The Bloody Lintel

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 19, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we begin a series of texts about the Passover. These readings are so richly symbolic, not only for our personal prayer, but also for our sacramental understanding. Today’s passage addresses the acquisition and sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

plague
Scenes from Exodus. Full-page miniature, upper register: the tenth plague: the death of the first-born including Pharaoh’s son, lower register: the Israelites leaving Egypt. From the Haggadah for Passover (14thC.)

Maybe for you, as for me, this is one of first Bible stories you recall from childhood. I remember how the drama built as my teacher read this story – all these wide-eyed kindergarteners hanging on her every word.

God was done with Pharaoh who had already ignored nine – yes NINE – plagues! Now the Egyptians’ first-born would be taken from them in a heavenly massacre! It was terrible to imagine. But even worse to consider was how the innocent Israelites would be spared from the dreaded visitation!

Even as a little pre-schooler, I already knew that we sometimes get in situations that only God can get us out of.  What I have begun to learn in my maturity is that – rather than get us out of such circumstances –  God chooses to pass through these life experiences WITH us.

An image we might consider in our prayer today:  these lintels were marked in BLOOD. The visiting angel could have as easily read a charcoal mark on the door, or a colored slab of paint. But the deliverance was secured by blood.

lintel

When devastating loss, sorrow or confusion comes to our door, how does our faith deliver us to the Promise of joy and peace? 

It cannot be by some hastily obtained symbol or sign, or borrowed prayer. Our faith must already be rooted deep down in our veins, our arteries, our heart, our blood. That rooting shall not be moved, no matter the circumstance. That rooting ties us to the God of Life. That rooting allows us to discover God even in our chaos.

As we pray today, under the lintel post of our faith, let us be mindful that these magnificent passages prefigure the Holy Lamb of God, Jesus, who saves us from every kind of death. May we ask for the grace to deepen our Eucharistic and Paschal faith so that we may fully trust God in our own Passovers.

Music: Agnis Dei – Michael Hoppé

Trust and Fears

Saturday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 13, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are an interplay of trust and fear, just like most of our lives are.

Related image

The TV character Adrian Monk is the exaggerated personification of our human fears. You name it, he’s afraid of it. Most of us aren’t that bad off, thank God. But we all have fears at times, and maybe life-long ones.

We might entertain conquerable anxieties like fear of water, or public speaking, or heights. These limits to our courage can be stretched by lessons and practice. 

But the deeper fears, like those central to today’s readings, are radically existential and perhaps never fully conquerable. These might include fear of meaninglessness, loneliness, diminishment, and death.

Joseph’s brothers handle their doubts by straight-talking with him. They trust his assurances. Joseph addresses his concerns about burial by pressing a promise from these same brothers.

Mt10_sparrow

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to deal with our deepest worries and fears. He assures us that no one or nothing can break the insoluble bond of love God has for us. He promises that we will endure eternally within this love. He reminds us that, ultimately, this is the only thing that matters.

The image of the free and unfettered sparrow shows us how God wants us to live and enjoy our creaturehood. The image of a loving God, brushing our hair and counting every one of them, may inspire us to deeper trust as we pray today.

You may be familiar with the trusting phrase attributed to Julian of Norwich:

“All shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Actually, it was Jesus who spoke the word to her in a vision:

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It is true that sin is cause of all this pain, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”


Indeed, we will meet the results of sin and darkness in the world and in ourselves. Julian grew to understand that, in God’s love, we are saved from that darkness:


And from the time that [the vision] was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord’s meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: ‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’  

    Thus I was taught that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end … 


Music: All Shall Be Well – Kathleen Deignan (Lyrics below)

All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Receive the gift of healing
from the well of tears;
be washed anew
by grief and sorrowing.

Receive the gift of healing
from our mother Earth,
her deep and dark
and secret verdancy.

Receive the gift of healing
from the shaman’s touch:
the wounded healer’s power
to revive.

Receive the gift of healing
in the arms of love,
embraced in passion
and compassioning.

With You, All the Way!

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we come to the heart of the Jacob story. Through prayer, it may reveal the heart of our story too.

Think of this. Is there anything better than a true friend who, even in your worst isolation, says:

  • I’ve got your back.
  • I’m right here at your side.
  • I’m with you through it all.

This is who God promises to be for Jacob in today’s wonderful first reading.

Gen28_12Ladder

Trickster Jacob, banished and fleeing from His enraged brother, falls asleep on the vast plain, with only a rock for his pillow. He is on a journey between two lives – the old one of extreme conflict, and a new one, as yet unrevealed. When he falls asleep on this desolate night, he thinks he journeys alone.

Ever feel like that? In life, we make many small and big journeys from the old to the new, the comfortable to the challenging, the past to the future, the known to the unknown. Sometimes we make choices to leave a “life” behind. Sometimes, life makes the choice in spite of us. In many of these chosen or unchosen transitions, we may feel very alone, even abandoned.

The good news of today’s reading is that God thinks otherwise.

Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to (wholeness).
I will never leave you
until I have done what I promised you.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus realizes this same ancient promise in the lives of two people on painful journeys. 

He heals the hemorrhaging woman through just her trusting fingertip along his garment’s hem. Such is the awesome power of faith and promise!

He raises new life in a dying child by the reach of her father’s faith into the heart of God’s mercy.

God is with each one of us too – unequivocally. God’s Mercy is everywhere and always.

Jacob responds to God’s promise with faith and hope. So do the Gospel’s centurion and suffering woman. Each of them, in their particular journey, shows us how to welcome God’s promise, “I am with you.” All we need do is to be with God too.

Music: You Are Mine – David Haas

Joy

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are knit together by the theme of joy – a quality whose description and possession are elusive.

Lk10_20 joy

As I sought a way to write about joy, I thought immediately of the author C.S. Lewis. If you don’t know him, I suggest it would be worth your while to discover him.

C.S. Lewis was a British writer, academic and theologian. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. Among my favorite of his non-fiction works are Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed.

Lewis clearly understood and lived a spirituality like the one offered in today’s readings. He came to understand the amazing difference between joy and happiness. He experienced joy as a longing for the Infinite which is suggested by life’s beauty, but never fully accessed by our human sensibility.

Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus preach this kind of joy in our readings. It is a joy that, even in the midst of trial, gives us peace and hope. It is rooted in our immutable trust in God’s abiding love for us. As today’s Psalm says:

Hear now, all you who fear God,
while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!

You might enjoy these quotes about joy from C.S.Lewis. Movie lovers among you might like the wonderful 1993 film about the relationship between Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis’s Christian faith.


All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

“Joy—that sharp, wonderful Stab of Longing—has a lithe, muscular lightness to it. It’s deft. It produces longing that weighs heavy on the heart, but it does so with precision and coordination…It dashes in with the agility of a hummingbird claiming its nectar from the flower, and then zips away. It pricks, then vanishes, leaving a wake of mystery and longing behind it.”
(from Shadowlands and Song of Light by Kevin Ott – a journey into the thoughts of C.S.Lewis)

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Music: Shadowlands – Rebecca St.James

Believe

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

 Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings lead us to pray for faith.

John20_27 Thomas

Faith is not a commodity or an achievement.
Faith is a relationship and a journey.

It is a gift and an exercise of grace.
Never stretched, it withers like an broken ligament.

It ebbs and tides with our personal and communal dramas.
It deepens with prayer, silent reaching, and a listening obedience to our lives.
It shallows with our demands, like Thomas, only to see and to touch.

It is fed by the Lavish Mercy of God Who never cuts its flow to our souls
if we but take down the seawall around our heart.

On this day when we celebrate the power of tested and proven faith,
may we bring our needs into the circle gathered in that Upper Room.

Standing beside Thomas today in our prayer,
may we place our trust in the glorified wounds of Christ.

A video today for your prayer: Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen

Well, Will You?

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we have the rather charming passage in Genesis where Abraham nickels and dimes God. We might dismiss it as childlike lore if we hadn’t tried it with God ourselves a hundred times. 😂

At least I know I bargain with God? Don’t you? When I really want life to go in a way I don’t expect it to, I might try to make a deal with God. It goes something like this:

Dear God, if you only please do “X”, I promise that I will do “Y”.

Or it might go like this:

Dear God, I know You can’t possibly want this suffering to be happening.
Won’t You please fix it? I promise to be grateful!

Even now, when faith has brought me to a deeper understanding of God’s presence in my life, these little bargains still creep through.

follow me

But, if I wait, Grace teaches. God is not the Omnipotent Fixer. God is rather the Omnipresent Mercy bearing our blessings and sorrows with us. God is the Infinite Revelation, leading us in both light and darkness into the depth of a Love we will never fully comprehend:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is God’s mercy
toward those who live within its awe.

(today’s responsorial Pslam 103)

Sometimes when I feel, like Abraham, that God may have turned and walked away from my pleading prayer, I hear God’s fading footsteps calling me to follow into an unexpected depth.

It is a radical call, like the one in Matthew’s Gospel, to follow and know the Face of God hidden in life’s suffering.

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”

It is not easy to put the following of Christ above all our human considerations, but this is our invitation and call. May we be gifted with the grace to respond.

Music: Will You Come and Follow Me? – John Bell

The Yoke, Indeed, Is On Us!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, the symbols of yokes and plows shout out across our readings. Again, we are dealing with metaphors not in everyday usage for most of us. But those listening to Elijah, Paul, and Jesus absorbed the symbolism easily.

Gal5_yoke

The yoke has connotations of subservience and toiling; in some ancient cultures it was traditional to force a vanquished enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of Spears or swords.The yoke may be a metaphor for something oppressive or burdensome, such as feudalism or totalitarianism. (Wikipedia)

The writer of Kings has fiery Elijah engaged in one of his several highly dramatic episodes. What a scene, right? But what is the point for us?

The point is the same in all three readings: yoke=commitment. Each of our writers is talking about a further understanding of the word “yoke” —a freely chosen commitment made, by grace, for Love.

Sometimes, as in Kings, we need to break an enslavement in order to commit to something life-giving, such as Elisha’s call to follow Elijah.

Other times, as in Galatians, we must remind ourselves of the freedom and power we have chosen by breaking the old yokes that bound us.

In our Gospel, Jesus acknowledges the cost of a commitment to his Way. He has already told us in Matthew 11:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Today, in Luke, Jesus doubles down on his invitation /challenge to follow him:

No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.

The question left for our prayer today? Is my heart fully yoked to the heart Christ? Is my hand firmly grasping the plow?

Music: My Yoke is Easy – Dennis Jernigan

Fount of Love and Mercy

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Clcik here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart, a day of deep devotion and gratitude for God’s lavish mercy to us.

All of our readings today suggest the image of a good shepherd caring for his sheep. This metaphor, perhaps more meaningful for the agrarian society in which these scriptures were written, still retains for us the imagery of tenderness, attentive responsibility, strength, protection, and vigilant presence.

Ez34_15 shepherd

Our first reading comes from Ezekiel whose ministry occurred in Babylon during the second captivity there. God calls Ezekiel to prophesy against Israel’s leaders who have forgotten their defenseless sheep, who have fed themselves instead of their flock. Today’s particular verses have God speaking, taking over the shepherding duties, because the human “shepherds” (kings and priests) have so badly failed their sheep. 

The Lord makes clear who will be the beneficiaries of his tenderness:

The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As I prayed with this passage, I was struck by the awareness of how some things never change. The parallels to our Church and society are painfully evident. Immorally self-indulgent “pastors” and self-serving, indifferent leaders still plague their “flocks”. The poor and weak are still abandoned by those they had depended on.

Our reading from Romans and Matthew raise before us the model of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who both renders us infinite compassion, and teaches us how to dispense it as his disciples. We are invited to become one with the sacred, compassionate Heart of Jesus, being healed ourselves to become healers.

Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord,
and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.

Our world aches for this healing. Let us pray together today for God to inspire and energize us to be Mercy for our world.

Music: Sweet Heart of Jesus – sung by the Irish soprano Maureen Hegarty

(I know this hymn is tinged with a bit of the old, sentimental spirituality. Still, I have loved it from my long-ago youth and it touches me deeply. I hope it will touch you as well.❤️ Lyrics below.)

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Fount of love and mercy,
Today we come,
thy blessings to implore;
Oh touch our hearts, so
cold and so ungrateful,
And make them Lord,
Thine own for evermore.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
We implore
Oh, make us love Thee
more and more.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Make us know and love thee.
Unfold to us
the treasures of thy grace.
That so our hearts, from
things of earth uplifted,
May long alone
to gaze upon Thy face.

Will We Live Our Faith Out Loud?

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 25, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we begin several weeks of readings from the Book of Genesis. 

Some people think of Genesis as a literal history. Others think of it more as a myth. Was there a real Adam and Eve? A real apple? A real snake?

When we get caught up in these ambivalences about Genesis, we are likely to miss the whole point. And the whole point, according to Hebrew Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann is this:

… these texts should be taken neither as history nor as myth.
Rather, we insist that the text is a proclamation
of God’s decisive dealings with his creation. 


“God’s decisive dealings with God’s Creation…”

What a powerful phrase! So over the next few weeks, here is our opportunity:

How does God want to be with us,
to love us,
and to share the ongoing Creation with us?


Today’s reading, according to Brueggemann, is the second part of a four-part drama:

Genesis 11: 30—25: 18 “The Embraced Call of God”
Will Abraham live by faith? 

This second segment poses a profound question to us, and to our Church:
Have we embraced God’s call in our lives and will we live our faith OUT LOUD!

Jesus asks us the same question in today’s Gospel: Will we live our faith OUT LOUD?


Will we:
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

cage

How to help children at the border and in inhuman detention centers:

Click here.


Music: By Faith -Keith and Kristyn Getty

The Baptist: A Life for God

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist 

June 24, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate one of the greatest figures of the Bible, John the Baptist. He prepared the way for the Lord.

John the Baptist
Icon of St. John the Baptist (16th c.) Dionysiou Monastery

When I think of John’s role in Salvation History, I am reminded of a captivating poem by Geoffrey Brown, author of Road of the Heart Cave:

The Heart Cave

I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
& sweep it clean; make it warm
with a fire on the hearth,
& candles in their niches,
the pictures on the walls
       glowing with a quiet light.
       I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
       & make the bed
with the quilt from home,
strew
the rushes on the floor
hang
lavender and sage
         from the corners.
         I must go down

                                           To the heart cave & be there
                                           when You come.


John the Baptist went down to the heart cave of our human perception of God.  He understood, in an inexpressible way, that God was about to do something astounding in human history.  God was about to become part of it!

John understood this with unquestioning faith, the way we understand heaven but cannot rationalize it. Understanding it, he knew that the world needed to turn itself toward God – to repent – in radical and ardent expectation.

This was his call and his message – this extraordinary man, dressed in his camel hair vestments, preaching at the desert’s edge.

We might pray to John today to be turned from anything that distracts us from God, to long for God’s presence in our hearts and in our world, to love deeply and make a welcome home for Christ within us.

( On this Feast, 53 years ago, my entrance companions and I professed our vows. I think of all of them with love today. May I humbly ask you, dear readers, to join me in prayer for us as we thank God for the gift of our lives in Mercy.)

Music: Apolytikion of the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist ( Dismissal Hymn of the Assembly for St. John the Baptist from the Greek Liturgy)