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Are You Filled with Easter?

Posted on 11 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

The story of Doubting Thomas was added to John’s Gospel to reassure believers two generations after the fact that the resurrection was real, but also that it was part of a larger mystery of salvation that was just as accessible to them as it was to the first witnesses. Therefore this story is for us. It also encourages us to bring our doubts and questions into our faith formation process.

Thomas asks for tangible proof that the crucified Jesus had appeared alive to the other Apostles the previous week. Make no mistake about it, he demanded to put his finger in the nail holes in Jesus’ hand and his hand into the wound in his side. But Thomas’ insistence on physical evidence gives way to an overwhelming sense of awe in the presence of the risen Jesus. He can only utter “My Lord and my God” in response to a theophany, a profound encounter with the divine mystery of God incarnate. Like the experience of Saul on the road to Damascus, Thomas’ entire way of grasping reality is flooded with insight that can only lead to worship.

The Thomas story is an invitation to us to open our minds and hearts to the same experience. John’s entire Gospel is an unfolding series of signs that open people to the presence of I AM, the divine name revealed in Jesus. This appearance story also contains the gift of the Spirit as Jesus breathes on his Apostles, a reference to the creation. They are the new creation. Their mission is now to go forth and heal the first creation, broken and distorted by sin. They are given the power to forgive sins.

The Easter story stops short if it is only about Jesus. The full story is the mystery of his presence in us and our mission to extend his redemptive transformation in time and place. With every breath we take, we share his healing word. Even our suffering is joined to his wounds as we extend his healing touch to the suffering lives we encounter. Our doubts and questions enter the dialogue of real evangelization as we encounter the skepticism of others who want proof that all this talk of love and forgiveness is for real. We must show that it is by the way we live.

Easter is our invitation to become the storytellers who draw others to the faith by exhibiting in our lives the signs of God’s living, breathing presence in the world. Are you ready to be an Easter person?

Let's Go Fishing!

Posted on 10 April 2015 by patmarrin

“I am going fishing” (John 21:2).

Today’s Gospel tells one of the most beautiful reconciliation stories in the Bible. After the disastrous and mysterious events in Jerusalem at Passover, Peter and the other Apostles have retreated to Galilee. Peter’s abject failure to stand by Jesus must have weighed heavily on his heart. Lost and at odds over what to do next, Peter decides to take up his old trade and go fishing.

The seven men in the boat fish all night but catch nothing. Early in the morning, a figure standing on the shore calls out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Thus begins a key encounter with the risen Jesus that will define the mission to come. Peter will be reconciled to Jesus in a scene that replays his triple denial with three pledges of love. His leadership will be founded on this intimate moment of mercy. Who better to preach mercy than one who has been utterly saved by mercy?

Each of us has his or her own story of coming to faith. For some it involves profound failure and recovery. For others, an original call has deepened over the years with regular habits of prayer and reflection. For many, the journey has barely begun, but God loves us and will deal with everyone in a personal and timely way.

The lessons of today’s Gospel are many, but here are a few to ponder. It was in their ordinary lives and activities that Jesus entered the lives of Peter and his companion fishermen. What we know and do best is what God uses in calling us to be disciples. It is love that recognizes the presence of Jesus before any intellectual or theological insight. A night on the water catching nothing is often necessary to learn our need for God’s help.

Baptism, or many baptisms, mark the ongoing encounters we need with Jesus to understand his love for us and the implications of that love in our lives. Suffering and failure are fast tracks to compassion and service.

There is so much to learn from this story. Why not just take the day off and go fishing.

With Us Now

Posted on 09 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Why are your troubled? Why do these questions arise in your minds?" (Luke 24:37).

Do you believe in the resurrection? How do you imagine it? If you had been one of the first disciples, what would you have seen and experienced?

If such questions cross your mind, you are not much different from the second generation of believers who received the tradition but were not themselves eye-witnesses. Today's Gospel from Luke was probably composed around the year 80, or some 50 years after the events it describes, The first Christian communities had been dispersed to North Africa and Asia Minor following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. Luke is writing for them.

Luke describes Jesus coming to the Apostles to reassure them that he is no ghost, but alive in a risen body that bears the marks of his crucifixion. He is able to eat with them and to be touched. This scene follows yesterday's Gospel about the two disciples who encounter a stranger on the road to Emmaus, so it continues a faith tradition that says that the risen Jesus was present in both mysterious and tangible ways.

Doubts about the resurrection may have arisen in the Greek culture the church had entered in the diaspora. Greek dualism held that human beings were divided into flesh and spirit, and at death the immortal spirit, or soul, was freed from the body. Jewish belief, though similar, insisted on the inseparability of the human person as breath and body. We do not have bodies; we are bodies. So when the body dies, the person dies.

The church held to the belief that the risen Jesus was not a disembodied spirit or ghost, but a human being transformed and in glory, raised by God to the final stage of human development as a new creation in God. The end of the story had visited the middle of the story to reveal the purpose of life and the path to glory. What the Apostles had witnessed was Jesus, their crucified master, now revealed as the Christ, God's Son in glory.

It would take three centuries for the precise formulas to be hammered out by church councils that dealt with the identity of Jesus as a divine person with two complete natures, human and divine. But for the early church, what mattered was a living encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus available to all believers, and most especially in their communal gatherings to share the Scriptures, to break the bread and in their ministry to one another in love and to the poor.

We are living our Christian faith in this way. We do not worship a disembodied God watching over us from outside history, but a God who is with us and one of us, intimately engaged in our lives here and now and in our shared work of transforming the world with justice and love. We are the body of Christ, crucified and risen. This is our life-giving encounter with Jesus in the same way that disciples of every time and place have known and loved him.

Easter Surprise

Posted on 08 April 2015 by patmarrin

"While they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him" (Luke 24:15).

The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has been called a gospel in miniature. It describes the journey the early church had to make to understand how the apparent defeat of Jesus was in fact God’s secret plan to save the world. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” If you attended the solemn Easter vigil service, you made the same journey by listening to the seven Scripture readings that culminate in the Easter proclamation.

It takes a stranger on the road to reinterpret everything the disciples saw as failure to be God’s plan. The facts were overwhelming: Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem and his followers had scattered in fear and despair. The pair on the road were no doubt fleeing the scene for their own safety when Jesus shows up to accompany them. They are blind to the truth. “How foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”

Jesus the stranger, his identity hidden from their eyes, walks them though the scriptures from Moses to the prophets. As the disciples begin to understand, their hearts burn within them, but the full revelation does not happen until they beg the stranger to stay with them for the night. At table, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it with them. It is then, in the midst of their eucharistic meal, that their eyes are opened.

Jesus, really present in the breaking of the bread, becomes invisible to physical sight, but their faith now sees, their minds are opened and their hearts are filled with joy. The disciples immediately set out for Jerusalem to tell the others. The story describes how the early church came to faith in the risen Jesus, who was their message to the world.

It is just when we think we understand that God enters our world to reinterpret everything in the light of Christ. Our despair is changed to hope. Our failure leads to a baptism of mercy that enables us to preach forgiveness to others. The shattered community reassembles at the Table of the Lord, where the broken body of Christ is the source of our unity, his death the source of our life.

Faith is a journey of surprises. What strangers will enter your life today, and will your eyes be open to them and your heart welcome the good news they will reveal?

The Heart Sees First

Posted on 07 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Woman, why are you weeping?" (John 20:12).

In the 1943 classic, The Little Prince, author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes an encounter between the boy and a fox he is trying to befriend. One of most famous quotes of the book is when the fox says, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The resurrection appearance stories in John’s Gospel emphasize this same mystery. It is only love that truly enters the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mary, the one disciple who understood his impending death when she anointed Jesus’ feet in Bethany, is the first to grasp the joyful truth of his resurrection as she weeps near the empty tomb.

Mary comes to the tomb to complete the burial ritual of anointing the dead body of her Lord. In her determination she grounds the faith of the early church in the bodily resurrection. It is not a spirit that escapes the tomb, but a human body in transition to its final form in glory. The continuity of the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth and the risen body of Jesus the Christ is crucial to the church’s belief in Jesus as not only God, but God incarnate.

John’s Gospel is called the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple because the witness behind the tradition that became the fourth Gospel makes clear that love is the key to discipleship. Jesus loves the disciple, and this love opens him or her to an intimate knowledge of Jesus. The disciple Jesus loved is the voice of the Gospel, present in all of the appearance stories.

When Mary delivers the message to the Apostles that she has seen the Lord, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved race to the tomb. But love outruns the official leader, then waits for Peter to enter the tomb first. Love sees the arranged burial cloths and in faith grasps the reality of the resurrection the official church will makes its founding doctrine.

Today’s Gospel passage and the others we will ponder this Easter week are both beautiful and powerful in the formation of our own faith in Jesus. We are invited to read them with both our minds and hearts. Faith is formed in a personal encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus, who is both our brother and Lord.


We Are Easter People

Posted on 06 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" (Matt 28:10).

Miracles create shrines. But the greatest miracle of all became a traveling tour of revelation and manifestation that defied prediction and control. From the empty tomb and the appearances to the women, the resurrection quickly disappears into history. Jesus' triumph over death signals the end of the old creation and the start of the new, where the seeds of new life wait to be sown by the disciples of Jesus.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus tells the women to instruct his apostles to go to Galilee. He is going before them into the world, and there they will encounter him again and again in different circumstances, sometimes mysteriously, other times directly. The death and resurrection of Jesus is now the pattern of their lives and the engine of history toward full transformation.

We are now part of that transformation. If we die to ourselves in order to live with him, the risen body of Christ will extend through us in time and place to renew the world, restoring creation to God’s original plan in which grace perfects nature, love liberates those in captivity to sin and destined for death. Our share in the risen life of Christ through baptism holds the promise of full lives here on earth and life with God in eternity.

Wherever the Gospel is preached, grace is at work in the rhythms of everyday life. When we trust God’s love and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will experience the presence of Jesus in our midst. The Apostles’ mission to teach, heal and reconcile continues in us. We are Easter people, sent to demonstrate that God’s promises are true, active and effective. Our “Happy Easter” to one another and to others, in word and deed, is the heart of our evangelization and the source of our hope.

Do not be afraid. Death is overcome. Hope is kindled and shines brightly in the night as Jesus rises like the morning star announcing the dawn of the new creation.

Now It All Begins

Posted on 04 April 2015 by patmarrin

“If we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Rom 6:5).

Jesus’ dead body was taken down from the cross and hurriedly placed in a borrowed tomb before the start of the solemn Passover Sabbath. As night fell, his followers, some close by and most scattered and hiding in the city, entered the dark interval crucial to the formation of their faith. They have lost everything they hoped for, and now there was nowhere to turn and nothing to do but wait. Insight and revelation slowly seep into the silence that takes hold in the absence of Jesus. Things they could not have understood before, they now begin to grasp.

Surrounding the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the crypt of the Cathedral in San Salvador are 12 large photographs taken at the time of his assassination. They serve as stations of the cross chronicling his final hour and his departure from this earth. The first 11 show in graphic detail the scene immediately after a single bullet pierced his chest and fragmented, sending a geyser of blood from his nose and mouth as he fell backward to the floor behind the altar in the small hospital chapel where he was saying Mass. They show the shocked bystanders, mostly women, gathered around him in his death throes, then carrying him to the bed of a small pickup truck that rushed him to the nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

But it is the last photo that is the most moving. Romero lies in repose on a gurney, the blood wiped away, a small hole in his bare chest where the bullet entered. His face is untroubled. Around him are the women, their faces filled with desperate love for this man, who, for three years, had borne the certainty that this moment would come, as it already had for hundreds of others in the violent lead-up to the civil war that would claim 75,000 dead in the tiny Central American country.

Into the vacuum of Romero’s death rushed the judgment of both history and heaven. Everything his enemies had accused him of—that he was a Marxist, a heretic, a divider, a dupe of the left, manipulated by false and dangerous theologies—was untrue. He had told the truth, defended the poor and lived the Gospel to the point of laying down his life. He was a martyr for the faith and a saint. And as he foretold, in death he would rise within the Salvadoran people.

Our Easter Vigil will walk us through the scriptures that recapitulate salvation history. As the early church came to understand that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by his suffering and death, so we will share their path to faith by retelling the story on this holy night. We are invited into the same dark interval the first disciples passed through to be able to see, that is, believe, that Jesus is alive again, preparing them, and us, to carry his story of life, death, resurrection into the world.

The fire we kindle this night is the first light of our dawning affirmation that love overcomes death, forgiveness heals and restores community, hope endures all things and triumphs over despair and cynicism. Our human journey, that inevitably leads us through suffering and loss, will continue through death to life in Christ forever.

Good Friday

Posted on 03 April 2015 by patmarrin

“We have no king but Caesar” (The Passion according to John).

Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the state, an ugly public display meant to shame the victim and intimidate observers. Its message was clear: “Do not challenge Rome.” Jesus was among thousands of crucified people caught under the wheels of the empire’s expansion into the Mediterranean world. His death would have been anonymous had the Gospels not been written. Outside of them we have only one oblique secular reference to it, in a letter from Governor Pliny to Emperor Trajan in the year 112.

The reading of John’s Passion at services today will be the only exposure millions of Christians have to the story, not counting television movies. We are fortunate here in Kansas City to have a downtown “Stations” walk sponsored by the local Catholic Worker community that highlights various government buildings, banks, the jail, social service facilities and other locations representing the plight of the poor. We stop, reflect and pray at each place to remember Jesus’ suffering and death.

The relevance of Good Friday lies barely hidden behind the façade of our own massive social and economic systems, uncovered briefly by our belief that Jesus is among us in the poor, at the margins and in the heart of darkness that continues to make invisible the crucified of history. In every part of the world and in the corners of our nation, they fill our prisons, courtrooms, ghettos and refugee camps, billions of people whose only identity is at the base of the huge pyramids that fuel consumption at the upper tiers. It would all be just an abstraction if we did not know about the human trafficking, sweatshops, streams of world migrants and undocumented workers whose lives serve our needs.

So on this day we expose our consciences to this reality, and admit our soft and distant complicity in the systems that sustain the lifestyles of empire. The reading of the Passion helps us see that choices and loyalties are important, and just how hard it was, and is, to reject Caesar to stand with a crucified criminal.

Holy Thursday

Posted on 02 April 2015 by patmarrin

What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later" (John 13:7).

Today the church celebrates both the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist. The Twelve Apostles are initiated into the mystery of the death of Jesus at the Last Supper. Their ritual meal fulfills Passover by applying the Exodus and the Covenant to the death of Jesus. In less than 12 hours, he will be sacrificed as the Paschal Lamb, and a new covenant in his blood will be established that frees us from sin and death.

The readings are packed with meaning. Exodus recalls the original Passover out of Egypt, and Paul's letter to the Corinthians has the earliest written account of the institution of the Eucharist. Oddly enough, today’s Gospel passage from John has no account of the Eucharist because John does not have one. He instead substituted the moving story of the washing of the feet as Jesus' final memorial to his Apostles. They are to humbly serve each other as he has humbled himself to serve them.

Many homilies will be preached today on the role of the priesthood. None will be as eloquent as the ritual act of the washing of the feet. Whether it is reserved to clergy, to male Catholics or men and women both, or whether parishes invite everyone to participate, this simple, basic sign of humble service was meant to define the followers of Jesus. He made himself our servant, least among us, to the point of death, to show us what God is like.

Love Without Limits

Posted on 01 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The disciples did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover” (Matt 26:19).

There is something utterly tragic about the figure of Judas. Georges Bernanos, author of The Diary of a Country Priest, said that he once asked that a Mass be said for the soul of Judas. The Gospels take a uniformly negative stance toward Judas as just greedy or as a fateful and necessary agent whose treachery fulfilled the scriptures. Films have depicted him as duped by the high priests into delivering Jesus, believing he would get a fair trial, or that the confrontation would force Jesus to show his power. Once it is clear that Jesus is going to be condemned and executed, Judas collapses in despair and hangs himself, also foretold in the scriptures.

But Judas could also be seen as fulfilling his role as an Apostle by preserving the one thing that makes the Good News absolute—our freedom to reject God, God’s freedom to reject our rejection and come after us with unconditional love anyway. Is not Judas the ultimate lost sheep, the one who separates himself from the flock and has to be pursued and brought home by the good shepherd? Is not his rescue more cause for joy than the march into heaven by the dutiful ninety-nine?

Is there a theology this generous? Jesus, who from the cross forgave his enemies and invited into paradise one of the thieves crucified next to him, also had one final saving act to make our salvation complete. Did he not race to find and embrace Judas, in free fall toward self destruction? What greater love than this, to sacrifice yourself for a friend, even one who has betrayed you?

We cannot know the full story now. But formed by the love of Christ, our community can encircle every suicide, every person courting despair and fleeing God, anyone lost and fallen out of sight beyond the curtain of our understanding. If the Good News is only good up to a point, what good is it, really?