The Soul-Whisperer

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072218.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings gather us into the arms of the Good Shepherd.

Mt6_34 shepherd

This beautiful image, which is beloved to us even in our highly urbanized society, certainly held even greater meaning to the early Christians. They understood, from experience, the utter self-donation of a shepherd to his flock. The shepherd needed his sheep in order to live, just as they needed him. Their lives were critically interdependent.

In a sense, the shepherd became one with the sheep. From sunrise to sunset, and even through the night, he led them to food, water, and rest. He protected them as they slept, by laying his own body across the sheep gate.

In our own time, a more familiar image might be that of a horse-whisperer, someone who through natural sensitivity and studious training, is able to understand and communicate with animals. Rather than “breaking” a horse, as seen in old westerns, the horse-whisper leads them to trust by listening and responding to them through body-language.

As we pray with the image of the Good Shepherd today, we might imagine Jesus as our “Soul-Whisperer”. Jesus stands beside us in the vast, open loneliness of life, which sometimes tries to “break” us. But we are never alone. He is listening. As he opens our life before us, let us trust and follow him. He has made our welfare his own by becoming one of us.

Music: The Lonely Shepherd
( Tap the center of the picture below to hear the song.)

God’s Gentleness

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072118.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Matthew describes Jesus as He begins to experience a mortal resistance to his message. Jesus slowly realizes that some listening to him are full of hate, fear, and deception. His response reflects the counsel he himself offered earlier in his ministry: offer the evil one no resistance.

Is42_3 and Mt Reed

Jesus does not respond to evil or sin. He confronts it. He stands firm against it. But Jesus does not stoop to argument, violence, or any other form of engagement which would legitimize evil. He will not step into the trap evil always sets for its prey. When we fight evil with evil’s own weapons, we have already lost.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus simply walks away. We can feel his sadness. His offer of eternal love and grace has fallen on recalcitrant hearts. He sees that these hearts are lost to God.

Instead, Jesus gathers around him the humble and wounded, the ones whose hearts have been softened by suffering and shadows. He gently comforts them, heals them, and leads them to a new Light. They are the bruised reeds which he does not break. They are like smoldering wicks which he tenderly rekindles with his Word.

Let us place our own bruises and flickering lights in his presence today. Let us gather the world’s hurts and darknesses in our prayer. We give ourselves to the gentle love of Jesus.

I remember this morning a beloved prayer of my youth. Some of you may remember too: The Prayer before the Crucifix 

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
While before Thy face I humbly kneel
And with burning soul, pray and beseech Thee,
To fix deep in my heart,
Lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity,
True contrition for my sins
And a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate with great love and tender pity,
Thy five most precious wounds,
Pondering over them within me,
And calling to mind the words that David,
Thy prophet, said of Thee , my Jesus,

“They have pierced My hands and feet,
They have numbered all my bones.”

Music: My Heart Longs for a Touch
(To hear music, tap the center of the picture below.)

Rest

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus stretches out his arms to all the suffering, troubled, lonely, upset people of the world. He opens his arms to us when we are feeling exhausted, confused or lost.

Mt 11_29 Rest

“Come to Me”, Jesus says. I am waiting for you. I see your burdens and distress. It doesn’t even matter if you are the cause of your own problems. I love you and I will comfort you.

Today, let’s just give ourselves, without reservation, into his loving invitation.

I Fall into Your Arms – Sean Clive

Simplicity

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071818.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus thanks his Father for revealing the mysteries of heaven to the “childlike”. The original Greek word means “babies”, “ones who cannot speak”.

One response to this reading is to strive for a childlike faith – open, simple and trusting. But that is not easy. We are sophisticated persons living in a complex world. Many of us having difficulty reclaiming the single-mindedness of children in our thought processes.

simple Mt11_25_27

And yet, in terms of spiritual matters, perhaps we are not all that mature. St. Paul attested to the spiritual immaturity of the early Christians in passages like these:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able… (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the mysteries of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (Hebrews 5:12-13)

So, returning to today’s Gospel, what might we conclude? The ways of God are infinitely beyond our comprehension. Still, we question and parse them as if they were problems to be solved rather than mysteries to be absorbed. Our prayer becomes filled with “Why” instead of “Yes”.

When our faith becomes confused or restless, we must return like a colicky child to our all-wise and loving God, trusting that we will be soothed. In God’s embrace, we will be led deeper in faith, not by sophisticated analysis, but by the simplicity of absolute love.

Music: Simple Gifts (Yo Yo Ma and Alison Kraus)

From the Depths of Woe

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we read one of the saddest Gospel passages, the woes to Chorazain, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  These little villages were precious to Jesus, like little children to a loving teacher. Jesus had preached and performed amazing miracles in these towns. Still they had not demonstrated that basic change of heart which proclaims, “I believe”. They had not become places of mercy, justice and mutual love.

Woe Mt11_20_24JPG

Notice that Jesus does not deliver these woes to individuals. He doesn’t say, “Harry, you messed up!” or “Gert, you better get it together”. What Jesus is talking about here is corporate guilt, that kind of hard-hearted sinfulness that affects whole institutions, clubs, societies, cities, nations. 

This kind of sin manifests itself in a dehumanization of people, and a blindness to mercy and love. In Jesus’ day, such sin had infected the Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, and probably a host of smaller religious, political and social networks.

In our day, we might recognize it in our churches, governments, or social associations. Its dead giveaway is the act of marking any person as “other”: not white like us, not men like us, not American like us, not Gentiles like us, not straight like us, smart, rich, educated and privileged like us — not fully human like us.

Corporate sin confuses justice with law, power with control, importance with success, wealth with possession, strength with domination. It is the kind of sin wherein a weaker group must suffer in order for the stronger group to thrive. We see its effects in war, economic suppression, racism and nationalism, misogyny and homophobia, and in the devastation of the Earth.

To the degree that we espouse and benefit from such corporate sin – or to the degree that we remain silent in its presence – woe to us as well.

Music: De Profundis – Gregorian Chant

From the depths of woe I cry to You,
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication: 

If You, O Lord, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with You is forgiveness,
that You may be revered. 

I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in His word.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than sentinels wait for the dawn. 

More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord.
For with the Lord is kindness,
and with Him is plenteous redemption;
And He will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Monday, July 16, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, on this Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we consider our devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Devotion is the honor we we offer Mary and the saints, hoping to imitate their holiness in our own lives. Devotion differs from adoration, which is the prayer we offer to God alone.

Some question the role or efficacy of devotion in our spiritual lives, feeling that the spiritual life is a relationship specifically to God. But for those of us who believe in the Communion of Saints, the power “mentorship” from the saints is unquestionable.

Devotions also play a key role in the early development of our faith. My own faith received abundant nourishment from my mother’s devotion to the Miraculous Medal, and my father’s unending novena to St. Joseph. Even now, in my mature years, I still return to these two devotions when faced with a critical concern.

mt Carmel

Like so many of you, my own young mastering of the Rosary gave me a loving awareness of the evolving life of Christ. And a host of beloved prayers deepened my love of God, including the Prayer before the Crucifix and St. Patrick’s Breastplate. You may want to remember your own favorite devotions – some which you may still use in times of difficulty or uncertainty.

Sacred objects can also support our developing faith – a precious medal, a special statue, a scapular, or a relic. Contemporary religious practice is less focused on these supports, but their value as simple devotional tools is abundantly proven.

What is important to remember is that the value of these devotions and sacramentals lies in their ability to lead us to relationship with God, not in any  “magic” they themselves possess.

For those of us with a special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, (the Sisters of Mercy included), this is a day to ask Mary’s maternal favor on our lives and world. Picture yourself wrapped in her loving mantle, your deepest needs receive by her maternal heart.

Departure from the Music today – a short reflection on Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Carmelite Order.

Blessed Be God

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071518.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings are filled with God’s glory and blessings. The magnificent passage from Ephesians is considered an example of the great Pauline Hymns. These are places in Paul’s writing where he breaks into lyrical songs of praise and thanksgiving, so overwhelmed is he by the goodness of God.

Eph1_17 hymn

Have you ever felt like that – just so grateful to God for the blessings of your life? So blessed to wake up in the morning, with the capacity to believe, to hope, and to love!

A practice I learned many years ago has helped me focus on this kind of prayerful gratitude. As soon as I realize I am awake in the morning (and sometimes that takes a while😀), I say this simple prayer:

Thank you, God, for my life.

On a special morning, I might pause and expand that prayer quite a bit. But every day, I start with at least that brief phrase.

Savor St. Paul’s eloquence in his hymn of praise today. Let your heart recognize God’s goodness and sing even a silent, personal Thank You.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.
Ephesians 1:3

Music: Ephesians Hymn ~ Suzanne Toolan, RSM, who is Sister of Mercy at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA. She has mentored many people in centering prayer in retreats and in prisons. She is prolific composer of liturgical music, including the iconic hymn, “I Am the Bread of Life”. Suzanne recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

Precious to God

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071418.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings tell us something we already know – living a good, holy life is hard, especially when we are caught in suffering.

Isaiah gets so upset about his unworthiness for it that he cries out, “Woe is me! I am doomed!” But then, after a little angelic intervention, he nevertheless opens his heart to God’s call.

In our Gospel, Jesus says we’re going to run into a lot of darkness as we try to speak Light. He says the darkness could even be life-threatening. That thought is pretty woeful, too, don’t you think?

But then Jesus says somethings so stark, yet reassuring:

  • Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but not the soul.
  • Not a single sparrow falls without God’s awareness, and you are worth more than many sparrows.
  • God even numbers the hairs on your head, like a Mother brushing the locks of her beloved child.

In other words, you are beyond precious to God. God will accompany and sustain you as you navigate any darkness.

Mt10_31 sparrow

This morning, I think of those young Thai boys and coach, delivered from the isolating, life-threatening darkness of a twisted, flooded cave. Praise God! 

Their situation may remind us of times we have been overwhelmed by sorrow, loneliness, fear, isolation, or any other kind of pain. God is with us in that darkness. We are never lost to God. Our faith assures us that, like a sparrow held gently in God’s hand, we will be delivered to Light.

Music: His Eye Is on the Sparrow – a vintage selection by George Beverly Shea 

(George Beverly Shea (February 1, 1909 – April 16, 2013) was a Canadian-born American gospel singer and hymn composer. Shea was often described as “America’s beloved gospel singer” and was considered “the first international singing ‘star’ of the gospel world,” as a consequence of his solos at Billy Graham Crusades.)

Truth on Friday 13th

Friday, July 13, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071318.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we pray with the word “Truth”. The word appears 137 times in the Bible. God clearly has something to tell us about it!

Jn16_13

A truth theme runs through today’s readings like a magnetic thread, drawing us to deeper self-understanding. Friday the 13th is a good day for that, don’t you think – a day fraught with superstitions and falsehoods?

When I was a teenager, my parents decided to wallpaper our living room. Dad, a master craftsman at just about any DIY project, had been physically incapacitated by several heart attacks. So, while he was the architect, I was the contractor for this home project.

Dad was an exact yet patient teacher. I learned how to cut, paste and match seams. I absorbed the craftsperson’s essential mantra: measure twice, cut once. Even the mysteries and miracles of Dad’s old, treasured toolbox were opened to me.

One morning, Dad said we had to “true up” a wall and that we were going to “drop a plumb line”. It was Greek to me. But he explained that no building is perfectly level. If we didn’t begin our papering from a leveled line, we would end up feeling like our living room was a tilted funhouse. 

Don’t you sometimes feel like our world is that funhouse? But it isn’t really very much fun, is it? We live in a time when information and communication are at our fingertips. Yet, we are confused by half-truths and distorted facts. We are assailed with propaganda and cyber-manipulation. We are fed a diet of constant cabled lies AND we consume them to satisfy our biases. Even in our personal lives, we may be undercut by false friends and masquerading enemies. Like Pontius Pilate, we are left with the question, “Truth! What is “Truth”?

Today’s readings drop a plumb line into that skewed world. 

  • Hosea tells us, “Straight are the paths of the Lord; in them the just walk.” 
  • Our Psalm implores God to create in us a true heart. 
  • Our Gospel tells us that, even in the midst of deceit, that true heart will be guided by the Holy Spirit.

On this Friday the 13th, we can start by truing up our own spirits. Let’s pray for the grace today to be true friends – not fair weather; true patriots – not nationalists; true believers – not Pharisees. 

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
(from today’s Psalm)

Music: Change My Heart, O God! – Maranatha Music