Psalm 79: Prisoners

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

March 1, 2021


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

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


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

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

Psalm 79:11

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

And I think of James.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Pope Francis

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

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

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

Psalm 79:9

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

Psalm 34: The Reason

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

December 15, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 34.

When I read its refrain, my mind was triggered into a kind of “Jeopardy-like” exchange with God:

Answer: This is the reason God sent his Son,
and continues to redeem the world in us.

Question : What is “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”.

Psalm 34 reiterates a fundamental fact so often overshadowed by our highly secularized “Christmas unconsciousness”. The psalm refocuses us by consistently using words like this:

  • Let my soul glory in the LORD;
    the lowly will hear me and be glad.
  • When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
    and from all his distress he saved him.
  • When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
    and from all their distress he rescues them.
  • The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
    and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

Christmas is God’s response to the unrelenting cry of the poor. If we want to truly honor and celebrate Christmas, we must allow that merciful and healing response to flow through us.

How and where do I hear the cry of the poor?
How do I respond?

Poetry: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, story writer, poet and social activist. In 1982, she wrote the novel The Color Purple for which she won the National Book Award hardcover fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Did you ever understand this? 
If my spirit was poor, how could I enter heaven? 
Was I depressed? 
Understanding editing,
I see how a comma, removed or inserted
with careful plan,
can change everything.
I was reminded of this
when a poor young man
in Tunisia
desperate to live
and humiliated for trying
set himself ablaze; 
I felt uncomfortably warm
as if scalded by his shame.
I do not have to sell vegetables from a cart as he did
or live in narrow rooms too small for spacious thought; 
and, at this late date,
I do not worry that someone will
remove every single opportunity
for me to thrive.
Still, I am connected to, inseparable from,
this young man.
Blessed are the poor, in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus. (Commas restored) .
Jesus was as usual talking about solidarity: about how we join with others
and, in spirit, feel the world, and suffering, the same as them.
This is the kingdom of owning the other as self, the self as other; 
that transforms grief into
peace and delight.
I, and you, might enter the heaven
of right here
through this door.
In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,
we might remain poor 

Music: The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor – John Foley, SJ

Psalm 146: Praise God with Your Life!

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

November 12, 2020

from A Book of Psalms by Stephen Mitchell

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, a call to praise God. The call is supported by the particular verses of today’s reading. We should praise God, the psalmist says, because God:

  • secures justice for the oppressed
  • gives food to the hungry
  • sets captives free
  • gives sight to the blind
  • raises up the humble
  • loves the just
  • protects strangers
  • sustains fatherless and the widow
  • thwarts the way of the wicked

Reading this elaborate hymn of praise makes one think the Lord was pretty busy in ancient Israel. Were all these good things happening for otherwise unfortunate people?

For me, this psalm, rather than being a retrospective list of God’s generous accomplishments, is a call to realize the way God wants things to be. Within that call is another deeper call – to become an agent for God’s Will for good. In other words, God acts through us to make God’s mercy real in the world through the ways the psalm describes.


The loving will of God is always turning the world toward good. But sometimes our lack of faith inhibits our insight into that holy turning. Sometimes we see only the surface of life and get caught in its tangles.

Prayer is the ointment that releases our inner vision to find God in all things, either calling us to foster good or to thwart evil, as our psalm describes. As we cooperate with this call, God’s everlasting creative action opens before us and we see the world, and our role in it, with new eyes.

Spoken Psalm::

Psalm 46: Building Hope

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Monday, November 9, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 46, a song of confidence, celebration, and joy.

The waters of the river gladden the city of God, 
the holy dwelling of the Most High!


A city gladdened! We know what it looks like. Just this week, we’ve seen it right here in my city, beloved Philadelphia – people dancing in the streets with those who are no longer strangers.

Perhaps people danced in the Roman plaza in 324 AD when Pope Sylvester dedicated the church. Not sure. But it is the power of a civic act, to give people a “place” wherein to claim renewed identity. ( The word “civic” comes from a Latin phrase describing an award given for a noble public deed.)


The dedication of St. John Lateran was such an act. The glorious building shouted out in its massive stones, “God lives among us, the Foundation of our lives.”

Or, as our psalmist puts it:

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore, we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.


Our faith, and the morality it sustains, live deep under the surface of our lives, like the unseen roots of a magnificent tree. The power of those hidden roots is attested to by generations of leaves and branches unfurling in the cycle of life.

Those acts of faith, be they in the construction of sacred buildings or the washing of a beggar’s feet, shout out our conviction that, “God lives among us, the Foundation of our lives.” 

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.


I began thinking about this reflection last night after President-Elect Biden’s acceptance speech. To me, the world felt lighter than it had in four years. It had begun to breathe again. Hope was returning to its perch in our hearts. This after the terrible fear that it might have died or gotten lost in a long migration into darkness.



I think it is the greatest of sins to kill hope,
especially for those who have only hope to cling to.
Because, indeed, as Joe Biden assured us last night,
when we share hope, we can do anything
in the God who strengthens us.


Hope is its own great “basilica”, built from the stones of mutual charity, reverence, and trust which God fires in our hearts:

The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things God has wrought on earth.

As we pray Psalm 42 today, let us ask for the continuing grace to exercise hope for and with one another.

Poetry: Hope Restored by Craig A. Roberts, a New Zealand poet. I thought this was a beautiful poem-prayer. His book of poetry can be found here.

Discouraging events, 
entangling thoughts,
melancholic tsunamis form
in quick time, devastating my soul,
destroying the joyful breath of life.
Surges of futility, rejection
and self pity breach the dykes.
I churn and tumble in dark sucking swells.

I call to Him who loves me in abundance.
Swiftly He comes,
plucks me out of dark waters.
He is here now.
He whispers of promises never broken,
reminds me of my calling,
my inward journey,
my vocation.

He reassures my heart,
He restores my poise.
He sends me to wander by the waters edge, 
immersed in His creative wonder
Christ breathes afresh into my created being.

O what joy. Bathed in His steadfast love
I trust all to Christ,
false illusions destroyed,
hope restored,
possibilities unfold,
His kingdom comes.

Music: On Eagle’s Wings – sung by Josh Groban 

Psalm 112: Don’t Worry; Be Happy

Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 7, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 112, placed between two interestingly complementary readings.

Psalm 112 is basically a guide to what constitutes a happy life. The psalm tells us this:

Blessed and happy  is the one:

  • who fears the LORD,
  • who greatly delights in God’s commands.
  • who is gracious and lends
  • who conducts affairs with justice
  • who gives to the poor

The psalmist tells us that this kind of humble, grateful generosity is its own reward.

Such a person

  • shall have a posterity which is mighty upon the earth
  • shall never be moved;
  • shall be in everlasting remembrance
  • shall be steadfast; shall not fear.
  • shall be remembered for enduring generosity
  • shall have a “horn” exalted in glory. ( “horn” = strength and power)

If we translate the biblical language here, what is Psalm 112 telling us.

This. True happiness comes from:

  • loving God
  • living within the law of love
  • being just, merciful, and generous
  • taking care of the vulnerable

Such happiness looks like this:

  • others can look up to you, especially the young
  • you stay faithful to goodness and righteousness 
  • your faithfulness nourishes those who come after you
  • you are strong and courageous 
  • your generosity inspires generosity in others
  • you are respected and loved for your goodness, even long after you’re gone

These are the kind of people Paul is depending on in our first reading to keep his ministry afloat. It sounds like he didn’t find too many of them, except finally in his Philippian community! Actually, under his eloquence, I think Paul sounds a little ticked off!😉

Jesus was looking for this kind of people too, but he certainly didn’t find them in the Pharisees of today’s Gospel. And Jesus let’s them have it in a dose of their own medicine. 


What does Jesus, who “knows our hearts”, find when he looks at us? Let’s pray Psalm 112 today asking for the grace to grow in true, generous, faith so we can look back at Jesus with deep peace and HAPPINESS!


Poem: The Work of Happiness by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.


Music: Psalm 112 – 4Him

We only get so many times
To ride around this sun
And so many times to see a full moon shine
When day is done if anything's worth doing
Then it's worth doing right

So I looked for wisdom on how to
Best live this brief life I have found
Blessed is he who fears the Lord
Who finds delight in His commands
Blessed is he who fears the Lord

Who finds delight in His commands
I guess that we all gamble on some
Truth to guide our days
And we trust that it will bring us joy and meaning
On the way

I've got friends who feel betrayed by all the things
They once believed
So with everything I've seen I've gotta say
It seems to me

Blessed is he who fears the Lord
Who finds delight in His commands
Blessed is he who fears the Lord
Who finds delight in His commands
Please hear this from a humble heart

But I feel like Exhibit A
In the evidence that God is good to those
Who live by faith, that's why I believe

Blessed is he who fears the Lord
Who finds delight in His commands
Blessed is he who fears the Lord
Who finds delight in His commands
He will not be shaken
He will have no fear
He will then remember

Psalm 22: A Reverent Polity

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 22, and it’s perfect for our prayer today.

I know God has no partisan interest. God’s interest is for the wholeness and blessing of God’s Creation. God’s interest is for justice and mercy for the poor, sick and suffering. God’s interest is for peace in hearts, families and nations.

All the ends of the earth
shall remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of the nations
shall bow down before God.

For dominion is the LORD’s,
Who rules the nations.
To God alone shall bow down
all who sleep in the earth.

To God alone my soul shall live;
my descendants shall serve God.
Let the coming generation be told of the LORD
that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born
the justice God has shown.

Psalm 22

Still, let’s put it right out there. This is no ordinary Tuesday. Personally, I have been longing – no, agonizing – for this day since November 8, 2016. What about you?

I know there are many perspectives among my readers. Democrats and Republicans. Citizens of countries other than the USA. Still, I think all of us share some common hopes for today’s election because we care about all of God’s beloved Creation.

Here are some of my hopes.

I pray for, and believe that we must demand, a President and Congress who:

  • respect, reverence and legislate for life in all its stages, colors, genders, ethnicities, and religious and political affiliations.
  • do the hard work of building bridges, not walls, throughout the world
  • respect and care about those who are poor and marginalized
  • model American compassionate leadership rather than American isolationist primacy
  • generate unity and tolerance, not fear, division and hatred
  • choose others over self, truth over manipulation, leadership over greed
  • are thoughtful, brave statesmen and stateswomen not bullies and whiners

As we pray this psalm today, may we realize that to find these virtues in our leaders, we must first practice them ourselves. In the long run, we get what we deserve. Let’s humbly pray to live in a manner that propagates and deserves selfless moral leadership.

Poetry: LET US PRAY – Sister Joan Chittister 

Give us, O God,
leaders whose hearts are large enough
to match the breadth of our own souls
and give us souls strong enough
to follow leaders of vision and wisdom.
In seeking a leader, let us seek
more than development of ourselves—
though development we hope for,
more than security for our own land—
though security we need,
more than satisfaction for our wants—
though many things we desire.

Give us the hearts to choose the leader
who will work with other leaders
to bring safety
to the whole world.

Give us leaders
who lead this nation to virtue
without seeking to impose
our kind of virtue
on the virtue of others.

Give us a government
that provides for the advancement
of this country
without taking resources from others
to achieve it.

Give us insight enough ourselves
to choose as leaders those who can tell
strength from power,
growth from greed,
leadership from dominancy,
and real greatness from the trappings of grandiosity.

We trust you, Great God,
to open our hearts to learn from those
to whom you speak in different tongues
and to respect the life and words
of those to whom you entrusted
the good of other parts of this globe.

We beg you, Great God,
give us the vision as a people
to know where global leadership truly lies
to pursue it diligently,
to require it to protect human rights
for everyone everywhere.

We ask these things, Great God,
with minds open to your eternal care.

Joan Chittister, OSB

Music: America- rendered in true American Jazz by the inimitable Ray Charles

Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, their country loved
And mercy more than life
America, America may God thy gold refine
'Til all success be nobleness
And every gain divined

And you know when I was in school
We used to sing it something like this, listen here

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

But now wait a minute, I'm talking about
America, sweet America
You know, God done shed his grace on thee
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

You know, I wish I had somebody to help me sing this
(America, America, God shed his grace on thee)
America, I love you America, you see
My God he done shed his grace on thee
And you oughta love him for it
'Cause he, he, he, he crowned thy good
He told me he would, with brotherhood
(From sea to shining Sea)
Oh Lord, oh Lord, I thank you Lord
(Shining sea)

Psalm 18: I Love You, Lord

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 25, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 18

I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.

Psalm 18: 2-3

The psalm is almost a mirror reflection of 2 Samuel 22, and has been interpreted as a song that David sang throughout his life to praise God’s goodness to him.


Today the psalm connects several readings, which together give us:

  • a command 
  • and a hint about how to fulfill that command. 

Bottom line, our readings tell us this:

  • First, Love God
  • And, second, here’s where to find the God you desire to love.

If we trust the hint, and act on the command,
we will be able to sing – like David –
throughout our lives. 

"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

Here is a beautiful poetic interpretation of Psalm 18:

I open my heart to you, O God
  for you are my strength, my fortress, 
  the rock on whom I build my life.
I have been lost in my fears and my angers
   caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious.
I cried to you in my anguish.
You have brought me to an open space.
   You saved me because you took delight in me.

I try to be good, to be just, to be generous
   to walk in your ways.
I fail, but you are my lamp.
  You make my darkness bright
With your help, I continue to scale the walls
  and break down the barriers that fragment me.
I would be whole, and happy, and wise
  and know your love
Always.
~ Christine Robinson

Music: Overcome – Psalm 18 by James Block

Psalm 67: Bless Us All!

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 16, 2020

Today, in Mercy, we read the story of the Canaanite woman whom Jesus first meets with a sarcastic banter. The banter however serves to expose some of the alienating prejudices of Jesus’s time which he then dissolves in a sweeping act of mercy and inclusion. His actions signify a new culture of divine justice offered to all people. The reading challenges us to confront our own prejudices and any limitations we place on who belongs to the Kingdom of God.

from this Sunday’s Reflection – 2017

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 67, a call to God for universal blessing on all Creation. Written to invoke a benediction on the land’s harvest, the Psalm blossoms into a generous prayer for the whole world to bask in God’s abundance.

May the nations be glad and rejoice;
for you judge the peoples with fairness,
you guide the nations upon the earth.

What if we prayed like that for all our brothers and sisters worldwide! What if we acted toward them with a justice that would make their abundance possible as well as our own! This is the Gospel mandate Jesus entrusted to us.

Psalm 67 shows the maturing of a nation from its own legitimate self-interests into its responsibility within all Creation.


In the USA, as our pre-election political awareness heightens, let’s learn from Psalm 67. Let’s broadly educate ourselves to the fundamental moral issues underlying various partisan platforms. 

For a religious person, voting is hard. There are profound moral issues on all sides of the question. A single issue approach does not work. An adamant stance on a single issue is the easy but inadequate approach. 


Even Jesus, in today’s Gospel, can be moved to a new way of thinking. The outcast Canaanite woman prevails on Jesus to broaden his kingdom. He opens his heart to another way of bringing mercy to all those longing for it.


Voting is a moral act. How we choose demonstrates the God we believe in.


May the peoples praise you, God;
may ALL the peoples praise you!


Poetry: Selah by Honoreé Fannane Jeffers

“The past few weeks were very hopeful for me, as an African-American. I saw images of young Black people out in the streets protesting, to make this country a better place. As an older person who stayed inside while these young folks put their bodies on the line, I wanted to celebrate them. I wrote this poem as a spiritual exaltation of Black faith, that our hoped-for change for our country is coming.”

Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers

Selah
after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”


The Lord clings to my hands
             after a night of shouting. 
                           The Lord stands on my roof 
             & sleeps in my bed. 
Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel— 
             cooks my food in abundance, 
                           though I was once foolish 
             & wished for an emptied stomach. 
The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat 
             & plaits my hair with sanity. 
                           Gives me air, 
             music from unremembered fever. 
This air
                            oh that i may give air to my people 
                            oh interruption of murder 
                                         the welcome Selah
The Lord is a green, Tubman escape. 
             A street buzzing with concern, 
                           minds discarding answers. 
             Black feet on a centuries-long journey.
The Lord is the dead one scratching my face, 
             pinching me in dreams. 
                           The screaming of the little girl that I was, 
             the rocking of the little girl that I was— 
the sweet hush of her healing. 
             Her syllables 
                           skipping on homesick pink. 
             I pray to my God of confused love, 
a toe touching blood 
             & swimming through Moses-water. 
                           A cloth & wise rocking. 
             An eventual Passover, 
outlined skeletons will sing 
             this day of air 
                           for my people—
                                         oh the roar of God 
                                         oh our prophesied walking

Music: Charles Ives – Psalm 67

Psalm 119: Sweet Word

Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin

August 11, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this feast of the beautiful St. Clare, we pray with Psalm 119. How perfect is the response phrase from our psalm!

How sweet to my taste is your promise!


Last night, we watched an old Colombo movie in which one of the characters was a vintner who had developed a peerless taste for fine wine. He could identify every detail – year, grape, region, price. He was the consummate connoisseur.

As I prayed this morning’s psalm, it struck me that through the intentional practice of prayer, we become connoisseurs of the spirit. We are able to discern ever more delicately those realities which carry grace to our souls.

How sweet to my palate are your promises,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!


As we deepen in spirit, we purify our taste from all that is not peace, goodness, justice, mercy, and charity. We let go of things that distract our souls from Love.

The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.


By our choices for what is truly precious, we build a legacy of sacred joy which sustains us throughout our lives:

Your decrees are my inheritance forever;
the joy of my heart they are.


from National Shine, Detroit

Poetry: from Clare of Assisi 

We become what we love 
and who we love shapes what we become. 
If we love things, we become a thing. 
If we love nothing, we become nothing. 
Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, 
rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, 
an image disclosed through transformation. 
This means we are to become vessels
of God's compassionate love for others.

Music: Mirror of Eternity (Clare of Assisi) – sung by John Michael Talbot

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself
      through contemplation!
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him
~ Clare of Assisi

Psalm 74: Listen to me!

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 27, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 74 which complements Psalm 79 in the intensity of its lament. It too reflects the devastation of Israel at the destruction of the Temple and, with it, a whole way of life.

Praying these psalms doesn’t make for a light and happy morning! There is no dawning sunrise or birdsong woven through these verses. To tell the truth, I’d be inclined to avoid 47 if I could.

To deepen the umbra, our first reading comes from the Book of Lamentations, five anguished poems of wrenching bereavement.


But what these doleful songs remind me of this morning is that there is profound misery in the world, even if – thank God – I am not experiencing it personally. There are people who need my prayers, my awareness of their suffering, my attention, and my action for their easement. I am reminded that even if I am filled with contentment, these suffering people are irrevocably connected to me.

Psalm 74 reminds me that God needs instruments to heal the misery of the world. I am called – as you are – to be one of them. In small or large ways, in global or very personal efforts, we are the means by which God answers this plea:

Look to your covenant, Lord,
for the hiding places in the land and the plains are full of violence.
May the humble not retire in confusion;
may the afflicted and the poor praise your name.

In this verse, the psalmist asks God to look at his world’s suffering, believing that if God only sees, God will heal.

The psalm calls us to look too…

  • to not be impervious to the pain right before us nor at a distance from us
  • to hear the cry under appearances
  • to become a safe “hiding place” for those fleeing violence in its many forms – from bullying to genocide
  • to be Mercy in the world

Poetry: The poem today is Quaking Conversation by Lenelle Moïse. It looks at the world’s darkness through the tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti. The poem is a modern Psalm 74, asking the reader to “sit down” and listen to its pain.

Quaking Conversation

i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.
how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.

i want to talk about disasters.
how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.
talk centuries
of political corruption
so commonplace
it's lukewarm, tap.

talk january 1, 1804
and how it shed life.
talk 1937
and how it bled death.
talk 1964.  1986.  1991.  2004.  2008.
how history is the word
that makes today
uneven, possible.
talk new orleans,
palestine, sri lanka,
the bronx and other points
or connection.
talk resilience and miracles.

how haitian elders sing in time
to their grumbling bellies
and stubborn hearts.
how after weeks under the rubble,
a baby is pulled out,
awake, dehydrated, adorable, telling
stories with old-soul eyes.
how many more are still
buried, breathing, praying and waiting?
intact despite the veil of fear and dust
coating their bruised faces?

i want to talk about our irreversible dead.
the artists, the activists, the spiritual leaders,
the family members, the friends, the merchants
the outcasts, the cons.
all of them, my newest ancestors,
all of them, hovering now,
watching our collective response,
keeping score, making bets.

i want to talk about money.
how one man's recession might be
another man's unachievable reality.
how unfair that is.
how i see a haitian woman’s face
every time i look down at a hot meal,
slip into my bed, take a sip of water,
show mercy to a mirror.
how if my parents had made different
decisions three decades ago,
it could have been my arm
sticking out of a mass grave

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.
how haitians sometimes greet each other
with the two words “honor”
and “respect.”
how we all should follow suit.
try every time you hear the word “victim,”
you think “honor.”
try every time you hear the tag “john doe,”
you shout “respect!”
because my people have names.
because my people have nerve.
because my people are
your people in disguise

i want to talk about haiti.
i always talk about haiti.
my mouth quaking with her love,
complexity, honor and respect.
come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.

Musi: God of the Poor – Graham Kendrick