Vigil

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we keep vigil with the “Children of Israel” as they begin the great Exodus.

Ex12_42 Vigil

Even the youngest of us understands what it means to “keep vigil”. Toddlers, on Christmas Eve, keep vigil for the sound of Santa’s footsteps on the roof.

Throughout our lives, the kinds of vigils we keep deepen in meaning. Any given night holds an array of vigil-keepers:

  • A nervous student pulls an all-nighter before a big exam.
  • An anxious parent watches over a feverish child.
  • A faith-filled soul sits in pre-dawn prayer.
  • A vigilant elder prays quietly at the death bed of a long-beloved.

As families and communities, we wait together for each other’s lives.

  • Together, we expect the births of each generation’s babies.
  • We wait and hope for college acceptances and new jobs.
  • We wait for test results of all kinds.
  • We wait to listen to one another’s stories of success or disappointment.
  • We wait and prepare for the dawning of great feasts like Christmas and Easter

When we keep vigil, we live in expectation of something or someone coming to us. But there is another important aspect to every vigil.

As we wait, something is also happening within us.
In the deep quiet of our waiting, we are transformed.

Thomas Merton, monk of Gethsemane, was assigned to keep a particular type of vigil at the abbey. It was called “fire watch”, a night-long lookout to ensure that no fire erupted in the old wooden buildings as the other monks slept.  Merton writes about that watch at the end of his book The Sign of Jonas:

The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light:  a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.
“Fire Watch, July 4, 1952”

Today, as we pray with Israel’s Passover vigil, let us consider our own vigils – current or past. Beyond their apparent meaning, to what secret transformation might God be inviting us? What is happening deep in our soul as we watch far out to the horizon of our hope?

Music: Firewatch – Chris Remo

The Bloody Lintel

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a series of texts about the Passover. These readings are so richly symbolic, not only for our personal prayer, but also for our sacramental understanding. Today’s passage addresses the acquisition and sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

plague
Scenes from Exodus. Full-page miniature, upper register: the tenth plague: the death of the first-born including Pharaoh’s son, lower register: the Israelites leaving Egypt. From the Haggadah for Passover (14thC.)

Maybe for you, as for me, this is one of first Bible stories you recall from childhood. I remember how the drama built as my teacher read this story – all these wide-eyed kindergarteners hanging on her every word.

God was done with Pharaoh who had already ignored nine – yes NINE – plagues! Now the Egyptians’ first-born would be taken from them in a heavenly massacre! It was terrible to imagine. But even worse to consider was how the innocent Israelites would be spared from the dreaded visitation!

Even as a little pre-schooler, I already knew that we sometimes get in situations that only God can get us out of.  What I have begun to learn in my maturity is that – rather than get us out of such circumstances –  God chooses to pass through these life experiences WITH us.

An image we might consider in our prayer today:  these lintels were marked in BLOOD. The visiting angel could have as easily read a charcoal mark on the door, or a colored slab of paint. But the deliverance was secured by blood.

lintel

When devastating loss, sorrow or confusion comes to our door, how does our faith deliver us to the Promise of joy and peace? 

It cannot be by some hastily obtained symbol or sign, or borrowed prayer. Our faith must already be rooted deep down in our veins, our arteries, our heart, our blood. That rooting shall not be moved, no matter the circumstance. That rooting ties us to the God of Life. That rooting allows us to discover God even in our chaos.

As we pray today, under the lintel post of our faith, let us be mindful that these magnificent passages prefigure the Holy Lamb of God, Jesus, who saves us from every kind of death. May we ask for the grace to deepen our Eucharistic and Paschal faith so that we may fully trust God in our own Passovers.

Music: Agnis Dei – Michael Hoppé

The Name

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 18, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, God reveals God’s Name to Moses.

Ex3_14

Names are so important, aren’t they? Parents among you will remember how you labored over a name for each of your unborn children. Names carry roots to our history and hopes for our future. They suggest a shape for us to grow into and a way for us to be in the world.

In relationships, the giving of our name is a gift and an invitation. It is the first step in a mutual journey that may stop at the end of the encounter, or grow and blossom for years to come.

When God gives God’s name to Moses, it is all these things plus a Promise to abide forever in relationship. God hands Moses the key to call on God’s faithfulness forever. And God risks the hope that Moses will respond with fidelity and courage.

In prayer, and in our acts of mercy over a lifetime, God ever more deeply reveals the Holy Name to us. God promises to abide through our life with us and asks us to abide with Him. God risks that we will love, reverence, and respond to that amazing invitation with each successive moment and into eternity.

Today, in prayer, let us just rest in the Names we love to call God. Let us listen to the Love with which God names us.

Music:  Names of God – Laurell Hubick

With You, All the Way!

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we come to the heart of the Jacob story. Through prayer, it may reveal the heart of our story too.

Think of this. Is there anything better than a true friend who, even in your worst isolation, says:

  • I’ve got your back.
  • I’m right here at your side.
  • I’m with you through it all.

This is who God promises to be for Jacob in today’s wonderful first reading.

Gen28_12Ladder

Trickster Jacob, banished and fleeing from His enraged brother, falls asleep on the vast plain, with only a rock for his pillow. He is on a journey between two lives – the old one of extreme conflict, and a new one, as yet unrevealed. When he falls asleep on this desolate night, he thinks he journeys alone.

Ever feel like that? In life, we make many small and big journeys from the old to the new, the comfortable to the challenging, the past to the future, the known to the unknown. Sometimes we make choices to leave a “life” behind. Sometimes, life makes the choice in spite of us. In many of these chosen or unchosen transitions, we may feel very alone, even abandoned.

The good news of today’s reading is that God thinks otherwise.

Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to (wholeness).
I will never leave you
until I have done what I promised you.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus realizes this same ancient promise in the lives of two people on painful journeys. 

He heals the hemorrhaging woman through just her trusting fingertip along his garment’s hem. Such is the awesome power of faith and promise!

He raises new life in a dying child by the reach of her father’s faith into the heart of God’s mercy.

God is with each one of us too – unequivocally. God’s Mercy is everywhere and always.

Jacob responds to God’s promise with faith and hope. So do the Gospel’s centurion and suffering woman. Each of them, in their particular journey, shows us how to welcome God’s promise, “I am with you.” All we need do is to be with God too.

Music: You Are Mine – David Haas

Believe

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings lead us to pray for faith.

John20_27 Thomas

Faith is not a commodity or an achievement.
Faith is a relationship and a journey.

It is a gift and an exercise of grace.
Never stretched, it withers like an broken ligament.

It ebbs and tides with our personal and communal dramas.
It deepens with prayer, silent reaching, and a listening obedience to our lives.
It shallows with our demands, like Thomas, only to see and to touch.

It is fed by the Lavish Mercy of God Who never cuts its flow to our souls
if we but take down the seawall around our heart.

On this day when we celebrate the power of tested and proven faith,
may we bring our needs into the circle gathered in that Upper Room.

Standing beside Thomas today in our prayer,
may we place our trust in the glorified wounds of Christ.

A video today for your prayer: Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen

Well, Will You?

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the rather charming passage in Genesis where Abraham nickels and dimes God. We might dismiss it as childlike lore if we hadn’t tried it with God ourselves a hundred times. 😂

At least I know I bargain with God? Don’t you? When I really want life to go in a way I don’t expect it to, I might try to make a deal with God. It goes something like this:

Dear God, if you only please do “X”, I promise that I will do “Y”.

Or it might go like this:

Dear God, I know You can’t possibly want this suffering to be happening.
Won’t You please fix it? I promise to be grateful!

Even now, when faith has brought me to a deeper understanding of God’s presence in my life, these little bargains still creep through.

follow me

But, if I wait, Grace teaches. God is not the Omnipotent Fixer. God is rather the Omnipresent Mercy bearing our blessings and sorrows with us. God is the Infinite Revelation, leading us in both light and darkness into the depth of a Love we will never fully comprehend:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is God’s mercy
toward those who live within its awe.

(today’s responsorial Pslam 103)

Sometimes when I feel, like Abraham, that God may have turned and walked away from my pleading prayer, I hear God’s fading footsteps calling me to follow into an unexpected depth.

It is a radical call, like the one in Matthew’s Gospel, to follow and know the Face of God hidden in life’s suffering.

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”

It is not easy to put the following of Christ above all our human considerations, but this is our invitation and call. May we be gifted with the grace to respond.

Music: Will You Come and Follow Me? – John Bell

The Yoke, Indeed, Is On Us!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the symbols of yokes and plows shout out across our readings. Again, we are dealing with metaphors not in everyday usage for most of us. But those listening to Elijah, Paul, and Jesus absorbed the symbolism easily.

Gal5_yoke

The yoke has connotations of subservience and toiling; in some ancient cultures it was traditional to force a vanquished enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of Spears or swords.The yoke may be a metaphor for something oppressive or burdensome, such as feudalism or totalitarianism. (Wikipedia)

The writer of Kings has fiery Elijah engaged in one of his several highly dramatic episodes. What a scene, right? But what is the point for us?

The point is the same in all three readings: yoke=commitment. Each of our writers is talking about a further understanding of the word “yoke” —a freely chosen commitment made, by grace, for Love.

Sometimes, as in Kings, we need to break an enslavement in order to commit to something life-giving, such as Elisha’s call to follow Elijah.

Other times, as in Galatians, we must remind ourselves of the freedom and power we have chosen by breaking the old yokes that bound us.

In our Gospel, Jesus acknowledges the cost of a commitment to his Way. He has already told us in Matthew 11:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Today, in Luke, Jesus doubles down on his invitation /challenge to follow him:

No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.

The question left for our prayer today? Is my heart fully yoked to the heart Christ? Is my hand firmly grasping the plow?

Music: My Yoke is Easy – Dennis Jernigan

The Challenge of Peter & Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great Apostles Peter and Paul, first architects of the Christian faith.

Peter and Paul

From our 21st century perspective, we may be tempted today to celebrate the totality of their accomplishments – the scriptures ascribed to them, the theology traced to them, the cathedrals named for them.

But there is a deeper message given to us in today’s readings, one that challenges our practice of faith. We can access that message by asking an obvious question:

Why were Peter and Paul, simple religious leaders, persecuted, imprisoned, harassed, and eventually executed? What was the terrible threat these unarmed preachers presented to political power?

The answer:

It was their testimony to the transformative Gospel message of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of Mercy and Justice.

But Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom constituted a serious challenge to the Romans who ruled Israel during his lifetime. The cheering crowds who greeted him, especially during his entry into Jerusalem, as well as his confrontation with the moneychangers in the Temple, constituted such a threat to the unjust power of empire that the rulers crucified Jesus in order to silence him. – Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Peter and Paul, and every committed Christian after them, bears the same holy threat to ensuing cultures of domination, violence and greed.

As Jesus, Peter, Paul and so many others down through Pope Francis show us, faith and politics always work hand in hand. The work of faith is to build a world where every person can live, and find their way to God, in dignity and peace. It is to witness to an alternative to any power that feeds on the freedom, joy and peace of another person – especially those who are poor, sick and vulnerable.

May Peter and Paul inspire us to continue the daunting task of such an apostolic faith.

Music:  They Who Do Justice – David Haas

They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
Those who walk blamelessly and live their lives doing justice,
who keep the truth in their heart, and slander not with their tongue!
Who harm not another, nor take up reproach to their neighbor,
who hate the site of the wicked, but honor the people of God!
Who show no condition in sharing the gifts of their treasure,
who live not off the poor: they shall stand firm forever!

Fount of Love and Mercy

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus 

Friday, June 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart, a day of deep devotion and gratitude for God’s lavish mercy to us.

All of our readings today suggest the image of a good shepherd caring for his sheep. This metaphor, perhaps more meaningful for the agrarian society in which these scriptures were written, still retains for us the imagery of tenderness, attentive responsibility, strength, protection, and vigilant presence.

Ez34_15 shepherd

Our first reading comes from Ezekiel whose ministry occurred in Babylon during the second captivity there. God calls Ezekiel to prophesy against Israel’s leaders who have forgotten their defenseless sheep, who have fed themselves instead of their flock. Today’s particular verses have God speaking, taking over the shepherding duties, because the human “shepherds” (kings and priests) have so badly failed their sheep. 

The Lord makes clear who will be the beneficiaries of his tenderness:

The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As I prayed with this passage, I was struck by the awareness of how some things never change. The parallels to our Church and society are painfully evident. Immorally self-indulgent “pastors” and self-serving, indifferent leaders still plague their “flocks”. The poor and weak are still abandoned by those they had depended on.

Our reading from Romans and Matthew raise before us the model of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who both renders us infinite compassion, and teaches us how to dispense it as his disciples. We are invited to become one with the sacred, compassionate Heart of Jesus, being healed ourselves to become healers.

Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord,
and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.

Our world aches for this healing. Let us pray together today for God to inspire and energize us to be Mercy for our world.

Music: Sweet Heart of Jesus – sung by the Irish soprano Maureen Hegarty

(I know this hymn is tinged with a bit of the old, sentimental spirituality. Still, I have loved it from my long-ago youth and it touches me deeply. I hope it will touch you as well.❤️ Lyrics below.)

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Fount of love and mercy,
Today we come,
thy blessings to implore;
Oh touch our hearts, so
cold and so ungrateful,
And make them Lord,
Thine own for evermore.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
We implore
Oh, make us love Thee
more and more.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Make us know and love thee.
Unfold to us
the treasures of thy grace.
That so our hearts, from
things of earth uplifted,
May long alone
to gaze upon Thy face.

The Stars Will Teach Us

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Genesis invites us further into the gift of our faith.

We see God break into Abram’s life through a vision.

“Fear not!”, God says.
I am your shield;
I will make your reward very great.”

So Abram must have been a little frightened when God decided to visit him here. But why?

What Abram was nervous about was this: despite God’s earlier promise to him, Abram and Sarai were still childless – barren. In fact, he was so concerned that God would not prove true to the promise, that he was making plans about his own future without God’s help.

… if I keep on being childless
(I will) have as my heir
the steward of my house, Eliezer…

Abram was a very practical guy. His newly-sprouted faith expected practical, even instant results. It would take some time for Abraham to grow into a faith rooted in relationship rather than signs; to realize that faithful relationship is for the long run, not the immediate answer.

Gen15_5_stars

God helps Abram to understand this long, deep view.

God took him outside and said:
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”

Abram looked at these stars, made and sustained by God’s hand. He saw that this God Who was inviting him to relationship was beyond time, beyond numbering, beyond human definitions – boundless in life, mercy and love. And so, letting go of his need for concreteness and Immediacy,

Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him
as an act of righteousness.

Today’s scripture may lead us consider our own relationship with God, God’s promise in our life, how we are being drawn beyond our limited expectations. Is there a place of barrenness, an unmet need, a broken expectation shaking our heart or spirit? Let’s ask to abandon all these things to God’s love.

We might even want “to go outside” ourselves, literally or figuratively, asking God to teach us how God’s Presence in our life is infinite, even beyond the stars – if we have a faithful heart to see.

Music: Beyond the Moon and Stars – Dan Schutte