Comfort the Lost

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

December 10, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we have the exquisite “Comfort” passage from Isaiah. Our Gospel gives us Jesus tenderly seeking the single lost lamb.

Isaiah40_1_11

The first and last words of these two readings – COMFORT, LOST – capture the whole intent of God’s message:
Life is a maze whose walls are heightened by our incivility to one another. Isaiah calls to be a leveler of walls, a straightener of twists, a bridge over deadly valleys; Jesus calls us to seek and carry the lost sheep. They call us to be Mercy.

The US southern border is one of the many places in our world crying out for these acts of mercy. Please listen to our Sister Anne Connolly describe the cry:

 


Music: Comfort Ye from Handel’s Messiah – sung by Jerry Hadley

As we pray this glorious music today, let us ask for the strength and courage to be Mercy for the world, to find the ways to comfort God’s people, close by and at life’s borders.

The Banquet

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

December 4, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings take us to the Lord’s banquet. It is a rich image that threads through scripture and helps us understand what characterizes the perfect reign of God.

The readings, coming just on the heels of Thanksgiving, present familiar images to us. You may have been part of the preparation of the feast for your family and friends. Maybe you’re the master carver, or brought sides of old family recipes. Or you might be the table decorator or, most important, the clean-up guru!

Or maybe you were the one who steered the conversation so that all felt welcomed and included in the gathering. Maybe you were the one who took someone aside if they needed an extra portion of care. Maybe you were the one who invited someone with no other place to go.

That Thanksgiving meal, and every meal, can be a symbol of the heavenly banquet.


 

Isaiah25_7

Isaiah’s banquet is all elegance and fullness. He describes an end-time when, despite a path through suffering, all is brought to perfection in God:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.


IMG_1628Jesus’s feast in more “now”, and more rustic. He takes the ordinary stuff of present life and transforms it to satisfy the needs of those gathered. With sparse and simple ingredients, Jesus creates the “miracle meal” for the poor and hungry.

He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied. 

Christ’s presence with us in the Eucharist is both kinds of meal.

IMG_1625

  • It points us to the perfection of heaven, where the “web” will be lifted from our eyes and we will see ourselves as one in Christ.
  • It calls us to be Christ for one another in this world – creating miracles of love and mercy so that all are adequately fed, in body and soul, for the journey we share.

Music:  Banquet- Graham Kendrick (Lyrics below)

There’s no banquet so rich
As the bread and the wine
No table more holy
No welcome so kind
There’s no mercy so wide
As the arms of the cross
Come and taste, come and see
Come find and be found

There’s no banquet so rich
For what feast could compare
With the body of Jesus
Blessed, broken and shared?
Here is grace to forgive
Here is blood that atoned
Come and taste, come and see
Come know and be known

Take the bread, drink the wine
And remember His sacrifice
There’s no banquet so rich
As the feast we will share
When God gathers the nations
And dines with us here
When death’s shadow is gone
Every tear wiped away
Come and eat, come and drink
Come welcome that day

There’s no banquet so rich
For our Saviour we find
Present here in the mystery
Of these humble signs
Cleansed, renewed, reconciled
Let us go out as one
Live in love, and proclaim
His death till he comes

The Hearings

Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin

November 13, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, as the first public impeachment hearings begin, our readings seem eerily in synch with current events.

First of all, the hearings begin on the date we celebrate Frances Xavier Cabrini, first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. 

As I write about her, the US Supreme Court opens the DACA hearings, testing three cases against the Trump administration’s decision in 2017 to end deportation protections for so-called Dreamers. The Court will decide whether the decision to end the program was based on legally sound reasons.
(The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants deferral from deportation and work permits to nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children.)

Col3_14 put on love

Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom is crystal clear about the moral responsibilities of leaders to act with justice tempered by mercy, and always to exhibit special concern for the poor and marginalized.

Using these scripture verses, Pope Leo XIII wrote two of his many compelling encyclicals. His writings, and the entire legacy of Catholic Social teaching, guide us as we discern who, how, and why to use our voting power to advance justice for all people.

The following excerpts, though a little long, are well worth our attention to provide a foundation for our prayer during these strained partisan times. Perhaps we might pray them in short doses over the course of these hearings.

from: Encyclical Letter Immortale Dei, Pope Leo XIII

immortale

They, therefore, who rule should rule
with evenhanded justice, not as masters,
but rather as parents,
for the rule of God over humanity is most just,
and is tempered always with a parent’s kindness.

Government should, moreover, be administered
for the well-being of the citizens,
because they who govern others possess authority
solely for the welfare of the State.
Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to
the advantage of any one individual or of some few persons,
inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. 

But, if those who are in authority rule unjustly,
if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly,
and if their measures prove hurtful to the people,
they must remember that the Almighty
will one day bring them to account,
the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office
and preeminence of their dignity.


Diurturnum

from: Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII, Diuturnum

But in order that justice may be retained in government,
it is of the highest importance that those who rule States
should understand that political power
was not created for the advantage of any private individual;
and that the administration of the State
must be carried on to the profit of those
who have been committed to their care,
not to the profit of those to whom it has been committed. 

On this account
they are warned in the oracles of the sacred Scriptures,
that they will have themselves some day to render an account
to the King of kings and Lord of lords;
if they shall fail in their duty,
that it will not be possible for them in any way
to escape the severity of God:
“The Most High will examine your work
and search out your thoughts:
because being ministers of his kingdom
you have not judged rightly…
Horribly and speedily will he appear to you,
for a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule…
For God will not accept any man’s person,
neither will he stand in awe of any man’s greatness;
for he made the little and the great,
and he hath equally care of all.
But a greater punishment is ready for the more mighty”


Music: O Lord, the Clouds Are Gathering – Graham Kendrick

With Honor, Prevent One Another

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2019

Readings: Click here for today’s readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives us one of his most heartfelt and beautiful passages, and Jesus offers us a puzzling parable about the kingdom.

Rms12_10 honor

Paul’s exhortation to sincere holiness is a passage that warrants frequent reading. At any given point in our lives, one or another of its encouragements will seem to ring profoundly true with our circumstances.

One of the lines that I particularly cherish goes like this in the old Douay-Rheims version, which is where I first encountered it as a young girl:

Love one another with fraternal charity:
with honor preventing one another.

The bolded phrase fascinated me. I didn’t understand what it meant. From what were we to prevent one another?

It was not until I came to the convent that I begin to discern the power of this verse. At the time (during the Dark Ages, of course), the Sisters lived under the 1952 Constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy, an adaptation of the ancient Rule of St. Augustine. As postulants, we each received a 4×6, 128 page copy of the Rule. In direct and intentional language, it set the frame for our whole lives.

I nearly memorized it, especially Chapter 14 on Union and Charity. Right in the middle of the Chapter, I found this precious line:

They (the Sisters) shall sincerely respect one another. The young shall reverence the old and all shall unceasingly try in true humility to promote constant mutual cordiality and deference, “with honor preventing one another”.

Sister Inez, our dear early instructor, explained that this meant to anticipate the needs of our beloved sisters, especially the elderly; to do for them what might be difficult for them before they had to ask. In other words, to prevent their need. She said that this anticipatory charity should mark our service toward everyone, especially the poor, sick and ignorant whom we would vow to serve.

The more all of us can live together with this mutual love and respect, the closer we come to the kingdom of God, to the banquet table described in today’s Gospel. Jesus came to gather us all around this table. Pity on those who resist his invitation because their lives are entangled in self-interested endeavors. Their places are taken by “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” and all those on the margins of society.

As we join our sisters and brothers at the banquet of life, may we love and serve one another sincerely, always with honor preventing one another.

Music: a little motion mantra this morning. Maybe you might want to get up outta’ that chair and join in🤗

You’re Invited – (and so is everyone else)

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 1, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings share the common theme of humility, instructing us that the virtue is essential to our salvation.

Lk14_11 humbled

Humility, of course, gets a bad rap in our dominating, “me” culture. We tend to think of humiliation, servitude, inelegance rather than the actual root of the word: humus -“of the earth”.

I was fascinated last week by a small fracas arising from the unconsidered remarks of one of our Phillies baseball players. The team has been running hot and cold – with a little bit too much cold for some fans. The famous Philly “boos” have been flying. Frustrated with these, outfielder Sean Rodriguez referred to the disgruntled fans as “entitled”. 

angry

Uh oh! They didn’t like that. We prefer to think of ourselves as “deserving “, right?

Humility is that virtue which helps us realize that we are not “entitled” or “deserving” of anything over and above other human beings. It roots us in the respect for each other that refuses to rank the worth of other human beings. 

The social leverage that comes from wealth, power, and influence can beguile us. We become lost in a maze of stereotypes, rankings and prejudices which are the foundation of social injustice.

 

We hear among ourselves justifying phrases for our entitlement like:

  • well, I earned what I have
  • at least I paid for it
  • “they” need to work if they want to have …(food, healthcare, housing…)
  • it’s their own fault for … (dropping out of school, taking drugs, ….)
  • that’s just the way it is in “those” countries. The people are …(lazy, stupid, violent …)
  • “they” don’t need what I need. “They” are used to being … (poor, disabled, sick …)

And probably the most dangerous of all the phrases:

  • it’s not my problem
  • I’m not the one exiling, bombing, blocking, trafficking, enslaving “them”

Today’s readings enjoin us: it is my problem. My attitude, choices, vote, conversation, and lifestyle matter at the banquet of life we are all meant to share.

My intention to humbly join and rejoice with all Creation, to take a seat beside and never above my sister and brother – this is my “entitlement” to the one banquet that matters.

When you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Music:  A Place at the Table – Lori True and Shirley Elena Murray

Wide Mercy

Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope

August 21, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy,  in our reading from Judges, we meet two guys who are polar opposites of each other: Jotham and Abimelech.

Jotham was the youngest of the 70 sons of Gideon (yes, 70 – not a typo. Makes one think of The King and I.) Abimelech is his half-brother, son of Gideon’s Shechemite concubine.

To put the story in a nutshell, Jotham is the goodie and Abimelech is the baddie. Abimelech, lusting to be king, engages his Shechemite family to kill the 70 sons of Gideon. Only Jotham survives. So in our reading, Jotham  prophesies by parable, warning the people that they have made a serious mistake in allowing Abimelech to grasp the kingship.

Praying with this reading, we may realize that some things never change. Human beings still jockey for political power and economic domination. Nations still slaughter and suppress other nations in that pursuit. Some leaders still commandeer control by deception and pretense. The voting populace still allows itself to be hoodwinked by tyrants in disguise.

Jotham doesn’t accept the old adage that religion and politics don’t mix (or however they may have phrased it in his day). He says true leadership must grow from the good faith of both leaders and followers. He says, in parable form, that leaders must be willing to set their own pursuits aside for the good of the people. Otherwise, an avaricious fire burns up the heart of the people.

The landowner in Matthew’s Gospel is a leader in the pattern of God. He administers his charge in such a way that all find benefit. His methods are contradictory and irrational to anyone who fails to see the universal creaturehood of the human family. He reigns from mercy not merit, because he knows that all have full merit in God.

wide mercy

Certainly, my prayer leads me to consider how these principles affect my own leadership responsibilities whether within family, community, workplace, or world.

I am also led to consider how I must respond, just as Jotham did, to any leader or administration that stands in contradiction to these principles.

Faith and morality not only mix with politics, they are its core. Bereft of these, politics becomes nothing but a power game in which the poorest and weakest are the chips.

But, in this Gospel parable, Jesus says his “game” is just the opposite. At his table, the first shall be last and the last first.

These readings have much to offer us as we daily try to right our hearts with the God of infinite mercy.

Music: There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – written by Frederick Faber in 1862
Rendered here by Nate Macy

https://youtu.be/l5LN1ZvwWfs

Sabbath and Jubilee

Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 3, 2019

Click here for readings

Sabbath-Should-We

 

Today, in Mercy, our reading from Leviticus may seem pastoral and peaceful in tone as it describes the days and years of rest and jubilee. Don’t let that tone fool you. This is perhaps one of the most radical, transformative passages in Scripture!

These verses from Leviticus describe and mandate an economic system based on respect and care for neighbor and earth. They require the community to take significant, reflective pauses in what might be an otherwise relentless drive to personal prosperity.

These commands are rooted in the understanding that God is the Creator, and therefore “owner” of all – people, animals, the land and its produce. We are to use these resources with reverent mutuality. If we do not, we become caught in an economy that inflates some at the expense of others – that is, an extractive economy.

Lv25_17_extraction

In an extractive economy, those with power and money siphon resources from the weak and vulnerable. This cycle grows ever more greedy because the “haves” can never have enough. Eventually, both human and natural resources are exhausted and the faulty, actually sinful, economy fails.

Sabbath and Jubilee are meant to restore balance by causing us to reflect on and reverse the pitfalls of a greedy, extractive system.

The parallels to present day realities are stunning! We live in a world where everything is a commodity at the disposal of those who control money. Walter Brueggemann calls this “the oligarchy of concentrated wealth…the network of the wealthy and powerful in the U.S. and around the world who basically outflank or control governmental structures.”

This unmitigated imbalance eventually creates impoverished nations whose citizens are plagued by violence, who must flee their homeland simply to survive. It spawns a culture of “disposability” where even human beings are bought and sold into exploitation. It creates a system where you may be sold anything, even if it kills you like tobacco, opioids and carcinogenic products. You may buy anything, even if it kills the people who provided it, even if it kills the earth for future generations.

So we simply cannot read Leviticus today as an ancient writing meant to organize a long-ago agrarian society. This scripture is speaking to us, demanding that we pause to consider how we contribute to or stand against such systems.

The reading is asking us to develop a deep, sacred awareness of all human beings as “neighbor”, and to live, unflinchingly, out of that awareness.

Music: The Workingman’s Hymn – Joshua Davis (Lyrics below)

Some people hunger for the greenback bill
Some folks hunger for the top of the hill
Some people just tryin’ to get a decent meal
Well I know that we can turn it around

Some people sleepin’ in a fine feather bed
Some folks are dreamin’ of an old homestead
Some just need a place to lay their head
Well I know that we can turn it around

[Chorus]
I know that we can turn it around
There’s one thing that I’ve found
If there’s a force in the dim singin’ a workingman’s hymn
I know that we can turn it around

River bottom up to home on high
In the light of the endless sky
Jetsettin’ or just gettin’ by
I know that we can turn it around

[Chorus]   [Bridge]

From the 9th Ward up to Patoka Lake
One man’s joy’s been another man’s pain
But the sun keeps shinin’ through the drivin’ rain
And I know that we can turn it around

Our Story is God’s Story

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 27, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our Exodus reading describes momentous events in Israel’s life.

tabletsJPG

God has just invited Moses and several others up the mountain for a Divine conflab.  Moses returns to the people to announce “all the words and ordinances of the Lord”.The People receive these words wholeheartedly:

“We will do everything that the LORD has told us.”

Thus, a community of persons is formed with God at its heart.

Moses then engages the community in a series of formal rituals to highlight the significance and permanence of this deeper step in relationship with God.


The passage contains multiple points for our prayerful consideration.

The community of Israel is not unlike our own faith communities, those that gather in specific religious houses, or those we share in the universal community of all Creation. We are Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs sharing a story of God in our particular religious traditions. We are also all children of the same God sharing that experience in our Common Home of Creation.

Just as with the ancient Israelites, God communicates and relates with us through the experiences of our lives. In our communities, that Divine Word is interpreted, codified, ritualized, and responded to. These actions create a story which is alive, deepening with each new generation, and still always rooted in the long history of promise and grace.

Today’s reading contains many elements of story and ritual which we can recognize in our own faith practice: written and announced word, altar or worship place, sacrifice or offering to God, acts of covenant, and celebratory meals.

Exodus24_3 sinai

These are the human ways in which we access relationship with God. These are the ways in which we keep our faith vital. We strengthen our faith by one another’s stories of love, mercy and hope. We commit to a shared law of love, not legalism – a heart-law which calls us to be life for one another, just as God is Life for us. In community, we reveal the face of God within ourselves.

For those of us who share the practice of a Eucharistic faith, the parallels in today’s reading call us to deeper awareness of how God becomes present in our lives.

May all of us – of whatever spirituality – who share life in God’s continuing Creation, obediently hear the command to cherish every human being as a revelation of God, as a critical and precious part of my own faith story – a part for whom I share the responsibility for life.

Music: Song of the Body of Christ – David Haas (Lyrics below)

Song of the Body of Christ
Refrain: We come to share our story. We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.
1. We come as your people. We come as your own.
United with each other, love finds a home.
2. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor.
We are called to feed the hungry at our door.
3. Bread of life and cup of promise, In this meal we all are one.
In our dying and our rising, may your kingdom come.
4. You will lead and we shall follow.
ou will be the breath of life; living water, we are thirsting for your light.

What is “Mammon” Anyway?

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 22, 2019

Click here for readings

Life’s dilemmas confound some of us:

Dickens


Today, in Mercy,  Jesus addresses the confounding problem of spiritual schizophrenia.

No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

Mammon (μαμωνᾷ), a concept that is rather simplistically translated as “money”, actually connotes a much more complex meaning. Strong’s Concordance of the Bible offers related words that help enrich our understanding of the word “mammon”:

  • Excess
  • Dis-ease
  • Unrighteousness 
  • Imbalance

This is the dissonance Jesus speaks to in today’s Gospel. “Money”, or possessions, – like good wine – in excess can dehumanize us. We can become entangled, addicted and covetous of it. We can forget who we truly are when we allow ourselves to drown in it. We can lose connection to the community in which we exist.

But we need “money”, don’t we? Very few people desire real material poverty. How does Jesus guide us to face this internal dichotomy?

Mt6_33 FIRST

Jesus says that our FIRST concern must be the Kingdom of God. Motivated by that core intention, the rest of our concerns will fall into proper place.  Pope Francis reiterates this truth for our times in the encyclical “Laudato Sì”. Let’s pray with it today:

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. (223)

Music: Seek Ye First – Maranatha Singers

If … then. Uh oh!

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter 

May 25, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings challenge us.

Jn15_20JPG

Jesus talks about the kind of blowback his disciples can expect for living their faith in  an inimical world. He gives us some “if … then” statements:

  • 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, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.
  • If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

Reading these verses makes me wonder if I am really living the Gospel, because I don’t feel all that persecuted.

And then I think that this is because I really live in two worlds. I live in first world comfort and security. But there is also a part of me that agonizes daily over the injustice rampant in our shared world. Today’s Gospel challenges me to live more intentionally in that second world.

Walter Brueggemann says this:

Faith is both the conviction
that justice can be accomplished
and the refusal to accept injustice.”
Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out

Jesus was not persecuted simply because he did miracles and preached love. This loving, life-giving ministry confronted the dominant, government-generated culture which relied on the subjugation and despair of those they dominated.

Jesus, just like other prophets, was killed because he gave hope to a people whose freedom threatened the status quo comfort of the dominators. Just like  Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Oscar Romero , Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Wang Zhiming , the Blessed Martyrs of Nowogrodek  (All names are clickable to find more information.)

I don’t aspire to martyrdom. But I do want to be a true disciple of Jesus. The way available to us is to live and act with mercy and compassion for the poor, marginalized people Jesus so loves. We can do this by voting, advocating for, and sponsoring programs and agendas for social justice.  This link from the Sisters of Mercy is a help on how to do that:

Click here for Sisters of Mercy Advocacy page

Brueggemann also says this:

Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.” (Prophetic Imagination)

May our hearts be moved by grace to the depth of compassion we have learned from Jesus.

P.S. I know that many of you have responded to this request I placed on Facebook. Thank you. For those who don’t do Facebook, this is an urgent request for help for refugees at our southern border. It’s an easy way to do some good things.It was received from Sisters of Mercy Leadership Team in D.C.

Music for today is below this request. 


appeal


Music: Compassion- The Gettys