Radicals for God

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

September 23, 2019

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Luke8_17 hiddenJPG

Today, in Mercy,  we’re dealing with a few names we might not be familiar with.

Pius of Pietrelcina whose Feast we celebrate. Ever heard of him?

Oh, wait a minute, maybe you have. This holy man is more popularly known as “Padre Pio”. Still no clue? How about this?

Padre Pio was a Capuchin Franciscan friar who has become one of the most popular saints in the Church. While it was his receiving of the stigmata that distinguished him for many, his real saintliness lay in his love for sinners and his work for their redemption.

Pope Paul VI said this shortly after Padre Pio’s death: “Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? No – because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was–it is not easy to say it–one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.”

Ezra is our other maybe unfamiliar character. His book in the Old Testament doesn’t get a lot of play. It’s only ten chapters and lacks the exultant poetry of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah.

But Ezra’s, and his buddy Nehemiah’s, contribution to Judeo-Christian spirituality are critically important. These two Hebrew leaders accompanied the People back to their Promised Land after the Babylonian Captivity. But more than that, they fostered and admonished the People to return to their original relationship with God – a relationship rooted in the Promise given to Abraham.

Luke, who gives us today’s Gospel, we know well. Even today’s passage, we might know by heart. Let your lamp shine.  Let your life be truth. Do we live that message?

All the individuals mentioned in today’s celebrations and readings were radicals. The Word and Promise of God were everything to them. Through all the challenges of their lives, they kept coming back to their immutable relationship with the God of Love and Fidelity. They kept inviting others into the circle of that faith.

Praying with them today, may we have the same strong and resolute hearts.

Music: Hymn of Promise – Hope Publishing 

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

Lay Hold of Eternal Life

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Friday, September 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Korean Martyrs. Their astounding faith stood against excruciating suffering but did not waver.

Korean_martyrs
Vatican [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
A brief, inspiring story of the Korean Church is available here.


Today’s readings carry a common theme of resources, both material and spiritual, and how we use them.

Paul tells Timothy:

we brought nothing into the world,
just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.

Still…

the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it
have strayed from the faith

and have pierced themselves with many pains.

Our Psalm tells us that those who are poor in spirit realize that they possess nothing, that all they have is a gift from God. This realization is the source of their blessing.

Luke’s Gospel lists several women who supported Jesus’s ministry out of their resources. They, and no doubt the men depending them, had been touched and changed by Jesus.

1 Tim6_12 call

Each of our readings reminds us that deepened relationship with God releases in us those God given gifts of our Creation – the gifts of which Paul reminds Timothy:

But you, beloved of God,
… pursue righteousness, devotion,

faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
when you made the noble profession of faith

in the presence of many witnesses.

By the inspiration of the Korean Martyrs, may we hear and respond.

Music: a real foot tapper today – Hear the Call of the Kingdom – Kristyn Getty

Anoint Your Life

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I would like to share a piece from a book I am (slowly….) writing:

Lk7_17 jar

The scene is heavy with color, sounds, scents and movement.  The summer sun has begun its long descent through the western sky, filling the garden with orange light and umber shadows. Simon and his household make final preparations for the arrival of Jesus. The dining area is meticulously set in the arbored courtyard, the klinai or dining couches angled so that Simon may have the full consideration of Jesus once the supper begins. The scent of roasting lamb drifts from a nearby spit, incensing the entire space with heightened appetite. Slowly, the scene fills with the ancient Gospel characters, each carrying his or her own hungers to the table.

What is it that Simon the Pharisee most craves from this momentous opportunity to capture Jesus’ attention? He is a man of intellect who rationalizes that Jesus should respond in a certain way to the approaches of a sinful woman. Would his hunger have been satisfied had Jesus met this prediction? Or was a deeper hunger challenged when Jesus defied Simon’s expectation, inviting him to a fresh relationship with his own heart?

1112px-Albrecht_Bouts-Jesus_chez_Simon_le_Pharisien_IMG_1407
By Aelbrecht Bouts – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4234098

What spectrum of hungers comes with the many guests at this dinner? Are the disciples longing for Jesus to successfully argue his theology with this prominent Pharisee?  Are the other guests hoping to have their allegiances – whatever they may be – proven by the evening’s conversation? And Jesus himself, what hunger does he carry to the diverse gathering of his Father’s children? What yet unmet hopes for his ministry might he long to feed on this special evening?

But there is one among the many whose hunger is obvious.  At first unnoticed by the party, she slips in through the open hedge, advancing toward Jesus with a natural grace even the greatest wealth cannot bestow.  Her lustrous hair falls freely down her long, slender back.  She is bejeweled and bangled with the ornaments of her trade. Her face, though beautiful, reflects the weight of her desperate loneliness and forced self-sufficiency.

She is a woman no longer with pretense. The entire town already has cast her in a mold she will never escape. She has come as she is to the feet of Jesus, presenting her unadorned hope in an alabaster jar.

As we begin our prayer today, what hungers do we take to the feet of Jesus? Let us lift the alabaster jar. Let us decant the ointment of our prayer.  Let us anoint our lives.

The Deeper Melody of Wisdom

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus speaks to us like a frustrated parent.

All of us have seen fussy children, needing a nap, twisting around noisily from toy to toy, satisfied only to swipe the toy another child is playing with.

Jesus compares his resistant listeners to such children. They were not convinced by the austere preaching of John the Baptist. They are not moved by the loving freedom of Christ’s message. They find in both teachings only theories to toy with and toss aside. Because their hearts are hardened by distraction, they cannot find the heart in the truth offered to them.

Oh my goodness! Are we not living in the midst of such hardening distractions? So much in our culture invites us to “play” rather than to relate with our environment, with our lives. Advertising tempts us to get as much as possible out of everything, but to give nothing back. Media thrives by convincing us that we are the center of the universe.

We make a lot of noise when we feel threatened by the quiet truth of our common creaturehood and its inherent demand that we live in reverence for one another and for the God who created us.

John preached a message of repentance from such sinful self-absorption. He lost his head over it. Jesus preached the Word of transcendent love and mutual service. He was crucified for it. Each was seen as a threat to the manipulated Law that had become the refuge of their hardened listeners.

We see the pattern repeated down the long corridors of history, filling its passage with martyrs. We see it in our own day wherever someone tells the truth about the demands of the Gospel.

In our own Church, we see Pope Francis persecuted – even by some of his own bishops – for his call for compassion, mercy, and reverence for every person, for all Creation.

Indeed, we still live in the frenzied marketplace where 

“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.”

Ps107_wisdom well

Luke’s final cryptic verse may suggest our deliverance from such frenzy:

“But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Our hearts recognize the Wisdom figures in our world. They have heard the true melody of God in their lives. By steady reflection and good works, they have gone beyond the din of a sinfully distracting culture. The result is inner peace, joy, and salvation, like that of John and Jesus —- and Pope Francis.

May we have the courage to go deep into Christ’s Word to embrace this Truth.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – Keith and Kristyn Getty

A Prodigal Love

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Numbers tells a story of Moses’ intervention to save the people from God’s wrath. It is a story of God’s relenting … a theme which repeats itself endlessly in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This is the way we sometimes characterize the astonishment of Grace – God’s overwhelming passion to love and forgive us over and over. We just can’t imagine such mercy, such infinite generative love!

And so we imagine instead that Moses made God do it!😉 Yeah, I don’t think so.

We imagine that God cannot tolerate our sinful pursuits because we cannot tolerate them in ourselves or in others. But God is mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, wholeness, love. God can’t help loving us!

Of course, we shouldn’t be stupid and take advantage of the divine largesse… not because it would hurt God, but because it so damages us and limits our capacity for wholeness. But nevertheless, whether we’re stupid or not, God will always welcome us home.

A few days ago, we prayed with the word splancha – that “gut love” that so describes God’s passion for us. We find the word again today in the heart-wrenching parable of the Prodigal Son.

prodigal son

You know the story. Near the end, as the devastated son returns seeking mercy…

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion — with splancha – esplanchnisthē
Luke 15:20

Our God is a Love that is filled, overflowing – with no room for retribution or condemnation.

Indeed, our God, like the Prodigal Father, is soft-hearted, an easy mark, a pushover for our sincere repentance, trust, and hope. Our God would bleed for us!

This short but powerful scene from George Balanchine’s ballet, Prodigal Son, may inspire our prayer today. The father is steadfast, a monolith of strength and love. The son is broken, naked in his desperation. Let their magnetic reunion take you to God’s heart. Let God wrap you too in the mantle of Love for any hurt or emptiness that is within you.

George Balanchine “Prodigal Son” – Final Scene (Son- Barishnikov)

 

Claude Debussy also wrote a beautiful piece on this parable. If you have a contemplative space sometime this week, you may want to listen to Debussy’s moving opera (with my all-time fav Ms. Jessye Norman.)

Click here for full opera

If you have only a little time, do try this – short, and oh so beautiful!

Music: Debussy The Prodigal Son – Prelude

A Plank in the Eye

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Friday, September 13, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, Paul, seeing himself as he really is, gives thanks and praise for his unmerited salvation.

Paul says this:

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

God has also granted me the gift of unmerited salvation. You too, my friends. But everybody’s story is a little different. So I thought a bit today about what I might fill in for those bolded words above. (And you can be sure I’m not going to tell you!😂) You might want to do the same in your prayer today.

In our Gospel, Jesus confronts those who think they are, not beneath, but above redemption and salvation. It’s beautiful: he nails the nitpickers who see the flaws in everyone but themselves.

How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

IMG_0799Luke6_41 beam

It’s always been one of my favorite passages. But do you know why? It’s because the beam in my own eye probably has prevented me from seeing that the passage is about me!🥺

Music: Only Takes a Moment – Cory Asbury

All That Is Withered

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

September 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus share a similar situation.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome. Visited by Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae, Paul seizes the chance to write to these Christians whom he has never seen in person. Paul tells the Colossians that his singular intention is to preach the truth of the Gospel so that they, and all the world, may be transformed in Christ.

to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

That “mystery” is the nature of God as Love, only fleetingly accessible before its full revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Luke6_10 withered hand

Jesus too, in today’s Gospel, is in a sort of prison. The prison consists of the entrenched resistance of people like the Pharisees. They are so entangled in the deceitful and self- serving interpretation of Law that they are blind to the revelation before them. They wait to pounce on Jesus if, contrary to the laws of the Sabbath, he heals a man’s withered hand.

Jesus tries logic in today’s account:

Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Unable to resist the logic, the Pharisees retreat to anger. They begin to plot the removal of this Truth they cannot counter. The saddest part of these resistances is that they estrange the resisters from their own good, from their own freedom, from their own salvation.

In our world, we see so many places closed off to the Mystery of Love.  We see people imprisoning themselves in their own resistance and hate while they plot to build barriers against others. We see it in our geo-political world, in our Church, in our workplaces, in ourselves.

It takes courage to recognize and turn from such self-destructive fixations. We must be alert and brave to cooperate with our own transformation in grace.

This is why Paul writes of …

the great struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

This is why God continues to offer grace in the gift of Jesus Christ, healing all that is “withered” in us when we lift it up in faith.

Music: God Will Make a Way – Dan Moen

The Wisdom of God

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Church links three readings which, at first glance, seem unrelated.

  • Our first reading from Wisdom reminds us of God’s infinite wisdom, incomprehensible to our human minds.
  • Paul, in his letter to Philemon, begs for the loving inclusion of Onesimus, an enslaved person, into the Colossian community.
  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus  makes the harsh pronouncement:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

How might we interpret these disparate passages to find a message of wholeness for our prayer?

Wis9_13 gods mind

Let’s start with Jesus. In no uncertain terms, he challenges his disciples to move out of their small worlds into God’s big world. That Godly world is not defined by family, nor by any condition other than our common Creaturehood in God … not by:

word gram

Jesus says the sacred community is defined only by shared and irrevocable commitment to the Gospel of love and mercy.

Paul knows and loves Onesimus, the slave, as a brother in this community. In his letter, Paul encourages Philemon to do the same.

Sometimes as human beings, filled with all kinds of insecurities, we tend to build enclaves that make us feel safe. We like to be with “our kind”. We invent borders to filter out those whose differences we don’t understand. We allow fear to grow out of that lack of understanding. Within the enclosure of our self-protectionism, we eventually forget that we are all one, equal, precious, beautiful and beloved by God.

Such toxic attitudes are the soil for slavery, war, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy,   human trafficking, destructive nationalism, and all the other sacrileges committed by humans against the human family.

Wisdom reminds us that only God can open the tight circle of our fears, judgments and isolations – only God whose infinite love encompasses all. Jesus tells us that we find that love only by lifting up the cross and following him.

Wisdom tells us to put it in God’s hands, and to respond to God’s challenge in the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Who can know your way of thinking, O God
… except you give us wisdom

 and send your Holy Spirit from on high
 thus stretching the hearts of those on earth

Today I pray, may God do this for me, and for all our tight, convoluted and troubled world.

Music: Who Has Known (an Advent hymn, but perfect I think for today’s readings)