Hard Oranges

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings remind me of hard oranges, difficult to squeeze juice from!

We have in this passage from Deuteronomy part of Joshua’s farewell speech before he dies. He has accomplished what Moses could not – Joshua has brought the people into the Promised Land. In these verses, he recounts God’s faithful presence to Israel through all the years of struggle.

The spiritual message of the segment is clear: God loves us specially and faithfully, and we should love God in the same way.

What makes the passage difficult are the enduring political and justice issues inherent in it. The Israelites gain this land by war and the displacement of resident people. They consider that success a sign of God’s favor.

Many passages in the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures, reflect a similar process. The community looks back over its successes and failures, interpreting them in the light of God’s faithfulness.

In our spiritual journey, we too are called to be reflective and grateful as we look back at our lives. But we are also called to a further essential step not clearly reflected in today’s reading.

We are called to change our hearts, to become merciful, to welcome strangers, to lay down the “sword” of conflict. Jesus calls us to a whole new understanding of God’s fidelity and favor.

This dichotomy comes to its full expression with Jesus. He was expected to be the regal and militant deliverer. Instead, he comes as a Lamb – meek and humble of heart – who dies for our sins.

As redeemed Christians, then, when we look at our lives for God’s Presence, we should find it in circumstances such as those Jesus gave us in the Beatitudes: humility, compassion, meekness, right relationship, mercy, holy sincerity, peace, courageous fidelity, Christian witness.

Music: Mass in B minor, Agnes Dei – Bach

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Understanding the Assumption: Maturing in Faith

Readings: Click here for Reading

Rev 12_1 Assumption

 (Republishing last year’s reading. I’m on retreat and trying to keep my time empty. Praying for all my dear followers.)

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 gave my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary, the saints, and my Guardian Angel.

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 to remind us of God’s Presence
  • Over the main door was the statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings to bless us on our journeys.
  • 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 east coast, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that, through the water, Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.

wedding-of-sea-mike

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.

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

“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)

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. One can hear his deep pain as 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.

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 gives us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.

Marie T. Farrell, RSM presents a scholarly and insightful essay on the Assumption here. Her work gives us a rich understanding of the theological layers within this teaching.

Click here for Sr. Marie’s article

Sister Marie closes her essay with these words:
Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a prophetic 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 below: Prayer of Pure Love ~ Letty Hammock and Sue K. Riley

 

 

 

 

A Big Fail?

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read the last episode in Moses’ life – and it’s powerful.

Nobody likes great stories to end, but they do. Some of you may be old enough to remember the most watched series finale of all time: MASH. The final episode drew nearly 106 million viewers, most of whom had mixed emotions as they said, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (the episode title).

Moses may have had some mixed emotions too as God invited him to a much greater destination than the one Moses had focused on for forty years.

But perhaps after all that time, and all his interaction with God, Moses clearly understood that we have no real home here in this world. Here, we are only visitors. We were made for greater “mansions”.

When Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho”, God allowed Moses to look out over the long Promised Land.

Then, Deuteronomy tells us, God said:

“This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”

Wow! Was that the “Big Fail”???? After forty years, you don’t get the prize, Moses? I don’t think so.

I think when we’ve done the best we can to live a decent life, to honor God and care for others, God doesn’t say, “You don’t get the prize!” I think God says, “I have a greater prize ready for you – a Promised Land you had not even imagined! Cross over into my Kingdom.”

It may be for some of us, particularly as we age, that we regret some of the things we either did or failed to do in our lifetime. We may feel a little like Moses climbing Horeb. Oh my, what a surprise God, Who is Lavish Mercy, has for us at the top of the hill.

Music: Eye Has Not Seen – Marty Haugen

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In Every Age

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2019

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Dt32_7Jage to agePG

Today, in Mercy, our readings are peopled with individuals of all ages.

Deuteronomy gives us Moses at 120 years, when time forces him to admit:

“I am now one hundred and twenty years old
and am no longer able to move about freely;
besides, the LORD has told me that I shall not cross this Jordan.

We also have Joshua, vigorous and on the doorstep of his career:

Then Moses summoned Joshua and in the presence of all Israel
said to him, “Be brave and steadfast,
for you must bring this people into the land
which the LORD swore to their fathers he would give them.

The Gospel brings us Jesus near the untimely end of his young life, and the disciples growing into their apostolic maturity.

And then we have the picture of the humble little child who is “the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”.

Every one of them, young or old, is seeking God in the circumstances of their lives.

What about you, dear friends, how is the mystery of God unfolding in your life today?  As summer gently and slowly leans toward autumn, let the passing days teach us that each season brings its own graces.

Music: in Every Age – Janet Sullivan Whitaker

Your Grace Amazes Me

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Moses recounts for the people God’s immense generosity toward them.

Dt10_7awesome God

Have you ever heard yourself, or someone dear to you, saying, “God has been so good to me!” Such a statement rises out of our awe at God’s love and mercy to us.

The deeper our faith, the clearer our insight into these gifts. I have heard people in the sparest of circumstances utter such a prayer. How can they do that, we might ask?

In all cases, there is a beautiful humility, trust, and generosity emanating from their spirits. Gratitude has transformed them. Hope, not wishing, has freed them.

Moses wants his People to be like that. He says:

Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens,
belong to the LORD, your God,
as well as the earth and everything on it.
Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to them
as to choose you, their descendants …

This is your glory, he, your God,
who has done for you those great and awesome things
which your own eyes have seen.

I want to be that kind of grateful, faith-filled person too. Don’t you?

Today’s profound advice from Moses can help us.

Music: Your Grace Still Amazes Me – Philips, Craig and Dean

Bearer of Hope

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 11, 2019

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Hebrews11_1 Fith_hope

Today, in Mercy, we have a few slightly complex readings. But, as with all Sunday lectionary choices, they are strung together by a single theme. 

Upon first reading, we might think that theme is FAITH since the word is mentioned at least eight times. And, indeed, “faith” is the foundation of these readings – the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Desert Jews, the disciples, and the new Christian community. 

It is the testimony of this ancient and enduring faith that encourages us to be ready, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

This phrase of Jesus reveals another, deeper, theme: courageous hope.

How awesome that God, in covenant with God’s People, could keep alive – for 400 years- the hope of salvation! How miraculous that these ordinary farmers, milkmaids, herdsman, and shepherds could sustain their hope through numerous generations!

Today’s readings are sending us this message:


Be courageous!
You are the Bearer of Hope
to this generation!


It may seem in our world, and in our individual lives, that God tarries beyond tolerance in answering our hope – for peace, civility, equality, security, goodness.  But we must remember that with God there is no time. God is already responding within the long fidelity of our hope. (Our clocks and Apple watches just are obscuring our view. 😉)

That faithful hope creates the space for charity. And charity is the human face of Divine Love already Abiding.

Faith, Hope, and Charity – the theological virtues (Remember that from your Baltimore Catechism?). 

Virtues
The Theological and Cardinal Virtues with Wisdom: Hope, Faith, Charity, Fortitude, Temperance, Liberality, Justice and Sapientia by Maarten de Vos (1532-1603)

These virtues are the foundation of the spiritual life. Contemporary theology ties these irrevocably to the virtue of justice – the seeking of right relationship in all Creation.

Anselm Min, Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, has edited a powerful book on this subject. (Unfortunately, now out print and thus hugely expensive). One reviewer of the book, Lameck Banda, Professor at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia, offers this insight into Min’s collection:

“The running thread throughout this book is that, whichever way the contemporary culture may seek to view and treat faith, hope, and love, the ultimate goal of these virtues is to radically and comprehensively address issues which tend to undermine the agenda of justice.”

That summary in itself gave me a lot to think and pray about. I hope it inspires you as well. God bless your Sunday!

Rohr

Music: Hymn of Hope from The Secret Garden by Rolf Lovland

Unless…

Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

August 10, 2019

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St. Lawrence
Saint Lawrence. Mosaic from the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev.

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence who is noted for his love for those who were poor. Legend has it that Lawrence was demanded, before his martyrdom, to turn over the Church’s riches to the emperor Valerian. Instead, he distributed all the resources among the poor. Lawrence then gathered all these people, presenting them before Valerian with these words:

Behold in these poor persons
the treasures which I promised to show you –
these are the true treasures of the Church.

Lawrence was likely inspired by readings like today’s. In Corinthians, Paul encourages us to be cheerful givers. He says this delights God, the Giver of Divine Abundance, whom we are imitating.

John12_24 grain wheat

In our reading from John, Jesus says that only in dying to ourselves do we live – the ultimate generosity. He says that only by doing this can we truly follow him.

While these readings are clear and simple, they are so profound that we can hardly take in their message. What they ask of us is daunting! The encouragement Jesus gives us to respond to his challenge is this:

The Father will honor whoever serves me.

St. Lawrence believed and lived this promise. What about us?

Music: Before the Bread – Elizabeth Alexander

We all want our lives to be full and complete – to be “bread”. But there are many steps before the grain of wheat becomes bread, as captured in this elegant acapella canon.

Let the Light In

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Deuteronomy. In today’s passage, Moses gives the first of three speeches to the community. These speeches are a sort of manifesto a family patriarch might give before he dies, framing the family history and code to direct coming generations.

Ps77 crack


Dad

 

The reading falls on a most appropriate day for me.
Today would be my Dad’s 104th birthday.
The occasion invites me to recount all the blessings
given to him, me, and our family.

 


When we, as people of faith, step back from our lives in reverence, we realize God’s immense goodness to us. Moses encourages his people to do just such stepping back:

Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?

We might ask ourselves the same thing. 

  • How has God been with me and my family through our lifetimes, and through the generations that preceded us?
  • In both our lights and darknesses, how has God continually called us to relationship?
  • How have we revealed God’s voice to one another by our love, honesty, support, patient accompaniment, generous correction and forgiveness?
  • How have these gifts to one another allowed us to become gifts to the larger world?
  • What am I passing on to the next generation of the fidelity and sacrifice which has blessed me?

When I think of my Dad, there are so many symbols that show how he answered those questions with his life. They aren’t big manifestos like those of Moses. Instead: 

  • a frayed prayer book that I watched him finger daily
  • an old receipt for my bicycle bought in incremental payments he could barely afford
  • his sincere distress one Assumption Day when he had forgotten to go to Mass
  • his steadfast attempt to work even when illness weakened him and his humble trust in God when that weakness appeared to triumph
  • a treasured conversation about his hope for heaven
  • the appreciation now, in my maturity, of his thousand quiet acts of faith and love

All of us might spend some time in gratitude for the legacy of faith and love we have received. No family is perfect, and the grace may come to us in clarity or in disguise. But it comes. 

There are fractures and tears in every family. There were some even in Moses’ “family” and Moses himself! And we cannot magically heal them all. But God asks us to remember that God abides with us even in any fragmentation. Just as the poet Leonard Cohen sings:

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Click here to listen to Cohen’s moving song

If what we remember in our family history are weaknesses, how have they made us stronger? If what we remember are strengths, how have they made us more generous? In either case, how have we heard God’s voice in our story? How have we let the Light in?

As Moses tells his people:

This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,

and that there is no other.

Music: As for Me and My House – Promise Keepers

Failure Is An Option!

Memorial of Saint Dominic, Priest

August 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, on this Memorial of St. Domenic, our first reading gives us a lesson in failure. It is a situation we all face in life. If you haven’t, then you aren’t trying hard enough.

Numbers20_13_Failure

In our reading today, even the great Moses fails. But, you might ask, hasn’t he failed a number of times already? The smashed commandments, the golden calf, the complaints about manna? These were all human frustrations and inadequacies Moses would not have chosen.

Today’s failure is different. It is a failure in leadership. Any leadership role we hold, we hold in the name of God. We are parents, employers, teachers, pastors, religious leaders, supervisors, captains, managers…and so on. The cloak of responsibility covers each one of us at various times in our lives. Wearing it, we put on God’s trust in us to honor Him and those he has given us.

Dore_Rock
Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb, engraving by Gustave Doré from “La Sainte Bible”

When Moses and Aaron asked God to give the people water, God said, 

Take your staff and assemble the community,
you and your brother Aaron,
and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters.
From the rock you shall bring forth water for the congregation
and their livestock to drink.

Moses, caught in his own frustrations, did as God said but not before castigating the community and striking the rock twice.

So what?, you might say. 

Here’s the “What”. These acts betray Moses’ failure to trust God and to give God honor before the community. Perhaps unwittingly, Moses made it look like he was the one who summoned the water.

This reading calls us to always give God the glory. We are never really in charge of anything. We just do our best to make a path for life, goodness, love and wholeness.

If, through a leadership role, we are called to assist God in re-creating the world, let us do it with exquisite humility, trust, reverence, intentionality and praise.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad

Crossing the Line

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Numbers is about trust versus fear.  The Israelites have finally made it to the front door of the Promised Land. But they hesitate to go in. They get Moses to bargain with God to allow scouts to go ahead of them, checking out the lay of the land. These scouts return with a mixed report: arable land, but ferocious current residents! The community freezes in fear, refusing to go farther.

Israelites into Canaan
The Israelites Cross the Jordan River by Gustave Doré 1832-1883

So what’s this all about for us? Is it wrong for us to be deliberate about our decisions, reversing them when the situation becomes threatening? No, of course not. So what’s the difference here in our Numbers community?

At this moment in Israel’s history, God has made clear what is expected of them. They are in covenant with God – “all in” to follow God’s plan for their lives. God has demonstrated his commitment to them in numerous ways, and forgiven earlier disloyalties. 

The question before them now is have they given God their whole hearts.

Or will this be a sham covenant in which they pick and choose when they will be for God and when they will be just for themselves?

The life of deep spiritual commitment to God is not always smooth. We get really mixed up sometimes in our self-concerns and fears. Many years ago, one of my eighth grade students asked me this: what if there really is no God and you’ve wasted your life believing there was?

It was quite a question, and I’ll bet you want to know my answer.

I said that I wouldn’t change a thing about how I have chosen to live my life. Trusting God and giving my life to him has given me a freedom beyond the limits of this world. Even if, at the end, her doubt proved true, I would have had a blessed and joyous life.

Psalm 106

The fact is that we, just like those Israelites standing on the edge of Canaan, don’t know what will happen to us if we trust God. Life and the future is an intimidating open border that challenges our faith and resolve.

But if we constantly hedge our self-gift to God, we will never be capable of receiving the fullness of God’s gift in return.

Today, let’s pray for the trust to step over into God’s country by our acts of faith, hope, love, mercy, generosity, truthfulness, hospitality and courage.

This beautiful reinterpretation of today’s Responsorial Psalm may inspire you as it did me. It is from the website of Christine Robinson, a Unitarian Universalist minister: Click here for Psalm renderings

Psalm 106: Returning
“Give thanks to God, who is good
whose mercy endures forever.”

We stand in awe of an infinity
which we cannot begin to comprehend
We set ourselves to live in tune with the universe—
that we may be glad with the gladness of people of faith.
Yes, time and time again we have gone astray,

We have despoiled this beautiful, wonderful world
dealt unjustly with our compadres
The law of love is a hard law.
In our prayer and then in our lives,
we return to the Way.

Music: Trust God – Rick Muchow