To See Ourselves As Others See Us

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy … Oh boy, Paul and Jesus stick it to hypocrites in today’s readings. And I’m like, “Yeah! Go get those rotten, lying hypocrites” – and I have a whole slew of people in mind!

Then, WHOA!  I see Paul’s no-nonsense warning:

For by the standard by which you judge another
you condemn yourself,

since you, the judge, do the very same things.

This is a definite “clean up your act” reading. And don’t deflect your own sinfulness on to the people around you!

Jesus takes the same advice to the Pharisees by throwing a couple of serious “woes” at them:

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  • Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
  • Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagoguesand greetings in marketplaces.
  • Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.

Oh wow! I don’t want to be like an unseen grave, do you?! Neither did one of the scholars who responded to Jesus, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too!

But Jesus is undeterred: 

Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.

Today’s readings offer us a clear message to take a good look at ourselves. Are we guilty of the very uglinesses that we condemn in others?


The Scottish poet Robert Burns got the picture in his poem
“To A Louse”

O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!


For fun, here is the Standard English Translation

Ha! Where are you going, you crawling wonder? Your impudence protects you sorely,
I can not say but you swagger rarely
Over gauze and lace,
Though faith! I fear you dine but sparingly On such a place

You ugly, creeping, blasted wonder, Detested, shunned by saint and sinner, How dare you set your foot upon her – Such fine a lady!
Go somewhere else and seek your dinner On some poor body
Off! in some beggar’s temples squat:

There you may creep, and sprawl, and scramble, With other kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Where horn nor bone never dare unsettle
Your thick plantations

Now hold you there! you are out of sight, Below the falderals, snug and tight;
No, faith you yet! you will not be right, Until you have got on it —
The very topmost, towering height Of misses bonnet.
My sooth! right bold you set your nose out, As plump and gray as any gooseberry:

O for some rank, mercurial resin,
Or deadly, red powder,
I would give you such a hearty dose of it, Would dress your breech!
I would not have been surprised to spy You on an old wife’s flannel cap:

Or maybe some small ragged boy,
On his undervest;
But Miss’s fine balloon bonnet! fye! How dare you do it.
O Jenny do not toss your head,
And set your beauties all abroad! You little know what cursed speed The blastie’s making!

Those winks and finger-ends, I dread, Are notice takiing!
O would some Power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us, And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us, And even devotion.

Music: Britt Nicole – Through Your Eyes (a chance to think about how our loving God sees us, and everyone else/)

God Alone

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the great Saint Teresa of Avila. 

Teresa prayer

Teresa was a Spanish noblewoman who became a Carmelite nun, mystic, religious reformer, author, theologian, and one of the 36 Doctors of the Church.

(Until 1970, no woman had been named a Doctor in the Church, but since then four women have been designated: Saints Teresa of Àvila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of the Child Jesus, and Hildegard of Bingen)

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Our reading today from Romans is a good one for Teresa’s feast. In it, Paul expresses his complete trust in and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By this, Paul means more than the written words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He means the entire gift of the Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection, continuing among us in the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Teresa understood and lived this same trust and devotion. She said:

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.

Like Paul, Teresa was not ashamed to proclaim and live the Gospel. May these two strong and amazing saints help us to do the same.

Music: Christ Has No Body Now But Yours – David Ogden

Grace and Peace

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin about a month of readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will also continue with Luke’s Gospel all the way up to Advent.

To help me in praying with Romans, I am using a book by Scott W. Hahn, Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology at Steubenville University. In his introduction, Hahn says this:

Hahn_Romans

Today’s reading offered me these elements to ponder and pray with:

  • Paul calls himself a “slave” of Jesus Christ
  • He invokes his call as an Apostle
  • He sets himself in the company of the prophets
  • He appeals to Jews who revere David
  • but proclaims Christ, through his Resurrection, as Messiah beyond human lineage
  • He proclaims his mission to the Gentiles
  • to bring about “the obedience of faith”

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve read or heard this passage maybe fifty times in my lifetime, and it has meant little or nothing to me. At best, it has sounded like a formal introduction such as those we hear from government “whereas” type decrees.

But I took Dr. Hahn’s advice, studying the passage, and reading it slowly and prayerfully. Here’s what I received:

  • Paul’s Apostolic call, to which he willingly enslaved his heart, was to preach the Good News of our redemption in Jesus Christ – to preach it to Jews, Romans, Gentiles, and all people.
  • It is an awesomely incredible message that can be received only through the gift of faith.
  • It is a message rooted in the scripture stories we love, and where we look to find a reflection of our own stories.
  • Learning from these realities will help us come to a faith which expresses itself in action and gives glory to God in our own time.

Luke gives us one such story today. Jesus reminds the crowd of two familiar passages – that of Jonah and the “Queen of the South” (the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10). He indicates that the people in these stories believed without a sign.

Jesus tells the people gathered around him  to learn from this. The crowd demands a sign, but Jesus says the sign is right in front of you – it is only your open heart that is lacking.

In his introduction, Paul prays for such open hearts in the Romans:

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

By that same grace, may we receive faith’s blessing as well.

Music: Grace and Peace – Fernando Ortega

A Grateful Spirit

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, two significant themes in our readings are gift-giving and gratitude.

In our first reading Naaman, a pretty hot-shot Syrian commander, is a leper. He takes the advice of a captured Israel slave girl who encourages Naaman to seek a cure from Elisa the prophet.

As Naaman approaches, Elisha sends word  to rinse in the Jordan. Naaman, who is obviously accustomed to personalized subservience, is not happy with Elisha’s absentee advice. Angry, Naaman sets out for home. But his servants encourage him to cool down and to act on Elisha’s instructions. 

Naaman receives the cure and he promises, half-heartedly, to from henceforth worship Yahweh. He then asks what he can pay for the gift of the cure. Elisha responds that there is no payment .

Notice: Naaman never says “Thank you”. Instead, he wants to pay, to owe nothing for the immense gift he has received. He doesn’t want to be beholden, even to God.

Elisha, in so many words, tells Naaman: What I was blessed to convey to you comes from God. The power is God’s. I am the instrument. You can’t buy or own it. I can’t sell it. It’s God’s – freely given.

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Paul repeats the theme to Timothy: the Word of God is not chained. God’s power, grace, and healing are given freely. We cannot earn them buy, them, control them, or ever thank God enough for them. But we should try.

In our Gospel, only one cured leper – a Samaritan – has the sense and humility to try to thank Jesus. Born of his faith, that gratitude saves him.

God is Infinite Gift. God’s love pours over us spontaneously and continually to bring us to wholeness. God can’t help loving us and hoping for our completeness in grace.

May we be delivered from any speck of entitlement, indifference, arrogance, or ingratitude in the face of such Goodness!

Music:  Thank You, Lord – Don Moen

Valley of Decision

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have our second passage from Joel. It’s a awe-filled reading which describes Yahweh calling together the nations for final judgement. The gathering is to take place in the valley between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.

Joe4_14 valley

From his poetic imagination, Joel describes the apocalyptic scene:

Apply the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe;
Come and tread,
for the wine press is full;
The vats overflow,
for great is their malice.
Crowd upon crowd
in the valley of decision;
For near is the day of the LORD
in the valley of decision.

It is a place where the Lord decides who, by their decisions, belongs to God and who does not. Those who have suffered, even shed blood to remain faithful – these are God’s holy ones. They will receive the reward.

What can we learn from this reading which grew out of Israel’s experience so long ago? How can we relate to a “valley” on the other side of the world?

That awesome valley runs right down the middle of our heart. It is the place within every moment where we decide for God or for self. On one side, its high ridges call us to greed, irresponsible self-interest, manipulative relationship, indifference to others’ suffering.

On the other side, the heights of love, mercy, and justice stretch before us. 

We will stand in that valley innumerable times in our lives. Which way we have chosen to climb makes all the difference when the final trumpet sounds.

Music today is a stretch. But I think Joel’s vivid prophesying was a stretch for his people too. The song is “Valley of Decision”, a reggae worship sung. It is sung by Christafari, a Christian convert from Rastafarianism. We all come to God in different ways. I was fascinated and inspired by this singer’s own choice from his “Valley of Decision”. (Words below)

VALLEY OF DECISION
Joel 3:14-21
(Chorus):
Run come and fall people take heed to His call,
Valley of Decision. Valley of Decision.
This is no game, people have to die in His name
Valley of Decision. Valley of Decision.

Darkness it looms all around us, I find it hard to see.
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know
whether I should stay or whether I should flee.
People all around me seem, they seem to be so sad.
I see them cry I hear them bawl I see their backs against the wall,
I wish I could wipe away their tears.

(Pre Chorus):

There’s a Holy, a Holy hill, Holy Mount Zion,
Holy, Holy Mount Zion (Heb 12:22).
Just know that He’s the Lord your God
in this Valley of Decision, Valley of Decision.

Chat Chorus):

Even though I run through enough Hills and Valleys
I fear no evil cause God is with me.
Even though I run through enough Hills and Valleys
Thy rod and staff they will comfort me (Psalm 23:4). (2x)

(Chorus)
(Pre Chorus)
(Chat Chorus)

Jah (Yahweh) Great and dreadful day will soon come (Joel 2:11).
Jah will pour out His mighty, mighty, mighty Spirit to all mankind (Acts 2:17).
Through Him all creation, all creation was made (John 1:3).
Those who call upon His name, Call on His name and you will be saved (Rom 10:13).

(Pre Chorus)
(Chorus)
(Chat Chorus repeated)

Sound the Alarm!

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of two readings from the imaginative poet-prophet Joel. Joel lived at the time of a massive locust infestation in Israel. He compares that devastation to the conquest of an invading army which can be expected if the people do not repent.

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If you have the time, I suggest you read the whole brief book of Joel at one time. Doing so gives a clearer picture of the prophetic cadence Joel employs. It is repeated by most prophets and it goes like this:

  • Hey folks, things are a mess!
  • Guess what, they’re gonna’ get worse.
  • Besides that, it’s your own fault.
  • So wake up and repent.
  • But don’t worry because God still loves us.
  • God wants to and will make things better.
  • Motivate yourself by that hope.
  • And anyway, we’re all just waiting for that great and final day.
  • So praise God by your righteous life.

Oh, but gloriously literate Joel delivers this message with such passionate turns of phrase! Let yourself relish one of two of these startlers from today’s passage.

Listen for how they speak to your heart in the current circumstances of our world:

  • Gird yourself in sorrow
  • Spend the night in scratchy haircloth
  • The Day of the Lord comes as ruin from the Almighty
  • a day of darkness and of gloom,
  • a day of clouds and somberness
  • The enemy is numerous and mighty
  • Their like has never been seen before

You might say, “Gee, I’m not really feeling all that bad, and the sun’s out where I live!” 

Well, try reading the phrase as if you lived in Kurdish Syria, or war-torn Yemen. Hear the prophet’s warning as an immigrant fleeing your country, or a democracy-seeker in Hong Kong. Listen to this word of God as a person without a home, or food, or healthcare might hear it.

In many ways, things are a mess! What are we called to by today’s reading? What is the warning and the hope within it to impel us toward a more just and merciful life?

Music: Deep Within – David Haas

Eyes on the Prize

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Malachi (chronologically last of the Twelve minor prophets) lays it all out.  He is writing for the Jewish community after the Restoration of the Second Temple. It is a community whose faith and practice have become “institutionalized”, having lost much of the raw vigor and intention of its first charismatic restorers.

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I think we can all understand how that happens. It’s hard to maintain the passion of an early vision over the long years of its testing. This Jewish community has been visibly successful. They are home from captivity. The Temple has been rebuilt. Life is good. What’s the problem? So God tells them:

You have defied me in word, says the LORD,
yet you ask, “What have we spoken against you?”
You have said, “It is vain to serve God,
and what do we profit by keeping his command,
And going about in penitential dress
in awe of the LORD of hosts?

The community has forgotten the heart of their life! In the imposing shadow of their Temple achievement, they have lost the memory of the God it honors.


Rabbi Gunther W. Plaut says this:
Malachi describes a priesthood that is forgetful of its duties, a Temple that is underfunded because the people have lost interest in it, and a society in which Jewish men divorce their Jewish wives to marry out of the faith. The Prophet lived probably sometime after the year 500, perhaps as late as 450 (B.C.E.). It was an era of spiritual disillusionment, for the glorious age that earlier prophets had foreseen had not materialized. 

Click here to to link to the Rabbi’s blog. Good stuff.


It’s not a big leap to see ourselves foreshadowed in Malachi’s prophecy. We live on a devastated planet and a war-pocked world. We agonize over corrupted political, economic and justice systems. We worship in a scarred and struggling Church. We live in a culture that has forgotten. Indeed, in our materialistic world, it appears that:

… evildoers prosper,
and even tempt God with impunity.

But Malachi tells the faithful people that the day of their reconciliation is coming. He tells them to remain steadfast, to keep their eyes on the prize.

… you shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts,
my own special possession, on the day I arise.
And I will have compassion on you,
as a parent has compassion on a devoted child.

Our Gospel echoes this promise. If we but ask, God will give us the strength to remain merciful, faithful, and just – not to forget the heart of our life, not to be blind to it in our suffering brothers and sisters.

Music: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize– a folk song, a genre that carries a lot in common with prophetic poetry. This ballad became influential during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It is based on the traditional song, “Gospel Plow” also known as “Hold On” or “Keep Your Hand on the Plow”.

This version is written by Pete Seeger sung by The Boss, Bruce Springsteen 

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they was lost
Dungeon shook and the chains come off
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom’s name is mighty sweet
And soon we’re gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Only chain that a man can stand
Is that chain o’ hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I’m gonna board that big greyhound
Carry the love from town to town
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Now only thing I did was wrong
Stayin’ in the wilderness too long
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The only thing we did was right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, hold on

(Jamming interlude)

Ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there are paved with gold
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The Lord’s Prayer

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 9, 2019

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(Some of you may recognize this reflection as a “recycle”, but I think it may be worth another read.)

Ollie praying

Today, in Mercy,  Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. His prayer is simple and direct, like talking to your Dad over a morning cup of coffee.

What about us? How do we pray?

Our first learned prayers are a lot like Jesus’s simple Our Father. We praise God, giving thanks, and asking for what we need.

Then we grow up and get sophisticated. We may begin to “say” or read prayers rather than use our own words. While such a practice can deepen our understanding of prayer, it places a layer between us and our conversation with God.

Sometimes others lead our prayer in the community of faith. This too can enrich us as we are inspired by a shared faith. But it is a little like trying to have a private conversation in an elevator.

Just as Jesus often went off in solitude to pray, this kind of prayer is our most intimate time with God – a time when God allows us to know God and ourselves in a deeper way. This sacred time alone with God may be spent in words, song, or the silence that speaks beyond words.

It is a time to be with the Beloved as we would our dearest, most faithful companion. We rest in the field of our experiences, letting them flow over God’s heart in tenderness. We listen with the ear of absolute trust to the secrets God tells us in the quiet.

Pray Always

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings suggest that there are many different ways to pray – to acknowledge and respond to God’s Presence in our lives, to deepen in relationship with God.

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Jonah has just finished his prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from the chaos. This prayer is transformative. Jonah is different – open to God’s call – after it. The Ninivites, after hearing only one day of Jonah’s preaching, respond by acts of fasting and mortification . Their king, when he hears of their actions, himself formalizes a drastic national atonement. The repentant prayer of the Ninivite Kingdom is also transformative. They turn from their evil ways and open their hearts to God’s sovereignty.

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ps130_1 lament

Our Responsorial Psalm 130, a treasured and classic song of lament, shows us the transformative power of this kind of prayer. The one praying from the depths of her heart:

  • names her suffering
  • weeps with God because of it
  • begs deliverance
  • in the begging, relinquishes the outcome to God
  • receives peace in the relinquishment
  • is transformed by that peace and offers praise

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Our Gospel offers us another classic example of types of prayer, that of contemplation and that of service. In the story, Mary is affirmed for her singular attention to the presence of Christ – her contemplative prayer. Martha, on the other hand, pays attention to Christ by her service. Some have interpreted Martha’s as a lesser form of prayer. However, Macrina Weirdekehr, in her new book “The Flowing Grace of Now”, gives us this powerful insight into Martha’s prayer:

“Mary’s listening annoys Martha, who is busy serving. Yet if the full truth be known, Martha was also sitting at the feet of the teacher. She is sitting at the feet of service. Later, after dinner was served, with Jesus gone and Mary retired for the evening, I envision Martha finally sitting down by herself, and listening to the experience of the evening. As she reviewed the evening and her lament in the midst of her service, perhaps she began to realize that all of this was part of the wisdom offered by the school of life. We learn by contemplating our daily struggles.”


(I so highly recommend this deeply beautiful book available from:

Click here to go to Ave Maria Press or

Click here to go to Amazon


Today, we might consider our many ways to talk with and be with God, to give time and awareness to this all-encompassing relationship in our lives.

Music: Lord, I Need You – Matt Maher 

 

Transparent Prayer

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Monday, October 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading is from the Book of Jonah, a drama with which we are all familiar.  Because of the fantastical nature of the tale, we may tend to read it simply on the level of allegory – the way we might read Aesop’s fables. But there is much spiritual depth to be found in this well-known story.

As I pray with the Jonah passages for these three days, I am using an article by Walter Bruggemann to inform my prayer.

You can access Bruggemann’s article here

Since today is the feast of the Holy Rosary, a prayer which has blessed the Church for centuries, Bruggemann’s consideration of Jonah’s prayer caught my attention:

The complexity of (Jonah’s) prayer is reflective of the complexity of all prayer.  Prayer purports to be single-minded in its communication with Yahweh.  Everyone who prays is complex, given to deception, distortion, and willfulness; our prayers are most often thick with mixed motives, distortions, and exhibits, even if only to the self.  There are “saints” who are more mature and more disciplined than this in their prayer.  But evidently Jonah is not among those mature, disciplined saints.  For that reason his compromising and manipulative maneuvers are highly visible in the prayer.  We may spot such maneuvers in his prayer and be driven to reflect on our own acts of seduction in prayer whereby we deceive ourselves, even if God is not deceived.

The Rosary, intended as a contemplation not a recitation, allows us the silence and time to sort out the complexities of our own prayer. It is a prayer not to be rushed. Praying it well requires us to lay aside our busy existence and excuses, and to place ourselves in the stillness of Divine Transparency.

rosary

The Rosary invites us to enter more deeply into the truth of Christ’s life, but also into our own. Seen in the light of Mary’s and Jesus’s lives, what is our own life teaching us?

So many of us have a Rosary in our drawer or purse that we haven’t touched for a while. Many of these beads were given to us by, or belonged to, someone who loved us – who wished us the blessings that come from its devotion. Perhaps we might like to rekindle our love for the Rosary today while remembering that beloved person. In the drawer beside my bed, my Dad’s well worn rosary is waiting for me.

Music: Ave Maria – Bach, sung by Jessye Norman