Don’t Blow Off the Holy Spirit!

Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs

Saturday, October 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our scripture readings are a little heavy. I had to dig to get my inspiration. But there are gems in these dense words!

It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.

This is a spiritually freeing passage. It assures us that God is with us through our faith, not through the perfection with which we keep laws and rules.

Our Gospel reinforces the message:

Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,
but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will not be forgiven

lk12_10HolySpirit

The passage is a little scary when first read, because we all hope we haven’t done anything to offend the Holy Spirit. But what Jesus is telling his listeners is this:

If a person criticizes or rejects my life and teaching, forgiveness is still possible when they come to their senses and repent. It’s like cutting the bad spot out of an otherwise good apple.

But if a person chooses to live a life which blasphemes (mocks, dismisses) the Spirit of life, love, mercy and peace, that person can never be forgiven — because they can never repent. They will be rotten to the core.

So the advice of Paul and Jesus boils down to this, I think. Befriend the Holy Spirit by your life of faithful choices. Listen to Her inspiration. Help others to do the same. And do not worry. when you make a few mistakes. God stands by the promise to be with us always.

Music: Spirit of the Living God- Divine Hymns

To See Ourselves As Others See Us

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy … Oh boy, Paul and Jesus stick it to hypocrites in today’s readings. And I’m like, “Yeah! Go get those rotten, lying hypocrites” – and I have a whole slew of people in mind!

Then, WHOA!  I see Paul’s no-nonsense warning:

For by the standard by which you judge another
you condemn yourself,

since you, the judge, do the very same things.

This is a definite “clean up your act” reading. And don’t deflect your own sinfulness on to the people around you!

Jesus takes the same advice to the Pharisees by throwing a couple of serious “woes” at them:

Lk11_44graves

  • Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
  • Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagoguesand greetings in marketplaces.
  • Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.

Oh wow! I don’t want to be like an unseen grave, do you?! Neither did one of the scholars who responded to Jesus, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too!

But Jesus is undeterred: 

Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.

Today’s readings offer us a clear message to take a good look at ourselves. Are we guilty of the very uglinesses that we condemn in others?


The Scottish poet Robert Burns got the picture in his poem
“To A Louse”

O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!


For fun, here is the Standard English Translation

Ha! Where are you going, you crawling wonder? Your impudence protects you sorely,
I can not say but you swagger rarely
Over gauze and lace,
Though faith! I fear you dine but sparingly On such a place

You ugly, creeping, blasted wonder, Detested, shunned by saint and sinner, How dare you set your foot upon her – Such fine a lady!
Go somewhere else and seek your dinner On some poor body
Off! in some beggar’s temples squat:

There you may creep, and sprawl, and scramble, With other kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Where horn nor bone never dare unsettle
Your thick plantations

Now hold you there! you are out of sight, Below the falderals, snug and tight;
No, faith you yet! you will not be right, Until you have got on it —
The very topmost, towering height Of misses bonnet.
My sooth! right bold you set your nose out, As plump and gray as any gooseberry:

O for some rank, mercurial resin,
Or deadly, red powder,
I would give you such a hearty dose of it, Would dress your breech!
I would not have been surprised to spy You on an old wife’s flannel cap:

Or maybe some small ragged boy,
On his undervest;
But Miss’s fine balloon bonnet! fye! How dare you do it.
O Jenny do not toss your head,
And set your beauties all abroad! You little know what cursed speed The blastie’s making!

Those winks and finger-ends, I dread, Are notice takiing!
O would some Power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us, And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us, And even devotion.

Music: Britt Nicole – Through Your Eyes (a chance to think about how our loving God sees us, and everyone else/)

Jealous for Me

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Monday, September 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Zechariah channels God, with the most intense of human emotion.

The prophet wants Israel to have some understanding of God’s infinite love and hope for them, so he puts these words in God’s mouth:

I am intensely jealous for Zion,
stirred to jealous wrath for her.

Like a spouse longing for a lost beloved, God longs for the restoration of Israel to the Divine embrace.

Zech my people

Wherever our relationship with God is frayed or broken, God is jealous for us too. If we can turn our hearts in repentance, prayer, and hope, we too will hear God’s longing for us.


In our Gospel, Jesus tries to refocus his disciples on that loving call. In a classic example of missing the obvious, they are distracted over who is the most important. Here is the Lord of all sitting beside them, and they are arguing about their personal status!

By pointing to a child in their midst, Jesus reminds his followers of the innocence and transparency we need in order to open ourselves to God.

Let’s pray for that openness today so that we can hear and rejoice in a promise such as Israel heard through Zechariah:

You shall be my people, and I will be your God,
with faithfulness and justice.

Music: How He Loves Us – David Crowder Band

God’s Immutable Mercy

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Ezra carries on his shoulders the whole repentant nation of Israel. He is bent in “shame and humiliation” for them as he begins his prayer for God’s mercy.

It is a highly dramatic prayer, ripping out from Ezra’s soul. He not only wants to get God’s attention. Ezra wants to make an indelible impression on the community he prays for.

Picture the scene as you wish. What comes to my imagination, (although somewhat sacrilegious)  is something like a James Brown brand of intensity:

for your reference: James Brown performs “Please Please Please” (Wait for the cape at 60 secs!)


God doesn’t shout back an answer to Ezra’s expressive prayer. Instead, we get the sense of God’s still, eternal Presence waiting for Israel’s eyes to clear in recognition, like finally seeing the mountain peak through the mist:

Ez9_8mercy rock

And now, but a short time ago,
mercy came to us from the LORD, our God,

who left us a remnant
and gave us a stake in his holy place;

thus our God has brightened our eyes
and given us relief in our servitude.


“ …God has given us a stake in his holy place”….
That place is ever-present,
ever-available Mercy
– always awaiting us
if we can clear our hearts to see it.

Once we do see the faithfulness of God, we are ready to chance the journey Jesus invites us to in today’s Gospel:

Take nothing for the journey ….
set out and go from village to village

proclaiming the good news
and restoring wholeness everywhere.

Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness – written by Thomas O. Chisholm.
Sung here by AustinStoneWorship – Jaleesa McCreary (Note the sweet smile on her beautiful face just before she begins to sing. Grace!)

Anoint Your Life

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I would like to share a piece from a book I am (slowly….) writing:

Lk7_17 jar

The scene is heavy with color, sounds, scents and movement.  The summer sun has begun its long descent through the western sky, filling the garden with orange light and umber shadows. Simon and his household make final preparations for the arrival of Jesus. The dining area is meticulously set in the arbored courtyard, the klinai or dining couches angled so that Simon may have the full consideration of Jesus once the supper begins. The scent of roasting lamb drifts from a nearby spit, incensing the entire space with heightened appetite. Slowly, the scene fills with the ancient Gospel characters, each carrying his or her own hungers to the table.

What is it that Simon the Pharisee most craves from this momentous opportunity to capture Jesus’ attention? He is a man of intellect who rationalizes that Jesus should respond in a certain way to the approaches of a sinful woman. Would his hunger have been satisfied had Jesus met this prediction? Or was a deeper hunger challenged when Jesus defied Simon’s expectation, inviting him to a fresh relationship with his own heart?

1112px-Albrecht_Bouts-Jesus_chez_Simon_le_Pharisien_IMG_1407
By Aelbrecht Bouts – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4234098

What spectrum of hungers comes with the many guests at this dinner? Are the disciples longing for Jesus to successfully argue his theology with this prominent Pharisee?  Are the other guests hoping to have their allegiances – whatever they may be – proven by the evening’s conversation? And Jesus himself, what hunger does he carry to the diverse gathering of his Father’s children? What yet unmet hopes for his ministry might he long to feed on this special evening?

But there is one among the many whose hunger is obvious.  At first unnoticed by the party, she slips in through the open hedge, advancing toward Jesus with a natural grace even the greatest wealth cannot bestow.  Her lustrous hair falls freely down her long, slender back.  She is bejeweled and bangled with the ornaments of her trade. Her face, though beautiful, reflects the weight of her desperate loneliness and forced self-sufficiency.

She is a woman no longer with pretense. The entire town already has cast her in a mold she will never escape. She has come as she is to the feet of Jesus, presenting her unadorned hope in an alabaster jar.

As we begin our prayer today, what hungers do we take to the feet of Jesus? Let us lift the alabaster jar. Let us decant the ointment of our prayer.  Let us anoint our lives.

A Prodigal Love

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Numbers tells a story of Moses’ intervention to save the people from God’s wrath. It is a story of God’s relenting … a theme which repeats itself endlessly in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This is the way we sometimes characterize the astonishment of Grace – God’s overwhelming passion to love and forgive us over and over. We just can’t imagine such mercy, such infinite generative love!

And so we imagine instead that Moses made God do it!😉 Yeah, I don’t think so.

We imagine that God cannot tolerate our sinful pursuits because we cannot tolerate them in ourselves or in others. But God is mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, wholeness, love. God can’t help loving us!

Of course, we shouldn’t be stupid and take advantage of the divine largesse… not because it would hurt God, but because it so damages us and limits our capacity for wholeness. But nevertheless, whether we’re stupid or not, God will always welcome us home.

A few days ago, we prayed with the word splancha – that “gut love” that so describes God’s passion for us. We find the word again today in the heart-wrenching parable of the Prodigal Son.

prodigal son

You know the story. Near the end, as the devastated son returns seeking mercy…

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion — with splancha – esplanchnisthē
Luke 15:20

Our God is a Love that is filled, overflowing – with no room for retribution or condemnation.

Indeed, our God, like the Prodigal Father, is soft-hearted, an easy mark, a pushover for our sincere repentance, trust, and hope. Our God would bleed for us!

This short but powerful scene from George Balanchine’s ballet, Prodigal Son, may inspire our prayer today. The father is steadfast, a monolith of strength and love. The son is broken, naked in his desperation. Let their magnetic reunion take you to God’s heart. Let God wrap you too in the mantle of Love for any hurt or emptiness that is within you.

George Balanchine “Prodigal Son” – Final Scene (Son- Barishnikov)

 

Claude Debussy also wrote a beautiful piece on this parable. If you have a contemplative space sometime this week, you may want to listen to Debussy’s moving opera (with my all-time fav Ms. Jessye Norman.)

Click here for full opera

If you have only a little time, do try this – short, and oh so beautiful!

Music: Debussy The Prodigal Son – Prelude

Remembering Our Way Home…

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the world will remember the abomination of the 9/11 attacks when nearly 3000 innocent lives were sacrificed to hatred, vengeance, and cowardice.

Some will remember in anger; some in forgiveness. Some will remember in grief; some in triumph. Some will remember with a will to seek peace; some with a drive to wreak endless retribution. Some with unquenchable sorrow; some with a false and self-destructive pride.

Some, too jaded by the years of savagery since then, will remember the day with despair.

Some, too young to remember at all, will simply try to grow up in the fragmented world it has left them.

Tragically, some throughout the world are so devastated by their own sufferings that there is no energy to remember. Some have endured war and oppression for so long that there is no peace to remember.

We in the human family were not created to live like this. 

Col3_4 christ appears

Paul tells us that we …

… were raised with Christ, so seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Jesus tells us that when that glory comes, it will be these who appear with him..

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.

On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and on every day of our lives, we have a choice of how we will see the world, of how we will love or hate, embrace or exclude our sisters and brothers. Every day, we have choices to make about how we will allow, ignore, or stand against hate, division, oppression and indifference to human suffering.

We may think our power is small to change the world. But it is the only power we have or need. With those graced and intentional choices we…

… have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its Creator.

Today, as we remember, let us also be excruciatingly aware of those who continue to suffer … at the world’s hard borders, in the Bahamas, Syria, Yemen, Rakhine, and in every place where abusive domination and greedy indifference crushes innocent life.

Music: When We Go Home, We Go Together- Pure Heart Ensemble 

Faithful Monica

Memorial of Saint Monica

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Monica
Santa Monica e Sant’Agostino by Giuseppe Riva (This work is in the public domain n its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.)

Monica had a difficult life, burdened by an autocratic pagan husband. She was forbidden to have her children baptized. Augustine worried her deeply because he developed into a wayward and lazy young man. Eventually he was wooed by the Manichaean heresy which denied Christ as God. This was too much for Monica. She asked him to leave her house.

But Monica continued for seventeen years to pray for and encourage Augustine to return to a faithful, moral life. Finally through the influence of St. Ambrose, Augustine was converted.

How many mothers and fathers, friends and spouses have prayed like this for someone they love? How many of us have had a “lost sheep” right in the center of our family but beyond its touch?

Monica’s great love and faithful devotion to her son are reminiscent of Paul’s love for his Thessalonian flock:

… we were gentle among you,
as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.

This is the way God loves us and draws us to himself. It is the way that we, who carry God’s love in the world, must be with one another.

Our Gospel gives us another example of how disgusted Jesus is with those who pretend the “exteriors” of faith but on the inside are “blind hypocrites… full of plunder and self-indulgence”.

Instead, we need a faith like Monica’s, humble and generous but at the same time tenacious and persevering in seeking good.

Music: Give Me the Faith Which Can Remove – written by Charles Wesley, younger brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism

God’s Thank You Note

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

August 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin eight days of Thessalonians, coupled with the final section of Matthew’s Gospel before the Passion, Death and Resurrection narrative.

First Thessalonians is a love note, a thank you note. In it, Paul speaks to the community with great affection and gratitude because they have caught fire with the Gospel he shared with them.

Paul’s words carry the loving, grateful voice of God to us who also try, with all our hearts, to give ourselves to the Gospel.

1 Thes 1:5 Thank You

In today’s Gospel, Matthew gives us the sad counterpoint to Paul’s joy. Jesus thunders woe over the Pharisees who, unlike the Thessalonians, smother the ardent message he offers them.

They bind. They control. They peddle a religion rooted in parsimonious law rather than generous freedom. They promote a system that sustains their privilege.

Jesus tells us that Pharisaical religion sucks the soul from people, binding them in a self-serving, spiritless law – where power and material prosperity supersede truth, loving community, and sincere worship.

In Paul’s words, God blesses and thanks us for our true faith which – by generosity, hope, love, sacrifice and hopeful endurance – builds the Community of God.

Throughout history, some people have used the scripture to justify the kind of pharisaical selfishness bewailed in today’s Gospel. They isolate and demonize other human beings by the deceitful turning of the holy Word. They are clever and convincing. They appeal to our rationality rather than our souls.

Today’s readings remind us to take great care in discerning the Spirit. We will never find Her where there is no love, mercy, kindness, freedom, forgiveness, and joy.

Music: one of my favorite hymns. Though from Ephesians, it carries the same message as our reading from Thessalonians today. I pray this prayer for all of you, dear friends.

Ephesians 1 – by Suzanne Toolan, RSM

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In him we were chosen to live through love in his light.
That is why I never cease to give thanks to God for you.
And pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ
will grant you the Spirit of wisdom
and knowledge of himself
that you may  glory, glory in his goodness.

Let the Light In

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Deuteronomy. In today’s passage, Moses gives the first of three speeches to the community. These speeches are a sort of manifesto a family patriarch might give before he dies, framing the family history and code to direct coming generations.

Ps77 crack


Dad

 

The reading falls on a most appropriate day for me.
Today would be my Dad’s 104th birthday.
The occasion invites me to recount all the blessings
given to him, me, and our family.

 


When we, as people of faith, step back from our lives in reverence, we realize God’s immense goodness to us. Moses encourages his people to do just such stepping back:

Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?

We might ask ourselves the same thing. 

  • How has God been with me and my family through our lifetimes, and through the generations that preceded us?
  • In both our lights and darknesses, how has God continually called us to relationship?
  • How have we revealed God’s voice to one another by our love, honesty, support, patient accompaniment, generous correction and forgiveness?
  • How have these gifts to one another allowed us to become gifts to the larger world?
  • What am I passing on to the next generation of the fidelity and sacrifice which has blessed me?

When I think of my Dad, there are so many symbols that show how he answered those questions with his life. They aren’t big manifestos like those of Moses. Instead: 

  • a frayed prayer book that I watched him finger daily
  • an old receipt for my bicycle bought in incremental payments he could barely afford
  • his sincere distress one Assumption Day when he had forgotten to go to Mass
  • his steadfast attempt to work even when illness weakened him and his humble trust in God when that weakness appeared to triumph
  • a treasured conversation about his hope for heaven
  • the appreciation now, in my maturity, of his thousand quiet acts of faith and love

All of us might spend some time in gratitude for the legacy of faith and love we have received. No family is perfect, and the grace may come to us in clarity or in disguise. But it comes. 

There are fractures and tears in every family. There were some even in Moses’ “family” and Moses himself! And we cannot magically heal them all. But God asks us to remember that God abides with us even in any fragmentation. Just as the poet Leonard Cohen sings:

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Click here to listen to Cohen’s moving song

If what we remember in our family history are weaknesses, how have they made us stronger? If what we remember are strengths, how have they made us more generous? In either case, how have we heard God’s voice in our story? How have we let the Light in?

As Moses tells his people:

This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,

and that there is no other.

Music: As for Me and My House – Promise Keepers