A Reason for Hope

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Philip goes down to Samaria to preach, baptize and confirm. He found a ready audience:

With one accord, the crowds
paid attention to what Philip said.

I found that sentence remarkable. Having been a teacher and presenter for over fifty years, I was thrilled whenever I encountered such an immediately enthusiastic audience. But it wasn’t always the case. Some groups, especially larger “crowds”, had to be worked into a receptive mode. It could be quite challenging.

So what made Philip’s listeners so malleable? Acts tells us that his “signs” helped. But I wondered if there might be something else?

1024px-Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796
By Angelica Kauffman – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8988425

I wondered where the Samaritan woman of “Well” fame might have been during Philip’s visitation. You remember her from John 4. She was a singular audience for Jesus, and he had to work very hard to engage her good will. But once he did, the result was stunning:

Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

…. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him
because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything
I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged
him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because
of his words many more became believers.

So where was our “Well Woman” evangelist when Philip arrived? Hidden behind the later words of scripture, she deepened with Christ’s sacred memory. How had she continued to ignite the Word in the months since she first encountered Jesus?

As she listened to Philip on this post-Easter morning, how affirmed she must have felt for the complete faith she had given to a once-thirsty Jesus!


Hope

In our second reading, Peter enjoins us to live a faith like this holy woman, a witness transformed by the touch of Christ:

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…

We have often waited by the well of our prayer for the voice and touch of Jesus. And we have known it and cherished it. 

Our readings today remind us to be like that Samaritan woman who now had her faith confirmed in the preaching of Philip —to share that faith, to witness it by our hope, to proclaim it by our merciful love.

(Look for a couple of lovely poems on Hope coming in a later post today. We could all use a few doses of hope, I think.  Enjoy!)

Music: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death – Keith and Kristyn Getty

What “World” Do You Live In?

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 16, 2020

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Jn15:18 world

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

But do we always recognize it?

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

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


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

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

What if our slogans instead more clearly reflected Gospel values:

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

CriticalConcerns-Poster-FINAL

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

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

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

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

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

Everything!

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts some of the challenges Paul and Barnabas met as they continued spreading the Gospel. With such a reading, we see the beginnings of theological arguments in the unfolding teaching of the Church.

One might wonder what turned yesterday’s Jewish and Gentile listeners into a stone-throwing mob. One wonders it today regarding some of the acrimonious factions within the Church.

It is one thing to receive the Gospel with one’s heart and spirit. It is another thing to receive it with one’s mind. As human beings, we resist mystery; we long for logic. We are more comfortable with a problem we can solve than with a Truth beyond our comprehension. Rather than Infinite Surprise, I think most of us prefer predictability and control.


 

Jn14_26 Everything

The Gospel can be fearsome. It asks that we let go of our limited human “geometry”; that we entrust everything to the Inclusive Love who is Jesus Christ. It asks us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit who, ultimately, will “teach us EVERYTHING”.


question

In our recent readings, we’ve seen Thomas, Philip, and today, Jude trying to reach this level of spiritual trust. It’s hard because such trust is more than human. It is a trust bred of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a trust born of living fully in Peace with that Presence.

 


It is a trust described like this in tomorrow’s Gospel reading:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

Let us pray for trust and peace in ourselves, our Church, and world.


Music:  Wonderful Peace – an old Gospel song by Warren Cornell and William Cooper (1899), sung here by Don Moen 

Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Ah, soul! are you here without comfort and rest,
Marching down the rough pathway of time?
Make Jesus your Friend ere the shadows grow dark;
O accept of this peace so sublime!

What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of my soul,
So secure that no power can mine it away,
While the years of eternity roll!

I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul!

And I think when I rise to that city of peace,
Where the Anchor of peace I shall see,
That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing
In that heavenly kingdom will be:

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

A Map?

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul nearly completes his sermon in Pisidian Antioch.  In this section, he is very clear about the failure of “those in Jerusalem” to recognize the Messiah when He finally came.

280px-V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)
Paul Preaches by Raphael

Paul points out, however, that this very failure was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

…by condemning him
they fulfilled the oracles of the prophets

that are read sabbath after sabbath.

These resistant religious leaders had spent their entire lives sifting through the Law and the Prophets looking for their savior. But when he finally stood in their midst, they were blind to him. Where had they gone wrong?


Thomas
Thomas has his doubts answered (16th C. icon)

In our Gospel, we have Thomas who is a little blinded himself. We know from other passages that Thomas is someone who likes to see for himself. Faith comes a bit hard for him. In today’s Gospel, Thomas tells Jesus he needs a map in order to follow him.

Can’t you just see Jesus looking at him, a little dumbfounded. Thomas has been with Jesus through it all – the sermons, the loaves and fishes, the walking on water, the raising of Lazarus. But he still doesn’t see with that comfortable trust which frees the heart to give itself completely to God.

Hey, I get it, don’t you! Jesus is prepping his disciples for the coming days of his Passion and Death. This is going to be the hardest time of all their lives. Fear, uncertainty, and impending danger hang in the air like a steel fog. Thomas is scared and confused.

We’ve all been there. Maybe we’re there right now.

John14_6 Way

Jesus is saying the same thing to us as he said to Thomas:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is the Way. Let us find him in our daily prayer, scripture reading, and acts of mercy. Let us give him any fear, confusion or doubt blocking us from moving forward in faith.

Music: Jesus Is the Way – written by Walter Hawkins, sung here by the Morgan State Choir (lyrics below). 

(The Morgan State University Choir is one of the nation’s most prestigious university choral ensembles and was led for more than three decades by the late Dr. Nathan Carter, celebrated conductor, composer, and arranger. While classical, gospel, and contemporary popular music comprise the majority of the choir’s repertoire, the choir is noted for its emphasis on preserving the heritage of the spiritual, especially in the historic practices of performance.)

Jesus Christ Is The Way

When I think about the hour
Then I know what I must do
When I think about, what God, has done for me
Then I will open up my heart
To everyone I see, and say
Jesus Christ is the way!

No one knows the day nor the hour
Maybe morn, night or noon
But just rest assured
Time will be no more
He is coming (I know he’s coming) soon
Coming soon

And I will open up my heart
To everyone I see
And say
Jesus Christ is the way
Then I will open up my heart
To everyone I see
And say
Jesus Christ is the way
And say
Jesus Christ is the way

You Are Mine

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 4, 2020

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800px-Domenico_Fetti_-_Peter's_vision_of_a_sheet_with_animals_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_Wien
Peter’s Vision of the Sheet – By Domenico Fetti – Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank., Public Domain

Today, in Mercy, we have the long story and explanation by Peter of who can be welcomed into the Community. The earliest Christians were all Jews. Their beginning Christian rituals had deep roots in Jewish tradition. Their entire expectation of a Messiah was wrapped in the garment of the Old Testament. So it was hard for them to comprehend that Gentiles might also be saved by the Blood of Christ.

We might be tempted to consider these Jewish Christians very provincial, parochial, or even prejudiced. But maybe we should just look in the mirror!

It seems to be an enduring human inclination and, rather than – like Peter – to seek a road to inclusion, we claim privilege for ourselves and exclude others on all kinds of bases:

  • She’s a woman, so she can’t…. whatever…
  • He’s gay, so he can’t …
  • She’s divorced, so she can’t…
  • He’s pro-life, or pro-choice, so he can’t…
  • She’s a Muslim, an atheist, and (irony of ironies) a Jew, so she can’t…

Maybe in your own life, you have felt the pain of some of these suggested or blatant exclusions.


Jn10_4 Mine

Jesus, in our Gospel, has a whole different approach to whom he loves. All creatures belong to him and will be brought to the Father in love.

I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Let us pray today to know and love our God ever more intensely. Let us ask to experience God’s infinite love and knowledge of us so that our unquenchable joy, humble gratitude, and limitless charity grow more evident.

Let us pray these gifts for all our sisters and brothers, no matter by what gate they come to the sheep fold.

Music: You are Mine – David Haas

Abundant Life

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus makes a great offer!

ollie
Don’t we all want to live a free and joyful life —- to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Hasn’t this pandemic made us all pause and think about what that really means?

 

 


What if you saw a sign like this somewhere:

advert

We’d all run in to get that deal, right? Well, our Gospel today offers an even better deal … just with a few more strings.

Using the shepherd imagery with which they would be familiar, Jesus tells his followers:

I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

tulpis


So what is the “gate” we must pass through to gain this abundant life?

In our second reading, Peter shows us the answer. In all things, we are to live in pattern of Christ.

Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
…. For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.


RG

Living like this, within the Love Who is Christ, we dwell in eternal life – even as we experience the exigencies of our earthly journey.

Let us pray today to grow in a faith like this, one that frees us to live in utter trust, freedom, and holy joy. Let us look into the eyes of God and ask to grow in childlike love and peace.

 

(Perhaps in your prayer today, as many of us are still living at a distance from the life we love, you might want to look at some of your favorite photos. Pray with the joy, delight and gratitude they give you on this day of “Abundant Life”.)


Music: Peter’s Canticle – today’s second reading set to music by John Michael Talbot.

Jesus has suffered for you
To comfort your life within his dying
Dying so that all might live
Bearing our wounds
So that we might be healed

Let all who seek the true path to peace
Simply come to follow in the footsteps of this man
Who laid down his life when threatened with hatred
And so he came to live in the blessings of love
And so he came to live forever

To Whom Should We Go?

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

May 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Peter is a headliner in both our readings.

Peter

I really love Peter. Can’t we relate to him on so many levels as he stumbles and shines through his growing relationship with Jesus? 

Some of my best prayers with Peter have been:

  • when he tries to walk on water to meet Jesus in the sea

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Mk.14:28


  • when he gets slammed for trying to stop Jesus from talking about his death

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Far be it from You, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” Mt. 13:41


  • when his name is changed to Rock and he’s foretold his future

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Mt. 16:18


  • when he cowers in denial outside Jesus’s trial

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mk. 14:72


  • when he recognizes the Resurrected Jesus on the shore and swims to him

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. Jn.21:7


In today’s first reading, we see Peter in his full authority as the Vicar of Christ.

Jn6_68 shall we go

In our Gospel, we see Peter’s unequivocal confession of faith, voiced for the Church, voiced for all of us:

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Let’s take whatever piece of Peter is in us today and lay it at the feet of Jesus in our own confession of faith.

(In a second post, I will share a wonderful poem about Peter written by John Poch. I think you’ll like it.)

Music:  Lord, to Whom Shall We Go? – Michael Joncas (Lyrics below)

 

Lord, to whom shall we go?
You alone, you alone have the words of everlasting life.
Lord, to whom shall we go?
You alone, you alone have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the Lord is perfect
refreshing the soul.
How trustworthy the Lord’s decree,
making the simple wise.

Lord, to whom shall we go?
Lord, to whom shall we go?
Lord, to whom shall we go?
You alone, you alone have the words of everlasting life.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart.
How clear is the Lord’s command,
enlightening the eye.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.

How true the Lord’s ordinances,
all of them just.
They are more precious than gold,
than purest of Gold.
Sweeter than honey,
honey from the comb.

 

Life is the Miracle

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

April 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts the sad but inspiring story of Stephen’s martyrdom.

To read an earlier reflection on St. Stephen’s death, click here.


In our Gospel, we continue to pray with John’s Discourse on the Bread of Life.

The setting is Capernaum, on the other side of the lake from where the feeding of the 5000 occurred. Rumors are flying about how Jesus got from one side to the other without a boat. In other words, the air is buzzing with whispers of miracles.


Some bright light in the re-gathering crowd decides to become their representative and inquisitor of Jesus:

inquisitors

“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert … ”
(how about something a long those lines, the questioner seems to imply????)

Where was this guy when the loaves and fishes were pouring out of a single basket? Where was he when Jesus appeared at the lake’s far side, already rested and waiting for the exhausted, arriving crowd?


But Jesus doesn’t take the inquisitor’s bait. He speaks as the Divine Teacher to help them understand that this is about a lot more than signs and miracles. 

Jesus reminds them that any “miracle”, any “manna” should lead us to God, in whose Presence the need and demand for continuing miracles ceases.

Jn6_35 bread

Jesus encourages them to get beyond their limited perceptions of signs, manna, bread, and miracles. He explains that all the Power of God stands before them in him, the Son, the Bread sent “down from heaven, and giving life to the world.”

It’s a lot to take in. But they want to: “Sir, give us this bread always.”


It’s a lot for us to take in too, don’t you think. I know I wouldn’t mind a regular old miracle now and then… a shower of manna or a cure for Covid19!

But instead Jesus asks us to live within the miracle of God’s Presence in all things, in the bread of our ordinary lives which He transforms by love.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Stephen had this kind of radical faith. “Filled with the Holy Spirit”,  he could – even in the throes of human contradiction – “see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

May our faith ever deepen that we too see God in the Bread of our ordinary daily lives. May that faith inspire us to act always with love, hope and mercy.

Music:  I Am the Bread, the Bread of Life – Brian Hoare 

Our Deepest Hunger

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

April 27, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts introduces us to Stephen, so filled with the Holy Spirit that “his face was like the face of an angel”.

You may wish to refer to last year’s reading on Stephen’s introduction.

Click here to read about Stephen


For today’s reflection, though, our focus will be John 6 which is the beginning of a week-long journey into the discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6:22-71). These passages, going from today until Friday, are like a “faith boot camp” for Jesus’s followers. They contain the core message of who Jesus is and how we are brought into communion with him.

The reading seems so meaningful in these days when we are kept from shared communion and community in the Eucharist, when we long to be gathered again around that table of love.


John’s Gospel does not include an account of the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist. The Bread of Life Discourse is where Jesus proclaims those teachings in John. It is a more detailed instruction and, as we pray with it over the course of the week, we may trace our own past and current awakening in faith.

painting
Limbourg Brothers, Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Jesus Feeding the 5,000 Source Wikimedia Commons

Today’s verses offer very basic training. Jesus has just fed 5000 people in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The crowds, not having a global view of the miracle like we do, are confused. They know they got plenty to eat, but did everybody? They heard many people ate, but they saw only their nearby neighbors. What really happened out on the green field?

Finding Jesus the next day, they are ready for another meal. They’re more interested in matzoh than miracles. Their basic hunger for physical sustenance consumes them. Jesus begins the task of opening their hearts to their deeper hungers and his desire to meet them:

Jesus said,
“You are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Jn6_27 food


Praying with today’s Gospel, we might ask ourselves some basic questions about our own faith.

  • When we go looking for God, as these hungry people did, what is it that we are looking for?
  • Do we talk to God only when we need something the way these folks needed another loaf or fish?
  • Jesus is inviting us to Eucharist, to Communion with him. To what degree have we opened our hearts to that invitation by our reflective prayer and acts of mercy?

Jesus’s basic message to his flock today is this:

Don’t be satisfied by a tasty roll, a fat fish,
(or a fancy car, a good job, a comfortable life.)
God made you for much more than these things.
Come to Me and feed your deepest hunger.

Maybe, as we pray, we can ask the question posed at end of today’s Gospel and listen intently to Jesus’s answer:

So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

Music: Hungry – Kathryn Scott

Good Friday 2020

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

April 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we pray within the incomprehensible Love Who is Jesus.

Love given

A most beautiful hymn from the Good Friday liturgy is the Popule Meus.

Popule Meus, also known as the ‘Improperia‘ or the ‘Reproaches,‘ is the hymn sung after the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. Christ reproaches the People, contrasting the innumerable favors God has bestowed upon them with the injuries He has received from their hands. Where God led them to the Chosen Land, the Peole led Him to the Cross. Where God gave a royal scepter, the People returned a crown of thorns.

This prayer focuses us on our own relationship with God. We too are Children of the Promise. How have we responded? How do we find ourselves as we kneel before the Cross?

The Trisagion prayer is an ancient chant repeated within the Popule Meus. It is a verse we can repeat as a mantra whenever we meditate on the Cross.

Ágios o Theos.
Ágios íschyros.
Ágios athánatos, eléison imas.

Holy God,
Holy Mighty One,
Holy Immortal One,
have mercy on us.

 


During the hours from Noon until 3:00 on this Good Friday, and since we are inhibited from Church attendance, some may wish to read parts of the Good Friday liturgy. I found this site with a complete service. However, the book is formatted in such a way that you must skip from side to side to follow in order. It’s not hard, just look for the page numbers in the lower left of each page.

(I was not particularly fond of the hymns offered in this program. So in a second post today, I have listed Handel’s meditations on the Passion and Death of Christ for your prayerful listening)

Click here to go to the Good Friday Service