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Easter Surprise

Posted on 08 April 2015 by patmarrin

"While they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him" (Luke 24:15).

The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has been called a gospel in miniature. It describes the journey the early church had to make to understand how the apparent defeat of Jesus was in fact God’s secret plan to save the world. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” If you attended the solemn Easter vigil service, you made the same journey by listening to the seven Scripture readings that culminate in the Easter proclamation.

It takes a stranger on the road to reinterpret everything the disciples saw as failure to be God’s plan. The facts were overwhelming: Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem and his followers had scattered in fear and despair. The pair on the road were no doubt fleeing the scene for their own safety when Jesus shows up to accompany them. They are blind to the truth. “How foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”

Jesus the stranger, his identity hidden from their eyes, walks them though the scriptures from Moses to the prophets. As the disciples begin to understand, their hearts burn within them, but the full revelation does not happen until they beg the stranger to stay with them for the night. At table, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it with them. It is then, in the midst of their eucharistic meal, that their eyes are opened.

Jesus, really present in the breaking of the bread, becomes invisible to physical sight, but their faith now sees, their minds are opened and their hearts are filled with joy. The disciples immediately set out for Jerusalem to tell the others. The story describes how the early church came to faith in the risen Jesus, who was their message to the world.

It is just when we think we understand that God enters our world to reinterpret everything in the light of Christ. Our despair is changed to hope. Our failure leads to a baptism of mercy that enables us to preach forgiveness to others. The shattered community reassembles at the Table of the Lord, where the broken body of Christ is the source of our unity, his death the source of our life.

Faith is a journey of surprises. What strangers will enter your life today, and will your eyes be open to them and your heart welcome the good news they will reveal?

The Heart Sees First

Posted on 07 April 2015 by patmarrin

“Woman, why are you weeping?" (John 20:12).

In the 1943 classic, The Little Prince, author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes an encounter between the boy and a fox he is trying to befriend. One of most famous quotes of the book is when the fox says, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The resurrection appearance stories in John’s Gospel emphasize this same mystery. It is only love that truly enters the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mary, the one disciple who understood his impending death when she anointed Jesus’ feet in Bethany, is the first to grasp the joyful truth of his resurrection as she weeps near the empty tomb.

Mary comes to the tomb to complete the burial ritual of anointing the dead body of her Lord. In her determination she grounds the faith of the early church in the bodily resurrection. It is not a spirit that escapes the tomb, but a human body in transition to its final form in glory. The continuity of the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth and the risen body of Jesus the Christ is crucial to the church’s belief in Jesus as not only God, but God incarnate.

John’s Gospel is called the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple because the witness behind the tradition that became the fourth Gospel makes clear that love is the key to discipleship. Jesus loves the disciple, and this love opens him or her to an intimate knowledge of Jesus. The disciple Jesus loved is the voice of the Gospel, present in all of the appearance stories.

When Mary delivers the message to the Apostles that she has seen the Lord, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved race to the tomb. But love outruns the official leader, then waits for Peter to enter the tomb first. Love sees the arranged burial cloths and in faith grasps the reality of the resurrection the official church will makes its founding doctrine.

Today’s Gospel passage and the others we will ponder this Easter week are both beautiful and powerful in the formation of our own faith in Jesus. We are invited to read them with both our minds and hearts. Faith is formed in a personal encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus, who is both our brother and Lord.


We Are Easter People

Posted on 06 April 2015 by patmarrin

"Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" (Matt 28:10).

Miracles create shrines. But the greatest miracle of all became a traveling tour of revelation and manifestation that defied prediction and control. From the empty tomb and the appearances to the women, the resurrection quickly disappears into history. Jesus' triumph over death signals the end of the old creation and the start of the new, where the seeds of new life wait to be sown by the disciples of Jesus.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus tells the women to instruct his apostles to go to Galilee. He is going before them into the world, and there they will encounter him again and again in different circumstances, sometimes mysteriously, other times directly. The death and resurrection of Jesus is now the pattern of their lives and the engine of history toward full transformation.

We are now part of that transformation. If we die to ourselves in order to live with him, the risen body of Christ will extend through us in time and place to renew the world, restoring creation to God’s original plan in which grace perfects nature, love liberates those in captivity to sin and destined for death. Our share in the risen life of Christ through baptism holds the promise of full lives here on earth and life with God in eternity.

Wherever the Gospel is preached, grace is at work in the rhythms of everyday life. When we trust God’s love and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will experience the presence of Jesus in our midst. The Apostles’ mission to teach, heal and reconcile continues in us. We are Easter people, sent to demonstrate that God’s promises are true, active and effective. Our “Happy Easter” to one another and to others, in word and deed, is the heart of our evangelization and the source of our hope.

Do not be afraid. Death is overcome. Hope is kindled and shines brightly in the night as Jesus rises like the morning star announcing the dawn of the new creation.

Now It All Begins

Posted on 04 April 2015 by patmarrin

“If we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Rom 6:5).

Jesus’ dead body was taken down from the cross and hurriedly placed in a borrowed tomb before the start of the solemn Passover Sabbath. As night fell, his followers, some close by and most scattered and hiding in the city, entered the dark interval crucial to the formation of their faith. They have lost everything they hoped for, and now there was nowhere to turn and nothing to do but wait. Insight and revelation slowly seep into the silence that takes hold in the absence of Jesus. Things they could not have understood before, they now begin to grasp.

Surrounding the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the crypt of the Cathedral in San Salvador are 12 large photographs taken at the time of his assassination. They serve as stations of the cross chronicling his final hour and his departure from this earth. The first 11 show in graphic detail the scene immediately after a single bullet pierced his chest and fragmented, sending a geyser of blood from his nose and mouth as he fell backward to the floor behind the altar in the small hospital chapel where he was saying Mass. They show the shocked bystanders, mostly women, gathered around him in his death throes, then carrying him to the bed of a small pickup truck that rushed him to the nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

But it is the last photo that is the most moving. Romero lies in repose on a gurney, the blood wiped away, a small hole in his bare chest where the bullet entered. His face is untroubled. Around him are the women, their faces filled with desperate love for this man, who, for three years, had borne the certainty that this moment would come, as it already had for hundreds of others in the violent lead-up to the civil war that would claim 75,000 dead in the tiny Central American country.

Into the vacuum of Romero’s death rushed the judgment of both history and heaven. Everything his enemies had accused him of—that he was a Marxist, a heretic, a divider, a dupe of the left, manipulated by false and dangerous theologies—was untrue. He had told the truth, defended the poor and lived the Gospel to the point of laying down his life. He was a martyr for the faith and a saint. And as he foretold, in death he would rise within the Salvadoran people.

Our Easter Vigil will walk us through the scriptures that recapitulate salvation history. As the early church came to understand that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by his suffering and death, so we will share their path to faith by retelling the story on this holy night. We are invited into the same dark interval the first disciples passed through to be able to see, that is, believe, that Jesus is alive again, preparing them, and us, to carry his story of life, death, resurrection into the world.

The fire we kindle this night is the first light of our dawning affirmation that love overcomes death, forgiveness heals and restores community, hope endures all things and triumphs over despair and cynicism. Our human journey, that inevitably leads us through suffering and loss, will continue through death to life in Christ forever.

Good Friday

Posted on 03 April 2015 by patmarrin

“We have no king but Caesar” (The Passion according to John).

Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the state, an ugly public display meant to shame the victim and intimidate observers. Its message was clear: “Do not challenge Rome.” Jesus was among thousands of crucified people caught under the wheels of the empire’s expansion into the Mediterranean world. His death would have been anonymous had the Gospels not been written. Outside of them we have only one oblique secular reference to it, in a letter from Governor Pliny to Emperor Trajan in the year 112.

The reading of John’s Passion at services today will be the only exposure millions of Christians have to the story, not counting television movies. We are fortunate here in Kansas City to have a downtown “Stations” walk sponsored by the local Catholic Worker community that highlights various government buildings, banks, the jail, social service facilities and other locations representing the plight of the poor. We stop, reflect and pray at each place to remember Jesus’ suffering and death.

The relevance of Good Friday lies barely hidden behind the façade of our own massive social and economic systems, uncovered briefly by our belief that Jesus is among us in the poor, at the margins and in the heart of darkness that continues to make invisible the crucified of history. In every part of the world and in the corners of our nation, they fill our prisons, courtrooms, ghettos and refugee camps, billions of people whose only identity is at the base of the huge pyramids that fuel consumption at the upper tiers. It would all be just an abstraction if we did not know about the human trafficking, sweatshops, streams of world migrants and undocumented workers whose lives serve our needs.

So on this day we expose our consciences to this reality, and admit our soft and distant complicity in the systems that sustain the lifestyles of empire. The reading of the Passion helps us see that choices and loyalties are important, and just how hard it was, and is, to reject Caesar to stand with a crucified criminal.

Holy Thursday

Posted on 02 April 2015 by patmarrin

What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later" (John 13:7).

Today the church celebrates both the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist. The Twelve Apostles are initiated into the mystery of the death of Jesus at the Last Supper. Their ritual meal fulfills Passover by applying the Exodus and the Covenant to the death of Jesus. In less than 12 hours, he will be sacrificed as the Paschal Lamb, and a new covenant in his blood will be established that frees us from sin and death.

The readings are packed with meaning. Exodus recalls the original Passover out of Egypt, and Paul's letter to the Corinthians has the earliest written account of the institution of the Eucharist. Oddly enough, today’s Gospel passage from John has no account of the Eucharist because John does not have one. He instead substituted the moving story of the washing of the feet as Jesus' final memorial to his Apostles. They are to humbly serve each other as he has humbled himself to serve them.

Many homilies will be preached today on the role of the priesthood. None will be as eloquent as the ritual act of the washing of the feet. Whether it is reserved to clergy, to male Catholics or men and women both, or whether parishes invite everyone to participate, this simple, basic sign of humble service was meant to define the followers of Jesus. He made himself our servant, least among us, to the point of death, to show us what God is like.

Love Without Limits

Posted on 01 April 2015 by patmarrin

“The disciples did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover” (Matt 26:19).

There is something utterly tragic about the figure of Judas. Georges Bernanos, author of The Diary of a Country Priest, said that he once asked that a Mass be said for the soul of Judas. The Gospels take a uniformly negative stance toward Judas as just greedy or as a fateful and necessary agent whose treachery fulfilled the scriptures. Films have depicted him as duped by the high priests into delivering Jesus, believing he would get a fair trial, or that the confrontation would force Jesus to show his power. Once it is clear that Jesus is going to be condemned and executed, Judas collapses in despair and hangs himself, also foretold in the scriptures.

But Judas could also be seen as fulfilling his role as an Apostle by preserving the one thing that makes the Good News absolute—our freedom to reject God, God’s freedom to reject our rejection and come after us with unconditional love anyway. Is not Judas the ultimate lost sheep, the one who separates himself from the flock and has to be pursued and brought home by the good shepherd? Is not his rescue more cause for joy than the march into heaven by the dutiful ninety-nine?

Is there a theology this generous? Jesus, who from the cross forgave his enemies and invited into paradise one of the thieves crucified next to him, also had one final saving act to make our salvation complete. Did he not race to find and embrace Judas, in free fall toward self destruction? What greater love than this, to sacrifice yourself for a friend, even one who has betrayed you?

We cannot know the full story now. But formed by the love of Christ, our community can encircle every suicide, every person courting despair and fleeing God, anyone lost and fallen out of sight beyond the curtain of our understanding. If the Good News is only good up to a point, what good is it, really?


Only the broken heart knows mercy

Posted on 31 March 2015 by patmarrin

“One of you is about to betray me” (John 13:21).

Betrayal is deepest where intimacy has already been surrendered to the betrayer. This is why family conflicts and broken friendships hurt the most. Someone has been inside our defenses, entrusted with our secrets, including knowledge of where we are most vulnerable.

All of this was there in Jesus' relationship with Judas. We recall that Jesus has already washed the disciples’ feet. So moments before the passage in today’s Gospel, Jesus would have been kneeling before Judas, looking up into his face as he held his feet, pouring the water, drying and even kissing them.

The gesture of handing a morsel dipped in the dish is from Psalm 41:9: “Even my friend in whom I trusted, one who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me.” The innermost circle of friendship around the common dish will be violated. The heel just washed will be raised to strike; the intimacy between us will be broken, not with a blow but with a kiss.

Jesus’ knowledge of what is happening makes the scene all the more poignant. He goes forward toward betrayal, denial and abandonment by his closest friends in his hour of need with full knowledge and consent. The scriptures must be fulfilled.

The prediction: “One of you will betray me,” strikes at the heart of all of us as we enter dramatic final days of Holy Week. What is most disturbing is the thought that I do not even know how it will happen. Only after it does will I realize how I let fear blind me to this betrayal of someone who loved me to the end.

Leonard Cohen’s song "Suzanne" has these haunting lyrics:
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him,
He said "all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them,"
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.

Discipleship is tested by failure, so that what we emerge with in recovery and forgiveness is mercy. The Apostles sent to preach mercy had to have experienced it themselves, to the bone.

Healing is real only to the broken-hearted. Are we ready to endure it? It is the only way forward.


Oil of Gladness

Posted on 30 March 2015 by patmarrin

"Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial" (John 12:11).

Today's Gospel repeats the story told yesterday at the beginning of Mark's Passion account. John changes the setting -- from the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany to the house of Lazarus, whom Jesus just raised from the dead in the previous Chapter 11. Mark's anonymous woman becomes Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha. The extravagant show of love with perfumed oil and tears is the same, as is the complaint of the disciples about the waste of money.

The story is important for Holy Week in at least two respects. The anointing of Jesus' feet indicates that the woman, of all the disciples, is the only one who knows that Jesus is going to die. She weeps over him and, figuratively, pours out her heart for him. Second, she gives Jesus the gesture of love he will repeat in John 13 at the Last Supper. Like Mary, Jesus will kneel and wash the feet of his disciples to teach them to love and serve each other as he has loved them.

The extravagance of this sign is so great that John does not need to include the institution of the Eucharist at his Last Supper, as the other three evangelists do. Jesus' gift of himself is powerfully demonstrated in this act of humble service. In most parishes, we will have an opportunity to wash one another’s feet on Holy Thursday.

The dinner at the house of Lazarus is a celebration of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the dramatic show of power in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Though Jesus has repeatedly told his apostles what will happen to him at Passover, they are filled with visions of him as messiah and of themselves as his lieutenants. Only Mary understands that Jesus is about to fulfill his role as God’s servant by offering up his life. Mary will remain with Jesus throughout his passion, and she will be the first to witness him alive on Easter morning. Because love triumphs over all else, Mary will be the apostle to the apostles.

As we enter Holy Week, the same lesson is clear. Only love will grasp the meaning of the events that will unfold this week. Only an open heart, its seal broken and its intimate gift poured out, will be a response sufficient to carry us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Only our own journey through his death to new life with him will enable us to really witness the good news to others. Only by loving each other as Jesus loves us will we be recognized as his followers.


Show Time

Posted on 28 March 2015 by patmarrin

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark11:10).

In all four Gospels, the week leading up to Passover begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey followed by the cleansing in the temple. After that, Jesus and the disciples withdraw to Bethany while the chief priests plot his arrest and destruction. The triumphal procession into the city fulfills the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, “Fear no more, daughter of Zion: See your king comes seated upon an ass’s colt.” Similarly, the dramatic scene in the temple fulfills Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house consumes me.”

The triumphal entry is a parody on the Roman practice of entering a conquered capital with a full display of military power, often parading prisoners. The cleansing of the temple is likewise symbolic. The whole day is guerilla theater meant to provoke a response, and it does indeed. If we need to posit a reason for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, what he does on Palm Sunday would have been more than enough. The city was filled with Passover pilgrims, and the atmosphere would have been volatile.

Jesus’ actions seem almost suicidal. Theological reasons aside, his historical confrontation with the Roman occupation and the temple establishment seems premeditated, with only two outcomes possible; total conversion or brutal suppression. The Passion story we read this Sunday tells us which outcome occurred. The question is why everything came to a head the way it did. Disturbed and exposed, the power that has always sought to rule the world strikes back to protect its interests. Evil, masquerading as good, is laid bare.

Mark, the earliest Gospel and the most likely to offer a political reading of the death of Jesus, does not do so. Mark's Passion narrative is focused on Jesus fulfilling the Passover. As scripture scholar C. Thomson as shown, Mark divides his narrative of the final Passover into time increments of three hours to parallel Jesus death with the themes of the feast, the commemoration of Exodus. This parallel is for his audience, an early Christian community celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus as their own exodus from sin and death and the pattern of their discipleship -- to imitate Jesus with lives of self-sacrificing love.

This same Paschal Mystery, our share in the sufferings of Christ, is the focus of our Holy Week. Every detail of the story of Jesus' final hours resonates in our lives, from the donkey that carries Jesus into Jerusalem to the centurion who declares at Jesus’ death, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” We will find ourselves in the story of Jesus.

So we begin this most solemn week of the church year, invited to deepen our own understanding of the faith that will define the outcome of our own stories.