Where Are We, Anyway?

March 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we end the month of March in a very different place from where we began it.  On March 1st, I didn’t expect to be in midst of the Corona Desert did you?

Neither did the Israelites in today’s first reading expect to be in their particular desert. They had left the oppressions of Egypt with no certainties, but nonetheless with expectations. Now, after decades wandering the desert, those expectations turned into some typical complaints:

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!

They even go so far as to blame a coincidental snake infestation on God, demanding that Moses get God to fix it.

desert

What’s going on here with our wandering ancestors? I think that, in our current circumstances, it might be worthwhile to consider that question. Our Gospel reading points us toward an answer.

Jesus has invited his community to a journey too – a journey away from the oppressions of injustice, selfishness, and lovelessness; to a place where “law” is not used as an excuse for domination; to a new community where all Creation shares equally in the Bread of Life.

But the Pharisees don’t get it. They are lost in a desert of their own illusions, needs, and fears. They can’t see past the sandstorms of their own construction.

That’s why Jesus tells them:

I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.

…. because you just can’t trust enough, let go enough to see that the journey is so much deeper than your present concerns. It is a journey of the soul from oppression to freedom, from selfishness to love, from blindness to light.

Jesus invites us too, even as we negotiate our desert journeys, to release our hearts to a world beyond appearances.

You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.

Indeed, we must pay attention to the exigencies of our earthly journey, but today’s readings remind us that the true journey is infinitely deeper. That faith should inspire our hope, choices, and attitudes in what certainly seems like an awfully big desert.

Deserts can make us desperate, if we let them. Or they can shear us of everything that blocks our soul’s sight.

We may not see clearly beyond this momentary desert, but we are the children of an eternal and merciful God. May we trust our journey to that Immutable Loving Presence and allow ourselves to be made new.

Music: Everything is Holy Now – Peter Mayer

(Thanks to Sister Michele Gorman for sharing this beautiful song on Facebook)

Being Led to Light

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
March 30, 2020

 

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Today in Mercy, we encounter the stories of Suzanna and the woman taken in adultery. Both these stories always make me mad. Even though their ultimate lesson is the justice and mercy of God, I can’t help nettling every time I read them.

Here’s why. Still today, in so many instances, women continue to endure the same kind of assault, objectification, suspicion and blame — and still at the hands of judges, clerics, business and political leaders. Just let the newsreels of the past few years run through your mind. You’ll be as angry as I am.

So to save you from a continuing diatribe, I have gone back to a piece I wrote for the Catholic Health Association several years ago.  It looks at the themes of this week in Lent. It helps us to break through the stories to their point of redemption, to go through death to life, sin to forgiveness, judgement to mercy, darkness to light.


Reflection for the Fifth Week of Lent

 I will keep my covenant with you …
to be your God
and the God of your descendants after you.
~Genesis 17:7

roses
photo by Chi Pham

The golden June morning had broken bright and warm through the hospital windows. With its breaking, the attending physician and chaplain had received a page. Dorothy had taken an unexpected turn. She was struggling both to live and to die.

As they attended and comforted her, Dorothy managed to whisper ” … wait for Henry.” Henry, her husband of fifty-eight years, had arrived promptly at 7:00 AM daily for all the weeks of Dorothy’s hospitalization. Glancing at her watch, the chaplain saw that it was just 6:50 AM.

When, after ten eternal minutes, Henry appeared at the door, he carried a small bouquet of yellow roses from their beloved garden. Quickly apprehending the changed situation, he laid the roses aside and hurried to hold Dorothy for the last few minutes of her life. In the loving, covenanted presence Dorothy had waited for, she finally embraced a peaceful death.

It had not been easy for Dorothy to die nor, from then on, had it been easy for Henry to live. Still, through many bereavement visits, the chaplain watched their long, honest love arise to heal Henry. Through prayer and the benediction of memories, Henry realized that their love, like the roses still blooming in their garden, was both fragile and perpetual.

In this week’s readings, God again calls us to such a love. As God brought Lazarus, Suzanna and Shadrack out of darkness and death, so God promises to bring us. “I will keep my covenant with you,” God says. “Whoever keeps my word will never die.”

Accompanying Jesus, as he nears Jerusalem, let us trust and cherish these promises in our own darknesses and bereavements. Let us ask God to deliver us from both our sins and our judgements of others.

Music: No Shame – by Tenth Avenue North

That Little White Book

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

March 20, 2020

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Wednesday-20-March-1963-tf79df128030699e87a485b4eb093700302fe62c25f3a5cfc651f117a49786663k-lq

Today, in Mercy, I’m going to tell you a story. But first …

In our first reading, the passionate prophet Hosea offers us this quintessential Lenten advice:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD

In our Gospel, Jesus is giving advice too. A sincere scribe seeks out Jesus’ wisdom:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the greatest of all the commandments?”

Jesus instructs the scribe:

The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

Then Jesus goes on to tell him the second greatest commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Assessing the scribe’s sincerity, Jesus promises him:

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”


Praying with these passages on this particular date took me back to March 20, 1963, Wednesday of the 3rd week of Lent that year. I was almost 18 years old and, while not wise as a scribe, I too sought answers to guide my faith.

One place I found that  wisdom was at the desk of a wonderful Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Giovanni. Like many high school girls back then, I hung around Sister’s homeroom after school. Her good humor, gentle interest, and kind encouragement nourished all of us still slightly silly but ever-so-earnest young women.

On that particular afternoon, an unusual white book sat on Sister’s desk. Its gold letters attracted me and I asked what it was. Sister said it was her community’s centenary book and that, if I wanted, I could borrow it to read.

That little book changed my life. Well, I guess what it actually did was to capture many loose threads running through my mind and heart, and to tie them into a conviction.

I had been toying with a religious vocation ever since third grade. I did love God with my whole heart, just like the young scribe in today’s Gospel. And I loved the nuns and I always wanted to be like them. But actually becoming like them was another story. 

That little white book gave me the courage and will to make that commitment. Here’s what it said:

The Sisters of Mercy,
in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,
take a fourth vow of service of the poor, sick, and ignorant.

That was it! That short sentence opened my understanding to see that loving God had to be demonstrated in love of neighbor. The two great commandments are always interdependent.

So I decided to “take my words”, as Hosea encourages, and to ask God if He would have me as a Sister of Mercy.
follow

Less than a week after reading that book, I signed up to become a Sister of Mercy. And I have continued to become one every day for almost 60 years. Because just as Jesus said to the scribe, I believe I am “not far from the Kingdom of Heaven”. But I’m not there yet. Everyday is a chance to grow deeper into the glorious gift that was opened to me back in March 1963.

novices'_dining_room

As you pray with these passages today, take a long view of God’s continuing call in your life. You may have been called to marriage and parenthood, priesthood, a generous single life, a profession which allowed you to serve others. 

In each individual call, we are invited to love God with all our hearts and to love others as God loves them. Let’s pray for one another’s continuing deepening in our particular call.

Music: The Call – written by Vaughn Williams from the poetry of George Herbert
(Lyrics below)

 

the call

Grace-filled Water

Third Sunday of Lent

March 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, water flows through all our readings, inviting us to God’s refreshing Mercy.

Gen_rock

For the thirsty and testy Israelites, the water flows from the rock of their hopelessness. Wandering in the desert for days on end, they are exhausted and bewildered. Each sunrise seems to push their destination farther away rather than bring it closer. They are thirsty … but for a lot more than a cool drink.

And God gives everything they need – not only water, but surprised hope and renewed confidence as they witness the mighty rock split at Moses’ touch.

Paul points out that it is, indeed, that hope which truly slakes the deeper thirst. 

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In our Gospel story, Jesus awakens in the Samaritan woman a thirst and hope she didn’t know she had. The layers of her tangled life had formed an impervious rock around her, insulating her from her own soul’s needs.

800px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Christ_and_the_Samaritan_Woman_-_Google_Art_Project
Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Jesus, “tired from the journey”, expressed his own need to her. This simple request unleashes a cascade of searching from the woman. Jesus, seeing her readiness for grace, catches all that pours out from her. He transforms it into a challenge for conversion:

Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”

And she accepts the challenge:

Sir, give me this water,
so that I may not be thirsty again.

As we pray today, we may sense a desert within us. Or we may feel that our soul’s journey has become frustratingly circuitous. We may be like the Samaritan woman, sitting beside a well that seems slowly drying out. Maybe the juices have dwindled in our souls.

In these readings, as we listen to the Ancients call out for flowing grace, we may find a way to ask God for the refreshment we need just now.

Living Waters – Gettys

Come Back!

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

March 14, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are soaked in Mercy itself … seasoned by repentance, forgiveness, hope, and trust.

Both in Micah’s lilting, poetic words and in Jesus’s  parable, we are embraced by the infinite tenderness of God.

You may find the following comparison odd at first, but stay with me a minute. Reading this morning’s scriptures, I thought of Lidia Bastianich, the famous chef. To me, her show is the perfect combination of instruction, humor, and familial camaraderie. Still, even though Lydia offers tons of invaluable culinary tips, it is her repeated farewell phrase that I most treasure: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!”. “Let everyone come to the table and eat!”

Lydia


Micah, who prophesied just prior to the Siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, condemned the sinfulness rampant in Israel and Judah. At the same time, he consoled the “remnant” people and, àla Lydia, invited them to the table of forgiveness and reconciliation. Here’s the way Micah asks God to “set the table” for God’s repentant People:

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old …


prodigal dinner
The Parable of the Prodigal Son by Frans II Francken

Jesus describes a similar banquet offered to the repentant son:

The father ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’

As I pray today, I ask if there is any lost or hungry part of my spirit that longs to return to the table of Peace and Mercy. I pray also for those places and souls throughout our world who hunger to hear:

Tutti a tavola a mangiare!”

Music: Father, I Have Sinned -written by Fr. Eugene O’Reilly

Rejected

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

March 13, 2020

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Mt21_42rejected

Today, in Mercy, there is a great sadness in our readings.

The poignant opening line from Genesis immediately strikes us:

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age

Joseph

We picture young Joseph in his beautiful rainbow coat and, under an olive tree’s shade, old Jacob(Israel) proudly, tenderly, watching him play.

As the story ensues to reveal the later betrayal of Joseph’s jealous brothers, we are left astounded. Such treachery, especially among brothers, sickens the heart.


Our Gospel picks up the sad theme because Joseph and his brothers are archetypes of Christ’s story with humankind.

800px-The_Wicked_Husbandman_(The_Parables_of_Our_Lord_and_Saviour_Jesus_Christ)_MET_DP835802
The Wicked Husbandman by John Everett Millais shows the owner’s murdered son

Jesus tells a parable in which he is actually the unnamed main character. He is the Son sent by a loving Father. He is the one rejected, beaten and killed by the treacherous tenants of his Father’s garden.

We know from our familiarity with Scripture that both these stories ultimately come to glorious conclusions. But today’s readings do not take us there. They leave us standing, mouths dropped open, at the dense meanness of the human heart, at the soul’s imperviousness to grace, at the profound sadness Jesus felt at this point in his ministry.

In our prayer today, let’s just be with Jesus, sharing his sadness for the meanness still hardening our world. Let us comfort him with our desire to be open to God’s Grace and Mercy.

Music:  Handel:Messiah – He was despised and rejected – Alfred Deller

Turn and See

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

March 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us studies in dramatic contrasts.

the barren bush in a lava waste
vs.
the tree planted beside the waters

that turns its roots to the stream

Jere17_7barrentree



a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen

vs.
a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores

Gustave_Dore_Lazarus_and_the_Rich_Man
Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore (1891)

 

What are Jeremiah and Jesus teaching us with these unforgettable images?

Jeremiah summarizes his point in the very first verse:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

In his parable, Jesus has Abraham deliver the point:

You received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.


Praying with these passages, we might determine to make sure we don’t end up like the barren bush or the ultimately tormented rich person. 

But how can we do that?

I think the key lies in Jeremiah’s phrase, “one whose heart turns away from the LORD.” 

In his parable, Jesus shows us what that “turning” looks like. It is any blind indifference in us that allows us to ignore another’s suffering. 

Most of us don’t consciously choose that indifference. We simply fail to turn from our own comfort … plans, needs, agenda … to observe the pain or need around us.

So as we leave our prayer today, perhaps we can do so determined to turn from our self-interests … to see if there is a “Lazarus” right beside us whom we had failed to notice.

Music: Turn My Heart – Lynn DeShazo (Lyrics below)

Turn my heart O Lord
Like rivers of water
Turn my heart O Lord
By Your hand
‘Til my whole life flows
In the river of Your Spirit
And my name
Bring honor to the Lamb

Lord I surrender to
Your work in me
I rest my life within
Your loving hands

(Repeat chorus 3 times)

‘Til my name brings honor
‘Til my name brings honor
To the Lamb

A Plea for Mercy

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

March 9, 2020

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bruggemann

Today, in Mercy, our reading from Daniel gives us one of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament (according to Walter Brueggemann’s like-named book.)

The Book of Daniel and chapter nine in particular, have been the subjects of extensive biblical exegesis. Chapter nine in considered one of the Messianic Prophecies, Old Testament markers pointing to Christ. So there is much we could study about today’s first reading.

 


But how might we pray with it?

Naming the sins of all the People, Daniel’s great prayer is a plea for mercy:

Lord, great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant
toward those who love you
and observe your commandments! …
… yours, O Lord, our God,
are compassion and forgiveness!

Three themes, so strikingly germane to Lent, arise from Daniel’s prayer:

Repentance
Forgiveness
Transformation


Our Responsorial Psalm picks up this plea to Mercy for Mercy:

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
R.    Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Help us, O God our savior,

because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake.


The questions for each of us as we pray today —

Is there someplace in my life
longing for such mercy and healing?

Where can my spirit grow
from repentance, forgiveness, and transformation?

be Mercy

In our Gospel Jesus tells us how to open our hearts to this merciful healing.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

There it is in black and white. Whether or not the advice changes my heart is up to me!

Music: Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) Beethoven- Missa Solemnis

Be Careful of Love

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

March 7, 2020

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Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.


Today, in Mercy, Moses tells us this:

Be careful, then …

Be careful of what? Does he mean be careful like,”Don’t fall down the steps!”. Or does he mean be careful like, “Hold tenderly to love in your life.”?

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses goes on to say one of my favorite biblical phrases:

… today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you…

Since the 17th century, the word “peculiar” has taken on the meaning of “odd” or “unusual”.  But the original sense comes from the Latin peculiaris meaning “of private property”

Moses is reminding us that we belong to God and God to us in a covenant similar to, but far exceeding, the mutuality of a marriage.

So we should “be careful”, full of care, in appreciation for this infinite love.


 

chick

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to take this exquisite care of our precious relationship with God:

But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for God makes the sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
… Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate.

So, let’s be careful of love today when we find this precious God in our sisters and brothers and in all God’s Creation. Let us be compassionate.

Music:  Compassion Hymn – The Gettys 

Even Now…

Ash Wednesday

February 26, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we resolve to turn our hearts more fully to God. The sacred journey of Lent, one we have traveled so often over the years, invites us each time to go deeper into the Well of Mercy.

Joel’s pregnant phrase summons us:

Joel2_12 even now

Think of the “even now” moments of your life, those times when, despite darkness and cold, you turned toward light and warmth. Think of a time when, in contradiction to all negativity, your soul proclaimed

  • Even now I hope
  • Even now I believe
  • Even now I love
  • Even now I care
  • Even now I repent
  • Even now I forgive
  • Even now I begin again

buddingThe rise of an “Even Now” moment in our souls is like the hint of spring pushing its head through the winter snow.

It is the reddish-green thread suggesting life at the tip of the brown, cold-cracked branch.

It is the moment we believe that what we desire and love will turn toward us and embrace us.


Can you imagine God having such moments, longing for our attention, love, presence, catching a glimpse of our turning?

Our reading from Joel describes such a God.

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart…

These words suggest God’s longing for us, for our devotion and love.

But our holy intentions weaken and we often drift away from our “first fervors”. Our hearts attach to distractions from God. So God says:

Rend your hearts …
and return to the LORD, your God.
For I am gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, rich in kindness …
Come back to Me, with all your heart.

This is what Lent is all about. Each of us knows where our hearts have wandered. Each of knows what we must turn from — even now — to return to God’s embrace.

If we can hear God’s longing in this haunting reading from Joel perhaps the true turning will begin. A blessed Lent, my friends.


I found this modern song helpful to my prayer. I imagine God singing it to me, to the world, as we begin our Lenten journey. Perhaps it may touch your prayer too. God loves us so much, infinitely more than we can comprehend. But imagining God’s love in human terms, as John of the Cross did, can sometimes deepen our understanding and response to God.

Music: Even Now – Nana Mouskouri