Wisdom, please ….

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 4, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we continue to move into the final segments of Luke’s Gospel which we have been reading on Sundays throughout this liturgical year.

Today, the Church links three readings which, at first glance, might seem unrelated.

  • Our first reading from Wisdom reminds us of God’s infinite wisdom, incomprehensible to our human minds.
  • Paul, in his letter to Philemon, begs for the loving inclusion of Onesimus, an enslaved person, into the Colossian community.
  • In our Gospel, Jesus makes this harsh pronouncement:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.


How might we interpret these disparate passages to find a message of wholeness for our prayer?

Wis9_13 gods mind

Let’s start with Jesus. In no uncertain terms, he challenges his disciples to move out of their small worlds into God’s big world. That Godly world is not defined by family, nor by any condition other than our common Creaturehood in God … not by:

word gram

Jesus says the sacred community is defined only by shared and irrevocable commitment to the Gospel of love and mercy.


Paul knows and loves Onesimus, the slave, as a brother in this community. In his letter, Paul encourages Philemon to do the same.


Sometimes as human beings, filled with all kinds of insecurities, we tend to build enclaves that make us feel safe. We like to be with “our kind”. We invent borders to filter out those whose differences we don’t understand. We allow fear to grow with that lack of understanding. Within the enclosure of our self-protectionism, we eventually forget that we are all one, equal, precious, beautiful and beloved by God.

Such toxic attitudes are the soil for slavery, war, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy, human trafficking, destructive nationalism, and all the other sacrileges committed by humans against the human family.

Wisdom reminds us that only God can open
the tight circle of our fears, judgments and isolations
– only God whose infinite love encompasses all.
Jesus tells us that we find that love
only by lifting up the cross and following him.

Wisdom tells us to put it in God’s hands, and to respond to God’s challenge in the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Who can know your way of thinking, O God
… except you give us wisdom

 and send your Holy Spirit from on high
 thus stretching the hearts of those on earth

Today I pray, may God do this for me,
and for all our tight, convoluted
and troubled world.


Poetic Prayer of Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen (c. 1098 – 17 September 1179), was a German Benedictine abbess and polymath active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and as a medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages. She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most recorded in modern history. She has been considered by scholars to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.

I am Wisdom. 
Mine is the blast of the resounding Word 
through which all creation came to be, 
and I quickened all things with my breath 
so that not one of them is mortal in its kind; 
for I am Life.

Indeed I am Life, whole and undivided 
-- not hewn from any stone, 
or budded from branches, 
or rooted in virile strength; 
but all that lives has its root in Me.
 
For Wisdom is the root 
whose blossom is the resounding Word....
I flame above the beauty of the fields 
to signify the earth 
-- the matter from which humanity was made.

I shine in the waters to indicate the soul, 
for, as water suffuses the whole earth, 
the soul pervades the whole body. 

I burn in the sun and the moon to denote Wisdom, 
and the stars are the innumerable words of Wisdom.

Music: Who Has Known (an Advent hymn, but perfect I think for today’s readings)

Alleluia: Magnificat

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 15, 2022

Today’s Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/081522.cfm

Alleluia, alleluia.
Mary is taken up to heaven;
a chorus of angels exults.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we honor Mary on the Feast which celebrates her assumption, “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

The Catholic Church’s teaching on the Assumption of Mary was promulgated in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in an Apostolic Constitution entitled “MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS (the Most Bountiful God). Having experienced the horrors of a world war, and aware of the ensuing evils of the Cold War, Pope Pius XII looked to Mary for healing for himself and the whole world:

We, who have placed our pontificate under the special patronage of the most holy Virgin, to whom we have had recourse so often in times of grave trouble, we who have consecrated the entire human race to her Immaculate Heart in public ceremonies, and who have time and time again experienced her powerful protection, are confident that this solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.

MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS (42)

Maybe, like me, the fact of the Assumption doesn’t matter a whole lot to you. I love Mary whether she was “assumed” or not. But in its time, the declaration of this dogma was important in order to turn the world’s focus toward Mary, a figure of goodness, courage, love, mercy and justice – virtues desperately necessary for healing in the aftermath of war.

Our own world could surely benefit from a prayerful, loving contemplation of Mary.

Mary was a woman so open to God that she enfleshed God’s Spirit in the person of Jesus. She was a vessel of love – for God and for all Creation. By living her ordinary life with extraordinary love and holy courage, she became blessed.

Mary, the Blessed Mother of all of us, can teach us to love, reverence, strengthen and support one another when we pray with her as we meet her in the Gospel.

Elizabeth said:

“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for God has looked on my simplicity with favor .
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is God’s Name.
In every generation, God has mercy
on those with holy reverence and awe.

Poetry: The Blessed Virgin compared to the air we breathe…
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

( I know this is a really long poem, and Hopkins can seem a little convoluted. But the images in this poem are spectacular … even if you just read a bit at a time. It’s so worth it.)

Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.
If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.
Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light.   Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.
So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Music: Magnificat – Mina

Magnificat anima mea Magnificat
Dominum et exsultavit spiritus meus
In Deo salutari meo
Magnificat, Magnificat
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae
Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes
Magnificat anima mea Magnificat
Dominum et exsultavit spiritus meus
In Deo salutari meo
Magnificat, Magnificat
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est
Et sanctum nomen ejus
Magnificat, Magnificat
Dominum et exsultavit spiritus meus
In Deo
Magnificat, Magnificat

Lyrics translation

My soul magnifies the
The lord and my spirit rejoices
In God my saviour
Magnificat, Magnificat
For he has looked on his servant in her lowliness
Behold this blessed shall call me blessed all generations
The Magnificat my soul Magnifies the
The lord and my spirit rejoices
In God my saviour
Magnificat, Magnificat
Because I made a big who is able
And holy is his name
Magnificat, Magnificat
The lord and my spirit rejoices
In God
Magnificat, Magnificat

Alleluia: Blessed

Memorial of Saint Clare
August 11, 2022

Today’s Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/0811-memorial-saintclare.cfm

Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit;
the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we’ll pray with the readings for St. Clare of Assisi. Clare, like Francis, was a luminous prophet of the Christian era.

Clare of Assisi (born Chiara Offreduccio, 16 July 1194 – 11 August 1253) was an Italian saint and one of the first followers of Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman.

Wikipedia

By the life Clare lived, she gave testimony to a sacred reality which continues to enrich the life of the Church.

As I learned about Clare, I discovered a woman who was original and innovative in her own right. She was profoundly mystical and charismatic, unyielding and radical in her commitment to poverty; a model of servant leadership; determined despite years of ailing health; courageous in the face of danger. In short, she was a saint…with or without Francis.

Bret Thoman, O.F.S., – an American Catholic lay writer, secular third order Franciscan. His latest book is St. Clare of Assisi: Light from the Cloister

Today before I wrote this reflection, our own Mercy Sister Clare was buried. As our sisters are carried to the cemetery, the death knell slowly tolls out over the whole surrounding neighborhood. Some may hear it as a solemn reminder as did the poet John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Instead, I choose to hear the hallowed sound as a salute to one who understood and chose what is most important in life:

Happy the soul to whom it is given to attain this life with Christ, 
to cleave with all one’s heart to him
whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever,
whose love inflames our love,
the contemplation of whom is our refreshment,
whose graciousness is our delight,
whose gentleness fills us to overflowing,
whose remembrance makes us glow with happiness,
whose fragrance revives the dead,
the glorious vision of whom will be the happiness
of all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.
For he is the brightness of eternal glory,
the splendor of eternal light,
the mirror without spot.
Clare of Assisi

Our Gospel today reinforces the lesson that a life given fully to Christ and the Gospel, as was both these precious Clare’s, is returned to the giver a hundredfold:

Peter said to Jesus,
“We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.”


Music: Let the Love That Dwells in Your Hearts

Let the love that dwells in your hearts shine forth in your deeds. (St. Clare)

Alleluia: Pray with Peter

Memorial of Saint John Vianney, Priest
August 4, 2022

Today’s Readings

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/080422.cfm

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, I am going to invite you to pray with the star of our Gospel, Peter.

Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

And I will be honest with about why I offer that invitation. I got mixed up on the date (which I often do) and wrote a reflection for Friday instead of Thursday. It was well into the day when I discovered the error and didn’t want to be too late for my Australian and Pacific Rim friends. So I have gone back to an earlier reflection on dear St. Peter.

I hope it is helpful to your prayer. And you will just have to wait to see what I really wrote as I prayed today with Friday’s “advance readings” !

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_012
Peter Denies Christ – Rembrandt

Simon Peter – John Poch


There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand.
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the heart of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid

–Prov. 30:18, 19

                              I
Contagious as a yawn, denial poured
over me like a soft fall fog, a girl
on a carnation strewn parade float, waving
at everyone and no one, boring and bored
There actually was a robed commotion parading.
I turned and turned away and turned. A swirl

of wind pulled back my hood, a fire of coal
brightened my face, and those around me whispered:
You’re one of them, aren’t you? You smell like fish.
And wine, someone else joked. That’s brutal. That’s cold,
I said, and then they knew me by my speech.
They let me stay and we told jokes like fisher-
men and houseboys. We gossiped till the cock crowed,
his head a small volcano raised to mock stone.

                              II
Who could believe a woman’s word, perfumed
in death? I did. I ran and was outrun
before I reached the empty tomb. I stepped
inside an empty shining shell of a room,
sans pearl. I walked back home alone and wept
again. At dinner. His face shone like the sun.

I went out into the night. I was a sailor
and my father’s nets were calling. It was high tide,
I brought the others. Nothing, the emptiness
of business, the hypnotic waves of failure.
But a voice from shore, a familiar fire, and the nets
were full. I wouldn’t be outswum, denied
this time. The coal-fire before me, the netted fish
behind. I’m carried where I will not wish.

Music:  Peter’s Song – Jacob Moon

Alleluia: Blessed Mary

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2022

Today’s Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/0716-memorial-our-lady-mount-carmel.cfm

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we have the option of celebrating the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in place of the 15th Saturday in Ordinary Time. And since it is Saturday, traditionally Mary’s day, I have chosen to pray with those readings.

Our Alleluia Verse captures in a short sentence exactly why Mary is the perfect model for a Christian life: she heard and acted on God’s word.

Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are those
who hear the word of God
and observe it.


Many of you will have been introduced to Our Lady of Mt Carmel as young children. Perhaps you, as I did, received a brown scapular when you made your First Communion. My second grade teacher convinced me that, by wearing that scapular, I had become a very dedicated Christian and friend of Jesus and the Blessed Mother.

According to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, the Brown Scapular is “an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer.

Wikipedia

My little brown scapular is long gone, set aside perhaps when my maturing fashions were inhibited by it in seventh of eighth grade. But the devotion to Mary which it initiated has never left me. It has grown, changed and deepened over these seventy years, but its roots are still entwined with that sepia necklace Sister Grace Loretta once placed in my little hand.

When I entered the Sisters of Mercy in the early 60s, I was so delighted that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was honored as one of our patron saints. We did it up big back then by wearing our church cloaks and special habit sleeves to Mass on her feastday.


As I pray the Magnificat in today’s Responsorial Psalm, I reflect that Mary has become not only a trusted friend and model for my spiritual life. Her profound faith and poverty of spirit challenge and inspire my deeper understanding of the Gospel in today’s world.

The Mary I love today is a very different woman from the one I idealized in my youth. This change in perception has come about through reflection on the works of modern theologians such as those referred to below. Some of these books are out of print and/or expensive but reviews and excerpts are available online and can be helpful to one’s prayerful study.

For today’s prayer, let us open our hearts to the deep inspiration of Mary of Nazareth. I have referred readers to this excellent article by Elizabeth Johnson — and I do so again — as a great place to start:

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2000/06/17/mary-nazareth-friend-god-and-prophet


Elizabeth Johnson: Truly Our Sister


Rosemary Radford Reuther: Mary, The Feminine Face of the Church


Ivone Gebara and Maria Clara Bingemer: Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor


Leonard Boff: The Maternal Face of God

Music: Tota Pulchra Es, Maria –

Mary, Mother of the Church

June 6, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.


web3-the-annunciation-by-henry-ossawa-tanner
Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

It is a day to honor Mary for giving life to Jesus
for the sake of all humanity.

It is day to beg her intercession
for a world so desperately in need of
Christ’s continued revelation.

door of Mercy

Mary is the Door through which
Heaven visited earth
to heal it from sinful fragmentation.


 

Ave

May Mary continue to carry her beautiful grace
to broken hearts and even
to the twisted souls who broke them. 

Through her, may we all find healing.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, intercede for all Creation
that we may embrace the Love your Son taught us.


Poetry: How Do I See Her – by Judith Evans

How do I see her?
Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven, Virgin Mary:
these are names that people have given her.
But who is she?

When I see the mother of our Savior,
I see the courage of women:

She said “yes” and stepped into the never-before,
the great unknown,
unfairly judged by neighbors,
nearly losing her betrothed at a time when “unmarried” and “pregnant” meant banishment or death by stoning.

I see the strength of women:

A pregnant teenage girl,
she rode 100 miles on a donkey,
sleeping on the ground,
surrounded by Roman oppression.

I see the wisdom of women:

It was time.
She knew that her son was ready before he knew it.
“Do as he tells you,” she told the servants at the wedding. And then there was wine,
and the greatest ministry of all time began.

I see the anguish of women:

She visualized her son’s destiny as she nursed him,
cleaned him,
baked bread for him.
Her heart nearly stopped when she couldn’t find him,
and then rejoiced when he turned up
discussing theology with scholars:
a prelude to a future loss,
that horrific afternoon at the foot of the cross.

I see women celebrating:

Beyond all human-sized hope,
her son conquered death.
She had dared to believe in hope,
and when hope’s light seemed extinguished,
she hoped one more time.

Who is she?
She is each and every one of us.
Whole, messy, wounded, blessed.

Bewildered by the mystery of it all,
yet willing to try one more time
to comprehend God’s purpose.

Learning to receive God’s mercy and grace,
realizing that we are seen and loved
beyond our understanding.


Music: Ave Maria – Michael Hoppé

Feast of the Ascension

May 29, 2022

le mans
Le Mans Cathedral is a Catholic Church situated in Le Mans, France. Its construction dates from the 6th through the 14th century, and it features many French Gothic elements. The cathedral, which combines a Romanesque nave and a High Gothic choir is notable for its rich collection of stained glass and the spectacular bifurcating flying buttresses at its eastern end. The Ascension window, towards the western end of the south aisle of the nave, has been dated to 1120, making it one of the oldest extant stained glass windows in France.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we stand with the disciples, straining for a last look at Jesus as He ascends into heaven. Their hearts are stretched with both joy and pain at all that is happening to them. They long for the Holy Spirit to come to them even as they mourn the physical departure of Christ.

As mentioned in Thursday’s reflection, many years ago I was blessed to stand in the Chapel of the Ascension, a small shrine on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Tradition holds this to be the site of Jesus’ Ascension. Inside is a well-worn rock with a slight indentation. Many venerate this as the last footprint of Christ on earth.

Ascension rock
Whether or not this devotion is valid is unimportant. In the hush of my early morning visit to this shrine, the Holy Spirit embraced me, overwhelming me with an awareness of how the disciples felt that day in the absence of Jesus.


Many reading this may feel a similar absence, a need, or a longing for God. Perhaps by touching that sense of absence, that indentation in the rock of our hearts, we may invite and welcome the Holy Spirit to fill our need.


Poetry: Ascension Day by Christina Georgina Rossetti

“When Christ went up to Heaven the Apostles stayed”
Gazing at Heaven with souls and wills on fire,
Their hearts on flight along the track He made,
Winged by desire.
Their silence spake: “Lord, why not follow Thee?
Home is not home without Thy Blessed Face,
Life is not life. Remember, Lord, and see,
Look back, embrace.
“Earth is one desert waste of banishment,
Life is one long-drawn anguish of decay.
Where Thou wert wont to go we also went:
Why not today?”
Nevertheless a cloud cut off their gaze:
They tarry to build up Jerusalem,
Watching for Him, while thro' the appointed days
He watches them.
They do His Will, and doing it rejoice,
Patiently glad to spend and to be spent:
Still He speaks to them, still they hear His Voice
And are content.
For as a cloud received Him from their sight,
So with a cloud will He return ere long:
Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night,
Strenuous and strong.
They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven
Forgive, they cry God's mighty word aloud:
Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven—
“Is that His cloud?”

Music: Abide with Me – Matt Maher

My Dad’s Ascension Thursday Gift

( I’m going a little off the grid this morning because we get a double chance to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension with its recurrence this Sunday. So I will leave my scriptural reflection until then.)


For me, the celebration of Ascension will always be on a Thursday – and it will always belong especially to my Dad. Here’s why.

I was already a young nun in the early 1970s when I went home to visit my parents one beautiful May afternoon.  We had a day off from school to commemorate the Feast of the Ascension. 

That’s me in pink before nunhood

My Dad was sitting on the front steps contemplating a patch of pachysandra on our small front lawn, or so I thought.  After initial hugs and greetings, Dad said, “I’m worried about something.” Worry bells starting ringing deep in my brain. Where was Mom!?!?

“Joe Brodski just walked by a little while ago”, Dad continued. I paused a moment to consider this seeming non-sequitor.

Now Joe Brodski never walked anywhere.  He was our next-door neighbor whose only apparent activity was tumbling out of his house and into his car each morning to go to work. So I began to think that maybe the worry was about Joe Brodski, and not my Mom who had not yet appeared on the front steps.

“So what’s the worry, Dad?”, I asked. 

“Well, I asked Joe why he was out walking and he told me he was coming back from church. Ren, I completely forgot it was Thursday – the Ascension – and now all the Masses are over!”


Dad was really distressed by this oversight and it took a little theologizing on my part to allay his concern. Still, his reaction was so sincere that it has stayed with me for nearly fifty years. I never fully appreciated my Dad’s deep spirituality – nor the embedded culture of faith in our home – until I had grown up and moved away. 


Many years after that Thursday, I read David Foster Wallace’s famous graduation talk at Kenyan University. He opens the talk like this:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Wallace goes on to explain, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”


We didn’t talk a lot about faith in my family, we just practiced it. And that practice was like fish swimming in water. We didn’t even realize that faith was the medium soaking our whole lives.

When Dad realized that he had forgotten to go to Mass that day, he felt like the proverbial “fish out of water”. The deep abiding faithfulness of his life had suffered a little fracture.


In Jerusalem, there is an ancient stone on a hillside. People venerate it as the site from which Jesus ascended into heaven. There is a deep indentation in the stone which is believed to be the last footprint of Christ on the earth as He lifted toward heaven. Whether it actually is the site isn’t important. What matters is that the life of Jesus has left an everlasting impression on our hearts and souls – a well of grace which continues to feed our spirits.

Stone as it is today.
Outline of foot

My Dad’s unassuming holiness has left the same kind of impression on me. It is a touch point which I visit many times during the year, but especially on Ascension Thursday.

I tell the story today because this Feast might be a good time for all of us to consider the “water” we swim in – that culture of faith which nourishes our life – and the life of our family and loved ones.

You may want to bless the many sources that have inspired and fed your faith over your lifetime – perhaps in your family, and perhaps in others relationships. Doing so can be a recurring source of grace even if the “inspirer” has, like Jesus and like my Dad, made their way back to heaven.

And we all might want to consider who depends on us for the nurturing water of their faith!


Music: My Father’s Faith – Janice Kapp Perry

A father’s faith can bless his little children
And help them rise above life’s daily storms.
A father works each day to keep his dear ones
Ever protected, safe and warm.

My father’s praise can send my spirit soaring
And help me see the good I may achieve.
My father’s trust can fill my soul with courage
And help my doubting heart believe.

My father’s tears can somehow say, “I love you”
When words fall silent in his tender heart.
Through daily acts of service and of caring
His deepest feelings he imparts.

My father’s prayers can call down heaven’s blessings
And keep his children walking in the light.
His constant strength is steady as a lighthouse
That brings me safely through the night.

My father’s arms can offer consolation
When I, in sorrow, turn my heart toward home.
His loving voice resounds within my being
To help me know I’m not alone.

My father’s eyes can see past faults and failings
And still imagine all I may become.
And when I fall he’s there to walk beside me
To tell me I can overcome.

My father’s love will shine through generations –
A gentle force that guides me through the years.
My father’s faith will be my inspiration
And make my path to heaven clear.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 23, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Paul ventures for the first time into the area which is now modern Europe. He settles for a while in Philippi, the city which gives its name to my favorite epistle.

Pauls journeys

One morning, Paul, Silas and Timothy went down by the river to pray. There they met Lydia, one of the most influential yet mysterious women of the New Testament.

Lydia

Today’s verses are the only time she is mentioned in the scriptures, and there is no historical documentation about her. Yet, by her support and hospitality, she is likely responsible for the establishment of the Church in Europe and is considered its first convert.


Despite the parcity of information about Lydia, Richard Ascough was able to write a book about her: Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess

excerpt

Lydia, like many of our foremothers in faith, is hidden in the shadows of a patriarchal history. Sunlight briefly falls on Lydia in this engaging reading from Acts today.

I like to pray with this reading by imagining myself as one of Lydia’s companions, listening to her conversation with Paul, imagining her life as it unfolds into Christian leadership.

As we pray with Lydia today, let’s ask God to lead the Church to a clearer and more committed use of women’s gifts in Church life. Even Pope John Paul II made some small attempts in this direction:

“In this vast domain of service, the Church’s two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the ‘genius of woman’; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.” 
John Paul II – “Letter to Women”

But our Church and its women need more than what has been. Let’s ask for women to be welcomed out of the shadows of ecclesial life into an appropriate equity in leadership ministry.


Poetry: Purple – by Kwame Dawes who is a Ghanaian poet, actor, editor, critic, musician, and former Louis Frye Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of South Carolina. He is now Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and editor-in-chief at Prairie Schooner magazine.

I found his beautiful poem while searching for something on the color purple (in honor of Lydia)


Walking, I drew my hand over the lumpy
bloom of a spray of purple; I stripped away
my fingers, stained purple; put it to my nose,
the minty honey, a perfume so aggressively
pleasant—I gave it to you to smell,
my daughter, and you pulled away as if
I was giving you a palm full of wasps,
deceptions: “Smell the way the air
changes because of purple and green.”
This is the promise I make to you:
I will never give you a fist full of wasps,
just the surprise of purple and the scent of rain.

Music: Patterns of Sun and Shade – Kathryn Kaye

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 22, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings definitely convey the sense of a young Church growing in its self-understanding.

The early Church leaders, most of whom are Jews, grapple with the question of whether new Gentile followers must first be circumcised in order to be baptized.

Over twenty centuries later, the answer seems obvious. But the question nagging the disciples shows us how they experienced their Christianity as emerging from Judaism. They had no concept of the call to Christianity coming in any other way.

It seems it was a huge shift for some of them to realize that God is not Jewish, that God is the God of all peoples – just as some of us today have trouble understanding that God is not Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, male, white, born again or any other human limitation we attach to the Divine.

Rev21_2 Jerusalem

Our second reading reveals how John dealt with navigating this shift. Still cemented in his Jewish symbols, he sees “Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven from God. But it was a new Jerusalem – one without the central symbol of Judaism, the Temple:

I saw no temple in the city
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.

For John, the New Creation in Christ included, but exceeded the Jewish narrative.

In our Gospel, Jesus prepares his disciples for life without his physical presence. They, too, need to learn to let go. He encourages them to open their hearts to even greater graces:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

Jesus is reminding his disciples, and us, that the graces and learnings of the New Creation are infinite. If we can learn when to let go of our old practices, our material symbols, our impregnable sureties, the Holy Spirit will astound us, and re-shape our understanding of God, just as She did for Mary, Peter, Paul, John and all the many enlightened saints through the ages.

As Pentecost approaches, let us pray for such Enlightenment in ourselves and especially in our Church. For the world seems to grow ever more resistant to the Holy Spirit Whose Gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe of God.

Let us pray for a New Jerusalem where all are one in God.


Poetry: The Props Assist the House – Emily Dickinson

Dickinson’s poem can be interpreted in many ways, but for me it speaks about spiritual openness. While the symbol of Jerusalem was central in Old Testament faith, the early Christian community is called to open itself to a “New Jerusalem” with all the amazing inspirations of the Holy Spirit. We are called to the same openness in our spiritual life.

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Auger and the Carpenter —
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life —
A past of Plank and Nail
And slowness — then the Scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul


Music: If you do nothing else with this reflection, please allow yourselves the thrill of listening to the celestial voice of Miss Jessye Norman. (Always gives me goosebumps!)