Crossing the Line

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Numbers is about trust versus fear.  The Israelites have finally made it to the front door of the Promised Land. But they hesitate to go in. They get Moses to bargain with God to allow scouts to go ahead of them, checking out the lay of the land. These scouts return with a mixed report: arable land, but ferocious current residents! The community freezes in fear, refusing to go farther.

Israelites into Canaan
The Israelites Cross the Jordan River by Gustave Doré 1832-1883

So what’s this all about for us? Is it wrong for us to be deliberate about our decisions, reversing them when the situation becomes threatening? No, of course not. So what’s the difference here in our Numbers community?

At this moment in Israel’s history, God has made clear what is expected of them. They are in covenant with God – “all in” to follow God’s plan for their lives. God has demonstrated his commitment to them in numerous ways, and forgiven earlier disloyalties. 

The question before them now is have they given God their whole hearts.

Or will this be a sham covenant in which they pick and choose when they will be for God and when they will be just for themselves?

The life of deep spiritual commitment to God is not always smooth. We get really mixed up sometimes in our self-concerns and fears. Many years ago, one of my eighth grade students asked me this: what if there really is no God and you’ve wasted your life believing there was?

It was quite a question, and I’ll bet you want to know my answer.

I said that I wouldn’t change a thing about how I have chosen to live my life. Trusting God and giving my life to him has given me a freedom beyond the limits of this world. Even if, at the end, her doubt proved true, I would have had a blessed and joyous life.

Psalm 106

The fact is that we, just like those Israelites standing on the edge of Canaan, don’t know what will happen to us if we trust God. Life and the future is an intimidating open border that challenges our faith and resolve.

But if we constantly hedge our self-gift to God, we will never be capable of receiving the fullness of God’s gift in return.

Today, let’s pray for the trust to step over into God’s country by our acts of faith, hope, love, mercy, generosity, truthfulness, hospitality and courage.

This beautiful reinterpretation of today’s Responsorial Psalm may inspire you as it did me. It is from the website of Christine Robinson, a Unitarian Universalist minister: Click here for Psalm renderings

Psalm 106: Returning
“Give thanks to God, who is good
whose mercy endures forever.”

We stand in awe of an infinity
which we cannot begin to comprehend
We set ourselves to live in tune with the universe—
that we may be glad with the gladness of people of faith.
Yes, time and time again we have gone astray,

We have despoiled this beautiful, wonderful world
dealt unjustly with our compadres
The law of love is a hard law.
In our prayer and then in our lives,
we return to the Way.

Music: Trust God – Rick Muchow 

Transfigured!

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

August 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, that moment when the Godly glory of Jesus shone in all its splendor before a few very blessed disciples.

Lk9_32 transfiguration

On that blessed day, Peter, James and John went with Jesus to a “very high mountain”. Many scholars identify the site as Mt. Tabor, where the Franciscan Church of theTransfiguration is today. 


Aside:

church

 

 

It was interesting to me that, just the other day as I thought about this reflection, I noticed a news alert that a huge fire had broken out on this mountain.

fire

 

 

The Franciscans were evacuated and, fortunately, there were no human injuries.

 

 


Some theologians suggest that these three disciples were afforded this magnificent gift so that their faith would be sufficiently strengthened to endure the coming sufferings.

“Transfiguration” is a word without a true synonym. It is a unique experience for a being to be completely infused with the glory of God. When this happened to Jesus, something equally unique happened to Peter, James and John as well. They too became new beings, never the same after that glorious and -yes- shocking moment.

Once they descended that mountain, everything changed. In a sense, they too had been “transfigured”. They had seen Jesus clearly in the beauty of his Godliness, and they would now see everything else in that Light.

Sometimes in our lives, God gives us “mini-transfigurations”. Something we had seen only in ordinary terms suddenly becomes an insight into the sacred. It may be a person, a situation, a natural phenomenon. We see through the external trappings and find the glorious Face of God.

Jesus invites us to experience this kind of soul-change by loving God in the poor, sick, uneducated, displaced, suffering, stigmatized people of this world. He asks us to be with them, in word and deed, and to allow God’s light in them to change our hearts and souls.

Music: Transfiguration/We Behold the Splendor of God – Carey Landry (Lyrics below)

“Transfiguration”faces
[Chorus]
We behold the splendor of God shining on the face of Jesus.
We behold the splendor of God shining on the face of the Son.

[Verse1]
And oh, how his beauty transforms us, the wonder of presence abiding.
Transparent hearts give reflection of Tabor’s light within, of Tabor’s light within.

[Verse 2]
Jesus, Lord of Glory, Jesus, Beloved Son, oh, how good to be with you;
how good to share your light; how good to share your light

Enduring Journey

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Numbers. Numbers is basically about two themes: journeying and maturing as a community of faith.

roots

 

Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible, part of the five which comprise the Pentateuch, or Hebrew Torah. We can think of these books as a kind of Jewish “Roots”, for those who are familiar with the Alex Haley classic.

 

In the Pentateuch, both Jews and Christian find the foundational bedrock of their faith story. Today’s chapter focuses on two realities of faith and community: leadership and fidelity.

The People are having trouble staying committed to the journey. They are tired, hungry and walking around in circles. They are hungry for something besides manna, the way we become hungry for more than our dailyness.

Numbers11_4 complain

Like most frustrated groups, they start busting on their leader – Moses. Moses, unwilling to carry their burdens alone, starts busting on God. Watch any TV drama for a similar plot/theme. As a matter of fact, let’s examine our lives for it.

Enduring commitment is hard, especially when it is tested. When our commitment seems meaningless, or ignored, or misinterpreted, or otherwise futile, what do we do? How do we re-examine and re-define the fundamental relationship of faith which informs that commitment.

This re-examination and deeper re-commitment is what the Israelites experience through their desert journey, until they are ready to pass into the Promised Land as God’s People.

It is what we experience as a person of faith and as a faith community. Commitment is never static. In life’s test chamber, it either grows or diminishes. Praying with these passages from the Sacred Scripture may help us to grow deeper in our faith and trust. They may help us find the center if we feel a little hungry and lost in the desert too.

Music: Guide Me, Thou, O Great Redeemer

This hymn is the English version of a melody written by the Welshman John Hughes in 1909. The text was composed in 1745 by William Williams, considered Wales’ most famous hymnist. As a writer of poetry and prose,he is also considered today as one of the great literary figures of Wales. For an interesting history of the hymn, click here.

Dwelling Place for God

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we finish our several weeks’ journey through Exodus. Like all great books, this one closes with a powerful final chapter – one that assures us that the story has not ended.

Have you ever read a book that you wish would never end? Of course, they all do – but bits of some live in us forever.

fav books

With sacred scripture, the Living Word remains with us by inspiring us to live out its spirit in our lives. That Holy Word bonds with the Spirit already dwelling within us through our Creation and Baptism.

Psalm 84_Ark

For the Exodus community, this Indwelling was given visible expression in the tabernacle Moses built. God chose to fill that tabernacle with Abiding Presence.

Each one of us, and every human being, is a dwelling place of God’s love and hope for us. We are tabernacles of God’s Spirit, breathed into us in an act of divine desire for us to be God’s eternal beloved.

Pretty overwhelming, isn’t it! 

So much so that, just as for the Israelites, our vision of God’s Presence is often clouded by the frenzy of our lives. It is only when we still our souls in worship that we recognize God living with and within us!

Music: This Alone – Tim Manion, SJ ( Photos are The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel / Normandy, in the Manche department in France.)

Radical Joy

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Ignatius
by Francisco de Zubarán (1598–1664)

July 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Exodus tells us:

Exodus34_29 Radiant

Obviously, I haven’t met Moses personally. 😂 But I have met many wonderful human beings who have reflected a similar radiance.

It is a mirrored glory that comes from friendship with God. 

It glows in the innocence of children and the layered wisdom of the elderly. It blazes in those seeking social justice and in those silently, unwaveringly praying for it. It lights the hope of the living and the dying. It is that mysterious, unquenchable candle shining in both joy and sorrow. Its other holy names are Faith, Hope and Love.

 No one need tell us. We know when we are in the presence of such Light. It needs no words.

Rumi radiant

Today, let’s pray for the blessing of this Radiance all over our shadowed world. Let’s pray for it to shine within us.

Music: Radiant God – Hannah Ford

Unconditional Love

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we consider God’s unconditional love.

God and Moses and the People have been through it. The trail of complaints, the golden calf, the shattered tablets – these are relational dramas to the extreme! Exodus is definitely soap opera material! Does it feel a little bit like your life, or your family’s, or the families you read about in the news?

Ex34_9 Life

Life is indeed a drama! And our relationship with God is highlighted and shadowed with its twists and turns. For that reason, today’s passage offers us so much comfort and confidence. Even after all that has happened, God reveals himself to Moses like this:

The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,
continuing his kindness for a thousand generations.

Moses is so moved by this new knowledge of God’s unconditional love, that he welcomes God as part of their community:

If I find favor with you, O LORD,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people;
yet pardon our wickedness and sins,

and receive us as your own.

We are invited by this reading to open ourselves to that same unconditional love, to thank God for journeying with us through life’s convolutions. Stiff-necked at times, repentant at others, we are always God’s beloved.

As we negotiate the intricacies of our life today, we might trustingly say like Moses:

Lord, do come along in my company.

Music: Outrageous Grace – Godfrey Birtill

Idols!

Memorial of Saint Martha

July 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us a central question for our faith and spirituality: What do we really worship?

Ex32_19 calf

As we continue the Exodus story, Moses has been on the mountain receiving the Law from God. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, delegated leader Aaron is blowing his assignment. The Israelites tire of waiting for Moses. They want another god to lead them onward. Aaron comes up with idea of fashioning such a idol from all their molten jewelry.

When Moses descends the mountain with the newly-minted tablets in hand, he burns in anger at the scene, smashing the holy stones at his feet. More than a flared temper, this act symbolizes a fractured relationship with God.

The story suggests this for our prayer: we are in ever-deepening relationship with God through our own covenants – our creation, our baptism, our further professions of faith and commitment, our sacramental encounters. These are all living relationships, inviting us to new and deeper life in God.

Still, there may be times in our lives when our hearts lose focus on these covenants 

  • when we try to move somewhere without God’s companionship
  • when we substitute old baubles for moral or spiritual truth
  • when we return to weakening comforts rather than grow into a challenging grace
  • when we just get really mixed up about what is most important in our lives

The calf-worshippers had a big fail in this regard. Exodus tells the story of a merciful God trying to deal with their disloyalty and refashion them as God’s chosen people.

Our Gospel shows us Martha, also a little off target in terms of her spiritual priorities. While she is no where near idol worship, she still allows needless distractions to keep her from fully enjoying relationship with God.

Martha

Gentle, merciful Jesus turns her eyes toward him and she understands. Maybe that beautiful grace is what we want to pray for today.

Music:  You Alone – Sarah Hart

Ask and Receive

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are connected by two often oppositional themes: BARGAINING and TRUST.

The Genesis passage is a familiar story, mainly because “Mrs. Lot” later gets turned into a pillar of salt. But the beginning of the story, today’s reading, is all about Moses bargaining with God to spare the inhabitants of sinful Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The Divine conversation is painted in very human terms, a ping-pong match of “what if”s and “OK”s between Moses and God. Moses finally bargains God down to the hope of finding just ten good men in these depraved cities. And Moses trusts God to be merciful, a trust delivered in the salvation of Lot and his family.

In the second reading from Colossians, Paul reminds us of our own deliverance through baptism and sharing in the Resurrection of Christ. This is the infinite gift in which we put our hope and trust as believers.

Our Gospel reading from Luke opens with the Our Father, the ultimate prayer of trust. Jesus goes on to tell us that we can always trust God’s care for us.

Ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;

and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus isn’t talking about magic, where we just say the word and automatically get what we imagined, or where we bargain with God as if we had something to offer. 

Lk11_12 Ask_Egg

Jesus is talking about that fundamental trust which believes in God’s faithfulness to us in all circumstances. He will not “hand us a serpent when we ask for an egg”. But it may be a very different “egg” (outcome) from the one we expected. Trust allows us to crack it open to find the unimagined grace inside.

Music: I Will Trust in You – Lauren Daigle

Mrs. Zebedee, Again

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

July 25, 2019

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( I am republishing last year’s post for this feast. I think it is worth another read. But to make up for my little bit of laziness, I will send another post today with a few profound quotes from Henri Nouwen’s book Can You Drink the Cup? – Ave Maria Press; 10th Anniversary edition (October 1, 2012))


Today, in Mercy, we learn a lesson in humble leadership, thanks to “Mrs. Zebedee”. Our Gospel recounts the story of the mother of James and John interceding for her sons with Jesus. Like many overprotective mothers, she intervenes in their adult lives. She wants to make sure they get the best deal for their investment with Jesus.

Veronese-Le-Christ-rencontrant-la-femme-et-les-fils-de-zebedee_-_Grenoble
Veronese-Le-Christ-Rencontrant La Femme Et Les Fils de Zebedee By Paolo Veronese

Unfortunately, “Mrs. Zebedee” has missed the whole point of Christian discipleship. Her boys have decided to follow a man who says things like this:

  • The last shall be first and the first, last.
  • Unless you lay down your life, you cannot follow me.
  • Whoever takes the lowly position of a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The seats at Christ’s right and left, which she requests for her sons, will bring them rewards only through humility and sacrificial service.

Jesus is gentle with “Mrs. Zebedee”. He understands how hard it is for any of us to comprehend the hidden glory of a deeply Christian life. We are surrounded by a world that screams the opposite to us:

  • Me first!
  • Stand your ground!
  • Good guys finish last!

Mk 10_38 cup

So Jesus turns to James and John. One can imagine the bemused look on his face. He knows the hearts of these two men. He knows they have already given themselves to him. So he asks them for a confession of faith, “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?”

Their humble, faith-filled answer no doubt stuns their mother. She is left in wonder at the holy men her sons have become. Perhaps it is the beginning of her own deep conversion to Christ.

As we pray with this passage on the feast of St. James the Apostle, where do find ourselves in this scene? How immediate, sincere, and complete is our response to Jesus’ question: “Can you drink the cup….?”

Music: Can You Drink the Cup? (Be patient. The song has a slightly delayed start. You may have to click the white arrowhead in the orange circle- upper left. Lyrics below.😀)

Can You Drink The Cup?

Lyrics by Pamela Martin, Music by Craig Courtney
Copyright 2001, Beckenhorst Press, Inc.

Can you dring the cup,
embrace it in your hands?
Can you look inside
and face what it demands?
In the wine you see
reflections of your soul.
No one else can drink
this cup that you must hold.

Can you drink the cup?
Then you must lift it high
though this cup of joy
holds pain and sacrifice.
When you lift your cup,
raise it unafraid.
Lift it up, this cup
of life, and celebrate.

Can you drink the cup
until there is no more?
When the wine is gone,
Christ Himself will pour.
Though you drink it all
the cup is never dry,
God keeps filling it
with everlasting life.

It’s Raining Bread!

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about food in the many forms and senses of that word.

Exodus16_4

The Israelites have been in the desert for a while.  The burden of travel is beginning to weigh upon them.  Food is short, tempers even shorter.  Things seem so bad that, in a fit of stupendous forgetfulness, they tell Moses they were better off as slaves in Egypt.

Moses asks God to intervene, which God does with the gifts of manna and quail.

The folks in today’s reading remind me a lot of people I know — even myself.  Haven’t we all heard, and maybe uttered, the complaint that things were so much better in “the old days”.  Haven’t we critiqued a challenging situation with the unhelpful assessment, “Well, it’s not like it used to be!”

But the God of Exodus is so patient, as is Moses.  God doesn’t become angry with the complainers. Instead God promises to take care of them and to stay with them forever on their journey. God makes good on this word by initiating the naturally occurring phenomena of morning manna and migrating quail so that the community is fed.

Some areas to focus on as we pray with this passage:

God does not deliver the Israelites immediately to their destination. Life is a journey, not an arrival.

God intervenes to meet their needs, but through ordinary occurrences rather than miracles. God uses manna and quail, surprising but nonetheless naturally occurring events in the Sinai desert.

God expects the Israelites to interact with grace, to recognize that God is about the continuing work of Creation and Covenant, even within the natural circumstances of our lives.

For us, the profound reminder that God accompanies us in drought and abundance, in joy and sorrow, in wilderness and stability; that God is listening under our hungers; that God is sustaining us in graces we may be slow to recognize.

Music: Panis Angelicus – Luciano Pavarotti

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis caelicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus, et humilis. 

Te trina Deitas
unaque poscimus:
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.
Amen.

Bread of Angels,
made the bread of men;
The Bread of heaven
puts an end to all symbols:
A thing wonderful!
The Lord becomes our food:
poor, a servant, and humble.

We beseech Thee,
Godhead One in Three
That Thou wilt visit us,
as we worship Thee,
lead us through Thy ways,
We who wish to reach the light
in which Thou dwellest.
Amen.