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 

Heritage of Faith

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 16, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our reading from Acts tells of Paul’s preaching in the synagogue at Antioch. Paul, himself steeped in the love and practice of his Jewish faith, comes before more faithful Jews to invite them to a transformed faith in Jesus, the Messiah they had been awaiting. That was no easy assignment!

Ps89_2_family of God

But Paul, learned and erudite, traces the entire hereditary line of the Jewish faith, through the House of David, and leading to Jesus Christ. It’s a rich and beautiful homily that redefines the meaning and reach of God’s Family.

In our Gospel, Jesus too describes what it means to belong to God’s family. He says that whoever receives him, and lovingly serves like him, is one with him and with the Father.

These readings give the inspiration to consider and pray on many points. Perhaps these three may be helpful:

Through what human means and heritage has our faith been handed down to us? Who are the parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and godparents of our cherished faith? Let’s pray with them today and remember their loving example.


What family of faith has been gifted to us through our community, church and graced friendships over our lifetime? Who are these with whom we share the DNA of our spirit, who have bolstered our faith throughout the journey? Let us pray in gratitude for the gift of these people in our life.


What about us? For whom are we a “faith family”? How do we give the gift of faith, love and service in that family?


Music: I Knew My Father Knew – Sally deFord and James Loynes

Open Your Heart’s Gate

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 13, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings again visit the question, “Who belongs to family of God?”.

love like God

Peter, upon returning to Jerusalem from Joppa, faces the Jewish Christians who are only learning how to live their new faith. They don’t get it that Gentiles are invited too to this emerging faith community.

They, like many of us, find security in the categories we build into our lives. We separate those who belong and don’t belong – sometimes to assure ourselves that we belong in certain preferred categories. We decide who is OK and who is not. The Gentiles were not OK church members for the Jerusalem Christians.

Peter is very patient with these critics. Point by point, he explains how his own understanding was informed by the Holy Spirit, so that he saw clearly that Christ’s invitation was for all people.

This reading challenges us to examine our “categories”, our biases and prejudices. Who is OK in my book, and who is suspect or questionable? In my thinking, who has a “right” to certain goods, positions and privileges? Who would I not invite to my table based on my predetermined “categories”?

With Christ, there are no privileged categories. We are each the privileged child of God, universally redeemed in the blood of Christ.

As I pray with this thought today, how might my attitudes and choices be affected?

Music: We are Called – David Haas

One Heart, One Mind

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter, April 30, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we read about the Love which unified the early Christian community.

Acts4_32 One

Their love and faith so satisfied their needs that they voluntarily disposed themselves for the good of others. That mutual self-donation generated a shared abundance beyond expectation. And the witness of radical community inspired new generosity:

Thus Joseph, also named by the Apostles Barnabas
(which is translated Ason of encouragement”),
a Levite, a Cypriot by birth,
sold a piece of property that he owned,
then brought the money and put it at the feet of the Apostles.

Our Christian communities today may never experience the simple unity of the early Church. The complexities and sophistications of centuries now impede us. But the principle within that simple unity is still available to us:

We are One Body and
the basic needs (both material and spiritual)
of all should be met
through our mutual generosity,
so that everyone may be free to worship in peace.

That principle must never be obscured by institutionalization, divisive interpretation of dogma, or pharisaical religious elitism.

May God inspire us to be a generous and merciful Church!

Music: One Heart, One Mind – David Haas ( Lyrics below)

May we be of one heart, one mind
Giving our lives for each other
All that we are, we hold in common
By the grace of the Lord
May there be no one among us
Who is need or alone
May we be of one heart, one mind

Grounded in hope, strong by faith
Filled with joy, led in peace
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Courage lived, wisdom shared
Mercy shown, truth be told
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Wonders and signs, day by day
One in love, offering praise
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

4.Unity, generous hearts
Table spread, breaking bread
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

5.Kingdom bound, blind now see
Hungry fed, poor no more
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

No more tears, fear has fled
Dead are raised, justice reigns
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Silver or gold, we do not have
Only the name of the Lord
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Spirit poured, prophecy sung
Visions and dreams by old and young
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Law or Love?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings bring to mind the role of religion in our spiritual life.

take up mat 2

The dictionary defines religion as a particular system of faith and worship. The origin of the word “religion” is from the Latin “religare”: to bind.

In the magnificent passage from Ezekiel, we are given a metaphorical description of grace flowing from the Temple, the locus of faith for Israel. Ezekiel is led by a radiant vision to this source of abundant life symbolized by water. Slowly and incrementally, this abundance deepens for Ezekiel, until he is swimming in its grace. 

Ezekiel’s vision demonstrates what happens in us when religion, ritual and law enhance grace. The beauty, power and architectural symmetry of the Temple symbolize the great benefits of religious practice.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, shows us a Pharisaical religion built on empty practice and bereft of heart. When Jesus cures on the Sabbath, he moves beyond these skeletal boundaries to mercy, which is the reason for all religious practices.

take up mat
Jesus Cures on the Sabbath

Jesus shows us that when religion – and its ensuing ritual and law – bind grace, it needs to be set aside. His whole life was predicated on a faith which generated mercy, not sacrifice. The alleviation of suffering and need always supersede observance – even on the Sabbath.

When we see any so-called faith or religion which places law over mercy, we see an empty temple where the river of grace has run dry. Our culture is filled with fake holiness that measures, condemns and ostracizes others. We see religion distorted into political bullying. We see it redefined as an excuse for excessive wealth. We even see it used as legitimization for nationalism, violence, racism, and war.

Today’s readings tell us to be on guard. The forces which twist religion are very subtle and pervasive in our culture. They dress themselves in impressive words and practices, just like the Pharisees did, but their costumes hide an ugly hate and fear.

To the fearful and weak, these forces preach power – but it is a power over not for others.

Jesus has shown us what faithful practice looks like: mercy and love. It is vulnerable, courageous, inclusive, and humble. It sees the suffering of others and responds. It waters the Temple of our hearts to make them verdant with hope, joy and generosity.

Music: Come to the Water – John Foley, SJ and Matt Maher

This One’s Pretty Difficult!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to be merciful, as God is merciful.

I think that’s really hard.

Lk6_36 be merciful

Being merciful is not too hard with poor, unfortunate souls for whom life is one tragedy after another.

It’s not too hard when someone innocent is suffering unjustly.

But, gosh, it’s difficult to be merciful in the face of meanness, stupidity, selfishness and arrogance.

Yet God is merciful to me when I’m like that.

The Gospel’s message is painfully straightforward. It calls me to examine all my judgmental thoughts and actions and to reverse them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be busy for a while working on this one.

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander