Psalm 85: Listen!

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 22, 2020

by Bartolome Murillo

Indeed, Mary herself was a song of hope to God, sung for us and for all generations. That passionate song opened her heart to receive the Word and to carry its redeeming power to each of us.

She was the greatest prophet of all time who not only proclaimed God but enfleshed him.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD– Who proclaims peace.
Near indeed is salvation to those who fear God,
glory dwelling in our land.

As we pray to Mary today, let us ask for listening hearts and hope-filled spirits. Let us ask to enflesh love and hope in our lives in imitation of her. Let us ask to believe as she did:

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him, 
and salvation, along the way of his steps.


Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov




Annunciation
_________________________________________
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, 6th century
_________________________________________
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, 
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
                 ____________________
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
                  ____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light 

                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.
                  ____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Music: Tota Pulchra Es, Maria

Psalm 107: Lost Then Found

Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope

August 21, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 107, a chant of gratitude to God’s Mercy from the lost who have been found.

There are all kinds of “lost”. 

There are small “losts” like when I misinterpret my GPS and keep hearing “Recalculating route…”. 

Then there are huge “losts” like when a beloved dies and our life’s anchor breaks.

This morning’s psalm and reading are speaking of a particular kind of “lost”, one that comes from wandering away from Love, for whatever reason that happens to us.


As I pray these readings, the face of a good high school friend comes to mind. Judy was a super basketball player. Everything about her was vigor, coordination, and that all-American beauty that needed no makeup to impress anybody.

After graduation, I went into the silence of the pre-Vatican II convent and Judy disappeared into her future. When our five-year reunion rolled around, I looked forward to reconnecting with her.

When I saw her, my heart broke. She was a shadow of herself, emaciated, listless, and lightless. She silently shouted a refrain like today’s verse from Ezekiel:

Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost, and we are cut off.

We were both twenty-three years old. I was just beginning to grow into my hopes. Judy was already divorced, alone, and the mother of a father-starved child.

That kind of “lost” feels almost irredeemable. 


But Psalm 107 assures us that, in faith, no loss, no alienation is irredeemable.

They cried to the LORD in their distress;
from their straits God rescued them.
And led them by a direct way
to the healing of community.


Judy and I stayed in touch for a few years. Despite her troubles, she kept faith. That was the key.

She did the hard work to find herself again with the help of family, friends, counselors, and a supportive faith community. Eventually, she remarried and was happy the last time I saw her before she moved to the west coast.


This morning, I see such apparent parallels between Israel’s and Judy’s story. That helps me look back over my own life for the same, perhaps not so dramatic, parallels and to be grateful for the many times God found me.

Let them give thanks for God’s Mercy
and wondrous deeds to us,
Because God has satisfied the longing soul
and filled the hungry heart with good things.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Poetry: Lost – Carl Sandburg

Desolate and lone 
All night long on the lake 
Where fog trails and mist creeps, 
The whistle of a boat 
Calls and cries unendingly, 
Like some lost child 
In tears and trouble 
Hunting the harbor’s breast 
And the harbor’s eyes. 


Music: Amazing Grace – Sean Clive

Psalm 51: Begin Again

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

August 20, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51 in which God promises refreshment to our parched and hardened hearts.


Let’s talk about “parched”. Early in the pandemic, a dear friend gifted us with a vigorous basil plant. A practical culinary addition to our meager garden, it really was so much more. It became a symbol of hope over these pandemic days that can be cloudy in more than meteorological terms!

I have taken good care of the plant. But last week! I got distracted by something., something so important I have forgotten what it was! In my distraction, my little basil became parched.


Our souls become parched too, often because we let ourselves become distracted from their care. Like beautiful plants, our spirits have to be tended daily, nurtured with prayer, silence, gratitude and charity.

Psalm 51 reminds me that God is patient with our “distractions”. God will refresh and renew even the most neglected garden.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.


Our first reading from Ezekiel offers a further encouragement that anything gnarled or hardened in our hearts can be resurrected by God’s Mercy.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts


Poetry: Houseplants in Winter by Eamon Grennan

Their survival seems an open question:
I make a mess of watering, prune
without discretion, grieve over the leaf
whose borders burn and curl. Their
fresh petals a perpetual surprise – 
minute coral hearts, magnesium stars. 

I've lined them up on the table
I work and eat at, facing the small window
that faces almost south, placing myself
under the pale sway of their silence.
They play their deaths and resurrections out
in our cramped common quarters.

I gave the rose-geranium too much water:
its roots grew bog-black, sodden, and
nothing could keep its sweetness
in our lives. The jade, for all its
early promise and parakeet-green shoots,
won't root: it bows its leathery heads. 

The rest seem busy getting by. Removed
to the margins of our noisy mealtimes
when my children visit, they grow used
to the smell of bread frying in goosefat
for breakfast, small talk, the after-
dinner pungency of a peeled tangerine.

The speechless life they lead is Greek
to me: when live flowers rise
out of dead heads, I reckon it's as much,
for the moment, as I need to know.
The light that falls on them
strikes me too, till I feel as rooted

as I'll ever be in this home
from home. Look at us, they seem to say,
flourishing under straitened circumstances:
you see we make do with your handfuls
of earth, your cups of water, these daily
visitations of winter light that cast our
impeccable shadows on your razed page.

Music: Psalm 51 – Shuv Creative
from their website: This worship video sung in Biblical Hebrew directly from the Scriptures is a powerful tool to open the heart for repentance.

An Extra for this momentous day…

On August 18, 1920, the US Congress ratified the 19th Amendment. Although, shamefully, Black women were denied voting rights in many Southern states until 1965, this centennial remains a monumental moment in the history of women’s rights.

To celebrate, here is a great video from Soomo Publishing, my talented and beautiful niece’s workplace. Women, my Sisters, don’t ever take power for granted!

Psalm 23: Ahh!

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 19, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the iconic Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. Let’s savor it today as we nestle into God’s merciful embrace.

(I liked praying with this transliteration by Christine Robinson.)

I am a child of God
I have everything I need.
This beautiful earth feeds my body.
You feed my soul.
You guide me in the ways of Life,
for You are Life.
And though I will walk through dark places, 
and eventually to death,
I need never be afraid.
For You are with me always,
   In You I can find comfort.
With Your help, I can face whatever comes.
   My joy overflows.
Your goodness and blessing will be with me
   Every day of my life -- and forever.

Poetry: Let Your God Love You – Edwina Gateley

Be silent.
Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.
Let your God—
Love you.

Music: Shepherd Me, O God – Marty Haugen

Hot Potato Psalm

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 18, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a little more Deuteronomy. Coupled once again with Ezekiel’s excoriations and with the Gospel warnings, today’s Responsorial Psalm is a hot potato!

To tell you the truth, I’ve pretty much had enough of it, but I trust there’s a treasure buried in its hard words.

You will come to appreciate the full force & magnetic beauty of Deuteronomy only as you read its pages….Nothing in literature matches the majesty of its eloquence. Nothing in the Old Testament has any more powerful appeal for the spiritual life. No book in all the Word of God pictures better the life that is lived according to God’s will & the blessings showered upon the soul who comes into the richness & fullness of spiritual living along the rugged pathway of simple obedience…If you want a taste of heaven on earth, become familiar with Deuteronomy.

Henrietta Mears in her book “What the Bible Is All About” (over 3 million copies sold)

Taken together, today’s passages remind me that it is so easy to get full of ourselves and our comforts, ultimately forgetting our dependence on God.

Ezekiel gives this divine judgement to the people:

By your wisdom and your intelligence
you have made riches for yourself;
You have put gold and silver
into your treasuries.
By your great wisdom applied to your trading
you have heaped up your riches;
your heart has grown haughty from your riches–
therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
Because you have thought yourself
to have the mind of a god,
Therefore I will bring against you
foreigners, the most barbarous of nations.


Deuteronomy 32 warns us:

You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,
you forgot the God who gave you birth.
The LORD saw and was filled with loathing,
provoked by his sons and daughters.


And in our Gospel, Jesus gives us that classic zing which makes all of us wonder if we’re sleek enough to be saved:

Again I say to you,
it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God


I don’t think we need a road map to find the message in these readings. God wants to be our one, true God. The love of wealth, power, and self obscures that Truth. It can even fool us into thinking that we are like gods in control of our lives.

The corrective, as our Alleluia Verse indicates, is to imitate Jesus:

Jesus Christ became poor although he was rich
So that by his poverty you might become rich as he is.


Poetry: Salvation by Stephen Dunn

Finally, I gave up on obeisance,
and refused to welcome
either retribution or the tease
of sunny days. As for the can’t-be-
seen, the sum-of-all-details,
the One—oh, when it came
to salvation I was only sure
I needed to be spared
someone else’s version of it.
The small prayers I devised
had in them the hard sounds
of split and frost.
I wanted them to speak
as if it made sense to speak
to what isn’t there
in the beaconless dark.
I wanted them to startle
by how little they asked.

Music: My Own Little World – Matthew West

Moses’ Psalm: Light and Dark

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 17, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with Deuteronomy 32, the Psalm of Moses. Today’s verses describe an angry God who decides to take vengeance a faithless people. 

To pray with these verses is not easy. Taken in isolation, they paint a God who contradicts our larger experience of mercy and tenderness. But the Psalm, like the jarring first reading from Ezekiel, has a lesson for us.

Ezekiel from Biblical Images by James Padgett

In that reading, Ezekiel suffers the sudden death of his beloved wife. The experience opens his prophetic spirit to more fully understand God’s relationship with Israel. He allows his life to be a witness for the people that God expects their repentance and faithfulness.

Like many Old Testament readings, these portray God by way of human analogy because that is the only context we have available to us. Therefore, the temptation when reading these passages might be to think of God solely in human terms playing tit-for-tat with us when we stray from the Law. But God is infinitely greater than any capacity we, or the scripture writers, have to describe Divinity.


The narrative provided by this prophetic book is not one of comfort; its merciless accusations and its violent imagery do not make it an easy scroll to swallow (Ezek 2:8–3:3). While much of Ezekiel’s language, imagery, and reasoning will appear foreign to modern readers, his narrative would have been clearly intelligible to his contemporaries—even though presumably it would have been hard to accept. The exile, according to this narrative, is both inevitable and deserved; it is portrayed as God’s judgement for the constant and complete failure of God’s people.

At the same time, it is not God’s last word. While resisting both optimism and despair, Ezekiel offers a narrative that sheds light on his present and arrives at an original, if peculiar, imagination of hope, founded solely on theological conviction.

Janina M. Hiebel – Hope in Exile: In Conversation with Ezekiel

So then, what might we take from today’s dark readings? For me, it is this:

God is always Light.
It is we who get caught in darkness.


God does speak to us in our circumstances, as God did to Ezekiel and Moses. By faithful prayer and sincere desire, we can deepen in our love and understanding of God through every experience of our lives, even the painful ones. When we live with that kind of faith and hope, our lives witness to God’s fidelity and love.


Poetry: two offerings today

Motto – Bertold Brecht

In the dark times 
Will there also be singing? 
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

Light – Alice Jones

The morning when I first notice
the leaves starting to color,
early orange, and back-lit,
I think how rapture doesn't
vanish, merely fades into
the background, waits for those
moment between moments.

I think this and the door pens,
the street takes on its glistening
look, Bay fog lifting, patches of sun
on sycamore -- yellow sea.
I am in again, and swimming.

Music: Lavender Shadows – Michael Hoppé

Psalm 67: Bless Us All!

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 16, 2020

Today, in Mercy, we read the story of the Canaanite woman whom Jesus first meets with a sarcastic banter. The banter however serves to expose some of the alienating prejudices of Jesus’s time which he then dissolves in a sweeping act of mercy and inclusion. His actions signify a new culture of divine justice offered to all people. The reading challenges us to confront our own prejudices and any limitations we place on who belongs to the Kingdom of God.

from this Sunday’s Reflection – 2017

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 67, a call to God for universal blessing on all Creation. Written to invoke a benediction on the land’s harvest, the Psalm blossoms into a generous prayer for the whole world to bask in God’s abundance.

May the nations be glad and rejoice;
for you judge the peoples with fairness,
you guide the nations upon the earth.

What if we prayed like that for all our brothers and sisters worldwide! What if we acted toward them with a justice that would make their abundance possible as well as our own! This is the Gospel mandate Jesus entrusted to us.

Psalm 67 shows the maturing of a nation from its own legitimate self-interests into its responsibility within all Creation.


In the USA, as our pre-election political awareness heightens, let’s learn from Psalm 67. Let’s broadly educate ourselves to the fundamental moral issues underlying various partisan platforms. 

For a religious person, voting is hard. There are profound moral issues on all sides of the question. A single issue approach does not work. An adamant stance on a single issue is the easy but inadequate approach. 


Even Jesus, in today’s Gospel, can be moved to a new way of thinking. The outcast Canaanite woman prevails on Jesus to broaden his kingdom. He opens his heart to another way of bringing mercy to all those longing for it.


Voting is a moral act. How we choose demonstrates the God we believe in.


May the peoples praise you, God;
may ALL the peoples praise you!


Poetry: Selah by Honoreé Fannane Jeffers

“The past few weeks were very hopeful for me, as an African-American. I saw images of young Black people out in the streets protesting, to make this country a better place. As an older person who stayed inside while these young folks put their bodies on the line, I wanted to celebrate them. I wrote this poem as a spiritual exaltation of Black faith, that our hoped-for change for our country is coming.”

Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers

Selah
after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”


The Lord clings to my hands
             after a night of shouting. 
                           The Lord stands on my roof 
             & sleeps in my bed. 
Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel— 
             cooks my food in abundance, 
                           though I was once foolish 
             & wished for an emptied stomach. 
The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat 
             & plaits my hair with sanity. 
                           Gives me air, 
             music from unremembered fever. 
This air
                            oh that i may give air to my people 
                            oh interruption of murder 
                                         the welcome Selah
The Lord is a green, Tubman escape. 
             A street buzzing with concern, 
                           minds discarding answers. 
             Black feet on a centuries-long journey.
The Lord is the dead one scratching my face, 
             pinching me in dreams. 
                           The screaming of the little girl that I was, 
             the rocking of the little girl that I was— 
the sweet hush of her healing. 
             Her syllables 
                           skipping on homesick pink. 
             I pray to my God of confused love, 
a toe touching blood 
             & swimming through Moses-water. 
                           A cloth & wise rocking. 
             An eventual Passover, 
outlined skeletons will sing 
             this day of air 
                           for my people—
                                         oh the roar of God 
                                         oh our prophesied walking

Music: Charles Ives – Psalm 67

The Feast of the Assumption

Many of us grew up in households where we were surrounded by a strong devotional faith. I am happy to be one of those people. These simple, sacramental practices awakened and engaged my young faith and offered me a visible means to respond to its stirrings. These practices also offered my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary and the saints.

I remember with gratitude the many parameters of that deep devotion which accompanied our fundamental practice of a sacramental and liturgical life.

  • Our home had a crucifix in every room.
  • Over the main door was the statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings. (Under the statue was a single dime – so that we wold never completely run out of money!)
  • All year, Dad’s fedora sported a tiny piece of straw tucked into its plaid band. He had plucked it from the parish Christmas crèche, near to St. Joseph who was his patron.
  • During a really violent thunderstorm, we might get a sprinkling from Mom’s holy water flask kept for especially taxing situations.

And, maybe because we live not too far from the ocean, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.

I can still picture young boys helping their elderly grandparents into the shallow surf. I remember mothers and fathers marking their children’s brows with a briny Sign of the Cross. There was a humble, human reverence and trust in these actions that blesses me still.

While that August 15th ritual, like similar devotions, might seem superstitious and even hokey to some today, the memory of it remains with me as a testament to the simple faith and deep love of God’s people for our Blessed Mother.

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Bountiful God). The world at that time was still healing from the horrors of World War II. The Pope himself, no doubt, was wounded beyond description by what he had witnessed. He begins his letter by saying:

“Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life.“

It was just such devotion and faith, expressed over centuries by the faithful, that moved Pius XII to declare this dogma:

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
(MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS 44)

This belief is complementary to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. These two articles of faith embrace the totality of Mary’s life which was uniquely blessed among all humans. Mary offers us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.

Jan Van Eyke – Ghent Altarpiece

Sister Marie T. Farrell, RSM closes her scholarly essay on the Assumption with these words:

Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a pro- phetic symbol of hope for us all. In his Resurrection-Ascension, Jesus has shown the way to eternal life. In the mystery of Assumption, the Church sees Mary as the first disciple of many to be graced with a future already opened by Christ, one that defies comprehension for ‘…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…’(1 Cor 2: 9)

Musical Reflection with Song: Prayer of Pure Love – Letty Hammock

Isaiah Sings!

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

August 14, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a passage from the poet-prophet Isaiah in which he calls the people to rejoice at their deliverance.

Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!


Isaiah 12 is one of a number of hymns found outside the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. Other examples are Exodus 15:1-18, 21 and Amos 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6 (Craddock, Hayes, Holliday, Tucker: Preaching through the Christian Year)

For an excellent graphic overview of these “songs”, click here. I enjoyed studying this chart.


Isaiah’s first eleven chapters center on God’s judgement for Israel’s infidelity. But Isaiah is never without hope. Chapter 12 is a joyful and grateful hymn celebrating that hope.

Isaiah’s hymn hit the right chord for me today. I think hope is a little hard to come by in these pandemic days, don’t you? 

Besides Covid, there are quite a few others “stabs” out there as we try to float the hope’s balloon – unemployment, business uncertainty, climate concerns, natural disasters, political irresponsibility, leadership failures just to reference a few. For some, these issues are so oppressive that they, “feel like it’s the end of the world”.


Isaiah is the guy when we feel even a little bit like this. Isaiah was profoundly convinced that God is with us in all our experiences and will ultimately resolve them for our good.

God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.


Poetry: To Go into the Dark by Wendell Berry

To go into the dark with a light
is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark,
go without sight.
And find
that the dark too
blooms and sings
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Music:  Winter Cold Night – John Foley, SJ

Yes, this is a Christmas song, but I think it carries the perfect feeling for today’s reflection. Indeed, Jesus Christ is our Hope. May his Light be born in us daily.

Dark, dark, the winter cold night. Lu-lee-lay.
Hope is hard to come by. Lu-lee-lay.
Hard, hard, the journey tonight. Lu—lee-lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.
And on earth, peace, good will among men.
Lean, lean, the livin' tonight. Lu-lee-lay.
Star seems darker sometimes. Lu-lee-lay.
Unto you is born this day a Savior.
Pain, yes, in the bornin' tonight. Lu lee—lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.