How Do You Know Me?

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Saturday, August 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Apostle Bartholomew, thought by some to be the same man as our Gospel’s Nathaniel. This Nathaniel has been my prayer companion since 1964 when I received his name at my Religious Reception.

Tissot
Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree by James Tissot (1836-1902)

At first we were surface friends. I imagined what he might have been doing under the fig tree. I was a little shocked at his easy banter with Jesus. I thought about his skepticism, trying to discern how it could eventually yield his sanctity. I wondered if he ever achieved that vision of “angels of God ascending and descending ...”

But as the years passed, and I prayed beside him more often, we came to understand each other better. Nathaniel began to teach me about Jesus and, with that, Jesus began to teach me through Nathaniel.

It was all about being honest with God and opening my perspective to God’s vision.

You see, we are all under various “fig trees” at points in our lives, those small but confining perimeters of shadow which veil God. Sometimes the shadow consists of an event or experience that makes us says, “How can God possibly be in this?” Sometimes the shadow comes from all the obstacles we have placed in Light’s way. Sometimes it is simply the waning energy required by faith’s long journey.

Whatever its source, the shadow captures us in its incarcerating grasp, isolating us from the outrageous hope and possibility of God awaiting us in every circumstance.

Then a voice – our particular “Philip” – suggests we just step away from the umbra.  A person, a book, a memory, a prayerful insight – A GRACE – invites us to “Come and see” more deeply, to let go of all that we thought secured us, to yield to hope, trust, and an incredible new vision.

Jn1_51 NathanielJPG

It is an irreversible moment of unconditional love. It is the moment we make our own proclamation, not unlike Nathaniel’s:

Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.

Nathaniel’s guileless, faith-filled surrender to Jesus opens the way for his transformation. Jesus tells him, “You will see greater things…”. In other words,

God is so much bigger than you think at this moment.
Open your heart and soul to that Infinity!
Your life in Christ is all about going deeper,

(as the Angel invites us in our first reading from Revelation).

We don’t hear much about Nathaniel after that day. Like many of the other Apostles, he lived out his ministry beyond written records. But we can trust that this man “without duplicity” deepened in his honest dialogue with the God he met and embraced on that amazing Judean afternoon.

Music: Touch of Heaven- Hillsong Worship

Wherever … with Love

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I thank God that we have gotten to the Book of Ruth. The wars and subterfuges of the Judges we’re sorely testing me!😂 But the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi, familiar and beloved, offers us a more spontaneous inspiration for prayer.

Naomi’s husband and only two sons have died. Her only remaining family are her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpha. Naomi, resigning herself to a lonely death, urges these two young women to return to their kinsmen and begin new lives. Orpha acquiesces. 

Naomi RuthJPG
Ruth Swearing Allegiance to Naomi by Jans Victor (1619-1676)

But Ruth abides. Together, she and her mother-in-law return to Bethlehem, Naomi’s homeland. There, by her humble and steadfast work to support Naomi, Ruth attracts the love and admiration of Boaz, whom she eventually marries.

On the surface, and appropriately, we may read the story to be about Naomi and Ruth, their response to devastating bereavement, and their ultimate, fruitful devotion to each other.

However, on a deeper level, we may see Naomi as a symbol of suffering and need, and Ruth as an icon of God. In that manner of reading:

  • God suffers our diminishments with us
  • God refuses to abandon us 
  • God accompanies us to a new understanding of ourselves
  • God works to feed our poverty of mind, heart and spirit
  • God brings our brokenness to wholeness by loving fidelity to us

What a different kind of message from Judges the Book of Ruth brings us – a tender and merciful God more like the God of the Gospel. Although the author of the Book of Ruth is unknown, some think – because of the tone and characters – that it was written by a woman. I like that thought.

May our prayer today take us to the place where God abides with us in any suffering or spiritual longing we hold. May God’s faithful companionship heal and transform us. May God’s song of fidelity thrill, delight and sustain us. May we return it with generosity and joy.

Music: Covenant Song – Rory Cooney and Gary Daigle (Lyrics below)

Wherever you go, I will follow, Wherever you live is my home.
Though days be of blessing or sorrow, though house be of canvas or stone,
Though Eden be lost to the past, though mountains before us be vast,
Wherever you go, I am with you. I never will leave you alone.

Whatever you dream, I am with you, when stars call your name in the night
Though shadows and mist cloud the future,
together we bear there a light.
Like Abram and Sarah we stand, with only a promise in hand.
But lead where you dream: I will follow. To dream with you is my delight.

And though you should fall, you will find me, when no other friend can you claim,
when foes beat you down or betray you, and others desert you in shame.
When home and dreams aren’t enough, and you run away from my love,
I’ll raise you from where you have fallen. Faithful to you is my name.

Wherever you die, I will be there to sing you to sleep with a psalm,
to soothe you with tales our journey, your fears and your doubts I will calm.
We’ll live when journeys are done forever in mem’ry as one.
And we will be buried together, and awaken to greet a new dawn.

Wherever you go, I will follow. Behold! The horizon shines clear.
The possible gleams like a city: together we’ve nothing to fear.
So speak with words bold and true the message my heart speaks to you.
You won’t be alone, I have promised. Wherever you go, I am here.

Bearer of Hope

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 11, 2019

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Hebrews11_1 Fith_hope

Today, in Mercy, we have a few slightly complex readings. But, as with all Sunday lectionary choices, they are strung together by a single theme. 

Upon first reading, we might think that theme is FAITH since the word is mentioned at least eight times. And, indeed, “faith” is the foundation of these readings – the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Desert Jews, the disciples, and the new Christian community. 

It is the testimony of this ancient and enduring faith that encourages us to be ready, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

This phrase of Jesus reveals another, deeper, theme: courageous hope.

How awesome that God, in covenant with God’s People, could keep alive – for 400 years- the hope of salvation! How miraculous that these ordinary farmers, milkmaids, herdsman, and shepherds could sustain their hope through numerous generations!

Today’s readings are sending us this message:


Be courageous!
You are the Bearer of Hope
to this generation!


It may seem in our world, and in our individual lives, that God tarries beyond tolerance in answering our hope – for peace, civility, equality, security, goodness.  But we must remember that with God there is no time. God is already responding within the long fidelity of our hope. (Our clocks and Apple watches just are obscuring our view. 😉)

That faithful hope creates the space for charity. And charity is the human face of Divine Love already Abiding.

Faith, Hope, and Charity – the theological virtues (Remember that from your Baltimore Catechism?). 

Virtues
The Theological and Cardinal Virtues with Wisdom: Hope, Faith, Charity, Fortitude, Temperance, Liberality, Justice and Sapientia by Maarten de Vos (1532-1603)

These virtues are the foundation of the spiritual life. Contemporary theology ties these irrevocably to the virtue of justice – the seeking of right relationship in all Creation.

Anselm Min, Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, has edited a powerful book on this subject. (Unfortunately, now out print and thus hugely expensive). One reviewer of the book, Lameck Banda, Professor at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia, offers this insight into Min’s collection:

“The running thread throughout this book is that, whichever way the contemporary culture may seek to view and treat faith, hope, and love, the ultimate goal of these virtues is to radically and comprehensively address issues which tend to undermine the agenda of justice.”

That summary in itself gave me a lot to think and pray about. I hope it inspires you as well. God bless your Sunday!

Rohr

Music: Hymn of Hope from The Secret Garden by Rolf Lovland

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.)

Ask and Receive

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are connected by two often oppositional themes: BARGAINING and TRUST.

The Genesis passage is a familiar story, mainly because “Mrs. Lot” later gets turned into a pillar of salt. But the beginning of the story, today’s reading, is all about Moses bargaining with God to spare the inhabitants of sinful Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The Divine conversation is painted in very human terms, a ping-pong match of “what if”s and “OK”s between Moses and God. Moses finally bargains God down to the hope of finding just ten good men in these depraved cities. And Moses trusts God to be merciful, a trust delivered in the salvation of Lot and his family.

In the second reading from Colossians, Paul reminds us of our own deliverance through baptism and sharing in the Resurrection of Christ. This is the infinite gift in which we put our hope and trust as believers.

Our Gospel reading from Luke opens with the Our Father, the ultimate prayer of trust. Jesus goes on to tell us that we can always trust God’s care for us.

Ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;

and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus isn’t talking about magic, where we just say the word and automatically get what we imagined, or where we bargain with God as if we had something to offer. 

Lk11_12 Ask_Egg

Jesus is talking about that fundamental trust which believes in God’s faithfulness to us in all circumstances. He will not “hand us a serpent when we ask for an egg”. But it may be a very different “egg” (outcome) from the one we expected. Trust allows us to crack it open to find the unimagined grace inside.

Music: I Will Trust in You – Lauren Daigle

Promise

 

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about making and keeping promises.

Our first reading refers to Genesis and God’s promise to Abraham of land and posterity. Through his hospitality to three disguised angels, Abraham secures God’s promise to bless Sara and him with a child.

Luke8_15 promise

In today’s second reading from Colossians, Paul assures us that God has brought that promise to its full completion in the gift of Jesus Christ living in us.

…the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past
has now been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. 

In our Gospel, Jesus encourages Martha to give her attention to the presence of this promise revealed in her life. Mary sees the promise fulfilled in Jesus, the living presence of God. She gives her full heart to it. Martha, maybe like us sometimes, is preoccupied by other distractions.


Our readings invite us to rejoice in God’s promise to us
of “land” and “posterity”.

In Jesus, we are brought home to God.
In Jesus, the fruitfulness of our life is eternally secured.


We make promises to God too.

vowsAs I think about my vows today, I am so aware of the recent deaths of two of our Sisters. At all of our funerals, our vows rest near us for our wakes – a profound symbol of promises given and promises fulfilled. God bless you, Margaret and Mary Ellen! Thank you for your witness among us!
Today, as we pray about God’s faithful promises to us, we might want to reflect on and deepen the commitments of our Baptism, our religious profession, our marriage, our covenants to communities of faith and service.

Like Martha, we might hear Jesus encourage us to give our fullest heart to that which is most important.

Music: God’s Promise – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir  (Lyrics below)

God’s Promise

Chorus:
Everything He said
In His word
He will do it for you.
Every prophecy He gave
Every promise he made

He will do it for you.
If you only trust Him
And let Him have his way
He’ll work things out for you.

If you only believe and
You will see
That He will do it
For you.

(Repeated several times)

He’ll do it
He will do it/
My God is a faithful God
He will do it

And He’s always there
To answer every payer
He will do it.
He’ll do it.

No matter what you’re going through.
He’ll do it.
Remember His word is true.
He’ll do it.

Cause He understands
He’ll do it.
You can always trust and lean on Him
My God will do it
For you….

Vigil

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we keep vigil with the “Children of Israel” as they begin the great Exodus.

Ex12_42 Vigil

Even the youngest of us understands what it means to “keep vigil”. Toddlers, on Christmas Eve, keep vigil for the sound of Santa’s footsteps on the roof.

Throughout our lives, the kinds of vigils we keep deepen in meaning. Any given night holds an array of vigil-keepers:

  • A nervous student pulls an all-nighter before a big exam.
  • An anxious parent watches over a feverish child.
  • A faith-filled soul sits in pre-dawn prayer.
  • A vigilant elder prays quietly at the death bed of a long-beloved.

As families and communities, we wait together for each other’s lives.

  • Together, we expect the births of each generation’s babies.
  • We wait and hope for college acceptances and new jobs.
  • We wait for test results of all kinds.
  • We wait to listen to one another’s stories of success or disappointment.
  • We wait and prepare for the dawning of great feasts like Christmas and Easter

When we keep vigil, we live in expectation of something or someone coming to us. But there is another important aspect to every vigil.

As we wait, something is also happening within us.
In the deep quiet of our waiting, we are transformed.

Thomas Merton, monk of Gethsemane, was assigned to keep a particular type of vigil at the abbey. It was called “fire watch”, a night-long lookout to ensure that no fire erupted in the old wooden buildings as the other monks slept.  Merton writes about that watch at the end of his book The Sign of Jonas:

The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light:  a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.
“Fire Watch, July 4, 1952”

Today, as we pray with Israel’s Passover vigil, let us consider our own vigils – current or past. Beyond their apparent meaning, to what secret transformation might God be inviting us? What is happening deep in our soul as we watch far out to the horizon of our hope?

Music: Firewatch – Chris Remo

That Family Reunion!

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read about a family reunion of biblical proportions!  After many years, Joseph – long-thought dead- is reunited with his grieving father, deceitful half-siblings, and beloved younger brother. Wow!

For better or worse, “Family” is a powerful force in every one of our lives. It both nurtures and siphons us; both exalts and critiques us; frees us and binds us.

Genesis46_30 family reunion

In many ways, family makes us who we are – by blood and genes – but more importantly by the hope and promise it places in us.  This was the case with Joseph, the great hope of his father Jacob and the misunderstood threat to his jealous brothers.

Today’s reading shows us a family who has made it through their devastating conflicts, not by their own effort, but by the abiding promise of God.

So many fractured families wish they could tell the same story of redeeming wholeness! What were the openings in this family’s brokenness that allowed God to enter and heal?

As so often in our human story, God comes dressed in ordinary clothes.  God wears the garments of our grief, repentance, forgiveness, hope and longing. He is disguised in our memories, cherished or painful. He peeks through our unresolved regrets, and dances in our acts of kindness, patience, and understanding.

We reach through to touch this God of Hope by our smallest mercy, our offered reconciling word, our tendered apology for a slight grown bigger with the years. And sometimes, we must simply let go of that which is unreconcilable, of those human hurts that can’t be healed because of time’s passage or unreachable hearts.

We let this God of Promise live in our families by honestly loving one another, supporting one another, thanking one another, and anticipating one another’s needs.

Being a strong family takes courage and sacrifice – something Joseph’s brothers were lucky to learn, however late. Let us pray in hope and thanksgiving for our own families – and for all families —  that God may give us that kind of self-sacrificing courage. Let us pray especially for young families, in today’s very inhospitable world, that they may grow strong in God’s and each other’s love.

Music: Family Prayer Song – The Promise Keepers

Broken Dreams

Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The story is rich in emotional layers, leading us to reflect on the unfolding chapters of our own lives.

Ps105

Have you ever looked back to a personal circumstance which, when it occurred, seemed shattering, even unbearable? That same circumstance, when viewed through the long lens of time, may have -amazingly- turned out to be a blessing.

The event may have been a job we didn’t land, a loss we almost couldn’t bear, a failure we tried to avoid. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we endured and even thrived. We learned new things about God’s power in our hearts, about the resilience of hope, and the effable dynamism of trust.

We learned how to forgive ourselves and others, how to be nourished by community, how to start over – perhaps with better intentions and greater wisdom.

Such was the atmosphere for Joseph and his brothers in today’s reading. Praying with this reading, let us give thanks for God’s Presence, even through the dreams that once seemed broken.

Music: Even If by MercyMe

Oh, Brother!

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our journey through Genesis leads us into the thick of the Joseph narrative. This is a long and intricate story, covering thirteen chapters in Genesis. The drama is rich in theological and psychological themes. Even outside the Bible, its scenes would stand the test of literary craftsmanship. Today’s reading offers us just one example.

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_The_Coat_of_Many_Colours_-_Google_Art_Project
Joseph’s Bloodstained Coat by Ford Maddox Brown

We enter the story a little later in the action. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob and thus hated by his jealous brothers, has been sold by them to a band of Midianite merchants. Ending up as a slave In Egypt, Joseph, by means of a series of dreams, saves the Egyptians from a terrible famine. He is greatly honored for this, becoming almost the equal of the grateful Pharaoh.

During the widespread famine, Joseph’s treacherous brothers come to Egypt seeking grain. He recognizes them although they are unaware of who he is. After leading them through a series of trials, Joseph ultimately forgives and reconciles with them. He brings his whole family to live in Egypt, protected by the aura of his unexpected prosperity.

One of the many suggestions for our prayer today might center on the inevitable dramas within families and communities fueled by favoritism, jealousy, even treachery. But reading Joseph’s story, we must consider these inevitabilities in the long-term light of God’s abiding grace, the power of forgiveness, and God’s will to give us new life even as we stand in our concupiscent ashes.

At times in our own life story, we may act as, or be impacted by, behaviors like those of doting Jacob, the envious brothers, or entitled Joseph. We might find ourselves entangled in a drama to rival this dysfunctional family of Jacob! Our prayer leads us to ask, “How were they ultimately delivered to freedom, restored to love?” 

The controlling, underlying theme of the Joseph narrative is that our hidden God remains with us in all of life’s roller coaster episodes. This God longs to grace us with the redemptive powers of repentance, forgiveness, hope, renewal and generosity. These graces can heal our bruised human story, letting it announce the saving power of God if we but open our hopes, choices, and dreams to it.

Music: Any Dream Will Do – from Joseph and the Amazing, Technicolor Dreamcoat, Andrew Lloyd Weber