Here’s the Problem

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 27, 2010

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Here’s the Problem

Gen16_1 Sarai

Today, in Mercy, Abram and Sarai fall back into a struggle with God’s promise. God tarries with fulfillment and has not yet removed Sarai’s barrenness. The aging couple become impatient.

So, as we all sometimes do when God appears deaf to our prayers, Sarai comes up with her own strategy, clearly outside God’s outlined promise. They will use their slave Hagar to bear Abram’s heir.

The passage doesn’t mean that we should not work hard to fulfill our lives. It isn’t intended to contradict that old wisdom:

Work as if everything depended on you.
Pray as if everything depended on God.

Or as St. Ignatius puts it in a more precise way:

I consider it an error to trust and hope in any means or efforts in themselves alone; nor do I consider it a safe path to trust the whole matter to God our Lord without desiring to help myself by what he has given me; so that it seems to me in our Lord that I ought to make use of both parts, desiring in all things his greater praise and glory, and nothing else.

What this reading does hold up before us is the quality of our faith, the depth of our relationship with God. 

  • Do I consider every aspect of my experience in the light of prayer, sharing it with God, listening for God’s voice?
  • Do I inform my spirit through scripture and spiritual reading, (with what I like to call “a holy culture”), so that I can trust my discernment and be patient for its fulfillment?
  • Do I seek the counsel and companionship of those who strengthen the resolve of my spirit?

Abram was making good progress with these stepping stones, then Sarai threw him a curve with the offer of Hagar as his concubine. But don’t just blame Sarai. Good old Abram caught the curve and ran with it!🙂

Life pitches us all a lot of curves. It can be hard to catch God’s Voice as the curve buzzes by us!

Let’s pray today to let this story teach us whatever we need to learn about our own faith, discernment, patience, and “holy culture”.

Music: I Can Hear Your Voice – Michael W. Smith

The Baptist: A Life for God

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist 

June 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate one of the greatest figures of the Bible, John the Baptist. He prepared the way for the Lord.

John the Baptist
Icon of St. John the Baptist (16th c.) Dionysiou Monastery

When I think of John’s role in Salvation History, I am reminded of a captivating poem by Geoffrey Brown, author of Road of the Heart Cave:

The Heart Cave

I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
& sweep it clean; make it warm
with a fire on the hearth,
& candles in their niches,
the pictures on the walls
       glowing with a quiet light.
       I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
       & make the bed
with the quilt from home,
strew
the rushes on the floor
hang
lavender and sage
         from the corners.
         I must go down

                                           To the heart cave & be there
                                           when You come.


John the Baptist went down to the heart cave of our human perception of God.  He understood, in an inexpressible way, that God was about to do something astounding in human history.  God was about to become part of it!

John understood this with unquestioning faith, the way we understand heaven but cannot rationalize it. Understanding it, he knew that the world needed to turn itself toward God – to repent – in radical and ardent expectation.

This was his call and his message – this extraordinary man, dressed in his camel hair vestments, preaching at the desert’s edge.

We might pray to John today to be turned from anything that distracts us from God, to long for God’s presence in our hearts and in our world, to love deeply and make a welcome home for Christ within us.

( On this Feast, 53 years ago, my entrance companions and I professed our vows. I think of all of them with love today. May I humbly ask you, dear readers, to join me in prayer for us as we thank God for the gift of our lives in Mercy.)

Music: Apolytikion of the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist ( Dismissal Hymn of the Assembly for St. John the Baptist from the Greek Liturgy)

Character. Remember it?

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus and Paul offer us lessons in character, something sorely needed in today’s world.

Ps112 characterJPG

Sometimes I think I’m just getting old, but I feel like our culture has abandoned the pursuit of “character”. 

Who are the models held up for our children? Overpaid, spoiled sports icons? Fat cat, indifferent politicians? Grossly sexualized entertainers? Self-indulgent religious and civic officials?

What are the messages our kids receive through our media? Unless you are the richest, the strongest, the flashiest, the cleverest, etc., you fail?

What about us adults? We are bombarded with these messages too. What do we begin to believe about ourselves and who we should be in the world?

Today our readings tell us this: Be upright, gracious, merciful and just. Be generous, humble and brave without needing to be recognized for it. Be honest, sincere, and wise. Wow! Are you kidding me?

As we continue to nourish our character, as we help our children build theirs, there are many blocks to choose from. We can turn every experience, act and choice either to light or to darkness, either to self or to God.

As we pray these readings today, let us ask for the grace to see ourselves clearly with God’s eyes- always true and always merciful. Let us ask for the courage and character to be someone God delights to see.

Music: Sanctify Me, O God – Rexband

A St. Barnabas Music Fest

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle

June 11, 2019

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Mk9_49_ salt

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas, “a good man”. Reading about his call in Acts, that phrase struck me.

“Barnabas … was a good man,
filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.”

Some of you classic jazz/blues fans may remember an old classic by Bessie Smith, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

That’s a pretty sad song, but apparently it does not reflect the experience of the early disciples. They found several good men in Acts 11:

Now there were in the Church at Antioch prophets and teachers:
Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger,
Lucius of Cyrene,
Manaen who was a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

What makes someone a “good man (or woman)? I can remember my Dad, a good man himself, using that phrase on occasion about someone he knew. It was a rare benediction – only someone of exceptional character earned it from my Dad.

All of Dad’s designees had these things in common: humble, hard-working, honest, generous, simple and respectful people. They had shown up for life, with a loyalty to those around them. They were God-loving, salt-of-the-earth fellas who would be shocked to think they were special. Barnabas was such a guy.

Jesus loved this kind of soul too. In our Gospel he says

“You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world…
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

…or, in Godspell terms:

As we pray these Scripture passages today, let us be inspired by Barnabas to hear Jesus speaking these words to us – because we are good men and good women.

Music: People Let Your Light Shine – Jesse Colin Young

Yes, I’m Talkin’ to YOU!

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter 

June 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel reveals a lot about the relationships and personalities among Jesus and his disciples.

John is described as “the one whom Jesus loved”, indicating that there was a unique affection shared between them. What was that like? John was younger than most of the other men. Perhaps he needed more overt direction and care from Jesus. We know from John’s later extensive contributions to scripture that he was a poet and a visionary, someone with heightened sensitivities. Perhaps John expressed his love for Jesus more openly, triggering a similar response in Jesus.

Peter, once again, appears as the questioner. Throughout the Gospels, he is always asking Jesus to explain, to define, to assure. In today’s reading, Jesus has given Peter the prime call to follow him. But Peter wants more. Looking at John, Peter wants to know, “What about him… will he follow?”

Maybe Peter is a lot like some of us, a little unsure of where we are in God’s love. Maybe he wants to know how he compares to John, the obvious “Beloved Disciple”.

Jesus doesn’t coddle Peter. He wants Peter to “man up”. Peter has immense leadership responsibilities ahead of him. He needs to rely totally on Jesus’s promise to him.

John21_22

So Jesus tells him not to worry about how others are loved and called by God. He tells Peter, “ You follow me!” – that’s all you have to be concerned about.

Everybody’s call to follow is personal and different. It comes dressed in our particular life circumstances, gifts and awarenesses. God wants Peter and God wants John. He doesn’t want clones of either.

And God wants and calls each one of us in our uniqueness. By entering deeply into our own spirit, we will find our answer to God’s call.

Teresa of Avila said this:

It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven
without entering into ourselves.

May dear, questioning Peter inspire us today to be brave, confident and complete in our own response to God’s call.

Music:  Follow Me – Ray Repp

More? A Resounding “Yes” for These Five!

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter 

June 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus asks the quintessential question of Peter, “Do you love me more than these?”

Jn21_15_19

The setting is by the morning-dappled sea. Jesus has just cooked his disciples breakfast. Ordinary enough, right?

What is extraordinary is that Jesus has already died, risen from the dead, and is sitting with his buddies once again by their old fishing boats!

In other words, these disciples now know clearly what the love of God means. They have seen, firsthand, what that kind of love does to a life! Mercy, Passion, Death and Resurrection lived out in everyday human experiences.

So Jesus’s question to Peter might really be asking:

After all you’ve seen,
after all is said and done,
do you have the “more”
that it will take to follow me?

Our spiritual life is all about growing to the “more” that will let us live and love in God.

This Saturday, in our Merion chapel, four young women make their perpetual profession of vows as Sisters of Mercy. On July 13th, a fifth woman will make her final profession in the Mid-West Community.

2019 profession

We rejoice that these women have chosen to find their “more” as Sisters of Mercy. Will you join us in prayers of thanksgiving and benediction for them as they take this sacred step?

Let us too have the courage, as we pray today, to listen to Jesus ask us about our love. Let us answer sincerely, and ask for all we need to give the “more” in whatever way God asks of us.

Music: Love Like Jesus – Pawn Shop Kings (This one will wake you up!😀)

Praying with Jesus

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter 

June 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus continues to pray. What a blessing it is to be able to place ourselves next to Jesus and listen to his prayer!

The flow of this prayer shows clearly that it is part of an ongoing and continual conversation. Jesus is always in a relationship of presence with the Father. He just allows us to listen in John 17.

John17_11 One

By our listening, we may grow in the depth of our own prayer. Jesus prays:

  • for God to be glorified
  • for all to be one in God
  • for the wholeness and perfection of all Creation
  • for eternal, Trinitarian life for his followers
  • for God’s love to live in our hearts

These requests are the same things the Father wants. These are the reasons the Father sent Jesus into the world. So, in his prayer, Jesus is praying for God’s Will of love and wholeness in the world. He is praying for oneness with the Father.

We can grow in this kind of prayer by opening our minds and spirits to God’s heartbeat in our lives. St. Teresa of Avila said it like this:

“Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us.
No matter how halfhearted such insights may be, God rejoices
whenever we learn what he is trying to teach us.”
– The Interior Castle

and

“Let the truth be in your hearts, as it will be if you practice meditation,
and you will see clearly what love we are bound to have for our neighbors.”
– The Way of Perfection

Through intention and practice, and responsive to grace, there comes a point in our spiritual life when we are never unaware of the Presence of God. The intensity of this awareness will vary, like the volume in a beautiful piece of music, but the Divine music is still always there, even in its necessary rests.

( Rests are intervals of silence in pieces of music, marked by symbols indicating the length of the pause. Each rest symbol and name corresponds with a particular note value, indicating how long the silence should last.)

Whether we are in a “rest” or a full, resounding note, let us become aware of God’s Presence in us and our presence in God.

Music:   My TOP favorite piece of music. ( P.S. Whoever is in charge, please play this at my funeral.)

Messe solennelle en l’honneur de sainte Cécile: Sanctus – Jessye Norman

Whenever I Call You “Friend”

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter 

May 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus calls us his friends. What a magical, mysterious word! Making friends, being friends, keeping friends – these are some of the essential dynamics of a human life.

Jn15_15_friends

Many years ago, one of our family’s preschoolers was playing with his neighborhood buddies. His mom told him to introduce the boys to us. Very formally, little Charlie announced, “I would like you to meet my shrends.” He was not too sure yet about the word, but he was very clear on the concept. Among all his classmates, these guys shared something special with him.

Like all our relationships, Charlie’s would develop over time by trial and error, by imitation and intention – one confidence, care and joy shared, one after another. Trust and love would build, ultimately giving that irreplaceable gift of true and trusted friendship 

Jesus is telling us today that we share something special with him. Our spiritual life is all about building those mutual confidences and shared experiences that help us to know Christ’s heart and allow him to know ours.

Jesus has given himself fully to this friendship:

I call you my friends, says the Lord,
for I have made known to you
all that the Father has told me.

May we ever grow stronger and more generous in our response to Christ’s amazing gift. May we learn to love as Christ loves.

This is my commandment:
love one another as I love you.

No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Music:  Today’s choice is a popular contemporary song. Ever since I was a young teen, I sometimes, in prayer, choose to sing a popular song to God (mostly in my heart now, because my voice has gone the way of all flesh). Some of these songs can be perfect for what’s in the heart. If you have never tried it, this song might encourage you to. Maybe you have a favorite you’d like to sing to God, your Friend who loves you beyond description.

Whenever I Call You Friend – Michael Johnson and Alison Krause

 

Finding Peace

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel offers us a profound message: what does it mean to live in the peace of God?

jn14_28 peace

So many things, from the monumental to the trivial, can make us unpeaceful. If we made a list, we might tire before we completed it! This lack of peace takes many forms in us – worry, anxiety, second guessing, distraction, self-doubt and myriad other forms of inner fragmentation.

For some of us, gaining inner peace is more difficult than for others. So much depends on the trust we have felt in our lives. For those who have felt betrayed by family, friends, or God, the journey to a peaceful heart can be a tortuous one.

But Jesus says we can do it because he showed us how.

Don’t you think he might have been confused and bewildered at times by what the Father was asking of him? Don’t you think he was disillusioned at times by the wavering faith of his disciples? Don’t you think he was frightened by the kind of death he faced?

So just how did Jesus grow to such a fullness of peace that he was able to bequeath it to us as our inheritance?

He said:

Not as the world gives peace do I give it to you.

The world gives peace by removing or dominating challenges. God gives peace by accompanying us through challenges.

Jesus came to the point, in his very human life, where he chose not to let his heart be troubled because he had found this accompaniment.

The willingness of Jesus to live, suffer, and die according to the Father’s Will gives us the pattern on which to build our peace.

Throughout the ages, many saints have found and lived this peace according to their own call from God. One of the many who inspire me is Julian of Norwich.  Julian was an English anchorite of the Middle Ages.  She wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language to be written by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love.

Julian was worried about the presence of sin in the world. It seems she wondered, like many of us might, why God didn’t just fix that!


“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”


This also is a lovely quote from Julian to pray with:

“From the time these things were first revealed I had often wanted to know what was our Lord’s meaning. It was more than fifteen years after that I was answered in my spirit’s understanding. ‘You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else — ever.”

Music: Meg Barnhouse’s modern interpretation of Julian’s writing, which Meg has obviously studied.

 

Mary, Mother and Friend of God

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we encounter a reading we had reflected on just recently – when Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father. So, I will refer you to that reflection here, if you would like to revisit.

Click here for Philip’s Question

Instead, today, because this is a Saturday in May, we might like to pray with Mary of Nazareth. Do we know her?

May

The little we know of Mary we find in the New Testament. Like all women of the early Church, the power of Mary’s story was lost in the Romanized, masculinized Church of the 2nd century. Instead, the growing Church and the ensuing centuries’ cultures developed images of Mary, and other women disciples, which served the emerging characterization of women – gentle, passive, obedient and defined by their relationship to men. This did the real Mary a great disservice.

Beautiful Mother

Click here for hymn.

But, if you are like me, you grew up loving this re-characterized Mary. I pray to her as my Mother. I see her as a go-between with God, a Father who might not understand my needs. I love the old hymns I learned as child, and can still gustily sing almost all their flowery words. I still, and always will, have my favorites. 

Learning to think of Mary in a clearer and stronger light has been a challenge, and a gift, for me. Many women theologians have been helpful to me in this. Primary among these is Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. This is a link to a superb article Dr. Johnson wrote for America magazine. It is a challenging and extremely worthwhile read. I encourage you to take time with it.

Click here to read Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ’s article

Today, as we pray, we may wish to use Mary’s own powerful hymn, given to us in Luke’s Gospel ( Luke 1: 46-55 )

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

Music: Latin Magnificat – Daughters of Mary