A Love in Troubled Times

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we inch closer to Holy Week, we meet both a very troubled Jeremiah and Jesus.

V0034343 The prophet Jeremiah wailing alone on a hill. Engraving.
The Prophet Jeremiah Weeping Alone on a Hill (from the Wellcome Trust)

Jeremiah, the Old Testament mirror of Jesus’s sufferings, bewails the treachery even of his friends:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

That’s really raw, because you can get through almost anything in the company of true friends.


 

Jesus weeps
Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

Jesus came as a Friend and hoped to find Friends of God by his ministry. And he did find many. But not all.

It takes some work to be a true friend of Jesus. Some didn’t have the courage, or generosity, or passion, or hopeful imagination to reach past their self-protective boundaries – to step into eternal life even as they walked the time-bound earth.

In today’s Gospel this band of resisters project their fears and doubts to the crowds around them. The evil sparks light the ready tinder of human selfishness. The mob turns on Jesus, spiritual misers scoffing at the generous challenge to believe.

Jesus pleads with them to realize what they are doing:

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.

But Jesus and Jeremiah, though troubled, are grounded in God. Our Responsorial Psalm captures what might have been their silent prayer:

Psalm18 distress

The following transliteration of Psalm 18, composed by Christine Robinson, might help us to be with Jesus in his moment, and in our own moments of fear, anxiety, or doubt.

I open my heart to you, O God
for you are my strength, my fortress,
the rock on whom I build my life.

I have been lost in my fears and my angers
caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious
I cried to you in my anguish.
You have brought me to an open space.
You saved me because you took delight in me.
I try to be good, to be just, to be generous
to walk in your ways.
I fail, but you are my lamp.
You make my darkness bright
With your help, I continue to scale the walls
and break down the barriers that fragment me.
I would be whole, and happy, and wise
and know your love
Always.

Music: Overcome – Psalm 18 by James Block

What God Will You Give Your Life To?

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we see faith tested by fire.

7SRCYZFA2A

In our first reading, three young men stand convinced of God. Even the threat of a fiery death cannot shake them from that conviction.

And their faith is not a quid pro quo – a case where they say to God, “I’ll believe if you do ‘X’ for me.” No, their commitment is unqualified and complete:

If our God, whom we serve,
can save us from the white-hot furnace
and from your hands, O king, may he save us!
But even if he will not, know, O king,
that we will not serve your god
or worship the golden statue.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are cast into the furnace, a fourth figure appears with them, an angel of God who delivers them safely through their trial.

fire


In our Gospel, even “the Jews who believed” in Jesus begin to quibble with him. They stand with him at the threshold of his Passion and Death, the great fire that will test them all. Like the three young men at the furnace, they face the ultimate choice:

Who do you really believe in?

What God will you give your life to?

Jesus challenges them to follow him into the fire that faces him:

Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you …
… if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.

Throughout our lives, our faith will be tested many times. That’s why it’s called “faith” and not “certainty ”. Our life circumstances will ask us, again and again, if our faith is strong enough to stand in the fire, to walk the Calvary road with Jesus.

Let the testimony of the ages inspire us with courage. We know the fire hid an angel. We know the road continued past the bloody hill and on to the Resurrection. We know that every storm will pass and leave us washed anew in grace if we make that ultimate choice to be faithful.

Music: Praise You in This Storm – Casting Crowns

Where Are We, Anyway?

March 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we end the month of March in a very different place from where we began it.  On March 1st, I didn’t expect to be in midst of the Corona Desert did you?

Neither did the Israelites in today’s first reading expect to be in their particular desert. They had left the oppressions of Egypt with no certainties, but nonetheless with expectations. Now, after decades wandering the desert, those expectations turned into some typical complaints:

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!

They even go so far as to blame a coincidental snake infestation on God, demanding that Moses get God to fix it.

desert

What’s going on here with our wandering ancestors? I think that, in our current circumstances, it might be worthwhile to consider that question. Our Gospel reading points us toward an answer.

Jesus has invited his community to a journey too – a journey away from the oppressions of injustice, selfishness, and lovelessness; to a place where “law” is not used as an excuse for domination; to a new community where all Creation shares equally in the Bread of Life.

But the Pharisees don’t get it. They are lost in a desert of their own illusions, needs, and fears. They can’t see past the sandstorms of their own construction.

That’s why Jesus tells them:

I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.

…. because you just can’t trust enough, let go enough to see that the journey is so much deeper than your present concerns. It is a journey of the soul from oppression to freedom, from selfishness to love, from blindness to light.

Jesus invites us too, even as we negotiate our desert journeys, to release our hearts to a world beyond appearances.

You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.

Indeed, we must pay attention to the exigencies of our earthly journey, but today’s readings remind us that the true journey is infinitely deeper. That faith should inspire our hope, choices, and attitudes in what certainly seems like an awfully big desert.

Deserts can make us desperate, if we let them. Or they can shear us of everything that blocks our soul’s sight.

We may not see clearly beyond this momentary desert, but we are the children of an eternal and merciful God. May we trust our journey to that Immutable Loving Presence and allow ourselves to be made new.

Music: Everything is Holy Now – Peter Mayer

(Thanks to Sister Michele Gorman for sharing this beautiful song on Facebook)

Find the Deep Stream

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 24, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings describe a deep and hidden stream revealed by God –

first to Ezechiel …

Raffael-vision-ezechiel
The Vision of Ezechiel by Rafael

then to a long-paralyzed man …

Schönherr_The_pool_of_Bethesda
The pool of Bethesda, by Schönherr.

So many stories in Scripture are laced with the same theme: there is a infinite mystery hidden under the surface of life:

  • Keep searching. Keep searching. 
  • The precious pearl that awaits discovery. 
  • The lost coin that must be found. 
  • The mustard seed buried in circumstance. 
  • The stream running deep under appearances.

We might be tempted to dismiss our first reading from Ezechiel as over-described allegory. But its rendition of the slow, steady deepening, through which God leads the prophet, offers us an apt image to reflect on our own graced journey. 

Ez47_9 stream

Hasn’t God led us gently to the faith we have today? Like young children learning to ride the ocean breakers, we have been taught by a patient God. He returns in every tide to take us deeper into our next capacity for grace.

For thirty-eight years, the man in today’s Gospel has been paralyzed by the water’s edge. Maybe we know how he feels.

duck

He believes that his life is beyond transformation. He cannot dive under the surface of his circumstances to find the quickening waters.


Jesus gives him the key to unlock his paralysis. In a short phrase, Jesus offers the man a multilayered question:

  • What do you really want in your deepest heart?
  • When you find the answer, break through all that has kept you from that deepest desire. 
  • Step with Me through the next wave, and the next until, finally, we swim together in the great ocean of covenanted trust.

As our Responsorial Psalm promises:

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.

Music: I Am – Marty Goetz (Lyrics below)

Come, behold the works of the Lord
How He has wrought the desolation
How He has brought His early help
The Lord of Hosts is with us
The God of Jacob is our refuge
When the nations rage and all the kingdoms fall
He says I Am, I Am, I Am all

And there’s a river whose streams make glad the city of God
They flow to His Holy habitation
They flow to the home of the Most High
The Lord of Hosts is with us
The God of Jacob is our refuge
He breaks the bow, he shatters the spear
And says I Am, I Am, I Am here!

So we will not fear
Though the worlds should change
Though the waters roar
Though the mountains shake and tremble
For He’s a present help in trouble, in trouble

Be still and know that I am God
I Am exalted in the nations
I Am exalted in the earth
The Lord of Hosts is with us
The God of Jacob is our refuge
To the ends of the earth He causes wars to cease and says
I Am, I Am, I Am peace
He says I Am, I Am, I Am peace

A Prayer of Praise

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

March 21, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we are encouraged to pray. Hosea tells us:

“Come, let us return to the LORD,
it is he who has rent, but he will heal us;
… the LORD will come to us like the rain,
like spring rain that waters the earth.”

Let the image of that truth sink into your parched spirit.

rain


Our Gospel leads us to pray humbly:

But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

As we pray humbly today, let us ask for God’s refreshment for all our sisters and brothers across the earth. In good times and in trials, let us always praise God.

I would like to share one of my own poems with you today, as we kneel before God with all struggling Creation begging God for the rain of Mercy.

        All Creation    

 All Creation kneels,
a Single Being,
to praise God.

 From its immense heart,
it sings myriad songs at once,
Morning and Evensong,
Praise and Dirge,
Alas and Alleluia,
intermingled

 It sings even over its own scars,
where the chasms cry out for balm.
It sings both the remembrance
and the hope of blessing.
It sings the endurance of faith
and the confidence of love.

 In roar and silence,
darkness and light,
Creation kneels,
a Single Being,
to praise God.

Music: Total Praise sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  Just watching these faith-filled people lifts my heart and gives me hope.  I trust it will do the same for you, dear friends as we pray for one another. (Lyrics below)

Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my health is coming from You
Your peace You give me in times of the storm
You are the source of my strength,
You are the strength of my life,
I lift my hands in total praise to You
Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my health is coming from You
Your peace, You give me in times of the storm
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life

Grace-filled Water

Third Sunday of Lent

March 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, water flows through all our readings, inviting us to God’s refreshing Mercy.

Gen_rock

For the thirsty and testy Israelites, the water flows from the rock of their hopelessness. Wandering in the desert for days on end, they are exhausted and bewildered. Each sunrise seems to push their destination farther away rather than bring it closer. They are thirsty … but for a lot more than a cool drink.

And God gives everything they need – not only water, but surprised hope and renewed confidence as they witness the mighty rock split at Moses’ touch.

Paul points out that it is, indeed, that hope which truly slakes the deeper thirst. 

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In our Gospel story, Jesus awakens in the Samaritan woman a thirst and hope she didn’t know she had. The layers of her tangled life had formed an impervious rock around her, insulating her from her own soul’s needs.

800px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Christ_and_the_Samaritan_Woman_-_Google_Art_Project
Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Jesus, “tired from the journey”, expressed his own need to her. This simple request unleashes a cascade of searching from the woman. Jesus, seeing her readiness for grace, catches all that pours out from her. He transforms it into a challenge for conversion:

Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”

And she accepts the challenge:

Sir, give me this water,
so that I may not be thirsty again.

As we pray today, we may sense a desert within us. Or we may feel that our soul’s journey has become frustratingly circuitous. We may be like the Samaritan woman, sitting beside a well that seems slowly drying out. Maybe the juices have dwindled in our souls.

In these readings, as we listen to the Ancients call out for flowing grace, we may find a way to ask God for the refreshment we need just now.

Living Waters – Gettys

Come Back!

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

March 14, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are soaked in Mercy itself … seasoned by repentance, forgiveness, hope, and trust.

Both in Micah’s lilting, poetic words and in Jesus’s  parable, we are embraced by the infinite tenderness of God.

You may find the following comparison odd at first, but stay with me a minute. Reading this morning’s scriptures, I thought of Lidia Bastianich, the famous chef. To me, her show is the perfect combination of instruction, humor, and familial camaraderie. Still, even though Lydia offers tons of invaluable culinary tips, it is her repeated farewell phrase that I most treasure: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!”. “Let everyone come to the table and eat!”

Lydia


Micah, who prophesied just prior to the Siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, condemned the sinfulness rampant in Israel and Judah. At the same time, he consoled the “remnant” people and, àla Lydia, invited them to the table of forgiveness and reconciliation. Here’s the way Micah asks God to “set the table” for God’s repentant People:

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old …


prodigal dinner
The Parable of the Prodigal Son by Frans II Francken

Jesus describes a similar banquet offered to the repentant son:

The father ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’

As I pray today, I ask if there is any lost or hungry part of my spirit that longs to return to the table of Peace and Mercy. I pray also for those places and souls throughout our world who hunger to hear:

Tutti a tavola a mangiare!”

Music: Father, I Have Sinned -written by Fr. Eugene O’Reilly

Rejected

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

March 13, 2020

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Mt21_42rejected

Today, in Mercy, there is a great sadness in our readings.

The poignant opening line from Genesis immediately strikes us:

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age

Joseph

We picture young Joseph in his beautiful rainbow coat and, under an olive tree’s shade, old Jacob(Israel) proudly, tenderly, watching him play.

As the story ensues to reveal the later betrayal of Joseph’s jealous brothers, we are left astounded. Such treachery, especially among brothers, sickens the heart.


Our Gospel picks up the sad theme because Joseph and his brothers are archetypes of Christ’s story with humankind.

800px-The_Wicked_Husbandman_(The_Parables_of_Our_Lord_and_Saviour_Jesus_Christ)_MET_DP835802
The Wicked Husbandman by John Everett Millais shows the owner’s murdered son

Jesus tells a parable in which he is actually the unnamed main character. He is the Son sent by a loving Father. He is the one rejected, beaten and killed by the treacherous tenants of his Father’s garden.

We know from our familiarity with Scripture that both these stories ultimately come to glorious conclusions. But today’s readings do not take us there. They leave us standing, mouths dropped open, at the dense meanness of the human heart, at the soul’s imperviousness to grace, at the profound sadness Jesus felt at this point in his ministry.

In our prayer today, let’s just be with Jesus, sharing his sadness for the meanness still hardening our world. Let us comfort him with our desire to be open to God’s Grace and Mercy.

Music:  Handel:Messiah – He was despised and rejected – Alfred Deller

Turn and See

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

March 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us studies in dramatic contrasts.

the barren bush in a lava waste
vs.
the tree planted beside the waters

that turns its roots to the stream

Jere17_7barrentree



a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen

vs.
a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores

Gustave_Dore_Lazarus_and_the_Rich_Man
Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore (1891)

 

What are Jeremiah and Jesus teaching us with these unforgettable images?

Jeremiah summarizes his point in the very first verse:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

In his parable, Jesus has Abraham deliver the point:

You received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.


Praying with these passages, we might determine to make sure we don’t end up like the barren bush or the ultimately tormented rich person. 

But how can we do that?

I think the key lies in Jeremiah’s phrase, “one whose heart turns away from the LORD.” 

In his parable, Jesus shows us what that “turning” looks like. It is any blind indifference in us that allows us to ignore another’s suffering. 

Most of us don’t consciously choose that indifference. We simply fail to turn from our own comfort … plans, needs, agenda … to observe the pain or need around us.

So as we leave our prayer today, perhaps we can do so determined to turn from our self-interests … to see if there is a “Lazarus” right beside us whom we had failed to notice.

Music: Turn My Heart – Lynn DeShazo (Lyrics below)

Turn my heart O Lord
Like rivers of water
Turn my heart O Lord
By Your hand
‘Til my whole life flows
In the river of Your Spirit
And my name
Bring honor to the Lamb

Lord I surrender to
Your work in me
I rest my life within
Your loving hands

(Repeat chorus 3 times)

‘Til my name brings honor
‘Til my name brings honor
To the Lamb

Here’s That Cup, Again!

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

March 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we learn a lesson in humble leadership, thanks once againto “Mrs. Zebedee”.

Mk 10_38 cup

Our Gospel recounts the story of the mother of James and John interceding for her sons with Jesus. Like many overprotective mothers, she intervenes even into their adult lives. She wants to make sure they get the best deal for their investment with Jesus.

Listen, I understand and love her! I would be the same way with my kids if I had any. I often say it’s best I had none because “Overprotective Me” would have had to shadow them to school, dances, playgrounds etc. until they were about 35 years old!

But the point of this Gospel story isn’t Mrs. Zebedee’s overprotectiveness.  It has little to do with Mrs. Zebedee at all.

The point is that “Mrs. Zebedee” (like many of us) has missed the whole POINT. The Gospel story is about US and the integrity of our choice to live a life in the pattern of Jesus.

Christ’s disciples have decided to follow a man who says things like this:

  • The last shall be first and the first, last.
  • Unless you lay down your life, you cannot follow me.
  • Whoever takes the lowly position of a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The seats at Christ’s right and left, which Mrs. Zebedee requests for her sons, will bring them rewards only through humility and sacrificial service.


Here’s the way a 14th century artist imagined the Zebedee family. (Dad looks happy!)

sons of zebedee
Mary Salome and Zebedee with their Sons James the Greater and John the Evangelist (c.1511) by Hans von Kulmbach, Saint Louis Art Museum

 


Jesus is gentle with “Mrs. Zebedee”. He understands how hard it is for any of us to comprehend the hidden glory of a deeply Christian life. We are surrounded by a world that screams the opposite to us:

  • Me first!
  • Stand your ground!
  • Good guys finish last!

So Jesus turns to James and John (and to us). One can imagine the bemused look on Christ’s face. He knows the hearts of his disciples. He knows they have already given themselves to him. So he asks them for a confession of faith, “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?”

veronese-le-christ-rencontrant-la-femme-et-les-fils-de-zebedee_-_grenoble
The meeting of Christ with Zebedee’s wife and sons by Paolo Veronese

Their humble, faith-filled answer no doubt stuns their mother. She is left in wonder at the holy men her sons have become. Perhaps it is the beginning of her own deep conversion to Christ.

As we pray with this passage, where do we find ourselves in this scene? How immediate, sincere, and complete is our response to Jesus’ question: “Can you drink the cup….?”

Music: To Be a Servant – David Haas

Refrain:
For I have come not to be served but to serve;
To give my life.
If you wish to be the first you must seek
To be a servant, to be a servant.

1. Can you drink the cup that I must drink;
Are you willing?
Can you be baptized like I have been baptized?
Are you able? Are you able?

2. For to sit at my right hand or at my left,
Is not for me to give.
But for those for whom it has been prepared,
It will be given. It will be given.