Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 78 which commands us:
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
The psalm, in its entirety, is a recital of God’s faithfulness to Israel over time, culminating in the triumph of David/Jerusalem/Temple.
God chose David his servant, took him from the sheepfolds. From tending ewes God brought him, to shepherd Jacob, the people, Israel, God’s heritage. He shepherded them with a pure heart; with skilled hands he guided them.
Psalm 78: 70-73
David foreshadows Jesus, the Good Shepherd who not only tends the sheep but becomes the Lamb of God. Jesus completes our salvation by his death on the Cross. In him, the long journey of Psalm 78 is ultimately fulfilled.
Philippians’ exquisite hymn captures the profound nature of that fulfillment:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Each of our lives reflects, in its own way, the salvation journey we find in scripture. We experience the same kind of twists and turns, highs and lows as those described in Psalm 78.
In each of these moments, we are held in the mystery of the Cross wherein Christ transforms all suffering to grace:
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2: 9-11
Poetry: Good Friday – Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Am I a stone and not a sheep That I can stand, O Christ, beneath thy cross, To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss, And yet not weep? Not so those women loved Who with exceeding grief lamented thee; Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly; Not so the thief was moved; Not so the sun and moon Which hid their faces in a starless sky, A horror of great darkness at broad noon— I, only I. Yet give not o’er, But seek thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock; Greater than Moses, turn and look once more And smite a rock.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Sunday readings increase in dramatic tone. The passage from Isaiah describes a Savior bent on his mission despite mounting resistance and expressed hatred.
The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.
Psalm 116 paints a person set upon by suffering and death threats, still trusting in the Lord’s saving grace.
The cords of death encompassed me; the snares of the netherworld seized upon me; I fell into distress and sorrow, And I called upon the name of the LORD, “O LORD, save my life!”
Psalm 116: 3-4
In the Epistle, James says we must demonstrate our faith by our works — by putting our money where our mouth is.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
And in our Gospel, Jesus says we demonstrate our faith by following him, renouncing ourselves and taking up our cross.
This is heavy stuff. Jesus wants us to be like him — and it would be so much easier not to be! It would be so much easier to think that our life is all about ourselves, and that we have no responsibility for Beloved Creation.
It would be so much easier not to give our lives to Christ to allow Him to bless the world through our love.
But if we wish to “save” our lives like this, we will — in the end — lose them for eternity.
Let us pray today for the grace to take our life and lay it down over the Cross of Christ.
In that laying down, to conform ourselves to the pattern of his love, to place the weight of our burdens and hopes on the crossbeam of his strength.
Let us ask for the strength to live
for good in the world
and never for self when it injures or lessens others or our Sacred Home.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97, one of several psalms categorized as “enthronement psalms”. These psalms celebrate God as king, a king exponentially greater than any human sovereign.
But Psalm 97 shows us that this Divine Ruler is also exponentially different from the flawed and often oppressive human rulers Israel (and others throughout history)has/have experienced.
For that reason, God is the only one who should rule our lives, and all human authority should mirror God’s perfect balance of love, mercy, and justice.
The psalm indicates how God is uniquely supreme:
JUSTICE – God’s reign is founded on justice, not domination
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many isles be glad. Justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
UNIVERSALITY – God’s power moves earth and heaven, beyond any human ability
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory.
GOODNESS – God loves goodness, not evil; uprightness, not power plays
The LORD loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful ones; from the hand of the wicked he delivers them.
JOY – God’s reign brings universal joy, not subjugation. It inspires gratitude, not fear:
Light dawns for the just; and gladness, for the upright of heart. Be glad in the LORD, you just, and give thanks to God’s holy name
Psalm 97, though constructed on a metaphor that doesn’t speak to many of us, still has much to teach us.
How do we image God?
How does that image inspire, define, or control our behaviors and choices?
In whatever form we exercise authority, how do we reflect God’s authority?
Especially in our influence over younger, or vulnerable persons, what image of God would they learn from us?
For Christians, Psalm 97 points to a most contradictory “king”, one who loves the “beatitude person” and is willing to suffer and die for them. The psalm so clearly foreshadows Christ that it is the psalm prayed at Mass on Christmas Day.
In Christmas the Church does not simply celebrate the birth of a wondrous baby. Through that birth we celebrate the cosmic reality that God has entered the process of the world in a decisive way that changes everything toward life. The entry of God into the process of the world is the premise of the poem in Psalm 97.
Walter Brueggemann, Psalm 97: Psalm for Christmas Day
Poetry: The Kingdom – R. S. Thomas
It’s a long way off but inside it There are quite different things going on: Festivals at which the poor man Is king and the consumptive is Healed; mirrors in which the blind look At themselves and love looks at them Back; and industry is for mending The bent bones and the minds fractured By life. It’s a long way off, but to get There takes no time and admission Is free, if you will purge yourself Of desire, and present yourself with Your need only and the simple offering Of your faith, green as a leaf.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we meet the rich young man of Mark 19. Since the first reading and psalm would be challenging to pray with, I would like to offer this homily I wrote some years ago on our Gospel for today
Most had come to the rolling hills beyond the Jordan because of the miracles: the crippled walking, the dead raised, the demons cast out. Who wouldn’t take an afternoon hike to witness such amazing things? They came with their blankets and lunch baskets. They came to see.
But today, Jesus is not about miracles. He is about teaching. And it is hard to listen to him. The words are gentle but incisive. Like small scalpels, they deftly strip away the listeners’ harbored illusions. He says things like this:
Become humble like a child.
The last will be first and the first last.
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off.
Forgive seventy times seven.
His words challenge everything they had learned, believed, based their lives on! Nobody got anywhere in life by behaving the way he described! Jesus can see their consternation. What they had relied on – all that had justified their self-satisfied successes – lay now at his feet like a sculptor’s remnants.
Jesus pauses to allow a long silence to envelop their startled hearts. Quietly, he retires to a shaded grove to let his own heart settle. On the hillside, it is lunchtime. The large crowd bundles into small neighborly bands. They open their baskets and uncork their water-skins while the curative words begin the hard transformation of their souls.
But one man is not hungry – at least not for earthly food. He slowly approaches Jesus in his solitude, perhaps with a shy glance that asks, “May I come closer?” Jesus nods for the young man to join him. Settling beside Jesus, he asks, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?”
There is no lack of directness in this man. He comes bluntly to the point. But there is, nonetheless, a blindness in him. Jesus has already taken its measure even as the young man approached. His garments distinguish him from the rest of the crowd. His robe is fine linen not rude camel hair. He is not unshod, but rather wears sandals of expertly tooled leather. He carries no basket; it is held by a servant standing off at a modest but ready distance. He is so accustomed to his privilege that he is unaware of his difference from all those who surround him. He no longer sees his wealth, just as he no longer sees their poverty.
Jesus at once pities his obliviousness yet loves his sincerity. He tests the young man even though he already reads his heart. The questions are not intended to derail the man. Instead, Jesus leads him by a rabbinical path through the levels of spiritual commitment.
Do you understand true goodness?
Do you then keep the commandments?
Do you then seek perfection?
Will you then give everything you have to embrace it?
At this final question, the young man goes away sad, “for he had many possessions”.
Here Jesus defines for us the ultimate sticking point for a nearly committed person: “All you possess”. In other words, can we give everything in Christlike love?
The Christian ethic teaches us that this kind of self-donation is the only path to joy and salvation. Yet, it is a perfection few achieve. This failure in achievement leads to broken marriages, fractured families, rescinded vows and unfulfilled hopes. What is the secret to meeting its challenge?
Jesus may have given an answer two chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel. A desperate father has brought his possessed son to the disciples, but they are unable to cast out the demon. Jesus is frustrated with their impotence, saying, “How long must I be with you (before you learn)?” What is it that these disciples have yet to learn? Jesus goes on to tell them that if their faith were even the size of a tiny mustard seed, they would have the power, not only to cast out this demon, but to move mountains.
To live fully by faith is to live in the understanding that we possess nothing. Everything we think we have, including life itself, is a pure gift of God’s mercy to us. Abandonment to such understanding makes us truly rich and renders us divinely powerful. This is the continuing lesson Jesus is teaching his beloved disciples. This is the secret of eternal life to which Jesus tries to lead the rich young man. This is the daily invitation God places before us within the circumstances of our lives. Will we embrace it or will we go away sad?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, a prayer filled with hints of joyful thanksgiving and exuberant music.
At first reading, the psalm is a surprising companion to our other readings.
In the passage to the Corinthians, Paul doesn’t sound like he’s singing. He cites the struggles a committed disciple will face in order to spread the Gospel:
We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found with our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance –
2 Corinthians 6:3-4
He then offers quite a catalog of endured tests.
Jesus isn’t singing either in our reading from Mark. Instead, he enumerates the list of trials to be endured, if necessary, to live a radical commitment to the Gospel – even including lost eyes and teeth, multiple slaps, indentured clothing and service, and self-effacing generosity.
Feel like singing yet?
But here’s the thing. Praying with these passages allows us to break through their surface to understand their heart, as our Alleluia Verse explains:
A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path.
Jesus and Paul remind us that all our experiences, good and bad, are transformed in the light of the Word. That transformation calls us to respond to our lives from a well of radical faith which contradicts the deceits and interpretations of the world.
And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.
Deep faith allows us to see things, such as the listed trials, from a “new” perspective.
It is when we get to that place of freedom in our spiritual lives that we can truly “sing a new song unto the Lord”!
Poetry: Unconditional by Jennifer Paine Welwood
Willing to experience aloneness, I discover connection everywhere; Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior who lives within; Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the universe; Surrendering into emptiness, I find fullness without end. Each condition I flee from pursues me, Each condition I welcome transforms me And becomes itself transformed Into its radiant jewel-like essence. I bow to the one who has made it so, Who has crafted this Master Game; To play it is purest delight - To honor its form, true devotion.
Music: I Want to Sing a New Song – BJ Putnam and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31, the prayer of one who will not be shaken from faith in God.
For all my foes I am an object of reproach, a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends; they who see me abroad flee from me. I am forgotten like the unremembered dead; I am like a dish that is broken. But my trust is in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God. In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.”
Psalm 31: 12-13
What is there to say about the Good Friday journey of Jesus? It may be that we can only walk beside him in loving, heart-broken silence.
There are times in our lives when we will be called to walk like this beside others in loving and merciful ministry.
There may be times when others are called to walk with us in such a way.
Let these times inform our prayer today.
Good Friday is the time we gather strength and compassionate understanding from Jesus to help us, in his Name, be Mercy in the world.
Poetry: From “The Dream of the Rood”, one of the Christian poems in the corpus of Old English literature and an example of the genre of dream poetry. Like most Old English poetry, it is written in alliterative verse. Rood is from the Old English word rōd ‘pole’, or more specifically ‘crucifix’. Preserved in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, the poem may be as old as the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross, and is considered as one of the oldest works of Old English literature.
The Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:
“It was long past – I still remember it –
That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.
“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.
“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,
The open wounds of malice. Yet might I
Not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after He had
Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
Full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….
“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69. The verses offered for today’s liturgy describe someone who is abused and abandoned by the community he depended on:
Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak, I looked for sympathy, but there was none; for consolers, not one could I find. Rather they put gall in my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Psalm 69: 21-22
The psalmist goes on, into today’s passage and throughout the whole psalm, to proclaim his innocence and call on God for justice – one might say even vengeance.
Heap punishment upon their punishment; let them gain from you no vindication. May they be blotted from the book of life; not registered among the just!
Psalm 69: 28-29
Several Gospel writers include parts of Psalm 69 to describe Jesus’s situation throughout his Passion and Death. However, we find Jesus not invoking divine vengeance but forgiving those who persecute him.
Does Christ’s forgiveness mean that he didn’t feel heart-broken, angry, perhaps even wishing, as the psalmist does, that the tables would be turned onto his harassers?
We don’t really know what he felt. We can only imagine. What we do know is what Jesus chose. Jesus chose forgiveness.
As we pray with Psalm 69 today, let us remember that we cannot help our feelings. They come unbidden. What we can control are our choices. In the sufferings of our lives, may we have the strength to choose as Jesus did.
Poetry: John Greenleaf Whittier, ‘Forgiveness’
My heart was heavy, for its trust had been Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong; So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men, One summer Sabbath day I strolled among The green mounds of the village burial-place; Where, pondering how all human love and hate Find one sad level; and how, soon or late, Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face, And cold hands folded over a still heart, Pass the green threshold of our common grave, Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart, Awed for myself, and pitying my race, Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave, Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!
Music: Antonio Vivaldi – Domine ad adjuvandum me festina (Psalm 69)
Deus, in adjutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Alleluia
O Lord, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen. Alleluia.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray a responsorial from the Book of Jeremiah:
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards the flock.
The psalm today, with the first reading, brings assurance that God remains with us through suffering and will heal and make us whole again.
That reassurance is needed as we hear the Gospel’s tone darken. After the raising of Lazarus, the whole nation waits to see what will happen to Jesus as Passover nears.
I think, in some ways, impending doom is almost worse than doom itself. Picture the part in a movie where the attacker waits in the dark while the victim tiptoes into lurking danger.
That frightening music they always play! Sometimes the tension heightens to the point that I have to hit the mute or close my eyes!
This is what all surrounding Jerusalem felt like in today’s Gospel. The dark edge of evil hangs in inevitable threat.
But for Jesus, who walked in the hidden light of the Father, the moment brought more than threatening shadows. It was time to fulfill an ancient promise. It was time to offer the greatest act of Love.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, proclaim it on distant isles, and say: He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock. The LORD shall ransom Jacob, he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Jeremiah 31: 10-12
As Jesus went off alone to Ephraim to prepare his heart and soul for this ultimate fulfillment, perhaps a prayer from Jeremiah strengthened him, a remembered promise from Ezekiel focused him.
Let us pray with Jesus today as he asks the Father to “shepherd” him. With Jesus, may we find our own strengths and understandings in these ancient prophets.
Poetry: Redemption by George Herbert (1593-1633)who was a Welsh-born poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. His poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognised as “one of the foremost British devotional lyricists.”
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possessiòn.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 102, the prayer of someone in the midst of suffering. The psalm is introduced with stark honesty:
The prayer of one afflicted and wasting away whose anguish is poured out before the LORD.
Psalm 102: 1
Psalm 102 speaks to those places in life’s journey where we experience intense, perhaps overwhelming suffering.
In our first reading, the Israelites suffer through what seems like a never-ending journey of homelessness. In our Gospel, Jesus begins his final journey toward his Passion and Death. These both were journeys with suffering as a constant companion
No one avoids suffering in some way. It is part of being human. Even our beloved Catherine McAuley left us this succinct maxim:
The psalmist, in the midst of his suffering, calls out to God for a return of the promised joy.
O LORD, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you. Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; in the day when I call, answer me speedily.
This prayer attests to the psalmist’s undaunted faith and to God’s unwavering fidelity.
This mutual faithfulness is where we all must stand in sorrow so that we may come, as Jesus did, to the fullness of Resurrection grace.
As we come closer to the profound mysteries of Holy Week, let us not only reverence our own joys and sorrows. Let us ask to enter more deeply into the experience of Jesus in this final unfolding of his life. May we deepen in the understanding that the suffering of Jesus is one with the suffering of our sisters and brothers.
Poetry: On Another’s Sorrow – William Blake
Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?
Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird's grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear --
And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant's tear?
And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.
Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19.
Those of you who click through to our daily readings on the USCCB website may notice that two sets of readings are offered for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. The alternative set is for a Mass which incorporates “The Scrutinies”.
“The Scrutinies” are part of the process of admitting adults into the Catholic Church which typically takes place throughout Lent and culminates in Easter Baptism.
There are several steps in the admission process beginning with discernment and in-depth education. The Scrutinies occur near the end, during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. As the name indicates, these exercises have us look deep into our hearts and souls for the healing and forgiveness we need in faith.
However, most of us attending this Sunday’s liturgy will hear the Year B readings which center on LAW and how our developing faith understands it.
For the ancient Israelites, as Exodus tells us, that understanding took the form of a specified discipline in the Ten Commandments.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who reproach me …
In our second reading, Paul preaches a new understanding of Law – the Law of Sacrificial Love revealed in the sacred contradiction of Cross.
… but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1: 23-25
And in our Gospel, Jesus confronts those whose faith is hardened against the new Law which he embodies:
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
Our psalm offers us an opportunity to “scrutinize” the sincerity of this prayer in our own hearts:
Poetry: As Kingfishers Catch Fire – Gerard Manley Hopkins sees the law as acting in God’s eye…
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves–goes itself; _myself_ it speaks and spells,
Crying _Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is–
Chríst–for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.