Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, that moment in time when Christ entered into his ministry, announced by the thundering voice of Divine Infinity.
Maybe you’re not like me in this, but I must confess to sometimes letting the scriptures become very ordinary and pedantic. These passages have been read at me in church, sometimes well, often poorly, for seven decades. They have been plastered on billboards, bumper stickers and Church marquees for just as long. All that mundane exposure has demystified some of the most amazing words ever written.
But just think about what today’s Gospel describes.
Think about the greatest prophet of both the Old and New Testament standing waist-deep in the Jordan, eyes locked on Christ.
Think about Jesus, perfectly communed with the Father, walking slowly past the bird-filled trees and bushes to a moment that had been waiting for Him since all eternity. Did not those works of the Creator’s hands sing in worship as he passed?
Think about the pulsing sky already filled with the Creator’s waiting breath, ready to burst with the proclamation of the Son – this Son who said “Yes” to the greatest act of love in history!
For a few moments this morning, let yourself be there. Be filled with nature’s orchestra. Be filled with the pulsing colors of God’s astonishing revelation. Be filled with the Baptist’s profound reverence. Be filled with Christ’s omnipotent freedom and joy.
Let us enter with gratitude and celebration into the Baptism of Jesus!
Poetry: Jesus’ Baptism – Malcolm Guite
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one; The river runs, the clouds are torn apart, The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son Reveal to us the single loving heart That beats behind the being of all things And calls and keeps and kindles us to light. The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings ‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills And streams around the Man like quickening rain, The voice that made the universe reveals The God in Man who makes it new again. He calls us too, to step into that river To die and rise and live and love forever.
Music: Jesus the Lord – Roc O’Connor
Refrain: Jesus, Jesus Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord.
In Him we live, we move and have our being; In Him the Christ, In Him the King! Jesus the Lord.
Though Son, He did not cling to Godliness, But emptied Himself, became a slave! Jesus the Lord.
He lived obediently His Father’s will Accepting His death, death on a cross! Jesus the Lord!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate John, “the Beloved Disciple”.
Throughout John’s magnificent writings, the themes of Love and Light stretch our perception of God, and challenge us to love like God loves.
John’s deep love of God, and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, pour out in his epistles which we will be blessed with over the next several weeks.
Sometimes John’s poetic style can be a little off-setting to those more comfortable with practical prose. But if we can allow our minds to savor the rich layers of meaning within the words, we will start to experience the lyrical mystery of John’s relationship with God.
On these holy days, while we still bask in Christmas glory, we might ask in prayer to be deepened in our friendship with God. We might imagine ourselves resting our head on Jesus’s shoulder, just as John did at the Last Supper. We might listen there for the holy secrets God wants to whisper into our lives.
Poetry: To Imagination – Emily Brontë. Brontë wrote this poem to imagination, but I think it could easily be addressed to the Spirit of God in our souls.
When weary with the long day’s care, And earthly change from pain to pain, And lost and ready to despair, Thy kind voice calls me back again: Oh, my true friend! I am not lone, While thou canst speak with such a tone!
So hopeless is the world without; The world within I doubly prize; Thy world, where guile, and hate, and doubt, And cold suspicion never rise; Where thou, and I, and Liberty, Have undisputed sovereignty.
What matters it, that, all around, Danger, and guilt, and darkness lie, If but within our bosom’s bound We hold a bright, untroubled sky Warm with ten thousand mingled rays Of suns that know no winter days?
Reason, indeed, may oft complain For Nature’s sad reality, And tell the suffering heart, how vain Its cherished dreams must always be; And Truth may rudely trample down The flowers of Fancy, newly-blown:
But, thou art ever there, to bring The hovering vision back, and breathe New glories o’er the blighted spring, And call a lovelier Life from Death, And whisper, with a voice divine, Of real worlds, as bright as thine.
I trust not to thy phantom bliss, Yet, still, in evening’s quiet hour, With never-failing thankfulness, I welcome thee, Benignant Power; Sure solacer of human cares, And sweeter hope, when hope despairs!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a passage from Chronicles as our Responsorial Psalm:
Yours, O LORD, are grandeur and power, majesty, splendor, and glory. For all in heaven and on earth is yours.
1 Chronicles 29:11
This passage inclines us to worship God whose “temple” is all of Creation.
Both readings today speak about the “Temple”. After the victory of Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish people restore their physical Temple with exuberant celebration, recognizing it as a symbol of God’s Presence with them.
In today’s Gospel. Jesus also “restores” the Temple by driving out the merchants who have diverted the Temple’s purpose as representative of God’s Presence.
Our bodies too are temples of the Holy Spirit. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians tells us:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
1 Corinthians 6:19
Through our Baptism into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are called to be transformed by this Indwelling. As in any relationship, this transformation is accomplished through transparency, communication, listening and acting on behalf of the Beloved.
Poetry: Go Not to the Temple – Tagore
Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God, First fill your own house with the Fragrance of love…
Go not to the temple to light candles before the altar of God, First remove the darkness of sin from your heart…
Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer, First learn to bow in humility before your fellowmen…
Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees, First bend down to lift someone who is down-trodden. ..
Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins, First forgive from your heart those who have sinned against you.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19. Today’s beautiful verses alert us to the magnificence of the Heavens as a testament to God’s Glory:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge.
Psalm 19: 2-3
We might picture the psalmist, perhaps burdened, confused, or exhausted by the exigencies of daily life, walking outside under an October sky such as the ones we are given this time of year. The walk may have happened in a crystal blue Noon, or late under a black canopy sprayed with October’s meteor showers.
Whatever the hour, that ancient psalmist’s heart is stilled in nature’s constant, silent yet resounding adoration of our Creator:
Not a word nor a discourse whose voice is not heard; Through all the earth their voice resounds, and to the ends of the world, their message.
Psalm 19: 4-5
Psalm 19, after today’s introductory stanzas, compares nature’s elegant and eternal balance to the perfection of God’s Law…
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.
On this Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, the Church uses Psalm 19 to describe the work of an Apostle. Like the heavens whose beauty and constancy declare God’s glory, the Apostle lives and preaches that Divine Elegance – that Law of Love perfected in Jesus Christ.
Paul, in our first reading from Ephesians, says that these Apostles lay the foundation for all of us to become – like Sacred Creation – “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Our Gospel recounts the calling of the first twelve of these “foundation builders”. But the call continues eternally. It comes to each of us.
Under the constant sun and other stars, that call to witness and declare God’s glory summons us to live a life that sings:
We praise you, O God, we acclaim you as Lord; with the glorious company of Apostles, we praise you.
Today’s Alleluia Verse taken from the Te Deum
Poetry: Pied Beauty- Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
October 20, 2021 Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 124, a dramatic psalm stretched between early desperation and ultimate freedom.
In the psalmist’s prayer, Israel is called to realize that it has narrowly escaped from a mortal danger, never specified, but only alluded to in phrases such as:
would have swallowed us alive
fury was inflamed against us
waters have overwhelmed us
torrent swept over us
swept over by the raging waters
not leave us a prey to their teeth
This is some serious trouble! And because of this blessed escape, the community is called to a life of freely given service and praise.
In our readings, Paul and Jesus both instruct and challenge their listeners and us to a similar response for all the graces we have received – especially being rescued from sin in the life-saving waters of Baptism.
Paul wants us to understand that, through our Baptism, we are living in a whole new power for goodness and grace. The world may look the same as it did before we belonged to Christ, but it isn’t.
To use a phrase from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
If we see with the new eyes of grace, we will be able to respond to Jesus’s challenge:
Stay awake! For you do not know when the Son of Man will come.
Stay awake. See the world and life as they truly are – places where God awaits us in every moment. This is the amazing power we have received through our Baptism!
So let’s open our hearts to listen lovingly to the sound of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That freed and obedient heart is precious to God, and is the catalyst to a transformed life!
Poetry: Song for Autumn – Mary Oliver
In the deep fall don’t you imagine the leaves think how comfortable it will be to touch the earth instead of the nothingness of air and the endless freshets of wind? And don’t you think the trees themselves, especially those with mossy, warm caves, begin to think of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep inside their bodies? And don’t you hear the goldenrod whispering goodbye, the everlasting being crowned with the first tuffets of snow? The pond vanishes, and the white field over which the fox runs so quickly brings out its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its bellows. And at evening especially, the piled firewood shifts a little, longing to be on its way.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our reading from the Book of Numbers reveals a very human moment between Joshua and Moses.
Moses is getting older. He realizes that the time is approaching for him to hand over the leadership of his people. God seems to realize that too.
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.
Joshua, ever since his youth, has been aide to Moses. Moses is his hero – the one, who having spoken with God, led the People out of Egypt. Now Joshua sees other ordinary guys assuming some of Moses’s roles. Joshua feels his own security and comfort shifting beneath him – hints of a spiritual earthquake.
An outraged Joshua alerts Moses, begging him to stop these supposed imposters. But Moses assures Joshua with words no hero-worshipper ever wants to hear:
Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!
What a powerful question Moses poses. It searches Joshua’s heart:
Are you jealous for my sake?
Are you fearful, biased, closed-hearted, and self-protective because you fear that you and I will lose position and power?
Surely Moses senses Joshua emerging as the next leader of Israel — even though Joshua might not share that awareness yet. Moses wants him to see that it is the Spirit of God Who leads the People through any human means She wishes.
When we presume to control the Spirit, or think to invest Her power only in our own particular “heroes”, we close ourselves to the amazing, surprising power of God. This Divine Power cannot be controlled and, like wildflowers through concrete, will bloom where She chooses.
We see the fruits of such presumption all over our histories: the falsely assumed superiority of men over women, whiteness over color, wealth over labor, or any form of dominance over mutuality. These assumptions become concretized in our culture, hardening us to the movements of the Spirit.
If we have any hold on privilege in our lives, we might be inclined to profit by these assumptions. It is just such an inclination that Moses nips in Joshua in this powerful exchange between revered teacher and apprentice.
The story offers us much to consider in prayer.
Music: An oldie, but goodie. Always brings me a deep peace. I hope it does the same for you, dear reader. Come Holy Ghost – The Singing Nuns
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 111. Prayed in tandem with our first reading from 1 Timothy, the psalm directs our hearts to an awareness of the gifts we have received in faith.
We are all “gifted” by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes if someone tells us that we’re “gifted”, they are really referring to special talents we may have developed – like art, music, dance, writing etc.
But the gifts our readings highlight are those which are rooted in the Holy Spirit, and we receive them through our Baptism and Confirmation.
Paul tells Timothy not to neglect these gifts. And the psalmist suggests that the first step in such care is the practice of awe, wisdom and prudence.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who live by it. His praise endures forever.
We can’t just practice these gifts for an hour or two as we might practice piano!
The prophet Isaiah was the first to list the Gifts of the Holy Spirit when he described the coming Messiah:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
We are baptized in the image of Christ. These same gifts flow, in a waterfall of grace, into our spirits. May we receive and respond!
Poetry: God’s Grandeur – Gerard Manel Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
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.