Let’s Blow the Lid Off!

Friday, January 18, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells of a memorable event – so memorable that it is described in detail.

Jesus preaches from a neighborhood living room. Every access point to the house is blocked with excited listeners and miracle-seekers. Jesus has been corralled by the enthusiastic faithful.

roof

Then some latecomers arrive carrying their paralyzed friend. It is easy to imagine that these are young guys, because Jesus later calls the paralytic “Child”. Perhaps their friend was injured in a soccer game or diving accident in which they all had participated. Perhaps, as well as carrying him, they are carrying the burden of “survivor guilt”.

Whatever the situation, these friends are determined that the young man shall see Jesus. Confronted with the barricading crowd, they climb up on the roof, opening the turf plates to make an entry point. Jesus had to laugh as he saw to rooftop disappearing above him!

Would that we had such a wild desire to be in God’s Presence – to know God face to face, and heart to heart!

Can we peel away the many barricades to such relationship? We have only our limited human images of God. While these can help us pray, they can also box God.

Faulty theology and exaggerated ritual can, believe or not, put a lid on God’s power!

It is important to read, listen, and grow within good theology. One measure of that value is the degree of limitation any “theology” puts on God. A theology that limits God to male, white, Catholic (or whatever religion)- that kind of false theology limits us as well. 

A theology that is used as validation for political, economic, or moral domination distorts God, making God an idol of our own greed and selfishness. Such ”theologies” have, for centuries, made excuses for slavery, apartheid, pogroms, wars and holocausts. 

Let’s try to “take the roof off” our theology today. Let’s be sure our tightly held perceptions and beliefs are really leading us to the absolute freedom of a God Who cherishes all Beings, all Creation.

Music: God Beyond All Names ~ Bernadette Farrell 

Jesus Prayed

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Mark’s Gospel allows us to spend a day with Jesus during his early ministry. 

After “church”, so to speak, Jesus and his buddies go to Simon’s house for a meal. Where Simon’s wife was we’re not told, but his mother-in-law seems to have been chief cook and bottle washer. Unfortunately, on that day, she’s not feeling well. However, with but a touch from Jesus, she’s restored and begins waiting on the guys. 

It seems like Jesus and his friends hung out through the heat of the day. As evening cool descends, neighbors begin arriving with their sicknesses and troubled spirits. Jesus cures many of those gathered. Can you just imagine the scene!

pray

The next morning, even before dawn, Jesus goes off to a quiet place to pray. No doubt he wants to discern, with his Father and the Holy Spirit, the things that are happening in his life. Again can you imagine that conversation!

We know that, when asked, Jesus gave us the human words of the “Our Father” to teach us to pray. But how did Jesus himself pray in the solitude of his heart? 

Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity
focused in relationship to one another
and yielding a Love
too immense for description!

In our own humble prayer today, may we lean against the heart of Jesus as he immersed himself in the Presence of the Creator and Spirit. May we pray in Christ’s pregnant silence.

Music: a very simple, yet very profound hymn: Father, I Place into Your Hands

The Path through Suffering

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we again read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. They had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.

Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?

The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties but through them.

Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.

Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

My Beloved Son

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, that moment in time when Christ entered into his ministry, announced by the thundering voice of his Father.

mk9_7 baptism

Maybe you’re not like me in this, but I must confess to sometimes letting the scriptures become very ordinary and pedantic. These passages have been read at me in church, sometimes well, often poorly, for seven decades. They have been plastered on billboards, bumper stickers and Church marquees for just as long. All that mundane exposure has demystified some of the most amazing words ever written.

Just think about what today’s Gospel describes. 

Think about the greatest prophet of both the Old and New Testament standing waist-deep in the Jordan, eyes locked on Christ. 

Think about Jesus, perfectly communed with the Father, walking slowly past the bird-filled trees and bushes to a moment that had been waiting for Him since all eternity. Did not those works of the Creator’s hands sing in worship as he passed?

Think about the pulsing sky already filled with the Father’s waiting breath, ready to burst with the proclamation of his Son – this Son who said “Yes” to the greatest act of love in history!

For a few moments this morning, let yourself be there. Be filled with nature’s orchestra. Be filled with the pulsing colors of God’s astonishing revelation. Be filled with the Baptist’s profound reverence. Be filled with Christ’s omnipotent freedom and joy.

Let us enter with gratitude and celebration into the Baptism of Jesus!

Music: Jesus the Lord ~ 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!

Confidence

Saturday, January 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings offer us a theme of CONFIDENCE. John begins with the reassuring verse:

1jn5_14 confidence

From the Latin root meaning “to have full trust”,  confidence is a rare and beautiful blessing in our lives. How many people or things are you able to trust that deeply? Are you blessed with a true confidant in your life?

John tells us that this is the kind of relationship we can and should have with God.

He says that when we pray with this confidence, we trust whatever answer we receive to bring us grace and life.

In our Gospel, John’s followers are having a little trouble with their confidence. They are unsettled by the appearance and rising popularity of Jesus. John says to trust what is happening. He had already told them that a greater One would come after him. 

John’s ultimate response is worth repeating in prayer,  “So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” When Christ shines through us without hindrance of our pride or fears, how complete our joy should be, how profoundly rooted our confidence!

Music: Our Confidence is in the Lord

Hold on to the Light!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as our Season of Epiphany continues, Jesus reveals himself at his hometown synagogue.

lk4__18 glad tidings to poor

He already has been preaching and working miracles in nearby Capernaum. On this occasion, though, he has come to his old neighborhood to speak to people who have known him since his childhood.

Some of them wonder, even question, how this guy from around the corner has become a possible Messiah. They make a tough audience for Jesus as he proclaims this exultant passage from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

For the moment, on that Sabbath morning, buoyed by the miracle stories coming from Capernaum, the crowd accepts Jesus’ revelation. 

But, in time, many of these neighbor Nazarenes, locked in their ungraced biases, will reject this Epiphany in their midst.

For true conversion, we need to work our epiphanies – to pray within them, to open our hearts to continuing grace, to let down our prejudices, to stretch our souls for God.

Let’s pray for that grace today.

(Some of you might like to read about a recent epiphany of mine. I’ll send it in a second e-mail.)

Music:  George Strait: I Saw God Today

… because love is of God

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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1 john_ gods love

Today, in Mercy, we are presented with a most powerful reading from John:

Beloved, let us love one another
because love is of God.

But many of us miss the power of this invitation. We read it like a valentine, seeing shining hearts connecting us to those we already favor. God’s love doesn’t look like that.

God’s love is like this:

  • standing at the border looking, in between barbed wire, for a chance to welcome
  • keeping vigil at a stranger’s hospital bedside
  • pouring prayer and courageous guidance over an addicted child
  • vigilantly engaging government for just and humane policy 
  • spending time, interest and care with those who cannot command it of us

God’s love is always near the poor, the sick, those caught in the unraveling edges of a greedy, selfish society.

We see this love in today’s Gospel. It lifts up five loaves, two fish, and spins them into nourishment for thousands. Such is the power of this awesome love.

So let us begin, in the small invitations our life will offer us today, to love like that.

Doing so, we come to more clearly know God Who loves us first and always.

Music: Where Love Is Found – Dan Schutte (Lyrics below)

Where Love is Found – Dan Schutte

Where charity and love are found,
there will the face of God be seen.
The love of Christ will bind our hearts;
as one body we will be.

Love is patient, love is kind,
never boastful, never proud.
Love is hopeful in its waiting,
ever trusting in Gods light.

Love is steadfast to the end,
ever ready to endure.
Love is gracious in its kindness,
ever ready to forgive.

Though I speak with angels tongue,
I am nothing more than sound.
I am but a cymbal clanging
if I sing without God’s love.

There are three things that will last:
there is faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of all blessings
is the faithfulness of love.

Begin …

Monday, January 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in this week after the Epiphany, we continue with John’s inspirational readings. They are intended to deepen us in love, truth and simplicity.

mt4_15

And we also have several Gospels this week that take us with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.

Today’s Gospel opens with a tinge of sadness. Jesus has just heard that John had been arrested. Reality dawns on them both that theirs will be no easy missionary journey. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these cousins could have teamed up, gone about preaching unhindered by the fears and bullying of the powerful?

But a free and easy story is not the one God chose to tell us, because our own stories are not always free and easy. Some, yes, more so than others. But all people suffer in some way and we all need a God who understands and shares that suffering.

So, “hearing that John had been arrested”, Jesus bravely begins. He goes to the Capernaum lakeshore where the common people gather to refresh themselves. He will find them hungry, confused, sinful, questioning, bereft, and battered. And he will begin by feeding and soothing them.

Where would Jesus begin with you? If you sat along that seashore in those first days, what would you lay before his tender mercy? Perhaps the need does not belong precisely to you, but to someone you love, someone who needs love in a harsh world.

Picture yourself there this morning. The sun begins to warm the salty edges of the sea. The crowd is large but quiet, as if they think themselves in church. Jesus looks out over all the gathered. But for one moment, his eyes meet yours, and that moment is enough to begin.

Music: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore

What About That Fig Tree?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

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jn1_50 figjpg

Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate the Memorial of Saint John Neumann. 

John Neumann was born in Bohemia on March 20, 1811. Since he had a great desire to dedicate himself to the American missions, he came to the United States as a cleric and was ordained in New York in 1836 by Bishop Dubois.

In 1840, John Neumann entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). He labored in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1852, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia. There he worked hard for the establishment of parish schools and for the erection of many parishes for the numerous immigrants. Bishop Neumann died on January 5, 1860; he was beatified in 1963.
(catholicculture.org)


In our first reading today, John tells us bluntly:

Whoever does not love remains in death.

This kind of statement is what one might  both love and hate about John. We love it because it’s clear, unequivocal- tells us exactly what we need to do.

And we hate it because it’s clear and unequivocal – there’s no evading it, no back door. We must love – everybody- or we are as good as dead. Wow!

Was this the kind of either-or that Nathaniel struggled with under the fig tree? He sat there pondering some deep challenge or decision and Jesus saw him – and understood-from afar.

The miracle of that moment caused Nathaniel to believe. But Jesus says:

Hold up, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Your little wrestling under the fig tree was all about your own small world and vision. I invite you now to see the world with God’s eyes.

We all spend worrying time under the shadow our own little fig trees – most of the time worrying about ourselves – who hurt us, doesn’t like us, gets in our way, misunderstands or annoys us.

Today’s Gospel invites us to stop licking our wounds. It beckons us out of the shadows of our self-absorption to see what God might see today – the beauty, the needs, the challenges and possibilities of the world around us. We are invited to become lovers and healers like Jesus. As John has said, we are invited to leave any shadow of death and to live in love.

Music: Maybe Nathaniel sang a song like this in his heart as he came out from under his fig tree.

Love Like Jesus – Rhett Walker

Come and See

Friday, January 4, 2019

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Jn 1_39

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, the first American born saint.

Elizabeth Seton was born on August 28, 1774, of a wealthy and distinguished Episcopalian family. She was baptized in the Episcopal faith and was a faithful adherent of the Episcopal Church until her conversion to Catholicism.

She established her first Catholic school in Baltimore in 1808; in 1809, she established a religious community in Emmitsburg, Maryland. After seeing the expansion of her small community of teaching sisters to New York and as far as St. Loius, she died on January 4, 1821, and was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. She is the first native born American to be canonized a saint.

(from CatholicCulture.org)


In our Gospel, we find the first disciples encountering Jesus. They are curious about him because the Baptist has just described him as “the Lamb of God”.

We can picture Andrew and his unnamed buddy trailing behind Jesus, watching him, listening to him. Finally they hazard a question, “Rabbi, where do you live?”

It’s kind of a loaded question. What it might really mean are things like these:

  • Where did you come from all of sudden?
  • Could you possibly be the Messiah if you’re walking around looking just like us?
  • Do you go back to heaven at night or are you really one of us?
  • Can we just hang out and find out more about you?

Their faith is tentative, hopeful and maybe just a little bit suspicious. Does your faith ever feel like that? 

When we pray, are we convinced that God hears us? When we suffer, do we believe God abides with us? When we choose, act or respond, do we trust that God cares about our actions? Do we believe, in these and all circumstances, that the power of God is present in our lives?

To have that kind of faith, we have to “learn” Christ, to become as close and comfortable with him as with an intimate friend. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to do that: “Come and see.” 

In other words:

Spend time with me.
Talk with me about ordinary things.
Watch sunsets and sunrises with me.
Tell me your secrets.
Let me tell you mine.
Laugh with me.
Be silent with me.
Trust that you are never separate from me.

If we do these things, even slowly and steadily as the first disciples, we will eventually say with Andrew, “l have found the Messiah” – and he is living right within my life!

Music: Come and See – Bob Bennett