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The Blind Shall See

Posted on 01 December 2016 by patmarrin

"Do you believe that I can do this for you?" (Matt 9:28).

Today's gospel about two blind men emphasizes the futility of any situation in which "the blind lead the blind." Only a miracle can restore both sight and insight to such a calamity. Imagine whole nations and cultures in which blind leaders are guiding a blind populace, whose biases and prejudices are cultivated to distort everything and promote false goals and values.

Jesus responds to the cries of the blind men by first probing their faith. Do they understand the implications of what they are asking. If they are granted "sight", their entire lives will be changed and new choices will appear. Physical sight in the gospels is always linked to faith, and faith leads to discipleship. How far are these men willing to go? The more they see, the more responsible they will become to follow, or imitate, Jesus, whose ultimate goal is not miracles but transforming the world.

The adage, "Be careful what you pray for; you might get it," is relevant to this story. Do we really want to see as God sees? Do we really want to leave behind our self-affirming blindness to become disciples of justice and love in a troubled world? Advent prepares us to welcome the light that reveals God's active presence in our lives. Do we really believe that God can do this? If we do, Christmas is about to come true for us.

Justice as Foundation

Posted on 30 November 2016 by patmarrin

"The lofty city ... is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor" (Isaiah 26:6).

A national protest over low wages for service workers is in the news. Thousands of advocates for a "livable" minimum wage went to the streets to push Congress and the large corporations that factor cheap labor into their profits to "hear the cry of the poor." A wealthy nation that builds its economy on a permanent underclass of fulltime workers living in poverty is eroding its moral foundations and the hopes of millions of its citizens for a better life.

The Prophet Isaiah warned those who ignored the poor that even the great city of Jerusalem could not survive injustice, but would be "leveled to the dust" and "those in high places would be humbled."

As we enter Advent, we will hear the song of Mary issuing the same warning. The child she was carrying would grow up to proclaim that the "poor will inherit the earth." In today's gospel, Jesus compares two houses, one built on sand and the other on rock, to declare that God's will is the only sure foundation for our lives.

Christmas will come this year filled with the same message. A poor man and his pregnant wife travel a hard road, are denied lodging, then flee as refugees in order to protect the child sent by God to save the world.

Will they find welcome today in our cities and in our nation? We prepare for God's coming with a foundation of justice in our world. This is true preparation for Christmas, the only kind that really matters. Our own fate depends on it.

Casting Wide the Net

Posted on 29 November 2016 by patmarrin

"How can they hear without someone to preach?" (Romans 10:15).

St. Paul knew well how faith in Christ spread. Preachers filled with faith were sent to audiences primed by the Holy Spirit to hear deep in their hearts the eternal questions about human identity and purpose before God. When Word and Spirit came together, hearts overflowed with joy and confidence. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:9)

St. Paul had witnessed the growth of communities of faith across Asia Minor when he proclaimed the Good News both Jews and gentiles longed to hear. Today's commemoration of St. Andrew, one of the original Apostles, tells the same story. Jesus called fishermen to cast a wide net into the sea of the world. Andrew, a follower of John the Baptist, was on the first to hear, and he invited his brother Peter to come and hear Jesus.

We are all evangelists. Pope Francis has emphasized that people are not argued into believing but attracted by believers. This is our role, to make our faith visible and attractive, a life worth living because it is beautiful and true. Even to attract a single person can have unlimited potential to attract others, as evidenced by the rapid growth of the early church.

Who attracted you to faith? How deep is your faith? Is it visible to others? Will you be beautiful and true today? The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Never Alone

Posted on 28 November 2016 by patmarrin

"A little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:7).

In the midst of crisis, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed God's promise that history would guide the Chosen People through suffering and displacement to a future of peace and security. "There will be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain." The sign that peace has come to even natural rivals in the animal kingdom is that a little child will guide them.

Jesus invoked this same dream when he burst into praise and thanked his heavenly Father for revealing to the childlike what the learned and clever have failed to understand. God's grace is at work in the innocent. Blessed are the poor of heart, for they shall see God. The little ones who depend entirely on God will be the first to be lifted up and embraced by mercy.

Advent invites us all into this wisdom. If we want to find peace, become childlike again in the trust that God keeps promises and will never abandon us. Even in the midst of adversity, don't be afraid.

In a recent conversation with the Jesuits gathered in Rome, Pope Francis confessed that there are times when he feels pessimistic. But at the end of each day he is able to look back and see God's love at work in his life, and this renews his confidence. In life's ordinary struggles, disappointments and even in our failures, God is still blessing us and advancing good through us. This is the confidence that Advent renews in us.


Paralyzed No More

Posted on 27 November 2016 by patmarrin

"I will come and cure him" (Matt 8:7).

Hope release new energy in us. We enter Advent with a familiar gospel story about Jesus' eagerness to share the renewed life with us that flows from his Incarnation. God is in the world, and nothing can prevent us from accessing the creative possibilities that come from being in touch with Jesus.

In today's gospel, a centurion, the Roman commander of 100 soldiers, begs Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant. When Jesus offers to come immediately to his house, the man shows his respect for the Jewish prohibition about entering a gentile house, and then expresses his faith that all Jesus has to do is issue a command, as he does with his soldiers, and it will be done. From this scene we get the words we say before Communion: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed."

In fact, our faith rests on an even greater assurance that Jesus is already in our house because he is now one of us, our own human brother because the "Word has become flesh."

This Advent, national tensions and global fears have many feeling paralyzed. Yet, our faith encourages us to take up the transforming work of discipleship, for Jesus is already with us.


Be Prepared

Posted on 26 November 2016 by patmarrin

“Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matt 24:44).

The First Sunday of Advent briefly holds us in the darkness before dawn. The scripture readings emphasize our absolute need for God as one liturgical year ends and another begins. Christian hope assures us that as difficult as life can get, God is always present and in control. Yet hope must be embraced. Faith is not passive; it asks us to put our lives on the line.

Ancient Israel was formed in an encounter with the God who “hears the cry of the poor.” The Hebrew Exodus from slavery to freedom was remembered at every Passover. Even in exile, Jews sang the songs of God’s faithfulness. The promised messiah would bring the peace they dreamed of when nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4).

For Christians, Jesus is the fulfillment of every prophecy and promise. The early church faced persecution after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE. Matthew interprets history with the words Jesus spoke when he wept over the city before his death: “Stay awake, you do not know the day or the hour.” Jesus recalled the foolishness of people before the deluge when Noah built the ark. He warned of calamity so sudden that one person would be spared, another taken, and compared judgment to the shock felt when a thief breaks into an unguarded house.

Advent puts us on notice. Something new is about to happen. Be ready. Be open. Even our theology and 20 centuries of religion do not prepare us for God’s surprises, which are always more than we expect or can control. We do know this, that we will be drawn into the same mystery Jesus passed through when he entered his glory by way of the cross.

Hope is not escape from adversity but the assurance that whatever happens, we will meet every trial and that God will always be with us. The "work of the people” that is the very meaning of liturgy calls us to do our best, to listen to the Spirit and to act on what we hear. Advent is Good News. God is coming closer to us, so let us meet God in the depths of our human struggle, where the Word appears like the first light of dawn.


Hope Tells Us to Act

Posted on 24 November 2016 by patmarrin

“Consider the fig tree…” (Luke 21:29).

Jesus expressed amazement at his contemporaries for their failure to read the signs of the times.

In simplest terms, he pointed to the weather and the seasons for their obvious indicators of what was happening. A warm wind from the south meant a hot day tomorrow. A cloud on the western horizon warned of a possible storm on the lake. Budding trees said that spring was imminent.

The ubiquitous fig tree was a favorite subject of many of Jesus’ parables. In today’s gospel, green buds announce a change in the seasons. In another more dramatic parable, a gardener pleads with the orchard owner to give an unyielding fig tree one more year to produce fruit before it is cut down.

These images and stories were always about larger, more consequential things. Did the crowds, including his own disciples, understand that something new was happening, a new season of God’s grace inviting the world to conversion? See the signs of the times, seize every opportunity to multiply good. Early signs of a coming storm warn us to prepare or even avert disaster, if we take them seriously.

What would Jesus say to us today about climate change, evidence of global imbalance in turbulent weather, rising sea levels? Or the growing volatility of a global economy that enriches the few while the vast majority sinks into hopelessness and resentment? What conflicts based on injustice plead for attention while there is still time to change?

Hope is both a promise and an invitation to act when the alarm is sounded. Be just if we want peace, compassionate if we want compassion. Another person’s suffering is an early warning that crisis will overtake us if we do nothing for our neighbor. Jesus wept over his own generation. Will he weep over ours? Not necessarily, not if we have eyes that see and ears that hear, hearts that respond. Consider the fig tree.


The Challenge of Gratitude

Posted on 23 November 2016 by patmarrin

“Stand up and go free; your faith has saved you” (Luke 19:17).

The familiar Gospel story about Jesus’ encounter with the 10 lepers is a classroom for reflecting on the importance of gratitude. Ten lepers are restored physically, bur one returns to thank Jesus, and his openness leads to an even greater miracle. For acknowledging Jesus as Lord, this 10th leper encounters God, the source of eternal life.

This beautiful story, like many of Luke’s other healing accounts and parables, holds provocative details that expand the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. The returning leper is a Samaritan among Jews, a double outcast for his disease and his foreign identity. Yet he is the one most touched by the grace of the moment. In the Lucan parable of the “Good Samaritan,” Jesus shocks his Jewish audience by making a despised outsider the hero of the story, the one who alone is neighbor to the man left for dead on the side of the road. Outsiders become insiders; insiders become outsiders. Sinners seize the offer of life, while the righteous “saved” turn away.

If the presence of a Samaritan among the lepers muddies the gratitude theme with added complexity, it also challenges those of us pausing to celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving. We are thankful for a physical feast, an abundance of things, the good fortune to be free and secure in a world of want and disruption. These are indeed blessings, but is there something more we are being offered this year? Who is not at the table? Who is outside or outcast from our lives because they are perceived as different, or dangerous? Who is the Samaritan among us? What larger view frames our smaller world and perspective?

Because the liturgy is global, the world outside the United States will share scripture readings more in keeping with the endtime and apocalyptic themes read at the end of the church year. They will also commemorate the 117 Vietnamese martyrs killed in 1839, among an estimated 130,000 victims of state persecution in two previous centuries. The contrast to the US national holiday is notable, as will be the focus on binge eating and shopping here to other international crises.

It need not diminish one celebration to expand our thoughts to the plight of others, to pray for all our neighbors, local and global, to place our gratitude within the larger invitation God is extending to us as we gather at table. The faith that saves us is to open our hearts wide to the mystery of God’s presence in all things and in all people. By responding to this we will discover Jesus at our tables. And his first gift will be to tell us stories, strange, wonderful stories that will challenge the way we see everything.

Crisis Defines Us

Posted on 22 November 2016 by patmarrin

"By your perseverance you will secure your lives" (Luke 21:19).

As the liturgical year comes to an and end, the Lectionary is filled with disturbing apocalyptic themes. Luke wrote for his faith community some 50 years after the Christ Event, and he encouraged believers by finding parallels between what happened to Jesus and what was happening to them under persecution. As Jesus was handed over, tortured, imprisoned and executed, so will some of them be betrayed, taken to court and even killed.

Luke presents the words of Jesus to reassure his community that if this happens because you are a disciple, the Spirit will make you eloquent as you give witness in court. God will protect you so that even if your body suffers, you will possess perfect calm ("not a hair on your head will be destroyed").

In times of social disruption and change, fear sweeps through the population. Scapegoating of particular groups has long been a divide-and-conquer tool used to deflect criticism from official corruption and failed policies. The greatest scandal of war is how quickly people turn on their neighbors and even family members to avoid threats to themselves. These betrayals run deep and defy reconciliation, yet the church survived and grew not just in spite of persecution but because of it. The courage of the martyrs revealed the power of their beliefs and helped define a generation of Christians determined not to give into division and intimidation.

The cost of discipleship is invisible in easy times, yet this may mask accommodation and lack of commitment for those in the majority. We go along to get along with social norms that foster prejudice and injustice for others because it does not affect us. We avoid conflict by staying within our own group. The test of faith is if we can be agents of transformation and reconciliation in difficult times.

We live in just such times. The Thanksgiving table may provide an important test of family unity after painful national elections. Can we pray together? Can love run deeper than political ideas? This is the meaning of the Eucharist, our "Thanksgiving," that in the breaking of the bread -- the death of the Lord -- we are united in love. If the seams of family unity can hold us together in a time of crisis, there is hope for a season of difficult but essential national healing to preserve the common good.

The Sound of Music

Posted on 21 November 2016 by patmarrin

"All that you see here -- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone ... (Luke 21:5).

I stopped to talk after Mass on Sunday with Robert Basolo, the choir director at our small Midtown Kansas City church. Sunday by Sunday I am struck by how important the "acoustic envelope" is that holds our community focused on the mystery of the liturgy.

A small, fervent group of singers representing the typical range of most church choirs blends its voices to fill the vault of the 110-year old structure we call St. James. Robert's virtuoso keyboard skills (on both piano and organ) lead the choir, which leads the assembly through a full program in many styles from Gospel, contemporary and classical. St. James, Robert says, is an exceptional Catholic church where everyone sings. We regularly share exuberant songs led by our Nigerian and Micronesian parishioners.

Today's commemoration of St. Cecelia, patroness of music, is oddly served by a Gospel reading in which Jesus foretells the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Not a single stone will be left standing on another stone. Yet the church will survive and flourish because it is in essence not a building. The Spirit of Christ resides in the members of the body of Christ. As music does not reside on sheets of paper but in performance, so the faith lives in believers when it is expressed in our voices an actions.

It has been said that three things reveal a living and attractive worshiping community -- a warm welcome, good preaching and singable music. Two out of three is good; all three make possible a miracle of transcendence formed from the "full, conscious, active participation of the baptized," in the words of the Vatican II document on the liturgy. We rejoice to share a portable, precious faith, especially in difficult times when structures fail us, for it is a song in our hearts no threat or force can take from us.