Psalm 23: Light through the Dark

 The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed(All Souls)

November 2, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we commemorate the Holy Souls, a remembrance inextricably tied to yesterday’s celebration of All Saints. It is as if yesterday we prayed in the moon’s full light. Today, we pray on its shadow side.


We pray with Psalm 23, a psalm we have prayed scores of times at the funeral Masses of beloved family and friends. 

Just last month, we prayed it with a lighter tone, focusing on the sunlit field and restful waters.


Today, on this tender feast, we pray this psalm in its grey tones, with a lingering sense of bereavement and perhaps some uncertainty about afterlife’s mysteries.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; 
May the angels lead you into paradise;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, 
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. 
and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, 
May choirs of angels receive you 
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere 
and with Lazarus, once poor,
æternam habeas requiem.
may you have eternal rest.


The popular theology – or more clearly “devotionalism”- surrounding All Souls Day has always challenged me. There is a discomfort with the concept of purgatory, and a time of temporal punishment for faithful but imperfect souls. I have always felt that there is enough suffering in this life to redeem us from the sinfulness we struggle with.

Our modern ideas of purgatory and hell still limp under concepts left over from the Middle Ages – fire, brimstone, and devils with pitch forks. My memory still shivers with images from my grade school choir when, at every funeral Mass, we sang the heavy tones of the Dies Irae with a priest clothed in black vestments.


Post-Vatican II theology has infused hope into that devotional gloom. It has refocused us on the truth informing our understanding of death so beautifully described in our reading from Wisdom:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.

Wisdom 3:1-3

So what might be a reflective understanding of the core theology underlying this important day? The truth is that any theology is imperfect, and we do our best to imagine what is beyond our imagination.

But here are some ideas or beliefs that help my prayer:

  • our souls endure beyond physical death since they are the Breath of God
  • Christ has already paid the price of our sins and redeemed us on the Cross
  • still, we never lose our free will either in life or in death
  • we are free to choose for God or against God
  • some choose total alienation (popularly conceptualized as “hell”)
  • some choose union, but their choices are fragmented and weak at times, casting shadows over our wholeness or holiness 
  • those weak fragmentations may be healed in us even after death (purgatory) until the fullness of God’s Grace “dawns” on us and within us
  • that healing can be fostered by our prayer for one another throughout the Communion of Saints

All Souls Day is the celebration of that prayer and that healing
for those who have gone before us.
Today, we embrace all those beloved souls in our prayer,
and join the prayer of the whole Church for them.


Poetry: Comfort by Christine Robinson

I am a child of God
  I have everything I need.
This beautiful earth feeds my body.
  You feed my soul.

You guide me in the ways of Life,
  for You are Life.
And though I will walk through dark places, and eventually to death,
  I need never be afraid.

For You are with me always,
  In You I can find comfort.
With Your help, I can face whatever comes.
  
My joy overflows.
Your goodness and blessing will be with me
  Every day of my life -- and forever.

Music: Bach: Cantata No. 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt 

Psalm 25: God’s Will?

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 27, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 25, set perfectly in the midst of a few readings that speak to us about, among other things , “the Father’s Will”.

I think there is no greater spiritual mystery than the meaning of  “God’s Will”, (and not wanting to show up Thomas Aquinas, I’ll resist explaining it here. 😂🧐)

But we’ve all heard attempts at explaining it, haven’t we, especially as it relates to suffering— as in:

  • everything that happens is God’s Will, so we must accept it
  • God wills our suffering to test us
  • if God wills that we suffer, He will give us the strength to endure it

I just don’t think so … not the God I love and Who loves me.

But these attempts to explain suffering are understandable because we want to rationalize the things we fear. Most of us, I think, struggle with the problem of evil and suffering in the world. We want to know what to do when, as Rabbi Kushner wrote, “… Bad Things Happen to Good People”.


Our first reading from Ezekiel shows us that even the ancient peoples met this struggle. The prophet seems to suggest that if you’re bad, you’ll suffer. If you repent, you won’t. Well, we all know that’s not quite the reality! But nice try, Ezekiel.

Our psalm gently leads to another way of facing suffering as the psalmist prays for wisdom, compassion and divine guidance. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus himself prayed like this as he confronted his impending suffering.


In our second reading, Paul places before us the example of Jesus who, in the face of suffering, was transformed by love:

Praying with these readings, each one of us must come to our own peace with the mystery of suffering. What we can be sure of is this: God’s Will is always for our wholeness and joy as so simply taught to us when we were little children:

God made me to know, love, and serve God, 
and to be happy with God in this world and forever.

Our Gospel tells us that such happiness comes through faith and loving service, through responding to “the Father’s Will”.  May we have the insight, the love and the courage!


Poetry: Of Being by Denise Levertov 

I know this happiness
is provisional:

       the looming presences—
       great suffering, great fear—

       withdraw only
       into peripheral vision:

but ineluctable this shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:

this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:

this need to dance,
this need to kneel:

       this mystery:

Music: To You, O Lord (Psalm 25) Graham Kendrick

Psalm 56: Light from Dark

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday, September 19, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 56, an unusual mix of lamentation and praise, of light and dark emotions. Many consider the psalm to be a prayer of David in the midst of his problems with Solomon.

Our prayer can be this kind of mix at times. We might feel stressed by the exigencies of life, calling on God to ease our angst and protect us. At the same time, we have a underlying confidence that God is with us, even in difficulty. Such a prayer is not unlike the one Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.


I cherish a verse from Psalm 56 not included in today’s reading. In beautiful simile, the line captures suffering still imbued with trust. I especially like the old translation from the King James Version:

Today’s verses reflect the confidence born of such honest and steadfast prayer. There comes a surety in God’s abiding, a shift from self-centered fear, a welling up of praise for the One who saves us, not only from our troubles, but from our anxious selves.

Now I know that God is with me.
In God, in whose promise I glory,
in God I trust without fear;
what can flesh do against me?


Poetry: Mount of Olives by Irene Zimmerman, OSF

He falls, crying,
“Help me, Father.”
Though his acquiescence rings
true as a well-tuned violin, the searing bow brings
tears of blood
as it plays across the taut strings
of his human dread of dying.

Music: Psalm 56 – by Share Faith

Psalm 100: Joy Hides in Sorrow

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 100, the “Jubilate Deo” – “Rejoice in the Lord”. These verses, on the feast of our Sorrowful Mother, might seem a bit contradictory:

Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.

But I think the seeming contradiction reveals a deep truth.

For those who live in God,
no sorrow can eradicate their resolute joy.


La Dolorosa (Lady of Sorrows or Mater Dolorosa) is a work by Cristóbal de Villalpando at the Musep Soumaya in Mexico City.

Certainly, like Mary, the faithful heart feels sorrow for both personal pain and the pain of all Creation. But the pain and sorrow is not the end of their feeling. There is a joyful hope because God abides with us in any suffering, promising that no evil can defeat the one who believes.

Mary believed that with all her heart and lived it. She invites us to the same courageous faith. As Psalm 100 assures us:

Know that the LORD is God;
Who made us, whose we are;
God’s people, the flock God tends.

For the Lord is good, 
whose kindness endures forever,
and whose faithfulness is to all generations.


Poem: Today’s poetic passage is from one of the great classics of Christian literature, A Woman Wrapped in Silence by Father John W. Lynch.

The book is a masterpiece best appreciated in reflective contemplation. I have chosen a sliver of its beauty today, one of many that captures Mary’s joy born of faith-filled suffering. This selection imagines what it was like when Mary remained in the Upper Room as the others, not knowing what to expect, went to the tomb early on Easter morning. The Resurrected Jesus comes to Mary first, before any other appearance.


Or is 
it true or thought of her she found no need
To search? And better said that she had known
Within, they’d not discover him again
Among the dead? That he would not be there
Entombed, and she had known, and only watched
Them now as they were whispering of him,

And let them go, and listened afterward
To footsteps that were fading in the dark.

To wait him here. Alone. Alone. A woman
Lonely in the silence and the trust
Of silence in her heart that did not seek,
Or cry, or search, but only waited him.

We have no word of this sweet certainty
That hides in her. There is not granted line
Writ meager in the scripture that will tell
By even some poor, unavailing tag
Of language what she keeps within the silence.
This is hers. We are not told of this,
This quaking instant, this return, this Light
Beyond the tryst of dawn when she first lifted
Up her eyes, and quiet, unamazed,
Saw He was near.

Music: Jubilate Deo – Mozart

We Set our Psalm Aside

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, I must put our Psalm in the background and refer to an earlier post for this Feast.

On this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, our readings include the sublime Philippians Canticle.

To me, this is the most beautiful passage in the Bible – so beautiful that nothing else needs to be said about it.

As we read it lovingly and prayerfully today, may we take all the suffering of the world to Christ’s outstretched arms – even our own small or large heartaches and longings.

Poetry: God’s Love for Us – Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

The love of God most High for our soul
is so wonderful that it surpasses all
knowledge. No created being can fully know
the greatness, the sweetness, the
tenderness, of the love that our Maker has
for us. By his Grace and help therefore let
us in spirit stand in awe and gaze, eternally
marvelling at the supreme, surpassing,
single-minded, incalculable love that God,
Who is all goodness, has for us.

from Revelations of Divine Love

Music: Philippians Canticle ~ John Michael Talbot

And if there be therefore any consolation
And if there be therefore any comfort in his love
And if there be therefore any fellowship in spirit
If any tender mercies and compassion

We will fulfill His joy
And we will be like-minded
We will fulfill His joy
We can dwell in one accord
And nothing will be done
Through striving or vainglory
We will esteem all others better than ourselves

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Though in the form of God
He required no reputation
Though in the form of God
He required nothing but to serve
And in the form of God
He required only to be human
And worthy to receive
Required only to give

Psalm 33: Unfailing Trust

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 33. Today’s verses console us with the reminder that God is watching over us, as individuals and as communities.

Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people chosen for God’s own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
seeing all humanity.

You know, sometimes I wonder! How can God see some of the things going on in the world and not intervene? How can God let innocence suffer? The psalm seems to promise that intervention, but does it really?

But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear God,
upon those who hope for God’s kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.

That last line is the zinger. It doesn’t say there will be no famine. It simply says that the God-fearing will be preserved despite the famine.


Hasn’t your life taught you that? We’ve all been through lots of things that we asked God to take away – pain, sadness, fear, loss. Probably most, if not all, of those burdens remained with us until we worked through them. 

By faith and God’s Grace, we came through the other side stronger, deeper, more faithful. If we can trust God, “wait on the Lord”, the way comes to us – a way that leads us more deeply into God’s freedom and joy.

Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in God our hearts rejoice;
in God’s holy name we trust.

Let’s pray for that kind of faith and trust for ourselves and for our beloveds. Let’s pray for the courage to learn it by unfailing prayer and practice.


Poetry: In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 54
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good 
         Will be the final end of ill, 
         To pangs of nature, sins of will, 
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood; 

That nothing walks with aimless feet; 
         That not one life shall be destroy'd, 
         Or cast as rubbish to the void, 
When God hath made the pile complete; 

That not a worm is cloven in vain; 
         That not a moth with vain desire 
         Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire, 
Or but subserves another's gain. 

Behold, we know not anything; 
         I can but trust that good shall fall 
         At last—far off—at last, to all, 
And every winter change to spring. 

So runs my dream: but what am I? 
         An infant crying in the night: 
         An infant crying for the light: 
And with no language but a cry. 

Music: The Passion of John – Johann Sebastian Bach

This piece is not about John the Baptist. It is an excerpt from two hour meditation of the Passion narrative in John the Evangelist’s Gospel.

However, this beautiful excerpt fits so well with today’s reflection.

Psalm 33:Love’s Design

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 28, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33, a song of praise calling the people to rejoice in God’s justice and kindness.

In its attitude of trust and freedom, the Psalm might remind us of Robert Browning’s verse:

God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.

But neither in the psalmist’s time, nor in Browning’s, was everything really “all right” with the world. Things are never really “all right” with the world. There is always war, crime, hunger, disease, natural disasters, and a slew of other troubles brewing somewhere.

So how can the psalmist or any other preacher invite us to trust, believe, and rejoice like this?

Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.


Keywords in this verse give us a clue: those who are just and upright will see the pattern of God’s mercy which lies deeper than the troubles of this world. They will trust and be comforted by God’s transcendent faithfulness to us in all things. Their faith and joy in the face of suffering will confound the faithless.


Calling us to the full meaning of Christ’s sacrificial love, Paul reiterates this mysteriously contradictory truth in our first reading :

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

For Christians, the Cross is the ultimate symbol of this profound wisdom and strength. It is a mystery too deep for our understanding, but by faith we may slowly become immersed in its Truth.


The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 18

As we pray with Psalm 33 today, let us be aware of the cause of our joy – a holy joy deeply rooted in God, trusting God’s Will for our salvation in the pattern of Jesus Christ.


For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all God’s works are trustworthy.
The LORD loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.


Poetry: Primary Wonder – Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Music: Your Cross Changes Everything – Matt Redman