Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, one of the most profound mysteries of our faith.
The first reading shows us that human beings have been trying to understand this Mystery ever since the time of Moses!
The readings from both Romans and Matthew describe the power of God’s triune love in those who believe. But none of the readings really explain the Holy Trinity.
And that’s the whole point. “Mystery” cannot be explained. We fumble around with human words in an attempt to capture a reality beyond words, beyond analysis – but not beyond faith. Mystery can only be encountered in humble and undemanding faith.
Today, as Christians, we profess our belief in a God Who is incomprehensible Infinite Love creating, redeeming and sanctifying all Creation.
This Infinite Love is so pure and complete that, within its Unity, it both embraces and frees the three Persons of the Trinity.
Pope Francis has said, “The Christian community, though with all its human limitations, can become a reflection of the communion of the Trinity, of its goodness and beauty.”
Our prayer today is to grow in our capacity to love in imitation of the Trinity. May we, as individuals and as a Church, increase in that merciful inclusivity and wholeness which reflect the triune love of God, at once embracing and freeing all that we love.
Poetry: TO LIVE WITH THE SPIRIT – Jessica Powers
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener. It is to keep the vigil of mystery, earthless and still. One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit, strange as the wind’s will.
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love. It may lament like Job or Jeremiah, echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove. It may rejoice in spaciousness of meadow that emulates the freedom of the sky.
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing; it has cast down forever from its hand the compass of the whither and the why.
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover. It is becoming love, and like to Him toward Whom we strain with metaphors of creatures: fire-sweep and water-rush and the wind’s whim. The soul is all activity, all silence; and though it surges Godward to its goal, it holds, as moving earth holds sleeping noonday, the peace that is the listening of the soul.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87, allowing it to focus us on Mary, the Mother of Christ and thus of the Church.
With her “Yes”, Mary engaged the Spirit of God and, like the ancient Holy City, became a dwelling place of Grace.
Glorious things are said of you, O city of God! And of Zion they shall say: “One and all were born in her; And the One who has established her is the Most High LORD.”
In her book “Truly Our Sister”, theologian Elizabeth Johnson helps us to understand Mary as a companion, guide, and inspiration:
One fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.
As I pray with Mary today, I picture her sitting with the young disciples after the mind-blowing experience of Pentecost. The whiff of Divine Electricity still pervades the room, still jars their senses to an indescribable timbre!
Mary is stilled with a silent understanding. From the abundance of her wisdom, gained in her daily presence with Jesus, Mary gently focuses, calms and directs these new evangelists for the task before them.
Mary is someone who has had her own “visitation by the Spirit”, many years before. Pentecost, for Mary, is a kind of “second Annunciation “. She knows what the willing reception of the Spirit will mean for one’s life.
Indeed, this moment – and their response, like hers so long ago – will bear God’s life into their world.
We call on Mary today, as Church and as individuals, to be with us as we are re-fired in the Holy Spirit. As we reflect on her and the way she opened her life to God, may we grow in faith and desire to open our own lives to the Spirit’s transformative power.
Elizabeth Johnson encourages us:
“to relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope in the company of all the graced women and men who have gone before us; to be encouraged by her mothering of God to bring God to birth in our own world; to reclaim the power of her dangerous memory for the flourishing of suffering people; and to draw on the energy of her memory for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the world.”
Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, almost always a lectern, a book; always the tall lily. Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited.
She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending. More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept like any other child–but unlike others, wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumph. Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power– in narrow flesh, the sum of light.
Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love–
but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed, Spirit, suspended, waiting. ____________________
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’ Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’ She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced. Bravest of all humans, consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it, and the iridescent wings. Consent, courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.
Music: Vespro Della Beata Vergine – Claudio Monteverdi
From the baroque period, Monteverdi praises Mary in his masterpiece, Vespro Della Beata Vergine commonly referred to as Vespers of 1610. The work is monumental in scale and difficult to perform, requiring two large choirs who are skillful enough to cover up to 10 voice parts accompanied by an orchestral ensemble. Here is just an excerpt.
Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: lauda Deum tuum, Sion. Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: benedixit filiis tuis in te. Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: et adipe frumenti satiat te. Qui emittit eloquium suum terræ: velociter currit sermo ejus. Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: nebulam sicut cinerem spargit. Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit? Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ. Qui annunciate verbum suum Jacob: justitias et judicia sua Isræl. Non fecit taliter omni nationi: et judicia sua non manifestavit eis. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest wheat. He sendeth his commandment to the earth; his word runneth swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth hoar frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels; before his cold who can stand? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them; his spirit blows, and the waters flow. He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgements to Isræl. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and his judgments he hath not made manifest. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, without end. Amen.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 104 – a fitting prayer for this glorious Feast of Pentecost.
Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
It is a bold prayer, an extravagant request. It asks for everything – a Fire of Love so complete that the whole earth is remade in its Divine Power.
It is a prayer based in mutual invitation as, in the Sequence, we invite the Holy Spirit to renew us:
Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home Shed a ray of light divine!
And, as in any true relationship, the Spirit invites us too – to open our hearts to the infinite grace of this feast. The Book of Revelation describes this reciprocity in this profound passage:
“ I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22: 16-17
Today, on the Birthday of the Church, we pray not only for our own soul’s kindling, but for the whole People of God. May the Grace of Pentecost ignite a new fire of charity over all the earth. May that fire clear the way for the Spirit’s gifts to flower, for Her fruits to blossom, for Her power to surprise us as it bursts forth in our hearts!
Poetry: The Golden Sequence
Veni Sancte Spiritus, sometimes called the Golden Sequence, is a sequence prescribed in the Roman Liturgy for the Masses of Pentecost and its octave. It is usually attributed to either the thirteenth-century Pope Innocent III or to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Stephen Langton, although it has been attributed to others as well.
“Veni Sancte Spiritus” is one of only four medieval Sequences which were preserved in the Roman Missal published in 1570 following the Council of Trent (1545–63).
The other three occasions when we hear these beautiful ancient hymns are Easter Sunday (“Victimae Paschali Laudes”), Corpus Christi (“Lauda Sion Salvatorem”) and Our Lady of Sorrows (“Stabat Mater Dolorosa”). On Easter Sunday and Pentecost, the sequence must be sung, whereas on Corpus Christi and Our Lady of Sorrows, the sequence is optional.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103 which, set between our two readings, reminds us that the Ascension has occurred and that:
The Lord has established a throne in heaven.
Therefore, we are in a New Creation and thus invoke one of the most beautiful Creation psalms.
Psalm 103 invites us to stand at the edge of First Creation as it breathes in the spirit of God. With the angels and all the intricate works of the Lord, we inhale Divinity. We quicken with the “ruach” of God, (Hebrew for “breath”.)
What we read in our translations of the Bible as “spirit”, “wind” or “breath” are translated from one Hebrew word, ruach. Walter Brueggemann says; “The Bible struggles to find adequate vocabulary to speak about and name this unutterable, irresistible, undomesticated force that surges into history to liberate, heal, remake, and transform. We are left with this code term, ruach, to speak about what we know but cannot say.” Ruach is the wind that parted the waters and created dry land, it is the very breath that God breathed into humans in our creation, it was this spirit that parted the seas and allowed the people to escape from slavery in Egypt, it is the same spirit that Jesus claims and empowers the early church in Acts. This ruach is active throughout our sacred stories.
As we approach the feast of the great Inspiration of the Spirit, let us bless and praise our God for outpouring every form of infinite life upon us. May our humble prayer make room in us for ever deeper grace.
With all Creation, let us prepare our hearts to welcome the illuminating fire of the Spirit’s gifts and fruits to be renewed in us this Pentecost:
Bless the Lord, you angels, you mighty ones who do the bidding of God, and hearken to the voice of the word of the Lord.
Bless the Lord, all you hosts, you ministers who do the will of God.
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, in all places of the dominion of the Lord; bless the Lord, O my soul.
Psalm 103: 20-22
Poetry: Breathe on me, Breath of God – Edwin Hatch (1835-1889)
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 148, one of the “Laudate Psalms”.
The Laudate Psalms are the psalms numbered 148, 149, and 150, traditionally sung all together as one psalm in the canonical hours, most particularly the hour of Lauds, also called “Morning Prayer”, which derives its name from these psalms.
I’ve always loved the morning with its radiant possibility spilling over the horizon. Morning comes like a rainbow pantone, speaking not only to the weather outside but within our own spirits.
Praise the name of the LORD, for this name alone is exalted; The Lord’s majesty is above earth and heaven.
Psalm 148: 13
Waking each morning, I wait for the day to speak to me. It finds itself in the sun or clouds, the warmth or cold. And then it finds me in whatever weather my heart might rest.
Prayer begins after that discovery, inviting the transforming and comforting power of God into whatever the day offers. Essentially, it is always a prayer of thanksgiving that I am alive and given another day to, by the power of God’s grace, know and be Love in the world:
Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise God in the heights. Praise God, all you angels; praise God, all you hosts.
Psalm 138: 1-2
As we wait for the Holy Spirit on the great feast of Pentecost, let us trust Jesus’s Gospel words in today’s Gospel. Let us find each morning, and each day, full of promise!
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when the Spirit comes, the Spirit of truth, you will be guided to all truth.
Poetry: Morning Poem – Mary Oliver
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches–
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead–
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging–
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted–
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with the beautiful words of Psalm 34:
I will bless the LORD at all times; praise shall be ever in my mouth. Taste and see how good the LORD is; blessed the one who takes refuge in the Lord.
Today’s verses offer us this tender image of God’s lavish mercy:
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit God saves. Many are the troubles of the just one, but out of them all the LORD delivers us.
Psalm 34: 19-20
And John’s Gospel today affirms God’s extravagant tenderness toward us:
May we just rest in these images letting the Lord cradle our heartbreaks and those of our suffering world.
Poetry: The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I –William Shakespeare
The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 'T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown: His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 105 celebrating God’s covenanted faithfulness to us.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke God’s name; make known among the nations God’s deeds. Sing, sing God’s praise, proclaim all God’s wondrous deeds. (because…) The Lord remembers the covenant for ever.
Psalm 105: 1-2, 8
We certainly can spend some time in prayer today remembering God’s faithfulness to us personally. A grateful review of our life journey can always offer new insights into God’s love and generosity.
But more specifically, our psalm calls us to plumb the two readings which it connects.
Hebrews reminds us that God’s love is so extreme that God took Flesh in Jesus to teach us, in terms we could understand, the degree of God’s love.
In Mark, we see the early expression of that love, as Jesus reveals his healing power to the wretchedly suffering crowds.
In these readings, we learn that God’s promise endures to each generation:
God remembers the covenant forever which was made binding for a thousand generations– Which was entered into with Abraham and by God’s oath to Isaac.
Psalm 105: 8
In Chronos Time, this enduring covenant was enfleshed in Jesus. It continues in Kairos Time through each person’s Baptism into Christ through the Holy Spirit.
In his letter to Titus, Paul puts this clearly:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, we were saved not because of righteous things we had done, but because of God’s mercy. God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by God’s grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3: 4-7
May the message of these readings free us, inspire us, and impel us to a grace-filled response.
Poetry: Grace by Jill Peláez Baumgartner
Is it the transparency
and lift of air?
Is it release
as when the pebble
flings out of the slingshot
or the tethered dog
suddenly is without lead?
Or is it more like standing
on a dark beach
the surf loud
with its own revolution,
the horizon invisible,
the entire world the threat
of rushing water?
No one who swims
at night in the ocean
embracing armfuls of water
against the ballast
of the waves’ fight.
toward the shore lights
or out into the vast bed
of the sea's white fires?
Music: Confitemini Domino – Psalm 105 – Orlando di Lasso (first published in 1562)
January 10, 2021 We celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Christmas season, which celebrates the revelation of God through Christ, closes with this liturgy. Jesus’ Baptism begins his public ministry.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 29 in which the psalmist invites the pray-ers to find the power of God in the storm.
One can picture a small group huddled onshore as thunder ripples across the sea. The psalmist says not to focus on the storm itself, but:
to see the Power Who creates it
to find more than meteorological meaning in the experience
to be soaked not only in rain, but in grace.
Give to the LORD, you children of God, give to the LORD glory and might; Give to the LORD the glory due God’s name. Bow down before the LORD’s holy splendor!
Psalm 29: 1-2
The psalmist invites the community to be sanctified by nature’s manifestation of God’s power.
As I wrote earlier this week, “This short post-Epiphany season is all about “manifestation” – how Jesus begins to show us the face of God-become-flesh.” Today’s Baptism of Jesus marks the glorious culmination of these manifestations.
I have always loved this feast. I imagine it as a moment in time when everything changes – when the Timeless Trinity steps through our human perceptions to fully reveal Itself in light, color, and sound. It is a quantum moment when, time suspended, Omnipotence speaks.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters, the LORD, over vast waters. The voice of the LORD is mighty; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
Psalm 29: 3-4
In an earlier blog, I offer a reflection on these thoughts. It contains a beautiful picture which I received the artist’s permission to share. I hope you can take time to read it again.
Our lives, too, are filled with potential manifestations of God’s power, with invitations to be bathed in God’s grace. As we pray today, let us allow our psalm to lower the barriers that keep us from hearing God’s voice in our own experiences.
Poetry: God Speaks by Rainer Marie Rilke
God speaks to each of us as God makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.
Music: “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam” BWV 684 – “Christ our Lord came to the Jordan”) is a hymn by Martin Luther written in 1541. It has been set in many musical compositions, including cantatas and chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach
Organist: Cecilia Yae-Jin Lee, Seoul Catholic Singers (On Youtube, there are several more prestigious organists playing this piece on magnificent organs. But I thought this young woman was extremely impressive rendering it on a rather simple instrument.)
Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam Nach seines Vaters Willen, Von Sanct Johann’s die Taufe nahm, Sein Werk und Amt zu ‘rfüllen. Da wollt’ er stiften uns ein Bad, Zu waschen uns von Sünden, Ersäufen auch den bittern Tod Durch sein selbst Blut und Wunden, Es galt ein neues Leben.
Christ our Lord came to the Jordan in accordance with his father’s will, he received baptism from Saint John, to fulfil his work and ministry. By this he wanted to establish for us a bath to wash us from our sins, to drown also bitter death through his own blood and wounds. This meant a new life.
Indeed, Mary herself was a song of hope to God, sung for us and for all generations. That passionate song opened her heart to receive the Word and to carry its redeeming power to each of us.
She was the greatest prophet of all time who not only proclaimed God but enfleshed him.
I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD– Who proclaims peace. Near indeed is salvation to those who fear God, glory dwelling in our land.
As we pray to Mary today, let us ask for listening hearts and hope-filled spirits. Let us ask to enflesh love and hope in our lives in imitation of her. Let us ask to believe as she did:
The LORD himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before him, and salvation, along the way of his steps.
Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, 6th century
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–
but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
opened her utterly.