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Posted on 01 August 2014 by patmarrin

“Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Matt 13:55).

After his baptism and time in the desert, Jesus began his ministry in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. After considerable public success as a preacher and miracle worker, Matthew tells us that he and his disciples visited Nazareth. There he was met with skepticism and disbelief. The people who had watched Jesus grow up could not understand how he had become such a celebrity. “Is he not (just) the carpenter’s son?” The scene ends with the important detail that Jesus “did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.”

We might ask why Jesus did not demonstrate his powers to win over the home town crowd. He had met skepticism before as well as the heavy scrutiny of his enemies, and he had never hesitated to dazzle his critics to advance the Kingdom of God. One answer is that this scene follows immediately upon Matthew’s lengthy display of the parables of Jesus and his explanation why Jesus spoke in parables. He was deliberately filtering out listeners who were not ready for faith but only wanted signs and wonders. The parables, to use a parable, were like seeds in search of fertile soil. Idle listeners did not have ears to hear or eyes to see. Only those moved to faith and ready to commit themselves to Jesus were ready to enter the Kingdom. Others, including the majority of his neighbors in Nazareth, saw only an upstart, the son of a local carpenter.

God’s Word comes to all of us. Perhaps the first obstacle to its effect is our own skepticism. If we do not believe that God can use someone as ordinary as you or me, there will be no miracles today. But if we do respond, if we hear the parables all around us, God’s Word will have found its welcome and come home.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Posted on 31 July 2014 by patmarrin

“Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jer 18:6).

Today’s two readings, one from Jeremiah depicting God as a potter who determines the usefulness of a clay vessel, and the other a continuation of Matthew’s presentation of the parables of Jesus, have relevance to the life of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), whose feast we celebrate.

One of the core principles of Jesuit spirituality is “Finding God in all things.” Ignatius grounded his religious community in the world of things, human experience, nature, and the pursuit of knowledge of any kind. The Jesuit mission to defend the church during the period of the Reformation was also a commitment to dialogue with the world in the light of the Incarnation, which affirms that God is in the world. So it was not unusual to find a Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, alongside Karl Rahner, one of the great theologians of the modern church. Nor was it surprising to find a Jesuit, Ignacio Ellacuria, at the forefront of liberation theology in El Salvador. We are blessed today to have a pope who is thoroughly Jesuit in his formation and theology.

Christian vocation is often easier to see in hindsight. Ignatius was a soldier whose conversion came during a time of convalescence after being wounded in a battle. The divine Potter chooses a lump of clay, shapes it on the wheel and assigns it a role in the household. Christian ministry is often not a clear straight-line purpose but a mix of challenges. The dragnet cast into the deep brings forth an assortment of opportunities, some chosen, others discarded. Discretion is as important as devotion in dealing with ambiguity and questions that stir controversy.

In the final analysis, every Christian life finds its true meaning in relationship to Jesus, who united within himself Word and world, divinity and humanity, God in all things.

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The Surprise Inside

Posted on 30 July 2014 by patmarrin

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure” (Matt 13:44).

The apparent simplicity of some of Jesus’ shorter parables ought to prompt us to consider how much lies hidden in the images he used to describe the Kingdom. The parables contain paradoxes and complex questions that unfold in the mind of the hearer. The person who finds the treasure deceives the owner of the field to get the treasure. He is a thief. The merchant who buys the pearl of great price ends his career by settling for a single pearl whose beauty is equaled only by its uselessness as a means to further wealth. He has his pearl, but nothing else. He is a fool.

In both instances, entering the Kingdom of heaven costs everything, even your righteous reputation and your business acumen. To be a disciple of Jesus requires that you step beyond the integrity of the law and the wisdom of the marketplace. We unpack these parables further at our own peril, for they take us on a journey we no longer control.

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Martha, Martha

Posted on 29 July 2014 by patmarrin

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things” (Luke 10:41).

We meet Martha in glimpses. She lived in Bethany, a town near Jerusalem, with her sister, Mary, and brother, Lazarus. She was hospitable and practical, plain spoken and honest about her feelings. The Gospel writers use Martha as a foil for Mary, who is praised for sitting at Jesus' feet instead of preparing the meal. Together, the two sisters define twin aspects of vocation: action and contemplation. Jesus loved them both. As a type of the church, Martha is Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services and the Campaign for Human Development. Martha is the parish food pantry, funeral dinners, logistical support for programs and gatherings. If the Martha's took the day off, the church would shut down around the world. Her anxious energy and worrying are the engine of ministry.

What Jesus reminds Martha in today’s Gospel is that listening to him is the key to all activity in the church. Sitting at his feet -- a way to describe the relationship of student to rabbi, disciple to master -- is the source, motive and meaning of all ministry. Some might argue that contemplation without action is also incomplete, that genuine prayer rouses us to act and all the rest is pietism for its own sake. This is true, and there will always be tension in vocation. Two great exemplars of discipleship -- Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa -- never resolved this.

Jesus responds that he loves both Martha and Mary. Together they provide the one thing necessary, which is to invite him into every situation we are involved in and concerned about, listen to him, respond to him, love him. Everything else that needs to happen will flow from that.

The Rising

Posted on 28 July 2014 by patmarrin

Jesus spoke to them only parables” (Matt 13:34).

One common characteristic of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom is that in a process involving human doing (seeking, planting, finding, fishing), there is always a gift, an element beyond human control. A tiny mustard seed is planted in the soil, but the germination is the result of a mysterious potency in the seed itself. A woman mixes yeast into a batch of dough, but the enzyme then must take over.

This same characteristic is true of many of Jesus’ miracles. People must seek him out, cry out his name, reach through the bustling crowd to touch his cloak; a boy shares the five barely loaves and two fish that feed the five thousand; servants fill the jars with water at Cana.

The most effective help programs are self-help strategies; What can you bring to this solution? What is your investment here? Let’s do this together. Collaboration builds community, enables people to go beyond their own wants and needs to an awareness of the common good. Community is the real miracle that reveals God’s presence. We only know it after the fact. Something greater than the sum of the parts has occurred here. It began with us, needed our small efforts, but then the magic happened, the green shoot appeared, the dough rose in the pan, fragrant and alive, giving us bread but also the surpassing mystery of joy.

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July 27, 2014: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on 26 July 2014 by patmarrin

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matt 13:44).

July has been a month for parables. Matthew, like the scribe at the end of today’s Gospel passage, has poured out his store of sayings from Jesus about the mysterious Kingdom of God. Seeds, pearls, treasures, yeast, fishing nets — they all offer glimpses into what God is offering and how important it is for us to respond and act. Each little story unfolds its secrets, confronts us with choices, calls us to come closer and go deeper than ever before. Those who have eyes to see, let them see; ears to hear, let them hear.

There is a treasure under your feet waiting to be uncovered. The pearl of your dreams waits in the market, ready to be purchased and possessed. But both will cost you everything. Cast your net into the sea and draw out both the good and the bad. Sort with wisdom, keep what is good, discard the rest.

How we apply these parables is a matter for each of us. The essence of our encounter with the Word is the way the images play upon our hearts and minds and memories. An old cigar box wrapped in rubber bands holds some clear blue marbles, a paint-chipped lead soldier, colorful stamps, a brass key, a thimble, a pink paper umbrella. Only the child knows the story for each, but even years later, they invoke wonder at life’s variety and mystery.

To enter that place, not a place but a special zone of comprehension just beyond sight, is to open ourselves to a presence nearby, with us, more real than the anytime that frames the encounter. The treasure is a person; the pearl is never being alone again. We are storerooms full of God, to be dispensed freely to anyone who asks.

Feast of St. James

Posted on 25 July 2014 by patmarrin

“Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom” (Matt 20:22).

There is an element of the comic opera in today’s Gospel scene. Two of the 12 disciples, brothers known as the “Sons of Thunder” for their brashness and ambition, get their mother to ask Jesus for top spots in his movement. The other disciples cry foul, but their indignation only reveals how ambitious they all are for the glory they imagine will greet them in Jerusalem. Jesus’ triumph will take place on a cross, and on his right and left will hang thieves and murderers. There has been some colossal misunderstanding. If only the mother of James and John knew what she was asking for.

Today is the feast of St. James the Apostle, and the church continues the parody of honoring one of the original “princes of the church” with a scriptural broadside on the perils of false expectation and self-delusion. Yet somewhere in Rome today, a prelate claiming direct lineage to the Twelve may be processing down the aisle of a huge basilica with 20 yards of scarlet silk trailing behind him representing his willingness to be martyred. Another may be waiting by the phone for word of a higher appointment, perhaps even a red hat.

The scriptures subvert all our ambitions, except the desire to seek the lowest place, the call to serve, the willingness to accompany those suffering at the borders and margins of all worldly advantage. St. James, the patron saint of pilgrims, directs us in this downward mobility to follow Jesus wherever he commands us to go and to be.

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Ears to Hear, Eyes to See

Posted on 24 July 2014 by patmarrin

“To anyone who has, more will be given” (Matt 13:12).

In any relationship, full revelation must be balanced with preserving the freedom of the other to approach or withdraw at his or her own pace. We remain hidden, inviting rather than pressing acceptance. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Little Prince” and the fox explore their friendship this way. In the tantalizing “Song of Songs,” lovers glimpse through lattice work, elusive as their ardor builds. Alfred Hitchcock appears furtively in all his films, the creator hidden in plain sight in his creation, but with the lightest touch.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to explain why he speaks in parables. It is to filter out unbelief, to invite the seeker but exclude the skeptic. Without faith no one can “see” beneath the surface of the story to its deeper revelation. To encounter God we must meet him halfway, entrust ourselves to the mystery we cannot control.

The sower sows seed everywhere, but only fertile soil receives it and bears fruit. Parables are like a swimming pool with a shallow end and a deep end. We decide where we will commit ourselves; testing the water with a first cautious step or plunging in headlong. Jesus goes beyond Greek logic to Asian paradox: “To anyone who has, more will be given: from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Even the smallest amount of faith multiplies, while those who seek proof first go away blank-eyed and empty of insight.

“Yes” opens the door when the lover knocks. “Maybe” dismisses the dream and seals us out. Hear the parables, approach, open your heart. God will enter in.

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The Secret Garden

Posted on 23 July 2014 by patmarrin

“The word of God came to me” (Jer 1:1).

The daily Lectionary again serves up the familiar parable of the sower who went out to sow (Matt 13:1-9). The seed as an image of how God’s word enters our lives reveals Jesus’ own experience in a long line of prophets. In today’s first reading, Jeremiah begins his own story with the simple words, “The word of God came to me.” Like a seed, God germinates in our imaginations, sending down roots into our unconscious thoughts, tapping the very substance of our personalities and shaping our experiences to nourish the emerging message planted in us. We cannot contain it, though Jeremiah tried (20:7), for God’s word must be expressed, like the plant appearing above ground to face the the world, its blazing sun, wind and rain, surrounded by brambles and devouring birds. Jeremiah was sent first to prepare the nation for destruction and exile, then as the voice of God's promise of consolation and return.

In the same way, Jesus was the sower who went out to sow, becoming himself the seed that fell to the ground and died in order to initiate the bounteous harvest of salvation.

In this summer season of gardens, anyone who plants and waters, weeds and prunes, bringing flowers to full beauty and fruits and vegetables to the table, knows the mysterious gift of seeds. Blessed are those who see in nature the even deeper mystery of God’s word that comes to all of us.

Mary Magdalene

Posted on 22 July 2014 by patmarrin

“I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).

The post resurrection appearance stories in John’s Gospel are both beautiful and theological. Moving from the first recorded accounts in Mark, which originally ended with the women saying nothing after meeting an angel, to John’s detailed encounters between Mary and Jesus in the garden and Peter and Jesus by the Sea of Tiberias, we glimpse the developing faith of the community over a period of perhaps 40 years or more.

In John, Mary Magdalene has emerged as the pre-eminent witness to the Risen Christ. In today’s Gospel, she witnesses what seems to be Jesus’ transition from raised, mysterious body to full status at the right hand of God. He tells her not to hold him because he has not yet “ascended to the Father.” He is not yet in full glory. Mary does not recognize him at first, but “sees” when he calls her by name. Her baptism of tears brings her to full faith. He tells her to go tell “my brothers” that he is going to “my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We are left in these few lines of the Gospel with enough theology to fill a library and enough mystery to fill a lifetime of prayer as we seek our own encounters with Jesus.

This story begins with other important details. Mary first runs to tell Simon Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved” that the tomb was open and empty. There is protocol here, Mary ceded authority to Peter. His own encounter with Jesus at Tiberias, an even later addition to the fourth Gospel that seems intended to establish Peter’s leadership, has parallels to Mary’s story. Both take place early in the morning after a night of struggle. Jesus is not recognized at first. The encounter is about healing and sending. Mary is the Apostle to the Apostles; Peter is told to “feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”

We are invited to be more than just scripture scholars and theologians. John invites us to be believers, motivated by love for Jesus as our beloved brother whose death and resurrection have opened the way to God for us. Celebrating today’s Feast of Mary Magdalene will occasion much spirited discussion about authority and leadership in the church, the role of women as preachers, the pre-eminence of love as what enables us to believe. We welcome together the richness of our evolving faith in the risen Christ.