Radicals for God

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

September 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we’re dealing with a few names we might not be familiar with.

Pius of Pietrelcina whose Feast we celebrate. Ever heard of him?

Oh, wait a minute, maybe you have. This holy man is more popularly known as “Padre Pio”. Still no clue? How about this?

Padre Pio was a Capuchin Franciscan friar who has become one of the most popular saints in the Church. While it was his receiving of the stigmata that distinguished him for many, his real saintliness lay in his love for sinners and his work for their redemption.

Pope Paul VI said this shortly after Padre Pio’s death: “Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? No – because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was–it is not easy to say it–one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.”

Ezra is our other maybe unfamiliar character. His book in the Old Testament doesn’t get a lot of play. It’s only ten chapters and lacks the exultant poetry of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah.

But Ezra’s, and his buddy Nehemiah’s, contribution to Judeo-Christian spirituality are critically important. These two Hebrew leaders accompanied the People back to their Promised Land after the Babylonian Captivity. But more than that, they fostered and admonished the People to return to their original relationship with God – a relationship rooted in the Promise given to Abraham.

Luke, who gives us today’s Gospel, we know well. Even today’s passage, we might know by heart. Let your lamp shine.  Let your life be truth. Do we live that message?

All the individuals mentioned in today’s celebrations and readings were radicals. The Word and Promise of God were everything to them. Through all the challenges of their lives, they kept coming back to their immutable relationship with the God of Love and Fidelity. They kept inviting others into the circle of that faith.

Praying with them today, may we have the same strong and resolute hearts.

Music: Hymn of Promise – Hope Publishing 

At the Table of Mercy

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

September 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew. The Gospel chosen for the day is Matthew’s own account of his call and the subsequent event lodged in his memory – the first meal he shared with Jesus.

tissot
The Meal in the House of Matthew by James Tissot from the Brooklyn Museum

Apparently Matthew’s house was a do-drop-in kind of house. Matthew’s friends easily gathered at the meal. Even the Pharisees got a view of his table. 

I doubt that Matthew did the cooking. Perhaps his wife or mother, though never mentioned, were the true authors of his hospitality. She may have been that type of cook who lifts the sweet and savory scent of spices into the air, capturing in their welcome all who pass by.

Mt9_10 table

Jesus settles in to that welcome as do his table companions – disciples, tax collectors and sinners. They seem comfortable in their shared humanity. But today, with Jesus, they are invited to the perfection of that humanity in his abundant grace. They too receive a call this day.

We know only how some of these guests responded to this amazing invitation in their lives.

  • Matthew became an apostle and a saint.
  • The Pharisees retreated to their self-protective criticisms and condemnations.

How the others embraced or rejected this graceful moment is left unspoken.

With every Eucharistic moment of our lives, Jesus invites us to humanity’s table – a table transformed by his becoming one of us. His presence changes us all from sinners, tax collectors, or however else we are categorized. With Jesus, we are simply God’s children, fed and replenished by mercy, changed by a sacred invitation.

May we be aware of our “eucharists ” today, every encounter with another human being. The table may or may not be visible in the everyday circumstances around which we gather. Jesus will not be visible either – unless we have the eyes to see him in ourselves and those with whom we share life.

Music:  Come to the Table – Sidewalk Prophets

Lay Hold of Eternal Life

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Friday, September 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Korean Martyrs. Their astounding faith stood against excruciating suffering but did not waver.

Korean_martyrs
Vatican [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
A brief, inspiring story of the Korean Church is available here.


Today’s readings carry a common theme of resources, both material and spiritual, and how we use them.

Paul tells Timothy:

we brought nothing into the world,
just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.

Still…

the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it
have strayed from the faith

and have pierced themselves with many pains.

Our Psalm tells us that those who are poor in spirit realize that they possess nothing, that all they have is a gift from God. This realization is the source of their blessing.

Luke’s Gospel lists several women who supported Jesus’s ministry out of their resources. They, and no doubt the men depending them, had been touched and changed by Jesus.

1 Tim6_12 call

Each of our readings reminds us that deepened relationship with God releases in us those God given gifts of our Creation – the gifts of which Paul reminds Timothy:

But you, beloved of God,
… pursue righteousness, devotion,

faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
when you made the noble profession of faith

in the presence of many witnesses.

By the inspiration of the Korean Martyrs, may we hear and respond.

Music: a real foot tapper today – Hear the Call of the Kingdom – Kristyn Getty

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?

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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.

The Deeper Melody of Wisdom

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus speaks to us like a frustrated parent.

All of us have seen fussy children, needing a nap, twisting around noisily from toy to toy, satisfied only to swipe the toy another child is playing with.

Jesus compares his resistant listeners to such children. They were not convinced by the austere preaching of John the Baptist. They are not moved by the loving freedom of Christ’s message. They find in both teachings only theories to toy with and toss aside. Because their hearts are hardened by distraction, they cannot find the heart in the truth offered to them.

Oh my goodness! Are we not living in the midst of such hardening distractions? So much in our culture invites us to “play” rather than to relate with our environment, with our lives. Advertising tempts us to get as much as possible out of everything, but to give nothing back. Media thrives by convincing us that we are the center of the universe.

We make a lot of noise when we feel threatened by the quiet truth of our common creaturehood and its inherent demand that we live in reverence for one another and for the God who created us.

John preached a message of repentance from such sinful self-absorption. He lost his head over it. Jesus preached the Word of transcendent love and mutual service. He was crucified for it. Each was seen as a threat to the manipulated Law that had become the refuge of their hardened listeners.

We see the pattern repeated down the long corridors of history, filling its passage with martyrs. We see it in our own day wherever someone tells the truth about the demands of the Gospel.

In our own Church, we see Pope Francis persecuted – even by some of his own bishops – for his call for compassion, mercy, and reverence for every person, for all Creation.

Indeed, we still live in the frenzied marketplace where 

“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.”

Ps107_wisdom well

Luke’s final cryptic verse may suggest our deliverance from such frenzy:

“But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Our hearts recognize the Wisdom figures in our world. They have heard the true melody of God in their lives. By steady reflection and good works, they have gone beyond the din of a sinfully distracting culture. The result is inner peace, joy, and salvation, like that of John and Jesus —- and Pope Francis.

May we have the courage to go deep into Christ’s Word to embrace this Truth.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – Keith and Kristyn Getty

Only Son of a Widowed Mother

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the Church a job description for bishops. I’m not even going to, as they say, “go there”. Just read it. Just pray over your own thoughts.

The Gospel story of the widow of Nain is where my prayer rests today. Reading it, I remember standing by a large walkway window at the Louisville Airport on a sweltering July day in 2005.

Down on the heat-softened tarmac, a small bevy of soldiers stood at attention. Slowly, a flag-draped casket was lowered into their waiting arms. Just to the side, a huddled family, waited as well. Two children clung to either side of their young mother. An older couple stood behind her, hands gentled on her shoulders.

At the window, several other travelers gathered in silence. A few teenage boys removed their inverted baseball caps when they noticed a distinguished older gentleman stand tall and hold a salute.

No one who witnessed that brief ceremony will ever forget it. The grief, reverence and astonishment at life’s fragility emblazoned the moment on every witnessing heart.

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When Jesus passed the gates of Nain on that ancient morning, he had a like experience. He saw this “only son of a widowed mother”. Once again, shaken to his roots with compassion –splancha, he pulled heaven down to heal heart-breaking loss.

How I wished Jesus were flying out of Louisville that day in 2005! But then I realized He was there. The miracle was hidden, but still real. The Divine Compassion flowed through me, through the reverent gathering beside me, through the soldiers’ honoring arms, through the long prayerful memory we would all forever share.

That young man from Nain was raised from the dead… for a while. He, like all of us, eventually died. The miracle was not about him and his life. The miracle was the visible sign of God’s infinite compassion for us – God’s “feeling-with-us” in all our experiences. That compassion, whether miraculously visible or not, is always with us.

It just took a different form that day in Louisville.

military funeral

Music:  I was reminded of this consoling country song for today’s prayer. Like much country music, it hits the heart where it matters, even if the theology is a little frayed.

God Only Cries – written by Tim Johnson, sung here by Diamond Rio
Lyrics below

On an icy road one night
A young man loses his life
They marked the shoulder with a cross
An’ his family gathers round
On a piece of Hallowed ground
Their hearts are heavy with their loss
As the tears fall from their eyes
There’s one who’ll always sympathise

God only cries for the living
‘Cause it’s the living that are left to carry on
An’ all the angels up in Heaven
They’re not grieving because they’re gone
There’s a smile on their faces
‘Cause they’re in a better place than…
They’ve ever known.

God only cries for the living
‘Cause it’s the living that are so far from home

It still makes me sad
When I think of my Grand-dad
I miss him each and every day
But I know the time will come
When my own grandson
Wonders why I went away
Maybe we’re not meant to understand
Till we meet up in the Promised Land

Say But the Word

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Monday, September 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, both our readings today offer us pivotal lessons about what nourishes true leadership: faith, humility, generosity, and inclusivity.

Many of us have been blessed, especially in our young lives, with the gift of wise and loving mentors. Certainly our parents, families and teachers are among the first and most critical.

A little later, our circle of mentors widens. We look for great coaches, wise employers, guiding trainers, caring councilors, trusted friends.

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are biblical examples of such mentorship. In them, the author is guiding young ministers in the art and science of loving, Christ-like leadership.

Key to such leadership in today’s reading is a steadfast commitment to prayer which covers, blesses and includes all people.

In our Gospel, the centurion demonstrates that he is a leader who values these virtues.

The Jews urging Jesus to visit the centurion say that he deserves Christ’s attention because “he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.

 My guess is that Jesus wasn’t impelled by this argument, but solely by his splancha – his merciful gut response to the man’s plea.

When the centurion enters the story, his humility is immediately evident: 

Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.

The miracle healing, of course, is granted but that is not the most important part of the story.

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This civil leader’s acknowledgement of Christ’s sovereignty is an act of faith which serves as a model for all of us – to the extent that millennia later we echo his prayer as we prepare to receive Christ in communion.

His is a faith that places Christ at the center of all Creation, commanding the flow of grace and mercy to all creatures. That faith allows the centurion to care even for a suffering servant. It allowed him to support the worship even of a dominated people.

Timothy and Titus have shown that kind of faith. They are the next generation who will carry Christ’s legacy passed to them by Paul. He wants them to understand that humility, largeness of heart, kindness and steadfastness open the way for God’s life-giving will for all people.

Whether, in our current life state, we are leader, or protégé, or both, how do these readings help us to make a clearer way for God in the world? That’s what real leadership is all about. And, as Paul says, we learn it in prayer.

Video: a representation of Luke’s version of this Gospel story:

Faith of Centurion

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

A Plank in the Eye

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Friday, September 13, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, Paul, seeing himself as he really is, gives thanks and praise for his unmerited salvation.

Paul says this:

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

God has also granted me the gift of unmerited salvation. You too, my friends. But everybody’s story is a little different. So I thought a bit today about what I might fill in for those bolded words above. (And you can be sure I’m not going to tell you!😂) You might want to do the same in your prayer today.

In our Gospel, Jesus confronts those who think they are, not beneath, but above redemption and salvation. It’s beautiful: he nails the nitpickers who see the flaws in everyone but themselves.

How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

IMG_0799Luke6_41 beam

It’s always been one of my favorite passages. But do you know why? It’s because the beam in my own eye probably has prevented me from seeing that the passage is about me!🥺

Music: Only Takes a Moment – Cory Asbury

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