Mary, Mother of Jesus

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082218.cfm

Queen of Heaven

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, plays a key role in the faith of Catholics and many other Christian believers. But a clear theology of Mary has, over the centuries, become entangled with some unhelpful and pietistic devotions. These have limited the power of the reality of Mary to speak to our faith heritage with full meaning.

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ has done much to relieve that entanglement in her books Truly Our Sister. For your thoughtful prayer this morning, here are two key summaries in the author’s own words:

We began by asking what would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging view of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century. Our answer leads along the path of remembrance in the communion of saints. To relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope in the company of all the graced women and men who have gone before us; to be encouraged by her mothering of God to bring God to birth in our own world; to reclaim the power of her dangerous memory for the flourishing of suffering people; and to draw on the energy of her memory for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the worldthis theological approach fits at least one pattern of contemporary spirituality. When the Christian community remembers like this, Mary the friend of God and prophet inspires the lives of women and men alike.
—- Mary of Nazareth: Friend of God and Prophet, America magazine, June 17, 2000

“Remembering Mary as a friend of God and prophet in the communion of saints, a woman who is truly sister to our strivings, allows the power of her life to play in the religious consciousness of the church, encouraging ever-deeper relationship with the living God in whom our spirits rejoice, and allying us with God’s redemptive designs for the hungry, the lowly, and all those who suffer, including in an unforgettable way women with their children in situations of poverty, prejudice, and violence.”
— Truly Our Sister

Music: Magnificat ~ sung by the Daughters of Mary

Who’s First?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082118.cfm

first Last

Today, in Mercy, our readings are full of “either – or” talk, opposing categories that render us either blessed or damned:

  • rich or poor
  • death or life
  • first or last

The distance between these contrasts appears to be measured in possessions and power:

  • Ezekiel pronounces God’s Word to the Prince of Tyre: “ … your heart has grown haughty from your riches…”
  • The responsorial from Deuteronomy cautions: “It is I – not you- Who give life and deal death.”
  • And the Gospel advises, “Anyone who has given up (possessions) for My sake … will inherit eternal life.”

For centuries, Christians have struggled with these concepts. It is counterintuitive to want to divest of one’s “riches”. Yet Jesus is telling us that it is almost impossible not to be coöpted by our possessions – not to have our spirits so distracted by their acquisition and retention that they displace God as the center of our lives. Jesus says is like a camel trying to pass through a needle’s eye.

Ezekiel suggests that to believe we possess anything is an illusion. Everything can be taken from us in an instant. Jesus says the illusion will be flipped in the Kingdom of Heaven where the “first”and “last” will switch places.

These are radical concepts that each Christian must absorb into her own life through prayer and service in order to find grace for her own circumstances. Life is not “either/or” for most of us. There is a lot of grey where we constantly weigh what God would want of us.

Through prayer and service, we can invite God to patiently change our perception of where true riches lie. The degree of change will determine whether we possess our “riches”, or they possess us.

Music: Only Jesus – Casting Crowns

Follower of Christ

Monday, August 20, 2018 – Memorial of St. Bernard

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082018.cfm

st Bernard

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells us the story of a rich young man with a good and holy heart. He asked Jesus what he needed to do, beyond keeping the commandments, to become perfect in God’s sight. 

Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him. Apparently, this is too much for the man to accept and he goes away sad.

On the other hand, we have St. Bernard of Clairvaux whose feast we celebrate today. Bernard, too, had been a wealthy young man. Hearing Christ’s call to leave everything behind and follow Him, Bernard entered the Cistercian monastery. 

He desired only to live a deeply contemplative life, but his many intellectual and spiritual gifts brought him significant roles in the broader life of the Church. Doctor of the Church, Abbot, Advisor of Popes, Reformer of Religious Life – any of these titles fit Bernard today. 

But perhaps the title he would treasure most is the one he first pursued: Follower of Christ.

We do not need to be a monk or a nun to follow Jesus. We simply need to know where our true treasure lies, and to give everything for it.

Music: Follow Me – Casting Crowns

Taste and See!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081918.cfm

Ps34_Honey

Today, in Mercy, in the beautiful first reading from Proverbs, Wisdom builds her house and invites us to turn in to her welcoming door. Picture a lovely cottage, set in a varied garden. You are coming off a long road through the darkness. But Light shines from Wisdom’s doorway, carrying the invitation for refreshment and rest.

But there is a caveat before you partake:

Let whoever is simple turn in here …
she says,
Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;advance in the way of understanding.

Are we simple enough to become wise? Do we have a heart sincere enough to trust that there is an Infinity beyond our understanding Who loves and invites us from the depth of It’s Mystery?

In our Gospel, Jesus clarifies that He is the door by which we enter into the fullness of Wisdom. When we meet Him in Eucharist, in the deepest simplicity of faith, we pass through the door to Eternal Wisdom – to the sweet, infinite simplicity of God.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm offers us a refrain to thread through our prayer today:

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

This is Wisdom’s invitation offered to us in each experience of our day. May we be simple enough to hear it.

Music: Psalm 34 ~ The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir 

A Clean Heart

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081818.cfm

Ps51_clean heart

Today, in Mercy, God tells Ezekiel that each person will be judged according to her/his own ways – not according to the deeds of our parents, family or friends.

In the Gospel, Jesus blesses the innocent children and says that those in the Kingdom of Heaven must be like them.

Most of us are a long way from innocence. We have our agendas, our politics, our status, our possessions, our grudges, our prejudices that often come between us and a spiritually pure heart.

If we want to be different, today’s Psalm 51 allows us to lay it all on the heart of Jesus.   Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.

(I hope you enjoy this gentle rendering of the psalm in Hebrew.)

Music: Choneni Elohim, from Psalm 51 (Be Gracious to me O G-d) ~ Christine Jackman

Receive the Word

Friday, August 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings focus on the covenant between God and God’s People. 

1 Thess2 Word

Ezekiel recounts the infidelity of Israel which is met with the infinite fidelity of God. In our Gospel, Jesus parries with the Pharisees as they test him with questions about fidelity in marriage. Both readings reference “the word” which comes to us carrying truth and revelation. Today’s Alleluia Verse directs us to receive the Word of God with openness.

How will the Word of God come to us today? Will it be a single message, mysteriously hidden somewhere in the voluminous activities and distractions of the day?

No, instead it will be hidden in plain sight in ALL those activities and distractions. The Word of God is the abiding presence of Love which sustains our lives at every moment. It is the language that only a faithful heart can hear, a language throbbing in all Creation. We learn this language by silence, prayer and loving service of others.

May we be open to receive the Word of God as it comes to us, clothed in the lights and shadows of this day.

Music: Your Word ~ Hillsong Worship

Is God Angry?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081618.cfm

Mt 18_34 Angry

Today, in Mercy, our readings leave us wondering, “Can God get angry?” It’s hard for us, who think of God as Lavish Mercy, to imagine that God would be irrevocably angry with us.

Today’s readings are examples of the ways in which both the Hebrew prophets and Jesus tried to describe the Indescribable God in words we might understand. Sometimes in scripture we find an angry God, an impatient God, a frustrated God, a vengeful God- even a bullying God. All these stories make God seem very human. But God is not like us, just as many other scripture passages assure us.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

What we do know for certain is that God is Love, because only Love could have breathed forth Creation. All the other descriptions are our imaginative struggles to comprehend how God might react to our human situation.

Today, as the news describes the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on over 300 abusive priests, I cannot imagine how God is not heartbroken and angry. Can there be a greater sacrilege than the savaging of innocence by those proclaiming to sanctify it?

Let us pray for Mercy today for victims and survivors, that they may find some healing in the telling of their tragedies and the affirmation of their courage. 

Let us pray for ourselves, a broken Church, where an idolatrous “priesthood” has killed the image of Christ it was thought to represent, where the façade of trust lies dissolved in the tears of children, and the hope of transformation is elusive.

Let our spirits weep with the God of Love, and ask for Mercy to show us the way back to the pure heart of our faith.

Music: Mercy ~ Matthew Redman

Understanding the Assumption: Maturing in Faith

Readings: Click here for Readings

Rev 12_1 Assumption

 

Many of us grew up in households where we were surrounded by a strong devotional faith. I am happy to be one of those people. These simple, sacramental practices awakened and engaged my young faith and offered me a visible means to respond to its stirrings. These practices also gave my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary, the saints, and my Guardian Angel.

I remember with gratitude the many parameters of that deep devotion which accompanied our fundamental practice of a sacramental and liturgical life.

  • Our home had a crucifix in every room to remind us of God’s Presence
  • Over the main door was the statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings to bless us on our journeys.
  • All year, Dad’s fedora sported a tiny piece of straw tucked into its plaid band. He had plucked it from the parish Christmas crèche, near to St. Joseph who was his patron.
  • During a really violent thunderstorm, we might get a sprinkling from Mom’s holy water flask kept for especially taxing situations.

And, maybe because we live not too far from the east coast, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that, through the water, Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.

wedding-of-sea-mike

I can still picture young boys helping their elderly grandparents into the shallow surf. I remember mothers and fathers marking their children’s brows with a briny Sign of the Cross. There was a humble, human reverence and trust in these actions that blesses me still.

While that August 15th ritual, like similar devotions, might seem superstitious and even hokey to some today, the memory of it remains with me as a testament to the simple faith and deep love of God’s people for our Blessed Mother.

It was just such devotion and faith, expressed over centuries by the faithful, that moved Pius XII to declare the dogma of the Assumption:

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
(MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS 44)

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus(The Most Bountiful God). The world at that time was still healing from the horrors of World War II. The Pope himself, no doubt, was wounded beyond description by what he had witnessed. One can hear his deep pain as he begins his letter by saying:

“Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life.

This belief is complementary to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. These two articles of faith embrace the totality of Mary’s life which was uniquely blessed among all humans. Mary gives us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.

Marie T. Farrell, RSM presents a scholarly and insightful essay on the Assumption here. Her work gives us a rich understanding of the theological layers within this teaching.

Click here for Sr. Marie’s article

Sister Marie closes her essay with these words:
Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a prophetic symbol of hope for us all. In his Resurrection-Ascension, Jesus has shown the way to eternal life. In the mystery of Assumption, the Church sees Mary as the first disciple of many to be graced with a future already opened by Christ, one that defies comprehension for ‘…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…(1 Cor 2: 9)

Musical Reflection with Song below: Prayer of Pure Love ~ Letty Hammock and Sue K. Riley

 

 

 

 

I Will Carry You

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081418.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us that he wants none of us to be lost. He wants that so much that he would leave the whole flock just to find us. That’s how precious we are to God.

Mt 18_14lamb

We’ve all felt lost to God at times – maybe through sorrow, depression, doubt, anger, distraction, self-absorption, laziness or a thousand other kinds of paralyses and sins.

We hear people – maybe ourselves – say, “I just can’t pray” or “I don’t have time to pray” or, “I’m too angry with God to pray.” Or, probably the most common excuse, “I’ll pray just as soon as I get everything else done.” Of course, we never get everything else done!

I think that sometimes we stray from God because we are afraid:

  • that our faith is not strong enough to receive God’s answer
  • that we are not good enough for God to love us
  • that we cannot measure up to honest relationship with the God of Truth

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to get past our excuses and fears. He says, “Get up here on my shoulders and let me carry you. I already know all about your excuses and fears – and I love you beyond them. Let’s go home to God’s heart.”

Music: I Will Carry You ~ Sean Clive

The Scripture of Our Lives

Monday, August 13, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081318.cfm

Ez1 boing

Today, in Mercy,  in our first reading, Ezekiel signals that something really important has happened. He does this by means of a prophetic word formula – repeated and patterned phrases found throughout the Bible. 

One pattern that we’re accustomed to is, “Amen, Amen, I say to you..” Jesus used it to say, “Listen up! Important info to follow!”

Another pattern is the specific setting of time and place to mark an event as pivotal. One such beloved phrase: “It came to pass in those days, that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Ezekiel’s formulaic phrase is a marker in his spiritual life: 

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile,
The word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel…

If we look back over our own lives, we will remember moments when God clearly entered our experience. We may not have realized it until long after. We may be surprised to remember a point in time as the opportunity God took to embrace us. But through reflective prayer, we begin to see that God is with us, even in our darkest moments, bringing the revelation of God’s infinite Love and Mercy.

What if we filled in the blanks in Ezekiel’s formula with our own life markers? What if we thanked God for each of them, dark or light – asking for the grace to understand their revelation?

Each of our lives is its own scripture, telling the story of God’s love and presence. Spend time with yours today.

Music: God of All My Days ~ Casting Crowns