We exist in the infinite embrace of God’s mercy. In mercy, we all were created. In mercy, we all live. In mercy, we all have the hope of eternal life.
The lavish mercy of God pours over us in every sunrise and sunset, in every noon and midnight. With every breath, we draw on mercy. With every thought, we capture its spirit and turn it to our hope. The gift of such divine power in us calls us to lavish mercy with our own lives, to be agents of mercy in all things.
This journal is offered as an act of thanksgiving and celebration for that lavish mercy. It is a gathering of reflections and prayers which sift through our ordinary experience to seek the breath-giving grace of God awaiting us there.
My name is Renee Yann. I am a Sister of Mercy. I love to chase God through the bright blessing of words. I love to discover words in the dark blessing of silence. It is a joy to share with you the humble fruit of those mutual blessings.
Our entire theological tradition is expressed in terms of Mercy, which I define as the willingness to enter into the chaos of others. James F. Keenan, S.J.
Today, in Mercy, folks in Isaiah’s reading are exhausted! He’s written a plethora of words to convey that God’s People are just about done in! He uses the words “faint”, “weary”, and “burden” at least a dozen times! We get it! The image would be something like this:
But Isaiah encourages the people to look up from the weight of their burdens:
Do you not know or have you not heard? The LORD is the eternal God, Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall but …
Some of you, dear readers, carry heavy burdens just now, in yourselves and in your dear ones: illness, aging, sorrow, disappointment, the confusions of life, the passing of beloveds, unfulfilled dreams, an unmerciful world.
God is with us in any darkness,
and God’s light will prevail.
This is the whole meaning of our faith-filled journey through Advent. Trust the Promise of our Incarnate God to be with us, given in today’s tender Gospel:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
Today, in Mercy, we have the exquisite “Comfort” passage from Isaiah. Our Gospel gives us Jesus tenderly seeking the single lost lamb.
The first and last words of these two readings – COMFORT, LOST – capture the whole intent of God’s message: Life is a maze whose walls are heightened by our incivility to one another. Isaiah calls to be a leveler of walls, a straightener of twists, a bridge over deadly valleys; Jesus calls us to seek and carry the lost sheep. They call us to be Mercy.
The US southern border is one of the many places in our world crying out for these acts of mercy. Please listen to our Sister Anne Connolly describe the cry:
Music: Comfort Ye from Handel’s Messiah – sung by Jerry Hadley
As we pray this glorious music today, let us ask for the strength and courage to be Mercy for the world, to find the ways to comfort God’s people, close by and at life’s borders.
At our weekly Miraculous Medal Novena, the loudest and most impressive singer of the Novena song was Mamie Ounan. I used to hold on to my kindergarten beanie for fear Mamie’s contralto would blow it off! I wrote a little reflection about her a few years ago and thought you might enjoy it today.
“Pride of Place”. That’s what my Dad called it. I asked him one Sunday when I was about six years old, “How come Mamie Ounan always sits all alone up in that front pew?” Mamie was an elegant old woman, a little like Madame Belvedere in the old movie, “Mrs. Miniver”. Each Sunday, Mamie Ounan processed up the aisle to commandeer the entire front pew in our parish church.
““Pride of Place””, Dad said. When I looked up at him clueless, he explained. “Mamie’s been sitting there every Sunday for forty years. She sat there the Sunday after her husband died in a shop accident. She sat there every Sunday through the Depression when she struggled to keep her corner grocery open. She sat there the day her son was killed at Pearl Harbor. All the while, no homeless person ever went away hungry from Mamie’s back steps. She earned that pew and the rest of us are proud for her to have it.”
““Pride of Place”” isn’t always something physical like a pew in church. More often it’s a moral or spiritual position that’s granted to us by others after we pay certain dues. These dues include trustworthiness, sacrifice, contribution and wisdom.
All of us experience at least some ““Pride of Place”” passages in our lives. Remember when you moved up from the kids’ table at Thanksgiving dinner? Remember being a sophomore on freshman day? Throughout our lives, we advance through grade levels, job levels, armed services levels, even golf and bridge levels.
But earning real ““Pride of Place”” is very different from making it to the top of the heap. We receive the first from others who recognize and respect us. We take the second from others who may begrudge it to us. Mamie was given “Pride of Place”. She didn’t take it. Otherwise, someone else would have beaten her to that pew each Sunday.
“Pride of Place” doesn’t come automatically with power or position. Not every parent, boss, teacher, pastor, elder or champion deserves it. It has to be earned and kept as a trust. Even in hard times, its owner has to honor it and use it for others. Jimmy Carter has “Pride of Place”. Richard Nixon never did. I have my own feelings about Mr. Trump. I’m sure you do too!
We all have the potential for “Pride of Place” in our lives. We can discover that potential by looking at the things we have responsibility for. We have kids, elders, employees, co-workers, customers and friends. We have homes, neighborhoods and futures. We can impact all these things for better or worse.
Do we dispense those responsibilities with love, courage and honesty? Do we use the power we have for others, not over or against them? Mamie Ounan, that little old lady in a tiny city neighborhood, had tremendous power. She gave people hope and example by the way she endured, by the way she cared and by the way she lived.
If we haven’t begun to exercise that kind of responsible adult power in our lives, maybe it’s time to stand up from the kids’ table and walk toward our own “Pride of Place”.
Today, in. Mercy, we celebrate one of the many feasts honoring Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Today’s feast can be confusing to people. It is sometimes mixed up with the Virgin Birth – the moment when Jesus was born. What we celebrate today, however, is the moment Mary was conceived by her parents, Anna and Joachim.
From a young age, I have had a tender devotion to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Some of my local readers will be familiar with the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Established in 1915, the Shrine promotes this devotion through its well-known novena and other means.
My Mom and Dad said that novena every day. Most Monday evenings, Mom and I would walk to our parish church where the community gathered to pray the novena together, celebrate Benediction, and sing the rousing hymn to Mary entitled, “O Mary, Conceived Without Sin”. ( I know some of my old friends are humming the tune right now🤗) When I received my First Communion, I was given my first Miraculous Medal which I treasured.
( A little reminiscence about that coming later today. Hope you enjoy it.)
These remembered devotions were the foundation on which the legacy of faith was planted in our young hearts. But as with any good foundation, a rich garden of understanding has grown from that early soil. Over the intervening years, many graced theologians have helped me grow in understanding of, and relationship with Mary.
One powerful impetus for this growth has come from Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph and Professor Emerita at Fordham University. Her magnificent work Truly Our Sister opens with this sentence:
“ This book proposes that one fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.”
Reading Johnson and others has let me see Mary more fully, allowing Mary to move from an isolated perfectionism to a womanly humanity transformed by the Holy Spirit. Johnson says:
“ I am proposing that one fruitful way to work out a liberating feminist theology of Mary is to locate her in the communion of saints and there to remember her, dangerously and consolingly, as a woman with her own particular history among her contemporaries and before God. At first glance placing Mary in the company of the saints may seem strange to those accustomed to more traditional Catholic practice, even though the title ‘Saint Mary’ adorns many churches, schools, and other institutions. It may even seem a diminishment of the honor that is her due as the Theotokos, or bearer of God. But at root it grants her the greatest honor the Christian tradition acknowledges for a human being, namely, the core dignity of being created in the divine image and likeness and gifted, in community with others, with a graced relationship to the living God.”
Today, as we pray with our many images, devotions and understandings of Mary, may we open our hearts to be inspired by her singular witness to God’s desire to be among us.
Music: The Magnificat – Mary’s radical prayer for justice and mercy, sung here in Latin by the Daughters of Mary (English below)
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seat s and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things. And the rich he has sent empty away. Remembering his mercy, he has helped his servant Israel as he promised to our forefathers Abraham, and his posterity forever.
Today, in Mercy, Our readings counterbalance each with other peace and urgency.
Isaiah, on the one hand, describes the Peaceable Kingdom where:
the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord As water covers the sea.
Matthew, on the other hand, presents us with John the Baptist, who preached a fiery message. No doubt shocking in his camel hair tunic, a scrap of leather holding it in place, John railed at the pompous Pharisees for their deceitful, pretentious lives:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
The message of this Second Sunday is clear for us. We may have lived a half-hearted faith at times in our lives and gotten away with it. Those times are over.
For the One is coming who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire”.
“Fake” will not hold up against his mighty gaze.
So this Second Sunday is a time to test the sincerity of our faith as proven by our actions. It is a time to check what kind of fruit we bear for the world. As we pass through the circumstances of our lives, do we leave a trail of peace, wisdom, counsel,and all the other blessings Isaiah envisions?
We can do this only by uniting ourselves in prayer and actions to the One rising today from the Root of Jesse, the One to whom both Isaiah and John tied their souls in unquenchable hope.
Music: A song of peace (Charles Villiers Stanford, (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) an Irish composer, music teacher, and conductor.) Lyrics below
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
3 And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes,
neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4 And with righteousness shall he judge the poor,
and reprove with equity the meek of the earth:
and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain:
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse,
which shall stand for an ensign unto the people;
and his rest shall be glorious.
Today, in Mercy, Isaiah – in glorious prophecy – promises God’s People better times.
Oh my, don’t we all long for the fulfillment of that promise! Sometimes, I can’t even watch the news anymore because the world is in such seemingly irreversible pain!
Perhaps we can use our prayer within these readings today to call on God for the healing they promise.
It is a healing that requires our cooperation. Isaiah says that we must name our pain to God – for ourselves and for all who suffer in our world:
The Lord will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The prophet says that this crying out will change us. We will see the Lord with us in our suffering. God will lead us through that suffering by our acts of faith, hope, love, justice and mercy:
No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left.
Our Gospel tells us that we are called to be Christ’s disciples, and that disciples are healers. By letting our lives become sources of healing in the world, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled for our time.
Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
How we do these wondrous deeds in the world is an ongoing revelation. When I was very young, I took the proclamation quite literally. I soon lost confidence that I would ever really “cure” someone of anything!
Life has blessed me with the realization that there are many degrees of healing. There many ways in which living people are caught in deadly lives. There are all kinds of “lepers ” in our society, rendered so by the prejudices of others. Certainly, many of us carry all sorts of crippling demons.
Acknowledging the pain in ourselves and others, and trusting that God wants us to be healed and whole, is the work of true discipleship. Let’s keep our eyes on Isaiah’s promise to give us a generous, merciful courage for our call! Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus as he shows us the way.
Music: (Can you take a little hint of “country” this morning?)
Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus – written by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961) and sung here by Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records.
Once, in a half-hidden glen in Waller Mill Park in Williamsburg, Virginia, I stood in a silence so complete, I could hear nothing but God humming. Even the birds had stopped to listen. If you can, take the time to find a spot like this in your life. Wait there long enough to lose the noise of your own anxieties. Wait for Love and Lavish Mercy to sing with you.
Every Riven Thing ~ Christian Wiman
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
Today, in Mercy, Isaiah promises the people that they will sing a song in the land of Judah.It will be a song that celebrates confidence in God, justice, enduring faith, peace and trust.
Do you ever sing to God when your heart is filled like that? I don’t mean Church-singing or words somebody else wrote.
I mean that sweet, indecipherable whisper a mother breathes over her child, or the mix of a hundred half-remembered melodies we hum when we are lost in the fullness of our lives.
And I don’t just mean the happy songs.
I mean the songs of loss and longing, awe and wonderment at life’s astounding turns. I mean even the sounds of silence when the refrain within us cannot be spoken.
When your heart is really stuck, unable to find the words to express the depth of your joy, longing or sorrow, try singing to God like that. So many times, I have done this while out on a solitary walk, or sitting by the water’s edge, or even driving on an open road. Sometimes, God even sings back!😉
(In a second post today, I will share a lovely poem which reminds me of a special prayer time in nature.)
Isaiah’s people were able to sing their song because they held on to faith and acted in justice. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that this must be the way of our prayer too. He says that simply saying, “Lord, Lord” won’t cut it!
Real prayer is not just words. It is a life given to hearing God’s Word and acting on it. Real prayer is about always singing our lives in rhythm with the infinite, merciful melody of God.
Today, in Mercy, our readings take us to the Lord’s banquet. It is a rich image that threads through scripture and helps us understand what characterizes the perfect reign of God.
The readings, coming just on the heels of Thanksgiving, present familiar images to us. You may have been part of the preparation of the feast for your family and friends. Maybe you’re the master carver, or brought sides of old family recipes. Or you might be the table decorator or, most important, the clean-up guru!
Or maybe you were the one who steered the conversation so that all felt welcomed and included in the gathering. Maybe you were the one who took someone aside if they needed an extra portion of care. Maybe you were the one who invited someone with no other place to go.
That Thanksgiving meal, and every meal, can be a symbol of the heavenly banquet.
Isaiah’s banquet is all elegance and fullness. He describes an end-time when, despite a path through suffering, all is brought to perfection in God:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
Jesus’s feast in more “now”, and more rustic. He takes the ordinary stuff of present life and transforms it to satisfy the needs of those gathered. With sparse and simple ingredients, Jesus creates the “miracle meal” for the poor and hungry.
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.
Christ’s presence with us in the Eucharist is both kinds of meal.
It points us to the perfection of heaven, where the “web” will be lifted from our eyes and we will see ourselves as one in Christ.
It calls us to be Christ for one another in this world – creating miracles of love and mercy so that all are adequately fed, in body and soul, for the journey we share.
Music:Banquet- Graham Kendrick (Lyrics below)
There’s no banquet so rich
As the bread and the wine
No table more holy
No welcome so kind
There’s no mercy so wide
As the arms of the cross
Come and taste, come and see
Come find and be found
There’s no banquet so rich
For what feast could compare
With the body of Jesus
Blessed, broken and shared?
Here is grace to forgive
Here is blood that atoned
Come and taste, come and see
Come know and be known
Take the bread, drink the wine
And remember His sacrifice
There’s no banquet so rich
As the feast we will share
When God gathers the nations
And dines with us here When death’s shadow is gone
Every tear wiped away
Come and eat, come and drink
Come welcome that day
There’s no banquet so rich
For our Saviour we find
Present here in the mystery
Of these humble signs
Cleansed, renewed, reconciled
Let us go out as one
Live in love, and proclaim
His death till he comes