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Posted on 14 May 2015 by patmarrin

“As the Father has loved me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9).

The story moves quickly and decisively as we approach the crucial hand-off from Jesus to his disciples (and to us). Liturgically, the interval between the Ascension and Pentecost is fraught with tension and promise. There is no Plan B. Either the disciples will take up the mission of Jesus after his departure or they will not. The Holy Spirit will enter them only if they are open, for their freedom, like the freedom Mary had at the first Incarnation, is necessary, for God proposes rather than imposes the divine plan.

The Buddha says, “Leap, and the bridge will appear.” Every pregnant woman begins the birthing process knowing that pain and uncertainty are part of the moment that will yield the child she has carried from conception. The disciples gather behind closed doors to pray and, for 10 days, they experience their utter inadequacy and powerlessness to accomplish anything. But it is their emptiness that welcomes the Spirit. It is the depth of their longing that will determine the size of the space that receives the gift God can give them.

In every life crisis, whether it is a major decision or some transition from old to new, we are reduced to that single narrow passage. Yes or no, go or stay, risk everything or choose security. But act freely and take full responsibility, because you cannot stay here any longer. Go forward or hunker down. Create the future you want or accept the limits circumstances have defined for you. The Gospel is always about liberation.

The one constant that makes change possible is the promise that love never departs. Jesus prepares his disciples for passage through death to new life by telling them to remain in his love. If they trust that love, they will survive and grow.

Jesus, in bodily form, hovers between time and eternity, then disappears. But his love remains, like a seed planted in his followers, whose lives will nourish and become the next bodily manifestation of his presence in the world. We are that body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. If we say yes. For if conception occurs, birth will follow. Every hope, dream and holy metaphor converges on us and our response: “May it be done unto us according to your Word.”


An Unknown God

Posted on 13 May 2015 by patmarrin

"What you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:24).

A recent national survey showed a sharp increase (from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent this year) of Americans who say they are unaffiliated with any church. Over one third of young adults self-identify in this category. All mainline Christian denominations have lost ground, including Catholics. Many of the unaffiliated say they are atheists or agnostics.

The survey only speculates on reasons for the drop, but the failure of mainline Christianity to attract and hold young people is an acknowledged factor. This speaks to a shift in culture and the perception by many seekers that formal religion has not offered real meaning and purpose or modeled an effective way to address social justice problems or answer people's personal questions.

In today's reading from Acts, St. Paul was visiting the hilltop in Athens where shrines and statues identified deities popular among the Greeks. Greek thinkers were known for exploring basic questions of meaning. Paul's approach was to explain how "natural theology," represented by the "Unknown God," could lead to acceptance of an all-knowing creator by rational argument. But when he tells his audience that a Palestinian Jew revealed this God by rising from the dead, they laughed at Paul and politely excused themselves. Like the Romans, many Greeks saw religion as merely a civic exercise in a secular culture, but they did not commit to personal faith beyond that.

The journey to faith has many thresholds. The more experience people have, the more they understand how mysterious life is. Adversity teaches resilience; struggle exposes our hopes and fears; love teaches us values that go beyond this world and our own brief lives.

Jesus tells his disciples in today's Gospel that thy have much to learn, but they cannot bear it all at once. Only with time and experience, and the help of the Holy Spirit, will they enter the deeper mysteries of self-sacrifice as the path to glory.

Knowing little and believing less can actually be a good place to start because the mind is not cluttered with assumptions. When we let Life itself be our teacher, it sets us on the road to faith by urging us to face our questions and problems honestly. A sincere heart and an open mind inevitably lead to the source of our own existence, the God who knows us by name and loves us more than we can imagine.

We Are the Church

Posted on 12 May 2015 by patmarrin

"It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, The Advocate will not come to you" (John 16:7).

Absence makes possible a different, even deeper, kind of presence. Jesus tells his disciples that his departure (death, ascension) is necessary for the Spirit to come. His time on earth, physically present with them in that moment in history, is complete.

They are totally dependent on him, and they cannot imagine going on without his leadership. This is the point of his departure. Unless he goes, they will not internalize him, become him in time and place through the gift of his Spirit. There will be no church, the body of Christ advancing in history through them and successive generations of believers.

So it is necessary that he depart, so they can experience their own birth at Pentecost, filled with the mystery of God incarnate in the world through them.

The reading today from Acts 16 is a deliberate parallel to the story of Jesus' resurrection. Paul and Silas, beaten and jailed for preaching the Gospel, are liberated from the innermost cell, surrounded by guards, when an earthquake happens in the middle of the night. Astonished and afraid, the jailer is about to kill himself when his prisoners call out to him, then baptize him and his entire family.

We have been invited to carry the mystery of the risen Christ in our lives. In this final week of Easter time, we are being prepared for the celebration of the Ascension, Jesus' departure so that Pentecost can follow, our birth as the church.

Like the first disciples, perhaps we are dismayed at the thought of taking up the presence of Jesus and his mission to the world. The church invites us to pray from this place of fear and inadequacy. It is into this need that the Spirit will come.

Dear Graduates

Posted on 11 May 2015 by patmarrin

"I have told you this so that you may not fall away" (John 15:28).

May is graduation month. Commencement speakers across the country will attempt to inspire, instruct and entertain tens of thousands of college and high school seniors as they move up and out on their life journeys.

Jesus brings a touch of realism to his final words to his disciples. "The road ahead will be long and arduous, and you will encounter stiff resistance, even violence, from some who oppose the message you are to bring."

Jesus warns them in advance so that they will not be surprised when it happens, but prepared to move forward, making use of adversity to strengthen their resolve rather than fold in fear and discouragement.

What he promises them is that their Teacher, the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus and the Father, will be right there with them every step of the way, whispering reassurance and wisdom, empowering them to find creative solutions to every obstacle, giving meaning to their suffering for the sake of the Gospel.

With every breath we take today, the same Holy Spirit will be there for us. With every step we take, the word will be a lamp at our feet, lighting the way. God keeps every promise and, no matter what happens, remember what Jesus told you, and everything will be blessed.


Mother Church's Ever-Changing Love

Posted on 09 May 2015 by patmarrin

“This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:13).

Today's liturgy offers a perfect message for Mother's Day. Who, if not mothers, knows well that love must be creative and ever-changing to meet the needs of growing children? What is true for mothers is also true for Mother Church.

Veteran scholar and writer Garry Wills has a new book, The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, in which he chronicles key moments in history when fundamental changes in identity and direction enabled the church to survive crisis. This thesis will bring little comfort to those who imagine the church as a timeless and changeless institution in which fidelity means keeping things "the way they have always been." Pope Francis clearly understands that the church needs to change to carry out its mission effectively.

An unchanging church never existed. Everything about the church has evolved through creative adaptation. Creed, code, worship, community structures and leadership have all changed in response to historical forces and shifting cultures. The genius of the church lies not in its refusal to adapt but in its flexibility to express the essential mystery of Jesus for each successive age and culture.

Today’s Lectionary readings capture both this essence and the need to adapt. In the Last Supper discourses in the fourth Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples the central commandment on which the church is founded: “Love one another as I have loved you.” By this standard, we are to lay down our lives for one another just as Jesus did for us. This is the heart of the revolution the church takes to a divided world.

In Acts 10, Peter must guide the small Jewish community Jesus left to his care into the complex cultures of the Mediterranean basin. Paul, his fellow missionary, has already discovered the Spirit at work among the pagans of Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. Peter and the staunchly Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem must decide whether converts must keep the Mosaic Law, including circumcision and dietary restrictions, in order to be Christians. In the house of Cornelius, Peter realizes that the Spirit has already gone beyond the original church to invite strangers and outsiders into the circle. Something new was happening, and Peter knew that to survive, the early church had to grow and change.

Pope Francis, the successor of St, Peter, is asking all of us to imagine the thresholds we must now cross to accomplish our mission to carry the love of God revealed in Jesus to the whole world. What rules need to give way to a more pastoral approach to open the doors of the church to so many people who feel wounded, alienated and judged by religion? What changes will help faithful Catholics find mercy so they can show mercy, and common ground on which sincere believers who disagree can still share Eucharist and ministry?

We are the church, ever changing, adapting, listening to the Spirit and doing our best with the grace of God. Finding creative ways to lay down our lives for others is our challenge and the joy of the Gospel.


Above All, Unity

Posted on 08 May 2015 by patmarrin

"It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities ..." (Acts 15:29).

What is most astonishing in the letter sent to the missionary churches of gentile converts was the claim from the leadership in Jerusalem that they were acting in concert with the Holy Spirit. From a timorous, cowering group of refugees after Jesus departed this earth at his Ascension, the early church was acting with confidence that Jesus had sent his Spirit to guide them.

Since that first Council of Jerusalem, down through the history of the church, the belief that the Spirit would always keep us from error in matters of essential direction and mission has been one of the marks of the church. Without it, and without councils to hammer out difficult questions and resolve controversies, the church would long ago have dissolved into strife and division, which has been the fate of every other human organization.

Church historians confirm the importance of each council to make doctrinal and pastoral decisions and course corrections. Jerusalem expanded the church into the gentile world. Trent addressed the crisis of the Reformation. Vatican II brought 2,500 bishops and scores of experts and observers to Rome over four years to renew the church in the modern world. Significantly, the same Spirit of collegiality that marked the process flowed from Vatican II to regional conferences and diocesan councils, right down to parishes, where pastors were to consult the community on important decisions. Full, conscious, active participation by all the baptized was the keynote of Vatican II.

The miracle of the church is that we are still together and, despite our differences, still called to the one Table of the Eucharist to celebrate our unity in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not surprisingly, in a contentious world, church consensus is actually our chief witness.

Remain in My Love

Posted on 07 May 2015 by patmarrin

“Remain in my love” (John 15:9).

There are times in every relationship when we get discouraged and think of walking away. Every marriage or close friendship, if it is real, faces crisis on the way to deeper love.

Jesus asked a lot of his disciples when he invited them to accompany him on the difficult journey through the cross to new life. Most of them had their doubts and fears, but they endured the hard times to enter the joy of the Gospel.

At every turn, Jesus’ message was the same: “Remain in my love.” Jesus knew them by name, knew their strengths and weaknesses. In the end, even their failures became teachable moments that strengthened their trust in him. By the time he departed this earth, they were ready to preach God’s unconditional love and mercy for sinners.

“Remain in my love.” Especially when the road is long and hard, don’t give up. Jerusalem is just up ahead.

May the Circle Be Unbroken

Posted on 06 May 2015 by patmarrin

“Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:6).

In today's two readings from Acts 15 and John 15, we witness the struggle of the early church to emerge from internal conflict and external persecution to a more stable sense of identity and purpose. Every movement that becomes an organization goes through this difficult process.

The essential charism and inspiration must be preserved -- the mystery of Jesus -- and yet adapted to new circumstances. The church's reliance on the Holy Spirit is evident. They are moving into uncharted waters, daring interpretations of the scriptures and the Jewish traditions that formed them. So they put up their sails and caught the wind.

The Council of Jerusalem, which probably took place in the 50s, some 20 years after the Christ event, brought missionaries Paul and Barnabas back to the "Mother Church" in Jerusalem, where the question of gentile converts had to be decided. Should these pagan initiates be required to become Jews before they could be Christians? In other words, should they have to be circumcised and observe all of the 613 laws of the Torah to share in the grace of forgiveness won by Jesus?

Paul had seen the work of the Spirit in the gentile communities, Moreover, his theology was developing that said that if Christ saves, no other obligations were necessary. The Gospel was precisely this: Gentiles were being welcomed by God into the Covenant with the Chosen People. Universal salvation by union with Christ was all that was needed. To add other requirements diminished the complete saving gift of God in Christ.

This is what the church decided at Jerusalem, and it opened the community to the world. Without this freedom under the Spirit, Christianity would have remained a Jewish sect.

Some say that that the second most important council in the history of the church-- for its universal scope and impact-- was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). It brought the church out of a tight, juridical fortress mentality into the modern world. It activated the laity to share more fully in their church, and it opened the way to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

Not everyone, including some bishops, were happy with this expansive renewal and openness to the world. They saw greater freedom for the laity as the threat to their authority, and dialogue with other Christian churches and religions as compromising the Catholic church's unique status.

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that to continue to grow in grace they had to remain in unity with him. A branch cut off from the vine withers and dies. So church unity is a key to the Christian life and to an integral understanding of the mission of the church. Councils have been one way the church has adjusted to new challenges. Those who disagree with the fundamental direction the church chooses to take, whether liberal or conservative, must decide to remain or depart. Or resolve their disagreements.

This is why internal reconciliation and mutual forgiveness has always been essential to the unity of the church. United we stand, divided we fall.


Transfer Moment

Posted on 05 May 2015 by patmarrin

"If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father" (John 14:30).

In the last discourses of Jesus in John's Gospel, when Jesus speaks about "going to the Father" he is referring to his death.

The disciples cannot imagine life without Jesus. But if he does not die, the transfer of his person and mission by the power of the Holy Spirit cannot take place. They are to be his body in the world and in history, extending the mystery of God's redemptive plan in time and space through the church. The time-bound, geographically limited physical presence of Jesus of Nazareth must give way to universal presence of the risen Christ, the pioneer of the New Creation.

Theologically, the Incarnation happens twice: First, in the appearance of Jesus as a human being; and secondly, in the birth of the church by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The divine life now animates the disciples, sent to be Jesus in the world.

The most important threshold any person must cross in their development toward maturity is when they take and internalize all the influences that have shaped them. An adult no longer acts in conformity to the will of another, but freely from their own inner self. This self can be intimately formed in obedience, but full responsibility now rests with the individual. Letting go of our need for approval and fear of punishment is the moment of independence that makes a human being fully mature.

The disciples anguished over this transfer of power and responsibility from Jesus to them, but it was the crucial act that determined the future of the church. And it was not a one-time occurrence. The same transfer must happen for each generation of the church for the mission to continue. We must in our time accept full responsibility for becoming Jesus to the world.

The church desperately needs adults. Without them, the church will remain in a childish state of immaturity characterized by conflict and blame by people who want power without responsibility, truth without dialogue, and peace without reconciliation. The mission of the church must first happen among us. Only then will we have anything to say to the world.

The Trinity Within

Posted on 04 May 2015 by patmarrin

"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our dwelling with him" (John 14:22).

The final discourses of Jesus in John's Gospel can make for difficult reading, but they give us a profound window into the evolving faith of the Christian community toward the end of the first century.

The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, their friend, brother and teacher, forced his closest disciples to search the scriptures to understand who he was and what his presence among them meant. The first generations of Christians were Jews, strict monotheists, so Jesus' relationship to the one God was crucial.

John's Gospel explores this question as Jesus speaks of God as his Father and promises that when he returns to the Father, they will send their Holy Spirit to the disciples as teacher and guide. Anyone who loves Jesus and carries out his word will experience the mysterious indwelling of Father, Son and Spirit.

In other words, the mystery of the Incarnation-- God entering human history in Jesus-- will continue in the church. The followers of Jesus will carry God within themselves as the animating and transforming source of their lives and their mission to share this mystery with others. We see in these passages the foundation for the gradual development of the theology of the Trinity. The one God in fact is a community of three divine Persons in love, generating a constant gift of themselves to believers, whose mission was to extend this gift to others.

God dwells in us, as members of the community of God, all our individual gifts fitting together to reveal the many facets of the one God, the source of life and unity drawing the human community toward its divine destiny.

The poet e.e. cummings has a poem that begins, "I am a little church." To think of this as our deepest identity is to open our hearts and imaginations to the profound mystery of life. In our desire to know God, we are all called to be poets and mystics. Is there any idea more compelling, revealing, all-encompassing and as wonderful as this? Carry this mystery within and it will tell you who you are and lead you home to God.