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The Sign We Are Looking For

Posted on 21 April 2015 by patmarrin

"The crowds said to Jesus: 'What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?'"

People want proof that what they commit themselves to believe is true. While there is a paradox in this-- faith is an act of trust in what we cannot know for certain -- it is a logical request. What we believe should also be reasonable, not simply a shot in the dark or acquiesence to authority.

Jesus keeps drawing people back to the essence of faith, which is a relationship with some Someone in whom you put your total trust. Jesus presents himself as the face of a provident God, the one who feeds his hungry people: "I am the Bread of Life." Here is the sign they are demanding. God is the only food that can really satisfy our deepest hungers.

Today is the feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). We should not underestimate his contribution to the theology of our Catholic faith. It was Anselm who brought faith and reason together in his compelling reflections on the existence of God and the mystery of the Incarnation. We still need faith, but it is a "faith seeking understanding." The human mind is affirmed with its questions and rational pursuit of evidence for what we believe. Faith and reason are not separate powers but aspects of the same human desire and capacity to explore truth.

Anselm would inspire another great theologian, Thomas Aquinas, who a century later embraced Aristotle’s methodology as a tool to open up the questions of creation, incarnation and redemption in a comprehensive view of reality that offered a foundation for both theology and science.

Anselm, like Thomas, also knew that the mind could take us only so far, and that the heart—the intuitive and mystical capacity to pursue love to its source – was the inbuilt compass that revealed our essential nature as images of God. Jesus is the revelation of that intimate relationship we all possess as creatures, then as beloved children, from God and returning to God. Anselm wrote: “In everyone’s heart there is a place they want to go.” God is the deepest memory we carry from childhood and try to recover. Thomas withdrew from his theological labors to weep at the altar while saying Mass. His final exposition from his deathbed was on the great biblical love poem, “The Canticle of Canticles.”

We seek a sign that something this wonderful could be true. We need look no further than birdsong and the world in bloom, and then into our own hearts.

Come to the Table

Posted on 20 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:28).

John’s presentation of the mystery of Jesus as the Bread of Life begins with the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the wilderness. This is followed by Jesus’ crossing of the lake walking on the water. Today’s reading begins the explanatory discourse of the meaning of these events.

The reality of Jesus as spiritual food is presented in powerful metaphors. We sense that the crossing of the lake is a metaphor for Jesus’s passage through death to new life. The disciples are being taught that their life will be a continual passage through the paschal mystery. The bread they receive from Jesus is the food of resurrection. The sign they will repeat again and again in his memory — the breaking of the bread – is the sign of his death. They will be baptized into his death, going down in the waters of death only to resurface to his new life. Eucharist is the food that will nourish them as people of the resurrection.

We have been invited to enter this mystery. The Eucharist we receive is Jesus giving himself to a world starving for deep life, new life, life that continually renews itself. When Jesus tells people, “Do not work for food that perishes,” this recalls Isaiah 55:1-2: “All you who thirst, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?”

Those of us who eat well each day in a country that sometimes seems obsessed with the quality of our food and the pleasure that comes from eating, we still know that real satisfaction is not about our stomachs but about the desires of our hearts. Here is the deeper meaning of this invitation. How much of what we consume satisfies only for the moment, or only deepens our desire to live full lives? We work for food that perishes, we spend our wages on what fails to satisfy us.

The eucharistic table is the center of our communities of faith. Everything we seek and everything we are asked to give as Christians is found in the experience of coming to table with one another. To share a meal requires reconciliation, mutual forgiveness. To share table is an invitation to widen the circle of hospitality to welcome everyone, even those we disagree with or are competing with, or the poor and the strangers we do not normally eat with. It is all there, a banquet of conversion and surrender that is our encounter with the living Jesus and a foretaste of heaven.

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"Do not be troubled, It is I."

Posted on 18 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Why are your troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Luke 24:39).

The narrative simplicity of American Sign Language used by the hearing-impaired community is beautifully illustrated in the sign for Jesus. The signer presents his or her palms outward, then with the middle finger of each hand touches the center of the palm of the opposite hand. Perhaps second only to the sign of cross, this gesture tells us the whole story of who Jesus is. He is the crucified one.

During the 50 days that we celebrate Easter, we are not far from the second or third generation of Christians who were reading Luke’s Gospel in the first century. Like us, they were not eye-witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it was only through their experience in the community, especially at Eucharist, that they encountered the central mystery of their faith.

We see the structure of those early liturgies in Luke’s description of the first disciples gathered in the upper room when the risen Jesus appeared to them. The have come together for the “breaking of the bread,” the ritual meal Jesus left them as his memorial. They begin by receiving his peace. “Peace be with you.” They then take up the Scriptures to see how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by suffering and rising from the dead for the forgiveness of sins. Then they shared the sacred meal, their Communion in Christ. Finally they went forth to witness to God’s gift of reconciliation in Christ.

How did the first disciples know that the figure who suddenly appeared in their midst was really Jesus? For Luke, they knew it was Jesus by looking at his hands and his feet. This is no ghostly apparition standing before them. It is the crucified Jesus, alive again in glory, but still bearing the marks of his suffering. Risen life, for Jesus and for us, is inseparable from the crucifixion. Only if we die with him will we experience his resurrection. Glory comes only through suffering, yet because we are united with Jesus, we need not be afraid. Peace be with you. Whatever you endure for the sake of others is your path to glory.

We are invited to bring our troubled hearts and questions to the community. The answer to our doubts is to be found in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. But it is also present in our wounds. Our unity in Christ is deepened when we share our vulnerability and need for one another. How else can we stand firm in the faith we profess, except to know that God is with us and that we are in this together. This is the joy of the Gospel.

The Bread of Life

Posted on 17 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (John 6:4).

Today’s story about the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes in the wilderness connects Jesus to Moses who called down manna from heaven. But for the early church, this story was also seen as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, Jesus’ gift of himself as the Bread of Life.

In this Easter season we are reminded that the Eucharist is the food for resurrection. Thomas Aquinas called it the “pledge of future glory." When we receive Jesus in Communion, we are receiving the Risen Christ. The promise made to us at baptism is a lifelong development that requires nourishment. The Eucharist brings our baptismal identity to full maturity. Without it we slowly starve to death.

So even now, as we enter another ordinary day, meeting our responsibilities and encountering all the ordinary limits and even frustrations of ordinary life, the life of glory we already share in Christ is growing within us. Each of us is destined for life with God for all eternity. That life is hidden now, but if we live in imitation of Jesus we become more and more like him. Our hidden life is the same life the Risen Christ revealed as our future.

Our frail, vulnerable bodies, our unfinished emotional work and weaknesses are part of this process, for it is in suffering that we learn compassion for one another. The earthly Jesus shared all of the limitations we know, and he showed us the dignity of every human being.

People want to know how to grow in holiness. The answer is the same for both physical health and spiritual health. Good food and exercise. Spiritual growth comes from receiving the Eucharist regularly and living accordingly, as active members of the body of Christ. There is no other way to become who we really are.

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The Joy of the Gospel

Posted on 16 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (John 3:34).

Before telephones, email and text messages, even before post offices, official messages were memorized by the messenger and delivered orally to the recipient. Exact wording was essential, so the messenger had to know his sender’s message “by heart,” so to speak. The messenger represented the sender and had his or her full authority.

John’s Gospel uses this imagery to say that because Jesus was sent by the Father, his words and actions were those of the Father. When Jesus sends his disciples to preach, their words and actions are those of Jesus. The breath, or Spirit, of the source is poured out when the disciple of Jesus delivers the Word of God. This delegated power is an expression of the intimate relationship that now exists between the one sending and the one sent.

This whole process is an expression of love. Jesus tells his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so have I loved you, and so must you love one another.” God’s love radiates forth in each successive exchange. The one Spirit of God, Jesus, the Church, and each of us as baptized members of Christ, animates the whole mystery. To be part of this radiant mystery is our privilege and our joy.

As you move through this day, think of yourself as a messenger and a message from God to others. What you have received, give freely. The Holy Spirit flows through you in full measure, being poured out in your words and actions. There is no rationing of such a gift. It will fill everyone and everything it reaches, limited only by the receptivity of the one receiving or rejecting it.

After a long winter indoors, we fling open the windows and take a deep breath of Spring. So it is with the Spirit. Breathe deeply, in and out. This is life. This is the joy of the Gospel.

A Tithe Upon Our Hearts

Posted on 15 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34).

It is probably just a coincidence that today, Tax Day in the United States, the responsorial is Psalm 34, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Today is the day the IRS, the intake engine for our enormous government system will formally replenish its coffers from our likewise enormous economic system. Top wage-earners and corporations, with the help of an army of accountants and lawyers, and perhaps a few Congressmen, will have found ways to pay no taxes, while millions of ordinary working people will ante up.

Today will also witness protests across the country to raise the minimum wage for those at the bottom of the system. The idea of a “living wage,” part of Catholic Social Justice Teaching, will be discussed in the context of another key principle – the Common Good – and, for better for worse, the tenuous marriage of interests between labor and management, finance and debt, privilege and poverty, will negotiate a path forward.

Religion has often looked on from the sidelines as economic questions were considered. For staying out of politics, churches have received generous tax exemptions, and for their silence on justice issues they have benefited from philanthropy from questionable sources of wealth in the global economy.
But of late, and quite publicly under Pope Francis, economic questions are back on religion’s table as income disparity, exploitation and environmental damage come under greater scrutiny.

How does any of this relate to Easter faith? The heart of the Gospel is found in Jesus’ inaugural address in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to captives, freedom for the oppressed, and to announce a year of jubilee from the Lord” (Luke 4:18).

In today’s first reading from Acts, the Apostles are miraculously set free from their jail cell so they can preach the new freedom won by Jesus death’ and resurrection. In today’s Gospel from John, the source of that freedom is revealed: “God so loved the world…”

God is in the world. God’s preferential love for the poor is an overwhelming call for justice and the common good. There is no real security, financial, social or personal, apart from God’s love. God’s love is the tithe upon our hearts that no one should fail to pay, today and every day.

The Common Good

Posted on 14 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32).

Fabled NCR correspondent Gary MacEoin was born in Ireland and his long life nearly spanned the entire 20th century. Having witnessed all of its events, he had stories about everything. One of them described an Irish socialist candidate holding forth to a crowd of farmers about the benefits of socialism.

He asked, “If you had two cars, wouldn’t you be glad to share one?” No one owned a car, so it made perfect sense to share if you had two. “And, Seamus,” he said, pointing to a poor neighbor, “if you owned two houses, surely you’d share one of them?” Two houses! Who could imagine it?! Of course, everyone would share if they had two houses.

Then a man in the crowd asked him, “Tom, if you had two pigs, would you gladly share one of them?” The candidate scowled and said to the man, “Ain’t fair, Doherty! You know full well I’ve actually got two pigs!”

Today’s reading from Acts gives us a glimpse, idealistic to be sure, of the early Christian community in which all property was shared communally. Those with houses and property sold them and brought the proceeds to the Apostles, who distributed it to each according to need. The practice of voluntary poverty survived mostly in religious communities, though some communes have also flourished.

But private property became the backbone of most societies, and the idea of redistribution of wealth has always been debated, though practiced through progressive tax systems as essential to maintaining the public good of all, including the rich. Take this one idea into the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign, and it will help you position of all the candidates relative to Catholic Social Justice teaching.

What is noteworthy in the Acts account is that life was defined by belief in the resurrection. Life here and now was judged in the light of the Life to come. Christ’s self-emptying love led to abundant life, and his followers witnessed to God’s gift of eternal life by living generous and sharing lives in the short time allotted to us in this world. What would it profit us to be selfish to the point of gaining the whole material world if it cost us eternity with God?

The Christian rule remains: From each according to his or her means, and to each according to his or her need. This produces a community in which everyone can flourish in love. As challenging as it seems, it is up to us to apply this principle to our everyday lives.

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Our Rebirth in Water and the Spirit

Posted on 13 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Nicodemus came to Jesus at night" (John 3:1).

Nicodemus the Pharisee is on the threshold of faith in Jesus. But the Gospel adds one small detail that tells us he is still in a state of indecision and skepticism. Nicodemus comes at night so no one will see him. It is simply too soon and too risky for him, a brilliant scholar of the Law, to be thought a disciple of this new, hill country preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.

Like Thomas in yesterday's Gospel, Nicodemus wants proof before he will commit to faith in Jesus. Under cover of darkness, he approaches him and acknowledges that the many miracles and the power of his teaching are signs that Jesus must be from God.

Jesus engages Nicodemus and goes to the heart of faith. Unless he is "born again from above," Nicodemus will not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. Only by a baptism of water and the spirit will this great scholar be able to begin again like a newborn to understand what God is doing through Jesus.

Nicodemus is stuck at the literal level: "How can a man grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb?" Jesus tells him that he is still in the "flesh," whereas only when he is in the "spirit" will he understand what it means to be born from above. Faith comes like the wind. We don't know where it comes from or where it goes, but know it only by its movement through the trees.

We are given an Easter season of 50 days to begin to grasp the need for a rebirth of mind and heart that will open us to the mystery of risen life in Jesus. The gift of Easter is not something we will know only after death. It is for now, the second wind that lifts us to a new level of understanding and purpose. Come at night if you need to, but find Jesus and begin the conversation that will change your life forever. He is waiting for you.

Are You Filled with Easter?

Posted on 11 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

The story of Doubting Thomas was added to John’s Gospel to reassure believers two generations after the fact that the resurrection was real, but also that it was part of a larger mystery of salvation that was just as accessible to them as it was to the first witnesses. Therefore this story is for us. It also encourages us to bring our doubts and questions into our faith formation process.

Thomas asks for tangible proof that the crucified Jesus had appeared alive to the other Apostles the previous week. Make no mistake about it, he demanded to put his finger in the nail holes in Jesus’ hand and his hand into the wound in his side. But Thomas’ insistence on physical evidence gives way to an overwhelming sense of awe in the presence of the risen Jesus. He can only utter “My Lord and my God” in response to a theophany, a profound encounter with the divine mystery of God incarnate. Like the experience of Saul on the road to Damascus, Thomas’ entire way of grasping reality is flooded with insight that can only lead to worship.

The Thomas story is an invitation to us to open our minds and hearts to the same experience. John’s entire Gospel is an unfolding series of signs that open people to the presence of I AM, the divine name revealed in Jesus. This appearance story also contains the gift of the Spirit as Jesus breathes on his Apostles, a reference to the creation. They are the new creation. Their mission is now to go forth and heal the first creation, broken and distorted by sin. They are given the power to forgive sins.

The Easter story stops short if it is only about Jesus. The full story is the mystery of his presence in us and our mission to extend his redemptive transformation in time and place. With every breath we take, we share his healing word. Even our suffering is joined to his wounds as we extend his healing touch to the suffering lives we encounter. Our doubts and questions enter the dialogue of real evangelization as we encounter the skepticism of others who want proof that all this talk of love and forgiveness is for real. We must show that it is by the way we live.

Easter is our invitation to become the storytellers who draw others to the faith by exhibiting in our lives the signs of God’s living, breathing presence in the world. Are you ready to be an Easter person?

Let's Go Fishing!

Posted on 10 April 2015 by patmarrin

“I am going fishing” (John 21:2).

Today’s Gospel tells one of the most beautiful reconciliation stories in the Bible. After the disastrous and mysterious events in Jerusalem at Passover, Peter and the other Apostles have retreated to Galilee. Peter’s abject failure to stand by Jesus must have weighed heavily on his heart. Lost and at odds over what to do next, Peter decides to take up his old trade and go fishing.

The seven men in the boat fish all night but catch nothing. Early in the morning, a figure standing on the shore calls out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Thus begins a key encounter with the risen Jesus that will define the mission to come. Peter will be reconciled to Jesus in a scene that replays his triple denial with three pledges of love. His leadership will be founded on this intimate moment of mercy. Who better to preach mercy than one who has been utterly saved by mercy?

Each of us has his or her own story of coming to faith. For some it involves profound failure and recovery. For others, an original call has deepened over the years with regular habits of prayer and reflection. For many, the journey has barely begun, but God loves us and will deal with everyone in a personal and timely way.

The lessons of today’s Gospel are many, but here are a few to ponder. It was in their ordinary lives and activities that Jesus entered the lives of Peter and his companion fishermen. What we know and do best is what God uses in calling us to be disciples. It is love that recognizes the presence of Jesus before any intellectual or theological insight. A night on the water catching nothing is often necessary to learn our need for God’s help.

Baptism, or many baptisms, mark the ongoing encounters we need with Jesus to understand his love for us and the implications of that love in our lives. Suffering and failure are fast tracks to compassion and service.

There is so much to learn from this story. Why not just take the day off and go fishing.