Soften That Stony Heart!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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psalm 95 copy

Today, in Mercy, our first reading quotes at length from Psalm 95, and the message is reprised in the Responsorial Psalm.

Harden not your hearts.

We all know what it feels like to harden our hearts. We do it out of anger, fear, exhaustion, frustration and so many other reasons. We feel like the only way to protect ourselves and our space is –yes– to build a wall! Put up those bricks made out of our stony faces, curt words, numbing silence, distancing indifference – our hardened hearts.

Today’s reading tells us that is never God’s way.

The way to freedom, peace, self-respect, joy and fullness of life is always found in relationship – in building bridges.

Jesus builds a bridge in today’s Gospel by connecting with the leper. This leper has been walled off from society by illness and disfigurement. Most people’s hearts are hardened against him, but Jesus is “moved by pity” at the leper’s isolation.

The leper, too, has built a bridge by reaching through his own hardened heart in faith and trust. Surely all the years of mistreatment had made him wary of trust, had immobilized him in self-protection. But he allows himself a courageous plea to Jesus, and he is heard.

It is no easy challenge to soften a hardened heart. Some of our walls are very high, some of our bricks very heavy. But, one by one, we can choose opportunities for forgiveness, kindness, understanding, patience, encouragement, listening and companionship – even, and especially, toward those estranged in any way from us or from themselves. And even toward ourselves when we have become hardened to our own beauty and goodness.

To begin might take only a smile, a prayer, a phone call, a small kindness, an invitation, a moment of ordinary conversation…. just these might start to crumble a wall, to soften a heart.

Music: Soften My Heart, Lord (and adding a second song, just because I think you’ll like it.)

 

… because love is of God

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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1 john_ gods love

Today, in Mercy, we are presented with a most powerful reading from John:

Beloved, let us love one another
because love is of God.

But many of us miss the power of this invitation. We read it like a valentine, seeing shining hearts connecting us to those we already favor. God’s love doesn’t look like that.

God’s love is like this:

  • standing at the border looking, in between barbed wire, for a chance to welcome
  • keeping vigil at a stranger’s hospital bedside
  • pouring prayer and courageous guidance over an addicted child
  • vigilantly engaging government for just and humane policy 
  • spending time, interest and care with those who cannot command it of us

God’s love is always near the poor, the sick, those caught in the unraveling edges of a greedy, selfish society.

We see this love in today’s Gospel. It lifts up five loaves, two fish, and spins them into nourishment for thousands. Such is the power of this awesome love.

So let us begin, in the small invitations our life will offer us today, to love like that.

Doing so, we come to more clearly know God Who loves us first and always.

Music: Where Love Is Found – Dan Schutte (Lyrics below)

Where Love is Found – Dan Schutte

Where charity and love are found,
there will the face of God be seen.
The love of Christ will bind our hearts;
as one body we will be.

Love is patient, love is kind,
never boastful, never proud.
Love is hopeful in its waiting,
ever trusting in Gods light.

Love is steadfast to the end,
ever ready to endure.
Love is gracious in its kindness,
ever ready to forgive.

Though I speak with angels tongue,
I am nothing more than sound.
I am but a cymbal clanging
if I sing without God’s love.

There are three things that will last:
there is faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of all blessings
is the faithfulness of love.

The Holy Family

December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family

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Today, in Mercy, our prayer is turned to the Holy Family, that unique configuration of love which nurtured the developing life of Jesus. Can you imagine how tenderly the Father shaped this triad, this nesting place of love for God’s own Word?

We look to the Holy Family so that we might be strengthened in the virtues that will help us build our own families: sacrificial love, reverence, courage, unfailing support, committed presence, shared faith, gentle honesty, unconditional acceptance.

“Family” is the primordial place where we learn who we are. The lessons it teaches us about ourselves – for better or worse — remain with us forever. 

Not everyone is blessed by their family. Family can ground us in confidence or undermine us with self-doubt. It can free us from fear or cripple us with reservation. It can release either possibility or perpetual hesitation within us.

Some families are so dysfunctional that we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from them. But some, like the Holy Family, allow God’s dream to be nurtured in us and to spread to new families, both of blood and spirit.

The challenge today is to thank God for whatever type of family bore us. Lessons can be learned from both lights and shadows. Let us spend time this morning looking  at our own families with love, gratitude, forgiveness, understanding. Where there are wounds to be healed, let us face them. Where there are belated thanks to be offered, let us give them. Where there are negligence and oversights to confess, let us use them as bridges to a new devotion.

For some, it may seem too late to heal or bless our family. Time may have swallowed some of our possibilities. But it is never too late to deepen relationships through prayer, both for and to our ancestors.

May this feast strengthen us for the families who need us today.

Music: God Bless My Family ~ Anne Hampton Calloway

GOD BLESS MY FAMILY
Words and music – By Ann Hampton Callaway

1. It’s Christmas time
Outside the snow is falling
Like a million stars
Like a million dreams
All dressed up in white
I’m writing Christmas cards
A joy that’s tinged with sadness
As I think of friends
Some are here and some are gone
But our love goes on and on
Like the snow tonight

CHORUS
And oh, what a family
My life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky
We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ry day
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved
Shine out in me
God bless my family

2. As years go by
The carols we sang as children
Gather memories
What was just a song
Now feels like a pray’r
Welcoming us home
To fathers, mothers
Sisters, brothers ev’rywhere
Some we’ve lost and some we’ve found
As love circles us around
In the songs we share

CHORUS

So fly, angels of my heart
We’ll never be apart
Tonight I say a pray’r
For loved ones ev’rywhere

CHORUS/CODA

You’re a part of my family
That life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky

We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ryday
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved

Shine out in me
God bless my family
You’ll always live in me
God bless my family

Bread and Roses

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Readings: Click here for readings

Eliz_bread

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  Elizabeth, a princess in Hungary, was married at the age of fourteen to Louis IV of Thuringia, a German state. Both rulers were kind and saintly. 

Elizabeth used her considerable royal resources to help the poor and hungry. She met them outside the walls of the palace, even building a small hospital there to care for the sick among them. 

But there was some controversy within the castle, questioning her charity as a depletion of the governmental treasures. 

Eliz windowJPG

Once, on a charitable journey, Elizabeth met her husband traveling with a band of such questioners. She carried baskets of bread to the poor, covered with her traveling cloaks. They demanded she reveal her cargo at which the bread is said to have been miraculously transformed into roses.

(St Elizabeth of Hungary with her crown and apron full of flowers. Blois château, France. One of a series of female saints in the Oratory (once the queen’s private chapel). Designed by Michel Dumas in 1858, the windows were painted by Claude Lavergne in 1859.)

As indicated by Pope Benedict XVI, Elizabeth is part of that long line of holy ones, whose relationship with Jesus moved them to justice and mercy for all people.

Praying with Elizabeth today, asking for insight on how to be loving and charitable in today’s world, one might consider this:

  • What would it be like to greet our border refugees with baskets of bread rather than barbed wire?
  • What would it be like if we built rose hedges rather than walls?

The caravan of refugees seeking asylum at our border mirrors many similar marchers throughout history, searching for a measure of equality and a livable life.

The music for today, aptly titled “Bread and Roses”, originated in the early 1900s, as women marched for improved working conditions and the right to vote.

Music: Bread and Roses

But God Does Notice

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we learn lessons from widows – those whose place in biblical times was uncertain and frightening. Without a husband, a woman experienced diminished standing in the legal, financial and political life of the community. 

Mk12_44 miteJPG

She was often dependent on charity, and was deemed fortunate to capture a bit of good will from those in better circumstances. 

There are several examples of widows being blessed by miracles, because they were among those most in need of them.

In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, we meet two widows displaying amazing charity and character strength.  The widow of Zarephath steadfastly prepares for death because she has nothing left to live on. When Elijah asks to share in her last few cornmeal cakes, she does not hesitate to feed him.

In our Gospel, it is significant that, just across the road from the well-stocked treasury, a nearly penniless widow gives her last coins to the poor.

In Elijah’s account, we learn the outcome of the widow’s generosity.  She reaps an abundant reward in perpetual flour and oil to sustain her.

We never learn what happens to Jesus’s widow. We are left to imagine that, in some way, her selflessness is rewarded.

It is so hard to give it all to God, especially if we feel we have little left for ourselves.  It is hard to give our love when we feel empty-hearted.  It is hard to give care when we feel unappreciated.  It is hard to assist others when we ourselves are exhausted. It is hard to do good if no one, not even God, seems to notice.

But God does notice.  Like Jesus on that long-ago afternoon, God is watching as we empty our coffers in service and care for the poor, sick, troubled and lost.

What we have to give may be small — a single corn cake or two little coins. It is the act of giving it that is large — and will make our hearts large by the choice.

One this date in 1841, Catherine McAuley, the first Sister of Mercy, died. She had given everything she had — a fortune actually.. and a life — for God’s poor and needy.  Let’s call on her to inspire us to greater charity and mercy. God knows we need to do something for this aching world!

Music:: Matthew West – Do Something

God Knows Our Hearts

Saturday, November 10, 2018

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Lk 16_45 knows heart

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of Pope St. Leo the Great.  He was a remarkable 5th century leader who consolidated essential elements of theology and administration for the yet emerging Church.

Our first reading today reflects Paul doing the same thing in the very early days of Christianity.  His ministry throughout the Mediterranean basin guided early Christians as the Church planted its first harvest.

Paul lets us know that this ministry of leadership is not easy – that he relies on the good will of the communities he serves:

You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity.
Not that I say this because of need,
for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself,
to be self-sufficient.

Paul seems to refer specifically to material help,  but certainly he values even more the spiritual and moral loyalty of his followers.

In our Gospel, Jesus offers us a sermonette that can, at first, seem a little confusing. His tone, as he speaks to a group of Pharisees, is somewhat ironic. But his bottomline message is this: loyalty to God, not to material things.

The thread running through all these passages?  The work of the Church needs both our spiritual and material loyalty to thrive  – whether in Paul’s time, or Christ’s, or our own.

The Pharisees pretended such loyalty, but Jesus challenged them:

You justify yourselves in the sight of others,
but God knows your hearts …

A sobering challenge against which to measure ourselves!

Music: Thank You for Giving to the Lord _ Ray Boltz

The Grace at Our Border

Monday, November 5, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110518.cfm

Today, in Mercy,  we continue our readings from Paul’s inspiring letter to the Philippians. Paul sincerely loves this community and wants them to be perfected in Christ. 

This is what Jesus wants for us too.  Today’s Gospel is just one example of Jesus showing his followers the way to holiness. He uses the opportunity of a dinner to remind those gathered that they are very fortunate. Their lives are like a banquet compared with the lives of those who are poor and burdened.

He suggests that his followers do what God would do:

When you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be
because of their inability to repay you….

Just such an opportunity to be blessed awaits us, in the USA, at our southern border. A wave of God’s beloved poor and besieged washes toward us. Will we meet them with true mercy and justice born out of Christian charity? Or will we confront them with a brutal show of power born of fear and alienation?

Lk14_14 banquet

Of course, there are legitimate concerns with such a large migration. But these concerns must be met with wisdom and prudence, not prejudice and vilification. This is not a horde of animals attacking us. These are human beings desperately seeking a better life.

Jesus thought that his table companions, gifted as they were by God, had the moral capacity to respond to his challenge. Can he expect the same of us?

Let’s hope so, because our Gospel closes with a very compelling reason:

“For you will be repaid
(one way or the other, I might add)
at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Music: God of the Poor – Graham Kendrick

Important Things

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we meet Martha and Mary. These sisters are the personification of the Benedictine motto: Ora et labora: Pray and work – the two essentials that we all struggle to balance in our lives.

Lk10_38 Martha

They, with their brother Lazarus, are dear friends of Jesus. The scriptures show us that Jesus felt comfortable at their home, and that they loved to have him stay with them.

As all of us do with our closest friends, Jesus understood the lights and shadows of their personalities – and they of his. He knew that Martha was the organizer, the one who planned and worried about the incidentals. Mary was deeply spiritual, but maybe had her head in the clouds a bit when it came to getting things done. 

Perhaps these personality differences caused some tensions between the sisters, as they might between us and our family members or close friends. Sometimes these little, unnoticed frictions can suddenly become chasms between us and those we love. 

How and why does it happen?

Jesus gives us the answer in this Gospel passage. He hears Martha’s simmering frustration. He calms her, as one might a child – “Martha, Martha…”. We can hear his gentle tone. Jesus tells her that worry and anxiety are signs that we are not spiritually free. He tells her that Mary has focused on the important thing.

This may sound repetitious, but just think about it a while:

It is so important to know what is important. 

It is so freeing to agree on what matters with those closest to us. Talking with each other in openness, respect, and unconditional love is the only path to that freedom.

Martha and Mary slipped off that path a bit in this situation. But with Jesus’ help, they righted their relationship. 

That’s the best way for us to do it too. Let Jesus show us what is most important through sharing our faith, and even our prayer, with those closest to us. Let him show us where our self-interests, need for control, fears and anxieties are blocking us from love and freedom.

It is the same way that we, like Mary, can strengthen our relationship with God. It is not sufficient for our prayer to consist of incidentals — pretty words and empty practices. 

We must sit open-hearted at the feet of Jesus and let him love us, let him change us. Even in the midst of our responsibilities and duties, we must balance “the better part”.

Music: a charming little song by Peg Angell which leaves me with same practical question I always have when reading this passage: who actually did get the dinner ready?😂

Love is …

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

       Readings: Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we encounter the often-read, less-practiced Corinthians passage on love. Could there be any word more massacred in our human language? Watch a few minutes of “Bachelorette”, or read a few Valentine’s cards, or listen to a commercial that tells you how much you’ll love some car! You’ll see what I mean.

Our souls so desperately need to learn and re-learn Paul’s definition of love.

1Cor13_loove

To open, Paul tells us that nothing we do matters if it is done without love. Does this mean we have to enjoy executing all the duties required of us? I think not. Sometimes a duty feels like a drudgery.

But Paul is speaking here to our motivation. All that we do must be done because we care for and honor ourselves and others. This lightens any sense of burden and gives us a resilience and joy even in difficulty. This is what real love looks like.

Paul goes on to name the specific characteristics of love.  If you’re like me, this section is like a checklist against which I measure myself:

  • Patient? – sometimes. 
  • Jealous, pompous, boastful, rude? – uh oh!
  • Does not seek its own interests? – (alarms now going off)

Yes, the deeper we go into this passage, the more we realize how far we are from the kind of love Paul describes.

The whole point of the spiritual journey is to continually refine our understanding and practice of love until it fits more perfectly to the pattern of Jesus Who is Love.

Let’s all pray today to “clang” a little less, and love a lot more.

Music: Love Goes On ~ Bernadette Farrell

All That Is Upon the Altar

Monday, August 27, 2018

          Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082718.cfm

we always pray for you

Today, in Mercy, on the feast of St. Monica, I think of all the good priests and religious throughout the world, whose hearts weep with victimized children, whose souls rage at the treachery of their brethren, and whose dreams of fealty with the People of God lie wounded at their feet.

In our first reading, Paul speaks to these religious and to all of us who love the Church:

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters,
as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God
regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions
and the afflictions you endure.
This is evidence of the just judgment of God,
so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God
for which you are suffering.

Let us encourage each other, servants of God and of God’s People – in this time of suffering but also of renewal – not only to remain true, but to become truer. For as Jesus says in the Gospel:

” One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”

St. Monica, who prayed incessantly for the deep conversion of your son Augustine, pray for us in our time of testing. Amen.

Music: Servant Song ~ Richard Gillard