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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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 

My Beloved Son

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, that moment in time when Christ entered into his ministry, announced by the thundering voice of his Father.

mk9_7 baptism

Maybe you’re not like me in this, but I must confess to sometimes letting the scriptures become very ordinary and pedantic. These passages have been read at me in church, sometimes well, often poorly, for seven decades. They have been plastered on billboards, bumper stickers and Church marquees for just as long. All that mundane exposure has demystified some of the most amazing words ever written.

Just think about what today’s Gospel describes. 

Think about the greatest prophet of both the Old and New Testament standing waist-deep in the Jordan, eyes locked on Christ. 

Think about Jesus, perfectly communed with the Father, walking slowly past the bird-filled trees and bushes to a moment that had been waiting for Him since all eternity. Did not those works of the Creator’s hands sing in worship as he passed?

Think about the pulsing sky already filled with the Father’s waiting breath, ready to burst with the proclamation of his Son – this Son who said “Yes” to the greatest act of love in history!

For a few moments this morning, let yourself be there. Be filled with nature’s orchestra. Be filled with the pulsing colors of God’s astonishing revelation. Be filled with the Baptist’s profound reverence. Be filled with Christ’s omnipotent freedom and joy.

Let us enter with gratitude and celebration into the Baptism of Jesus!

Music: Jesus the Lord ~ Roc O’Connor (Lyrics below)

Refrain:
Jesus, Jesus
Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord.

1. In Him we live, we move and have our being;
In Him the Christ, In Him the King!
Jesus the Lord.

2. Though Son, He did not cling to Godliness,
But emptied Himself, became a slave!
Jesus the Lord. 

3. He lived obediently His Father’s will
Accepting His death, death on a cross!
Jesus the Lord!

Confidence

Saturday, January 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings offer us a theme of CONFIDENCE. John begins with the reassuring verse:

1jn5_14 confidence

From the Latin root meaning “to have full trust”,  confidence is a rare and beautiful blessing in our lives. How many people or things are you able to trust that deeply? Are you blessed with a true confidant in your life?

John tells us that this is the kind of relationship we can and should have with God.

He says that when we pray with this confidence, we trust whatever answer we receive to bring us grace and life.

In our Gospel, John’s followers are having a little trouble with their confidence. They are unsettled by the appearance and rising popularity of Jesus. John says to trust what is happening. He had already told them that a greater One would come after him. 

John’s ultimate response is worth repeating in prayer,  “So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” When Christ shines through us without hindrance of our pride or fears, how complete our joy should be, how profoundly rooted our confidence!

Music: Our Confidence is in the Lord

Of Course, I Want To!

Friday, January 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, John and Jesus continue to teach us.

lk5_12 of course
Greek rendering of phrase “Of course I do!”

But, as much as I love John’s letters, there are a few places where his needle gets a little stuck (a metaphor that might be lost on my younger readers?). This passage is one of them.

What I think John wants to get across to us is this: we are invited to eternal life through Baptism, the Paschal-Eucharistic Mystery, and through the Holy Spirit. This is the truth of Jesus Christ which we embrace by faith.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how to live that faithful life – through loving, generous service.

A pitiable leper interrupts Jesus on his journey to ask for help. People like this man were scorned, feared, and isolated. Their leprosy impoverished them, making them annoying beggars. Their cries usually met with indifference at best and banishment at worst.

But when this leper poses his proposal to Jesus – “If you want to, you can heal me.” — Jesus gives the spontaneous answer of a true, merciful heart: “Of course I want to!”

There is no annoyance, no suggestion that other concerns are more important. There is just the confirmation that – Yes- this is the purpose of my life: to heal, love, show mercy toward whatever suffering is in my power to touch. There is just the clear message that “You, too, poor broken leper, are Beloved of God.”

What an example and call Jesus gives us today! We are commissioned to continue this merciful touch of Christ along the path of our own lives. When circumstances offer us the opportunity to be Mercy for another, may we too respond with enthusiasm, “Of course I want to!” May we have the eyes to see through any “leprosy” to find the Beloved of God.

Music: Compassion Hymn – Kristyn and Keith Getty

Christ at the Beauty Shop

Epiphanies come in unexpected places. My most recent one came at the Hair Cuttery.

The place was abuzz in the mid-afternoon, a hive of sounds and scents enough to block normal perception. Sally, my loquacious operator, wrapped the buzz close around me.

shop

As she clipped and chatted, I glanced into the mirror, past my shoulder toward the back row of washstands. An old, and obviously fragile, woman was having her hair washed. But the simple act of leaning back, eyes closed, had unsettled her. The stylist was motioning to an old man to come from the front of the store.

He was a picture in crumpled greys. Age and exhaustion seemed to have robbed him of the crispness people don before they venture out. But his eyes were sharp and his attention focused on the small plea rising from his wife.

He simply took her hand and stood silent while the operator completed her task. He was an icon of both vulnerability and strength; she of fragility and trust. But together, in that handclasp, they were holy and eternal.

old roses

I realized that I had seen, reflected in that mirror, another Incarnation. Their moment was a prayer made visible. It was the love of God made flesh.

On my way out of the shop, I passed him, now reseated in the waiting area. I told him how moved I was by his gentle gesture and its expression of his devotion. He smiled and said, “Would you believe I just met her last week?”

I paused a moment before he continued, chuckling, “No, I have loved her like that for sixty-four years.”

Driving home, I felt my heart reach for God.

“Stay beside me like that in my weaknesses, even in my unfounded fears. Just a hand to hold is all I ask. Just your steady presence within reach is all I need.”

Hold on to the Light!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as our Season of Epiphany continues, Jesus reveals himself at his hometown synagogue.

lk4__18 glad tidings to poor

He already has been preaching and working miracles in nearby Capernaum. On this occasion, though, he has come to his old neighborhood to speak to people who have known him since his childhood.

Some of them wonder, even question, how this guy from around the corner has become a possible Messiah. They make a tough audience for Jesus as he proclaims this exultant passage from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

For the moment, on that Sabbath morning, buoyed by the miracle stories coming from Capernaum, the crowd accepts Jesus’ revelation. 

But, in time, many of these neighbor Nazarenes, locked in their ungraced biases, will reject this Epiphany in their midst.

For true conversion, we need to work our epiphanies – to pray within them, to open our hearts to continuing grace, to let down our prejudices, to stretch our souls for God.

Let’s pray for that grace today.

(Some of you might like to read about a recent epiphany of mine. I’ll send it in a second e-mail.)

Music:  George Strait: I Saw God Today