Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew, the brother of Peter, also a fisherman, a beloved Apostle and friend of Jesus.
Our Gospel tells the story of Andrew’s call.
Another favorite passage about Andrew is when he points out to Jesus that, in the hungry crowd, there is a young boy with five loaves and two fish.
How simple and complete was Andrew’s faith! Those seven little items must have seemed so minute among 5000. Can you picture Andrew looking into Jesus’s eyes as if to say, “I know it’s not much but you can do anything!” Maybe it was that one devoted look which prompted Jesus to perform this amazing miracle!
We trust that our deep devotion and faith can move God’s heart too. On this feast of St. Andrew, many people begin a prayer which carries them through to Christmas. Praying it, we ask for particular favors from God.
I love this prayer because it was taught to me by my mother, a woman blessed with simple faith like Andrew’s. As I recite it, I ask to be gifted with the same kind of faith.
( Another reason I love it is this: how often in life do you get a chance to say a word like “vouchsafe“! )
St. Andrew Christmas Novena Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God,
to hear my prayer and grant my desires
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother. Amen.
There is a very hurting world that needs healing. Let’s fold our Advent prayers around its many wounds.
Music:Hear my prayer, O Lord is an eight-part choral anthem by the English composer Henry Purcell (1659–1695). The anthem is a setting of the first verse of Psalm 102 in the version of the Book of Common Prayer. Purcell composed it c. 1682 at the beginning of his tenure as Organist and Master of the Choristers for Westminster Abbey.
Today in Mercy, our readings from Revelation and Luke are truly terrible, in the full meaning of that word: extremely distressing, causing terror. They’re intended to be.
They describe and warn against times of destruction. Revelation describes the fall of Babylon. The Gospel relates the destruction of Jerusalem.
But neither reading is history. They are not offered so that we get the facts, the way a newspaper or encyclopedia reports a story.
These readings are given to us, and to the audiences they were originally written for, so that we might understand clearly this important reality: we live in two worlds, the material and the spiritual.
These worlds are intended by God to be united in one Creation, joined at the wedding feast of the Lamb. But we humans fail. We exalt and distort the power of the material world to the destruction of the spiritual. We split what God intended to be whole.
In other words, we build both global and personal kingdoms and governments that have no heart, have no soul.
If you think these readings describe only past civilizations, then look to the Mexican-US border. Look at the starving people of Yemen. Look at the devastation of the rainforest. Look at our drug-infested, gun-enthralled culture.
Jesus knew that his followers would battle these forces forever. He tells us that, in the midst of these destructive signs, we should
“ … stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.”
Jesus’s followers must stand as a sign of another way. We must raise our heads to say “No” to the heartless moral choices of our time. We cannot allow ourselves to be swept up in a culture of lies, political expediency, material greed, and dehumanization of whole peoples. We must break through the cabled propaganda we are fed to find God’s Word to us.
Our readings today ask us to take a good look at ourselves. How complicit are we in our own destruction by our failure to choose, speak, and act for Gospel justice in our world?
Today, in Mercy,our Responsorial Verse captures the essence of all the readings:
It’s one of those scripture passages that makes one want to say, “Oh, really? Is that all?”
Because, you know, it’s a pretty tall order to remain faithful until death. Sometimes it’s a real pinch to remain faithful for a week!
Remember that exercise bike you bought in January 1999? Yeah, that one with your yoga pants, umbrella, and assorted gift bags hanging on it.
Or what about that South Beach diet book you’re using to prop open the closet door? How did all that faithfulness work out?
So, given our very human condition, what is the “faithfulness” these readings enjoin?
I believe it is not a faithfulness that never fails. Rather, it tries. When it does fail, it believes in and seeks forgiveness. It trusts, even in its weakness. It is grateful, abiding, and loving. It is not afraid to begin again and again, because our faithfulness depends on God’s mercy not our strength.
When we were young nuns making our final vows, this phrase was part of our commitment:
“… and to persevere, until death …”
One of our wise leaders, Mother Bernard, told us, “Don’t pray for final perseverance. Pray to be worthy of it.”
I think we become worthy of it by that trusting faithfulness which turns again and again into Mercy’s waiting, understanding arms. It is a faithfulness that fully believes these words from the Book of Lamentations:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
so great is your faithfulness.
Today, in Mercy, we are struck with Revelation’s images of the end time!
a crowned Christ wielding a sharp sickle
angels commanding the final harvest of the earth
and perhaps the most powerful
the earth’s vintage thrown into the great winepress of God’s fury!
This author could write! We can almost imagine the scene, filmed with all the pyro-technics of today’s computer age.
But besides the amazing imagery, what does the passage say to our hearts?
In Biblical symbolism, the winepress almost always stands for judgment. The passage reminds us that we all will be judged.The divine winepress will compress the sinful gaps that plague our human existence.In the end time, there will be no “other” — no judgmental spaces separating us from one another.We will all be one, like wine mingled.
We will be judged on how we lived that oneness in this life, on where we have stood in the gap between the:
rich and poor
well and sick
citizen and refugee
abled and disabled
powerful and vulnerable
Do we live in ignorance or indifference to those who suffer on the other side of the human scale? Have we been impervious to the imbalances of justice and charity in this world?
And how do we respond? The passage suggests that we do some weeding of our spiritual gardens before the harvest of our souls. The intention of this fiery writer is to tell us that we still have a little time.
Music:The Day Is Surely Drawing Near – written by the prolific 16th century Lutheran hymnist Bartholomaüs Ringwaldt. This piece is a majestic instrumental rendering, but if you would like to see the words, they are below.
1 The day is surely drawing near
When Jesus, God’s anointed,
In all His power shall appear
As judge whom God appointed. Then fright shall banish idle mirth,
And flames on flames shall ravage earth
As Scripture long has warned us.
2 The final trumpet then shall sound
And all the earth be shaken,
And all who rest beneath the ground
Shall from their sleep awaken.
But all who live will in that hour,
By God’s almighty, boundless pow’r,
Be changed at His commanding.
3 The books are opened then to all,
A record truly telling
What each has done, both great and small,
When he on earth was dwelling,
And ev’ry heart be clearly seen,
And all be known as they have been
In thoughts and words and actions.
4 Then woe to those who scorned the Lord
And sought but carnal pleasures,
Who here despised His precious Word
And loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand
And at the judge’s stern command
To Satan be delivered.
5 My Savior paid the debt I owe
And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation!
6 May Christ our intercessor be
And through His blood and merit
Read from His book that we are free
With all who life inherit.
Then we shall see Him face to face,
With all His saints in that blest place
Which He has purchased for us.
7 O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
In fear and tribulation.
O hear and grant our fervent plea;
Come, mighty judge, and make us free
From death and ev’ry evil.
Today, in Mercy, our first reading from Revelation describes what has come to be known in modern culture as “the Rapture”. It’s a concept probably more popularized by modern fiction than by our devotion to scripture.
Maybe you are one of the60 million readers of the “Left Behind” books by Jenkins and LaHaye. This popular series captures our fascination with “the end times”.
The writer of Revelation is doing the same thing. This highly imaginative ancient author -adept at symbols, allegory, and poetry – writes to awake and engage us in our own salvation.
Whether or not his visions predict facts is not the point. The point is that there will come an end time to every life. When it comes to us, we want to have already become God’s familiar and beloved friend.
A second point is that this world, as we know it, is passing. We should not make our heart’s investment here. Our lasting treasure lies in God’s realm which, while present here, is often rendered invisible by our human hungers and distractions.
Revelation enjoins us to wake up, see beyond the visible, and live a life worthy of eternity.
How? The true and simple answer is in today’s Gospel:
“When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasure
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
This blessed widow, even in her impoverished circumstances, understood where her true treasure lay. She was already counted among the sainted“hundred and forty-four thousand”.
Music: When I read these apocalyptic passages, I like to imagine the scene by listening to compatible music. One of my favorite accompaniments is Richard Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries. Just imagine Jesus riding into our lives on these exalted melodies!
Today, in Mercy, we celebrate The Solemnity of Christ the King.
For some, the lofty, politically-tinged title might obscure the rich devotion offered by this feast. The title “king” carries with it suggestions of exaggerated power, wealth and dominance not compatible with our Gospel perception of Jesus.
We may be more comfortable with images of Christ as infant, brother, shepherd, lamb, vine, gate, way, truth, life…
But what all these images point out is that our ability to comprehend the fullness of Christ is severely limited by our humanity. We usually choose a specific image based on our circumstances and spiritual needs.
Pope Pius XI promoted the concept of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, in response to growing international secularism and nationalism. His intent was not to compare Christ to the challenged world leaders of the time. It was to raise the perceptions of all people to the lessons of Divine Leadership: mercy, justice, inclusivity, and peace.
Oh, how we could benefit from the same understanding today!
In this age with its culture of continual war, the human pain it causes, refugee crises, climate devastation, wealth distortion and indifference to the poor, how our hearts long for just, wise and loving leadership!
In his encyclical, Pius XI wrote:
Christ the King reigns “in the human hearts,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all humanity. He reigns, too, in our wills, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.”
— Quas primas, §7
Let’s pray for these virtues for all who are charged with any form of power or leadership:
keen spiritual intellect
deep heart’s knowledge
obedience to grace
and surpassing charity for all Creation
May Christ the King truly live and reign among us. May we behold the “sweet light in His eyes”!
Music: We Shall Behold Him – offered in American Sign Language by Kayla Seymour; sung by Sandi Patty
Revelation, a very complex book of the Bible, uses symbols, prophecies and allegorical references to make its point. There are huge bodies of scholarship written in the attempt to interpret these passages. Our Gospel has Jesus describing what it will be like in heaven – when our human perceptions will be erased and we will finally be absorbed into God’s understanding.
These are BIG thoughts and my mind, at least, needs some more manageable inspirations for my morning prayer. 😉 So here’s how I prayed with these readings today.
What both passages share are continual references to time – past, present and future. They reference then-time, now-time, and to-be-time. These passages, and others in Scripture like them, talk about time like this:
“in the days before”
“in the days after”
“in the day of”
So what is this day, November 24th, for me? How is God revealing Love to me in this, my time?
Today is still among “the days after” Thanksgiving. The lingering familial and community blessings of Thursday continue to bless my prayer.
However, it is also among “the days before” the next big events of my life. So my prayer includes a petition for new and continued blessings.
And, most importantly, today is “a day of”. I ask God to help me see and receive the graces of this present moment – not to miss them because I am looking only back or forward. Let me look God square in the eye on this day, which is the only place that I can really find the God Who is always Now.
The entire liturgical year is built on this understanding of time.
Advent and Lent are “the days before”, the days of preparation, anticipation, imagining, creating, hoping.
The feasts like Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are “the days of”, days of celebrating, loving, being with.
The various Octaves are “the days after”, days of remembering, thanking, appreciating, understanding, mourning, forgiving and savoring
Where are you today in the times of your life? It may be in a very different place from what is printed on the calendar. The events of our lives create their own personal liturgies. No matter where that happens to be, let us meet God there with full and open hearts.
Today in Mercy,we continue in the mood of thanksgiving.
Do youhave a computer calendar that pops up reminders for you — appointments, due dates, anniversaries, etc.?
On this date, I am reminded of two very happy events:
the birth of one of my precious grand-nephews three years ago – a gift of beauty, love and hope to our family
the jubilant wedding of two dear friendssix years ago – a covenant and sign of love, fidelity and courage in today’s unloving world
As we get older (as I have been blessed to do), our calendar blocks become more crowded with memories – with the years’ accumulation of joys and blessings. “Thanksgiving Friday” is a good day to mentally page through the gift of years, remembering, thanking, praying for all that has brought love, hope and encouragement to our hearts.
It’s a good strategy to resist the commercial lure of “Black Friday” and to keep our focus on what truly counts as GIFT – those treasures that are beyond gold in our life’s story.
Hopefully, God’s goodness came to us yesterday, and comes to us daily, in abundance and joy – of family, friends and blessings shared.
But for some, God draws us closer through loneliness, loss or sadness shared. The great grace is that God abides with us in every season, and reveals Mercy’s loving face in both our sorrows and our joys.
May we praise God and know the Comforting Presence in whatever the season of our hearts. Let us pray this for one another.
Emma, skewered by indecision, stared into her mother ‘s jewelry box. She had always loved those silver earrings, a gift to her mother from her grandmother—an heirloom now, a treasure beyond price. She wanted so to wear them on this special date, but they were “hands off” and she knew it. Still, her mother at work and unaware of her desire, Emma had succumbed to temptation.
The dance had been wonderful, a whirlwind of such delight that Emma had not noticed when her left earring had brushed against her partner’s shoulder, tumbling hopelessly under the dancers’ trampling feet. Only at evening’s end, approaching her front door exhausted and dreamy, had she reached up to unclip the precious gems.
Her mother sat waiting for her in the soft lamplight, having already noticed the earrings missing from her dresser. Awaiting retribution, Emma knelt beside her mother and confessed the further sacrilege of loss. But her mother simply cupped Emma’s tearful face in her hands, whispering, “You are my jewel. Of course, I forgive you.” Though accustomed to her mother’s kindness, this act of compassion astonished Emma, filling her with an indescribable, transformative gratitude.
Surely it was a gratitude like this that brought Mary to the feet of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. It was a similar loving gratitude that Mary poured out from her treasured alabaster jar—every drop carrying her thanks for life, for faith restored, for forgiveness, for hope renewed.
We come to this Thanksgiving season with our own stories, with our own alabaster jars. Perhaps there is a great forgiveness we are thankful for, or just the small kindnesses that allow us to rise each morning with joy and hope. Perhaps there is a memory of compassion, like Emma’s or Mary’s, that we treasure—one that in turn has made us kinder and more honest.
God is our Mother waiting in the lamplight of this Thanksgiving to cup our face with love, to receive our joyful thanks for divine mercies. Like Emma, we may be astonished at the graciousness that has been given to us. Like Mary, we may respond by pouring out our thanks to God in a silent act of prayer.
Indeed, the deepest thanksgiving is wordless. It is the bowing of the spirit before God—who is Presence; who is Grace; who is Lavish Mercy. As we celebrate the season of harvest and thanksgiving, we sit quietly with our loving, generous God. We rejoice in the awareness of our many blessings: the gift of life, the beauty of Creation, the people who have loved us, the ability to choose, to love, to hope, to believe. We pour out to God our humble, grateful hearts. We listen for God’s own heart beating gently in the lamplight of our prayer.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. May God bless you and your loved ones with every reason for gratitude and joy.
( I published this early in case you’re using workplace computers to access the site. I wanted you all to have it for Thanksgiving. 🙏)