Poem: The Anointing at Bethany

John 12_3 jar

Come close with Mary, Martha, Lazarus
so close the candles stir with their soft breath
and kindle heart and soul to flame within us,
lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
in quietness and intimate encounter.
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
is broken open for the world’s true Lover.

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
with all the yearning such a fragrance brings.
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
here at the very center of all things,
here at the meeting place of love and loss,
we all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

(Malcolm Guite: The Anointing at Bethany)

Will You Anoint Him?

Monday, April 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we set out with Jesus on the path to Calvary, we might consider his companions who accompanied him.

John12_3 Mary

Closest to Christ’s heart on this journey is his Father. Today’s first reading gives us some insight into that profound divine sharing:

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

In other words, “Have courage, Son, I am with you.”

His disciples, women and men committed to the Gospel, also share the dramatic events of these days. Our Gospel today gives us Mary of Bethany, a leader and gatherer of the early Christian community. Her heart is broken at the now obvious prospect of Jesus’s death. In the name of their primal church, Mary offers Jesus the first sacrament of anointing.

In other words, “Have courage, Beloved Leader, we are with you.”

On this Monday morning of Holy Week, where are we in the community gathered around Jesus? How are we speaking to him, comforting him, loving him?

Jesus’s Passion is enfleshed in our time in the suffering of the poor, the refugee, the sick, the disenfranchised, those called “vermin” by the powerful. How am I with Jesus in his anguish today?

Music:  Two offerings today, one classical, one modern.

Timor et Tremor – from Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (Four Penitential Motets) by Francis Poulenc

 

Pour My Love on You –  Phillips, Craig & Dean

Every Broken Branch

( I wrote this reflection for the Sisters of Mercy. It will be available on that blog as well. You may be interested in some of the other excellent articles to be found there.
Click here for Sisters of Mercy blog.)

Today, in Mercy, we enter the sacred embrace of Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is a feast with two faces.

Jesus rides in triumph into Jerusalem, but his deep heart realizes that the road ultimately leads to his death. Jesus, who once called himself the Vine, knows that the bright green branches waved in adulation will soon be trampled to the ground.

Phil2_palm sunday

In these final days of Lent, we are faced with the question, “What turns green hope to crumbled brown in us – and how can it be green again?”

Many years ago, I sat in a marbled, flowered funeral home with a bereaved father.

“There are things worse than death,” he said.  After several absent years, his drug-addicted son had been found dead in an alley, under the cardboard box where he lived.  “At least I know where he is now.  Finally, we can all be at peace.”

Jack’s son had been lost to him.  In the stranglehold of heroin, the great hope of his young life had degenerated into profound suffering.  The vigor of his early dreams had withered, like broken tendrils on the once hopeful vine. It was, in every sense, a human tragedy.

Jesus understood such withering.  He prayed for his disciples that they would not suffer it.  He knew what would face him and them in the week following the lifted palms. He knows what will face us as we try to discern the honest path to joy, peace and fulfillment.

The enticements of evil are deceptive.  Greed comes clothed as entitlement. Lust masquerades as passion, addiction as pleasure. They entwine and choke us in a false embrace that whispers, “This is for you.”  Fed by the fear of never having or being enough, we resort to these very catalysts that will destroy us.  Even the voice of love struggles to reach someone locked in this cycle of self-absorption.  Like every barren branch, they wilt and sever themselves from all that could enliven them.

Jesus acknowledges that the choice for life is not always easy.  He tells the disciples that, indeed, they will be pruned.  No life escapes the incisions of hard experience. Like his followers, we too will face loss, pain, frustration and diminishment.  But if our hearts have been fed by his word, we will hold to grace and we will thrive.

Much of the Palm Sunday crowd shifted gears by Friday, becoming a rabble of accusers.  They could not follow Jesus through Calvary to his Resurrection.

But there is no true life apart from God.  There is no path to perfection and joy but through God’s Will.  The Passion and Death of Jesus have already set our roots in this blessed soil.  May we cling by grace to that treasured Vine.

Music: J.S. Bach – Cantata; Himmelskönig, sei willkommen / King of Heaven, be Thou welcome – BWV 182

The Raising of Lazarus

800px-Raising-of-Lazarus
from wiki commons

Evidently, this was needed. Because people need
to be screamed at with proof.
But Jesus knew his friends. Before they were,
he knew them; and they knew
that he would never leave them
desolate here. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village.
And immediately he seemed
to be standing in their midst.
Here was Martha, the dead boy’s sister.
He knew he would always find her
at his right hand, and beside her
Mary. They were all here.
Yet opening his eyes it was not so.
He was standing apart,
even the two women
slowly backing away,
as if from concern for their good name.

Then he began to hear voices
muttering under their breath
quite distinctly; or thinking,
Lord, if you had been here
our friend might not have died
.
(At that, he seemed to reach out
to touch someone’s face
with infinite gentleness,
and silently wept.) He asked them the way
to the grave. And he followed
behind them, preparing
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one. 

Merely to walk down this road
had started to feel like a test,
or a poorly prepared-for performance
with actors unsure of their lines,
or which play they were supposed to be in;
a feverish outrage rising inside him
at the glib ease with which words like “living”
and “being dead” rolled off their tongues.
And awe flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”

“By now he must stink,”
somebody helpfully shouted.
(And it was true, the body
had been lying in the tomb
four days.) But he was far away,
too far away inside himself
to hear it, beginning
to fill with that gesture
which rose through him:
no hand this heavy
had ever been raised, no human hand
had ever reached this height
shining an instant in air, then
all at once clenching into itself
at the thought all the dead might return
from that tomb where
the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.

In the end, though, nobody stood
there at its entrance
but the young man
who had freed his right arm
and was pulling at his face,
at small strips of grave wrappings.
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done? And all
saw how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for him once more.

~ by Franz Wright from a fragment by Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Music: Franz Schubert – The Raising of Lazarus ( For more info on music, click here )

Come Forth from the Darkness

Saturday, April 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings make it clear that, now, no one in Jerusalem is indifferent about Jesus.

Lazarus come forth

The raising of Lazarus from the dead has pretty much sealed the deal for Jesus. Imagine what that scene must have been like! Picture yourself at the cemetery, laying your Easter palm crosses, and suddenly your beloved rises from the dead!

The Gospel offers an unbelievably stoical comment: 

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done
began to believe in him.

Are you kidding me? You bet I’d believe in someone with that kind of power!

So what held the others back from believing? What holds us back from giving it all to God?

Fear?
Jealousy?
Loss of control?
A shallow heart?
A dulled spirit?

In our first reading, God once again promises:

I will deliver them from all their sins of faithlessness,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.

Just as Christ delivered Lazarus from the grave, and Mary and Martha from their mourning, may we be delivered from anything that binds us from the fullness of life in God.

(I will send a powerful poem along later today. I think it is worth taking time with.)

Music: Lazarus, Come Forth – The Bishops (Lyrics below)

Lazarus, Come Forth

Heartbroken, tears fallin’
Martha found Jesus
She questioned why Lazarus had died.
When she had thus spoken
Her doubts were then silenced
He walked toward the body and cried.

(Chorus)
Lazarus, come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.

Lazarus, come forth,
From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Lazarus, come forth.

The tomb now was empty,
Martha stopped crying
Her brother now stood by her side.
The Pharisees wondered
About what had happened,
How could one now live who had died.

The reason this story
Gives hope to so many
Is although we know we must die,
Our bodies won’t stay there
In cold and dark silence
We’ll hear Jesus cry from on high.

Children come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.
Children, come forth,

From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Children, come forth.

For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
My children, come forth.

 

 

Believe the Works!

Friday, April 12, 2019

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Jn10_38

Today, in Mercy,  in our readings the distress of both Jeremiah and Jesus becomes palpable.

Jeremiah says:

All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

And Jesus, as the crowd pick up stones to throw at him, says:

I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?

The Psalmist responds for both Jesus and Jeremiah:

In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

Jesus tells his persecutors:

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

Perhaps Jesus is also speaking to us in any place where our faith is weak, or we harbor doubts. He is asking us to place absolute trust in him in all things. It’s a big request and one we work a lifetime to achieve.

In our prayer, we might take time to remember the works God has already accomplished in our lives, the gifts God has given us through the years, the wonders of Creation we have experienced, the loves that have graced our days.

In gratitude and trust, let us place any distress in our hearts into the open heart of Jesus, repeating our Gospel verse for today:

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

Music: Your Words Are Spirit and Life – Bernadette Farrell 

God’s Forever Covenant

Thursday, April 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings focus on the inviolable power of covenant.  

gn17_Covenant

The word “covenant” is derived from the Latin “convenire ”- to gather, to assemble, to fit.

We get the sense of an artist pulling together the pieces of a mosaic to form a masterpiece. Or we may think of a poet choosing the perfect words to convey feelings otherwise unwordable.

In our first reading, God fashions his covenant by weaving together the family lines descending from Abraham:

I will maintain my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
throughout the ages as an everlasting pact,
to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Jesus deepens the Abrahamic promise by revealing that he is the Son of God sent to fulfill the ancient promise:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

These promises are passed on to us in many ways. Today’s reading might remind us of the role our families have played in transmitting the faith to us. They, together with our early teachers, opened our hearts to the amazing possibilities of grace.

I pray in thanksgiving today for my parents and all the generations who formed them. I pray for the good Sisters who modeled a captivating holiness to me. I pray for my beloved Mercy family as they continue to show me the face of God.

For whom would you offer a grateful prayer today? You might simply say their names in your prayer, or write their names in your own mosaic of thanksgiving. Or just listen to this music and let them bless your heart today.

Music:  By Faith – Keith & Kristyn Getty

Song of Deliverance

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading tells us the captivating story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These young men were enslaved Hebrews in Babylon. Their Hebrew names – Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria – had been changed to the Babylonian forms we find in the story.

Dan_Abednego

When coerced by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship a false God, these three faithful men refused. They were thrown into a roaring furnace as capital punishment. But a fourth figure appeared in their midst and saved them from death.

The story assures us that God delivers those who are faithful.

In our Gospel, Jesus reiterates this assurance:

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

On a personal level, many of us can attest to God’s faithfulness which has delivered us from any number and forms of crises. But the core point of our readings today, so close to Passiontide, is to remind us of that quintessential deliverance given us on Calvary. We now live in an eternal, inextinguishable freedom of grace and love.

It is fitting that we share the jubilant prayer offered by the delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:
The Song of the Three Holy Youths – The Greek Orthodox Choir

The “Song of the Three Holy Youths” is part of the hymn called a canon sung during the Matins and other services in Orthodoxy. It can also be found in the Church of England Book of Common Prayer as the canticle called the Benedicite and is one of the traditional canticles that can follow the first scripture lesson in the Order of Morning Prayer. It is also an optional song for Matins in Lutheran liturgies, and either an abbreviated or full version of the Song is featured as the Old Testament Canticle in the Lauds liturgy for Sundays and Feasts in the Divine Office of the Catholic Church.

Also, can’t resist this classic, just for the beat!
Ford Leary Sings – From an old 1939 Vitaphone Jazz short “Larry Clinton & His Orchestra”

I Will Raise Up a Sign

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, there are some common threads running through our readings.

Jn8_28 sign

In the passage from Numbers, we have a restless crowd, confused and hungry, feeling directionless in a vast wilderness. They demand an answer from Moses:

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

To make things worse, God, annoyed at their complaints, sends a bunch of snakes to hassle them.

In John’s Gospel, a disgruntled gathering of Pharisees pesters Jesus for a resolution to their questions. Even after all Jesus’ signs and preaching, they ask Him, “Who are you?”

In both instances, it is impossible for the questioners to receive the answer they seek because they lack faith.

In both instances, they are told that a sign will be lifted up before them and that then they will understand.

We’re on a life’s journey, at times confused and disgruntled, just like those ancient Hebrews.

We may be locked in faithless expectations of God, just like those debating Pharisees.

In our difficulties and challenges, will we be able to see the sign that God offers us? Not the one we design or demand – but the unexpected one rising up out of the depths of our faith?

Music: By Grace Alone – David Ward

The True Heart

Monday, April 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings offer copious lessons as well as an enthralling drama from the Book of Daniel.

John8_12Light

We have heard the original story many times, and seen it repeated, down through the ages, in innumerable forms: a woman targeted by lecherous men, innocence betrayed by treachery, power exercised in destructive selfishness. When we see goodness vindicated in this story, we feel a certain victory for the ages! Am I right?

While the story’s surface addresses sexual assault and false condemnation, its heart is about power and truth. Susanna and Daniel embody these virtues. The two corrupt judges manifest their distortion.

In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims his identity as the Light of the World. He confronts the Pharisees because they “judge by appearances” rather than by truth. They use their power to oppress rather than to free.

Power and truth suffer terribly in today’s world. They are obscured by the same darknesses we see in the story of Susanna – conspiracy, secrecy, false accusation, dissimulation, malfeasance, and total disregard for human pain. Ultimately, it is always the innocent and poor who suffer most in such an atmosphere.

We pray today for Divine Light for every hidden darkness, for bravery like Daniel’s, for fidelity like Susanna’s, and for truthfulness to make us worthy of the Name of Christ.

Music: A mantra based on John 14 – The Spirit of Truth