Turn and See

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

March 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us studies in dramatic contrasts.

the barren bush in a lava waste
vs.
the tree planted beside the waters

that turns its roots to the stream

Jere17_7barrentree



a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen

vs.
a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores

Gustave_Dore_Lazarus_and_the_Rich_Man
Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore (1891)

 

What are Jeremiah and Jesus teaching us with these unforgettable images?

Jeremiah summarizes his point in the very first verse:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

In his parable, Jesus has Abraham deliver the point:

You received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.


Praying with these passages, we might determine to make sure we don’t end up like the barren bush or the ultimately tormented rich person. 

But how can we do that?

I think the key lies in Jeremiah’s phrase, “one whose heart turns away from the LORD.” 

In his parable, Jesus shows us what that “turning” looks like. It is any blind indifference in us that allows us to ignore another’s suffering. 

Most of us don’t consciously choose that indifference. We simply fail to turn from our own comfort … plans, needs, agenda … to observe the pain or need around us.

So as we leave our prayer today, perhaps we can do so determined to turn from our self-interests … to see if there is a “Lazarus” right beside us whom we had failed to notice.

Music: Turn My Heart – Lynn DeShazo (Lyrics below)

Turn my heart O Lord
Like rivers of water
Turn my heart O Lord
By Your hand
‘Til my whole life flows
In the river of Your Spirit
And my name
Bring honor to the Lamb

Lord I surrender to
Your work in me
I rest my life within
Your loving hands

(Repeat chorus 3 times)

‘Til my name brings honor
‘Til my name brings honor
To the Lamb

Beyond Measure

Friday of the First Week of Lent

March 6, 2020

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ps130 iniquities

Today, in Mercy, our readings could confuse us with their threads of legalistic logic. We see several examples of “if-then” admonitions that can make us picture God as an accountant measuring every choice we make.

  • If the wicked man turns, … then he shall surely live
  • If the virtuous man turns, … then none of his good deeds shall be remembered.
  • If you, O Lord, Mark iniquities … then who can stand.
  • If you go to the altar unreconciled … then leave and be reconciled.

measure

Sometimes, we can get obsessive about the “if-then” aspects of religion. And IF we do, THEN we probably miss the whole point. Because folded in today’s “if-then” seesaws is the truth of these passages: that the Lord does NOT sit miserly in Heaven to mark our iniquities.

The Lord measures the righteousness of love.


“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.—Jeremiah 9:23-24


Today’s Responsorial Psalm offers us a beautiful prayer for this morning as we pray in the embrace of God’s Lavish Mercy:

I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the LORD
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
Let Israel wait for the LORD.
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.

Let’s wait for the Lord today to see where God’s Grace invites us to the righteousness of Love.

Music: Everlasting Love – Mark Hendrickson & Family (Lyrics below)

Chorus
With an everlasting love
I love you I love you
With an everlasting love
a love that’ll never end
a love that’ll never end
I love you.

Till the stars lose their way
In the heavens up above
And the oceans all run dry
Till the clouds in the sky
Keep the rain all to themselves
Even longer I’ll love you
This I promise I’ll love you
My word I give it’s true
I love you

Till the morning sun ceases to arise
And the moon forgets to shine
Until heaven’s blue is erased from the sky
Even longer I’ll love you
This I promise I’ll love you
My word I give it’s true
I love you

Sheep or Goat?

Monday of the First Week of Lent

March 2, 2020

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sheep mosaic

Today, in Mercy, we are invited to be like God:

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel
and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

Our first reading goes on to tell us how: be a decent person.

  • Don’t steal, lie, or cheat
  • Pay just wages
  • Respect and help those physically burdened
  • Be impartial and just
  • Defend life
  • Don’t slander, hate, take revenge, or hold a grudge

Basically, the message is about kindness … deep kindness, the type that comes from realizing how infinitely kind God is to us.

Leviticus, after a long list of practical examples, sums it up:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.


Our Gospel tells us what happens when we make the choice to take the Old Testament advice — or not.

little lamb

We are all familiar with the parable of the sheep and the goats. And we all hope our scorecard gets us in the right herd “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him …”

 


Basically, in this parable, Jesus puts the advice of Leviticus into practical form for his followers. But he adds one dynamic element that not only invites but impels our wholehearted response:

Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.

Leviticus invites us to become holy as God is holy. But Jesus reveals the secret that this Holy God lives in the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned and sick. By embracing these most beloved of God, we find the pattern of Holiness.

Music: The Least of These – Karl Kohlhase

Creeping Up to Lent?

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

February 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we are creeping up to Lent’s doorstep.

Doorstep

Are you beginning to consider your Lenten rituals? Our readings today might help orient us.

They leave this question hanging in the air: Who do I really want to be in my life?

Mk9_34 first last

James says that if we are someone who loves the world, we will find ourselves at enmity with God. James defines “the world” as a place in discord, conflicted by covetousness, envy, frustration, and death-dealing.

James is directly addressing damaging squabbles within the Church itself. Infighting has caused fractures within his believing community. Failures in mutual charity and sincere prayer have generated “wars” among the members.

Why would anybody choose to contribute to such a negative environment? 

James pins it on one thing: jealousy. We are jealous to be, have, control, and possess more than others. We are tempted by power, riches and esteem. We want our opinions to be honored, our needs to be met above and before others.


The reality exists today as well, as we know too well.

  • We see it in the Church from factions who want to bend the Gospel to their own agenda.
  • We see it within and between nations who raise the advantage of some over the welfare of others.
  • We see it in families, businesses, and social circles where individuals volley for position, influence, or control over others.

These conflicts pour out in criticism, judgements, biases, shunning, and all kinds of failures in compassion, respect, and honesty. They blind us to our common creaturehood in God, and to its demand for an equity of love, mercy, and justice.

Otherwise, 

  • How could we ever kill or enslave one another, either by aggression or neglect?
  • How could we separate parents from their children and put babies in cages?
  • How could we participate in a global economic tyranny that leaves some without land, homes, health care, or hope?
  • How could we use other human beings – or their vital resources – only for our own pleasure, power or enrichment?

Most of us do not outrightly choose these sinful behaviors. But we must ask ourselves to what degree we are complicit in them by our failures in just judgement, advocacy, political responsibility, globally sustainable choices, — just plain care and reverence for all human beings, all Creation.


The approach of Lent is a great time to revisit the question James hangs in the air for us:

  • Who do I really want to be in my life? 
  • Do I need to make changes to do that? 
  • How can I prepare for a Lent that helps me make those Grace-filled changes?

We are grown-ups now, and our Lenten repentances demand more than those we learned in grade school. Fasting from candy won’t cut it anymore. 

  • How about we fast from cable news that feeds our biases?
  • Or actually do something for our parish besides critique the Sunday sermon?
  • Maybe give up some of our polluting behaviors requiring plastic and other non-recyclables?
  • How about including a outsider in something where they are otherwise ignored?
  • Or providing for someone’s need who would hesitate to ask for your attention?

I think James would approve of choices like that because he says:

God bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
So submit yourselves to God.

Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Music: When It’s All Been Said and Done – Robin Mark

Simple Not Easy

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 23, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings focus us on how to live a good,honest, holy life.

Leviticus makes it simple:

Lv19_18 neighbor

But “simple” does not mean easy. Jesus makes that clear in the Gospel. He tells us that we may thinks it’s enough to love our neighbor by:

  • an “eye for an eye” justice
  • accepting that one slap on the cheek
  • giving over some of our possessions
  • serving them for the time they ask

But Jesus says, “No. Not enough!” We must go all in for love:

  • take no “eye”, no legal repayment 
  • turn the other cheek
  • give both shirt AND jacket off your back
  • work twice as long and hard as demanded

kidding


Guess what? He’s not kidding. He goes on to double down on his words:

  • Don’t just love your neighbor as yourself, as Leviticus requires. Love your enemy that way too.
  • Do it because your Creator loves you, and all of us, that way — with Lavish Mercy.
  • Be that Mercy in the world.

Paul gives us an added incentive for living this challenge. He acknowledges that to live in Christian love and mercy seems foolish in the eyes of the world … BUT:

Let no one deceive himself.
If any one among you considers himself wise in this age,
let him become a fool, so as to become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God,
for it is written:
God catches the wise in their own ruses,
and again:

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are vain.


As I said at the outset, it’s simple, but it’s not easy. So much in our culture promotes the opposite approach to life – me first, exclude others, win at all costs, money matters over everything, use people and things then discard them, and on and on…..

Using our beautiful Responsorial Psalm, let us pray for the insight to see through to God’s Truth and Love, and for the courage to live them. 

Music: The Lord Is Kind and Merciful – Jean Cotter 

Refrain
The Lord is kind and merciful;
The Lord is kind and merciful.
Slow to anger, rich in kindness,
The Lord is kind and merciful.

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
All my being bless God’s name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
Forget not all God’s blessings.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, full of kindness.
God is good to all creation,
Full of compassion.

The goodness of God is from age to age,
Blessing those who choose to love.
And justice toward God’s children;
On all who keep the covenant.

A Queenly Message

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.

sheba

Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.

So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.

But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:

Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice

In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:

(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.

When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.

This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.

The lessons for our world are obvious.


As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:

But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.


Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops


Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre

God Won’t Be Boxed!

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about how we try to “house” God.

Because God is bigger than BIG, our minds struggle. More than struggle, they actually fail, repeatedly, to define God. Yet we still try, don’t we?

Mk7_13 box god

We try to picture, describe, paint, quote, and interpret God. We even decide what God wants and create laws to insure God gets that.

We dilute Divinity to our human dimensions. We just can’t take it straight. We mix it and bottle it in our laws, and box it in our rituals — because we can’t manage Omnipotence. 

And let’s face it, most of us like to manage things. 😉At least the Pharisees in today’s Gospel liked that kind of control. And Jesus challenges them on it.


Praying with these thoughts today, I think of my Dad. He liked an occasional jigger of really fine bourbon – savored in its unadulterated state, without water or soda – what today’s purists call “sipping whisky”.

When the doctor informed him, unfortunately in my mother’s presence, that whisky was a no-no, Dad didn’t like it. But he acquiesced. At least we thought he did. 

After Dad died, my brother and I found his bottle of Kentucky bourbon wrapped in a towel in the basement dryer. You see, only Dad did the wash. Mom never liked machines.

I think Jesus would have really enjoyed my Dad as one of his original disciples. Dad liked life “straight”. His faith was simple, direct, complete and undiluted. Sitting with Jesus that Gospel day, Dad wouldn’t have washed his hands either. He would have been too busy listening to the pure, unbottled Word pouring over him.

The message I took from today’s prayer: 

  • Be very wary of anyone who thinks they know exactly what God wants.
  • Let God out of the boxes I put Him in.
  • Invite God’s Spirit to run free through my heart.
  • Don’t bottle God up; don’t box God in.
  • Enjoy sipping God’s surprising and infinite grace.

Music:  New Pharisees – Charlie Daniels Band (Lyrics below)

New Pharisees

They go walking into church every Sunday morning
They the self-appointed sin patrol
Well they whisper and they gossip behind the back
Of anybody that they can’t control

See that girl in the choir she’s got evil desires
She must be drinking from the devil’s well
She’s a downright disgrace with that paint on her face
She looks just like a Jezebel

And they’re running around putting everybody down
What are you trying to do?
You need to pick up the Book and take another look
‘Cause brother I’ve got the news for you

You know Jesus was sent with a new covenant
And he even died for you
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

You see that boy over there with that long shaggy hair
Ought to be ashamed of his self
He wearing hip-hop clothes got a ring in his nose
Don’t he know he going straight to hell

And then yesterday morning me and sister Johnson
Were talkin’ on the party line
She said that Deacon Brown was having dinner downtown
Somebody seen him with a glass of wine

And you act so righteous and you look so pious
You always pay your tithe
But there’s a rock in your heart and a fire on your tongue
And there ain’t no love in your eyes

Bad news is begotten and the devil is smiling
You gossip and you criticize
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

Well you can’t get by the law so quit flapping your jaws
New pharisees yes, you’re a lot like me

Choices

Friday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

January 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, if this first reading doesn’t smack you right between the eyes, check your political pulse, dear Friends!

David has become King, called to lead his people with a largeness of heart for their good…. but…

power

 

Power tends to corrupt, and the corruption is hard to resist even for the likes of David. With no checks and balances on him, David commandeers anything he desires – nations, goods, women, human lives! He is convinced that he can do anything he wants to do. His choices lurch him into a spinning culture of death, evil, and selfishness.

This passage from 2 Samuel is threaded with the very same lines woven into this morning’s newspapers: plotting, manipulation, lying, obstruction, projection, irresponsibility, crudeness, disrespect….

Aren’t we just so sick and tired of it all!?

Over the coming days, we will see how David’s corruption affects him – and it’s quite a drama! But for our prayer today, what can we learn?


Perhaps the Gospel offers us a key.

Mk4_30

Jesus talks about “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He uses the symbols of a healthy harvest and a tiny mustard seed. He teaches his listeners that when the things of God are planted deep in us, we too yield a life-giving harvest. We become large-hearted, God-hearted.

Through the gift of free will, God gives us power. We can choose between good and evil, self and others, life and death. In today’s passage, David makes some huge, selfish mistakes in his choices.

Throughout history and even today, people make the same good and bad choices. When leaders make such choices, the whole world feels the impact.

Today, I might want to check how I’m doing, not only in my personal choices, but in my advocacy for a moral and just world for all people.

Music:  A Pure Heart – Rusty Nelson

And David Danced…

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

January 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, vigorous, grace-filled David dances with abandon before the Lord.

David danced

It is an image so rich that the rest of the passage must await another day for prayer.
Just to pause with that dancing image, to consider all the ways God longs to dance with us throughout our lives, and we with God — dances of both:

joy and sorrow,
faith and questioning,
hope and shadow.

…dances in which we must abandon ourselves to the sacred music of the moment, and respond to God’s mysterious, leading step.

Whatever the emotion we bring to prayer, what matters is only that we carry it close to God’s heart, listening to our circumstances for the Divine Heartbeat.

Each of our prayer-dances is so personal, so sacred. I thought a few poems might be good today as you treasure your own dances with God. Perhaps one of the poems will resonate with you where you are at this moment in your Lifesong.


IMG_2324I Long for You

Powerless
to reach any further,
longing shakes
my soul.
You are so near,
but, paralyzed,
I cannot touch you.

 I feel you,
Electric,
in the veins of my life.
but, paralyzed,
I cannot touch you.

 I cannot stand that
You be a symphony
I, lonely, rest in.

 I want to dance with You.
~ Renee Yann, RSM


IMG_2325After a Chilling Death

You look so beautiful, God
so young,
sky swaddled, like a young brave
awaiting the future
on a smoky horizon.
I can’t stop
looking at You.

I can’t stop waiting,
as if crowds held their breath in me,
for clouds to fall open and for
your Celestial Body to be revealed,
diamond moon at the navel.

My breath stretches
like transparent skin,
toward the hope of You,
the memory of You,
magnified by faith and need.

I can’t stop
waiting for You
to dance toward me in the darkness,
to take these frozen fingers
to your jubilant, holy lips
and kiss them back to life.

No grave can make me stop
looking at You,
even though gravesmen
throw dirt in my eyes and say
that I see things where things are not.
I know You are there
in the tantalizing darkness.
~ Renee Yann, RSM



IMG_2326
At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
~ T.S. Eliot



IMG_2327Easter Exultet

Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.

Trust deep water
and head for the open,
even if your vision
shipwrecks you.

Quit your addiction
to sneer and complain.
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.

Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.

Not dawdling.
Not doubting.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.

At every crossroad
Be prepared
to bump into wonder.
Only love prevails.

Enroute to disaster
insist on canticles.
Lift your ineffable
out of the mundane.

Nothing perishes;
nothing survives;
everything transforms!
Honeymoon with Big Joy!
~ James Broughton


Music: No Reason Not to Dance – Kathryn Kaye

Mercy says, “Of course…”

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 16, 2020

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( Our Gospel today nearly repeats a passage in Luke about which I wrote last year. Being a little lazy tonight, and wanting to watch Jeopardy- GOAT, I am offering that earlier reflection to you again. Besides, I liked it.  I hope you do, dear Friends.)

Mk1_41-of-course
This is the Greek word for “Of course!”

Today, in Mercy, Jesus shows us how to live a merciful life – through loving, generous, joyfully responsive service.

A pitiable leper interrupts Jesus on his journey to ask for help. People like this man were scorned, feared, and isolated. Their leprosy impoverished them, making them annoying beggars. Their cries usually met with indifference at best and banishment at worst.

But when this leper poses his proposal to Jesus – “If you want to, you can heal me.” — Jesus gives the spontaneous answer of a true, merciful heart: “Of course I want to!”

There is no annoyance, no suggestion that other concerns are more important. There is just the confirmation that – Yes- this is the purpose of my life: to heal, love, show mercy toward whatever suffering is in my power to touch. There is just the clear message that “You, too, poor broken leper, are Beloved of God.”

What an example and call Jesus gives us today! We are commissioned to continue this merciful touch of Christ along the path of our own lives. When circumstances offer us the opportunity to be Mercy for another, may we too respond with enthusiasm, “Of course I want to!” May we have the eyes to see through any “leprosy” to find the Beloved of God.

Music: Compassion Hymn – Kristyn and Keith Getty