The True Heart

Monday, April 8, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy,  our readings offer copious lessons as well as an enthralling drama from the Book of Daniel.

John8_12Light

We have heard the original story many times, and seen it repeated, down through the ages, in innumerable forms: a woman targeted by lecherous men, innocence betrayed by treachery, power exercised in destructive selfishness. When we see goodness vindicated in this story, we feel a certain victory for the ages! Am I right?

While the story’s surface addresses sexual assault and false condemnation, its heart is about power and truth. Susanna and Daniel embody these virtues. The two corrupt judges manifest their distortion.

In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims his identity as the Light of the World. He confronts the Pharisees because they “judge by appearances” rather than by truth. They use their power to oppress rather than to free.

Power and truth suffer terribly in today’s world. They are obscured by the same darknesses we see in the story of Susanna – conspiracy, secrecy, false accusation, dissimulation, malfeasance, and total disregard for human pain. Ultimately, it is always the innocent and poor who suffer most in such an atmosphere.

We pray today for Divine Light for every hidden darkness, for bravery like Daniel’s, for fidelity like Susanna’s, and for truthfulness to make us worthy of the Name of Christ.

Music: A mantra based on John 14 – The Spirit of Truth

The Lamb of God

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our hearts begin to break for Jesus. He is the good, sweet Lamb being led to slaughter. And he knows it. He knows that the hard hearts he had so hoped to soften are recalcitrant. He knows that the souls he has longed to open to Love have turned to hate. He knows that the energy he had wished to turn to generous service has instead turned inward, fearful and self- protective.

How his heart must have ached in these days before Calvary! Jeremiah gives us an insight in to the pain in today’s first reading. 

Jeremiah’s experience is a foreshadowing of Christ’s. As we pray with the passage, we might allow ourselves simply to share that pain as we look at our own grace-resistant world.

Jer.11_19 plot

Where do we find the opportunity to comfort Jesus today?

On a global basis, we see the persecution of innocence and vulnerability in our own world. We see corrupted laws used as an excuse to extinguish the human spirit. We see people coerced into the maze of power and political domination. We see the poor slaughtered on the altar of indifferent greed.

In our closer daily experience, we see people lost, isolated, infirm, bereaved, lonely and broken, even in small places. We may be tempted to leave their suffering for another caring touch. But we can do much to comfort by our listening, presence and honesty.

When we see these things, we see the Passion of Christ in our time. Let us listen to His suffering. Let us not pretend we care if we don’t act to comfort Him.

Music: Handel’s Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God

 

 

 

 

When the Hour Comes…

Friday, April 5, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, John let’s us know how difficult things were for Jesus. Even very early in John’s Gospel, doubt, criticism, jealousy, and hatred swirl around Jesus. He realizes that people are trying to kill Him. All this because he does good and preaches love! How can that be?

Jn7_30 hourJPG

Jesus upset the apple cart, and many people didn’t like that. They preferred control over love, familiarity over faith. There were others who wanted a more violent shake-up, a political overthrow rather than a spiritual transformation. Basically, people wanted to remake Jesus’s message in their own design. And we’ve been doing the same thing ever since.

Eventually these opposing forces meet in the contradiction of the Cross – that place where Love seems to lose, and Life seems to die. But when Jesus’s hour comes – that timeless moment when Eternal Love and Life break open in the Resurrection – our faith in Christ will be confirmed.

We pray today for all those experiencing great trauma or testing in their lives. May their faith sustain, restore and surprise them.

We pray for ourselves that, like Jesus, when our “hour comes” we are ready because we have already deepened and steadied our hearts in prayer and fidelity.

Music: I Need Thee Every Hour – Annie Hawks (May 28, 1836 – January 3, 1918), an American poet and Gospel hymnist who wrote a number of hymns with her pastor, Robert Lowry.

In 1872, the hymn by which Hawks is most widely known, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, was written. It is said to have been translated into more foreign languages than any other modern hymn at the time of her death. Hawks stated:— “For myself, the hymn was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experiences, for it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, instead of under the stress of personal sorrow.”

Be Light!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Click here for readings

Jn5_35 light

Today, in Mercy, the Gospel gives us Jesus claiming his throne. He is setting his disciples straight before he is no longer with them. He drives home each of the pillars of his Messiahship, like so many stakes in the ground:

  • I have testimony greater than John’s.
  • The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.
  • The Father has testified on my behalf.
  • I came in the name of my Father.

Jesus is saying these things to his persecutors, but he says them for the benefit of his surrounding disciples. He wants them to remember these things to sustain them in the dark times to come.

In this passage, Jesus also pays a glorious compliment to John the Baptist:

He was a burning and shining lamp.

Now Jesus wants his followers, fired by their faith, to burn with an even greater light. He wants us to do the same, to burn with a flame steadied by Christ’s assurances, by the stunning testimony of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Music:  But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming – Handel

But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.

Law or Love?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings bring to mind the role of religion in our spiritual life.

take up mat 2

The dictionary defines religion as a particular system of faith and worship. The origin of the word “religion” is from the Latin “religare”: to bind.

In the magnificent passage from Ezekiel, we are given a metaphorical description of grace flowing from the Temple, the locus of faith for Israel. Ezekiel is led by a radiant vision to this source of abundant life symbolized by water. Slowly and incrementally, this abundance deepens for Ezekiel, until he is swimming in its grace. 

Ezekiel’s vision demonstrates what happens in us when religion, ritual and law enhance grace. The beauty, power and architectural symmetry of the Temple symbolize the great benefits of religious practice.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, shows us a Pharisaical religion built on empty practice and bereft of heart. When Jesus cures on the Sabbath, he moves beyond these skeletal boundaries to mercy, which is the reason for all religious practices.

take up mat
Jesus Cures on the Sabbath

Jesus shows us that when religion – and its ensuing ritual and law – bind grace, it needs to be set aside. His whole life was predicated on a faith which generated mercy, not sacrifice. The alleviation of suffering and need always supersede observance – even on the Sabbath.

When we see any so-called faith or religion which places law over mercy, we see an empty temple where the river of grace has run dry. Our culture is filled with fake holiness that measures, condemns and ostracizes others. We see religion distorted into political bullying. We see it redefined as an excuse for excessive wealth. We even see it used as legitimization for nationalism, violence, racism, and war.

Today’s readings tell us to be on guard. The forces which twist religion are very subtle and pervasive in our culture. They dress themselves in impressive words and practices, just like the Pharisees did, but their costumes hide an ugly hate and fear.

To the fearful and weak, these forces preach power – but it is a power over not for others.

Jesus has shown us what faithful practice looks like: mercy and love. It is vulnerable, courageous, inclusive, and humble. It sees the suffering of others and responds. It waters the Temple of our hearts to make them verdant with hope, joy and generosity.

Music: Come to the Water – John Foley, SJ and Matt Maher

A New Day Awaits

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Click here for readings

1 Cor new creation

Today, in Mercy,  halfway through Lent, we see in our readings glimpses of new life.

The captivity in Egypt had been TOUGH on Israel. During those many decades, they had appeared to be abandoned and forgotten by God.  It was a harsh reckoning for them … hard to be forgotten. Even then, when they thought they had found freedom, they still wandered for forty years in the desert.

But now Israel stands at a new horizon.  Moses has died and Joshua has become Israel’s leader.  God tells him that it is a new day:

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

In our second reading, Paul tells us:

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

And in our revered Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us:

This beloved child of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
was lost, and has been found.

All of these passages speak to us in our Lenten journey, and in our Life journey.  We have experienced our own “Egypts”, times when we felt disconnected, even abandoned, by God.  We have sometimes felt we were journeying aimlessly toward an unknown goal. We have at times wandered, like the prodigal son, from the path of God’s love. We have darknesses in our memories that still long for Light.

This poem from Mary Oliver might capture the feeling for us:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~ Mary Oliver ~

In today’s readings, God is reminding us that the Light awaits us. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new energy and grace are the gifts of Easter – the gifts where we must keep our eyes focused as we journey.

So let us do as e.e.cummings encourages us in this poem:

Let It Go – e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love


Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd
(Lyrics below)

Remember not the things of the past;
now I do something new,
do you not see it?
Now I do something new, says the Lord.

In our distress God has grasped us by the hand,
opened a path in the sea, and we shall pass over,
we shall pass over, free at last.

In our parched land of hypocrisy and hate,
God makes a river spring forth,
a river of mercy, truth and compassion; come and drink.

And who among us is sinless in God’s sight?
Then who will cast the first stone, when he who was sinless
carried our failings to the cross?

Pressing ahead, letting go what lies behind,
may we be found in the Lord, and sharing his dying,
share in his rising from the dead.

Mercy, like spring rain…

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Click here for readings

Hosea6_3 rainJPG

Today, in Mercy, our two readings encourage us to be humble and repentant.

In the reading from Hosea, God is very clear:

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God
rather than burnt offerings.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his judgmental self-satisfaction with all the sacrifices he’s made:

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

On the other hand, we have the scorned tax collector ( a status we can understand this time of year:-)  who admits his weakness and need for God’s mercy.

Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

The readings are really about seeing ourselves in the light of God’s truth, while knowing that our merciful God loves us infinitely, even in our weakness. They are about being open to that mercy so that we can know the fullness of God’s grace.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad

God’s Loving Promises

Friday, March 29, 2019

Click here for readings.

Hosea14

Today, in Mercy, Hosea, the composer of passionate love songs, tells us this:

I will heal your weaknesses, says the LORD,
I will love you freely;
for my wrath is turned away.
I will be like the dew for you:
you shall blossom like the lily;
You shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth your shoots.
Your splendor shall be like the olive tree
and your fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again you shall dwell in the shade
and raise grain;
You shall blossom like the vine,
and your fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

The passage sings of new life, strength, vigor – the hope of Easter! Today as we pray, what withering branches in our lives do we wish to place in the warmth of this promise?

Mc 12,28-34 e
You are not far from the kingdom of God

In our Gospel, the good scribe asks for Jesus’s confirmation that he is on the right track to holiness. Jesus blesses him by saying:

You are not far from the kingdom of God

God is so good to us. Let us ask God’s generous help as we seek to grow in holiness, goodness and peace this Lent, so that we may be blessed by the same promises.

Music: Good to Me – Audrey Assad 

According to Thy Word

Monday, March 25, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is a sacred and beloved feast.  Have we not come to love its phrases, ringing in our hearts like treasured memories? Let us pray with them today, asking to welcome the astonishing Will of God in our own life as Mary did.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth…

Annunciation,_Rome_-_Fra_Lippi
by Fra Filippo Lippi

And the angel said:
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Botticelli,_annunciazione_di_cestello_02
by Botticelli

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus, for nothing is impossible for God.

BURNE-Jones,_Edward_The_Annunciation_1876-79
by Edward Burne-Jones

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896
by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Music: Ave Maria – Franz Schubert

Heart-Burn?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we have powerful readings – they get really serious about repentance!

Ex3_2 bush

In our first reading, Moses has been on a kind of decades-long sabbatical on his father-in-law’s homestead. After the young glory days of Egypt, and the ensuing drama that exiled him, Moses had settled into being a humble shepherd in Midian. He probably wasn’t expecting a fiery, direct telegram from God.

But God never gives up on his plan for us. So God, divinely expert at getting our attention, conflagrates a bush right in front of Moses.  Supposedly, it was not that unusual for this type of bush to spontaneously combust in the desert heat. What was unusual was for it not to be consumed by the fire.

God then delivers a message of overwhelming fidelity to Moses:

Thus shall you say to the Israelites:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.
This is my name forever;
thus am I to be remembered through all generations.

Because of God’s mercy and fidelity, the Israelites – and Moses – are getting another chance to live in covenant with God.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to ignore such chances. He reminds his listeners that life is fragile and transitory. If we haven’t acted on God’s invitation to grace, we might lose the opportunity.

If we look back over our lives, we might realize that there have been burning bushes all over the place – times and events where life offered us a choice between grace and sin, smallness of heart, selfishness. When we chose grace, the bush kept burning and was not consumed. It lit our way to deeper covenant with God.

These final weeks of Lent offer us countless encouragements to look for God’s Fire in our hearts and to go deeper toward the Light. Let’s not ignore them.

Music: Fire of God – Craig Musseau