The Way – Amy Lowell

(When I read this poem, I see Jesus beginning his life’s journey in joyous hope, then meeting the reality of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. I see my own journey too, in its different phases of light and darkness – of hope, sorrow and joy.  Read the whole, but then take time with the pregnant phrases. One will capture you where your are standing today. Stand there with Jesus.)

path

At first a mere thread of a footpath half blotted out by the grasses
Sweeping triumphant across it, it wound between hedges of roses
Whose blossoms were poised above leaves as pond lilies float on the water,
While hidden by bloom in a hawthorn a bird filled the morning with singing.

It widened a highway, majestic, stretching ever to distant horizons,
Where shadows of tree-branches wavered, vague outlines invaded by sunshine;
No sound but the wind as it whispered the secrets of earth to the flowers,
And the hum of the yellow bees, honey-laden and dusty with pollen.

And Summer said, “Come, follow onward, with no thought save the longing to wander,
The wind, and the bees, and the flowers, all singing the great song of Nature,
Are minstrels of change and of promise, they herald the joy of the Future.”

Later the solitude vanished, confused and distracted the road
Where many were seeking and jostling. Left behind were the trees and the flowers,
The half-realized beauty of quiet, the sacred unconscious communing.

And now he is come to a river, a line of gray, sullen water,
Not blue and splashing, but dark, rolling somberly on to the ocean.
But on the far side is a city whose windows flame gold in the sunset.

It lies fair and shining before him, a gem set betwixt sky and water,
And spanning the river a bridge, frail promise to longing desire,
Flung by man in his infinite courage, across the stern force of the water;

And he looks at the river and fears, the bridge is so slight, yet he ventures
His life to its fragile keeping, if it fails the waves will engulf him.
O Arches! be strong to uphold him, and bear him across to the city,
The beautiful city whose spires still glow with the fires of sunset!

Music: from the album Traveler’s Prayer –  John Redbourn

 

 

 

Dare to Follow the Way

Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Thérèse, popularly venerated as The Little Flower. She propagated a spirituality that has become known as “The Little Way”. 


Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm. describes the Little Way like this:
The Little Way is an image that tries to capture St. Thérèse’s understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of seeking holiness of life in the ordinary and the everyday.
Saint Therese based her “little way” on two fundamental convictions: 

  • God shows love by mercy and forgiveness
  • She could not be perfect in following the Lord. 

Both our readings today also talk about a “way”.
Zechariah has a vision of all nations following the way to a New Jerusalem. 

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
In those days ten men of every nationality,
speaking different tongues, shall take hold,

yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say,
“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Dare

In our Gospel, Jesus begins his way on his final journey. He knows now that the way will be through suffering and death yet, He dared…

When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem…

Grace makes a way in our lives too. As with Thérèse, the ancient Jews, and Jesus, our particular way will unfold before us through prayer and a listening heart. It is the way of love that leads away from selfishness to God and God-in-Others.

Rumi’s poem captures it:

The way of love is not
a subtle argument. 

The door there
is devastation. 

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.

(In a later post today, I will share a poem by Amy Lowell which I feel could describe “the journey “ — Christ’s, mine, yours… and perhaps offer further food for prayer.)

Today, we pray for the courage and freedom to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Music: from the musical Godspell – By My Side

The song conveys the desire of Jesus’s disciples, all but Judas, to accompany him on his Way. They were not perfect – but they dared. As we consider our lives, have we dared? What “pebbles” have we willingly “put in our shoes” to follow Jesus?

 

 

Jealous for Me

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Monday, September 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Zechariah channels God, with the most intense of human emotion.

The prophet wants Israel to have some understanding of God’s infinite love and hope for them, so he puts these words in God’s mouth:

I am intensely jealous for Zion,
stirred to jealous wrath for her.

Like a spouse longing for a lost beloved, God longs for the restoration of Israel to the Divine embrace.

Zech my people

Wherever our relationship with God is frayed or broken, God is jealous for us too. If we can turn our hearts in repentance, prayer, and hope, we too will hear God’s longing for us.


In our Gospel, Jesus tries to refocus his disciples on that loving call. In a classic example of missing the obvious, they are distracted over who is the most important. Here is the Lord of all sitting beside them, and they are arguing about their personal status!

By pointing to a child in their midst, Jesus reminds his followers of the innocence and transparency we need in order to open ourselves to God.

Let’s pray for that openness today so that we can hear and rejoice in a promise such as Israel heard through Zechariah:

You shall be my people, and I will be your God,
with faithfulness and justice.

Music: How He Loves Us – David Crowder Band

Flee Toward Justice

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings will challenge us in ways we might rather not hear.

In our first reading, feisty Amos lambastes the Israelites for their sumptuous lifestyle which is indifferent to the plight of those who are poor. He calls them “complacent”, “at ease” in their prosperous, privileged existence, a condition that has numbed them to the harrowing inequities from which others suffer.

In our second reading, Paul gives a final, impassioned charge to his dear protégé Timothy. He tells him not just to avoid, but to flee such complacency and the greedy materialism which feeds it. He outlines the elements of a Christian life, enjoining Timothy to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness”.


Paul gives Timothy the key to true Christian life:

Keep the commandment without stain or reproach …

…. “the commandment” being to love God above all, and love neighbor as self.


Dives
Dives and Lazarus by Bonifazio di Pitati The National Gallery – London

Our Gospel is, perhaps painfully, familiar to all of us – the story of Lazarus and Dives. It is a parable which puts the economic divide under the crystalline light of the Gospel, challenging us as to where we fit in it.

Most of us like comfort. We would rather be “haves” than “have nots”. But we struggle within our comfortable lives to discern our responsibility for others. We’re certainly not intentionally hard-hearted, “lying on ivory couches” and “drinking wine from bowls” while modern day Lazarus languishes right beside us.

We do try, in many ways, to respond to the call for charity and service. But don’t we still measure ourselves after hearing this Gospel? Don’t we still worry about any “Lazarus” unnoticed at our door?

Amos, Paul, and Jesus are charging us – just as they charged their immediate listeners – to live a life based in Biblical and Gospel justice. Justice seeks fullness of life for all the community. Jesus teaches us that “the community” is all Creation, and that how we treat the community is how we treat him.

Every day we might remind ourselves that, however hard we try, it is never enough. We must keep on peeling away any indifference or blindness we have to the injustices of our culture and times, our economic and political systems. And we too must flee them, running toward justice, righteousness, and mercy.

We must ask ourselves this hard question:

Does my “wealth”
– however large or small,
material or immaterial-
nourish the community or only consume it?

Music: Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus – Ralph Vaughn Williams’s beautiful interpretation of the folk song “Dives and Lazarus”.

If you might be interested in the original song – a great example of folk art: Sung here by Maddy Prior (Lyrics below)

as it fell out upon one day
rich Diverus he made a feast
and he invited all his friends
and gentry of the best
then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ door
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
do bestow upon the poor
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my door
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
nor bestow upon the poor

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ wall
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
or with hunger starve I shall
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my wall
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
but with hunger starve you shall

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ gate
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
for Jesus Christ His sake
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my gate
no meat, no drink I’ll give to you
for Jesus Christ His sake

then Diverus sent out his serving men
to whip poor Lazarus away
they had no power to whip one whip
and they threw their whips away
then Diverus sent out his hungry dogs
to worry poor Lazarus away
but they had no power to bite one bite
and they licked his sores away

as it fell out upon one day
poor Lazarus sickened and died
there came two angels out of Heaven
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Lazarus
come along with me
there’s a place for you in Heaven
sitting on an angel’s knee

as it fell out all on one day
Diverus sickened and died
there came two serpents out of Hell
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Diverus
come along with me
there is a place for you in Hell
sitting on a serpent’s knee

Diverus lifted up his eyes
and he saw poor Lazarus blessed
a drop of water brother Lazarus
for to quench my flaming thirst
if I had as many years to live
as there are blades of grass
I would make it in my will secure
that the Devil should have no power
Hell is dark, Hell is deep
Hell is full of mice
it’s a pity that any poor sinful soul
should be barred from our saviour Christ

Joys and Sorrows Mingled

Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a few weeks of readings from the minor prophets – Zechariah being today’s writer.  We also continue with Luke’s Gospel which will take us through to the season of Advent.

The combination of readings today brought to my mind a treasured and bittersweet quote from our beloved founder:

catherine_joys

Zechariah writes for a community with a foot in both worlds – joys and sorrows. They are freed from captivity but burdened with its harsh memory. They have committed in hope to the rebuilding of the temple, but they are filled with doubts about their ability to deliver. They have a plan for their restoration, but realize that God’s plan is beyond their imagination. They see a protected, walled-in future. God sees a “Jerusalem” without walls, circled only by the fire of God’s love.

Zechariah tells them to let go and fall into God’s Imagination, no matter how scary that might be for them:

People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.

In our Gospel, Jesus has begun to gently hint that the disciples’ future may not be as they would like to imagine. At this point in the Gospel story, joys are running pretty high- lots of miracles, crowds growing, the awesomeness of the Transfiguration still lighting up their dreams.

But Jesus drops a little reality, a little sorrow into the mix:

Pay attention to what I am telling you.
The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.

The disciples don’t fully comprehend the warning. It is too much for them to take. We understand, don’t we? Is there anything harder to swallow than sorrow, loss, the crash of a bright dream?

Remembering Zechariah ‘s words may strengthen us when the mix of sorrow seems too much for us:

But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst. …
Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.

Music: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet – Ultimate Tracks

Do Your Best. Leave the Rest.

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

Friday, September 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a name some of us know only by the writing on the side of the charity pick-up truck. But there’s a reason that name was chosen.

St. Vincent de Paul
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Saint Vincent establishing Daughters of Charity by Jean-François Faure (Toulouse Cathedral [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D)
Vincent was a French priest, recognized for his deep compassion, generosity, and love for poor persons. He founded two religious orders dedicated to these values: the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) for priests and brothers, and (with the assistance of St. Louise de Marillac) the Daughters of Charity for women religious. He and the men and women who followed him have blessed the world with immeasurable Christian charity.

Vincent encountered many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his ministry pursuits. But he continued on. He wrote this in one of his letters:

Let us allow God to act;
God brings things to completion
when we least expect it.


Vincent’s advice is not very different from the encouragement Haggai offers the Israelites in today’s reading. They have taken up the task of rebuilding the Temple. But it’s hard, and it looks like their results will pale when compared to the glory of the First Temple. Some of their elders remember that glory and they are crestfallen at the currents efforts. Discouragement begins to overwhelm them.

Haggai2_5JPG

But Haggai refocuses the community, reminding them that this is God’s work, not theirs.

And take courage, all you people of the land,
says the LORD, and work!
For I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.
This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of Egypt,
And my spirit continues in your midst 
do not fear!

In striking poetic symbolism, God then promises to fill the house with glory!

As good people, we try throughout our lives to do things right and well for God. Sometimes our efforts disappoint ourselves and others. We get discouraged. We think the work belongs to us and that we have done it poorly.

Today’s passage is for us. As Haggai speaks in God’s voice: Take courage and work. Leave the rest in God’s accompanying hands.

Music: In God’s Safe Hand – Skjulte Skatter

Haggai Impeaches Israel

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 26, 2010

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Today, in Mercy – and tomorrow – we will hear from Haggai, one of the twelve minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. These dozen writers are referred to as “minor” because of the length of their writings, not their value.

So Haggai, even though many of us have never heard of him, has something important to say for Judeo-Christian tradition and for each of us who read him. Let’s see what that might be.

Hag1_9JPG

Haggai is prophesying during the Persian period of Jewish history, around the middle of the 6th century, BC. The Jewish people had been back home from the Babylonian captivity for almost 20 years. When they first returned they were passionate about rebuilding the Temple. But as the decades passed, and opposition from their non-Jewish neighbors increased, their commitment waned.

The building of worship places has always been an activity with fans on both sides of the aisle. Some argue that God needs a spot where the Divine Presence can be recognized and revered. Others believe that the effort and resources expended in such building could better be used in human services for God’s poor and needy people. Haggai’s community had people in both camps. (Sound familiar?)

Haggai offers a turning point for their arguments. He tells the people they are a mess. The absence of a central symbol for their faith has weakened and scattered them to their own selfish pursuits. He tells them to look at themselves:

Consider your ways!
You have sown much, but have brought in little;
you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.

The Temple, while it is important, isn’t the most important part of Haggai’s prophecy. He tells the people they have lost their souls. The lack of a central, shared faith has caused them to forget who they are. They will remember only when they remember God’s centrality in their lives.

Haggai appeals to the people to restore a public life which gives honor to God. For their time and circumstance, such a return is symbolized by the rebuilding of the Temple which had been destroyed at the time of their enslavement by Babylon.

We humans often forget what’s important. We chip away at, and ultimately destroy, what makes us who we are by little acts of faithlessness, deceit, covetousness and envy. These small treacheries grow into big ones redeemable only by an impeachment of the soul and the renewal of a common moral purpose.

If the message strikes you as extremely germane to current day realities, I’m glad.

Music: Come Back to Me – by Gregory Norbet, sung by John Michael Talbot

God’s Immutable Mercy

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Ezra carries on his shoulders the whole repentant nation of Israel. He is bent in “shame and humiliation” for them as he begins his prayer for God’s mercy.

It is a highly dramatic prayer, ripping out from Ezra’s soul. He not only wants to get God’s attention. Ezra wants to make an indelible impression on the community he prays for.

Picture the scene as you wish. What comes to my imagination, (although somewhat sacrilegious)  is something like a James Brown brand of intensity:

for your reference: James Brown performs “Please Please Please” (Wait for the cape at 60 secs!)


God doesn’t shout back an answer to Ezra’s expressive prayer. Instead, we get the sense of God’s still, eternal Presence waiting for Israel’s eyes to clear in recognition, like finally seeing the mountain peak through the mist:

Ez9_8mercy rock

And now, but a short time ago,
mercy came to us from the LORD, our God,

who left us a remnant
and gave us a stake in his holy place;

thus our God has brightened our eyes
and given us relief in our servitude.


“ …God has given us a stake in his holy place”….
That place is ever-present,
ever-available Mercy
– always awaiting us
if we can clear our hearts to see it.

Once we do see the faithfulness of God, we are ready to chance the journey Jesus invites us to in today’s Gospel:

Take nothing for the journey ….
set out and go from village to village

proclaiming the good news
and restoring wholeness everywhere.

Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness – written by Thomas O. Chisholm.
Sung here by AustinStoneWorship – Jaleesa McCreary (Note the sweet smile on her beautiful face just before she begins to sing. Grace!)

Mercy Day – 2019

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Sisters of Mercy throughout the world will commemorate the date on which, in 1827, Catherine McAuley opened the House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. We count this day as our Founding Day, the day thousands and thousands of souls – for that time and for the future – would be anchored to God in a special way – the way of Mercy.

Lk8_21 Mercy

The experiences of Catherine’s life led her to touch the heart of God in a unique and transformative manner. She imagined, with God, a resurgence of mercy in a harsh, painful and selfish world. She believed that God could effect change through the generous service of her life.

Her holy imagination was so infectious that others caught her fire. Together they began to believe new possibilities into the lives of those who were poor, sick, uneducated and abandoned.

Over these nearly two centuries, Catherine’s invitation to Mercy has caught the hearts of tens of thousands of women, all over the world, who call her their Sister. It has impelled the spirits of millions more women and men who live and are changed by her mission.

Catherine has shown us a particular pathway into the Lavish Mercy of God. She heard the word of God and acted on it with the fullness of her being. By grace, she became Mercy for the world.

That Divine Word, spoken to her in the faces of her poor and suffering sisters and brothers, speaks to us still. As we give thanks for her witness today, may we open our hearts to hear and act on the call of Mercy for our time.

Happy Mercy Day to all our Sisters, Associates, Companions, Co-ministers and Family of Mercy throughout the World!
We praise and thank God together
for the gift of Mercy in our lives!

Music: The Circle of Mercy – Jeanette Goglia, RSM

Radicals for God

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

September 23, 2019

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Luke8_17 hiddenJPG

Today, in Mercy,  we’re dealing with a few names we might not be familiar with.

Pius of Pietrelcina whose Feast we celebrate. Ever heard of him?

Oh, wait a minute, maybe you have. This holy man is more popularly known as “Padre Pio”. Still no clue? How about this?

Padre Pio was a Capuchin Franciscan friar who has become one of the most popular saints in the Church. While it was his receiving of the stigmata that distinguished him for many, his real saintliness lay in his love for sinners and his work for their redemption.

Pope Paul VI said this shortly after Padre Pio’s death: “Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? No – because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was–it is not easy to say it–one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.”

Ezra is our other maybe unfamiliar character. His book in the Old Testament doesn’t get a lot of play. It’s only ten chapters and lacks the exultant poetry of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah.

But Ezra’s, and his buddy Nehemiah’s, contribution to Judeo-Christian spirituality are critically important. These two Hebrew leaders accompanied the People back to their Promised Land after the Babylonian Captivity. But more than that, they fostered and admonished the People to return to their original relationship with God – a relationship rooted in the Promise given to Abraham.

Luke, who gives us today’s Gospel, we know well. Even today’s passage, we might know by heart. Let your lamp shine.  Let your life be truth. Do we live that message?

All the individuals mentioned in today’s celebrations and readings were radicals. The Word and Promise of God were everything to them. Through all the challenges of their lives, they kept coming back to their immutable relationship with the God of Love and Fidelity. They kept inviting others into the circle of that faith.

Praying with them today, may we have the same strong and resolute hearts.

Music: Hymn of Promise – Hope Publishing