Advice Before Take-off

Tuesday, March 1, 2022
Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we prepare to launch into Lent, we receive wonderful advice from Peter.

Peter talks about the Hebrew prophets who, even before the birth of Jesus, shared in the same Holy Spirit with Whom Jesus is One God. Peter says that the Spirit testifies that Christ’s suffering will lead to glory and will, at the same time, transform us:

Concerning the salvation of our souls …
… the Spirit of Christ within the prophets indicated
when it testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.

1 Peter 1: 10-13

Peter says, basically, “Don’t be dopes! Jump on that blessing and make the most of it!”

Lent offers us a great opportunity to do just what Peter encourages. By our sincere, thoughtful and open prayer with the Lenten scriptures, we can come closer to the Christ Who loves and redeems us.

Peter puts it very simply – simply enough that I am going to leave it at this profound invitation:

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

Poetry: from Rumi

There comes a holy
and transparent time
when every touch
of beauty
opens the heart
to tears.
This is the time
the Beloved of heaven
is brought tenderly on earth.
This is the time
of the opening
of the ROSE.

Music: The Rose – Bette Midler

As I prayed with this beautiful song, I thought of the Rose as the Resurrected Jesus.

What Is Hope?

February 28, 2022
Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, the word “HOPE” binds our readings together.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
ept in heaven for you…

1 Peter 1:3

Wow! That’s uplifting isn’t it!

But praying with this passage, I am aware of how hard it is to really define hope. We can get it mixed up with wishing or imagining.

Hope is very different,
and much more powerful, than wishing.
It is a share in the power of God
to animate our world with divine life.

When we wish, we imagine better things and often do what we can to make them happen. Sometimes our prayers take the form of wishes – our desire for people or circumstances to be well or better. Those wishes may or may not come true. And if they don’t, we may lose what we incorrectly defined as “hope”.

We see that kind loss happen in the young man from our Gospel today. He wishes to be a better person. He wishes to truly center his life on God. He even takes the first step to make his wish come true by asking Jesus for advice:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mark 10:17

Jesus immediately loves this sincere young man. But says tells him that he has too many “wishes” cluttering his hope for God. Jesus encourages him to clear out space in his life for God’s Presence to transform him. Then everything will become an expression of the divine life within him.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.”

Mark 17:21

Sadly, the man cannot summon the spiritual strength to tap into his gift of hope – to rely fully on God in his life. The gift of hope is within him, as it is within all of us. But the way to it is so tangled with all his possessions that he despairs of finding it.

At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.

Mark 17:22

The Catholic encyclopedia says this:

Hope is defined to be a Divine virtue by which we confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity as well as to have at our disposal the means of securing it.

Being a “Divine virtue” means that hope, like faith and love, is given by God to each of us as a share in God’s own nature. It’s like a “divine” family trait that marks us as children of God.

When we see a child that looks exactly like a parent, we might hear people say, “You could never deny him. He looks exactly like you!” That’s how it is with the “divine virtues”. They allow people to see God in us and so to deepen their own faith.

Hope is that confidence in God which is so complete that it does not have to be proven by miracles or fulfilled wishes. Hope endures in all circumstances. It throbs within us like sacred DNA. All we have to do is clear the way for it to shine.

Poetry: Two of my favorite poems today:

  1. Emily Dickinson, in her masterfully woven metaphor, says that hope is feathered:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

And one of my favorite poets, Lisel Mueller, says that hope is “all we know of God”:

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs
from the eyes to the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Music: Living Hope – Phil Wickham

Primed for Transformation

February 27, 2022
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings prime us for the coming of Lent. Lent is all about the transformation of our hearts within of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.

But before we are ready for such transformation, we must be totally aware of ourselves and open to God’s Presence in our lives.

Our readings call us to a deep look at our spiritual integrity as it is revealed in our words and actions. The image of a good tree, bearing fruit, suffuses all our scriptures today.

What about the integrity of our words:

The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had;
so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.
Praise no one before he speaks,
for it is then that people are tested.

Sirach 27:6-7

What about the integrity of our faith:

The just one shall flourish like the palm tree,
like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow.
They that are planted in the house of the LORD
shall flourish in the courts of our God.

Psalm 92: 13-14

What about the perseverance of our faithful labor:

Be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 92:15-16

What about our actions – the fruit we bear to the world:

A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

Luke 6:43-54

Let’s set our sights on the beginning of Lent which is now on the near horizon. How do we want to begin the transformative journey offered us once again in this magnificent liturgical cycle? Now is the time to prepare.

Poetry: Birches BY ROBERT FROST

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Music: Tree Song – sung by Evie Karlsson


February 26, 2022
Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, each of our readings encourages us to live a life of prayer – with fervor, perseverance, and childlike simplicity

The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

James 5:16

O LORD, to you I call; hasten to me;
hearken to my voice when I call upon you.
Let my prayer come like incense before you;
the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 141:1-2

Let the children come to me; do not prevent them,
for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Mark 10:14

Rather than make any theological comment on prayer, I thought I might simply offer some of my own poetry-prayers today, if you would care to pray with them.


Sunrise paints 
the hedge's morning side
rosy gold.
But I choose
the western side.
There, midnight's purple leaves
awake in lazy grey, 
then stripes
of green and silver.
There, the awesome 
grace of living
rises slowly in the heart,
a liquor savored,
a prayer lingering
In genuflected silence

Photo credit: Mary Pat Garvin, RSM


Still ourselves,
we are more one
than separate now,
Heart over heart,
heart within Heart,
like a word's meaning
held within its sound.
I drink from that union
like the verdant earth drinks
from its deep reserve of water.
It is Your color
that flushes
every blossom
sprung from me.
But that water, once tasted
precludes satiety
by any other water.
There is
no return for me now
to a season
not fed by You.
What I have given You, then
is the whole seed of my life.
Love it in that way.

Music: Inside This River – Gary Schmidt

Live in Truth

February 25, 2022
Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings instruct us on one of life’s most important realities: truthful relationship – with God, nature, other people, and ourselves.

James reminds us that the prophets spoke the truth at great personal cost.

Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.

James 5:10

Culture sometimes characterizes a “prophet” as one who can foresee the future, one who has a greater capacity than the normal person. And indeed there are great leaders who fit that understanding. They see things rightly and help us to realign our vision.

But, in an everyday sense, a prophet is simply someone who sees the truth and is unafraid to speak it. A prophet doesn’t pretend, deflect, lie, ignore, hide, distort or abuse Truth. The call to this kind of prophecy is one that we all share.

Such a call requires that we are honest, first and foremost, with God and with ourselves. It asks that we live a discerning and courageous life, reverently telling our truth as best we understand before God:

… let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,”
that you may not incur condemnation.

James 5:12

In our Gospel, we find the Pharisees trying trip up Jesus with their pretend concern for the Law. Instead, what they are really concerned about is that they could lose their hold on power if the people turn to Jesus and his teaching.

Jesus calls them “hard of heart” because they are not open to the Spirit. They hide in a labyrinth of minutiae rather than the clarity of Love and Truth.

Living in the Truth of God’s grace and mercy, we grow in our ability to be prophetic. It means that people know they will get the truth from us — not opinion or advice; not bluntness or unnecessary critique — but a discernment offered in love, reverence, and mutual hope.

Like the biblical prophets, and like Jesus himself, we will meet people who don’t want that kind of truth. They haven’t been able to espouse it in themselves, so they don’t want to hear it from us. We see this played out daily in a sham political world that continually creates its own version of reality to suit its selfish ends.

In such situations, James would offer us this encouragement:

You have heard of the perseverance of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

And our Alleluia Verse offers us a prayer for such times:

Your word, O Lord, is truth;
consecrate us in the truth.

So persevere.
Seek your truth in prayer.
Give it to the world generously
with compassion and mercy.

Poetry: A Legend of Truth – Rudyard Kipling
“A Friend of the Family”
From “Debits and Credits” (1919-1923)

Once on a time, the ancient legends tell,
Truth, rising from the bottom of her well,
Looked on the world, but, hearing how it lied,
Returned to her seclusion horrified.
There she abode, so conscious of her worth,
Not even Pilate’s Question called her forth,
Nor Galileo, kneeling to deny
The Laws that hold our Planet ‘neath the sky.
Meantime, her kindlier sister, whom men call
Fiction, did all her work and more than all,
With so much zeal, devotion, tact, and care,
That no one noticed Truth was otherwhere.

Then came a War when, bombed and gassed and mined,
Truth rose once more, perforce, to meet mankind,
And through the dust and glare and wreck of things,
Beheld a phantom on unbalanced wings,
Reeling and groping, dazed, dishevelled, dumb,
But semaphoring direr deeds to come.

Truth hailed and bade her stand; the quavering shade
Clung to her knees and babbled, “Sister, aid!
I am–I was–thy Deputy, and men
Besought me for my useful tongue or pen
To gloss their gentle deeds, and I complied,
And they, and thy demands, were satisfied.
But this–” she pointed o’er the blistered plain,
Where men as Gods and devils wrought amain–
“This is beyond me! Take thy work again.”

Tablets and pen transferred, she fled afar,
And Truth assumed the record of the War…
She saw, she heard, she read, she tried to tell
Facts beyond precedent and parallel–
Unfit to hint or breathe, much less to write,
But happening every minute, day and night.
She called for proof. It came. The dossiers grew.
She marked them, first, “Return. This can’t be true.”
Then, underneath the cold official word:
“This is not really half of what occurred.”

She faced herself at last, the story runs,
And telegraphed her sister: “Come at once.
Facts out of hand. Unable overtake
Without your aid. Come back for Truth’s own sake!
Co-equal rank and powers if you agree.
They need us both, but you far more than me

Music: Beautiful Truth – Angela Predhomme

Pepper and Salt

February 24, 2022
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, both James and Jesus pepper us with some fire and brimstone.

James is preaching against the sin of exploitation, especially as it relates to economic justice, the sanctity of work, and reverence for the worker.

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries…
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

James 5: 1;4

James, in his time, is condemning a sin that has endured throughout history. In a 2020 address, Pope Francis confronted the same evil:

The pandemic has exposed and aggravated social problems, above all that of inequality…These symptoms of inequality reveal a social illness; it is a virus that comes from a sick economy. And we must say it simply: the economy is sick. It has become ill. It is the fruit of unequal economic growth — this is the illness: the fruit of unequal economic growth — that disregards fundamental human values. In today’s world, a few wealthy people possess more than all the rest of humanity. I will repeat this so that it makes us think: a few wealthy people, a small group, possess more than all the rest of humanity. This is pure statistics. This is an injustice that cries out to heaven!

General Audience, August 26, 2020

James and Francis – speaking the same message for different times.

In our Gospel, Jesus teaches that the rewards of a well-lived life are measured in mutuality and generosity, not dollars:

In concluding his above referenced address, Pope Francis, like Jesus, focused on children:

Let us think about the children. Read the statistics: how many children today are dying of hunger because of broken distribution of riches, because of a sick economic system; and how many children today do not have the right to education for the same reason. May this image of children in want due to hunger and the lack of education help us understand that after this pandemic crisis we must learn and do better.

Jesus too measured a soul’s health by its effect on children:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42

These readings teach hard lessons, lessons which society still seems unable to learn. Let’s ask for the grace to see our own role in helping to realize the sacred balance of goods that Jesus, James, and Francis call for.

Let us not tire in advocating for social Justice because, as our Gospel warns:

Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good,
but if salt becomes insipid,
with what will you restore its flavor?

Mark 9:49

Poetry and Music: Salt of the Earth – The Rolling Stones
In this song, Mick Jagger writes an anthem to the working class. But in a twice-repeated stanza, the singer professes a distance from this very group, perhaps loosing touch because of his own material success:

And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grey and black and white
They don’t look real to meIn fact, they look so strange

The song uses a quote that refers to a passage in the Bible where Jesus encourages people to give the best of themselves:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned ? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13

Tell It Like It Is

February 23, 2022
Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, James continues to “tell it like it is”.

Come now, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town,
spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”–
you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.

James 4: 13

James offers that hard truth to his listeners, Jewish Christians dispersed outside of Israel. It’s an insight many of us might not like hearing, because we thrive on making plans for future growth and improvement.

When a current situation is looking a little dim, we like to think that “there is always tomorrow”. James says, “Maybe not! Make sure you humbly do all that you can TODAY.”

James reminds me of my Nana.

My great-grandmother was born in Ireland in 1869. She was no-nonsense Irish, probably because of the no-nonsense times during which she grew up. She was highly religious and stringently moral, and she worked to insure that the family benefitted from all the lessons she had learned in her challenging life.

Her accent was as thick as porridge, but after a while I, a perspicacious little toddler, began imitating it. I listened intently to her oft-repeated phrases and folded them into my own conversations. One such phrase made an indelible impression on me to the point that I can hear it even now in her soft, rolling brogue.

When one of the family retired for the night, it was common to say, ” Good night. God bless you.” Sometimes we added, ” I’ll see you in the morning” and if we did, Nana invariably responded:

if God spares us!

I think that is exactly what James is saying in his no-nonsense epistles.

We depend on God’s goodness and mercy for everything. We need to remember and acknowledge that truth, and to live in hopeful gratitude.

… you should say,
“If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.”
But instead you are boasting in your arrogance.
All such boasting is evil.
So for one who knows the right thing to do
and does not do it, it is a sin.

I think that most of us aren’t really arrogant. We just forget. We get confused. We let our lives slip off their center on God. And then we might start to think that we are the center of everything! Big mistake!

Our Responsorial Psalm for today reinforces these truths. I love the way Pastor Christine Robinson has interpreted Psalm 49:

Here is my wisdom—Listen to my song!
I am surrounded by those who put their trust
in possessions and money
I am not taken in.

What is precious in life can’t be had in the marketplace
What is important about us is not what we acquire,
but what we do to add love, goodness, and
beauty to the world.

It’s the size of our hearts, not the size of our houses,
It’s our understanding, not our fame.
What we own is taken from the earth and from others.
It returns to them when we die.

But love, wisdom, and beauty,
they strengthen the fabric of creation.
They accrue to God, enlarge our very souls.
These are our true legacy and our ongoing life.

Music: Who Am I? – Casting Crowns

Hear God Speak Your Name

February 22, 2022
Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings invite to consider God’s naming us – calling us.

We celebrate wonderful Saint Peter – so fully human, so fully holy, so fully in love with God! As we pray the Gospel of Peter’s naming, may we deepen in understanding our own naming by God.

Once, Jesus asked Peter what he believed. Peter answered, simply and magnificently:
Peter was an ordinary man who responded to Jesus with a clear and extraordinary faith.

One June morning, nearly fifty years ago, I sat in a sun-drenched field in the Golan Heights of Israel at a spot called Caesarea Philippi. Thirty other pilgrims composed the group as we heard today’s Gospel being read. Listening, I watched the rising sun grow brilliant on the majestic rock face in the near distance.

I thought how Peter might have watched his day’s sun playing against the same powerful cliffs as Jesus spoke his name:

Jesus said to him,
You are Peter (which means “Rock”),
and upon this Rock
I will build my Church.

A few years later, I stood at the center of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Looking up, I saw these words emblazoned around the awesome rotunda dome:

Tu es Petrus,
et super hanc petram
aedificabo ecclesiam.

On that sunlit afternoon two-thousand years ago,
Peter could never have imagined
what God already saw for him.
Yet, Peter responded – with his whole life.
This is what makes a Saint.

Jesus calls us to be saints too. He lovingly speaks our name into a sacred future we cannot even imagine. But if, like Peter, we trust and believe, God does the rest.

Poetry: Peter by John Poch.
The poem captures the transformation of Peter’s humanness into God’s hope for him – the “changing” of his name.

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand.
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the heart of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid

–Prov. 30:18, 19

Contagious as a yawn, denial poured
over me like a soft fall fog, a girl
on a carnation strewn parade float, waving
at everyone and no one, boring and bored.
There actually was a robed commotion parading.
I turned and turned away and turned. A swirl
of wind pulled back my hood, a fire of coal
brightened my face, and those around me whispered:
You’re one of them, aren’t you? You smell like fish.
And wine, someone else joked. That’s brutal. That’s cold,
I said, and then they knew me by my speech.
They let me stay and we told jokes like fisher-
men and houseboys. We gossiped till the cock crowed,
his head a small volcano raised to mock stone.

Who could believe a woman’s word, perfumed
in death? I did. I ran and was outrun
before I reached the empty tomb. I stepped
inside an empty shining shell of a room,
sans pearl. I walked back home alone and wept
again. At dinner. His face shone like the sun.
I went out into the night. I was a sailor
and my father’s nets were calling. It was high tide,
I brought the others. Nothing, the emptiness
of business, the hypnotic waves of failure.
But a voice from shore, a familiar fire, and the nets
were full. I wouldn’t be outswum, denied
this time. The coal-fire before me, the netted fish
behind. I’m carried where I will not wish.

Music: Peter’s Song – Face to Face – Michael O’Brien

I recall
something in the way
you called my name,
an ordinary fisherman you called me friend and took me in.
How everything had changed
because then I knew I’d never be the same.

Love came and rescued me.
I gave up my everything to follow.
Now I know.
All that I was before
won’t matter anymore
for I am a new man
because I have seen my Savior

I recall
standing in the courtyard by the fire,
words still ringing in my head,
three times before the break of dawn
you would be denied.
And yet I saw no judgment in your eyes.

Love came and died for me.
I gave up my everything,
gave up my everything to follow.
Now I know
all that I was before
is dead and it lives no more
for I am a new man
because I have seen
my savior face-to-face.

The dark night, the new day –
The stone was rolled away –
my Savior, You are the Light
You are alive! Ascended to heaven.
I know that you will come again.

That moment I will arise
to worship before your throne,
to bow down for you alone are worthy,
so worthy
and there with saints of old,
I’ll sing a brand new song in heaven
where I will see my Savior face-to-face.

Twists of Faith

February 21, 2022
Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, the deep undercurrent of our readings is about the power and difficulties of faith.

James talks about how our faith can be choked by the weeds of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition”. These chokers make us “boast and be false to the truth”. They fill us with a “pretend wisdom” that is not from the Holy Spirit.

Praying with this passage, I asked myself why we allow these ugly constraints to grasp our souls when the alternative James describes is so beautiful:

… the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

James 3:17-18

The Gospel helped me with an answer.

Unconditional faith is scary. It requires us to give control over to God. It asks us to let go of fear and to trust God’s Spirit within us. It needs us to empty our hearts of pretense and self-protection in order to make room for God’s transforming Mercy and Love.

This kind of faith will change us. It will make us “foolish” and insecure in worldly terms. It will cause us to live from a Wisdom the world misunderstands and mocks.

It’s hard to live that kind of faith. The dad in today’s Gospel admits it. He wants to have a faith that invites Christ’s power into his life. But he’s afraid. What if God wants something different for him and his son? What happens if he gives control over to God?

This yearning father confesses his ambivalence
in a plea for Christ’s assistance:
Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!

We all find ourselves within that plea sometimes in our lives. It’s a faith of “if”, “maybe”, and “but” – all of which are hardly faith at all. Unconditional faith is “Yes”, no matter what. It is the place where Faith and Love merge.

Our faithful “Yes”, as the e.e.cummings poem might describe it:

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

Music: When we live this “Yes Faith”, God’s love, God’s heart lives in us. This song by Michael Hedges, based on another poem by e.e.cummings, can be a prayer for us. We may be unused to calling God “my dear”, “my darling”. But a loving name for God can be helpful to our prayer. And it is an ancient practice of mystics like St. John of the Cross. Use whatever might feel natural for you. Don’t be hesitant about being in love with God❤️

I Carry Your Heart – Michael Hedges (Lyrics below)

I carry your heart with me
I carry it in my heart
I am never without it
Anywhere i go you go, my dear
And whatever is done by only me
Is your doing, my darling.

I fear no fate
For you are my fate, my sweet
I want no world
For beautiful you are my world, my true
And it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
And whatever a sun will always sing is you

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
Here is the root of the root
And the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky
Of a tree called life;
Which grows higher than the soul can hope
Or mind can hide
And this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart
I carry it in my heart

Love and Mercy

February 20, 2022
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our reading from 1 Samuel tells the intriguing tale of David’s magnanimity toward Saul. Saul is enraged and jealous of David whom Samuel has anointed as king to replace Saul. David is continually in Saul’s crosshairs.

David Spares Saul – William Brassey Hole

But one night, David stealthily enters Saul’s camp. Even though he has a chance to kill Saul, David spares his life out of respect for his kingship.

While it’s not exactly “love for his enemies”, David does demonstrate a largeness of spirit that foretells today’s Gospel. This gracious spirit demonstrates that David is in right relationship (covenant) with God.

Our Gospel is part of Jesus’s Great Sermon in which he restates and renews the covenant of right relationship. If our spirits are true to God, we will love as God loves. We are to be merciful as God is merciful.

This Law of Love is the essence of life in Christ. It is a profoundly challenging call.

How hard it must have been for David as he stood, spear in hand, over his sleeping enemy – over the one trying to kill him!

How hard it is for us not to be vengeful, retaliatory, and parsimonious when we feel threatened or exploited.

But we are called, in Christ, to the New Covenant of love. By that call, we are endowed with a right spirit.

Today, Jesus asks us to love, forgive, and judge all others as we ourselves would want to be treated. He asks us to live with a divinely magnanimous heart.

Let us pray for the strength to respond.

Prose: from To Love as God Loves by Roberta C. Bondi, professor emerita of church history and spirituality, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Love as a disposition 
does not primarily act
on abstract principle.
Instead it is a way of seeing
habitually and responding
to the real, separate, individual needs
of each of the people we encounter
in our lives every single day.

Music: O Mercy – Stu Garrard, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad