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Spiritual Reflections

Moving beyond presuppositions

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On the April 11, 2009, episode of "Britain's Got Talent," a middle-aged woman made her way to the stage and said she wanted to sing like one of Britain's most acclaimed stars of musical theater, Elaine Paige. At that, the judges for the contest barely concealed their amusement, and after a few minutes, the audience was whispering their doubts and criticisms. How could this frumpy and unattractive woman set herself forward like this? When asked why she'd waited so long to make her debut, Susan Boyle said she hadn't had the chance before.

Led beyond fear

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Mark sets a nearly breathless stage for this Gospel incident. Jesus and the disciples had weathered a great storm, then Jesus cured a demoniac, caused a pig-herd tragedy, and finally returned to Jewish territory from across the sea (Mark 4:35-5:21).

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Faith impels us

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Kurt Vonnegut is quoted as saying, "People say there are no atheists in foxholes. A lot of people think this is a good argument against atheism. Personally, I think it's a much better argument against foxholes."

That thought might offer a good start for us as we meditate on the question of a good God and suffering, an underlying theme of today's readings.

God gives the growth

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In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul offered his perspective concerning the growth and development of the community: "I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. This means that neither he who plants nor he who waters is of any special account, only God who gives the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

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With open hands and heart

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More than 40 years ago, my first encounter with Henri Nouwen and his good and holy heart came in the form of his book With Open Hands (Ave Maria Press, 1972). In it, Nouwen suggested that many of us come before God with clenched fists and, as a result, are unable to receive God's gifts, one of the most important of which is the sacramental and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

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Trinity is our home

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During my 67 years' worth of life lessons, I've been told more than once that three is not a good number for relationships. Don't date in threes, don't live in threes, and don't jointly own anything in threes. One person always gets left out; another tries to take over. Then there is the person in the middle. Threes are a disaster when it comes to relationships.

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Many parts, one body

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Years ago, I had the privilege of living among the Aymara people of Peru. Born in territory conquered by the Incas and again centuries later by the Spaniards, this stubbornly rooted people have maintained their own language and culture in spite of all attempts to impose a uniform culture and way of speaking on them. I have always admired them for their centuries-long fidelity to the truth of who they are.

To the ends of the earth

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No matter what the Gospel says, picking up snakes is never going to be part of my mission plan. Now that I think about it, I'm also pretty reluctant to pick fights with demons, so the commentaries that say Mark didn't really write this ending to his Gospel offer me a welcome justification for avoiding those adventures. Most scholars think that the Gospel of Mark ended at Verse 8 of Chapter 16, which states that the women who discovered Jesus' empty tomb "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

Jesus loves me

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Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century. Some have called his body of work "a theology of the Word."

He exercised profound influence on other 20th-century figures, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Jürgen Moltmann and John Updike. Barth actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, and vigorously attempted to prevent the Nazis from establishing a state church.

One in Christ

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In the small cliff-side village of Frías in northern Spain, visitors are welcomed by the aroma of steaks, chops and sausages being grilled on a bed of dead but still intertwined grapevines. The vines that once yielded rich, juicy grapes on terraced hillsides are now, even in death, attesting to their unity and usefulness. They impart a unique flavor to whatever is cooked on them and burn much more cleanly than charcoal or wood.

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