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A New World Coming

Posted on 04 May 2016 by patmarrin

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now" (John 16:12).

The movie title "The Man Who Knew Too Much" captures something of the dilemma faced by prophets, mystics and visionaries.

Paul was certainly one of them, and his carefully crafted speech to an audience of sophisticated Greek philosophers in Athens falls flat when he mentions the resurrection of Jesus. They, being fashionable skeptics, were not about to be evangelized by this clever Jew from Tarsus. Paul's cosmic solution to the problem of death would have required conversion, and they were not ready to submit to any act of faith.

Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his departure, and he knows that they will not be able to bear the full revelation of his coming suffering or their own participation in his death and resurrection. They will need the help of the Holy Spirit. What Paul later grasped as the Paschal Mystery would only be understood over time as the church accepted the redemptive role it was to play in turning history in a different direction. Has any age ever been been ready to accept God's revolution of the heart to bring justice and love to bear on its structures and cultural values?

Pope Francis might have been a successful politician for his skills at proposing a transformative vision to a world desperate for reform. But Francis is not a politician. He is a prophet who must challenge the world to more than a utopian or humanitarian program of change. He is a preacher who must hold up the crucified and risen Christ as the meaning of history. His burden is to warn an unjust, wasteful and arrogant post-modern world that it is courting doom by not repenting of its extravagances and inequalities, its destructive patterns of consumption and abuse of the poor. Who can bear such a message, or even take it seriously?

As the community of the baptized, we must bear it and become prophets ourselves, for our own sake and the sake of our children. This is beyond us, of course, an impossible charge to our battered church and its shallow commitment to change as collaborators who benefit from the way things are.

This is why Pentecost is necessary. We already know too much and it is too late to turn back. So fasten your seatbelts and put on a crash helmet. Something wonderful is about to happen.

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To Know Me Is to Know God

Posted on 03 May 2016 by patmarrin

"Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?" (John 14:9).

If there was any logic to Jesus' selection of the Apostles, it might be that each one revealed some aspect of our common humanity as he or she encountered the mystery of God in Jesus.

Philip is described as a practical realist. He is the Apostle who took charge in the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish. Seeing the overwhelming challenge of the huge, hungry crowd, he quickly calculated the number, then the cost per person of feeding everyone (200 day's wages).

In today's Gospel, as Jesus waxes mystical to the Apostles with talk of "going the Father," Philip asks him to show them the Father. This occasions Jesus' beautiful revelation that he and the Father are one, and that to have seen him is to have seen the Father. The fourth Gospel, the last of the Gospels, will explore this mystery, which became the basis for the early church's startling conclusion that the one God of their Jewish tradition was, in fact, a community of three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit, the Holy Trinity.

We have only human analogies to approach this mystery. A suitor eager to meet his beloved's parents will quickly discover that to know her is to know them. A child will mirror the influence of his mother and father. Lovers come to know a whole hidden world of relationships in each other as vulnerabilities and graces are gradually revealed.

On this feast of the Apostles Philip and James, we are encouraged to get to know Jesus. Like all good friendships, there is an infinite depth here. What we learn in this life is our greatest blessing. But the joy of being with him will take an eternity, what heaven is for.

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Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End.

Posted on 02 May 2016 by patmarrin

"You have been with me from the beginning" (John 15:27).

We use the expression "You had to be there" to describe the importance of someone knowing the whole story to put some detail into perspective. "You really had to be there."

The original witnesses to the story of Jesus could say, "We were with him from the beginning." When the Apostles needed to replace Judas, one of the qualifications was that a candidate had to know the whole story and been part of the experience with Jesus from his baptism forward. In today's Gospel, Jesus says that when the Spirit comes, the disciples will be able to testify to him under persecution because "you have been with me from the beginning."

At the same time, we know that many of the original apostles who were with Jesus during his public ministry were pretty clueless, while those who came after -- especially Paul -- understood Jesus far better. In fact, one of the great challenges of the early church was convincing second and third generation believers that they had the same access to Jesus that earlier disciples had had.

We are part of this group of late-comers, and the Good News is that 2,000 years after Jesus walked the earth, we can have intimate knowledge of him in faith. Through prayer, liturgy, reading the scriptures, and especially by imitating Jesus in our own lives, we can live in union with him. This is our baptismal identity, to be members of the body of Christ, sharing in the heartbeat and breath of our brother and Lord, Jesus the Christ, present and active in the world through us.

There is a special grace in the lives of those who got an early start and have deepened their relationship with God from childhood. I remember serving Mass back in the 1950s and thinking about the prayers at the foot of the altar we had to memorize. Introibo ad altare Dei. Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meum. The translation was parallel to the Latin. "I will go to the altar of God. To God, who gives joy to my youth." It moves me to remember this. Only years later could I appreciate the blessing of having been given this experience of the holiness of God's house and of the Mass.

But conversion is not a matter of when, or even in calendar time. It is a matter of depth whenever God whispers to our hearts. Some people need a childhood faith, others come freely as adults, in gratitude or in crisis. The important thing is to know that the purpose of life is to encounter God, to fall in love with God, to respond by loving all God's children around us. God, who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, encompasses every life story, and all we have to do is say "yes."

Hello, I Must Be Going

Posted on 30 April 2016 by patmarrin

"If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father" (John 14:28).

The title of this entry is a song from Groucho Marx. "Hello, I must be going" captures something of the frenetic comedy of the Marx Brothers, but it also speaks to the mystery of Jesus' brief time among us as a human being in history, and why he could not stay longer. Some believers wish he had stayed so we could have known him directly and so we would know exactly what to do under his direction.

But it was not to be, and his departure was necessary for his mission and his Holy Spirit to become incarnate in us with the birth of the church. This departure (Ascension) and return (Pentecost) was so the Incarnation could be extended in time and space by his followers, generation by generation, right down to us. We are the body of Christ in the 21st Century. The mission of Jesus has spread across the globe through us. If Jesus had remained in historical time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, everything would be focused on him and him alone.

The transfer of the mystery of Jesus into us is as important now as his human birth into the world was 2,000 years ago. For many, it is easier to believe that God became human in Jesus of Nazareth way back when than that he is in the world through us now. How little confidence we have that God could dwell in us and teach, preach and work miracles though us. Yet this is exactly what Jesus promised: "We (Father, Son and Spirit) will come and dwell within you." "Anything you ask for in my name, the Father will give you." "The Holy Spirit, the Advocate will teach you everything..."

We are like people who pray and pray for God's help, but then will not take "yes" for an answer. The mission is ours to carry out, and Jesus has promised to be with us always. The Father loves us just he he loves Jesus. Their Holy Spirit has been poured out into us for the redemption of the world. We are the instruments of that redemptive ministry. Why would anyone hang back and fail to participate in so great a calling?

Trust takes time in human relationships, and low self-confidence is one of the effects of sin. It is too good to be true to think that God might love us this much, with all our failures and imperfections. So Jesus came to his first disciples as overwhelming mercy and patience, loving them into shape to receive his mission. They had to experience it to trust it. And so it is with us. All the more reason to start now to live as though God dwells in you, and every grace you need to change the world, beginning with your own life, is available to you today.

I Have Chosen You

Posted on 29 April 2016 by patmarrin

"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last" (John 15:16).

Perhaps it is only in retrospect that we begin to understand that our lives have been shaped and directed by God's grace. Of course, we must make decisions, respond to opportunities, face adversity and seem to be guiding ourselves. But in the end, anything of lasting value we accomplish is revealed as pure gift, the result of being given resources and relationships that lift us up out of individual effort to something larger than we could ever have imagined.

This was certainly true of Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today. Catherine was gifted by God from childhood with an extraordinary sense of the divine presence. She rose from obscurity to guide governments and counsel popes. She was unlettered, yet produced a profound theology of the Incarnation of Jesus from her intimate encounters with him in prayer. In her brief 33 years, she changed the course of church history and left us with the model of woman who would not take no for an answer once she saw what needed to be done.

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, "You did not choose me; I chose you." Our yes to him carries us into the mystery of the Incarnation, God present in the flesh, our flesh, our lives active in the world. We rejoice to be part of the body of Christ, the community of men and women whose very lives have become love stories and adventures in grace.

Remain in My Love

Posted on 28 April 2016 by patmarrin

"Remain in my love" (John 15:9).

Constancy is the secret of any enduring relationship, whether a friendship or a marriage. People who stay in love over time build familiarity into continuity, develop precious trust that comes from having survived together through the best of the times and the worst of times.

Jesus invites us into this kind of relationship over time. If we "remain in love," we will realize that he is always there, through every dark night, every loss and disappointment. He surrounds us with patience, pulls us through the bad times when we are ready to give up on ourselves and can't believe that anyone, even God, could still love us.

This is the "Joy of Love" Pope Francis writes about in his exhortation on the family. It is not the euphoria of passion or pure affirmation all the time, but rather the steady accompaniment of people who really know us and believe in us no matter what. It survives the seasons of life, the stages of failure and recovery, it blesses and encourages us when we ago astray and make mistakes or are ready to quit.

Wherever communities survive there are usually lots of love stories going on, especially long-term commitments, tried, true and tested friendships that keep the group going when discouragement hits or everyone is tired or bored with every day maintenance. Over time, everyone realizes what a gift it is to belong to such a community. When everything else fails, it helps to define and motivate us to be much larger than any one individual.

The church is going through some hard times, lots of disillusionment and serious failings to face and deal with. A lot of people have given up and left. Now is the time to remain in love, to be part of the problem solving and hard effort every mature community has to grow through in order to go forward. The good news is that Jesus is with us, always and everywhere, encouraging us to love one another. He is that constant light in the darkness, all the brighter and clearer because we need it so much.

The Joy of Love

Posted on 27 April 2016 by patmarrin

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Pope Francis' letter to the church, "The Joy of Love," is the culmination of the two sessions of the Synod on the Family. It contains the pope's summary observation and guidance on a wide range of issues. The letter has been praised for its open-ended and creative approach to many questions about marriage, divorce, sexuality and family. It has also been criticized by some church leaders who believe these matters are closed to any further discussion.

If anyone thought the letter of the law was the final word in church teaching, today's readings from Acts 15 provides a window into the process the early church actually engaged in to decide fundamental questions about how to broker a Jewish church into the gentile world. Traditionalists thought all converts had to submit to circumcision and full observance of the Mosaic Law. Others, led by St, Paul, asserted that faith in Jesus was sufficient to receive God's grace of salvation.

The debate was resolved at the first formal church council meeting in Jerusalem, which sided with Paul's understanding of the creative freedom the church had to adapt tradition to evolving needs and questions as the church expanded into uncharted territory on its way to permeating the whole Mediterranean world.

A dynamic tension between tradition and innovation, law and love, has always marked the life of the church. Pope Francis' letter reflects this dynamism as he tries to move the church forward by emphasizing pastoral needs over theological and legal approaches that have excluded so many "irregular" situations from church life. He has placed the burden of discernment and compassion on bishops and clergy who are called to minister to millions of Catholics struggling to live out their Christian faith in the real world.

As today's Gospel reminds us all, traditionalist and progressive alike, the only absolute measure of God's will for us is Jesus himself. His compassionate heart and challenging call to discipleship are the authentic path to life. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Get Ready

Posted on 26 April 2016 by patmarrin

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27).

At this point in the 50-day Easter season, the Lectionary readings are already beginning to turn the corner from the celebration of Jesus' resurrection to his departure (Ascension, May 5) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, May 15).

In human terms, we might imagine our closest friend telling us that in a few weeks they would be going away, but to trust that they always be with us to support and love us. For the disciples, the trauma of Jesus' death on the cross, then his astonishing reappearance in the resurrection, is now leading to the most critical transition in the life of the church. The power of presence of God in Jesus will be transferred into them; they will become the body of Christ in the world.

The beautiful Last Supper discourses in John's Gospel are about this transition. Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid when he is gone. He must "return to the Father" so that the Holy Spirit can come. If he remains, they will be focused and dependent on him and never go through the birthing experience that makes them his presence in the world. No institution has survived and grown without this transfer of the charism of the founder into the next generation of leaders.

The disciples of Jesus seem totally unprepared for this transfer of responsibility. We can take some comfort in their sense of inadequacy, for isn't this our own anxiety? How can we, weak human beings, ever be the presence of Jesus to one another and to the world? Yet this is exactly what Jesus promises us as we approach Pentecost. "Stay in the city. Gather together in prayer. Open your minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit. Let the terrible emptiness you feel be the space into which the Spirit will come. Be pregnant with God; give birth to God through your lives and your service to others. Let the miracle of grace happen. Rejoice to be part of the redemptive transformation of history, for this is the glory you were destined to help carry out."

Do we believe this? The first sign that God is at work in us is the stirring in us of faith in anticipation of what God wants to do in us and through us. Get ready. Something wonderful is about to happen.

Question Mark Gospel

Posted on 25 April 2016 by patmarrin

"They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them" (Mark 16:20).

The last lines of Mark's Gospel are an appropriate tribute to him on his feast day as one of the evangelists who told the story of Jesus. Thought to be the first of the four Gospels, Mark's account lays the foundation of faith for the early Christian community. His Jesus is the most human, struggling within his own growing awareness of who he is and how the Spirit of God is alive and working within him to proclaim the Good News.

The evangelists remind us that it is the storytellers who brokered the mystery of Jesus into human history. Mark's trademark theme of the "messianic secret" showed us how Jesus' identity was at first hidden by his humanity and, in an even more challenging way, by the apparent failure of his mission and his death on the cross. Only faith can grasp the truth in this paradox. The good news preached by the early church was that it is through suffering and self-sacrificing love that Jesus revealed God's unconditional mercy to save a sinful world. Without suffering, love is not revealed in its full depth.

Mark's style in Greek is very simple, almost childlike. He pours out the story without the literary sophistication and layered theology of the later evangelists: "Here it is! Believe it or not." Mark's Gospel instills faith not by assertions but with questions. We are left with the same mystery of Jesus the first disciples encountered, and believing it requires a personal surrender to him.

The original Gospel text ends abruptly with the empty tomb and the bewilderment of the women. We are left with the same faith questions they faced. Only when we commit to the revelation that love does indeed overcome death are we are able to then cross the threshold of faith to understand the resurrection.

There is no better way to commemorate the life of St. Mark the evangelist than to bring our questions to God and pray for an increase in faith. Mark's symbol was the winged lion, power that transcends earthly limits to know the truth revealed in Jesus.

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A Brand New World

Posted on 23 April 2016 by patmarrin

“Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Eileen Egan, a close friend of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa and a renowned peace activist in her own right, once described witnessing the devastation of Europe after WWII and thinking that all of the Corporal Works of Mercy had been carried out in reverse. Instead of feeding the hungry, millions had been left to starve; instead of clothing the naked, millions of families had been dispossessed of their homes and all their belongings; instead of caring for the stranger, most of Europe and eastern Europe and the Pacific had been estranged from humanity itself by the brutality of a world war that killed 50 million people. Where and how could we begin again to restore civilization and fundamental compassion?

Jesus lived and died in a world of unspeakable violence against human dignity. The so-called Pax Romana had imposed imperial order on much of the known world through military conquest and subjugation, enslavement and a system of economic extraction of resources and service from millions of people. Petty dictators and compliant priests stayed in power by bowing to Roman interests, and anyone who got in the way was quickly disposed of.

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God challenged this world order and promised a new world of justice and love. Both the message and the messenger were crushed by Imperial power, but then mysteriously reappeared in the preaching of a small band of Jesus’s followers who claimed that he had risen from the dead and sent them to preach liberation and reconciliation to the ends of the earth. Even in the midst of persecution, the early church grew in numbers and by example, offering a whole new way of living in the world based on compassion and community. Who could have imagined that such a movement would emerge from a simple carpenter from the corner of the empire who had been executed by Rome and rejected by the leaders of his own Jewish religion?

We live in a world that, despite our claims to progress and reason, is as unjust and violent as any period in history, with far greater destructive technologies and income disparity, slavery and ideological warfare than any previous generation could have imagined. All the more reason this generation, you and me, are called to practice love and reconciliation in our own neighborhoods, workplaces and social networks. Every baptized person is a member of the body of Christ, and thus called to be Christ to the world in their own setting.

We gather to celebrate the Eucharist, to hear the Word of God and find communion in God’s purposes. This is our identity and destiny, and without living this call we will never become our true selves or achieve the maturity God intends for each one of us. We need one another to keep the faith and carry out our small part of the mission. So let us pray for ourselves and for one another in these crucial times. Much is at stake, and the world is depending on us. A different world is possible. A new world is necessary.