Redeemed!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about redemption… and what a free and glorious gift it is.

How thrilling are these verses?

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

When I read them, I so much want to meet Isaiah, to get him to sign my Bible, to come to my house for soup and bread! Because he is filled with hope and exultation at the Mercy of God, just like I want my life to be!

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Paul, sensing some jealous competition in his Corinthian buddies, tells them  — Get a grip! You are obsessing over incidentals when we have been redeemed and made one in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Then, when I read these beautiful, lilting lines in the Gospel …

He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

…I so want to go live with Jesus too, right there on Capernaum’s shores, because he was the very House of Mercy inviting us all to dwell anew in him. 

Jesus is the Living Redemption prophesied by Isaiah. He is the reason Paul turned his life upside down. Jesus is the Great Light in our darkness.

Praise and thank our Generous God!

Music: Streets of Capernaum – Clay Crosse

God Gets Tough

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

January 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we ride with Paul on the road to Damascus, there to be struck with him by a Godly Light.

800px-La_conversión_de_san_Pablo_(Murillo)
The Conversion of St. Paul — Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Have you ever been knocked off your “high horse” by the sudden realization of something to which you had been totally blind? It’s shocking, isn’t it? 

We might react by castigating ourselves with remarks like:

  • How could I have missed that?
  • Wow, I was really stupid, or foolish, or naïve, or prejudiced, or misled, or … or what?

God, in a kind of ironic twist, strikes Paul blind in order to cure him of his real blindness: the right he claimed to persecute others for a faith he didn’t understand.

Sometimes God has to be pretty tough with us to wake us up to the truth of our souls. John Donne, the pre-eminent English metaphysical poet, prayed for that kind of Divine Toughness in his poem Batter my heart, three-personed God.

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Since I have blogged twice previously about this feast,


Links available here:

Click here for 1/24/2019 Reflection

Click here for 4/19/2018 Reflection


I thought my readers might like to pray with Donne’s poem, read by Tom O’Bedlam

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Here also is a musical interpretation of the poem.
The University of South Florida Chamber Singers perform Richard Nance’s “Batter my heart” under the direction of Dr. James Bass 

The Green-Eyed Monster

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

January 23, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, both David and Jesus deal with the effects of immense popularity.

jealous

In David’s case, Saul is so jealous and threatened by David’s military success that he plots to murder him. Saul’s son Jonathan, David’s dear friend intervenes to turn his father’s evil intention. Ultimately though, Saul remains a man destroyed by jealousy.


 

green eye

Jealousy is aptly characterized as the “Green-Eyed Monster”:

The phrase ‘green-eyed jealousy’ was used by, and possibly coined by, Shakespeare to denote jealousy, in The Merchant of Venice, 1596.

In Othello, 1604, Shakespeare refers explicitly to the ‘green-eyed monster’ as jealousy when treacherous Iago counsels Othello:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!


These powerful words capture what it is like to feel, or to be the object of, jealousy – a feeling which grows out of one’s own insecurity. But since it is a feeling, it is not a sin. It is when we act on our jealousy, as Saul planned to do, that we sin.

I think, at sometime in our lives, most of us have experienced jealousy- either as donor or recipient. How we responded either fortified or eroded our character. Sincere reflection on those responses can continue to help us grow in charity.

Thinking about that, I benefitted from reading this passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Jealousy is here taken to be synonymous with envy. It is defined to be a sorrow which one entertains at another’s well-being because of a view that one’s own excellence is in consequence lessened. Its distinctive malice comes from the opposition it implies to the supreme virtue of charity. The law of love constrains us to rejoice rather than to be distressed at the good fortune of our neighbor.

Our daily prayer and ever-deepening relationship with God can free us to face any “green-eyed monsters” we encounter, turning them into occasions of grace. Let’s pray for that!

Music:  Envy and Jealousy – Sweet Comfort Band (Lyrics below)

Welcome, Christ, Our Light!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2020

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Is49_6 Light

Today, in Mercy, our readings invite us to witness the debut of Jesus Christ as he begins his public ministry.  The world has been waiting since the beginning of time and now… here He is!

Now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!

Remember when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia in 2015? The excitement? The preparation? The fanfare? What was that all about?

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from phillyvoice.com

I think that, in one form or another, we all wanted to see and be touched by goodness. We wanted to see someone who confirmed that the world could be better than our current experience. We wanted to see the beauty of God in a human being.

The people of Jesus’s time wanted the same things. They longed for a wholeness that was beyond their grasp. They longed for healing that had continually eluded them. They longed to be renewed in faith, hope and love.

That deep longing is universal in every human life. Seeing the Pope on the Parkway won’t fill it. Even seeing Jesus one afternoon in Capernaum won’t do that. Our Alleluia Verse from John’s Gospel tells us the only way to such fulfillment:

The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted him,
he gave power to become children of God.

In our Gospel, we see John the Baptist’s full acceptance of Jesus into his life. After that moment in the Jordan River when the Spirit descended, John’s life changed. It became a life patterned on and completed in the reality of Jesus Christ, not only his expectation.

John changed because he saw and believed. Our Gospel today invites us to the same kind of witness and testimony in our lives:

John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.

May God give us the grace to see and respond to the reality of Christ in our own lives – in the poor, the sick, the persecuted, those longing to know God. Drawing on the beautiful Light of Christ, may we also be a testimony to God’s Merciful Presence in our world.

Music: He Shall Come Again in Glory – Philip Webb (Lyrics below)

This majestic modern hymn proclaims the hope of Christ’s second coming. Crafted for success; the arrangement captures the mystery and majesty of the text and delivers it adroitly to the choir loft with full; satisfying harmonies. Powerful! (from the East Coast Music website)

He who wept above the grave
Who stilled the raging of the wave
Meek to suffering, strong to save,
He shall come again in glory

He who sorrow’s pathway trod
He that every good bestowed
Son of Man, Son of God,
He shall come again in glory.

He who bled with scourgings sore,
He who scarlet meekly wore,
He who every sorrow bore,
He shall come again in glory.

Monarch of the smitten cheek,
Scorn of Jew and scorn of Greek,
Priest and King divinely meek,
He shall come again glory.

He who died to set us free,
He Who comes whom I shall see,
Jesus, only, only He,
He shall ever reign in glory.

Anointed

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Samuel anoints Saul King of Israel.

Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head;
he also kissed him, saying:
“The LORD anoints you commander over his heritage.
You are to govern the LORD’s people Israel,
and to save them from the grasp of their enemies.

1Sam10_1

Throughout Scripture, the act of anointing signifies being blessed, commissioned by grace. The sacred oil heals and strengthens the anointed to do the work of God.

We share in the grace of anointing through the sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick. We may not think about the power these rituals give us to live our lives in the pattern of Christ. But it is an amazing power which creates saints out of ordinary human beings like you and me!


 

Caritas_Bruegel
Caritas, The Seven Acts of Mercy, pen and ink drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559. Counter-clockwise from lower right: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, ransom the captive, bury the dead, shelter the stranger, comfort the sick, and clothe the naked

In a less formal way, we can anoint one another by our acts of generosity, honesty, justice and love. Think of the woman who anointed Jesus with nard from her alabaster jar. How that act strengthened him for the suffering he had to face!

There are so many chaffed and sore places in our world awaiting the oil of mercy!

works of Mercy

We can also “anoint” our own life by gratefully remembering God’s presence in our lives:  the blessings we have received, the challenges we have gracefully met, the love we have both given and received – all that strengthened us to do the work of God over our lifetime.

Music:  Holy, Anointed One – Vineyard Worship

Be Careful What You Ask For

Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot

January 17, 2020

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www-St-Takla-org--b3h-50-israel-demands-a-king
1 Samuel 8:19 – Israel demands a king. J. Winter – from “The Bible and its Story” book, authored by Charles Horne, 1909

Today, in Mercy, our first reading startles us with how foolish the Israelites are about their leaders. Oh, wait a minute, why are we so surprised? Don’t we see the same dynamics all around us?

Israel is desperate for a “strong man” who will mimic the tyrants leading their enemies. They say a king will “rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” They begin to envision a nation of their own design, not God’s.

They believe that having an absolute leader will make them strong. They are indifferent to Samuel’s warnings that such a choice will usurp their freedom, and lead to their devastation and enslavement.

lossy-page1-441px-Olivetan_Master_-_Leaf_from_an_Antiphonary-_Historiated_Initial_P_with_the_Prophet_Samuel;_Ar_-_1999.131_-_Cleveland_Museum_of_Art.tif
This leaf is distinguished by a large initial P depicting Samuel, the last and one of the greatest of Israel’s judges. It introduces the text Preparte corda vestra domino et servite (“Prepare your hearts for the Lord and serve”). In the lower margin are the arms of the Visconti family, rulers of Milan, featuring an eagle (left) and a coiled serpent (right). At bottom center is the emblem of the Olivetan Order, a reformed branch of the Benedictines founded in 1319 known as the “white monks.” The Olivetan monastery in Milan was founded in 1400 and it appears that this leaf belonged to a set of choral books presented to the monastery by one of the Visconti, perhaps about 1439–47. The so-called Olivetan Master takes his name from a luxuriously illustrated psalter made for the order’s monastery in Milan, where he was undoubtedly a monk

God tells Samuel that, in rejecting the choice for responsible, spiritually-grounded, and mutually sustained leadership, the people are rejecting God and God’s plan for them.

In a nutshell, Israel’s problem is this: they have forgotten who and whose they are. For the sake of expected political dominance, they are willing to sacrifice their identity as a people formed and led by God.


Centuries later, in today’s Gospel, Jesus comes among these dispirited people. Their choice hasn’t worked. They are still a politically dominated nation. Their religious practice has lost its vigor, denigrating into lifeless rules and practices. A corrupt religious class manipulates them.

Jesus, ignoring their religiously manufactured limitations on the Spirit, cures a paralytic. The scribes are scandalized. But Jesus confronts their equivocation:

Jesus said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God …

What would the world be like if we left ourselves so open to grace and mercy that God could work through us for the good of all Creation? Can we even imagine such freedom and trust? Can we even imagine the marriage of our faith and politics to the point that we all live for the common good?

Ps89 name_justice

Music: Come, Holy Spirit – Bright City

Follow Me

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we re-enter Ordinary Time. (I’ll be posting a second reflection today on the topic of “ordinary time”.)

Today we begin a journey with Mark the Evangelist which carries us all the way to Lent. This journey will allow us to walk right beside Jesus as he preaches, cures, and calls people to full life in God.

Somewhere on Peter’s missionary journeys after Christ’s Ascension, he encountered Mark and took him as travel companion and interpreter. Mark then wrote down Peter’s sermons, thus composing the Gospel according to Mark (According to the historian Eusebius: Eccl. Hist. 15–16). So, in a very real sense, when we pray with Mark, we are also praying with Peter and with Peter’s memories of life with Jesus.

Today’s Gospel is a great example of that first-hand experience — the call of the first disciples.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
esus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.


I like to think of Peter talking to young Mark about this moment in his life.  He states it so simply. One can almost hear Peter say, ”It started so ordinarily.  We were just cleaning our nets, when He came out of nowhere and picked us!”

What Peter doesn’t say, but what might be inferred from the story, is that he and his brother Andrew were READY for the call. It didn’t take them a moment to drop those nets and follow. 

And, oh my, what a journey Peter made from that first moment to where he sat telling Mark the story decades later somewhere in Asia Minor.

Maybe other fishermen along that coastline might have scoffed or been bewildered at an invitation to become “Fishers of Men”. But Jesus knew the right ones to call.  He knew the hearts that would respond to the extraordinary clothed in the ordinary.

Mk1_17 follow

As we follow Mark’s Gospel over these next weeks, let’s look for the call it carries to us in our “ordinary time”.  Let’s be ready when Jesus asks us to tag along with him. We might, like Peter, be surprised at the graces waiting for us when we drop the “nets” entwining us and just follow!

Music: Follow Me – Casting Crowns

In this song, we hear Jesus invite several people to follow him: the disciples, the woman caught in adultery, the Good Thief … even us.

He Must Increase

Saturday after Epiphany

January 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks a lot about sin. But I think he’s talking about more than the itemized laundry list of mistakes we sometimes reckon as sin.

Catholic-Sin300

It all seemed so simple when we were in grade school, didn’t it?
Well, dealing with sinfulness in the world
is a lot more than milk bottles!



John is describing the drenching atmosphere of darkness that falls over a soul turned in on its own gratification. Pope Francis’s quote referenced yesterday captures this atmosphere:

“Jesus, at the Last Supper, does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world, but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite.” The Holy Father emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.

John likens this atmosphere to idol worship:

Children, be on your guard against idols.

Most of us are beyond worshipping golden calves, but we may still be allowing ourselves to be distracted from the centrality of God in our lives.

calf

What are some potential idols that could desensitize our souls to the ravages of evil? Greed, lust, and narcissism rise to the top of the list. Caught in the grasp of these idols, human beings become oblivious to astounding evils such as war, slavery, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, corporate dishonesty, technological dehumanization, and all the other rampant abuses befuddled human beings foist on one another. 

When you see the effects of such evils reported on the evening news, do you sometimes ask yourselves, “How could a person do such things to another human being?” 

What we are seeing is evidence of souls who have died to God’s Presence within their hearts. They are indifferent to the effect of their choices on anyone but themselves.

Jesus came to open our eyes and to free us from the bonds of such sin. As the Presence of God grows in us, so does our awareness of all that is dissonant with that Presence.


We pray with John the Baptist today that we may grow in God and diminish in any selfishness that blinds us to the difference between good and evil in our lives.

Pope Francis tweeted today:

In worship, we learn to reject what should not be worshiped: the god of money, the god of consumerism, the god of pleasure, the god of success, the god of self.


Music:  I Must Decrease – Andrew and Saskia Smith ( Words below.)

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

I must decrease, He must increase.
I must decrease, He must increase.

The whole earth is His footstool. Who am I?
Shall the thing formed say to its Maker,
“Why hast thou made me thus?”
I must decrease, He must increase.

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.

The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.
The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.
Oh yes, Lord, I exist to worship You.

Holy Victory

Friday after Epiphany

January 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings both challenge and affirm our faith:

John tells us:

Beloved:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

What does John mean by saying our faith makes us “victor over the world”? 

1Jn5_5

Certain scripture passages, and many theologians throughout history, use the term “the world” to refer to a secularized human system which denies or devalues God and spirituality. They set this concept of “the world” in opposition to a life lived from deep faith.

“Pope Francis, in a recent homily, spoke of the spirit of the world, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit. “Jesus, at the Last Supper,” he recalled, “does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world,” because Christian life is in the world, “but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite. He emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.
(Alessandro Di Bussolo, Vatican News)

For some, though, a simplistic definition of “world” and “spirit” has led to a dichotomy in which these realities are isolated from, and do not inform each other. Such thinking may lead us to identify “world” with the “evil” generated by sin or spiritual emptiness.

Evolving theology has confronted this dichotomous perception to help us understand that we come to know God through the sacred reality of the created world we live in.

Thomas Berry says this:
“… we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.”
(Thomas Berry, “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work)

Such Creation-based spirituality allows us to acknowledge and respond to God’s invitation to transform “the world” by our oneness with Christ, who is the Fullness of Creation.

“Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”
(Elizabeth A. Johnson – Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love)

Pope Francis, in paragraph 11 of Laudato Si’ writes:

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

As we consider all these aspects today in our prayer, let us ask for an understanding of God based in deep love and hope for our cosmic truth.

Music: Adoro Te Devote

Be the “Possible” That God Imagines!

Tuesday after Epiphany

January 7, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings empower us for unbounded possibility!

John’s letter tells us why:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God,
but that God loved us…

God has loved me!

There is nothing more I need to be whole — if I will only believe it, absorb it, and live from it!

There is nothing more I need to become a force for love in the world.


Mk6_4 loaves

Jesus demonstrates this powerful love in our Gospel reading.

It has been a long day of teaching, and the disciples see that the crowds are hungry and tired. They know the solution, which Jesus has apparently overlooked : let them go home and get something to eat!

But Jesus very simply responds, “Feed them yourselves!

He invites his disciples to realize the power released within them by God’s supernatural love. He challenges them to envision a way to respond to their challenges other than the tired, limited solutions we anxiously depend on.

Jesus calls them to imagine the world as God imagines it – transformed by an Unconditional Love which refuses the measurements of fear, control, and self- preservation.


loaves and fishes

Can you just visualize the scene that afternoon as the five loaves and two fish miraculously multiplied over the crowd of five thousand!

Can you see the expressions on the disciples’ faces as they allowed themselves to believe that, because of God’s Love, they were the vehicle of miracles!

We are too! There is no good we are incapable of if we will just believe in the power of Divine Love within us. Our miracles may not be as dramatic as the multiplication of the loaves. But they will be no less important.

They will be the miracles God planned for us to work in God’s name – for our circumstances, our challenges. They will be the way we carry God’s unimaginable grace to the tired hungers of our times.

Picture yourself starting out today, carrying that basket with just two fish and five loaves into the famished world. Imagine what happens when you open your heart to God grasping the basket with you!

Music: Imagine – John Lennon – I love this song in which Lennon imagines a world free of all the human constructs by which we limit it – a world as God might see it.