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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!”


New Wine, New Wineskins

Posted on 04 September 2015 by patmarrin

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins” (Luke 5:38).

Jesus’ parable of the new wine into fresh wineskins addresses the conflict he was having with the religious leaders of his own day over the need for the renewal of structures to hold the message of liberation and joy he was preaching (See Luke 4:18 ff). The same conflict is written into the history of the church and is evident today in the debate over how to offer families pastoral care in a fast-changing and increasingly diverse world.

Changing views on marriage, family planning, divorce and gender have stretched institutional teaching and practice to the breaking point. Pope Francis’ difficult balancing act to recognize this new reality while emphasizing church ideals offered in a spirit of compassion, is running into stiff opposition from traditionalists who would rather have a smaller church than the “big tent” or “field hospital” the pope’s position seems to suggest. The October Synod on the Family in Rome will reveal how this debate is resolved at the policy level and for pastoral ministers representing the church.

Jesus’ message of God’s unconditional love and his practice of consorting with public sinners, outcasts and foreigners was one reason he was excommunicated by the Sanhedrin and turned over to the Romans for crucifixion. His views were regarded as heretical and so radical they would bring down the nation. It was better for him to die than to see the official authority, religious and secular, threatened.

But it was Jesus’ sacrificial death that Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, later saw as God’s plan to heal the divisions pulling humanity apart: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven” (Col 1:20).

The human body of Jesus is broken in death, and his blood is poured out as the source of the new creation, revealed by the transformed body of the risen Jesus -- new wine into new skins. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ last breath from the cross, now animates the new creation, the new humanity.

Something new is happening in the church and in our world. Pope Francis is inviting us to share his vision of a more merciful church that can help reunite a fractured, polarized and violent world. Something has to give, something new and bold is needed to move us forward. Without change, the world and the church will face further division and deeper conflict, a dangerous time with huge consequences for all of us. There will always be adversity and debate, but without hope the world faces a judgment of our own making when we might have chosen life.


Put out into the Deep

Posted on 03 September 2015 by patmarrin

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

One of fascinating aspects of the Christian revolution is that it was started by a carpenter who chose fishermen as his first disciples.

Historically, most great movements were initiated by intellectuals, privileged, educated radicals who had analyzed social and economic patterns and sided with the downtrodden to bring about change. Revolutionaries like Lenin, Che Guevara, Robespierre, or humanitarian leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, are examples.

But Jesus was a small-town carpenter, and Peter, Andrew, James and John were simple fishermen. What was it about these trades that served the Gospel so well? For one thing, they provide us with rich metaphors: Jesus builds the Kingdom of God; his Apostles know how catch people. The shop and the shore describe the starting points for a revolution that begins in the heart and expands to the world. New structures frame new ideas, sails raised high to the wind carry the Good News into uncharted waters.

At the same time, Jesus’ profession locates him at the heart of ordinary life, discipline and physical labor. The first Apostles are hard-working men whose livelihood depends on the many variables of weather and season. Each day as they set out in their fragile boats, they risked storms and failure, returning with a meager catch or nothing at all.

Our life circumstances are our first teachers. What we experience determines how we will see the world and other people. Those who rise above the human mass to live with concepts and abstractions can serve us in broad strokes, but truth emerges from the ground up. Reality is more important than theory, or philosophy and theology or politics per se.

Jesus immersed himself in the common human condition, in the work of his hands and the smells and sounds of the streets, the marketplace and the teeming crowds. We do well to imitate him if we want to know God. “Put out into deep water and lower your nets.” Go long and deep into relationships and the conundrums and challenges of life. Grace is on the loose in the world.



Posted on 02 September 2015 by patmarrin

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

Sunset is typically an anxious time for the sick, who may be facing a sleepless night of unabated pain and loneliness as darkness overtakes the world. Nursing homes even have a name for this zone of heightened confusion for the elderly. "Sundown syndrome" means that nightfall and bedtime signal an increased blending of memories and projected fears, a time of distorted reality induced by medication and age-related foreboding for many.

So it is not insignificant that Luke adds this small detail to a powerful scene of healing and exorcisms Jesus performed in Capernaum at sunset. Just recently driven out of Nazareth for offending the home crowd's expectations, Jesus is now overflowing with gracious power drawn from him by the faith of simple people bringing their loved ones to him for healing.

It is like a scene from a movie, a throng of people bathed in the purple and gold of day's end, laying down pallets and blankets with prone or writhing men, woman and children. Jesus moves among them, touching each one, whispering to some, commanding evil spirits to depart others. Joy rises to a crescendo of praise as each person is restored to the embrace of their families.

The Kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the damage of sin and failure is lifted from creation, a curtain rising to reveal what the world God made with love was meant to be.

Because of Jesus, we need never again fear the shadows that overtake us at sunset. Our anxieties and desires, imprinted with memory and amplified in dreams, are joined to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. “Weeping,” says the psalmist, “endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5). This is the joy of the Gospel.

Stand in the Source

Posted on 01 September 2015 by patmarrin

"They were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority" ( Luke 4:31).

Years ago, after a talk I had given, a woman in the audience shared something I have never forgotten. She first said the talk was good, but that it was evident that some of my ideas were from books and others were from my own experience, and these were the most compelling.

When Jesus addressed the crowds, he seldom sounded like a scholar or theologian, offering concepts or abstract ideas. He spoke from his experience and observations of people. His preaching was mostly stories describing ordinary life, the labor of farmers, fishermen, housewives and business people. His lessons hit home because they drew from the source of common experience.

But there was also a deeper dimension to his words. Jesus was in touch with the very source of truth, the Author of life. When he spoke of God, he was sharing Someone he knew personally, and he stirred the hearts of his audiences with the truth that they, too, could approach and know their God, because God loved them and knew them.

God sees each of us, knows us and loves us. If this were not so, we would cease to exist, for God’s love initiates and sustains us in time, guiding and correcting us toward the day when we will know God face to face. Jesus lived out his short human life securely fixed in this sustaining love. He began each day praying: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is the Only God. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all you strength.” From that source and starting point, he therefore walked and talked from the authority, or source, or everything -- his heavenly Father, and ours. Let us do the same.


At the Edge

Posted on 31 August 2015 by patmarrin

“They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong” (Luke 4:30).

The reaction to Jesus by family and neighbors in Nazareth moves swiftly from awe at his gracious words in the synagogue to attempted murder.

Jesus inaugurates his public ministry with the prophecy of Isaiah 61 about God sending his anointed one to announce glad tidings to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to captives and the oppressed and a year of favor. His message and manner are so stirring, the crowd begins to question how one of their own could have acquired such eloquence. They then demand signs from him like the ones he has reportedly performed in Capernaum.

Instead of playing to the crowd, Jesus quotes the proverb that a prophet is welcomed everywhere but in his own native place. They are furious with him and force him out of the village to the edge of a hill to throw him down, but he departs with his disciples. It is clear that Jesus is not about pursuing popularity but only intent on fulfilling his mission to preach the kingdom of God.

The dramatic turning of the home crowd foreshadows what will happen at the very end of Jesus’ ministry when he arrives in Jerusalem. First a parade to honor him as Messiah, then the way of the cross. In less than a week, Jesus will pass through the same crowd that had welcomed him on Palm Sunday and now jeers at him as he is led to crucifixion.

What was it about this man that inspired such delirious acclaim one minute and savage rejection the next? Why are all prophets treated this way — received with awe and expectation, only to be trashed for not being everything the crowd demanded they be, on their terms?

We have prophets among us now, and the same dynamic is in motion. We long for messiahs to fulfill our desire for perfect and easy solutions to all our problems. But we are quick to undermine them when, instead of working miracles, they ask us to change our hearts and take up our share of the burden of transforming our world.

The Word of God is coming to our native place, probing our hearts and minds, calling us, even at the cost of our security and comfort, to take up Jesus’ mission to announce good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to captives and the oppressed. For this we were anointed at baptism and filled with the Holy Spirit. We stand today at the growing edge of the Kingdom of God. There is no turning back if we hope to enter it ourselves.


The Odor of Sanctity Is Justice

Posted on 29 August 2015 by patmarrin

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6, quoting Isaiah 29:13).

I cannot get from my mind the photo on the front page of this morning’s paper of asylum-seeking refugees from the Middle East packed into a train car carrying them from the Balkans to Hungary and the European Union. They and hundreds of thousands of refugees from Africa and Asia are fleeing violence and economic breakdown in their own nations.

The photo shows exhausted men, women and children jammed into the seats and sprawled on the floor, most of them asleep, their only refuge from the horrors of displacement and flight, an image familiar to picture books of postwar Europe in the 1940s, but hard to imagine in today’s world of rapid response teams to natural disasters by NGOs, the UN and World Health Organization and donor governments ready to meet humanitarian crises of any kind. Why is this happening before our eyes, and our noses, as stories of abandoned trucks filled with corpses flood our senses and our imaginations with the evils being done to the desperate by soulless traffickers.

This catastrophe has been a long, rolling crisis linked to the destabilization and slow destruction of Syria, a modern state, and neighboring Iraq, a killing field of sectarian conflict unleashed by the US invasion. Unlike the familiar scenes of famine in sub-Saharan Africa, aggravated by religious wars, the flood of refugees from the Middle East is a man-made disaster with predictable but unprepared-for deadly consequences, if not by bombs then in the slow-motion agony of thousands of families the world is now witnessing on the news every day.

One of Pope Francis’ very first trips was to the island of Lampedusa to pray with survivors from the flotillas fleeing Africa for Europe. He spoke of the indifference of the world in the face of such suffering, the invisibility of the poor as disposable, throw away victims of our wars and economic systems that exploit and trash, then abandon people whose value is measured only as cheap labor and proximity to resources that are plundered for profit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus brings down the wrath of the prophets on those who equated their ritual purity with washing their hands and vessels while ignoring the deeper demands of the Law, love of God and neighbor. Their concern for the less fortunate was limited to public charity for acclaim, but ended where the unwashed and unworthy poor filled the streets around the temple or begged along the roads. Cleanliness was next to godliness, they said, while ignoring the sweat and degradation faced by those who had nowhere to bathe or practice rudimentary hygiene because they were homeless.

Our bid for holiness inevitably confronts us with both the Bible and the nightly news. God is in the world, inspiring compassion in us as disciples, but also hidden in plain sight among the poor and displaced people who look back at us through the lenses of photojournalists who show us their plight. Finding a way to respond is not easy, but we cannot turn away or say we did not know.


RSVP Today

Posted on 28 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him" (Matt 25:6).

St. Augustine (354-430) is famously known for two quotations: "Lord, make me good, but not now." and "Late have I loved thee." The first was from the young Augustine, struggling to find chastity, and the second is the voice of Augustine following his conversion, during his time as bishop of Hippo in North Africa and his emergence as one of the great theologians and spiritual writers of the early church.

In between the two quotes is the life he lived in the awareness of the presence of God, recorded in his classic autobiography, Confessions. His journey is like most of ours. We want to be good, but we must first work through the many distractions and contradictions that come from our own ignorance and competing desires. Few if any saints were not first sinners, postponing the call to virtue while they confronted their own humanity in all its facets and needs. "Make me good, Lord, but not now."

What Augustine discovered when he turned to God was a profound love affair he wished he had pursued earlier. Friendship with God was far more fulfilling than anything he had ever experienced. Growing into that intimacy, he found the wellspring of wisdom and beauty. With soulful regret, he confessed, "Late have I loved thee."

Today's Gospel parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids describes the poles of our human search for God. We respond to the invitation, but foolishly do not bring enough oil for our lamps and so end up in darkness when the bridegroom comes. But if we are open to conversion, we are redeemed by the gift of mercy. It is God's initiative, not our effort, that brings us to the wedding in spite of ourselves. Better late than never.

Augustine helped broker the mystery of Jesus into the complex compromises of Christendom. His legacy includes the just war theory, the dualism of spirit and matter, earthly and heavenly realms of state and church power and a bad rap on the holiness of marital sex. But one thing he got right was that God’s love for us is overwhelming and unconditional. The essence of our faith is a wedding of mind, heart, soul and strength. RSVP quickly and bring extra oil for your lamp.

A Mother's Tears

Posted on 27 August 2015 by patmarrin

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart" (Psalm 90:12).

Today's feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, invites us to consider the multi-generational power of the faith. Our beliefs are handed on and modeled by those who go before us. Pope Francis attributes his deep piety to his beloved grandmother, Rosa. Many Catholics can recount childhood memories of devotions like the family rosary or prayers at meals and at bedtime as sustaining them in their adult faith.

Today's response from Psalm 90 summarizes so much about how wisdom comes over the years when we realize how short life is. "Teach us to number our days aright." Time is a gift, and if we want a legacy of truth and kindness, now is the time to begin building it in small, everyday acts.

Today's Gospel passage gives us a window into the early church, where good leaders were key to holding the fledgling church together while the tradition took hold. Like prudent householders, the first bishops, priests and deacons watched over the faithful, seeing that everyone had what they needed. The expectation that Jesus would return suddenly kept them alert as the church grew into the realization that Jesus had, in fact, never left but was always with the community in the scriptures, the Eucharist and in their love for one another.

It is said that Augustine was converted by his mother's tears. How many of us survive and grow because of that precious baptism of love from our parents. We in turn must guard and nurture the faith of the next generation. This is the mystery of our faith and the joy of the Gospel.