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Love Fulfills the Law

Posted on 08 June 2016 by patmarrin

“How long will you straddle the issue?” (1 Kgs 18:21).

The thrilling account of the Prophet Elijah’s face-off with the 450 prophets of Baal shows how important biblical literature is to all of literature, including Shakespeare and all of what passes for contemporary hero stories, especially in film. Where can we find a superhero like this “Man of God” who challenges the people of Israel to stop straddling the question of their loyalty to God. He sets up the contest of the two sacrifices, giving the followers of Baal every advantage, then showing them once and for all that “the God who answers with fire is God!”

Jesus is in a similar face-off with fierce critics who reject his presentation of God as false and heretical. The establishment, represented by the high priests, the scribes and Pharisees, has reduced the Covenant to the letter of the Law. Their adherence to the rules has replaced the central commandment of love, and in their self-righteousness they have dismissed the poor and the outcasts as incapable of observing the rituals and rules they keep as the measure of purity and obedience. Jesus’ readiness to associate with sinners is regarded as contamination and clear evidence that he cannot be from God.

For Matthew, composing his Gospel for a primarily Jewish church in Antioch after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, answering the charge that Jesus was a law breaker was critical. By fulfilling the first commandment of love, Matthew affirms, Jesus fulfilled the entire Law and the prophets. Disciples who do the same are also keeping the law down to its smallest parts and teaching others to do the same.

In this season of Ordinary Time, we renew our own discipleship by listening to the Holy Spirit, poured out on the church to help us discern how to apply the law of love in our lives. This fulfills the basic commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is no other God and there is no other reality.

Super heroes walk among us, not in capes, costumes and out-sized bodies, but in those who can call down the "fire of love" where it is most needed, to light the way for those in darkness and to warm the hearts of those who feel abandoned and forgotten by a world gone cold with fear. Let us be women and men of God, the face of mercy and the voice of truth in our own time, so in need right now of models of courage and compassion.

Salt and Light

Posted on 07 June 2016 by patmarrin

"Lord, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!" (Psalm 4).

How much we depend upon light. The early riser lights the first lamp. A light is left on for the late arrival. A light in the distance guides the weary traveler home.

Jesus uses the image of light to describe those who place their lives in the sight of God, whose face shines on them and fills them with light-- filling their minds and giving lightness to their hearts. How can they help then being that same light to others? The gift of a single smile starts the day as one person's light is passed along to others. The famous Christopher motto, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness," is the Gospel in miniature for our times, when so many have given up hope or retreated into the shadows of cynicism and fear.

Jesus also tells his follower to be salt. The art of conversation is the ability to add just the right amount of seasoning -- neither too much nor too little -- to the daily exchanges that set the mood and direction of our own thinking and the reactions of others. How easily a quick judgment or casual prejudice can set the day on edge for others, when we might have been light and flavor to their hearts.

The Good News is so much more than positive thinking. It begins with an encounter with God, the source of reality itself, inviting us to be co-creators of the world that unfolds anew as we step into each day. Our gladness rests on the confidence that God is always there.

Elijah meets the widow of Zarephath, who is in despair over her dwindling jar of flour and jug of oil. How easily fear of scarcity can set people against one another, hardening their hearts and closing their minds to others in desperate need. There will not be enough for us, so do not expect us to be generous with the stranger, the refugee, the newcomer. Elijah asks the widow to trust God's word that there is always enough -- and more -- where God is welcome.

Jesus calls his disciples to be filled to overflowing with God. If we entrust ourselves to this Word, not only will we dwell in peace, everyone we meet today will encounter this same gladness.

As God Sees

Posted on 06 June 2016 by patmarrin

"I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; whence shall help come to me" (Psalm 121).

Mountaintop experiences renew us because they enlarge our viewpoint, give us a bigger picture of life and our place in it. What we have lost sight of in our daily immersion in routine becomes clearer. Like the helpful locator map in a large mall, we reorient ourselves with "You are here" as a starting point.

In today's Gospel, when Jesus sees the gathering crowds, he goes up the mountain, sits down and begins to teach. From this higher vantage point, the people can see him and he can see them. In Matthew's very Jewish imagery, Jesus is the new Moses, and the sermon he preaches is the fulfillment of what Moses received in his encounter with Yahweh and brought down the mountain to people. The Ten Commandments are now the mysterious and paradoxical Beatitudes.

Wisdom is to see everything as God sees it. God's view is both the big picture and the long view of unfolding time. So what Jesus gives his disciples is the wisdom to find their lives within God's plan. Jesus sees history as driven not by human ambition, the quest for power and status, which over time are like dust in the wind, but by the steady pilgrimage of simple, ordinary, faithful people who understand the will of God. The anawim, God's little ones, despite the difficulties and suffering brought on them by history's charlatans and violent despots, will emerge as the Beloved Community, those who by their fidelity and integrity, revealed God's redemptive plan for the world.

As the long summer months begin for us in ordinary time, Jesus invites us to retreat with him to the mountain. He shows us the long view and larger vantage point that allows us to see as God sees. We recommit ourselves to our work in the world that will yield blessings for ourselves and others in the days to come. We remember our Muslim brothers and sisters as they begin the monthlong fast of Ramadan, which deepens their solidarity with the poor. We unite ourselves with our fellow citizens in the turbulent months of the national campaign that is calling us to examine our deepest values and to choose leaders who will humbly serve the common good, protect the spirit of openness an generosity that is the ideal of of our cherished democracy.

We are called to be wise and courageous in knowing and doing God's will to the best of our understanding. Blessed are all those who look to the mountains, from whence our help comes.

On the Road

Posted on 03 June 2016 by patmarrin

Dear Celebration and Pencil Preaching readers.

I will be traveling this weekend, so Pencil Preaching will not be posted. But look for it on Monday morning. While I am retiring as editor of Celebration, I have been asked to continue this little morning starter, my own encounter with the Word of God each day with my morning coffee. Thanks to all who have shared this way of listening to the Spirit as she speaks to the churches through the liturgy and the Lectionary. The key to understanding Pope Francis is surely to follow the daily readings he reflects on and preaches each day. Blessings to all. Pat Marrin

The Heart of the Matter

Posted on 02 June 2016 by patmarrin

"No one dared to ask him any more questions" (Mark 12:34).

Today's Gospel holds a small drama with large implications, especially for the scribe who was perhaps sent by the skeptical and increasingly hostile opponents of Jesus to test his orthodoxy. The scribe poses to Jesus the one question that would determine if his provocative teachings and radical approach to ministry are from God or not: "Which is the first of all the commandments?"

By reciting the Sh'ma, the one prayer said first each day by every faithful Jew, Jesus shows that he is radically orthodox, grounded in the revelation of God and in the covenant between God and Israel, from Abraham to Moses to David and echoed in all the prophets. The very words of the prayer resonate with such joy in the ears of the scribe, he repeats them after Jesus. "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The question and Jesus' reply affirm the absolute organizing principle and center of our relationship with God, as source and destiny, and with one another, as how we show that we understand God's initiating love in our lives. To "listen" with all our being to the truth of our existence, to live this gift in a continual exchange of love flowing back and forth with God to us and through us to our neighbor is to choose holiness within the only reality there is. Any other starting point and purpose is an illusion, and to put ourselves or any idol in the place of God is to choose instead to ride an illusion in a downward spiral to spiritual estrangement and existential death.

The scribe, who has devoted his life to plumbing the depths of God's Word, realizes that he is in the presence of that Word. Jesus looks at him with the gaze of total love that forever changed the disciples he has already called, and he issues this invitation: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." In other words, " You are on the threshold. Take the next step."

The story ends here, so we do not know what the scribe said or did next, but it is clear that his life has been changed by this encounter with Jesus. He is experiencing, perhaps for the first time, the meaning of the words he has been reciting all his life. His conversion is almost complete. One thing more is needed, his personal surrender to the grace that is flowing to him from Jesus. "Come follow me."

We are that scribe today. Jesus is looking at each one of us with love. Let the one who has ears to hear, "listen!" God is calling you to become your true self, in union with God, with others, with reality, freely chosen and fully lived.

Forever and Ever

Posted on 01 June 2016 by patmarrin

"God is the God of the living" (Mark 12:27).

The early church's proclamation that Jesus had risen from the dead ran into the conservative core of Jewish teaching held by the upper-class Sadducees, who rejected resurrection because it was not found in the Torah, or first five books of the Bible. Rejecting any afterlife meant that wealth and privilege in this life must be a sign of virtue, and this assumption justified ignoring the poor, who, it was assumed, were being punished for their lack of virtue. (The parable of Lazarus and Dives challenged this mentality regarding social responsibility.)

The Sadducees' argument that a woman married to seven brothers would not know who was her husband in the afterlife was a patently thin excuse for their insular attitudes regarding the less fortunate, and, Jesus argued, a misreading of the very Books of Moses. His encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob proved that they were alive and that God is the God of living, not the dead. Resurrection not only affirms that God loves his friends eternally, but it extends our responsibility for one another beyond this life. The poor of this world will stand in judgment over those who neglected them. God waits among the poor and suffering to see who is prepared to claim an eternity of love.

The joy of the Gospel is that the mystery of God is so great it takes an eternity to share in it. This means that every relationship we have is an eternal gift and an etermal responsibility.

Now Is the Hour of Our Visitation

Posted on 31 May 2016 by patmarrin

"Blessed are you who believed that hat was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Luke 1:43).

If history records the lives of great leaders and the movement of armies that redraw the maps of nations, God's view of things is from below the false and fleeting structures of human ambition to reveal the real movers and shakers of hope and promise.

Two pregnant women greet each other in a village at the margins of the Roman empire 2,000 years ago, and at the sound of their voices the Word of God reverberates across the universe. The unborn child in Elizabeth's ancient womb leaps for joy to re-enact the dance of David before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:14). The unborn child in Mary's virginal womb reclaims the throne of David and the messianic memory of God's promise to liberate the poor.

This is real power hidden in vulnerability, and it sends tremors through the empire and through every subsequent boast of wealth and status that is not grounded in the plan of God. Of all the icons and insignias of kingdoms and dynasties, a single hero, hanging from a cross, will endure as the measure of dignity and freedom for all the world to see.

Mary overflows with joy and sings her Magnificat, praising God for keeping every promise to the anawim -- the little ones -- of history. Her canticle is one of nine recorded in the scriptures. Each one sings the same theme, the reversal of fortune for those history has forgotten in its rush for power. Mary's song is the song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10), the mother of the Prophet Samuel. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and Simeon and Anna in the Temple add their voices to the biblical chorus of witnesses to God's mysterious and paradoxical ways.

Every generation sees its moment as the "best of times and the worst of times," a unique Dickensian drama, thus loading the calculus with both hope and terror. Our moment is now, our world tottering between breakdown and breakthrough, dying and birthing. The violent and divisive rhetoric rising within the new digital magnifier of the Internet is both a beacon of truth and a vipers' nest of lies competing for influence and control. Our call is to align our fortunes with the Holy Spirit of history, who is always poised at the thin wedge of tomorrow, hovering over the waters of chaos to reveal the truth that dispels confusion and the mercy that calms our fevered minds and trembling hearts.

Two pregnant women and their unborn children announce the victory of love over death. Their canticle gently and slowly penetrates the cacophony of voices competing for power with the oldest song in the universe. God is love, God is love, God is love. Let this be our song, our hope and our call to action.

A Day to Remember

Posted on 30 May 2016 by patmarrin

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Mark 12:10).

One of Jesus' last parables is directed to the religious leaders of his time, confronting them with their failure to show the fruits of all that God had entrusted to them. Like the vineyard tenants, they not only produced nothing, they scorned the messengers sent by God to ask for an accounting. As a result, the vineyard was to be taken away from them and given to others.

A great paradox is at work in history: what is rejected becomes the basis for something new and wonderful. Jesus is himself the perfect fulfillment of this paradox. Rejected, betrayed, abandoned and murdered, he is revealed as God's hesed -- unconditional and undeserved mercy to sinners. In Jesus, God rejects our rejection and overwhelms us with divine friendship while we were still enemies. Those who respond to this unfathomable love become the model for a new creation, a beloved community at the end of history, as it was intended from the beginning. Those who still reject this invitation bring judgment on themselves, a tragedy made possible by human freedom. Even divine mercy cannot save those who do not want to be saved.

This parable is an urgent appeal by Jesus to those who should have known better, leaders who were well versed in the scriptures and claimed the Law as their guide. Blinded by pride and unable to accept the pure gift of God's love, such leaders always kill the prophets rather than admit that they are wrong. Nations that sow violence and abuse will reap a harvest of the same within history. Religions that rule by power and money will crumble when crisis comes. The torch not kindled and guarded by one group will be passed to another that holds it high and lets it shine forth.

Isn't this a fit parable is for us on Memorial Day? Or a message to the churches confronted by prophets pleading for reform? Let those who have eyes to hear, hear, and those who have eyes to see, see.

We Are What We Eat and Drink

Posted on 28 May 2016 by patmarrin

“Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25).

The miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, repeated in all four Gospels, is clearly a gateway to the kerygma, or basic faith proclamation by the church, about who Jesus was and is.

As a key historical memory, it confirms that Jesus was perceived in his time as a messianic figure by both his popular following and by the authorities. Ched Meyer’s cogent political reading of Mark’s Gospel posits that anyone who could assemble and feed 5,000 men in the wilderness while the Temple establishment was celebrating Passover in Jerusalem was a threat to the high priest and to Caesar.

The early church adopted the scriptural image of Moses and manna in the wilderness as fulfilled in Jesus, but backed away from any political reading as it sought its place in the empire and among its expanding gentile converts.

What was left of the multiplication event and its interpretation for the church as it moved toward a doctrinal understanding of Jesus was the rich theology of Jesus as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation we celebrate at every Mass. St Paul mined the Passover imagery and Eucharistic practice of the primitive church to articulate Jesus as the incarnate presence of God in history and the church as the body of Christ extended in time. When the faith communities he founded opened the scriptures, broke the bread and shared the cup around the Lord’s Table, they became what they ate and drank, the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. If baptism is our incorporation into this body, Communion is how we grow to maturity in our Christian identity. The Spirit of Jesus animates us as the body of God, the Trinity of Love indwelling us and empowering us to renew creation toward its original purpose as the image of God.

The Second Vatican Council rescued the Eucharist from sacred object of devotion to the dynamic “real presence” of the risen Christ in the Word, the consecrated bread and wine, the presider and the praying assembly. Today, on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate all four forms of presence, and we accept the implications of each one in our lives. First, we cannot know Jesus if we do not pray and study the scriptures. Second, receiving the Eucharist regularly is our privilege and absolutely necessary for our baptismal maturity. Third, those who preside in the image of Jesus must serve as he did. Finally, the entire assembly prays the Mass, offers itself in union with the crucified Christ and receives itself back in his risen life in Communion, which it then takes into the world as the church. Each of us is an evangelist and an agent of redemptive mercy. All of us together are the Beloved Community that reveals the future of humanity.

If this seems abstract, perhaps it is because it only becomes real if we live it. But if we trust the Holy Spirit, who never ceases to teach us in every breath we take that we are Jesus in the world, we will experience him in every thought and every act he inspires in us, and in the pulse of his blood in our veins, and in the glory that is even now coursing through our bodies as we surrender ourselves to his service. What other identity, purpose and promise can so fully match our desire to be one in love with God and with each other? What other dream is there that can thrill our hearts with such joy?

The Power of Faith

Posted on 27 May 2016 by patmarrin

"I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours" (Mark 11:25).

Mark packs so many themes into this beautiful Gospel passage that it is only at the end that we realize it is one of Jesus' most important teachings about the power of faith.

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem but is staying outside the city in Bethany. After witnessing the marketplace atmosphere in the temple, he returns the next day to show his indignation by disrupting the money changers and buying and selling. On the way into the city he stops to look for figs on a tree, but finds none because it is not in season. Jesus' apparent frustration is really focused on Jerusalem, which has shown no sign of the fruits of conversion. He curses the fig tree, then proceeds into the city to cleanse the temple, a bold act of protest that will seal his own death.

The scene shifts to the next day, after the uproar and anger of the leaders against Jesus is in full tilt. They are plotting to kill him. Jesus again encounters the fig tree, and Peter points out that it is withered to the roots. It is at this point in the story that Jesus launches into an exuberant affirmation of the power of faith to accomplish anything, even to move mountains. If we truly believe, anything is possible.

Remarkably, Jesus seems to be talking first to himself! Despite the resistance he is encountering in Jerusalem, his Father will advance the Kingdom and Jesus will complete his mission. Nothing can stop it, even the terrible sign of contradiction Jesus knows already is just ahead -- his rejection and death.

This is his legacy to us about prayer. Listen to the Holy Spirit in your life, then imagine the future in prayer. What you dream, believe in it, lean into it, wait for it but also work for it. It will happen, as sure as God's kingdom is coming, despite the resistance and fear that has always opposed important change. Bear fruit, in season and out of season, in joy and in sorrow. God's will has been sown into your hopes and dreams, and in God's own time, they will come true.