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

So Much More Than a Holiday!

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Some of us begin this day simply grateful for a holiday. Perhaps some of us forget, or some are too young to remember, how this “holiday” came to be.

But there are some among us who are old enough to remember his actual voice; to have listened — live – on that sweltering August day in 1963 when he inspired us with the words:

I have a dream.

gty_march_on_washington_martin_luther_king_ll_130819_16x9_992

There are some of us who saw him stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that golden day, the personification of President Lincoln’s vision of justice and equality.

 There are some of us who listened and watched every step he took, every prayer he said, every challenge he met with equanimity and courage.


 There are some of us who remember the very night he told us:

I have been to the mountaintop 
and I have seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you.
But I want you to know that we,
as a people,
will get to the promised land.

 

There was a whole world of us who cried when he was martyred the very next day.


Monday is no mere holiday. It is the commemoration of a giant soul who changed the world forever. And he did it not in the way that many have done it throughout history — through wars and conquest.

Martin Luther King changed the world by non-violent protest, by a leadership of love, by a faith that endures beyond the assassin’s gun.

Say his name in reverence on this commemorative day. He has given all of us — no matter our color — the hope of a more human existence. If you have not had the gift of living in his time, ask your elders who remember his face, his sound, his power to tell you the story of the freedom God gave each of us.

 In his memory, and to continue to realize his dream, we might consider these 12 steps to non-violence for our own lives.


12 Steps to Non-Violence

  1. Acknowledge your powerlessness — that our lives/culture are co-opted by subversive and pervasive violence
  2. Believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to right relationship.
  3. Decide to turn our will and our lives over to that Power.
  4. Examine fearlessly our own violent inclinations.
  5. Admit to that Power, to ourselves and to another person the exact nature of our own violence.
  6. Be open to have that inclination removed.
  7. Ask to have all violence removed from our hearts and actions.
  8. List all persons to whom we have been violent by word or deed and be willing to make amends to them.
  9. Amend directly to these people wherever possible and prudent.
  10. Self-examine continuously; promptly admit recurring violence in ourselves.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to know the nature of Peace and Mercy.
  12. Carry the message of non-violence to others and practice it in all our interactions.

Music: “Abraham, Martin and John” is a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and sung here by Marvin Gaye. It is a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. It was written in response to the assassination of King and that of Robert Kennedy in April and June 1968, respectively. (Wikipedia)

The song reflects the mix of awe, hope, sorrow and disappointment the nation felt in those tumultuous times.

 

 

The Sacred Legacy of MLK

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2020

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MLKJPG

Today, in Mercy, as we memorialize the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our readings speak about leadership and its continuing call to renew the world in the image of its Creator.

In our first reading, Samuel relays God’s displeasure to Saul who, though a conquering hero, has failed in humility and obedience before the Lord. 

In the story, God has given a clear direction to Saul to obliterate Israel’s centuries-old enemy, the Amalekites. Instead Saul, after executing the masses, keeps the enemy king alive as a war trophy. He appropriates the cattle as personal spoil. He also sets up a shrine to commemorate the victory as his own.

God is not happy. When we profess to lead in God’s name we must act as God directs us. In order to understand God’s direction, we must cultivate an honest, just and merciful heart.


Martin Luther King was such a leader. By his faithful obedience to God’s inspiration, Martin, at the ultimate cost, turned the tides of history toward justice and freedom.

But the tides still need turning, because there will always be those who seek “war trophies”, and personal spoil, and domination for themselves. Our times are tortured by such selfish and failed leadership, just as all of history has been from ancient Israel until 1968 and until now.

Today, as we pray with this great prophet and leader, we ask that selfless, merciful and faith-impelled souls continue to hear the call to justice in our day. May Martin’s witness strengthen and inspire us.


Music: Precious Lord, Take My Hand – Mahalia Jackson (Lyrics below)

Per Dr. King’s request, his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, though not as part of the morning funeral service but later that day at a second open-air service at Morehouse College.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on through the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

When my way grows dreary
Precious Lord, lead me near
When my life is almost gone
At the river I will stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

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

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)

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.

Holy Victory

Friday after Epiphany

January 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings both challenge and affirm our faith:

John tells us:

Beloved:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

What does John mean by saying our faith makes us “victor over the world”? 

1Jn5_5

Certain scripture passages, and many theologians throughout history, use the term “the world” to refer to a secularized human system which denies or devalues God and spirituality. They set this concept of “the world” in opposition to a life lived from deep faith.

“Pope Francis, in a recent homily, spoke of the spirit of the world, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit. “Jesus, at the Last Supper,” he recalled, “does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world,” because Christian life is in the world, “but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite. He 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”.
(Alessandro Di Bussolo, Vatican News)

For some, though, a simplistic definition of “world” and “spirit” has led to a dichotomy in which these realities are isolated from, and do not inform each other. Such thinking may lead us to identify “world” with the “evil” generated by sin or spiritual emptiness.

Evolving theology has confronted this dichotomous perception to help us understand that we come to know God through the sacred reality of the created world we live in.

Thomas Berry says this:
“… we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.”
(Thomas Berry, “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work)

Such Creation-based spirituality allows us to acknowledge and respond to God’s invitation to transform “the world” by our oneness with Christ, who is the Fullness of Creation.

“Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”
(Elizabeth A. Johnson – Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love)

Pope Francis, in paragraph 11 of Laudato Si’ writes:

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

As we consider all these aspects today in our prayer, let us ask for an understanding of God based in deep love and hope for our cosmic truth.

Music: Adoro Te Devote

Pants on Fire?

Thursday after Epiphany

January 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks about liars. He made me really think.

nose
Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

When I was a kid going to weekly Saturday night confession (yes, remember a lot of us did that😇), I really had to scrape to get a decent pile of sins. I mean, honestly, how much evil can one eight-year-old generate in a week?

But lying was always a good fallback to report on. You know the deal: I told my teacher that I forgot my homework when I really hadn’t done it. I told Petey Nicolo I could beat him up when I knew I couldn’t. I told Chickie Schmidt I could ride a big bike like hers when I had actually just fallen on my face off a smaller one. I told Sister I wasn’t smoking in the girls’ room when my very own cousin Joanie threw me under the bus!

As you can see, I was your normal childhood compulsive liar – pretending to be and do lots of things I only wished I could be or do. But that’s just part of growing up. Like most people, I got over it when I began to realize the power and necessity of growing confidently into one’s true self.

People depend on us to be who we really are, to be the real deal. The value of our work and contributions to the world hinges on this. The depth and endurance of our relationships rest on such transparency and authenticity. Even our ability to love ourselves is rooted in honest self-awareness.

 

1Jn4_15
So how do we deepen in that kind of truthfulness, especially in this culture that so abuses it? John tells us that love is the way:

Beloved, we love God because
God first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,”
but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Friends, we live in a culture drowning in lies. Some have come to believe that unless one lies, one cannot compete. Businesses lie to sell untested or worthless commodities. Manufacturers veil the danger of their drugs, tobacco and vaping products. Politicians lie to condemn their opponents. Leaders lie to justify war. And criminals lie to excuse their crimes.

tangled netJPG

These liars may never even consider that their tangled lives are related to the scriptures. But every one of these deceptions is fueled by a failure in reverence and love for our sisters and brothers, by a failure in courage to be responsible for one another.

We lie because we think our truth is not enough. John tells us differently. Our awesome Truth is that we all are God’s children!

Our reading closes today with these words, so critical to the rebuilding of a truthful world:

In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Let’s pray for one another’s courage, dear Friends, to be and demand the Truth that Love requires.

Music: True Heart – Oak Ridge Boys

Often, I use a popular song for prayer, allowing its words to speak to God for me.
You might like to try it with this song. No doubt intended as a human love song, it can be a divine love song too – and it’s sure a good wake up prayer😉

Afraid? Who Me?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have a few references to fear — and to its perfect antidote, Love.

1Jn4 fear

John continues to instruct us in prose that stuns us with its sacred clarity:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.


In our Gospel, we meet some pretty fearful disciples. First of all, they are still spinning from the avalanche of loaves and fishes gushing forth from the perfect faith of Jesus. 

Jesus_walks_on_Water,_St_Botolph_without_Aldersgate
Jesus walks on Water, St Botolph without Aldersgate: Photo by Andrew R. Abbott Andrewrabbott [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Today, they are rowing a storm-tossed lake in the pitch of night. Enough to strike fear into even a crusty fisherman’s heart! But wait a minute! As if all these scary things are not enough, here comes a ghost across the threatening waves!

And how about Jesus in this passage? A little nonchalant, or what? 

About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,

they thought it was a ghost and cried out.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the waves.

Jesus, full of Love, and perfected in the Creator’s Presence, has no need or place for fear. He lives in the accomplished wholeness of God where, as Julian of Norwich says, “All manner of things shall be well.”


cocoon

I never really thought much about fearfulness in my life. I exist in great security. But when I read this line from Paula D’Arcy, I saw that there are all kinds of unrecognized fears inhibiting us:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,

if I were not dominated by fear?

Fears. What are some of yours that, like me, you may not have recognized:

  • Fear of failure, loss, death, dependence.
  • Fear of looking foolish, getting old, being sick, losing my comfort zone.
  • Fear of meaninglessness, unusefulness, of being held responsible?

Could we go on and on?

But what about the biggest fear – of being unloved, and maybe even unlovable.

Dear God, as we pray today,
help us to grow into your amazing love for us.
Help us there to cast out our fears
and to live in your perfect freedom and joy.

Music:  All Shall Be Well – Michelle Sherliza

Be the “Possible” That God Imagines!

Tuesday after Epiphany

January 7, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings empower us for unbounded possibility!

John’s letter tells us why:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God,
but that God loved us…

God has loved me!

There is nothing more I need to be whole — if I will only believe it, absorb it, and live from it!

There is nothing more I need to become a force for love in the world.


Mk6_4 loaves

Jesus demonstrates this powerful love in our Gospel reading.

It has been a long day of teaching, and the disciples see that the crowds are hungry and tired. They know the solution, which Jesus has apparently overlooked : let them go home and get something to eat!

But Jesus very simply responds, “Feed them yourselves!

He invites his disciples to realize the power released within them by God’s supernatural love. He challenges them to envision a way to respond to their challenges other than the tired, limited solutions we anxiously depend on.

Jesus calls them to imagine the world as God imagines it – transformed by an Unconditional Love which refuses the measurements of fear, control, and self- preservation.


loaves and fishes

Can you just visualize the scene that afternoon as the five loaves and two fish miraculously multiplied over the crowd of five thousand!

Can you see the expressions on the disciples’ faces as they allowed themselves to believe that, because of God’s Love, they were the vehicle of miracles!

We are too! There is no good we are incapable of if we will just believe in the power of Divine Love within us. Our miracles may not be as dramatic as the multiplication of the loaves. But they will be no less important.

They will be the miracles God planned for us to work in God’s name – for our circumstances, our challenges. They will be the way we carry God’s unimaginable grace to the tired hungers of our times.

Picture yourself starting out today, carrying that basket with just two fish and five loaves into the famished world. Imagine what happens when you open your heart to God grasping the basket with you!

Music: Imagine – John Lennon – I love this song in which Lennon imagines a world free of all the human constructs by which we limit it – a world as God might see it.