Let the Light In

Saturday, March 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah tells us how to spiritually balance our lives.

Reading the passage, I thought of my Dad. He was a magnificent, though largely uncredentialed, handyman. One of many important lessons he taught me was how to “true up” a panel of wet wallpaper before pressing it into place. This was particularly necessary if the wallpaper had a vertical pattern or stripe. Failure here led to visitors sitting askew on the living room couch, trying to balance themselves out! 😂

Isaiah says we have to be as careful in our spiritual lives. He says we have to take certain measures to “true up” our souls with the heritage of grace God plans for us. He tells us to remove these imbalances:

oppression
false accusation
malicious speech

Wow! Can’t our world really use that advice?!

Isaiah further says to: 

bestow your bread on the hungry
satisfy the afflicted; THEN …. and ONLY THEN…

Is58_8 light rise

In our Gospel, Jesus calls a man whose career was about all about “balances” – Matthew, the tax collector. Jesus takes Matthew from a world of impersonalized requirements to a world of eternal abundance, calling him to align with the divine scale of mercy.

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Are there places in our lives where we are measuring with the wrong scale; failing to true up the lines with God’s meridian? Lent is about checking it out and making the adjustments we need to make in order to let the Light in.

 

Music:  There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – Frederick Faber

Mercy Not Sacrifice

Friday, March 8, 2019

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Is58_8 LightJPG

Today, in Mercy,  Isaiah “cries out, full throated and unsparingly”, to call the Israelites’ attention to their sins. He delivers God’s message that, despite all their showy religious efforts, they have missed the whole point.

Both Isaiah and Jesus, in today’s passages, challenge their listeners about the purpose of fasting. They call us  to use fasting as a tool to focus our hearts and minds on the presence of God in our daily lives.

Isaiah indicates that we will encounter God’s presence in our exercise of the works of mercy:

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This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

I was told a story once about an older Sister whom I never knew. She had died before I entered the community. But her beloved memory lived on because of her vibrant personality and deep spirituality. One day, greatly at peace with her declining health, she left her friends with this question:

What would it be like
to get to the end of your life
and realize you had missed the whole point?

Our readings today want to save us from any such realization. They want us to get the point right now that God desires mercy and goodness not empty ritual and pretensive sacrifice.

Only then, God says, “shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.”

Music:  No Sacrifice ~ Jason Upton

Choose Life

Thursday, March 7, 2019

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Dt30_19 Life

Today, in Mercy, our first reading gives us Moses’ compelling speech to the newly covenanted Israelites: 

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Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom…
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live.

We might ask ourselves, “Who wouldn’t choose life over death, for Heaven’s sake?”

Really? Well then ask yourself these questions:

Do I ever ignore health warnings, cancel doctor’s appointments, eat unhealthy food, smoke, drink and drive, drive and text, skip daily medicine, fail to exercise and get enough sleep … Should I go on?🧐

But even deeper than these external choices are the choices we make for the life of our souls. 

  • Do we pray daily, take quiet time to hear God in our lives?
  • Do we recognize any toxic relationships or habits in our lives and work to remove them?
  • Do we challenge our negative attitudes and try to grow beyond them?
  • Do we call ourselves to generosity, forgiveness, gratitude, hope and other life-giving attitudes?

God has given us the gift of life. But it is up to us to LIVE our lives in the fullness of their possibility.

Music: Choose Life ~ Big Tent Revival (Lyrics below)

A choice is set before you now
living or dying, blessing or cursing
You know, the time has come around
to turn from your fighting
and rest in his mercy

Choose life, that you might live
the life that He gives
He gives you forever
Choose life, the way that is true
from the one who chose you
your father in Heaven
Choose life
Trust the Lord with all your heart
all of your soul and all of your being

Hold on, listen and obey
surrender your life into His keeping
And the weight you’re under
will be lifted away
And the world will wonder
what happened here today
then you’ll stand right here and say

Making Friends with Wisdom

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings weave together the themes of

Wisdom,
Law
and
Integrity.

Balanced in our soul, these offer the perfection of spiritual life.

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Sirach instructs us that the journey to this perfection is challenging but worthwhile.

Wisdom walks with us as a stranger
and at first she puts us to the test;
Fear and dread she brings upon us
and tries us with her discipline
until she try us by her laws and trust our souls.

How beautiful this passage is! Picture Wisdom-Sophia walking with you, through your life to your present days. As young people, many of us were challenged in learning spiritual discipline – the Law of Love. Many of us are challenged still at times. But wisdom walks with us, gently testing our resolve for goodness- forgiving, instructing, redeeming, encouraging us.

Eventually, there is between us and Wisdom, as with cherished old friends, a comfort and understanding which allows us to know each other’s thoughts and completely trust each other’s good will. An integrity of goodness grows within us.

Our Psalm 119 summarizes this blessed relationship:

O Lord, great peace have they
who love your law.

In the short pericope from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus drives home to his disciples that the grace of the Holy Spirit – the power for goodness – is not confined by our restrictive definitions, expectations,, or role assignments. All hearts at one with the Law of Wisdom and Love give glory to God.

In my prayer today, I remembered with grateful love the many guides who have taught me Wisdom in my life. I rested in quiet gratitude with Wisdom, my old friend.

My prayer led me to include this quote from one of my all-time favorite books:

(P.S. What five books would you take with you if stranded on an island for the rest of your life? I’d include this one.)

Every truth is a reflection; behind the reflection and giving it value, is the Light. Every being is a witness; every fact is a divine secret; beyond them is the object of the revelation, the Wisdom witnessed to. Everything true stands out against the Infinite as against its background; is related to it; belongs to it. A particular truth may indeed occupy the stage, but there are boundless immensities beyond. One might say a particular truth is only a symbol, a symbol that is real, a sacrament of the Absolute.
~ Antonio Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life

Music: The Perfect Wisdom Of Our God – Keith & Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend

Merciful Jesus – Piè Jesu

Saturday, February 9, 2019

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rgular shepherd

Today, in Mercy,  our readings refer to Christ’s infinite compassion by using the image of a shepherd.

It is an image that, while not completely lost on us, is removed from our daily experience. Within the image, though, are elements which transcend time and culture. These elements become clear as we pray with our Responsorial Psalm 23:

Just as Jesus looked at the crowd with pity – (pietàs – a devoted, compassionate love), so he looks on us. It is love like that conveyed in Michaelangelo’s Pietà, where Mary looks on Jesus with a love we cannot imagine.

rome pieta

Psalm 23
(Jesus sees that we need rest from the things that harass our spirits.)

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

(Jesus sees that we need guidance in our complex and morally bereft world.)
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

(Jesus sees that we are hungry for deeply spiritual nourishment.)
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

(Jesus sees that we need to be assured that we are deeply loved and protected.)
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all wthe days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want

What assurance, what pietàs, do we most need from God today?
Perhaps these modern images of Pietà will help us with our prayer.

pieta modern
Modern Pietà – Michael Belk
standing piets
Christ Holds the Beloved – Thomas Blackshear

Music: Piè Jesu – Andrew Lloyd Webber
sung here by Lea Salonga & Daniel Rodriguez
(note English translation in lower right)

Prayer of Grateful Remembrance

Friday, February 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel recounts the dramatic story of John the Baptist’s death. John, the one who went before Christ, paving the way for him, precedes him even in death.

Jesus expressed great respect and gratitude for John when he said:

I tell you, among those born of women
there is no one greater than John …
(Luke 7:28)

Today’s passage from Hebrews closes by exhorting us to:

Remember those who have gone before you,
who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life
and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The readings inspire us to gratefully remember and prayerfully honor the many people who have gone before us, leading us in faith. Parents and family, teachers, religious women and men, friends and mentors. Slowly naming these individuals in our prayer will remind us of our abundant blessings and encourage us to live lives worthy of their gifts to us.

Music: Wind Beneath My Wings – sung by Perry Como

 

Rouse One Another to Good

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco, Priest and Teacher. He is a saint I would not have paid much attention to except for someone very special to me.

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St. John Bosco was the patron saint of Sister Mary Giovanni, my sponsor when I entered the Sisters of Mercy over fifty years ago.  She was my high school teacher and my later friend. 

Like her patron saint, she was humble, honest, loving and uncomplicated. Her quiet humor, evenness and easy acceptance of others inspired me.  She motivated me to want to be good and do good.

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Sister Giovanni with Three Musketeers from the Class of 1963

In reading Hebrews today, I thought of her immediately. Verse 10:24 reads:

We must consider
how to rouse one another
to love and good works.

That’s what she did for me. She wasn’t preachy.  She wasn’t bossy. She didn’t even obviously try to influence me. But her humble, honest, loving care for people wowed me. I wanted to live life the way she did.

This is what Paul is talking about in our first reading today. We need one another’s faith, goodness, and example to energize our Spirit life.

Certainly, teachers have a great opportunity for this kind of influence in shaping a person’s life. But so do we all – with youngsters and those not so young 😊!

Let’s try to be that kind of person today.

Let’s give thanks for the gift of those persons in our lives.

Music: In Your Hands ~ Ron Hiller and Judy Millar

While directed toward teachers, this song can motivate us all to think about how we “teach” with our lives. It can remind us of the many kinds of “teachers” who have blessed us.

The Path through Suffering

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we again read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

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Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. They had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.

Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?

The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties but through them.

Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.

Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

Epiphany!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, a day which commemorates Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles.

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Perhaps on this day, as little children, some of us placed the Three Kings in the crèche, fascinated by their journey and their majesty. These figures represented all nations bringing their gifts to the newborn Savior. In their humble generosity, the journeyers eyes were opened and they recognized Divinity in the most unlikely of places.

An epiphany is a special kind of vision. It is an insight to see something amazingly deeper in what we thought we had already perceived.

We might walk by a tree, a house, a person day after day taking them completely for granted. We see them – but don’t really see them. Then, one day, a certain turn of sun on leaves might let us see that tree differently. An open window with its curtains billowing might transform that house into a home. A caring exchange might change that person into a friend.

And we say things like, “Gosh, why had I never noticed that before…”

The Three Kings were given the grace of Epiphany to see God where others saw only  a poor newborn. They were given the wisdom to see Herod’s treachery where he pretended to offer only homage.

This feast reminds us that a sacred dimension exists beneath the surface of all appearances. Every reality contains the capacity for holiness, for goodness, for wisdom, for love. The more we are attuned to Grace, the more we recognize the presence (or the absence, as with Herod) of this capacity. The more we begin to live in deeper relationship with the seemingly ordinary in our lives.

Nothing is ordinary! Everything that comes to us is fraught with grace and divine possibility. We just need to live intentionally – to ask for and respond to the gift of Epiphany as it is given in our particular circumstances.

I think the sentiments of today’s feast thread through a beautiful poem by William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood – particularly in these lines:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Poetry lovers might like to read the entire poem here: 

Click here for full poem

Music: Please enjoy this gentle music as you pray your Epiphanies:
Walking through Clouds – Bernward Koch

We Will Be Judged on Love

Friday, December 14, 2018

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John of the Cross

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, a great mystic of the 16th century, one of the 36 Doctors of the Church, and an influential Spanish writer. 

John, with Teresa of Ávila, founded the Discalced Carmelites. His poetry and prose recount the journey of the soul as it grows more deeply into God. 

Much of his poetic writing can surprise, perhaps even shock, with its passionate tone. But John’s love for God is so profound that he uses the symbols of deepest human intimacy to convey his passion. These are the most beautiful images he has to express his total gift of self to the Divine.

Through the darkness of profound personal suffering, John found Light by nurturing this extraordinary spiritual intimacy with God.

John is a perfect inspiration for the Advent journey as we move through darkness to the Light of Christmas.

Many of us will have favorite passages from this prolific and passionate writer.  Mine is this:

“In the evening of our lives,
we will judged on love.
Learn, therefore, to love God
as God wishes to be loved.”

Music: John Michael Talbot tries to capture the mysticism of John’s writings.