Failure Is An Option!

Memorial of Saint Dominic, Priest

August 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, on this Memorial of St. Domenic, our first reading gives us a lesson in failure. It is a situation we all face in life. If you haven’t, then you aren’t trying hard enough.

Numbers20_13_Failure

In our reading today, even the great Moses fails. But, you might ask, hasn’t he failed a number of times already? The smashed commandments, the golden calf, the complaints about manna? These were all human frustrations and inadequacies Moses would not have chosen.

Today’s failure is different. It is a failure in leadership. Any leadership role we hold, we hold in the name of God. We are parents, employers, teachers, pastors, religious leaders, supervisors, captains, managers…and so on. The cloak of responsibility covers each one of us at various times in our lives. Wearing it, we put on God’s trust in us to honor Him and those he has given us.

Dore_Rock
Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb, engraving by Gustave Doré from “La Sainte Bible”

When Moses and Aaron asked God to give the people water, God said, 

Take your staff and assemble the community,
you and your brother Aaron,
and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters.
From the rock you shall bring forth water for the congregation
and their livestock to drink.

Moses, caught in his own frustrations, did as God said but not before castigating the community and striking the rock twice.

So what?, you might say. 

Here’s the “What”. These acts betray Moses’ failure to trust God and to give God honor before the community. Perhaps unwittingly, Moses made it look like he was the one who summoned the water.

This reading calls us to always give God the glory. We are never really in charge of anything. We just do our best to make a path for life, goodness, love and wholeness.

If, through a leadership role, we are called to assist God in re-creating the world, let us do it with exquisite humility, trust, reverence, intentionality and praise.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad

Who Do You See in the Mirror?

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings focus on “vanity” – its threats and remedies.

Often, we think of vanity as a physical emotion – that Narcissistic self-absorption that keeps us in front of a mirror for inordinate amounts of time. Our culture promotes this kind of vanity by working endlessly to convince us that without certain products we are “not enough” on our own. 

mirror statue

Historically, this kind of rhetoric was directed primarily toward women, spawning a nearly $500 billion global cosmetic market! But men are catching up! The men’s market is forecasted to reach nearly $30 billion by 2023.

Several years ago, while flying home from a business trip, I was seated across from two young women. As we approached home, the one nearest me, began to prepare for landing. She initiated an elaborate cosmetic ritual that involved no fewer than ten brushes plus an array of tubes and compacts. At first, it struck me really funny. Then I realized how very sad it was.

This maturing child was no more than eighteen. She was naturally beautiful with the vigor of youth. But she had obviously spent a lot of money and time not believing in her natural beauty.

Society considers vanity as a kind of pride and pomposity. I think just the opposite. I think vanity is really fear, self-dissatisfaction, anxiety and pain because something has convinced us that we are inadequate.

Vanity damages souls as well as bodies. It makes us behave in greedy, self-absorbed and careless ways toward our neighbors. It makes us pretend we are more than we think we are. It saps us of the strength to be generous, trusting and hopeful.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, tells us to get over this kind of vanity:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,

since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator. 

Col3_10 new image

What if that sweet girl on Flight 419 had been able to look in her mirror and see the image of her Creator? What if we could all do that? How might we spend our time and money differently if we were convinced of how beautiful we are to God?

Music: How Could Anyone Ever Tell You – Shaina Nell

I have added two versions of this beautiful song. Let God sing it to you in your prayer today.

 

 

Marking the Hours

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a few days of reading Leviticus. The reading today provides a long list of when and how the community should gather to worship. It is a lexicon on how to honor the sacred presence in their lives. Such honoring includes aspects of celebration, decoration, sharing, remembering and hoping together.

Lv23_37 hoursJPG

While the particular enjoinments detailed in Leviticus might not pertain to us, their spirit does. It is a spirit that encourages us to cherish the gift of time – moments, days, years – as precious opportunities to encounter God.

Down through the ages, people seeking holiness have used various, ritualized practices to remember and honor God’s omnipresence in their lives. They include morning and nighttime prayers, Grace before Meals, the Blessing of the Hour, the Angelus at noontime, the great liturgical practices of Advent and Lent, and the Divine Office. Each of these spiritual practices helps us to be more intentional about the true meaning and purpose of our daily life. 

Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictan monastic, has published a beautiful book to help people mark the hours of their day. She says this in Seven Sacred Pauses:


When I speak of “the hours” I am referring to those times of the day that the earth’s turning offers us: midnight, dawn, midmorning, noon, midafternoon, evening, and night. Although every hour is sacred, these special times have been hallowed by centuries of devotion and prayer…..

The daily and nightly dance of the hours is a universal way of honoring the earth’s turning as well as the sacred mysteries that flow out of our Christian heritage.


I think this is exactly what our Leviticus passage is doing as well. Our time is so precious and it flows so quickly! What a tragedy if we fail to stop and realize that it is the holy river on which we are meant to float to God!

robson-hatsukami-morgan-454S_xB0ReA-unsplash
Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash

Music: Teach Us to Number Our Days – Marty Goetz

Dwelling Place for God

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we finish our several weeks’ journey through Exodus. Like all great books, this one closes with a powerful final chapter – one that assures us that the story has not ended.

Have you ever read a book that you wish would never end? Of course, they all do – but bits of some live in us forever.

fav books

With sacred scripture, the Living Word remains with us by inspiring us to live out its spirit in our lives. That Holy Word bonds with the Spirit already dwelling within us through our Creation and Baptism.

Psalm 84_Ark

For the Exodus community, this Indwelling was given visible expression in the tabernacle Moses built. God chose to fill that tabernacle with Abiding Presence.

Each one of us, and every human being, is a dwelling place of God’s love and hope for us. We are tabernacles of God’s Spirit, breathed into us in an act of divine desire for us to be God’s eternal beloved.

Pretty overwhelming, isn’t it! 

So much so that, just as for the Israelites, our vision of God’s Presence is often clouded by the frenzy of our lives. It is only when we still our souls in worship that we recognize God living with and within us!

Music: This Alone – Tim Manion, SJ ( Photos are The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel / Normandy, in the Manche department in France.)

Radical Joy

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Ignatius
by Francisco de Zubarán (1598–1664)

July 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Exodus tells us:

Exodus34_29 Radiant

Obviously, I haven’t met Moses personally. 😂 But I have met many wonderful human beings who have reflected a similar radiance.

It is a mirrored glory that comes from friendship with God. 

It glows in the innocence of children and the layered wisdom of the elderly. It blazes in those seeking social justice and in those silently, unwaveringly praying for it. It lights the hope of the living and the dying. It is that mysterious, unquenchable candle shining in both joy and sorrow. Its other holy names are Faith, Hope and Love.

 No one need tell us. We know when we are in the presence of such Light. It needs no words.

Rumi radiant

Today, let’s pray for the blessing of this Radiance all over our shadowed world. Let’s pray for it to shine within us.

Music: Radiant God – Hannah Ford

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