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Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Posted on 20 November 2016 by patmarrin

"The widow, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood" (Luke 21:4).

While we have a paternal genealogy for Jesus going back to Abraham, there is nothing in the New Testament about the actual genetics of the human Jesus from Mary, his mother. Today's commemoration of the presentation of Mary in the temple presupposes her parents, identified as Joachim and Anne by a later popular tradition. It adds something to our appreciation of the Incarnation to know that Jesus had a grandpa and a grandma.

Mary, the gospels suggest, was widowed before the public ministry of Jesus, and her dependence on him as her only son was significant in a culture where widows and orphans had no influence. This may be why the Lectionary gives us a short gospel about a widow donating her last pennies to the temple treasury. Jesus praises her for her generosity compared with the rich donors, who only gave from their surplus and for public praise.

Mary's journey to holiness does not end with the birth or parenting of Jesus, but continues into her life as a widow and as a mother who loses her only child to unspeakable violence. Jesus may have had his own mother in mind when he praised the poor widow in the temple. Mary gave God everything she had. She watched as Jesus hung on the cross before her eyes. She experienced the worst poverty a parent can know.

Each one of us was blessed to be dedicated to God at our own baptisms. Our parents and our grandparents formed us in faith to live as children of God and followers of Jesus. May Joachim and Anne, Mary and Joseph, inspire us to to empty ourselves as they did to complete the mystery of God's will in our lives.

What Sort of King?

Posted on 19 November 2016 by patmarrin

“If you are a king …save yourself” (Luke 23:37).

The Feast of Christ the King, placed in the liturgical calendar in 1925 to assert Christ’s sovereignty over all earthly powers, is clearly loaded with paradox.

The most powerful Being in the universe is a Lamb sacrificed to expiate sin, whose flesh and blood nourish us on our exodus from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. King Jesus is crowned with thorns, lifted high on a cross between two criminals, ridiculed and rejected by the leaders of his own people and executed by the Roman empire as a dangerous subversive. If this is God’s idea of sovereignty, then what can this mean for us, his followers in the world today?

The paradox of victory through apparent defeat was the “messianic secret” at the heart of the Gospel. The early church preached the Risen Christ, but then had to explain how Jesus saved the world from sin by submitting to a cruel and unjust death. The Scriptures lit up to reveal an alternative to the Davidic messiah, a warrior king sent by God to restore Israel and punish its enemies. Instead, the evangelists found a figure in the Servant Songs of Isaiah and in the Psalms who reveals God’s unconditional love for a sinful world by sacrificing himself for sinners. Jesus is that divinely appointed hero, the Christ, raised up from the grave to proclaim that love is stronger than death.

We ponder the compelling majesty revealed by an innocent person put to death for speaking truth to power and standing with the poor and the rejected of this world. In every age where violence protects wealth and privilege by trampling on human dignity, history judges that as evil.

God came among us not as a king but as a small town preacher from the hill country of Galilee. Jesus’ message was not about self-advancement but about how to be a humble in community, focused on service and fairness. Jesus affirmed that we journey together toward the Beloved Community not by force but by self-sacrificing love. All the real heroes of history have lived this paradox.

The Risen Christ moves among us with the marks of his crucifixion to remind us of the cost of discipleship. He is a king who does not save himself, but saves others. There is no way to celebrate this king except to imitate him. This is the royal priesthood and prophetic call of our baptism. If we share the paradox of this humble servant of love, we will also share in his glory.

Take the Scroll

Posted on 17 November 2016 by patmarrin

"Go and take the scroll... Take and swallow it" (Rev 10:8).

The call to ministry begins in prayer. Today we commemorate the heroic life of St. Rose Phillippine Duchesne (1769-1852), a French Sacred Heart sister and educator who, at age 49, came to the United States to serve the Native American peoples of the Midwest. The Pottawatomie natives dubbed her the "Woman who prays always."

When God calls someone, they often have little idea where their service will take them. In today's passage from Revelations, the seer is told to take a scroll from an angel and consume it. It is sweet to the taste but turns sour in his stomach. So for St. Rose, the sweet inspiration she said "yes" to became the arduous journey into the complex collision between native peoples and European settlers streaming into the rich lands of present-day Missouri and Kansas. Her life-giving presence and self-emptying service helped broker and build the nation we have today, whose potential and problems are still so evident. St. Rose is needed at Standing Rock.

The most significant contributions often come in the most difficult times. We live in such times, and the call to serve the poor or to take up the work of reconciliation and compassion when tensions are high and different interests are colliding is a bitter sweet challenge. Jesus himself stood in the breach between power and prayer when he entered the temple and Jerusalem and challenged those who had turned religion into cash and control over people in search of God.

Today's gospel ends with this evocative sentence: "All the people were hanging on his words." Very soon, Jesus would be the prophesied "son of man lifted up," hanging on the cross as the sign of God's love for a sinful world. We, too, must hang on his every word and share in his suffering if we want to know his resurrection. God's call is going forth. The scroll is being offered. Who will take up this important word and mission?

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Jesus Wept

Posted on 16 November 2016 by patmarrin

"If only this day you knew what makes for peace ..." (Luke 19:41).

Jesus' message and ministry was about reconciliation. After his baptism in the Jordan, when the heavens were again opened and reconciled with earth, Jesus went north to Galilee. There he assembled a diverse group of disciples and began the process of reconciling them to one another as a kind of model for the power of love to resolve differences. His preaching and miracles focused on healing the relationships in families and society, between poor and rich, Jew and gentile. Where reconciliation is possible, other problems are addressed.

Jesus' ministry then turned south again for a final journey to Jerusalem, the holy city and center of Jewish religion in the temple. Resistance he encountered in Galilee intensified as he approached Jerusalem, where power and money fueled corruption and competition for influence and control. As he approached the city, Jesus is overcome with grief at the blindness of those who reject God's offer of reconciliation and peace. He weeps as he foretells the eventual fall and destruction of the city and temple.

What was to be done? In one view, Jesus had failed. Yet, long before he arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus had realized that his true "success" would be as God's suffering servant, whose sacrificial death for a sinful world was to be the revelation of God's mercy -- unconditional, undeserved love for an ungrateful and blind world. Sin and death were to be conquered not by a just and deserved punishment, but by God's infinite mercy. The world would know and be judged by the "lifting up of the Son of Man" for all to see. The death of God's beloved would deliver the heart-breaking truth that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16).

This profound paradox lies at the heart of the gospel. At each moment in history when human failure is enough to make God weep, the members of the body of Christ are called to offer themselves as the sign of love that makes conversion and reconciliation possible.

We ponder this in the light of the recent elections in the United States, which revealed a deeply divided nation. Polarization and partisan rhetoric threatens to pull us apart, with great suffering to come if issues are not addressed and wounds healed. Never has the mission of the church been clearer. We are the church, and, after our tears have been shed, there is much work to be done.

Here and Now

Posted on 15 November 2016 by patmarrin

"To everyone who has, more will be given" (Luke 19:27).

As the church year comes to an end, the Lectionary offers us predictions and parables from Jesus that must have been very significant for the early church as it struggled to survive both persecution and catastrophic loss. For Luke's faith community, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE would have been the equivalent of 9-11 for Americans. The very foundation of their reality had been shaken.

Today's gospel reading is one of these dire warnings in the form of a parable about a nobleman who had to depart to a distant country to obtain his kingship. Jesus himself is that Lord, departing for heaven where he will be revealed in glory after his death on the cross. The nobleman gives portions of his great wealth to his servants to invest until his return. Some servants boldly use their gift and increase it tenfold and fivefold, but another servant fearfully buries it in the ground.

The servants are like the members of the church eagerly longing for the return of Jesus and struggling to be faithful in ordinary ways as the second coming is delayed. History is moving forward and evangelists like Luke are beginning to realize that the charisms Jesus promised his followers were already available. But they had to be used with insight and courage to demonstrate how Jesus was already fully present through the Holy Spirit. The church was now his presence in the world.

In the parable, the returning king, like Jesus, rewards those faithful servants who invested their gifts while he was away, but he severely scolds the one who cowered in fear and failed to use his gifts.

Do we believe that Jesus is present in the world through us? If we sit back and wait for miracles or for others to trust his promises and obey his instructions to take up the tasks that influence society-- especially by practicing the corporal works of mercy and living the beatitudes-- we will be like the servant who buried his gifts and did nothing.

Now is the time to do what we can, however small,to activate our faith fully. If not now, when? And if not here, in our ordinary daily lives, then where?

Reality and Grace

Posted on 14 November 2016 by patmarrin

"Zacchaeus came down quickly and received Jesus with joy" (Luke 19:4).

Today's feast of St. Albert the Great, a thirteenth-century scientist and philosopher, comes in timely fashion to affirm that reality itself is the starting point for our ideas and actions. Albert found the face of God in creation and truth in the objective study of reality. Anyone who tries to fashion an artificial view of the world to serve their own interests will always eventually end up facing their own distortions and illogic.

Today's Gospel, the familiar story of tax collector Zacchaeus, illustrates this. By the time he encounters Jesus, Zacchaeus has alienated himself from his own community for money. His entire life is "up a tree," his diminished status in the eyes of everyone on full display, and Zacchaeus longs to come home to himself and to a more sustainable reality.

Jesus calls him to that reinstatement in justice and love by calling him down from the tree and telling Zacchaeus that salvation was coming to his house that day. Overjoyed, Zacchaeus clears his troubled conscience, makes restitution for all his sins, letting go of the false wealth that has poisoned his life. He is again a true son of Abraham, a rebirth into reality and God's grace.

Conversion is always possible. We pray for it for ourselves and for one another. Coming home to God and to our trues selves is cause for great joy.

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Lord, I Want to See

Posted on 14 November 2016 by patmarrin

Jesus of Nazareth is passing by" (Luke 18:37).

All of the elements of a conversion story are here. A blind beggar on the side of road hears a commotion and asks what is going on. When he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, he cries out for pity. Though some try to quiet him, Jesus has heard his cry and has the blind man brought to him. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asks, and the beggar says, "Lord, let me see."

On the road to faith, we all begin as blind beggars on the sidelines. We cannot fully participate in life's purpose because we cannot see. We can only beg and wait. But when Jesus passes by, this is our chance to get up and get moving. Our cry is the first prayer, and God hears that prayer. Even if others resist and discourage us, if we persist, we will find Jesus.

His question is crucial: "OK, here you are, so what do you want me to do for you?" The blind beggar prays the first and perfect prayer, "Lord, let me see." Once we can see, everything else becomes clear. We then know what to do and can do it. The man can see for the first time in his life, and with this new ability, it is clear that there is only one thing worth doing. That is to leave behind your life of blindness and begging at the side of the road and to follow Jesus.

Jesus asks each of us today, "What do you want me to do for you?" What will you ask for?

Be the Change God Calls You to Be

Posted on 12 November 2016 by patmarrin

“By your perseverance, you will secure your lives” (Luke 21:19).

The liturgical year, like the full cycle of seasons, reminds us that it takes the full process of growth and loss, promise and failure, life and death, to make the mystery whole. The biographies of great people make this clear. Our own experience as we pass through each life cycle teaches us to be patient, to stay in the game for the whole allotted time, to endure the long haul and never lose hope.

This November brings a kind of final exam on these truths. The Jubilee Year of Mercy concludes with the reminder that our hearts are holy doors of conversion and hospitality. We are in this together, and by God’s grace we become gracious. For those living in the northern hemisphere, nature surrenders to winter, while for those in the southern hemisphere, nature welcomes spring’s renewal. The whole mystery of life and death is evident in the planet that is our common home.

Political upheaval and unfolding global dynamics affecting every institution confront us with what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once defined as the choice between “chaos or community.” Pope Francis has traveled the world to amplify the choice this generation must make to go forward in justice and love, inclusiveness and fairness grounded in the dignity of every member of the human family. His prophetic voice has given context for the most important family conversation we are faced with. Will we choose God’s beloved community or cycle back into another season of exclusion and violence?

Thy mystery of God’s choice to enter history in the Person of Jesus is the message of hope we proclaim as the year ends and Advent begins. The dark night of human failure cannot stop the dawn of God’s mercy and grace. God seems to choose the worst of times to reveal the best of times. A tiny child arrives to signal a different future and a different destiny, not death but glory.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke is sobering, even dire, yet it offers another example of the early Church as it faced persecution from without and dissension within. Generational and religious tensions between Jewish and gentile converts threatened to divide the Jesus movement. The catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora of survivors into North Africa and Asia Minor shook the foundations of the ancient world.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, probably written about 25 years after the Christ Event, tells us that many early believers thought the second coming of Jesus was imminent, so they stopped working or taking responsibility for ordinary community needs. Paul, and later the evangelists began to promote that the Risen Christ had already returned in the church and that sharing his redemptive mission was to continue for the long haul.

We are the body of the Risen Christ, filled with his Holy Spirit, so in every successive generation we must undergo the same conversion they underwent to continue his mission. The challenge is not that the world is ending, but that the world is changing, and we must be part of the process of guiding it by God’s grace toward the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.

With faith and courage, the small band of Jesus’s followers opened a path to a future based on hope and perseverance. Breakdown became breakthrough for them. Isn't this the promise and challenge of Advent for us? Are we not that band of followers now?

Courage and Insight

Posted on 10 November 2016 by patmarrin

"Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it" (Luke 17:34).

Jesus uses the image of the great flood to emphasize the decisiveness required of every disciple. Change can happen suddenly, and normalcy becomes crisis. Only those prepared to move with the Spirit, committed to the self-sacrificing love Jesus showed us, will come through it.

Today we commemorate the life of St. Martin of Tours (316-397), a fourth-century Roman soldier who underwent a deep conversion after an encounter with a poor beggar, with whom he shared his cloak, only to discover later that it was Jesus. He left the army and eventually became a bishop in Gaul (France). Martin lived at a time of major historical change that marked the decline of the Roman empire and the rise of Christendom. His faith enabled him to read the signs of the times, let go of one life and welcome a new one in Christ.

We all face moments of crisis that feel like our world is coming to an end, both personally and in larger social and cultural shifts. We are in such a transition right now, and trusting the Spirit is the key to finding the path forward. We pray for insight and courage.

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Darkness Before Dawn

Posted on 09 November 2016 by patmarrin

"Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you" (Luke 17:23)

Today is the feast of St. Leo the Great, the 5th Century pope known for his efforts to bring peace at a time when the Roman empire was breaking apart. In one account, Pope Leo met Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome and persuaded him not to sack the city.

History is the narrative of both needed stability and inevitable change. Many saints and heroes have stood in the breach to urge nonviolent transition rather than open conflict as the best way to advance history. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela come to mind.

Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God in one of history's darkest hours, when conquest and oppression defined the world. He proclaimed the mystery that God's revolution begins in the heart, inspiring lives that demonstrate the power of love and truth to transform society. His witness to God's promises through the prophets to stand with the poor led to his own death. The resurrection of Jesus affirmed the ultimate victory of life over death, hope over fear, justice over force.

We approach the season of Advent at a time when many wonder if real change is possible or whether hope can survive a time of fear and retreat into self-interest and exclusion. The Kingdom of God began with the arrival of a child, naked and vulnerable to a cold and forbidding world. Our own path forward begins here, trusting the message of Jesus, so well expressed by Gandhi in one of his own challenging hours:
"When I despair, I remember that in all of history the way of truth and love always wins."

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