Marking the Hours

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a few days of reading Leviticus. The reading today provides a long list of when and how the community should gather to worship. It is a lexicon on how to honor the sacred presence in their lives. Such honoring includes aspects of celebration, decoration, sharing, remembering and hoping together.

Lv23_37 hoursJPG

While the particular enjoinments detailed in Leviticus might not pertain to us, their spirit does. It is a spirit that encourages us to cherish the gift of time – moments, days, years – as precious opportunities to encounter God.

Down through the ages, people seeking holiness have used various, ritualized practices to remember and honor God’s omnipresence in their lives. They include morning and nighttime prayers, Grace before Meals, the Blessing of the Hour, the Angelus at noontime, the great liturgical practices of Advent and Lent, and the Divine Office. Each of these spiritual practices helps us to be more intentional about the true meaning and purpose of our daily life. 

Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictan monastic, has published a beautiful book to help people mark the hours of their day. She says this in Seven Sacred Pauses:


When I speak of “the hours” I am referring to those times of the day that the earth’s turning offers us: midnight, dawn, midmorning, noon, midafternoon, evening, and night. Although every hour is sacred, these special times have been hallowed by centuries of devotion and prayer…..

The daily and nightly dance of the hours is a universal way of honoring the earth’s turning as well as the sacred mysteries that flow out of our Christian heritage.


I think this is exactly what our Leviticus passage is doing as well. Our time is so precious and it flows so quickly! What a tragedy if we fail to stop and realize that it is the holy river on which we are meant to float to God!

robson-hatsukami-morgan-454S_xB0ReA-unsplash
Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash

Music: Teach Us to Number Our Days – Marty Goetz

Vigil

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we keep vigil with the “Children of Israel” as they begin the great Exodus.

Ex12_42 Vigil

Even the youngest of us understands what it means to “keep vigil”. Toddlers, on Christmas Eve, keep vigil for the sound of Santa’s footsteps on the roof.

Throughout our lives, the kinds of vigils we keep deepen in meaning. Any given night holds an array of vigil-keepers:

  • A nervous student pulls an all-nighter before a big exam.
  • An anxious parent watches over a feverish child.
  • A faith-filled soul sits in pre-dawn prayer.
  • A vigilant elder prays quietly at the death bed of a long-beloved.

As families and communities, we wait together for each other’s lives.

  • Together, we expect the births of each generation’s babies.
  • We wait and hope for college acceptances and new jobs.
  • We wait for test results of all kinds.
  • We wait to listen to one another’s stories of success or disappointment.
  • We wait and prepare for the dawning of great feasts like Christmas and Easter

When we keep vigil, we live in expectation of something or someone coming to us. But there is another important aspect to every vigil.

As we wait, something is also happening within us.
In the deep quiet of our waiting, we are transformed.

Thomas Merton, monk of Gethsemane, was assigned to keep a particular type of vigil at the abbey. It was called “fire watch”, a night-long lookout to ensure that no fire erupted in the old wooden buildings as the other monks slept.  Merton writes about that watch at the end of his book The Sign of Jonas:

The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light:  a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.
“Fire Watch, July 4, 1952”

Today, as we pray with Israel’s Passover vigil, let us consider our own vigils – current or past. Beyond their apparent meaning, to what secret transformation might God be inviting us? What is happening deep in our soul as we watch far out to the horizon of our hope?

Music: Firewatch – Chris Remo

Holy Saturday

 Alternative Reading for Today: Walter Brueggemann

Holy Saturday

Today, in Mercy, we join Mary and the disciples as they deal with Christ’s death. No doubt, the range of emotions among them was as great as it would be among any group or family losing someone they dearly loved.

They had entered, with heart-wrenching drama, into a period of bereavement over the loss of Jesus. Doubt, hope, loss, fear, sadness and remembered joy vied for each of their hearts. They comforted one another and tried to understand each other’s handling of their terrible shared bereavement.

They did just what we all do as families, friends and communities when our beloved dies.

But ultimately, our particular bereavement belongs to us alone, woven from the many experiences we have had with the person who has died. These are personal and indescribable, as is the character of our pain and loss.

Do not be afraid of your bereavement.  It is a gift of love.

Holy Saturday, like bereavement, is a time of infrangible silence. No matter how many “whys” we throw heavenward, no answer comes. It is a time to test what Love has meant to us and, even as it seems to leave us, how it will live in us.

As we pray today with the bereaved Mother and disciples, let us fold all our bereavements into their love.  We already know the joyful end to the story, so let us pray today with honesty but also with unconquerable hope that we will live and love again.

Separately, I will send two poems today that I hope may help with your prayer.

Music:  Farewell – Michael Hoppé

 

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday, April 18, 2019

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 Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, infinitely profound in meaning and effect.

John13_12

 The scripture passages for this evening’s liturgy are filled with symbols to help us pray with this profundity:

  • the Lamb
  • its exonerating blood on the lintel
  • the blessing-cup of Psalm 116
  • the bread
  • the wine
  • the towel, basin and water

 There is an action connected to each of these symbols which actualizes its meaning:

  •  sacrifice – the Lamb
  • sign– its exonerating blood on the lintel
  • lifting– the blessing-cup of Psalm 116
  • breaking – the bread
  • pouring– the wine
  • washing – the towel, basin and water

 With his final command in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how important action is for those who want to follow him:

 I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you,
you should also do.

 As we look at our own lives on this Holy Thursday, what symbol and action speak to our hearts?

  • Is there a sacrifice we are called to make for the sake of goodness in the world?
  • Are there signs of our faith that we need to make evident?
  • Do we lift up our praise to God in all aspects of our life?
  • What needs to be broken and poured for Christ to be fully alive in us?
  • How are we called to be servant like Him?

 On Holy Thursday, Jesus makes it clear that sacrament and service are inextricably tied to each other. As his followers, it is not enough to venerate the symbols. They must be memorialized in our loving actions for one another.

 Dear Friends, on this beautiful feast of Christic Love,
let us pray wholeheartedly for one another.
I promise you that in a special way today.

 Music: two offerings today

 Pange Lingua- traditional Holy Thursday hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas 

 Song for Holy Thursday – English rendering of the Pange Lingua

Hold His Gaze

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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IMG_8978 

Today, in Mercy,  the shadows of “Spy Wednesday” threaten. In our Gospel, Judas asks the chief priests,

“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”

 How terribly sad! This man whom Judas loved and admired! This man who loved and trusted Judas in return! Judas sells Divine Friendship for thirty pieces of silver … about a season’s wages. Hence, for all time, the name “Judas” has been tied to betrayed trust.

 We give a great gift when we trust someone. We hope they will be honest and respectful of that gift. We hope they will be truthful in relationship with us. We hope that, if the relationship frays, they will try with us to re-knit it, or at least to lay it aside in reverence and gratitude. Judas proved unworthy of the trust Jesus had given him.

 Trust is a precious and scant commodity in our modern culture. Our entertainment media presents us constantly with examples of cheating, treachery, greed, and a host of other deadly sins. It shows us relationships built on whim and appearances rather than long and tested fidelity and honor. Our culture has become confused, like Judas, about what is really important for our lives.

 Perhaps some of our errant culture has seeped into our spiritual lives? Today is a good day to test the quality of our relationship with God. Do we trust him, speak with him, choose for him, stand by him? Will God find us faithful? Or are there some little pieces of silver in our lives for which we sometimes trade him?

 Music: May the Lord Find Us Faithful – Mac and Beth Lynch

Fearful Tuesday

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as Holy Week deepens, so does confusion, fear, and even betrayal among Christ’s disciples.

fearful tuesday

In today’s Gospel, we see Judas turn from his own truth to a disastrous treachery.

We see John and Peter full of questions, confused by the turn of events. Jesus foretells the impending denial by Peter, his chosen successor.

The great trials of Christ’s Passion and Death emerge from the shadows of rumor and deception. Jesus makes it clear that the end is near.

As we read the passage, we can feel the fear mounting in everyone but Jesus. In him, we see see Isaiah’s description strengthening- the Lord’s Glorious Servant rising as the Light of Nations.

Fear destroys while trust and hope liberate.

Praying with this Gospel this morning, I remember the face of a woman I had seen on the evening news. At a contentious political rally, she was loudly shouting her preference to live under a dictator rather than live in a country “full of filthy immigrants”. She thought her raging made her strong. But I saw a person filled with ignorance and fear.

I can’t forget her face. It so saddened me to see the child of a beautiful God so distorted by weakness, prejudice and fear. She could no longer see the face of God in another human being. I think hers would have been the face I saw on Judas, had I met him as he left the Last Supper.

Fear is a disfiguring disease. It seeps into our heart and mind to blind and deafen us to God’s power in our life. It cripples our graced potential. It eventually kills the “glorious servant” we too have been called to become.

Paula D’Arcy says this:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,
if I were not dominated by fear?

It’s a powerful question.

How does fear keep me:

  • from loving?
  • from hoping?
  • from believing?
  • from giving?
  • from receiving?

Today’s Responsorial Psalm, filled with beautiful phrases, offers us a heartfelt prayer as we place our fears in God’s hands:

R. I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,

a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O LORD;

my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,

day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing of your salvation.

Music:  Where Feet May Fail – Hillsong

Will You Anoint Him?

Monday, April 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we set out with Jesus on the path to Calvary, we might consider his companions who accompanied him.

John12_3 Mary

Closest to Christ’s heart on this journey is his Father. Today’s first reading gives us some insight into that profound divine sharing:

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

In other words, “Have courage, Son, I am with you.”

His disciples, women and men committed to the Gospel, also share the dramatic events of these days. Our Gospel today gives us Mary of Bethany, a leader and gatherer of the early Christian community. Her heart is broken at the now obvious prospect of Jesus’s death. In the name of their primal church, Mary offers Jesus the first sacrament of anointing.

In other words, “Have courage, Beloved Leader, we are with you.”

On this Monday morning of Holy Week, where are we in the community gathered around Jesus? How are we speaking to him, comforting him, loving him?

Jesus’s Passion is enfleshed in our time in the suffering of the poor, the refugee, the sick, the disenfranchised, those called “vermin” by the powerful. How am I with Jesus in his anguish today?

Music:  Two offerings today, one classical, one modern.

Timor et Tremor – from Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (Four Penitential Motets) by Francis Poulenc

 

Pour My Love on You –  Phillips, Craig & Dean

Every Broken Branch

( I wrote this reflection for the Sisters of Mercy. It will be available on that blog as well. You may be interested in some of the other excellent articles to be found there.
Click here for Sisters of Mercy blog.)

Today, in Mercy, we enter the sacred embrace of Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is a feast with two faces.

Jesus rides in triumph into Jerusalem, but his deep heart realizes that the road ultimately leads to his death. Jesus, who once called himself the Vine, knows that the bright green branches waved in adulation will soon be trampled to the ground.

Phil2_palm sunday

In these final days of Lent, we are faced with the question, “What turns green hope to crumbled brown in us – and how can it be green again?”

Many years ago, I sat in a marbled, flowered funeral home with a bereaved father.

“There are things worse than death,” he said.  After several absent years, his drug-addicted son had been found dead in an alley, under the cardboard box where he lived.  “At least I know where he is now.  Finally, we can all be at peace.”

Jack’s son had been lost to him.  In the stranglehold of heroin, the great hope of his young life had degenerated into profound suffering.  The vigor of his early dreams had withered, like broken tendrils on the once hopeful vine. It was, in every sense, a human tragedy.

Jesus understood such withering.  He prayed for his disciples that they would not suffer it.  He knew what would face him and them in the week following the lifted palms. He knows what will face us as we try to discern the honest path to joy, peace and fulfillment.

The enticements of evil are deceptive.  Greed comes clothed as entitlement. Lust masquerades as passion, addiction as pleasure. They entwine and choke us in a false embrace that whispers, “This is for you.”  Fed by the fear of never having or being enough, we resort to these very catalysts that will destroy us.  Even the voice of love struggles to reach someone locked in this cycle of self-absorption.  Like every barren branch, they wilt and sever themselves from all that could enliven them.

Jesus acknowledges that the choice for life is not always easy.  He tells the disciples that, indeed, they will be pruned.  No life escapes the incisions of hard experience. Like his followers, we too will face loss, pain, frustration and diminishment.  But if our hearts have been fed by his word, we will hold to grace and we will thrive.

Much of the Palm Sunday crowd shifted gears by Friday, becoming a rabble of accusers.  They could not follow Jesus through Calvary to his Resurrection.

But there is no true life apart from God.  There is no path to perfection and joy but through God’s Will.  The Passion and Death of Jesus have already set our roots in this blessed soil.  May we cling by grace to that treasured Vine.

Music: J.S. Bach – Cantata; Himmelskönig, sei willkommen / King of Heaven, be Thou welcome – BWV 182

Come Forth from the Darkness

Saturday, April 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings make it clear that, now, no one in Jerusalem is indifferent about Jesus.

Lazarus come forth

The raising of Lazarus from the dead has pretty much sealed the deal for Jesus. Imagine what that scene must have been like! Picture yourself at the cemetery, laying your Easter palm crosses, and suddenly your beloved rises from the dead!

The Gospel offers an unbelievably stoical comment: 

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done
began to believe in him.

Are you kidding me? You bet I’d believe in someone with that kind of power!

So what held the others back from believing? What holds us back from giving it all to God?

Fear?
Jealousy?
Loss of control?
A shallow heart?
A dulled spirit?

In our first reading, God once again promises:

I will deliver them from all their sins of faithlessness,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.

Just as Christ delivered Lazarus from the grave, and Mary and Martha from their mourning, may we be delivered from anything that binds us from the fullness of life in God.

(I will send a powerful poem along later today. I think it is worth taking time with.)

Music: Lazarus, Come Forth – The Bishops (Lyrics below)

Lazarus, Come Forth

Heartbroken, tears fallin’
Martha found Jesus
She questioned why Lazarus had died.
When she had thus spoken
Her doubts were then silenced
He walked toward the body and cried.

(Chorus)
Lazarus, come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.

Lazarus, come forth,
From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Lazarus, come forth.

The tomb now was empty,
Martha stopped crying
Her brother now stood by her side.
The Pharisees wondered
About what had happened,
How could one now live who had died.

The reason this story
Gives hope to so many
Is although we know we must die,
Our bodies won’t stay there
In cold and dark silence
We’ll hear Jesus cry from on high.

Children come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.
Children, come forth,

From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Children, come forth.

For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
My children, come forth.

 

 

Believe the Works!

Friday, April 12, 2019

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Jn10_38

Today, in Mercy,  in our readings the distress of both Jeremiah and Jesus becomes palpable.

Jeremiah says:

All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

And Jesus, as the crowd pick up stones to throw at him, says:

I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?

The Psalmist responds for both Jesus and Jeremiah:

In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

Jesus tells his persecutors:

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

Perhaps Jesus is also speaking to us in any place where our faith is weak, or we harbor doubts. He is asking us to place absolute trust in him in all things. It’s a big request and one we work a lifetime to achieve.

In our prayer, we might take time to remember the works God has already accomplished in our lives, the gifts God has given us through the years, the wonders of Creation we have experienced, the loves that have graced our days.

In gratitude and trust, let us place any distress in our hearts into the open heart of Jesus, repeating our Gospel verse for today:

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

Music: Your Words Are Spirit and Life – Bernadette Farrell