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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Like Trees Walking

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are around the theme of our spiritual senses.

James1_22 doers

James tells us to listen, look, see, and act on the Word planted within our hearts. Once again, he gives us great images to help our understanding.

mirror

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror.
He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets
what he looked like.

 


 

horse

 

If anyone thinks he is religious
and does not bridle his tongue

but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.

 

 


 

In our Gospel, once again our dear, earthy Jesus heals someone in a deeply human way. Jesus takes the blind man aside, holding his hand to lead him. As he did in a passage recently, Jesus spits on his fingers and massages the blind man’s eyes.

blind man

The man tries to work with Jesus, exclaiming that he sees “people like trees walking”. 

I’ve always loved that line because it makes me feel like I’m right there, listening to the man’s amazement!

As we pray this morning, we might wonder what Jesus said back to that overwhelmed man as they sat together. What might he say to us as he lifts one of our many blindnesses from our hearts?

Music:  I See Men As Trees Walking – Johnny Cash (lyrics below)

No Shadow of Turning

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, James continues with his spiritual encouragements. 

For one thing, he makes it clear that God doesn’t tempt us. Some of us make the mistake of thinking that, saying things like, “God is testing me.”

James, outlining a perfect way to examine one’s conscience, says this:

No one experiencing temptation should say,
“I am being tempted by God”;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil,
and God himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire conceives and brings forth sin,
and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.


 

I don’t really like to talk about sins; I’d probably much rather commit them!!!! So if we have some little labyrinths of temptation and sinful habits ensnaring us, we should listen to James. He encourages us to examine and check our own concupiscent  desires as they are the seeds of our spiritual undoing. 

In my experience, these desires are usually disguised, pretending to be beneficial for us at first sight. But underneath, they are rooted in selfishness and excess, deviating us from our center in God. Just think how some of the famous ones have masqueraded into our lives: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Greed, Wrath (Vengeful Anger).


In the second part of this passage, James takes the tone up a notch. He reminds us that, once centered on God, we realize that only good things come from God.

All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.

I particularly love that last phrase, rendered in our hymn today like this:
James1_17 no shadow

It’s beautiful to see how James, as a real spiritual leader, is so aware of his flock’s human struggles. No doubt, he shares them. What a blessing that his wise and loving guidance has come down through the ages to us!

Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness- Chris Rice

Count It All Joy!

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, in this week and a half before Ash Wednesday, we begin the Epistle of James.

800px-Epistle_of_James_Chapter_1-2_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)
The Epistle of James- Chapter 1: Illustration provided to Wikimedia Commons by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing as part of a cooperation project. Sweet Publishing released these images, which are taken from now-out-of-print Read’n Grow Picture Bible Illustrations (Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

This letter is one of the very earliest of the New Testament. Scholars are mixed about exactly which “James” wrote it, but agree that it was one of several who were very close to Jesus – perhaps one of “the brothers of Jesus” mentioned in several New Testament passages:

  • Matthew 12:46-50
  • Mark 3:31
  • Luke 8:19
  • John 2:12
  • Acts 1:14
  • 1 Corinthians 9:5
  • and specifically “the Lord’s brother James” in Galatians 1:19

James writes in the style of Wisdom Literature, those Old Testament books that give advice, proverbs, and insights for living a holy life. His immediate audience was a community of dispersed Christian Jews whose world was filled with increasing upheaval and persecution.

When I read the following description I thought how germane James’s letter could be for our world today. His themes echo the teachings of Pope Francis for our chaotic time:


The epistle is renowned for exhortions on fighting poverty and caring for the poor in practical ways (1:26–27; 2:1-4; 2:14-19; 5:1-6), standing up for the oppressed (2:1-4; 5:1-6) and not being “like the world” in the way one responds to evil in the world (1:26-27; 2:11; 3:13-18; 4:1-10). Worldly wisdom is rejected and people are exhorted to embrace heavenly wisdom, which includes peacemaking and pursuing righteousness and justice (3:13-18).
(Jim Reiher, “Violent Language – a clue to the Historical Occasion of James.”Evangelical Quarterly. Vol. LXXXV No. 3. July 2013)


  • Be joyful in trials. (Wait! What!)
  • Let trials increase your perseverance not discourage you.
  • Doing this is a sign of wisdom.
  • When your wisdom is depleted, ask God for more with an open and trusting heart.
  • Honor all people, high or low in circumstances
  • Don’t be fooled by riches. They fade away.

In our Gospel, Jesus is frustrated with the Pharisees who insincerely demand a magical sign from him. They demonstrate none of the spiritual wisdom and openness to grace that James describes.

scale

When we think about our own faith, where does it fall on the scale of sincerity, on the spectrum of counter-culturalism?

Music: Count It All Joy – Scripture Memory Songs

Deep Law of the Heart

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020

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Ps119 Law


Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about LAW.

It’s a word we hear a lot about today, isn’t it? 

  • Rule of Law. 
  • Breaking the Law. 
  • Immigration Law.
  • Mother-in-Law.

You name it, LAW is all around us. So we should already know all about what today’s scripture passages describe – right?

Not really. 

230-2303502_law-clipart-law-and-order-clip-art.png


The “law” we are accustomed to discussing is about agreements constructed by human beings – some of those “agreements” better than others. They are interpreted, stretched, amended, honored, ignored, bypassed, and dissolved by human beings as well.

Sometimes, we equate these “laws” with justice which, at their best, we hope they are. But the LAW of today’s readings is above and beyond these humanly defined agreements. 


This LAW emanates from God. It is pure, whole, complete and holy. It is derived from the perfect nature of God which is, at once, both justice and mercy.

Sirach invites us to thrive in the perfection of God’s Law:

If you choose you can keep the commandments,
they will save you;

if you trust in God, you too shall live.

Paul tells the Corinthians that those “mature” in grace are able to receive the mystery of this Divine Law.

We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.

It is a “mysterious and hidden” Wisdom which the rulers/law makers of Paul’s age did not understand. Because when the Perfect Law became flesh in Jesus Christ, they could not comprehend him.


In our Gospel, Jesus is very clear. He is the fulfillment, not the abolishment of the Law. To live truly within that fulfillment, his disciples must go the extra mile – that is, they must infuse their practice of law/justice with the essence of Love and Mercy.


soup

In the five years since I retired, I’ve gotten pretty good at making soup. When I’m a little lazy, I use a commercial stock for my broth. But when I want to make a soup extra special – truly my own – I make my own bone broth. It makes all the difference.

 


I think growing in our understanding of God’s Law is a little bit like that. It is the “perfect broth” that requires us to put our whole hearts into it. When we consume it, we are nourished, sustained, changed.

Paul says that we can’t even imagine the “broth” God has prepared for us when we live, delight, and become transformed in God’s Law:

Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,

Music:  Eye HAs Not Seen – Marty Haugen

Mercy Philadelphia Hospital

I felt so sad….

me at Mis

… when I read in the paper yesterday that Mercy Philadelphia Hospital will be closing its inpatient services after  just over 100 years of service. For a little over a decade of those years, I was part of the amazing reality we called “Mis”.


No one can define how it got to be such a mysteriously magical place – full of life, death, trauma, healing, angst and love. But as we all churned and deepened in those currents, we came to know a secret: Mercy Enfleshed.


machistoryintro copy
Sr. Jean Loftus and Handsome Neighbor

It was a mission born in the Sisters of Mercy and, by the grace of God, enkindling generations of co-ministers in the exercise of compassion.

Nobody owned the secret. Parts of it belonged to the Sisters, the nurses, doctors, administrators, ancillary staff, patients, community advocates. It was like a huge kite that could never fly unless we all held tight to our part of its magic cord.
And the miracle was that we all did.


It wasn’t perfect. No life of 100 Years is. But, by God, it was magnificent – because it was always fueled by the intention to do the the best we could for the love of God and neighbor.. even down to creating world-famous crab cakes for the patients!

crab cakes
Sister Mary Protase’s Famous Crab Cakes

When the news hit Facebook yesterday, beloved names began to emerge in the comments. Oh how those comments blessed me as my heart was breaking a little (no, a lot). I was reminded that the inpatient services may cease, but the mission lives in these and so many other hearts. There was a permanent joy in that:

I will always have a special fondness for that place. I love the building. I loved the people that work there and long lasting friendships that I made. Nothing else has compared since.


Truly the most amazing, loving and always challenged hospital. My memories are from my childhood and happy to say a good part of my adult life. I can’t imagine how the Sisters of Mercy are feeling,  as much of their legacy lives in the stone and marble that has always quietly embraced so many of us.


This place shaped my life. Really sad.


“Mis” was one of the best periods of my life.  So much history there and so many friendships.


I have many personal experiences with the wonderful colleagues who worked there during the many years I worked at Mercy Health System – some of the most dedicated, caring, compassionate, healthcare professionals I have ever met. I am sure the Sisters of Mercy  are heartbroken since Mercy Philadelphia occupies such an important place in their legacy in the Philadelphia area. My thoughts and prayers are with all the patients and colleagues at Mercy Philadelphia and especially the community it serves.

4 hospital charter copy
Original Charter signed by Foundress Mother Patricia Waldron

My heart is broken. I graduated from Misericordia nursing school in 1969 and proceeded to work for the Sisters of Mercy for 43 years….along side some of the most compassionate and dedicated nurses, physicians, and employees. Misericordia means “mercy from the heart” and it was mercy and love that lived within that beautiful building. Memories of all the wonderful people past and  present have come flooding back….in my life I have loved them all. Some became dear friends who continue in my life….years after retiring. I know my dear Sisters must be heartbroken for the community it served for over 100 years in West Philly.

chapel rn grad


Very sad for those who work there now and for the people of the community. All of the comments posted capture what many of us who worked at “Mis” feel. It helped shape us, reflected true mercy through the tremendous staff who cared for so many over the years and brought people into our lives who continue to touch us. It was always hard work, but we found joy and laughter as we supported each other and cared for those who arrived and touched our lives. That spirit lives  on. As my first head nurse, just said….it was mercy and love that lived within that building.

misericordia post card
Original building – 1918


And oh, how hundreds of names, faces, and souls came to pray with me! Nurses who taught me, patients I loved, Sisters I miss so much, friends who laughed and cried with me, leaders who braved through insurmountable challenges – and most of all, our patients and families who put their lives in our hands and knew we would love them the very best we could.



2 mis windows copy
Chapel Windows – Mercy Hospital

But I know time moves on, and we must let it. Still, I pray about my joyous sorrow today with an excerpt from a book I was privileged to write just before the Centenary:

For nearly 100 years, Mercy Hospital has anchored a sycamore-shaded block of West Philadelphia. Within its solid walls, generations have been born, healed, and accompanied in their dying. The hospital’s enduring presence and service speak an abiding dependability to the community it serves. Still, in contrast to its proven permanence, Mercy Hospital began as a dream, first in the mind of God, and then in the hearts of Mother Patricia Waldron and Archbishop Edmond Prendergast. 

On October 24, 1915, this dream commenced with the hospital groundbreaking at 54th and Cedar Avenue in West Philadelphia. Despite the frailties of age and declining health, Mother Patricia was able to attend the ceremony. Although she died before the hospital opened, on that cool and pleasant afternoon, she was surrounded by those who would carry her dream to reality. They stood with Mother Patricia Waldron in a desolate lot, an abandoned farm with but a single, scrawny tree to suggest the possibility of new life. 

The history of Misericordia Hospital, now known as Mercy Philadelphia Hospital and of her subsequent sister institutions, is marked by a long line of noble, even heroic, leadership and labor. It is impossible to capture fully a century of these names and legacies. Several, by their significant and enduring contributions, will be noted …. 

For the rest, may an awe-filled gratitude serve to acknowledge their selfless contributions now wrapped in time’s anonymity. 

Jesus Always Nourishes

Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel reading is Mark’s second rendering of a great miracle of the loaves and fishes. Scholars vary on whether this passage refers to the same incident as Mark 6. However, the distinctions relate more to Biblical theology than spirituality.

For our prayer today though, I refer you to an earlier reflection on Jesus feeding the crowds because, to be honest, my mind was in a whole different place for prayer this morning. I’ll share some of that in another post for those who may be interested.

So please click below to spend your prayer time being miraculously fed by Jesus- whether it’s with the 4000 or the 5000.😉🙏

Click here to go to earlier reflection on the miracle of the loans and fishes.

The Muddied Healer

Memorial of Saints Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop

February 14, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel gives us one my favorite portrayals of Jesus. It’s what I think of as “down in the dirt with us” Jesus. Let me give you some background on the image.

When I was a kid in North Philly, my buddy’s dog was hit by a car. We were playing baseball in a cinder lot about a half block away. We saw it happen and watched the injuring car speed off.

Petey ran screaming toward his dog, the rest of us streaming behind him. I can still see Petey lie down beside that whimpering mutt who had been tossed into a muddy gully along Philip Street. He cradled the bruised head and whispered to the frightened eyes. Then Petey quietly said, “Get my Dad”, as he stroked Lightening’s heaving back.

In that moment in my memory, Petey became an image of the Divine Healer who – muddied and bloodied — has taken a place beside all of us as we suffer.

In today’s Gospel, there is stunning humanness. The suffering man doesn’t just ask for a miracle. He asks for a hand to be laid on him, for a touch, for a connection he can feel. And Jesus hears his deep human need.

Some miracles are accomplished by a fleshless, electric word shot through the air. But not this one.

tongue
Be Opened – Thomas Davidson (1872)

With this lonely, isolated man, feel Jesus caress your head, finger the ears that have heard so much criticism and frustration. Feel Jesus touch your tongue, so twisted in its attempts to speak your meaning into the world. Receive the surprising gift of Divine spittle that intends to insure, “I am part of you now. You will never be alone again.”

Hear Christ’s groan as he prays for you in sounds that plead, “Get my Dad. ABBA, Father.”

Ephphatha

Hear the definite pronouncement of your liberation from anything that tongue-ties, heart-ties, soul-ties your life:

“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)

Music:  Lord, You Put a Tongue in My Mouth – Divine Hymns

Turn, Turn, Turn!

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings leave me wondering about what makes God tick.

In our first reading, God exacts justice for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, but He does it sort of like a prosecutor in a plea bargain.

I will deprive you of the kingdom … but not during your lifetime
It is your son whom I will deprive … but I won’t take away the whole kingdom.

What’s going on with God in this reading? Well, it’s more like “What’s going on with the writer as he tries, retrospectively, to interpret God’s role in Israel’s history?

The passage is much more than a report on exchanges between God and Solomon.

It is a testament to Israel’s unwavering faith that God is intimately involved in their lives. In every circumstance, the believing community returns to the fact that experience leads to God and not away from Him.

So “Solomon … had TURNED his heart to strange gods”
BUT God had not turned from Solomon.
Nor would God EVER turn because
God has CHOSEN Israel.


In our Gospel, the Syrophoenician woman tries to get the favor of Jesus to turn toward her. And actually, Jesus sounds pretty mean and stingy about it.

Again the writer Mark is portraying, retrospectively, a significant time in Christ’s ministry. Jesus has really gone into hiding in a remote place. Apparently, he wants space to figure some things out. The story indicates that one of those things might be whether or not his ministry should embrace the Gentiles.

The persistence of this woman’s faith is a turning point for Jesus Who evolved, as we all do, in his understanding of his sacred role and meaning in the world.

These passages encourage us to constantly turn toward God Who lives our life with us. Such conversation helps us to grow spiritually. As we become bigger in heart and soul, so does our concept of God and what God’s hope is for us.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – The Gettys (See poem after music video)


All this “turning” brought to mind some favorites lines from T.S. Eliot:



At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.



I happened across a website where Eliot himself reads “Burnt Norton”, the poem from which these lines are taken. Eliot fans might enjoy this. Eliot’s poems take time and work as well as simple reading.  But the effort is so worth it!

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

II

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

III

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
Wtih slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Dessication of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV

Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always —
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

A Queenly Message

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.

sheba

Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.

So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.

But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:

Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice

In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:

(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.

When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.

This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.

The lessons for our world are obvious.


As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:

But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.


Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops


Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre

God Won’t Be Boxed!

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about how we try to “house” God.

Because God is bigger than BIG, our minds struggle. More than struggle, they actually fail, repeatedly, to define God. Yet we still try, don’t we?

Mk7_13 box god

We try to picture, describe, paint, quote, and interpret God. We even decide what God wants and create laws to insure God gets that.

We dilute Divinity to our human dimensions. We just can’t take it straight. We mix it and bottle it in our laws, and box it in our rituals — because we can’t manage Omnipotence. 

And let’s face it, most of us like to manage things. 😉At least the Pharisees in today’s Gospel liked that kind of control. And Jesus challenges them on it.


Praying with these thoughts today, I think of my Dad. He liked an occasional jigger of really fine bourbon – savored in its unadulterated state, without water or soda – what today’s purists call “sipping whisky”.

When the doctor informed him, unfortunately in my mother’s presence, that whisky was a no-no, Dad didn’t like it. But he acquiesced. At least we thought he did. 

After Dad died, my brother and I found his bottle of Kentucky bourbon wrapped in a towel in the basement dryer. You see, only Dad did the wash. Mom never liked machines.

I think Jesus would have really enjoyed my Dad as one of his original disciples. Dad liked life “straight”. His faith was simple, direct, complete and undiluted. Sitting with Jesus that Gospel day, Dad wouldn’t have washed his hands either. He would have been too busy listening to the pure, unbottled Word pouring over him.

The message I took from today’s prayer: 

  • Be very wary of anyone who thinks they know exactly what God wants.
  • Let God out of the boxes I put Him in.
  • Invite God’s Spirit to run free through my heart.
  • Don’t bottle God up; don’t box God in.
  • Enjoy sipping God’s surprising and infinite grace.

Music:  New Pharisees – Charlie Daniels Band (Lyrics below)

New Pharisees

They go walking into church every Sunday morning
They the self-appointed sin patrol
Well they whisper and they gossip behind the back
Of anybody that they can’t control

See that girl in the choir she’s got evil desires
She must be drinking from the devil’s well
She’s a downright disgrace with that paint on her face
She looks just like a Jezebel

And they’re running around putting everybody down
What are you trying to do?
You need to pick up the Book and take another look
‘Cause brother I’ve got the news for you

You know Jesus was sent with a new covenant
And he even died for you
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

You see that boy over there with that long shaggy hair
Ought to be ashamed of his self
He wearing hip-hop clothes got a ring in his nose
Don’t he know he going straight to hell

And then yesterday morning me and sister Johnson
Were talkin’ on the party line
She said that Deacon Brown was having dinner downtown
Somebody seen him with a glass of wine

And you act so righteous and you look so pious
You always pay your tithe
But there’s a rock in your heart and a fire on your tongue
And there ain’t no love in your eyes

Bad news is begotten and the devil is smiling
You gossip and you criticize
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

Well you can’t get by the law so quit flapping your jaws
New pharisees yes, you’re a lot like me