What If We Were Not Afraid?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about fear, love and faith – three spiritual dynamics that I think are related in this way:

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When our faith is strong, it drives down our natural fears and allows a supernatural love to grow in us.

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We may not think of ourselves as a fearful person. I didn’t. But then I spent time praying with this phrase from spiritual writer Paula D’Arcy:

Who would I be,
and what power would be released in my life,
if I were not dominated by fear?

In that prayer, I began to acknowledge some of the buried fears that can paralyze our souls.

Fear of:words

John says to give these cold fears into the warm love of God. 

Jesus says to look through these fears to fix our faith on Him, ever-present even in our storms.

May we be brave enough today to acknowledge our fears and place them into God’s loving hands.

 Music: Oceans ~ Hillsong United (Lyrics below.)

Oceans
Words and Music by Matt Crocker, Joel Houston & Salomon Ligthelm
© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (APRA). All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

VERSE 1:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand

CHORUS:
I will call upon Your Name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 VERSE 2:

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

BRIDGE:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

 LAST CHORUS:
I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

… because love is of God

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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1 john_ gods love

Today, in Mercy, we are presented with a most powerful reading from John:

Beloved, let us love one another
because love is of God.

But many of us miss the power of this invitation. We read it like a valentine, seeing shining hearts connecting us to those we already favor. God’s love doesn’t look like that.

God’s love is like this:

  • standing at the border looking, in between barbed wire, for a chance to welcome
  • keeping vigil at a stranger’s hospital bedside
  • pouring prayer and courageous guidance over an addicted child
  • vigilantly engaging government for just and humane policy 
  • spending time, interest and care with those who cannot command it of us

God’s love is always near the poor, the sick, those caught in the unraveling edges of a greedy, selfish society.

We see this love in today’s Gospel. It lifts up five loaves, two fish, and spins them into nourishment for thousands. Such is the power of this awesome love.

So let us begin, in the small invitations our life will offer us today, to love like that.

Doing so, we come to more clearly know God Who loves us first and always.

Music: Where Love Is Found – Dan Schutte (Lyrics below)

Where Love is Found – Dan Schutte

Where charity and love are found,
there will the face of God be seen.
The love of Christ will bind our hearts;
as one body we will be.

Love is patient, love is kind,
never boastful, never proud.
Love is hopeful in its waiting,
ever trusting in Gods light.

Love is steadfast to the end,
ever ready to endure.
Love is gracious in its kindness,
ever ready to forgive.

Though I speak with angels tongue,
I am nothing more than sound.
I am but a cymbal clanging
if I sing without God’s love.

There are three things that will last:
there is faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of all blessings
is the faithfulness of love.

Begin …

Monday, January 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in this week after the Epiphany, we continue with John’s inspirational readings. They are intended to deepen us in love, truth and simplicity.

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And we also have several Gospels this week that take us with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.

Today’s Gospel opens with a tinge of sadness. Jesus has just heard that John had been arrested. Reality dawns on them both that theirs will be no easy missionary journey. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these cousins could have teamed up, gone about preaching unhindered by the fears and bullying of the powerful?

But a free and easy story is not the one God chose to tell us, because our own stories are not always free and easy. Some, yes, more so than others. But all people suffer in some way and we all need a God who understands and shares that suffering.

So, “hearing that John had been arrested”, Jesus bravely begins. He goes to the Capernaum lakeshore where the common people gather to refresh themselves. He will find them hungry, confused, sinful, questioning, bereft, and battered. And he will begin by feeding and soothing them.

Where would Jesus begin with you? If you sat along that seashore in those first days, what would you lay before his tender mercy? Perhaps the need does not belong precisely to you, but to someone you love, someone who needs love in a harsh world.

Picture yourself there this morning. The sun begins to warm the salty edges of the sea. The crowd is large but quiet, as if they think themselves in church. Jesus looks out over all the gathered. But for one moment, his eyes meet yours, and that moment is enough to begin.

Music: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore

Epiphany!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, a day which commemorates Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles.

is60_5 epiphanyjpg

Perhaps on this day, as little children, some of us placed the Three Kings in the crèche, fascinated by their journey and their majesty. These figures represented all nations bringing their gifts to the newborn Savior. In their humble generosity, the journeyers eyes were opened and they recognized Divinity in the most unlikely of places.

An epiphany is a special kind of vision. It is an insight to see something amazingly deeper in what we thought we had already perceived.

We might walk by a tree, a house, a person day after day taking them completely for granted. We see them – but don’t really see them. Then, one day, a certain turn of sun on leaves might let us see that tree differently. An open window with its curtains billowing might transform that house into a home. A caring exchange might change that person into a friend.

And we say things like, “Gosh, why had I never noticed that before…”

The Three Kings were given the grace of Epiphany to see God where others saw only  a poor newborn. They were given the wisdom to see Herod’s treachery where he pretended to offer only homage.

This feast reminds us that a sacred dimension exists beneath the surface of all appearances. Every reality contains the capacity for holiness, for goodness, for wisdom, for love. The more we are attuned to Grace, the more we recognize the presence (or the absence, as with Herod) of this capacity. The more we begin to live in deeper relationship with the seemingly ordinary in our lives.

Nothing is ordinary! Everything that comes to us is fraught with grace and divine possibility. We just need to live intentionally – to ask for and respond to the gift of Epiphany as it is given in our particular circumstances.

I think the sentiments of today’s feast thread through a beautiful poem by William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood – particularly in these lines:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Poetry lovers might like to read the entire poem here: 

Click here for full poem

Music: Please enjoy this gentle music as you pray your Epiphanies:
Walking through Clouds – Bernward Koch

What About That Fig Tree?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

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jn1_50 figjpg

Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate the Memorial of Saint John Neumann. 

John Neumann was born in Bohemia on March 20, 1811. Since he had a great desire to dedicate himself to the American missions, he came to the United States as a cleric and was ordained in New York in 1836 by Bishop Dubois.

In 1840, John Neumann entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). He labored in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1852, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia. There he worked hard for the establishment of parish schools and for the erection of many parishes for the numerous immigrants. Bishop Neumann died on January 5, 1860; he was beatified in 1963.
(catholicculture.org)


In our first reading today, John tells us bluntly:

Whoever does not love remains in death.

This kind of statement is what one might  both love and hate about John. We love it because it’s clear, unequivocal- tells us exactly what we need to do.

And we hate it because it’s clear and unequivocal – there’s no evading it, no back door. We must love – everybody- or we are as good as dead. Wow!

Was this the kind of either-or that Nathaniel struggled with under the fig tree? He sat there pondering some deep challenge or decision and Jesus saw him – and understood-from afar.

The miracle of that moment caused Nathaniel to believe. But Jesus says:

Hold up, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Your little wrestling under the fig tree was all about your own small world and vision. I invite you now to see the world with God’s eyes.

We all spend worrying time under the shadow our own little fig trees – most of the time worrying about ourselves – who hurt us, doesn’t like us, gets in our way, misunderstands or annoys us.

Today’s Gospel invites us to stop licking our wounds. It beckons us out of the shadows of our self-absorption to see what God might see today – the beauty, the needs, the challenges and possibilities of the world around us. We are invited to become lovers and healers like Jesus. As John has said, we are invited to leave any shadow of death and to live in love.

Music: Maybe Nathaniel sang a song like this in his heart as he came out from under his fig tree.

Love Like Jesus – Rhett Walker

Come and See

Friday, January 4, 2019

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Jn 1_39

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, the first American born saint.

Elizabeth Seton was born on August 28, 1774, of a wealthy and distinguished Episcopalian family. She was baptized in the Episcopal faith and was a faithful adherent of the Episcopal Church until her conversion to Catholicism.

She established her first Catholic school in Baltimore in 1808; in 1809, she established a religious community in Emmitsburg, Maryland. After seeing the expansion of her small community of teaching sisters to New York and as far as St. Loius, she died on January 4, 1821, and was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. She is the first native born American to be canonized a saint.

(from CatholicCulture.org)


In our Gospel, we find the first disciples encountering Jesus. They are curious about him because the Baptist has just described him as “the Lamb of God”.

We can picture Andrew and his unnamed buddy trailing behind Jesus, watching him, listening to him. Finally they hazard a question, “Rabbi, where do you live?”

It’s kind of a loaded question. What it might really mean are things like these:

  • Where did you come from all of sudden?
  • Could you possibly be the Messiah if you’re walking around looking just like us?
  • Do you go back to heaven at night or are you really one of us?
  • Can we just hang out and find out more about you?

Their faith is tentative, hopeful and maybe just a little bit suspicious. Does your faith ever feel like that? 

When we pray, are we convinced that God hears us? When we suffer, do we believe God abides with us? When we choose, act or respond, do we trust that God cares about our actions? Do we believe, in these and all circumstances, that the power of God is present in our lives?

To have that kind of faith, we have to “learn” Christ, to become as close and comfortable with him as with an intimate friend. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to do that: “Come and see.” 

In other words:

Spend time with me.
Talk with me about ordinary things.
Watch sunsets and sunrises with me.
Tell me your secrets.
Let me tell you mine.
Laugh with me.
Be silent with me.
Trust that you are never separate from me.

If we do these things, even slowly and steadily as the first disciples, we will eventually say with Andrew, “l have found the Messiah” – and he is living right within my life!

Music: Come and See – Bob Bennett

Eleanor’s Daughter

( Speaking about my mother in this morning’s reflection  has inclined me to offer a second post today … a reflection I wrote 10 years ago.  I thought some of you might enjoy reading it.)

December 21, 2008

Eleanor’s Daughter

I had been away – busy and incommunicado for several days.  When I got home, the message was the last one on my answering machine.  It lay curled like a wounded kitten and the end of a long line of incidentals.  Mag had died at 101 years of age – the long faithful friend of my grandmother, my mother and me. The manner of her faithfulness to each of our generations had been different: a companion to Grandmom, a guide and confidant to Mom, a distant but vigilant observer and encourager of my life in my mother’s stead after Mom had died.

 When I called back to acknowledge the message, there was only one meaningful way to announce myself:  “This is Eleanor’s daughter.”  Just that said everything – it paid tribute to both Mag’s and my mother’s lives.  It recognized the duty I owed in both their names.  Mag’s daughter said, “We don’t expect you to come… we just wanted you to know.”  My mother’s voice spoke in the silence of my heart – “Of course, you will go.”

So last week, I traveled to the place where I grew up.  There will never be anyplace in life that you know more intimately than the neighborhood of your childhood.  You ran through its alleyways and knew its secret hiding places.  You explored every inch of its terrain and to this day can remember its textures, smells, dangers and promises.  

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This past Thursday, I drove into its heart, remembering.  But, as I approached the neighborhood, I saw that its edge had frayed like a tattered fabric.  The industrial and commercial corridor that had hemmed the old neighborhood had disappeared. Abandoned lots had replaced the thriving factories and immigrant-run shops of my youth. The bustling avenues where I had once threaded my shiny Schwinn bike now echoed like empty canyons under my car tires. Loss rose up in my throat like a bitter aftertaste.

But as I neared the church, the fabric began to re-weave.  People still lived in the houses and gathered on the brick pavements.  I saw neighbors walking to the church, as my family had when I was young.  I was to learn that the deep human links that had embraced our parish family had remained unbroken.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
St. Michael Roman Catholic Church | Image: Sarah Barr, St. Michael Parish

It had been nearly fifty years since I had last worshipped in St. Michael’s, but the church of my childhood was perfectly intact.  Not only had it been physically restored to the perfection of its 200-year-old origin, but the descendants of many original families remained or had returned for the funeral.  During the wake, we reconnected with one another, weaving names and histories into a warm swaddling of belonging. 

During the solemn funeral service, many people came to visit me in the silence of my heart: my parents who had taught me to pray, the sisters and priests who had nurtured my call to religious life, my neighbors and friends whose lives had found graceful regeneration each Sunday in this sanctuary.  This place had been the heart of our “village”. It was where we learned and acknowledged that we live life together, not alone – and that the myriad pieces which make up who we are belong in some way to every person who has ever touched us.  Every one of us attending Mag’s funeral was paying honor to that reality.  

 It takes a lifetime to fully learn the office of honor.  I remember as a teenager not wanting to accompany my mother on her many dutiful journeys:  not wanting to visit my old maiden aunts in their very Victorian home, to take a pot of soup to a house in mourning, not knowing what to say at a neighbor’s wake.  I remember my mother’s words to me on such occasions: “We show up. It’s what we do – because it’s all that we can do. It’s an honor to be with someone at these moments of their lives.”

I am old enough now to cherish that role of honor guard.  I have learned its beauty and character from the many – including Mag —  who have kept vigil beside me and my family in the challenges and blessings of life. I went to Mag’s funeral last Thursday privileged to exercise that role in my mother’s name – to assume the duty of our family to “show up”.   

I now know that to stand within duty is to be like a surfer poised inside the huge curl of a powerful wave. It is to ride on an energy that does not belong to you – to open yourself to it with gratitude, awe and trust. It is to know – in an indescribable way – the profound power of God that holds all life together beyond time and beyond burden.

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Last Thursday, as at many times of my life, I was proud to be Eleanor’s daughter.  I know she and Mag smiled as I rejoiced in that pride.

God’s Beloved Child – You!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we pray with John’s soul-stirring words:

1 jn 3_ 2

Beloved, we are God’s children …

When I pray these words I think of my mother. As a little child, I already bore a clear physical likeness to her. But as I grew into a young woman, and later an older woman, people remarked that we looked like twins. There were even occasions when we were confused with each other.

This visible resemblance gave me great pride. My mother was strong, courageous, funny, wise, and fiercely loving. I wanted to be like her – made of the same stuff as she was.

In our reading today, John tells us that we are made of the very stuff of God – the essence of the Sacred. He suggests that when people look at us they should see God’s features written all over us.

He says that we should see this Divine familial likeness in one another – that we are each imprinted with our Creator’s image.

If we believe John’s words, what tenderness we would bear toward ourselves and others! How could we ever belittle, hate or kill one another? How could we ever do these things to ourselves?

Music: How Can Anyone Ever Tell You – Shaina Knoll

Often, when I think of Christ on the Cross, I can hear God the Mother singing this song to Jesus, reaching from heaven to console Him in His pain.

This morning, we might ask God to sing this song over our wounded world which has so obscured God’s likeness – perhaps to sing it over us if we are in particular pain.

In our heart’s deep forgiveness, we might sing this song over anyone who has hurt us – the meanness coming from their failure to recognize their own beauty.

(PS:  Speaking about my mother has inclined me to offer a second post today … a reflection I wrote 10 years ago.  I thought some of you might enjoy reading it. You will receive it in a separate mailing.)

Faith from the Beginning

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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1Jn2_24 beginning

Today, in Mercy, we continue to relish John’s eloquent first letter in which he heartily instructs us in the life of Christian love.

John has written this letter out of concern about false teachings that are cropping up in the early Church. Misguided “teachers” are placing distorted interpretations on the pure, original message of the Gospel.

Human beings have never stopped doing that, have we? Down through the centuries, how many heresies and misinterpretations have woven their way into the Gospel’s central, inviolable thread?

Has it happened to our faith? Have we lost the crisp, clear power of our original belief?

John tells us to hold fast to the core teaching of the Gospel. This is the faith that many of us learned as children from devout parents and teachers. It is a faith that continues to evolve through scriptural prayer and meditation, through openness to theological wisdom, through the holy dialogue of the beloved community.

It is a living faith, stretched and tested by our daily choices for true Christian love for all people, especially the poor, sick and marginalized.

Ultimately, it is a faith rooted in the Cross and transformed by the Resurrection.

Over these next few weeks, let us listen carefully to John as he guides us to the depth of that faith.

Music: some gentle meditation music for your prayer with John:

Herb Ernst – Song of the Inner Child