A Warning Sign

Thursday, March 21, 2019

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generous impulse

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel gives us the disturbing parable of the rich man, sometimes called Dives, and Lazarus, a very poor man.

The story is disturbing because 

  • Lazarus suffers so desperately 
  • Dives is impervious to that suffering 
  • God won’t give Dives a break after his death
  • We fear being in either of these guys’ situations 

Probably, like most people, we’d rather be rich than poor. But would we rather be generous with that wealth or selfish? Do we ever find ourselves thinking thoughts like this, deciding we’re not responsible for the gap between rich and poor:

“I worked hard for what I have. Let everybody else do the same!”

That wealth gap cannot be mended simply by giving a dollar to a corner beggar nor by donating our wornout clothes to Goodwill. This kind of re-balancing requires a conversion of heart which touches our economic, political and moral understanding.

I was struck this morning by this headline from The Economist, a British weekly magazine.

economist

How can today’s Gospel inspire and encourage us in a global culture that infcreasingly marginalizes persons who are poor, resourceless, and politically oppressed?

May the story of Lazarus and Dives influence us to use the powers we have to make just and generous decisions.

  • We can vote for just, generous and moral leaders. 
  • We can advocate for universally just policies. 
  • We can donate to compassionate causes. 
  • We can confront hateful speech and stereotyping. 
  • We can speak and act for justice, peace, inclusivity and mercy.

We just have to be courageous before, like Dives, it is too late for us.

Music:  Act Justly

Saint Joseph, Silent Strength

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St Joseph
St. Theresa of Avila wrote, “I took for my patron the glorious St. Joseph and recommended myself earnestly to him. It is now very many years since I began asking St. Joseph for something on his feast, and I always received it. If the petition was in any way amiss, he rectified it for my greater good.”

The very way the Church defines the Feast tells us a great deal about Joseph. Men are seldom described by their relationship to a woman.  It is more often the other way around. Consider our lingering custom of wives assuming their husband’s surnames, for example.

But Joseph is known because of his connection to Mary. He is a steady force in the background of her life and the life of Jesus. Joseph is the kind, generous and faithful one who nurtures and protects them.

And he is the silent one. Not a single word was ever recorded from him. What we know of Joseph issues from his actions. For example, before he knew that Mary had conceived through the Holy Spirit:

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.

This virtue of righteousness sums up the character of Joseph as we find him in scripture. Righteousness is complementary to justice.

Walter Brueggemann in his book, Journey to the Common Good, says this about the relationship between justice and righteousness:

“Justice in the Old Testament concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have access to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity…. Righteousness concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity.”

Joseph exercised such righteousness not only in responding to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. He took the risk of becoming a refugee family in order to save Jesus’s infant life. After the finding in the Temple, he stepped into the background in order to allow young Jesus to assume his teaching vocation. No doubt, during the silent years which then surround Joseph, he continued to live an active life doing good for his family and community, and quietly fostering the ministry of Jesus.

Despite the scarcity of recorded knowledge about Joseph, there is an ample devotional treasury describing him. It is captured in outline form in the Litany to St. Joseph, a prayer I learned to love because it was one of my father’s favorites. I sometimes say just a few lines, slowly, to let the holiness of Joseph call me deeper into my own spiritual life.
(Music is below the Litany.)

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. 

God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us. 
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. 
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us. 
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us. 

Holy Mary, pray for us (after each line)
Saint Joseph,
Renowned offspring of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Diligent protector of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most strong,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of artisans,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the wretched, Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Protector of Holy Church, 

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord. 
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord. 
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us. 

V. He made him the lord of His house:
R. And ruler of all His substance. 

Let us pray.
O God, who in Your unspeakable providence chose blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Your own most holy Mother: grant, we ask, that we may deserve to have him for our intercessor in heaven, whom we reverence as our defender on earth. Amen.

Music: I Am a Carpenter – Cher & Gene Klosner 

Turn To Me

Monday, March 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are steeped with the scent of Lent, coming this week.

Sirach 17 turn

Sirach appeals to us to be penitent, to turn around and look at the Lord with new eyes. Mark describes the entrance to God’s Kingdom as smaller than a needle’s eye!

The word “penitent” comes from a Latin root paenitere which carries a sense of being filled with regret at what is missing or lacking in our lives.

In Mark, Jesus meets a good young man longing for something more in his life.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,

“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

These readings set us up perfectly for the coming Lenten season. It is a good day to think about what is lacking in our spiritual life, what it will take for us to follow Jesus more wholeheartedly.

Let us turn our hearts to look at Jesus who loves us as much as he loved that young man. Let us ask Jesus to accompany us on the coming journey, giving us the courage to change whatever in us needs change in order to pass through the needle’s eye.

Music: Turn Around – The Vogues

Power of the Keys

Friday, February 22, 2019

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Peter_keys

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate  the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle. It seems both fitting and painfully ironic that this feast should coincide with the Pope’s Summit on Protection of Minors in the Church. When He handed the “keys” to Peter, could Christ ever have foreseen that his beloved church would descend to this shame?

Factions in the Catholic Church argue over where to place the blame for this horror. Some point to the entitlements of clericalism. Some point to more liberal stances on sexuality. The most vocal factions use their voices to blame others rather than look to their own faults. 

But today’s Gospel suggests that none of these explanations goes to the root of the crisis.

What Christ handed Peter was POWER. Our Gospel says that this power was to be used to map the journey to heaven for the rest of us – appropriately “binding” and “loosening” the guidelines of that journey.

That’s a lot of power!

Unfortunately, the famous quote of John Dalberg-Acton, a 19th century Catholic writer, too often proves true. He said:

Power tends to corrupt.
And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What was it that Jesus saw in Peter to give him hope for Peter’s incorruptibility?

  • Peter, who abandoned his livelihood in full devotion to the call. 
  • Peter, who tried to protect his beloved Lord from the wrath of the Pharisees
  • Peter who, defending Jesus in the Garden, cut off the ear of Malchus
  • Peter, who recognized and begged forgiveness for his weakness
  • Peter, who chose an inverted crucifixion because he deemed himself unworthy to die as his master did.

Power fueled by this kind of single-hearted devotion and humility is the true “Power of the Keys”. It suffers no shadow of greed, self-importance, domination, or lust. It is always “power for” not “power over” others.

Until our church structures foster this kind of mutual, non-exclusionary power in our leaders AND members, we have little hope of transformation.

Let us pray for true insight and courage for those gathered in Rome.

Music: (Maybe the Cardinals could sing this song in their hearts on the way to their meetings? Maybe we could sing it too sometimes?)

Lay It Down – Moxie Gibson

The Ark of Your Hearts

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021919.cfm

duck
Sent to me this morning by my beautiful niece in Atlanta where they are having rain

Today, in Mercy, and for the next few days we have the story of Noah. It’s both a terrifying and delightful story. 

It is frightening to think of the earth inundated by flood, all Creation wiped out because of the Creator’s disappointment! 

But it is delightful to think of these thousands of animal couples, holding hands, paws, fins or tentacles and skipping into Noah’s big boat.

In this passage, the writer imbues God with the same emotions and responses we have when our project fails mightily. We crumple it up, press delete, throw it in the garbage disposal, or smash it on the ground. In Genesis, God decides to “erase by flood”.

Despite the woeful drama, the story is filled with hope. God has not completely given up. He just wants to start over again.

Throughout the voluminous rest of scripture, God starts over with us innumerable times. Think of the Prodigal Son, the Adulterous Woman, Joseph and his Brothers.  Forgiveness and new beginnings are the story of our relationship with a God Who loves us too much to let us fail.

So, if your faith life is a little stormy just now, take refuge in the “ark of your heart” – your trust, hope and faith in God. Pray for fairer weather and believe that God will send it. Ask for the eyes to recognize it when it comes.

Music: Eye of the Storm ~ Ryan Stevenson (a little bit country, but the message works)

Be Opened!

Friday, February 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about being opened by the grace and power of God.

ephphatha

In the Genesis passage, Eve and Adam eat fruit from the tree of knowledge. Their eyes are opened to good and evil.

In our reading from Mark, Jesus opens the ears of a deaf man, allowing him both to hear and to speak clearly.

In the first passage, Adam and Eve’s new “openness” brings a burden. Their innocence now fractured, they must forever exercise their free will to choose good over evil.

In the second passage, the deaf man’s burdens are lifted. He now has no obstacle to hearing and proclaiming God’s mercy.

Like Adam and Eve, we bear the burden of knowledge in a disturbing and sinful world. Every choice challenges us to be and do good in a culture of human degradation.

But like the man who was cured, we have been transformed by Christ’s touch. We see, not just with the discernment of good and evil, but with God’s eyes – with the power to see past death to life.

This power is expressed in our lives by:

  • our faith in a world filled with uncertainty
  • our hope in a world trapped in despair
  • our love in a world blinded by selfishness and greed

Every morning, God wakes us and says, “Ephphatha – be a sign of my gracious openness in your world because I am that Openness for you.”

Today, in our prayer, let us find what is closed in us. We may have judged and shut out someone. We may have given up on a good and necessary practice. We may have withdrawn from a generous responsibility. We may have capitulated to a life-sapping addiction. Inside us somewhere, we may have curled up into  “No”!

God calls us to be a “Yes” to the abundance of life and grace God offers us. We are called to open, to be “uncurled”. This poem by e.e.cummings has helped me on occasion with such uncurling.

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

Music: Open My Eyes, Lord

Witness for the …

Sunday, February 10, 2019

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I bet I know the first word that popped into your mind when you read today’s headline:  PROSECUTION!

Agatha-Christies-Witness-for-the-Prosecution-set-for-BBC-One-remake-767x421

Today, in Mercy, our readings invite us to consider WITNESS — not for the prosecution, but for the RESURRECTION!

Is6_8 witness

In our first reading, we see Isaiah dramatically commissioned to WITNESS to the vision of faith in his heart. He responds wholeheartedly:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Our second reading, Paul describes how Christ appeared to him and commissioned him, “the least of the Apostles” to be his WITNESS. Paul, too, responds wholeheartedly:

He appeared to me.
Therefore, … so we preach and so you believed.

In our Gospel, Simon Peter, James and John are awed by the miraculous power of Jesus as their nets pull hundreds of fish from the otherwise unproductive sea. Jesus tells them that, by their WITNESS, they will attract hundreds of souls to his message. They also respond wholeheartedly:

When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.


For the Word of God to live,
WITNESS is everything.


Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, in her beautiful book, “Seven Sacred Pauses”, describes the level of WITNESS in the first disciples:

They were impelled to continue proclaiming the Gospel in the face of opposition. They were zealous in preaching because they felt passionate about being entrusted with the scared message.

Think of this often-heard philosophical conundrum:

If a tree falls in the forest,
and no one is there to hear it,
does it make a sound?

Logic tells us that it does. But what does it matter if no one hears it?

If the Resurrection happened, and no one bears witness to it, what does it matter? That is the importance of our call to WITNESS –   just like Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James, John, and two millennia of believers who carry on the sound of that tomb bursting open to eternal life.

How will we witness to our faith today – not by preachy words or empty opinions, but by our active passion for justice and mercy in the world, and in our own choices?

Music: I Will Stand as a Witness for Christ

Add to the Beauty

Thursday, February 7, 2019

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Mk16_15 add to beauty

Today, in Mercy, Jesus’s disciples set out on their first solo mission. Most of us can relate to their feelings that morning.

Remember your first real job? You had studied, trained, prepared. You had aced the interview. You bought a new blouse, shirt or pair of shoes. You were IN!

And you were scared. You might have done a dry run to make sure you wouldn’t be late your first day. You checked that your gas tank was topped off. You packed a lunch (or someone who loved you did), and wondered who would eat with you.

The disciples were probably scared too. Look at whose shoes they were following in! And Jesus sets out some tough dress code for their work life:

  • take nothing but a walking stick
  • no food, no sack, no money in their belts
  • wear sandals but not a second tunic.

The behavior code was just as lean:

  • take a buddy for support
  • when you enter a house, stay there the whole time
  • if they don’t welcome you or listen to you, don’t argue
  • leave there and shake the dust off your feet

As we set out to work each day, do we think of our labor as “ministry”? Do we see that our work in some way benefits the life of the community? Do our interactions with our peers encourage their contributions to the common good?

We all need jobs to earn the means to live. But if that’s all our job is, we will never find happiness in it. Meaningful work must benefit more than ourselves and, in that, it can become a ministry.

If Jesus were sending us out to our workday this morning, he might give instructions like these:

  • work responsibly, mutually and unselfishly 
  • earn all that you need to be happy, but avoid greed
  • make sure your labors enhance life for others as well as yourself
  • if your job chokes your soul, move on

What we do does not determine our worth. How we do it does. We may be sewing buttons on shirts. If we do that with attention and pride, our work will have meaning for us and for others.

Every meaningful job gives us the chance to make the world better for those we serve, and for those with whom we work – to add to the beauty of the world already begun in the blessing of God. Does our work offer us that life-giving opportunity? Do we respond to it wholeheartedly?

Song: Add to the Beauty ~ Sara Groves

The Bitter Root

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we taste the “bitter root”. 

Heb12_15 bitter root

Paul writes to the Hebrews:

See to it that no one
be deprived of the grace of God,

that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble,
through which many may become defiled.

In our Gospel, Luke writes to his community

So Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed in his hometown,
… He was amazed at their lack of faith.

So what is this bitter root that robs a heart of faith, forgiveness, trust, hope and love?

Think of the things we humans bury deep in our souls, before they can be seen, named and confronted. Naïvely, we think that hiding them will make them disappear.
We bury our:

word cloud

These buried irritants never disappear. They thicken under the surface, choking the possibility of new life — of Grace. These “bitter roots” steal our spiritual health and cripple the Holy Spirit within us. They deprive the community of our vigor and life. 

It is so necessary and important for us to bring these tangled undergrowths to light! It is so necessary and important for us to be the loving community that offers understanding, healing, listening and love.

How do we uncover and release these hidden poisons? Prayer, of course, can help us, and the gentle discipline of honesty with ourselves; the natural self-revelation of a trusted friendship, the insights of spiritual direction and retreat, and, sometimes, the professional accompaniment of a counselor.

Mary Oliver, beloved poet, describes a buried darkness in her own life in this poem “The Uses of Sorrow”:

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

As part of the faith community, we need to contribute to that place of trust and friendship that invites others to work through their darknesses. Healing is not magic. It comes through the tenderness, patience, honesty, awareness and encouragement of the surrounding community, as well as through our own courage. We need that community ourselves, and we need to be that community for others.

Music: Ubi Caritas (Where Charity and Love prevail, there is God.)

 

What About the Pigs!

Monday, February 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about God’s transforming power and our human ability to tap into that power by our faith.

Hebrews 11 references several heroes, named and unnamed, whose faith and perseverance were so great that, “The world was not worthy of them.”

Mark’s Gospel tells the story of the Gerasene demoniac, a story with many layers of meaning and challenge. In it, Jesus demonstrates an astounding power that both amazes and frightens his audience.

Mt5_10 pigsJPG

We have the very detailed description of the demoniac, a wild, unnaturally strong and violent man. We have the Gerasene community which doesn’t know what else to do to control the disruptive forces of this wretched man. And we have an innocent, unsuspecting herd of pigs.

Jesus is unafraid of the forces erupting from this troubled man. He approaches the man’s suffering on a whole different level from the unsuccessful tactics of the community.  Jesus speaks to the man’s soul which has been shattered into many howling fragments by the evil dwelling inside him. Jesus then casts out that evil in a demonstration that both awes and angers his observers.

Imagine how the pig farmers felt. Their livelihood lay drowning at the bottom of a precipice! The food supply, water integrity, employment opportunities all took a steep drop in that one moment of Christ’s command. In healing this broken man, who is representative of all suffering humanity, Jesus disrupted the comfortable systems which had allowed him to be isolated and chained at the edge of this society.

Jesus challenged this whole community to see the world from a different perspective – a spiritual one in which human life and wholeness is at the heart of all our societal systems. This man was more important than a herd of 2000 pigs!

These readings challenge us who live in a surface world “not worthy” of our faith. 

There is incredible suffering throughout this world. It is not enough to simply pray that it is alleviated. It is surely not enough to “chain” it by our indifference and acceptance.

Global suffering will be addressed only by confronting our comfortable systems (our herd of pigs). Our legal, political, economic and social systems must cherish the integrity of the human person. Otherwise, they should be challenged, changed, and maybe even cast away.

Our small part is to learn, understand, choose, vote and speak out for this kind of wholeness – both in our immediate, personal experiences as well as through the social justice structures available to us.  For example:

Sisters of Mercy Social Justice Advocacy

Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Music: Give Me Your Eyes ~ Brandon Heath