First, I want to thank you for following Lavish Mercy. It both humbles and delights me that these daily reflections seem to be meaningful for so many people.
Second, I want to tell you about some upcoming changes to the blog.
As some of you longtime followers realize, I have been offering these posts for over two years. Every lectionary reading has been covered, most of them twice. So I think it is time for a little change.
Beginning with the Tuesday, 6/2/2020 blog, I will shift to a reflection on the Psalms. Most often it will be the Psalm of the day, but sometimes a different Psalm or the Gospel Verse of the day. My plan is to reflect on the particular Psalm through poetry, music and a brief prayer.
I hope that many of you also share a love for the Psalms. Sister Marilyn Sunderman wrote a beautiful piece on Catherine McAuley’s love of prayer and the Psalms. She wrote:
The Psalter of Jesus, one of Catherine’s favorite prayers, invokes Jesus’ name 150 times. Its themes—such as the need for God’s forgiving mercy, dependency on God’s help, reverence for Jesus’ person and ministry and gratitude for Jesus’ passion and death—resonated deeply with Catherine.
The seven Penitential Psalms—6, 31 (32 in the New Revised Standard Version – NRSV), 37 (NRSV 38), 50 (NRSV 51), 101 (NRSV 102) 129 (NRSV 130) and 142 (NRSV 143) were also prayers Catherine often recited. These psalms are prayers for the repentance of sin and confidence in God’s mercy. (Sister Marilyn Sunderman)
Today, in Mercy, on this day before Pentecost, we close the book on both Acts and John’s Gospel, companions we have been praying with since mid-April.
When I read a really great book, I hate it to end. The characters and their story linger in my mind. The places where I’ve pictured them seem real – as if I’ve visited there myself. And the core of their stories becomes part of me, a reference point for my own experience.
Hopefully, the same thing happens when we read and pray with scripture.
As we leave Acts today, we should feel like we know the early disciples better, especially Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, Lydia and others whose story might have touched us. We should better understand the ups and downs of the early Church, the passion for mission, and the evolution of faith – and how these speak to our own times.
Finishing John, we have a slightly different picture of Jesus from that of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We see a Jesus full of Light, his human existence described through the lens of his Divinity. Johannine scholar Raymond E. Brown describes the difference like this:
That Jesus is the center of John’s message is confirmed by even a hasty reading of the Gospel itself. The emphasis on the Kingdom of God, so prominent in the Synoptic Gospels, has yielded in John to an emphasis on Jesus as the embodiment of life, truth, and light. No more is the parabolic language introduced by “The kingdom of God is like,..”; rather we hear the majestic “I am ” Whereas it is the Kingdom that the Synoptic Gospels describe in terms of vineyard, wheat, shepherd and sheep, in John it is Jesus who is the vine, the bread, the shepherd, and the sheepgate.
Today, in our prayer, we might want to glance back through these books, reminding ourselves of the words, phrases and stories that touched our own experience most deeply.
Sketching such phrases – perhaps in a daily prayer journal – is a good way to let our minds turn them over and over again in prayer, discovering new depths with each turn.
Music: Cavalleria Rusticana: Easter Hymn – Pietro Mascagni, featuring Australian soprano Kiandra Howarth
I thought we’d close these two wonderful books, and the Easter Season, with a bang. (Lyrics and explanation below)
LATIN AND ENGLISH:
CHORUS (within the church)
Regina coeli, laetare—Alleluia!
Quia, quem meruisti portare—Alleluia!
Resurrexit sicut dixit—Alleluia!
CHORUS (in the square)
We rejoice that our Saviour is living!
He all-glorious arose from the dead;
Joys of heaven the Lord to us giving,
All the sorrows of darkness are fled! (The chorus goes out slowly)
CORO INTERNO (dalla Chiesa.)
Regina coeli, laetare—Alleluja!
Quia, quem meruisti portare—Alleluja!
Resurrexit sicut dixit—Alleluja!
CORO ESTERNO (sulla piazza.)
Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto.
Ei fulgente ha dischiuso l’avel,
inneggiamo al Signore risorto
oggi asceso alla gloria del Ciel!
(il Coro esce lentamente)
Today, in Mercy, Paul’s case goes before Festus and King Herod Agrippa. Just in case you are confused, like I was, about just who this particular Herod is, this family tree from Wikipedia helped:
This King Agrippa was Marcus Julius Agrippa II (A.D. 27-100), son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-23).
I offer these facts for no real spiritual reason, but they remind me that these biblical characters were real people, like us, engaging (or not) a real life of faith. (Also, I thought it was fun to see how uncreative they were in naming their babies 🙂
In our Gospel, Jesus once again prepares Peter for his tremendous responsibility in the building of that faith. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”. By the third interrogation, Peter’s answer sounds a little intense:
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Hearing this response, Jesus lays the full burden of Peter’s life upon his shoulders. Not only must Peter “feed” the faith of Jesus’s followers, he must do so by giving over all control to God:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
we too are given the gift and responsibility
of living a faithful life.
Like Peter, we all learn through the years,
that life comes to us in unexpected ways.
In reality, life often chooses us
rather than the other way around.
As we pray with these passages, we might want to look back over our lives for those points where life challenged or unbalanced us. What unexpected blessings came from those surprises/shocks? When God’s plan contradicted our own, how were we eventually blessed with courage, hope and insight?
We are the person we are today because of how we responded to God’s mysterious plan for our lives. Did we reach out our hand and let God lead us? Do we still need to do some letting go in order to enjoy that kind of freedom?
Music:Precious Lord, Take My Hand – written by Thomas A. Dorsey, sung here by the Great Mahalia Jackson
Today, in Mercy, as we continue to read Jesus’s loving dialogue with his Father, we become the silent listener to an intimate conversation.
As I prayed with this passage, the memory of my own conversations with my mother came back to me. Many of these exchanges took place in person, but what I remembered today was our daily evening phone calls late in her life.
The calls were brief, but unflinchingly regular – 7PM every night. The exchanges werevery simple and almost formulaic: were we both OK, slept well, had a good day, had what for dinner, endured whatever weather….did we need anything?
But the real conversation was deep under any formula. It was the silent language of love, comfort, hope, trust and fidelity.It was the unspoken assurance that we were, and would always be, FOR each other.
In John 17, we find the same kind of conversation between Jesus and his Father.
You and I are one
You have gifted me with your glory
You have empowered me in your Name
You have always loved me
I know your heart
and I am grateful
What a privilege to listen to God’s conversation! In our prayer today, we may just want to witness silently the infinite love between Jesus and the Father. As Jesus prays for us to be incorporated into that love, may our hearts overflow in gratitude.
Music: I Just Called fo Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
Mom and I loved this song because it so clearly described our relationship. I still sing it to her sometimes… loooong distance for sure now🥰.
I think it’s a song we could easily share with God in our prayer.
Today, in Mercy, Jesus and Paul continue their heart-wrenching farewell addresses.
We’ve become accustomed to the passages and may read them without much emotional investment, but honestly they are real “weepers” – like movies where you have to bite the edge of your popcorn cup to keep from sobbing out loud.
Look at Acts, for example, and put yourself in the scene:
When Paul had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all. They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.
The verses from John are not quite so emotional, but picture yourself being prayed over like this. You sense that this is really a final blessing. You know these may be some of Christ’s last words you will ever hear.
Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.
As we pray with today’s scriptures, we are reminded that goodbyes are awfully hard. We need to mourn them within a community of faith lest our hearts break from their weight.
So many of us, in these sorrowful times, feel that deep longing. We need to tell one another the stories of our loved ones, to sing together our belief in eternal life, to prove that we can still laugh with old memories, to cry at the sight of one another’s tears.
But in an atmosphere of overwhelming loss, the pandemic has denied us this kind of faith-supported mourning.
Someday, we will gather as we once did. Together, we will pick up the fabric of our common life and finger the places where it has thinned with the passings of our beloveds.
Until then, let us take great hope in the core of Jesus’s message today:
Father, now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world so that those you have given me may share my joy completely.
All that we love, and may seem to have lost, is preserved and transformed – complete and joyful – in the infinite love of God.
We too can be there in our prayer. We may be shaken by loss, but we are confident in faith. We know and believe that we are all kept in God’s Name.
Music: Aaronic Benediction – Misha and Marty Goetz
Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the first part of his Ephesian farewell address which he will complete in tomorrow’s reading.
Paul really loved the Ephesian community. He lived with them for three years and poured his heart and soul into teaching them. He doesn’t say it outright, but like all ministers, he must have learned from them as well – from their faith, compassion, and openness to his teaching.
Now Paul begins the last journey back to Jerusalem, a passage which will mirror Christ’s own journey to that sacred city. But before he departs, Paul tells the Ephesians how much he loves and expects from them. And he blesses them.
In tomorrow’s continuation, Paul will say:
And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.
In our Gospel today, as Jesus commences his own final journey, he blesses his listeners as well:
Father, I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
Today as we pray, whether we are at the beginning or late parts of our journey, we might take time to pray for the ones God “has given” us in our lives. Like Paul who shared life with the Ephesians, and like Jesus and his beloved disciples, God has given us communities to love and form us on our journey.
These extraordinary pandemic days have reminded us all of what’s most cherished in our lives. It’s such a perfect time to show our own beloved communities how much they mean to us. It doesn’t have to be a long address or a profound speech. My young nephew and his dear wife did it yesterday with a simple and delightfully surprising phone call just before they journeyed on a small vacation.
Just little phrases between us, passed over a thousand mile telephone signal, carried a much bigger message of love and gratitude:
just wanted to check on you
are you feeling well
do you have what you need
enjoy your time away
thanks for thinking of me
I love you
God bless you
Today, as we read the orations of Jesus and Paul, we may not see the same exact phrases, but the message is the same. Jesus and Paul knew it was important to their communities to put that loving message into words. It’s important for our communities too.
Thanks Jimmy and Kristin. Thank you all my dear family and friends. I am so blessed to have these kinds of conversations with all of you. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.
Like Paul, I commend each one of you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.
On this, and all your life journeys, travel safely and know you are deeply loved.
Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter
Today , in Mercy, we read in Acts about Baptism in the Spirit and the powers it bestows. When Paul encounters some believers who have received the Baptist’s rite of repentance, he asks if they had received the Holy Spirit.
Their simple answer kind of amuses me:
We’ve never even heard of him!
Paul remedies the situation with a few quick sacramental steps and:
… they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
When I read passages like this, I sometimes wonder what has happened in the millennia since those early Spirit-filled Baptisms… since the days when the Holy Spirits seems to have burst out all over in flames, wonders and eloquence.
Has the Holy Spirit changed? Diminished? Is Her battery running low? Or have we changed … the Church and we members who comprise it?
Well, I guess we all know the answer, given our faith in a changeless God.
So why doesn’t the Holy Spirit blaze for us as She did for those twelve Ephesians in today’s reading?
I think it’s a matter of how we see, and listen.
Sir John Lubbock, a 19th century scientist and polymath wrote this: “What we see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”
― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In
Might not this wisdom apply as well to how we perceive the Spirit in our lives?
If in our daily experiences and interactions, we remain on a superficial, distracted relationship with the Holy then we, like the fellows in our reading, may “never even hear” of the Holy Spirit.
But if, by prayer and contemplation, we open ourselves to the Sacred within all Creation, what we see and hear, what we feel and respond to begins to change — to catch fire.
During this week leading up to Pentecost, we might try this practice: let’s look more intensely for the Spirit in our daily lives by noticing the presence (or absence) of the Spirit’s gifts.
How are our choices, conversations, judgements, reactions reflective of these gifts?
In my experiences each day, what persons or circumstances have mirrored these gifts? What has overshadowed or eradicated them?
The Holy Spirit’s heart beats alive and well within all Creation. I might just need to dust off my stethoscope a bit!🤗 Maybe this beautiful poem will help.
God’s Grandeur- Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Meditation: God’s Grandeur- read so beautifully by Samuel West
Today, in Mercy, Jesus defines for us what it means to have eternal life. And the parameters of that definition are so far beyond our limited perceptions — at least mine.
The first time I heard the phrase “eternal life”, I was a three-year-old staring up at the edge of my grandmother’s casket. In those days, family members were “waked” at home for three days. Before Father Connolly came to say a few prayers, I had been lifted up to see Grandmom, icy white in her pretty blue gown, definitely in a sleep I had never seen before.
Later, as the priest intoned blessings over her, I was too little to see over that casket’s edge, so I wondered if she might already have left to find eternal life when he mentioned it. I hoped she could take the blue dress with her because she looked so pretty in it.
Thus began my lifelong quest to understand where Grandmom had gone and to insure this elusive “eternal life” for myself someday. My early catechism lessons presented a “Plant Now – Reap Later” view of eternal life. Remember this from the Baltimore Catechism?
Why did God make you?
God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
( However, I prefer this verion of the query which I heard recently. When asked why God made her, a little girl responded, “Because He thought I’d like it!”)
Still as a result of our early catechesis, many of us consider “eternal life” a future state achieved after death or perhaps not until the Second Coming.
In today’s reading, and throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus begs to differ.
Brendan Byrne, SJ, New Testament scholar, when describing the Prologue of John’s Gospel, says this: (The central notion of John’s Gospel is this…) The entire life of Jesus Christ will be a playing out, in the field of time, of the divine communion of love that exists between the Father and the Son. Played out in the human sphere, it will be accessible to human beings, so that they, as “children of God”, may be drawn into Jesus’ filial communion of love with the Father and so come to share the divine eternal life.
In other words, as we deepen in our relationship with Christ, we deepen in divine and eternal life. For those whose life is anchored in faith, we rejoice in eternal life now as well as forever.
Raymond E. Brown, premier Johannine scholar, says that we find this “eternal life” in the ordinary stuff of our human life, transformed by the sacramental touch of the Incarnate Christ:
We must stress that the Johannine Jesus is not engaged in cosmetic improvement of the quality of life on earth, offering more abundant water and food, with sharper vision and a longer span of years. From another world come his gifts, even if confusingly they bear the same names that our language gives to what we so eagerly seek on earth: food, light, and life. In reality, however, his gifts go beyond anything we could hope for, satisfying needs we scarcely knew we had and doing so permanently.
May we see every aspect of our lives in this sacred light, convinced in our hearts that God made us “because He thought we’d like it”, and wanting to share eternal life with us right now and forever.
Music: O Love of God, How Strong and True – written by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889),
(sung here by Washington National Cathedral Choir who sang it as well at President Reagan’s funeral in 2004.)
O love of God, how strong and true!
Eternal, and yet ever new;
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought.
O love of God, how deep and great!
Far deeper than man’s deepest hate;
Self-fed, self-kindled like the light,
Changeless, eternal, infinite.
O heavenly love, how precious still,
In days of weariness and ill,
In nights of pain and helplessness,
To heal, to comfort, and to bless!
O wide embracing, wondrous love!
We read thee in the sky above,
We read thee in the earth below,
In seas that swell, and streams that flow.
We read thee best in him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.
We read thy power to bless and save,
Even in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light
We read the fulness of thy might.
O love of God, our shield and stay
Through all the perils of our way!
Eternal love, in thee we rest,
For ever safe, for ever blest.