Sing with God

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

December 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah promises the people that they will sing a song in the land of Judah.  It will be a song that celebrates confidence in God, justice, enduring faith, peace and trust.

Is26_1 strong city

Do you ever sing to God when your heart is filled like that? I don’t mean Church-singing or words somebody else wrote. 

I mean that sweet, indecipherable whisper a mother breathes over her child, or the mix of a hundred half-remembered melodies we hum when we are lost in the fullness of our lives.

Madonna-Child-Sassoferrato-L

And I don’t just mean the happy songs.

I mean the songs of loss and longing, awe and wonderment at life’s astounding turns. I mean even the sounds of silence when the refrain within us cannot be spoken.

When your heart is really stuck, unable to find the words to express the depth of your joy, longing or sorrow, try singing to God like that. So many times, I have done this while out on a solitary walk, or sitting by the water’s edge, or even driving on an open road. Sometimes, God even sings back!😉

(In a second post today, I will share a lovely poem which reminds me of a special prayer time in nature.)


Isaiah’s people were able to sing their song because they held on to faith and acted in justice. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that this must be the way of our prayer too. He says that simply saying, “Lord, Lord” won’t cut it!

Real prayer is not just words. It is a life given to hearing God’s Word and acting on it. Real prayer is about always singing our lives in rhythm with the infinite, merciful melody of God.

Music: Bless the Lord, My Soul – Matt Redman

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The Banquet

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

December 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings take us to the Lord’s banquet. It is a rich image that threads through scripture and helps us understand what characterizes the perfect reign of God.

The readings, coming just on the heels of Thanksgiving, present familiar images to us. You may have been part of the preparation of the feast for your family and friends. Maybe you’re the master carver, or brought sides of old family recipes. Or you might be the table decorator or, most important, the clean-up guru!

Or maybe you were the one who steered the conversation so that all felt welcomed and included in the gathering. Maybe you were the one who took someone aside if they needed an extra portion of care. Maybe you were the one who invited someone with no other place to go.

That Thanksgiving meal, and every meal, can be a symbol of the heavenly banquet.


 

Isaiah25_7

Isaiah’s banquet is all elegance and fullness. He describes an end-time when, despite a path through suffering, all is brought to perfection in God:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.


IMG_1628Jesus’s feast in more “now”, and more rustic. He takes the ordinary stuff of present life and transforms it to satisfy the needs of those gathered. With sparse and simple ingredients, Jesus creates the “miracle meal” for the poor and hungry.

He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied. 

Christ’s presence with us in the Eucharist is both kinds of meal.

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  • It points us to the perfection of heaven, where the “web” will be lifted from our eyes and we will see ourselves as one in Christ.
  • It calls us to be Christ for one another in this world – creating miracles of love and mercy so that all are adequately fed, in body and soul, for the journey we share.

Music:  Banquet- Graham Kendrick (Lyrics below)

There’s no banquet so rich
As the bread and the wine
No table more holy
No welcome so kind
There’s no mercy so wide
As the arms of the cross
Come and taste, come and see
Come find and be found

There’s no banquet so rich
For what feast could compare
With the body of Jesus
Blessed, broken and shared?
Here is grace to forgive
Here is blood that atoned
Come and taste, come and see
Come know and be known

Take the bread, drink the wine
And remember His sacrifice
There’s no banquet so rich
As the feast we will share
When God gathers the nations
And dines with us here
When death’s shadow is gone
Every tear wiped away
Come and eat, come and drink
Come welcome that day

There’s no banquet so rich
For our Saviour we find
Present here in the mystery
Of these humble signs
Cleansed, renewed, reconciled
Let us go out as one
Live in love, and proclaim
His death till he comes

You’re Welcome

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

November 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings echo the end-time themes we have been considering for several days. And we may continue to pray with these as we approach Advent.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I want to shift gears and offer you some reflections I have written over the years in celebration of this holiday. For these next few days, I will focus on these. In the past, readers have used them for their prayer and at their own Thanksgiving tables. I hope you find them beneficial.

thnkgvg_mercy


You’re Welcome

Bill was a big Mid-western guy with the boots and belt buckles to prove it. His wife of thirty years was a patient in our east coast cancer wing. Hearing of a break-through experimental treatment, they had come seeking a cure despite every indication of its hopelessness.

Being away from home, Bill had a lot of empty time outside of visiting hours. He spent much of it observing things that would ordinarily go unnoticed in the bustle of his regular life: weather, nature and human idiosyncrasies.

During one cafeteria lunch, over a bowl of hot soup, he observed, “People around here don’t say ‘You’re welcome’. They hold a door. You say ‘Thank you’. They just say ‘Uh huh'”.  Bill didn’t like that. It made him feel invisible. He said it was like one hand clapping.

In this season of Thanksgiving, it’s something to consider. Thanks are not offered in a vacuum. They are given to benefactors, both human and Divine, on whom we depend for a reciprocity of love, companionship, care and courage. Bill, at such a vulnerable, lonely place in his life, was infinitely sensitive when his thanks received no answer.

During this special time, we may hear a “Thank You” offered to us. In this cold age of our digital distractions, can we receive it consciously? Can we return it with a mutuality of gratitude that says, “You’re welcome! You are welcome in the embrace of my life. I see you as a unique and precious life and I rejoice at any kindness I can give you.”? A simple, sincere smile can say all that. Such is the power of our conscious spirits!

Doing this, we might even hear the Creator’s whisper, saying the same thing to us as we offer our Thanksgiving prayers: “I have created you from an abundance of love. You are precious to me and I believe in you. I hear your “Thank You” and you are welcome in the embrace of my infinite love.”

Music:  Thanksgiving Classical Playlist (You may want to play this hour-long compilation during your Thanksgiving meal.)

Christ, the Crucified King

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI by his encyclical Quas Primas. The Pope was acutely aware of the secularization of society and culture. He wanted this feast and devotion to bring people a deep awareness that Christ is the center of all Creation.

The images, language and metaphors are ones that spoke to the people in the early 20th century. They may ring differently to us. Concepts of king”, “empire”, “dominion”, “subjection” tend to engender negative connotations for many of us.
(Unless, of course, we’re referring to the “King of Rock and Roll” – Elvis, of course. Or  for some younger among us, the “King of Pop” – Michael Jackson. Then we seem OK with it!)

Our readings today can direct us to a deeper understanding of the characteristics Pius sought to highlight, ones that may speak more clearly to us in our time.

Our first reading from Samuel presents the anointing of David as King of Israel. Anointed by those who were “his own bone and flesh”, David prefigured the Incarnate Christ who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, took our flesh to redeem us.


Col1_15 image

The magnificent passage from Colossians offers exultant praise to the Creator for 

…delivering us from the power of darkness
and transferring us to the kingdom of the beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption …


And our Gospel gives us our precious Jesus on the Cross, teaching us the paradoxical truth of what his “Kingdom” really means – not oppressive dominion, but rather a sacrificial love that gives everything for the life of the beloved.

van eyck
Van Eyck’s painting of Christ King and his follower Petrus Christus’s Christ Suffering (15th C.)

Many cannot recognize such “kingship”. They cannot see the holy power within Christ’s sacrifice. They are, as Pius XI recognized for his time, blinded by a secularized culture and a dispirited life.

Let us pray today with the “justly condemned”, but spiritually enlightened, man in our Gospel who asked his Crucified King,

“Lord Jesus,
remember me
when you come into Kingdom!”

Music: Jesus Remember Me

Let Wisdom Show Us

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

Monday, November 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, On this Memorial of St. Martine of Tours, we begin a week of readings from the Book of Wisdom. Written in the century surrounding the birth of Christ, Wisdom is the work of a poet, theologian, philosopher, and moralist. Whether the writer was one person or several is uncertain. It was written in Greek and based on the Hebrew Scriptures which marks its composer as learned.

Today’s passage is part of the initial Exhortation to Pagan Kings: Rule according to divine justice and seek wisdom! (1:1-11).

For wisdom is a kindly spirit,
yet she acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips;
Because God is the witness of his inmost self
and the sure observer of his heart
and the listener to his tongue.
For the Spirit of the Lord fills the world,
is all-embracing, and knows what man says.

I can think of a few people to whom I would like to tweet this passage, can’t you? 

The erudite Wisdom writer realizes that faith and politics MUST mix in an ever more complex world because the goal of both disciplines is the wholeness and freedom of the human person.

Reading this passage today, let us pray for all who hold any responsibility for the welfare of others that they may be responsive to the inspiration of Wisdom in their leadership.

millstoneJPG
Dorieo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
For as our Gospel tells us today:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.  
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”

MUSIC: Kristyn and Keith Getty

 

Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, one theme threaded through our readings is that of “The Law”. “Law” is a frustratingly elastic word and concept which runs the gamut from tyranny to benevolent guidance depending on who administers it.

2thess3_5 scale

In both our first reading and our Gospel, we find people trying to curtail the freedom of others by invoking the Law. In 2 Maccabees, King Antiochus attempts to incorporate the Jewish people by fracturing their religious practice, that which identifies and unites them as Jews. On the surface, the story seems to be about eating pork, and one might wonder if that resistance is worth dying for.

But the real conflict is between tyrannical domination and spiritual freedom, between “Empire” and “Kingdom” – a struggle we have seen endlessly repeated through history and current events.

When “law” is interpreted to advantage some and suppress others, it is no longer law. The essence of law is always the wise administration of mercy balanced with justice. The understanding of such law grows from covenanted relationship with the Creator who wills the good and wholeness of all Creatures.

In today’s Gospel, some Sadducees (perhaps sincere, but more likely trying to trap Jesus) ask him to solve a hypothetical problem regarding marriage in the afterlife.

Jesus doesn’t bite. He explains to the questioners that eternal life transcends all their human perceptions of time, relationship and law. The earthly laws by which we either bind or free one another in this world evaporate in Heaven. Only Mercy and Justice order eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us that we are called to be examples of that eternal kingdom now. He knows how hard it is, and so he blesses us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,

who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement

and good hope through his grace,

encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed

and word.

May God’s law of love be deepened in is so that we – like the Maccabees, like Jesus – will have the courage and strength to live it in a sometimes hostile world.

Music: The Law of the Lord is Perfect

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

Paid for in Advance!

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 8, 2019

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already paid

Today, in Mercy, our readings are about spiritual wealth, stewardship and Godly generosity.

Paul starts us off by proclaiming that the wealth/riches of salvation belong to ALL humanity. He presents himself as a unique “steward “ of those riches to the Gentiles.

Our Gospel gives us a second interpretation of “stewardship” in the parable the wily steward. This fella’ gets called on the carpet for squandering his employer’s resources. Pink slip time! 

So the steward calls in some of the debtors and reduces their debt by the amount of his own commission. By doing this, he hopes to make some friends to support him in his impending unemployment.

Talbots

Many years ago, there was a Talbot’s outlet in the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast Philly (I know. Heaven, right?) You could get an amazing deal on the clearance items. But you got an even better deal if you went to a certain cashier for your checkout.

He was a tall, flamboyant and loudly funny guy. If a price tag was missing on an item, you got it virtually for free. He would make outlandish comments like, “Oh, honey, this isn’t your color so let’s discount it 50%.” If you bought two of the same item, he might announce,”Two for one today”, charging for only one. He was a living example of the Biblical steward! Over time, he developed a devoted buying community – those who had learned the secret of why people waited in his long line!

In today’s parable, Jesus isn’t advocating that we cheat our employers. The parable isn’t really about that at all. It is about the way he wants his disciples to be profligate in preaching the mercy of God.

Remember that this parable comes in between two blockbusters about Mercy- the Prodigal Son and Lazarus and the Rich Man. In a way, you might say Jesus is on a tear about the unbounded generosity of God in forgiveness and hope for us. He makes clear that the wealth of Divine Love is delivered to us by our unbounded Christian love for one another.

So today, maybe we can think about the Talbot’s guy. We have been abundantly blessed by God’s love for us. Let’s pay it forward over and over today… and every day. Let’s generously share the infinite discount of Mercy.

Music: Jesus Paid It All – Elvira M. Hall (1865) This rendition of the hymn by Kristian Stanfill (born 1983) is so interesting. Offered here with modern instrumentation, the words date back to the era of the US Civil War. Past and present meld in the ever eternal love God has for us.

With Honor, Prevent One Another

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2019

Readings: Click here for today’s readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives us one of his most heartfelt and beautiful passages, and Jesus offers us a puzzling parable about the kingdom.

Rms12_10 honor

Paul’s exhortation to sincere holiness is a passage that warrants frequent reading. At any given point in our lives, one or another of its encouragements will seem to ring profoundly true with our circumstances.

One of the lines that I particularly cherish goes like this in the old Douay-Rheims version, which is where I first encountered it as a young girl:

Love one another with fraternal charity:
with honor preventing one another.

The bolded phrase fascinated me. I didn’t understand what it meant. From what were we to prevent one another?

It was not until I came to the convent that I begin to discern the power of this verse. At the time (during the Dark Ages, of course), the Sisters lived under the 1952 Constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy, an adaptation of the ancient Rule of St. Augustine. As postulants, we each received a 4×6, 128 page copy of the Rule. In direct and intentional language, it set the frame for our whole lives.

I nearly memorized it, especially Chapter 14 on Union and Charity. Right in the middle of the Chapter, I found this precious line:

They (the Sisters) shall sincerely respect one another. The young shall reverence the old and all shall unceasingly try in true humility to promote constant mutual cordiality and deference, “with honor preventing one another”.

Sister Inez, our dear early instructor, explained that this meant to anticipate the needs of our beloved sisters, especially the elderly; to do for them what might be difficult for them before they had to ask. In other words, to prevent their need. She said that this anticipatory charity should mark our service toward everyone, especially the poor, sick and ignorant whom we would vow to serve.

The more all of us can live together with this mutual love and respect, the closer we come to the kingdom of God, to the banquet table described in today’s Gospel. Jesus came to gather us all around this table. Pity on those who resist his invitation because their lives are entangled in self-interested endeavors. Their places are taken by “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” and all those on the margins of society.

As we join our sisters and brothers at the banquet of life, may we love and serve one another sincerely, always with honor preventing one another.

Music: a little motion mantra this morning. Maybe you might want to get up outta’ that chair and join in🤗

The Souls We’ve Loved

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
(All Souls)

November 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we remember.

Romans6_4 souls

“Remember” is a word with a great depth of meaning. Most usually we think of it as a calling to mind. But it can also be thought of as kind of reconstructing – a restoring of the “members” to their rightful place in the whole.

Paul uses the word “members” in this way when he talks about the Body of the Church:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

When we pray a prayer of “remembering”, we consciously bring into the circle of eternal life all those whom time has hidden from us. We affirm the faith that, in Christ, death has already been conquered for all of us. In prayer, we lift the human veil that separates us from those who have died. We “remember” the Resurrected Body of Christ living in, and uniting, all of us beyond time.

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The feast of Holy Souls is a day to give thanks for all those whose physical or spiritual DNA lives in us. It is a time to bless what is good and forgive what was lacking. It is a day to connect the generations by telling the stories that have graced us, passing into the next generation’s hands the unbroken line of salvation history.

Today, we pray with and for all the holy souls who have touched our lives, even from a distance. May they, and we, be continually “remembered” into God’s eternal heart.

Music: Remember Me- Mark Schultz