Radicals for God

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

September 23, 2019

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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 

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.

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:

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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)

God is a Sliding Board!

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Paul references some pretty mean-spirited Colossians:

You once were alienated and hostile in mind
because of evil deeds.

Whoa! Where did these meanies come from amid all the blessed populace?
They must have been nice to be around!

All of us have been in the presence of such off-kilter people. They seem all twisted in their own negativity and judgmentalism. There is no joy in them, no warmth, no kindness. Unhappily, we may even have such a person at times.

Paul is clear on the cure for such ill-temper:

  • Reconciliation through a persevering faith
  • Stability in hope, grounded the Gospel

If you have ever used a GPS device while driving, you have probably had the same experience as I have. At least five annoying times per journey, the gal is my dashboard shouts:

Recalculating route!

Paul says that with our reconciliation through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, there is no need to recalculate. As our Responsorial Psalm tells us:

I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.

Once again in our Gospel, the Pharisees try to distract from the clarity of Jesus’ message. They worry about the tiniest grains rather than the Radiant Truth in their midst. They keep trying to recalculate a route through their circuitous laws rather than opening their hearts to the Way.

It’s easy to get infected with such running around in circles. The bigness of God can be scary. We sometimes make up useless curves to avoid God’s awesomeness.

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Indeed, God is a sliding board with no handrails! But, Paul assures us that we are riding it in Christ’s arms.

Music: I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life – Bob Hurd

Our Laboring Mother

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

Tuesday, September  3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain:

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

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

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

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

A Passion Like Christ’s

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we commemorate the Passion of John the Baptist who, besides Mary, was the greatest saint embracing both the Old and the New Testaments.

When I was young, the memorial was simply referred to as “The Beheading of John the Baptist”. The term “passion” captures its meaning so much more clearly:

  • it inclines us to realize the similarities between John’s passion and death and that of Jesus.
  • it shifts the power of the event to John, who chose his fate by the courage of his witness, rather than to see Herod, the “beheader”, as the agent of the story.

John’s whole prophetic life was part of his “passion”. It inevitably led him to this ultimate confrontation with evil.

Walter Bruggemann, in his transformational book “The Prophetic Imagination” writes about prophets. He indicates that prophets emerge in the context of “totalism” – those paralyzing systems which attempt to control and dominate all freedom and possibility.

Totalism kills ideas, hope, freedom, choice, self-determination, and creativity for the sake of controlling reality for its own advantage. Totalism is the ultimate “abusive relationship “.

Brueggemann defines the prophet as one engaged in these three tasks:

  • the prophet is clear on the force and illegitimacy of the totalism.
  • the prophet pronounces the truth about the force of the totalism that contradicts the purpose of God.
  • the prophet articulates the alternative world that God has promised, and that God is actually creating within the chaos around us.

Every age requires prophets because every age is infected with “Herods” trying to thwart God’s reign of love, mercy, truth, freedom, and joy. In our own time, the poison of totalism is quite evident in those systems fueled by racism, militarism, financial duplicity, desecration of the earth, and the sad array of other ideologies that cripple humanity.

Today, as we pray with this great saint, may we be inspired to respond to our own prophetic call – to be prophetic signs of love, mutual reverence, joy, Gospel justice,and lavish mercy for our world.

Music: I think of this song by Simon and Garfunkel as the modern day song of John the Baptist.

https://youtu.be/XgbBLKet14E

Faithful Monica

Memorial of Saint Monica

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Monica
Santa Monica e Sant’Agostino by Giuseppe Riva (This work is in the public domain n its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.)

Monica had a difficult life, burdened by an autocratic pagan husband. She was forbidden to have her children baptized. Augustine worried her deeply because he developed into a wayward and lazy young man. Eventually he was wooed by the Manichaean heresy which denied Christ as God. This was too much for Monica. She asked him to leave her house.

But Monica continued for seventeen years to pray for and encourage Augustine to return to a faithful, moral life. Finally through the influence of St. Ambrose, Augustine was converted.

How many mothers and fathers, friends and spouses have prayed like this for someone they love? How many of us have had a “lost sheep” right in the center of our family but beyond its touch?

Monica’s great love and faithful devotion to her son are reminiscent of Paul’s love for his Thessalonian flock:

… we were gentle among you,
as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.

This is the way God loves us and draws us to himself. It is the way that we, who carry God’s love in the world, must be with one another.

Our Gospel gives us another example of how disgusted Jesus is with those who pretend the “exteriors” of faith but on the inside are “blind hypocrites… full of plunder and self-indulgence”.

Instead, we need a faith like Monica’s, humble and generous but at the same time tenacious and persevering in seeking good.

Music: Give Me the Faith Which Can Remove – written by Charles Wesley, younger brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism

Wherever … with Love

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I thank God that we have gotten to the Book of Ruth. The wars and subterfuges of the Judges we’re sorely testing me!😂 But the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi, familiar and beloved, offers us a more spontaneous inspiration for prayer.

Naomi’s husband and only two sons have died. Her only remaining family are her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpha. Naomi, resigning herself to a lonely death, urges these two young women to return to their kinsmen and begin new lives. Orpha acquiesces. 

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Ruth Swearing Allegiance to Naomi by Jans Victor (1619-1676)

But Ruth abides. Together, she and her mother-in-law return to Bethlehem, Naomi’s homeland. There, by her humble and steadfast work to support Naomi, Ruth attracts the love and admiration of Boaz, whom she eventually marries.

On the surface, and appropriately, we may read the story to be about Naomi and Ruth, their response to devastating bereavement, and their ultimate, fruitful devotion to each other.

However, on a deeper level, we may see Naomi as a symbol of suffering and need, and Ruth as an icon of God. In that manner of reading:

  • God suffers our diminishments with us
  • God refuses to abandon us 
  • God accompanies us to a new understanding of ourselves
  • God works to feed our poverty of mind, heart and spirit
  • God brings our brokenness to wholeness by loving fidelity to us

What a different kind of message from Judges the Book of Ruth brings us – a tender and merciful God more like the God of the Gospel. Although the author of the Book of Ruth is unknown, some think – because of the tone and characters – that it was written by a woman. I like that thought.

May our prayer today take us to the place where God abides with us in any suffering or spiritual longing we hold. May God’s faithful companionship heal and transform us. May God’s song of fidelity thrill, delight and sustain us. May we return it with generosity and joy.

Music: Covenant Song – Rory Cooney and Gary Daigle (Lyrics below)

Wherever you go, I will follow, Wherever you live is my home.
Though days be of blessing or sorrow, though house be of canvas or stone,
Though Eden be lost to the past, though mountains before us be vast,
Wherever you go, I am with you. I never will leave you alone.

Whatever you dream, I am with you, when stars call your name in the night
Though shadows and mist cloud the future,
together we bear there a light.
Like Abram and Sarah we stand, with only a promise in hand.
But lead where you dream: I will follow. To dream with you is my delight.

And though you should fall, you will find me, when no other friend can you claim,
when foes beat you down or betray you, and others desert you in shame.
When home and dreams aren’t enough, and you run away from my love,
I’ll raise you from where you have fallen. Faithful to you is my name.

Wherever you die, I will be there to sing you to sleep with a psalm,
to soothe you with tales our journey, your fears and your doubts I will calm.
We’ll live when journeys are done forever in mem’ry as one.
And we will be buried together, and awaken to greet a new dawn.

Wherever you go, I will follow. Behold! The horizon shines clear.
The possible gleams like a city: together we’ve nothing to fear.
So speak with words bold and true the message my heart speaks to you.
You won’t be alone, I have promised. Wherever you go, I am here.

On That Day & This One

Many things live, not just the plants, animals and humans that grace our world.  Memories and promises live.  Vows live. So do grudges and prejudices. Unlike our physical life, these less tangible realities become stronger with time.  Tales of valor and achievement live, often becoming epic with the passing of the years.

Simple kindness lives too, blessing not only the current receiver, but the unseen generations to whom it is passed. Every morning, old fears and new hopes wake up within us all.  They vie with each other to become the engines of our lives.  The happy ones among us have learned to let hope win.

mother Patricia with flower
Mother Patricia near her death in 1915

On this date in 1861, a small group of just such happy, hopeful people came to Philadelphia. On that hot August afternoon, the first Philadelphia Sisters of Mercy, led by 26-year old Patricia Waldron, arrived at Broad Street Station in North Philadelphia. They carried no worldly possessions. They came with only a dream for Mercy.  It was a dream so alive in them that it still inspires us today, over 150 years later.

 

Can’t you see them standing on the busy platform, the hissing steam trains encircling them in mist?  They must have felt “be-misted” themselves, these mostly Irish country girls engulfed in a big city.

Union troops heading south crowded the platform.  Busy Broad Street crackled with news of the burgeoning national strife.  Lincoln himself would visit the city in the coming weeks.

And hidden within the seams of this bustling city’s garment lay the poor – the ones for whom they had come.  How to reach them?  How to help them change their lives?

Ranging from sixteen to twenty-seven years old, these brave young women had been charged with establishing a kind of “new nation” themselves – not of politics, but of mercy.  I am sure they, like the young stout-hearted soldiers surrounding them, were also a little weak-kneed. They too had their battles to face. They too would see starvation, illness, attack and death – but they would endure for the sake of the Mercy dream, God’s dream for the poor.

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Today we honor our beloved foremothers who led the way in faith and commitment.

Enduring dreams begin with small first steps.  So, hailing a horse-drawn carriage, Mother Patricia Waldron led her young band to their new lives.  Thus she began the grace-filled saga many of us know so well and of which we are a part today.  Their dream lives in us who love Mercy:

  • in our continued effort to find those who are poor and sick in a world that ignores them
  • in our choice to be compassionate in a world that often chooses violence
  • in our commitment to care in a world of treacherous indifference

On that sultry August day 1861,  and on this one 2019, people have choices to make.  They have vows to keep. Some choices live forever.  In the name of Mercy, what will you choose today?