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Bread from Heaven

Posted on 01 August 2015 by patmarrin

“Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35).

Singer/songwriter Kate Wolf released a song in 1983 titled, “Give Yourself to Love.” It describes the great circle of life that occurs when we love. The chorus says simply:

So give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.

The song captures something of the mystery we celebrate in this Sunday’s readings and in every Eucharist we take part in. It holds the secret of how to live fully and freely.

The central belief of Christian faith is the Incarnation, the astounding conviction that in Jesus, God was revealed in the flesh in history. This is to be understood as not just a theological concept but as an existential and anthropological fact that opens all of creation to a new destiny and human nature to the capacity for divine life with God.

So when Jesus tells the crowds that he is the Bread from Heaven, he is describing an essential nourishment that is already available to anyone who believes in him. To say yes to Jesus is to know the surge of this new life in us, for we now participate in the body and blood of Jesus, the firstborn of the new creation, united to us as brother, savior and exemplar of the world to come.

Though we are works in progress, disciples learning to activate this maturity in Christ, even now we possess the full gift. Baptism gives us the capacity to love unconditionally as God loves, to forgive as Jesus forgave, to love beyond the limits of ordinary logic, which says to love only those who return our love. This new capacity for unconditional love, reconciliation and peacemaking is our witness to the world.

Jesus became food for a hungry humanity. The sign of his self-emptying love is the Eucharist. Each time we break the bread and share the cup, we are accepting the imprint of that sign on our lives. At each Mass, we unite ourselves to Jesus in his death in order to share in his resurrection—limitless new life pouring into us to replenish what we have given away. The measure we measure out is the measure we receive. Those who sow generously reap a generous harvest, love poured out, overflowing.

“Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst,” Jesus tells the crowds. What you share will be multiplied, with baskets left over, abundant life, flowing through you like the divine heartbeat, the source of all life. To believe this is to claim the gift already given, but waiting to be lived fully and freely by each of us. So "give yourself to love."


Go Away, Prophet!

Posted on 31 July 2015 by patmarrin

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house” (Matt 13:58).

Like a politician going home to declare his candidacy, Jesus returns to Nazareth to formally announce his ministry. He is rejected, and he quotes the adage about prophets being welcomed everywhere except among their own kinspeople. Familiarity breeds resentment and disbelief.

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuit Order. He was an aristocrat and soldier who experienced a conversion while convalescing from a battle wound. His story parallels another saint, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), founder of the Order of Friars Minor. Both men were prophets and reformers, and both experienced resistance and rejection within their own houses, both familial and ecclesial.

Ignatius, who was born the year before Columbus’s voyage to the “New World,” could not have foreseen, perhaps, that his order would be suppressed (1750-1773) for opposing the brutal colonizing of native peoples by Spain and Portugal in Latin America. Nor could Ignatius have envisioned the rise of Pope Francis in our time, a son of Latin America and of the Jesuit order, shaped by his devotion to St. Francis of Assisi.

Pope Francis seems destined to face stiff opposition within and from outsides the church for his reforms. Yet the pattern authenticates his faithfulness to Jesus, who was also rejected in his own time by his own people.


The Real Presence

Posted on 30 July 2015 by patmarrin

“The glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Exodus 40:34).

Today’s reading from Exodus gives us a glimpse of God’s presence with the Hebrews, the Chosen People. Moses, who has been meeting regularly and face to face with Yahweh on the mountain, is instructed to build a meeting tent—the Dwelling—where the divine presence is manifested by a cloud that descends upon it in the desert. When the cloud appears, the children of Israel halt and wait; when it rises, the people continue their journey. At night, Yahweh’s presence appeares as a fire within the tent.

When the Hebrews settled in the Promised Land, the tent became the Temple, and within the Temple a room was reserved called the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant and the stone tablets were kept.

The Incarnation revealed the divine presence in Jesus. His body was the Temple of the Lord and the Dwelling of the Holy Spirit. By baptism each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Our Eucharistic liturgy is the sacrament of the Real Presence, and at Mass we celebrate this divine indwelling in God’s Word, in the People of God, in the presider and in the consecrated bread and wine we share as our Communion with God and with one another.

This a great mystery, that God is truly with us, within and among us. The implications are both intimate and immense. A profound reverence has descended upon the camp of humanity, for we are the Dwelling Place of God.


A Knock at the Door

Posted on 29 July 2015 by patmarrin

"Jesus entered a village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home" (Luke 10:38).

Perhaps one of the most intriguing (and inviting) introductions to the spiritual life is found in Rev 3:20: "Behold I stand at the door and knock, and if anyone listens to me and opens up I will enter and we will dine together."

The depiction describes Jesus taking the initiative, our response and then intimate communion. The metaphors are specific. Each of us has a door to protect our inmost dwelling place, the home of our hearts. God knocks first, seeking our permission to enter. But if we open ourselves, God enters and joins us at table, the place of nourishment and conversation. This is what dining with a friend is truly for. In the pleasure of one another's company, we come to know each other.

Martha is patroness of hospitality. Jesus has come to her village, but she takes a step further in inviting him into her home. He is coming in off the road, and so he relaxes while Martha prepares a meal. Her sister Mary -- an expression of the full dimensions of hospitality -- is attentive to Jesus, listening to him. Later traditions will contrast the sisters, one praised for being practical, the other for her spiritual focus. But together the two sisters provide everything for their guest.

Jesus, in turn, makes them part of his own story and journey to Jerusalem. In John's Gospel, the story of Martha and Mary expands to include Lazarus, whose death and revival is prelude to Jesus own death and resurrection. They are witnesses to the final sign that reveals Jesus: “I AM the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

We hear a knock at the door. How will we respond? What will happen if we open ourselves to God as Martha did? The only way to find out is to go to the door and open it. It is the most important decision we will ever make.

In God's Garden

Posted on 28 July 2015 by patmarrin

“Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matt 13:43).

There are many ways to unpack the powerful parable of the wheat and the weeds. The underlying theme fits other parables of mercy Jesus told, whose lesson was that God is patient with sinners because we all are works in progress. Virtue and fault, truth and error, mature and immature personality traits are so intertwined that if we rush to purge one we may damage the other. Patience recognizes that every saint is a sinner on the way to God, known only to God and loved unconditionally by God, even when they were sinful.

The challenge of the Gospel is whether we can be as patient and as tolerant as our heavenly Father.

Matthew includes the parable of the patient farmer with wheat and weeds in his field for his mixed Jewish and gentile convert community some 50 years after the time of Jesus. Perhaps they were fighting over questions of orthodoxy or mission. There was talk of excommunicating dissenters or dividing the community over ritual practice or dietary concerns. His message was to preserve the unity of the church despite diversity, to seek reconciliation and leave ultimate judgment to God, who loves all his children.

Such a solution is not easy for those who need certainty, rules and a clear delineation of who is in and who is out. Some would make quick work of any perceived “weeds” in the garden, even if this rooted up everything to preserve only what they judged worthy. Mercy is the core challenge of the Gospel for all of us, and the path to perfection, not by our standards but by the measure of our heavenly Father, is the journey toward mercy.

Small Deeds, Big Impact

Posted on 27 July 2015 by patmarrin

"The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed" (Matt 13:31).

The parables reveal the mind of Jesus. A theme he repeats often in parables is that God accomplishes great things through small actions or means. The mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, has enormous potency, exploding and spreading quickly. A bit of yeast mixed with flour can produce enough bread to feed a village.

We saw this same theme in yesterday’s Gospel story of the young boy who offers his few barley loaves and two fish, and these are multiplied to feed a crowd of 5,000 people.

So it is that Jesus will offer his own short life, surrendered like a seed to the ground that dies but then is multiplied to reach the ends of the earth. Trusting that God operates this way, Jesus reassures his disciples that if they do their own small part faithfully, God will grant the increase.

We need this same reassurance in our small, ordinary lives. Our role in building up the Kingdom of God is important and will bear fruit in time. We may not see the increase, but God, who sees the heart, will take our good intentions and small efforts and multiply everything.

Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement, often said that success was not her business, only being faithful. Her desire to serve Christ in the poor of New York’s Bowery in the depth of the Great Depression produced an example that went around the world and continues to announce the Kingdom of God in over 250 communities, including one in Glasgow, Scotland.

We cannot underestimate the good that a single act of love can accomplish. What will your act of love be today?


There is a Boy

Posted on 25 July 2015 by patmarrin

“There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?” (John 6:7).

We know nothing about the boy who stepped forward and offered his lunch to help feed the crowd of 5,000. He goes unnamed in the Gospels. His good deed is told, but like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany (Mark 14:9) and even received this praise, “Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her,” neither one is named.

Perhaps this was because women and children counted for so little in the ancient world. Children were extra hands in the fields; you had lots of them because infant mortality was so high. Women provided and cared for children, but they could not own property or testify in court, and their husbands could dismiss them for any number of reasons without recourse.

Still women and children are in the Gospels because they were integral to the story. Their role is essential to the paradox that overturns every ordinary expectation about where truth appears and how God’s power works. Out of smallness comes greatness; from weakness comes strength, and in suffering glory is revealed.

Jesus clearly sees this. In today’s Gospel, he waits patiently while his disciples analyze the problem of how to feed the huge crowd. They calculate the cost, suggest sending the people into the nearby towns to provide for themselves. They cannot see any real solution. Jesus is not looking for a solution to a problem. He is looking for faith, and as soon as he is aware that a boy has offered five barley loaves and two fish, he knows the way is open to God’s grace. The boy’s generosity is the catalyst that will unleash a miracle of sharing.

We approach life’s many problems and are often overwhelmed by the limits of our resources. We are quick to calculate the helplessness of others. Five loaves and two fish. What good is that for so many? There is boy here. What good is that? What can a child do? There are some women here who say they have been to the tomb and seen Jesus risen from the dead. What good is that? Who will believe a group of grieving women? A Galilean carpenter hangs dead on a Roman cross. What good is that? Another idealist who thought he could save the world, and ended up wasting his life for nothing.

We assemble to pray, to read these very stories told all over the world. We receive Communion, the body of the crucified and risen Christ. We consider the generosity of a boy who opened his heart and his backpack, believing the if he shared his small meal with everyone, Jesus would do the rest.


Give Your Heart Away

Posted on 24 July 2015 by patmarrin

“Hear the parable of the sower” (Matt 13:18).

Today’s Gospel follows the telling of the parable of the sower to the crowds. Jesus takes his disciples aside and explains the meaning of the imagery of the sower, the seed and the different types of ground it falls on.

The parable is about preaching parables and the different levels of readiness and receptivity the preacher will encounter in announcing the Kingdom of God.

The agricultural theme reveals that Jesus observed life around him and found the mystery of God in the daily struggles real people encountered. It also tells us that Jesus understood that his invitation to a deep transformation would take time and come in stages. His ideas were like seeds sown into the minds of the culture and society of his time, and he knew that germination and growth would have to come slowly and naturally.

What seems a wasteful extravagance as the sower casts precious seed everywhere — three-quarters of it lost to the birds, the hot sun and competing plants — was in fact the farming practice of the time. But it also reflected the generosity of nature and the risks of love. God loves extravagantly, pouring out possibility everywhere, on good and bad alike. If we give ourselves in a calculated way only where we think we will reap a return, we will miss the mystery of love to penetrate and multiply in surprising ways and places. In another passage Jesus says, "Those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly."

The parable and explanation seem directed to the disciples who may have experienced discouragement as they preached to people who seemed indifferent, even hostile to the Word. Jesus was saying to them, and to us, don’t worry about the outcome. The seed is good seed. Your concern is to sow it wherever you go, in every circumstance and to everyone you encounter. God will take care of the rest.

Eyes That See, Ears That Hear

Posted on 23 July 2015 by patmarrin

“Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear” (Matt 13:16).

Jesus taught in parables. These engaging and often ambiguous stories invited his audience to enter the mystery of the Kingdom at different levels, depending on their readiness to understand and commit to the message Jesus was teaching. Some heard only clever stories; others heard a deep challenge to conversion.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses a parable to explain to his disciples why he taught in parables. He was actually fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa 6:9-10) that God’s Word was filtered to exclude those whose hearts were closed. But the disciples could hear and see because their hearts were open to the mystery of God’s Kingdom. His parable compares their insight into the kingdom to people who have and therefore can get more, while those who have not lose even what they have. His disciples have opened themselves to the gift he is offering and they are rich.

The simple parable shows that Jesus was well aware of the use of money to increase wealth through investment and interest. Other parables also reflect this, especially the famous one about the master who gives money to three servants to invest and multiply. Two prosper and double their money while the third buries his portion out of fear of losing it. The master severely criticizes that servant.

Some have found in this parable a blessing on capitalism, which rewards investment. Pope Francis’ critique of systems that reduce all values to money and profit as the “dung of the devil” has stirred up a storm of criticism of the pope as naïve and out of his depth for talking about economic matters. The pope is not an economist, but even his critics must concede his observations that unbridled global capitalism has helped create enormous income disparity and that the quest for profit has often led to exploitation of labor and environmental destruction.

Like the parables of Jesus, Pope Francis' words have provoked an important debate about how any economic system must serve the common good to be sustainable and fair. Spiritual insight is needed to see this as a higher value than market competition at any cost. Get ready to see this debate grow as the pope prepares to come to the United States in September. Pray for eyes that see and ears that hear. This is the richness that counts.

The Dawn of Faith

Posted on 22 July 2015 by patmarrin

“Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:15)

The story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb is one of the most personal and moving accounts in the New Testament, but we should not miss its complex theological message for the early church and to the church today.

John’s Gospel, the last of the four Gospels, was composed at the end of the first century. It retells the story of Jesus recorded in the other Gospels, but adds a reflective layer that reveals where the early church was some 70 years after the events. It repeats what is by then a solid tradition in the church, that Mary was a key witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a figure whose fidelity met resistance and doubt from the Apostles, including Peter.

The appearance story in John 20 is about the gradual coming to faith of the church. Mary comes to the tomb while it is still dark. She sees the open tomb, but still does not see (believe) its significance. She goes and gets Peter and the Beloved Disciple and they return to the empty tomb. Mary’s belief at this point is exactly what early critics of the church had said about the resurrection -- Someone stole the dead body.

The two Apostles depart and Mary remains, weeping at the tomb. Her encounter with the risen Christ happens in stages. She sees two angels (messengers) inside the tomb who ask her why she is weeping. She says, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”

She mistakes Jesus for the gardener as he also asks her why she is weeping and what she is looking for. It is only when Jesus says her name, “Mary,” that the truth dawns on her fully. Jesus has risen from the dead.

The richness of the story means that many truths can be found in it. For women in the church, the question, “Why are you weeping?” has taken on important, even political, dimensions. The exclusion of women from ordained leadership and official preaching remains a scandal to many who hold the church has been impoverished for its failure to accept the witness of the Scriptures to the role of women in the life of Jesus.

For all of us, the key question has to do with our Easter faith. Without our own encounter, personally and in our faith communities, with the risen Christ, our Christian discipleship is still incomplete, our faith still in the darkness before dawn.

Mary was baptized in her own tears at the tomb, and because of her love her eyes were opened and she was granted intimate knowledge of the mystery of Jesus. She is the Apostle to the Apostles. She is the patroness of our own journey toward deeper faith.