Vigil

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we keep vigil with the “Children of Israel” as they begin the great Exodus.

Ex12_42 Vigil

Even the youngest of us understands what it means to “keep vigil”. Toddlers, on Christmas Eve, keep vigil for the sound of Santa’s footsteps on the roof.

Throughout our lives, the kinds of vigils we keep deepen in meaning. Any given night holds an array of vigil-keepers:

  • A nervous student pulls an all-nighter before a big exam.
  • An anxious parent watches over a feverish child.
  • A faith-filled soul sits in pre-dawn prayer.
  • A vigilant elder prays quietly at the death bed of a long-beloved.

As families and communities, we wait together for each other’s lives.

  • Together, we expect the births of each generation’s babies.
  • We wait and hope for college acceptances and new jobs.
  • We wait for test results of all kinds.
  • We wait to listen to one another’s stories of success or disappointment.
  • We wait and prepare for the dawning of great feasts like Christmas and Easter

When we keep vigil, we live in expectation of something or someone coming to us. But there is another important aspect to every vigil.

As we wait, something is also happening within us.
In the deep quiet of our waiting, we are transformed.

Thomas Merton, monk of Gethsemane, was assigned to keep a particular type of vigil at the abbey. It was called “fire watch”, a night-long lookout to ensure that no fire erupted in the old wooden buildings as the other monks slept.  Merton writes about that watch at the end of his book The Sign of Jonas:

The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light:  a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.
“Fire Watch, July 4, 1952”

Today, as we pray with Israel’s Passover vigil, let us consider our own vigils – current or past. Beyond their apparent meaning, to what secret transformation might God be inviting us? What is happening deep in our soul as we watch far out to the horizon of our hope?

Music: Firewatch – Chris Remo

The Burning Bush

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read about a “theophany” – a visible manifestation to humankind of God. Not your everyday occurrence, right? Well, let’s think about that.

Ex3_4 bush

In today’s passage from Exodus, Moses, self-exiled from Egypt because he murdered an abusive slave master, is shepherding his father-in-law’s flock through the desert. (Good practice for what will face him for the next forty years!) He’s basically out in the middle of nowhere, mindlessly daydreaming as the sheep dogs do most of the work.

All of a sudden, in the still, quiet spaciousness, a lonely bush combusts right in front of him! Theophany! God wants his attention.


For most of us, there are no burning bushes.
So what does God do when God wants our attention?


Just this morning, another Sister and I were praying in our quiet living room. In the stillness, I heard her very softly say, “Praise God”. She had noticed the clear, blue sky and gently swaying leaves outside our window. She had become instantly aware of how blessed she was by such beauty and life.

A theophany? I think so. And there are scores of them flowing past us daily if we can just open the inner heart to see them; if we can just pause to be grateful within their presence; if we can just acknowledge them by a simple prayer and wait to hear their message.

Some “theophanies” come gently like my friend’s this morning. Some come in an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted, explosion that disrupts our lives. But in each of their guises, they carry a God Who wants to speak with us. May we listen.

Music: jazzing it up today
Echoes from the Burning Bush – The Cathedral Singers

Moses stood on holy ground
Far from God descended down
Set the roadside bush on fire (bush on fire)

Then the Lord did there explain
Through His servant should remain
All the echoes from the bush on fire (the bush on fire)

Oh the echoes from the bush (I hear those lovely echoes from the burning bush)
How they thrill my soul (how they thrill my soul)
Oh the echoes from the bush (I hear those thrilling echoes from the burning bush)
Point me to the Lord (point me to the Lord)

I no more am doubting, but with joy I’m shouting
With no thought of shame to blush (no shame to blush)
This my song shall ever be, words that are so sweet to me
Echoes from the burning bush (the burning bush)

God sent down His only Son
Just to ransom everyone
By the echoes from the fire (from the fire)

God of every earthly land
Would not pick nor choose a man
For His blood will save us from the fire (eternal fire)

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.

Related image

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.

Chapter Closed

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our passage from Genesis concludes the story of Abraham.

Like any good drama, the passage ties the plot with a final ribbon, but leaves a little thread to suggest an ensuing story.

Gen24_7 promise

Sarah dies and Abraham negotiates a deal to bury her in the “promised”, but as yet unowned, land. So, in essence, Sarah’s grave is the first parcel of this Promised Land.

Soon after, Abraham prepares for his own death by assuring the future of Isaac, both to remain in the Promised Land, and to have a wife from his own people. To secure these things, Abraham commissions his faithful, unnamed, senior servant who travels back to Assyria and finds Rachel. She becomes Isaac’s wife, the mother of the next generation of The Promise.

The two main themes for us to pray with are these:
the land and
the promise secured for the future

Certainly these themes might lead us to consider what promise we cherish, and where we have set the stakes of our “residence”. In other words, where do our heart and soul live in this world?

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance. (Psalm 15:5-6)

But I also cannot pray these verses without thinking of the many immigrants and refugees who have left their homes on the hope and promise of a more secure life.

So many languish in a place of unfulfillment and outright suffering. So many see their posterity taken from them by death or human cruelty. As we think of them today, where does our prayer lead us in compassion and Christian love?

(P.S. Look for a second post today of an old favorite, for those who may never have seen it, or those who might like to read it again. Thanks!)

Music:  When We Go Home, We Go Together – Pure Heart Ensemble

Here’s the Problem

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 27, 2010

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Here’s the Problem

Gen16_1 Sarai

Today, in Mercy, Abram and Sarai fall back into a struggle with God’s promise. God tarries with fulfillment and has not yet removed Sarai’s barrenness. The aging couple become impatient.

So, as we all sometimes do when God appears deaf to our prayers, Sarai comes up with her own strategy, clearly outside God’s outlined promise. They will use their slave Hagar to bear Abram’s heir.

The passage doesn’t mean that we should not work hard to fulfill our lives. It isn’t intended to contradict that old wisdom:

Work as if everything depended on you.
Pray as if everything depended on God.

Or as St. Ignatius puts it in a more precise way:

I consider it an error to trust and hope in any means or efforts in themselves alone; nor do I consider it a safe path to trust the whole matter to God our Lord without desiring to help myself by what he has given me; so that it seems to me in our Lord that I ought to make use of both parts, desiring in all things his greater praise and glory, and nothing else.

What this reading does hold up before us is the quality of our faith, the depth of our relationship with God. 

  • Do I consider every aspect of my experience in the light of prayer, sharing it with God, listening for God’s voice?
  • Do I inform my spirit through scripture and spiritual reading, (with what I like to call “a holy culture”), so that I can trust my discernment and be patient for its fulfillment?
  • Do I seek the counsel and companionship of those who strengthen the resolve of my spirit?

Abram was making good progress with these stepping stones, then Sarai threw him a curve with the offer of Hagar as his concubine. But don’t just blame Sarai. Good old Abram caught the curve and ran with it!🙂

Life pitches us all a lot of curves. It can be hard to catch God’s Voice as the curve buzzes by us!

Let’s pray today to let this story teach us whatever we need to learn about our own faith, discernment, patience, and “holy culture”.

Music: I Can Hear Your Voice – Michael W. Smith

What is “Mammon” Anyway?

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 22, 2019

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Life’s dilemmas confound some of us:

Dickens


Today, in Mercy,  Jesus addresses the confounding problem of spiritual schizophrenia.

No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

Mammon (μαμωνᾷ), a concept that is rather simplistically translated as “money”, actually connotes a much more complex meaning. Strong’s Concordance of the Bible offers related words that help enrich our understanding of the word “mammon”:

  • Excess
  • Dis-ease
  • Unrighteousness 
  • Imbalance

This is the dissonance Jesus speaks to in today’s Gospel. “Money”, or possessions, – like good wine – in excess can dehumanize us. We can become entangled, addicted and covetous of it. We can forget who we truly are when we allow ourselves to drown in it. We can lose connection to the community in which we exist.

But we need “money”, don’t we? Very few people desire real material poverty. How does Jesus guide us to face this internal dichotomy?

Mt6_33 FIRST

Jesus says that our FIRST concern must be the Kingdom of God. Motivated by that core intention, the rest of our concerns will fall into proper place.  Pope Francis reiterates this truth for our times in the encyclical “Laudato Sì”. Let’s pray with it today:

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. (223)

Music: Seek Ye First – Maranatha Singers

The Good, The True and The Beautiful

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

June 16, 2019

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Trinity

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Blessed Trinity, a mystery of our faith beyond full human comprehension. Clearly realizing this, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist religion said this:


Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man,
and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.


Still, as we pray, we have some limited conceptualization of this Divine Mystery. We reshape it into human terms we can relate to:


Father, Son, Spirit
Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier


These give us some insight into the heart of the Triune God, but only from the limits of our human perspective. It is a mystery so infinite that even in heaven we may not plumb its depths.

Many theologians and philosophers have tried to stretch our perspectives. The great Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes:


The One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, these are
what we call the transcendental attributes of Being,
because they surpass all the limits of essences
and are coextensive with Being.


It may be helpful in our prayer to think of the Trinity in these terms- The Good, The True, and the Beautiful. These concepts, while we can experience them clearly in an individual or an object, far surpass that one particular presence or circumstance.

So it is with the nature of the Trinity. We perceive it simply in glimpses. Though Its totality far surpasses our comprehension, perhaps these glimpses are enough:
C.S. Lewis puts it this way:


Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun
which you could never get from reading books on astronomy.
These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’
in the woods of our experience.


What does all this mean in our daily spirituality? How can we find a Trinitarian spirituality in our daily encounter with God? How can we find the “patches of Godlight”?

Pope Francis brings it down to our experience of family:


All of the love that God has in Himself,
all the beauty that God has in Himself,
all the truth that God has in Himself,
He gives to the family.


So, in the sincere love – given and received – of a family or community, we find the reflection of this immense mystery.

And St. Catherine of Siena confidently prays about this truth in this way:


You, Eternal Trinity, are my Creator,
and I am the work of Your hands,
and I know through the new creation
which You have given me in the blood of Your Son,
that You are enamored of the beauty of Your workmanship.


Music: Amazing Love – Billy Martin, Peggy Dequesnel, Steve Hall

On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)

 

seashore

by Mary Oliver

1.
All day up and down the shore the
fine points of the waves keep on
tapping whatever is there: scatter of broken
clams, empty jingles, old
oyster shells thick and castellated that held
once the pale jewel of their bodies, such sweet
tongue and juice. And who do you
think you are sauntering along
five feet up in the air, the ocean a blue fire
around your ankles, the sun
on your face on your shoulders its golden mouth whispering
(so it seems) you! you! you!

2.
Now the afternoon wind
all frill and no apparent purpose
takes her cloud-shaped
hand and touches every one of the
waves so that rapidly
they stir the wings of the eiders they blur
the boats on their moorings; not even the rocks
black and blunt interrupt the waves on their
way to the shore and one last swimmer (is it you?) rides
their salty infoldings and outfoldings until,
peaked, their blue sides heaving, they pause; and God
whistles them back; and you glide safely to shore.

3.
One morning
a hundred pink and cylindrical
squid lay beached their lacy faces,
their gnarls of dimples and ropy tentacles
limp and powerless; as I watched
the big gulls went down upon
this sweetest trash rolling
like the arms of babies through the
swash—in a feathered dash,
a snarl of delight the beaks fell
grabbing and snapping; then was left
only the empty beach, the birds floating back over the waves.

4.
How many mysteries have you seen in your
lifetime? How many nets pulled
full over the boat’s side, each silver body
ready or not falling into
submission? How many roses in early summer
uncurling above the pale sands then
falling back in unfathomable
willingness? And what can you say? Glory
to the rose and the leaf, to the seed, to the
silver fish. Glory to time and the wild fields,
and to joy. And to grief’s shock and torpor, its near swoon.

5.
So it is not hard to understand
where God’s body is, it is
everywhere and everything; shore and the vast
fields of water, the accidental and the intended
over here, over there. And I bow down
participate and attentive
it is so dense and apparent. And all the same I am still
unsatisfied. Standing
here, now, I am thinking
not of His thick wrists and His blue
shoulders but, still, of Him. Where, do you suppose, is His
sage and wonderful mind?

6.
I would be good—oh, I would be upright and good.
To what purpose? To be shining not
sinful, not wringing out of the hours
petulance, heaviness, ashes. To what purpose?
Hope of heaven? Not that. But to enter
the other kingdom: grace, and imagination,
and the multiple sympathies: to be as a leaf, a rose,
a dolphin, a wave rising
slowly then briskly out of the darkness to touch
the limpid air, to be God’s mind’s
servant, loving with the body’s sweet mouth—its kisses, its words—
everything.

7.
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,
he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled. He has
eaten the dark hours and could also, I think,
soldier for God, riding out
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and tempering word.

8.
Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again—another day—
from the shawl of wind coming out of the
west to the firm green
flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
eaten, its chill and ample body
flavored with mercy. I want
to be worthy—of what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.

Music: Vangelis – Dreams of Surf

Climbing Toward God

Friday of the Tenth Week  in Ordinary Time

June 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul, follows on yesterday’s magnificent passage about

the Gospel of the glory of Christ,
who is the image of God.

The power of this Gospel is the “treasure” about which Paul writes in today’s first reading.

2Cor4_7

In this passage, Paul describes the miracle of contradiction in us who believe. We carry the  infinite light of God’s Glory in the fragile, imperfect vessels of our existence. By the power of God, the omnipotent sublime shines from within the ordinary.

We see, in these lines, Paul the humble and tested preacher. He has grown in his deep understanding of himself as God’s imperfect instrument.

All of us who want to live the Gospel are called to experience a deepening like Paul’s. The poet Mary Oliver reflects such a transformation in her poem On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145). Here is the last delightful stanza, which may inspire our prayer today. (I will send the full poem a little later.)

Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again—another day—
from the shawl of wind coming out of the
west to the firm green
flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
eaten, its chill and ample body
flavored with mercy. I want
to be worthy—of what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.

Music: Earthen Vessels – John Foley, SJ

Pentecost Sunday

June 9, 2019

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Dear Friends,

For this beautiful Feast, let us simply savor the words of the Pentecostal Sequence.
Let us not be hesitant to pray with the Holy Spirit Who lives in our hearts! Alleluia!

Pentecost


Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!

Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;

In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;

Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen.
Alleluia.


May the Holy Spirit fill your hearts with hope, courage and joy!

Music: Veni Creator Spiritus — so beautiful!