Called like Matthew

Friday, September 21, 2018

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, on this feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, we are blessed with an inspiring reading from Ephesians. We are reminded that each of us is called in God according to our particular gifts. Paul encourages us to live “in a manner worthy of the call we have received” in our Baptism.

evangel Matthew

For most of us, it has been quite a while since we were washed in the waters of our Baptism. A lot of other waters have passed under the bridge since then. We may, or may not, have recognized and responded to our call, continually carried to us on those life waters.

Each moment, each choice, each act and decision asks us once again to choose Christ – over sin, over self, over meaninglessness. Each life opportunity calls us closer to Jesus, to the pattern of his Cross, to the witness of his Resurrection.

Matthew heard such a call as he sat, perhaps dulled by the unconscious disengagement of his life, by the failure to live with intention and openness to grace. As He passed by Matthew, Jesus reached into that ennui, calling Matthew to evangelize all the future generations by his Gospel.

Jesus calls us to be evangelists too – every moment, every day. Our “Yes” to our particular call writes its own Gospel, telling the Good News through our faith, hope and love.

Pope Francis says this:

The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.

Music: When You Call My Name ~ Brian Doerksen & Steve Mitchinson

The Harlot’s Hair

Thursday, September 20, 2018

      Click here for readings.

Can you see her? 

She is known throughout the town for the woman she is – no ordinary, unknown panderer of her body’s wares. She is a true “madam”, and a few of her customers already sit, silent and furtive, at the Pharisee’s table.

Lk7_37 jar

She wears an elegant robe, for her fees are steep. Gem-encrusted bracelets encircle her wrists and ankles. But it is her hair that crowns her beauty. Flowing like a sable river, it is wound in deep waves around her lovely face and shoulders. It is scented with a small bit of the precious ointment she now carries in her alabaster jar.

Among her many assets, it is her hair that sets her apart. Some women see it through green eyes; some men through black hearts. But she, even in the confusion of her choices, has always known it to be a gift. 

How to use the gift has been her life long challenge. Ultimately, would it prove to be her salvation or her damnation?  Is it not so with every special gift, with every leverage that makes us singular among our peers? 

These gifts may take the form of possessions, power, position, favor or myriad other shapes. They may reside in a clever wit, and incisive mind, and agile body, a profound spirit. They may rest in a dogged perseverance, an adhesive memory or a dynamic imagination. Whatever our unique power, it is the key to our self-definition. It speaks our particular presence in the world.

At some point in her soul’s journey, this gorgeous gospel woman decided that her superior beauty would serve Jesus. What might have caused that dramatic conversion in her life?

Some versions of the story say that seven devils were once cast from her by Jesus’s merciful hand. Whatever the moment might have been, we can see from today’s Gospel scene that it was profound, intimate, and complete.

Her luxuriant hair has become a sacrament of healing, offered on this night to a friend about to suffer death for the sake of Love. Because her own love is so great, she understands this suffering in Jesus long before his other followers.

This reading leaves us with so much to consider about our own gifts and how we use them; about the depth of our relationship with Jesus and how we show him our love; about what is in our alabaster jar and where we choose to pour its treasure.

Music: Pour My Love on You – Philips, Craig, and Dean

Love is …

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

       Readings: Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we encounter the often-read, less-practiced Corinthians passage on love. Could there be any word more massacred in our human language? Watch a few minutes of “Bachelorette”, or read a few Valentine’s cards, or listen to a commercial that tells you how much you’ll love some car! You’ll see what I mean.

Our souls so desperately need to learn and re-learn Paul’s definition of love.

1Cor13_loove

To open, Paul tells us that nothing we do matters if it is done without love. Does this mean we have to enjoy executing all the duties required of us? I think not. Sometimes a duty feels like a drudgery.

But Paul is speaking here to our motivation. All that we do must be done because we care for and honor ourselves and others. This lightens any sense of burden and gives us a resilience and joy even in difficulty. This is what real love looks like.

Paul goes on to name the specific characteristics of love.  If you’re like me, this section is like a checklist against which I measure myself:

  • Patient? – sometimes. 
  • Jealous, pompous, boastful, rude? – uh oh!
  • Does not seek its own interests? – (alarms now going off)

Yes, the deeper we go into this passage, the more we realize how far we are from the kind of love Paul describes.

The whole point of the spiritual journey is to continually refine our understanding and practice of love until it fits more perfectly to the pattern of Jesus Who is Love.

Let’s all pray today to “clang” a little less, and love a lot more.

Music: Love Goes On ~ Bernadette Farrell

We Are the Body of Christ

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

     Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091818.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us that we are his Body. How do we keep faith with this when the Body strains against its own parts? How do we look beyond human frailty to the vision of Christ?

No one can deny that the Church struggles with its peace and unity. The current reality of the Catholic Church is fraught with abuse, division and threatened schism. And these things are nothing new. Church history reads like a novel laced with intrigue, power plays, and gratuitous violence.

How are we to reconcile these realities with Jesus’ pronouncement in today’s Gospel?

I think we do so by acknowledging 

  • that the Living Church has not yet sifted out the chaff from the wheat
  • that the Body of Christ is still being crucified
  • that our discipleship consists in sharing the continuing act of redemption with Jesus

We strengthen ourselves for this sacred participation by our faithfulness to the Gospel, by our quest for meaningful Eucharist, and by our reverence for Christ’s presence in all Creation.

Pierre de Chardin saw the Body of Christ in cosmic terms which open our understanding and challenge us to an evolution of grace. He says:

“ No, the Body of Christ must be understood boldly, as it was seen and loved by St. John, St. Paul, and the Fathers. It forms in nature a world which is new, an organism moving and alive in which we are all united physically, biologically….

It is first by the Incarnation and next by the Eucharist that Christ organizes us for Himself and imposes Himself upon us.  Although He has come above all for souls, uniquely for souls, He could not join them together and bring them life without assuming and animating along with them all the rest of the world. By His Incarnation, He inserted Himself not just into humanity but into the universe which supports humanity, and He did so not simply as another connected element, but with the dignity and function of a directing principle, of a Center toward which everything converges in harmony and Love.”
(de Chardin: La Vie Cosmique)

Music: Song of the Body of Christ ~ David Haas

A Faith that Delights God

Monday, September 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus, in amazement, praises the faith of the centurion. What was it about this man’s faith that could astound even God?  How would my faith make Jesus feel?

faith

We are taught that faith is a gift. We can’t earn it or acquire it on our own. We can though – once we have been given it – exercise it, polish it, cherish it and share it in order to make it stronger.

What is faith exactly?

Well, first off, we get faith mixed up with a lot of things that it is not. 

Faith is not the same as religion or religious denomination. Faith transcends Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism or Islam. These are the only frameworks in which we sometimes practice our faith.

 Faith isn’t devotions, or prayers, or the formulas we pull out when we are in trouble. It is not the Prayer to St. Anthony when we can’t find our car keys. It is not the novena we say to receive a special favor. These are only practices which allow us to express our faith in human terms.

And most importantly, faith is not an ideology by which we exceptionalize and elevate ourselves, suggesting that others are less because of their choice of religious practice.

If we take a clue from today’s Gospel, we could describe faith like this:

  • It is the unshakable understanding that all Creation belongs to God, including every aspect of my life.
  • It is the trust that God wills our good in all things. 
  • It is the sure confidence that God abides with us in all circumstances.
  • It is the giving of my heart to this abiding God in a relationship of mutual love.
  • It is a life that bespeaks these confidences.

The centurion must have had this kind of faith and it delighted Jesus. Let’s pray for a faith that can do that for God!

Music: Be Still – David Kauffman

Lay it Down for God

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our Sunday readings increase in dramatic tone.  The passage from Isaiah describes a Savior bent on his mission despite mounting resistance and expressed hatred.

Psalm 116 describes a person set upon by suffering and death threats, still trusting in the Lord’s saving grace.

In the Epistle, James says we must demonstrate our faith by our works — by putting our money where our mouth is.

Mk 8_34 lay down life

And in our Gospel, Jesus says we do this by following him, denying ourselves and taking up our cross.

This is heavy stuff. Jesus wants us to be like him — and it would be so much easier not to be!  It would be so much easier to think that our life is all about ourselves, and that we have no responsibility for Beloved Creation.

It would be so much easier not to give our lives to Christ to allow Him to bless the world through our love.

But if we wish to “save” our lives like this, we will — in the end — lose them for eternity.

Let us pray today for the grace to take our life and lay it down over the Cross of Christ.

In that laying down, to conform ourselves to the pattern of his love, to place the weight of our burdens and hopes on the crossbeam of his strength 

Let us ask for the strength to live 

  • for God
  • for others
  • for good in the world
  • and never for self when it injures or lessens others or our Sacred Home.

This is the way we will keep our lives in Christ.

Music: Take Up Your Cross – David Haas

She Stood by Jesus

Saturday, September 15, 2018

     Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091518.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we pray with Our Mother of Sorrows.

sorrows

Mary’s greatest sorrows came, not from circumstances she bore personally, but from her anguish at the sufferings of Jesus. Like so many mothers, fathers, spouses, children and friends, Mary suffered because she loved.

It is so hard to watch someone we love endure pain. We feel helpless, lost and perhaps angry. We may be tempted to turn away from our beloved’s pain because it empties us as well as them.

This is the beauty and power of Mary’s love: it did not turn. Mary’s devotion accompanied Jesus – even through crucifixion and death – for the sake of our salvation.

Today’s liturgy offers us the powerful sequence “Stabat Mater”.

Stabat Mater Dolorosa is considered one of the seven greatest Latin hymns of all time. It is based upon the prophecy of Simeon that a sword was to pierce the heart of His mother, Mary (Lk 2:35). The hymn originated in the 13th century during the peak of Franciscan devotion to the crucified Jesus and has been attributed to Pope Innocent III (d. 1216), St. Bonaventure, or more commonly, Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306), who is considered by most to be the real author.

The hymn is often associated with the Stations of the Cross. In 1727 it was prescribed as a Sequence for the Mass of the Seven Sorrows of Mary (September 15) where it is still used today. (preces-latinae.org)

Music: Stabat Mater Dolorosa – Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
This is a glorious rendition. If you have time, you might listen to it on a rainy afternoon or evening as you pray.

For English translation, click here.

This is the Mind of Jesus

Friday, September 14, 2018

     Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091418.cfm

Today, in Mercy, on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, our readings include the sublime Philippians Canticle.

Phil2_6 Cross

To me, this is the most beautiful passage in the Bible – so beautiful that nothing else needs to be said about it.

As we read it lovingly and prayerfully today, may we take all the suffering of the world to Christ’s outstretched arms – even our own small or large heartaches and longings.

Music: Philippians Canticle ~ John Michael Talbot

And if there be therefore any consolation
And if there be therefore any comfort in his love
And if there be therefore any fellowship in spirit
If any tender mercies and compassion

We will fulfill His joy
And we will be like-minded
We will fulfill His joy
We can dwell in one accord
And nothing will be done
Through striving or vainglory
We will esteem all others better than ourselves

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Though in the form of God
He required no reputation
Though in the form of God
He required nothing but to serve
And in the form of God
He required only to be human
And worthy to receive
Required only to give

Faith Fat-Heads?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

       Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091318.cfm

1 Cor8_Pride

Today, in Mercy, Paul puts forth a somewhat elaborate argument about what it means to know Christ. Paul’s style is strung with the “if – then” rational of classic Greek debate. Reading this passage might leave us thinking it’s just about dietary customs. But it’s not. It’s about us.

The core of the reading teaches us that the more we grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, the gentler and more merciful we must be with others. We must always lead others to Christ by patience and example rather than by force, criticism or shaming.

Paul says there’s a good reason for that. He says we’re never as smart or holy as we think we are. Any pride or self-righteousness in our practice of faith are sure indications of this deficit. These attitudes lead us to judgment rather than mercy.

In plain terms, Paul is saying that nobody likes or learns from a fat-head or know-it-all. Our faith will inspire only when it humbly reflects the all-knowing, all-merciful God Who loves us even in the inevitable weakness of our humanity.

The music today is a lovely old hymn sung by Harry Dench. Dench, an Australian, sang with the The Moonee Ponds Songsters Of The Salvation Army. 

I love many of these robust, open-hearted hymns of yesteryear. In their poetry, they often capture a simple reverence we sometimes lose in today’s music. I hope you might enjoy this one today. It’s good if you read the words first ( And beside, how often do you get to read the word “thither”!

It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine,
My Jesus, Savior!—yet this soul of mine
Would of that love, in all its depth and length,
Its height and breadth, and everlasting strength
Know more and more.

It passeth telling, that dear love of Thine,
My Jesus, Savior!—yet these lips of mine
Would fain proclaim to sinners far and near
A love which can remove all guilty fear,
And love beget.

It passeth praises, that dear love of Thine,
My Jesus, Savior!—yet this heart of mine
Would sing a love so rich, so full, so free,
Which brought an undone sinner such as me
Right home to God.

Oh, fill me, Jesus, Savior, with Thy love;
Lead, lead me to the living fount above!
Thither may I in simple faith draw nigh,
And never to another fountain fly,
But unto Thee.

And when my Jesus face to face I see,
When at His lofty throne I bow the knee,
Then of His love, in all its breadth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength,
My soul shall sing.

Music: It Passeth Knowledge – Harry Dench of The Salvation Army

Does God Have Favorites?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

       Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091218.cfm

Lk6_beatitudesJPG

Today, in Mercy, our readings might lead us to wonder, “Does God have favorites?”

I think Luke’s Gospel today says, “Well, yes, kinda’!”

This passage from Luke is a parallel to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Matthew includes the familiar Eight Beatitudes, delivered in spiritual tones which allow most of us find ourselves somewhere among them. Matthew talks about the “poor in spirit”, the meek, mourning and merciful. At least once in our lives, we probably fall into one of Matthew’s “blessed” categories. Doing so let’s us think we might be among God’s favorites or blessed ones — at least sometimes, right?

But hold up, here comes Luke with a whole different take on blessedness. Luke says just the plain poor, hungry, weeping and hated are blessed. Luke’s sanctifying suffering is material, not just spiritual. Luke suggests that the destitute, bereft and ostracized are clearly God’s favorites.

What does that say to us? I don’t know about you, but I’m not real anxious to join Luke’s blessed group. I don’t like the feeling of poor, hungry, weeping and hated! On the other hand, I do want to be one of God’s favorites, don’t you?

What I think we can do is this: 

  • to love the poor and materially broken as God loves them
  • to do all we can to bring them comfort and healing, mercy and justice 
  • to learn from them what it is like to stand before God with nothing between us but longing and hope
  • to look at our own materially abundant life with a critical eye and discerning heart
  • to see any darkness we endure in the light of God’s illuminating promise
  • to be grateful, humble, and open to the transforming graces God might offer us even in suffering

Music: Blessings ~ Laura Story