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Do Your Best

Posted on 07 November 2016 by patmarrin

"We have done what we were obliged to do" (Luke 17:10).

The daily Word is proclaimed to the global church, so we cannot expect it to address our particular needs or concerns perfectly. Yet, for Americans going to the polls today to elect their leaders at every level of government, the short Gospel from Luke 17 has an important message for us.

Jesus tells his Apostles, those chosen to lead the church, not to expect any special praise for doing what they are supposed to do. They are to care for the flock and serve others as part of their ordinary duty and obligation. So also every member of the church is to participate according to their gifts and roles in the community.

The church is both in and part of the world, and the good of society is the goal of church teaching and pastoral service. Being faithful citizens is an expression of our faith, and so we are simply obliged to take out witness of Christ with us into the marketplace, the workplace, and, today, into the voting booth.

How we vote is a matter of informed conscience and an intelligent understanding of the issues and candidates to choose from. But the obligation to take part in some way, whether directly or in sharing out thoughts and opinions informally within our circle of influence, is clear. Wearing an "I Voted" sticker by the end of the day is a sign of that willingness to live our faith.

Increase Our Faith

Posted on 07 November 2016 by patmarrin

"The Apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.'" (Luke 17:5).

Today's short gospel passage is filled with Semitic hyperboles that exaggerate to reveal the urgency and emphatic power of Jesus' message.

Someone who scandalizes or seduces another into sin risks spiritual death, and Jesus says it would be better for that person to have a millstone put around his or her neck and be cast into the depths of the sea than to cause harm to an innocent one. Pretty strong language, but it reveals his profound indignation at some sins.

Yet, if sin is this serious, so mercy is even more powerful. Jesus continues with another hyperbole to say that if someone offends you seven times in a single day but also asks forgiveness seven times, you should do so. This, too, is stretching the point to make the case for mercy.

Finally, when his Apostles realize how challenging Jesus' message is, they ask him to increase their faith. He tells them that if they have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, they can order a mulberry tree, known for its deep roots, to replant itself in the sea, and it will obey. Another hyperbole to teach them that once faith is at work, nothing is impossible.

The Word is trying to get our attention, so it draws powerful pictures about the dangers of sin and the depth of God's mercy. Jesus wants us to be spared the terrible consequences of evil and also to never lose hope in the power of faith and forgiveness. There is nothing we cannot accomplish if we are formed by the Word of God.

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Love Alone Is Our Judge

Posted on 05 November 2016 by patmarrin

“God is the God of the living” (Luke 20:38).

When people talk theology, they are often talking about something else. In the case of Sadducees who challenge Jesus in today’s Gospel on whether there is an afterlife, they are actually defending their selfish way of life.

The Sadducees were a Jewish party made up of the wealthy, aristocratic classes who ran the Temple. They were biblical fundamentalists who rejected any ideas not contained in the Torah, the written law of Moses, including belief in resurrection (see today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees).

Because there was no afterlife, they saw their wealth as a reward in this life for their righteousness. This assumption allowed them to enjoy their wealth while ignoring the poor, who were being punished for their sinfulness.

A possible example of the Sadducees is found in Luke’s parable of the rich man who neglected Lazarus, a poor beggar on his doorstep (Luke 16:19-31). When he dies and discovers that there is an afterlife and judgment for his selfishness, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, an allusion to the five books of the Law, which the Sadducees used to justify their neglect of the poor.

So when the Sadducees argue against resurrection with the complicated and exaggerated example of a poor woman married to seven brothers to fulfill their need for an heir to extend their legacy in this world, they are really arguing to protect their social standing and wealth without accountability to social justice for the poor. Jesus’ example and teaching on this issue must have challenged their theology and the selfishness it justified.

Jesus clearly held that because God’s promise of life transcends our earthly sojourn, we are all tied to one another in love and justice and must care for one another with compassion. When this world passes away, including procreation to insure continuation of human life, what will remain is the community of justice and love made up of the children of God.

Therefore, we belong to one another and are all in this together as beings destined for eternal life. Now is the time to invest in the relationships that will extend beyond this world into the next, where we will be judged not by our status, our wealth or our theology but by our commitment to justice and love.

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Giving Away the Store

Posted on 03 November 2016 by patmarrin

"A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property" (Luke 16:1).

One key to understanding Jesus' parables is to ask who the parable is addressed to and why. For example, Luke's three parables of mercy in Chapter 15 were addressed to the scribes and Pharisees because they were complaining that Jesus ate with sinners.

Today's gospel is likewise addressed to Jesus' disciples, and a likely reason for the parable is that they were reporting to him that his critics were saying that he was too lenient in describing God's mercy. If God forgives so easily, won't sinners take advantage of divine mercy and, more pointedly, what will become of religion and all those who see to it that others keep the rules?

The parable is remarkable in that it seems clear that Jesus himself is like the steward who is squandering his master's property. If God is the rich man, Jesus is telling his debtors to settle quickly on generous terms and to walk away debt-free. Behavior that would seem disgraceful is then said to be praised by the master. Wasn't Jesus in fact "giving away the store," to the indignation of all those who saw Jesus' message about God's mercy as a grand giveaway that undermined religion and devalued what they had "earned" by keeping the rules.

A religion of rules for rewards will never grasp the deeper meaning of a God who holds open the door of mercy to anyone who tries to love others, even imperfectly, and for whom religion is a relationship that moves us to be loving and merciful with everyone.

There is much to ponder in today's parable. But can we, just for today, put away our account books, suspend our judgment of others and simply try to give ourselves away? If we can, we will glimpse the merciful God Jesus preached and begin to grasp why the gospel is a scandal to the wisdom of this world.

The Lives of the Poor Matter

Posted on 02 November 2016 by patmarrin

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep” (Luke 18:5).

Pope Francis’ call for pastoral outreach to the marginalized as the radical imitation of Jesus finds an amazing model in the life of St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639). Martin, a Dominican brother who served the sick and poor of Lima, Peru, exemplifies the pope’s commitment to seeking out the lost sheep and turning every church into a field hospital.

What made Martin’s life especially notable was that he was himself an outcast in the colonial society created by the Spanish conquest that enslaved the indigenous people of Peru to mine the silver that fueled Spain's expansion as a world power.

Martin was the son of a Spanish knight and a freed African slave from Panama. He encountered discrimination all of his life. Even his desire to join a religious order was at first thwarted by his race and color. Only after years of service was he allowed to take vows as a lay brother.

As Martin’s reputation as a servant of the poor and a healer of the sick grew, it also brought him into conflict with his religious superiors for bringing outcasts and contagious patients into the community enclosure for care. The primacy of love over caution and even obedience was always Martin’s response.

Saints like Martin de Porres challenge our own priorities and the instinct to protect ourselves from the troubled, wounded and poor of this world. Immersion in the needs of others leads to a loss of self, places demands on our time and resources that run contrary to modern attitudes of self-reliance and independence.

What Pope Francis insists and Martin illustrates is that God is waiting for us every day in the needs of others. Those who respond find themselves and are enriched beyond all measure by their encounter with the mystery of Jesus, God incarnate in the poor.

God’s “preferential option for the poor” is another way of saying that the lives of the poor matter. And where race and color are amplified in poverty and exclusion, the challenge is all the more pronounced. If we do not respond, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution. St. Martin de Porres, pray for us.

Life After Death

Posted on 01 November 2016 by patmarrin

"Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me" (John 6:37).

"The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed" was once for many Catholics of a certain age simply "Poor Souls Day." We dashed in and out of churches to recite prayers and light candles to free souls in purgatory. The two-dollar stipend for a Mass said for a deceased relative (five dollars for a "high" Mass) was a sure-fire way to guarantee their release from the dim shadows of an imagined holding area just outside of heaven.

Behind the quantitative exchange and the theology that supported it was nonetheless a deep sense of solidarity between the living and the dead. We prayed for those we loved and missed who had "gone before us in the sign of faith." We envisioned a time beyond time when we would be reunited with our beloved family members and friends.

We bring this same conviction -- that love is stronger than death and that God keeps every promise -- to today's celebration of the faithful departed who belong to the Mystical Body of Christ. John's Gospel proclaims Jesus as the divine Person who became incarnate as the very template of creation, both old and new. The Word of God, "through whom all things were made," has come to redeem the world like a light illuminating God's original plan for the universe. Anyone who sees (believes) in Jesus and comes to him is incorporated by baptism into his body. Union with Jesus is how we become part of the New Adam, who will live forever. Anyone who comes to him, responding to his love and example, will be accepted. Anyone.

We who are on our way to eternity, living our baptismal lives in this world, can already celebrate the promise fulfilled in those who have already gone ahead in death to share this new life in Christ. We can communicate (in both words and through the mystery of the Eucharist) with our beloved dead. For they are alive -- and even more alive than we are because they now possess the fullness of the promise we journey toward in time.

The Faithful Departed form the great "cloud of witnesses" described in the Letter to the Hebrews, those who have passed through the veil of suffering that is part of every life, and they now cheer us on: "Don't be afraid or lose heart." Trust in God and go forward, enduring whatever life requires of you to remain in solidarity and love with God's people. Someday, sooner than you think, you will stand in the company of saints, the great chorus of praise and joy reaching from one end of eternity to the other.

All Saints

Posted on 31 October 2016 by patmarrin

"Blessed are they" (Matt 5:1).

The Beatitudes define those we call saints, those who have lived out their lives in this world with an eye to the world to come. Their commitment to Christ came at a cost. They are the poor in spirit, the mournful and the meek, the people who hungered and thirsted for justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

The Beatitudes describe the tension between the promise and the fulfillment, the vision and its realization. This was clear in the early church as the followers of Jesus stepped apart from the tribal, family, ritual and social loyalties that defined them, and from the honor culture that gave them respectability as righteous Jews. Like Jesus himself, his disciples adopted a new value system that exposed them to the outcasts he had embraced. They publicly proclaimed as their Lord a man who had been expelled from the synagogue, condemned by the Sanhedrin as a heretic and executed by Roman authority as a dangerous subversive.

It may be hard for us to recognize ourselves today as part of that rag-tag movement of Christians, but these are the people we honor as saints. Think of Oscar Romero, murdered by the Salvadoran government, Mother Teresa, advocate for the rejected, the poorest of the poor on the streets of our gleaming cities, or Maximillian Kolbe, taking the place of a fellow prisoner in a Nazi death camp.

In our ordinary way, we say we aspire to be like these saints on the day we honor their courage and self-sacrifice for the Gospel. May it be so, for grace follows quickly wherever prayer opens our lives to daily opportunities to be Christlike. May we join the ranks of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us today, cheering us on. Blessed are you for letting the promise take hold in your heart.

Give Your Heart Away

Posted on 30 October 2016 by patmarrin

"You will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14).

In the short Gospel passage today, Jesus reveals one of the most basic attitudes that distinguished his vision from the logic of this world.

Worldly logic is built on the idea of quid pro quo. Everything we do should be an investment from which we expect to reap some return. Love for love, favors for favors, work for pay, effort for reward, virtue for benefit. With this foundation we build up an entire life, including our ego and sense of self. We make ourselves and extend ourselves into the world keeping score and feeling a kind of entitlement, even before God.

In offering his teaching about inviting the poor to dinner, Jesus tells his hosts that if they escape the quid pro quo logic of only investing where we will reap a return, they will move to higher realm of existence, where true righteousness is revealed beyond this world, where life is eternal. To understand this freedom and generosity here and now is to already live the resurrection. By paying it forward, we enter God's limitless economy of love and mercy, and we need never worry about reward or payment or return again.

To grasp this freedom, think about how much time and energy people devote to keeping track of their personal account books of quid pro quo, measuring everything by how we gain or lose, and by cutting off people or situations that do not meet our expectations. In contrast, a generous person simply gives himself away each day, lavishing his life and her gifts on anyone he or she meets without worrying about the return. Such a gracious life is filled with joy, and as life flows through us, it is replenished like a river of fresh water within that never stops. It is in touch with God, the limitless source of every good thing.

Jesus lived like this, giving himself away and in the end emptying himself on the cross as the example every disciple is to imitate. This secret is the joy of the Gospel.

Mercy for Sinners

Posted on 29 October 2016 by patmarrin

“Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:10).

The familiar story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, is rich in many themes relating to mercy.

First of all, Jesus focused his ministry on people who needed God’s mercy. To the shock of many righteous Jews, Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, contaminating himself with public sinners. Even as he had touched lepers, allowed a woman with a bad reputation to bathe and anoint his feet, dealt openly with gentiles and made a Samaritan the hero of one of his parables, so Jesus seemed intent on revealing a God eager to save outcasts and sinners. God was like a good shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to go in search of one lost sheep.

In the story of Zacchaeus, Jesus went out of his way to antagonize his opponents by singling out a hated collaborator with the Roman occupation by inviting himself to his house. Zacchaeus was ripe for conversion and was willing to publicly shame himself by climbing a tree to get Jesus’ attention as he passed by with a large crowd. Jesus called him by name: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.”

But there is another message in this dramatic story. Jesus becomes the source of salvation and mercy for sinners by taking on himself their sinfulness. He calls Zacchaeus down from the tree but will mount the tree of the cross in Jerusalem as an outcast to redeem the world from the power of sin. He is on his way to rejection and crucifixion when some of his greatest signs of mercy occur. In each instance, Jesus exchanges places with the guilty, suffering, shamed and outcast along the way.

By the time he is hanging on the cross, Jesus is the representative for every poor, rejected, despised, abused and damaged human being in history. He presents himself to God on their behalf, and God raises him up in glory as a sign to the world that love overcomes sin and death.

We are blessed to be included in this exchange, for Jesus takes upon himself the wounds of sin in our lives, liberating us from guilt and fear to go to God as sinners in need of mercy. We will dine today at the house of Zacchaeus, surrounded by other sinners at the table of the Eucharist, the medicine of mercy that restores us to life. “Today salvation has come to this house.” This is the joy of the Gospel.

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The Team

Posted on 27 October 2016 by patmarrin

After a night in prayer on the mountain, Jesus called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve" (Luke 6:12).

The four Gospels mention a special group of disciples named apostles, who were chosen to be witnesses to Jesus. Etymologically, a disciples is someone who is learning; an apostle is someone who is sent to tell others what he has learned.

The list of the "Twelve" varies somewhat among the evangelists, but the symbolism reveals how the church by the end of the first century was defining and positioning itself as the fulfillment of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel and the promises made to the Chosen People as part of the Covenant. This daring claim of succession set the stage for a Jewish movement open to gentile converts spreading into the Graeco-Roman world after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Paul's earlier ministry and the diaspora of both rabbinic Judaism and the the Jesus movement propelled this expansion.

Jesus, it seems clear from subsequent history, gathered many followers, both men and women, around him in his ministry. He was not a lone messianic figure promoting a personal vision, but the catalyst and leader of a movement that caught fire in Roman occupied Palestine. His execution, recorded in both the gospels and in Roman history, shows that his message was resisted.

Today's commemoration of two of the disciples, Simon and Jude, gives us a glimpse why. Simon, called the Zealot, is associated with insurgent Jewish fighters who opposed the Roman occupation. Both he and Jude are counted among the first martyrs. Like their Master Jesus, many of the first followers were killed, which tells us that the church was perceived as a threat to imperial control and ideology.

What we might take from today's feast over 2,000 years later is that Christianity has always been a community enterprise. If God calls us to follow Jesus, God also inspires us to work with one another to build a "beloved community" to transform the larger culture in justice and love. The first disciples and apostles were both gifted and flawed people. The Gospels make no attempt to hide this. Each follower of Jesus went through a deep conversion to bring them to maturity and holiness in the service of the Gospel. Whatever our limits or doubts, this should encourage us to find out own place in the Jesus movement today.