Exult in God’s Power

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 14, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings demonstrate God’s power to change human lives.

hannah
The Travail of Hannah

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel completes the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother. Hannah, one of the two wives of Elkanah, was childless. In today’s passage, Hannah takes her grief to the Temple and places it before the Lord. God hears her prayer and she conceives her son.

When the story is summarized, as I have just done, it seems like a cookie-cutter miracle story. A skeptic might wonder, had she waited long enough, would Hannah have conceived – Temple or not.

That’s because the summary has drained out all the human angst, emotional roller-coastering, denial, and frustration that finally brought Hannah to God’s arms. It could have taken her so many others places. Unrelieved pain often does. It takes some into unresolved anger, depression, addiction, even suicide.

The miracle of this story is Hannah’s faith and the power of God’s love in her. It just so happens that there was also Samuel.

1Sam2_1 exult


Mark, in these early chapters of his Gospel, presents Jesus as the personification of that Divine Power. Both Christ’s “astonishing “ teaching and his stunning authority over evil convince us of this power.

With Jesus, the believer’s reality is transformed by faith and grace. Divine life blossoms even in formerly barren circumstances. Wholeness emerges even from that which had seemed fragmented.

This is the miracle: there is Divine Life inside that we had not seen until we looked, by faith, with the God’s eyes.

Music: Everyday Miracles – Sarah Grove

The Sacred Ordinary

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It was a scrawny excuse for a plant, relegated to an after-holiday sale at Home Depot.  Nothing distinguished it except that it was the only green promise on a frozen, white January day.

I bought that Christmas cactus well over ten years ago with at least some small hope that it might someday yield the magnificent flower from which it draws its lofty name. No such thing!  For ten years, it remained just green and alive, but otherwise unremarkable.

Then one day in its eleventh year, I noticed a deep red spot at its tip.  Hopeless as I had become about the disappointing plant, I assumed someone had dropped a little spaghetti sauce over its perch in our kitchen.  But to my delight the next morning, that “sauce” had blossomed into a luxurious flower — a soft, pink symbol of the sacred power of life hidden within the ordinary.

Cactus

Life is like that cactus.  If we are young, or when we once were, we often expect life to blossom quickly with some extraordinary design for our existence.  More often than not, the years teach us that our great promise wears ordinary clothes and that we will find our deep happiness within the mundane routine of life.

shells

We sometimes pass by the moments of our lives as if they were abandoned shells on a beach.  And yet, if coaxed open by the gentle attention of hope, each moment contains its own precious pearl, sometimes realized only after we have lost the opportunity to cherish it.

There are times in life when our jobs, our relationships, our dreams for our children, our dreams for ourselves take on the tone of those grey, abandoned shells.  We get so caught up in our ordinary lives that we lose the capacity to see their inherent power and extraordinarybeauty.

As we begin the long season of “Ordinary Time”, may we be blessed by our “Sacred Ordinary”.  Through the grace of attentive love and patient hope, may we find in our daily lives a Light to inspire and delight us.  May we discover the Love that gave us life and waits to blossom every day in our hope – that wants to make everything better

Music: These Ordinary Days – Jars of Clay

Follow Me

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we re-enter Ordinary Time. (I’ll be posting a second reflection today on the topic of “ordinary time”.)

Today we begin a journey with Mark the Evangelist which carries us all the way to Lent. This journey will allow us to walk right beside Jesus as he preaches, cures, and calls people to full life in God.

Somewhere on Peter’s missionary journeys after Christ’s Ascension, he encountered Mark and took him as travel companion and interpreter. Mark then wrote down Peter’s sermons, thus composing the Gospel according to Mark (According to the historian Eusebius: Eccl. Hist. 15–16). So, in a very real sense, when we pray with Mark, we are also praying with Peter and with Peter’s memories of life with Jesus.

Today’s Gospel is a great example of that first-hand experience — the call of the first disciples.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
esus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.


I like to think of Peter talking to young Mark about this moment in his life.  He states it so simply. One can almost hear Peter say, ”It started so ordinarily.  We were just cleaning our nets, when He came out of nowhere and picked us!”

What Peter doesn’t say, but what might be inferred from the story, is that he and his brother Andrew were READY for the call. It didn’t take them a moment to drop those nets and follow. 

And, oh my, what a journey Peter made from that first moment to where he sat telling Mark the story decades later somewhere in Asia Minor.

Maybe other fishermen along that coastline might have scoffed or been bewildered at an invitation to become “Fishers of Men”. But Jesus knew the right ones to call.  He knew the hearts that would respond to the extraordinary clothed in the ordinary.

Mk1_17 follow

As we follow Mark’s Gospel over these next weeks, let’s look for the call it carries to us in our “ordinary time”.  Let’s be ready when Jesus asks us to tag along with him. We might, like Peter, be surprised at the graces waiting for us when we drop the “nets” entwining us and just follow!

Music: Follow Me – Casting Crowns

In this song, we hear Jesus invite several people to follow him: the disciples, the woman caught in adultery, the Good Thief … even us.

The Glorious Baptism of Jesus

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
January 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus makes a remarkable debut! 

Picture the scene. It is a beautiful morning in the Judean Valley where the Jordan Riven runs fresh and sparkling. Most scholars place the Baptism of Jesus sometime in January, which means the weather would have been relatively cool. But perhaps, like our own weather, an unusually warm day may have snuck in.

Rustic, fiery preacher John is baptizing in the Jordan River. Crowds have come to hear what he has to say. Some are convinced and dive into the cool water under his hand.

Others rim the hillside, not so sure John isn’t one of the many who have glorious visions but few facts.

Then, out from the pines on the far side of the river, comes Jesus, flanked by some of the Twelve. While his companions chat away to Jesus, his eyes are focused on John. In an instant, Jesus realizes that this is the moment for his revelation. In that same instant, all Creation realizes the same thing.

As Jesus walks slowly toward John, the birds and little animals speak to him, “My Lord and my God…”.  Wind whistling through the trees becomes an Oratorio praising him. All the surrounding colors deepen, breaking forth in unimaginable light.

John is stunned by the cosmic change he senses but cannot describe. Heart trembling, he looks into Jesus’s eyes and catches a glimpse of heaven. “I need to be baptized by you”, John says,”and yet you are coming to me?

Jesus smiles at his cousin, replying, 

“Let it be so now;
it is proper for us to do this
to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then John consented.

Perhaps those in the crowd, schooled in the ancient scriptures, heard Isaiah’s voice in the charged atmosphere:

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Matthew tells us:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.

the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie
The Baptism Of Jesus is a painting by Jeff Haynie For purchase, see:https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie.html

Can you see him light-heartedly splashing John as he shakes his dark curls free of the chilly water? Can you see his transfigured face as he hears his Father speak Love over him?

At that moment heaven was opened,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said,

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

What a beautiful moment in time! Don’t we wish we might have been there in the blessed and awe-struck crowd? We can. Let your prayer of imagination take you there.

Music: The Baptism of Jesus

He Must Increase

Saturday after Epiphany

January 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks a lot about sin. But I think he’s talking about more than the itemized laundry list of mistakes we sometimes reckon as sin.

Catholic-Sin300

It all seemed so simple when we were in grade school, didn’t it?
Well, dealing with sinfulness in the world
is a lot more than milk bottles!



John is describing the drenching atmosphere of darkness that falls over a soul turned in on its own gratification. Pope Francis’s quote referenced yesterday captures this atmosphere:

“Jesus, at the Last Supper, does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world, but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite.” The Holy Father emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.

John likens this atmosphere to idol worship:

Children, be on your guard against idols.

Most of us are beyond worshipping golden calves, but we may still be allowing ourselves to be distracted from the centrality of God in our lives.

calf

What are some potential idols that could desensitize our souls to the ravages of evil? Greed, lust, and narcissism rise to the top of the list. Caught in the grasp of these idols, human beings become oblivious to astounding evils such as war, slavery, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, corporate dishonesty, technological dehumanization, and all the other rampant abuses befuddled human beings foist on one another. 

When you see the effects of such evils reported on the evening news, do you sometimes ask yourselves, “How could a person do such things to another human being?” 

What we are seeing is evidence of souls who have died to God’s Presence within their hearts. They are indifferent to the effect of their choices on anyone but themselves.

Jesus came to open our eyes and to free us from the bonds of such sin. As the Presence of God grows in us, so does our awareness of all that is dissonant with that Presence.


We pray with John the Baptist today that we may grow in God and diminish in any selfishness that blinds us to the difference between good and evil in our lives.

Pope Francis tweeted today:

In worship, we learn to reject what should not be worshiped: the god of money, the god of consumerism, the god of pleasure, the god of success, the god of self.


Music:  I Must Decrease – Andrew and Saskia Smith ( Words below.)

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

I must decrease, He must increase.
I must decrease, He must increase.

The whole earth is His footstool. Who am I?
Shall the thing formed say to its Maker,
“Why hast thou made me thus?”
I must decrease, He must increase.

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.

The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.
The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.
Oh yes, Lord, I exist to worship You.

Holy Victory

Friday after Epiphany

January 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings both challenge and affirm our faith:

John tells us:

Beloved:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

What does John mean by saying our faith makes us “victor over the world”? 

1Jn5_5

Certain scripture passages, and many theologians throughout history, use the term “the world” to refer to a secularized human system which denies or devalues God and spirituality. They set this concept of “the world” in opposition to a life lived from deep faith.

“Pope Francis, in a recent homily, spoke of the spirit of the world, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit. “Jesus, at the Last Supper,” he recalled, “does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world,” because Christian life is in the world, “but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite. He emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.
(Alessandro Di Bussolo, Vatican News)

For some, though, a simplistic definition of “world” and “spirit” has led to a dichotomy in which these realities are isolated from, and do not inform each other. Such thinking may lead us to identify “world” with the “evil” generated by sin or spiritual emptiness.

Evolving theology has confronted this dichotomous perception to help us understand that we come to know God through the sacred reality of the created world we live in.

Thomas Berry says this:
“… we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.”
(Thomas Berry, “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work)

Such Creation-based spirituality allows us to acknowledge and respond to God’s invitation to transform “the world” by our oneness with Christ, who is the Fullness of Creation.

“Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”
(Elizabeth A. Johnson – Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love)

Pope Francis, in paragraph 11 of Laudato Si’ writes:

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

As we consider all these aspects today in our prayer, let us ask for an understanding of God based in deep love and hope for our cosmic truth.

Music: Adoro Te Devote

Pants on Fire?

Thursday after Epiphany

January 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks about liars. He made me really think.

nose
Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

When I was a kid going to weekly Saturday night confession (yes, remember a lot of us did that😇), I really had to scrape to get a decent pile of sins. I mean, honestly, how much evil can one eight-year-old generate in a week?

But lying was always a good fallback to report on. You know the deal: I told my teacher that I forgot my homework when I really hadn’t done it. I told Petey Nicolo I could beat him up when I knew I couldn’t. I told Chickie Schmidt I could ride a big bike like hers when I had actually just fallen on my face off a smaller one. I told Sister I wasn’t smoking in the girls’ room when my very own cousin Joanie threw me under the bus!

As you can see, I was your normal childhood compulsive liar – pretending to be and do lots of things I only wished I could be or do. But that’s just part of growing up. Like most people, I got over it when I began to realize the power and necessity of growing confidently into one’s true self.

People depend on us to be who we really are, to be the real deal. The value of our work and contributions to the world hinges on this. The depth and endurance of our relationships rest on such transparency and authenticity. Even our ability to love ourselves is rooted in honest self-awareness.

 

1Jn4_15
So how do we deepen in that kind of truthfulness, especially in this culture that so abuses it? John tells us that love is the way:

Beloved, we love God because
God first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,”
but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Friends, we live in a culture drowning in lies. Some have come to believe that unless one lies, one cannot compete. Businesses lie to sell untested or worthless commodities. Manufacturers veil the danger of their drugs, tobacco and vaping products. Politicians lie to condemn their opponents. Leaders lie to justify war. And criminals lie to excuse their crimes.

tangled netJPG

These liars may never even consider that their tangled lives are related to the scriptures. But every one of these deceptions is fueled by a failure in reverence and love for our sisters and brothers, by a failure in courage to be responsible for one another.

We lie because we think our truth is not enough. John tells us differently. Our awesome Truth is that we all are God’s children!

Our reading closes today with these words, so critical to the rebuilding of a truthful world:

In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Let’s pray for one another’s courage, dear Friends, to be and demand the Truth that Love requires.

Music: True Heart – Oak Ridge Boys

Often, I use a popular song for prayer, allowing its words to speak to God for me.
You might like to try it with this song. No doubt intended as a human love song, it can be a divine love song too – and it’s sure a good wake up prayer😉

Afraid? Who Me?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have a few references to fear — and to its perfect antidote, Love.

1Jn4 fear

John continues to instruct us in prose that stuns us with its sacred clarity:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.


In our Gospel, we meet some pretty fearful disciples. First of all, they are still spinning from the avalanche of loaves and fishes gushing forth from the perfect faith of Jesus. 

Jesus_walks_on_Water,_St_Botolph_without_Aldersgate
Jesus walks on Water, St Botolph without Aldersgate: Photo by Andrew R. Abbott Andrewrabbott [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Today, they are rowing a storm-tossed lake in the pitch of night. Enough to strike fear into even a crusty fisherman’s heart! But wait a minute! As if all these scary things are not enough, here comes a ghost across the threatening waves!

And how about Jesus in this passage? A little nonchalant, or what? 

About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,

they thought it was a ghost and cried out.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the waves.

Jesus, full of Love, and perfected in the Creator’s Presence, has no need or place for fear. He lives in the accomplished wholeness of God where, as Julian of Norwich says, “All manner of things shall be well.”


cocoon

I never really thought much about fearfulness in my life. I exist in great security. But when I read this line from Paula D’Arcy, I saw that there are all kinds of unrecognized fears inhibiting us:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,

if I were not dominated by fear?

Fears. What are some of yours that, like me, you may not have recognized:

  • Fear of failure, loss, death, dependence.
  • Fear of looking foolish, getting old, being sick, losing my comfort zone.
  • Fear of meaninglessness, unusefulness, of being held responsible?

Could we go on and on?

But what about the biggest fear – of being unloved, and maybe even unlovable.

Dear God, as we pray today,
help us to grow into your amazing love for us.
Help us there to cast out our fears
and to live in your perfect freedom and joy.

Music:  All Shall Be Well – Michelle Sherliza

Be the “Possible” That God Imagines!

Tuesday after Epiphany

January 7, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings empower us for unbounded possibility!

John’s letter tells us why:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God,
but that God loved us…

God has loved me!

There is nothing more I need to be whole — if I will only believe it, absorb it, and live from it!

There is nothing more I need to become a force for love in the world.


Mk6_4 loaves

Jesus demonstrates this powerful love in our Gospel reading.

It has been a long day of teaching, and the disciples see that the crowds are hungry and tired. They know the solution, which Jesus has apparently overlooked : let them go home and get something to eat!

But Jesus very simply responds, “Feed them yourselves!

He invites his disciples to realize the power released within them by God’s supernatural love. He challenges them to envision a way to respond to their challenges other than the tired, limited solutions we anxiously depend on.

Jesus calls them to imagine the world as God imagines it – transformed by an Unconditional Love which refuses the measurements of fear, control, and self- preservation.


loaves and fishes

Can you just visualize the scene that afternoon as the five loaves and two fish miraculously multiplied over the crowd of five thousand!

Can you see the expressions on the disciples’ faces as they allowed themselves to believe that, because of God’s Love, they were the vehicle of miracles!

We are too! There is no good we are incapable of if we will just believe in the power of Divine Love within us. Our miracles may not be as dramatic as the multiplication of the loaves. But they will be no less important.

They will be the miracles God planned for us to work in God’s name – for our circumstances, our challenges. They will be the way we carry God’s unimaginable grace to the tired hungers of our times.

Picture yourself starting out today, carrying that basket with just two fish and five loaves into the famished world. Imagine what happens when you open your heart to God grasping the basket with you!

Music: Imagine – John Lennon – I love this song in which Lennon imagines a world free of all the human constructs by which we limit it – a world as God might see it.

The Righteous Kingdom

Monday After Epiphany

January 6, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John instructs us in the meaning of true righteousness. 

We human beings can get very confused about this term. Some have used it to imply that observable religious practice makes one superior, holier than others. We can all visualize the “righteous” preacher pouring fire and brimstone over the lowly congregation. The beautiful term “righteousness” has been disserved by this image.

In his first letter, John describes the root of true righteousness, that state of graceful balance within a Gospel-powered life:

Beloved:
We receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the early stages of his public ministry. He is slowly teaching the people how different his “power” and “righteousness” will be from the worldly power they might have expected.

Mt4_23 kingdom

Jesus’s “Kingdom” stands in stark contrast to the Roman Empire and the principles of domination, aggression and disregard for life which fed it. Jesus’s is a Kingdom built by uniting our differences, especially those of the poor and sick, into the oneness of God’s love.

Jesus went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,

curing every disease and illness among the people.
His fame spread to all of Syria,

and they brought to him
all who were sick with various diseases

and racked with pain,
those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics,
and he cured them.


Praying with these readings today brings me face to face “the elephant in the room”. In this Lavish Mercy community, we hope together for the growth of the Gospel Kingdom in a global community. But now that yet unrealized community stands at the brink of war because nations have so badly blurred the lines between the righteous Gospel Kingdom and the self-righteous Empire.

RSM statement
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas join with people across the world in condemning the Trump Administration’s drone strike assassination of Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, outside of Baghdad. Far from fostering peace in a troubled part of the world, this reckless decision will only escalate violence and increase suffering for millions of people. We call on our government to reject violence and militarism and instead to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. –Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

It is difficult to look at the “elephant” without getting political, but I am trying hard to refrain from political opinion here. What I can say with confidence is that we as faith-impelled people cannot stay silent in the face of the world’s current situation. When our voice is heard – at the ballot box and through direct advocacy – may it reflect the fundamental Gospel imperatives for which Jesus lived and died.


These clippings from Pope Francis’s visit to Hiroshima helped me in my prayer today:

“How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of catastrophic war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?”

“May the abyss of pain endured here in Hiroshima remind us of boundaries that must never be crossed. A true peace can only be an unarmed peace.”

“In a single plea to God and to all men and women of good will, on behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us together cry out: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering,” 

“Indeed, if we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands.”

Pope Francis quoted Gaudium et Spes, which states that “peace is not merely the absence of war … but must be built of ceaselessly.” He added that the lessons of history show that peace is the fruit of justice, development, solidarity, care for our common home, and promotion of the common good.

“I am convinced that peace is no more than an empty word unless it is founded on truth, built up in justice, animated and perfected by charity, and attained in freedom.”

Music: Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber