Paid for in Advance!

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 8, 2019

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already paid

Today, in Mercy, our readings are about spiritual wealth, stewardship and Godly generosity.

Paul starts us off by proclaiming that the wealth/riches of salvation belong to ALL humanity. He presents himself as a unique “steward “ of those riches to the Gentiles.

Our Gospel gives us a second interpretation of “stewardship” in the parable the wily steward. This fella’ gets called on the carpet for squandering his employer’s resources. Pink slip time! 

So the steward calls in some of the debtors and reduces their debt by the amount of his own commission. By doing this, he hopes to make some friends to support him in his impending unemployment.

Talbots

Many years ago, there was a Talbot’s outlet in the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast Philly (I know. Heaven, right?) You could get an amazing deal on the clearance items. But you got an even better deal if you went to a certain cashier for your checkout.

He was a tall, flamboyant and loudly funny guy. If a price tag was missing on an item, you got it virtually for free. He would make outlandish comments like, “Oh, honey, this isn’t your color so let’s discount it 50%.” If you bought two of the same item, he might announce,”Two for one today”, charging for only one. He was a living example of the Biblical steward! Over time, he developed a devoted buying community – those who had learned the secret of why people waited in his long line!

In today’s parable, Jesus isn’t advocating that we cheat our employers. The parable isn’t really about that at all. It is about the way he wants his disciples to be profligate in preaching the mercy of God.

Remember that this parable comes in between two blockbusters about Mercy- the Prodigal Son and Lazarus and the Rich Man. In a way, you might say Jesus is on a tear about the unbounded generosity of God in forgiveness and hope for us. He makes clear that the wealth of Divine Love is delivered to us by our unbounded Christian love for one another.

So today, maybe we can think about the Talbot’s guy. We have been abundantly blessed by God’s love for us. Let’s pay it forward over and over today… and every day. Let’s generously share the infinite discount of Mercy.

Music: Jesus Paid It All – Elvira M. Hall (1865) This rendition of the hymn by Kristian Stanfill (born 1983) is so interesting. Offered here with modern instrumentation, the words date back to the era of the US Civil War. Past and present meld in the ever eternal love God has for us.

Inseparable

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul exults in God’s love and Jesus suffers the full burden of his impending passion. And the two are tied tightly together.

Romans8_

Let me tell you a story that symbolizes that tight knot.

It was in the late 1960s. A group of us had traveled to Atlantic City for the National Catholic Education Convention. Weather forecasting was not so advanced in those days, or at least, we were not so attuned to it. We went to our various sessions early one morning, only to come out of them a few hours later into a hurricane!

I remember walking, obliviously, up to the boardwalk, on my way to the next session in another hotel. The wind became so heavy that I was blown, motionless, against the boardwalk railing. A plexiglass window pane blew by me, cutting me just below the eye. For a short while, that seemed very long, I feared for my life. A strong, young man actually pulled me into a nearby lobby where I tried to calm my fears.

rowboat

But the next morning, there was a beautiful rainbow and a brilliant, calm sky. I walked back to the bay to survey the previous day’s damage. It was significant. But one image remains in my mind these fifty years later: the front quarter of a battered boat still attached to a half-sunken dock by a thick, sodden rope that wouldn’t let go in the storm.

I think that, in today’s Gospel, Jesus might have felt a little bit like that boat. He has been battered by the resistance of his enemies. He knows it is an ill wind for his message.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
but you were unwilling!

Still, like that strong, unrelenting rope, he is held sure by the love of God:

But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Paul, through his baptism, inherited that faith, hope and love purchased for us all by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Whenever a storm rises up around your soul, whether expected or not, remember that knot which ties you to the steady and enduring love of God:

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Music: Nothing Can Separate Us – First Call (Lyrics below)

 

lyrics

Dare to Follow the Way

Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Thérèse, popularly venerated as The Little Flower. She propagated a spirituality that has become known as “The Little Way”. 


Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm. describes the Little Way like this:
The Little Way is an image that tries to capture St. Thérèse’s understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of seeking holiness of life in the ordinary and the everyday.
Saint Therese based her “little way” on two fundamental convictions: 

  • God shows love by mercy and forgiveness
  • She could not be perfect in following the Lord. 

Both our readings today also talk about a “way”.
Zechariah has a vision of all nations following the way to a New Jerusalem. 

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
In those days ten men of every nationality,
speaking different tongues, shall take hold,

yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say,
“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Dare

In our Gospel, Jesus begins his way on his final journey. He knows now that the way will be through suffering and death yet, He dared…

When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem…

Grace makes a way in our lives too. As with Thérèse, the ancient Jews, and Jesus, our particular way will unfold before us through prayer and a listening heart. It is the way of love that leads away from selfishness to God and God-in-Others.

Rumi’s poem captures it:

The way of love is not
a subtle argument. 

The door there
is devastation. 

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.

(In a later post today, I will share a poem by Amy Lowell which I feel could describe “the journey “ — Christ’s, mine, yours… and perhaps offer further food for prayer.)

Today, we pray for the courage and freedom to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Music: from the musical Godspell – By My Side

The song conveys the desire of Jesus’s disciples, all but Judas, to accompany him on his Way. They were not perfect – but they dared. As we consider our lives, have we dared? What “pebbles” have we willingly “put in our shoes” to follow Jesus?

 

 

Jealous for Me

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Monday, September 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Zechariah channels God, with the most intense of human emotion.

The prophet wants Israel to have some understanding of God’s infinite love and hope for them, so he puts these words in God’s mouth:

I am intensely jealous for Zion,
stirred to jealous wrath for her.

Like a spouse longing for a lost beloved, God longs for the restoration of Israel to the Divine embrace.

Zech my people

Wherever our relationship with God is frayed or broken, God is jealous for us too. If we can turn our hearts in repentance, prayer, and hope, we too will hear God’s longing for us.


In our Gospel, Jesus tries to refocus his disciples on that loving call. In a classic example of missing the obvious, they are distracted over who is the most important. Here is the Lord of all sitting beside them, and they are arguing about their personal status!

By pointing to a child in their midst, Jesus reminds his followers of the innocence and transparency we need in order to open ourselves to God.

Let’s pray for that openness today so that we can hear and rejoice in a promise such as Israel heard through Zechariah:

You shall be my people, and I will be your God,
with faithfulness and justice.

Music: How He Loves Us – David Crowder Band

A Prodigal Love

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Numbers tells a story of Moses’ intervention to save the people from God’s wrath. It is a story of God’s relenting … a theme which repeats itself endlessly in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This is the way we sometimes characterize the astonishment of Grace – God’s overwhelming passion to love and forgive us over and over. We just can’t imagine such mercy, such infinite generative love!

And so we imagine instead that Moses made God do it!😉 Yeah, I don’t think so.

We imagine that God cannot tolerate our sinful pursuits because we cannot tolerate them in ourselves or in others. But God is mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, wholeness, love. God can’t help loving us!

Of course, we shouldn’t be stupid and take advantage of the divine largesse… not because it would hurt God, but because it so damages us and limits our capacity for wholeness. But nevertheless, whether we’re stupid or not, God will always welcome us home.

A few days ago, we prayed with the word splancha – that “gut love” that so describes God’s passion for us. We find the word again today in the heart-wrenching parable of the Prodigal Son.

prodigal son

You know the story. Near the end, as the devastated son returns seeking mercy…

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion — with splancha – esplanchnisthē
Luke 15:20

Our God is a Love that is filled, overflowing – with no room for retribution or condemnation.

Indeed, our God, like the Prodigal Father, is soft-hearted, an easy mark, a pushover for our sincere repentance, trust, and hope. Our God would bleed for us!

This short but powerful scene from George Balanchine’s ballet, Prodigal Son, may inspire our prayer today. The father is steadfast, a monolith of strength and love. The son is broken, naked in his desperation. Let their magnetic reunion take you to God’s heart. Let God wrap you too in the mantle of Love for any hurt or emptiness that is within you.

George Balanchine “Prodigal Son” – Final Scene (Son- Barishnikov)

 

Claude Debussy also wrote a beautiful piece on this parable. If you have a contemplative space sometime this week, you may want to listen to Debussy’s moving opera (with my all-time fav Ms. Jessye Norman.)

Click here for full opera

If you have only a little time, do try this – short, and oh so beautiful!

Music: Debussy The Prodigal Son – Prelude

By your Holy Cross, O Lord…

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Saturday, September 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we turn our hearts to the mystery of the Holy Cross.

Let’s face it. Most of us would prefer a life without ANY suffering. So how does the Cross help us understand that we will never have that kind of life?

The mystery of suffering is integral to all life and transformation. The ability to live and deepen with that mystery doesn’t happen in the mind. It happens in the soul.

The desert Israelites in our first reading don’t get it. They think an angry God is fed up with their complaining and so sends snakes to bite them and cause them suffering.

Not really.

Indeed, snakes have bitten them. But a loving God tells them: Hold up a symbol of my love. It will strengthen you to pass through your suffering because I am always in relationship with you.

cross_mcauley
The deep love of the Holy Cross was the sacred gift of Catherine McAuley to her Mercy Family. Let us listen to her counsel.

Paul, in the powerful passage from Philippians, takes us much deeper into the heart of this mystery. He tells us how Jesus put on human suffering to show us how suffering is transformed by the love it attempts to overcome.

Paul says that by becoming obedient – by listening – to the deep mystery of suffering and death in his life, Jesus shows us how to hear the whisper within it … the whisper of eternal life that can only be found when we pass through that awesome mystery in transcendent and enduring faith.

John suggests to us that, in some way that we cannot here understand, the mystery of suffering reveals something of the nature of God. It is an overwhelming, incomprehensible revelation that the Father could convey to us only in the visible gift of Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him. 

Praying with these deep considerations, we are invited to enter “the mind of Jesus”. May we wholeheartedly respond with today’s Alleluia verse:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.

Music: Philippians Canticle- John Michael Talbot (Lyrics below)

And if there be therefore any consolation
And if there be therefore any comfort in his love
And if there be therefore any fellowship in spirit
If any tender mercies and compassion

We will fulfill His joy
And we will be like-minded
We will fulfill His joy
We can dwell in one accord
And nothing will be done
Through striving or vainglory
We will esteem all others better than ourselves

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Though in the form of God
He required no reputation
Though in the form of God
He required nothing but to serve
And in the form of God
He required only to be human
And worthy to receive
Required only to give

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love
In all humility
We will offer up our love

God’s Guts

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have one of the most beautiful yet demanding readings in the Bible – Colossians 3:12-17.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.


I remember our beloved Mother Mary Bernard recommending this passage to us when we were only novices – so unripe in our pursuit of spirituality. Since that treasured recommendation, I have prayed with this passage thousands of times. It never fails to reveal something new, deeper, and challenging.

A particularly pregnant verse is this:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion…

Gosh, the way it’s translated there makes it sound like a Valentine, doesn’t it?  


But take a look at the Douay-Rheims Version, the translation popular before the Jerusalem Bible of the 1960s:

Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved,
the bowels of mercy…

The Greek word for “mercy” here is σπλάγχνα splagchnon or splancha. And it means “guts” – bowels. So there goes our Valentine! You wouldn’t want to get that picture on a greeting card!


What Paul is preaching is not a lovey-dovey sweet religiosity. He wants mercy, and all the accompanying virtues, to grab our guts and never let go until we love as radically as Jesus loves.

We all know what “splancha” feels like: 

  • It’s the way your heart twists with adrenaline when a truck runs the red light just hair in front of you.
  • It’s the way your stomach tosses when it’s your turn for your first public speaking foray.
  • It’s the way your throat catches when you have to speak the words of a beloved’s death.
  • It’s the tears that well up unbidden when you kiss your sleeping child.

Splancha is the place where we are tied to other human beings so deeply that it is visible only to God.

Jms Keenan copy

It is the place where our soul’s umbilical cord is knit with God’s womb, that sacred place where we are recreated again and again in the Holy Spirit by our acts of mercy and love for one another.

God wants us to have “splancha love” for every one of God’s Creatures. God wants us to make that love real in our acts of mercy and justice. Paul is telling us how to do it today.

Music: How He Loves Us – sung by Kim Walker Smith with Jesus Culture

This song was composed by John Mark McMillan. This beautiful video about his composition is a real witness story. I encourage you to take the time to watch it.

All Things Hold Together

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings challenge us to see things differently- to see with God’s eyes.

Col1_15 image of God

Paul invites us first with the glorious Colossians Hymn. No words can enhance it. Let us savor it in itself:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the Body, the Church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the Blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.


 

wineskin
Ancient wineskins were not like the fancy botas we see today. They were formed from the entire skin of the animal. As the new wine fermented inside, the skin expanded with the fermentation. It ultimately stretched beyond further use. – thus the necessity for new skins for new wine.

 

Jesus, in our Gospel, tells us we must become new wineskins in order to hold the vibrant gift of new life in Christ. He says the old ways, stiffened by pharisaical pretensions, have lost the elasticity of grace. He warns us to avoid the accretions of showy religious practice which may bury and inhibit sincere faith.

 

 

 

 


 

Jesus is the new wine of love and mercy, and our hearts must become his new wineskins.

As we pray, this poetic musical piece may inspire us. … in Him, all things hold together …

Music: The Christ Hymn – Alana Levandoski

The Chandelier

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our scriptures may lead us to think about where we have come from and where we are going.

Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord,
will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.

My reflection on this passage will be rather personal today. I hope you don’t mind.

As I write, I am blessed to be sitting in a beautiful breeze at our community’s vacation house. It couldn’t be a more lovely day.

1 Th4_17 chandelier

While I pray about these scriptures, a simple chandelier over our dining room table sways in the soft wind. Under its corona, I can’t help remembering all the friends who, over many years, have shared a meal and enjoyed past summer days here.

What an indescribable blessing it is to live in community with holy, joyful and loving women! 

Many of them, over these present days, drop in for a cup of home made soup or a glass of wine. We love one another, and we are entwined in each other’s journey to God. We inspire one another by our radical embrace of the Gospel, and our longing to give even more for God. What a comforting, sturdy, and supportive fabric we weave to enfold one another!

The chandelier rhythmically dances, like a fragrant censor over a sacred table. I remember with immense gratitude those beloved Sisters, now gone, who have blessed my life here at this refreshing seaside. Their names surround me in a grateful litany: Kitty, Marie, Fidelis, Jodi, Maureen, Suzanne, Ronnie, Janet, Giovanni, Mary Joan …

Others too who have sat at this table – not Sisters only, but family in faith, love and ministry bless me as I let the Holy Spirit of the waning summer waft over me.

We have shared crabs and meatballs, tears and laughter, prayer and politics, movies and ball games, hope and a holy, honest ember that warms the soul.

My dear Sisters, as you read this, you will have your own Sea Isle litanies to pray. Are we not indescribably blessed in one another!

Others of you, my dear readers, you will let you own loving list write itself across your heart as you pray.

A family is an eternal line between God and the generations, clear and stable.

A community is a wider path, rich in differences and, because of them, profound in its gifts.

In an interesting reversal, this holiday has come to be more about leisure than labor. And it is at leisure where we are most easily blessed by the joy, sincerity, trust and love of our families, friends, and communities.

Let us thank God for them today, remembering the past, cherishing the present, trusting the future.

Happy Labor Day!

Music: Sea Breeze – Keiko Matsui 

Beautiful God Within

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, celebrate the Feast of St. Augustine who gave us such beautiful quotes as these:

late have i loved

These quotes reflect a clarity of soul Augustine pursued all his life. He was a brilliant philosopher, intellectual, and poet. His early spiritual practice struggled for years to break through the shell of philosophy into the heart of true faith.

made us for yourself

Eventually, through the prayers of his mother Monica and the gentle guidance of St. Ambrose, Augustine’s searching soul found God as reflected in today’s choice for a Responsorial Psalm:

Lord, you have searched me and known me;
you understand everything I do;
you are closer to me than my thoughts.
You see through my selfishness and weakness,
into my inmost self. 

There is not one corner of my mind
that you do not know completely.
You are present before me, behind me,
and you hold me in the palm of your hand. 

Such knowledge is too awesome to grasp:
so deep that I cannot fathom it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence? 

If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the ends of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me
and your spirit will give me strength.

~  A Book of Psalms by Stephen Mitchell

Some of us , no matter how hard we try, have a tortuous path to spiritual peace. Augustine is a saint because he never abandoned that path.

Paul’s Thessalonians seemed to have had an easier way:

And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.

Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel continues his tirade against those who only appear to seek that path to spiritual sincerity and whole-heartedness:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

The etymological root of the word “hypocrisy” is to “under decide” – a kind of half-heartedness, a falsely comfortable pretense, a neither “here nor there” attitude that safeguards our worldly advantage but paralyzes us on the path to holiness.

Augustine lived in that limbo for a long time. He came late to true Beauty, Love and Clarity. Oh, but what a transformation!

What does he want to teach us today?

Music: Late Have I Loved You – Len Sroka