Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, one theme threaded through our readings is that of “The Law”. “Law” is a frustratingly elastic word and concept which runs the gamut from tyranny to benevolent guidance depending on who administers it.

2thess3_5 scale

In both our first reading and our Gospel, we find people trying to curtail the freedom of others by invoking the Law. In 2 Maccabees, King Antiochus attempts to incorporate the Jewish people by fracturing their religious practice, that which identifies and unites them as Jews. On the surface, the story seems to be about eating pork, and one might wonder if that resistance is worth dying for.

But the real conflict is between tyrannical domination and spiritual freedom, between “Empire” and “Kingdom” – a struggle we have seen endlessly repeated through history and current events.

When “law” is interpreted to advantage some and suppress others, it is no longer law. The essence of law is always the wise administration of mercy balanced with justice. The understanding of such law grows from covenanted relationship with the Creator who wills the good and wholeness of all Creatures.

In today’s Gospel, some Sadducees (perhaps sincere, but more likely trying to trap Jesus) ask him to solve a hypothetical problem regarding marriage in the afterlife.

Jesus doesn’t bite. He explains to the questioners that eternal life transcends all their human perceptions of time, relationship and law. The earthly laws by which we either bind or free one another in this world evaporate in Heaven. Only Mercy and Justice order eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us that we are called to be examples of that eternal kingdom now. He knows how hard it is, and so he blesses us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,

who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement

and good hope through his grace,

encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed

and word.

May God’s law of love be deepened in is so that we – like the Maccabees, like Jesus – will have the courage and strength to live it in a sometimes hostile world.

Music: The Law of the Lord is Perfect

Christ, Our Cornerstone

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

November 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate a rare type of feast day – one that marks the dedication of a church building.  For many, that seems a little odd. We are accustomed to celebrating Mary, Joseph and other saints and feasts of Our Lord.

Here’s the thing: we are not actually celebrating a building.  We are celebrating what the building represents – the Body of Christ, the Church, made of living stones – us.

But sometimes it helps to have visible symbols of the things we venerate and celebrate. That’s why we have medals, rosary beads and candles – so that we can SEE something as we try to conceptualize a spiritual reality.

john lateran

St. John Lateran is the Pope’s parish church. Since he is the Bishop of the whole People of God, his physical church has come to symbolize the universal Body of Christ, the world Church.

Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus Address, on November 9, 2008 said this:

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24).
But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God.
Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.

st j lateran

As we pray today, we might want to consider the gift of faith on which our own lives are built – a faith whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. In our second reading, Paul says this:

Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building…..
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

And in our Gospel, Jesus speaks of his own body as a temple which, though apparently destroyed by his enemies, will be raised up in three days.

By our Baptism, that same spiritual temple lives in us and in all the community of faith. That same power of Resurrection is alive in us! So in a very real sense, what we celebrate today is ourselves – the Living Church – raised up and visible as a sign of God’s Life in the world.

Happy Feast Day, Church!

Music: Cornerstone – Hillsong

Love or Hate? Huh?

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 6, 2019

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Roman13_8 owe nothing

Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus seem to give us contradictory messages. Paul talks about love, and Jesus tells us what we must “hate” – a bit of a challenge to untangle the core message.

Here’s one way.

We don’t like Jesus telling us to hate anything, as in:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,

and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

Come on, Jesus! You don’t mean that do you – my sweet mom, my precious kids???

No, the scholars say, Jesus doesn’t mean “hate” the way we interpret it in modern English. He is using the common, hyperbolic language of the ancient East which, in this circumstance, would mean “love less”.

So what is Jesus really saying? 

This.

We love many people and things in our lives. But we must love God, and God’s dream for all people, above and within all things. 

And that’s not easy! Life is a maze of relationships and situations that can get us very confused about what is most important. That’s why Jesus uses such strong language to remind us that there is only one way through the maze: to love as God loves. This is the heartbeat of our life in God!

Paul says this too, indicating as well how to negotiate the maze by keeping Love’s commandments.

If we love with God’s love, of course we will love those we cherish. But we will love them selflessly, with an infinite generosity that always chooses their eternal good. And we will try always to love all Creatures in the same way. This is the kind of love Jesus taught us on the Cross. May God give us the courage to learn.

Music: Ubi Caritas performed by Stockholm University Choir (texts below)

Latin Text

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the World without end. Amen.

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🤗

Climb the Tree! Ignore the Haters!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all rooted in Mercy. The beautifully literate Book of Wisdom delights us with its poetry and heartfelt understanding of God’s “imperishable “ love for us. Think about it! The passage, written very near the time of Christ, is intended to assure us that God’s mercy will save and embrace us.

In our second reading, Paul assures the Thessalonians that this mercy has indeed been given to them in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ they are, as we are, called to be Mercy in the world in Christ’s name.

But Paul adds a little warning. Apparently there are some conspiracy theorists floating around trying to scare people about the final coming. (Oh, Lord — ever present!) They are even forging Paul’s name to spread their crazy havoc.

Religion will always have distorters who pull out and exaggerate certain threads of doctrine, often opposed to the core message of Mercy. They do this to gain control over others and to advance themselves. Every sacred religion, from Catholicism to Islam, has been manhandled by opportunists who use it to advance their own agendas.

But Paul says to cling to the truth: our ever-merciful God loves us, no matter our deficiencies, and welcomes our repentance.

Zaccheus, whom we meet in today’s Gospel, did not succumb to the distorters who branded him an irredeemable sinner. He opened his heart to Jesus in sincerity and enthusiasm. He changed his life because he believed in the full truth of the Gospel: Christ came for us sinners.

zccheusJPG
Notice how Zaccheus in hidden in the tree. Are there ways in which we re hiding form the full truth and love of Christ?

Like Zaccheus, a man “deficient” in height, maybe we need to “climb a tree” of prayer and repentance today to take a full-hearted look at the power of God passing through our lives. May we never let the opportunity for Mercy – either to receive or to give it – pass us by.

Music:  Zaccheus – Medical Mission Sisters (Oldie but goodie — love the dedicated nuns! How much good they have done in a suffering world!)

Inseparable

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul exults in God’s love and Jesus suffers the full burden of his impending passion. And the two are tied tightly together.

Romans8_

Let me tell you a story that symbolizes that tight knot.

It was in the late 1960s. A group of us had traveled to Atlantic City for the National Catholic Education Convention. Weather forecasting was not so advanced in those days, or at least, we were not so attuned to it. We went to our various sessions early one morning, only to come out of them a few hours later into a hurricane!

I remember walking, obliviously, up to the boardwalk, on my way to the next session in another hotel. The wind became so heavy that I was blown, motionless, against the boardwalk railing. A plexiglass window pane blew by me, cutting me just below the eye. For a short while, that seemed very long, I feared for my life. A strong, young man actually pulled me into a nearby lobby where I tried to calm my fears.

rowboat

But the next morning, there was a beautiful rainbow and a brilliant, calm sky. I walked back to the bay to survey the previous day’s damage. It was significant. But one image remains in my mind these fifty years later: the front quarter of a battered boat still attached to a half-sunken dock by a thick, sodden rope that wouldn’t let go in the storm.

I think that, in today’s Gospel, Jesus might have felt a little bit like that boat. He has been battered by the resistance of his enemies. He knows it is an ill wind for his message.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
but you were unwilling!

Still, like that strong, unrelenting rope, he is held sure by the love of God:

But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Paul, through his baptism, inherited that faith, hope and love purchased for us all by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Whenever a storm rises up around your soul, whether expected or not, remember that knot which ties you to the steady and enduring love of God:

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Music: Nothing Can Separate Us – First Call (Lyrics below)

 

lyrics

Let the Spirit Pray in Your Heart

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells us that our life is about getting to know God ever more intimately. Otherwise, when we come to our final moments, we may not be recognized by our Lord and Master.

Could this be possible? Could God not recognize the work of his own hands, the one made in God’s own image?

Probably not. But what I think the Gospel suggests is that if, throughout our whole lives, we have never prayed or drawn closer to God, God’s own image in us may be quite obscured after that disconnected lifetime.

Sometimes we might hear a person say that they don’t know how to get started talking with God in prayer. They seem to feel it’s kind of like a blind date where you end up realizing you have nothing in common with each other.

St. Paul says no, wait a minute. God is already within you simply by the nature of your creaturehood . You are made of the very stuff of God. In fact, the Spirit of God deep within our souls is like the fiery magma from a volcano. It erupts from our love and prays for us to the Creator – if we will only let it.

Rm8_26 groanings

Let us give the Spirit the space, time and invitation to rise up in our hearts, praying with us and through us. In the deep love of that relationship, we will know ourselves to be recognized and loved. We can trust that all things are working together for our good.

Music: Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty – by Janet Erskine Stuart, interpreted here by the Daughters of St. Paul (Lyrics below)

Spirit seeking light and beauty,
Heart still longing for your rest
In your search for understanding,
Only thus can you be blest,

Through the vastness of creation,
Though your restless thought may roam,
God is all that you can long for,
God is all creation’s home.

Taste and see God, feel and hear God,
Hope and grasp the unseen hand;
Though the darkness seem to hide you,
Faith and love can understand.

Loving Wisdom, guiding Spirit,
All our hearts are made anew.
Lead us through the land of shadows
‘Til we come to rest in you.

That Fish Was Sooo…..

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in our readings:

  • Sirach assures us that the prayer of the humble reaches the ear of God
  • Paul readies himself for death
  • Jesus gives us one of his most memorable parables. 

The thread running through all of these? Humility- that beautiful virtue which allows us to be who we truly are before God and humanity.

Oh my goodness friends, how many times have we been with “the Pharisees”, such as Jesus describes, at a meeting or dinner? They are so unsure and unaware of their true value in God, that they begin to create an illusion to protect their fear.

We know the statements (or attitudes) by heart. Sometimes, they’re harmless; sometimes not. We may be guilty of a few of them ourselves:

fish

But there are other statements, such as the Pharisee’s, that can certainly make us question a person’s self- perception: 

  • There has never been a better leader, CEO, deal-maker, neighbor, human being
  • I am smarter than the generals, the lawyers, the financiers, the scientists
  • Nobody does things better than me
  • I am the smartest person of all time

Certainly, it’s angering, but more than that, it’s sad. It’s really sad to miss the whole point of one’s true greatness: that we are beloved and redeemed by God – just like every Creature! That we are called, in that belovedness , to serve God in our sisters and brothers. Knowing this inalienable truth is the source of all humility, courage, joy, and perseverance in faith. It is the whole reason we were created. What a tragedy to, like the Pharisee, miss the whole point!

Let us pray with Paul and the humble tax collector today. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner – a redeemed, grateful, and joyful sinner.”

Music: Miserere Mei – Gregorio Allegri 

Zap Time?

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

October 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel takes on some difficult themes.

lightening

Jesus gives a parable which, at first, appears to say, “Get your act together fast, or God might zap you.” From Jesus’s words, we can assume that some public disasters have recently occurred. The gathered crowd are unnerved by these events.

Jesus uses that nervousness to talk about repentance. He tells the people that tragedy can make us wake up to the fact that life is fragile and fleeting. That awareness should make us want to use our time on earth well, to give glory to God.

The repentance Jesus encourages is not just a contrition, or turning from sin. It is an opening of the soul’s eyes to see our lives and circumstances as God sees them.

Is God going to zap us if we don’t have that kind of repentance? No.

With the parable of the fruitless fig tree, Jesus assures us that God is with us, giving us every grace and opportunity to bear spiritual fruit. God is patient and nurturing. But, in every human life, there is a limit to the time we have to respond.

Music: Calm the Soul – Poor Clares Galway

Sinners Anonymous

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

October 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul sounds a lot like someone approaching the microphone at “Sinners Anonymous“:

I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh.
The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.
For I do not do the good I want,
but I do the evil I do not want.

Paul basically attests to the fact that for human beings, even him, will and actions often don’t synch up. Sure, we want to be good people, but as Nike says, do we:

Do itJPG

Paul’s says no. The only way we do the good we will to do is by the grace of Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel, Jesus affirms the slowness of the human spirit to act on the realities around us. In some translations, Jesus uses a phrase which caught on with the architects of Vatican II: the signs of the times.

In our Gospel, Jesus is telling his listeners and us that we need to be alert to the circumstances of our world. It both weeps and rejoices. Where it weeps, we must be a source of mercy and healing. Where it rejoices, we must foster and celebrate the Presence of the Spirit.

In the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), we read:

In every age, the church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task. In language intelligible to every generation, it should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask about the meaning of this present life and of the life to come, and how one is related to the other. We must be aware of and understand the aspirations, the yearnings, and the often dramatic features of the world in which we live.

Although written in the 1960s, these powerful words hold true today. We are the Church of which the document speaks. We are the ones whom Jesus calls to respond with authentic justice and mercy to the signs of the times. Read the newspaper in that light today. Watch the news in that light. Meet your brothers and sisters in that light today.

Music: The Times They Are A’changin’ – Bob Dylan whose songs in the 50s and 60sbecame anthems for the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied popular music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. (Wikipedia) (Ah, it was a good time to be young!)

The Swedish Academy awarded Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.