Psalm 89: Mary’s Echo

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

June 20, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 89, as the Church celebrates the blessed humanity of Mary.

Yesterday and today, these beautiful “heart” feasts follow one upon the other, reminding us that both Jesus and Mary loved with human hearts like ours – Jesus as God, and Mary as God’s transformed Mirror.

As we pray with Mary today. Psalm 89 offers us a perfect context. The psalm was likely composed during a difficult time, when Israel began to doubt Yahweh’s enduring promise to care for them – some say during the Babylonian Captivity.

The psalm reminds the People of the Covenant and the Promise:

I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.

Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
I will make his posterity endure forever
and his throne as the days of heaven.


Mary, born of the House of David, is the ultimate deliverer of that Promise in the person of her son, Jesus Christ. When, just before Jesus’ birth, Mary prays the Magnificat, we can hear echoes of Psalm 89:

And Mary said, 
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior….

He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly….

He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.


An extra song for Mary today, written in 1961 for a Firemen’s Choir

In our own times of trouble, or when a long endurance is required of us, our faith in God’s promises might waver too. Mary is a good one to talk to in such times. Her faith was refined from all need to place stipulations on God’s timing. She believed. Period.

And she wants to nurture that gift in us.


Poetry: I think Mary and psalmist would have liked this poem by Kahlil Gibran. I hope you do too. For me, it speaks of how faith deepens, as Mary’s did.

God
In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips,
I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, 
“Master, I am thy servant.  Thy hidden will 
is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.”
 
But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.
 
And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again
spoke unto God, saying, “Creator, I am thy creation.  
Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.”
 
And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed
away.
 
And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain 
and spoke unto God again, saying, “Father, I am thy child.  
In pity and love thou hast given me birth, 
and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom.”
 
And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant
hills he passed away.
 
And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain 
and again spoke unto God, saying, “My God, my aim and my fulfillment; 
I am thy yesterday and thou are my tomorrow.  
I am thy root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, 
and together we grow before the face of the sun.”
 
Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness,
and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to
her, God enfolded me.
 
And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there
also.

Music: Psalm 89: Forever I Will Sing the Goodness of the Lord – Brian J. Nelson; cantor David Adams

Mary, Mother of the Church

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

June 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.


 

web3-the-annunciation-by-henry-ossawa-tanner
Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

It is a day to honor Mary for giving life to Jesus
for the sake of all humanity.

It is day to beg her intercession
for a world so desperately in need of
Christ’s continued revelation.

door of Mercy

Mary is the Door through which
Heaven visited earth
to heal it from sinful fragmentation.


 

Ave

May Mary continue to carry her beautiful grace
to broken hearts and even
to the twisted souls who broke them. 

Through her, may we all find healing.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, intercede for all Creation
that we may embrace the Love your Son taught us.


Music: Ave Maria – Michael Hoppé

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

(Reposting from last year. Still works. Just a few edits.)

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Mt28_8 fear_joy

Today, in Mercy,  we enter the Easter Season which will last until June 8th. The next day we will celebrate Pentecost.

Throughout these several weeks, we will have a thorough reading of the Acts of the Apostles. 

Theologian Walter Brueggemann says this about Acts:

In the Book of Acts the church is a restless, transformative agent
at work for emancipation and well-being in the world.

As Easter People, transformed by the Resurrection of Jesus, that’s what we’re all called to be. Our models and inspiration will be found in these early women and men we read about over the next few weeks. This was a community that acted – within a culture of death – for an alternative, life-giving world.

“The whole book of Acts is about power from God that the world cannot shut down. In scene after scene, there is a hard meeting between the church and worldly authorities, because worldly authorities are regularly baffled by this new power and resentful of it.”
At one point, in chapter 17, the followers of Jesus are accused of “turning the world upside down.
” (Brueggemann)

Our world sorely needs such an active Church, speaking clearly to the issues that threaten and limit human life and wholeness in God. It’s not easy to be that witness, but it is critical. Our Gospel suggests the difficulty, but also defines the motivation:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
went away quickly from the tomb,

fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the good news …

May we, though sometimes fearful, choose to be agents of the joyful Good News for our times. May we be brave in witnessing Christ, even in trying times!

Music: Alleluia from Mozart’s Exultate et Jubilate- sung by Barbara Bonney

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

Mary, Full of Grace

The Octave Day of Christmas

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

IMG_2003
Theotokos, a mosaic mural from the Gelati Monastery, Georgia, (1125-1130 AD)

January 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus.

I begin my prayer today by asking a question posed by distinguished theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ:

What would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging theology of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century? This question has no simple answer, for the first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, also held in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is arguably the most celebrated woman in the Christian tradition. One could almost drown surveying the ways different eras have honored her in painting, sculpture, icons, architecture, music and poetry; venerated her with titles, liturgies, prayers and feasts; and taught about her in spiritual writings, theology and official doctrine.

To see Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s excellent article, click here.


In my own prayer today, though, I am not reaching for a deeper theological understanding of Mary. I simply want to talk with her as my Mother, my older Sister, my Friend. I want to seek her guidance and her inspiration. I want to thank her for her continual willingness to bear Christ into the world, and into my life.

How significant it is that the Church begins the year inviting us all to Mary’s Light! Our first reading blesses us in a way that Mary might bless us:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Mary was all about giving us the LORD, not giving us herself. We see Mary best when we see her holding Christ toward us – the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos”.

IMG_2004
Theotokos Vladimirskaya icon, Vologda, Vladimirskaya Church, mid-end 16 century

This title, used especially in Eastern Christianity, originated in the 3rd century Syriac tradition. It affirms Mary as the Mother of Jesus, Who was both human and divine in nature.

Our reading from Galatians assures us that we too, by our Baptism, are the daughters and sons of God – thus becoming Mary’s own. She is our Mother too by the power of this sacrament.

Our Gospel reveals the spirituality of Mary who “pondered” all the mysterious workings of God deep in her heart. This Mary is my revered sister, guiding me as I meet the unfolding of God in my own life.

Today, let us pray with Mary, our Mother, our Sister, Bearer of God. Let us pray for the whole Church, the whole world – all of whom she tenderly loves.

Music: Two selections today.

A Peaceful Hymn to the Theotokos – Nuns of the Carmazani Monastery in Romania

Prayer of Pure Love – Leddy Hammock and Sue Riley

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

Christmas 2019

Christmas Day 2019

Click here for readings at Dawn Mass

Today, in Mercy, may you, your families, communities and loved ones be blessed with every grace and happiness.  Merry Christmas, dear friends!

This is a reflection I wrote for the Catholic Health Association in 2015. I hope it blesses you on this holy day.


word made flesh

“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:11

We knew only his name, not his story. Leon, just 37 years old, was one of those rootless souls who, by life’s violent incisions, become severed from their history and their future. He had come to us from a local boarding home, comatose and dying. He came with no friend or family to attend his imminent passage. So, through the night of Christmas Eve, Kathy, a young, off-duty nurse, sat silently with Leon, adamant that he should not die alone.

Leon had a quiet death. Very little changed in him except for stilled breathing and the relaxed mask that follows expiration. It was Kathy who changed. In that sterile hospital room, grey-lit with early morning, the palpable breath of God embraced her. She knew, and from that Christmas moment will always know, that all life beats within the Divine Heart; that we are sacred and immortal within its mysterious rhythm.

Over these celebratory days, we will orchestrate a series of Christmas moments in our decorations, carols, gifts and feasts. We will visit our treasured memories and revered mangers. We will be blessed by the love of family and friends who are the face of Christ to us.

May we also receive this singular grace: to know that any true Christmas moment comes only when the Spirit of Christ passes through us into the heart of another person. To receive this grace, we may, like Kathy, need to sit in a silent room with a dying stranger. We may need to welcome that ostracized family member who has carelessly injured us. We may need to rediscover, in our own quiet contrition, the radiant Gospel commitment that has paled in us.

Meister Eckhart, seven centuries ago, sought such a Christmas moment:

Today we celebrate the Eternal Birth
which God the Father has borne
and never ceases to bear in all eternity.
But if it takes not place in me, what avails it?
Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.

Music: Two Hour Playlist for Christmas – Tim Janis

Prophecies and Dreams

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 22, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our scripture readings lay down before our prayer the long line of salvation history. It is a line that we can walk in wonder, winding from Isaiah’s prophecy, through the House of David, down to Joseph dreaming in the Nazarene night.

line

It is a story filled with words we love because, ever since our childhood, they have carried to us the fragrant scent of Christmas. These readings are the thrilling stuff of prophecies and dreams, all the more wonderful because we know them now fulfilled.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.
Isaiah 7:14


Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:20


O Emmanuel

This long wick of Promise, burning slowly through the biblical years, bursts into light with the birth of Jesus Christ, the Fire of God.

Through our faith, that Divine Light kindles us – we who now, through our Baptism, carry the sacred DNA of Jesus into our times.

On this final Sunday of Advent, when the world’s “crazy Xmas” tries to hijack our  souls, let us be very intentional about the true meaning of these days. Let us take the time to “go into our heart cave” and prepare for Jesus. (Heart Cave poem to follow in a second post)

Music: Emmanuel – Tim Manion (Lyrics below)

Baby born in a stall.
Long ago now and hard to recall
Cold wind, darkness and sin,
your welcoming from us all.

 How can it be true?
A world grown so old now, how can it be new?
Sorrow’s end, God send,
born now for me and you

Emanuel, Emanuel
What are we that You have loved us so well?
A song on high, a Savior’s high, angel hosts rejoice
Thy glory to tell

 Lord, lead us to know.
You lay like a beggar, so humble, so low;
no place for Your head and straw for a bed,
the glory of God to show.

 Babe on mother’s knee,
child so soon to be nailed to a tree;
all praise, till the end of our days;
O Lord, You have set us free

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, is a day of loving celebration.

First, we commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

OL Guadalupe
Virgen de Guadalupe con las cuatro apariciones by Juan de Sáenz (Virgin of Guadalupe with the four apparitions by Juan de Saenz)

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a Catholic title of Mary associated with an apparition and a venerated image enshrined within the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  Catholic tradition asserts that the Virgin Mary appeared to a native Mexican peasant Saint Juan Diego, asking that a Church be built at the site.

The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world. Over the Friday and Saturday of December 11 to 12, 2009, a record number of 6.1 million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is considered the Patroness of Mexico and the Continental Americas; she is also venerated by Native Americans, on the account of the devotion calling for the conversion of the Americas.
(Information from Wikipedia)


Not everyone is comfortable with the concept of religious apparitions. But whatever our personal feelings regarding them, there is no doubt that they have animated the faith of millions over the centuries. For me, their factual reality is less important than the devotion they inspire. If such devotions help us love God and our sisters and brothers, they are a source of blessing.

What images, devotions and understandings of Mary help you to exercise a more vigorous faith and generous charity?

Today is a good day to spend time with these inspirations.


 

Mercy word

The Sisters of Mercy celebrate a second blessing on this date.

On December 12, 1831, exactly 300 years after the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Mexico, three women – Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle and Elizabeth Harley – took vows to become the first Sisters of Mercy, beginning a religious community dedicated to serving those who are poor, sick and uneducated.

( Information from Mercy Education System of the Americas. See their website for excellent materials on celebrating these special days.)

Click here to go to Mercy Education System of the Americas


To view an inspiring summary of Catherine McAuley’s life, click below. (You’ll love the beautiful Irish accent)

Click here to learn about Catherine McAuley


Music: Buenos Dias, Paloma Blanca (Traditional Mexican song for Our Lady of Guadalupe) English lyrics below.

Good morning, White Dove,
today I come to greet you,
greeting your beauty
in your celestial kingdom!

You are mother of the Creator
that enchants my heart,
thanks I give you with love.
Good morning, white dove!

Beautiful girl, holy girl,
your sweet name praised,
because you are so blessed
that I come to greet you.

Resplendent like the dawn,
pure and sensitive and without stain,
what pleasure my soul receives.
Good morning, white dove!

 

Let Mary Be Mary

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(December 9th this year because the 8th fell on the Second Sunday of Advent)

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Today, in. Mercy, we celebrate one of the many feasts honoring Mary, Mother of Jesus.

Today’s feast can be confusing to people. It is sometimes mixed up with the Virgin Birth – the moment when Jesus was born. What we celebrate today, however, is the moment Mary was conceived by her parents, Anna and Joachim.

275px-Santi_gioacchino_e_anna

From a young age, I have had a tender devotion to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Some of my local readers will be familiar with the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Established in 1915, the Shrine promotes this devotion through its well-known novena and other means.

medal

My Mom and Dad said that novena every day. Most Monday evenings, Mom and I would walk to our parish church where the community gathered to pray the novena together, celebrate Benediction, and sing the rousing hymn to Mary entitled, “O Mary, Conceived Without Sin”. ( I know some of my old friends are humming the tune right now🤗) When I received my First Communion, I was given my first Miraculous Medal which I treasured.

( A little reminiscence about that coming later today. Hope you enjoy it.)


These remembered devotions were the foundation on which the legacy of faith was planted in our young hearts. But as with any good foundation, a rich garden of understanding has grown from that early soil. Over the intervening years, many graced theologians have helped me grow in understanding of, and relationship with Mary.

One powerful impetus for this growth has come from Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph and Professor Emerita at Fordham University. Her magnificent work Truly Our Sister opens with this sentence:

“ This book proposes that one fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.”

Tanner Annunciation
Annunciation – Henry Ossawa Tanner

Reading Johnson and others has let me see Mary more fully, allowing Mary to move from an isolated perfectionism to a womanly humanity transformed by the Holy Spirit. Johnson says:

“ I am proposing that one fruitful way to work out a liberating feminist theology of Mary is to locate her in the communion of saints and there to remember her, dangerously and consolingly, as a woman with her own particular history among her contemporaries and before God. At first glance placing Mary in the company of the saints may seem strange to those accustomed to more traditional Catholic practice, even though the title ‘Saint Mary’ adorns many churches, schools, and other institutions. It may even seem a diminishment of the honor that is her due as the Theotokos, or bearer of God. But at root it grants her the greatest honor the Christian tradition acknowledges for a human being, namely, the core dignity of being created in the divine image and likeness and gifted, in community with others, with a graced relationship to the living God.”

Today, as we pray with our many images, devotions and understandings of Mary, may we open our hearts to be inspired by her singular witness to God’s desire to be among us.

Music: The Magnificat – Mary’s radical prayer for justice and mercy, sung here in Latin by the Daughters of Mary (English below)

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their seat s
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things.
And the rich he has sent empty away.
Remembering his mercy, he has helped his servant Israel
as he promised to our forefathers Abraham, and his posterity forever.