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Like Father, Like Son

Posted on 02 April 2014 by patmarrin

“The Son does what he sees the Father doing …” (John 5:20).

In John’s profoundly theological Gospel, Jesus presents himself in seven successive signs as I AM, the name for God revealed to Moses from the burning bush. Jesus is the physical manifestation in time of the ineffable, timeless mystery of God. Another way of saying this is that Jesus is the Son, the perfect visible representative of the invisible Father.

Jesus tells his critics, who are bent on destroying him for blasphemy, that he is only doing what he sees the Father doing. As the Father creates, so Jesus creates by making mud from earth and spittle to smear on the eyes of the man born blind. As the Father was manifest in the Spirit hovering over the waters at creation, so Jesus is the primordial wellspring of living water for the thirsty Samaritan woman. As the Father gives life, so Jesus will raise Lazarus.

The analogue is theological, but it is also very human. We imagine Jesus growing up in the care of Joseph the carpenter, father and son together in the wood shop or on a construction site. “Watch me, son,” says the father. “Do what I do.” The father mentors the son, empowers him with an understanding of the trade, models for him how to build a secure structure, a useful artifact.

The message of the Gospel to us as disciples is simple: Watch the teacher. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and do what he does. The imitation of Christ has always been the core of Christianity. So the first challenge is to see Jesus at work in our lives and in our world. Get close enough to him through daily prayer and attention to the many prompts that come through his Spirit guiding us through our own tasks.

Watch me. Do what I do.


Posted on 01 April 2014 by patmarrin

"Do you want to be well?" (John 5:3).

A circle, by definition, can only have one center. That center gives shape and stability, perfect centrifugal balance to the form at any spin speed. Symbolically, it is the source and locus from which emanates the expanding, encompassing reach of the circle. Every major world religion has used the circle to express some aspect of its claim to authenticity and its ordering effect on the universe. Many spiritualities prescribe “centering” as the remedy for dislocation and imbalance.

Ezekiel 47 contains the prophet’s magnificent vision of the Temple as the center and source of life. Water flows from the Temple, starting out as a trickle but growing deeper and extending itself to a mighty river that nourishes fruit trees that bear fruit each month and leaves with medicinal powers, and can turn salt water into fresh. The imagery invokes the garden of Eden and is repeated in the Book of Revelation, making it central to the Bible itself. Jesus is presented in John’s Gospel as fulfilling this type. He is the source of living water, healing and nourishment. His death turns the cross into the tree of life and his resurrection takes place in a garden.

The shape and symmetry of the human body makes innate our human desire for proportion and balance. But what we seek with exercise and diet is only an outward sign of a deep inner desire to find the source and center of our existence. We long to come home to ourselves and to the knowledge of who we are, why we are here, where this life leads and what it all means.

Today’s Gospel from John 5 provides an image for prayer. A man paralyzed for 38 years has waited only a short distance from the healing pool, but each time its waters are stirred, he cannot get to the water to be healed. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be well?” The man expresses his frustration at not being able to get to the pool. Jesus says, “Rise, pick up your mat, and walk.” Isn’t this is our own story, our situation, our prayer and our opportunity to draw life from the source of life?

Do you want to be well? “Ask, and you will be answered; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened” (Matt 7:7).


Faith First

Posted on 31 March 2014 by patmarrin

“Unless you people see signs and wonders, your will not believe.”

The first sign of faith we offer God is to do everything in our power to solve our own problems. So many of the miracles recorded in the Gospels begin with some action on the part of the person seeking Jesus’ help or healing. It can be as simple as acknowledging the need, going to find him, ask, cry out, reach out in a crowd to touch his garment, offer a few fish and some loaves, by filling the jars with water.
The miracles are made possible by participation, openness, taking the first small step ourselves that says we trust God to hear and respond to our need.

Jesus is approached by a royal official who begs him to come to his house to heal his son, who is close to death. Jesus addresses the crowd, knowing they are eager to see a miracle. They are withholding faith until they have proof of his power. Then they will believe. Faith must come first, he seems to say. I am not a magician performing for an audience, but one who is inviting you to accompany me on a greater journey of trust and healing than any one demonstration of power. I offer you a life-giving relationship that will guide you through sacrifice to deeper love, through suffering to glory.

Who does not want signs and wonders, proof before we risk trust, a free ride to the promised land? The real miracle is that God asks us to collaborate toward our own maturity and holiness. To this end, we receive courage that must be tested, wisdom honed by trial and error, love purchased with heartbreak.

Thank you, God for first believing in us. This initiates and makes possible our discipleship.


Lord, I Want to See

Posted on 29 March 2014 by patmarrin

"He went and washed, and came back able to see" (John 9:7).

The story of the blind man in today’s Gospel is again ideal for the catechumens preparing for baptism. It is about the new sight that comes from being “washed,” The discussion about whether the man’s blindness was the result of his own sin or that of his parents touches on the question of original sin as more than just individual offenses but a condition we all inherit within a broader rebellion that has affected human history itself. Jesus comes to realign the entire universe with God’s original creation, marred by sin made possible by the gift of freedom that elevated human destiny to friendship with God, not just blind obedience. Our “yes” to God is meaningful because we can also say “no.”

A man born blind is created anew by Jesus, who uses mud (adam) and the breath of his words to bring light into the man’s darkened universe. As a miracle, typical of John’s signs, this act is deeply theological, performed by I AM, the name God gives to Moses from the burning bush. Jesus declares, “I AM the light of the world.” The religious leaders, guardians of the Law of Moses, completely miss the significance of Jesus’ action. Their opposition to him has blinded them.

In parallel to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind man, presumed by everyone to be a sinner, becomes an evangelist. But unlike the townspeople of Sychar, the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees scoff at his claim that he has seen the messiah. Their blindness is total, Jesus says, because they say that they see.

The most moving scene in the story is when Jesus finds the man, disowned by his parents and excommunicated from the temple, and confirms his faith. “I am he, the one you are speaking with,” Jesus says. The man, with the sight of one who has just been reborn into the light, gazes with wonder at the face of his Creator. For John, he is seeing the risen Christ, not the Jesus of history. The detail of excommunication puts the setting of this story after the date of the rabbinic expulsion of the Jesus movement in 70 C.E., even as the city of Jerusalem was being destroyed and the great diaspora of both Jews and Christians has begun.

There is a lot in this Gospel, layer upon layer of both history and mystery. Baptism gives us and those being initiated into the faith the eyes to see. Jesus comes to us, touches us, speaks to us, communes with us intimately in the Eucharist. Look deeply, into the sacrament, the Word, the community, and you will see the face of God.


Come Closer

Posted on 28 March 2014 by patmarrin

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus‘ encounter with the scribe in today’s Gospel may have started out as an official probe into the orthodoxy of a hill country preacher. “Which is the first of all the commandments?” the scribe asks. But then it turns into an exchange of scripture passages and insight that literally glows with fervor. Jesus quotes Deut 6, the familiar prayer called the sh’ma – “Hear O Israel, …” and Lev 9, the command to love neighbor. These two texts comprise the foundation of the Covenant. Caught up in the moment, the scribe repeats the formula and then adds that to love God and neighbor is greater than any burnt offering.

Jesus affirms the scribe, then ends the conversation with his own probe into the legal scholar’s journey toward full understanding and with an open-ended invitation: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Close, but still not there. Take the next step. Cross the threshold from your intellectual righteousness into the realm of actual love. It may be the most difficult yet important decision you will ever make.

This story has a parallel in another encounter between Jesus and the rich man who had kept all the commandments but wanted to do more (Mark 10:17-25). When Jesus tells him to sell his belongings and give the money to the poor, he balks at the invitation and goes away sad. We are not told what the scribe in today’s reading does, but he might have become a disciple in that moment, or not, considering his status and perceived spiritual security as a teacher of the Law.

T.S. Eliot, in his poem “The Hollow Men,” says it well: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” How many of us have faltered in that shadow space between inspiration and action. Like the scribe, we are not far from the Kingdom of God, but still not ready to embrace the full implications of loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves. The threshold is before us today, and now is a good time to take the next step.

The Finger of God

Posted on 27 March 2014 by patmarrin

“Whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11: 23).

When people feel discombobulated, they say their thoughts are scattered. The meaning of the word diabolic is to cast apart, scatter; it is the opposite of symbolic, to gather together. In an interesting popular expression of the philosophical debates raging at the end of the 19th century, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was about restoring order and reason to a world challenged by the forces of chaos. Moriarity, Holmes’ nemesis, was a caricature of Nietsche, the brilliant German philosopher whose critique of culture and thought seemed to Doyle to presage nihilism and threatened to open the door to chaos.

The theme of the struggle between order and chaos runs through human history, culture and religion. In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ announcement of the coming of the kingdom of God provokes alarm in the existing order and its underlying ideas of dominance, division and conflict as defining human affairs. Evil spirits ruled by the prince of demons, Beelzebul (literally, “lord of the flies”), have controlled the world with fear and the threat of death. When Jesus drives out evil spirits, his critics accuse him of being in league with the devil. He responds that the scattering of demons is proof that and greater power is at work, “the finger of God.” A new world order of love, healing and reconciliation has overcome evil.

The cost of this restoration is Jesus’ willingness to die for love, thus overcoming death by embracing it and taking it with him to the grave. But at the moment of ultimate disintegration, God reverses the power of sin and death with the greater power of love and life. Where death would scatter the human race in diabolic triumph, Jesus mounts the cross and draws all things to himself. With the resurrection, a new creation is revealed. God’s original plan is restored.

Each day we have the ability to either choose to gather with Christ, the Symbol— rallying center– of God’s loving plan for the universe, or to disintegrate. The most radical act we have is to say, “Today, Lord, I gather with you, today I choose love.

New from Old

Posted on 26 March 2014 by patmarrin

"I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Matt 5:17).

Resistance to change makes the charge that the reformer is destroying tradition. Conservatives at Vatican II accused progressives of surrendering the continuity of the church's teaching authority back to the apostolic tradition based on Jesus' choice of Peter. Progressives held that they were in fact recovering the original sources of faith from layer upon layer of institutional accretions that had produced a monarchy.

The early church defended Jesus' radical orthodoxy as the fulfillment of the original covenant. New wine needed new wine skins; The Law and the Prophets pointed to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew, writing to a community of Jewish Christian converts, reassures them that Jesus did not break even the smallest command of the Law of Moses, but brought it to life in his teaching and example of love.

We cannot underestimate the power of tradition to shape human culture, establish a rule of law and protect the benefits for everyone of a coherent social structure. At the same time, tradition by definition has to be handed on from one generation to another. For it to function in a changing world, tradition has to be adapted to new circumstances, questions and problems. We experience this personally, in family life and in every community. Change is not easy and vigorous debate is part of tradition. The test of every change is whether it increases life for everyone. To be radical is to revive and nourish the roots of a tradition.

Peter Maurin, co-founder with Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement, once described its goal: "The Catholic Worker believes in creating a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new, which is not a new philosophy but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new."



Posted on 25 March 2014 by patmarrin

“Nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37).

When someone says, “I have an announcement to make,” everyone listens. The news to follow is surely important, either good or bad, so pay attention. “We’re getting married.” “We’re expecting.” “I’ve decided to move to Alaska.” “Uncle Fred passed away.”

The Gospel began with an announcement, delivered two millennia ago by an angel to a young girl in a village in lower Galilee, the hill country of Roman-occupied Palestine on the edge of the Mediterranean. Salvation history awaited her response. She said yes and the Word became flesh. The rest of the story, including our commitment to the Christian faith, was made possible.

The Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated exactly nine months before Christmas, reminds us within the liturgical calendar that our lives are defined and framed by a mystery. To take part in it fully, we are invited to imitate Mary by saying yes to the life of Christ set in motion in us at our baptism. Conception has occurred, gestation follows, then birth. The Word of God is made flesh in you and me, and every time we live the Gospel, God is born again in the world.

It is a fantastic offering, and so it is no surprise to anyone that there are moments when we wonder if it is true. So it was the first time when Mary received the angel’s announcement. She opened her life to a mystery she did not understand, and it made all the difference, for her and for us.


Great Expectations

Posted on 24 March 2014 by patmarrin

"Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away" (Luke 4:30).

President Obama will meet with Pope Francis this week in Rome. A column in the morning paper spoke about the desire of politicians to share in the limelight the pope has so far garnered in the media. Hollywood showed up last week in Rome at a papal audience hoping to get a nod for a new movie about Noah's ark. Last year Harley Davidson gave the pope a custom motorcycle, which was auctioned off and the money given to the poor. It occasioned a brief photo op, but don't expect to see a TV commercial with the pope endorsing bikes.

Expectations are high as the pope moves into his second year, appointing commissions and changing structures to address some serious church problems. It is yet to be seen how much Francis can do to alter the enormous disparities and institutional dysfunctions afflicting the global economy or the conflicts that are creating so much suffering and displacement for millions of people. It is apparently much easier to be a popular pope than one able to make everyone happy. He bristled at graffiti suggesting he was a superhero.

Jesus faced similar expectations when he went home to Nazareth. In today's Gospel, he seems to exacerbate their disappointment by reminding people that prophets in the past focused their attention on outsiders, healing a Syrian leper and restoring the son of the widow in Sidon -- but not in Israel. They get the point and try to throw Jesus over a cliff. The pope similarly offends when he reminds European and North American Catholics that they are in the minority in a church with most of its 1.2 billion members in the southern hemisphere.

When Andy Warhol said the most anyone gets is 15 minutes of fame, he did not say what happens next. Gifted people are devoured and then disposed of quickly to make room for the Next Big Thing. But Jesus succeeded by siding with the poor and being rejected by those in power. The pope may be on the same path, and he apparently hopes to take the whole church with him.


Thirsty? Come to the Well.

Posted on 22 March 2014 by patmarrin

“The water I shall give will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13).

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well provides rich catechesis for those preparing for baptism this coming Easter. Many biblical themes converge here at Jacob’s well. Jesus fulfills the promise of water as the main symbol of life for a desert people. Moses gave the Israelites water from the rock, but Jesus gives living water, a fountain flowing within the believer from the Source of Life.

By offering this living water to a Samaritan woman, Jesus negates the ancient quarrel between Jews and Samaritans and the patriarchal prejudice against women, and he lifts religion itself to another level. No longer is worship at this mountain or that shrine or temple sufficient, but God is found in spirit and in truth. Those who believe in Jesus will be wellsprings of life, channels of pure, fresh water to anyone who thirsts and has not found satisfaction.

A thirsty woman who has had five husbands (an allusion to false gods), twice an outcast as a Samaritan and a pariah in her own community, becomes an apostle of universal salvation. She has encountered I AM in Jesus, the human face of the invisible God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. All of salvation history arrives in Sychar at high noon that day. And it comes to us who hear this story today.

The first step toward conversion is to acknowledge just how thirsty we are. All our wells and buckets, spigots and bottles offer only temporary satisfaction, but we must return to drink again. Baptism in Jesus makes us walking wells for our own thirst and the thirst of others. No religion, no prejudice or failure can keep us from the Source of life. Jesus is giving it away in spirit and in truth.