Let’s Blow the Lid Off!

Friday, January 18, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells of a memorable event – so memorable that it is described in detail.

Jesus preaches from a neighborhood living room. Every access point to the house is blocked with excited listeners and miracle-seekers. Jesus has been corralled by the enthusiastic faithful.

roof

Then some latecomers arrive carrying their paralyzed friend. It is easy to imagine that these are young guys, because Jesus later calls the paralytic “Child”. Perhaps their friend was injured in a soccer game or diving accident in which they all had participated. Perhaps, as well as carrying him, they are carrying the burden of “survivor guilt”.

Whatever the situation, these friends are determined that the young man shall see Jesus. Confronted with the barricading crowd, they climb up on the roof, opening the turf plates to make an entry point. Jesus had to laugh as he saw to rooftop disappearing above him!

Would that we had such a wild desire to be in God’s Presence – to know God face to face, and heart to heart!

Can we peel away the many barricades to such relationship? We have only our limited human images of God. While these can help us pray, they can also box God.

Faulty theology and exaggerated ritual can, believe or not, put a lid on God’s power!

It is important to read, listen, and grow within good theology. One measure of that value is the degree of limitation any “theology” puts on God. A theology that limits God to male, white, Catholic (or whatever religion)- that kind of false theology limits us as well. 

A theology that is used as validation for political, economic, or moral domination distorts God, making God an idol of our own greed and selfishness. Such ”theologies” have, for centuries, made excuses for slavery, apartheid, pogroms, wars and holocausts. 

Let’s try to “take the roof off” our theology today. Let’s be sure our tightly held perceptions and beliefs are really leading us to the absolute freedom of a God Who cherishes all Beings, all Creation.

Music: God Beyond All Names ~ Bernadette Farrell 

The Path through Suffering

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we again read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. They had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.

Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?

The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties but through them.

Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.

Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

Christ at the Beauty Shop

Epiphanies come in unexpected places. My most recent one came at the Hair Cuttery.

The place was abuzz in the mid-afternoon, a hive of sounds and scents enough to block normal perception. Sally, my loquacious operator, wrapped the buzz close around me.

shop

As she clipped and chatted, I glanced into the mirror, past my shoulder toward the back row of washstands. An old, and obviously fragile, woman was having her hair washed. But the simple act of leaning back, eyes closed, had unsettled her. The stylist was motioning to an old man to come from the front of the store.

He was a picture in crumpled greys. Age and exhaustion seemed to have robbed him of the crispness people don before they venture out. But his eyes were sharp and his attention focused on the small plea rising from his wife.

He simply took her hand and stood silent while the operator completed her task. He was an icon of both vulnerability and strength; she of fragility and trust. But together, in that handclasp, they were holy and eternal.

old roses

I realized that I had seen, reflected in that mirror, another Incarnation. Their moment was a prayer made visible. It was the love of God made flesh.

On my way out of the shop, I passed him, now reseated in the waiting area. I told him how moved I was by his gentle gesture and its expression of his devotion. He smiled and said, “Would you believe I just met her last week?”

I paused a moment before he continued, chuckling, “No, I have loved her like that for sixty-four years.”

Driving home, I felt my heart reach for God.

“Stay beside me like that in my weaknesses, even in my unfounded fears. Just a hand to hold is all I ask. Just your steady presence within reach is all I need.”

What If We Were Not Afraid?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about fear, love and faith – three spiritual dynamics that I think are related in this way:

seesaw

When our faith is strong, it drives down our natural fears and allows a supernatural love to grow in us.

fear

We may not think of ourselves as a fearful person. I didn’t. But then I spent time praying with this phrase from spiritual writer Paula D’Arcy:

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

In that prayer, I began to acknowledge some of the buried fears that can paralyze our souls.

Fear of:words

John says to give these cold fears into the warm love of God. 

Jesus says to look through these fears to fix our faith on Him, ever-present even in our storms.

May we be brave enough today to acknowledge our fears and place them into God’s loving hands.

 Music: Oceans ~ Hillsong United (Lyrics below.)

Oceans
Words and Music by Matt Crocker, Joel Houston & Salomon Ligthelm
© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (APRA). All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

VERSE 1:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand

CHORUS:
I will call upon Your Name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 VERSE 2:

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

BRIDGE:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

 LAST CHORUS:
I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

… because love is of God

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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1 john_ gods love

Today, in Mercy, we are presented with a most powerful reading from John:

Beloved, let us love one another
because love is of God.

But many of us miss the power of this invitation. We read it like a valentine, seeing shining hearts connecting us to those we already favor. God’s love doesn’t look like that.

God’s love is like this:

  • standing at the border looking, in between barbed wire, for a chance to welcome
  • keeping vigil at a stranger’s hospital bedside
  • pouring prayer and courageous guidance over an addicted child
  • vigilantly engaging government for just and humane policy 
  • spending time, interest and care with those who cannot command it of us

God’s love is always near the poor, the sick, those caught in the unraveling edges of a greedy, selfish society.

We see this love in today’s Gospel. It lifts up five loaves, two fish, and spins them into nourishment for thousands. Such is the power of this awesome love.

So let us begin, in the small invitations our life will offer us today, to love like that.

Doing so, we come to more clearly know God Who loves us first and always.

Music: Where Love Is Found – Dan Schutte (Lyrics below)

Where Love is Found – Dan Schutte

Where charity and love are found,
there will the face of God be seen.
The love of Christ will bind our hearts;
as one body we will be.

Love is patient, love is kind,
never boastful, never proud.
Love is hopeful in its waiting,
ever trusting in Gods light.

Love is steadfast to the end,
ever ready to endure.
Love is gracious in its kindness,
ever ready to forgive.

Though I speak with angels tongue,
I am nothing more than sound.
I am but a cymbal clanging
if I sing without God’s love.

There are three things that will last:
there is faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of all blessings
is the faithfulness of love.

What About That Fig Tree?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

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jn1_50 figjpg

Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate the Memorial of Saint John Neumann. 

John Neumann was born in Bohemia on March 20, 1811. Since he had a great desire to dedicate himself to the American missions, he came to the United States as a cleric and was ordained in New York in 1836 by Bishop Dubois.

In 1840, John Neumann entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). He labored in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1852, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia. There he worked hard for the establishment of parish schools and for the erection of many parishes for the numerous immigrants. Bishop Neumann died on January 5, 1860; he was beatified in 1963.
(catholicculture.org)


In our first reading today, John tells us bluntly:

Whoever does not love remains in death.

This kind of statement is what one might  both love and hate about John. We love it because it’s clear, unequivocal- tells us exactly what we need to do.

And we hate it because it’s clear and unequivocal – there’s no evading it, no back door. We must love – everybody- or we are as good as dead. Wow!

Was this the kind of either-or that Nathaniel struggled with under the fig tree? He sat there pondering some deep challenge or decision and Jesus saw him – and understood-from afar.

The miracle of that moment caused Nathaniel to believe. But Jesus says:

Hold up, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Your little wrestling under the fig tree was all about your own small world and vision. I invite you now to see the world with God’s eyes.

We all spend worrying time under the shadow our own little fig trees – most of the time worrying about ourselves – who hurt us, doesn’t like us, gets in our way, misunderstands or annoys us.

Today’s Gospel invites us to stop licking our wounds. It beckons us out of the shadows of our self-absorption to see what God might see today – the beauty, the needs, the challenges and possibilities of the world around us. We are invited to become lovers and healers like Jesus. As John has said, we are invited to leave any shadow of death and to live in love.

Music: Maybe Nathaniel sang a song like this in his heart as he came out from under his fig tree.

Love Like Jesus – Rhett Walker

Children, it is the last hour …

Monday, December 31, 2018

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Jn1_2 NYE

Today, in Mercy, on this New Year’s Eve, our spirits are occupied with the passage of time – the endings and beginnings that compose a life.

In the public domain, this night is often characterized as one of wild celebrations, almost as if we need to prove our endurance within time.

But in the privacy of our hearts, there are the moments of quiet nostalgia, bittersweet memory, and vulnerable gratitude for all that has been in this past year and the years preceding.

On this Sacred Eve, as people of faith, we will hold time’s hourglass up to the Light of eternity, knowing that – in God – there is no time.

In God, there is only love – the only human capacity which endures beyond time. In heaven, we will not need faith because we will see. We will not need hope, because all will be fulfilled.

But we will always need love.

In the end, there are three things that last –
faith, hope, and love.
And the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

So before the tolls welcome midnight, let us raise up to God our Eucharist of 2018:

  • those whose lives have been completed; those who have just begun
  • the efforts we made which succeeded; those which failed
  • the dreams secured; the dreams abandoned
  • the opportunities for grace that we seized; those lost which we hope to have renewed
  • the prayers answered as we had desired; the prayers answered in ways we didn’t recognize
  • all that we have loved; all that we hope to love more worthily

As John says in our first reading, “Children, it is the last hour …” 

May we let it go with gratitude, wisdom and joy.

But as John also says in our Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God …
…. and from his fullness we have all received,
grace flowing upon grace …

May we welcome this grace of eternal life and hope given to us in another New Year.

Blessed 2019, dear friends.

Music: Amazing Grace ~ Salt Lake City Vocal Artists

The Holy Family

December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family

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Today, in Mercy, our prayer is turned to the Holy Family, that unique configuration of love which nurtured the developing life of Jesus. Can you imagine how tenderly the Father shaped this triad, this nesting place of love for God’s own Word?

We look to the Holy Family so that we might be strengthened in the virtues that will help us build our own families: sacrificial love, reverence, courage, unfailing support, committed presence, shared faith, gentle honesty, unconditional acceptance.

“Family” is the primordial place where we learn who we are. The lessons it teaches us about ourselves – for better or worse — remain with us forever. 

Not everyone is blessed by their family. Family can ground us in confidence or undermine us with self-doubt. It can free us from fear or cripple us with reservation. It can release either possibility or perpetual hesitation within us.

Some families are so dysfunctional that we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from them. But some, like the Holy Family, allow God’s dream to be nurtured in us and to spread to new families, both of blood and spirit.

The challenge today is to thank God for whatever type of family bore us. Lessons can be learned from both lights and shadows. Let us spend time this morning looking  at our own families with love, gratitude, forgiveness, understanding. Where there are wounds to be healed, let us face them. Where there are belated thanks to be offered, let us give them. Where there are negligence and oversights to confess, let us use them as bridges to a new devotion.

For some, it may seem too late to heal or bless our family. Time may have swallowed some of our possibilities. But it is never too late to deepen relationships through prayer, both for and to our ancestors.

May this feast strengthen us for the families who need us today.

Music: God Bless My Family ~ Anne Hampton Calloway

GOD BLESS MY FAMILY
Words and music – By Ann Hampton Callaway

1. It’s Christmas time
Outside the snow is falling
Like a million stars
Like a million dreams
All dressed up in white
I’m writing Christmas cards
A joy that’s tinged with sadness
As I think of friends
Some are here and some are gone
But our love goes on and on
Like the snow tonight

CHORUS
And oh, what a family
My life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky
We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ry day
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved
Shine out in me
God bless my family

2. As years go by
The carols we sang as children
Gather memories
What was just a song
Now feels like a pray’r
Welcoming us home
To fathers, mothers
Sisters, brothers ev’rywhere
Some we’ve lost and some we’ve found
As love circles us around
In the songs we share

CHORUS

So fly, angels of my heart
We’ll never be apart
Tonight I say a pray’r
For loved ones ev’rywhere

CHORUS/CODA

You’re a part of my family
That life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky

We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ryday
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved

Shine out in me
God bless my family
You’ll always live in me
God bless my family

When I First Believed

Thursday, December 27, 2018
Feast of St. John the Apostle
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1Jun1_3 seenJPG

Today, in Mercy, and for the next two weeks, our first readings take us into the beautiful mind and heart of John the Apostle, whose feast we celebrate today.

John, as I have met him in his Gospel and Letters, is a lover and a poet. He is, at the same time, a precise and exquisite engineer of thought and insight.

Often, a single word or phrase of John’s writing captures more than our minds can hold. Thus, praying with his writings should be a slow savoring, morsel by morsel, of Eternal Light captured for us in an elegant word.

Let these phrases rest with you in prayer today:
“What was from the beginning
Jesus, Uncreated, pre-existent Word of God

what we have heard, …
Whose voice John heard

what we have seen with our eyes, …
Whose acts of love John witnessed

what we looked upon …
Whose crucified body John held

and touched with our hands …
Whose wounds he wept over

concerns the Word of life
…this Jesus is John’s whole life.

And John proclaims this treasure to us today so that our joy may be complete — so that we, too, might find our whole and eternal life in this Beloved Word of God.

In our Gospel, John remembers the moment when he “saw and believed”. It was at the first Easter morning when he was very young. As he writes today’s epistle, John is very old. Thousands of acts of faith have spread across his long life like so many sunrises. But he still remembers that first amazed belief at an empty tomb.

Do you remember your first faith? Do you cherish its many dawns over your life? It might be good to pray with John about these things today.

Music: When I First Believed ~ Mitch Langley

We Will Be Judged on Love

Friday, December 14, 2018

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John of the Cross

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, a great mystic of the 16th century, one of the 36 Doctors of the Church, and an influential Spanish writer. 

John, with Teresa of Ávila, founded the Discalced Carmelites. His poetry and prose recount the journey of the soul as it grows more deeply into God. 

Much of his poetic writing can surprise, perhaps even shock, with its passionate tone. But John’s love for God is so profound that he uses the symbols of deepest human intimacy to convey his passion. These are the most beautiful images he has to express his total gift of self to the Divine.

Through the darkness of profound personal suffering, John found Light by nurturing this extraordinary spiritual intimacy with God.

John is a perfect inspiration for the Advent journey as we move through darkness to the Light of Christmas.

Many of us will have favorite passages from this prolific and passionate writer.  Mine is this:

“In the evening of our lives,
we will judged on love.
Learn, therefore, to love God
as God wishes to be loved.”

Music: John Michael Talbot tries to capture the mysticism of John’s writings.