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"I Thirst"

Posted on 17 March 2015 by patmarrin

"Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up" (John 5:5).

Water means life, especially for a people born in the desert. Hebrew slaves had survived for 40 years in the Sinai after their escape from Egypt. Entry into the “promised land” meant a watered land filled with vineyards and fig tree orchards, lush grazing for their flocks.

Today’s readings from Ezekiel 47 and John 5 play on the theme of life-giving water. The cripple at the pool at Bethsaida had been waiting 38 years to be healed, and his encounter with Jesus, the source of life, would end his long drought and free him from his bondage. This scene follows the story in John 4 of another encounter at Jacob’s well at Sychar, a Samaritan woman thirsty for love who finds springs of love without limit in Jesus.

Years ago, I was sitting in the shadows at the back of a small chapel when a man entered and stood gazing up at a large crucifix near the front. I knew the man enough to know that he was struggling with a serious alcohol addiction. His prayer was reflected in his upturned face, desperate to be free of this affliction, which had become a matter of life or death.

I could not know the meaning of that encounter for him, but in my mind’s eye I imagined the figure on the cross saying to him, “I thirst.” Only someone who has experienced the soul-parched emptiness of the addict can know what recovery costs and how hard it is to rise up and walk free again. Jesus was not offering a miracle, but to accompany the man through death to new life.

How thirsty are you? The real enemy of conversion is shallow satisfaction, having just enough of everything to never feel desperate for real life, deep fulfillment. This is why during Lent we are urged to find the desert in our wants and needs, to fast a little to awaken real hunger and thirst for the genuine source of life. Uncover the well within and find God, real love, deep satisfaction, a never-ending fountain of life.

Rich Man, Poor Man

Posted on 16 March 2015 by patmarrin

"Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum" (John 4:46).

The healing of the son of the royal official is significant in that it frees Jesus from any interpretation of the Gospels that says he came only for the poor and downtrodden. He came for everyone. The grace of God penetrates every human situation, finds the wealth of faith in those who are poor and the poverty of heart that can afflict the rich. Salvation comes to the street people and the Pharisees, to saints and sinners, to the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Jericho and the house of the royal official in Capernaum.

We see the importance of this universal reach of God's gifts in the dramatic struggle that overtook the tiny country of El Salvador at the time Oscar Romero was archbishop (1977-80). He preached the church's message of "God's preferential option for the poor" defined by regional bishops in Medellin, Columbia. He sided with the cause of the poor campesino's who were being terrorized by the military to protect the interests of the rich landowners. But, as the pastor of the whole church, Romero never ceased trying to bridge the gap between rich and poor, to call everyone to the conversion of heart that alone could bring reconciliation and peace.

This effort was what distinguished Romero from others those who saw the conflict in Latin America as a class struggle between rich and poor, with violent revolution as the only solution. His critics, both inside and outside the church, tried to characterize Romero as a Marxist ideologue who had exceeded his spiritual role to "meddle in politics."

Romero's assassination in 1980 by powerful figures linked to the military was meant to silence a voice calling for the end of the killing by both sides. A controversial figure with enormous political influence was killed, but a martyr and a saint were revealed. Romero gave his life to take the Gospel from the sanctuary into the arena of global conflict over money and power. His death at the altar during Mass showed his true role as a priest, not a politician.

Romero was holy because he imitated Jesus, who had also announced the good news to everyone, rich and poor alike, and who likewise was hated by those on all sides who unsuccessfully tried to co-opt him to their cause against the others.

Romero’s beatification on May 23, 2015, will open once again the questions raised by Vatican II: What does it mean to be the church, not in some ahistorical or transcendent sense, but the "church in the modern world?”

Nicodemus, What Do You See?

Posted on 14 March 2015 by patmarrin

“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light” (John 3:21).

It is the most natural of instincts. If we find ourselves in the dark, we go toward the light. In a spiritual sense, to go to the light is to discover Jesus, the light of the world.

Whether the regular B Cycle readings are used this Fourth Sunday of Lent or the A cycle in parishes with Catechumens, the theme is the same; Light and sight. If we cannot see because we are blind or in darkness, we will not be able to find our destination – life in God. Jesus is the light that dispels every kind of darkness, for he is the model for our transformation. To “see” Jesus, which in the Gospels means to “believe” in him, is how we become like him, restored to the image and likeness of God. Discipleship is about becoming like Jesus, which is also how we become our true selves.

Nicodemus, troubled in mind and spirit by this Galilean layman who teaches with such authority, comes to speak with Jesus at night. He is in the dark both in fact and in mind. Nicodemus cannot see. Jesus tells him he must be reborn from above, and Nicodemus cannot grasp this insight.

In the longer reading (John 9:1-14), another blind man encounters Jesus, and his entire life is changed. And because he comes to see Jesus, he is expelled from the temple by the religious leaders who have been blinded by their angry denial of the obvious power Jesus has to restore sight to the blind. They are so convinced that this simple carpenter is neither prophet nor holy, but an imposter possessed by the devil, they cannot see what is right before them – the way out of their darkness and back into the light.

There is hope for Nicodemus because he wants to see. This great, learned teacher is willing to come in the dead of night to engage Jesus in a life-giving encounter that will kindle in him the light of life. His rebirth will come first through a hidden discipleship for fear of his fellow Pharisees. He will witness the violent rejection and death of Jesus before his eyes are fully opened, and only then will he see that the Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled in the life and death of this Suffering Servant sent by God to save the world.

This Gospel passage contains what is perhaps the most widely recognized sentence in the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish and might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

This is what Nicodemus came to see clearly. It is not religion or the law or virtue that saves us. It is love. God’s love, measured in the most unbearable gift the human heart could ever know -- the love of a parent who loses a beloved child to save another. Jesus was that beloved Son. To see him, to know him and to love him is our heartbreaking entry into the ineffable mystery of God.

My Word Dwelling in Your Heart

Posted on 13 March 2015 by patmarrin

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, only 16 chapters long, each one compact and no frills. Yet in today’s passage, Mark luxuriates in repeating the entire Great Commandment about love of God and neighbor twice in just six verses. It is as though the scribe who asks Jesus about this core text, recited by all Jews each day, and Jesus, who answers him, find joy in simply saying the words:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

This text formed the foundation of the Covenant and contained all other commandments, all morality and spirituality. It was the one response to God that defined us as human beings in this world. As we rose to face each new day, feeling totally inadequate and fragmented, this text had the power to call us into existence once again, grounded in the Source of our being, blessed with everything we needed to live fully and with integrity.

Mark, as efficient as he was, might have reduced his entire Gospel to this prayer, recording that Jesus said these words, then lived them to the full. Everything else followed, including his death and resurrection. If we truly loved God with this devotion and our neighbor as our self, the whole world would be redeemed before us, with every word we spoke and every step we took.

Joy is the first act, God’s word dwelling in our hearts. Do this, and the rest will follow.


Let It Out!

Posted on 12 March 2015 by patmarrin

“Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed” (Luke 11:14).

I was talking with an old friend recently who was noted for his tremendous laugh. He could literally fill a large room with the booming and contagious joy that burst out of him when he found something funny. He confessed that many years ago a colleague had warned him that his laughter might be an expression of deep sexual impulses. It was an absurd contention, no doubt from someone who seldom laughed and therefore considered himself under control.

Looking back at this blatant attempt to shame and suppress an amazing gift, I have to wonder if just the opposite isn’t the case. It is not those who express themselves freely that we need to worry about, but those who bottle everything up, who block awareness and access to their own inner need to show emotion. The spontaneous expression of feeling is a sign of health. Repressed emotion is a sign of hidden fears and desire in the unconscious that limit and distort a mature response to life around us.

The man Jesus liberates in today’s Gospel is afflicted with a curious condition. He is possessed by a demon that was mute. Rather than uncontrolled outbursts, the man was unable to express himself. What is human life except the freedom to express ourselves, to reveal who we are in speech and emotion, which leads to relationship with other people also expressing themselves in communication. We become human by speaking, gesturing, singing, creating, befriending one another.

How curious it was that Jesus' enemies witnessed his amazing ability to bring life to wounded people. But instead of praising him, they sought to suppress his ministry, absurdly claiming it was an expression of evil. Perhaps they were jealous of his power and authority, or they were uncomfortable around someone who was so much more free than they were. Whatever the causes, these critics twisted the obvious good Jesus was doing into something dangerous and bad.

Let us rejoice in the gifts God has given us by using them fully today. This who we really are and who we will be in heaven.


Stone and Scroll

Posted on 11 March 2015 by patmarrin

“Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19).

Jesus, whose Kingdom was not of this world, knew the power of tradition and institutional religion. In today’s Gospel, he affirms the value of keeping the Law and respecting the traditions.

In the first reading for today from Deuteronomy, Moses makes obedience to the Law the foundation of the covenant God formed with his people when he brought them out of Egypt and made them a nation. At the time of Jesus, the temple in Jerusalem and the scrolls of the Law and the Prophets kept in every synagogue represented the ongoing fidelity of the people to the covenant. Every human institution that has lasted has likewise tried to enshrine itself in stone and founding text and to transmit its values through education and cultural formation.

Yet it seems clear that symbols alone are not enough. Sacred texts and impressive structures are meaningless unless the principles they espouse are enacted. The true expression of any tradition is a living person who is honest and just. Institutions that fail to live up to their own ideals are undermined at the foundations and soon erode and crumble in times of crisis.

For Jesus, the test of the tradition was loyalty to the spirit of the law, obedience to the essence of the tradition, which was a living relationship of love with God and for neighbor.

The disciple must be imbued with the spirit of love and at the same time grounded in the teachings of the faith. A single faithful follower of Jesus is a living stone and a sacred scroll in the community of faith.


International Forgiveness Day

Posted on 10 March 2015 by patmarrin

“Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” (Matt 18:34).

I have been told that the Russian word for goodbye means “Forgive me.” It is a lovely thought, a whole world running on constant forgiveness, every encounter, every relationship cleared of any shadow of regret or offense as millions of people make their way through another day of stubbed toes and hurt feelings.

Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the Kingdom of God in our hearts. It sets everyone free of the slow drag of defensiveness and rationalization that robs us of creative energy to simply live. Once we recognize each other as flawed human beings in constant need of mercy and generosity, we can be about the business of doing our best, starting over each day, mending the world as we go.

Jesus’ parable about a man who is forgiven a huge debt and then bears down on another man who owes him a pittance is a masterpiece of Kingdom logic. Forgiveness is God’s constant attitude toward us. As Pope Francis has said, “God never tires of offering us forgiveness; it is we who tire of seeking it.” Lack of repentance or forgiveness on our part blocks the flow of love through the entire web of relationships that holds us in existence. That blockage narrows our ability to receive love or pass it on to one another. We stop living when we stop forgiving.

Today might be International Forgiveness Day. Imagine a world in which everyone forgave one other person. We can make it our own day to clear the books of old hurts and resentments, a day on which we get up the courage to reopen a “cold case” when a friendship fell victim to misunderstanding or communication stopped.

Better “Forgive me” than simply “Goodbye.”


Posted on 09 March 2015 by patmarrin

"Amen, I say to you. no prophet is accepted in his own native place" (Luke 4:24).

Rejection is what most human beings fear most. Teenage retreatants uniformly confess this in revealing themselves to their peers. Adults need therapy and support groups to face it, to rebuild their self-images and confidence. Recurring dreams take us to a place of anguish where no one recognizes us.

After his baptism and the dramatic start of his public ministry in nearby Capernaum, Jesus returns to his home village of Nazareth and is promptly rejected. Call it jealously or incredulity, his own family and neighbors found him too much after having known him all his life as just one of them. Where did this simple carpenter get all of this wisdom and power? When Jesus cited examples of other prophets who had to go to foreign lands to work their signs and be accepted, the good people of Nazareth tried to throw him over a cliff.

Acceptance is important, but rejection has the power to define us. It strips us back to essentials, to a solid sense of self grounded in truth and proven value no one can take away from us. Jesus must have been in full possession of his identity when he made the fateful journey home. So many prominent people have come home to be reduced to children in the presence of their parents, or belittled to their most vulnerable memories by sibling rivalry and ridicule.

Jesus had survived both his baptismal blessing and his desert encounter with Satan. He was beyond the need for approval from anyone. He had already set his face like flint in the deep prophetic tradition that would take him to Jerusalem to his death. He would stay the course even when his closest friends betrayed, denied and abandoned him to public humiliation and a brutal crucifixion.

Therefore the risen Christ would know and have overcome the worst that this broken world could visit on any human victim, and the mercy he would offer would already encompass the depths of weakness and sin any human perpetrator could imagine or inflict. He would go the distance and bring home on his shoulders the proverbial lost sheep from any conceivable rebellion or despair.

This is the Jesus we have pledged to follow on our Lenten journey. So let us entrust our self-doubt and anxiety to him, for he knows the road ahead and reassures us that, come what may, if we are faithful, we will be with him in paradise.


Spring Cleaning

Posted on 07 March 2015 by patmarrin

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:16).

One of the most difficult and dramatic dialogues Pope Francis has opened up with the world is about market capitalism. While many critics are quick to argue that this form of economic exchange is better than state control or totally unregulated competition, few can deny that global systems as they now exist have contributed to enormous wealth disparity, political corruption, the abuse of labor, global instability and serious environmental damage.

The pope is not saying anything new; the principles he is advocating are taken from traditional Catholic social justice: the dignity of work, the common good, basic human rights, including a living wage, the right to organize, to participate in policy making, for education and healthcare, clean air, water and adequate food. Massive poverty, high death rates, poisoned ecosystems in many parts of world point to structural problems that favor profit, protect the status quo and ignore the legitimate aspirations of millions of people, leading to political instability and violence.

When Jesus disrupted business as usual in the outer precincts of the temple in Jerusalem, he was protesting more than the failure of piety in a place reserved for prayer. He was attacking a marketplace mentality that was corrupting religion, with the collusion of the priesthood with those who benefited from the revenue that flowed into the temple treasury from the sale of sacrificial animals, money changing and taxes skimmed by the Roman occupation and by King Herod.

Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, a non-Jew, had built the temple to strengthen his position in Palestine under the Romans. His brutal and scandalous reign was in sharp contrast to the sacred nature of the temple, and many people would have sympathized with Jesus’ symbolic action, which struck at the nerve of complicity among all the ruling entities that together ran the country. Money had become a form of idolatry, true worship co-opted by philanthropy, supporting a small, rich class of noblity and clergy in a sea of poverty and oppression.

The cleansing of the temple was the action that sealed Jesus’ fate. Like many prophets, it was not his spiritual reform that got peoples’ attention, but economic disruption. His protest at Passover, when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims, likely triggered the official decision to arrest and execute Jesus as an intolerable threat to the temple establishment, public order and the power of Rome.

We can surely take a spiritual message from this Gospel story in our Lenten journey; it is never too late to examine our own idolatries and our need to cleanse our motives. But something larger is signaled in taking seriously both Jesus and Pope Francis when they point to the economic systems we share and benefit from when they are built on the backs of the poor. What is the real cost of our convenience, comfort and lifestyles if others suffer because of the way we live? How can we take the next step in our discipleship with Jesus?

Love the Dream, Follow the Dreamer

Posted on 06 March 2015 by patmarrin

"Here comes that dreamer Let us kill him ..." (Gen 37:19).

In today's pairing of the story of the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers and the plot by the vineyard tenants against the owner's son we see the rich texts the Gospel writers had at hand to apply to Jesus.

He is the beloved son of Jacob, opposed by his own brothers out of jealousy and sold into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. But he will save his people by providing bread in a time of famine. Jesus is again the beloved son of the vineyard owner, murdered when he is sent to ask the tenants for an account of their stewardship, a parable based on the powerful song in Isaiah 5.

By weaving these two themes from the Hebrew Scriptures into the New Testament, the early Christian community saw the rejection and death of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Both ancient accounts are tragic love stories. The beloved boy in the rainbow coat and the innocent heir who comes to the vineyard are sacrificed within a much larger narrative in which we are saved and the first fruits of God’s investment in us are harvested. Jesus is that beloved son and heir to the promise, offered to those who share in his death and resurrection.

Lent is our time to see this larger narrative unfolding around Jesus and to take our place in the story. We are God’s beloved, but also stewards in the vineyard of redemption. Love dies when it is never reciprocated. No relationship takes hold and grows without conscious recognition and participation. Discipleship is our way to enter a love relationship with God that puts us on the road with Jesus to the events of Holy Week and Easter. He is the dreamer and we are the dream, a love story that begins here and leads to eternity.