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Thanksgiving

Posted on 22 November 2012 by patmarrin

“Your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).

The Church provides two sets of readings for today, one suitable to the Thanksgiving holiday and the other for the ongoing apocalyptic themes emphasized as we end one liturgical year and approach Advent. In Luke 17, the leper who returns to give thanks is praised; In Luke 19, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Our reality is always a mix of light and darkness, hope and trouble.

The November 22 date is seared into the memories of a generation – the day President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. For many of us it seemed like the end of the world. The country entered into a long period of shock and introspection, and a feeling of lost innocence pervaded everything. And though this was hardly the first time violence defined either our domestic life or our foreign policy, the decade had begun with such a spirit of optimism and idealism. It would end witnessing the horrors of the Vietnam War, a string of assassinations and the bloodiest phase of the Civil Rights movement.

Almost 50 years later, another young president oversees a faltering economy and a global “War on Terror’ fought with immense blood and treasure and scores of pilotless armed drones roaming the world in search of our enemies. Hope and despair define the world with disproportionate force inflicted by fate and design on the poor and displaced. We are right to stop to count our blessings, which include the tears of Jesus over us and our cities, a continuous baptism to cleanse us of sin and lead us to conversion. Our faith has the power to save us, but we must first live it.

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Presentation

Posted on 21 November 2012 by patmarrin

The Jewish ritual of presenting a child in the Temple is commemorated today in the life of Mary. The feast has no biblical basis other than the general practice, which assumes that Mary’s parents, named Joachim and Anne by tradition, brought her at three-years-old for presentation to the priests. Luke 2:22 records the same ritual when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus after his circumcision. The practice acknowledges that all children are gifts from God and belong to God.

All parents learn this truth. Whether their children are adopted or biological, they are on loan, God’s investment in us that we will care for and nurture them. That so many children in our world are not received this way is one of the deep tragedies of life and a challenge to the glaring disparities in our economic and political systems. An estimated 7 million children under the age of 5 died in 2011, the majority predictably in the developing nations, where poverty, health and environmental factors are the leading cause of infant and child mortality. These brief lives and the potential gifts they held are marked “return to sender.”

We measure the loss in contrast to the joy surviving children bring to those who can welcome and love them. A baby held, a grandchild dandled on the lap, first words and steps, a toddler’s explorations and questions help us all rediscover the mystery of life. When Jesus said that only children enter the kingdom, he was describing a world in which every social structure and institution, policy and goal begins with the question, “How will this affect children.” If this were observed, every conflict would be resolved without war, every government would be run by parents, and mothers and children would always come first.

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Trading Places

Posted on 20 November 2012 by patmarrin

"I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19:6).

Jesus arrives in Jericho after healing the blind man on the way. Word of the miracle has gone ahead, and a huge crowd jams the streets in anticipation of catching a glimpse of this wonder worker and perhaps witnessing another spectacular healing. There will be just that, but not in the way the crowd expects or understands. Jesus’ encounter with the head tax collector, the most despised man in Jericho, will stir up a storm of criticism. Of all the upstanding citizens and respected figures in town, how can the visiting prophet be so politically incorrect as to choose the house of Zacchaeus to stop and share a meal?

Eager to see Jesus but short of stature, Zacchaeus climbs a tree. He sees Jesus and Jesus sees him, a man up in a tree. In a very short time, Jesus will be the man in the tree, crucified for the sins of the world. The encounter, like all of Jesus’ acts of reconciliation and healing, will be a matter of trading places. Zacchaeus is healed and his stature is restored in the community; Jesus will be condemned and expelled as a convicted criminal and heretic. A meal is celebrated at Zacchaeus’ house; Jesus’s sacrificial death for our sake will be forever celebrated in the breaking of the bread.

There is an unbearable richness in every encounter with Jesus. To seek him in our busy, crowded days is also to be sought by him, invited to dine with him, and to become one with him.

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Sight

Posted on 19 November 2012 by patmarrin

“I want to see” (Luke 18:41).

Our dear Brother Louis, longtime director of one of the local Catholic Worker houses, will have his right eye removed on December 5. Glaucoma took the sight last month, and the eye itself will be removed to prevent further infection. We are all shaking our heads at the irony that the one person with the clearest-eyed vision of reality is losing part of his physical sight. Louis Rodemann, Christian Brother, aka Brother Louie to everyone who has fallen through the safety nets in Midtown Kansas City, Mo., and to the thousands of volunteers who have helped serve meals and provide other services at Holy Family House over the past three decades, will still be able to see what is invisible to most. The disparity that defines our world is everywhere, and it has never required 20/20 vision or two eyes to see its human face.

The blind beggar on the road to Jericho wanted to see. Jesus restored his physical sight but also the vision to see God at work in the world. To pray is to realize that Jesus is passing by and that if we call out to him, he will summon us and ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” We would be wise to ask for sight. It is the first gift every disciple needs to decide what their next step will be.

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St. Albert the Great

Posted on 15 November 2012 by patmarrin

“The kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:22).

The simplest affirmation of the mystery of the Incarnation is the world itself. The Creator is in the creation. Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when God’s Kingdom was coming. He said, in effect, it is right here, in your midst. Don’t search your books for concepts or prophecies. The world is the Book of God.

St. Albert, the great 13th century Dominican theologian and teacher of Thomas Aquinas, combined theology and science as the pursuit of the same truth. At a time when many theologians were trying to leave behind and below the messy world of frogs and flesh to pursue God in the mind, Albert affirmed the Incarnation. Jesus is the embodiment of God. His full humanity claims all of creation for transformation by grace. The whole is holy. God is here and now, in the pulse and throb of life, in the ebb and flow of human relationships and in every encounter, whether it is between people or molecules.

The image with this reflection is my rendering of a beautiful statue standing at the entrance of St. Albert the Great Church in Minneapolis. Albert, affectionately known as “Big Al” by Pastor Joe Gillespie and the parishioners, holds a large frog and a book. Nature and theology, the world and the Bible, are inseparable. Thanks be to God. Ribbit.

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Unclean

Posted on 14 November 2012 by patmarrin

“Go show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:13).

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus always observes the Law, so he sends the lepers to the priests. According to Levitical law, the priests had to examine the lepers before reinstating them to the community. The story is rich in implications. The 10 lepers include both Jews and Samaritans; their common lot as outcasts trumps the deep animosity between the two groups. Cleansed, nine lepers do what Jesus had told them to do, but one, a Samaritan, returns to the source of his healing to give thanks. For this, Jesus says that the leper’s faith has saved him. He has found both healing and eternal life.

An even deeper mystery is occurring here. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. There, he himself will become outcast, suffer and die. This empowers him to take the place of others who are suffering from rejection, disease and sin. Jesus is the priest who heals and restores everyone he meets by trading places with them, taking their sufferings on himself.

All ministry happens because we are willing to contaminate ourselves with the troubles and sufferings of one another. By this openness we imitate Jesus. We find life and give life by fulfilling the Law of love.

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