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Lift High the Cross

Posted on 14 September 2016 by patmarrin

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him might bot perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

To live in a consumer culture is be immersed in symbols tied to products. The corporate logos and slogans, once known to insiders as “hidden persuaders” are now so overt that people willingly wear them on their clothing and personally identify with the values they supposedly convey. Think Apple, Adidas, Nike, BMW, Mercedes Benz or Starbucks. Each logo has a history and is loaded with associations and feelings reinforced by thousands of commercials and ads that have “branded” the image into popular consciousness.

One of the oldest and most powerful logos in the world is the cross. It has the distinction of beginning in a reality so violent that only centuries of reflection and use have transformed its paradoxical meaning and made it universally recognizable.

The death of Jesus on a cross was a shocking and shameful sign of rejection in the ancient world. St. Paul preached Christ crucified, but called it a “scandal to Jews and a stumbling block to the Greeks.” The evangelist Matthew called it the “messianic secret,” the divine reversal of all expectations in a savior who surrenders all power and honor by dying as a common criminal.

The other evangelists delved into the prophecies to find precedent for God’s “suffering servant.” In today’s Gospel from John for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the ”lifting up of the Son of Man” is compared to the serpent images Moses displayed in the desert to heal believers inflicted with deadly wounds. Faith in Jesus and baptismal participation in his suffering and death is the “sign of the cross” at the heart of Christian discipleship and the Paschal mystery.

We might think of ourselves as branded by the cross, the indelible image of Christ that defines our entire lives, our attitudes and actions. Only when this logo forms and influences us more than any other loyalty will we truly understand why the church celebrates the cross as the sign of our salvation.

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Love Is Stronger Than Death

Posted on 13 September 2016 by patmarrin

“Do not weep” (Luke 7:13).

The raising of the son of the widow at Nain establishes Jesus as a prophet as great as Elijah, who raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17). The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1 ff., sets the scene for Jesus’ own resurrection. The gospel message is that love is stronger than death and that faith in Jesus promises new life beyond the grave.

Every Christian funeral puts this faith to the test. We grieve for our beloved dead by recalling the promise of eternal life made to them at baptism and with every Eucharist they received. We celebrate Christ as a light going forward through the darkness of death to new life. We read the scriptures, like today’s gospel account, believing that we shall see our loved ones again in eternity.

The visible reality we must live in does not dispel the shadow of death or free us from suffering and anxiety. But faith can free us from the paralyzing fear of death that keeps us from risking ourselves in love and in the service of others. The promise of resurrection enables us to live fully here and now, a foretaste of the power of love to overcome the effects of sin and death that intimidate and undermine life.

How much good is never attempted because of fear? How many graces go unused because we decide not to risk taking the initiative in a difficult situation or time of need? Risen life can be experienced now when we follow the prompts of the Spirit to speak and act with courage. Those who have gone before us are a chorus of encouragement: “Don’t be afraid! Love overcomes death. God is present in every moment and every opportunity to do good!”

The Challenge of Equality

Posted on 12 September 2016 by patmarrin

“A centurion had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him” (Luke 7:2).

First Lady Michele Obama, in her address at the Democratic National Convention, noted the historical fact that the White House she lives in was built by African slaves. The reality of slavery reaches back throughout so much of human history that we refer to it as an “institution."

Greek political philosophy and Roman law, the basis for our American democracy, were ideas cultivated in the leisure made possible by the slave labor that built Athens and Rome. Egypt built the pyramids with slave labor. The basilicas of Mexico were built by indigenous natives conquered by the Spaniards. The American agricultural economy was built on slavery.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus heals the slave of a Roman centurion, part of the occupation force in Palestine, without questioning the fact of slavery. Only in Paul’s letter to Philemon, owner of runaway Onesimus, do we glimpse the beginnings of an appeal for equality based on Christian brotherhood. Slavery was so deeply established in the ancient world, it remained nearly invisible as a fundamental ethical evil. Even today, in the guise of low wage jobs and criminal trafficking, millions of human beings remain enslaved around the world.

The Gospels represent the unfinished business of an evolving global awareness of human equality and the hard work of changing cultures and systems of economic benefit. We are inspired by today’s message of faith, but are also invited to look at the frame of the story to realize how great the challenge is. Jesus revealed an image of God totally incompatible with the domination of one human being by another. But we, as his presence in the world today, must complete the revelation by working for the freedom and welfare of all our brothers and sisters.

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Choose Life

Posted on 10 September 2016 by patmarrin

“Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32).

This Sunday’s liturgy coincides with the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and offers a particular challenge to proclaim Jesus’ message of mercy and reconciliation.

The three parables of mercy in Luke Chapter 15 are a moving presentation of the radical call of the Gospel to extend ordinary compassion to the radical risks God takes in loving us even when we are sinful.

A shepherd defies the limits of logic to leave 99 sheep in the wilderness in order to rescue one runaway. A woman turns her house upside down rather than lose one of 10 coins she values. Finally, a father grieves over the loss of a prodigal and foolish son until he can welcome him back into the family, despite the resistance of an older son who resents his generosity.

The measure of love Jesus challenges us to is not based on the worthiness of the one receiving it, but on the infinite love of God, who never stops loving and forgiving sinners. This same standard underpins Jesus’ rejection of violent revenge and wars of retribution as counterproductive and self-destructive.

If this seems radical or even utopian, we need only examine the 15 years since 9-11: Two long and costly wars, an entire region of the world destabilized and spiraling into further violence, the spread of ideological and religious hatred worldwide, open societies contracted into national security states with domestic politics fueled by paranoia and fear, cultural escapism.

Many civic and religious events this weekend will lament and honor those who lost their lives because of 9-ll. What has become a national hymn, “God Bless America,” is also a prayer for something lost that must be found. The survival of individual nations and the global community will depend on a new wisdom about the hard work of reconciliation and the value of nonviolence. We have few options. The Gospel puts before us life and death. And urges us to choose life.

I Can See Clearly Now

Posted on 09 September 2016 by patmarrin

"Can a blind person guide a blind person?" (Luke 6:39).

Jesus' little parable about the speck and the beam captures the reality of human subjectivity. Every person sees the world from a personal point of view and in terms of their own interests and needs. We inevitably make judgments about others from this perspective, but ironically we have a "blind spot" for ourselves because we are too close to ourselves to be objective.

If you have ever had a speck in your eye, it feels like a beam because it is so obtrusive. It prevents us from seeing anything else clearly. Another lesson of the parable is that we often need someone else to help us remove it. Jesus is that helper, our teacher who wants us to see the truth about the world and about ourselves.

A disciple is schooled in how to see objectively. But there is another paradox. To feel compassion for another person we also need to be able to see as they see. Only then will be understand them and love them as we love ourselves. The ultimate goal of discipleship is to see as God sees, with perfect love.

When we pray to be able to see, this is what we are praying for. What an amazing thing it is to see without judgment, to be free of selfishness. We will walk in the light of love and be able to guide others as our teacher has guided us.

Mary's Birthday

Posted on 08 September 2016 by patmarrin

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Matt 1:18).

Even a cursory genealogical search will reveal an important truth: W are the result of a long line of other people whose decisions influenced the trajectory of our own lives. Old photographs show family resemblance, letters describe immigrant journeys, certificates of birth, marriage and death reveal the DNA of one generation flowing into the next, small tributaries that became the rivers of national life.

The genealogy of Jesus, recorded by Matthew to establish his link to Abraham, father of the Promise, reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the flesh and blood of humanity long before grace makes possible the Incarnation. But every life in that list of begetters had significance for the child of Mary. The great narrative of salvation prepared the way for divine mercy to shape history. We are blessed to celebrate the story that made possible our hope.

If our lives sometimes seem miniscule and insignificant, we recall that Mary’s “yes” changed the course of history. Each time we say yes to God in the everyday tasks and necessities of ordinary life, we contribute to the larger design of God’s love at work in all of us. Like Mary, we may barely understand what our decisions mean. But being faithful, praying for insight and courage, doing what comes next, is how we participate in God’s plan.

Mary's Birthday

Posted on 08 September 2016 by patmarrin

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Matt 1:18).

Even a cursory genealogical search will reveal an important truth: We are the result of a long line of other people whose decisions influenced the trajectory of our own lives. Old photographs show family resemblance, letters describe immigrant journeys, certificates of birth, marriage and death reveal the DNA of one generation flowing into the next, small tributaries that became the rivers of national life.

The genealogy of Jesus, recorded by Matthew to establish his link to Abraham, father of the Promise, reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the flesh and blood of humanity long before grace makes possible the Incarnation. But every life in that list of begetters had significance for the child of Mary. The great narrative of salvation prepared the way for divine mercy to shape history. We are blessed to celebrate the story that made possible our hope. We celebrate Mary's birthday today to remind ourselves of how grace flows through history, including us, to accomplish God's purposes.

If our lives sometimes seem small and insignificant, we recall that Mary’s “yes” changed the course of history. Each time we say yes to God in the everyday tasks and necessities of ordinary life, we contribute to the larger design of God’s love at work in all of us. Like Mary, we may barely understand what our decisions mean. But being faithful, praying for insight and courage, doing what comes next, is how we participate in God’s plan.

Now and Not Yet

Posted on 07 September 2016 by patmarrin

"The world in its present form is passing away" (1 Cor 7:31).

To be human is to be both immersed in the world but also detached from it. Time and space hold us in each day's demands, yet we transcend its limits in our longing for resolution. The unfinished work of creation and the desire for justice and peace produce a tension that is bearable only in prayer and by trusting in God's promise of a new world arising from the shell of the old.

Jesus' Beatitudes describe this tension. Disciples live between the now and the not yet. We are in the world but not of the world. St. Paul tells believers in Corinth to live normally but to be alert for God's entry into history and the return of Jesus. The early church lived the Beatitudes, traveling light, always prepared for this world to give way to God's surprises.

Time and experience teach us how transient the affairs of this world really are, each day's news eclipsed by the next, trends and culture in a continual churn as each generation is surpassed by another, birth and death sweeping us along like dust in the wind. Only one thing endures and is real-- God's will and the grace that invites us to be part of the divine design as free agents and cocreators. The Gospel lifts us up in hope and strengthens us for the tasks at hand and the eternity being revealed in the smallest duties we fulfill each day.

Stay in Touch

Posted on 06 September 2016 by patmarrin

"Everyone in the crowd reached out to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all" (Luke 6:19).

When we see how much trouble Jesus had with his disciples, we might wonder why he didn't go it alone. They were slow to understand his mission, fought among themselves and, in the end, abandoned and betrayed him. Jesus could have delivered his message and worked miracles so much more efficiently and directly if he had not needed to stop to explain and persuade others.

But it seems clear that in order to transform the world Jesus had first to create a community. He surrounds himself with disciples who must themselves be transformed. He welcomes the crowds who reach out to touch him. God's power to heal and forgive flows from Jesus in an ever-widening circle of graciousness and love, like leaven in dough, raising everyone to a new kind of life.

One of the great temptations of modern individualism is to pull away from other people, to find personal space and purpose free of the mess of human obligations. Jesus instead immerses himself in the human condition and in the plight of others, especially those most encumbered by weakness and sin. His mission was to save everyone, not just himself. So as Jesus approached the cross, we was carrying all of us through death to new life.

We rejoice to have his example and encouragement in our own human journeys. We go to God with him and with one another. There is no other path and no other way to reach out to touch eternity.

Labor Day 2016

Posted on 05 September 2016 by patmarrin

"Stretch out your hand" (Luke 6:10).

The healing of the man with the withered hand is appropriate to today's national holiday in honor of labor in he United States. The miracle not only healed a hand, it restored a life by enabling that man to work, to support himself and his family, to re-enter the community with dignity and independence as a contributor.

These are all the values we celebrate on Labor Day: the availability meaningful jobs, adequate pay, safe workplaces, reasonable hours, appropriate benefits, non-discrimination and fairness in hiring, good management. Without these rights and opportunities, a nation cannot function and community is not possible. Every withered hand limits a life and diminishes the whole community.

Catholic Social Justice principles uphold these core values as necessary for human life and as a foreshadowing of the Beloved Community Jesus preached. Our faith commits us to these goals. When we see progress here, we know we have something to celebrate.

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