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.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

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.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Readings: Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, commemorating the apparitions of Mary to the Mexican peasant Juan Diego in 1531. 

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It is also on this date, 300 years later, that Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. 

Both Mary and Catherine found their joy in total commitment to God’s will and presence in their lives. May they inspire and help  to make God the center of our lives. May that discovery fill us with joy.

Perhaps  by increasing our spiritual simplicity, trust and humility like Juan Diego, we can grow closer to Mary and to her Son.

Today’s beautiful readings can lead us closer into Mary’s arms.  Zecharia, even without knowing her, named Mary the Holy Dwelling from whom Christ would come forth.

Revelation captures multiple images from the Hebrew scriptures, fashioning a glorious picture of Mary’s significance in salvation history.

And our treasured passage from Luke — can we not read it like a beloved family story that gives us roots and wings?

Mary is not so far away from us.  She chose to enter Juan Diego’s life, looking like a queen he would recognize in his own culture. She has chosen to do the same thing in many other struggling cultures. 

How is Mary present to us today? How was she present to Catherine McAuley? A homeless woman? An immigrant mother? An incarcerated young woman/? A sickly neighbor? An annoying, lonely grandmother?

What language is Mary speaking to us?

Music: Tota Pulchra Es Maria – Latin words and translation below. This lovely hymn reflects our responsorial psalm for today.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.

 

You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honour to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.

Oh, That First Love!

Monday, November 19, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we earnestly begin the Book of Revelation. These twelve days of passages will close out the liturgical year before Advent.

Rev 2_4 first love

This book, also commonly known as the Apocalypse, is one of the most controversial in the Bible. Scholars disagree as to its author, its meaning, its literary genre and even its place in the biblical canon.

Wherever we might fall in this spectrum of interpretations, the book still can inspire us to prayer and reflection.

In today’s passage, the author addresses the first of seven churches to whom he will write – the church at Ephesus. He praises them and says that God is pleased with their work, their endurance and their fidelity. That must have made them feel pretty good, right?

But then, the heart-breaking line:

Yet I hold this against you:
you have lost the love you had at first.

We might easily find ourselves in this passage. We’re trying hard to be faithful Christians. But, depending on where we are in our lives, have we lost that first fervor?

The continual grind of work, ministry, family and community responsibility can dim that first fire. Maybe the fresh flower has been choked in the daily weeds. Just the accumulation of years may obscure it.

Today, let’s try to remember that first love which turned our hearts to God and to God’s work in the world. Let’s ask our generous God, Who longs for our love, to renew our passion and energy for the Divine Adventure.

Music: Power of Your Love – Hillsongs

Bread and Roses

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Readings: Click here for readings

Eliz_bread

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  Elizabeth, a princess in Hungary, was married at the age of fourteen to Louis IV of Thuringia, a German state. Both rulers were kind and saintly. 

Elizabeth used her considerable royal resources to help the poor and hungry. She met them outside the walls of the palace, even building a small hospital there to care for the sick among them. 

But there was some controversy within the castle, questioning her charity as a depletion of the governmental treasures. 

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Once, on a charitable journey, Elizabeth met her husband traveling with a band of such questioners. She carried baskets of bread to the poor, covered with her traveling cloaks. They demanded she reveal her cargo at which the bread is said to have been miraculously transformed into roses.

(St Elizabeth of Hungary with her crown and apron full of flowers. Blois château, France. One of a series of female saints in the Oratory (once the queen’s private chapel). Designed by Michel Dumas in 1858, the windows were painted by Claude Lavergne in 1859.)

As indicated by Pope Benedict XVI, Elizabeth is part of that long line of holy ones, whose relationship with Jesus moved them to justice and mercy for all people.

Praying with Elizabeth today, asking for insight on how to be loving and charitable in today’s world, one might consider this:

  • What would it be like to greet our border refugees with baskets of bread rather than barbed wire?
  • What would it be like if we built rose hedges rather than walls?

The caravan of refugees seeking asylum at our border mirrors many similar marchers throughout history, searching for a measure of equality and a livable life.

The music for today, aptly titled “Bread and Roses”, originated in the early 1900s, as women marched for improved working conditions and the right to vote.

Music: Bread and Roses

The First American Saint Was An Immigrant

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who from a very young age, was filled with the missionary spirit.

11_12 Cabrini

When she went to visit to her uncle, Don Luigi Oldini of Livagra,
a priest who lived beside a swift canal, she made little boats of paper,
dropped violets in them, called the flowers missionaries,
and launched them to sail off to India and China
.
~ Lives of the Saints – John J. Cauley ~

Frail as a young woman, she was at first rejected for religious life. But eventually, through the often labyrinthine ways of God’s grace, Frances founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Still desiring to be a missionary to China, Frances petitioned the Pope for approval. He, instead, requested that she and her sisters go to the USA to minister to the massive influx of Italian immigrants there.

She did this with an extraordinary and holy distinction. In 1945, Frances became the first citizen of the USA to be canonized a Saint.

To learn more about her life and legacy, see the website of her community:

Click here for Cabrini Sisters webpage

Or this very complete entry in Wikipedia

Click here for full wikipedia article

Not Music today. Instead a short video on Mother Cabrini’s influence, not only in New York, but as far as New Orleans:

The Grace at Our Border

Monday, November 5, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110518.cfm

Today, in Mercy,  we continue our readings from Paul’s inspiring letter to the Philippians. Paul sincerely loves this community and wants them to be perfected in Christ. 

This is what Jesus wants for us too.  Today’s Gospel is just one example of Jesus showing his followers the way to holiness. He uses the opportunity of a dinner to remind those gathered that they are very fortunate. Their lives are like a banquet compared with the lives of those who are poor and burdened.

He suggests that his followers do what God would do:

When you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be
because of their inability to repay you….

Just such an opportunity to be blessed awaits us, in the USA, at our southern border. A wave of God’s beloved poor and besieged washes toward us. Will we meet them with true mercy and justice born out of Christian charity? Or will we confront them with a brutal show of power born of fear and alienation?

Lk14_14 banquet

Of course, there are legitimate concerns with such a large migration. But these concerns must be met with wisdom and prudence, not prejudice and vilification. This is not a horde of animals attacking us. These are human beings desperately seeking a better life.

Jesus thought that his table companions, gifted as they were by God, had the moral capacity to respond to his challenge. Can he expect the same of us?

Let’s hope so, because our Gospel closes with a very compelling reason:

“For you will be repaid
(one way or the other, I might add)
at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Music: God of the Poor – Graham Kendrick

Oh, Fig!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings are not reassuring. They basically tell us that it’s a tough world out there, and it might get us – body and/or soul. They tell us to straighten up and live right before it’s too late!

Lk 13_7 fig tree

I don’t really like the “in your face” readings, but they certainly are clear and effective. Just picture that poor fig tree, trying like crazy – for three years – to bear fruit! I know that I’ve been trying my whole life to overcomes some of my fruitlessness. I certainly hope God continues to be patient with me!

Nevertheless, the message of today’s Gospel is clear. Don’t take that patience for granted.Repent of any small godlessness you’re clinging to.

  • Forgive the recent and long ago hurts you’ve locked up inside.
  • Make amends for any meannesses you can remember.
  • “Show and Tell” your love to the people who love you.
  • Show and Tell your blessing to the people who don’t.
  • Be Mercy every time you get a chance.

Paul says it like this: Live the truth in love.

Let’s do it while we can.

Music: Amazing Grace ~ sung by Sean Clive

Look Good or Do Good? Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings continue the theme of sincere faith versus hypocritical practices.

Paul really lets the Galatian community have it. Apparently, their behavior had slipped pretty low!  Paul’s list of things to be avoided contains some shocking stuff, like orgies, bursts of fury, and drinking bouts. Sounds bad! A lot worse, I hope, than any list he might make about us if he were writing now. I wonder?

Lk 11_42 spices

In our Gospel, Jesus let’s loose on some of the Pharisees too. He points out that they practice the tiniest, visible observances so that people see them as holy. But they ignore the more important requirements of love, justice and mercy. In other words, they look good but don’t do good.

As we pray with these readings, we could try to address the small hypocrisies in our own lives – a kind of “weed the garden” approach. Surely it would help our spiritual life to get rid of anything like orgies, fury and drunkenness. But I think most of us, dear readers, are pretty much beyond that. 🙏

I prefer to take my cues from Paul’s accompanying list of virtues to be pursued: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. How obvious are these things in my life? When I lie my head on the pillow at night, are these the things I remember about my day? Have I given these gifts to others? Have I received them with gratitude?

As we read about the tithes of mint, rue and other garden herbs, the cooks among us might like to imagine life as a great bouillabaisse, perfectly seasoned for God with all the spices on Paul’s menu. What little herb do you need to add right now?

Music: The Fruits of the Spirit ~ Selah