Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we read the magnificent Ephesians prayer, spoken by Paul over his beloved community — and over us. The phrases are like sacred honey, each one to be individually savored and consumed.
I never cease giving thanks for you
May God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened
May you know what is the hope that belongs to God’s call
… what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones
… and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe
Wow! What if we prayed for one another like that? What if we prayed for ourselves like that?
Sometimes we, and our companions on life’s journey, do require prayers for a specific need: recovery from illness, strength in a time of trial, courage in darkness.
But we should pray for one another every day – a prayer that transcends specific needs – a prayer for wisdom, faith, understanding, and wild confidence in God’s loving power in our lives.
Such a prayer, like Paul’s, helps create a web of spiritual resilience for our beloveds, around them and within them. This is the power of the Communion of Saints.
Let us pray like this for each other.
Poetry: some thoughts from today’s holy Wonder Woman, Teresa of Avila:
Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don’t remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Paul tells us that we were created “for the praise of God’s glory”. Paul emphasizes the phrase by using it twice in the first reading.
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.
the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.
Thinking about the prayer of praise may remind us of the four types of prayer we learned by nemonic as a child: ACTS.
The last three types are prayers centered in the self. They express my regrets, my gratitude, and my needs. But the first type, Adoration, is centered on God – a prayer of awe and absorption into God’s Presence.
That kind of prayer is so important to deepening our relationship with God. We can understand why just by considering our human relationships.
In order to love someone deeply and intimately, we have to forget ourselves and allow ourselves to embrace their reality. It’s very hard to do this. We are naturally self-centered and self-concerned. But through generosity, intentionality and self-sacrifice, we can learn to love unselfishly.
We can learn to love God like this too. Our prayer of adoration may be a shared silence with God. It may be simple phrases we offer in the awareness of God’s Being, as we breathe the breath of God’s life:
You are Beauty….
You are Life….
You are Mercy….
You are Love…
We let go of time and purpose. We give ourselves to the One who sustains us.
We don’t ask for anything, say thanks or sorry for anything. We simply absorb God’s Presence and return it in praise.
If we feel the need for words to begin this prayer, we might use the first phrases of an old, beloved mantra – the Divine Praises. Here’s my translation:
Blessed are You, precious God. Blessed is your Holy Name. Blessed are dear Jesus, truly God, truly human. Blessed is your holy Name. Blessed is your Sacred Heart. Blessed is your Precious Blood.
…. and then go on with your personal praises to bless God: blessed is your Presence in my Life … your call to my heart … your peace in my turmoils…..
Poetry: from Rumi
To praise is to praise how one surrenders to the emptiness.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Martha and Mary. These sisters are the personification of the Benedictine motto: Ora et labora: Pray and work – the two essentials that we all struggle to balance in our lives.
They, with their brother Lazarus, are dear friends of Jesus. The scriptures show us that Jesus felt comfortable at their home, and that they loved to have him stay with them.
As all of us do with our closest friends, Jesus understood the lights and shadows of their personalities – and they of his. He knew that Martha was the organizer, the one who planned and worried about the incidentals. Mary was deeply spiritual, but maybe had her head in the clouds a bit when it came to getting things done.
Perhaps these personality differences caused some tensions between the sisters, as they might between us and our family members or close friends. Sometimes these little, unnoticed frictions can suddenly become chasms between us and those we love.
How and why does it happen?
Jesus gives us the answer in this Gospel passage. He hears Martha’s simmering frustration. He calms her, as one might a child – “Martha, Martha…”. We can hear his gentle tone. Jesus tells her that worry and anxiety are signs that we are not spiritually free. He tells her that Mary has focused on the important thing.
This may sound repetitious, but just think about it a while:
It is so important to know what is important.
It is so freeing to agree on what matters with those closest to us. Talking with each other in openness, respect, and unconditional love is the only path to that freedom.
Maybe Martha and Mary slipped off that path a bit in this situation. But with Jesus’ help, they righted their relationship.
That’s the best way for us to do it too. Let Jesus show us what is most important through sharing our faith, and even our prayer, with those closest to us. Let him show us where our self-interests, need for control, fears and anxieties are blocking us from love and freedom.
It is the same way that we, like Mary, can strengthen our relationship with God. It is not sufficient for our prayer to consist of incidentals — pretty words and empty practices.
We must sit open-hearted at the feet of Jesus and let him love us, let him change us. Even in the midst of our responsibilities and duties, we must balance “the better part”.
Poetry: Bethany Decisions – Irene Zimmerman, OSF – How appropriate to have this wonderful Franciscan poet speak to us on this Feast of St. Francis. Let us thank God today for the wonderful charism of this saint from Assisi, and for the amazingly gifted women and men who carry it to us today.
As Jesus taught the gathered brothers and Martha boiled and baked their dinner, Mary eavesdropped in the anteroom between the great hall and the kitchen. Her dying mother’s warning words clanged clearly in her memory— “Obey your sister. She has learned the ways and duties of a woman.”
She’d learned her sister’s lessons well and knew a woman’s place was not to sit and listen and be taught. But when she heard the voice of Jesus call to her above the din of Martha’s boiling pots and pans, she made her choice decisively— took off her apron and traditions, and walked in.
Music: a charming little song by Peg Angell which leaves me with same practical question I always have when reading this passage: who actually did get the dinner ready?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we have a choice in readings between the 24th Monday or the Holy Name of Mary. I’m going with Mary, especially since the passage from Corinthians is about people overeating and drinking (and stealing parking spots?) at their church meetings. Can you imagine! Well, yes, maybe we’ll save that for another day. 😉
It’s such a brief and simple phrase from Galatians, isn’t it? But it carries the whole possibility of our redemption, and the infinite hope of our eternal life.
We owe it all, of course to God’s Mercy, but in a very real way, we owe it to this “woman” who is not even named in Galatians!
Today, let’s simply say her holy name in prayer, asking to be strengthened in faith, courage, hope, fidelity, and love – the hallmarks of her life.
Praying her name slowly – Mary……… Mary…… Mary …. let each breath deepen our love for her. Let each quiet thought ask for the grace to learn from her.
Alleluia, alleluia. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we see how the soul becomes “dressed” or prepared for the kingdom.
In our passage from Ezekiel, God does a major makeover for Israel, as a matter of fact, God actually recreates Israel:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.
Ezekiel’s God is fed up with Israel’s sinfulness and decides to “make them live by my statutes”. According to Ezekiel, this rejuvenation is done for God’s sake, not Israel’s.
Thus says the LORD: I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it. Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.
The king in our Gospel gets pretty fed up too with people rejecting his invitation to the wedding. When his recalcitrant invitees killed his servants, the king blew a gasket. He even took a snap on the poor schlep who showed up in business-casual attire!
As when praying with all scripture passages, we must receive them in light of the circumstances and culture in which they were written. Our prayer, rooted in our own relationship with God, will allow us to peel away the cultural layers to discover the unchanging message which pertains to us.
What I found in today’s passages are these thoughts:
God loves us so much and would do anything to hold us in faithful relationship
If our spiritual life had died, or is on life support, God will do a heart transplant if we repent and open ourselves to grace.
We are all invited to eternal life with God, but we can get so distracted by our entanglements that we miss or ignore the invitation.
Turn down the noise in your life so that you can hear God’s ringtone on your heart.
It matters how we respond to this amazing invitation. We need to put on our best “clothes” – our best selves – so that we can fully welcome God’s life.
Poetry and Music: Here’s a simple but delightful representation of today’s Gospel. Enjoy it, friends.
Alleluia, alleluia. If today you hear God’s voice, soften your hearts.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, the readings heighten the familiar imperative of our Alleluia Verse with several more injunctions:
God is not shy in telling us what to do in order to grow in holiness – in mutual relationship with God.
We have to DO something, to be responsive in order to unite with God. We can’t be just passive lumps of inactive devotion.
Each instruction has its own vitality which is meant, in turn, to vitalize our spirits and to make us agents of the Holy One in the world.
Our first reading carries this message clearly to the people of Micah’s time. It’s not about contrived sacrifice. It’s about love and compassion.
With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow before God most high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? You have been told, O Creature, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6: 6-8
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’s time demand a sign before they will listen. Jesus says the only sign they will get is to remember that the Ninevites listened when Jonah delivered God’s message.
At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.
We don’t have a Micah or a Jonah coaching us to holiness. What we have is the Word present to us in the Gospel and in the community of faith. That Word reveals itself in the circumstances of our lives to which we must respond by:
Hearing God’s invitation Softening our hearts from judgments Arising from our self-absorption Answering the call to holiness Doing good Loving compassionately Walking humbly with our God
Poetry: from Rumi
Discard yourself and thereby regain yourself. Spread the trap of humility and ensnare Love.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we move from Amos’s angry God to the gentle Jesus of our Gospel who gently lifts a broken man out of both his paralysis and sin.
These readings offer quite a leap as we try to image our invisible God! And, once again, our Alleluia Verse is the bridge that helps us do so.
The verse assures us that, in all circumstances, God in restoring us to a share in Divine Life.
Alleluia, alleluia. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:19
The image that comes to my mind is that of an expert gardener grafting a broken shoot on to a vibrant tree.
That “grafting” occurs within the context of our life stories. In Amos’s time, it was a story fraught with political struggles crippling the community’s moral life. The crowd gathered around Jesus are challenged by the crippling effects of their lack of faith. His cure of the paralytic demonstrates how God wishes to restore their spiritual freedom.
Praying with the elements of Responsorial Psalm 19 today suggests a guide for us. When our lives are reconciled with God, we should experience these gifts:
and spiritual sweetness
Poetry: from Rumi
Find the sweetness in your own heart, then you may find the sweetness in every heart.
Music: Sweet Will of God – by Lelia Naylor Morris (1862 – 1929) an American Methodist hymn writer. In the 1890s, she began to write hymns and gospel songs; it has been said that she wrote more than 1,000 songs and tunes, and that she did so while doing her housework. In 1913, her eyesight began to fail; her son thereupon constructed for her a blackboard 28 feet (8.5 m) long with oversized staff lines, so that she could continue to compose.
In 1900, she published Sweet Will of God, about the true “sweetness” of a deep spiritual life.
Two versions today. The first is the entire hymn sung by Amy Grant. The second is just the interlude so beautifully sung by Junior W. Smith that I had to share it. (Lyrics below)
Junior W. Smith
My stubborn will at last hath yielded; I would be Thine, and Thine alone; And this the prayer my lips are bringing, “Lord, let in me Thy will be done.”
Sweet will of God, still fold me closer; Till I am wholly lost in Thee; Sweet will of God, still fold me closer, Till I am wholly lost in Thee.
Thy precious will, O conquering Saviour, Doth now embrace and compass me; All discords hushed, my peace a river, My soul, a prisoned bird, set free.
Shut in with Thee, O Lord, forever, My wayward feet no more to roam; What power from Thee my soul can sever? The centre of God’s will my home.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we listen to Jesus’s instruction and promise about how to live at one with God.
Alleluia, alleluia. If you love me and will keep my word, and my Father will love you and we will come to you.
What wonderful assurance! We don’t have to labor to find God, or worry about searching for God.
God will come to us – will blossom in our hearts like a sacred flower, – if we love Jesus and keep his Word.
In the opening sentence of her book “Too Deep for Words”, Thelma Hall, r.c. says this:
There is an inner dynamic in the evolution of all true love that leads to a communication too deep for words. There the lover becomes inarticulate, falls silent, and the beloved receives the silence as eloquence.
Our Gospel elaborates on the invitation.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Let us savor these promises in our prayer today.
Poetry: in the silence – Rumi
In the silence between your heartbeat bides a summons from Love.
Do you hear it? Name it if you must, or leave it forever nameless, but why pretend it is not there?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings offer us the deeply comforting image of God as a mother, vigilant and caring for us even in our unawareness.
In our reading from Isaiah, the Israelites recently have been freed from their long sojourn in Babylon and have returned to Jerusalem. It is a time of great joy, but also of reorientation and reflection. God, Who may have seemed to abandon them to captivity, is assuring them that is not so:
Thus says the LORD: In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you; and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, To restore the land and allot the desolate heritages, Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
Isaiah 49: 8-9
We too may have times when we think God isn’t paying attention to us, or to the world that seems to be falling apart around us. We may be tempted to think that Divine attention is turned to us only when we demand it by intense prayer of supplication.
In Isaiah 49, God – through a outlay of abundant promises, – tells us otherwise:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the same things in a little bit of a different way.
My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.
John 5: 17
When he says this, Jesus is in the midst of the recalcitrant, vengeful Pharisees who have placed their faith only in their own arrogance – who have come to depend only on their own wealth and power rather than on the mercy and love of God.
Jesus offers his own outlay of Divine promises, showing how he and God the Creator are One in their constant desire for each of us to share fully in the Divine Life, even to the point of taking flesh to redeem us:
For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life …
John 5: 26-29
We might ask in our prayer today to be deepened in our awareness of God’s constant, loving Presence in our lives. There is no moment or circumstance that doesn’t offer us an invitation to greater grace and holiness. But, unlike the Pharisees, we must open our hearts to trust God’s Presence in all things and to find that path to God’s heart.
In these final weeks of Lent, and in this particular passage from John, we see Jesus doing exactly what we must do. As Calvary began to loom unrelentingly on the horizon, Jesus could not have found it easy to accept the path unfolding before him. But he trusted. He knew the Father was with him. He believed that he walked toward Resurrection even though all he could see was a dark lonely hill.
May our Lenten prayer let us learn from Jesus.
Poetry: Forgetting by Joy Ladin
Zion says, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her baby, or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you.
You never remember anything, do you?
How I formed you in your mother’s womb;
nursed you; bathed you; taught you to talk;
led you to springs of water?
I sang your name before you were born.
I’m singing your name now.
You’re clueless as an infant.
When I tell you to shout for joy,
you hear a bicycle, or a cat.
Sometimes, memories of me come back
like children you forgot you had:
a garden; a bride; an image of your mother,
your best friend, your brother, or a cop, or snow, or afternoon.
The heavens shout; mountain becomes road;
gardenias burst into song.
Whose are these? you wonder.
Then you forget, and feel forgotten,
like an infant who falls asleep
at a mother’s breast
and wakes up hungry again.
Your mother might forget you, child,
but I never forget.
I’ve engraved your name
on the palms of my hands.
I show you trees, I lay you down in the grass,
I shower you with examples of my love—
sex and birds, librarians and life skills, emotions, sunlight, compassion.
Every dawn, every generation,
I have to teach you again:
this is water; this is darkness;
this is a body
fitting your description;
that’s a crush;
these are bodily functions;
this is an allergic reaction.
This is your anger.
This is mine.
This is me
reminding you to eat.
Turn off the stove.
Take your medication.
This is the realization
that I am yours and you are mine. This is you
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, James continues to “tell it like it is”.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”– you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.
James 4: 13
James offers that hard truth to his listeners, Jewish Christians dispersed outside of Israel. It’s an insight many of us might not like hearing, because we thrive on making plans for future growth and improvement.
When a current situation is looking a little dim, we like to think that “there is always tomorrow”. James says, “Maybe not! Make sure you humbly do all that you can TODAY.”
James reminds me of my Nana.
My great-grandmother was born in Ireland in 1869. She was no-nonsense Irish, probably because of the no-nonsense times during which she grew up. She was highly religious and stringently moral, and she worked to insure that the family benefitted from all the lessons she had learned in her challenging life.
Her accent was as thick as porridge, but after a while I, a perspicacious little toddler, began imitating it. I listened intently to her oft-repeated phrases and folded them into my own conversations. One such phrase made an indelible impression on me to the point that I can hear it even now in her soft, rolling brogue.
When one of the family retired for the night, it was common to say, ” Good night. God bless you.” Sometimes we added, ” I’ll see you in the morning” and if we did, Nana invariably responded:
if God spares us!
I think that is exactly what James is saying in his no-nonsense epistles.
We depend on God’s goodness and mercy for everything. We need to remember and acknowledge that truth, and to live in hopeful gratitude.
… you should say, “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.” But instead you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.
I think that most of us aren’t really arrogant. We just forget. We get confused. We let our lives slip off their center on God. And then we might start to think that we are the center of everything! Big mistake!
Our Responsorial Psalm for today reinforces these truths. I love the way Pastor Christine Robinson has interpreted Psalm 49:
Here is my wisdom—Listen to my song! I am surrounded by those who put their trust in possessions and money I am not taken in.
What is precious in life can’t be had in the marketplace What is important about us is not what we acquire, but what we do to add love, goodness, and beauty to the world.
It’s the size of our hearts, not the size of our houses, It’s our understanding, not our fame. What we own is taken from the earth and from others. It returns to them when we die.
But love, wisdom, and beauty, they strengthen the fabric of creation. They accrue to God, enlarge our very souls. These are our true legacy and our ongoing life.