Skies Darken for Jesus

Friday, March 22, 2019

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Agnus Dei

Today, in Mercy, we begin with the powerful and moving story of Joseph – sweet, innocent son of of Jacob who was betrayed by his brothers. Jacob sends Joseph to work with his brothers, believing they love him. He was wrong.

Our Gospel then tells the story of the frustrated landowner who sent his son on mission to settle his accounts. though the landowner’s servants had been abused by the tenants, he believed his son would be respected. He was wrong.

Both these stories are prototypes of the Father sending Jesus to redeem us. The intention is the same. The hope is the same. Unfortunately, the result is the same.

In our Gospel, Jesus realizes that the Father’s hope for him will not be met with openness and acceptance. He sees the Pharisees milling around in hateful conversation.  Referencing the parable, Jesus says:

“The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for the crowds regarded him as a prophet.

This morning, let’s pray for all those who send their beloveds out in hope to do good in the world:

  • for police officers, firefighters, first responders whose families send them out each day always fearing for their safety
  • for medical personnel who risk sickness in their care for others
  • for missionaries and justice workers who encounter threat and danger in helping others
  • for peacekeepers and military who work to end war and tyranny
  • for all of us when we reach out in justice and courage, hoping to be received with respect and mutuality

May the example of Christ inspire and sustain us to do our part for God’s continuing redemption of the world.

Music: Agnis Dei – Michael Hoppè

A Warning Sign

Thursday, March 21, 2019

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generous impulse

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel gives us the disturbing parable of the rich man, sometimes called Dives, and Lazarus, a very poor man.

The story is disturbing because 

  • Lazarus suffers so desperately 
  • Dives is impervious to that suffering 
  • God won’t give Dives a break after his death
  • We fear being in either of these guys’ situations 

Probably, like most people, we’d rather be rich than poor. But would we rather be generous with that wealth or selfish? Do we ever find ourselves thinking thoughts like this, deciding we’re not responsible for the gap between rich and poor:

“I worked hard for what I have. Let everybody else do the same!”

That wealth gap cannot be mended simply by giving a dollar to a corner beggar nor by donating our wornout clothes to Goodwill. This kind of re-balancing requires a conversion of heart which touches our economic, political and moral understanding.

I was struck this morning by this headline from The Economist, a British weekly magazine.

economist

How can today’s Gospel inspire and encourage us in a global culture that infcreasingly marginalizes persons who are poor, resourceless, and politically oppressed?

May the story of Lazarus and Dives influence us to use the powers we have to make just and generous decisions.

  • We can vote for just, generous and moral leaders. 
  • We can advocate for universally just policies. 
  • We can donate to compassionate causes. 
  • We can confront hateful speech and stereotyping. 
  • We can speak and act for justice, peace, inclusivity and mercy.

We just have to be courageous before, like Dives, it is too late for us.

Music:  Act Justly

Can You Drink the Cup?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

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Mt20_22 cup

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells the story of Mrs. Zebedee, who sought a prejudiced advantage for her two disciple sons.

Jesus said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

Sounds a little like something ripped from today’s headlines, doesn’t it.

headline

There is a natural inclination to advantage those we love. But when we do so to the unjust disadvantage of others, that’s a problem.

We know from experience that people use various points of leverage to gain advantage in life. We see people use money, power, political connections, and other influences to get a job, choose a school, land an important invitation, get a traffic ticket written off, etc., etc. Maybe, on occasion, we are one of those people.

Today’s Gospel teaches us a lesson. In gaining such advantage, we may, as Jesus says, “not know what we are asking for”. Can we actually DO the job, succeed in the school, … become a better person by what we have maniputively gained?

The Gospel also brings before us the “other people” who lost the right to what we unjustly claimed. How do they begin to see us? What do we lose in respect and mutuality within our community? How do we begin to see ourselves in relationship to justice, honesty, sincerity and truth?

Jesus hopes that we will love every person to the extent that we want her/his just advantage as much as we want our own? That is the “cup” He drinks through his Passion and Death.

Let us ponder Jesus’s question to us: Can you drink the cup that I will drink?

Music:  The More I Seek You ~ Gateway Worship

Saint Joseph, Silent Strength

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St Joseph
St. Theresa of Avila wrote, “I took for my patron the glorious St. Joseph and recommended myself earnestly to him. It is now very many years since I began asking St. Joseph for something on his feast, and I always received it. If the petition was in any way amiss, he rectified it for my greater good.”

The very way the Church defines the Feast tells us a great deal about Joseph. Men are seldom described by their relationship to a woman.  It is more often the other way around. Consider our lingering custom of wives assuming their husband’s surnames, for example.

But Joseph is known because of his connection to Mary. He is a steady force in the background of her life and the life of Jesus. Joseph is the kind, generous and faithful one who nurtures and protects them.

And he is the silent one. Not a single word was ever recorded from him. What we know of Joseph issues from his actions. For example, before he knew that Mary had conceived through the Holy Spirit:

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.

This virtue of righteousness sums up the character of Joseph as we find him in scripture. Righteousness is complementary to justice.

Walter Brueggemann in his book, Journey to the Common Good, says this about the relationship between justice and righteousness:

“Justice in the Old Testament concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have access to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity…. Righteousness concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity.”

Joseph exercised such righteousness not only in responding to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. He took the risk of becoming a refugee family in order to save Jesus’s infant life. After the finding in the Temple, he stepped into the background in order to allow young Jesus to assume his teaching vocation. No doubt, during the silent years which then surround Joseph, he continued to live an active life doing good for his family and community, and quietly fostering the ministry of Jesus.

Despite the scarcity of recorded knowledge about Joseph, there is an ample devotional treasury describing him. It is captured in outline form in the Litany to St. Joseph, a prayer I learned to love because it was one of my father’s favorites. I sometimes say just a few lines, slowly, to let the holiness of Joseph call me deeper into my own spiritual life.
(Music is below the Litany.)

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. 

God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us. 
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. 
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us. 
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us. 

Holy Mary, pray for us (after each line)
Saint Joseph,
Renowned offspring of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Diligent protector of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most strong,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of artisans,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the wretched, Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Protector of Holy Church, 

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord. 
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord. 
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us. 

V. He made him the lord of His house:
R. And ruler of all His substance. 

Let us pray.
O God, who in Your unspeakable providence chose blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Your own most holy Mother: grant, we ask, that we may deserve to have him for our intercessor in heaven, whom we reverence as our defender on earth. Amen.

Music: I Am a Carpenter – Cher & Gene Klosner 

This One’s Pretty Difficult!

Monday, March 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to be merciful, as God is merciful.

I think that’s really hard.

Lk6_36 be merciful

Being merciful is not too hard with poor, unfortunate souls for whom life is one tragedy after another.

It’s not too hard when someone innocent is suffering unjustly.

But, gosh, it’s difficult to be merciful in the face of meanness, stupidity, selfishness and arrogance.

Yet God is merciful to me when I’m like that.

The Gospel’s message is painfully straightforward. It calls me to examine all my judgmental thoughts and actions and to reverse them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be busy for a while working on this one.

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

God’s Own — Wow!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in our reading from Deuteronomy, God tells the People that they are loved in a unique way. So are you!

God says:  And today the LORD is making this agreement with you:

You are to be a people peculiarly his own

Dt16_18 peculiarly

The word “peculiarly” may strike us exactly as it says. It is a word whose usage has changed over the centuries. We think of it today as “odd” or “unusual”, a meaning given it only since the 18th century.

The word’s actual derivation is this:

Mid-15th century:  “belonging exclusively to one person,” from Latin peculiaris “of one’s own (property),” from peculium “private property,” literally “property in cattle” (in ancient times the most important form of property).

So Deuteronomy is telling us that we are to God as the herdsman’s possessions are to herdsman. We belong to God Who has invested everything in us. God will protect, nurture and strengthen us in a relationship of mutual investment and harmony — IF we do our part which is:

… provided you keep all his commandments,
he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory
above all other nations he has made,
and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God,
as he promised.

In our Gospel, Jesus outlines exactly how to do this.

Love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

In today’s world, so full of hate, greed and retribution, I suppose we are “peculiar”, in both senses of the word, when we live as Jesus asks.

Music: How He Loves Is ~David Crowder Band ( The Song may not resonate with at first, but stick with it. There is something deep in this melody..)

Take It Up a Notch

Friday, March 15, 2019

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Mt5_24 brother
Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to take it up a notch. It’s not good enough, he says, not to kill people.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you …

When we first read this, we might think we’re pretty safe. After all, how many of us actually kill people?!?! 

But let’s check that, Jesus says:

  • Don’t remain angry with your sister/brother
  • Don’t call them  “empty head” (raqa)
  • Don’t call them fools 

Jesus seems to be telling us that there are many ways to kill!

  • We can kill the possibility of relationship by our unresolved angers, grudges, sustained hatred of people.
  • We can kill hope in someone by labeling them stupid or foolish.
  • We can easily kill someone’s reputation by a false or injudicious word.
  • We can kill joy by our indifference.
  • We can kill love with ingratitude.
  • We can kill innocence with any of the seven deadly sins

It takes vigorous spiritual attention to live at the level Jesus is asking of us. Let’s give our souls that particular attention, especially during our Lenten journey.

Music: The Servant Song – Maranatha

God, please …

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about prayer – a particular kind: the prayer of supplication. 

As children, many of us learned this acronym for the types of prayer: ACTS
Ollie_pray

Adoration – Contrition – Thanksgiving – Supplication

The mnemonic has been helpful to me as an adult too. It reminds me to communicate with God only many levels, not just to ask for something. I know how I feel about someone who never talks to me unless they need something. I don’t want to be that way with God.

In our first reading, Esther prays a prayer of supplication for the deliverance of her people from death. Her prayer is not a simple, passing, “Please”. The passage tells us:

She lay prostrate upon the ground,
together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, (praying)

In our Gospel, Jesus describes the prayer of supplication :

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.

My prayers of supplication haven’t always seemed to get the results Esther got or that Jesus describes. Ever feel that way … that your prayer really hasn’t been answered?

Faith assures us that all our needs are met … even before we present them to God. God is acting in our lives whether or not we speak with God about it.

Our prayer, as it becomes deeper and truer, allows us to enter God’s action with faith, hope, love and courage. This is the perfect prayer of supplication – it allows us to float, content, in the water of God’s will always flowing around our lives.

ask-Receive

David Foster Wallace created a parable you may have heard:

Two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What is water?”

Foster explains, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

Our reality is that we exist in the “water” of God’s life and presence. May our “asking” of God lead us to understand that our life in God is already the answer.

Music: Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire – James Montgomery (1771–1854)

Montgomery wrote the lyrics at the request of Edward Bickersteth, who wanted them for his book Treatise on Prayer. Montgomery called this “the most attractive hymn I ever wrote.”

( I have included all the Lyrics below. Quite beautiful, I think.)

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains
That reach the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters Heav’n with prayer.

Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
Returning from his ways,
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry, “Behold, he prays!”

The saints in prayer appear as one
In word, in deed, and mind,
While with the Father and the Son
Sweet fellowship they find.

Nor prayer is made on earth alone;
The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on th’eternal throne,
For sinners intercedes.

O Thou by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray.

Time with the Beloved

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. His prayer is simple and direct, like talking to your Dad over a morning cup of coffee.

What about us? How do we pray?

Our first learned prayers are a lot like Jesus’s simple Our Father. We praise God, giving thanks, and asking for what we need.

Abba Father

Then we grow up and get sophisticated. We may begin to “say” or read prayers rather than use our own words. While such a practice can deepen our understanding of prayer, it places a layer between us and our conversation with God.

Sometimes others lead our prayer in the community of faith. This too can enrich us as we are inspired by a shared faith. But it is a little like trying to have a private conversation in an elevator.

Just as Jesus often went off in solitude to pray, this kind of prayer is our most intimate time with God – a time when God allows us to know God and ourselves in a deeper way. This sacred time alone with God may be spent in words, song, or the silence that speaks beyond words.

It is a time to be with the Beloved as we would our dearest, most faithful companion. We rest in the field of our experiences, letting them flow over God’s heart in tenderness. We listen with the ear of absolute trust to the secrets God tells us in the quiet.

Music: In His Presence – Sandi Patty

God’s Beloved Least Ones

Monday, March 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the voice of the Lord, in both Leviticus and Matthew, makes one thing abundantly clear: God lives in the “least ones”, and this is where we must love and serve God.

Mt25_45 least

In our first reading, God tells the people to be holy – not by offering God sacrifice and praise, but like this:

  • Don’t steal.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t make an empty vow.
  • Don’t cheat.
  • Don’t hurt those already hurting.
  • Don’t make false judgments.
  • Don’t be prejudiced.
  • Don’t do nasty gossip.
  • Don’t ignore your neighbor’s need.
  • Don’t hate, take revenge on, or begrudge others.

In other words, 

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.

We are so accustomed to this passage that we may miss how startling it is! God asks nothing of us for himself! God asks only that we love God through our neighbor.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reiterates this command in the form of positive actions, adding how we will be judged by it. Jesus says:

  • Feed the hungry.
  • Hydrate the thirsty.
  • Welcome the stranger.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Care for the sick.
  • Visit the imprisoned.

We are called to these works of mercy on many levels. Certainly the call is first to the physically suffering – the homeless, the refugee, the uncared for, the abused.

But we also know from our own experience that there are all kinds of hungers and thirsts in the human heart. There is a loneliness that persists even in a crowd. There is naked fear, depression and isolation even among those otherwise warmly dressed. There are sicknesses that come from selfishness and others that come from abandonment. There are prisons without bars.

We do not have to look far to find the “least ones” whom God wishes us to love and serve.

We do not have to look far to find God. We just have to look deep.

Music: The Circle of Mercy – Jeannette Goglia, RSM