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Plan Ahead

Posted on 03 September 2016 by patmarrin

“Teach us to number our days aright, that w may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90:12).

Planning ahead means knowing that you have all the resources we will need to finish a project.

Jesus asks those who want to be disciples to know what it entails and to be prepared to follow through. We know our inadequacy but trust that everything we need will be given to us when we need it. The builder who runs out of money to finish a tower, or the king who marches against a rival badly outnumbered, will both be accounted fools. Know what you are getting into. Trust the one you are following to provide for you along the way.

Wisdom of heart includes knowing how limited our time is on earth. Don’t postpone conversion or miss an invitation to go deeper, for the chance may not come around again soon. How many people procrastinate and then live to regret a lost opportunity. The lesson is built into our language: Timing is everything, strike while the iron is hot, seize the moment, for he who hesitates is lost.

Discipleship is a course in time management. God is always fresh in the moment, so a disciple learns to go with the flow. Pay attention; go here; go there. But also, wait for ripeness; when in doubt, pray for insight and courage; prudence plans ahead, but then acts. Even if you stumble, stumble forward, and always keep your eyes on the prize.

Jesus ends his teaching with this: "Renounce all your possessions or you cannot be my disciple." Let go of anything that hinders you from following me. Travel light, for nothing is worth more than being with me.

To celebrate the community Eucharist is to be reminded of this most important of all gifts —companionship with Jesus and his followers. The bread we break and the cup we share unites us to be Christ in the world. There is no life as precious as this, for it blesses us here and now and promises us a share in the life to come.

New Wine and New Garments at the Wedding

Posted on 02 September 2016 by patmarrin

“New wine must be poured into fresh wineskins” (Luke 5:39).

One of the conservative arguments against change in the church goes like this: Because the Spirit is guiding the church, it has always been perfect, and therefore change can only be an extension of what already is. This argument is called the “hermeneutics of continuity” in contrast with progressive claims that real changes are needed, dubbed by critics as the “hermeneutics of rupture.”

This way of thinking was used to slow the renewal of the church after the Second Vatican Council and to protect the status quo. There is some truth in it, since the tradition and doctrinal core do not change, but they must also be rearticulated and applied to the needs of successive eras and cultures.

Jesus’ parable of the new patch on old cloth and new wine in fresh wineskins seems to support the need for institutional change as new ideas and energies are poured into the life of the church. Pope Francis, like his predecessor Pope John XXIII, has not made any basic doctrinal changes, but both popes have clearly challenged the church to accommodate a new effervescent and dynamic approach as the work of the Holy Spirit.

We as individual believers face this same challenge as we grow in our faith and go through life stages. Change is a fact of life, and those who refuse to change fall behind or fall apart when the world moves on without them.

Jesus describes the new life he brought as an invitation to a wedding, a celebration of God’s infinite love flowing into our small, cautious worlds. If we face a crisis, it is a crisis of joy. An ever-expanding heart and new garments are needed to take part in this newness. So we pray for insight and courage. God is always now; God is always new. This is the Good News.

Let's Go Fishing!

Posted on 01 September 2016 by patmarrin

“Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).

Recent trip to Minnesota included a wonderful dinner of fish caught with the help of a professional guide. Marv can reasonably predict a catch because he knows the lakes and other variables of timing, water temperature, weather and season. He also has the charm to catch people who want to go fishing.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, a hill country carpenter, tells Peter, a professional fisherman, to take his boat out for a catch after he had already been on the water all night and caught nothing. The astonishing boatload of fish had little to do with Jesus’ expertise about lakes and fishing. It was a theophany – one of those biblical moments that reveal God’s knowledge of the deep mysteries of creation. Peter falls to his knees because he knows he is in the presence of God.

Jesus does have one important skill fishermen also have, He can see beneath the surface – in this case, the deep, hidden state of Peter’s soul and his profound feeling of unworthiness and unreadiness to be involved with someone like Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus’ choice of Peter has everything to do with his potential for leadership based on his weaknesses. Only someone who needs mercy will be able to preach it.

Early morning prayer is our time to come clean and let God see us as we really are. The first impulse of shame, as illustrated by Adam and Eve in the garden after they ate the forbidden fruit, is to hide. We cannot hide from God’s gaze, only fall to our knees before God’s overwhelming love, as Peter did.

But this is the beginning of our journey toward mercy. God sees our potential for growth and will always send us out into deeper and deeper water to share that grace with others. Peter the professional fisherman became a fisher of people. When we know our unworthiness, this is what God will ask us to do as well.

Every Step of the Way

Posted on 31 August 2016 by patmarrin

“At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him” (Luke 4:40).

Luke gives us in a single sentence a rich scene to describe Jesus as healer. It is sunset, the time before darkness descends on the sick, the start of the long lonely hours of suffering and need they endure while waiting for dawn. People have brought their sick to Jesus confident in his power to comfort and heal. He will turn sunset into sunrise for them because of his own journey into the dark night of death, ushering in the new dawn of the resurrection. His coming sacrifice already has the effect of lifting up those who live in the shadow of affliction.

The Incarnation means that Jesus’ body is already full of grace. He is the sign and sacrament of the new creation, what a complete human being was meant to be before sin marred the original image of God. Those who touch him or are touched by him receive a foretaste of the promised redemption, a glimpse of our human future.

But it comes with a cost, for every disease or burden lifted from them falls on Jesus, who will carry the sins of the world and the consequences of evil to death on the cross. By the end of his brief ministry, Jesus will, in St. Paul’s astonishing words, “become sin, who knew no sin, so that we might become the grace of God” (2 Cor 5:21). His innocence will bear the weight of the old creation across the threshold of death, freeing us to receive God’s mercy.

To be saved is an astonishing thing, but even more wondrous is that God saves us in our broken flesh. Jesus embraces our human journey and knows the struggle of our fears, pain, the weight of disease and aging, the lonely nights and the challenge of faith when all the evidence seems against hope. In Jesus, God is with us every step of the way. This is the joy of the Gospel.

He Spoke with Authority

Posted on 30 August 2016 by patmarrin

“They were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority” (Luke 4:32).

It is no surprise that the Gospels show Jesus as an effective, engaging speaker. The Word of God is good with words, for the same creative power that made the world is now remaking it, reclaiming the underlying grammar of God’s original design from the distortion and damage of sin.

This damage is evident in the man possessed by an unclean spirit in the synagogue on the sabbath. At Jesus’ command, the demon releases the man, who falls at the feet of Jesus unharmed. But there is a deeper distortion Jesus is challenging, that of the synagogue and the sabbath itself. Religion has been used to take possession of people’s lives, making them scrupulous and fearful, asserting the letter of the Law over its intent to focus our hearts on God.

By healing the possessed man on the sabbath, Jesus takes on the whole structure of institutional religion. Opposition to him from the local synagogue all the way up to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem will grow and culminate in his condemnation and death. Jesus is not just an itinerant preacher, exorcist and healer; he is a threat to the entire system.

The authority of Jesus over creation begins within human consciousness, where the distortions of sin first take hold. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul proclaims the power of the gospel to transform our way of thinking. The “world,” i.e. human consciousness estranged from God, cannot grasp the mind of Christ, who has entered the world to transform our human experience by the power of grace. Jesus, made perfect by his death and resurrection, offers us all a renewed consciousness purified of sin and open to the Spirit of God.

Ordinary people could feel this deep resonance in Jesus’ words. He had authority because he was in touch with the Author of creation. No evil spirit could stand up to his power. We seek the mind of Christ that alone can recalibrate our inner consciousness and actions. This is what daily discipleship means. We rejoice to have this grace at work within us at all times.

Heart First

Posted on 29 August 2016 by patmarrin

“I resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Coor 2:3).

The brutality of John the Baptist’s death by beheading compels us to face the decisiveness of faith and the shadow of doubt that often surrounds it. John lay powerless in a prison cell pondering whether he had fulfilled his mission to point to the Messiah. Reports said that Jesus of Nazareth, whom John had designated, was putting God’s mercy before justice, healing and forgiving instead of scourging and warning sinners. Had John chosen the wrong one?

The gospel account depicts John’s struggle as birth pangs. His dark cell was the womb of his rebirth, and like every newborn, John would make passage without understanding what was being accomplished through his short life. The same unborn child who once leaped in his mother’s womb at the approach of Mary carrying Jesus, would have to enter the Kingdom breech, not head first but heart first, with blind faith and total trust.

St. Paul, by tradition also beheaded, would also find his brilliant understanding of God’s plans reduced to a simple encounter with “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” He tells the Corinthians that no earthly logic or wisdom could explain the passage they would all have to make through death to new life.

Today’s liturgy celebrates the suffering of John the Baptist to remind us that faith is a dark mirror and an invisible light that guides us only in surrender. Our encounter with God in Christ is less logic than leap, a choice to fall in love, heart first, with divine Mercy. We rejoice with John to be confounded by such a mystery, then embraced by it.

Heart First

Posted on 29 August 2016 by patmarrin

“I resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Coor 2:3).

The brutality of John the Baptist’s death by beheading compels us to face the decisiveness of faith and the shadow of doubt that often surrounds it. John lay powerless in a prison cell pondering whether he had fulfilled his mission to point to the Messiah. Reports said that Jesus of Nazareth, whom John had designated, was putting God’s mercy before justice, healing and forgiving instead of scourging and warning sinners. Had John chosen the wrong one?

The gospel account depicts John’s struggle as birth pangs. His dark cell was the womb of his rebirth, and like every newborn, John would make passage without understanding what was being accomplished through his short life. The same unborn child who once leaped in his mother’s womb at the approach of Mary carrying Jesus, would have to enter the Kingdom breech, not head first but heart first, with blind faith and total trust.

St. Paul, by tradition also beheaded, would also find his brilliant understanding of God’s plans reduced to a simple encounter with “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” He tells the Corinthians that no earthly logic or wisdom could explain the passage they would all have to make through death to new life.

Today’s liturgy celebrates the suffering of John the Baptist to remind us that faith is a dark mirror and an invisible light that guides us only in surrender. Our encounter with God in Christ is less logic than leap, a choice to fall in love, heart first, with divine Mercy. We rejoice with John to be confounded by such a mystery, then embraced by it.

"Come Up Higher"

Posted on 27 August 2016 by patmarrin

“My friend, move up to a higher position’ ((Luke 14:11).

Today’s parable of the guests at table fits well within the broader theme the scriptures have been exploring about who will get in the door or find a place in the Kingdom. Jesus uses the cultural pursuit of connections and social class to reveal the deeper challenge of finding God.

In first century Palestine, social advancement was everything. If you wanted to get ahead, give a dinner or be invited to a dinner; cultivate the networks of reciprocity that earned you recognition and friends on the next rung up of the social and economic ladder.

The leading Pharisees could see that Jesus was an up-and-coming figure who was attracting attention, so they invited him to one of their carefully choreographed dinners to observe and listen to his message. He first offers conventional wisdom about how to feign humility to gain honor by being invited to move up higher at table. It is their kind of thinking, and they must have been impressed by how clever he was.

But then Jesus blows his cover by suggesting that the way to really “get ahead” was by ignoring the entire game of social climbing by inviting society’s outcasts -- the blind, the crippled and lame –- precisely those unlikely to reciprocate or gain you any points, except in the eyes of God. It is a radical, even outrageous, idea.

Jesus' invitation to his hosts was still, “Friends, come up higher,” but not in social standing. Rather he was challenging them to think higher, raise their sights to the transcendent values of love and hospitality for the needy, God’s beloved anawim, the little ones who will be first in the Kingdom. These are truly the friends in high places who will bless those fortunate enough to have the resources to give lavish dinner parties.

In celebrating Eucharist this weekend, we are being invited to take our place at table with Jesus, surrounded by everyone who is trying to deepen their discipleship. Do not be surprised to find sinners and outcasts, the blind and lame, at the head table and in every place. We are welcome because all are welcome, for this is the joy of the Gospel.

Come Late, Come Running

Posted on 26 August 2016 by patmarrin

“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” (Matt 25:5).

The parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids describes the expectation of the early church for the return of Jesus, which many believed was imminent. Readiness meant keeping the light of faith strong. But, as the years passed, faith in the second coming waned, and the Gospel writers shifted their focus from an immediate return to the understanding that the risen Jesus was already present with the church through the Holy Spirit, working within history.

The parable reflects the reality that the bridegroom was “long delayed,” and that some of the watchers were falling asleep and running out of oil, while others were steadfast and maintaining their vigil and their lights. The bridegroom comes in the dead of night, and only those with the deepest reserves of faith are prepared to enter the wedding. Others lack the faith to see what is happening, and they beg the faithful ones to give them some of their light. But it is impossible to give someone this relationship and intimate knowledge all at once, so the “foolish” bridesmaids miss their rendezvous with the Bridegroom.

This interpretation of the parable is only one way to understand its symbolism, but it conveys to us even now the steadfast urgency of the life of faith. Its essence is a lifelong relationship of trust in God’s promises and a daily practice of seeking Christ in all things. This is not something we can purchase or borrow from someone else, but a personal commitment that develops over time.

Yet the parable’s warning should also be balanced by other parables Jesus told of God’s patience and mercy. The Jesus who sought out sinners like lost sheep and ate with outcasts and held open the door for latecomers like the thief on the cross must be considered alongside the early church’s struggle to define who was worthy and who was not. We see this tension between unconditional mercy and emphasis on rules in today’s contrast between Pope Francis and a number of American bishops.

The journey of faith is one of continual discernment and openness to God’s grace. We must do our part to stay on course, but the full story leaves room for surprises. This includes the image of Jesus opening the doors even for the foolish, drowsy bridesmaids at the end of the story, so that the wedding feast will be complete. Because even sinners, like us, are welcome. This is truly the joy of the Gospel.

Be Prepared

Posted on 25 August 2016 by patmarrin

“You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect the Son of Man will come” (Matt 24:44).

Jesus promises his disciples peace, but it is a dynamic state of openness to surprise and wonder. The grace of the moment is always at hand, so in a spiritual sense, we must be light on our feet and ready to respond to his prompting. St. Paul encourages us to “pray always,” which is to be mindful that God is with us at all times, showing us how to grow and learn.

But this divine presence can also be disruptive. Jesus uses the unsettling image of a thief in the night the master of the house tries to keep from breaking in. It is hardly a comforting parable for God’s sudden intrusion into our lives. We cannot predict it or control it, and the consequences remind us that no matter how much we try to plan our lives, things can change without warning, forcing us to adapt to crisis and loss. Earthquakes, storms and human actions, including our own errors and sins, impact people every day,

The imagery of surprise was first applied to an early church living in expectation of the second coming as imminent. Pastors and ministers of the first faith communities are warned to be faithful in carrying out their responsibilities, because at an hour they least expected, Jesus might come and ask for an accounting.

While the church came to understand that the redemptive mission of Jesus was given to his followers for the long haul of history, the message remains valid in every age, including our own. We should assume that Jesus can and does come into our lives each day, at a time we least expect, in the grace of the moment and in every opportunity to respond generously to the needs of others. As disciples, we are called to pray always and to be constantly aware that Jesus is present in our thoughts and decisions. This is the essence of the Christian life, and those who live it know the peace of Christ.