Psalm 19: The Law

Third Sunday of Lent

March 7, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19.

Those of you who click through to our daily readings on the USCCB website may notice that two sets of readings are offered for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. The alternative set is for a Mass which incorporates “The Scrutinies”.

“The Scrutinies” are part of the process of admitting adults into the Catholic Church which typically takes place throughout Lent and culminates in Easter Baptism. 

There are several steps in the admission process beginning with discernment and in-depth education. The Scrutinies occur near the end, during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. As the name indicates, these exercises have us look deep into our hearts and souls for the healing and forgiveness we need in faith.


However, most of us attending this Sunday’s liturgy will hear the Year B readings which center on LAW and how our developing faith understands it.


For the ancient Israelites, as Exodus tells us, that understanding took the form of a specified discipline in the Ten Commandments.

For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, 
inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness 
on the children of those who reproach me …

Exodus 20:5

In our second reading, Paul preaches a new understanding of Law – the Law of Sacrificial Love revealed in the sacred contradiction of Cross.

… but we proclaim Christ crucified, 
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, 
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1: 23-25

And in our Gospel, Jesus confronts those whose faith is hardened against the new Law which he embodies:

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 
many began to believe in his name 
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, 
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.

John 2:23-25

Our psalm offers us an opportunity to “scrutinize” the sincerity of this prayer in our own hearts:


Poetry: As Kingfishers Catch Fire Gerard Manley Hopkins sees the law as acting in God’s eye…

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves–goes itself; _myself_ it speaks and spells,
Crying _Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is–
Chríst–for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Music: The Law of the Lord is Perfect

Psalm 103: #BeLike

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

March 6, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103, an effusive canticle on God’s unbounded Mercy.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
    and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits.
He pardons all your iniquities,
    he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
    he crowns you with kindness and compassion.

Psalm 103:1-4

A sufficient prayer today would be to thank God for our experiences of this overflowing mercy. But our Gospel tells us there is more to it. There is a response required of us.


If you’re into social media like Facebook or Twitter, you may have noticed the popular meme “BeLike”.  (A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture, often carrying a symbolic meaning.) Here is an example of the  #BeLike meme posted by the NJ State Police.


If our psalmist and evangelist were writing a meme for today’s readings, it might look like this:


That’s the message.
I’m spending my prayer time with just that today.


Poetry: The Prodigal’s Mother Speaks to God by Allison Frank

When he returned a second time,
the straps of his sandals broken,
his robe stained with wine,

it was not as easy to forgive.

By then his father
was long gone himself,
leaving me with my other son, the sullen one
whose anger is the instrument he tunes
from good morning on.

I know.

There’s no room for a man
in the womb.

But when I saw my youngest coming from far off,
so small he seemed, a kid
unsteady on its legs.

She-goat
what will you do? I thought,
remembering when he learned to walk.

Shape shifter! It’s like looking through water—
the heat bends, it blurs everything: brush, precipice.

A shambles between us.

Music: Father, I Have Sinned – Eugene O’Reilly

Psalm 105: Tell the Story

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

March 5, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 105. Together with our other readings, the psalm allows us to participate in Israel’s great family storytelling.

Give thanks to the LORD, invoke God’s name;
make known among the peoples God’s deeds!
Sing praise to the Lord, play music;
proclaim all the Lord’s wondrous deeds!

Psalm 105: 1-2

Psalm 105 is one of two historical psalms. (The other is Psalm 78.) Its verses summarize an amazing catalogue of God’s faithfulness to Israel and invites the listeners to grateful praise and unfettered hope.


Today’s particular passage is chosen because it recounts the same incidents as our first reading – the story of Joseph. And Joseph’s story prefigures Jesus’s own story which he offers in parable form in today’s Gospel.

When the LORD called down a famine on the land
    and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
    Joseph, sold as a slave.

Psalm 105: 16-17

For us, the telling and re-telling
of relationship stories
is an important human rubric,
practiced at
crowded Thanksgiving tables,
at relaxed summer reunions,
and at our inevitable bereavements.


Eventually, with enough retellings, a story becomes part of our family or friendship canon. Thence forward, it gains new dimension. Just like the canon of the Mass, whose formula becomes beautifully rote to us, the story now may be endlessly repeated without being exhausted. In its retelling, it always reveals something new and confirms something old.

Seek out the LORD and the Lord’s might;
constantly seek God’s face.
Recall the wondrous deeds God has done
for you and your beloved ones

Psalm 105: 4-5

In fact, such a story becomes a kind of sacrament, carrying within it the mysterious and unwordable blessings of what it means to live, love, die, and believe. 

Each human story is, in some form, a re-enactment of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection. The faith, courage, humor, pathos, genius and serendipity of our lives carry the graces to make us holy, to make us Love as Jesus was Love.

When we gratefully retell the history of those graces – as Psalm 105 does today – we practice a powerful ritual of faith. By such liturgy, we are invited to the same grateful praise and unfettered hope as we meet in Psalm 105.

The LORD, is our God
whose judgments reach through all the earth.
Who remembers forever the covenant,
the word commanded for a thousand generations.

Psalm 105: 8-9

Poetry: The Storyteller – Mike Jones

I’m a teller of tales, a spinner of yarns,
A weaver of dreams and a liar.
I’ll teach you some stories to tell to your friends,
While sitting at home by the fire.
You may not believe everything that I say
But there’s one thing I’ll tell you that’s true
For my stories were given as presents to me
And now they are my gifts to you.

My stories are as old as the mountains and rivers
That flow through the land they were born in
They were told in the homes of peasants in rags
And kings with fine clothes adorning.
There’s no need for silver or gold in great store
For a tale becomes richer with telling
And as long as each listener has a pair of good ears
It matters not where they are dwelling.

A story well told can lift up your hearts
And help you forget all your sorrows
It can give you the strength and the courage to stand
And face all your troubles tomorrow.
For there’s wisdom and wit, beauty and charm
There’s laughter and sometimes there’s tears
But when the story is over and the spell it is broken
You’ll find that there’s nothing to fear

My stories were learned in my grandparent’s home
Where their grandparents also had heard them
They were given as payment by travelling folk
For a warm place to lay down their burdens
My stories are ageless, they never grow old
With each telling they are born anew
And when my story is ended, I’ll still be alive
In the tales that I’ve given to you.

Music: The Story I’ll Tell – Morgan Harper Nichols 

Psalm 1: Don’t Sit There!

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

March 4, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 1. We’ve prayed with it several times, but today a particular word and verse struck me.

“Insolent” — I’ll bet it’s a word you seldom, if ever, said out loud. The last time I think I heard it  was when my sixth grade teacher caught me smoking in the girls’ lav. I didn’t know what the word meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

Even etymologists are uncertain of the origin of the word, but it has come to define one who is contemptuous of rightful authority.


Despite its current infrequent use, the Bible likes the word and uses it at least 23 times to instruct our spiritual life.

Psalm 1 declares that even hobnobbing with the insolent is a bad idea. Insolence rubs off on us if we’re not careful. You know, “birds of a feather” and all that.


And isn’t it true? Haven’t you run into one or two cliques of contemptuous, snidely belligerent people in your lifetime who feed on one another’s insolence?

Those are the kind of folks Psalm 1 is talking about. We meet them everywhere – school, church, work, socially. They are the ones gossiping, passing judgment, stereotyping, slandering … Perhaps we’ve even joined them at times 🥲

In their worst form, they are the ones in the white hoods, carrying the burning torches, pushing kids into cages. We should pray for them because, as our psalmist suggests, they have been emptied of their souls:


… they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Psalm 1:4


It’s been a long time since sixth grade and, even if I still don’t know the etymology of the word, I’ve come to understand what severe insolence does to a soul.

I don’t want to harbor even an ounce of it. Reflecting on Psalm 1 today, that is my heartfelt prayer.


Poetry: Know Yourself –   Meister Eckert

A human being has so many skins inside, 
covering the depths of the heart. 
We know so many things, 
but we don’t know ourselves! 
Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, 
as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, 
cover the soul. 
Go into your own ground 
and learn to know yourself there.

Music: Grace Is – Paul Avgerinos 

Psalm 31: The Plot

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

March 3, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31 which expresses a pleading reflective of our first powerful reading from Jeremiah.

Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.
… let us destroy him by his own tongue;
let us carefully note his every word.

Jeremiah 18:18

This verse (18:18) is the pivotal turning point where everything goes south for Jeremiah. The Israelite power structure really didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah was telling them. He pins their troubles – the destruction the Temple and Babylonian Captivity – on one thing: their faithlessness to the Covenant with Yahweh.


Jeremiah is an archetype of the condemned prophet whom we meet in Jesus. Today’s Gospel reveals the same pivotal turning point for Jesus:

We are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests
and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death,
and hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.

Matthew 20:18-19

They told the Truth – that we must continually discern God’s Word for our lives, always seeking love, mercy and justice. Few had the courage to listen. Most chose sinful resistance.

The suffering prophet has only one recourse when “hearing the whispers of the crowd, that frighten me from every side, as they consult together against me, plotting to take my life.” Psalm 31:14

That recourse is complete and trusting surrender to God. Psalm 31 reveals this surrender in a verse Jesus ultimately prays from the Cross:

Into your hands I commend my spirit;
    you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.

Psalm 31:6

Lent calls us to the message of Jeremiah and Jesus – to examine our lives in light of love, mercy and justice. Let us pray in the spirit of Jesus today to be open to Truth in our own lives and to build Truth in our communities.


Poetry: The Paradox by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The poem carries a tone similar to sorrowful Jeremiah’s poetry.

I am the mother of sorrows,
I am the ender of grief;
I am the bud and the blossom,
I am the late-falling leaf.

I am thy priest and thy poet,
I am thy serf and thy king;
I cure the tears of the heartsick,
When I come near they shall sing.

White are my hands as the snowdrop;
Swart are my fingers as clay;
Dark is my frown as the midnight,
Fair is my brow as the day.

Battle and war are my minions,
Doing my will as divine;
I am the calmer of passions,
Peace is a nursling of mine.

Speak to me gently or curse me,
Seek me or fly from my sight;
I am thy fool in the morning,
Thou art my slave in the night.

Down to the grave will I take thee,
Out from the noise of the strife;
Then shalt thou see me and know me–
Death, then, no longer, but life.

Then shalt thou sing at my coming.
Kiss me with passionate breath,
Clasp me and smile to have thought me
Aught save the foeman of Death.

Come to me, brother, when weary,
Come when thy lonely heart swells;
I ‘ll guide thy footsteps and lead thee
Down where the Dream Woman dwells.

Music: Symphony No.1 – Jeremiah by Leonard Bernstein 

Summary: an excellent introduction to this symphony

Entire Symphony:

Psalm 50: Clean It Up!

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

March 2, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50 which Wikipedia describes as “a prophetic imagining of God’s judgement on the Israelites”.


It’s a rainy day here, after a foggy yesterday. A cheery psalm this morning would have been nice…. but, well it’s Lent.

Why do you recite my statutes,
    and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
    and cast my words behind you?

Psalm 50: 16-17

The psalm is a divine rebuke. It shouts, “Wake up! You’re missing the point!”

Psalm 50 calls us to examine the failures in love that we might bury under routine. It demands that we look under the surface of our daily practice for the depths of grace and transformation that we might be overlooking.


We can get pretty comfortable with our beliefs, our judgements, our attitudes, our habits. Left unexamined, these can deteriorate into prejudices and indifferences, into bigotry and self-righteousness, into betrayals of mercy.

Today’s Gospel gives us a perfect description of what happens to us when we fail to discern the “hardening of our spiritual arteries”. We get Pharisaical! Here’s what Jesus says about pharisees:

… they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’

Matthew 23:4-7

Let’s learn humble, contrite self-examination by sincerely praying Psalm 50:

Those who offer praise as a sacrifice glorify me;
    and to those who go the right way 
    I will show the salvation of God.

Psalm 50: 23

Our first reading from Isaiah sums it up:

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
    cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
    hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Isaiah 1:16-17

Poetry: God must give us a renewed mind (from Vale Millies) by Hadewijch. She was mystic of the 13th century
English version by Mother Columba Hart, Original Language Dutch

God must give us a renewed mind
     For nobler and freer love,
To make us so new in our life
     That Love may bless us
And renew, with new taste,
     Those to whom she can give new fulness;
Love is the new and powerful recompense
     Of those whose life renews itself for Love alone.
— Ay, vale, vale, millies — (farewell, farewell, a million times)
     That renewing of new Love
— Si dixero, non satis est — (If I can speak, it is not enough)
     Which renewal will newly experience.


Music: Psalm 50

Psalm 79: Prisoners

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

March 1, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 79, marked in some translations as “A Prayer for Jerusalem”. The psalm is also considered one of the “Sad Songs of Zion” which lament the destruction of the Temple and the ensuing Babylonian Captivity.

We might compare the context for Psalm 79 to what Americans felt on 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. All serenity, confidence, and trust were shattered. The world was broken and we didn’t know if it could be mended.


Praying Psalm 79, I think of the experience of prisoners – prisoners of all kinds. I think of those whose bodies are in jail, and of those whose minds, hearts and souls are similarly confined. Their worlds have been broken, as has their victim’s, even if the victim was themselves.

Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you;
    with your great power free those doomed to death.

Psalm 79:11

I think how our crimes, or addictions, or hateful prejudices – or whatever shape our sinfulness takes – eventually incarcerate us.

And I think of James.


I remember being presented with the “opportunity”. I was about 12 years old and I hero-worshipped my 7th grade teacher, Sister Helen Carmel, SSJ. But I wasn’t so sure about what she was inviting us to do.

Sister had a list of prisoners in Eastern State Penitentiary. She painted a picture of them as lonely and often abandoned people who needed prayers and kindness. She wondered if some of us might like to take a prisoner as a pen pal.

Now, I’ll be honest, the last thing I wanted was a prisoner pen pal! I was becoming a teenager! I wanted new ice skates, an A on my math test, and Jimmy Danvers to hold my hand and treat me to pizza some Friday night.

But because I loved Sister Helen Carmel like a second mother, I got a pen pal. And, maybe because she loved me like a daughter, she gave me a doozie: James, who was on death row.

James and I corresponded occasionally for about three years until he wrote to say there would be no more letters. He didn’t say why, but I knew his time had come either for release or execution. I never learned which. I didn’t want to.


Around the time that James and I corresponded, a teenage girl was brutally raped and murdered, her ravaged body left in the mud of Fairmount Park. 

She went to Catholic high school like I did! She was a teenager like I was! She liked movies and friends and Friday nights like I did! I realized that what had happened to her could have happened to me! Her name, Mary Anne, was perpetually sealed in my mind. When her killer was apprehended and eventually sentenced to death, I was glad. 

But because of James, my gladness was conflicted. These two men have fought a tug of war in my soul ever since. 

Does a human being ever really forfeit the right to life because of their heinous actions? Does society ever have the right to take a life in retribution for crime? I still struggle with the feelings these questions generate. I have spent decades trying to learn how to change my heart from a retributive to a restorative model of justice.

It doesn’t just happen. It takes prayer, education, and right choices. It has taken me the help of more enlightened spirits like St. Joseph Sister Helen Prejean  and Mercy Sister Mary Healy.


Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed
to calling for its abolition worldwide.

Pope Francis

The Pope has revised the Catechism
of the Roman Catholic Church to state that, 
“The death penalty is an attack
on the inviolability and dignity of the person
that is inadmissible in all cases.”

As we pray with Psalm 79 today, may we have the charity and courage to pray for condemned prisoners, their victim’s beloveds, and for a society that can create effective reform to heal the root causes of major crime.

Help us, O God our savior,
    because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
  for your name’s sake.

Psalm 79:9

No poem today. Some music though: The Prisoners’ Chorus from Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio”

Psalm 116: Listen!

Second Sunday of Lent

February 28, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 116 which Pope John Paul II called “A Prayer of Thanksgiving to the Lord”.

Praying the psalm today, in the context of our other Sunday readings, leads us deeper into the nature of that “thanksgiving” and its relationship to sacrifice.

Abraham and Isaac by Rembrandt

In our first reading, we meet Abraham, full of thanks that God reconsidered the command to sacrifice his dear son.


But then our second reading expresses thanks that God was willing to sacrifice his own Son for our sakes.

The Transfiguration by Titian

Finally, our Gospel takes us to the Transfiguration where that Son who will be sacrificed is revealed in his true glory.

What is the thread binding these readings? I think it can be found in this Gospel verse:

This is my beloved Son.  
Listen to him.

True listening is obedience. The words come from the same root: obedience = listen to,” from ob “to” + audire “listen, hear”.

  • Abraham listens, no matter how hard, and finally hears God’s real command to love.
  • Jesus listens to the Will of the Father even through his suffering, and is led to Resurrection.
  • We, like Peter, James and John, are called to listen to Jesus who will transfigure our perceptions about what life is really calling us to.

In each case, intent “obedience” allows the listener to hear and see beneath circumstances to the deeper Grace beyond appearances. Deep spiritual listening transfigures us!

This is the whole point of the spiritual life. Our lives are so much more than mere circumstances or appearance. Our psalm calls us to believe this even in difficulty:

I believed, even when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted.”
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
    is the death of his faithful ones.

Psalm 116:10

When we do this, we are freed to engage our lives at the level of God’s Will which is always for our good, which is always from Love. The long tradition of faith, learned from our forbearers, assures us of this:

O LORD, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the child of your faithful ones;
    you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and I will call upon the name of the LORD.

Psalm 116:16-17

Some of us go through life continually angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed by our challenges. Others, experiencing similar or even greater challenges, reflect a spirit of joy, peace, and gratitude. Why is that? I think today’s readings give us a big clue. Let’s listen to them!


Poetry: Story of Isaac, written and chanted by the bard Leonard Cohen who also wrote the currently popular “Hallelujah “.


Music: Psalm 116: Steve Green

Lyrics

I love the Lord, He heard my voice
He heard my voice. He heard my voice
He heard my cry for mercy
Because He has turned His ear to me
I will call (I will call)
I will call (I will call)
I will call on the Lord for as long as I live

I love the Lord, He heard my voice
He heard my voice. He heard my voice
He heard my cry
I love the Lord, He heard my voice
He heard my voice. He heard my voice
He heard my cry for mercy
He heard my cry for mercy

Psalm 119: DiliGENTLY

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

February 27, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with our familiar Psalm 119. Because it is the longest of the Psalms, there is plenty of material for its frequent use.


But sometimes, when things are frequent and familiar, they can also become “humdrum”. Our prayers, especially repeated vocal prayers such as those we say at Mass, can become veiled in monotony.


Thinking of this, I read Psalm 119 with new eyes today, looking for a dynamic word to pop out and speak to me. And here it was:

You have commanded that your precepts
    be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
    of keeping your statutes!

Psalm 119: 4-5

Diligently” – it is a wonderful word that suggests a range of attitudes we should hold in the Presence of God.

The word is derived from the Latin diligere: “to single out, value highly, esteem, prize, love; aspire to, be content with, appreciate”.

The psalmist suggests that God wants us to esteem and love God’s Word in a singular manner – that we should pay sharp attention, prize, and develop a deep appreciation for God’s precepts.


Our careful engagement of the Word of God must be delicate and gentle, as the root of “diligently” implies. We might imagine careful fingers peeling ripe fruit so delicately that nothing is lost of its pulp or juice.

In our daily prayer, we then savor that sweetness over and over, releasing its eternal meaning into the circumstances of our lives, feeding our spirits with its graces.

I will give you thanks with an upright heart,
    when I have learned your just ordinances.

Psalm 119:7

Poetic Advice: Taken from “The Journey of the Mind to God” by St. Bonaventure (1221–1274)

Do not assume that mere
Reading will suffice without fervor,
Speculation without devotion,
Investigation without admiration,
Observation without exaltation,
Industry without piety,
Knowledge without love,
Understanding without humility,
Study without divine grace.

Music: Wonderful Words of Life – Philip Bliss, 1874.
This is a lesser known hymn by the prolific Bliss who also composed the music for the more popular “It Is Well with My Soul”.