Mercy Surrounds Us

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.

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To Life!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our passage from Hebrews is a strong encouragement for its readers to stay faithful to the hope that has been given us through our call.

eph1_17 call
from today’s Responsorial Psalm

Paul traces the evolution of that call by reminding his readers of Abraham who trusted God’s promise and patiently waited for its fulfillment. Paul says that God not only promised Abraham, God swore an oath to bless and multiply Abraham’s life.

This promise and oath of God’s faithful covenant is the root of our Christian hope, and the “anchor” of our life.

Green Rope

On this day, when the Church prays for the protection of unborn children, let us be conscious that the “right to life” extends beyond the womb, from “cradle to grave”.

Let us pray to honor and reverence all life and all Creation – those who are troubled, poor, sick, different from us, homeless and seeking refuge. Let us pray for political and economic systems that protect both unborn and born children, resident and refugee, privileged and marginalized … nourishing their right to life, freedom and the happiness of well-being.

Beloveds, let us give thanks for the life and faith we have been given, and let us share it generously.

Music: You Are Life ~ Hillsong Worship

Jesus, Humble Priest

Monday, January 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Hebrews describes Jesus as the perfect high priest.  Through the Father’s call, Jesus took on our imperfect nature and transformed it by his life, death and Resurrection. In the Eucharist, Jesus left us a living memorial of this transformation so that we might participate in its saving mystery.

heb5_10 priest

Paul’s “perfected priest” is patient because his own weakness humbles him. He does not take honor upon himself, but receives it humbly from God.

Jesus, the model of this priesthood, 

… in the days when he was in the Flesh,
… offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.

The perfection of Christ’s priesthood was accomplished through suffering and obedience. This is how Jesus teaches us to live in reverence and humble service.

As I read and pray with this scriptural understanding of priesthood, I pray for our Church. The catastrophic scandals involving our priests and leaders have deeply shaken the faith of many Catholics, including my own.

Many of us are frustrated by the continued refusal of our Church to open itself to new models of priestly service which are grounded in mutuality, inclusivity and simplicity.

The accretions of institutionalization, hierarchical camouflage, and sexist rationale have mitigated the Church’s credibility to touch the lives of ordinary people, especially our emerging adults.

In our Gospel, Jesus talks about an old cloak that needs a patch to make it whole again. He talks about new wine that must be captured and preserved in new wine skins. For me, he is talking about our Church which must be continually renewed and transformed. 

May our present suffering and confusion be transformed by our humble obedience to God’s call – just as the high priest of our first reading was perfected.

Let us pray today for our good Pope, bishops, theologians and spiritual leaders – and for the whole People of God – that we may hear and respond.

Music: Even Death on a Cross ~ Jason Silver

There is No Wine

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012019.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we read about Jesus’s first public miracle at Cana. It is a story that has always fascinated me, mostly because of what is left unsaid – what is written between the lines.

jn2_1 can

The Gospel begins by telling of a wedding and “the mother of Jesus was there”. The suggestion is that Mary had been staying at the wedding site and that she had a special role in the preparations. Perhaps she was the aunt or good friend of the bride or groom. Whatever the case, Mary seems to have had some unique responsibility for the ceremony’s success.

This responsibility motivates her to solicit Jesus’s help when she notices the wine is running out. Did she expect a miracle in return for her remark? We don’t know. Perhaps she just wanted Jesus and his young friends to run down to the local wine store for replenishments.

It was Jesus who decided to turn the request into an occasion for a miracle. Why? It seems like a frivolous miracle when there were sick to be cured and dead to be raised!

The final lines of this pericope might help answer that question

Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

Jesus decided to first reveal his glory at a wedding feast, a party, an ordinary celebration of life and love. The dramatic, life-saving miracles would come – demons grabbing pigs and diving headlong into the sea.

But this first one, the one his closest family and friends would especially remember, was all about joy, dancing, music, friendship – the divine strength of our shared and graced humanity.

Probably most of us don’t expect to encounter a really eye-popping miracle in our lives. But maybe in our challenges we, like Mary, could walk up behind Jesus and whisper, “This situation needs your touch”.

Oh, how Jesus might surprise us!

Music: Everyday Miracles ~ Sara Groves

At the River Clarion ~ Mary Oliver

river

1.

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.

2.

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.
Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?
If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.
He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?
Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.

3.

Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.

4.

There was someone I loved who grew old and ill
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do
except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.

5.

My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from
to where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.

6.

Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
ideas, doubts, hesitations.

7.

And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice
singing.

 “At the River Clarion” by Mary Oliver, from Evidence: Poems, Beacon Press.

Music to accompany your reading: Pachelbel ~ Canon

The Word Will Teach Us

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our first reading describes the penetrating, all-seeing, all-discerning Word of God.  

heb4_2 word

Reading this, some of us may find it startling to think how well God knows us! The truth is God knows us fully, much better than we know ourselves.  And God loves us fully, again even better than we love ourselves.

God already knows and understands the secrets we are slow to share, the hurts we have buried, the angers we try to shackle. God knows the fears we will not face, the regrets we cannot abandon, the sadness we cannot forget, the hopes we hesitate to speak.

God knows and loves it all.

Being present to the Word of God can help us learn to love and accept ourselves as God does.  

This Word can come to us in reading and listening.  It can come in images, nature  and silence. God’s Word is not bound by print or sound.  It speaks to us in every circumstance of our lives.

Today, we pray to have a deep love of God’s Word given to us in Scripture, spiritual reading, music, poetry, the beauty of Creation, and the wonder of life.  The Holy Word sees and loves us completely.  In that complete Love, may we come to know ourselves and to be fully ourselves in God’s Presence.

( In a separate email, I have cited a favorite poem by dear Mary Oliver who died yesterday. She was a Master of the Word! The words she lifted for us became sacraments where we could discover the sacred.

Having read her poems so often and for so long, I feel I have lost a precious friend even though I have never laid eyes on her. This is a long poem, but well-worth your reflection perhaps on this stormy weekend.)

Music: Two Elegiac Melodies ~ Edvard Grieg 

Let’s Blow the Lid Off!

Friday, January 18, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells of a memorable event – so memorable that it is described in detail.

Jesus preaches from a neighborhood living room. Every access point to the house is blocked with excited listeners and miracle-seekers. Jesus has been corralled by the enthusiastic faithful.

roof

Then some latecomers arrive carrying their paralyzed friend. It is easy to imagine that these are young guys, because Jesus later calls the paralytic “Child”. Perhaps their friend was injured in a soccer game or diving accident in which they all had participated. Perhaps, as well as carrying him, they are carrying the burden of “survivor guilt”.

Whatever the situation, these friends are determined that the young man shall see Jesus. Confronted with the barricading crowd, they climb up on the roof, opening the turf plates to make an entry point. Jesus had to laugh as he saw to rooftop disappearing above him!

Would that we had such a wild desire to be in God’s Presence – to know God face to face, and heart to heart!

Can we peel away the many barricades to such relationship? We have only our limited human images of God. While these can help us pray, they can also box God.

Faulty theology and exaggerated ritual can, believe or not, put a lid on God’s power!

It is important to read, listen, and grow within good theology. One measure of that value is the degree of limitation any “theology” puts on God. A theology that limits God to male, white, Catholic (or whatever religion)- that kind of false theology limits us as well. 

A theology that is used as validation for political, economic, or moral domination distorts God, making God an idol of our own greed and selfishness. Such ”theologies” have, for centuries, made excuses for slavery, apartheid, pogroms, wars and holocausts. 

Let’s try to “take the roof off” our theology today. Let’s be sure our tightly held perceptions and beliefs are really leading us to the absolute freedom of a God Who cherishes all Beings, all Creation.

Music: God Beyond All Names ~ Bernadette Farrell 

Soften That Stony Heart!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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psalm 95 copy

Today, in Mercy, our first reading quotes at length from Psalm 95, and the message is reprised in the Responsorial Psalm.

Harden not your hearts.

We all know what it feels like to harden our hearts. We do it out of anger, fear, exhaustion, frustration and so many other reasons. We feel like the only way to protect ourselves and our space is –yes– to build a wall! Put up those bricks made out of our stony faces, curt words, numbing silence, distancing indifference – our hardened hearts.

Today’s reading tells us that is never God’s way.

The way to freedom, peace, self-respect, joy and fullness of life is always found in relationship – in building bridges.

Jesus builds a bridge in today’s Gospel by connecting with the leper. This leper has been walled off from society by illness and disfigurement. Most people’s hearts are hardened against him, but Jesus is “moved by pity” at the leper’s isolation.

The leper, too, has built a bridge by reaching through his own hardened heart in faith and trust. Surely all the years of mistreatment had made him wary of trust, had immobilized him in self-protection. But he allows himself a courageous plea to Jesus, and he is heard.

It is no easy challenge to soften a hardened heart. Some of our walls are very high, some of our bricks very heavy. But, one by one, we can choose opportunities for forgiveness, kindness, understanding, patience, encouragement, listening and companionship – even, and especially, toward those estranged in any way from us or from themselves. And even toward ourselves when we have become hardened to our own beauty and goodness.

To begin might take only a smile, a prayer, a phone call, a small kindness, an invitation, a moment of ordinary conversation…. just these might start to crumble a wall, to soften a heart.

Music: Soften My Heart, Lord (and adding a second song, just because I think you’ll like it.)

 

Jesus Prayed

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Mark’s Gospel allows us to spend a day with Jesus during his early ministry. 

After “church”, so to speak, Jesus and his buddies go to Simon’s house for a meal. Where Simon’s wife was we’re not told, but his mother-in-law seems to have been chief cook and bottle washer. Unfortunately, on that day, she’s not feeling well. However, with but a touch from Jesus, she’s restored and begins waiting on the guys. 

It seems like Jesus and his friends hung out through the heat of the day. As evening cool descends, neighbors begin arriving with their sicknesses and troubled spirits. Jesus cures many of those gathered. Can you just imagine the scene!

pray

The next morning, even before dawn, Jesus goes off to a quiet place to pray. No doubt he wants to discern, with his Father and the Holy Spirit, the things that are happening in his life. Again can you imagine that conversation!

We know that, when asked, Jesus gave us the human words of the “Our Father” to teach us to pray. But how did Jesus himself pray in the solitude of his heart? 

Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity
focused in relationship to one another
and yielding a Love
too immense for description!

In our own humble prayer today, may we lean against the heart of Jesus as he immersed himself in the Presence of the Creator and Spirit. May we pray in Christ’s pregnant silence.

Music: a very simple, yet very profound hymn: Father, I Place into Your Hands

The Path through Suffering

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we again read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. They had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.

Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?

The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties but through them.

Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.

Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

Ordinary Time?

Monday, January 14, 2019

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heb1_3 refulgence

Today, in Mercy,  we enter into the first of thirty-three weeks of what the Church calls “Ordinary Time”. It’s a great double misperception!

No “time” is ordinary as long as we breathe with the Divine Breath.

And “time” itself is an illusion we humans have created to help us feel in control of our lives. With God, there is no time.

What if, instead, we called these long coming weeks the “Season of Eternal Presence” – that space when we deepen our relationship with God through steadfast prayer and focused reflection on Scripture.

This is our season to “learn” Jesus, just as – in the Gospels – it was Jesus’s time to be with and to learn us during his season on earth.

This is the beginning of our annual journey of amazement that the Word truly became flash and lives in the incidentals of our lives.

Paul starts us off today with an exquisite passage in Hebrews:

In these last days,
God has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
This Son is the refulgence of God’s glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.

During this “Ordinary Time” or, if you will, this “Season of Eternal Presence”, we are to be attentive to where that “Divine Refulgence” breaks through in our own daily experiences.

In every moment of our lives, even the seemingly mundane ones, the Creator is speaking the Word – “Jesus” in and through our lives. It is a time of constant and extraordinary grace.

Today, let us begin the journey with a holy enthusiasm and grateful joy!

(Refulgence: the word derives from Latin “refulgēre,” which means “to shine brightly”.)

Music: O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright, an ancient hymn composed by St. Ambrose in the 4th century. Here given a modern rendition by Zac Hicks