Christ, Our Cornerstone

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

November 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate a rare type of feast day – one that marks the dedication of a church building.  For many, that seems a little odd. We are accustomed to celebrating Mary, Joseph and other saints and feasts of Our Lord.

Here’s the thing: we are not actually celebrating a building.  We are celebrating what the building represents – the Body of Christ, the Church, made of living stones – us.

But sometimes it helps to have visible symbols of the things we venerate and celebrate. That’s why we have medals, rosary beads and candles – so that we can SEE something as we try to conceptualize a spiritual reality.

john lateran

St. John Lateran is the Pope’s parish church. Since he is the Bishop of the whole People of God, his physical church has come to symbolize the universal Body of Christ, the world Church.

Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus Address, on November 9, 2008 said this:

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24).
But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God.
Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.

st j lateran

As we pray today, we might want to consider the gift of faith on which our own lives are built – a faith whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. In our second reading, Paul says this:

Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building…..
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

And in our Gospel, Jesus speaks of his own body as a temple which, though apparently destroyed by his enemies, will be raised up in three days.

By our Baptism, that same spiritual temple lives in us and in all the community of faith. That same power of Resurrection is alive in us! So in a very real sense, what we celebrate today is ourselves – the Living Church – raised up and visible as a sign of God’s Life in the world.

Happy Feast Day, Church!

Music: Cornerstone – Hillsong

Pray for Priests

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, Bishop

November 4, 2019

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Romans11_33 depth of wisdom

Today, in Mercy, we remember the life of a good priest, Charles Borromeo who refused the perks of status and wealth in preference for the poor. Praying with him today, we may include all the good priests who have kindled our faith throughout the years.

I unexpectedly encountered one such priest yesterday after a hiatus of nearly forty years. He had come to McAuley Convent, our health and retirement facility, to visit his longtime assistant. She is now a stately 96 years old, but living with the compromises of advanced years. Himself in his late eighties, he walked very slowly down the corridor toward me, and I paused to see if I could help.

Greeting him, I recognized something about his eyes, but could not really place him. He paused, catching some labored breaths, and studied my eyes. “Give me a minute,” he said, quickly following it with “Nathaniel”, my old religious name.

He had the advantage over me, so I just honestly requested, “Help me out with your name.” He simply replied, “Maginnis”. As a wealth of memory and understanding opened in my mind, I smiled and said, “How good to see you again, Maginnis, after all these years.”

You see, this was: Robert Patrick Maginnis, an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church who served as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1996 to 2010. (Wikipedia)

But who I saw, as soon as he said his name, was a humble, good man who had served God’s people with generosity and grace. I hadn’t seen him face to face since he was simply “Father”- when I was green with youth and he was just a shade or two deeper! 

But I knew, the way a local Church knows its shepherds, that he had never abandoned his gentle simplicity for the exalted trappings of episcopacy. He had remained a man who fulfilled Pope Francis’s best hopes for priests:

“Always have before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to seek and save what was lost…

Conscious of having been chosen among men and elected in their favor to attend to the things of God, exercise in gladness and sincere charity the priestly work of Christ, solely intent on pleasing God and not yourselves or human beings, other interests.”
(Pope Francis in a homily before the ordination of 16 priests during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica April 22, 2018)

And here “Maginnis” was last Saturday, having endured his own challenges with aging, making the effort necessary to visit his faithful friend. As I left them in the warm light by her window, my spirit was confirmed by a grace neither one of them realized they were continuing to give, so natural was their witness to Christian love and service.

Let’s pray for all our priests today. These troubled times have been so hard on good priests like this beloved bishop. May they be strengthened and confirmed in their desire to serve Christ through serving his People. May the aged among them realize how grateful we are for the gift they have given.

Music: Who Has Known – John Foley, SJ ( Lyrics below)

O the depth of the riches of God;
and the breadth of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

For who has known the mind of God?
To God be glory forever.

A virgin will carry a child and give birth,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

For who has known the mind of God?
To God be glory forever.

The people in darkness have seen a great light; f
or a child has been born; his dominion is wide.

For who has known the mind of God?
To God be glory forever.

Called To Be Saints

Solemnity of All Saints

November 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate all those canonized and uncanonized sisters and brothers who lived their lives in Christ with gusto and fidelity.

saints

The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III by (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”. (Wikipedia)

I’ve personally known many of these saints, whether I fully recognized their sanctity or not. They have lived in my family, school, neighborhood, parish, ministries, and workplaces. Some were clothed as nuns and some as beggars. Some taught me by words and some by silence. I knew some by name, others by grace. Now they have all joined the eternal family watching over us and cheering for us.

There they have formed communion with my more recognized and favorite holy friends like Mary, Joseph, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Kateri Tekawitha, Anna the Prophet, John XXIII, and of course Catherine McAuley.

What a wonderful day to know that these beloveds of God are our sisters and brothers, who pray with and for us that we may one day rejoice with them in eternal light.

Who are the saints that speak especially to your heart? Take time to have a nice conversation with them on this glorious feastday!

Music:  All Saints Day – featuring “Lifesong” by Casting Crowns (lyrics below)

Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
Now joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you

Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day

Lord led my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you
Lord I give my life
A living sacrifice
To reach a world in need
To be your hands and feet

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you

Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day

Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you
Hallelujah, Hallelujah let my lifesong sing to you
Hallelujah, Hallelujah let my lifesong sing to you

Hallelujah,…
Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day

Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day
Lord led my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you

Praying with Saints

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

October 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude. Not much is really known about either of these men. One tradition suggests that after the Ascension, they went together to carry the Gospel to Persia where they were eventually martyred.

simon_Jude

Since we have so few facts, many legends and interpretations have grown up around these two men. Probably the strongest and most familiar of these is of St. Jude as the patron of hopeless cases.

There are probably very few of us who haven’t asked at least one favor from St. Jude in our lifetimes. This probability begs the question of why and how do we pray with the saints.

Our tradition holds that we exist in the Communion of Saints with all of God’s creatures, and that we inspire and support one another by the sharing of our lives. This sharing is not limited by time, nor is it constricted by death.

When we pray with the saints, we draw on their faithful witness to inspire, motivate and sustain us in our lives.

Today, we might pray within the spirit of these two great Christians whose witness, though historically muted, transcends time. May they inspire in us the passion and joy to speak Christ in our lives.

Music: Apostles’ Creed – sung here by Rebecca Gorzynska, a beautiful and talented artist (Latin and English text below.)

 

latin creed

 

apos creed

Grace and Peace

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin about a month of readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will also continue with Luke’s Gospel all the way up to Advent.

To help me in praying with Romans, I am using a book by Scott W. Hahn, Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology at Steubenville University. In his introduction, Hahn says this:

Hahn_Romans

Today’s reading offered me these elements to ponder and pray with:

  • Paul calls himself a “slave” of Jesus Christ
  • He invokes his call as an Apostle
  • He sets himself in the company of the prophets
  • He appeals to Jews who revere David
  • but proclaims Christ, through his Resurrection, as Messiah beyond human lineage
  • He proclaims his mission to the Gentiles
  • to bring about “the obedience of faith”

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve read or heard this passage maybe fifty times in my lifetime, and it has meant little or nothing to me. At best, it has sounded like a formal introduction such as those we hear from government “whereas” type decrees.

But I took Dr. Hahn’s advice, studying the passage, and reading it slowly and prayerfully. Here’s what I received:

  • Paul’s Apostolic call, to which he willingly enslaved his heart, was to preach the Good News of our redemption in Jesus Christ – to preach it to Jews, Romans, Gentiles, and all people.
  • It is an awesomely incredible message that can be received only through the gift of faith.
  • It is a message rooted in the scripture stories we love, and where we look to find a reflection of our own stories.
  • Learning from these realities will help us come to a faith which expresses itself in action and gives glory to God in our own time.

Luke gives us one such story today. Jesus reminds the crowd of two familiar passages – that of Jonah and the “Queen of the South” (the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10). He indicates that the people in these stories believed without a sign.

Jesus tells the people gathered around him  to learn from this. The crowd demands a sign, but Jesus says the sign is right in front of you – it is only your open heart that is lacking.

In his introduction, Paul prays for such open hearts in the Romans:

Rm1_grace_peace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

By that same grace, may we receive faith’s blessing as well.

Music: Grace and Peace – Fernando Ortega

Eyes on the Prize

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Malachi (chronologically last of the Twelve minor prophets) lays it all out.  He is writing for the Jewish community after the Restoration of the Second Temple. It is a community whose faith and practice have become “institutionalized”, having lost much of the raw vigor and intention of its first charismatic restorers.

Mal3_20 sun_justice

I think we can all understand how that happens. It’s hard to maintain the passion of an early vision over the long years of its testing. This Jewish community has been visibly successful. They are home from captivity. The Temple has been rebuilt. Life is good. What’s the problem? So God tells them:

You have defied me in word, says the LORD,
yet you ask, “What have we spoken against you?”
You have said, “It is vain to serve God,
and what do we profit by keeping his command,
And going about in penitential dress
in awe of the LORD of hosts?

The community has forgotten the heart of their life! In the imposing shadow of their Temple achievement, they have lost the memory of the God it honors.


Rabbi Gunther W. Plaut says this:
Malachi describes a priesthood that is forgetful of its duties, a Temple that is underfunded because the people have lost interest in it, and a society in which Jewish men divorce their Jewish wives to marry out of the faith. The Prophet lived probably sometime after the year 500, perhaps as late as 450 (B.C.E.). It was an era of spiritual disillusionment, for the glorious age that earlier prophets had foreseen had not materialized. 

Click here to to link to the Rabbi’s blog. Good stuff.


It’s not a big leap to see ourselves foreshadowed in Malachi’s prophecy. We live on a devastated planet and a war-pocked world. We agonize over corrupted political, economic and justice systems. We worship in a scarred and struggling Church. We live in a culture that has forgotten. Indeed, in our materialistic world, it appears that:

… evildoers prosper,
and even tempt God with impunity.

But Malachi tells the faithful people that the day of their reconciliation is coming. He tells them to remain steadfast, to keep their eyes on the prize.

… you shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts,
my own special possession, on the day I arise.
And I will have compassion on you,
as a parent has compassion on a devoted child.

Our Gospel echoes this promise. If we but ask, God will give us the strength to remain merciful, faithful, and just – not to forget the heart of our life, not to be blind to it in our suffering brothers and sisters.

Music: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize– a folk song, a genre that carries a lot in common with prophetic poetry. This ballad became influential during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It is based on the traditional song, “Gospel Plow” also known as “Hold On” or “Keep Your Hand on the Plow”.

This version is written by Pete Seeger sung by The Boss, Bruce Springsteen 

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they was lost
Dungeon shook and the chains come off
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom’s name is mighty sweet
And soon we’re gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Only chain that a man can stand
Is that chain o’ hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I’m gonna board that big greyhound
Carry the love from town to town
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Now only thing I did was wrong
Stayin’ in the wilderness too long
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The only thing we did was right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, hold on

(Jamming interlude)

Ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there are paved with gold
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Let’s Start from Scratch

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

October 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading brought to mind my “IKEA” days . We had just moved into our new convent, a real “fixer-upper”. Our meager furnishings consisted of some cast-offs from a closing convent and a few of IKEA’s befuddling “put-togethers”.

Ikea

I wasn’t bad at put-togethers, but neither was I perfect. (Neither were any of you who ever tried it. Don’t lie to me!) Sometimes my imperfection rose to the level that I just unassembled whatever sorry mess I had and started all over again – from scratch.

That’s what Nehemiah does in our first reading. He lived in Judean-Persia and had a good job with the Persian King who favored him. When Nehemiah realized how bad things were back in Jerusalem, he felt terrible. He asked the king to sponsor him on a rebuilding trip, and the amiable king agreed.

So Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and reordered things. Greed, dissension, and selfishness had infected the People. The elite rich were feeding off the labors of the poor. Any attempts at restoring the heart of the community were languishing under these infections.

Nehemiah, a faith-filled man, was also a great administrator. He designed a spiritual government with a stringent communitarian financial system. This allowed the Israelites to return to their Abrahamic character as a People who cared for one another rather than profited off one another.

Nehemiah accomplished great things for God’s People because of his clarity, simplicity and faith. That faith moved him to acknowledge that his success occurred because…

Neh2_8 favor hand

Today, on this feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, perhaps we will feel God’s loving touch in our lives through their ever-present direction. Perhaps there are dissonant systems within or around us that we are being called to name and reorder in God’s good grace as well.

Music:  By the Rivers of Babylon by Boney M. 
The song is based on today’s Responsorial Psalm 136. Even though the tone is jazzy, the song captures Israel’s longing for life as God intended it to be. “Babylon” = corrupted culture. We have our own longings for a return to a shared public life which honors God and nourishes the whole of Creation.

Boney M. is a Europe-Caribbean vocal group created by German record producer Frank Farian. Originally based in West Germany, the four original members of the group’s official line-up were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Marie Williams, from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell, a performing-artist from Aruba.

All That Is Withered

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

September 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus share a similar situation.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome. Visited by Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae, Paul seizes the chance to write to these Christians whom he has never seen in person. Paul tells the Colossians that his singular intention is to preach the truth of the Gospel so that they, and all the world, may be transformed in Christ.

to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

That “mystery” is the nature of God as Love, only fleetingly accessible before its full revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Luke6_10 withered hand

Jesus too, in today’s Gospel, is in a sort of prison. The prison consists of the entrenched resistance of people like the Pharisees. They are so entangled in the deceitful and self- serving interpretation of Law that they are blind to the revelation before them. They wait to pounce on Jesus if, contrary to the laws of the Sabbath, he heals a man’s withered hand.

Jesus tries logic in today’s account:

Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Unable to resist the logic, the Pharisees retreat to anger. They begin to plot the removal of this Truth they cannot counter. The saddest part of these resistances is that they estrange the resisters from their own good, from their own freedom, from their own salvation.

In our world, we see so many places closed off to the Mystery of Love.  We see people imprisoning themselves in their own resistance and hate while they plot to build barriers against others. We see it in our geo-political world, in our Church, in our workplaces, in ourselves.

It takes courage to recognize and turn from such self-destructive fixations. We must be alert and brave to cooperate with our own transformation in grace.

This is why Paul writes of …

the great struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

This is why God continues to offer grace in the gift of Jesus Christ, healing all that is “withered” in us when we lift it up in faith.

Music: God Will Make a Way – Dan Moen

Our Laboring Mother

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, September  3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul again affirms the faith and prudence of the Thessalonians:

Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters,
you have no need for anything to be written to you.
For you yourselves know very well
that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.

He paints a dire picture of those “times and seasons”, likening them to the onset of labor pains. But like a mother’s labor, these pains ultimately yield life:

For God did not destine us for wrath,
but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So Christ, our Laboring Mother, delivers us – even through seasons of suffering and evil – to a new day. And we – we are the midwives to one another’s salvation:

Therefore, encourage one another
and build one another up,
as indeed you do.

This honest encouragement is so essential for us in our faith communities because, without it, the mystery of suffering and evil overwhelm us. 

Ps27_13

It is both awesome and fearsome to truly encounter Mystery. In its presence, we are rudderless: we cannot explain, control, or humanly rationalize it. Mystery can only be comprehended by greater Mystery. Suffering can only be plumbed by the greater Mystery of Love.

And we know Love’s Name: Jesus by Roc O’Connor (Lyrics below)

Refrain:

Jesus, Jesus
Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord.

1. In Him we live, we move and have our being;
In Him the Christ, In Him the King!
Jesus the Lord.

2. Though Son, He did not cling to Godliness,
But emptied Himself, became a slave!
Jesus the Lord.

3. He lived obediently His Father’s will
Accepting His death, death on a cross!
Jesus the Lord.

You’re Invited – (and so is everyone else)

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings share the common theme of humility, instructing us that the virtue is essential to our salvation.

Lk14_11 humbled

Humility, of course, gets a bad rap in our dominating, “me” culture. We tend to think of humiliation, servitude, inelegance rather than the actual root of the word: humus -“of the earth”.

I was fascinated last week by a small fracas arising from the unconsidered remarks of one of our Phillies baseball players. The team has been running hot and cold – with a little bit too much cold for some fans. The famous Philly “boos” have been flying. Frustrated with these, outfielder Sean Rodriguez referred to the disgruntled fans as “entitled”. 

angry

Uh oh! They didn’t like that. We prefer to think of ourselves as “deserving “, right?

Humility is that virtue which helps us realize that we are not “entitled” or “deserving” of anything over and above other human beings. It roots us in the respect for each other that refuses to rank the worth of other human beings. 

The social leverage that comes from wealth, power, and influence can beguile us. We become lost in a maze of stereotypes, rankings and prejudices which are the foundation of social injustice.

 

We hear among ourselves justifying phrases for our entitlement like:

  • well, I earned what I have
  • at least I paid for it
  • “they” need to work if they want to have …(food, healthcare, housing…)
  • it’s their own fault for … (dropping out of school, taking drugs, ….)
  • that’s just the way it is in “those” countries. The people are …(lazy, stupid, violent …)
  • “they” don’t need what I need. “They” are used to being … (poor, disabled, sick …)

And probably the most dangerous of all the phrases:

  • it’s not my problem
  • I’m not the one exiling, bombing, blocking, trafficking, enslaving “them”

Today’s readings enjoin us: it is my problem. My attitude, choices, vote, conversation, and lifestyle matter at the banquet of life we are all meant to share.

My intention to humbly join and rejoice with all Creation, to take a seat beside and never above my sister and brother – this is my “entitlement” to the one banquet that matters.

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.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Music:  A Place at the Table – Lori True and Shirley Elena Murray