Trust and Fears

Saturday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are an interplay of trust and fear, just like most of our lives are.

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The TV character Adrian Monk is the exaggerated personification of our human fears. You name it, he’s afraid of it. Most of us aren’t that bad off, thank God. But we all have fears at times, and maybe life-long ones.

We might entertain conquerable anxieties like fear of water, or public speaking, or heights. These limits to our courage can be stretched by lessons and practice. 

But the deeper fears, like those central to today’s readings, are radically existential and perhaps never fully conquerable. These might include fear of meaninglessness, loneliness, diminishment, and death.

Joseph’s brothers handle their doubts by straight-talking with him. They trust his assurances. Joseph addresses his concerns about burial by pressing a promise from these same brothers.

Mt10_sparrow

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to deal with our deepest worries and fears. He assures us that no one or nothing can break the insoluble bond of love God has for us. He promises that we will endure eternally within this love. He reminds us that, ultimately, this is the only thing that matters.

The image of the free and unfettered sparrow shows us how God wants us to live and enjoy our creaturehood. The image of a loving God, brushing our hair and counting every one of them, may inspire us to deeper trust as we pray today.

You may be familiar with the trusting phrase attributed to Julian of Norwich:

“All shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Actually, it was Jesus who spoke the word to her in a vision:

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It is true that sin is cause of all this pain, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”


Indeed, we will meet the results of sin and darkness in the world and in ourselves. Julian grew to understand that, in God’s love, we are saved from that darkness:


And from the time that [the vision] was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord’s meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: ‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’  

    Thus I was taught that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end … 


Music: All Shall Be Well – Kathleen Deignan (Lyrics below)

All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Receive the gift of healing
from the well of tears;
be washed anew
by grief and sorrowing.

Receive the gift of healing
from our mother Earth,
her deep and dark
and secret verdancy.

Receive the gift of healing
from the shaman’s touch:
the wounded healer’s power
to revive.

Receive the gift of healing
in the arms of love,
embraced in passion
and compassioning.

Broken Dreams

Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The story is rich in emotional layers, leading us to reflect on the unfolding chapters of our own lives.

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Have you ever looked back to a personal circumstance which, when it occurred, seemed shattering, even unbearable? That same circumstance, when viewed through the long lens of time, may have -amazingly- turned out to be a blessing.

The event may have been a job we didn’t land, a loss we almost couldn’t bear, a failure we tried to avoid. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we endured and even thrived. We learned new things about God’s power in our hearts, about the resilience of hope, and the effable dynamism of trust.

We learned how to forgive ourselves and others, how to be nourished by community, how to start over – perhaps with better intentions and greater wisdom.

Such was the atmosphere for Joseph and his brothers in today’s reading. Praying with this reading, let us give thanks for God’s Presence, even through the dreams that once seemed broken.

Music: Even If by MercyMe

Oh, Brother!

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our journey through Genesis leads us into the thick of the Joseph narrative. This is a long and intricate story, covering thirteen chapters in Genesis. The drama is rich in theological and psychological themes. Even outside the Bible, its scenes would stand the test of literary craftsmanship. Today’s reading offers us just one example.

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Joseph’s Bloodstained Coat by Ford Maddox Brown

We enter the story a little later in the action. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob and thus hated by his jealous brothers, has been sold by them to a band of Midianite merchants. Ending up as a slave In Egypt, Joseph, by means of a series of dreams, saves the Egyptians from a terrible famine. He is greatly honored for this, becoming almost the equal of the grateful Pharaoh.

During the widespread famine, Joseph’s treacherous brothers come to Egypt seeking grain. He recognizes them although they are unaware of who he is. After leading them through a series of trials, Joseph ultimately forgives and reconciles with them. He brings his whole family to live in Egypt, protected by the aura of his unexpected prosperity.

One of the many suggestions for our prayer today might center on the inevitable dramas within families and communities fueled by favoritism, jealousy, even treachery. But reading Joseph’s story, we must consider these inevitabilities in the long-term light of God’s abiding grace, the power of forgiveness, and God’s will to give us new life even as we stand in our concupiscent ashes.

At times in our own life story, we may act as, or be impacted by, behaviors like those of doting Jacob, the envious brothers, or entitled Joseph. We might find ourselves entangled in a drama to rival this dysfunctional family of Jacob! Our prayer leads us to ask, “How were they ultimately delivered to freedom, restored to love?” 

The controlling, underlying theme of the Joseph narrative is that our hidden God remains with us in all of life’s roller coaster episodes. This God longs to grace us with the redemptive powers of repentance, forgiveness, hope, renewal and generosity. These graces can heal our bruised human story, letting it announce the saving power of God if we but open our hopes, choices, and dreams to it.

Music: Any Dream Will Do – from Joseph and the Amazing, Technicolor Dreamcoat, Andrew Lloyd Weber

Wounded by Mercy

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we continue to learn from the amazing saga of Jacob.

This passage tells a story we may have heard: 

Jacob, after years in isolation, is returning to seek reconciliation with his aggrieved brother Esau. Jacob is stressed, penitent, and maybe a good bit nervous about the first encounter.

He tries to get a decent night’s sleep before the highly anticipated meeting. But that was not to be.

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Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Eugène Delacroix

Jacob wrestles through night with an unnamed stranger. The stranger – perhaps an angel, perhaps God – wounds him, renames him, and ultimately blesses him.

The passage is so worth a reflective read! In that reflection, we may see glimpses of our own relationship with God. God comes to us too, unexpectedly, in both our lights and our darknesses. God wrestles us to look him in the face, in the heart – to turn our attention from all the luring distractions and shallowness that keep us from him.

At best we, like Jacob, might come to a sort of truce with God: we do not fully know God’s Name but we, nevertheless, receive God’s blessing. That blessing changes us, renames us. And, in a visible way, it marks us – just as Jacob was marked by a “limp”. We become vulnerable to the things of God, to God’s hope for the world, to the Mercy of God for all Creation. We become marked by a Love which, though it seems to weaken, is our ultimate and indefatigable strength.

Today’s final thought: Will we let ourselves be changed by the grace offered us in life’s struggles? Will we let ourselves be renamed and marked as God’s own?

Frederick Buechner, in his sermon The Magnificent Defeat talks about such surrender:

Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God. And God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives – our selves, our wills, our treasure.

Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.

Music: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel – Leo Kraft

Believe

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings lead us to pray for faith.

John20_27 Thomas

Faith is not a commodity or an achievement.
Faith is a relationship and a journey.

It is a gift and an exercise of grace.
Never stretched, it withers like an broken ligament.

It ebbs and tides with our personal and communal dramas.
It deepens with prayer, silent reaching, and a listening obedience to our lives.
It shallows with our demands, like Thomas, only to see and to touch.

It is fed by the Lavish Mercy of God Who never cuts its flow to our souls
if we but take down the seawall around our heart.

On this day when we celebrate the power of tested and proven faith,
may we bring our needs into the circle gathered in that Upper Room.

Standing beside Thomas today in our prayer,
may we place our trust in the glorified wounds of Christ.

A video today for your prayer: Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen

After the Tumult

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we stand with Abraham as he reflects over the demolished plains surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah. He has been through a traumatic upheaval with God. Now he lets the reality of its teaching sink into his soul.

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The smoldering land over which Abraham meditates has been flattened by earthquake and ensuing fire. It is a striking symbol for us of those events or circumstances in our lives that have crushed our hope and joy. At some time, we have all stood at the edge of such a scorched plain, one to be traced not on a paper map but on the map of our soul.

The upheaval may have been spawned by a death, a broken vow, a trust revealed as false, a devastating illness of spirit, mind or body. Whatever the trauma, something of us did not survive – at least not in the way it was before the fire.

Abraham is full of such considerations on this now quiet morning. And he, as many of us in the aftermath of our storms, has learned a new depth of God. God has stayed with Abraham, listened to him, shown mercy to Lot and his family.

What we see in this reading is Abraham, our earliest ancestor in faith, growing in his understanding of the nature of God. Even the upheavals of life can bring us to the fullness of God’s mercy. Though life may unfold differently from what we would choose, it will always bring us grace if we stay in relationship with Abiding Love.

May God give us the faith to hold on to that Lavish Mercy in any upheaval we encounter. May we, like Abraham, stand quiet and trusting in the power of God – perhaps not to change things, but to change us.

Music: Though the Mountains May Fall – Dan Schutte 

The Challenge of Peter & Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great Apostles Peter and Paul, first architects of the Christian faith.

Peter and Paul

From our 21st century perspective, we may be tempted today to celebrate the totality of their accomplishments – the scriptures ascribed to them, the theology traced to them, the cathedrals named for them.

But there is a deeper message given to us in today’s readings, one that challenges our practice of faith. We can access that message by asking an obvious question:

Why were Peter and Paul, simple religious leaders, persecuted, imprisoned, harassed, and eventually executed? What was the terrible threat these unarmed preachers presented to political power?

The answer:

It was their testimony to the transformative Gospel message of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of Mercy and Justice.

But Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom constituted a serious challenge to the Romans who ruled Israel during his lifetime. The cheering crowds who greeted him, especially during his entry into Jerusalem, as well as his confrontation with the moneychangers in the Temple, constituted such a threat to the unjust power of empire that the rulers crucified Jesus in order to silence him. – Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Peter and Paul, and every committed Christian after them, bears the same holy threat to ensuing cultures of domination, violence and greed.

As Jesus, Peter, Paul and so many others down through Pope Francis show us, faith and politics always work hand in hand. The work of faith is to build a world where every person can live, and find their way to God, in dignity and peace. It is to witness to an alternative to any power that feeds on the freedom, joy and peace of another person – especially those who are poor, sick and vulnerable.

May Peter and Paul inspire us to continue the daunting task of such an apostolic faith.

Music:  They Who Do Justice – David Haas

They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
Those who walk blamelessly and live their lives doing justice,
who keep the truth in their heart, and slander not with their tongue!
Who harm not another, nor take up reproach to their neighbor,
who hate the site of the wicked, but honor the people of God!
Who show no condition in sharing the gifts of their treasure,
who live not off the poor: they shall stand firm forever!

Fount of Love and Mercy

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus 

Friday, June 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart, a day of deep devotion and gratitude for God’s lavish mercy to us.

All of our readings today suggest the image of a good shepherd caring for his sheep. This metaphor, perhaps more meaningful for the agrarian society in which these scriptures were written, still retains for us the imagery of tenderness, attentive responsibility, strength, protection, and vigilant presence.

Ez34_15 shepherd

Our first reading comes from Ezekiel whose ministry occurred in Babylon during the second captivity there. God calls Ezekiel to prophesy against Israel’s leaders who have forgotten their defenseless sheep, who have fed themselves instead of their flock. Today’s particular verses have God speaking, taking over the shepherding duties, because the human “shepherds” (kings and priests) have so badly failed their sheep. 

The Lord makes clear who will be the beneficiaries of his tenderness:

The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As I prayed with this passage, I was struck by the awareness of how some things never change. The parallels to our Church and society are painfully evident. Immorally self-indulgent “pastors” and self-serving, indifferent leaders still plague their “flocks”. The poor and weak are still abandoned by those they had depended on.

Our reading from Romans and Matthew raise before us the model of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who both renders us infinite compassion, and teaches us how to dispense it as his disciples. We are invited to become one with the sacred, compassionate Heart of Jesus, being healed ourselves to become healers.

Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord,
and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.

Our world aches for this healing. Let us pray together today for God to inspire and energize us to be Mercy for our world.

Music: Sweet Heart of Jesus – sung by the Irish soprano Maureen Hegarty

(I know this hymn is tinged with a bit of the old, sentimental spirituality. Still, I have loved it from my long-ago youth and it touches me deeply. I hope it will touch you as well.❤️ Lyrics below.)

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Fount of love and mercy,
Today we come,
thy blessings to implore;
Oh touch our hearts, so
cold and so ungrateful,
And make them Lord,
Thine own for evermore.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
We implore
Oh, make us love Thee
more and more.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Make us know and love thee.
Unfold to us
the treasures of thy grace.
That so our hearts, from
things of earth uplifted,
May long alone
to gaze upon Thy face.

The Stars Will Teach Us

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Genesis invites us further into the gift of our faith.

We see God break into Abram’s life through a vision.

“Fear not!”, God says.
I am your shield;
I will make your reward very great.”

So Abram must have been a little frightened when God decided to visit him here. But why?

What Abram was nervous about was this: despite God’s earlier promise to him, Abram and Sarai were still childless – barren. In fact, he was so concerned that God would not prove true to the promise, that he was making plans about his own future without God’s help.

… if I keep on being childless
(I will) have as my heir
the steward of my house, Eliezer…

Abram was a very practical guy. His newly-sprouted faith expected practical, even instant results. It would take some time for Abraham to grow into a faith rooted in relationship rather than signs; to realize that faithful relationship is for the long run, not the immediate answer.

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God helps Abram to understand this long, deep view.

God took him outside and said:
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”

Abram looked at these stars, made and sustained by God’s hand. He saw that this God Who was inviting him to relationship was beyond time, beyond numbering, beyond human definitions – boundless in life, mercy and love. And so, letting go of his need for concreteness and Immediacy,

Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him
as an act of righteousness.

Today’s scripture may lead us consider our own relationship with God, God’s promise in our life, how we are being drawn beyond our limited expectations. Is there a place of barrenness, an unmet need, a broken expectation shaking our heart or spirit? Let’s ask to abandon all these things to God’s love.

We might even want “to go outside” ourselves, literally or figuratively, asking God to teach us how God’s Presence in our life is infinite, even beyond the stars – if we have a faithful heart to see.

Music: Beyond the Moon and Stars – Dan Schutte 

The Jealousy of God

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we continue to read from Paul’s ardent letter to the Corinthians.

2 Cor 11_2

Second Corinthians gives us Paul, preaching at his passionate height. Paul loves the Corinthian community. I think the city’s personality was a good bit like his own. 

A dynamic cosmopolitan center, Corinth is situated on the southern side of an isthmus between two gulfs. This geography predisposed the site to become an active shipping center, highly populated with merchants and travelers from all over the known world.  

An informative article on preachingsource.com quotes Leon Morris, noted New Testament scholar, in describing the city as “intellectually alert, materially prosperous, and morally corrupt.”

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This population would present just the kind of challenge to motivate Paul. His intellectual acuity, familiarity with prosperity, and repented moral challenges made him the perfect evangelist for this morally hungry community.

And he is highly successful in giving them the Gospel.

It is after he departs to continue the mission elsewhere that problems arise. New preachers come behind him, distorting the core message of the Cross and Resurrection. In today’s letter, Paul begs his beloved community not too be wooed by this diluted preaching.

Today’s Church is not immune from such dilution. Some preachers bend the Holy Word to fit their own agendas. We have, for example, the errancy of the “prosperity gospel”, the divisiveness of strident tradionalism, and the distortions of a flawed fundamentalism which equates faith with nationalism, ethnic supremacy, and economic domination.

When Paul speaks of loving the Corinthian community with the “jealousy” of God, he fore-echoes Pope Francis in his first Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”, (The Joy of the Gospel). Here are a few compelling excerpts for our prayer today as we consider what the Gospel means to us:

  • “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice.”
  • “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.”
  • “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’”

Music: The Gospel – Ryan Stevenson