Whenever I Call You “Friend”

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter 

May 24, 2019

Click here or readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Anonymous in God

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter 

May 14, 2019

Click here for readings

Matthias

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Matthias, the one chosen by lot to take the place of Judas among the Twelve.

Matthias met the conditions for being an “Apostle” because he

… accompanied (the Apostles) the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,

beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us …

But there was another, upon whom the lot did not fall, who also met these conditions- Joseph Barsabbas Justus. This man was important enough to Luke, the writer of Acts, that his name is precisely recorded in history. But his name is all that we know of him. What he subsequently did for the spread of the Gospel remains folded in history’s shadows.

There are so many souls, down through these same shadows, who love and spread the Gospel but who remain relatively “anonymous in God”. I think of one such woman today, on what was once her Feastday.

Sister Mary Matthias Duggan was born in 1869 in the Irish Free State. She came to the United States in 1897. She joined the Sisters of Mercy as a lay sister, women who lacked the formal education to be teachers. Sister Matthias, and many others like her, cared for the household needs of the teaching sisters and resident students.

When I met Sister Matthias, she was in her nineties and lived on our infirmary wing. The trek from that wing to our Motherhouse chapel, though a skip and a jump for us novices, was a long journey on her cane for Sister Matthias. She carried ninety years of heavy work on her aged bones.

When any of us “youngsters” would come upon Sister Matthias or her peers on their chapel journey, we would offer an arm in accompaniment. Sister Matthias would give a lightly brogued “Thank you”, then begin a series of audible prayers for the accompanying novice. She always said, “These prayers are for your final perseverance.”

We will never know the blessed influence Joseph Barsabbas Justus had on the early Church. If it was anything near the Holy Gift that Sister Matthias quietly gave, then he too is a saint like she is.

Sister Mary Matthias Duggan, and all you Holy Women of Mercy, please continue to pray for us.

Music: For All the Saints

Law or Love?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings bring to mind the role of religion in our spiritual life.

take up mat 2

The dictionary defines religion as a particular system of faith and worship. The origin of the word “religion” is from the Latin “religare”: to bind.

In the magnificent passage from Ezekiel, we are given a metaphorical description of grace flowing from the Temple, the locus of faith for Israel. Ezekiel is led by a radiant vision to this source of abundant life symbolized by water. Slowly and incrementally, this abundance deepens for Ezekiel, until he is swimming in its grace. 

Ezekiel’s vision demonstrates what happens in us when religion, ritual and law enhance grace. The beauty, power and architectural symmetry of the Temple symbolize the great benefits of religious practice.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, shows us a Pharisaical religion built on empty practice and bereft of heart. When Jesus cures on the Sabbath, he moves beyond these skeletal boundaries to mercy, which is the reason for all religious practices.

take up mat
Jesus Cures on the Sabbath

Jesus shows us that when religion – and its ensuing ritual and law – bind grace, it needs to be set aside. His whole life was predicated on a faith which generated mercy, not sacrifice. The alleviation of suffering and need always supersede observance – even on the Sabbath.

When we see any so-called faith or religion which places law over mercy, we see an empty temple where the river of grace has run dry. Our culture is filled with fake holiness that measures, condemns and ostracizes others. We see religion distorted into political bullying. We see it redefined as an excuse for excessive wealth. We even see it used as legitimization for nationalism, violence, racism, and war.

Today’s readings tell us to be on guard. The forces which twist religion are very subtle and pervasive in our culture. They dress themselves in impressive words and practices, just like the Pharisees did, but their costumes hide an ugly hate and fear.

To the fearful and weak, these forces preach power – but it is a power over not for others.

Jesus has shown us what faithful practice looks like: mercy and love. It is vulnerable, courageous, inclusive, and humble. It sees the suffering of others and responds. It waters the Temple of our hearts to make them verdant with hope, joy and generosity.

Music: Come to the Water – John Foley, SJ and Matt Maher

God’s Loving Promises

Friday, March 29, 2019

Click here for readings.

Hosea14

Today, in Mercy, Hosea, the composer of passionate love songs, tells us this:

I will heal your weaknesses, says the LORD,
I will love you freely;
for my wrath is turned away.
I will be like the dew for you:
you shall blossom like the lily;
You shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth your shoots.
Your splendor shall be like the olive tree
and your fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again you shall dwell in the shade
and raise grain;
You shall blossom like the vine,
and your fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

The passage sings of new life, strength, vigor – the hope of Easter! Today as we pray, what withering branches in our lives do we wish to place in the warmth of this promise?

Mc 12,28-34 e
You are not far from the kingdom of God

In our Gospel, the good scribe asks for Jesus’s confirmation that he is on the right track to holiness. Jesus blesses him by saying:

You are not far from the kingdom of God

God is so good to us. Let us ask God’s generous help as we seek to grow in holiness, goodness and peace this Lent, so that we may be blessed by the same promises.

Music: Good to Me – Audrey Assad 

It’s the Law … hmmm!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about “law”.

law,JPG

  • Deuteronomy talks about the Law of Moses as he received it from God.
  • Psalm 147 talks about God’s law as it is expressed in nature and human understanding.
  • In Matthew, Jesus talks about his New Law as a development, not a contradiction, of the Old Law.

All this talk of “law” seems coincidental, doesn’t it, in these days after the Mueller report and what is within, above and beyond “the law”. So many definitions and concepts of “law”!

So, as we pray these scriptures, we might ask ourselves, “What exactly is “law”, especially in terms of my spiritual life and development?”

St. Thomas Aquinas may be a good place to start. Here are his definitions, simplified:

oh boy

  • Eternal Law = God’s will and guidance which orders all creatures toward the good of the universe.
  • Natural Law = our self-ordering, by reason, toward this universal good.
  • Human Law = particular statutes instituted in accord with human reason for the good of civil society.
  • Divine Law = the revealed law of God as found in Scripture

Praying with these concepts is different from studying them.

If we pray with the concept of eternal law, we might offer praise for God’s unchanging Presence in our lives, assuring us that we are eternally loved.

If we pray with the concept of natural law, we might say of a prayer of supplication for the grace to be attuned to God in all our natural thoughts, words and actions.

If we pray with the concept of human law, we might pray in contrition for all the ways we humans mistake law for justice.

If we pray with the concept of divine law, we might offer thanks for God’s generous revelation which allows us to contemplate and grow in relationship with God.

We want our understanding and living of law to be rooted in the heart of God, according to these verse from John 6:

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

Let’s pray for that rootedness today.

Music: I Will Delight in the Law of the Lord – Maranatha

To See As God Sees

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings describe God’s lavish mercy and the expectation for our reciprocity.

love one another

The passage from the Book of Daniel, written in lilting prose, quotes the prayer of Azariah. It gives us several phrases to savor in our own prayer, depending on the particular disposition of our heart on any given day:

To whom you promised …. like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea.
What has God promised you to give you hope in your life? Can you call on those promises today in your prayer?

For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation…
Are you feeling sad, disconnected, humiliated or depressed? Can you give these feelings to God and open your heart to healing?

We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
Do you ever feel abandoned by the institutions we all once depended on, whether Church, government, law etc.? Can we pray for the courage to depend only on God in all things?

Now we follow you with our whole heart…
Have our life circumstances brought us to the point of placing ourselves totally in God’s care? Can we pray with that peaceful and holy abandonment?

Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.Can our prayer be one of giving glory to God for all the blessings in our lives?

God has been so good to us! Our Gospel enjoins us to be reciprocally good to others.

Music: Give Me Your Eyes – An interesting song by rock singer Brian Heath. As his plane is landing one night, he receives a grace to pray for new eyes — eyes that see and love  all humanity as God does.

Let the Light In

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Click here for readings.

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.

3_9mirror

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

Click here for readings.

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:

3_8mirror

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