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.
Friends, there will be no Lavish Mercy for a while. I’ve had an unexpected extended hospital trip beyond the posts i prepared early. I would appreciate your prayers. And i hope to be back with you all soon. ❤️🙏
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 47 which describes God as a King ascending to the throne amid shouts of joy.
God mounts the throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.PSALM 47: 6-7
This description reminds me of a pageant like an inauguration, where fanfare horns announce the President’s arrival. For the psalmist, the horn might have been a shofar.
It’s a beautiful and triumphant way to imagine what God might be like. But that’s all it is – an image, a product of human imagination. Like the psalmist, we all engage in that creative effort – we picture God. We draw God out of the media stored in our own hearts and spirits.
The freedom we have to imagine God can be both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it has allowed us to create tender, triumphant, and splendid constructs of an otherwise unimaginable Love. As a curse, it has given us the power to distort God’s image for our own selfish ends.
It is an awesome power. Even the great Saint Augustine struggled with it:
Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne
What art Thou then, my God? Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most hidden and most present; most beautiful and most strong, standing firm and elusive, unchangeable and all-changing; never new, never old; ever working, ever at rest; gathering in and [yet] lacking nothing; supporting, filling, and sheltering; creating, nourishing, and maturing; seeking and [yet] having all things. And what have I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy? or what says anyone who speaks of Thee? And woe to the one who keeps silent about you, since many babble on and say nothing.
Praying with Psalm 47, I consider my own “photo album” of the Holy One. I talk with God about those pictures. I ask to know and love God more clearly, so that, made in God’s image, I may more honestly reflect it.
God has given us the ultimate self-portrait in the Person of Jesus who is:
… the image of the unseen God, the firstborn over all creation.COLOSSIANS 1: 15
Poetry: from Paul’s letter to the Philippians
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.PHILIPPIANS 2: 6-11
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85, a Psalm we have prayed with so often in our daily liturgy.. Have we wrung it dry, do you think?
Never! That’s the beauty of scripture and particularly of the Psalms. They speak to us in a new voice with each new day’s blessings and challenges.
The verse that grasps my heart this morning is this:
Near indeed is salvation to those who fear God glory dwelling in our land.PSALM 85: 10
What will “glory”, or well-being, look like when it dwells in our land, throughout our earth?
Walter Brueggemann, in his many writings about the Old Testament and the Psalms, stresses the concept of “neighborliness” as integral to communal well-being.
The well-being of the neighborhood, inspired by the biblical texts, makes possible―and even insists upon―an alternative to the ideology of individualism that governs our society’s practice and policy. This kind of community life returns us to the arc of God’s gifts―mercy, justice, and law. The covenant of God in the witness of biblical faith speaks now and demands that its interpreting community resist individualism, overcome commoditization, and thwart the rule of empire through a life of radical neighbor love. (Description of Brueggemann’s book, God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good)
Thousands of years ago, the psalmist clearly described the glorious community which God promises to those who live in mercy, truth, justice and peace:
Mercy and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.
The LORD will give benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before the Lord, and salvation, along the way of God’s pattern.PSALM 85
Prose: In his Inaugural Address, President Biden referenced the concept of neighborliness. Here is the quote from St. Augustine used by the President, as well as the passage from Cicero which inspired Augustine.
If one should say, ‘a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.” ST. AUGUSTINE, CITY OF GOD 19.24
A republic is a numerous gathering brought together by legal consent and community of interest. The primary reason for this coming together is not so much weakness as a sort of innate desire on the part of human beings to form communities. For our species is not made up of solitary individuals. CICERO, REPUBLIC, 1.39-40
Music: After Cicero and Augustine, a little music from our own modern philosopher, Mr. Rogers
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus in his “heyday”.
It is early in his ministry. Word is spreading about his teaching and his miracles. He is the “hot ticket” in any town he visits. But what was Jesus thinking in the midst of all the hubbub?
We get a few good hints in our Gospel.
Jesus withdrew toward the sea
He wanted a boat ready lest the crowd would crush him
He warned the unclean spirits not to make him known
These phrases suggest that Jesus was a bit overwhelmed by the furor. No doubt he realizes that his identity and message go far beyond the show of miracles. Can the “fandom” of these early crowds be converted to deep and committed discipleship?
This reading might incline me to consider my own faith.
Do I love and follow just the “heyday Jesus” – the One who is powerful over the demons and deaths I fear?
Or have I learned to love and follow the deeper Jesus, the One who suffers and dies for justice, goodness and love – the One Who lives in the poor?
One way to answer these questions is to ask ourselves where we find Jesus in our daily lives.
Is he confined to our Bible, our church, our prayerbooks and our moral judgments?
Or is our faith deep enough to see and love him in the suffering face of humanity – perhaps where it is inconvenient, costly and sometimes unsettling to find him?
Poetry: Viriditas by Hildegard of Bingen
I am the one whose praise echoes on high. I adorn all the earth. I am the breeze that nurtures all things green. I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits. I am led by the spirit to feed the purest streams. I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life. I call forth tears. I am the yearning for good.
Good people, Most royal greening verdancy, Rooted in the sun, You shine with radiant light, in this circle of earthly existence. You shine so finely, it surpasses understanding. God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, the writer of Hebrews continues to shine light on the superior “priesthood” of Jesus Christ – that aspect of Christ’s ministry that breaks heaven open for us and reinstates us as God’s children.
Hebrews calls Christ a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” – an order above and beyond the priesthood of Aaron and Levi.
Although there are a few references to Melchizedek in scripture, only one narrative refers to him:
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Genesis 14: 17-20
Melchizedek, whose priesthood preceded even Abraham, is offered in Hebrews as a prototype of Jesus who fulfills and perfects the Old Testament promises.
Does this matter to us modern day Christians who can barely say “Melchizedek “, let alone spell it? And if it does matter, how?
An answer may be revealed in our Gospel today.
In it, Jesus challenges the old, pharisaical, law-bound way of thinking. As the new and perfect “priest”, Jesus breaks that way of thinking with the transformation of love. Jesus is the perfection of that which Melchizedek was only the forerunner.
Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
This man with the withered hand is more important than the law.
This act of healing and wholeness is more important than ritual adherence.
The priesthood of Jesus is the breakthrough revelation of what God really desires – mercy, not sacrifice.
Poetry: Excerpt from John Berryman’s Eleven Addresses to the Lord
John Berryman (1914 – 1972) was an American poet and scholar. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and is considered a key figure in the “confessional” school of poetry. Eleven Addresses to the Lord describes, with an interplay of sincerity and irony, the poet’s struggle to believe. Section 10 below reveals love over law as a key factor in Berryman’s evolving faith.
Fearful I peer upon the mountain path where once Your shadow passed, Limner of the clouds up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid, I never until now confessed.
I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons: You were good to me, & a delicious author, rational & passionate. Come on me again, as twice you came to Azarias & Misael.
President of the brethren, our mild assemblies inspire, & bother the priest not to be dull; keep us week-long in order; love my children, my mother far & ill, far brother, my spouse.
Oil all my turbulence as at Thy dictation I sweat out my wayward works. Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ. Let me lie down exhausted, content with that.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our passage from Hebrews is a strong encouragement to stay faithful to the hope that has been given us through our call.
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.
When we have been promised something by someone we trust, we are given the gift of freedom to move forward in confidence. I’ll give you a very simple and human example. When I had my first knee replacement, my very appropriately-named surgeon Dr. Good came and sat at my bedside immediately before surgery. He told me that he was going to perform the surgery himself and that he would support me until I was completely recovered. I can’t describe the freedom and confidence his promise gave me!
Now take that kind of promise up a notch — an infinite number of notches — to a promise made by God.
So when God wanted to give the heirs of his promise an even clearer demonstration of the immutability of his purpose, he intervened with an oath, so that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner…
Paul’s language might seem a little dense to us but basically he is saying that God has promised to be with us forever and to bring us to the fullness of eternal life. Thinking about that, the image of Dr. Good pops up in my memory.
In your own prayer, you might recall a circumstance that gave you the same kind of promised confidence and peace… perhaps a parent who consoled your young doubts, or a friend who promised support in a difficulty. Imagine that feeling multiplied infinitely by the loving promise of God to sustain us with Eternal Life.
Poetry: Anchored to the Infinite – Edwin Markham was popular American literary figure during the first half of the 20th century whose works espoused progressive social and spiritual beliefs.
The builder who first bridged Niagara’s gorge, Before he swung his cable, shore to shore, Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands To grasp upon the further cliff and draw A greater cord, and then a greater yet; Till at the last across the chasm swung The cable then the mighty bridge in air!
So we may send our little timid thought Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands— Send out our love and faith to thread the deep— Thought after thought until the little cord Has greatened to a chain no chance can break, And we are anchored to the Infinite!
Music: Blessed Assurance – written by Fanny Crosby (1820 – 1915) an American mission worker, poet, lyricist, and composer. She was a prolific hymnist, writing more than 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, with more than 100 million copies printed. She is also known for her teaching and her rescue mission work. By the end of the 19th century, she was a household name. Crosby was known as the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers” and as the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America”, with most American hymnals containing her work.
Today, in God’s Lavish 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.
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 over the past several years.
Many are frustrated by the continued refusal of some in our Church to open themselves 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 grounded in the truth of the Gospel.
Let us pray that the Church may continue to be transformed by 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 Francs, bishops, theologians and spiritual leaders – and for the whole People of God – that we may hear and respond.
Prayer: In place of a poem today, this beautiful prayer written in 2019 by Rita Thiron, from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions
Prayer for the Church
In every age, you have been our refuge.
Yet again and still, we stand before you
asking for your protection on your holy Church.
For the victims of abuse and their families,
pour out your healing and your peace.
For the Bishops of this country,
inspire their decisions,
and guide them with your Spirit.
For the thousands of good and faithful priests,
who have followed your call
to serve you and your people in holiness,
sustain them by your grace.
For the faithful who are angry, confused,
and searching for answers,
embrace them with your love,
restore their trust,
console them with your clear Gospel message,
and renew them with your sacraments.
We place our Church in your hands,
for without you we can do nothing.
May Jesus, our High Priest and true compass,
continue to lead her in every thought and action
– to be an instrument of justice,
a source of consolation,
a sacrament of unity,
and a manifestation of your faithful covenant.
Grant this through that same Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we see Jesus fully enrobed in the power of his mission and ready to embark on its accomplishment.
When I prayed with today’s readings, I pictured Jesus standing proudly before the Father saying, “I’m fully ready now to answer the call and become all that I am meant to be for the world.”
The image reminded me of a day long ago when I finally received the last little piece of the outfit I would wear as Mercy postulant. It was late August 1963, just a month before entrance, and very hot. Nevertheless, in a bit of girlish giddiness, I decided to don the entire regalia for the first time and see what my future would look like. After struggling into a few of the unfamiliar pieces, I ran down the stairs to my mother waiting in our living room.
I’ll never forget her face. It was an immense mix of pride, loss, hope, love and astonishment. Neither one of us said, nor had to say, a word. Everything that had been only a dream in my heart went forward – for real – from that moment. Mom knew I meant to do this thing. And, maybe for the first time, I knew it too.
I can picture God the Father looking on Jesus in somewhat the same way as Jesus now stands at the edge of a future he cannot yet imagine.
In our first reading, we see Jesus clothed in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy:
The LORD said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!
In our Responsorial Psalm, we can hear Jesus exuding Messianic commitment:
Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. “In the written scroll it is prescribed for me, to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!” I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist stands as a witness to Christ’s messianic authority to execute the Redemptive Act promised in Isaiah:
It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
With today’s readings, Jesus begins the great journey to redeem us. We begin with him, praying that throughout this liturgical year, we may be ever more deepened in the grace of that Redemption.
Poetry: The Lamb – William Blake
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Music: Here I Am, Lord – written by Dan Schutte, sung here by John Michael Talbot (lyrics below)
I, the Lord of sea and sky I have heard my people cry All who dwell in dark and sin My hand will save
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night I will go, Lord, if you lead me I will hold your people in my heart
I, who made the stars of night I will make their darkness bright Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
I, the Lord of snow and rain I have borne my people’s pain I have wept for love of them They turn away
I will break their hearts of stone Give them hearts for love alone I will speak my words to them Whom shall I send?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our first reading describes the penetrating, all-seeing, all-discerning Word of God.
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.
The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
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.
Poetry: The Word of God – George MacDonald In this rather cryptic poem, I believe MacDonald’s point is this: where the Word of God has not inspired the heart, there is no real life and vigor – either in action (bud) or written word(letter).
Where the bud has never blown Who for scent is debtor? Where the spirit rests unknown Fatal is the letter.
In thee, Jesus, Godhead-stored, All things we inherit, For thou art the very Word And the very Spirit!
Today, in God’s Lavish 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.
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!
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, Evangelical, Republican or Democrat (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.
Poetry: God’s Grandeur – Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.