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.

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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 

Fill the World with Love

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

January 24, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David spares Saul’s life even though Saul is in murderous pursuit of him. (Here is a video for kids featuring the moment. But I thought it was pretty cool. Maybe you will too.)

Is David noble or naïve? Is he magnanimous or stupid? As I pray this morning, I ask myself what it is that God might be saying to me through this passage.

Two things rise up:

  1. Above all else, David is motivated by a deep respect for God’s Will and Presence in his life.

David said to his men,
“The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master,
the LORD’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him,
for he is the LORD’s anointed.”

    2.  David engages Saul directly and respectfully in the hope of reaching a resolution of    their issues.

When David finished saying these things to Saul, Saul answered,
“Is that your voice, my son David?”
And Saul wept aloud.

Reverence and honesty rooted in sincere love and respect for one another! What a world we would live in if each of us practiced these things unfailingly!


In our Gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to live in the world in just such a way – to bring healing and wholeness in the Name of Christ, for the sake of Love.

Our Alleluia Verse today captures the essence of Christ’s call to them —- and to us:

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
and entrusting to us the message of that reconciliation.


Music: To Fill the World with Love sung by Richard Harris
(Lyrics below, but you will no doubt recall them from the fabulous film “Goodbye Mr. Chips”.)

In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only You can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?

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)

To Save A Life …

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

January 22, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading is stuff worthy of an action movie! Even today, in my seventh decade, I remember the first time I heard it as a spellbound child. Could young, virtually unarmed David really conquer a GIANT!

Goliath

Wrapped in the story, of course, is the spiritual nugget we are meant to take to our own heart:

…thus the whole land shall learn that Israel has a God.
All this multitude, too,
shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.
                    For the battle is the LORD’s
       and he shall deliver you into our hands.


We have battles of every description all around us: military, political, economic, cultural, moral, and personal. Today’s Day of Prayer highlights one of those battles – the right to life for unborn children.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision in favor of Roe that held that women in the United States have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to have abortions without excessive government restriction, and struck down Texas’s abortion ban as unconstitutional. (Wikipedia)

Since that fateful day, many people of faith, and certainly the Catholic Church, have fought this decision. It has been a contentious and divisive battle which has divided people into pro and anti-abortion factions.

From my perspective, one unfortunate dimension of the situation is an insufficient effort by Catholic bishops to provide wholistic definition, research, teaching, and support to Catholics on the moral imperative for the right to life in all its aspects.

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Episcopal support for right to life often degenerates into a single-issue approach which fails to instruct on other life issues such as war, death penalty, poverty, adequate health care, civil and women’s rights, and environmental justice.

At the same time, morality statements around these issues often fail to address legitimate concerns around birth control, maternity care, newborn nutritional programs, and other issues parents struggle with.

Probably what most infuriates me is the political hijacking of this single issue by those whose own moral and policy choices mock a comprehensive culture of life.

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister said this in a 2004 interview:

“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Personally, I am deeply opposed to abortion. And I am just as deeply opposed to an inconsistent morality and a policy-making which isolates this issue to the point of stagnating ignorance and indifference on other critical life issues.

A phrase in today’s Gospel struck me as I prayed on these things. Perhaps it will strike you as well:

Jesus said to the Pharisees,
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,

to save life rather than to destroy it?

Jesus acknowledges that finding moral perfection requires a balancing of goods, some of which are weightier than others. The Sabbath laws were designed to foster the spiritual life. But if their observance consigns this crippled man to hopelessness, have the laws met their goal?

If indeed a life is saved from abortion, society must continue to save that life by fostering a culture which supports it for ALL of its life..

Music: Hymn of Life – St. Teresa of Calcutta

David, God’s Servant

Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr

January 21, 2020

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Ps89_David

Today, in Mercy, we meet David, whose thrilling and passionate story unfolds and echoes throughout the rest of biblical history.

In today’s passage, David is called in from the fields to receive, quite unexpectedly, Samuel’s anointing:

David
Michaelangelo’s David

 

“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.

 

 
Now, the passage doesn’t indicate which field David was in. But maybe he was out in proverbial “left field”, the place from which many human beings are called to do important things, to respond in courageous ways.

 

Most of us, like David, are just living our ordinary daily lives –relatively oblivious to grace – when the life-changing moments come. Those moments may not be as momentous as David’s, but they are big deals for us. 

  • We get a college acceptance (or rejection) letter.
  • We get a job offer (or we get laid off).
  • We get elected to a position (or we don’t)

Someone asks us:

  • Want to go steady?
  • Will you marry me?
  • Have you ever considered religious life?

Young people, like young David, seem to meet a lot of these obvious directional points in their unfolding lives. But, in reality, we continue to meet them as we move to full maturity. Until the day we die, God is always calling to become deeper, more honest, more loving, more gracefully beautiful, more fully in God’s image.

Where have the pivotal calls and turning points come in your life? What are the junctures at which everything would have been different had you made another choice?What made young, innocent David ready when his first, and ensuing, calls came? 

Here’s why:
David had an exquisite love and constant relationship with God.
And God loved him back, just like God loves us.

Every critical point in our life’s journey is charged with the power of God’s love. That power comes disguised in routine circumstances, like a parent calling his shepherd son home for dinner. But if our hearts are tuned to God, we hear the call deep within those ordinary appearances and we receive the moment’s anointing.

May it be so, until we meet the Beloved Face to face.

Music: Anoint Me, Lord – written by Vickie Yohe, sung by Jonathan Matthews

So Much More Than a Holiday!

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Some of us begin this day simply grateful for a holiday. Perhaps some of us forget, or some are too young to remember, how this “holiday” came to be.

But there are some among us who are old enough to remember his actual voice; to have listened — live – on that sweltering August day in 1963 when he inspired us with the words:

I have a dream.

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There are some of us who saw him stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that golden day, the personification of President Lincoln’s vision of justice and equality.

 There are some of us who listened and watched every step he took, every prayer he said, every challenge he met with equanimity and courage.


 There are some of us who remember the very night he told us:

I have been to the mountaintop 
and I have seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you.
But I want you to know that we,
as a people,
will get to the promised land.

 

There was a whole world of us who cried when he was martyred the very next day.


Monday is no mere holiday. It is the commemoration of a giant soul who changed the world forever. And he did it not in the way that many have done it throughout history — through wars and conquest.

Martin Luther King changed the world by non-violent protest, by a leadership of love, by a faith that endures beyond the assassin’s gun.

Say his name in reverence on this commemorative day. He has given all of us — no matter our color — the hope of a more human existence. If you have not had the gift of living in his time, ask your elders who remember his face, his sound, his power to tell you the story of the freedom God gave each of us.

 In his memory, and to continue to realize his dream, we might consider these 12 steps to non-violence for our own lives.


12 Steps to Non-Violence

  1. Acknowledge your powerlessness — that our lives/culture are co-opted by subversive and pervasive violence
  2. Believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to right relationship.
  3. Decide to turn our will and our lives over to that Power.
  4. Examine fearlessly our own violent inclinations.
  5. Admit to that Power, to ourselves and to another person the exact nature of our own violence.
  6. Be open to have that inclination removed.
  7. Ask to have all violence removed from our hearts and actions.
  8. List all persons to whom we have been violent by word or deed and be willing to make amends to them.
  9. Amend directly to these people wherever possible and prudent.
  10. Self-examine continuously; promptly admit recurring violence in ourselves.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to know the nature of Peace and Mercy.
  12. Carry the message of non-violence to others and practice it in all our interactions.

Music: “Abraham, Martin and John” is a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and sung here by Marvin Gaye. It is a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. It was written in response to the assassination of King and that of Robert Kennedy in April and June 1968, respectively. (Wikipedia)

The song reflects the mix of awe, hope, sorrow and disappointment the nation felt in those tumultuous times.

 

 

The Sacred Legacy of MLK

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2020

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MLKJPG

Today, in Mercy, as we memorialize the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our readings speak about leadership and its continuing call to renew the world in the image of its Creator.

In our first reading, Samuel relays God’s displeasure to Saul who, though a conquering hero, has failed in humility and obedience before the Lord. 

In the story, God has given a clear direction to Saul to obliterate Israel’s centuries-old enemy, the Amalekites. Instead Saul, after executing the masses, keeps the enemy king alive as a war trophy. He appropriates the cattle as personal spoil. He also sets up a shrine to commemorate the victory as his own.

God is not happy. When we profess to lead in God’s name we must act as God directs us. In order to understand God’s direction, we must cultivate an honest, just and merciful heart.


Martin Luther King was such a leader. By his faithful obedience to God’s inspiration, Martin, at the ultimate cost, turned the tides of history toward justice and freedom.

But the tides still need turning, because there will always be those who seek “war trophies”, and personal spoil, and domination for themselves. Our times are tortured by such selfish and failed leadership, just as all of history has been from ancient Israel until 1968 and until now.

Today, as we pray with this great prophet and leader, we ask that selfless, merciful and faith-impelled souls continue to hear the call to justice in our day. May Martin’s witness strengthen and inspire us.


Music: Precious Lord, Take My Hand – Mahalia Jackson (Lyrics below)

Per Dr. King’s request, his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, though not as part of the morning funeral service but later that day at a second open-air service at Morehouse College.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on through the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

When my way grows dreary
Precious Lord, lead me near
When my life is almost gone
At the river I will stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

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