The Sacred Ordinary

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It was a scrawny excuse for a plant, relegated to an after-holiday sale at Home Depot.  Nothing distinguished it except that it was the only green promise on a frozen, white January day.

I bought that Christmas cactus well over ten years ago with at least some small hope that it might someday yield the magnificent flower from which it draws its lofty name. No such thing!  For ten years, it remained just green and alive, but otherwise unremarkable.

Then one day in its eleventh year, I noticed a deep red spot at its tip.  Hopeless as I had become about the disappointing plant, I assumed someone had dropped a little spaghetti sauce over its perch in our kitchen.  But to my delight the next morning, that “sauce” had blossomed into a luxurious flower — a soft, pink symbol of the sacred power of life hidden within the ordinary.

Cactus

Life is like that cactus.  If we are young, or when we once were, we often expect life to blossom quickly with some extraordinary design for our existence.  More often than not, the years teach us that our great promise wears ordinary clothes and that we will find our deep happiness within the mundane routine of life.

shells

We sometimes pass by the moments of our lives as if they were abandoned shells on a beach.  And yet, if coaxed open by the gentle attention of hope, each moment contains its own precious pearl, sometimes realized only after we have lost the opportunity to cherish it.

There are times in life when our jobs, our relationships, our dreams for our children, our dreams for ourselves take on the tone of those grey, abandoned shells.  We get so caught up in our ordinary lives that we lose the capacity to see their inherent power and extraordinarybeauty.

As we begin the long season of “Ordinary Time”, may we be blessed by our “Sacred Ordinary”.  Through the grace of attentive love and patient hope, may we find in our daily lives a Light to inspire and delight us.  May we discover the Love that gave us life and waits to blossom every day in our hope – that wants to make everything better

Music: These Ordinary Days – Jars of Clay

Pants on Fire?

Thursday after Epiphany

January 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks about liars. He made me really think.

nose
Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

When I was a kid going to weekly Saturday night confession (yes, remember a lot of us did that😇), I really had to scrape to get a decent pile of sins. I mean, honestly, how much evil can one eight-year-old generate in a week?

But lying was always a good fallback to report on. You know the deal: I told my teacher that I forgot my homework when I really hadn’t done it. I told Petey Nicolo I could beat him up when I knew I couldn’t. I told Chickie Schmidt I could ride a big bike like hers when I had actually just fallen on my face off a smaller one. I told Sister I wasn’t smoking in the girls’ room when my very own cousin Joanie threw me under the bus!

As you can see, I was your normal childhood compulsive liar – pretending to be and do lots of things I only wished I could be or do. But that’s just part of growing up. Like most people, I got over it when I began to realize the power and necessity of growing confidently into one’s true self.

People depend on us to be who we really are, to be the real deal. The value of our work and contributions to the world hinges on this. The depth and endurance of our relationships rest on such transparency and authenticity. Even our ability to love ourselves is rooted in honest self-awareness.

 

1Jn4_15
So how do we deepen in that kind of truthfulness, especially in this culture that so abuses it? John tells us that love is the way:

Beloved, we love God because
God first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,”
but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Friends, we live in a culture drowning in lies. Some have come to believe that unless one lies, one cannot compete. Businesses lie to sell untested or worthless commodities. Manufacturers veil the danger of their drugs, tobacco and vaping products. Politicians lie to condemn their opponents. Leaders lie to justify war. And criminals lie to excuse their crimes.

tangled netJPG

These liars may never even consider that their tangled lives are related to the scriptures. But every one of these deceptions is fueled by a failure in reverence and love for our sisters and brothers, by a failure in courage to be responsible for one another.

We lie because we think our truth is not enough. John tells us differently. Our awesome Truth is that we all are God’s children!

Our reading closes today with these words, so critical to the rebuilding of a truthful world:

In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Let’s pray for one another’s courage, dear Friends, to be and demand the Truth that Love requires.

Music: True Heart – Oak Ridge Boys

Often, I use a popular song for prayer, allowing its words to speak to God for me.
You might like to try it with this song. No doubt intended as a human love song, it can be a divine love song too – and it’s sure a good wake up prayer😉

Afraid? Who Me?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have a few references to fear — and to its perfect antidote, Love.

1Jn4 fear

John continues to instruct us in prose that stuns us with its sacred clarity:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.


In our Gospel, we meet some pretty fearful disciples. First of all, they are still spinning from the avalanche of loaves and fishes gushing forth from the perfect faith of Jesus. 

Jesus_walks_on_Water,_St_Botolph_without_Aldersgate
Jesus walks on Water, St Botolph without Aldersgate: Photo by Andrew R. Abbott Andrewrabbott [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Today, they are rowing a storm-tossed lake in the pitch of night. Enough to strike fear into even a crusty fisherman’s heart! But wait a minute! As if all these scary things are not enough, here comes a ghost across the threatening waves!

And how about Jesus in this passage? A little nonchalant, or what? 

About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,

they thought it was a ghost and cried out.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the waves.

Jesus, full of Love, and perfected in the Creator’s Presence, has no need or place for fear. He lives in the accomplished wholeness of God where, as Julian of Norwich says, “All manner of things shall be well.”


cocoon

I never really thought much about fearfulness in my life. I exist in great security. But when I read this line from Paula D’Arcy, I saw that there are all kinds of unrecognized fears inhibiting us:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,

if I were not dominated by fear?

Fears. What are some of yours that, like me, you may not have recognized:

  • Fear of failure, loss, death, dependence.
  • Fear of looking foolish, getting old, being sick, losing my comfort zone.
  • Fear of meaninglessness, unusefulness, of being held responsible?

Could we go on and on?

But what about the biggest fear – of being unloved, and maybe even unlovable.

Dear God, as we pray today,
help us to grow into your amazing love for us.
Help us there to cast out our fears
and to live in your perfect freedom and joy.

Music:  All Shall Be Well – Michelle Sherliza

Be the “Possible” That God Imagines!

Tuesday after Epiphany

January 7, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings empower us for unbounded possibility!

John’s letter tells us why:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God,
but that God loved us…

God has loved me!

There is nothing more I need to be whole — if I will only believe it, absorb it, and live from it!

There is nothing more I need to become a force for love in the world.


Mk6_4 loaves

Jesus demonstrates this powerful love in our Gospel reading.

It has been a long day of teaching, and the disciples see that the crowds are hungry and tired. They know the solution, which Jesus has apparently overlooked : let them go home and get something to eat!

But Jesus very simply responds, “Feed them yourselves!

He invites his disciples to realize the power released within them by God’s supernatural love. He challenges them to envision a way to respond to their challenges other than the tired, limited solutions we anxiously depend on.

Jesus calls them to imagine the world as God imagines it – transformed by an Unconditional Love which refuses the measurements of fear, control, and self- preservation.


loaves and fishes

Can you just visualize the scene that afternoon as the five loaves and two fish miraculously multiplied over the crowd of five thousand!

Can you see the expressions on the disciples’ faces as they allowed themselves to believe that, because of God’s Love, they were the vehicle of miracles!

We are too! There is no good we are incapable of if we will just believe in the power of Divine Love within us. Our miracles may not be as dramatic as the multiplication of the loaves. But they will be no less important.

They will be the miracles God planned for us to work in God’s name – for our circumstances, our challenges. They will be the way we carry God’s unimaginable grace to the tired hungers of our times.

Picture yourself starting out today, carrying that basket with just two fish and five loaves into the famished world. Imagine what happens when you open your heart to God grasping the basket with you!

Music: Imagine – John Lennon – I love this song in which Lennon imagines a world free of all the human constructs by which we limit it – a world as God might see it.

Holy Family – 2019

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

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December 29,2019

(I published this reflection on last year’s feast. It seemed to touch people deeply, so I thought it bore another look. God bless you all, dear readers, and God bless your families here and in heaven.)


Holy-Family

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 (Lyrics below)

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

O King of All Nations

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

December 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we pray:

O King

O King of All Nations,
Cornerstone
holding us as One,
Come, save us.

Now, so close to
your Revelation,
we ask ourselves
if it is really darkest
just before the Dawn?

Our shadow seems
to have gotten
so badly in the way
of your Generous Light.

Despite your Breath
that bids us soar
in shared and
sacred tenderness,
we stubbornly return
to selfish clay.

Rekindle us, selfless King,
on this eve of eves.

As You prepare
to hide your Godhead
in our flesh
for sake total love,
change us to Love.

May your Mercy
incarnate in our hearts
in an Eternal Christmas .

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Music: O Rex Gentium

 

O Adonai

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

December 18, 2019

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O Adonai

Today, in Mercy, we pray:

O, Adonai,
we reach for your outstretched arm.

How we need to lean on You,
to be upheld by You,
to be embraced by You,

Compassionate Lord, who
leads us through a life
that can be unbearable
alone.

We pray, with longing hearts,
that You uplift all the fallen –
whether into pain, or loss,
confusion, or the sad distress
we inflict upon ourselves
and one another.

Adonai, Beautiful One,
set a fire before us,
as You did for Moses.

Lead the way for us
with Flame of Love
and Light of Faith
into your outstretched Mercy.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Music: O Adonai – Gloriae Dei Cantores

O Wisdom

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

December 17, 2019

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Wisdom_2019

Today, in Mercy, we pray:

O, Wisdom,
how we need You!

Around us,
and at times within us,
there is a foolishness
that has forgotten You.

There is a shallowness
that skims this
sacred well of life
on the thinest surface of
our pretenses,
our distractions, 
our frightened preoccupations.

Take us to the depth
where Your Wisdom
dwells within us.

There let us find
peace
undisturbed by circumstance;
justice
fed by lavish mercy;
Love
beyond boundaries,
beyond definition,
beyond imagination,
beyond time.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!


Music: Who Has Known – John Foley, SJ

O the depth of the riches of God;
and the breadth of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
For who has known the mind of God?
To Him be glory forever.

A virgin will carry a child and give birth,
and His name shall be called Emanuel.

For who has known the mind of God?
To Him be glory forever.

The people in darkness have seen a great light;
for a child has been born, His dominion is wide.
For who has known the mind of God?
To Him be glory forever.

O, Frank!

I so loved my great-aunt Peg. She was that perfect mix of elegance and earthiness that made one both comfortable and inspired.

Peg Tierney wed
Aunt Peg on Her Wedding Day to Uncle Frank – 1929

Her husband, Uncle Frank, loved her totally. And to boot, he was a romantic which led him to proclaim that love often. One summer, in the 1950s, he surprised her with a second honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls.

Upon return, they visited us and Uncle Frank brought a movie of their trip.

camera

Now, taking a movie and eventually showing it was quite an accomplishment in the ‘50s. Not only were the camera and lights cumbersome, so was the screening equipment.

But that effort on my Uncle Frank’s part yielded a long-lasting blessing for me. It came in a brief scene still indelibly etched on my mind.

 

Aunt Peg, dressed in her Sunday best, stood looking over the rail at the majestic falls, her back to the camera. There was no sound on the film, but you could tell Uncle Frank had called to her to turn around. Knowing him, my guess was that he said something like, “Peg, you are as beautiful as the falls!”.

falls

Aunt Peg turns and clearly, despite the silent film, mouths a bashful response,

“O, Frank!”.

Those two words, given with a slight blush and demure smile, carried the whole story of their very special love. And they left me, even at a young age, with such a profound message.

Every time I have thought of that short phrase over these sixty years, this is what I hear:

O, Frank!

  • how blessed am I to be so loved
  • how good you are to show that love so clearly
  • how grateful I am that you share your life with me
  • please know how much I love you in return

Tomorrow, we will enter one of the loveliest times of the Liturgical Year – the proclamation of the O Antiphons.

The great O Antiphons are Magnificat antiphons used at Vespers on the last seven days of Advent. They are also used as the Alleluia verse on same days. The importance of the O Antiphons is twofold. First, each one is a title for the Messiah. Second, each one refers to Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.


As we prepare for this beautiful and sacred time, I am reminded of my dear Aunt Peg standing before both the magnificent Niagara Falls and my Uncle Frank’s tremendous love.

We, dear friends, are standing in awe at the passage of time into eternity. Our God calls to us to turn around and look into God’s loving face. As we pause in silent, grateful adoration, the great thunder of life silenced behind us, we respond with awe:

  • 17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • 18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
  • 19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • 20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • 21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • 22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
  • 23 December: O Emmanuel (O God With Us)

As we stand in the shadowed eve of these profound prayers, let’s prepare our hearts to gratefully experience God’s tremendous love.

O Beloved God

  • how blessed am I to be so loved
  • how good you are to show that love so clearly
  • how grateful I am that you share your life with me
  • please know how much I love you in return

Music: Peg of My Heart – sung in full here by Charles Harrison

I hope you might enjoy this tribute to Uncle Frank. This is a very early version of the song he always sang to Aunt Peg. We did a lot a singing when the family gathered back then  – an activity sadly lost today. There are more mellow, later versions, but this is the way Uncle Frank sang it, straight from the Ziegfeld Follies Of 1913.

Oh, my heart’s in a whirl over one little girl
I love her, I love her, yes, I do
Although her heart is far away
I hope to make her mine some day

Ev’ry beautiful rose, ev’ry violet knows
I love her, I love her fond and true
And her heart fondly sighs, as I sing to her eyes
Her eyes of blue, sweet eyes of blue, my darling

Peg o’ my Heart, I love you
We’ll never part, I love you
Dear little girl, sweet little girl
Sweeter than the Rose of Erin
Are your winning smiles endearin’

Peg o’ my Heart, your glances
With Irish art entrance us
Come, be my own, come, make your home in my heart

When your heart’s full of fears
And your eyes full of tears
I’ll kiss them, I’ll kiss them all away
For, like the gold that’s in your hair
Is all the love for you I bear
Oh, believe in me, do

I’m as lonesome as you
I miss you, I miss you all the day
Let the light of live shine from your eyes into mine
And shine for aye, sweetheart for aye, my darling

Peg o’ my Heart, I love you
We’ll never part, I love you
Dear little girl, sweet little girl
Sweeter than the Rose of Erin
Are your winning smiles endearin’
Peg o’ my Heart, your glances
With Irish art entrance us
Come, be my own, come, make your home in my heart

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.