Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this feast of the Annunciation, we pray with Psalm 40. We hear Mary proclaiming its refrain which echoes down through the ages:
We are all here to do God’s Will. That’s why God made us. But sometimes, we struggle so hard either to learn God’s Will or to avoid it.
Praying with Mary this morning, I thought this about “God’s Will” – It is not a plan we must discover, or that unfolds in surprises throughout our lives. It’s not a set of circumstances meant to test our faith. If we think of it this linearly, we cripple and diffuse its power.
Because God is Love, God’s Will is simply this:
Love. Always love. Love always as God would love. Choose always what Love would choose. Love.
That’s what Mary did.
Poetry: Aubade: The Annunciation – Thomas Merton (An aubade is a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning.)
When the dim light, at Lauds, comes strike her window, Bellsong falls out of Heaven with a sound of glass. Prayers fly in the mind like larks, Thoughts hide in the height like hawks: And while the country churches tell their blessings to the distance, Her slow words move (Like summer winds the wheat) her innocent love: Desires glitter in her mind Like morning stars: Until her name is suddenly spoken Like a meteor falling. She can no longer hear shrill day Sing in the east, Nor see the lovely woods begin to toss their manes. The rivers have begun to sing. The little clouds shine in the sky like girls: She has no eyes to see their faces. Speech of an angel shines in the waters of her thought like diamonds, Rides like a sunburst on the hillsides of her heart. And is brought home like harvests, Hid in her house, and stored Like the sweet summer's riches in our peaceful barns. But in the world of March outside her dwelling, The farmers and the planters Fear to begin their sowing, and its lengthy labor, Where, on the brown, bare furrows, The winter wind still croons as dumb as pain.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the Book of Daniel both for our Responsorial Psalm and for our first reading.
As I read through today’s scripture passages, I immediately thought of my wonderful college Logic professor, Florence Fay. She was free-spirited, colorful, brilliant and clear. I loved her classes. It was Dr. Fay who implanted a love for syllogisms (if-then statements) in my young mind.
Today, multiple syllogisms popped out to me from our first reading and Gospel.
If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, then may he save us!
But even if he will not, (then) know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.
If you remain in my word, then you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
If you were Abraham’s children, (then) you would be doing the works of Abraham. If God were your Father, (then) you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
I’ve prayed some pretty frantic “if-then” prayers at desperate times in my life. They sound like this: “Dear God, if You just get me out of this mess I made, then I promise to turn into a Saint!”
But, obviously, with such prayers, I didn’t get the sacred “logic” right. I think a lot of people don’t get it right, sometimes disastrously, as in: “If God had answered my prayer, then I would still go to church. But he didn’t, so I don’t.”
Daniel’s “Psalm” serves as a perfect instruction for how we must respond to God, no matter the outcome of our “if-then” moments. If we close ourselves to God’s presence even in our disappointments, we will never grow into God’s ever-new imagination for our lives.
Glory and praise for ever! Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever; And blessed is your holy and glorious name, praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
Poetry: If— by Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run— Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 102, the prayer of someone in the midst of suffering. The psalm is introduced with stark honesty:
The prayer of one afflicted and wasting away whose anguish is poured out before the LORD.
Psalm 102: 1
Psalm 102 speaks to those places in life’s journey where we experience intense, perhaps overwhelming suffering.
In our first reading, the Israelites suffer through what seems like a never-ending journey of homelessness. In our Gospel, Jesus begins his final journey toward his Passion and Death. These both were journeys with suffering as a constant companion
No one avoids suffering in some way. It is part of being human. Even our beloved Catherine McAuley left us this succinct maxim:
The psalmist, in the midst of his suffering, calls out to God for a return of the promised joy.
O LORD, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you. Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; in the day when I call, answer me speedily.
This prayer attests to the psalmist’s undaunted faith and to God’s unwavering fidelity.
This mutual faithfulness is where we all must stand in sorrow so that we may come, as Jesus did, to the fullness of Resurrection grace.
As we come closer to the profound mysteries of Holy Week, let us not only reverence our own joys and sorrows. Let us ask to enter more deeply into the experience of Jesus in this final unfolding of his life. May we deepen in the understanding that the suffering of Jesus is one with the suffering of our sisters and brothers.
Poetry: On Another’s Sorrow – William Blake
Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?
Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird's grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear --
And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant's tear?
And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.
Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51, a psalm to inspire our spring soul-cleaning.
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Happy Spring to all of you in the northern hemisphere! Blessings of new life and hope!
And for my southern friends already in your Autumn Season, blessings of change and release!
Psalm 51 can speak to our hearts in whatever season we find ourselves.
After our long winters, external or internal, we may call upon God for a fresh budding of our hearts:
Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.
Psalm 51: 14-15
When bright summer wanes and vibrant trees speak of leave-taking, we may pray to remain in warmth and light:
Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Psalm 51: 13
Across our hemispheres, we all share the longings of Lent to be cleared of all that blocks us from Grace in our lives – to have the hidden corners of our small selfishness swept, polished and ready for Loving Mercy:
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.
Psalm 51: 3-4
The Heart Cave
I must remember
To go down to the heart cave
& sweep it clean; make it warm
with a fire on the hearth,
& candles in their niches,
the pictures on the walls
glowing with a quiet light.
I must remember
To go down to the heart cave
& make the bed
with the quilt from home,
the rushes on the floor
lavender and sage
from the corners.
I must go down
To the heart cave & be there
when you come.
- by Geoffrey Brown
Today, as we might take a walk under the nearly budding trees, or over their first fallen leaves, let’s ask God to walk with us:
Lord, you open my lips; and my mouth to proclaim your praise. For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. What you want of me, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.
Psalm 51: 17-19
Poetry: A Spring Poem – Luci Shaw
all the field praises Him/all dandelions are His glory/gold and silver/all trilliums unfold white flames above their trinities of leaves all wild strawberries and massed wood violets reflects His skies’ clean blue and white all brambles/all oxeyes all stalks and stems lift to His light all young windflower bells tremble on hair springs for His air’s carillon touch/last year’s yarrow (raising brittle star skeletons) tells age is not past praising all small low unknown unnamed weeds show His impossible greens all grasses sing tone on clear tone all mosses spread a spring- soft velvet for His feet and by all means all leaves/buds/all flowers cup jewels of fire and ice holding up to His kind morning heat a silver sacrifice now make of our hearts a field to raise Your praise.
Music: I Come to the Garden Alone – C. Austin Miles
“In the Garden” ( – sometimes rendered by its first line “I Come to the Garden Alone”) is a gospel song written by American songwriter C. Austin Miles (1868–1946), a former pharmacist who served as editor and manager at Hall-Mack publishers for 37 years. According to Miles’ great-granddaughter, the song was written “in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in Pitman, New Jersey that didn’t even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden.” The song was first published in 1912 and popularized during the Billy Sunday evangelistic campaigns of the early twentieth century. (Source: Wikipedia)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 7 in which the psalmist’s weakness is laid before the Lord’s strength. The very first verse sets the tone:
A plaintive song of David, which he sang to the LORD… LORD my God, in you I trusted; save me; rescue me from all who pursue me
At times in our lives most of us feel “pursued” by some inimical force … financial worries, relationship concerns, family upsets, health challenges, work problems, the deficits of aging …. and on and on. Life is challenging to say the least!
David felt that kind of stress too and asked the Lord to do something about it:
Do me justice, O LORD, because I am just, and because of the innocence that is mine. Let the malice of the wicked come to an end, but sustain the just, O searcher of heart and soul, O just God.
Psalm 7: 9-10
David seems to be claiming God’s favor because of his own innocence and justice. Actually, though, reading the entire psalm, we get a wider picture.
David realizes that his soul’s equanimity must be grounded in a just and reverent life. Given that, he will be able to meet life’s stresses with peace and trust in God.
A shield before me is God, who saves the upright of heart; A just judge is God, Who is not angry with us.
Psalm 7: 11-12
Poetry:No, my life is not this precipitous hour -Rainer Maria Rilke
No, my life is not this precipitous hour through which you see me passing at a run. I stand before my background like a tree. Of all my many mouths I am but one, and that which soonest chooses to be dumb. I am the rest between two notes which, struck together, sound discordantly, because death’s note would claim a higher key. But in the dark pause, trembling, the notes meet, harmonious. ………………… And the song continues sweet.
Music: The Lord is My Strength and My Shield – Hosanna Music
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 145, a hymn of exuberant and confident gratitude to an infinitely generous God.
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
Psalm 145: 8-9
It’s a good psalm for this St. Patrick’s Day. Even though the liturgy stays with the Lenten Mass, today the Irish are praying with their patron Saint.
So when we read the following psalm verse, we think of the witness of our ancestors who suffered for and remained steadfast in the Faith:
The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works. The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.
Psalm 145: 13-14
With an unquestioning allegiance, they transmitted that faith to the next generations. My great-grandmother was such a transmitter. Sixteen years old in 1884, she came alone to the U.S. carrying the thick Londonderry accent that made it hard for me to fully understand her.
When I was still a toddler, Nana would call me to her side to teach me the Hail Mary. I was resistant, wanting to wear the rosary for a necklace instead. But my mother told me that nevertheless, for my very young night prayers, I would repeat the prayer’s phrases with an evident Irish accent.
Of course, the accent did not remain. And Nana, although she lived until she was 83, slipped into dementia in her later years. But Ellen McGone’s mark on my spirit abides. It was burnished by her children, my grandmother and especially my granduncles. They chose to transmit the heritage by songs sung at every family gathering to the accompaniment of harmonica, pipe whistle, and a small squeezebox. Of course, they didn’t sound like the great John McCormack. But they thought they did, and so did I!
Happy Saint Paddy’s Day
When Irish Eyes are Smiling sure it’s like a morn in spring In the lilt of Irish laughter you can hear the angels sing when Irish hearts are happy all the world seems bright and gay but when Irish eyes are smiling sure they’ll steal your heart away
There’s a tear in your eye and I’m wondering why that it ever should be there at all with such power in your smile sure a stone you’d beguile and there’s never a teardrop should fall
when your sweet lilting laughter’s like some fairy song and your eyes sparkle bright as can be Oh then laugh all the while and all other times smile and then smile a smile for me
For your smile is a part of the love in your heart, And it makes even sunshine more bright. Like the linnet’s sweet song, crooning all the day long, Comes your laughter and light for the springtime of life Is the sweetest of all There is ne’er a real care or regret; and while springtime is ours Throughout all of youth’s hours, let us smile each chance we get.
On this feast of the great and glorious St. Patrick, we might – no matter our heritage – want to pray with and for our treasured forbears who have nurtured in us the gifts of love, faith and heritage:
Great is the LORD and worthy of much praise, whose grandeur is beyond understanding.
One generation praises your deeds to the next and proclaims your mighty works.
They speak of the splendor of your majestic glory, tell of your wonderful deeds.
They speak of the power of your awesome acts and recount your great deeds.
They celebrate your abounding goodness and joyfully sing of your justice.
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
Psalm 145: 4-8
Poetry: Songs of Our Land by Frances Brown
Songs of our land, ye are with us for ever,
The power and the splendor of thrones pass away;
But yours is the might of some far flowing river.
Through Summer's bright roses or Autumn's decay.
Ye treasure each voice of the swift passing ages,
And truth which time writeth on leaves or on sand;
Ye bring us the thoughs of poets and sages,
And keep them among us, old songs of our land.
The bards may go down to the place of their slumbers,
The lyre of the charmer be hushed in the grave,
But far in the future the power of their numbers
Shall kindle the hearts of our faithful and brave,
It will waken an echo in souls deep and lonely,
Like voices of reeds by the summer breeze fanned;
It will call up a spirit for freedom, when only
Her breathings are heard in the songs of our land.
For they keep a record of those, the true-hearted,
Who fell with the cause they had vowed to maintain;
They show us bright shadows of glory departed,
Of love that grew cold and hope that was vain.
The page may be lost and the pen long forsaken,
And weeds may grow wild o'er the brave heart and hand;
But ye are still left when all else hath been taken,
Like streams in the desert, sweet songs of our land.
Songs of our land, ye have followed the stranger,
With power over ocean and desert afar,
Ye have gone with our wanderers through distance and danger,
And gladdened their path like a homeguiding star.
With the breath of our mountains in summers long vanished,
And visions that passed like a wave from the sand,
With hope for their country and joy from her banished.
Ye come to us ever, sweet songs of our land.
The spring time may come with the song of our glory,
To bid the green heart of the forest rejoice,
But the pine of the mountain though blasted and hoary,
And the rock in the desert, can send forth a voice,
It was thus in their triumph for deep desolations,
While ocean waves roll or the mountains shall stand,
Still hearts that are bravest and best of the nations,
Shall glory and live in the songs of our land
Music: Hymn to Our Lady of Knock sung by The McBennett Sisters, a trio from Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland
They were people of all ages Gathered round the gabled wall Poor and humble, men and women Little children at your call, We are gathered here before you And our hearts are just the same Filled with joy at such a vision As we praise your name.
Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland All my cares and troubles cease As I kneel with love before you Lady of Knock, My Queen of Peace
Though your message was unspoken Still the truth and silence reigns As I gaze upon your vision And the truth I tried to find Here I stand with John the Teacher And with Joseph at your side And I see the Lamb of God On the altar glorified.
Golden rose …
And the lamb will conquer, And the woman clothed in the sun, Will shine her light on everyone. Yes, the lamb will conquer, And the woman clothed in the sun, Will shine her light on everyone.
Poetry: Poem for St. John of the Cross by Lisa Zimmerman
Saint John of the Cross, Your father married for love an orphan below his noble station. Discarded by his wealthy kindred they say your parents nurtured you in poverty— and the bread was as sweet as any bread
and the days offered their shiny hands and their little streams of water singing in the glades.
I see you wandering happily as a boy, the sun a crown on your small head, your bare feet scuffing the dust. God chirped like a wood lark in the throat of afternoon and the lonely months in prison were far ahead beneath the great shadow of the future.
I try to follow you there, O mystic, to watch you defy your greedy brethren monks who will reject your reforms, your love of less, of days returned to prayer and fasting.
Fat and threatened, they silenced you in a narrow stone cell, one tiny window like the one in the soul where day after day the voice of God pierced your suffering.
Out of emptiness, a full heart— out of abandonment, a poem of seeking— out of utter darkness, a gleam of pure light— love’s last trembling boat waiting for you to get in, and row.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 81, another call to listen to God’s Word in order to find the fullness of life:
If only my people would hear me, and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.
But honestly, isn’t it hard to listen sometimes. Even the psalm suggests that there are such loud, distracting events in our lives that we sometimes can’t hear that Word:
In distress you called, and I rescued you. Unseen, I answered you in thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Hear, my people, and I will admonish you; O Israel, will you not hear me?
This morning my prayer is filled with thoughts of my friend whose young daughter died last week. When even I, who never met Emily, can feel the overwhelming sadness of her untimely death, what unbearable storm must surround her parents! How can they hear the word of faith in the tumult?
Many years ago, I attended an evening event on the other side of my state. During the ceremony, a tornado touched down very nearby. After several frightening hours, I was able to travel back to my hotel, about five miles away.
But the roads were blocked with debris. The streets lights and signs had been blown down. And I was completely unfamiliar with the vicinity. I did eventually make it “home” to the hotel, but it wasn’t the same as I had left it. Part of the roof lay across the street. The window in my room had been fractured and boarded up.
For me, the memory is a parable about suffering. When the storm comes, we may pass through it, but we are not unchanged. Our world is not unchanged.
Jesus was not unchanged by Good Friday and Easter Sunday. By hearing God’s Word in the storm, Jesus was transformed. This is the legacy of faith Christ has given us in the Paschal Mystery. May it strengthen, heal, and transform us this Lent. May it comfort all those who so dearly love Emily.
Poetry: The Man Watching by Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Robert Bly
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes that a storm is coming, and I hear the far-off fields say things I can’t bear without a friend, I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on across the woods and across time, and the world looks as if it had no age: the landscape, like a line in the psalm book, is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny! What fights with us is so great. If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm, we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small. What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us. I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: when the wrestlers’ sinews grew long like metal strings, he felt them under his fingers like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel (who often simply declined the fight) went away proud and strengthened and great from that harsh hand, that kneaded him as if to change his shape. Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 95, another frequent friend of our prayer.
Psalm 95 is an “enthronement psalm” which calls us to worship God as Ruler. Our verses today also use the images of Rock and Shepherd as images to help us understand the nature of God’s presence in our lives.
We can know God only through images. Most of us don’t have direct revelations. 😉 The images we choose and cultivate have a profound impact on our relationship with God and on how we live our lives in God’s image.
Psalm 95 offers us two pictures of God today. These two metaphors evoke some similar sentiments. They also contrast in other ways. Praying with ikons like these can be a beneficial way to come deeply into God’s Presence by touching into our deepest spiritual needs.
Poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, Poems from the Book of Hours
You are the future, the great sunrise red above the broad plains of eternity. You are the cock-crow when time’s night has fled, You are the dew, the matins, and the maid, the stranger and the mother, you are death. You are the changeful shape that out of Fate rears up in everlasting solitude, the unlamented and the unacclaimed, beyond describing as some savage wood. You are the deep epitome of things that keeps its being’s secret with locked lip, and shows itself to others otherwise: to the ship, a haven — to the land, a ship.
Music: Made in the Image of God – We Are Messengers
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 147, a poem filled with reasons to love and praise God. Today’s selected verses mention just a few of those reasons.
The blessings of security and family:
Worship the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion, who has strengthened the bars of your gates, who has blessed your children within you.
Psalm 147: 12-13
The blessings of diverse Creation:
The Lord sends out a command to the earth, and this word runs very swiftly. The Lord gives snow like wool and scatters hoarfrost like ashes
Psalm 147: 15-16
The blessings of faith and religious heritage:
The Lord declares the word to Jacob, statutes and judgements to Israel. The Lord has not done so to any other nation; to them these judgements have not been revealed.
Psalm 147: 19-20
Sometimes we spend a lot of energy praying over the things we think we need rather than recognizing all that we have.
This morning as I prayed, a personal thanksgiving psalm unfolded in my heart:
Hundreds of snow geese followed their yearly flight path right over my home, honking a symphony of hope.
The sun rose warm, tugging a clear promise of spring up over the horizon.
The Psalms lay open in my lap, a rich gift of the ages to my sometimes thin prayer.
My beloved communities slowly awakened and blossomed around me – my Mercy sisters, the toddlers in the daycare below me, the daily hum of the Motherhouse across the path outside my window, the buses carrying children to our Mercy schools
My family texting from their faraway homes.
I imagined myself as a small part of the magnificent communities described by beloved Pope Francis in Laudato Sí and Fratelli Tutti.
I felt those communities slowly beginning to recover from this past year’s devastation.
I prayed my sense of blessing into those still so deeply broken by global suffering, begging for their healing.
Gratitude for my blessings overwhelmed me, as it did our psalmist in #147:
Poem: God Moves in a Mysterious Way – William Cowper
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev'ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow'r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
Music: The Snow Goose – John Ritchie
Speaking of geese this morning, one of my all time favorite stories is “The Snow Goose” by Paul Gallico. I hope many of you have read it. It’s beautiful. I found a website that talks all about it, even with a Richard Harris movie included! For those who might be interested in a literary excursion 😀: