Who Will Stand in the End?

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings carry the full flavor of the “end times” warnings, those repeated annually as we move closer to Advent ( which is only two weeks away!)

Malachi is very direct:

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
 when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble…

Wow! Really? Our reaction might range from “Good! Go get ‘em, God!” to “Oh, dear God, I hope it’s not me!!!”.

But Paul resets us on the right track. He says something like this:

Listen! You must imitate your teachers in Christ.
Live with integrity, justice and generous mercy.
Navigate the world with these as your compass.
Then you will welcome the end times.


Lk21_19 perseverance

In our world, we see the opposing forces of good and evil clearly pulling against one another. In our decisions and attitudes, we are confronted with the choice between sin and selflessness.

The “elephant in the room” this week for many of us is the impeachment hearings. How do we view this event as people of Gospel faith? How do we respond?

elephant

While some of us believe strongly in separation of Church and State, still we acknowledge that our FAITH is exercised in a political world. We pursue our full conversion in Christ through “polity“:  our just and compassionate interactions with all Creation.

Right in front of us this week, we have seen  amazing displays of courage and morality standing against venal self-interests. How does what we see align with our own living of justice and mercy?

Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how“. If this isn’t the same challenge tackled in the Gospel, I don’t know what is! Jesus said that the poor and disenfranchised should be the first to “get” – through peace, love and mercy. Making that happen is our Christian call.

However, it is likely impossible to communicate God’s vision for the world in the language of politics.  Walter Brueggemann says this:

The prophet’s task is to imagine the world as though Yahweh, the God of Israel and the creator of heaven and earth, were a real character and a lively agent in the life of the world.  I believe that such a claim, then and now, has to be articulated poetically in order not to be co-opted by political absolutism or theological orthodoxy.
~Walter Brueggemann 

Our readings today give us this poetic vision and challenge. Read them with great longing to hear God’s voice for our times. The world so sorely needs the answer that will grow in our souls.

Music:  Let Justice Roll

Midnight Miracle

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

November 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we are blessed with some of the most gloriously imaginative images in Scripture:

wis18_midnight

Although the passage is a poetic recounting of the Exodus experience, it always makes me think of Christmas. 

  • Midnight on a starry night
  • Peaceful stillness over the earth
  • The all-powerful Word transformed 
  • Appearing among us like a comet in our darkness
  • Hope renewed for an otherwise doomed land

Praying with the passage this morning, I realize that my “Christmas lens” on the reading is right on target.

The Christmas event begins our Exodus story, a story completed in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Just as the God of Moses reached into ancient Israel’s life to free them, transform them and make them God’s People, so God reaches into our lives. God does this not only on Christmas, but in every moment of our experience.

As our media and consumer culture bombards us, all too early, with all the secularized images of Christmas, let today’s verses bring us back to the true startling grace of our own Christ/Exodus stories:

We are not alone in the midnights of our lives.
Listen underneath all the distractions
to the, at first, softly emerging sound of Love
humming under all things.
Watch for the small lights of heaven
longing to break into our human darkness.
Give yourself to their Light.

No matter where we are in our lives right now,
no matter the joy or pain of our present circumstances,
God wants to use these realities to be with us
and to teach us Love.
Let us invite God
into our willingness
to learn that Love,

to become that Love.


Music: Winter Cold Night – John Foley, SJ

Lyrics below (yes, it is an Advent/ Christmas song. But it fits so perfectly. Please forgive me if I am rushing the season too.🤗)

Dark, dark, the winter cold night. Lu-lee-lay.
Hope is hard to come by. Lu-lee-lay.
Hard, hard, the journey tonight. Lu—lee-lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.

And on earth, peace, good will among men.

Lean, lean, the livin’ tonight. Lu-lee-lay.
Star seems darker sometimes. Lu-lee-lay.
Unto you is born this day a Savior.
Pain, yes, in the bornin’ tonight. Lu lee—lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.

Vultures Forecasted!

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

November 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our scripture message is blunt. If yesterday’s sweet words from Wisdom were like “rich toffee for the spirit”, today’s are more like a double shot of bourbon for the mind.

toffeebourbon

Basically our first reading says “Yes”- creation is magnificent, but not as magnificent as its Creator! You, learned humans, how could you have gotten stuck only half-way to that truth? How did you end up making gods from the very things that were supposed to show you the one true God?

In our Gospel, Jesus speaks even more starkly. He describes the “end times” when “one will be taken and the other left”. That reading  always scared me as a child and, to be honest, still scares me a little. The popular “rapture literature” has monopolized on that fear. Nobody likes the idea of their buddy, sitting right beside them eating ice cream, suddenly disappearing, right?

vultureAnd I guess Jesus actually was trying to strike a little healthy fear into his listeners too. He told them the vultures were already gathering. It’s late in the game. Get your act together.

Early Christians thought a lot about the end times. They expected them to come quickly after the Resurrection. Well, 2000 years later, our obsession may have cooled somewhat. 

Nevertheless, an end will come to this life as we know it. And wouldn’t it be a shame if we had spent our precious worship on false and distracting gods like money, fame, power, luxury and self-aggrandizement?

“Wouldn’t it be a shame”, as one of our dear Sisters once said, “to come to the end of your life and realize you had missed the whole point?”

 Music: One True God – Mark Harris

The Beauty of Wisdom

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111419.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our beautiful reading from Wisdom requires no further words from me. I highly recommend that we savor each of its elegant words, turning them over in our hearts and souls – like a rich toffee for our hungry spirits.

Instrumental Music: Serenade by Secret Garden

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.

For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.

For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
And she, who is one, can do all things,
and renews everything while herself perduring;
And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.

For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.
For she is fairer than the sun
and surpasses every constellation of the stars.
Compared to light, she takes precedence;
for that, indeed, night supplants,
but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom.
Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily
and governs all things well.

The Hearings

Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin

November 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as the first public impeachment hearings begin, our readings seem eerily in synch with current events.

First of all, the hearings begin on the date we celebrate Frances Xavier Cabrini, first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. 

As I write about her, the US Supreme Court opens the DACA hearings, testing three cases against the Trump administration’s decision in 2017 to end deportation protections for so-called Dreamers. The Court will decide whether the decision to end the program was based on legally sound reasons.
(The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants deferral from deportation and work permits to nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children.)

Col3_14 put on love

Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom is crystal clear about the moral responsibilities of leaders to act with justice tempered by mercy, and always to exhibit special concern for the poor and marginalized.

Using these scripture verses, Pope Leo XIII wrote two of his many compelling encyclicals. His writings, and the entire legacy of Catholic Social teaching, guide us as we discern who, how, and why to use our voting power to advance justice for all people.

The following excerpts, though a little long, are well worth our attention to provide a foundation for our prayer during these strained partisan times. Perhaps we might pray them in short doses over the course of these hearings.

from: Encyclical Letter Immortale Dei, Pope Leo XIII

immortale

They, therefore, who rule should rule
with evenhanded justice, not as masters,
but rather as parents,
for the rule of God over humanity is most just,
and is tempered always with a parent’s kindness.

Government should, moreover, be administered
for the well-being of the citizens,
because they who govern others possess authority
solely for the welfare of the State.
Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to
the advantage of any one individual or of some few persons,
inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. 

But, if those who are in authority rule unjustly,
if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly,
and if their measures prove hurtful to the people,
they must remember that the Almighty
will one day bring them to account,
the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office
and preeminence of their dignity.


Diurturnum

from: Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII, Diuturnum

But in order that justice may be retained in government,
it is of the highest importance that those who rule States
should understand that political power
was not created for the advantage of any private individual;
and that the administration of the State
must be carried on to the profit of those
who have been committed to their care,
not to the profit of those to whom it has been committed. 

On this account
they are warned in the oracles of the sacred Scriptures,
that they will have themselves some day to render an account
to the King of kings and Lord of lords;
if they shall fail in their duty,
that it will not be possible for them in any way
to escape the severity of God:
“The Most High will examine your work
and search out your thoughts:
because being ministers of his kingdom
you have not judged rightly…
Horribly and speedily will he appear to you,
for a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule…
For God will not accept any man’s person,
neither will he stand in awe of any man’s greatness;
for he made the little and the great,
and he hath equally care of all.
But a greater punishment is ready for the more mighty”


Music: O Lord, the Clouds Are Gathering – Graham Kendrick

Want to Shine?

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

November 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we remember St. Josephat, our readings instruct us on what it means to be God’s faithful servant.

Josephat was. 

A 17th century saint born in Lithuania, Josephat was a humble and self-sacrificing Bishop. But his life was embroiled in the social and religious unrest subsequent to the Union of Brest.

(The Union of Brest, was the 1595-96 decision of the Ruthenian Orthodox Church eparchies (dioceses) in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to break relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church and to enter into communion with, and place itself under the authority of, the Roman Catholic Pope. – Wikipedia)

To a much greater degree than it would today, such a decision carried immense political import, creating the deadly oppositions to which Josephat ultimately lost his life.

Read Josephat’s story here.


Our first reading today, which is so familiar from the funerals we’ve attended, reminds us that all our lives will eventually return to God (hopefully not so dramatically as Josephat’s did).

Our Gospel too enjoins us to live humble, grateful lives of service, recognizing that everything we have and are belongs to God:

Is the Master grateful to that servant
because he did what was commanded?

So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded, say,
“We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.”

If we do this, we shall be blessed as described in Wisdom:

Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

Wisdom3_7 sparksJPG


These are sobering but necessary thoughts. As I write today (on November 11th), I think of the humble servant Catherine McAuley who died on this date in 1841. She has certainly sent sparks through the stubble. On this Veterans’ Day, I think of all who have died in war. I think of our Sister-veterans, Sister Bernard Mary Buggelein and Sister Dorothy Hillenbrand who served in WWII and now rest in our community cemetery. All of their lives have been called into the great embrace of our Eternal God. May all our lives inspire one another to humble service and praise.


Music: The Souls of the Righteous – Geraint Lewis, sung by Jesus Choir- Cambridge

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God,
and the pain of death shall not touch them.
To the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to perish,
but they are in peace.

Wisdom 3:1-3

Let Wisdom Show Us

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

Monday, November 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, On this Memorial of St. Martine of Tours, we begin a week of readings from the Book of Wisdom. Written in the century surrounding the birth of Christ, Wisdom is the work of a poet, theologian, philosopher, and moralist. Whether the writer was one person or several is uncertain. It was written in Greek and based on the Hebrew Scriptures which marks its composer as learned.

Today’s passage is part of the initial Exhortation to Pagan Kings: Rule according to divine justice and seek wisdom! (1:1-11).

For wisdom is a kindly spirit,
yet she acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips;
Because God is the witness of his inmost self
and the sure observer of his heart
and the listener to his tongue.
For the Spirit of the Lord fills the world,
is all-embracing, and knows what man says.

I can think of a few people to whom I would like to tweet this passage, can’t you? 

The erudite Wisdom writer realizes that faith and politics MUST mix in an ever more complex world because the goal of both disciplines is the wholeness and freedom of the human person.

Reading this passage today, let us pray for all who hold any responsibility for the welfare of others that they may be responsive to the inspiration of Wisdom in their leadership.

millstoneJPG
Dorieo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
For as our Gospel tells us today:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.  
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”

MUSIC: Kristyn and Keith Getty

 

Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, one theme threaded through our readings is that of “The Law”. “Law” is a frustratingly elastic word and concept which runs the gamut from tyranny to benevolent guidance depending on who administers it.

2thess3_5 scale

In both our first reading and our Gospel, we find people trying to curtail the freedom of others by invoking the Law. In 2 Maccabees, King Antiochus attempts to incorporate the Jewish people by fracturing their religious practice, that which identifies and unites them as Jews. On the surface, the story seems to be about eating pork, and one might wonder if that resistance is worth dying for.

But the real conflict is between tyrannical domination and spiritual freedom, between “Empire” and “Kingdom” – a struggle we have seen endlessly repeated through history and current events.

When “law” is interpreted to advantage some and suppress others, it is no longer law. The essence of law is always the wise administration of mercy balanced with justice. The understanding of such law grows from covenanted relationship with the Creator who wills the good and wholeness of all Creatures.

In today’s Gospel, some Sadducees (perhaps sincere, but more likely trying to trap Jesus) ask him to solve a hypothetical problem regarding marriage in the afterlife.

Jesus doesn’t bite. He explains to the questioners that eternal life transcends all their human perceptions of time, relationship and law. The earthly laws by which we either bind or free one another in this world evaporate in Heaven. Only Mercy and Justice order eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us that we are called to be examples of that eternal kingdom now. He knows how hard it is, and so he blesses us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,

who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement

and good hope through his grace,

encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed

and word.

May God’s law of love be deepened in is so that we – like the Maccabees, like Jesus – will have the courage and strength to live it in a sometimes hostile world.

Music: The Law of the Lord is Perfect

Christ, Our Cornerstone

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

November 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate a rare type of feast day – one that marks the dedication of a church building.  For many, that seems a little odd. We are accustomed to celebrating Mary, Joseph and other saints and feasts of Our Lord.

Here’s the thing: we are not actually celebrating a building.  We are celebrating what the building represents – the Body of Christ, the Church, made of living stones – us.

But sometimes it helps to have visible symbols of the things we venerate and celebrate. That’s why we have medals, rosary beads and candles – so that we can SEE something as we try to conceptualize a spiritual reality.

john lateran

St. John Lateran is the Pope’s parish church. Since he is the Bishop of the whole People of God, his physical church has come to symbolize the universal Body of Christ, the world Church.

Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus Address, on November 9, 2008 said this:

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24).
But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God.
Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.

st j lateran

As we pray today, we might want to consider the gift of faith on which our own lives are built – a faith whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. In our second reading, Paul says this:

Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building…..
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

And in our Gospel, Jesus speaks of his own body as a temple which, though apparently destroyed by his enemies, will be raised up in three days.

By our Baptism, that same spiritual temple lives in us and in all the community of faith. That same power of Resurrection is alive in us! So in a very real sense, what we celebrate today is ourselves – the Living Church – raised up and visible as a sign of God’s Life in the world.

Happy Feast Day, Church!

Music: Cornerstone – Hillsong

Paid for in Advance!

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 8, 2019

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already paid

Today, in Mercy, our readings are about spiritual wealth, stewardship and Godly generosity.

Paul starts us off by proclaiming that the wealth/riches of salvation belong to ALL humanity. He presents himself as a unique “steward “ of those riches to the Gentiles.

Our Gospel gives us a second interpretation of “stewardship” in the parable the wily steward. This fella’ gets called on the carpet for squandering his employer’s resources. Pink slip time! 

So the steward calls in some of the debtors and reduces their debt by the amount of his own commission. By doing this, he hopes to make some friends to support him in his impending unemployment.

Talbots

Many years ago, there was a Talbot’s outlet in the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast Philly (I know. Heaven, right?) You could get an amazing deal on the clearance items. But you got an even better deal if you went to a certain cashier for your checkout.

He was a tall, flamboyant and loudly funny guy. If a price tag was missing on an item, you got it virtually for free. He would make outlandish comments like, “Oh, honey, this isn’t your color so let’s discount it 50%.” If you bought two of the same item, he might announce,”Two for one today”, charging for only one. He was a living example of the Biblical steward! Over time, he developed a devoted buying community – those who had learned the secret of why people waited in his long line!

In today’s parable, Jesus isn’t advocating that we cheat our employers. The parable isn’t really about that at all. It is about the way he wants his disciples to be profligate in preaching the mercy of God.

Remember that this parable comes in between two blockbusters about Mercy- the Prodigal Son and Lazarus and the Rich Man. In a way, you might say Jesus is on a tear about the unbounded generosity of God in forgiveness and hope for us. He makes clear that the wealth of Divine Love is delivered to us by our unbounded Christian love for one another.

So today, maybe we can think about the Talbot’s guy. We have been abundantly blessed by God’s love for us. Let’s pay it forward over and over today… and every day. Let’s generously share the infinite discount of Mercy.

Music: Jesus Paid It All – Elvira M. Hall (1865) This rendition of the hymn by Kristian Stanfill (born 1983) is so interesting. Offered here with modern instrumentation, the words date back to the era of the US Civil War. Past and present meld in the ever eternal love God has for us.