Psalm 4: To See God’s Face

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 9, 2020

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king harp

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 4, a lament written to be sung with stringed instruments.

The psalmist expresses confidence that God rewards the prayer of the just, warning the “dull of heart” to wake up!

 


When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Men of rank, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood?

Surely, the psalmist’s sentiments echo in our hearts:

  • We all pray, in these conflicted times, for the grace to wake up to the justice and mercy of God.
  • We pray, like the psalmist, to see the face of God in ourselves and in our neighbor.
  • We pray to finally be able to break through the falsehood of racism to the Presence of our Creator in every person.

shane mccrae
The poem I offer today was written by Shane McCrae, an American poet and recipient of a 2011 Whiting Award. McCrae earned a BA at Linfield College, an MA at the University of Iowa, an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a JD at Harvard Law School. He currently teaches at Columbia University.

In this poem, the poet and his young daughter trace faces in the waves, the way many of us have in waves or clouds.

psalm4

Like all great poems, this one allows us to find our own meaning within it. I see a father looking to find the reflection of his own face in our representations of God, and hoping that his little child might do so a well. We sense their hopes disappear in the waves and in a culture that has enthroned God’s image as a white male.

Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face

Before it disappears
on the sand his long white      beard before it disappears
The face of the man
in the waves I ask her does she see it ask her does
The old man in the waves      as the waves crest she see it does
she see the old man his
White     his face crumbling face it looks
as old as he’s as old as
The ocean looks
and for a moment almost looks
His face like it’s     all the way him
As never such old skin
looks my / Daughter age four
She thinks it might he might be real she shouts Hello
And after there’s no answer answers No



Music:
  The Whole Book of Psalmes: Psalm 4, “Oxford Tune”
written by – Thomas Ravenscroft (1588 – 1635)
rendered here by Richard Muenz

 

Psalm 123: Song of the Caged Bird

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

Charles Lwango
St. Kizito being baptised by St. Charles Lwanga at Munyonyo – stained glass at Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine

Charles Lwanga (1860 – 1886) was a Ugandan convert to the Catholic Church, who was martyred for his faith and is revered as a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.


June 3, 2020

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Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 123. How fitting that this particular prayer should bless us at this time!

Psalm 123 is one of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (120-134). It is thought that these prayer songs were sung by pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem, expressing the joys, sorrows, needs and sufferings of the community.

Among them Psalm 123 is a lament, particularly for the scorn and contempt the Israelites felt as they tried to live lives of faith in a hostile world. Verses 3 and 4, (not included in today’s passage) plead:

Show us favor, LORD, show us favor,
for we have our fill of contempt.
Our souls are more than sated
with mockery from the insolent,
with contempt from the arrogant.

Praying with Psalm 123, we might think of today’s “pilgrims”, traveling the streets in protest of racial injustice. The integrity of their cause has been polluted by the rioters and looters infiltrating them, drawing contempt even from some who might otherwise have supported them.

Geo_Floyd

Still, people of faith must not be distracted from the truth, nor should we hide from the reality of our own complicity in normalizing unjust systems.  We must hear the lament of all those who long for justice. We must acknowledge that our current structures have grievously failed people of color, the poor and the refugee. We must make the choices that justice and mercy demand of us.


Today’s Responsorial verses may help us. In our hearts and souls, let us stand beside one another as we pray, each of us created to serve God by serving one another:

To you I raise my eyes,
to you enthroned in heaven.
Yes, like the eyes of servants
on the hand of their masters,

Like the eyes of a maid
on the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes are on the LORD our God,
till we are shown favor.


A poem to enrich your reflection:

cage

Caged Bird
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
~ Maya Angelou


Music: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Ad te levavi oculos meos (Psalm 123)

Ad te levavi oculos meos, qui habitas in caelis.
Ecce sicut oculi servorum in manibus dominorum suorum;
sicut oculi ancillae in  manibus dominae suae:
ita oculi nostri ad Dominum Deum nostrum,
donec misereatur nostri.

Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri,
quia multum repleti sumus despectione;
quia multum repleta est anima nostra
opprobrium abundantibus, et despectio superbis.

What “World” Do You Live In?

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 16, 2020

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Jn15:18 world

Today, in Mercy, Jesus talks about “the world”.

That word can cause a little confusion, both as we find it in scripture and in the history of Christian thought.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says five connotations for “world” may be found in scripture:

  • The physical world – the actual plant Earth
  • The human world – the land and seas we can navigate
  • The moral world – the universe of good and evil
  • The temporal world – the world that will someday end
  • The coming world – eternal existence 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about the moral world which, in the New Testament, refers to those people who are indifferent and hostile to Christ’s teaching.

If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world…
the world hates you.


wolf-clipart-57
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

We understand this use of the word. We see the evil in the world. We are saddened, angered and confounded by it when we recognize it.

But do we always recognize it?

Blatant evils like murder are readily recognized. But the most insidious evils are those that masquerade as good.

These masquerading evils often pretend to protect our rights, our security, our safety. But they usually do so at the expense of someone else’s rights – the poor, the refugee, the aged, the homeless, people of color……and all who have become “disposable” in our society.


These deceptions hide behind brave and noble words like “America First”, “Second Amendment Rights”, “Protect Life” and a rash of other slogans which fail to examine the whole impact of single-issue politics. 

It’s confusing because we love America, right? We believe in people’s constitutional rights, right? We respect life, right?

What if our slogans instead more clearly reflected Gospel values:

  • The Human Family First
  • Safety Rights for Everyone
  • Health Security for All Life – Womb to Tomb

CriticalConcerns-Poster-FINAL

How can we be spiritually discerning about what is good within such realities and what is rooted in sinful self-interest? Jesus tells us in these words:

Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

We must look to the one who is hated and persecuted to find the Face of Christ. We must love that Face and learn its heartaches. We must become a companion in their search for wholeness. We must set aside any costume of self-righteousness and put on the garment of Mercy:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:14-16

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

Be Impartial, or Not?

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, two Apostles of Jesus are our teachers. James advises us on what to do. Beloved Peter, as so often is the case, shows us what not to do.

James tells us to show no partiality. He makes clear that he is talking about impartiality toward those who are materially poor. It’s a maxim that Jesus gave us time and again in the Gospel.

James2_1 partiality

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward the poor, he actually has a preferential love for them. So Jesus was partial to the poor, right? Hmm!

Yes, I think that’s right. In order to balance our human inclination to the richest, best, strongest, etc., Jesus teaches us to go all out in the other direction.

It’s like this great cartoon that’s popped up on Facebook recently:

equity


Our Gospel picks up the theme.

Because of his great love for the poor and his passion for mercy, Jesus tells his followers that suffering is coming. Peter doesn’t like hearing that. Can you see Peter take Jesus aside and say, “Listen, Jesus, negative talk is going to hurt you campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!


behind me satan

Jesus responds to Peter definitively: “Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wow! That must have stung! But that’s how important it was to Jesus that his followers understood his mission: to preach Mercy to the poor, sick, and broken by sharing and transforming their experience.

Jesus wants us to understand that too.

 


Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick

Turn, Turn, Turn!

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings leave me wondering about what makes God tick.

In our first reading, God exacts justice for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, but He does it sort of like a prosecutor in a plea bargain.

I will deprive you of the kingdom … but not during your lifetime
It is your son whom I will deprive … but I won’t take away the whole kingdom.

What’s going on with God in this reading? Well, it’s more like “What’s going on with the writer as he tries, retrospectively, to interpret God’s role in Israel’s history?

The passage is much more than a report on exchanges between God and Solomon.

It is a testament to Israel’s unwavering faith that God is intimately involved in their lives. In every circumstance, the believing community returns to the fact that experience leads to God and not away from Him.

So “Solomon … had TURNED his heart to strange gods”
BUT God had not turned from Solomon.
Nor would God EVER turn because
God has CHOSEN Israel.


In our Gospel, the Syrophoenician woman tries to get the favor of Jesus to turn toward her. And actually, Jesus sounds pretty mean and stingy about it.

Again the writer Mark is portraying, retrospectively, a significant time in Christ’s ministry. Jesus has really gone into hiding in a remote place. Apparently, he wants space to figure some things out. The story indicates that one of those things might be whether or not his ministry should embrace the Gentiles.

The persistence of this woman’s faith is a turning point for Jesus Who evolved, as we all do, in his understanding of his sacred role and meaning in the world.

These passages encourage us to constantly turn toward God Who lives our life with us. Such conversation helps us to grow spiritually. As we become bigger in heart and soul, so does our concept of God and what God’s hope is for us.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – The Gettys (See poem after music video)


All this “turning” brought to mind some favorites lines from T.S. Eliot:



At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.



I happened across a website where Eliot himself reads “Burnt Norton”, the poem from which these lines are taken. Eliot fans might enjoy this. Eliot’s poems take time and work as well as simple reading.  But the effort is so worth it!

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

II

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

III

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
Wtih slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Dessication of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV

Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always —
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

A Queenly Message

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.

sheba

Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.

So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.

But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:

Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice

In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:

(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.

When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.

This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.

The lessons for our world are obvious.


As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:

But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.


Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops


Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre

God Won’t Be Boxed!

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about how we try to “house” God.

Because God is bigger than BIG, our minds struggle. More than struggle, they actually fail, repeatedly, to define God. Yet we still try, don’t we?

Mk7_13 box god

We try to picture, describe, paint, quote, and interpret God. We even decide what God wants and create laws to insure God gets that.

We dilute Divinity to our human dimensions. We just can’t take it straight. We mix it and bottle it in our laws, and box it in our rituals — because we can’t manage Omnipotence. 

And let’s face it, most of us like to manage things. 😉At least the Pharisees in today’s Gospel liked that kind of control. And Jesus challenges them on it.


Praying with these thoughts today, I think of my Dad. He liked an occasional jigger of really fine bourbon – savored in its unadulterated state, without water or soda – what today’s purists call “sipping whisky”.

When the doctor informed him, unfortunately in my mother’s presence, that whisky was a no-no, Dad didn’t like it. But he acquiesced. At least we thought he did. 

After Dad died, my brother and I found his bottle of Kentucky bourbon wrapped in a towel in the basement dryer. You see, only Dad did the wash. Mom never liked machines.

I think Jesus would have really enjoyed my Dad as one of his original disciples. Dad liked life “straight”. His faith was simple, direct, complete and undiluted. Sitting with Jesus that Gospel day, Dad wouldn’t have washed his hands either. He would have been too busy listening to the pure, unbottled Word pouring over him.

The message I took from today’s prayer: 

  • Be very wary of anyone who thinks they know exactly what God wants.
  • Let God out of the boxes I put Him in.
  • Invite God’s Spirit to run free through my heart.
  • Don’t bottle God up; don’t box God in.
  • Enjoy sipping God’s surprising and infinite grace.

Music:  New Pharisees – Charlie Daniels Band (Lyrics below)

New Pharisees

They go walking into church every Sunday morning
They the self-appointed sin patrol
Well they whisper and they gossip behind the back
Of anybody that they can’t control

See that girl in the choir she’s got evil desires
She must be drinking from the devil’s well
She’s a downright disgrace with that paint on her face
She looks just like a Jezebel

And they’re running around putting everybody down
What are you trying to do?
You need to pick up the Book and take another look
‘Cause brother I’ve got the news for you

You know Jesus was sent with a new covenant
And he even died for you
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

You see that boy over there with that long shaggy hair
Ought to be ashamed of his self
He wearing hip-hop clothes got a ring in his nose
Don’t he know he going straight to hell

And then yesterday morning me and sister Johnson
Were talkin’ on the party line
She said that Deacon Brown was having dinner downtown
Somebody seen him with a glass of wine

And you act so righteous and you look so pious
You always pay your tithe
But there’s a rock in your heart and a fire on your tongue
And there ain’t no love in your eyes

Bad news is begotten and the devil is smiling
You gossip and you criticize
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

Well you can’t get by the law so quit flapping your jaws
New pharisees yes, you’re a lot like me

Heart Temple

Memorial of Saint Scholastica

February 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read about the massive celebration to dedicate Solomon’s Temple. It would have been a ceremony akin to the parades we view in movies like Ben Hur.

roman-triumph-58737a77-19e6-4606-bb0f-b3441f961b8-resize-750


This video gives us a good understanding of the magnificence of the building.


Praying with the passage today, core questions repeat themselves to me:

  • Can God be in a building?
  • Is there a legitimate spiritual purpose to the cathedrals, large or small, that we build?

For me, the answer is a fluid one. Certainly, beautiful churches inspire our faith and serve as a central symbol for the unity of believers.

But throughout history, these buildings have also symbolized individual and national power, pride and greed.

A recent initiative of Pope Francis converted a 19th century palace behind the Vatican into a homeless shelter. The Pope directed this rather than the site’s upgrade to a luxurious hotel. 

The building is described as having “carved wooden ceilings, frescoed walls and tiled floors — evidence of its aristocratic origins.” Sharing a meal with its first residents, Pope Francis said, “Beauty heals”.

Such healing is the real purpose of all such buildings – that their beauty heal hearts, communities, and nations. Where the purpose is lost, excess eviscerates the healing beauty.


At points in the Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Temple – instructing his disciples that God’s Presence now dwells in the world through him. Today’s Gospel shows us how this Presence manifests itself – through the power of compassion and justice for the poor:

Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.

Where God is present there is always healing. May it be so in our churches and in our hearts.

Music: Dwelling Place – John Foley

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

Mercy Surrounds Us

Memorial of Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr

February 5, 2020

Click here for today’s readings

Today, in Mercy, David gets himself in trouble once again.

In the later years of his kingship, David is pretty impressed with himself. The kingdom has grown exponentially. There is peace and prosperity. David wants a census taken so that he can assess his capacity for new expansion.

So why does God get so mad about this census? The Book of Exodus sets out that a person has the right to number only his own belongings. The People belong to God, not to David. David’s pride and self-satisfaction has taken him over.

Ps32_deep waters

However, as usual, David repents. This is probably the best lesson we can learn from him. Then, in a greatly allegorized treatment, God gives David a choice of three punishments.


Passages like this can confuse us if we interpret them literally. Does God really interact and punish like this? 

It helps to remember the purpose of these writings — not to relay a factual history, but rather to tell a story that helps us grow in relationship with God.

What I believe happened here is that a pestilence did fall upon the country. At the same time, David realized that his heart had grown selfish and graceless. He took the natural event as a sign to turn back to God. And then the writers told the story in a way that the ancient peoples could relate to – with a God that forgives but gets even.


In our Gospel, Jesus preaches another vision of God – a vision of Complete Mercy, especially toward the vulnerable, weak, and sinful. That pretty much includes all of us.

Jesus releases the power of this Divine Mercy by his words and miracles. But his own family and neighbors reject him. They are more comfortable with a God who behaves like they do – meting out more judgement and punishment (preferably toward others!😉) than mercy and inclusive benediction.

In this Gospel, we begin to see Jesus as One who asks not only for repentance but for conversion – for a new way of being with God and neighbor, the way of Love.

How might we have responded had we been in that neighborhood synagogue? How are we responding today?

Music: Today’s Responsorial Psalm 32 – Marty Goetz ( Lyrics below)

Psalm 32 – Marty Goetz

These are periled times we live in, trouble everywhere
Weary hearts will often give in to this world’s despair
But high and over all, our Father knows our every care
And in His Book, if you will look, you’ll find His promise there

(Chorus)
He who trusts in the Lord
Mercy shall surround him
He who trusts in the Lord
Mercy shall surround him
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice
You upright in heart, lift up your voice
For great is His mercy toward all who trust in the Lord

Soon will be the time when we will see the Holy One
Oh how sweet to know that He’ll complete what He’s begun
And blessed is the man who stands forgiven in God’s son
And blessed are they who in that day will hear Him say, “Well done”

(Chorus)

Gracious is He and slow to anger
His loving kindness has no end
With love to embrace both friend and stranger
Reaching out to one and all, who upon His name will call

(Chorus)

Mercy is His reward
For all who trust, for the pure and just
Who put their trust in the Lord
For all who trust for the pure and just who put their trust in the Lord