Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 10, 2019

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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.

Love or Hate? Huh?

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 6, 2019

Click here for readings

Roman13_8 owe nothing

Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus seem to give us contradictory messages. Paul talks about love, and Jesus tells us what we must “hate” – a bit of a challenge to untangle the core message.

Here’s one way.

We don’t like Jesus telling us to hate anything, as in:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,

and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

Come on, Jesus! You don’t mean that do you – my sweet mom, my precious kids???

No, the scholars say, Jesus doesn’t mean “hate” the way we interpret it in modern English. He is using the common, hyperbolic language of the ancient East which, in this circumstance, would mean “love less”.

So what is Jesus really saying? 

This.

We love many people and things in our lives. But we must love God, and God’s dream for all people, above and within all things. 

And that’s not easy! Life is a maze of relationships and situations that can get us very confused about what is most important. That’s why Jesus uses such strong language to remind us that there is only one way through the maze: to love as God loves. This is the heartbeat of our life in God!

Paul says this too, indicating as well how to negotiate the maze by keeping Love’s commandments.

If we love with God’s love, of course we will love those we cherish. But we will love them selflessly, with an infinite generosity that always chooses their eternal good. And we will try always to love all Creatures in the same way. This is the kind of love Jesus taught us on the Cross. May God give us the courage to learn.

Music: Ubi Caritas performed by Stockholm University Choir (texts below)

Latin Text

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the World without end. Amen.

With Honor, Prevent One Another

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2019

Readings: Click here for today’s readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives us one of his most heartfelt and beautiful passages, and Jesus offers us a puzzling parable about the kingdom.

Rms12_10 honor

Paul’s exhortation to sincere holiness is a passage that warrants frequent reading. At any given point in our lives, one or another of its encouragements will seem to ring profoundly true with our circumstances.

One of the lines that I particularly cherish goes like this in the old Douay-Rheims version, which is where I first encountered it as a young girl:

Love one another with fraternal charity:
with honor preventing one another.

The bolded phrase fascinated me. I didn’t understand what it meant. From what were we to prevent one another?

It was not until I came to the convent that I begin to discern the power of this verse. At the time (during the Dark Ages, of course), the Sisters lived under the 1952 Constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy, an adaptation of the ancient Rule of St. Augustine. As postulants, we each received a 4×6, 128 page copy of the Rule. In direct and intentional language, it set the frame for our whole lives.

I nearly memorized it, especially Chapter 14 on Union and Charity. Right in the middle of the Chapter, I found this precious line:

They (the Sisters) shall sincerely respect one another. The young shall reverence the old and all shall unceasingly try in true humility to promote constant mutual cordiality and deference, “with honor preventing one another”.

Sister Inez, our dear early instructor, explained that this meant to anticipate the needs of our beloved sisters, especially the elderly; to do for them what might be difficult for them before they had to ask. In other words, to prevent their need. She said that this anticipatory charity should mark our service toward everyone, especially the poor, sick and ignorant whom we would vow to serve.

The more all of us can live together with this mutual love and respect, the closer we come to the kingdom of God, to the banquet table described in today’s Gospel. Jesus came to gather us all around this table. Pity on those who resist his invitation because their lives are entangled in self-interested endeavors. Their places are taken by “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” and all those on the margins of society.

As we join our sisters and brothers at the banquet of life, may we love and serve one another sincerely, always with honor preventing one another.

Music: a little motion mantra this morning. Maybe you might want to get up outta’ that chair and join in🤗

Climb the Tree! Ignore the Haters!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 3, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are all rooted in Mercy. The beautifully literate Book of Wisdom delights us with its poetry and heartfelt understanding of God’s “imperishable “ love for us. Think about it! The passage, written very near the time of Christ, is intended to assure us that God’s mercy will save and embrace us.

In our second reading, Paul assures the Thessalonians that this mercy has indeed been given to them in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ they are, as we are, called to be Mercy in the world in Christ’s name.

But Paul adds a little warning. Apparently there are some conspiracy theorists floating around trying to scare people about the final coming. (Oh, Lord — ever present!) They are even forging Paul’s name to spread their crazy havoc.

Religion will always have distorters who pull out and exaggerate certain threads of doctrine, often opposed to the core message of Mercy. They do this to gain control over others and to advance themselves. Every sacred religion, from Catholicism to Islam, has been manhandled by opportunists who use it to advance their own agendas.

But Paul says to cling to the truth: our ever-merciful God loves us, no matter our deficiencies, and welcomes our repentance.

Zaccheus, whom we meet in today’s Gospel, did not succumb to the distorters who branded him an irredeemable sinner. He opened his heart to Jesus in sincerity and enthusiasm. He changed his life because he believed in the full truth of the Gospel: Christ came for us sinners.

zccheusJPG
Notice how Zaccheus in hidden in the tree. Are there ways in which we re hiding form the full truth and love of Christ?

Like Zaccheus, a man “deficient” in height, maybe we need to “climb a tree” of prayer and repentance today to take a full-hearted look at the power of God passing through our lives. May we never let the opportunity for Mercy – either to receive or to give it – pass us by.

Music:  Zaccheus – Medical Mission Sisters (Oldie but goodie — love the dedicated nuns! How much good they have done in a suffering world!)

Hope

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2019

Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Paul blesses us with some of his most powerful words:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

How often, over the ensuing centuries, have these words uplifted and embravened a struggling heart! Paul reminds us of what he so passionately believed – that we are not here for this world alone; that we, with all Creation, are being transformed for eternal life in God.

Jesus too reminds us that our life in faith is so much bigger than we perceive. We see a tiny mustard seed, but God sees the whole tree of eternal life blossoming in us.  We see a fingertip of yeast, but God sees the whole Bread of Life rising in us.

Rm8_24 Hope

Paul tells us to be People of Hope who do not yet expect to see the object of their hope but who, nonetheless, believe and love with all their hearts.

May we pray this today for ourselves, and for anyone burdened by suffering or hopelessness at this time in their lives.

Music:  Living Hope – Phil Wickham

Living Parables

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul contrasts the sin of “Adam” to the gift of Jesus, demonstrating the specifics of Christ’s redemptive act.

Adam

A key phrase for our prayer might be the following. The concupiscence of human nature will always make the sinful choice a possibility. But we can gain courage and strength from this powerful line from Paul:

Where sin increased,
grace overflowed all the more….

Jesus teaches a lesson about perseverance in the spiritual life. He says if we stick with it, God will welcome us the way a generous master thanks and embraces a loyal servant. He adds a comforting thought for those of us of “a certain age”.

And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.

Yesterday, I attended a 95th birthday party for my Mistress of Novices. Fifty plus years ago, she guided a gaggle of hopeful and naive young nuns toward the depths of the spiritual life. She didn’t do it by words alone. She did it by faithful, humble, steadfast and joyful living in the Presence of God. Now, in the third watch, she is still doing the same thing – and she has done it for all the years in between…indeed, a blessed servant!

Catherine Rawley
Sister Catherine Rawley, RSM Happy 95th Birthday

This is what Jesus is talking about today. Look around you and see the parables alive in your own life, your own history, your own heart.

Music: Song of a Faithful Servant

(A simple, childlike song. Please excuse the spelling. There’s no way for me to fix it although I desperately want to)

The Real Treasure

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

October 21, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul counsels us to be steadfast in our faith. Jesus counsels us to avoid greed. How might the two be connected?

Paul lauds Abraham whose faith convinced him that God’s promise to him would be fulfilled. Jesus promises us eternal life in a realm apart from any earthly treasure. If we believe in Jesus’s promise, we realize the futility of possessiveness, greed and consumerism.

That’s a really hard call in our society. Every type of media conspires to convince us that we are not enough as we are. We need a better car, house, clothes, haircut, and on and on to make us “acceptable”. Populism and racism ingrained in our politics convince us that we need to be a certain color, nationality, religion, speak a certain language to be worth anything.

Mt5_3 poor

Jesus says NO. You are beautiful as I created you. And you already have everything you need to merit my promise of eternal life. You have only one need in this world — to love yourself and one another so that my promise can be released in you and in all Creation.

Music: Where Your Treasure Is – Marty Haugen

Should We Bug God?

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 20, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings encourage us never to weary in our faith and prayer.

Ps121 lift hands

Look at Moses in our first reading! He keeps his hands raised in supplication throughout the entire battle, albeit with a little help from his friends.

This is a good reminder for us of the gift and importance of a praying community. There are times in every life when we need someone to hold us up in prayer.

In our second reading, Paul counsels Timothy never to grow weary in the pursuit of his ministry. 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
… proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient…

And in our Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the importune widow, who kept after the judge until she got the answer she wanted. Luke includes this information:

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always
without becoming weary. 

If a dishonest judge can be moved by persistence to grant justice, how much more will God do so for those God loves?

The point? Not that if we bug God, we’ll get what we want. Rather it is to remind us to stay in steadfast relationship with God who is always revealing the path of grace and wholeness to us.

So let’s take a clue from Moses. Let’s keep our hands up in faithful praise to God through all the blessings and challenges of our lives. By doing so, we will receive peace far beyond our persistent questions and concerns.

Total Praise – Richard Smallwood, sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir 

I have particularly loved this hymn from the first time I heard it sung by our wonderful Keystone Mercy Choir in my former workplace. The music itself is soul-shaking, but what most deeply moved my spirit was the faith of the singers, my beautiful workplace community. This video has the same effect on me – the faith of the singers and the audience is inspiring! (Lyrics below)

Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my health is coming from You
Your peace You give me in times of the storm
You are the source of my strength, Hallelujah
And You are the strength of my life, yes You are
I lift my hands in total praise to You
Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my health is coming from You
Your peace, You give me in times of the storm
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life