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Holy Trinity, Holy Family

Posted on 30 May 2015 by patmarrin

"Behold, I am with you until the end of time" (Matt 28:20).

My favorite image of the Trinity is the memory of a couple who delighted their child by whispering messages to him and sending him back and forth across the room to deliver them. The game held a profound secret, for this joyful child was not just carrying messages; he was the message between his father and mother, bone and flesh, their resemblance shining back at them, their pledge to the future.

We can only approach the mystery of the Trinity with metaphors and symbols. It is the primal sacrament — the inner life of God somehow made visible in our human attempts at loving one another to make community out of our separate selves. It is goal of creation -- unity in diversity. God is the ultimate source and model for what it means to be a human being in relationship with others, for we are made in the image and likeness of the divine community.

The words fall on the page, wholly inadequate to even point by analogy to the ineffable reality of the family of God. Yet we only need to search within our own consciousness and our longing for completeness in love to feel the cosmic pull to the center of creation. Our human bodies, our faces, the dynamic tension within each us between solitude and communion, self and others, alone and with, this experience whispers to us of the paradox of human nature as a glimpse into the divine nature that made us.

Father, Son, Spirit; Creator, Savior, Sanctifier; Eternal Voice, Spoken Word, Holy Paraclete; Our Father, Jesus, Son of God and son of man, Advocate, dove, holy wind and fire. Faith tells us that God is no distant, solitary being, but an intimate presence, calling, naming, loving us toward lovableness, beyond selfishness and sin, holding us against death for an eternity in the Family of God.

The Solemnity of the Trinity is a celebration of every kind of love we know, our marriages and partnerships, friendships and networks, real and virtual. Baptism seals our communion as members of one body, one Spirit, one destiny. To believe in the Trinity is to know ourselves and the lifelong journey from self-filling isolation to self-emptying love.

We rejoice today to have this mystery dwelling within us, telling us how to live and showing us the way home.

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The Fate of the Fig Tree

Posted on 29 May 2015 by patmarrin

“All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you wil receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:25).

In 1936, in the depths of the Depression and “Dustbowl” years in the United States, journalist James Agee and photographer Walker Evans were hired by Fortune Magazine to do a story on the conditions of sharecropper families in Alabama. The result, rejected by Fortune and not published until 1941, was the book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a powerful and achingly intimate portrait of poverty in America.

The title is from Sirach 44, a sweeping look at history that reveals the patterns of heroic courage and tragic folly that mark human participation within God’s plan for the world. The fate of the earth lies in what human beings do with God’s gifts of free will and insight. Success leads to blessing and failure brings its own punishment according to the laws of nature. We reap what we sow.

Today’s Gospel tells of Jesus' encounter with a fig tree on his way into Jerusalem. Lack of fruit on the tree becomes a parable for what Jesus finds in the Temple, a den of corruption and commerce overtaking God’s house of prayer. On his way out of the city, Jesus again sees the fig tree and curses it. He spends the night in Bethany, then returns the next day to challenge the money changers and sellers and the temple establishment for failing to understand that their infidelity would doom the temple and the city, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70.

In another passage from Luke 19:44, Jesus weeps over the city for its failure to know the hour of God’s visitation and the offer of the grace of repentance.

In the long view, how will history judge us for our care of the earth and our commitment to change unjust systems that abuse and destroy the poor? We will reap what we sow, and we now hold the fate and future of the global family in our hands.

Jesus saw in the parable of the fig tree and the challenge to reform Temple religion an invitation to deepen our faith in the power of prayer. At what was likely the most discouraging moment in his ministry, Jesus tells his disciples that whatever they pray for will be given to them, even miracles. He will complete his own prayer by going to the cross to offer his life for the sins of the world.

We are a small part of the larger picture, and our commitments and faithfulness may seem of no consequence in determining the direction history takes. But faith urges us to choose courageously, to do our small part for the greater good. Pray, then act, and what you ask for and work for will be given.

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Blind Faith

Posted on 28 May 2015 by patmarrin

“What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see” (Mark 10:51).

The story of Bartimaeus is the story of how we all come to faith.

Life on the sidelines keeps us from commitment; we live in the shadows, dependent on the reactions of others to define us. Like blind beggars, we wait for some opportunity to come our way -- a better job, a relationship, some challenge to get us up and moving.

For Bartimaeus, Jesus was his ticket back into the flow of deliberate living, independence and purpose. He made his move, risking ridicule and rejection to find the source of the voice he was hearing beyond the clamor of the crowd, but more especially, in his lonely heart. "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me."

Because he took the first step, Jesus heard him and called him. The same people who had told him to be quiet now helped him up and opened the way for him to go to Jesus. In his excitement and confidence, Bartimaeus left behind his most valuable possession-- his cloak -- security blanket, his begging spot along the road.

The most important question Jesus will ask each of us is "What do you want me to do for you?" Faith begins with knowing our deepest need. To admit that we are blind, or wounded, or sinful, is the first act that opens us to God's grace. Bartimaeus prays wisely: "Master, I want to see." In those simple words he expresses both his deepest need and his belief that Jesus is Master and has the power to change everything.

Physical sight is a miracle, but spiritual insight opens us to eternity, the wholeness we can only dream about in this life. Jesus calls us beyond our limitations to follow him on the road that leads to life with God, the ultimate answer to all our prayers.

Jesus is passing by today. This is an invitation to pray for what we want and need. God always hears the cry of the poor, the blind, the brokenhearted, the sinner. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Be a Winner!

Posted on 27 May 2015 by patmarrin

"The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

Human beings are competitive, and we all want to be winners. The drive for success is built into our culture, economy and educational system. But everything depends on how we define success.

Today's Gospel shows how profoundly the disciples misunderstood the upside down path Jesus was leading them on as they made their way to Jerusalem. They were already basking in the reflected light of this eloquent preacher and miracle worker. Their success in Jerusalem would be to take their places around him in triumph.

Instead, Jesus repeatedly warns them that he will be rejected and killed. On the throne of the cross, Jesus will redefine success not as power and prestige but as self-sacrificing love and service. If they truly want to follow him, they must embrace the same downward journey.

Artist and activist Sr. Corita Kent gave us the poster with the words, “To understand is to stand under.” Only those who see the world from the bottom up, beneath its structures and systems, really know the weight of oppression and injustice the poor understand all too well. Jesus completed his human sojourn by descending to the depths of suffering in order to take on his shoulders the full burden of sin. When the “Son of Man” was lifted up in death and resurrection, he raised up all of humanity to its true destiny – life with God.

Jesus’ descent was about revealing God not as distant and all-powerful, but intimate and frail with loving concern for all people, especially the poor, called the “crucified of history.”

Only by going there to share in the brokenness of human striving could God reveal the self-emptying love that makes us whole. This is what Jesus revealed on the cross. To follow Jesus is to imitate him. Here’s to success!

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My Reward?

Posted on 26 May 2015 by patmarrin

“There is no one who has given up house or family for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more in this present age... with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come" (Mark 10:30).

If there is anything close to a joke in the Gospels, it is when Peter, on behalf of the other Apostles, asks Jesus what their reward will be for giving up so much. Jesus tells them that they will get 100 times their loss of houses, brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, but adds the words "with persecution."

This summary describes the lives of so many pastors, ministers and missionaries whose commitment to serve encompasses hundreds of families, children, buildings and property. Their discipleship will be rewarded here and in the age to come, but not without anxiety and exhaustion.

Jesus must have smiled when Peter went back to announce the huge return on their investment to the other Apostles. Even as they set out for Jerusalem, the Apostles imagined themselves as sitting on thrones to judge the 12 Tribes of Israel.

What is our reward for being Christian? What is our investment? Each of us knows the cost of discipleship in the burdens we carry to keep our promises, the demands we face each day because of our choice of vocation, the paths we did not choose that might have compromised our values. In the end, one thing is sure. As St. Paul wrote: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Come, Follow Me

Posted on 25 May 2015 by patmarrin

“All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27).

Pope Francis recently spoke about the power of the “gaze of Christ” to reveal us to ourselves and attract us to our true vocation.

Today’s Gospel tells the story of the rich man who must have fallen under that gaze and decided to approach Jesus about becoming one of his followers. He first sought Jesus’ approval for his virtuous life. He had kept the commandments since childhood. But when Jesus “looked at him with love” and challenged him to take the next step, give his wealth to the poor and follow him, the man went away sad. Jesus had exposed the one thing he could not part with— the security and status his wealth afforded him.

As a story about priorities and attachment, this Gospel is for us all. It stirs in us the question, “What is the cost of my discipleship, and what am I willing to give up to claim it?" How many of us would give up our credit cards, bank accounts and pensions to hit the road with Jesus?

But what exactly was Jesus proposing? The kind of poverty he offered his disciples was not abject want or suffering for lack of basic necessities. What Jesus himself experienced and asked of his disciples was dependence on others to provide for them. Wherever they went, they found hospitality and the resources they needed to carry out their mission. What Jesus challenged the rich man to accept was not poverty but Providence and the willingness to share himself within community, where everyone gives what they have and receives what they need. Community is the goal, not want.

Community is also where we find life. How many people pursue self-reliance and total independence, only to find themselves isolated from others? Only mutual interdependence and the risk of trusting others bring real happiness and shared purpose. It is within networks of love that we escape ourselves, our attachment to things in order to experience the freedom of generosity and the joy of compassion.

Jesus is looking at you with love today, saying, "Come, follow me."

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May 24, 2015: Pentecost Sunday

Posted on 23 May 2015 by patmarrin

“Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).

The story of the sending of the Holy Spirit into the followers of Jesus recapitulates the story of Creation. In the beginning, the Spirit — ruah – breath, or life, of God hovers over the primordial waters. Creation occurs when the face of God is reflected in the shapeless potential of pre-being, and the voice of God says “Let there be light.” The divine light enters the void, giving structure and purpose to the material universe now existing in time, wholly initiated and sustained by the divine Will.

Creation unfolded from that original moment according to its inbuilt laws, organizing itself, separating light from darkness, sky from earth, land from sea, exploding with life forms, plant and animal, genus and species, lower to higher consciousness, until human beings emerged, able to respond to the Creator and to share in the work of shaping the world. Only one thing was lacking -- free will for humans so that friendship with God and not just automatic obedience could be possible. With the gift of freedom also entered the rebellion of sin into the world, distorting the divine image in us and delaying the divine purpose by sowing chaos and conflict into human affairs and into the order of creation.

It was into this warp that Jesus came as the revelation of what a full human being was meant to be. Jesus was in perfect union with the Creator, his nature suffused with divine identity, like us in all things except sin. His life and death laid down the template for the universal restoration of humanity and the recalibration and reharmonization of creation with God’s original plan.

Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, the fulfillment of Passover, opened again the path to God obscured by sin. So it is for us, that by dying to self, we rise to new life in God with Jesus, whose resurrection reveals a new heaven and a new earth for everyone who follows the new Adam, the Christ, into the new creation.

Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Passover, completes this sign with the outpouring of the Ruah of God over the old creation, restoring it to its divine destiny -- life with God forever. This promise was foreshadowed at Jesus' baptism as he came up out of the water and a dove hovered over him, like the dove that signaled new life for Noah after the flood.

Pentecost celebrates the birth of the church, the new Ark holding the restored creation. The symbols of the Spirit as wind and fire shake the world to its foundations. Behold, God is doing something new, and we, by virtue of our baptism, are part of the plan. We emerge from the waters of fear, despair and cynicism to take up the eternal promise God has revealed to us in Christ. This is the joy of the Gospel.

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Do You Love Me?

Posted on 22 May 2015 by patmarrin

“Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:16).

If you are reading this today, it is because Jesus forgave Peter on a sandy beach after breakfast two millennia ago. This moving story of mercy and restoration is part of our story. Its implications are about us being the church right now.

All history, not surprisingly, is written looking back. But what may surprise us is how later interests shaped the story to hold up certain individuals as crucial. This selective, interpretive filter reveals the truths the community wants to protect that validate its own decisions.

Today's two readings, from Acts and John, show how the early church recognized and even rehabilitated Peter and Paul, two controversial figures whose martyrdoms in Rome became the foundation for the primacy of that church over other centers of Christian belief in Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch.

How Paul ended up in Rome is explained in Acts 25, when he escapes Jewish enemies by using his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar to decide his case. In John 21, an addendum to the fourth Gospel, Peter is restored as leader of the Apostles after his heartbreaking denial of Jesus.

It was apparently important to the church to “canonize” Peter and Paul as leaders of the Jewish and gentile converts who formed the expanding community of faith in the Mediterranean world. What we learn from this history lesson is that the church is constantly recreating itself in each generation to apply the basic faith tradition to changing circumstances.

We are the church in 2015, and Pope Francis is calling us to recover the essential Gospel of mercy as our message to a troubled world. The age of doctrinal consolidation and warrior popes, Baroque churches and liturgies, fortress mentality and unbending legalism are not what is needed now by the global community on the brink of enormous challenges to its survival and future direction. What this world needs now more than anything else is hope and reconciliation.

Pentecost 2015 may someday be a marker in the history of the church as the time we changed the course of history toward a more sustainable planet, one human family and the beloved community God asks us to be. Will you join that effort? The Holy Spirit is poised to give every gift needed to save the world, and is only awaiting our yes.

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One in Love

Posted on 21 May 2015 by patmarrin

"May they all be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, that that world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21).

Because we are created in the image and likeness of God, our destiny is to realize this image within and among ourselves. God is a Community of love, and our mission is to reflect that beloved community. Wherever a group of people attempts this unity in love, God is revealed. This can be in a marriage or partnership, a small intentional community, even a simple friendship. Mutual love is the sacramental sign of God's presence.

Creating community is never easy. When we attempt love we uncover the self-centered, exclusive tendencies we all exhibit as part of the influence of sin. We want our own way, our own space, and we are quicker to see selfishness in others than in ourselves. This is why so few communities advance beyond initial attraction to reconcile differences, forgive and renew their common purpose in order to deepen mature love.

Jesus, in John's farewell discourses, reveals the secret of his own inner life as one with the Father. His disciples will share this unity by loving one another. God's inner life of love is the source of all creation, and by restoring the primal pattern and design of love, the world will be restored to God's original plan. We, as part of this mystery, advance God's plan every time we love others, create community and model reconciliation.

The greatest threat to the church is not an attack from without, but division within. When we refuse to seek unity through forgiveness and dialogue, we distort the central sign of unity that is the Gospel we are to preach to the world. A divided church fails to witness the mystery of God.

The sign that the Holy Spirit has truly come to rest on us at Pentecost will be our love for one another, especially where conflict divides us. Unity in diversity is what will show the world that God truly dwells among us.

Consecrated in Truth

Posted on 20 May 2015 by patmarrin

"I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One" (John 17:16).

What does evil look like? We seldom hear the word outside of religious conversations, as though in our modern world the idea of some malevolent force at work in society were an outdated, prescientific myth.

On my drive home yesterday I caught an NPR story about the apparent erosion of ethical standards in the financial services industry, especially among younger brokers and managers. "This is the future," said one of the story sources, describing the profession on which the integrity of global commerce depends. It is as though films like "The Wolf of Wall Street,' rather than serving a cautionary tale, have opened the door to a compelling vision of get-rich, live-fast lifestyles that can wreak havoc in a system that holds the mortgages, pensions, investments and savings of most ordinary people. Also at risk is the political process that is supposed to regulate financial services and the trillions of dollars whirling around the globe electronically every hour of every day.

What is evil? If we need metaphors, the breakdown of basic values in even a small number of unethical traders capable of crashing a vital institution could be one of them.

Jesus warns his disciples that their mission to transform human culture with justice and love will be resisted at every step by those who benefit from inequality and exploitation. In his farewell address at Miletus, Paul warns the church that after he departs, “savage wolves” will ravage the flock. The Holy Spirit is at work in the world, guiding history toward God's ultimate plan of a beloved community, but because free, human cooperation is part of the plan, other spirits will also attack the process. When the desire for wealth and power infects human beings, truth and justice are often the first casualties. Murder and mayhem follow, and the most innocent are its first victims.

There is also great good in the world, holding the high ground against evil. We pray to be among those with courage who work each day for fairness and generosity. Pope Francis’ challenge to change the course of history away from violence and greed toward fairness and responsibility has awakened both hope and resistance. We live in momentous times, and every one of us has a chance to choose life and the common good. We pray for a full measure of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Only together and with the help of the Spirit will we advance God’s plan for the world.