Psalm 119: Your Awesome Word

Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

June 5, 2020

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Psalm 119_word

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 119 which is considered a hymn psalm, meant for offering praise for God’s handiwork.

bird

This psalm, the longest in the Bible, is an extended string of delight in God’s beauty, power, and tenderness. It reminds me of a mockingbird’s lovely, tireless song, lilting up into the morning or evening sky.

Though long, the psalm is a very simple yet profound prayer. Seeing its length, we might tend to set it aside for a shorter psalm. Instead, don’t tackle the whole thing. Pick one verse that speaks to you. Sit down beside it. Let it crawl into to your lap like a small child. Cradle it and let your soul hum with it.


I remember, as a young novice, learning to pray this beautiful psalm in Latin. Its innocent clarity echoed my desire simply to deepen in God’s ways. Psalm 119 has been one of my favorites for nearly sixty years now, carrying God’s Word to me in myriad ways.

119


Today in our prayer, we might want to contemplate what single word God is speaking most clearly to us in this moment. The words vary over the course and circumstances of our lives. Let us listen and respond to what we hear today in quiet prayer.

wordcloud

Music: Word of God, Speak – MercyMe

Our Beloved Communities

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

May 26, 2020

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given me

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the first part of his Ephesian farewell address which he will complete in tomorrow’s reading.

Paul really loved the Ephesian community. He lived with them for three years and poured his heart and soul into teaching them. He doesn’t say it outright, but like all ministers, he must have learned from them as well – from their faith, compassion, and openness to his teaching.

Now Paul begins the last journey back to Jerusalem, a passage which will mirror Christ’s own journey to that sacred city. But before he departs, Paul tells the Ephesians how much he loves and expects from them. And he blesses them.

In tomorrow’s continuation, Paul will say:

And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

In our Gospel today, as Jesus commences his own final journey, he blesses his listeners as well:

Father, I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours


Today as we pray, whether we are at the beginning or late parts of our journey, we might take time to pray for the ones God “has given” us in our lives. Like Paul who shared life with the Ephesians, and like Jesus and his beloved disciples, God has given us communities to love and form us on our journey.

These extraordinary pandemic days have reminded us all of what’s most cherished in our lives. It’s such a perfect time to show our own beloved communities how much they mean to us. It doesn’t have to be a long address or a profound speech. My young nephew and his dear wife did it yesterday with a simple and delightfully surprising phone call just before they journeyed on a small vacation.

Just little phrases between us, passed over a thousand mile telephone signal, carried a much bigger message of love and gratitude:

  • just wanted to check on you
  • are you feeling well
  • do you have what you need
  • enjoy your time away
  • travel safely
  • thanks for thinking of me
  • I love you
  • God bless you

Today, as we read the orations of Jesus and Paul, we may not see the same exact phrases, but the message is the same. Jesus and Paul knew it was important to their communities to put that loving message into words. It’s important for our communities too.

familyThanks Jimmy and Kristin. Thank you all my dear family and friends. I am so blessed to have these kinds of conversations with all of you. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Like Paul,
I commend each one of you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

On this, and all your life journeys, travel safely and know you are deeply loved.

Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter

We’ll Meet Again

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 22, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus acknowledges the difficulty of living a Christian life in a hostile world, especially without his physical presence to lead the disciples.

John16_22 separation

He knows that his friends are anguished at the thought of being separated from him. He compares their heartbreak to the pain of a mother in labor. The comparison is a perfect one because labor pains yield a gift that washes away the memory of suffering:

… when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.

Jesus tries to comfort his followers with this analogy, but he doesn’t deny the sorrow they are experiencing. Jesus knows that separation from what we dearly love can be a crushing experience. He knows that change often carries unwanted loss.

joys and sorrows

Our lives are braided into this cycle of labor, birth, love, loss, sorrow and joy. Jesus assures us that if we live this cycle in faith and hope, all things return to him in glory:

But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.

At those times in our lives when we feel more the absence than the presence of God, (perhaps these pandemic days), remembering the endurance and bravery of others may help us. Although it’s not a religious song, this melody kept playing itself in my heart as I read today’s Gospel. It opened my spirit to a very comforting prayer time.

Music: We’ll Meet Again – Dame Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Margaret Lynn Welch, CH,DBD, OStJ, age 103, is a British singer of traditional popular music, songwriter and actress, whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during World War II.

She is widely known as “the Forces Sweetheart” and gave outdoor concerts for the troops in Egypt, India and Burma during the war. The songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, and “There’ll Always Be an England”. For more on her generous and fascinating life, Click here

Twelve Who Loved

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

May 14, 2020

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12

Today, in Mercy, Acts relates the story of Matthias and his inclusion as one of the Twelve. But besides Matthias, there was another man considered just as worthy of appointment, Justus. The lot did not fall on him and we never hear of him again.

So if there were two equally good men why didn’t they just widen the circle to thirteen Apostles?


This appointment of the twelfth apostle reflects the importance of the number twelve throughout Scripture. It is a number which signifies perfection, heritage, and strength.

Jacob 12
Jacob Blessing His Twelve Sons – T. Daziel (c.1893)

The Book of Genesis states there were twelve sons of Jacob and those twelve sons formed the twelve tribes of Israel. The New Testament tells us that Jesus had twelve apostles. According to the Book of Revelation, the kingdom of God has twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. 

So Matthias, the Twelfth, brought the circle of Apostles to wholeness.


JofCross
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that he chooses us all to be his friends. It is a friendship built on imitation of him, proven by keeping his commandments. His commandments are clear:

          • Love God.
          • Love others as I have loved you.

Every day, by prayer and reflective living, we deepen in our love for God and neighbor. We learn Love within the revelation of our own lives.

joy

Jesus tells us that if we love like that our joy will be complete. May we be blessed by that holy joy.

Meditation: Instead of music today, a lovely meditation for those of us missing the celebration of Eucharist: No Longer Do I Call You Servants

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

Count It All Joy!

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, in this week and a half before Ash Wednesday, we begin the Epistle of James.

800px-Epistle_of_James_Chapter_1-2_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)
The Epistle of James- Chapter 1: Illustration provided to Wikimedia Commons by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing as part of a cooperation project. Sweet Publishing released these images, which are taken from now-out-of-print Read’n Grow Picture Bible Illustrations (Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

This letter is one of the very earliest of the New Testament. Scholars are mixed about exactly which “James” wrote it, but agree that it was one of several who were very close to Jesus – perhaps one of “the brothers of Jesus” mentioned in several New Testament passages:

  • Matthew 12:46-50
  • Mark 3:31
  • Luke 8:19
  • John 2:12
  • Acts 1:14
  • 1 Corinthians 9:5
  • and specifically “the Lord’s brother James” in Galatians 1:19

James writes in the style of Wisdom Literature, those Old Testament books that give advice, proverbs, and insights for living a holy life. His immediate audience was a community of dispersed Christian Jews whose world was filled with increasing upheaval and persecution.

When I read the following description I thought how germane James’s letter could be for our world today. His themes echo the teachings of Pope Francis for our chaotic time:


The epistle is renowned for exhortions on fighting poverty and caring for the poor in practical ways (1:26–27; 2:1-4; 2:14-19; 5:1-6), standing up for the oppressed (2:1-4; 5:1-6) and not being “like the world” in the way one responds to evil in the world (1:26-27; 2:11; 3:13-18; 4:1-10). Worldly wisdom is rejected and people are exhorted to embrace heavenly wisdom, which includes peacemaking and pursuing righteousness and justice (3:13-18).
(Jim Reiher, “Violent Language – a clue to the Historical Occasion of James.”Evangelical Quarterly. Vol. LXXXV No. 3. July 2013)


  • Be joyful in trials. (Wait! What!)
  • Let trials increase your perseverance not discourage you.
  • Doing this is a sign of wisdom.
  • When your wisdom is depleted, ask God for more with an open and trusting heart.
  • Honor all people, high or low in circumstances
  • Don’t be fooled by riches. They fade away.

In our Gospel, Jesus is frustrated with the Pharisees who insincerely demand a magical sign from him. They demonstrate none of the spiritual wisdom and openness to grace that James describes.

scale

When we think about our own faith, where does it fall on the scale of sincerity, on the spectrum of counter-culturalism?

Music: Count It All Joy – Scripture Memory Songs

And David Danced…

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

January 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, vigorous, grace-filled David dances with abandon before the Lord.

David danced

It is an image so rich that the rest of the passage must await another day for prayer.
Just to pause with that dancing image, to consider all the ways God longs to dance with us throughout our lives, and we with God — dances of both:

joy and sorrow,
faith and questioning,
hope and shadow.

…dances in which we must abandon ourselves to the sacred music of the moment, and respond to God’s mysterious, leading step.

Whatever the emotion we bring to prayer, what matters is only that we carry it close to God’s heart, listening to our circumstances for the Divine Heartbeat.

Each of our prayer-dances is so personal, so sacred. I thought a few poems might be good today as you treasure your own dances with God. Perhaps one of the poems will resonate with you where you are at this moment in your Lifesong.


IMG_2324I Long for You

Powerless
to reach any further,
longing shakes
my soul.
You are so near,
but, paralyzed,
I cannot touch you.

 I feel you,
Electric,
in the veins of my life.
but, paralyzed,
I cannot touch you.

 I cannot stand that
You be a symphony
I, lonely, rest in.

 I want to dance with You.
~ Renee Yann, RSM


IMG_2325After a Chilling Death

You look so beautiful, God
so young,
sky swaddled, like a young brave
awaiting the future
on a smoky horizon.
I can’t stop
looking at You.

I can’t stop waiting,
as if crowds held their breath in me,
for clouds to fall open and for
your Celestial Body to be revealed,
diamond moon at the navel.

My breath stretches
like transparent skin,
toward the hope of You,
the memory of You,
magnified by faith and need.

I can’t stop
waiting for You
to dance toward me in the darkness,
to take these frozen fingers
to your jubilant, holy lips
and kiss them back to life.

No grave can make me stop
looking at You,
even though gravesmen
throw dirt in my eyes and say
that I see things where things are not.
I know You are there
in the tantalizing darkness.
~ Renee Yann, RSM



IMG_2326
At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
~ T.S. Eliot



IMG_2327Easter Exultet

Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.

Trust deep water
and head for the open,
even if your vision
shipwrecks you.

Quit your addiction
to sneer and complain.
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.

Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.

Not dawdling.
Not doubting.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.

At every crossroad
Be prepared
to bump into wonder.
Only love prevails.

Enroute to disaster
insist on canticles.
Lift your ineffable
out of the mundane.

Nothing perishes;
nothing survives;
everything transforms!
Honeymoon with Big Joy!
~ James Broughton


Music: No Reason Not to Dance – Kathryn Kaye

Redeemed!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about redemption… and what a free and glorious gift it is.

How thrilling are these verses?

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

When I read them, I so much want to meet Isaiah, to get him to sign my Bible, to come to my house for soup and bread! Because he is filled with hope and exultation at the Mercy of God, just like I want my life to be!

IMG_2297

Paul, sensing some jealous competition in his Corinthian buddies, tells them  — Get a grip! You are obsessing over incidentals when we have been redeemed and made one in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Then, when I read these beautiful, lilting lines in the Gospel …

He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

…I so want to go live with Jesus too, right there on Capernaum’s shores, because he was the very House of Mercy inviting us all to dwell anew in him. 

Jesus is the Living Redemption prophesied by Isaiah. He is the reason Paul turned his life upside down. Jesus is the Great Light in our darkness.

Praise and thank our Generous God!

Music: Streets of Capernaum – Clay Crosse

Afraid? Who Me?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have a few references to fear — and to its perfect antidote, Love.

1Jn4 fear

John continues to instruct us in prose that stuns us with its sacred clarity:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.


In our Gospel, we meet some pretty fearful disciples. First of all, they are still spinning from the avalanche of loaves and fishes gushing forth from the perfect faith of Jesus. 

Jesus_walks_on_Water,_St_Botolph_without_Aldersgate
Jesus walks on Water, St Botolph without Aldersgate: Photo by Andrew R. Abbott Andrewrabbott [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Today, they are rowing a storm-tossed lake in the pitch of night. Enough to strike fear into even a crusty fisherman’s heart! But wait a minute! As if all these scary things are not enough, here comes a ghost across the threatening waves!

And how about Jesus in this passage? A little nonchalant, or what? 

About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,

they thought it was a ghost and cried out.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the waves.

Jesus, full of Love, and perfected in the Creator’s Presence, has no need or place for fear. He lives in the accomplished wholeness of God where, as Julian of Norwich says, “All manner of things shall be well.”


cocoon

I never really thought much about fearfulness in my life. I exist in great security. But when I read this line from Paula D’Arcy, I saw that there are all kinds of unrecognized fears inhibiting us:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,

if I were not dominated by fear?

Fears. What are some of yours that, like me, you may not have recognized:

  • Fear of failure, loss, death, dependence.
  • Fear of looking foolish, getting old, being sick, losing my comfort zone.
  • Fear of meaninglessness, unusefulness, of being held responsible?

Could we go on and on?

But what about the biggest fear – of being unloved, and maybe even unlovable.

Dear God, as we pray today,
help us to grow into your amazing love for us.
Help us there to cast out our fears
and to live in your perfect freedom and joy.

Music:  All Shall Be Well – Michelle Sherliza

Christmas 2019

Christmas Day 2019

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Today, in Mercy, may you, your families, communities and loved ones be blessed with every grace and happiness.  Merry Christmas, dear friends!

This is a reflection I wrote for the Catholic Health Association in 2015. I hope it blesses you on this holy day.


word made flesh

“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:11

We knew only his name, not his story. Leon, just 37 years old, was one of those rootless souls who, by life’s violent incisions, become severed from their history and their future. He had come to us from a local boarding home, comatose and dying. He came with no friend or family to attend his imminent passage. So, through the night of Christmas Eve, Kathy, a young, off-duty nurse, sat silently with Leon, adamant that he should not die alone.

Leon had a quiet death. Very little changed in him except for stilled breathing and the relaxed mask that follows expiration. It was Kathy who changed. In that sterile hospital room, grey-lit with early morning, the palpable breath of God embraced her. She knew, and from that Christmas moment will always know, that all life beats within the Divine Heart; that we are sacred and immortal within its mysterious rhythm.

Over these celebratory days, we will orchestrate a series of Christmas moments in our decorations, carols, gifts and feasts. We will visit our treasured memories and revered mangers. We will be blessed by the love of family and friends who are the face of Christ to us.

May we also receive this singular grace: to know that any true Christmas moment comes only when the Spirit of Christ passes through us into the heart of another person. To receive this grace, we may, like Kathy, need to sit in a silent room with a dying stranger. We may need to welcome that ostracized family member who has carelessly injured us. We may need to rediscover, in our own quiet contrition, the radiant Gospel commitment that has paled in us.

Meister Eckhart, seven centuries ago, sought such a Christmas moment:

Today we celebrate the Eternal Birth
which God the Father has borne
and never ceases to bear in all eternity.
But if it takes not place in me, what avails it?
Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.

Music: Two Hour Playlist for Christmas – Tim Janis