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The Wine of Gladness

Posted on 16 January 2016 by patmarrin

“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:4).

Water is necessary for life; wine is the biblical symbol for life beyond survival, a source of celebration and joy. The Hebrews who escaped slavery and spent 40 years wandering in the Sinai could only dream of the time when they would be settled again, able to plant vines, harvest grapes and make wine.

The covenant made in the desert between God and his people was described as a nuptial. How can there be a wedding without wine? For the Israelites in the Promised Land, wine was God’s gift and a ritual necessity at weddings. To run out would have struck at the symbolic heart of the covenant.

Mary sees the embarrassment of a family and a village on the wedding day of their beloved children, and this moves her to firmly push her son to respond to their need. John the evangelist sees in this event the deep implication of Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the new covenant. The six large ceremonial jars of water represented the ritual fulfillment of the Law. Jesus will turn the water into wine. Law becomes Love, the new measure of the covenant.

The bridegroom is praised by the headwaiter for “saving the best wine until last.” How many marriages and love stories must make the same journey from water to wine, then from the first wine to the best wine, saved for last? The presence of Jesus at the wedding makes this possible. His journey will take him from the waters of baptism to the wine of God’s love poured out in the joy of the Gospel.

But this transformation will take the symbol one step further. The wine of Passover will be the cup of his blood, shed for all of us, our exodus from the slavery of sin and death.

We celebrate this mystery at our community worship. Every Mass is a nuptial feast that strengthens our covenant with God. But all these powerful symbols remain hidden until we reveal them in our own lives. Mary nudges us to begin our ministries to the needs of others so evident all around us. Jesus empowers us to do so by following him from Cana to Jerusalem as we mature in love and service.

How blessed we are to have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb, then sent to share the wine of the Gospel with everyone we meet.

Restored to God and the Community

Posted on 15 January 2016 by patmarrin

"Who but God alone can forgive sins?" (Mark 2:6)

The Year of Mercy includes the invitation to use the Rite of Reconciliation-- confession of sins to a priest-- as an important way to find peace for a guilty conscience. There is no question that the entire process, which begins with an examination of conscience, an honest and prayerful examination of areas of our lives that are wounded, unresolved and anxious, then actually confessing to someone, can bring enormous relief.

It is more than self-therapy or even talking out a problem with a professional. Confession formalizes re-entry into the community, reassures us that we have done everything we can to get free of past sins. We can start over again in the light of faith and the freedom that comes from making a clean slate of our conscience before God and others.

In today’s Gospel story of the healing of the paralytic, Jesus merges God’s exclusive role in restoring us to full right relationship with the necessary role of the human community in this process. The “Son of Man,” the incarnate God among us and within us, completes the healing process. The paralyzed man is carried to Jesus by his friends. After he is healed the man is restored to the community. What real effect would ritual confession have on us if we did not emerge from the confessional into the embrace of the community? Just as all sin is about broken relationships, so full forgiveness renews those relationships. We become ourselves again after a time of isolation and estrangement.

The scribes and Pharisees take a narrow view of God’s mercy when they try to separate the power of the community from the miracle Jesus performs. They may also be protecting their own importance in the process as official gatekeepers to God. Jesus opens the path to God wherever there is the kind of love shown by the four friends who bear the paralyzed man and lower him through the roof. Their faith initiates this encounter, and God rewards them by restoring their friend to them. This is the power of the “Son of Man” to forgive sins and heal paralysis in a single act of mercy.

Of Course I Will

Posted on 14 January 2016 by patmarrin

"Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean' " (Mark 1:42).

During this Year of Mercy, we will hear much about the word hesed, Hebrew for unconditional and undeserved love. God's lovingkindess and mercy exceeds all human words for love in the sense that it is a love so deep it makes its object lovable. It is like creation from nothing. God initiates this lovability out of the very depths of the divine nature, because God is Mercy. To be known, named and loved by God is to be called into existence. It is also an unfailing love that continues for someone who fails to return it or rebels against it, which is the meaning of sin.

The only human equivalent for hesed is the kind of love a mother has for her child. It is a heart-wrenching attachment and devotion to one who is bone and flesh of the mother's very being. The child is by its very nature beloved. Another Hebrew word, rechem, which means “womb,” is used to describe this all-encompassing love.

In today’s healing story, Jesus is moved to the depths with pity when the leper approaches him with a hint of fear and hesitation in his voice, posing his request, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus experiences hesed, and he immediately reaches out to touch the leper. “I do will it. Be made clean.” An outcast is restored to life, to health, to his family and community. He is drawn from the chaos of rejection and suffering and created anew as a beloved brother.

How often when we pray we hesitate or negotiate with ourselves about whether God really hears our prayer or will give it any attention. Who are we to expect a busy God to care about us and our needs? We make the case for our unworthiness even as we pray. What sacrifice or good work should we do first so we have something to exchange for God’s favor.

Today’s Word should set aside all of these half measures and thrust us forward into the embrace of a God who loves us so much that whatever we need will flow into us before we can even put our prayer into words. The deepest answer to all our prayers is that we are already beloved, held in existence by divine hesed. No matter what crises we face or circumstances we must deal with, God is with us and caring for us. Whatever we receive in prayer can only be added to this unfailing love.

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Grace on the Loose

Posted on 13 January 2016 by patmarrin

"Everyone is looking for you" (Mark 1:37).

Jesus' public ministry in Capernaum begins in the synagogue, but then spills into the neighborhood. He enters the house of Peter and heals his mother-in-law. Crowds gather at the door bringing the sick and the possessed. He is the Good News he is preaching, and everywhere he goes and everyone he touches is restored to right relationship and wholeness. This burst of activity announces better than words the new reality of God's rule over creation, overwhelming fear and disorder caused by sin and estrangement.

It seems deliberate on Mark's part to show that such transforming power is not limited to the places and authority of formal religion. The scribes in the synagogue watched as Jesus demonstrated full access to God's mercy without protocol or fees, formula words or rituals. Grace was loose in the world. Ordinary people, especially the poor and outcast, had direct access to God in Jesus. Something new was happening, and it was beyond their control.

It was soon clear that this divine outpouring even went beyond the borders of Israel. Foreigners, hated Samaritans, even Roman soldiers were welcomed by Jesus, who was already publicly eating with prostitutes and tax collectors. Unconditional love was blurring every boundary and making hash of legal definitions of insiders and outsiders. Everyone was looking for Jesus.

We rejoice in this universal embrace, even as we adjust our own comfort zones to make sure we are open to God in disguise and surprise. All are welcome, and this makes every day an adventure.

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New Authority, New Freedom

Posted on 12 January 2016 by patmarrin

"The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22).

We are barely a page into Mark's Gospel when Jesus is already challenging the existing religious establishment represented by the synagogue in Capernaum. This local house of prayer extended the legal and ritual authority of the Temple in Jerusalem, whose scholars enforced orthodoxy in every aspect of life.

Jesus enters the synagogue and flushes out the presence of a man with an unclean spirit that knows immediately it is about to be expelled by someone with greater authority, “the Holy One of God.” Something greater than the Temple, the priesthood and the scribes, who claim to control access to God, is here. Jesus’ power to expel the unclean spirit is a sign that the old order is over. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

The people in the synagogue who witness this exorcism and hear Jesus’ gracious new teaching about a God who welcomes and forgives and heals everyone rejoice to feel the authority flowing from him. Word of this event would have quickly reached the Sanhedrin that day. It was being challenged by a hill country preacher from Galilee who must be watched, undermined and dispatched to protect the institution. The rest of Mark’s Gospel will bring this conflict to a head.

We sense some of the drama in this Gospel scene in the struggle going on within the church over Pope Francis’ efforts to restore mercy as the central truth of the Gospel. Critics say it will damage church authority and create confusion for believers used to being told what to think.

These tensions reveal that the Gospel is always a living Voice. Christian freedom is always a challenge. Discipleship is neither easy nor automatic, but a daily encounter with the Spirit of Jesus who leads us forward one step at a time, with just enough insight and courage to take us to the next level.

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Say Yes Today

Posted on 11 January 2016 by patmarrin

"This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15).

Because uncertainty creates stress, most people strive to build order and predictability into their lives. But there is always a zone of uncertainty that reminds us we are never fully in control. God seems to be present in this zone, surprising us, opening up unforeseen opportunities, turning interruptions into graced connections.

Jesus chose fishermen for his first disciples, men whose livelihood depended on the open waters and hidden riches that swam beneath the surface, filling their boats one day and eluding them the next. Peter, Andrew, James and John knew the zone of uncertainty well and therefore were perfect companions to Jesus as he proclaimed God’s mysterious kingdom. Some days there would be a great catch, the next day nothing but suspicion and rejection as Jesus moved from town to town in the lake country of Galilee.

As Jesus’ ministry moved south toward Jerusalem, apparent success turned to failure and apparent failure revealed a strategy of sacrificial love that would lead to the cross, but then the triumph of the resurrection. Their image of the messiah was transformed into an experience of servant leadership, of God’s way to making the first last and the little great.

Discipleship asks us to trust God and then go with the flow. Grace enters and often intersects every moment, every relationship and every choice we make. Each day becomes an adventure. We set out to do one job and end up doing another. We look back on the day and find that what we thought was important and necessary was not, and what at first seemed a waste of time yielded insight or a chance kindness that was multiplied and passed forward in ways we cannot measure.

Little could these simple fisherman have imagined the direction their lives would take when they said yes to a hill country carpenter passing by their boats that day. Our lives hold the same promise. Our part is to be available, generous and open. God will do the rest

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In the Beginning, Baptism

Posted on 09 January 2016 by patmarrin

"After Jesus was baptized and was praying, heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove..." (Luke 3:21).

Luke's account of the baptism of Jesus is layered in imagery and fulfillment of key scriptural passages. The first is the moment of creation in Genesis when God sees the divine reflection in the world and affirms its goodness. The descent of a dove on Jesus recalls the sign that life is being renewed on the earth after the flood. The baptism by John in the Jordan repeats the exodus of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom.

Jesus is all of these moments, and God affirms his role as the new Adam, the Ark of salvation, the new Moses. "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

The same symbolism is present at each baptism. We emerge from the waters of the font as new creations. We are incorporated into the body of Christ to survive the waters of death. We are cleansed and set free from the slavery of sin to live as God's beloved sons and daughters. The grace of the sacrament is meant to guide us to realize the potential of these symbols in the way we live.

Baptism begins a lifelong journey. Each time we bathe we are reminded of its cleansing effects, its power to wash away the failures of yesterday to emerge renewed today. Each life stage decision reminds us of the gift of freedom we have to change when we need a fresh start.

And always, no matter of mired in sin we find ourselves, we hear God's voice calling us beloved, receiving us with mercy and encouraging us to continue the journey. No suffering or loss can take that away. Hope awaits us at every turn and each new chapter in our lives.

The Baptism of the Lord is the feast of all our baptisms, as the full pilgrimage of the People of God is renewed in each of us. This is the joy of the Gospel.

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Full of Life

Posted on 08 January 2016 by patmarrin

"Lord if you wish, you can make me clean" (Luke 5:13).

Some traditions say that Luke the evangelist was also a physician, and this alerts us to small details he adds to familiar healing stories. In today's Gospel, the leper who approaches Jesus is "full of leprosy," a hopeless case, in other words. Only a miracle can save him.

When the man, who knows his condition is incurable, speaks to Jesus, his plea is conditioned by the possibility that Jesus might not respond. "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." Jesus may not wish to heal him for a number of reasons. The leper bears the stigma of popular attitudes toward illness as God's punishment on sinners. How may sick people, even today, despair of getting well because somehow they think they deserve their crisis as punishment for some failure, or they see God as causing it, giving them a cross they are supposed to carry. Even where advanced care is available, recovery begins with the patient wanting to get well again.

God wants us to be whole. No matter how hopeless our situation, God is always on the side of life. Faith is first about making God the focus of our lives. Prayer is first a relationship, a continuous awareness that God is with us, involved in every need and concern we have. We should not hesitate to ask for what we need, trusting that every prayer is answered in some way, if not specifically than in a way deeper than our immediate request. Being a friend of God is the secret of a full life and the guarantee that this will continue beyond death into eternity.

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Love's Circle

Posted on 07 January 2016 by patmarrin

"Beloved, we love God because God first loved us"(1 John 4:19).

A priest friend told of a young man who approached him after a wedding at which he had offered his standard homily that all love comes from God, The man said, "Father, I don't know whether I'm an atheist of an agnostic, but I liked what you said."

The priest reflected later that the reason the man had been touched by his words is because it is the most natural thing in the world for us to know God, because God is the source of everything. We cannot escape the mystery behind our own existence.

The letters of John explore this underlying dynamic of life and love. If God had not initiated our very existence, creating us, choosing us, naming us and loving us, we would not be here. We could not wonder, question, contemplate and explore our capacity to respond in love to anyone—another human being or the deeper mystery of God.

In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus returns to the synagogue in Nazareth to begin the process of pouring out his life into the world. He is filled with the Spirit of God, anointed to preach good news, freedom, light and a jubilee of mercy that will transform history and redirect creation back to its original destiny of friendship with God. The love initiated by God at the first creation will be brought full circle back to God by Jesus’ redemptive offering of obedience and self-sacrifice. It is a love story begun by God and completed in God.

A single human life is barely long enough to glimpse this mystery. Whatever journey leads each of us to begin to know ourselves and what love holds for us, the important thing is to respond. Our yes will echo the first word spoken that called us into being. Let the conversation begin, the first pull in the trajectory of our desire for wholeness that will guide us home.

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Don't Be Afraid

Posted on 06 January 2016 by patmarrin

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).

Anyone trying to make sense of the current presidential campaign will by now have heard the phrase "politics of fear." Candidates who are appealing to people's fears, even if it is in a fairly narrow base of already loyal supporters, are surging in the polls.

Anxiety over immigration, national security, federal authority over states, changing demographics and gun control is being played like a short keyboard on a shrill calliope leading a parade into some fabled past era when America “used to be great.”

Anxiety is a normal part of life, a necessary early warning system that keeps us alert or prompts us to address problems early. But there is something about collective fear that paralyzes people from making rational assessments, promotes conspiracy theories and divides the world into loyalists and heretics.

The early church might never have survived the first generation had people withdrawn in fear from the threat of rejection or persecution. The Gospel writers told stories of Jesus encouraging his followers to overcome their fears and go forward. The famous scene of Jesus approaching the storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee captured perfectly this message. “Don’t be afraid, it is I.”

The author of the First Letter of John saw the effects of fear as quarrels threatened to split the faith community at Ephesus. The antidote to fear was love. Because God loves us, nothing can harm us. The sign that we trust this love is to show it to one another. “Perfect love drives out fear.” There is no threat we cannot deal with if we love one another as God has already loved us.

We enter this day and its problems with the certainty that God is always with us. We only need to let God’s love move through us to others, especially those with real problems – the poor, the sick, the stranger, the prisoner. Then everyone will see that we are God’s children.