Eyes on the Prize

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 10, 2019

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

Mal3_20 sun_justice

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

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

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


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

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


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

… evildoers prosper,
and even tempt God with impunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Jamming interlude)

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

Celebrating Francis and his Followers

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi

October 4, 2019

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Francis
Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy- Caravaggio https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/deed.en

Today, in Mercy, in lieu of my usual reflection, I choose on this feast of St. Francis, to share with you my thoughts on our beloved Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, and to give a well-deserved shout out to their Spiritual Center in Aston, PA.

I have been so enriched by their spirituality, their passion for justice, their unbounded hospitality, their love of the Gospel, and their witness for Christ.

Please join me in praying today for their community .. for its vigor, strength, holiness, witness and joy.

I commend to all my readers the Franciscan Spiritual Center at Aston, PA. If you are serious about your soul-life, consider their desire to assist you. I have found my relationship with these Sisters so beneficial for my spiritual life:

Click here for info on Franciscan Spiritual Center

I particularly send blessings to these beloved women who have blessed my life by their deep Franciscan spirituality. I have been brought into the world by them (Click to read about Old St. Mary’s Hospital – Kensington), taught by them, worked with them, prayed with them, laughed with them, mourned with them, been arrested for civil disobedience with them, and been edified by their gentle, hospitable goodness:

Sister Clare Immaculate
Sister Irma Catherine
Sister Jean Margaret McDevitt
Sister Marge Sullivan
Sister Marie Lucey
Sister Miriam Eileen Murray
Sister Kate O’Donnell
Sister Angela Presenza
Sister Annemarie Slavin
Sister Clare D’Auria
Sister Julia Keegan
and their devoted SSJ buddy, Sister Pat Hamill

Happy Feastday to all Franciscans and their co-ministers worldwide!

Music: Be Praised, My Lord – Andrea Likovich, OSF

 

Let’s Start from Scratch

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

October 2, 2019

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

Ikea

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

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

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

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

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

Neh2_8 favor hand

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

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

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

Flee Toward Justice

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings will challenge us in ways we might rather not hear.

In our first reading, feisty Amos lambastes the Israelites for their sumptuous lifestyle which is indifferent to the plight of those who are poor. He calls them “complacent”, “at ease” in their prosperous, privileged existence, a condition that has numbed them to the harrowing inequities from which others suffer.

In our second reading, Paul gives a final, impassioned charge to his dear protégé Timothy. He tells him not just to avoid, but to flee such complacency and the greedy materialism which feeds it. He outlines the elements of a Christian life, enjoining Timothy to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness”.


Paul gives Timothy the key to true Christian life:

Keep the commandment without stain or reproach …

…. “the commandment” being to love God above all, and love neighbor as self.


Dives
Dives and Lazarus by Bonifazio di Pitati The National Gallery – London

Our Gospel is, perhaps painfully, familiar to all of us – the story of Lazarus and Dives. It is a parable which puts the economic divide under the crystalline light of the Gospel, challenging us as to where we fit in it.

Most of us like comfort. We would rather be “haves” than “have nots”. But we struggle within our comfortable lives to discern our responsibility for others. We’re certainly not intentionally hard-hearted, “lying on ivory couches” and “drinking wine from bowls” while modern day Lazarus languishes right beside us.

We do try, in many ways, to respond to the call for charity and service. But don’t we still measure ourselves after hearing this Gospel? Don’t we still worry about any “Lazarus” unnoticed at our door?

Amos, Paul, and Jesus are charging us – just as they charged their immediate listeners – to live a life based in Biblical and Gospel justice. Justice seeks fullness of life for all the community. Jesus teaches us that “the community” is all Creation, and that how we treat the community is how we treat him.

Every day we might remind ourselves that, however hard we try, it is never enough. We must keep on peeling away any indifference or blindness we have to the injustices of our culture and times, our economic and political systems. And we too must flee them, running toward justice, righteousness, and mercy.

We must ask ourselves this hard question:

Does my “wealth”
– however large or small,
material or immaterial-
nourish the community or only consume it?

Music: Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus – Ralph Vaughn Williams’s beautiful interpretation of the folk song “Dives and Lazarus”.

If you might be interested in the original song – a great example of folk art: Sung here by Maddy Prior (Lyrics below)

as it fell out upon one day
rich Diverus he made a feast
and he invited all his friends
and gentry of the best
then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ door
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
do bestow upon the poor
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my door
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
nor bestow upon the poor

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ wall
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
or with hunger starve I shall
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my wall
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
but with hunger starve you shall

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ gate
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
for Jesus Christ His sake
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my gate
no meat, no drink I’ll give to you
for Jesus Christ His sake

then Diverus sent out his serving men
to whip poor Lazarus away
they had no power to whip one whip
and they threw their whips away
then Diverus sent out his hungry dogs
to worry poor Lazarus away
but they had no power to bite one bite
and they licked his sores away

as it fell out upon one day
poor Lazarus sickened and died
there came two angels out of Heaven
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Lazarus
come along with me
there’s a place for you in Heaven
sitting on an angel’s knee

as it fell out all on one day
Diverus sickened and died
there came two serpents out of Hell
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Diverus
come along with me
there is a place for you in Hell
sitting on a serpent’s knee

Diverus lifted up his eyes
and he saw poor Lazarus blessed
a drop of water brother Lazarus
for to quench my flaming thirst
if I had as many years to live
as there are blades of grass
I would make it in my will secure
that the Devil should have no power
Hell is dark, Hell is deep
Hell is full of mice
it’s a pity that any poor sinful soul
should be barred from our saviour Christ

Mercy Day – 2019

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Sisters of Mercy throughout the world will commemorate the date on which, in 1827, Catherine McAuley opened the House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. We count this day as our Founding Day, the day thousands and thousands of souls – for that time and for the future – would be anchored to God in a special way – the way of Mercy.

Lk8_21 Mercy

The experiences of Catherine’s life led her to touch the heart of God in a unique and transformative manner. She imagined, with God, a resurgence of mercy in a harsh, painful and selfish world. She believed that God could effect change through the generous service of her life.

Her holy imagination was so infectious that others caught her fire. Together they began to believe new possibilities into the lives of those who were poor, sick, uneducated and abandoned.

Over these nearly two centuries, Catherine’s invitation to Mercy has caught the hearts of tens of thousands of women, all over the world, who call her their Sister. It has impelled the spirits of millions more women and men who live and are changed by her mission.

Catherine has shown us a particular pathway into the Lavish Mercy of God. She heard the word of God and acted on it with the fullness of her being. By grace, she became Mercy for the world.

That Divine Word, spoken to her in the faces of her poor and suffering sisters and brothers, speaks to us still. As we give thanks for her witness today, may we open our hearts to hear and act on the call of Mercy for our time.

Happy Mercy Day to all our Sisters, Associates, Companions, Co-ministers and Family of Mercy throughout the World!
We praise and thank God together
for the gift of Mercy in our lives!

Music: The Circle of Mercy – Jeanette Goglia, RSM

You May Not Want to Hear This…

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 22, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings make one thing very clear: we cannot serve both God and “mammon”.

The problem is that we have a hard time figuring out what mammon is. Experience tells us that it’s a lot more than just money, because there are people with money who do a good job serving God.

It seems to me that “mammon” is more the illusion that we are only our money … our possessions, and that we – or anybody else- is nothing without them. 

This misperception is so fundamental to our inability to live the Gospel that it cripples our souls. The love of “mammon” becomes an overwhelming, incurable addiction that feeds on the well-being of our neighbor.

As our first reading tells us, living by this addiction invokes God’s eternal anger:

The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done!

Our Gospel tells us that we can’t have it both ways. We either live within the generosity and inclusivity of God, or we’re outside it:

No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,

or be devoted to one and despise the other.

This is a challenging but fundamental teaching of the Gospel. It is essential that we consider how we live it.

Walter Bruggemann, in his book Money and Possessions says this:

Jesus said it … succinctly. You cannot serve God and mammon. You cannot serve God and do what you please with your money or your sex or your land. And then he says, “Don’t be anxious, because everything you need will be given to you.” But you must decide. Christians have a long history of trying to squeeze Jesus out of public life and reduce him to a private little Savior. But to do this is to ignore what the Bible really says. Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God—and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness. . . .

Let’s have the courage to pray with that thought today.

Music: a simple mantra, but powerful if we can live it: Love God, Love Neighbor by Dale Sechrest

At the Table of Mercy

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

September 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew. The Gospel chosen for the day is Matthew’s own account of his call and the subsequent event lodged in his memory – the first meal he shared with Jesus.

tissot
The Meal in the House of Matthew by James Tissot from the Brooklyn Museum

Apparently Matthew’s house was a do-drop-in kind of house. Matthew’s friends easily gathered at the meal. Even the Pharisees got a view of his table. 

I doubt that Matthew did the cooking. Perhaps his wife or mother, though never mentioned, were the true authors of his hospitality. She may have been that type of cook who lifts the sweet and savory scent of spices into the air, capturing in their welcome all who pass by.

Mt9_10 table

Jesus settles in to that welcome as do his table companions – disciples, tax collectors and sinners. They seem comfortable in their shared humanity. But today, with Jesus, they are invited to the perfection of that humanity in his abundant grace. They too receive a call this day.

We know only how some of these guests responded to this amazing invitation in their lives.

  • Matthew became an apostle and a saint.
  • The Pharisees retreated to their self-protective criticisms and condemnations.

How the others embraced or rejected this graceful moment is left unspoken.

With every Eucharistic moment of our lives, Jesus invites us to humanity’s table – a table transformed by his becoming one of us. His presence changes us all from sinners, tax collectors, or however else we are categorized. With Jesus, we are simply God’s children, fed and replenished by mercy, changed by a sacred invitation.

May we be aware of our “eucharists ” today, every encounter with another human being. The table may or may not be visible in the everyday circumstances around which we gather. Jesus will not be visible either – unless we have the eyes to see him in ourselves and those with whom we share life.

Music:  Come to the Table – Sidewalk Prophets

Say But the Word

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Monday, September 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, both our readings today offer us pivotal lessons about what nourishes true leadership: faith, humility, generosity, and inclusivity.

Many of us have been blessed, especially in our young lives, with the gift of wise and loving mentors. Certainly our parents, families and teachers are among the first and most critical.

A little later, our circle of mentors widens. We look for great coaches, wise employers, guiding trainers, caring councilors, trusted friends.

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are biblical examples of such mentorship. In them, the author is guiding young ministers in the art and science of loving, Christ-like leadership.

Key to such leadership in today’s reading is a steadfast commitment to prayer which covers, blesses and includes all people.

In our Gospel, the centurion demonstrates that he is a leader who values these virtues.

The Jews urging Jesus to visit the centurion say that he deserves Christ’s attention because “he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.

 My guess is that Jesus wasn’t impelled by this argument, but solely by his splancha – his merciful gut response to the man’s plea.

When the centurion enters the story, his humility is immediately evident: 

Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.

The miracle healing, of course, is granted but that is not the most important part of the story.

!Tim2_5 bridgeJPG

This civil leader’s acknowledgement of Christ’s sovereignty is an act of faith which serves as a model for all of us – to the extent that millennia later we echo his prayer as we prepare to receive Christ in communion.

His is a faith that places Christ at the center of all Creation, commanding the flow of grace and mercy to all creatures. That faith allows the centurion to care even for a suffering servant. It allowed him to support the worship even of a dominated people.

Timothy and Titus have shown that kind of faith. They are the next generation who will carry Christ’s legacy passed to them by Paul. He wants them to understand that humility, largeness of heart, kindness and steadfastness open the way for God’s life-giving will for all people.

Whether, in our current life state, we are leader, or protégé, or both, how do these readings help us to make a clearer way for God in the world? That’s what real leadership is all about. And, as Paul says, we learn it in prayer.

Video: a representation of Luke’s version of this Gospel story:

Faith of Centurion

Remembering Our Way Home…

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the world will remember the abomination of the 9/11 attacks when nearly 3000 innocent lives were sacrificed to hatred, vengeance, and cowardice.

Some will remember in anger; some in forgiveness. Some will remember in grief; some in triumph. Some will remember with a will to seek peace; some with a drive to wreak endless retribution. Some with unquenchable sorrow; some with a false and self-destructive pride.

Some, too jaded by the years of savagery since then, will remember the day with despair.

Some, too young to remember at all, will simply try to grow up in the fragmented world it has left them.

Tragically, some throughout the world are so devastated by their own sufferings that there is no energy to remember. Some have endured war and oppression for so long that there is no peace to remember.

We in the human family were not created to live like this. 

Col3_4 christ appears

Paul tells us that we …

… were raised with Christ, so seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Jesus tells us that when that glory comes, it will be these who appear with him..

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.

On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and on every day of our lives, we have a choice of how we will see the world, of how we will love or hate, embrace or exclude our sisters and brothers. Every day, we have choices to make about how we will allow, ignore, or stand against hate, division, oppression and indifference to human suffering.

We may think our power is small to change the world. But it is the only power we have or need. With those graced and intentional choices we…

… have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its Creator.

Today, as we remember, let us also be excruciatingly aware of those who continue to suffer … at the world’s hard borders, in the Bahamas, Syria, Yemen, Rakhine, and in every place where abusive domination and greedy indifference crushes innocent life.

Music: When We Go Home, We Go Together- Pure Heart Ensemble 

Our Laboring Mother

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

Tuesday, September  3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ps27_13

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

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

Refrain:

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

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

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

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