God Gets Tough

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

January 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we ride with Paul on the road to Damascus, there to be struck with him by a Godly Light.

800px-La_conversión_de_san_Pablo_(Murillo)
The Conversion of St. Paul — Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Have you ever been knocked off your “high horse” by the sudden realization of something to which you had been totally blind? It’s shocking, isn’t it? 

We might react by castigating ourselves with remarks like:

  • How could I have missed that?
  • Wow, I was really stupid, or foolish, or naïve, or prejudiced, or misled, or … or what?

God, in a kind of ironic twist, strikes Paul blind in order to cure him of his real blindness: the right he claimed to persecute others for a faith he didn’t understand.

Sometimes God has to be pretty tough with us to wake us up to the truth of our souls. John Donne, the pre-eminent English metaphysical poet, prayed for that kind of Divine Toughness in his poem Batter my heart, three-personed God.

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Since I have blogged twice previously about this feast,


Links available here:

Click here for 1/24/2019 Reflection

Click here for 4/19/2018 Reflection


I thought my readers might like to pray with Donne’s poem, read by Tom O’Bedlam

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Here also is a musical interpretation of the poem.
The University of South Florida Chamber Singers perform Richard Nance’s “Batter my heart” under the direction of Dr. James Bass 

Fill the World with Love

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

January 24, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David spares Saul’s life even though Saul is in murderous pursuit of him. (Here is a video for kids featuring the moment. But I thought it was pretty cool. Maybe you will too.)

Is David noble or naïve? Is he magnanimous or stupid? As I pray this morning, I ask myself what it is that God might be saying to me through this passage.

Two things rise up:

  1. Above all else, David is motivated by a deep respect for God’s Will and Presence in his life.

David said to his men,
“The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master,
the LORD’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him,
for he is the LORD’s anointed.”

    2.  David engages Saul directly and respectfully in the hope of reaching a resolution of    their issues.

When David finished saying these things to Saul, Saul answered,
“Is that your voice, my son David?”
And Saul wept aloud.

Reverence and honesty rooted in sincere love and respect for one another! What a world we would live in if each of us practiced these things unfailingly!


In our Gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to live in the world in just such a way – to bring healing and wholeness in the Name of Christ, for the sake of Love.

Our Alleluia Verse today captures the essence of Christ’s call to them —- and to us:

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
and entrusting to us the message of that reconciliation.


Music: To Fill the World with Love sung by Richard Harris
(Lyrics below, but you will no doubt recall them from the fabulous film “Goodbye Mr. Chips”.)

In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only You can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?

The Green-Eyed Monster

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

January 23, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, both David and Jesus deal with the effects of immense popularity.

jealous

In David’s case, Saul is so jealous and threatened by David’s military success that he plots to murder him. Saul’s son Jonathan, David’s dear friend intervenes to turn his father’s evil intention. Ultimately though, Saul remains a man destroyed by jealousy.


 

green eye

Jealousy is aptly characterized as the “Green-Eyed Monster”:

The phrase ‘green-eyed jealousy’ was used by, and possibly coined by, Shakespeare to denote jealousy, in The Merchant of Venice, 1596.

In Othello, 1604, Shakespeare refers explicitly to the ‘green-eyed monster’ as jealousy when treacherous Iago counsels Othello:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!


These powerful words capture what it is like to feel, or to be the object of, jealousy – a feeling which grows out of one’s own insecurity. But since it is a feeling, it is not a sin. It is when we act on our jealousy, as Saul planned to do, that we sin.

I think, at sometime in our lives, most of us have experienced jealousy- either as donor or recipient. How we responded either fortified or eroded our character. Sincere reflection on those responses can continue to help us grow in charity.

Thinking about that, I benefitted from reading this passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Jealousy is here taken to be synonymous with envy. It is defined to be a sorrow which one entertains at another’s well-being because of a view that one’s own excellence is in consequence lessened. Its distinctive malice comes from the opposition it implies to the supreme virtue of charity. The law of love constrains us to rejoice rather than to be distressed at the good fortune of our neighbor.

Our daily prayer and ever-deepening relationship with God can free us to face any “green-eyed monsters” we encounter, turning them into occasions of grace. Let’s pray for that!

Music:  Envy and Jealousy – Sweet Comfort Band (Lyrics below)

David, God’s Servant

Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr

January 21, 2020

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Ps89_David

Today, in Mercy, we meet David, whose thrilling and passionate story unfolds and echoes throughout the rest of biblical history.

In today’s passage, David is called in from the fields to receive, quite unexpectedly, Samuel’s anointing:

David
Michaelangelo’s David

 

“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.

 

 
Now, the passage doesn’t indicate which field David was in. But maybe he was out in proverbial “left field”, the place from which many human beings are called to do important things, to respond in courageous ways.

 

Most of us, like David, are just living our ordinary daily lives –relatively oblivious to grace – when the life-changing moments come. Those moments may not be as momentous as David’s, but they are big deals for us. 

  • We get a college acceptance (or rejection) letter.
  • We get a job offer (or we get laid off).
  • We get elected to a position (or we don’t)

Someone asks us:

  • Want to go steady?
  • Will you marry me?
  • Have you ever considered religious life?

Young people, like young David, seem to meet a lot of these obvious directional points in their unfolding lives. But, in reality, we continue to meet them as we move to full maturity. Until the day we die, God is always calling to become deeper, more honest, more loving, more gracefully beautiful, more fully in God’s image.

Where have the pivotal calls and turning points come in your life? What are the junctures at which everything would have been different had you made another choice?What made young, innocent David ready when his first, and ensuing, calls came? 

Here’s why:
David had an exquisite love and constant relationship with God.
And God loved him back, just like God loves us.

Every critical point in our life’s journey is charged with the power of God’s love. That power comes disguised in routine circumstances, like a parent calling his shepherd son home for dinner. But if our hearts are tuned to God, we hear the call deep within those ordinary appearances and we receive the moment’s anointing.

May it be so, until we meet the Beloved Face to face.

Music: Anoint Me, Lord – written by Vickie Yohe, sung by Jonathan Matthews

Anointed

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Samuel anoints Saul King of Israel.

Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head;
he also kissed him, saying:
“The LORD anoints you commander over his heritage.
You are to govern the LORD’s people Israel,
and to save them from the grasp of their enemies.

1Sam10_1

Throughout Scripture, the act of anointing signifies being blessed, commissioned by grace. The sacred oil heals and strengthens the anointed to do the work of God.

We share in the grace of anointing through the sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick. We may not think about the power these rituals give us to live our lives in the pattern of Christ. But it is an amazing power which creates saints out of ordinary human beings like you and me!


 

Caritas_Bruegel
Caritas, The Seven Acts of Mercy, pen and ink drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559. Counter-clockwise from lower right: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, ransom the captive, bury the dead, shelter the stranger, comfort the sick, and clothe the naked

In a less formal way, we can anoint one another by our acts of generosity, honesty, justice and love. Think of the woman who anointed Jesus with nard from her alabaster jar. How that act strengthened him for the suffering he had to face!

There are so many chaffed and sore places in our world awaiting the oil of mercy!

works of Mercy

We can also “anoint” our own life by gratefully remembering God’s presence in our lives:  the blessings we have received, the challenges we have gracefully met, the love we have both given and received – all that strengthened us to do the work of God over our lifetime.

Music:  Holy, Anointed One – Vineyard Worship

Be Careful What You Ask For

Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot

January 17, 2020

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www-St-Takla-org--b3h-50-israel-demands-a-king
1 Samuel 8:19 – Israel demands a king. J. Winter – from “The Bible and its Story” book, authored by Charles Horne, 1909

Today, in Mercy, our first reading startles us with how foolish the Israelites are about their leaders. Oh, wait a minute, why are we so surprised? Don’t we see the same dynamics all around us?

Israel is desperate for a “strong man” who will mimic the tyrants leading their enemies. They say a king will “rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” They begin to envision a nation of their own design, not God’s.

They believe that having an absolute leader will make them strong. They are indifferent to Samuel’s warnings that such a choice will usurp their freedom, and lead to their devastation and enslavement.

lossy-page1-441px-Olivetan_Master_-_Leaf_from_an_Antiphonary-_Historiated_Initial_P_with_the_Prophet_Samuel;_Ar_-_1999.131_-_Cleveland_Museum_of_Art.tif
This leaf is distinguished by a large initial P depicting Samuel, the last and one of the greatest of Israel’s judges. It introduces the text Preparte corda vestra domino et servite (“Prepare your hearts for the Lord and serve”). In the lower margin are the arms of the Visconti family, rulers of Milan, featuring an eagle (left) and a coiled serpent (right). At bottom center is the emblem of the Olivetan Order, a reformed branch of the Benedictines founded in 1319 known as the “white monks.” The Olivetan monastery in Milan was founded in 1400 and it appears that this leaf belonged to a set of choral books presented to the monastery by one of the Visconti, perhaps about 1439–47. The so-called Olivetan Master takes his name from a luxuriously illustrated psalter made for the order’s monastery in Milan, where he was undoubtedly a monk

God tells Samuel that, in rejecting the choice for responsible, spiritually-grounded, and mutually sustained leadership, the people are rejecting God and God’s plan for them.

In a nutshell, Israel’s problem is this: they have forgotten who and whose they are. For the sake of expected political dominance, they are willing to sacrifice their identity as a people formed and led by God.


Centuries later, in today’s Gospel, Jesus comes among these dispirited people. Their choice hasn’t worked. They are still a politically dominated nation. Their religious practice has lost its vigor, denigrating into lifeless rules and practices. A corrupt religious class manipulates them.

Jesus, ignoring their religiously manufactured limitations on the Spirit, cures a paralytic. The scribes are scandalized. But Jesus confronts their equivocation:

Jesus said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God …

What would the world be like if we left ourselves so open to grace and mercy that God could work through us for the good of all Creation? Can we even imagine such freedom and trust? Can we even imagine the marriage of our faith and politics to the point that we all live for the common good?

Ps89 name_justice

Music: Come, Holy Spirit – Bright City

Can You Hear Me Now?

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read about God’s call of Samuel, Hannah’s son.

New things are about to happen in Israel. The People have lived under the questionable leadership of a series of Judges. But now, threats from inside and outside loom. So God chooses to move in a new way among the community.

1Sam speak Lord

Samuel is going to be God’s bridge to that new way. In today’s reading and subsequent verses, he hears God’s call, listens, receives a vision, and prophesies to Eli.


In our reading from Mark, Jesus is the Divine Bridge to a new reality. Early now in his ministry, his call is blossoming in his heart, as he realizes that he must go all over Israel preaching and healing.

When Simon told Jesus the local villagers were looking for him, Jesus told them,

“Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons

throughout the whole of Galilee.”

Jesus continues his healing and enlightening mission through all who call themselves Christian. He calls each of us in different ways to be a “Bridge” with him to the Reign of God.

How are you hearing and listening to your particular call every day? Maybe, like Samuel, by the time God calls us three times, we may understand!😉

Music: Since I mentioned “bridge”, I can’t help including one of my favorite songs, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s not really a religious song, but their popular song actually was inspired by a great Gospel song,  Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep and its one freely interpreted verse very near the end: “I’ll be your bridge over deep water/If you trust in my name.’ 

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

 

Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep (Lyrics below, but they are VERY liberally interpreted by these wonderful Gospel singers.)

Lord, I’m singing . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Can’t you hear me singing, Mary? (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
I want you to know, Martha don’t have to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Oh, listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep, (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (group)
Lord, and if I could tonight, (solo)
If I could, (group)
I want to tell you I surely would right now. (solo)
Surely would, (group)
I would stand on the rock. (solo)
Stand on the rock, (group)
Right on the rock where Moses stood. (solo)
Moses stood, (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus say, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. group)
He said Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep .(group)
Oh, Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. group)

Exult in God’s Power

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 14, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings demonstrate God’s power to change human lives.

hannah
The Travail of Hannah

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel completes the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother. Hannah, one of the two wives of Elkanah, was childless. In today’s passage, Hannah takes her grief to the Temple and places it before the Lord. God hears her prayer and she conceives her son.

When the story is summarized, as I have just done, it seems like a cookie-cutter miracle story. A skeptic might wonder, had she waited long enough, would Hannah have conceived – Temple or not.

That’s because the summary has drained out all the human angst, emotional roller-coastering, denial, and frustration that finally brought Hannah to God’s arms. It could have taken her so many others places. Unrelieved pain often does. It takes some into unresolved anger, depression, addiction, even suicide.

The miracle of this story is Hannah’s faith and the power of God’s love in her. It just so happens that there was also Samuel.

1Sam2_1 exult


Mark, in these early chapters of his Gospel, presents Jesus as the personification of that Divine Power. Both Christ’s “astonishing “ teaching and his stunning authority over evil convince us of this power.

With Jesus, the believer’s reality is transformed by faith and grace. Divine life blossoms even in formerly barren circumstances. Wholeness emerges even from that which had seemed fragmented.

This is the miracle: there is Divine Life inside that we had not seen until we looked, by faith, with the God’s eyes.

Music: Everyday Miracles – Sarah Grove

Follow Me

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we re-enter Ordinary Time. (I’ll be posting a second reflection today on the topic of “ordinary time”.)

Today we begin a journey with Mark the Evangelist which carries us all the way to Lent. This journey will allow us to walk right beside Jesus as he preaches, cures, and calls people to full life in God.

Somewhere on Peter’s missionary journeys after Christ’s Ascension, he encountered Mark and took him as travel companion and interpreter. Mark then wrote down Peter’s sermons, thus composing the Gospel according to Mark (According to the historian Eusebius: Eccl. Hist. 15–16). So, in a very real sense, when we pray with Mark, we are also praying with Peter and with Peter’s memories of life with Jesus.

Today’s Gospel is a great example of that first-hand experience — the call of the first disciples.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
esus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.


I like to think of Peter talking to young Mark about this moment in his life.  He states it so simply. One can almost hear Peter say, ”It started so ordinarily.  We were just cleaning our nets, when He came out of nowhere and picked us!”

What Peter doesn’t say, but what might be inferred from the story, is that he and his brother Andrew were READY for the call. It didn’t take them a moment to drop those nets and follow. 

And, oh my, what a journey Peter made from that first moment to where he sat telling Mark the story decades later somewhere in Asia Minor.

Maybe other fishermen along that coastline might have scoffed or been bewildered at an invitation to become “Fishers of Men”. But Jesus knew the right ones to call.  He knew the hearts that would respond to the extraordinary clothed in the ordinary.

Mk1_17 follow

As we follow Mark’s Gospel over these next weeks, let’s look for the call it carries to us in our “ordinary time”.  Let’s be ready when Jesus asks us to tag along with him. We might, like Peter, be surprised at the graces waiting for us when we drop the “nets” entwining us and just follow!

Music: Follow Me – Casting Crowns

In this song, we hear Jesus invite several people to follow him: the disciples, the woman caught in adultery, the Good Thief … even us.

He Must Increase

Saturday after Epiphany

January 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks a lot about sin. But I think he’s talking about more than the itemized laundry list of mistakes we sometimes reckon as sin.

Catholic-Sin300

It all seemed so simple when we were in grade school, didn’t it?
Well, dealing with sinfulness in the world
is a lot more than milk bottles!



John is describing the drenching atmosphere of darkness that falls over a soul turned in on its own gratification. Pope Francis’s quote referenced yesterday captures this atmosphere:

“Jesus, at the Last Supper, does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world, but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite.” The Holy Father emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.

John likens this atmosphere to idol worship:

Children, be on your guard against idols.

Most of us are beyond worshipping golden calves, but we may still be allowing ourselves to be distracted from the centrality of God in our lives.

calf

What are some potential idols that could desensitize our souls to the ravages of evil? Greed, lust, and narcissism rise to the top of the list. Caught in the grasp of these idols, human beings become oblivious to astounding evils such as war, slavery, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, corporate dishonesty, technological dehumanization, and all the other rampant abuses befuddled human beings foist on one another. 

When you see the effects of such evils reported on the evening news, do you sometimes ask yourselves, “How could a person do such things to another human being?” 

What we are seeing is evidence of souls who have died to God’s Presence within their hearts. They are indifferent to the effect of their choices on anyone but themselves.

Jesus came to open our eyes and to free us from the bonds of such sin. As the Presence of God grows in us, so does our awareness of all that is dissonant with that Presence.


We pray with John the Baptist today that we may grow in God and diminish in any selfishness that blinds us to the difference between good and evil in our lives.

Pope Francis tweeted today:

In worship, we learn to reject what should not be worshiped: the god of money, the god of consumerism, the god of pleasure, the god of success, the god of self.


Music:  I Must Decrease – Andrew and Saskia Smith ( Words below.)

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

I must decrease, He must increase.
I must decrease, He must increase.

The whole earth is His footstool. Who am I?
Shall the thing formed say to its Maker,
“Why hast thou made me thus?”
I must decrease, He must increase.

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.

The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.
The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.
Oh yes, Lord, I exist to worship You.