Psalm 96: A New Song

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 18, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 96, one of the “royal psalms” praising God as King.

Bow down to the LORD, splendid in holiness.
Tremble before God, all the earth;
declare among the nations: The LORD is King.
The world will surely stand fast, 
never to be shaken.
The Lord rules the peoples with fairness.
The Lord rules the peoples with fairness.

Psalm 96: 9-10

Our psalm today forms a link between two readings about two different kinds of human kings.

In our first reading, we hear about King Cyrus, an “anointed” one:

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus,
whose right hand I grasp,
subduing nations before him …

Isaiah 45;1

In fact, Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. This became a very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects. Israel thrived under Cyrus and found no barriers to their own religious practices


In our Gospel, however, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by testing him about their current political leadership, which is not so kindly inclined to the people:

Tell us, then, what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?

Matthew 22:17

Jesus’s answer pretty much tells to Pharisees to obey the legitimate law. But that answer is secondary to his real challenge to them:

Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?


Our psalm is the praise song of a people who do not “test” God; who receive both the blessings and trials of life with faith and hope, and seek the path to God within those circumstances.

A “Cyrus” builds up that holy courage in the people. A “Caesar” only builds up himself.


In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul shows himself to be such an “anointed” leader, praying for and encouraging the Church in the journey of faith:

We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers,
unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
before our God and Father …


Today, there’s a lot of politics swirling in the wind – a lot of discerning about leadership and our own brand of “kings”. The current sufferings of our time cause our hearts to long for “a new song”.

The readings today remind me that the only way our spirits can …

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Tell God’s glory among the nations;
among all peoples, God’s wondrous deeds

… is by living Paul’s formula – “to live our lives as a work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.


:Sing a New Song – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Our Lady of the Rosary

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

October 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 117. Since it is also the Memorial of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, I’ll refer you to a previous post on Psalm 117.


For today, the Feast of the Holy Rosary, we may wish to focus on that venerable prayer which had its origins in the very early Church. In fact, those early versions of a rosary are connected to the Psalms:

Prayers with beads like the rosary may have begun as a practice by the laity to imitate the Christian monasticism of the Liturgy of the Hours during the course of which the monastics prayed the 150 Psalms daily. As many of the laity could not read, they substituted 150 repetitions of the Our Father for the Psalms, sometimes using a cord with knots on it to keep an accurate count.
(The Catholic Encyclopedia)


The shape of the rosary as we pray it today emerged more clearly in the 13th century as Marian devotion blossomed in the Church. The tendency of that devotion was to place Mary, and other saints, between us and God. They, having already gained heaven, were deemed to have intercessory power we lacked. So praying the rosary became an “asking prayer” rather than a meditation on the whole of Christ’s life. In many ways, our relationship with Mary also took on a sentimentalism which lessened her true and unique power as witness and companion in the Communion of Saints.


Theotokos of the Passion – 17th century

Today, Marian theology, as well as rosary devotion, looks to a clearer understanding of Mary’s role as participant in the continuing redemptive act of Jesus. Praying with her, in any form, is an opportunity to experience Jesus from her perspective and to apply that grace to our own life and world.

“Remembering Mary as a friend of God and prophet in the communion of saints, a woman who is truly sister to our strivings, allows the power of her life to play in the religious consciousness of the church, encouraging ever-deeper relationship with the living God in whom our spirits rejoice, and allying us with God’s redemptive designs for the hungry, the lowly, and all those who suffer, including in an unforgettable way women with their children in situations of poverty, prejudice, and violence.”

Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ – Truly Our Sister

I try, as I pray the rosary, to imagine Mary within each particular mystery or circumstance of Christ’s life. What did she experience? How did she grow in grace? What is she guiding me toward in my relationship with God?

I also ask Mary to allow those graces and insights to bless and heal not only my life but the life of the world, particularly where there is great pain or suffering for women and children.


In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being
~ Denise Levertov
(Reading this poem, we may think of our prayer as a “breathing” enveloped in the Presence of God. The “holy ones”, like Mary, easily ride that breath of prayer. When we pray with them, as in the Rosary, they “rock” us into the silent rhythm of God.)

Photographer: Johannes Plenio
Birds afloat in air's current,
sacred breath?  No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It's we who breathe, in, out, in, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled -- but only the saints
take flight.  We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest.  The wind
marks the passage of holy ones riding
that ocean of air.  Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storms or still, 
numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.

Music: Beneath Your Compassion (Sub Tuum Praesidium) performed here in Russian by the PaTRAM Institute Singers

The oldest known devotion to Mary can be found in the words of a hymn that is documented to have existed and been sung before the middle of the 3rd century. 

Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Theotokos:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble;
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.

Fratelli Tutti

Celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
October 4-5, 2020

This year, in normal liturgical custom, our Sunday celebration supersedes the Feastday of Francis. But I can’t let this special day go by without notice. Therefore, I am publishing tomorrow’s reflection early, hoping that you will read some of it today. I write with warmest greeting to all Franciscans, especially my dear Sisters in Aston. PA. (The Franciscan Spiritual Center has designed some wonderful programs and made them accessible even during the pandemic. Here is a link to explore their wonderful offerings.)


St. Francis Preaches to the Birds – Giotto

For reflection, I plan to spend this evening and tomorrow morning with Pope Francis’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All), issued on this feast. St. Francis inspired the world with a renewed Gospel vision. Our Holy Father seeks to do the same with this ground-breaking teaching.

These will be the first of many prayerful days with this powerful document which Michael Sean Winters, in the National Catholic Reporter, describes:

What is clear is that Pope Francis has given the church a testament of authentic solidarity at a time when our president — and his nationalistic allies abroad — offers a counterfeit of solidarity. Both varieties of solidarity are responses to the excesses and the poverties created by neo-liberalism. Yes, poverties, it is clear, … that the material wealth neoliberal economies generate is precisely coincident with the generation of spiritual and moral poverty. The whole world groans to move beyond the moral slovenliness of laissez-faire ideas. But only the pope’s version represents an authentically Christian version of solidarity and, I would add, an authentically human version. This text challenges Christians in unique ways, but it challenges all….
…. If this pandemic does not shake us out of our post-modern cultural and moral and spiritual lethargy, what will? Pope Francis is throwing the Catholic Church and the whole world a lifeline. Will we grab it?


If you would like to pray with this profound and challenging instruction from Pope Francis, here is a link to it.


A second opportunity for prayer over today and tomorrow comes from our Mercy Sister Eileen Dooling. On our Sisters of Mercy blog, Eileen offers a lovely reflection on the Franciscan-Mercy connection. I’m sure you will enjoy it.


As you can see, there are so many ways to reflect, pray and grow on this beautiful feast. May your prayer be blessed by Francis (both of them) and by this amazing music!

Music: St. Francis Preaching to the Birds by Franz Liszt, played by Kotaro Fukuma 

Psalm 138: Heart Waves

Feast of Saints  Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

September 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 138, a lilting hymn of praise to God.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.


From the time I grew up in my beloved parish of St. Michael’s Church, I have always loved this feast and its prayers and readings. The thought of angels as our friends and champions was very much a part of our early education.

St. John’s vision, as recounted in our readings from Revelation and Daniel today, was depicted in a huge mural at the church’s side altar. And, as most parishes in those pre-Vatican II times, we said the prayer to St. Michael at the end of every Latin Mass.


So Michael, who has no body, no gender, and never held a sword, has been my friend for many, many years. And over that long friendship, I have come to know Michael very differently.

The Michael I know now is the Breath of God, very much like me, but breathed into a different form of beauty. God lives in the angels the way God lives in music, nature, color, emotion, poetry, and virtue. No form can fully hold such a Spirit. It permeates, embraces and uplifts that which it meets in love.

The angels’ songs are beyond our human hearing, but not beyond our understanding. They sound like those deep heart waves that we can never express – the love too deep for words, the sorrow beyond tears, that mingling with nature that silences us, the irrational but invincible hope, the faith that cannot be broken.

It is within those heart waves that I have come to know Michael who sings with and for me to our beautiful God.


Prayer to St. Michael:

written, in Latin, by Pope Leo XIII. Below is the prayer as it was prayed in Ireland, as quoted in James Joyce’s Ulysses. We used this translation too in my very Irish parish.🙏❤️

St Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, 
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; 
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; 
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, 
by the power of God, cast into hell Satan 
and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world 
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Music:  Confitebor tibi, Domine – Psalm 138 by Josef Rheinberger

Latin text
Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo.
Retribue servo tuo, ut vivam et custodiam sermones tuos.
Vivifica me secundum verbum tuum, Domine

English translation
I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart,
O do well unto thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word:
Quicken me according to thy word, O Lord

Psalm 19: Declare God’s Glory

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

September 21, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19, one of the unique “Torah Psalms” (1, 19, 119) in which Israel celebrates the divine structure of life in all Creation, including ourselves.

James Luther Mays, in his article The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter, suggests that these psalms serve as a guide to how all the other psalms are to be read, interpreted and prayed.


Walter Brueggemann describes life without God as “normless” – without the structure of grace and relationship with God that holds all Creation in abundant Life. He refers to the Torah as a “norming” dynamism, and writes:

And when Israel … used the term “Torah” (never meaning simply or simplistically “law”), it refers to the entire legacy of norming that is elastic, dynamic, fluid, and summoning. The outcome of that legacy in the Psalter is the great Torah Psalms in which Israel celebrates, with joy, that the creator God has not left the world as a normless blob but has instilled in the very structure of creation the transformative capacity for enacted fidelity. That is why Psalm 19 juxtaposes the glory of creation that attests the creator (vv. 1–6) with the commandments that are the source of life.


Our verses today for the Feast of St. Matthew include this phrase…

Their message goes out through all the earth.

… perhaps equating the universal ministry of the Apostles to the transformative power and witness of the heavens to God’s immutable glory.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.


The teaching of the Apostles is codified for Catholics in the Apostles Creed. We might want to pray it slowly today, attentive to those “norming ” beliefs – our sort of fundamental “Torah” – which hold our lives in graceful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Apostles Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, 
Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
suffered under Pontius Pilate, 
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; 
the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, 
and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; 
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
the holy Catholic Church, 
the communion of saints, 
the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body 
and life everlasting.
Amen.

Poetry: XIX Caeli Ennarant by Malcolm Guite

In that still place where earth and heaven meet
Under mysterious starlight, raise your head
And gaze up at their glory:  ‘the complete

Consort dancing’ as a poet said
Of his own words. But these are all God’s words;
A shining poem, waiting to be read

Afresh in every heart. Now look towards
The brightening east, and see the splendid sun
Rise and rejoice, the icon of his lord’s

True light. Be joyful with him, watch him run
His course, receive the gift and treasure of his light
Pouring like honeyed gold till day is done

As sweet and strong as all God’s laws, as right
As all his judgements and as clean and pure,
All given for your growth, and your delight!


Music: Wonderland – David Nevis

Pentecost 2020

Pentecost Sunday 

May 31, 2020

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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