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 God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with inspired Isaiah who must have had such a beautiful mind – a mind to imagine God making a tired world new!
In our first reading, Isaiah shows us what our radiant and nourishing God can do for those who live in darkness, destitution and fear. (Once we get past the unfortunate metaphor of being called a worm!)
I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water. I will plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive; I will set in the wasteland the cypress, together with the plane tree and the pine, That all may see and know, observe and understand, That the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Psalm 145 reminds that God is with us – on our side – in both Advent and our Life Journey.
As the year moves closer to its time of deepest darkness, may we know God’s bright Presence in our hearts. May we sense God lighting, once again, the dark places in our lives and in our world.
We all have parched and painful situations, unanswered hopes, lingering fears. Let us bring them out of the shadows today and open them to the refreshing grace of God who made the stars to give us hope.
With these two brief excerpts from Father John Foley’s magnificent book, we see a young Mary – innocent, joyful, and delightfully human. She is a Mary we can relate to and turn to in trusted prayer.
This was a little child who knew not man, Nor life, nor all the needed frauds of life, Nor any compromise, and when she turned To raise the earthen jar, and faced the airs Of Spring, she smiled for young security, And she was glad. These were her own, these lanes, Of Nazareth. She’d known the slope and feel Of them for all her years, and they had known Of her, and she was walking now and was Familiar, and the well she sought not far Beyond the clustered house was so old It had become a part of permanence. The sky around it was so clear, serene With blue, and framed with hills that had been hers For always, and which lifted up a silence She had loved. These thresholds were her friends, These white walls leaning, and the narrow doors, And she could watch the shadows and the slant Of sun, and turn a corner so, and hear The farther crowing of a cock, and guess That in the marketplace were dusty sheep She could not hear; and passing on, she marked With deeper care that from an opened window Rose the sound of psalms. She was at home. few streets and the ruts in them were home, And she was sure, and young, and now the others At the well had called to her, and said Among them it was Mary who had come.
And smiling in the peace that mantled her, She reached her father’s door again and stepped Within to old repeated tasks and cares That for these brief months still would be her own. No change had come because the plighted word Of Joseph had been said, and villagers Could recognize she was betrothed to him. The spinning must be done, the weaving threads Be caught and mended, and the knots untied, The pans and ovens filled with bread, the crusts Must still be hoarded, and the counted needs Of poverty be met. She walked upon The stairs and watched for Joachim, and called Across the street to neighbors and received Their news, and when the day was bright, she closed The shutters to the sun.
She woke, and slept, And moved, and bound her hair up in a braid. She saved the moments out that gave her heart To God, as she had always done, and all Around her, Nazareth was small and old And settled on its hills, and kept the old Ways it had learned. She was a young girl here….
But when across the years we see her so, Our generation finds it hard to think Of her as one with us. Our stains have made Us hesitant, and sad remembrance curls And turns within to slow the prideful binding To ourselves, as if the very claim Could soil in her the grace whose essence is It is not soiled. This name is benediction On our blood, defense and refuge, hope And harbor, and our one fair memory Of innocence, and we have known too long Its silence on the world’s wild clamoring Not now to know this name is uttered prayer And not a name.
Today, in God’s Lavish 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.
Over the centuries, devotional practice has tended to make Mary more than human – to separate her from the rest us because of her great holiness. However, many theologians today encourage us to find in Mary the same human struggles and triumphs we all meet in life. In this way, we can learn from her and be supported on our own path to holiness.
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.
Poetry: On a separate entry today, I have copied a few passages from the beautiful classic, ” A Woman Wrapped in Silence”. I absolutely love this book and it has been my treasured companion through at least fifty Advents (and Lents). I highly recommend it to you. Read it in small doses that you can break open in your prayer.
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 God’s Lavish Mercy, we are blessed, once again, with magnificent readings!
Our psalm coaches us to rejoice and sing – a song that will heal the nations.
Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all you lands. Sing to the LORD; bless the LORD’s name; announce God’s salvation, day after day.
Our first reading is the exquisite “Comfort” passage from Isaiah. And 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 today’s message:
Life is a maze whose walls are heightened by our incivility to one another. Isaiah calls us 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. We are called to be Mercy in a suffering world.
These beautiful and challenging readings come to us this year at a time when Pope Francis has offered a clear and similar challenge to the world. Last week, during his visit to the refugee encampment on the Greek island of Lesbos, Francis voiced his profound pain at the international immigration tragedy:
“Let us not let our sea (mare nostrum) be transformed into a desolate sea of death (mare mortuum),” the Pope concluded. “Let us not allow this place of encounter to become a theatre of conflict. Let us not permit this “sea of memories” to be transformed into a “sea of forgetfulness”. Please, let us stop this shipwreck of civilization.”
“It is an illusion to think it is enough to keep ourselves safe, to defend ourselves from those in greater need who knock at our door”, Pope Francis said. “In the future, we will have more and more contact with others. To turn it to the good, what is needed are not unilateral actions but wide-ranging policies. History teaches this lesson, yet we have not learned it.”
Source for quotes: Vatican News – vaticannews.va
During his address, the Pope asked every man and woman, “to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes.”
Resource: To learn about and reflect on the issue of immigration, here is a link to NETWORK. Founded by Catholic Sisters in the progressive spirit of Vatican II, NETWORK works to create a society that promotes justice and the dignity of all in the shared abundance of God’s creation.
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.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Advent readings increase in joyously expectant tone. They offer us wonderful images for our hope!
1. Our First Reading – A Blossoming Desert
2. Our Psalm – An Expectant Heart
3. Our Gospel – A Merciful, Rule-Breaking Savior!
These passages are filled with an exuberant expectation, much like children feel as they discover an amazing gift. I remember with delight how my toddler nieces, nephew, and grands responded to their first snow! It’s a wonder that makes us want to be young again and eager for what may seem otherwise incredible.
If you can, take the time today to read these passages slowly, listening for the particular word that will fall upon your heart like a blossom of hope in the desert – (or icy white magic from the sky!)
Poetry: Snow by Gillian Clarke
The dreamed Christmas, flakes shaken out of silences so far and starry we can’t sleep for listening for papery rustles out there in the night and wake to find our ceiling glimmering, the day a psaltery of light.
So we’re out over the snow fields before it’s all seen off with a salt-lick of Atlantic air, then home at dusk, snow-blind from following chains of fox and crow and hare, to a fire, a roasting bird, a ringing phone, and voices wondering where we are.
A day foretold by images of glassy pond, peasant and snowy roof over the holy child iconed in gold. Or women shawled against the goosedown air pleading with soldiers at a shifting frontier in the snows of television,
while in the secret dark a fresh snow falls filling our tracks with stars.
Music: Winter Snow Song – Audrey Assad
[Verse 1] Could’ve come like a mighty storm With all the strength of a hurricane You could’ve come like a forest fire With the power of Heaven in Your flame
[Chorus] (But) You came like a winter snow Quiet and soft and slow Falling from the sky in the night To the earth below
[Verse 2] Oh You could’ve swept in like a tidal wave Or an ocean to ravish our hearts You could have come through like a roaring flood To wipe away the things that we’ve scarred
[Chorus] (But) You came like a winter snow Quiet and soft and slow Falling from the sky in the night To the earth below
[Bridge] Ooh no, Your voice wasn’t in a bush burning No, Your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind It was still, it was small, it was hidden
[Chorus] (But) You came like a winter snow Quiet and soft and slow Falling from the sky in the night To the earth below
[Outro] Falling, oh yeah, to the earth below You came falling from the sky in the night To the earth below
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Baruch, Paul, Luke (channeling Isaiah), and Psalm 126. The passages given us are rich, lyrical, joyful and profound.
The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
For this whole coming week, we are invited to a scriptural banquet – the table set with preciously familiar Advent phrases to, once again, enrich and challenge our hearts.
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever…
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Luke 3: 4-6
As with any banquet, we can approach this richness by taking a little bit of every offering, or we might prefer to fill up on one inspiration that particularly speaks to us at this moment in our lives.
Is there a misery we long to have lifted from our shoulders?
Is there a confidence and strength we seek from God?
Is there a sacred voice we need to hear,
a crooked way needing straightening,
an emptiness to be filled,
an insurmountable challenge to be faced,
a roughness to be smoothed?
Whatever our situation, by placing our needs faithfully before the promise of Advent, we will find the healing, hope, and grace we need.
Let these magnificent words seep into your heart to ready it for the promised salvation. For it is Advent – and
Prose: from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God can say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Music: Starlight through Barren Branches – Joel Clarkson
Today, in Mercy, Isaiah – in glorious prophecy – promises God’s People better times.
Thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem, no more will you weep; GOD will be gracious to you when you cry out, answering as soon as you are heard. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher be hidden, 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.
Isaiah 30: 19-21
Oh my, don’t we all long for the fulfillment of that promise! So much in both our larger and smaller worlds longs for healing!
Perhaps we can use our prayer within these readings today to call on God for the promised healing.
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, answering as soon as you are heard.
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 be hidden, 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. But I soon lost the expectation that I would ever help “cure” anyone of anything!
Life has blessed me with the realization that there is a difference between “curing” and “healing” – and that there are many degrees of healing.
There are 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.
All these situations, and others like them, invite us to offer the gift of sacred healing implanted in us at our Baptism.
Let’s draw strength from Isaiah’s promise in order to find a generous, merciful courage for our call to be “healed healers”.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we stand with Isaiah on the rim of hope. We wait, trusting that “in a very little while”, the Lord will make Creation whole.
It’s a precipitous place, this cliff called “Hope”. It requires that we risk ourselves solely on the promises of a God we cannot see. It invites us to leap into a mist we cannot control.
Or can we?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites the blind men to the cliff’s edge by asking them:
Do you believe that I can do this?
Well, that’s everything, isn’t it? If our answer is “No”, “Maybe”, or “Kinda’”, we might as well just lie down on this side of the Promise.
But if our answer is brave, like the Gospel blind ones, we too may have our vision cleared to see that there is no leap required. We already stand beside God.
When his children see the work of my hands in his midst, They shall keep my name holy; they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob, and be in awe of the God of Israel. Isaiah 29:23
Poetry:Hope – Lisel Mueller
It hovers in dark corners before the lights are turned on, it shakes sleep from its eyes and drops from mushroom gills, it explodes in the starry heads of dandelions turned sages, it sticks to the wings of green angels that sail from the tops of maples.
It sprouts in each occluded eye of the many-eyed potato, it lives in each earthworm segment surviving cruelty, it is the motion that runs from the eyes to the tail of a dog, it is the mouth that inflates the lungs of the child that has just been born.
It is the singular gift we cannot destroy in ourselves, the argument that refutes death, the genius that invents the future, all we know of God.
It is the serum which makes us swear not to betray one another; it is in this poem, trying to speak.
Today, in God’s Lavish 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!
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.
Poetry: 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 God’s Lavish 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. Last week, 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 is more “now”, and more rustic. He takes the ordinary stuff of present life and transforms it to satisfy the immediate 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.
Poetry: Love Bade Me Welcome – George Herbert, (1593 – 1633) – a Welsh-born poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. His poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognized as “one of the foremost British devotional lyricists.
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, If I lacked any thing. A guest, I answered, worthy to be here: Love said, You shall be he. I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear, I cannot look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I? Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame Go where it doth deserve. And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame? My dear, then I will serve. You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat: So I did sit and eat.
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