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Listen Up!

Posted on 19 July 2016 by patmarrin

“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear” (Matt 13:9).

Anyone who is following the campaigns and conventions leading up to the 2016 presidential election will know the power of storytelling. This month and in the months to come until November, we will be inundated with images, words, analysis and commentary designed to persuade us that this or that story, personified in this or that candidate, best fits the reality of our nation, our society and ourselves.

The biblical story holds that the universe itself is the result of the story God is telling with words so powerful that they create worlds, shape the primal forces of our physical existence as the context for both God’s design and our freedom to either follow or frustrate the unfolding history of the earth and its inhabitants. Each generation is but a fleeting moment in the long continuum of space the time, but empowered to influence the trajectory of a small but significant player in the universal plan.

Today’s readings tells us about God’s call of the Prophet Jeremiah, whose words will confront and challenge the direction the nation and its leaders are choosing. The words God places in Jeremiah’s mouth will have the force of reality: “Too root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.” In Matthew’s gospel, we will hear the many parables of Jesus, powerful stories that invite us to hear and respond to God’s word. Jesus is like the sower who goes out to sow, encountering many levels of readiness and attentiveness. Where the seed finds receptive ground, it will multiply its effects.

The crowds are eager to hear Jesus speak. His stories open their imaginations to a world of fresh possibilities. The joy of the Gospel touches those with ears to hear. God wants to give us abundant life, shared life, an overwhelming harvest of goodness and love. Listen to the story, then become the story, for it is the underlying presence of God at work in history, pouring out gifts that multiply to create new communities of hope, compassion and courage.

We are called upon to choose the story that best describes our vision of the world. Some stories are driven by fear and, telling us to defend ourselves from others, from scarcity and threat in a world of strangers and enemies. Other stories promise success without struggle, safety without sharing, predictability without risk.

Into this maelstrom of storytelling comes a different kind of storyteller and a new story. Let those who have ears to hear listen.

The Sign of Jonah

Posted on 18 July 2016 by patmarrin

“An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet" (Matt 12:39).

Today's readings continue the theme that God sends prophets to us to call us to observe the commandments and to live the Covenant of justice and love. Micah was such a prophet in ancient Israel. Jesus, the greatest of the prophets, invites us to united our lives to the mystery of his self-sacrificing death and life-giving resurrection as the central sign of our Christian discipleship. This is the meaning of our baptism and the mission given to all those in the community of his body in the world.

The story of Jonah was applied to Jesus. Jonah preached to the Ninivites, Israel's worst enemy and the epitome of evil, yet they repented. Jonah is swallowed up by the great fish (death), but then is delivered after three days, so Jesus goes down in death but is raised up as a sign of God's mercy for a sinful world. What greater sign can we received that God wants us to choose life, to turn away from violence and evil to lives of justice, peace and mercy?

World events have a way of getting our attention, reminding us that there are consequences for our actions. Where violence and hatred are sown, a harvest of hurt and fear is the result. Where peace and justice are promoted, people come together in civility to solve their problems. We all have a responsibility to be agents and sources of compassion and fairness, reason and courtesy, to acknowledge our failures, seek reconciliation and try harder to create community.

Now is our time to pray for peace and to work for justice. There is no other way to reap a harvest of love than to sow seeds of love in every word we speak and every action we take. God will bless our offerings, so let us be part of the solution and not the problem.

Entertaining Angels

Posted on 16 July 2016 by patmarrin

“You are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing” (Luke 10:42).

Hospitality is the “one thing necessary." If Jesus is God’s gift to us, then to receive him as fully as possible is the necessary response that opens us to every other grace. Today’s Gospel story is about two different levels of hospitality. Jesus does not reject Martha’s practical service, but he does praise Mary for welcoming him first and foremost into her heart.

The Bible has many stories of hospitality at many levels. The famous account of Abraham and Sarah’s welcome of the three strangers (Gen 18:1-10) shows total openness. The result is the promise of a child who will fulfill God’s promise to extend the couple's living memory forever, a covenant that millennia later will include Jesus, Messiah, son of Abraham, Son of God.

This story introduces a theme into the biblical value system that makes hospitality a gateway to God’s blessings. By welcoming the “stranger” we welcome God, or, as Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, put it: “In welcoming the stranger we end up entertaining angels.”

In another Gospel story, Jesus is invited to dinner by Simon the Pharisee, but then given no ordinary signs of welcome – water to wash his feet, a kiss or an anointing with oil. In contrast, a woman intrudes on the gathering and lavishes her attention, tears and perfume on Jesus (Luke 7:36-50). Mary is like this woman, focusing all her attention on Jesus by boldly sitting in the circle of men disciples to listen to him and to engage him heart to heart.

To listen to another is to welcome them personally in a way no formal or practical amenities can match. Martha dutifully and generously provides the setting for this welcome, while remaining in her "place” as a female hostess. But Jesus cannot but praise Mary for daring to break convention to go to the deeper level of hospitality that establishes an intimate relationship with him. She has become a disciple.

The community celebration of the Eucharist is our invitation to listen deeply and personally to the real presence of Jesus, to commit to him as disciples. It is also an opportunity for us as believers to welcome the stranger, whether this is someone we do not know or who is different from us. Angels may visit our churches regularly in the poor and the outcast, and if we welcome them we are welcoming new life, embracing Jesus himself.

Mercy and the Rules

Posted on 15 July 2016 by patmarrin

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt12:8).

Pope Francis’ summary letter after the two synods on the family in Rome emphasized the need for church rules to meet the reality of married couples’ actual experience, especially for those in second unions. The focus was on the reception of Communion, which the pope has repeatedly said was “the medicine of mercy and not a reward for the righteous.”

Critics, including many other church leaders, have continued to question the pope’s approach, claiming that to allow anyone who is not keeping the rules to receive the Eucharist undermines the rules by removing a public penalty. The pope’s approach has been to redefine the role of the Eucharist as a quid pro quo in that enhances the power of church officials over people. The pope wants a relationship to the church marked by mercy.

Jesus was criticized over the Sabbath laws, whether healing was “work” and in today’s Gospel, whether his hungry disciples could “harvest” grain to eat as they walked through a field. The example Matthew has Jesus appealing to is from 1 Samuel 21, when David and his soldiers, fleeing King Saul, were right to eat the bread in the temple reserved for priests. The incident preserves the drama of David’s often “illegal” behavior out of necessity and his stature as the model for God’s indulgent, merciful love.

Jesus answers his critics by saying that necessity knows no law and that the Sabbath is for people, not the other way around. Legalism for its own sake or to preserve the power of a rule maker misses the point of God’s care for his people, who often struggle through life’s dilemmas doing their best. Those who would pile up burdens on other people’s backs that drive them to their knees are hardly good representatives for a loving, merciful God.

We all move through life’s ambiguities as sinners and saints. The point of mercy is that God’s love for us never wavers. Sin has its own penalties and virtue its own rewards. We do not need additional reminders or burdens to complicate our journey, especially from those who say they represent God. Controversy will always be with us. The Good News is that Jesus walks with us in our struggles to do what is right and best.

Being Fully Human

Posted on 14 July 2016 by patmarrin

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:30).

In this famous and encouraging passage from Matthew's Gospel (11:28-30), Jesus first praises the little ones who grasp the revelation of God's kingdom. They see and accept what the "clever and learned" people miss. God is present to the poor in their ordinary struggles, hopes, fears and joys.

Jesus then invites everyone to step into the yoke of the human condition as the best way to live. Do not resist or try to escape life's ordinary adversities and opportunities. You will only make your lives more complicated and increase your frustrations. No, go with the flow, share the common challenges of life and you will find the ordinary graces of community, humor, the lightness of being that is God's gift.

Jesus is describing and modeling for us the mystery of the Incarnation. God is with us, waiting to be found in ordinary experience, not in grand schemes or strategies for transcending life to avoid suffering or the common lot. Jesus is himself the model for accepting the struggle and grace of each day as the place to find God.

He invites us today to go with the flow, for this is how we go with God.

Being Fully Human

Posted on 14 July 2016 by patmarrin

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:30).

Jesus first praises the simple and humble for recognizing the presence of God in their lives. He then invites everyone to step into the human condition, its ordinary challenges and burdens, a the most natural way to live.

In both counsels, Jesus is talking about the Incarnation, the mystery of God among us. Jesus is himself the model for joining divine life with human life a the full experience of the image and likeness of God. He does not try to avoid the human condition but goes with the flow, accepting that each day will bring its share of joy and sorrow, weakness and strength, adversity and opportunity.

Those who try to escape life's difficulties by imagining that they are above it all or in control of their circumstances will only complicate their lives. They are the clever and learned people who think that they can transcend normal existence because they are better or smarter than others or have grand ideas about escaping life's burdens and sufferings.

Those who take up the common struggle each day, getting in the harness with others, will not only enjoy the benefit and humor of everyday experience, they will also find Jesus, perfect human and the full revelation of our divine destiny. "Go with the flow," Jesus says, "and you will be going with God." This is the secret of joy and the best way to live.

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Revelation

Posted on 13 July 2016 by patmarrin

"What you have hidden from the wise and the clever you have revealed to the little ones" (Matt 11:25).

The joyous words of Jesus thanking his Abba for revealing the mystery of the Kingdom to mere children is in sharp contrast to yesterday's warning to the towns of Galilee for their indifference and failure to see what was being offered to them. Arrogance and self-sufficiency apparently closes people off from the gift that simple, humble people grasp easily.

A clever person has all the answers; a learned person has stopped learning, is complete and no longer able to be surprised. Children, on the other hand, are all questions, always being surprised by new experiences, new opportunities to learn. Disciples are alive to the revelation of God that is never finished, always unfolding new wonders and insights.

We turn to the scriptures not because they give us set answers but because they invite us to see the presence of God in every experience and encounter we have. Jesus looks for followers who will welcome God into their lives with new eyes, always open and learning and absorbing new things. His joyful praise overflows as he looks into the face of his Abba, knowing that the little ones can also see the Abba looking back at them with love.

The Shadow Cast by Brightness

Posted on 12 July 2016 by patmarrin

"Will you be exalted to heaven?" (Matt 11:23).

One of the inescapable questions in the gospels is what happens to those who ignore God's invitation to life. Human freedom is always a factor in the encounter initiated by divine revelation. Last Sunday's reading from Deuteronomy reminded us that God's plan is not inscrutable or distant but "already in your mouths and in your hearts" (Deut 30:14). But we must respond.

Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, an outpouring of miracles and preaching. The Epiphany, celebrated after Christmas, quotes the Prophet Isaiah proclaiming that "a people who lived in darkness and in the shadow of death have seen a great light." Today's gospel expresses Jesus disappointment that all the signs and wonders performed in the towns and villages of Galilee have had little effect. He compares the towns to Sodom, the ancient city destroyed by first and brimstone for its failure to know God's visitation.

Yet, from this apparent failure, Jesus turns south to Jerusalem, where the invitation to life will be revealed not in signs of power but by his death. Jesus will demonstrate God's unconditional and limitless love by becoming the victim of the people's indifference and rejection. This paradoxical self-sacrifice out of love for sinners will constitute the ultimate sign of mercy. But, again, it will ask for a response, an openness to conversion to experience the grace God is offering through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We ponder this mystery within the realm of our own conscious freedom. If we cannot say no, our yes is meaningless. But to say no to God is to say no to life, so this choice is indeed a matter of life an death. If we choose to live in the shadow of death, even God's mercy cannot override our choice. Only the logic of love, the innate invitation to step into the light, to live fully rather than accept half-existence or non-participation in the web of life all around us can draw us beyond ourselves into God's plan. Choose life, our hearts say. Choose life. Step out into the light.

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The Shadow Cast by Brightness

Posted on 12 July 2016 by patmarrin

"Will you be exalted to heaven?" (Matt 11:23).

One of the inescapable questions in the gospels is what happens to those who ignore God's invitation to life. Human freedom is always a factor in the encounter initiated by divine revelation. Last Sunday's reading from Deuteronomy reminded us that God's plan is not inscrutable or distant but "already in your mouths and in your hearts" (Deut 30:14). But we must respond.

Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, an outpouring of miracles and preaching. The Epiphany, celebrated after Christmas, quotes the Prophet Isaiah proclaiming that "a people who lived in darkness and in the shadow of death have seen a great light." Today's gospel expresses Jesus' disappointment that all the signs and wonders performed in the towns and villages of Galilee have had little effect. He compares the towns to Sodom, the ancient city destroyed by fire and brimstone for its failure to know God's visitation.

Yet, from this apparent failure, Jesus turns south to Jerusalem, where the invitation to life will be revealed not in signs of power but by his death. Jesus will demonstrate God's unconditional and limitless love by becoming the victim of the people's indifference and rejection. This paradoxical self-sacrifice out of love for sinners will constitute the ultimate sign of mercy. But, again, it will ask for a response, an openness to conversion to experience the grace God is offering through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We ponder this mystery within the realm of our own conscious freedom. Freedom is essential in the relationship God seeks with each of us. If we cannot say no, our yes is meaningless. But to say no to God is to say no to life, so this choice is indeed a matter of life and death. If we choose to live in the shadow of death, even God's mercy cannot override our choice. Only the logic of love, the innate invitation to step into the light, to live fully rather than accept half-existence or non-participation in the web of life all around us can draw us beyond ourselves into God's plan. Choose life, our hearts say. Choose life. Step out into the light.

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Decide

Posted on 11 July 2016 by patmarrin

"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt 10:38).

How many decisions have you made in your life? If we look back over the narrative of our lives, most of us will discover that we have only made a few decisions, and that the rest of our journey has been living out the implications of those decisions. We are born into a family and culture that carries us forward to early adulthood. Even the decisions we make -- like the friends we have and the school we attend -- are heavily influenced by family, location, the expectations of others. But real life-stage decisions await us as we separate from family, leave home, choose a career, a life partner, discern and internalize the basic principles and values we will live by.

In today's Gospel, we get a glimpse of the cost of discipleship as Jesus tells his followers that they must make him their highest priority. They must "lose" the familiar identity and lives assigned to them by all other forces that have shaped them. The root of the word "to decide" is to cut. A decisive person cuts away every other option from the one he or she will choose. All their energy and devotion is focused on what they have decided to do, and other possibilities are set aside for the sake of this path.

Crossing this threshold is the most important moment in our story. Blessed are those who hear the call deep from within to follow the will of God, who then make this their highest priority and arrange their priorities around this pursuit. This whole-hearted choice is the essence of discipleship.

Today we celebrate the life of St. Benedict. He abandoned everything to pursue a life focused on God. His decision cost him everything but also opened up a whole world not just for him but for the many who came after him and responded to the same call to a life of prayer and work for the sake of God and the church. Each of us has this same challenge before us. Whatever we decide and whatever the cost, it is the one thing necessary for a life of purposes and fulfillment.

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