Psalm 16: A Night Prayer

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, June 13, 2020

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psalm16 path2

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with Psalm 16. Verses 1-10 strike me as a perfect “nighttime” prayer.

In his musical Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Weber lyricizes about the “beauty of the night”.  

It’s a soulful song, and in itself could be used for prayer, especially when we pray in times of spiritual darkness or unknowing. In many ways, it reminds me of John of the Cross’s poem, “The Dark Night”. (Verses below for our poetry today).


All of us have times when our prayer seems to echo back to us without a response from God. Our faith may be tested and our trust stretched very thin. God seems so distant that we wonder what happened to cloud the relationship! We linger in a spiritual darkness that is dry and disconcerting.

Dali John of Cross
Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali (1951) – Kenmore Art Gallery, Glasgow

These times in the spiritual life were experienced and described by writers like John of the Cross and the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”. They are times when our experiences and prayer invite us to a new and deeper understanding of God. They ask us to let go of our intellectual certainties and abandon ourselves to God without demands.


Recently, while describing how disappointed he was in God, a friend told me that he had “lost” his faith long ago. Well, obviously, he hadn’t because he still held expectations of the “God” who was disappointing him. I told him that I had lost my faith a few times too, and that every time I got it back, it was new and deeper than the one I had lost. My “septuagenarian God” is very different from the one I came to follow when I was eighteen!


Our minds and souls are so small next to God’s Infinity. But slowly, through a life of prayerful fidelity and loving service, God stretches our capacity to know and return a Love which is beyond reason.

But the stretching times can be dark – times when Psalm 16 is a comforting prayer.

I like to pray with this transliteration by Steven Mitchell – A Book of Psalms

Unnamable God,
I feel you with me at every moment.
You are my food, my drink,
my sunlight, and the air I breathe.
You are the ground I have built on
and the beauty that rejoices my heart. 

I give thanks to you at all times
for lifting me from my confusion,
for teaching me in the dark
and showing me the path of life. 

I have come to the center of the universe;
I rest in your perfect love.
In your presence there is fullness of joy
and blessedness forever and ever.

Music: Path of Life – The Dameans

Poetry: The Dark Night – Stanzas Of The Soul

( Some people find John of the Cross surprising, if not strange or shocking, in his imagery. He was a grace-filled mystic and poet whose images of God expanded beyond the boundaries we might be accustomed to. And that very extravagance is John’s beauty — he invites us to a place we might not otherwise think to go.)

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Psalm 4: To See God’s Face

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 9, 2020

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king harp

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 4, a lament written to be sung with stringed instruments.

The psalmist expresses confidence that God rewards the prayer of the just, warning the “dull of heart” to wake up!

 


When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Men of rank, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood?

Surely, the psalmist’s sentiments echo in our hearts:

  • We all pray, in these conflicted times, for the grace to wake up to the justice and mercy of God.
  • We pray, like the psalmist, to see the face of God in ourselves and in our neighbor.
  • We pray to finally be able to break through the falsehood of racism to the Presence of our Creator in every person.

shane mccrae
The poem I offer today was written by Shane McCrae, an American poet and recipient of a 2011 Whiting Award. McCrae earned a BA at Linfield College, an MA at the University of Iowa, an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a JD at Harvard Law School. He currently teaches at Columbia University.

In this poem, the poet and his young daughter trace faces in the waves, the way many of us have in waves or clouds.

psalm4

Like all great poems, this one allows us to find our own meaning within it. I see a father looking to find the reflection of his own face in our representations of God, and hoping that his little child might do so a well. We sense their hopes disappear in the waves and in a culture that has enthroned God’s image as a white male.

Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face

Before it disappears
on the sand his long white      beard before it disappears
The face of the man
in the waves I ask her does she see it ask her does
The old man in the waves      as the waves crest she see it does
she see the old man his
White     his face crumbling face it looks
as old as he’s as old as
The ocean looks
and for a moment almost looks
His face like it’s     all the way him
As never such old skin
looks my / Daughter age four
She thinks it might he might be real she shouts Hello
And after there’s no answer answers No



Music:
  The Whole Book of Psalmes: Psalm 4, “Oxford Tune”
written by – Thomas Ravenscroft (1588 – 1635)
rendered here by Richard Muenz

 

Psalm 119: Your Awesome Word

Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

June 5, 2020

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Psalm 119_word

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 119 which is considered a hymn psalm, meant for offering praise for God’s handiwork.

bird

This psalm, the longest in the Bible, is an extended string of delight in God’s beauty, power, and tenderness. It reminds me of a mockingbird’s lovely, tireless song, lilting up into the morning or evening sky.

Though long, the psalm is a very simple yet profound prayer. Seeing its length, we might tend to set it aside for a shorter psalm. Instead, don’t tackle the whole thing. Pick one verse that speaks to you. Sit down beside it. Let it crawl into to your lap like a small child. Cradle it and let your soul hum with it.


I remember, as a young novice, learning to pray this beautiful psalm in Latin. Its innocent clarity echoed my desire simply to deepen in God’s ways. Psalm 119 has been one of my favorites for nearly sixty years now, carrying God’s Word to me in myriad ways.

119


Today in our prayer, we might want to contemplate what single word God is speaking most clearly to us in this moment. The words vary over the course and circumstances of our lives. Let us listen and respond to what we hear today in quiet prayer.

wordcloud

Music: Word of God, Speak – MercyMe

Psalm 123: Song of the Caged Bird

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

Charles Lwango
St. Kizito being baptised by St. Charles Lwanga at Munyonyo – stained glass at Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine

Charles Lwanga (1860 – 1886) was a Ugandan convert to the Catholic Church, who was martyred for his faith and is revered as a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.


June 3, 2020

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Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 123. How fitting that this particular prayer should bless us at this time!

Psalm 123 is one of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (120-134). It is thought that these prayer songs were sung by pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem, expressing the joys, sorrows, needs and sufferings of the community.

Among them Psalm 123 is a lament, particularly for the scorn and contempt the Israelites felt as they tried to live lives of faith in a hostile world. Verses 3 and 4, (not included in today’s passage) plead:

Show us favor, LORD, show us favor,
for we have our fill of contempt.
Our souls are more than sated
with mockery from the insolent,
with contempt from the arrogant.

Praying with Psalm 123, we might think of today’s “pilgrims”, traveling the streets in protest of racial injustice. The integrity of their cause has been polluted by the rioters and looters infiltrating them, drawing contempt even from some who might otherwise have supported them.

Geo_Floyd

Still, people of faith must not be distracted from the truth, nor should we hide from the reality of our own complicity in normalizing unjust systems.  We must hear the lament of all those who long for justice. We must acknowledge that our current structures have grievously failed people of color, the poor and the refugee. We must make the choices that justice and mercy demand of us.


Today’s Responsorial verses may help us. In our hearts and souls, let us stand beside one another as we pray, each of us created to serve God by serving one another:

To you I raise my eyes,
to you enthroned in heaven.
Yes, like the eyes of servants
on the hand of their masters,

Like the eyes of a maid
on the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes are on the LORD our God,
till we are shown favor.


A poem to enrich your reflection:

cage

Caged Bird
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
~ Maya Angelou


Music: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Ad te levavi oculos meos (Psalm 123)

Ad te levavi oculos meos, qui habitas in caelis.
Ecce sicut oculi servorum in manibus dominorum suorum;
sicut oculi ancillae in  manibus dominae suae:
ita oculi nostri ad Dominum Deum nostrum,
donec misereatur nostri.

Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri,
quia multum repleti sumus despectione;
quia multum repleta est anima nostra
opprobrium abundantibus, et despectio superbis.

Take My Hand

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 29, 2020

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festus
Window in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne – Paul Pleads His Case (Festus in yellow)

Today, in Mercy, Paul’s case goes before Festus and King Herod Agrippa. Just in case you are confused, like I was, about just who this particular Herod is, this family tree from Wikipedia helped:

chart

This King Agrippa was Marcus Julius Agrippa II (A.D. 27-100), son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-23). 

I offer these facts for no real spiritual reason, but they remind me that these biblical characters were real people, like us, engaging (or not) a real life of faith. (Also, I thought it was fun to see how uncreative they were in naming their babies 🙂


In our Gospel, Jesus once again prepares Peter for his tremendous responsibility in the building of that faith. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”. By the third interrogation, Peter’s answer sounds a little intense:

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Hearing this response, Jesus lays the full burden of Peter’s life upon his shoulders. Not only must Peter “feed” the faith of Jesus’s followers, he must do so by giving over all control to God:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”

hand

Like Peter,
we too are given the gift and responsibility
of living a faithful life.
Like Peter, we all learn through the years,
that life comes to us in unexpected ways.
In reality, life often chooses us
rather than the other way around.

As we pray with these passages, we might want to look back over our lives for those points where life challenged or unbalanced us. What unexpected blessings came from those surprises/shocks? When God’s plan contradicted our own, how were we eventually blessed with courage, hope and insight?

We are the person we are today because of how we responded to God’s mysterious plan for our lives. Did we reach out our hand and let God lead us? Do we still need to do some letting go in order to enjoy that kind of freedom?

Music:  Precious Lord, Take My Hand – written by Thomas A. Dorsey, sung here by the Great Mahalia Jackson

When my way groweth drear

Precious Lord, linger near-ear

When my li-ight is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my ha-and lest I fa-all

Take my hand, precious Lor-ord

Lead me on

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me sta-and

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me home

When my work is all done

And my race here is are you-un

Let me see-ee by the light

Thou hast shown

That fair city so bright

Where the lantern is the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me on

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me sta-and

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me home

Under Her Fiery Wings

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 25, 2020

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Today , in Mercy, we read in Acts about Baptism in the Spirit and the powers it bestows. When Paul encounters some believers who have received the Baptist’s rite of repentance, he asks if they had received the Holy Spirit.

Their simple answer kind of amuses me:

We’ve never even heard of him!

Paul remedies the situation with a few quick sacramental steps and:

… they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul laid his hands on them,
the Holy Spirit came upon them,
and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.


When I read passages like this, I sometimes wonder what has happened in the millennia since those early Spirit-filled Baptisms… since the days when the Holy Spirits seems to have burst out all over in flames, wonders and eloquence.

batteryHas the Holy Spirit changed? Diminished? Is Her battery running low? Or have we changed … the Church and we members who comprise it?

Well, I guess we all know the answer, given our faith in a changeless God.


So why doesn’t the Holy Spirit blaze for us as She did for those twelve Ephesians in today’s reading?

I think it’s a matter of how we see, and listen. 

Sir John Lubbock, a 19th century scientist and polymath wrote this:
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In


Might not this wisdom apply as well to how we perceive the Spirit in our lives?

If in our daily experiences and interactions, we remain on a superficial, distracted relationship with the Holy then we, like the fellows in our reading, may “never even hear” of the Holy Spirit.

But if, by prayer and contemplation, we open ourselves to the Sacred within all Creation, what we see and hear, what we feel and respond to begins to change — to catch fire.

Hopkins_wings
During this week leading up to Pentecost, we might try this practice: let’s look more intensely for the Spirit in our daily lives by noticing the presence (or absence) of the Spirit’s gifts.

  • How are our choices, conversations, judgements, reactions reflective of these gifts?
  • In my experiences each day, what persons or circumstances have mirrored these gifts? What has overshadowed or eradicated them?

The Holy Spirit’s heart beats alive and well within all Creation. I might just need to dust off my stethoscope a bit!🤗 Maybe this beautiful poem will help.

God’s Grandeur- Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Meditation: God’s Grandeur- read so beautifully by Samuel West

Paul’s Great Sermon

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives a magnificent oration at the Areopagus in Athens. It was a big deal billing!

V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)
St. Paul at the Areopagus by Raphael (c.1515)

Areopagus, earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place.

In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate. Like the Senate, its membership was restricted to those who had held high public office.

The Areopagus, like most city-state institutions, continued to function in Roman times, and it was from this location, drawing from the potential significance of the Athenian altar to the Unknown God that Paul is said to have delivered the famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Wikipedia)


diamonds
The sermon has so many beautiful lines, like glorious diamonds that can be turned over and over in prayer. Here are a few that glistened for me:


God … does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands
(Instead, God dwells within us)


God is not served by human hands because God needs nothing.
(Instead, our everything comes from God)


God made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth.
(We are all connected in the One Creation)


God fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
(We do grope, sometimes in darkness.)


God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent…
(Without Christ, we were in shadows of unknowing. With Christ, we are in Light.)


And my favorite:

Acts17_24 everything

What is the “everything” that God is giving you today? What is the abundance of grace, or hope, or longing in your heart as you pray today? Let God’s fullness embrace any emptiness as you offer God your silence and waiting.

Music: Everything – Lauren Daigle

Be Kindled

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 19, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus counsels the disciples as they grieve his impending departure. He assures them that they will be consoled and animated by the Holy Spirit whom he will send to them.

Jn16_7 spiritJPG

We all understand how the disciples feel. They love Jesus. They have been through hell and high water with him. They are comfortable with him. They have learned to be brave with him beside them.

All in all, they can’t imagine going on without him by their side.

Jesus, as he has so often had to tell them, says “You don’t quite get it!”. He explains that there will be no vacuum – that the Divine Presence will forever be with them in the form of the Holy Spirit. They are about to catch fire with the Love between Jesus and the Father! They should rejoice!

Balance Plus Minus

But, you know, it took these disciples three years of see-saw living with Jesus to fully embrace his Presence. It’s going to take more than a speech to kindle in them the full wonder of the Holy Spirit. It’s going to take a lifetime. It’s going to take thousands of little matches striking again and again in their hearts.

Decision by decision, action by action, they must now allow the Spirit to bring God’s Presence to life within them.


Slide1

When Catherine McAuley, the first Sister of Mercy, died, her beloved sisters kneeling at her bedside felt a lot like the disciples in today’s Gospel. How would they carry on the works of mercy without Catherine beside them? But as those of us who never knew Catherine realize, she left a living Spirit burning within those sisters which has descended to all her followers for nearly 200 years.

Within Catherine, as within all faithful disciples of Jesus, the Holy Spirit inspires, generates, and sustains the Presence of God for the sanctification of all Creation. The Spirit pours out over the world in our works of mercy toward all who hunger for Life.


Like the early disciples, we may wish Jesus would come along and cook us a beach breakfast so we could just sit down and talk to him in the flesh. But Jesus tells us today, as he told his disciples:

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.
For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.
But if I go, I will send the Spirit to you.

Let us ask for the kind of faith that can believe, see, and sit down with that Holy Spirit in our hearts, catching Her fire, lighting the world with Mercy.

Music: Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God – The Gettys
(with Gabriel’s Oboe from the movie  “The Mission”)

Lydia, Shaded in Purple

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul ventures for the first time into the area which is now modern Europe. He settles for a while in Philippi, the city which gives its name to my favorite epistle.

Pauls journeys

One morning, Paul, Silas and Timothy went down by the river to pray. There they met Lydia, one of the most influential yet mysterious women of the New Testament.

Lydia

Today’s verses are the only time she is mentioned in the scriptures, and there is no historical documentation about her. Yet, by her support and hospitality, she is likely responsible for the establishment of the Church in Europe and is considered its first convert.


Despite the parcity of information about Lydia, Richard Ascough was able to write a book about her: Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess

excerpt


Lydia, like many of our foremothers in faith, is hidden in the shadows of a patriarchal history. Sunlight briefly falls on Lydia in this engaging reading from Acts today.

I like to pray with this reading by imagining myself as one of Lydia’s companions, listening to her conversation with Paul, imagining her life as it unfolds into Christian leadership.

As we pray with Lydia today, let’s ask God to lead the Church to a clearer and more committed use of women’s gifts in Church life. Even Pope John Paul II made some small attempts in this direction:

“In this vast domain of service, the Church’s two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the ‘genius of woman’; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.” 
John Paul II – “Letter to Women”

But our Church and its women need more than what has been. Let’s ask for women to be welcomed out of the shadows of ecclesial life into an appropriate equity in ministry.

Music: Patterns of Sun and Shade – Kathryn Kaye

A Reason for Hope

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Philip goes down to Samaria to preach, baptize and confirm. He found a ready audience:

With one accord, the crowds
paid attention to what Philip said.

I found that sentence remarkable. Having been a teacher and presenter for over fifty years, I was thrilled whenever I encountered such an immediately enthusiastic audience. But it wasn’t always the case. Some groups, especially larger “crowds”, had to be worked into a receptive mode. It could be quite challenging.

So what made Philip’s listeners so malleable? Acts tells us that his “signs” helped. But I wondered if there might be something else?

1024px-Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796
By Angelica Kauffman – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8988425

I wondered where the Samaritan woman of “Well” fame might have been during Philip’s visitation. You remember her from John 4. She was a singular audience for Jesus, and he had to work very hard to engage her good will. But once he did, the result was stunning:

Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

…. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him
because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything
I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged
him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because
of his words many more became believers.

So where was our “Well Woman” evangelist when Philip arrived? Hidden behind the later words of scripture, she deepened with Christ’s sacred memory. How had she continued to ignite the Word in the months since she first encountered Jesus?

As she listened to Philip on this post-Easter morning, how affirmed she must have felt for the complete faith she had given to a once-thirsty Jesus!


Hope

In our second reading, Peter enjoins us to live a faith like this holy woman, a witness transformed by the touch of Christ:

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…

We have often waited by the well of our prayer for the voice and touch of Jesus. And we have known it and cherished it. 

Our readings today remind us to be like that Samaritan woman who now had her faith confirmed in the preaching of Philip —to share that faith, to witness it by our hope, to proclaim it by our merciful love.

(Look for a couple of lovely poems on Hope coming in a later post today. We could all use a few doses of hope, I think.  Enjoy!)

Music: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death – Keith and Kristyn Getty