Soften That Stony Heart!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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psalm 95 copy

Today, in Mercy, our first reading quotes at length from Psalm 95, and the message is reprised in the Responsorial Psalm.

Harden not your hearts.

We all know what it feels like to harden our hearts. We do it out of anger, fear, exhaustion, frustration and so many other reasons. We feel like the only way to protect ourselves and our space is –yes– to build a wall! Put up those bricks made out of our stony faces, curt words, numbing silence, distancing indifference – our hardened hearts.

Today’s reading tells us that is never God’s way.

The way to freedom, peace, self-respect, joy and fullness of life is always found in relationship – in building bridges.

Jesus builds a bridge in today’s Gospel by connecting with the leper. This leper has been walled off from society by illness and disfigurement. Most people’s hearts are hardened against him, but Jesus is “moved by pity” at the leper’s isolation.

The leper, too, has built a bridge by reaching through his own hardened heart in faith and trust. Surely all the years of mistreatment had made him wary of trust, had immobilized him in self-protection. But he allows himself a courageous plea to Jesus, and he is heard.

It is no easy challenge to soften a hardened heart. Some of our walls are very high, some of our bricks very heavy. But, one by one, we can choose opportunities for forgiveness, kindness, understanding, patience, encouragement, listening and companionship – even, and especially, toward those estranged in any way from us or from themselves. And even toward ourselves when we have become hardened to our own beauty and goodness.

To begin might take only a smile, a prayer, a phone call, a small kindness, an invitation, a moment of ordinary conversation…. just these might start to crumble a wall, to soften a heart.

Music: Soften My Heart, Lord (and adding a second song, just because I think you’ll like it.)

 

Of Course, I Want To!

Friday, January 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, John and Jesus continue to teach us.

lk5_12 of course
Greek rendering of phrase “Of course I do!”

But, as much as I love John’s letters, there are a few places where his needle gets a little stuck (a metaphor that might be lost on my younger readers?). This passage is one of them.

What I think John wants to get across to us is this: we are invited to eternal life through Baptism, the Paschal-Eucharistic Mystery, and through the Holy Spirit. This is the truth of Jesus Christ which we embrace by faith.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how to live that faithful life – through loving, generous service.

A pitiable leper interrupts Jesus on his journey to ask for help. People like this man were scorned, feared, and isolated. Their leprosy impoverished them, making them annoying beggars. Their cries usually met with indifference at best and banishment at worst.

But when this leper poses his proposal to Jesus – “If you want to, you can heal me.” — Jesus gives the spontaneous answer of a true, merciful heart: “Of course I want to!”

There is no annoyance, no suggestion that other concerns are more important. There is just the confirmation that – Yes- this is the purpose of my life: to heal, love, show mercy toward whatever suffering is in my power to touch. There is just the clear message that “You, too, poor broken leper, are Beloved of God.”

What an example and call Jesus gives us today! We are commissioned to continue this merciful touch of Christ along the path of our own lives. When circumstances offer us the opportunity to be Mercy for another, may we too respond with enthusiasm, “Of course I want to!” May we have the eyes to see through any “leprosy” to find the Beloved of God.

Music: Compassion Hymn – Kristyn and Keith Getty

… the children, for God’s sake

Friday, December 28, 2018

Feast of the Holy Innocents

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Jer 31_15 Ramah

Today, in Mercy, we are lifted to Light by John’s sacred words in our first reading:

Beloved:
This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

Simply hearing it, we long to abide in that whole and healing Light.

But then we read our Gospel, among the saddest accounts in all of Scripture – the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Their needless deaths come at the hands of a power-crazed and fearful man.  So hungry for his own aggrandizement, he tries to assure it by killing a generation of children.

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it, that anyone could be so hardened by evil? It sounds impossible that good people would execute this order of a mad man! It sounds impossible that human beings could be so blind to the sanctity of another’s life!

Dear friends, we must confront our own blindness. We must look into the eyes of our 21st century children – the border children, the children of Yemen, Syria, … the children of war, violence, drugs and poverty.

We must hear the cry of God, their Mother, and choose legislators and leaders who will honor life; who will shape global policies and relationships recognizing the common life we share in God – who will make true pro-life choices regarding gun control, arms sales, and an economy of endless war.

Our attitudes, our advocacy and our votes will either condemn or exonerate us when that Great Light ultimately reveals our hearts. When a society’s children become the victims of its indefensible corruption, we must say “Enough!”

Music: The Mediaeval Baebes – Coventry Carol

The “Coventry Carol” is an English Christmas Carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was traditionally performed in Coventry, England as part of a mystery play called “The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors”. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Matthew’s Gospel. The carol itself refers to the massacre of the Holy Innocents in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children.(Information from Wikipedia)

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Readings: Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, commemorating the apparitions of Mary to the Mexican peasant Juan Diego in 1531. 

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It is also on this date, 300 years later, that Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. 

Both Mary and Catherine found their joy in total commitment to God’s will and presence in their lives. May they inspire and help  to make God the center of our lives. May that discovery fill us with joy.

Perhaps  by increasing our spiritual simplicity, trust and humility like Juan Diego, we can grow closer to Mary and to her Son.

Today’s beautiful readings can lead us closer into Mary’s arms.  Zecharia, even without knowing her, named Mary the Holy Dwelling from whom Christ would come forth.

Revelation captures multiple images from the Hebrew scriptures, fashioning a glorious picture of Mary’s significance in salvation history.

And our treasured passage from Luke — can we not read it like a beloved family story that gives us roots and wings?

Mary is not so far away from us.  She chose to enter Juan Diego’s life, looking like a queen he would recognize in his own culture. She has chosen to do the same thing in many other struggling cultures. 

How is Mary present to us today? How was she present to Catherine McAuley? A homeless woman? An immigrant mother? An incarcerated young woman/? A sickly neighbor? An annoying, lonely grandmother?

What language is Mary speaking to us?

Music: Tota Pulchra Es Maria – Latin words and translation below. This lovely hymn reflects our responsorial psalm for today.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.

 

You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honour to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.

Christ the King

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate The Solemnity of Christ the King.

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For some, the lofty, politically-tinged title might obscure the rich devotion offered by this feast. The title “king” carries with it suggestions of exaggerated power, wealth and dominance not compatible with our Gospel perception of Jesus.

We may be more comfortable with images of Christ as infant, brother, shepherd, lamb, vine, gate, way, truth, life…

But what all these images point out is that our ability to comprehend the fullness of Christ is severely limited by our humanity. We usually choose a specific image based on our circumstances and spiritual needs.

Pope Pius XI promoted the concept of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, in response to growing international secularism and nationalism. His intent was not to compare Christ to the challenged world leaders of the time. It was to raise the perceptions of all people to the lessons of Divine Leadership: mercy, justice, inclusivity, and peace.

Oh, how we could benefit from the same understanding today! 

In this age with its culture of continual war, the human pain it causes, refugee crises, climate devastation, wealth distortion and indifference to the poor, how our hearts long for just, wise and loving leadership!

In his encyclical, Pius XI wrote:

Christ the King reigns “in the human hearts,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all humanity. He reigns, too, in our wills, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.”

— Quas primas, §7[4]

Let’s pray for these virtues for all who are charged with any form of power or leadership:

  • keen spiritual intellect
  • deep heart’s knowledge
  • uncompromising truth
  • obedience to grace
  • holy inspiration 
  • noble character
  • and surpassing charity for all Creation

May Christ the King truly live and reign among us. May we behold the “sweet light in His eyes”!

Music: We Shall Behold Him – offered in American Sign Language by Kayla Seymour; sung by Sandi Patty

“Beyond Gold” Friday

Friday, November 23, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112318.cfm

Today in Mercy,  we continue in the mood of thanksgiving. 

Do you  have a computer calendar that pops up reminders for you — appointments, due dates, anniversaries, etc.?

TGVNG cal

On this date, I am reminded of two very happy events:

  • the birth of one of my precious grand-nephews three years ago – a gift of beauty, love and hope to our family
  • the jubilant wedding of two dear friends six years ago – a covenant and sign of love, fidelity and courage in today’s unloving world

As we get older (as I have been blessed to do), our calendar blocks become more crowded with memories – with the years’ accumulation of joys and blessings. “Thanksgiving Friday” is a good day to mentally page through the gift of years, remembering, thanking, praying for all that has brought love, hope and encouragement to our hearts.

Every life we love copy

It’s a good strategy to resist the commercial lure of “Black Friday” and to keep our focus on what truly counts as GIFT – those treasures that are beyond gold in our life’s story.

Hopefully, God’s goodness came to us yesterday, and comes to us daily, in abundance and joy – of family, friends and blessings shared. 

But for some, God draws us closer through loneliness, loss or sadness shared. The great grace is that God abides with us in every season, and reveals Mercy’s loving face in both our sorrows and our joys. 

May we praise God and know the Comforting Presence in whatever the season of our hearts. Let us pray this for one another.

Music:  10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman

Reflection for Thanksgiving

TY print

Emma, skewered by indecision, stared into her mother ‘s jewelry box. She had always loved those silver earrings, a gift to her mother from her grandmother—an heirloom now, a treasure beyond price. She wanted so to wear them on this special date, but they were “hands off” and she knew it. Still, her mother at work and unaware of her desire, Emma had succumbed to temptation.

The dance had been wonderful, a whirlwind of such delight that Emma had not noticed when her left earring had brushed against her partner’s shoulder, tumbling hopelessly under the dancers’ trampling feet. Only at evening’s end, approaching her front door exhausted and dreamy, had she reached up to unclip the precious gems.

Her mother sat waiting for her in the soft lamplight, having already noticed the earrings missing from her dresser. Awaiting retribution, Emma knelt beside her mother and confessed the further sacrilege of loss. But her mother simply cupped Emma’s tearful face in her hands, whispering, “You are my jewel. Of course, I forgive you.” Though accustomed to her mother’s kindness, this act of compassion astonished Emma, filling her with an indescribable, transformative gratitude.

Surely it was a gratitude like this that brought Mary to the feet of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. It was a similar loving gratitude that Mary poured out from her treasured alabaster jar—every drop carrying her thanks for life, for faith restored, for forgiveness, for hope renewed.

We come to this Thanksgiving season with our own stories, with our own alabaster jars. Perhaps there is a great forgiveness we are thankful for, or just the small kindnesses that allow us to rise each morning with joy and hope. Perhaps there is a memory of compassion, like Emma’s or Mary’s, that we treasure—one that in turn has made us kinder and more honest.

God is our Mother waiting in the lamplight of this Thanksgiving to cup our face with love, to receive our joyful thanks for divine mercies. Like Emma, we may be astonished at the graciousness that has been given to us. Like Mary, we may respond by pouring out our thanks to God in a silent act of prayer.

Indeed, the deepest thanksgiving is wordless. It is the bowing of the spirit before God—who is Presence; who is Grace; who is Lavish Mercy. As we celebrate the season of harvest and thanksgiving, we sit quietly with our loving, generous God. We rejoice in the awareness of our many blessings: the gift of life, the beauty of Creation, the people who have loved us, the ability to choose, to love, to hope, to believe. We pour out to God our humble, grateful hearts. We listen for God’s own heart beating gently in the lamplight of our prayer.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. May God bless you and your loved ones with every reason for gratitude and joy.

( I published this early in case you’re using workplace computers to access the site. I wanted you all to have it for Thanksgiving. 🙏)

Bread and Roses

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Readings: Click here for readings

Eliz_bread

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  Elizabeth, a princess in Hungary, was married at the age of fourteen to Louis IV of Thuringia, a German state. Both rulers were kind and saintly. 

Elizabeth used her considerable royal resources to help the poor and hungry. She met them outside the walls of the palace, even building a small hospital there to care for the sick among them. 

But there was some controversy within the castle, questioning her charity as a depletion of the governmental treasures. 

Eliz windowJPG

Once, on a charitable journey, Elizabeth met her husband traveling with a band of such questioners. She carried baskets of bread to the poor, covered with her traveling cloaks. They demanded she reveal her cargo at which the bread is said to have been miraculously transformed into roses.

(St Elizabeth of Hungary with her crown and apron full of flowers. Blois château, France. One of a series of female saints in the Oratory (once the queen’s private chapel). Designed by Michel Dumas in 1858, the windows were painted by Claude Lavergne in 1859.)

As indicated by Pope Benedict XVI, Elizabeth is part of that long line of holy ones, whose relationship with Jesus moved them to justice and mercy for all people.

Praying with Elizabeth today, asking for insight on how to be loving and charitable in today’s world, one might consider this:

  • What would it be like to greet our border refugees with baskets of bread rather than barbed wire?
  • What would it be like if we built rose hedges rather than walls?

The caravan of refugees seeking asylum at our border mirrors many similar marchers throughout history, searching for a measure of equality and a livable life.

The music for today, aptly titled “Bread and Roses”, originated in the early 1900s, as women marched for improved working conditions and the right to vote.

Music: Bread and Roses

But God Does Notice

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we learn lessons from widows – those whose place in biblical times was uncertain and frightening. Without a husband, a woman experienced diminished standing in the legal, financial and political life of the community. 

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She was often dependent on charity, and was deemed fortunate to capture a bit of good will from those in better circumstances. 

There are several examples of widows being blessed by miracles, because they were among those most in need of them.

In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, we meet two widows displaying amazing charity and character strength.  The widow of Zarephath steadfastly prepares for death because she has nothing left to live on. When Elijah asks to share in her last few cornmeal cakes, she does not hesitate to feed him.

In our Gospel, it is significant that, just across the road from the well-stocked treasury, a nearly penniless widow gives her last coins to the poor.

In Elijah’s account, we learn the outcome of the widow’s generosity.  She reaps an abundant reward in perpetual flour and oil to sustain her.

We never learn what happens to Jesus’s widow. We are left to imagine that, in some way, her selflessness is rewarded.

It is so hard to give it all to God, especially if we feel we have little left for ourselves.  It is hard to give our love when we feel empty-hearted.  It is hard to give care when we feel unappreciated.  It is hard to assist others when we ourselves are exhausted. It is hard to do good if no one, not even God, seems to notice.

But God does notice.  Like Jesus on that long-ago afternoon, God is watching as we empty our coffers in service and care for the poor, sick, troubled and lost.

What we have to give may be small — a single corn cake or two little coins. It is the act of giving it that is large — and will make our hearts large by the choice.

One this date in 1841, Catherine McAuley, the first Sister of Mercy, died. She had given everything she had — a fortune actually.. and a life — for God’s poor and needy.  Let’s call on her to inspire us to greater charity and mercy. God knows we need to do something for this aching world!

Music:: Matthew West – Do Something

God Knows Our Hearts

Saturday, November 10, 2018

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Lk 16_45 knows heart

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of Pope St. Leo the Great.  He was a remarkable 5th century leader who consolidated essential elements of theology and administration for the yet emerging Church.

Our first reading today reflects Paul doing the same thing in the very early days of Christianity.  His ministry throughout the Mediterranean basin guided early Christians as the Church planted its first harvest.

Paul lets us know that this ministry of leadership is not easy – that he relies on the good will of the communities he serves:

You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity.
Not that I say this because of need,
for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself,
to be self-sufficient.

Paul seems to refer specifically to material help,  but certainly he values even more the spiritual and moral loyalty of his followers.

In our Gospel, Jesus offers us a sermonette that can, at first, seem a little confusing. His tone, as he speaks to a group of Pharisees, is somewhat ironic. But his bottomline message is this: loyalty to God, not to material things.

The thread running through all these passages?  The work of the Church needs both our spiritual and material loyalty to thrive  – whether in Paul’s time, or Christ’s, or our own.

The Pharisees pretended such loyalty, but Jesus challenged them:

You justify yourselves in the sight of others,
but God knows your hearts …

A sobering challenge against which to measure ourselves!

Music: Thank You for Giving to the Lord _ Ray Boltz