Promise

 

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 21, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about making and keeping promises.

Our first reading refers to Genesis and God’s promise to Abraham of land and posterity. Through his hospitality to three disguised angels, Abraham secures God’s promise to bless Sara and him with a child.

Luke8_15 promise

In today’s second reading from Colossians, Paul assures us that God has brought that promise to its full completion in the gift of Jesus Christ living in us.

…the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past
has now been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. 

In our Gospel, Jesus encourages Martha to give her attention to the presence of this promise revealed in her life. Mary sees the promise fulfilled in Jesus, the living presence of God. She gives her full heart to it. Martha, maybe like us sometimes, is preoccupied by other distractions.


Our readings invite us to rejoice in God’s promise to us
of “land” and “posterity”.

In Jesus, we are brought home to God.
In Jesus, the fruitfulness of our life is eternally secured.


We make promises to God too.

vowsAs I think about my vows today, I am so aware of the recent deaths of two of our Sisters. At all of our funerals, our vows rest near us for our wakes – a profound symbol of promises given and promises fulfilled. God bless you, Margaret and Mary Ellen! Thank you for your witness among us!
Today, as we pray about God’s faithful promises to us, we might want to reflect on and deepen the commitments of our Baptism, our religious profession, our marriage, our covenants to communities of faith and service.

Like Martha, we might hear Jesus encourage us to give our fullest heart to that which is most important.

Music: God’s Promise – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir  (Lyrics below)

God’s Promise

Chorus:
Everything He said
In His word
He will do it for you.
Every prophecy He gave
Every promise he made

He will do it for you.
If you only trust Him
And let Him have his way
He’ll work things out for you.

If you only believe and
You will see
That He will do it
For you.

(Repeated several times)

He’ll do it
He will do it/
My God is a faithful God
He will do it

And He’s always there
To answer every payer
He will do it.
He’ll do it.

No matter what you’re going through.
He’ll do it.
Remember His word is true.
He’ll do it.

Cause He understands
He’ll do it.
You can always trust and lean on Him
My God will do it
For you….

The Bloody Lintel

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 19, 2019

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Trust and Fears

Saturday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 13, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are an interplay of trust and fear, just like most of our lives are.

Related image

The TV character Adrian Monk is the exaggerated personification of our human fears. You name it, he’s afraid of it. Most of us aren’t that bad off, thank God. But we all have fears at times, and maybe life-long ones.

We might entertain conquerable anxieties like fear of water, or public speaking, or heights. These limits to our courage can be stretched by lessons and practice. 

But the deeper fears, like those central to today’s readings, are radically existential and perhaps never fully conquerable. These might include fear of meaninglessness, loneliness, diminishment, and death.

Joseph’s brothers handle their doubts by straight-talking with him. They trust his assurances. Joseph addresses his concerns about burial by pressing a promise from these same brothers.

Mt10_sparrow

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to deal with our deepest worries and fears. He assures us that no one or nothing can break the insoluble bond of love God has for us. He promises that we will endure eternally within this love. He reminds us that, ultimately, this is the only thing that matters.

The image of the free and unfettered sparrow shows us how God wants us to live and enjoy our creaturehood. The image of a loving God, brushing our hair and counting every one of them, may inspire us to deeper trust as we pray today.

You may be familiar with the trusting phrase attributed to Julian of Norwich:

“All shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Actually, it was Jesus who spoke the word to her in a vision:

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It is true that sin is cause of all this pain, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”


Indeed, we will meet the results of sin and darkness in the world and in ourselves. Julian grew to understand that, in God’s love, we are saved from that darkness:


And from the time that [the vision] was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord’s meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: ‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’  

    Thus I was taught that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end … 


Music: All Shall Be Well – Kathleen Deignan (Lyrics below)

All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Receive the gift of healing
from the well of tears;
be washed anew
by grief and sorrowing.

Receive the gift of healing
from our mother Earth,
her deep and dark
and secret verdancy.

Receive the gift of healing
from the shaman’s touch:
the wounded healer’s power
to revive.

Receive the gift of healing
in the arms of love,
embraced in passion
and compassioning.

Broken Dreams

Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The story is rich in emotional layers, leading us to reflect on the unfolding chapters of our own lives.

Ps105

Have you ever looked back to a personal circumstance which, when it occurred, seemed shattering, even unbearable? That same circumstance, when viewed through the long lens of time, may have -amazingly- turned out to be a blessing.

The event may have been a job we didn’t land, a loss we almost couldn’t bear, a failure we tried to avoid. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we endured and even thrived. We learned new things about God’s power in our hearts, about the resilience of hope, and the effable dynamism of trust.

We learned how to forgive ourselves and others, how to be nourished by community, how to start over – perhaps with better intentions and greater wisdom.

Such was the atmosphere for Joseph and his brothers in today’s reading. Praying with this reading, let us give thanks for God’s Presence, even through the dreams that once seemed broken.

Music: Even If by MercyMe

Wounded by Mercy

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we continue to learn from the amazing saga of Jacob.

This passage tells a story we may have heard: 

Jacob, after years in isolation, is returning to seek reconciliation with his aggrieved brother Esau. Jacob is stressed, penitent, and maybe a good bit nervous about the first encounter.

He tries to get a decent night’s sleep before the highly anticipated meeting. But that was not to be.

Jacob and AngelJPG
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Eugène Delacroix

Jacob wrestles through night with an unnamed stranger. The stranger – perhaps an angel, perhaps God – wounds him, renames him, and ultimately blesses him.

The passage is so worth a reflective read! In that reflection, we may see glimpses of our own relationship with God. God comes to us too, unexpectedly, in both our lights and our darknesses. God wrestles us to look him in the face, in the heart – to turn our attention from all the luring distractions and shallowness that keep us from him.

At best we, like Jacob, might come to a sort of truce with God: we do not fully know God’s Name but we, nevertheless, receive God’s blessing. That blessing changes us, renames us. And, in a visible way, it marks us – just as Jacob was marked by a “limp”. We become vulnerable to the things of God, to God’s hope for the world, to the Mercy of God for all Creation. We become marked by a Love which, though it seems to weaken, is our ultimate and indefatigable strength.

Today’s final thought: Will we let ourselves be changed by the grace offered us in life’s struggles? Will we let ourselves be renamed and marked as God’s own?

Frederick Buechner, in his sermon The Magnificent Defeat talks about such surrender:

Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God. And God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives – our selves, our wills, our treasure.

Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.

Music: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel – Leo Kraft

Joy

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are knit together by the theme of joy – a quality whose description and possession are elusive.

Lk10_20 joy

As I sought a way to write about joy, I thought immediately of the author C.S. Lewis. If you don’t know him, I suggest it would be worth your while to discover him.

C.S. Lewis was a British writer, academic and theologian. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. Among my favorite of his non-fiction works are Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed.

Lewis clearly understood and lived a spirituality like the one offered in today’s readings. He came to understand the amazing difference between joy and happiness. He experienced joy as a longing for the Infinite which is suggested by life’s beauty, but never fully accessed by our human sensibility.

Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus preach this kind of joy in our readings. It is a joy that, even in the midst of trial, gives us peace and hope. It is rooted in our immutable trust in God’s abiding love for us. As today’s Psalm says:

Hear now, all you who fear God,
while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!

You might enjoy these quotes about joy from C.S.Lewis. Movie lovers among you might like the wonderful 1993 film about the relationship between Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis’s Christian faith.


All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

“Joy—that sharp, wonderful Stab of Longing—has a lithe, muscular lightness to it. It’s deft. It produces longing that weighs heavy on the heart, but it does so with precision and coordination…It dashes in with the agility of a hummingbird claiming its nectar from the flower, and then zips away. It pricks, then vanishes, leaving a wake of mystery and longing behind it.”
(from Shadowlands and Song of Light by Kevin Ott – a journey into the thoughts of C.S.Lewis)

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Music: Shadowlands – Rebecca St.James

Well, Will You?

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2019

Click here for readings

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

What is “Mammon” Anyway?

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 22, 2019

Click here for readings

Life’s dilemmas confound some of us:

Dickens


Today, in Mercy,  Jesus addresses the confounding problem of spiritual schizophrenia.

No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

Mammon (μαμωνᾷ), a concept that is rather simplistically translated as “money”, actually connotes a much more complex meaning. Strong’s Concordance of the Bible offers related words that help enrich our understanding of the word “mammon”:

  • Excess
  • Dis-ease
  • Unrighteousness 
  • Imbalance

This is the dissonance Jesus speaks to in today’s Gospel. “Money”, or possessions, – like good wine – in excess can dehumanize us. We can become entangled, addicted and covetous of it. We can forget who we truly are when we allow ourselves to drown in it. We can lose connection to the community in which we exist.

But we need “money”, don’t we? Very few people desire real material poverty. How does Jesus guide us to face this internal dichotomy?

Mt6_33 FIRST

Jesus says that our FIRST concern must be the Kingdom of God. Motivated by that core intention, the rest of our concerns will fall into proper place.  Pope Francis reiterates this truth for our times in the encyclical “Laudato Sì”. Let’s pray with it today:

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. (223)

Music: Seek Ye First – Maranatha Singers

Is Scrooge My Hero?

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious

June 21, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Jesus puts the whole spiritual life in a nutshell:

Luke heart treasure

When I was a kid (and maybe even now), one of my favorite cartoon characters was Uncle Scrooge McDuck.

Scrooge

I was amazed to think that someone could accumulate all that money, and fascinated to see that all he wanted to do was sit on it!

Both Uncle Scrooge and Jesus pose some deep questions to us today.

  • How much do we really need to make us happy?
  • Will having it actually make us happy in the long run?
  • Where does our happiness come from, if we have happiness at all?

We have seen the theme in a hundred books and movies – poor little rich boy or girl starving for love. We all seem to realize that true wealth comes from love. But do we live and choose by that understanding?

Possessions can distract us from what is truly essential for our soul. Greed and selfishness can kill the Spirit within us.

Our coöptation by materialism and greediness doesn’t have to rise to the level of Scrooge’s mounted millions. So often a miserly heart is crippled by things much more complex than money. We can be sinfully stingy with:

  • our attention to those deemed unimportant
  • our kindness to those struggling with life
  • our forgiveness to the unappreciative 
  • our presuppositions about what belongs to whom

The following parable has always shaken me down at the root of my assumed entitlements:

A young woman was waiting to catch a flight in the boarding area of the airport. Given that her wait was going to be several hours she decided to buy a book to read along with a packet of cookies to enjoy. She sat down in an armchair in the VIP room of the airport to relax and read her book in peace. 

Beside the armchair where the packet of cookies lay, a man was seated next to her reading his magazine.  When the woman reached into the packet of cookies to take the first cookie, the man next to her also took one. She was irritated but said nothing. “What nerve this man has!” she thought.  For each cookie she took the man also took a cookie. 

She was infuriated but didn’t want to cause a scene. When only one cookie remained she thought to herself, “what will this horrible man do now?” The man reached down and broke the cookie into even halves and handed one half to her. It was more than she could handle!  She grabbed her things in a huff, refused the half, and stormed off to the boarding area.  

When she got onto her seat on the plane she reached into her purse to get her reading glasses and, to her surprise, her packet of cookies was sitting there untouched and unopened.

We might wish to spend some prayer time considering the application of this story to our own attitudes.

Music: Where Your Treasure Is – Marty Haugen