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Open Minds, Bigger Hearts

Posted on 16 September 2015 by patmarrin

"We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep" (Luke 7:33).

Reality is complicated and many-sided. One sure sign that dialogue is impossible is when people can only think and speak in simple, black-and-white terms. Something is either right or wrong, good or bad. Truth is more often the balance between extremes. Intelligence, it has been said, is the ability to hold two contrary ideas in your mind at the same time while you sort and distinguish the many nuances that alone convey actual experience.

Jesus addresses his critics as children who reject both happy and sad games. The scribes and Pharisees reject Jesus because he eats and drinks, but they also rejected John the Baptist because he fasted. They are both closed-minded and small-minded. They don't want dialogue because they don't want the truth.

We see this paralysis in our political debates, reduced to shouting and simplistic sound bites. Real problems require adult discussion, distinctions and nuance, not childish pouting. Wherever there is controversy, whether in the church or in society, genuine dialogue is needed to move forward, and this takes patience, intelligence and discernment.

Lord, give us leaders whose values are deep and whose minds and hearts are open to the process of listening and sharing with others, especially those who disagree. The solutions that emerge from community discernment are always stronger than demagoguery or dogmatic absolutes.

Dialogue is another name for hospitality — the capacity to welcome the stranger, explore differences and find unity. We all emerge from such a process enlarged and generous, less fearful and more open. This is the joy of the Gospel.

From Sorrow to Joy

Posted on 15 September 2015 by patmarrin

Kansas City is getting a new bishop. You do not have to be from here to know that this diocese has been in the news a lot over the past few years for the failure of the preceding bishop to abide by the guidelines for the protection of children. But that is old news now.

The assigned readings for today, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, are quite to the point. The Letter to Timothy offers this window into the early church’s criteria for a bishop:

“Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?” (1 Tim 3:1-3).

What we see in this profile is the early church’s recognition that the leader of the household has to have the skills and experience to govern wisely and compassionately. While today’s bishops are unmarried, they are expected to show the qualities ordinarily displayed by a good husband and father. Some say that lack of perspective from little experience in parenting has played a role in some bishop’s inattention in the area of the protection of children. It seems clear that no husband or father of children would have failed to put this safeguard ahead of all other considerations when faced with abusive priests.

Every Feast of Mary is a reminder that the church herself is first a mother. Today we reflect on Mary -- and the church -- as sorrowful mothers. We pray that this local church, after much sorrow, may prove to be a joyful mother with a wonderful leader keeping watch over all our concerns and needs.

To Glory through the Cross

Posted on 14 September 2015 by patmarrin

"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15).

Besides inflicting a slow and painful death, crucifixion was designed to humiliate its victims. Reserved for those who opposed the empire, it stripped and nailed any would-be challenger to the power of Rome on a wooden pole in full view to the ridicule of the crowds.

First century preachers must have faced incredulous audiences when they revealed that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified. It would be centuries before the image of a crucified man would be fashionable to wear as Christian ornament. Such a death was ignominious and a curse.

Today's feast of the Exaltation of the Cross therefore represents a profound theological paradox. The cross of Jesus is now central to our faith, the sign of passage we all must make by virtue of our baptism. Every disciple of Jesus must suffer in order to enter the glory of the resurrection.

John's Gospel uses the image of the bronze snake Moses held up over the people as the cure for the snakebites they suffered in the desert (Num 21). In the same way, the "Son of Man was lifted up so that everyone who believes in him might be saved." The hymn quoted in Philippians 4 says that Jesus' death on the cross was his self-emptying act of humility that we might be exalted.

Each time we make the sign of the cross we affirm our union with Jesus in his suffering. We are first people of paradox, then people of praise as God welcomes us through the cross into glory.


The Only Glory That Counts

Posted on 12 September 2015 by patmarrin

“Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33).

If we tried to understand Jesus’ ministry as if it were a political campaign, the story might look something like this: A popular candidate for office is gaining attention and a huge following. Wherever he goes, crowds cheer his charisma and message of hope. He and his staff are swamped with requests for interviews and even his opponents acknowledge his appeal by attacking him.

At the height of his success he takes his staff aside and tells them that his goal is to win by losing, to embrace a paradoxical path of rejection, even assassination, in order to reveal an even deeper victory God will guarantee after his death. They must be prepared to go through this time of suffering and contradiction with him. His staff is shocked; some leave to work for other candidates; his closest advisers try to talk him out of this crazy prediction of failure, for all the polls show him on the verge of winning.

Mark’s Gospel reaches precisely this turning point in Chapter 8, when Jesus tells his disciples that despite all their apparent success, his mission is to go to Jerusalem, where all the prophets die, and there face humiliation and death.

Jesus has known this since his time in the desert after his baptism, when Satan promised him success, but on his terms, and Jesus instead accepted the fate of God’s “Suffering Servant.” Jesus will reveal God’s unconditional love for the world not by overwhelming power but by sacrificing himself on the cross of unrequited love and absolute mercy. Only after his crucifixion and resurrection will his disciples begin to understand how love triumphs over sin and death. When Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to dissuade him from this path, he is actually addressing Satan, who is speaking through Peter.

The mysterious path to glory through suffering, even apparent failure, is the sign of the cross that marked each of us when we were baptized. The death of ego and all our human agendas must occur before we can truly hear God’s way of mercy for a sinful world. Discipleship is our time to understand this paradox and accept it in our own lives. It does not make sense by human logic, but if we choose to follow Jesus, it is the only path there is to glory.

We go together, as the community of love that stands at the altar and accepts the sign of the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the cup. For this were we chosen, and to this purpose we are called and dedicated as the Body of Christ in the world. This is the joy of the Gospel.


Remember and See Clearly

Posted on 11 September 2015 by patmarrin

“Every disciple will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40).

The many metaphors and parables Jesus used to proclaim God’s Kingdom reveal him as a careful observer of ordinary life. God’s Word is like a sower going out to sow, or a woman baking bread, or a shepherd in search of a lost sheep.

Some images seem to come from Jesus’ own experience. Today’s Gospel includes the teaching on those who see the faults of others but not their own. To bring the lesson home, Jesus describes a man with a beam in his own eye who judges his brother for having a splinter in his eye. We can see Jesus during his time with Joseph in Nazareth, sawdust and shop talk in the air as he learned the skills and wisdom of a small town carpenter.

On this 14th anniversary of the terrible destruction and loss of life on September 11, 2001, we might consider the simple image Jesus used to describe blindness and judgment. In the days following the bombings, the air was filled with both sorrow and anger that made it all but impossible to ask deeper questions about why this act of terrorism had happened. What role had the United States, the most powerful nation on earth, played in spreading violence and discord in other parts of the world? Had we turned a blind eye to the destruction our geopolitical policies and military interventions had caused others?

Political pressures and what turned out to be false information in a well-coordinated campaign to invade the Middle East led to two costly and brutal wars that helped destabilize the entire region. The blind were leading the blind, while accusations against others blocked and continue to block out any ability to see clearly our own role in creating international tensions.

Today’s anniversary ceremonies will remember the tragic loss of life in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. They might also invoke Jesus’ words about being slow to judge, seeing clearly and acting fairly if we want peace and genuine reconciliation in our troubled world, still roiling with the deep problems that played so large a role in the disastrous events of 2001.

Set Yourself Free Today

Posted on 10 September 2015 by patmarrin

"Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

Jesus' teachings on mercy and forgiveness focus not on the benefit to the one being forgiven but on the transformation that happens for those who forgive and show mercy.

Luke gathers this core instruction in Chapter 6, which corresponds to Matthew's Sermon the Mount. Jesus offers us two reasons to be generous in mercy. First, it frees us from the calculating mindset of those who keep track of offenses and the need to protect their "honor" by punishing others who do not meet their expectations. This becomes prison of pride and an inner docket of brooding and blame that will, if we do not let go of it, consume all our energy and define our personality.

The freedom to forgive keeps us from letting others define us. If we must return injury for injury, we become as mean and violent as our enemies, who are in control of our response. Hurts and injustices are part of life, but the one thing we can control is our response. To be able to walk away means we leave behind the baggage of resentment and revenge, a tremendous freedom.

The second reason to forgive is that it puts us in the company and friendship of God, who loves unconditionally. Pope Francis made Luke 6:36: "Merciful like the Father" the watchword of the Holy Year of Mercy, because he knows that the practice of mercy brings us closer to God, the goal of all spiritual growth and human maturity.


Blessed Are You

Posted on 09 September 2015 by patmarrin

“Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours’” (Luke 6:20).

The Beatitudes of Jesus make sense only when we understand that he lived in a culture defined by honor. Those who conformed to civic virtue and religious rules were honorable. Social and economic advancement was determined by special codes of behavior that made you honorable. Personal reputation and family honor were fiercely defended, because outside of this you had no identity.

Jesus’ many challenges to official authority and convention put him and his disciples outside this circle of honor. Like dissidents and protestors today, they were held in disdain as troublemakers, kooks and fanatics. They paid a high price for their alternative views and were shunned by family and respectable society.

When Jesus looks at his disciples, he sees this expulsion in progress and the cost of it. They have become poor, sorrowful, hated, insulted and estranged, called evil because of their association with him. But he tells them to rejoice, because they are already one step inside the Kingdom of heaven, where true honor will be theirs. In contrast, people who think they have it made by seeking honor in this world will see their gains fade before the truth God is revealing by the Gospel of life.

We all crave honor and acceptance. It is natural to us and essential to our sense of well-being. The question is, by what and from whom? If our quest for importance and praise is based on appearance, material wealth and social status, we are building our lives on sand, for these things can be taken away in an instant. But if we seek a place of service in the community, to give ourselves away for others, we will find true honor and the blessedness Jesus promises his disciples.

The Birth of Mary

Posted on 08 September 2015 by patmarrin

"Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit" (Matt 1:18).

The Gospel for today's feast of the Birth of Mary gives us the entire genealogy of Jesus, from Abraham to Joseph. All the generations that lead up to Jesus are preparation for God's appearance in history. Jesus' holiness reflects back to claim everyone. Mary, the last link in this succession, reveals the fullness of grace, for she conceives, bears and gives birth to the Holy One of God. Her holiness, like the holiness of creation, derives from Jesus, the source of all grace.

The genealogy counts 42 generations through the fathers, with mothers assumed, but four women mentioned: Tamar, who bore twins by deception and incest with Judah, Ruth, the foreigner, Rahab, the prostitute, and Bathsheba, mother by adultery with David. The succession is by the flesh, but with gradual transcendence culminating in the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary, to show that Jesus is both of the flesh and the Son of God.

Where is the Good News for us in this strange family history? One message is that God entered humanity not in some sanitized, spiritual way, but to take on the full burden of the flesh in order to redeem us from sin. Another message is that holiness is both a gift and a partnership. We are all works in progress: God calls us, but we must respond, and progress is through stages of awareness and struggle.

This truth is important for the upcoming debate at the Synod on the Family. Moral ideals are accessed in stages, through trial and error, failure and forgiveness. If this is the path God chose to enter our world, then blessed are those who understand God’s mercy for sinners and make it possible for real people to join the holy pilgrimage that is the church. Jesus said that he did come for the righteous but for sinners. He went in search of them, he ate with them and, in the end, he died for them. The church that reflects Jesus will do the same.

Labor Day

Posted on 07 September 2015 by patmarrin

“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister … For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Col 1:25; 2:1).

Though today’s scriptures are part of the universal lectionary, they might well have been chosen to apply to the U.S. commemoration of Labor Day.

The author of the Letter to the Colossians reveals the profound secret that underlies the Incarnation, that God came among us, taking our flesh, so as to be united with our human labors and struggles. The baptized members of the body of Christ in the world make up the great prototype of the new humanity. We witness to the world what God’s intentions have always been for creation—a harmonious union of each person working to fulfill the vision of the Beloved Community.

This vision meets the resistance of sin, which divides humanity into competing interests, Economic systems set labor and management at odds, profit over wages, efficiency over human safety and dignity.

The Gospel from Luke 6 tells of the healing of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the sabbath. We meet so many people in the New Testament who are crippled, bent over and paralyzed, which deprived them of their ability to work to support themselves and their families. Was it disease, or was it injury that caused such misery? Why were there so many poor people? We only know that Jesus seeks them out and heals them as a sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Labor Day celebrates the essential contributions of all working people to the general good. Meaningful work is a source of both wages and human dignity. Yet if we look at our national and global economy, we see the millions are left behind because they lack education or opportunity, who are damaged, then rejected by systems that regard labor as only one factor in the creation of wealth. The most dangerous and difficult jobs are left for the most disadvantaged workers—undocumented immigrants who work in slaughter houses, stoop labor in the fields, roofing and cement, as domestics in hotels and aides in nursing homes. Millions of others work full time or at several jobs in fast food jobs that still do not lift them above the poverty line.

We, the church, as members of the body of Christ, are called to solidarity with our brothers and sisters everywhere. Our work is to build up the common good. Our labor, whatver our gifts and contributions, is to give birth to the Kingdom of God, where right relationship, justice and mercy come together in Christ.


Listen First, Then Speak

Posted on 05 September 2015 by patmarrin

“Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” (Mark 7:33).

One of the sure signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God is that what has been closed is now opened. The call to openness and movement forward into great freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. The blind have their eyes opened, captives are set free, the paralyzed and possessed are released from what has held them back, and the deaf and mute have their ears and mouths opened.

The great symbol for the start of the Jubilee Year of mercy in December will be the tradition of opening wide the sealed bronze doors in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis is inviting the universal church to pass through these doors into greater mercy for one another and for all those who are wounded by sin and weakness. Like the famous image used by Pope John XXIII at the start of the Vatican Council 53 years ago, it is time to throw open the windows of renewal to let in the breath of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel story of the healing of the deaf mute, we are reminded of the connection between hearing and speech. The deaf man also has a speech impediment because he cannot hear how words are pronounced. Once he is able to listen, then he can learn how to speak.

What a powerful image for us as we witness the breakdown of civility and rational discourse in our conflicted society. Political candidates do not listen and are only capable of mouthing propaganda to score soundbite points. On a wide range is issues, partisan voices flood the media with trash talk and takedowns, while competing social media sites overflow with anonymous hate speech that drowns out or invades any attempts at intelligent dialogue.

The healing of the deaf mute is described in detail. Jesus takes the man apart from the crowd pressing in around them. This is for privacy but also because the miracle is complex and reaches back to creation itself. Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears, touches his tongue with spittle, then appeals to heaven, groans and calls out, “Ephphatha!” Mark records in Greek the Aramaic word Jesus used, meaning, “Be opened!”

The miracle is complex because it restores the deaf mute to his full humanity and life in the community. It is an act of creation that overcomes all the limits imposed by the distortion and death of our fallen world in which people become objects, problems, and groups who no longer count in the equations of power and wealth that measure value only by utility. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is first about gathering up the marginalized, rejected, poor and the powerless.

We are that community of need as we gather at Eucharist, God’s Table of welcome and mercy, because we all need to hear Jesus say to us, Ephphatha!. “Be opened!”