A Love in Troubled Times

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we inch closer to Holy Week, we meet both a very troubled Jeremiah and Jesus.

V0034343 The prophet Jeremiah wailing alone on a hill. Engraving.
The Prophet Jeremiah Weeping Alone on a Hill (from the Wellcome Trust)

Jeremiah, the Old Testament mirror of Jesus’s sufferings, bewails the treachery even of his friends:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

That’s really raw, because you can get through almost anything in the company of true friends.


 

Jesus weeps
Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

Jesus came as a Friend and hoped to find Friends of God by his ministry. And he did find many. But not all.

It takes some work to be a true friend of Jesus. Some didn’t have the courage, or generosity, or passion, or hopeful imagination to reach past their self-protective boundaries – to step into eternal life even as they walked the time-bound earth.

In today’s Gospel this band of resisters project their fears and doubts to the crowds around them. The evil sparks light the ready tinder of human selfishness. The mob turns on Jesus, spiritual misers scoffing at the generous challenge to believe.

Jesus pleads with them to realize what they are doing:

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

But Jesus and Jeremiah, though troubled, are grounded in God. Our Responsorial Psalm captures what might have been their silent prayer:

Psalm18 distress

The following transliteration of Psalm 18, composed by Christine Robinson, might help us to be with Jesus in his moment, and in our own moments of fear, anxiety, or doubt.

I open my heart to you, O God
for you are my strength, my fortress,
the rock on whom I build my life.

I have been lost in my fears and my angers
caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious
I cried to you in my anguish.
You have brought me to an open space.
You saved me because you took delight in me.
I try to be good, to be just, to be generous
to walk in your ways.
I fail, but you are my lamp.
You make my darkness bright
With your help, I continue to scale the walls
and break down the barriers that fragment me.
I would be whole, and happy, and wise
and know your love
Always.

Music: Overcome – Psalm 18 by James Block

Home

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about being at home with God.

home

In our passage from 2 Samuel, a highly anthropomorphized God informs David that He is sick of living in a tent while being carried to and fro. God goes on to recount for David all that God has done for him, demonstrating that David can fully trust God. 

God wants a home. In other words, it’s time to make a permanent commitment and “move in together” into each other’s hearts.


 

sowerIn today’s Gospel, we find the familiar story of the Sower and the Seed. While the story doesn’t specifically mention “home”, Jesus indicates that only those “at home” with God’s Word will understand the true meaning of the parables.

You may have had the joy of visiting friends who greet you with the invitation, “Make yourself at home”. These friends will have done everything they can to make that possible – clean house, fresh bed linens, your brand of coffee, your favorite meals. They want you to be completely comfortable for your stay.

Well, God wants to stay forever within us. And God wants us to stay forever in God. That mutuality of homecoming is the whole purpose of our lives.

We know how to create this sacred hospitality for our friends. Let today’s reading remind us to do this for God as well by:

  • “learning” God within the Sacred Word of scripture
  • joy and awe at God’s desire to be with us
  • attention to those tendernesses that invite and welcome God
  • continual gratitude for God’s Presence
  • delighting God by our acts of love and hospitality

Music: Welcome to My Heart – Dean Martin
(Even though the song was not directed toward God, it works for me. I hope it does for you too.)

Can You Hear Me Now?

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read about God’s call of Samuel, Hannah’s son.

New things are about to happen in Israel. The People have lived under the questionable leadership of a series of Judges. But now, threats from inside and outside loom. So God chooses to move in a new way among the community.

1Sam speak Lord

Samuel is going to be God’s bridge to that new way. In today’s reading and subsequent verses, he hears God’s call, listens, receives a vision, and prophesies to Eli.


In our reading from Mark, Jesus is the Divine Bridge to a new reality. Early now in his ministry, his call is blossoming in his heart, as he realizes that he must go all over Israel preaching and healing.

When Simon told Jesus the local villagers were looking for him, Jesus told them,

“Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons

throughout the whole of Galilee.”

Jesus continues his healing and enlightening mission through all who call themselves Christian. He calls each of us in different ways to be a “Bridge” with him to the Reign of God.

How are you hearing and listening to your particular call every day? Maybe, like Samuel, by the time God calls us three times, we may understand!😉

Music: Since I mentioned “bridge”, I can’t help including one of my favorite songs, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s not really a religious song, but their popular song actually was inspired by a great Gospel song,  Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep and its one freely interpreted verse very near the end: “I’ll be your bridge over deep water/If you trust in my name.’ 

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

 

Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep (Lyrics below, but they are VERY liberally interpreted by these wonderful Gospel singers.)

Lord, I’m singing . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Can’t you hear me singing, Mary? (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
I want you to know, Martha don’t have to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Oh, listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep, (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (group)
Lord, and if I could tonight, (solo)
If I could, (group)
I want to tell you I surely would right now. (solo)
Surely would, (group)
I would stand on the rock. (solo)
Stand on the rock, (group)
Right on the rock where Moses stood. (solo)
Moses stood, (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus say, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. group)
He said Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep .(group)
Oh, Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. group)

Get By with a Little Help from…

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

January 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we lay aside our holiday experiences and dress once again in our ordinary dailyness. It is time to begin again, in this new year, the faithful living of our lives.

Church_of_Gregory_of_Armenia_of_Saint_Basil's_Cathedral_1
 copyright: Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko

The Church encourages us with the celebration of two great friends, Basil and Gregory. These men are particularly venerated, with St. John Chrysostom, in the Eastern Churches, whose character they highly impacted. These tremendously influential ministers supported and inspired one another to do great things for God in a time when the faith was sorely tested.

To learn more about these great saints called the Three Hierarchs, click here.


The friendship and legacy of these iconic saints reminds us that we need one another’s support and example to stay strong in our own faith. In our first reading, John tells us the same thing.

We live in a world not unlike that of Basil, Gregory, and Chrysostom. Conflicting, and often deceitful, forces twist the faith to distort its original truth. In our world, these false perceptions are used as excuses for all kinds of evils: war, nationalism, prejudicial exclusion, and racial and economic domination.

But John the Evangelist says this in our first reading:

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.

Today’s Gospel shows us that even John the Baptist had to juggle thorny religious questions in order to stay focused on the core truth of Christ. The Baptist keeps this focus by his singular faith and humility:

… there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

So today, inspired by these great saints, let us take up the call to be true humble followers of Jesus, making our faith evident by our choices for mercy, justice and love in a conflicted world.

Music: Hymn of the Cherubim- Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom 

Mary, Full of Grace

The Octave Day of Christmas

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

IMG_2003
Theotokos, a mosaic mural from the Gelati Monastery, Georgia, (1125-1130 AD)

January 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus.

I begin my prayer today by asking a question posed by distinguished theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ:

What would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging theology of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century? This question has no simple answer, for the first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, also held in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is arguably the most celebrated woman in the Christian tradition. One could almost drown surveying the ways different eras have honored her in painting, sculpture, icons, architecture, music and poetry; venerated her with titles, liturgies, prayers and feasts; and taught about her in spiritual writings, theology and official doctrine.

To see Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s excellent article, click here.


In my own prayer today, though, I am not reaching for a deeper theological understanding of Mary. I simply want to talk with her as my Mother, my older Sister, my Friend. I want to seek her guidance and her inspiration. I want to thank her for her continual willingness to bear Christ into the world, and into my life.

How significant it is that the Church begins the year inviting us all to Mary’s Light! Our first reading blesses us in a way that Mary might bless us:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Mary was all about giving us the LORD, not giving us herself. We see Mary best when we see her holding Christ toward us – the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos”.

IMG_2004
Theotokos Vladimirskaya icon, Vologda, Vladimirskaya Church, mid-end 16 century

This title, used especially in Eastern Christianity, originated in the 3rd century Syriac tradition. It affirms Mary as the Mother of Jesus, Who was both human and divine in nature.

Our reading from Galatians assures us that we too, by our Baptism, are the daughters and sons of God – thus becoming Mary’s own. She is our Mother too by the power of this sacrament.

Our Gospel reveals the spirituality of Mary who “pondered” all the mysterious workings of God deep in her heart. This Mary is my revered sister, guiding me as I meet the unfolding of God in my own life.

Today, let us pray with Mary, our Mother, our Sister, Bearer of God. Let us pray for the whole Church, the whole world – all of whom she tenderly loves.

Music: Two selections today.

A Peaceful Hymn to the Theotokos – Nuns of the Carmazani Monastery in Romania

Prayer of Pure Love – Leddy Hammock and Sue Riley

The Whispered Word

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist

December 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate John, “the Beloved Disciple”.

Throughout John’s magnificent writings, the themes of Love and Light stretch our perception of God, and challenge us to love like God loves.

1Jn1_1 Word

John’s deep love of God, and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, pour out in his epistles which we will be blessed with over the next several weeks.

Sometimes John’s poetic style can be a little off-setting to those more comfortable with practical prose. But if we can allow our minds to savor the rich layers of meaning within the words, we will start to experience the lyrical mystery of John’s relationship with God.

jesus-and-st-john-at-last-supper-jozef-sedmak
Jesus and St. John at Last Supper from 19. cent. in St. Michaels church (Michelskerk).

On these holy days, while we still bask in Christmas glory, we might ask in prayer to be deepened in our friendship with God. We might imagine ourselves resting our head on Jesus’s shoulder, just as John did at the Last Supper. We might listen there for the holy secrets God wants to whisper into our lives.

Music: Whisper- Jason Upton

You’re Welcome

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

November 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings echo the end-time themes we have been considering for several days. And we may continue to pray with these as we approach Advent.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I want to shift gears and offer you some reflections I have written over the years in celebration of this holiday. For these next few days, I will focus on these. In the past, readers have used them for their prayer and at their own Thanksgiving tables. I hope you find them beneficial.

thnkgvg_mercy


You’re Welcome

Bill was a big Mid-western guy with the boots and belt buckles to prove it. His wife of thirty years was a patient in our east coast cancer wing. Hearing of a break-through experimental treatment, they had come seeking a cure despite every indication of its hopelessness.

Being away from home, Bill had a lot of empty time outside of visiting hours. He spent much of it observing things that would ordinarily go unnoticed in the bustle of his regular life: weather, nature and human idiosyncrasies.

During one cafeteria lunch, over a bowl of hot soup, he observed, “People around here don’t say ‘You’re welcome’. They hold a door. You say ‘Thank you’. They just say ‘Uh huh'”.  Bill didn’t like that. It made him feel invisible. He said it was like one hand clapping.

In this season of Thanksgiving, it’s something to consider. Thanks are not offered in a vacuum. They are given to benefactors, both human and Divine, on whom we depend for a reciprocity of love, companionship, care and courage. Bill, at such a vulnerable, lonely place in his life, was infinitely sensitive when his thanks received no answer.

During this special time, we may hear a “Thank You” offered to us. In this cold age of our digital distractions, can we receive it consciously? Can we return it with a mutuality of gratitude that says, “You’re welcome! You are welcome in the embrace of my life. I see you as a unique and precious life and I rejoice at any kindness I can give you.”? A simple, sincere smile can say all that. Such is the power of our conscious spirits!

Doing this, we might even hear the Creator’s whisper, saying the same thing to us as we offer our Thanksgiving prayers: “I have created you from an abundance of love. You are precious to me and I believe in you. I hear your “Thank You” and you are welcome in the embrace of my infinite love.”

Music:  Thanksgiving Classical Playlist (You may want to play this hour-long compilation during your Thanksgiving meal.)

Pray for Priests

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, Bishop

November 4, 2019

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Romans11_33 depth of wisdom

Today, in Mercy, we remember the life of a good priest, Charles Borromeo who refused the perks of status and wealth in preference for the poor. Praying with him today, we may include all the good priests who have kindled our faith throughout the years.

I unexpectedly encountered one such priest yesterday after a hiatus of nearly forty years. He had come to McAuley Convent, our health and retirement facility, to visit his longtime assistant. She is now a stately 96 years old, but living with the compromises of advanced years. Himself in his late eighties, he walked very slowly down the corridor toward me, and I paused to see if I could help.

Greeting him, I recognized something about his eyes, but could not really place him. He paused, catching some labored breaths, and studied my eyes. “Give me a minute,” he said, quickly following it with “Nathaniel”, my old religious name.

He had the advantage over me, so I just honestly requested, “Help me out with your name.” He simply replied, “Maginnis”. As a wealth of memory and understanding opened in my mind, I smiled and said, “How good to see you again, Maginnis, after all these years.”

You see, this was: Robert Patrick Maginnis, an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church who served as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1996 to 2010. (Wikipedia)

But who I saw, as soon as he said his name, was a humble, good man who had served God’s people with generosity and grace. I hadn’t seen him face to face since he was simply “Father”- when I was green with youth and he was just a shade or two deeper! 

But I knew, the way a local Church knows its shepherds, that he had never abandoned his gentle simplicity for the exalted trappings of episcopacy. He had remained a man who fulfilled Pope Francis’s best hopes for priests:

“Always have before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to seek and save what was lost…

Conscious of having been chosen among men and elected in their favor to attend to the things of God, exercise in gladness and sincere charity the priestly work of Christ, solely intent on pleasing God and not yourselves or human beings, other interests.”
(Pope Francis in a homily before the ordination of 16 priests during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica April 22, 2018)

And here “Maginnis” was last Saturday, having endured his own challenges with aging, making the effort necessary to visit his faithful friend. As I left them in the warm light by her window, my spirit was confirmed by a grace neither one of them realized they were continuing to give, so natural was their witness to Christian love and service.

Let’s pray for all our priests today. These troubled times have been so hard on good priests like this beloved bishop. May they be strengthened and confirmed in their desire to serve Christ through serving his People. May the aged among them realize how grateful we are for the gift they have given.

Music: Who Has Known – John Foley, SJ ( Lyrics below)

O the depth of the riches of God;
and the breadth of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

For who has known the mind of God?
To God be glory forever.

A virgin will carry a child and give birth,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

For who has known the mind of God?
To God be glory forever.

The people in darkness have seen a great light; f
or a child has been born; his dominion is wide.

For who has known the mind of God?
To God be glory forever.

The Souls We’ve Loved

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
(All Souls)

November 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we remember.

Romans6_4 souls

“Remember” is a word with a great depth of meaning. Most usually we think of it as a calling to mind. But it can also be thought of as kind of reconstructing – a restoring of the “members” to their rightful place in the whole.

Paul uses the word “members” in this way when he talks about the Body of the Church:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

When we pray a prayer of “remembering”, we consciously bring into the circle of eternal life all those whom time has hidden from us. We affirm the faith that, in Christ, death has already been conquered for all of us. In prayer, we lift the human veil that separates us from those who have died. We “remember” the Resurrected Body of Christ living in, and uniting, all of us beyond time.

through a veilJPG

The feast of Holy Souls is a day to give thanks for all those whose physical or spiritual DNA lives in us. It is a time to bless what is good and forgive what was lacking. It is a day to connect the generations by telling the stories that have graced us, passing into the next generation’s hands the unbroken line of salvation history.

Today, we pray with and for all the holy souls who have touched our lives, even from a distance. May they, and we, be continually “remembered” into God’s eternal heart.

Music: Remember Me- Mark Schultz

Called To Be Saints

Solemnity of All Saints

November 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate all those canonized and uncanonized sisters and brothers who lived their lives in Christ with gusto and fidelity.

saints

The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III by (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”. (Wikipedia)

I’ve personally known many of these saints, whether I fully recognized their sanctity or not. They have lived in my family, school, neighborhood, parish, ministries, and workplaces. Some were clothed as nuns and some as beggars. Some taught me by words and some by silence. I knew some by name, others by grace. Now they have all joined the eternal family watching over us and cheering for us.

There they have formed communion with my more recognized and favorite holy friends like Mary, Joseph, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Kateri Tekawitha, Anna the Prophet, John XXIII, and of course Catherine McAuley.

What a wonderful day to know that these beloveds of God are our sisters and brothers, who pray with and for us that we may one day rejoice with them in eternal light.

Who are the saints that speak especially to your heart? Take time to have a nice conversation with them on this glorious feastday!

Music:  All Saints Day – featuring “Lifesong” by Casting Crowns (lyrics below)

Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
Now joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you

Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day

Lord led my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you
Lord I give my life
A living sacrifice
To reach a world in need
To be your hands and feet

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you

Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day

Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you
Hallelujah, Hallelujah let my lifesong sing to you
Hallelujah, Hallelujah let my lifesong sing to you

Hallelujah,…
Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day

Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
Let my lifesong sing to you
I want to sign your name
To the end of this day
Lord led my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to you