Our Lady of Guadalupe

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, is a day of loving celebration.

First, we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

OL Guadalupe
Virgen de Guadalupe con las cuatro apariciones by Juan de Sáenz (Virgin of Guadalupe with the four apparitions by Juan de Saenz)

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a Catholic title of Mary associated with an apparition and a venerated image enshrined within the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  Catholic tradition asserts that the Virgin Mary appeared to a native Mexican peasant Saint Juan Diego, asking that a Church be built at the site.

The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world. Over the Friday and Saturday of December 11 to 12, 2009, a record number of 6.1 million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is considered the Patroness of Mexico and the Continental Americas; she is also venerated by Native Americans, on the account of the devotion calling for the conversion of the Americas.
(Information from Wikipedia)


Not everyone is comfortable with the concept of religious apparitions. But whatever our personal feelings regarding them, there is no doubt that they have animated the faith of millions over the centuries. For me, their factual reality is less important than the devotion they inspire. If such devotions help us love God and our sisters and brothers, they are a source of blessing.

What images, devotions and understandings of Mary help you to exercise a more vigorous faith and generous charity?

Today is a good day to spend time with these inspirations.


 

Mercy word

The Sisters of Mercy celebrate a second blessing on this date.

On December 12, 1831, exactly 300 years after the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Mexico, three women – Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle and Elizabeth Harley – took vows to become the first Sisters of Mercy, beginning a religious community dedicated to serving those who are poor, sick and uneducated.

( Information from Mercy Education System of the Americas. See their website for excellent materials on celebrating these special days.)

Click here to go to Mercy Education System of the Americas


To view an inspiring summary of Catherine McAuley’s life, click below. (You’ll love the beautiful Irish accent)

Click here to learn about Catherine McAuley


Music: Buenos Dias, Paloma Blanca (Traditional Mexican song for Our Lady of Guadalupe) English lyrics below.

Good morning, White Dove,
today I come to greet you,
greeting your beauty
in your celestial kingdom!

You are mother of the Creator
that enchants my heart,
thanks I give you with love.
Good morning, white dove!

Beautiful girl, holy girl,
your sweet name praised,
because you are so blessed
that I come to greet you.

Resplendent like the dawn,
pure and sensitive and without stain,
what pleasure my soul receives.
Good morning, white dove!

 

Even in Darkness, TRUST!

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

December 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, folks in Isaiah’s reading are exhausted! He’s written a plethora of words to convey that God’s People are just about done in! He uses the words “faint”, “weary”, and “burden” at least a dozen times! We get it! The image would be something like this:

burden

But Isaiah encourages the people to look up from the weight of their burdens:

Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall but …

wings

Some of you, dear readers, carry heavy burdens just now, in yourselves and in your dear ones: illness, aging, sorrow, disappointment, the confusions of life, the passing of beloveds, unfulfilled dreams, an unmerciful world. 

Know this:
God is with us in any darkness,
and God’s light will prevail.

This is the whole meaning of our faith-filled journey through Advent. Trust the Promise of our Incarnate God to be with us, given in today’s tender Gospel:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Music: On Eagles’ Wings – Michael Joncas

Comfort the Lost

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

December 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the exquisite “Comfort” passage from Isaiah. Our Gospel gives us Jesus tenderly seeking the single lost lamb.

Isaiah40_1_11

The first and last words of these two readings – COMFORT, LOST – capture the whole intent of God’s message:
Life is a maze whose walls are heightened by our incivility to one another. Isaiah calls to be a leveler of walls, a straightener of twists, a bridge over deadly valleys; Jesus calls us to seek and carry the lost sheep. They call us to be Mercy.

The US southern border is one of the many places in our world crying out for these acts of mercy. Please listen to our Sister Anne Connolly describe the cry:

 


Music: Comfort Ye from Handel’s Messiah – sung by Jerry Hadley

As we pray this glorious music today, let us ask for the strength and courage to be Mercy for the world, to find the ways to comfort God’s people, close by and at life’s borders.

Pride of Place

At our weekly Miraculous Medal Novena, the loudest and most impressive singer of the Novena song was Mamie Ounan. I used to hold on to my kindergarten beanie for fear Mamie’s contralto would blow it off! I wrote a little reflection about her a few years ago and thought you might enjoy it today.


Mamie

 

“Pride of Place”.  That’s what my Dad called it.  I asked him one Sunday when I was about six years old, “How come Mamie Ounan always sits all alone up in that front pew?” Mamie was an elegant old woman, a little like Madame Belvedere in the old movie, “Mrs. Miniver”.  Each Sunday, Mamie Ounan processed up the aisle to commandeer the entire front pew in our parish church.

Gold_Star_Banner_wikimedida_commons.svg_
Flag of a Gold Star Family who lost a member in service to the USA. Such a flag hung in my family home when I was child. It changed all of us!

““Pride of Place””, Dad said.  When I looked up at him clueless, he explained.  “Mamie’s been sitting there every Sunday for forty years. She sat there the Sunday after her husband died in a shop accident.  She sat there every Sunday through the Depression when she struggled to keep her corner grocery open. She sat there the day her son was killed at Pearl Harbor.   All the while, no homeless person ever went away hungry from Mamie’s back steps.  She earned that pew and the rest of us are proud for her to have it.”

““Pride of Place”” isn’t always something physical like a pew in church.  More often it’s a moral or spiritual position that’s granted to us by others after we pay certain dues.  These dues include trustworthiness, sacrifice, contribution and wisdom.

kids table

All of us experience at least some ““Pride of Place”” passages in our lives.  Remember when you moved up from the kids’ table at Thanksgiving dinner?  Remember being a sophomore on freshman day? Throughout our lives, we advance through grade levels, job levels, armed services levels, even golf and bridge levels.

But earning real ““Pride of Place”” is very different from making it to the top of the heap.  We receive the first from others who recognize and respect us.  We take the second from others who may begrudge it to us. Mamie was given “Pride of Place”. She didn’t take it.  Otherwise, someone else would have beaten her to that pew each Sunday.

“Pride of Place” doesn’t come automatically with power or position.  Not every parent, boss, teacher, pastor, elder or champion deserves it.  It has to be earned and kept as a trust.  Even in hard times, its owner has to honor it and use it for others.  Jimmy Carter has “Pride of Place”.  Richard Nixon never did. I have my own feelings about Mr. Trump. I’m sure you do too!

trump

We all have the potential for “Pride of Place” in our lives. We can discover that potential by looking at the things we have responsibility for.  We have kids, elders, employees, co-workers, customers and friends.  We have homes, neighborhoods and futures.  We can impact all these things for better or worse.

Do we dispense those responsibilities with love, courage and honesty?  Do we use the power we have for others, not over or against them?  Mamie Ounan, that little old lady in a tiny city neighborhood, had tremendous power.  She gave people hope and example by the way she endured, by the way she cared and by the way she lived.

If we haven’t begun to exercise that kind of responsible adult power in our lives, maybe it’s time to stand up from the kids’ table and walk toward our own “Pride of Place”.

Let Mary Be Mary

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(December 9th this year because the 8th fell on the Second Sunday of Advent)

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Today, in. Mercy, we celebrate one of the many feasts honoring Mary, Mother of Jesus.

Today’s feast can be confusing to people. It is sometimes mixed up with the Virgin Birth – the moment when Jesus was born. What we celebrate today, however, is the moment Mary was conceived by her parents, Anna and Joachim.

275px-Santi_gioacchino_e_anna

From a young age, I have had a tender devotion to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Some of my local readers will be familiar with the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Established in 1915, the Shrine promotes this devotion through its well-known novena and other means.

medal

My Mom and Dad said that novena every day. Most Monday evenings, Mom and I would walk to our parish church where the community gathered to pray the novena together, celebrate Benediction, and sing the rousing hymn to Mary entitled, “O Mary, Conceived Without Sin”. ( I know some of my old friends are humming the tune right now🤗) When I received my First Communion, I was given my first Miraculous Medal which I treasured.

( A little reminiscence about that coming later today. Hope you enjoy it.)


These remembered devotions were the foundation on which the legacy of faith was planted in our young hearts. But as with any good foundation, a rich garden of understanding has grown from that early soil. Over the intervening years, many graced theologians have helped me grow in understanding of, and relationship with Mary.

One powerful impetus for this growth has come from Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph and Professor Emerita at Fordham University. Her magnificent work Truly Our Sister opens with this sentence:

“ This book proposes that one fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.”

Tanner Annunciation
Annunciation – Henry Ossawa Tanner

Reading Johnson and others has let me see Mary more fully, allowing Mary to move from an isolated perfectionism to a womanly humanity transformed by the Holy Spirit. Johnson says:

“ I am proposing that one fruitful way to work out a liberating feminist theology of Mary is to locate her in the communion of saints and there to remember her, dangerously and consolingly, as a woman with her own particular history among her contemporaries and before God. At first glance placing Mary in the company of the saints may seem strange to those accustomed to more traditional Catholic practice, even though the title ‘Saint Mary’ adorns many churches, schools, and other institutions. It may even seem a diminishment of the honor that is her due as the Theotokos, or bearer of God. But at root it grants her the greatest honor the Christian tradition acknowledges for a human being, namely, the core dignity of being created in the divine image and likeness and gifted, in community with others, with a graced relationship to the living God.”

Today, as we pray with our many images, devotions and understandings of Mary, may we open our hearts to be inspired by her singular witness to God’s desire to be among us.

Music: The Magnificat – Mary’s radical prayer for justice and mercy, sung here in Latin by the Daughters of Mary (English below)

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their seat s
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things.
And the rich he has sent empty away.
Remembering his mercy, he has helped his servant Israel
as he promised to our forefathers Abraham, and his posterity forever. 

Choose Your Kingdom

Second Sunday of Advent

December 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Our readings counterbalance each with other peace and urgency.

HicksJPG
A Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Isaiah, on the one hand, describes the Peaceable Kingdom where:

the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord
As water covers the sea.


Matthew, on the other hand, presents us with John the Baptist, who preached a fiery message. No doubt shocking in his camel hair tunic, a scrap of leather holding it in place, John railed at the pompous Pharisees for their deceitful, pretentious lives:

You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’

For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.

Mt3_10 ax

The message of this Second Sunday is clear for us. We may have lived a half-hearted faith at times in our lives and gotten away with it. Those times are over.

For the One is coming who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire”. 

“Fake” will not hold up against his mighty gaze.

So this Second Sunday is a time to test the sincerity of our faith as proven by our actions. It is a time to check what kind of fruit we bear for the world. As we pass through the circumstances of our lives, do we leave a trail of peace, wisdom, counsel,and all the other blessings Isaiah envisions?

We can do this only by uniting ourselves in prayer and actions to the One rising today from the Root of Jesse, the One to whom both Isaiah and John tied their souls in unquenchable hope.

Music: A song of peace (Charles Villiers Stanford, (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) an Irish composer, music teacher, and conductor.) Lyrics below

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

2  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

3  And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes,
neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

4  And with righteousness shall he judge the poor,
and reprove with equity the meek of the earth:
and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

5  And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

6  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.

9  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain:
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.

10  And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse,
which shall stand for an ensign unto the people;
and his rest shall be glorious.

The Promise of Wholeness

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, December 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah – in glorious prophecy – promises God’s People better times.

hope

Oh my, don’t we all long for the fulfillment of that promise! Sometimes, I can’t even watch the news anymore because the world is in such seemingly irreversible pain!


Perhaps we can use our prayer within these readings today to call on God for the healing they promise.

It is a healing that requires our cooperation. Isaiah says that we must name our pain to God – for ourselves and for all who suffer in our world:

The Lord will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.

Is30_21 Walk

The prophet says that this crying out will change us. We will see the Lord with us in our suffering. God will lead us through that suffering by our acts of faith, hope, love, justice and mercy:

No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.


 

Christ_Healing_the_Mother_of_Simon_Peter’s_Wife_by_John_Bridges
Healing Peter’s mother-in-law by John Bridges, 19th century

Our Gospel tells us that we are called to be Christ’s disciples, and that disciples are healers. By letting our lives become sources of healing in the world, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled for our time.

Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

How we do these wondrous deeds in the world is an ongoing revelation. When I was very young, I took the proclamation quite literally. I soon lost confidence that I would ever really “cure” someone of anything!

Life has blessed me with the realization that there are many degrees of healing. There  many ways in which living people are caught in deadly lives. There are all kinds of “lepers ” in our society, rendered so by the prejudices of others. Certainly, many of us carry all sorts of crippling demons.

Acknowledging the pain in ourselves and others, and trusting that God wants us to be healed and whole, is the work of true discipleship. Let’s keep our eyes on Isaiah’s promise to give us a generous, merciful courage for our call! Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus as he shows us the way.

Music: (Can you take a little hint of “country” this morning?)

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus – written by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961) and sung here by Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records.

Ask to See

Friday of the First Week of Advent

December 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we stand with Isaiah on the rim of hope. We wait, trusting that “in a very little while”, the Lord will make Creation whole.

Is29_18 blindJPG

It’s a precipitous place, this cliff called “Hope”. It requires that we risk ourselves solely on the promises of a God we cannot see. It invites us to leap into a mist we cannot control.

Or can we?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites the blind men to the cliff’s edge by asking them:

Do you believe that I can do this?

Well, that’s everything, isn’t it? If our answer is “No”, “Maybe”, or “Kinda’”, we might as well just lie down on this side of the Promise.

faint

 

But if our answer is brave, like the Gospel blind ones, we too may have our vision cleared to see that there is no leap required. We already stand beside God.

When his children see
the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy;
they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob,
and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Isaiah 29:23

Music: Amazing Grace sung by Il Divo

God Sings

Once, in a half-hidden glen in Waller Mill Park in Williamsburg, Virginia, I stood in a silence so complete, I could hear nothing but God humming. Even the birds had stopped to listen. If you can, take the time to find a spot like this in your life. Wait there long enough to lose the noise of your own anxieties. Wait for Love and Lavish Mercy to sing with you.

glen


Every Riven Thing ~ Christian Wiman

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.


Music: Walking through Clouds – Berward Koch

 

Sing with God

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

December 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah promises the people that they will sing a song in the land of Judah.  It will be a song that celebrates confidence in God, justice, enduring faith, peace and trust.

Is26_1 strong city

Do you ever sing to God when your heart is filled like that? I don’t mean Church-singing or words somebody else wrote. 

I mean that sweet, indecipherable whisper a mother breathes over her child, or the mix of a hundred half-remembered melodies we hum when we are lost in the fullness of our lives.

Madonna-Child-Sassoferrato-L

And I don’t just mean the happy songs.

I mean the songs of loss and longing, awe and wonderment at life’s astounding turns. I mean even the sounds of silence when the refrain within us cannot be spoken.

When your heart is really stuck, unable to find the words to express the depth of your joy, longing or sorrow, try singing to God like that. So many times, I have done this while out on a solitary walk, or sitting by the water’s edge, or even driving on an open road. Sometimes, God even sings back!😉

(In a second post today, I will share a lovely poem which reminds me of a special prayer time in nature.)


Isaiah’s people were able to sing their song because they held on to faith and acted in justice. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that this must be the way of our prayer too. He says that simply saying, “Lord, Lord” won’t cut it!

Real prayer is not just words. It is a life given to hearing God’s Word and acting on it. Real prayer is about always singing our lives in rhythm with the infinite, merciful melody of God.

Music: Bless the Lord, My Soul – Matt Redman

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