His healing is the starting point for the transformation of a sinful world. We rejoice to be invited into this redemptive work. Our gratitude for this and all our blessings is to take up the responsibilities that flow from what we have received.

Fire in the Lake

Posted on 26 November 2014 by patmarrin

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21:19).

Today’s scripture readings again address contemporary issues in a stark and probing way by invoking layers of history repeating itself.

The Book of Revelation presents a vision of seven angels and seven plagues delivering God’s judgment on the earth. One stunning image is of “a sea of glass mingled with fire” (Rev 15:2). This was the basis for the title chosen by journalist Frances Fitzgerald for her 1972 history of the US debacle in Vietnam: Fire in the Lake. The book chronicles the total dislocation between Vietnam’s deep cultural history and American intentions during the long, brutal war (1955-1975).

Part of that tragic time as it resonated on the home front was Martin Luther King’s condemnation of the war in Vietnam in 1967 in a sermon delivered at Riverside Church in New York City, one year before his assassination in Memphis. King saw the war as doubly racist in that it dehumanized an Asian enemy as inferior and was being disproportionately fought by young men from poorer communities of color who could not evade the draft. King’s analysis of the close connection between, racism, poverty and militarism intensified his campaign for civil rights to a comprehensive critique of the entire system, making him a pariah in the eyes of many politicians and figures like the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to expect opposition for pressing the truth and protesting injustice. “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name” (Luke 21:12).

Public protest is something of an art form in a democracy as one way to bring an issue forward in our complex media culture. Many young protestors are experiencing a baptism of fire in being arrested for acts of civil disobedience that highlight the racism, poverty and militarism in today’s world. They are encountering a deep tradition of prophetic protest, truth standing up to power, that goes back to Jesus himself.

A different world is possible. A different world is necessary. The call to take our place in working for a better world comes to all of us.

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