Add to the Beauty

Thursday, February 7, 2019

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Mk16_15 add to beauty

Today, in Mercy, Jesus’s disciples set out on their first solo mission. Most of us can relate to their feelings that morning.

Remember your first real job? You had studied, trained, prepared. You had aced the interview. You bought a new blouse, shirt or pair of shoes. You were IN!

And you were scared. You might have done a dry run to make sure you wouldn’t be late your first day. You checked that your gas tank was topped off. You packed a lunch (or someone who loved you did), and wondered who would eat with you.

The disciples were probably scared too. Look at whose shoes they were following in! And Jesus sets out some tough dress code for their work life:

  • take nothing but a walking stick
  • no food, no sack, no money in their belts
  • wear sandals but not a second tunic.

The behavior code was just as lean:

  • take a buddy for support
  • when you enter a house, stay there the whole time
  • if they don’t welcome you or listen to you, don’t argue
  • leave there and shake the dust off your feet

As we set out to work each day, do we think of our labor as “ministry”? Do we see that our work in some way benefits the life of the community? Do our interactions with our peers encourage their contributions to the common good?

We all need jobs to earn the means to live. But if that’s all our job is, we will never find happiness in it. Meaningful work must benefit more than ourselves and, in that, it can become a ministry.

If Jesus were sending us out to our workday this morning, he might give instructions like these:

  • work responsibly, mutually and unselfishly 
  • earn all that you need to be happy, but avoid greed
  • make sure your labors enhance life for others as well as yourself
  • if your job chokes your soul, move on

What we do does not determine our worth. How we do it does. We may be sewing buttons on shirts. If we do that with attention and pride, our work will have meaning for us and for others.

Every meaningful job gives us the chance to make the world better for those we serve, and for those with whom we work – to add to the beauty of the world already begun in the blessing of God. Does our work offer us that life-giving opportunity? Do we respond to it wholeheartedly?

Song: Add to the Beauty ~ Sara Groves

The Bitter Root

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we taste the “bitter root”. 

Heb12_15 bitter root

Paul writes to the Hebrews:

See to it that no one
be deprived of the grace of God,

that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble,
through which many may become defiled.

In our Gospel, Luke writes to his community

So Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed in his hometown,
… He was amazed at their lack of faith.

So what is this bitter root that robs a heart of faith, forgiveness, trust, hope and love?

Think of the things we humans bury deep in our souls, before they can be seen, named and confronted. Naïvely, we think that hiding them will make them disappear.
We bury our:

word cloud

These buried irritants never disappear. They thicken under the surface, choking the possibility of new life — of Grace. These “bitter roots” steal our spiritual health and cripple the Holy Spirit within us. They deprive the community of our vigor and life. 

It is so necessary and important for us to bring these tangled undergrowths to light! It is so necessary and important for us to be the loving community that offers understanding, healing, listening and love.

How do we uncover and release these hidden poisons? Prayer, of course, can help us, and the gentle discipline of honesty with ourselves; the natural self-revelation of a trusted friendship, the insights of spiritual direction and retreat, and, sometimes, the professional accompaniment of a counselor.

Mary Oliver, beloved poet, describes a buried darkness in her own life in this poem “The Uses of Sorrow”:

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

As part of the faith community, we need to contribute to that place of trust and friendship that invites others to work through their darknesses. Healing is not magic. It comes through the tenderness, patience, honesty, awareness and encouragement of the surrounding community, as well as through our own courage. We need that community ourselves, and we need to be that community for others.

Music: Ubi Caritas (Where Charity and Love prevail, there is God.)

 

The Hem of His Garment

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I would like to share a homily about today’s Gospel that I prepared for the Catholic Health Association in 2015. Even though it is a little long, I hope you find it fruitful for your prayer.


It is a soft, summer morning in Capernaum and Jesus is in the height of his ministry.  Large crowds follow him wherever he goes, crowds hungry with hope; crowds fired by his counter-cultural words and miraculous deeds. This morning, Jesus prepares to speak to them, to translate into language they can comprehend the Eternal Life that lives in his heart.  His back is to the gentle, sunlit sea. The hubbub softens to a murmur, finally stilled by the lapping waves.

But before Jesus can begin, a distressed man bursts through the gathered crowd.  His robes fly about him as he runs to Jesus and falls at his feet.  This man is important, so important that we all have known his name for two thousand years.  This is Jairus who lives nearby and organizes the worship in the synagogue.  Now breathless and swallowing sobs, Jairus pleads with Jesus: Please! My daughter! You can give her life!

Every loving father has been Jairus at least once in his life.  We know these fathers. We are these fathers. They are the ones who burst into emergency rooms with a seizing infant in their arms. They are the ones who stare blankly at the pronouncement of a stillborn child. They are the old men in war-ravaged countries who kneel at the sides of their fallen sons and desecrated daughters. They are all the men throughout history rendered helpless by the forces of unbridled power, greed and death.

The merciful heart of Jesus understands this man and his desperate urgency.  Without even a word, Jesus gets up and accompanies Jairus to the place of his pleading.

But there is another urgency pushing forward from the crowds:  a woman, apparently of low importance for we have never known her name.   She is a woman whom the ages have defined by her affliction.  She is “The Woman with the Hemorrhage”.  Without the status of Jairus, she approaches Jesus as such a woman must. She crawls behind him at his heels, reaching through the milling masses to even scrape the hem of his garment.

This is a troubled woman, a stigmatized woman. Her life has been spent, literally, in embarrassment, isolation, fatigue and, no doubt, abuse.  For twelve years – coincidentally the life span of Jairus’ s daughter – her vitality has bled out of her.  Her face is gaunt; her eyes sunken.  Her soul’s light is all but extinguished.  She is a woman who knows a particular kind of scorn.

We know these women.  We are these women.  They are the ones filled with remorse for an aborted baby.  They are the ones who miscarry their longed-for child. They are the women whose beautiful young sons are profiled, stereotyped and hunted on the violent streets. They are the mothers of “The Disappeared”. They are the women who suffer disproportionately from war, poverty, hunger and violence.  They are trafficked women, prostituted women, women victimized by the long saga of domination and dehumanization.

Mk 5_28 copy

It is just such a broken woman who stretches her fingers through the Galilean dust in a last reckless reach for healing. She finds only the hem of his robe. Touching it, she is transformed, like a parched meadow in the spring rain.  Her whole being reaches up to receive the holy restoration.  She knows herself to be healed.  And it is enough; it is everything.  She retreats into the resignation of her otherwise lonely life.

But Jesus wants more for us than just the practical miracles we beg for. We ask for one healing; Jesus wants our eternal salvation. We ask for one blessing; Jesus wants our entire lives to be filled with grace. We ask for one prayer to be answered; Jesus wants our life to become a prayer.

Jesus feels the electrical touch of her hope. He feels the secret healing she has extracted from him.  He turns to seek her.  Can you see their eyes meet?  Yes, the bleeding has been stemmed, but he sees the deeper wounds that scar her soul. His look of immense mercy invites her to tell him “the whole truth”.  By her touch, she has commandeered a physical healing.  But by his gracious turning toward her, her entire being is renewed.  In this sacred glance, her history has been healed.  Her future has been pulled from darkness into light.  Her capacity to love has been rekindled.  She now and forever will remember herself as a child of God.

Jairus waits, no doubt impatiently, at the edge of this miracle, anxious for such power to touch his daughter’s life.  He fears they have lingered too long with the woman.  His servants arrive, confirming his fears. He receives the dreaded report, “Your daughter has died.”

Jesus now pushes Jairus to the gauntlet of pure faith. In the face of this devastating news, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Is this not an almost impossible command?  Like Jairus, we all know what it is to worry for our children:

  • Fathers of color teach their sons behaviors to protect them from profiling.
  • Immigrant parents fear their children will be ripped from them in a pre-dawn raid.
  • Famine-ravaged mothers watch their children disappear into hunger.
  • In hospitals and doctor’s offices, devastated parents summon the courage to accompany their critically ill child.

And Jesus says, “ Don’t be afraid. Have faith.”! What can he possibly mean?

Perhaps it is this simple.  In Jairus’s home, Jesus takes the dead girl’s hand.  He says, “Talitha, koumi – Little girl, arise.” His call to her heart tells her there is no darkness, devastation or death from which God cannot draw us into life.  This is the truth Jesus brings to the little girl and to us.  But it is a truth that, in our fear and need, we cannot always see.

For the moment, this girl lives. But at some time in history she, like all of us, will die.  So the miracle is not the restoration of her life.  The miracle is that her eyes, and her parents’ eyes, are opened to the power of God over death.  Despite all appearances, God’s life endures eternally.

This is the revelation of this Gospel passage. If we live by faith, we live beyond cure into healing.  If we live by faith, even death can bring life.  If we live by faith, we are free to release all worry into the abundant mercy of God who grants us healing even beyond our asking or desire.

Man or woman, old or young, at some time in our lives each one of us has been Jairus. Each one of us has been one or the other of these two women.  Within their stories of woundedness and deep faith, our stories shelter.  Jairus and the afflicted women – unnamed like so many women throughout time – believed there was a way to new life.  They reached for it.  They begged for it.  What is it in us that cries out for such healing?  What is it in us that, without the touch of Jesus, teeters on the verge of death?

Simply by believing, these three Gospel figures became new beings. Simply by believing, their orientation changed from darkness to light. By their example, let us lift up those wounded and deadened places in our hearts and world before the loving gaze of Jesus.

To what suffering in our souls is God whispering the encouragement, “Talitha, koum”?  What is the “whole truth” Jesus is inviting us to confide? Let us arise and respond to him in the full energy of our faith. Let us gaze with boundless confidence into the eyes of God’s mercy.

Music: Talitha Koumi – adapted from Michael Card

What About the Pigs!

Monday, February 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about God’s transforming power and our human ability to tap into that power by our faith.

Hebrews 11 references several heroes, named and unnamed, whose faith and perseverance were so great that, “The world was not worthy of them.”

Mark’s Gospel tells the story of the Gerasene demoniac, a story with many layers of meaning and challenge. In it, Jesus demonstrates an astounding power that both amazes and frightens his audience.

Mt5_10 pigsJPG

We have the very detailed description of the demoniac, a wild, unnaturally strong and violent man. We have the Gerasene community which doesn’t know what else to do to control the disruptive forces of this wretched man. And we have an innocent, unsuspecting herd of pigs.

Jesus is unafraid of the forces erupting from this troubled man. He approaches the man’s suffering on a whole different level from the unsuccessful tactics of the community.  Jesus speaks to the man’s soul which has been shattered into many howling fragments by the evil dwelling inside him. Jesus then casts out that evil in a demonstration that both awes and angers his observers.

Imagine how the pig farmers felt. Their livelihood lay drowning at the bottom of a precipice! The food supply, water integrity, employment opportunities all took a steep drop in that one moment of Christ’s command. In healing this broken man, who is representative of all suffering humanity, Jesus disrupted the comfortable systems which had allowed him to be isolated and chained at the edge of this society.

Jesus challenged this whole community to see the world from a different perspective – a spiritual one in which human life and wholeness is at the heart of all our societal systems. This man was more important than a herd of 2000 pigs!

These readings challenge us who live in a surface world “not worthy” of our faith. 

There is incredible suffering throughout this world. It is not enough to simply pray that it is alleviated. It is surely not enough to “chain” it by our indifference and acceptance.

Global suffering will be addressed only by confronting our comfortable systems (our herd of pigs). Our legal, political, economic and social systems must cherish the integrity of the human person. Otherwise, they should be challenged, changed, and maybe even cast away.

Our small part is to learn, understand, choose, vote and speak out for this kind of wholeness – both in our immediate, personal experiences as well as through the social justice structures available to us.  For example:

Sisters of Mercy Social Justice Advocacy

Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Music: Give Me Your Eyes ~ Brandon Heath

Prayer to Honor a Beautiful Sunset

(Because the sunset was so magnificent tonight,
I thought I might share this prayer I wrote many, many years ago.)

sunsetJPG

Degreeing Prayer
(To Yield Graciously to Life by Degrees – Like the Sun)

O God, my Beginning and my End,
I do not choose to “rage into the night”.
I choose to bleed into it,
graciously, as
Jesus bled…

by willing peace in face of curdled power,
by willing love in face
of irrational hate,
by willing acquiescence in the face of
time’s inexorable demand.

I want to be that strong…
to be so gentle, because
I think that
Jesus looked into the Dark
and saw Your Face
to learn antithesis of violence.

You are the Yielding One,
eschewing power for the sake of love.

You are Creator, granting
freedom in the will of those to whom
You bind Yourself by love.

You are the Contradiction
of control.

You are the Silent Source
of all
ennobled dying,
by those grafted to your Mystery
in the constant dark.

Absorb me,
as I near the forward edge of night.

Grade me,
like the colors of a yielding spectrum,
to softly welcome Your deepest darkness.

Music: Beyond the Sunset

Walk the Bridge

Sunday, February 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we begin our readings with God’s stern but magnificent commission to the prophet Jeremiah: 

… stand up and tell them
all that I command you.

What Jeremiah had to tell the Israelites was not good news. He prophesied that if they didn’t repent from their idolatry, Jerusalem would fall into the hands of foreign oppressors. Nobody wanted to hear it. They led Jeremiah a life, to the point that he is often referred to as “The Weeping Prophet”. Over the course of forty years and reign of five Judean kings, Jeremiah’s message continues until, in the end, it comes to fulfillment in the Babylonian Captivity.

How did Jeremiah sustain such confrontational preaching in the face of intractable resistance?

love is the bridgeJPG

Perhaps the answer lies in our second reading. He did it out of love.

Arthur Cundall, a British scripture scholar writes:

“God wanted a person
with a very gentle and tender heart
for this unrewarding ministry of condemnation.
Jeremiah’s subsequent career shows that
he had this quality in full measure.”

Jeremiah is a living example of the loving, humble, truth-seeking, hope-impelled soul described in 1 Corinthians, our second reading.

In Luke’s Gospel today, we see Jesus rejected in the same manner as Jeremiah. Jesus’s message asks his listeners for deep conversion of heart in order to be redeemed. Like the ancient Israelites, they don’t want to hear it. They cannot break through their comfortable existence to acknowledge its emptiness.

The message for us today? Is there an emptiness somewhere in our hearts that we have not yet given over to God? Are we filling it with “false gods”, rather than the loving virtues described in Corinthians?

We know where our “dead spaces” are, and we deeply intend them to come alive again. Today, let’s begin to walk the bridge from intention to practice.

Music:  Can’t help it. I love it.

Find Yourself in This Feast

Saturday, February 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Presentation
Icon from The Menologion of Basil II, an illuminated manuscript designed as a church calendar or Eastern Orthodox Church service book (menologion) that was compiled c. 1000 AD, for the Byzantine Emperor Basil II

This event is layered with human and Divine dimensions. It is filled with memorable characters and key moments in their lives. One or more of their stories may touch your own experience as you pray today.

The infant Jesus, just forty days old, is presented and dedicated in the Temple, setting in motion his whole life as the fulfillment of Jewish expectation. We may reflect on the power of our own Baptisms. If we were infants when baptized, we may recall who carried us to the font and who stood for our dedication to Christ.

Mary and Joseph came to the Temple that day for the ritual of Purification. They place their young marriage, and their beginning parenthood, into the circle of their Jewish faith. We may reflect on those points of religious dedication in our own lives – marriage, religious profession, ordination, Confirmation, and just how much the sacred nature of these events impacts our daily living.

Anna and Simeon, long-faithful servants of God, rejoice in the fulfillment of their hopes for the Messiah. Those of us richer in years might gratefully reflect on God’s fidelity to us over the course of our lifetime, and what sacred hopes we still might long to have fulfilled.

Simeon, so completed by seeing his Savior, intones the moving prayer Nunc Dimittis – “Now You may dismiss your servant in peace.” We might pray for those who are nearing their life’s close that they may be blessed with peace. We might also pray for ourselves that we will experience peace and joy at the end of our lives.

And finally venerable Anna who, woman to woman, stood beside young Mary as Mary faced Simeon’s painful words:

Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

For a beautiful meditation on Anna, click here.

Music: Bach – Cantate BWV 125 – Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Johann Sebastian Bach composed the cantata Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin With peace and joy I depart), BWV 125, for use in a Lutheran service. He composed this in 1725 for the feast for the Purification of Mary which is celebrated on 2 February and is also known as Candlemas. The cantata is based on Martin Luther’s 1524 Hymn.

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
In Gottes Willen,
Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
Sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheißen hat:
Der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.

With peace and joy I go on my way
in God’s will.
My heart and mind are comforted,
peaceful and calm.
As God promised me
death has become my sleep.