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Mercy Upon Mercy

Posted on 13 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?" (Matt 18:33).

This parable puts in stark contrast God's unconditional love for us and our limited love for one another. It goes to the heart of the challenge of mercy.

Peter had just asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive a brother who has sinned against him. "Seven times?" he asked, the most generous number he could imagine. Jesus shocked him by saying, “No, Peter, 70 times seven! No limit at all, keep showing mercy to those who offend you."

Jesus then tells the parable about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by his master only to turn around and demand that a fellow servant repay him a small amount or be sent to debtor's prison with his whole family. It is an outrageous act of ingratitude that puts in perspective our reluctance to show mercy compared to God's infinite mercy for us.

God’s name is Mercy, unconditional love for us in our weaknesses and sins. Pope Francis has repeatedly said that God never tires of forgiving us; it is we who tire of asking forgiveness. Our very existence is God’s gift, and as we make our way toward maturity learning by our mistakes and stumbling in and out of sin, God’s patience never abandons us. All God asks of us is that we have the same patience with one another.

The call of Jesus is not to be righteous or perfect by our own measure, but perfect in love as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Even more important than the effect it has on others, forgiveness defines us and makes us holy. This is the joy of the Gospel, for it frees us from the burden of judging others and the fear of being judged ourselves.

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Unity in Diversity

Posted on 12 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matt 18:20).

Today's Gospel reading gives us a window into the early church toward the end of the first century. Matthew describes a community struggling to stay united as it grows larger and more diverse. Jewish and gentile converts are working out how to share faith in Jesus and one Eucharist. Doctrinal formation is occurring as believers ponder questions about who Jesus is and face pressures from the surrounding culture. Dissent is inevitable, so Matthew finds in the words of Jesus and the apostolic tradition forms of "truth and reconcilation" that can hold the community together.

This passage from Matt 18 relates to the famous scene in Matt 16:18, where Jesus gives Peter the power of the keys, authority to decide what shall be bound on earth as in heaven. This passage became the basis for papal authority. Matt 18, on the other hand, describes this binding and loosing power as belonging to the whole community. The church's authority derives from Jesus' promise that wherever even two or three gather together and agree on something, it will be blessed because he is among them. This passage became the basis for the idea of the sensus fidelium, the consensus of the faithful, or the whole church.

Both notions-- papal leadership and consensus-- are at the heart of Pope Francis' call to the church to gather in the synod process to discern the way forward in basic questions of family, marriage, sexuality and inclusion. The promise that Jesus will be present reminds us that he invoked the mystery of the Trinity-- where two or three are gathered together in the unity of love -- to describe the church.

The real sign of God's presence is that two or three can agree on anything. How much love, truth and reconciliation does it take to form community where there are differences? But this unity in diversity, not conformity, is the basis for how the church has survived and will survive through each crisis as it adapts the mystery of Jesus to successive generations and cultures.

We pray to witness and experience this powerful presence at the Synod on the Family in October. It will be the clearest sign that we are with Jesus and he is with us.

Inside out

Posted on 11 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of God" (Matt 18:2).

One of the basic principles of the reform Pope Francis seeks for the church is to focus not on itself or its own interests but to look to the edges where those in greatest need wait to be served. By abandoning self-referential concerns and self-preservation, the church recovers its mission and restores its spirit by being in contact with the poor, just as Jesus was. He came first and foremost to "announce good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18).

Today we remember St. Clare (1193-1253), a companion of St. Francis of Assisi and founder of the Poor Clares, whose voluntary poverty became a powerful sign to a church weighed down by wealth and self-concern. By becoming little and vulnerable in an age of power, the Poor Clares witnessed to the power of love laid bare by simplicity and singleness of heart.

Jesus invites a child into the circle of his disciples, who always seem intent on status and self-importance. Unless they change and become like this child, he tells them, they will not enter God's kingdom. Children were regarded as the least significant of all in a world of abuse and expendability. By focusing on them, Jesus turns the world inside out for his disciples. Only if they go the edges and become one with the least will they find true greatness.

We are given this paradox today to examine our own priorities and values. What conversion do we need to recover the child within, who already dwells in God's presence?

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Crazy Larry

Posted on 10 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat” (John 12:24).

The extravagance of nature to proliferate more life is one of most basic parables humans have to learn the meaning of their own brief lives. Plants give themselves away to guarantee the survival of the next generation. One seed produces a plant that gives a hundred seeds, released into the wind, water and soil to produce a thousand more plants.

The family tree stories of generous people reveal the sacrifices of earlier generation to make possible a better life for their children and grandchildren.

What is true in nature is also true for the spread of spiritual values and legacies.
We remember St. Lawrence, a 3rd century Roman deacon who gave his life for his faith with a flair. His famous joke on the authorities, presenting the poor when they demanded the “treasures” of the church, earned him martyrdom but also a glorious memory among the saints. Lawrence was the seed that fell to the ground and died so that future generations of Christians might know the joy of the Gospel.

Our life in Christ is like a card game whose object is to get rid of all your cards. We win if we come in on empty. Each day is our challenge to give ourselves away in service and out of love. Those who travel light through this world will enter eternal life with all the saints.

Close Encounters

Posted on 08 August 2015 by patmarrin

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44).

Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” is an entertaining and at the same time profound story about first contact between earth and extraterrestrial visitors. In preparation, millions of people intuitively respond to a simple musical tune they hear, while thousands of chosen people are drawn to a particular shape they all imagine without understanding what it is. The tune and the shape come together at a mountain in Wyoming where the first encounter occurs.

The film succeeded at the popular level, but its basic symbols also overflowed into theological reflections about how God is drawing us from within to our promised destiny in love. The tune and the shape of our future is found in Jesus, who is revealed in every heart as the desire and fulfillment of human existence.

Just as the Incarnation is the linchpin of the Christian faith, so the Eucharist is the focus and point of entry into the mystery of God’s real presence among us. At each Mass, the whole drama of salvation unfolds at the table as the baptized community gathers to open the scriptures and share in the breaking of the bread and receiving from the cup. Imbued with the sign of the death of the Lord and empowered with his risen life, we go forth to live this pattern of self-giving love.

The mystery is easily lost in theological language. Only when we see it lived, as it was in the life and death Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated at the altar in 1980 in El Salvador, or in the life of Mother Teresa, who emptied herself in serving the poor, do we get a glimpse of the call each one of us receives to be Christ to others. The vision of millions of believers going from the altar into their daily lives intent on imitating Jesus is the essence of the church.

In today’s reading from 1 Kings 19, Elijah the prophet previews the long pilgrimage of the People of God by consuming the hearth cake and jug of water provided by the angel, then walking for 40 days and nights.

In John 6, the discourses on the Bread of Life, Jesus reveals himself as the food we need to complete our life’s journey. The hungry crowds follow Jesus for bread, but a deeper attraction is drawing disciples into an intimate relationship with Jesus. When he is “lifted up” on the cross, he will unite them to his suffering so that, when he is raised up, they will share in his new life.

This happens at every Mass. Our sacrifices are joined to Jesus on the altar. This offering is transformed by the Holy Spirit. What we receive back in communion are our own lives as incorporated into Christ and empowered by his risen life. We depart church back into the same circumstances and challenges we brought to Mass, but renewed in redemptive love. United to Christ, we are never alone. In communion with one another, we share in the wisdom and endurance of the other members of Christ’s body.

This life-giving "close encounter" with God in Jesus Christ is the key to our destiny and the source of our life in the world. Listen for the music in your heart that draws you to beauty and goodness. Examine your relationships to find the shape of love in all its forms. You are in contact with mystery. You are being guided to your true self and deepest desire, life with God.

New Life Now

Posted on 07 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt 16:25).

Peter Maurin (1877-1949), co-founder with Dorthy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement, often said that the new world, more just and compassionate, would emerge from within the shell of the old. In other words, change evolves as societies adapt to new challenges and learn from old mistakes.

The same is true for us as individuals. One way to understand Jesus’ teaching that we must lose our lives to find our lives is that the old, or former, self must die in order to give way to the new self united with Jesus.

Jesus speaks of the coming of the “son of man,” a figure from the Book of Daniel (7:13) whom the prophet sees at the throne of God. Jesus is himself that new man, the future, the new human being. If we follow him, we go through the experience of dying to self in order to rise as new creations in him. The new being emerges from within the shell of the old.

This life-long process, called the paschal mystery, begins at baptism and is nourished at every Eucharist. The breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup are the sacraments of transformation. The hidden reality behind the sign of the Mass and our communion is that we are participating in the death of Jesus in order to enter his risen life.

This paradox becomes visible in those who mature in their self-giving within the community. As they give themselves away they actually become more and more themselves; the authentic person God sees is set free from selfish and defensive patterns to be available to the needs of others. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Transfiguration

Posted on 06 August 2015 by patmarrin

"He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white" (Mark 9:3).

In one of many horrific parallels between the Feast of the Transfiguration and the dropping of the first Atomic bomb on Hiroshima (Aug 6, 1945), victims who were vaporized left shadows, like photographic negatives, on the streets and sidewalks near the epicenter of the blast. As the risen Christ was revealed in a flash of glory, so thousands of Japanese people were transfigured in death.

The American bomb, code-named "Little Boy," developed in secret in a project code-named "Trinity" was dropped 70 years ago today from a B-29 Superfortress the pilot named "Enola Gay" after his mother. A second bomb, code-named "Fat Man" was dropped on August 9 on the city of Nagasaki, ushering in the atomic age.

We have had seven decades to reflect on the meaning of the event, understood as so important by the military that theological names were used to describe its power over life and death.

Mark's account of the transfiguration of Jesus is clearly a theophany. In dense layered symbols, Jesus is revealed as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets as he prepares to die in Jerusalem, the new Exodus through death to life. The mystery lies at the heart of our faith. All of human history lies within this mystery, including the human choices that have led to either life or death. Only God can redeem the full meaning of the story in which sin and grace continue to meet in human freedom.

We pray for wisdom and for God's mercy for all the victims of war, those who wage it and those who suffer its consequences.

The Faith of Women

Posted on 05 August 2015 by patmarrin

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matt 15:28)

While church leadership is scandalously male-lopsided, the Gospel narrative holds a gold thread of stories that reveal how important women were in the life of Jesus. Today’s Gospel about the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter is one of them.

It parallels another story in which a reluctant Jesus is told to do something by a woman at a wedding feast in Cana. Though Jesus is not ready to do any signs because he is not ready to begin his public ministry, the needs of the wedding couple move his mother to compel him to turn water into wine.

The Canaanite woman, a pagan foreigner living beyond the northern border of Palestine, is desperate to find relief for her suffering daughter, and she believes that Jesus has the power to help her. So she enters into a battle of wits with him and wins. She goes away with her daughter healed and Jesus emerges with a clear sense that he is being called beyond Israel to proclaim God’s universal outpouring of grace.

Other examples of this same pattern of women influencing Jesus include the grief of Martha and Mary at the death of their brother Lazarus and the effect this has on Jesus.

We think also of the anointing at Bethany during a banquet that seemed to the male disciples to be a victory celebration after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at Passover. Only the woman who interrupts the celebration understands that Jesus is going to die that very week, and she confirms this for Jesus himself by weeping over him and anointing his head and feet in preparation for his burial.

This compelling gesture is repeated when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to complete the burial ritual on Easter morning. Her deep love and desperate tears play a mysterious role in revealing Jesus’ resurrection. Just as the relentless faith of the Canaanite woman saves her daughter, so Mary’s love for Jesus, we might say, calls him back from the grave. Without her faith, would the early church have ever understood the resurrection of Jesus?

Every story in the Gospel invites us to deeper faith. What need will you bring to Jesus today, for yourself or for another?

Walking on Water

Posted on 04 August 2015 by patmarrin

"If it is you, command me to come to you on the water" (Matt 14:27).

The dramatic story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter stepping out of the boat to go to him reveals the multi-layered richness of the Evangelist Matthew, who records frequent lake crossings, a clue that this is about more than boats and water.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the faith they will need after his death. He will be swallowed up in the night waters of death in his exodus from this world. But they will see him again, not as a ghost, but as the Risen One, appearing to them from eternity and showing them how to live in between this world and the world to come.

The lake crossings are preparing them for the paschal mystery -- their new life in the pattern of Jesus' death and resurrection. They will find that in faith they can walk on the waters of death and not drown, as living witnesses to the life of grace here and now. The church -- the boat -- will face many storms, but Jesus will always be with them, even if he seems to be asleep (see Matt 8:24).

Peter, the leader of the church, gets a personal lesson in how to walk on water. Keep your eyes on Jesus and you will not sink. Faith will hold you up in any crisis, each step of the way.

Matthew also links these crossing stories with the multiplication of the loaves miracles. The early Christian community experienced the presence of the risen Jesus when they met for Eucharist. These Gospel stories are about both the mystery of Jesus and the emerging faith of believers in a time of persecution (storms).

These stories are meant for us. Faith in the risen Christ means asking Jesus to summon us to walk with him on the waters of death. If we take that first step and keep our eyes fixed on him, we will never be abandoned or lost.

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Like a Mother's Love

Posted on 03 August 2015 by patmarrin

“When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them” (Matt 14:15).

Today’s readings from Numbers 11 and Matthew 14 contrast the reactions of Moses and Jesus to the crowds dependent on them. Moses is overwhelmed and tells God he would prefer to die rather than face their needs. Jesus is moved to the depths with pity and will both feed the people and in fact later give his life to nourish God’s people.

The difference between these two leaders is that Moses reveals the limits of human compassion, but when Jesus reaches down within himself to find the resources to meet the needs of others, he is reaching into the very heart of God.

When God is moved to pity, miracles come forth. The Exodus occurs because God hears the cry of his people in Egypt. God’s pity comes from the inner self, depicted as the anguish of love in the bowels or womb. The evangelists describe Jesus experiencing this gut-wrenching pity (from the Hebrew splagchnon) on several occasions, notably in John 11 at the tomb of Lazarus. The Good Samaritan feels this kind of pity when he sees the victim lying on the side of the Jericho road (Luke 10). Jesus is moved to anguish when he weeps over the city of Jerusalem. How he would have gathered the people as a mother hen gathers her chicks (Matt 23:37).

When Pope Francis invited the church to a Year of Mercy, he initiated a profound conversation with all of us about mercy, charity, justice and the kind of church we want to be. We discover the limits of human compassion and forgiveness. We find our sense of fairness offended when we are asked to love others regardless of their worthiness, or to forgive our enemies.

But is this not precisely the point and the place Francis wants to bring us? Only God can provide this kind of love, and in order to give mercy we must turn to God to receive it. Then when we reach into our hearts to find the love we need, we will be reaching into the very heart of God.