Pentecost 2020

Pentecost Sunday 

May 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended to eternally enliven the Church.

We are that Church, living today in a world that sorely needs God’s renewing breath of life!

Let us pray the beautiful Pentecost Sequence, beseeching God to fill the world again with the Love, Mercy and Light of the Holy Spirit.

(You may wish to choose one or more of the pictures below to center your prayer as you listen to the music available at the bottom of the screen.)

01

 

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

Music:  Veni Sancte Spiritus – Mozart

Closing the Book

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 30, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, on this day before Pentecost, we close the book on both Acts and John’s Gospel, companions we have been praying with since mid-April.

When I read a really great book, I hate it to end. The characters and their story linger in my mind. The places where I’ve pictured them seem real – as if I’ve visited there myself. And the core of their stories becomes part of me, a reference point for my own experience.

Hopefully, the same thing happens when we read and pray with scripture. 

bible


 

apostles

As we leave Acts today, we should feel like we know the early disciples better, especially Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, Lydia and others whose story might have touched us. We should better understand the ups and downs of the early Church, the passion for mission, and the evolution of faith – and how these speak to our own times.

 


Finishing John, we have a slightly different picture of Jesus from that of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We see a Jesus full of Light, his human existence described through the lens of his Divinity. Johannine scholar Raymond E. Brown describes the difference like this:

That Jesus is the center of John’s message is confirmed by even a hasty reading of the Gospel itself. The emphasis on the Kingdom of God, so prominent in the Synoptic Gospels, has yielded in John to an emphasis on Jesus as the embodiment of life, truth, and light. No more is the parabolic language introduced by “The kingdom of God is like,..”; rather we hear the majestic “I am ” Whereas it is the Kingdom that the Synoptic Gospels describe in terms of vineyard, wheat, shepherd and sheep, in John it is Jesus who is the vine, the bread, the shepherd, and the sheepgate.


shepherdvineeucharist


Today, in our prayer, we might want to glance back through these books, reminding ourselves of the words, phrases and stories that touched our own experience most deeply. 

John_I

Sketching such phrases – perhaps in a daily prayer journal –  is a good way to let our minds turn them over and over again in prayer, discovering new depths with each turn.


Music:  Cavalleria Rusticana: Easter Hymn – Pietro Mascagni, featuring Australian soprano Kiandra Howarth

I thought we’d close these two wonderful books, and the Easter Season, with a bang. (Lyrics and explanation below)

 

Click here to learn more about Cavalleria rusticana: The Easter Hymn

Lyrics:
LATIN AND ENGLISH:
CHORUS (within the church)
Regina coeli, laetare—Alleluia!
Quia, quem meruisti portare—Alleluia!
Resurrexit sicut dixit—Alleluia!

CHORUS (in the square)
We rejoice that our Saviour is living!
He all-glorious arose from the dead;
Joys of heaven the Lord to us giving,
All the sorrows of darkness are fled!
(The chorus goes out slowly)


ITALIAN:
CORO INTERNO (dalla Chiesa.)
Regina coeli, laetare—Alleluja!
Quia, quem meruisti portare—Alleluja!
Resurrexit sicut dixit—Alleluja!

CORO ESTERNO (sulla piazza.)
Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto.
Ei fulgente ha dischiuso l’avel,
inneggiamo al Signore risorto
oggi asceso alla gloria del Ciel!
(il Coro esce lentamente)

 

Under Her Fiery Wings

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 25, 2020

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Today , in Mercy, we read in Acts about Baptism in the Spirit and the powers it bestows. When Paul encounters some believers who have received the Baptist’s rite of repentance, he asks if they had received the Holy Spirit.

Their simple answer kind of amuses me:

We’ve never even heard of him!

Paul remedies the situation with a few quick sacramental steps and:

… they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul laid his hands on them,
the Holy Spirit came upon them,
and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.


When I read passages like this, I sometimes wonder what has happened in the millennia since those early Spirit-filled Baptisms… since the days when the Holy Spirits seems to have burst out all over in flames, wonders and eloquence.

batteryHas the Holy Spirit changed? Diminished? Is Her battery running low? Or have we changed … the Church and we members who comprise it?

Well, I guess we all know the answer, given our faith in a changeless God.


So why doesn’t the Holy Spirit blaze for us as She did for those twelve Ephesians in today’s reading?

I think it’s a matter of how we see, and listen. 

Sir John Lubbock, a 19th century scientist and polymath wrote this:
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In


Might not this wisdom apply as well to how we perceive the Spirit in our lives?

If in our daily experiences and interactions, we remain on a superficial, distracted relationship with the Holy then we, like the fellows in our reading, may “never even hear” of the Holy Spirit.

But if, by prayer and contemplation, we open ourselves to the Sacred within all Creation, what we see and hear, what we feel and respond to begins to change — to catch fire.

Hopkins_wings
During this week leading up to Pentecost, we might try this practice: let’s look more intensely for the Spirit in our daily lives by noticing the presence (or absence) of the Spirit’s gifts.

  • How are our choices, conversations, judgements, reactions reflective of these gifts?
  • In my experiences each day, what persons or circumstances have mirrored these gifts? What has overshadowed or eradicated them?

The Holy Spirit’s heart beats alive and well within all Creation. I might just need to dust off my stethoscope a bit!🤗 Maybe this beautiful poem will help.

God’s Grandeur- Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Meditation: God’s Grandeur- read so beautifully by Samuel West

Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of the Lord

May 21, 2020

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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 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.

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.

Music: Abide with Me – Matt Maher

Lydia, Shaded in Purple

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 18, 2020

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Today, in 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 ministry.

Music: Patterns of Sun and Shade – Kathryn Kaye

Twelve Who Loved

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

May 14, 2020

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12

Today, in Mercy, Acts relates the story of Matthias and his inclusion as one of the Twelve. But besides Matthias, there was another man considered just as worthy of appointment, Justus. The lot did not fall on him and we never hear of him again.

So if there were two equally good men why didn’t they just widen the circle to thirteen Apostles?


This appointment of the twelfth apostle reflects the importance of the number twelve throughout Scripture. It is a number which signifies perfection, heritage, and strength.

Jacob 12
Jacob Blessing His Twelve Sons – T. Daziel (c.1893)

The Book of Genesis states there were twelve sons of Jacob and those twelve sons formed the twelve tribes of Israel. The New Testament tells us that Jesus had twelve apostles. According to the Book of Revelation, the kingdom of God has twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. 

So Matthias, the Twelfth, brought the circle of Apostles to wholeness.


JofCross
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that he chooses us all to be his friends. It is a friendship built on imitation of him, proven by keeping his commandments. His commandments are clear:

          • Love God.
          • Love others as I have loved you.

Every day, by prayer and reflective living, we deepen in our love for God and neighbor. We learn Love within the revelation of our own lives.

joy

Jesus tells us that if we love like that our joy will be complete. May we be blessed by that holy joy.

Meditation: Instead of music today, a lovely meditation for those of us missing the celebration of Eucharist: No Longer Do I Call You Servants

Remain

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts reveals the tensions in the Church between Jewish and Gentile believers. For the Jews, the ritual of circumcision was a key expression of covenantal faith. Some felt it was necessary for Gentile converts to undergo the ritual in order to become Christians.

Like all start-ups, the Church had many friction points which required decisions about what was essential and what was only customary. Those customs being thousands of years old, the decisions become even harder. Readings later this week describe more conflict points.

Nevertheless, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and despite the venerability of custom, the nascent Church was able embrace a new reality rooted in Christ’s inclusive love.

These kinds of philosophical and theological tugs-of-war have accompanied the Church down through history. Some of them have helped reveal deeper insights into our faith. But, as in all human communities, some of the tugs have been motivated by fear, greed, power, and other selfish interests.

Watching how the early Church handles their particular situation may give us hints about how we should handle them today.


In our Gospel, Jesus makes clear what is essential and inviolable to the faith:

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.

John15_4 Remain

I think “Remain” is a beautiful word. In the dictionary, it will be defined as ‘stay’. But it connotes much more to me.  Re–main asks us not just to choose to stay with Jesus, but to choose it over and over – like reenlist, renew, recommit.

Remain means to endure with the Beloved Vine through every season – winter’s cold and summer’s heat, and all that’s in between.

Remain means “Love Me, stay beside me, even when others fall away.”

May we remain.


Music: I Am the Vine – John Michael Talbot

Lean on the Cornerstone

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings give us the powerful description of a growing Church built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.

Acts shows us how that young Church organizes itself on the pattern of Christ, its Foundation.

Our reading from Peter draws on Isaiah’s dynamic metaphor:

cornerstone

Jesus, too, describes a mansion, a sturdy dwelling place with God. It is not some ephemeral dream. That “mansion” is Christ himself who, by his death and Resurrection,  brings us home to our Original Love.


Such images help us to imagine the unimaginable, that God:

  • made us in the Divine Likeness
  • sent the Beloved to redeem us 
  • remains with us forever in the Holy Spirit
  • opens the doors of eternal life to us

This unimaginable grace is a trustworthy promise which we can rest on securely, as a magnificent building rests on its cornerstone.


When the exigencies of time and circumstance assail us, we need to go lean against that Rock. It will not move, even when everything else swirls around us.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…
…I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.


motherhouse early
19th century photo of Mercy Motherhouse from Lower Merion Historical Society

The beautiful buildings on our Motherhouse grounds are constructed of sixteen inch thick stones, chiseled by a 19th century stonemason. On a clear, late afternoon, one western wall heats up like a vertical oven, capturing all the final sunbeams of the day.  I like to lean against that wall, especially in winter, praying to the God Whose power it has absorbed. I ask that I too may absorb that power; that those for whom I pray may be wrapped in it.

Maybe today, you might find a stone like that to help you pray. Even hold a small one in your hand.

Such images can yield unexpected grace.

Music: Cornerstone – Hillsong ( Lyrics below)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust is Jesus’ name

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust is Jesus’ name
Christ alone, Cornerstone

Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone, Cornerstone

Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all
He is Lord
Lord of all, Christ alone
Christ alone, Cornerstone

Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all
Christ alone, Cornerstone

Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all

When he shall come with trumpet sound
Oh, may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless, stand before the throne
Cornerstone

Oh, yeah, in the Savior’s love
He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all

The Power of the Name

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul and Barnabas make a final grand effort to speak to the hearts of the Jews in Antioch. The outcome is both bad news and good news.

The Jewish community resists the Word. But the Gentiles receive it with an open heart and the Gospel ignites “through the whole region”. The catechesis was so successful that resisters mounted the persecution and expulsion of the disciples from the neighborhood.

Then reminiscent of Jesus’s advice in Matthew 10:14:

dust

So they shook the dust from their feet
in protest against them
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.


acts3_6 Name_Original

In our Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples that He and the Father are one:

“If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”


Philip
Philip, like Thomas in yesterday’s Gospel, says he needs a little more to go on than that simple statement:

“Master, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus once again patiently reminds Philip and the others that all that they have experienced in Him is a revelation of the Father. He further tells them that they themselves are to be that ongoing revelation for the world:

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”


As Christians, we believe that we too are commissioned in the Name of Christ to be his Presence in the world. Jesus tells us that whatever we ask in his Name will be accomplished.

That doesn’t mean that the name of Jesus is a magic formula to get what we want.

Instead, within the Holy Name, we come to trust the mercy, love, and abiding accompaniment of God. Such trust allows us to see the slow working of God’s loving Will in all things – just as Jesus did through his faithful life, heartbreaking death, and ultimately triumphant Resurrection.

Let us gently repeat that beloved Name in our prayer, asking that its sweet grace enlighten and transform us.

Music: In the Name of the Lord – Gloria Gaithersburg, Phil McHugh, and Sandi Patti

Mission: Eternal

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 7, 2020

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Southover, St John the Baptist Church
Barnabas, Paul and Mark window St. Patrick’s Church, Sussex, England

Today, in Mercy, and for much of this and next week, we travel with Paul on his first missionary journey. Acts 13 and 14 make for some interesting historical reading, revealing how the early Church took form, how leadership emerged, and how various congregations sparked the spread of the Gospel.


These passages also offer at least two important thoughts to enrich our faith and spiritual life:

  1. They recount a compact synthesis of Salvation History, the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel and, through Jesus Christ, to us. It is a truly marvelous story. Praying with it can make us amazed and grateful that we are now a living part of its continuing grace.
  1. They clearly establish the Christian life as a missionary life – one meant to receive but also to share the Good News of the Gospel.

John13_16 wash

In our Gospel, Jesus, by washing the feet of his companions, clearly demonstrates the key characteristic of a true missionary disciple — sacrificial love rendered in humble service.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

Jesus commissions his disciples to imitate his love. He promises to be present with them as they minister in his name:

Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever receives the one I send receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

Jesus wasn’t just talking to a little dinner party gathered long ago. He was talking to us. For our time and place in history, we are the ones commissioned for Love. 


Our service of the Gospel may take us on exciting journeys like Paul. Or we may be missionaries of prayer and charity, like Thérèse of Lisieux who, though she never left her cloister, was declared Patroness of the Missions by Pope Pius XI.


therese
O Jesus, my Love, my Life … I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach Your Name and to plant Your glorious Cross on infidel soil. But O my Beloved, one mission alone would not be sufficient for me. I would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.” (Thérèse of Lisieux – Story of a Soul) 


In our prayer today, perhaps we might ask Paul, Barnabas, Thérèse or another of our favorite saints to help us see more clearly our own call to carry the mission in our lives.

Music: Here I Am, Lord – St. Louis Jesuits