Today, in Mercy, our readings speak to our innate desire to have another chance, to start fresh.
Don’t you love to get something new? A new outfit that refashions not only your appearance but your attitude? A fresh coat of paint on a room that has grown commonplace? A few new plantings in your winter-dried flower boxes?
Even as a kid, didn’t you treasure that new box of crayons? That unscuffed baseball when the season started? That second piece of construction paper when your first effort flopped?
Isaiah knows how we feel. He is speaking, in today’s passage, to a people bereft by their circumstances and recent history. They have suffered invasion, exile, tribal strife, and the destruction of the Temple. The faith of the masses had been weakened almost beyond repair.
But Isaiah challenges his listeners to renew their hearts. God is greater than all they have suffered. And God is offering them that second chance, that fresh sheet of paper, that box of whole crayons:
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight; I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people.
What we have to understand from this passage is that God is talking to us! We are Jerusalem! Any suffering in our lives, the pain, disappointment, brokenness, heartache and sin that might burden us is going to be transformed. In the Eternal Creation, all will be joy and fullness of life.
And we don’t have to wait until we die to experience that new creation. Our faith, ever deepened by God’s grace, lets us live in that joy even in the midst of our everyday challenges.
This is the profound lesson Jesus is about to teach us by his Passion, Death and Resurrection. This week’s readings, in a dynamic mix of joy and sorrow, lead us more deeply into that understanding.
Music:O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines –Carl P. Daw
Today, in Mercy,halfway through Lent, we see in our readings glimpses of new life.
The captivity in Egypt had been TOUGH on Israel. During those many decades, they had appeared to be abandoned and forgotten by God.It was a harsh reckoning for them … hard to be forgotten. Even then, when they thought they had found freedom, they still wandered for forty years in the desert.
But now Israel stands at a new horizon.Moses has died and Joshua has become Israel’s leader.God tells him that it is a new day:
“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
In our second reading, Paul tells us:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
And in our revered Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us:
This beloved child of mine was dead, and has come to life again; was lost, and has been found.
All of these passages speak to us in our Lenten journey, and in our Life journey.We have experienced our own “Egypts”, times when we felt disconnected, even abandoned, by God.We have sometimes felt we were journeying aimlessly toward an unknown goal. We have at times wandered, like the prodigal son, from the path of God’s love. We have darknesses in our memories that still long for Light.
This poem from Mary Oliver might capture the feeling for us:
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~ Mary Oliver ~
In today’s readings, God is reminding us that the Light awaits us. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new energy and grace are the gifts of Easter – the gifts where we must keep our eyes focused as we journey.
So let us do as e.e.cummings encourages us in this poem:
Let It Go – e.e. cummings
let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd
Remember not the things of the past;
now I do something new,
do you not see it?
Now I do something new, says the Lord.
In our distress God has grasped us by the hand,
opened a path in the sea, and we shall pass over,
we shall pass over, free at last.
In our parched land of hypocrisy and hate,
God makes a river spring forth,
a river of mercy, truth and compassion; come and drink.
And who among us is sinless in God’s sight?
Then who will cast the first stone, when he who was sinless
carried our failings to the cross?
Pressing ahead, letting go what lies behind,
may we be found in the Lord, and sharing his dying,
share in his rising from the dead.
Today, in Mercy, our two readings encourage us to be humble and repentant.
In the reading from Hosea, God is very clear:
For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God
rather than burnt offerings.
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his judgmental self-satisfaction with all the sacrifices he’s made:
O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
On the other hand, we have the scorned tax collector ( a status we can understand this time of year:-) who admits his weakness and need for God’s mercy.
Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
The readings are really about seeing ourselves in the light of God’s truth, while knowing that our merciful God loves us infinitely, even in our weakness. They are about being open to that mercy so that we can know the fullness of God’s grace.
Today, in Mercy, Hosea, the composer of passionate love songs, tells us this:
I will heal your weaknesses, says the LORD, I will love you freely; for my wrath is turned away. I will be like the dew for you: you shall blossom like the lily; You shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth your shoots. Your splendor shall be like the olive tree and your fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again you shall dwell in the shade and raise grain; You shall blossom like the vine, and your fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
The passage sings of new life, strength, vigor – the hope of Easter! Today as we pray, what withering branches in our lives do we wish to place in the warmth of this promise?
In our Gospel, the good scribe asks for Jesus’s confirmation that he is on the right track to holiness. Jesus blesses him by saying:
You are not far from the kingdom of God
God is so good to us. Let us ask God’s generous help as we seek to grow in holiness, goodness and peace this Lent, so that we may be blessed by the same promises.
Looking at my graphic for today, you may wonder how I’m going to connect that command to baseball’s Opening Day. Watch! 😊⚾️
There’s no better feeling than an “opening day” feeling. No matter how bad you were last year, you have a clean slate for the new season. You’ve had a chance to assess your weaknesses and rehab them. You’ve been able to add some strengths you needed but had neglected. You’ve got another carte blanche chance to be everything you were born to be! Now you’re standing in the batter’s box just listening for that thrilling phrase, “Play ball!”
Guess what! You’ve been doing all the same things throughout Lent. You’ve taken a look at your life and straightened a few things out. You’ve dusted off the plate, so to speak, and you’re ready to start fresh as Easter approaches.
Today’s readings are telling us to tune in, listen, for God’s coaching in our lives. The game of life plays out for us in ways we could never imagine. But God imagines- and will guide us through to home plate if we just “hear God’s voice and harden not our hearts”.
Today, in Mercy, our readings describe God’s lavish mercy and the expectation for our reciprocity.
The passage from the Book of Daniel, written in lilting prose, quotes the prayer of Azariah. It gives us several phrases to savor in our own prayer, depending on the particular disposition of our heart on any given day:
To whom you promised …. like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea. What has God promised you to give you hope in your life? Can you call on those promises today in your prayer?
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation… Are you feeling sad, disconnected, humiliated or depressed? Can you give these feelings to God and open your heart to healing?
We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. Do you ever feel abandoned by the institutions we all once depended on, whether Church, government, law etc.? Can we pray for the courage to depend only on God in all things?
Now we follow you with our whole heart… Have our life circumstances brought us to the point of placing ourselves totally in God’s care? Can we pray with that peaceful and holy abandonment?
Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.Can our prayer be one of giving glory to God for all the blessings in our lives?
God has been so good to us! Our Gospel enjoins us to be reciprocally good to others.
Music: Give Me Your Eyes – An interesting song by rock singer Brian Heath. As his plane is landing one night, he receives a grace to pray for new eyes — eyes that see and love all humanity as God does.
(Some of you may enjoy my reminiscence on this Feast of the Annunciation.)
March 25th, fifty-five years ago, was a pleasantly warm day in Philly, with a strong hint of spring in the air. I remember the day as clearly as if it dawned just this morning.
I sat in 2nd period senior year math class, glancing at the greening cherry tree at the window, and yearning for graduation. Sister Helen Mary, IHM ( I still remember her even though she thought I was pretty forgettable in math) decided to set the formulas aside and talk about Mary and the feast of the Annunciation.
For several years, I had been toying with the thought of a religious vocation – but I hadn’t really given my heart to it. But, just three days before, while meeting up with one of my friends in her home room, I had noticed the Centenary Book of the Sisters of Mercy on Sister Mary Giovanni’s desk. I liked the pictures in it so I asked if I could borrow the book for a night or two.
It had never crossed my mind to consider becoming a Sister of Mercy. I hadn’t really known any until high school. But as soon as I met them I liked them. They were friendly, joyful people with a beautiful mix of humanity and spirituality.
Blissfully reading that book on the evening of March 24th, I opened to the magnificent center page. It is hard to decipher it in the picture, but the motto written above the painting of the Crucifixion deeply touched me, “Love One Another”.
Another page offered a phrase that grabbed my heart and, to this day, has never let it go:
The Sisters of Mercy take a fourth vow of service of the poor, sick and ignorant.
I suppose that, during trig class the next morning, I was already primed for Sister Helen Mary’s talk. She said that Mary responded fully and joyfully when God called her. In a flash as quick as an Angel-wing, I decided to do the same.
I left class, found Sister Giovanni and, before 3rd period, I had committed to become a Sister of Mercy.
Now I look back over those fifty-five glorious years, and my heart sings in thanksgiving for my vocation, my beloved Sisters and the precious people I have served. I turn the ring, given at my profession, and read the cherished motto, “Love One Another “. Our God is a faithful God. He took a young girl’s gossamer promise and turned it into a divine love story.
This year, as I anticipated this special feast, it gave me such tremendous joy to read that, in June, four young women will profess their final vows in this Community. I hope and pray for each of them that, fifty-five years from now, they will tell their joy-filled stories with a graced reminiscence too.
I love this powerful poem about Annunciation by Denise Levertov. May it enrich us on this sacred feast. Great song after.
by Denise Levertov
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, Sixth Century
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God. From: The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Theme
Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is a sacred and beloved feast.Have we not come to love its phrases, ringing in our hearts like treasured memories? Let us pray with them today, asking to welcome the astonishing Will of God in our own life as Mary did.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth…
And the angel said: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus, for nothing is impossible for God.
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Today, in Mercy, we have powerful readings – they get really serious about repentance!
In our first reading, Moses has been on a kind of decades-long sabbatical on his father-in-law’s homestead. After the young glory days of Egypt, and the ensuing drama that exiled him, Moses had settled into being a humble shepherd in Midian. He probably wasn’t expecting a fiery, direct telegram from God.
But God never gives up on his plan for us. So God, divinely expert at getting our attention, conflagrates a bush right in front of Moses.Supposedly, it was not that unusual for this type of bush to spontaneously combust in the desert heat. What was unusual was for it not to be consumed by the fire.
God then delivers a message of overwhelming fidelity to Moses:
Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.
Because of God’s mercy and fidelity, the Israelites – and Moses – are getting another chance to live in covenant with God.
In our Gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to ignore such chances. He reminds his listeners that life is fragile and transitory. If we haven’t acted on God’s invitation to grace, we might lose the opportunity.
If we look back over our lives, we might realize that there have been burning bushes all over the place – times and events where life offered us a choice between grace and sin, smallness of heart, selfishness. When we chose grace, the bush kept burning and was not consumed. It lit our way to deeper covenant with God.
These final weeks of Lent offer us countless encouragements to look for God’s Fire in our hearts and to go deeper toward the Light. Let’s not ignore them.