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Letting Go

Posted on 27 June 2016 by patmarrin

“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matt 8:20).

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will be rejected, abandoned and crucified. He is following the pattern of all previous prophets who were sent to turn the hearts of the nation back to the covenant. As he approaches the holy city, Jesus weeps because the people and their leaders have failed to know the hour of their visitation.

Jesus enters the final stage of his life utterly alone. People along the way ask to accompany him, thinking he is about to enter his glory. They are correct, but they do not grasp that the glory awaiting him is his sacrificial death. He is the "Son of Man," a strange messianic title for God's servant who bears the full weight of the human condition before God. Despite the world's blind indifference, Jesus will offer himself in expiation for the sins of the world.

We say we want to follow Jesus. Today's readings bring home the serious of this prayer. Can we surrender ourselves to the paradox of his passage. It will cost everything, including our understanding and control. Full surrender is the final act of faith that places us in the hands of God. Let go and let God.

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Come, Follow Me

Posted on 25 June 2016 by patmarrin

"He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

Christian writer Agnes Sanford (1898 -1982) titled her autobiography “Sealed Orders” to describe the way self-knowledge gradually unfolds in our life experience and understanding. Discipleship is rarely a single mystical breakthrough, but rather a slow process of self-discovery. But there comes a time when know what we must do to be true to ourselves and to our journey. We must take the next step.

Once Jesus tells his disciples what lies in store for him and for them in Jerusalem, his ministry of teaching and miracles shifts gears sharply and turns toward the holy city. Jesus’ reading of the prophets is confirmed by the Spirit that has been guiding him since his baptism. He is the Servant of the songs of Isaiah and of the Psalms. He will complete his redemptive mission by laying down his life. His sealed orders have been opened.

His singleness of purpose and urgency spills over into his words to would-be disciples along the way who ask to accompany him. If you want to follow me, let go of everything, even your tribal and family obligations. Take nothing but your determination to do the will of God. Travel light, because you must make swift and total passage from this world into the world to come. Let the dead bury their dead. Don’t look back or be distracted from the path before you.

How are we to understand this passionate determination in our own lives? Who do does not have many obligations and commitments that must be balanced to meet their own integrity and sense of responsibility? Who does not carry the ambiguities and compromises of ordinary living, even if they dream of a purer, freer, more radical path?

Jesus himself lived most of his life in quiet duty and conformity to family and village life. He reached the urgent decisiveness we see in today’s Gospel through a series of awakenings and baptisms that made clear his vocation. When his call came, he was ready because he had lived his entire life in obedience to his conscience and the shaping influence of his circumstances understood in the light of the Scriptures and the voice of the Spirit within him. Once he knew that a baptism of fire awaited him. Jesus was eager to embrace it.

As you gather at the Lord’s Table this weekend, see all around you others who are on the same journey as you. Everyone is trying to find his or her life’s meaning and purpose. Some are more aware and awake than others, but each person is carrying sealed orders known only by the Spirit. Jesus is saying to all of us, “Come, follow me.” Wherever we are on the journey, what God asks of us is to take the next step.

A New World Coming

Posted on 24 June 2016 by patmarrin

"What will this child be?"

The birth of John the Baptist is an epoch-changing event, the transition from the old covenant of law to the new covenant of grace. John, called the last prophet of the old, points to Jesus, the pioneer of the new creation, a new way of understanding and encountering God.

John's elderly parents, perfect in their observance of the law but sterile, reflect the inability of human effort and hope to access the promised future. Zechariah is struck dumb as the miraculous gift unfolds. John, who leaps in the womb of Elizabeth at the approach of Mary, pregnant with Jesus. His vocation to proclaim what is to come has already begun. Years later, Jesus will tell the crowds that John is the greatest person ever born, yet the least person in the new dispensation of grace is greater than John. Something new has happened, and those who accept it are transformed with new possibilities. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Change begins in the most fragile, vulnerable yet amazing way. The birth of a child is the parable of our own rebirth. Our passage from old to new always involves the enormous labor and uncertainty every birth requires. Something we cannot create of ourselves or fully understand is happening to our small, carefully controlled world. It changes everything and it demands everything of us. On the other side of what seems total crisis is joy.

A new world is coming that will mean the death of the old. Are we ready to welcome it? Once it is in motion, there is no life in holding on or hanging back. The call of grace is to go forward, trusting that God is in charge of history, watching over the great spasms of upheaval of history that open the way for new ideas and miracles of life.

John the Baptist comes in every age, at every threshold to announce, "Make way for the coming of the Kingdom of God."

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Insight and Courage

Posted on 23 June 2016 by patmarrin

“He taught them as one having authority” (Matt 7:29).

We live in a sea of words, how our minds explore and propose, imagine and analyze the possibilities for action. Ideas crowd on the verge of reality, but fail to materialize. Motives wait like armies for the signal to advance, then fall back. We pray for two things; insight and courage. Insight without courage leads to paralysis; courage without insight leads to confusion.

What distinguished Jesus from the scribes was that he meant what he said, did what he taught. He exhibited the authority of one standing at the source, with the Creator whose word springs to life. "Let there be light," and so it was.

Jesus’ parable of the man who built his house on rock is about acting on what we hear, doing what we believe. At the judgment, many will claim to have believed, even practiced, their faith, but only those who acted, who did the will of God, will be recognized as disciples.

This is the season for “Hollow Men,” TS Eliot’s eulogy for talk without deeds. Into the gap between the idea and the act “falls the shadow.” Pray for insight and courage, then advance one day’s worth of obedience to will of God. Then you will be that much closer to the kingdom of God.

A Harvest of Goodness

Posted on 22 June 2016 by patmarrin

"By their fruits you will know them" (Matt 7:16).

Jesus speaks often of fruitfulness as the true measure of goodness. People can talk all they want, but in the end, consider what they produce in their lives. The hypocrite wears a mask of virtue, but look at the results of their influence on others. False prophets abound, but how much genuine love and justice comes of their rhetorical cleverness or empty promises.

A disciple is like a branch on the vine of Christ. To remain attached to him is to know his life flowing into us and through us to produce a harvest of goodness. Cut off from Christ, we can produce nothing of lasting value. The sacramental life of the church flows from its union with Christ, whose body and blood sustains us together as incorporated into him by baptism.

These powerful metaphors come true in a life of daily prayer, simple virtue, fidelity to the community that together multiplies the fruitfulness of the mystery of God indwelling the church. The Word of God comes to us today as parable and inspiration, an examination of our lives as living extensions of the life of God.

But the proof of this life in us comes not just in good thoughts and feelings. The day ahead must yield its own harvest of openness and compassion, helpfulness and encouragement. Let our evening sacrifice be the fruitfulness of our union with Christ today.

Enter by the Narrow Gate

Posted on 21 June 2016 by patmarrin

“Enter through the narrow gate” (Matt 7:12).

Jesus’ stump speech used many of the proverbs and sayings common to the rich oral culture of his time. The collective wisdom already familiar to people came back to them in his words about not giving what is holy to dogs or not throwing pearls before swine. Life was short and focus was needed not to waste time and energy on generalities. Be about the business of knowing who you are, what is important, what you want more than anything else. Enter by the narrow gate, focus your mind and heart and go for your heart's desire. Happy are those who discover this early and then spend their lives pursuing it. If you really want the perfect rose, prune away every lesser beauty.

Discipleship is all about being drawn into such focus, to know the joy of traveling light to find and possess the one thing necessary. The call of each disciple occurs in a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. His look of love confused some like Peter and Matthew, who felt their unworthiness, and astonished others like Nathaniel, who realized that Jesus already knew him to the core. All their hopes and dreams for their lives came together and, without fully knowing how or why, they knew that they wanted to be with this Jesus of Nazareth. The passage to life they glimpsed in him made every other goal small and meaningless.

Why put your life in order, why discipline your habits, why purify your day with silence, why pray if not for this single purpose: to see the face of Jesus? Every other good comes into focus with this encounter, so you must desire it and seek it with all your heart. To know the look of love from the one who already knows you to the core is to be called from the vague, scattered busyness of idle musing and bored drifting through each day into the love story you were born to experience. Why not ask for this gift? God has been waiting to give it to you. Only be ready to lose everything else to this single, astonishing and swift passage through the narrow gate.

Pray to See

Posted on 20 June 2016 by patmarrin

"The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Matt 7:2).

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is our orientation for becoming disciples. If we listen carefully we begin to realize how important it is to see correctly. The pure of heart see God. The eye is the lamp of the body. Without the light of insight, we stumble in the darkness. If the lens by which we see others is distorted, all our perceptions will be warped. So the first prayer is to be able to see clearly.

In today's Gospel instruction, Jesus warns his disciples that judging others by their own standards is the most common form of distortion. Our likes and dislikes determine reality, but in fact this limits our vision, preventing us from seeing the richness of other points of view. We never learn anything. We are never surprised, because the measure or our seeing reduces everything to our own narrow viewpoint. We impose our limits on others.

One common form of blindness is to see everything in terms of ourselves. We block our own sight. The beam in my eye is my own self interest. The person who thinks only of money sees every encounters as a potential transaction, a chance to profit. A lustful person sees everyone as an object of his pleasure. A fearful or aggressive person sees competition and threat, suspects that others are motivated as he is. The failure to see diminishes us, prevents us from genuine encounters and new relationships.

The first prayer we must prayer is this: "Lord, I want to see." If we can see, every other gift can then be given to us, and the whole world will open up before us. Wisdom is to see as God sees, and God waits to show us everything as it really is.

Who Am I? Who Are You?

Posted on 18 June 2016 by patmarrin

”Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:19).

Identity forms purpose. Once we know who we are, then we know what we are to do.

The famous scene in today’s Gospel when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, is the hinge of the story, the moment when Jesus’ ministry in Galilee turns south to Jerusalem and to the cross.

Jesus has known who he was since his encounter with Satan in the Judean wilderness, where he went fresh from his baptism, driven by the Holy Spirit that had anointed him Messiah. But what sort of Messiah? In both his baptism in the Jordan and his time in the desert, Jesus was reaching back into the history of Israel to recapitulate the Exodus and the desert wanderings. His personal identity was inseparable from the nation’s destiny. Where they had gone astray, he would find the way. Where their disobedience had distorted the covenant, his obedience would pioneer a new creation.

But the path would be filled with mysterious turns and divine misdirection. In his stand-off with the Prince of Darkness, Jesus shed the role of mighty ruler and chose instead to be God’s Suffering Servant. Satan's three temptations probed his sense of mission, promising him success as a miracle worker and giver of bread. He rejected these. The paradox of self-emptying love was the “messianic secret” Jesus embraced as God’s way to rekindle love and transform rebellion into obedience.

Revealing this paradox to his disciples would not be accomplished until after his death. The four Gospels tell of a church still struggling a generation later to grasp how Jesus had fulfilled the Law and the prophets by his suffering and death. We struggle today, two millennia later, to understand the same paradox that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

What does the Word of God have to say about who we are in the midst of a global debate over weapons of mass destruction and a national debate over how much lethal force is needed to hold our entire society hostage to every perceived threat? How long and how many victims will it take to restore common sense and civility?

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to confront the age-old question of whether we want chaos or community. He will stand at the crossroads where truth confronts power and love challenges sin and death. We come to know him in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. By his body and blood we are transformed into his presence in the world, invited to take up his mission of redemptive healing and reconciliation as the only way forward.

To be his disciples, we should not expect to be important or powerful, but rather servants willing to lose ourselves in the work of building up the common good. We know who he is. The question is, do we know who we are?

What Do You Love?

Posted on 17 June 2016 by patmarrin

“Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matt 6:21).

Two quotes are prompted by today’s Gospel text about treasure and light. The first is from St. Anselm, an 11th-century English bishop and scholar who is famous for his reflection on the existence of God. In his prologue to his proofs, Anselm says that “In every man’s heart, there is a place he wants to go.” It might be a vacation travel brochure, but in fact it states a profound truth about the inner longing that drives everyone to search for happiness. What we seek cannot be found in this world or in any human experience. The treasure of a face-to-face encounter with God is beyond our human ability, but it is offered as a gift to those who open themselves to it.

The other quote is from St. Columbanus, a 6th-century Irish monk who, in six Latin words, captures the essence of our longing. Te rogamus ut sciamus quod amamus: “We pray to know what we love.” Someone who knows what he or she loves, more than themselves, more than anything, has the organizing principle and motive to live the fullest possible life.

If you know what you love, you will find the place in your heart where you long to go. Happy are they who find their treasure. To pray for this is to have a light go on inside that will guide you there.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Posted on 16 June 2016 by patmarrin

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8).

When Jesus’ disciples saw him pray, they sensed that something both pure and entirely natural was occurring. Jesus was communing with God as one might talk with a friend, or he was a like a child being picked up and held close by a parent. Jesus named God his Abba with such familiarity, a real contrast to the fearsome images of God the disciples had been taught. God was so distant and “other,” the divine name was never to be spoken at all.

When his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus welcomed them into his own intimate relationship with God. They were to go to their Father in the same way he did. But there was something more. Jesus changed the nature of prayer from negotiating with God and trying to please God in order to get something, to simply aligning themselves with God, who already knew and anticipated their needs.

They did not need to shout or repeat their requests, or work some special formula to get God’s attention. There was no quid pro quo, no dealing or begging or exchanging some personal sacrifice for a favor. God’s love was the very reality they were living in, for they were already God’s children. They came from God, were going to God, and each moment of their existence was in God and of God and for God.

We hear in the words of the “Our Father” the underlying Jewish prayer said daily — the sh’ma — the great commandment of love of God and neighbor. The two parts of the Our Father expand the basic acknowledgement of God’s absolute nature and our response to God in loving others as we are loved. As God is supreme mercy, so we are to be merciful to one another. To withhold mercy from a brother or sister is to take ourselves out of the dynamic exchange of love initiated by God. This is why every time Jesus taught about prayer he included the need to forgive. Our relationship with God and with neighbor is a single relationship, a circular flow of love.

Of all the prayers we might say often during the day, the Our Father is a classroom to remind us to remain in God’s all encompassing love as the source of everything we need and pray for. God is even now prompting you to ask for what God already knows you need. Say yes, and trust that it is being given.