Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, when a newly-pregnant Mary travels to be with her shockingly pregnant older cousin, Elizabeth. Although a universal feast, it is certainly a feast for women to treasure.
The Gospel is replete with the quiet but powerful understandings women share with one another:
the haste to support one another
the blessing and bolstering of each other’s faith
the shared joy to cause a baby’s leap in the womb
the desire for mercy and justice for the suffering
the “staying with” until need’s end
Of course, men too experience many of these holy sensibilities, but today most certainly invites women to celebrate the gifts of God within their bodies, minds and spirits.
Perhaps we might pray on these things while watching this movie clip of the imagined scene:
Poetry: Two poems to honor the two blessed women of this scene
The Visitation by Joyce Kilmer (For Louise Imogen Guiney)
There is a wall of flesh before the eyes Of John, who yet perceives and hails his King. It is Our Lady’s painful bliss to bring Before mankind the Glory of the skies. Her cousin feels her womb’s sweet burden rise And leap with joy, and she comes forth to sing, With trembling mouth, her words of welcoming. She knows her hidden God, and prophesies. Saint John, pray for us, weary souls that tarry Where life is withered by sin’s deadly breath. Pray for us, whom the dogs of Satan harry, Saint John, Saint Anne, and Saint Elizabeth. And, Mother Mary, give us Christ to carry Within our hearts, that we may conquer death.
Visitation Villanelle by Sarah O’Brien
She came to me, the mother of my Lord, and grinned with amazement at the sight. All creation with me seemed to roar.
Grey haired, belly swollen like a gourd, I stood to kiss her in the morning light. She came to me, the mother of my Lord.
Her voice, as she crossed the threshold of my door, rang through my womb – from a great height, all creation with me seemed to roar.
The baby leapt – tethered only by the cord. The joy coursing through us! I shouted outright. She came to me, the mother of my Lord.
Already she faced her share of the sword She who believed all God said would be, might – All creation with me seemed to roar.
Blessed one! With your yes you moved us toward the home we long for, and all things made right. She came to me, the mother of my Lord. All creation with me seemed to roar.
Music: Also two selections for this wonderful Feastday:
Ave Maria (Schubert) sung in German, as Schubert wrote it, by the incomparable Marian Anderson
Magnificat (Bach) Imagine composing this powerful first movement based on only a single word: “Magnificat”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, one of the most profound mysteries of our faith.
The first reading shows us that human beings have been trying to understand this Mystery ever since the time of Moses!
The readings from both Romans and Matthew describe the power of God’s triune love in those who believe. But none of the readings really explain the Holy Trinity.
And that’s the whole point. “Mystery” cannot be explained. We fumble around with human words in an attempt to capture a reality beyond words, beyond analysis – but not beyond faith. Mystery can only be encountered in humble and undemanding faith.
Today, as Christians, we profess our belief in a God Who is incomprehensible Infinite Love creating, redeeming and sanctifying all Creation.
This Infinite Love is so pure and complete that, within its Unity, it both embraces and frees the three Persons of the Trinity.
Pope Francis has said, “The Christian community, though with all its human limitations, can become a reflection of the communion of the Trinity, of its goodness and beauty.”
Our prayer today is to grow in our capacity to love in imitation of the Trinity. May we, as individuals and as a Church, increase in that merciful inclusivity and wholeness which reflect the triune love of God, at once embracing and freeing all that we love.
Poetry: TO LIVE WITH THE SPIRIT – Jessica Powers
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener. It is to keep the vigil of mystery, earthless and still. One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit, strange as the wind’s will.
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love. It may lament like Job or Jeremiah, echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove. It may rejoice in spaciousness of meadow that emulates the freedom of the sky.
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing; it has cast down forever from its hand the compass of the whither and the why.
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover. It is becoming love, and like to Him toward Whom we strain with metaphors of creatures: fire-sweep and water-rush and the wind’s whim. The soul is all activity, all silence; and though it surges Godward to its goal, it holds, as moving earth holds sleeping noonday, the peace that is the listening of the soul.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19, full of beautiful words for us to pluck and relish.
The sublime British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis says this about Psalm 19 and how the ancient Israelite may have appreciated it:
“Law” … must have shone with an extraordinary radiance. Sweeter than honey; or if that metaphor does not suit us who have not such a sweet tooth as all ancient peoples (partly because we have plenty of sugar), let us say like mountain water, like fresh air after a dungeon, like sanity after a nightmare. But, once again, the best image is in a Psalm, the 19th. I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world. Most readers will remember its structure; six verses about Nature, five about the Law, and four of personal prayer.
C.S. Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms
As we pray today with the verses about God’s Law, we may consider each word as a facet of the Holy Spirit’s gifts given at Pentecost and at our Confirmation:
The precepts of the Lord are:
perfect refreshing trustworthy wise right joy giving clear enlightening pure enduring true just precious sweet
Meditating on the virtues, wouldn’t we like to fill our days with their peace, beauty, and wisdom?
The writer of Sirach surely wanted to, whose simple and profound prayer is the perfect complement to our psalm.
I thank the LORD and I praise him; I bless the name of the LORD. When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom openly in my prayer I prayed for her before the temple, and I will seek her until the end, and she flourished as a grape soon ripe. My heart delighted in her, My feet kept to the level path because from earliest youth I was familiar with her.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 149 exhorting us to praise God out loud. And we can do that. We’ve all been part of that kind of glorious praise with the help of our wonderful choirs, musicians, and praise dancers.
However, the psalm today is set between two intriguing readings that may cause us to think more deeply about our “praise”.
Sirach offers a cryptic description of who might be remembered as a godly person, ultimately saying it is the one whose virtues are unforgettable.
So the practice of virtue is presented as the most important act of praise.
Yet these also were godly persons whose virtues have not been forgotten; Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants;
Sirach 14: 10-11
In our Gospel, we meet what at first might appear as a moody, frustrated Jesus. Hungry one morning, he curses a figless fig tree. We might be inclined to focus on the poor zapped tree, but that would be to miss the point.
The leafy yet fruitless tree is a symbol of a wordy “faith” without accompanying works. It describes people who, like the Pharisees in the Temple, shout praise without practicing charity and mercy.
Together, the readings help us see true praise in a clear light – as beautiful waving leaves on a tree full of sweet, loving fruitful actions.
Poetry: Judgement Day – R.S. Thomas
Yes, that’s how I was, I know that face, That bony figure Without grace Of flesh or limb; In health happy, Careless of the claim Of the world’s sick Or the world’s poor; In pain craven – Lord, breathe once more On that sad mirror, Let me be lost In mist for ever Rather than own Such bleak reflections, Let me go back On my two knees Slowly to undo The knot of life That was tied there.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33. It is a song of extravagant praise to the Creator of a universe which extends infinitely both within and without us.
Our readings call us to be aware – to see – this infinite power and generosity of God, and to order our life upon the abundance of that vision.
Our lyrical passage from Sirach includes this:
How beautiful are all God’s works! even to the spark and fleeting vision! The universe lives and abides forever; to meet each need, each creature is preserved. All of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has God made in vain, For each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?
In Mark’s Gospel, a blind man – one who longs to see – cries out for Jesus:
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
God is calling us too, as we pray Psalm 33, to be grateful, to trust, to SEE the wonders around and within us:
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; on the ten-stringed lyre offer praise. Sing to God a new song; skillfully play with joyful chant. For the LORD’s word is upright, and works are trustworthy. God loves justice and right. The earth is full of the mercy of the LORD.
Prose: from de Chardin
“Seeing. One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing — if not ultimately, at least essentially. To be more is to be more united — and this sums up and is the very conclusion of the work to follow. But unity grows, and we will affirm this again, only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision. That is probably why the history of the living world can be reduced to the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes at the heart of a cosmos where it is always possible to discern more. Are not the perfection of an animal and the supremacy of the thinking being measured by the penetration and power of synthesis of their glance? To try to see more and to see better is not, therefore, just a fantasy, curiosity, or a luxury. See or perish. This is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.”
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber, p. 3)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 79, one of the “Sad Songs of Zion”. While many of the Psalms are celebratory in nature, offering praise and thanksgiving, about a third of the Psalter is lament.
These mournful songs remind us that life is indeed full of both joys and sorrows. Faith calls us to live through these modulations within the presence of God.
The psalmist of 79 cries out from imprisonment and deathly fear, but is not without hope for a better future:
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you; with your great power free those doomed to death. Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; through all generations we will declare your praise.
Psalm 79: 11-13
This is the kind of resilient prayer we can learn from the Psalms. At times, we find ourselves “imprisoned” – locked away from what we most want in our lives – love, peace, security, health, freedom. To deny such suffering only buries us deeper in it.
As we see in our Gospel today, Jesus calls us to face our truth and to seek God’s Presence within it. Doing so will allow us, as it did the disciples, to move beyond self-centered expectation to God-centered courageous hope.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, ‘We can.” Jesus said to them, “The chalice that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
As we look at our world, and perhaps our own lives, we see much suffering. How can God come to us from the midst of such pain? Psalm 79 tells us to keep inviting God and to be vigilant and attentive for God’s appearance. Just as in our Gospel, it will not look as we had expected it to look.
Remember us Show us Help us Deliver us Free us Then we will give thanks and praise your Name
The Basic Prayer of Psalm 79
Poetry: A Blessing by Elizabeth Eiland Figueroa
May the God of Surprises delight you, inviting you to accept gifts not yet imagined. May the God of Transformation call you, opening you to continual renewal. May the God of Justice confront you, daring you to see the world through God’s eyes. May the God of Abundance affirm you, nudging you towards deeper trust. May the God of Embrace hold you, encircling you in the hearth of God’s home. May the God of Hopefulness bless you, encouraging you with the fruits of faith. May the God of Welcoming invite you, drawing you nearer to the fullness of God’s expression in you. May God Who is Present be with you, awakening you to God in all things, all people, and all moments. May God be with you. Amen.
Music: The Joys and Sorrows of Life – Johannes Bornlöff
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we return to “Ordinary Time”, we pray with Psalm 50.
Gather my faithful ones before Me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens proclaim the Lord’s justice; for God is the judge.
Psalm 50: 5-6
It’s been quite a journey, hasn’t it?
We left Ordinary Time in mid-February to walk the annual road of the Paschal Mystery. Throughout Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, we assiduously laid the pattern of Christ’s life over our own experience, praying to be stretched into its redemptive wholeness.
Now we enter a new time as new people. Our readings restart with a few weeks of:
advice from Sirach,
some stories from the delightful apocryphal Book of Tobit,
and the middle of Mark’s Gospel during the journey to Jerusalem
These passages invite us to return to a graced dailyness which realizes that nothing is ever really “ordinary”.
Psalm 50, particularly as it is interpreted here by Christine Robinson, inspires us to carry the grace of Pentecost to our ordinary tasks:
Spirit is everywhere
In the eternal circle of sunrise and sunset
In the beauty of the earth and in the power of her storms
In the laws that are written in our hearts, and
in the voice of conscience that marches us to goodness.
God is spirit.
We may need ritual, but what God wants is
open in gratitude, or in a cry for help, or
in willingness to treat our neighbors decently
seek the truth
live in love.
These ways bring us to God.
So, in our prayer today, let’s reignite this “ordinary time” with the insight of Abraham Heschel who wrote:
Poetry: Morning – Mary Oliver
Salt shining behind its glass cylinder. Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum. The cat stretching her black body from the pillow. The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture. Then laps the bowl clean. Then wants to go out into the world where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn, then sits, perfectly still, in the grass. I watch her a little while, thinking: what more could I do with wild words? I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her. I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87, allowing it to focus us on Mary, the Mother of Christ and thus of the Church.
With her “Yes”, Mary engaged the Spirit of God and, like the ancient Holy City, became a dwelling place of Grace.
Glorious things are said of you, O city of God! And of Zion they shall say: “One and all were born in her; And the One who has established her is the Most High LORD.”
In her book “Truly Our Sister”, theologian Elizabeth Johnson helps us to understand Mary as a companion, guide, and inspiration:
One fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.
As I pray with Mary today, I picture her sitting with the young disciples after the mind-blowing experience of Pentecost. The whiff of Divine Electricity still pervades the room, still jars their senses to an indescribable timbre!
Mary is stilled with a silent understanding. From the abundance of her wisdom, gained in her daily presence with Jesus, Mary gently focuses, calms and directs these new evangelists for the task before them.
Mary is someone who has had her own “visitation by the Spirit”, many years before. Pentecost, for Mary, is a kind of “second Annunciation “. She knows what the willing reception of the Spirit will mean for one’s life.
Indeed, this moment – and their response, like hers so long ago – will bear God’s life into their world.
We call on Mary today, as Church and as individuals, to be with us as we are re-fired in the Holy Spirit. As we reflect on her and the way she opened her life to God, may we grow in faith and desire to open our own lives to the Spirit’s transformative power.
Elizabeth Johnson encourages us:
“to relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope in the company of all the graced women and men who have gone before us; to be encouraged by her mothering of God to bring God to birth in our own world; to reclaim the power of her dangerous memory for the flourishing of suffering people; and to draw on the energy of her memory for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the world.”
Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, almost always a lectern, a book; always the tall lily. Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited.
She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending. More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept like any other child–but unlike others, wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumph. Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power– in narrow flesh, the sum of light.
Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love–
but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed, Spirit, suspended, waiting. ____________________
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’ Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’ She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced. Bravest of all humans, consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it, and the iridescent wings. Consent, courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.
Music: Vespro Della Beata Vergine – Claudio Monteverdi
From the baroque period, Monteverdi praises Mary in his masterpiece, Vespro Della Beata Vergine commonly referred to as Vespers of 1610. The work is monumental in scale and difficult to perform, requiring two large choirs who are skillful enough to cover up to 10 voice parts accompanied by an orchestral ensemble. Here is just an excerpt.
Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: lauda Deum tuum, Sion. Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: benedixit filiis tuis in te. Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: et adipe frumenti satiat te. Qui emittit eloquium suum terræ: velociter currit sermo ejus. Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: nebulam sicut cinerem spargit. Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit? Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ. Qui annunciate verbum suum Jacob: justitias et judicia sua Isræl. Non fecit taliter omni nationi: et judicia sua non manifestavit eis. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest wheat. He sendeth his commandment to the earth; his word runneth swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth hoar frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels; before his cold who can stand? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them; his spirit blows, and the waters flow. He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgements to Isræl. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and his judgments he hath not made manifest. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, without end. Amen.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 104 – a fitting prayer for this glorious Feast of Pentecost.
Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
It is a bold prayer, an extravagant request. It asks for everything – a Fire of Love so complete that the whole earth is remade in its Divine Power.
It is a prayer based in mutual invitation as, in the Sequence, we invite the Holy Spirit to renew us:
Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home Shed a ray of light divine!
And, as in any true relationship, the Spirit invites us too – to open our hearts to the infinite grace of this feast. The Book of Revelation describes this reciprocity in this profound passage:
“ I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22: 16-17
Today, on the Birthday of the Church, we pray not only for our own soul’s kindling, but for the whole People of God. May the Grace of Pentecost ignite a new fire of charity over all the earth. May that fire clear the way for the Spirit’s gifts to flower, for Her fruits to blossom, for Her power to surprise us as it bursts forth in our hearts!
Poetry: The Golden Sequence
Veni Sancte Spiritus, sometimes called the Golden Sequence, is a sequence prescribed in the Roman Liturgy for the Masses of Pentecost and its octave. It is usually attributed to either the thirteenth-century Pope Innocent III or to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Stephen Langton, although it has been attributed to others as well.
“Veni Sancte Spiritus” is one of only four medieval Sequences which were preserved in the Roman Missal published in 1570 following the Council of Trent (1545–63).
The other three occasions when we hear these beautiful ancient hymns are Easter Sunday (“Victimae Paschali Laudes”), Corpus Christi (“Lauda Sion Salvatorem”) and Our Lady of Sorrows (“Stabat Mater Dolorosa”). On Easter Sunday and Pentecost, the sequence must be sung, whereas on Corpus Christi and Our Lady of Sorrows, the sequence is optional.
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.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 11, inviting us to enter the eye of God:
The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.
To rest in someone’s loving gaze is the greatest of blessings. Such a look carries understanding, acceptance, hope, encouragement, and a rainbow of other gifts.
We easily look at newborns and young children with such unconditional regard. As people age though, it may become more complex always to see them in such positive light. Life’s big and little dramas block our sight, right?
But, as Psalm 11 assures us, God will never look at us without that kind of love. Wow!
God’s eyes behold us; God’s searching glance wraps us round with love.
Psalm 11: 4-5
For our prayer today, we may just want to let God look at us. And we might want to look back with that mutual glance that sings, “Beloved”.
Poetry: Beloved – by Rumi
All through eternity
Beauty unveils His exquisite form
in the solitude of nothingness;
He holds a mirror to His Face
and beholds His own beauty.
he is the knower and the known,
the seer and the seen;
No eye but His own
has ever looked upon this Universe.
His every quality finds a Word:
Eternity becomes the verdant field of Time and Space;
Love, the life-giving garden of this world.
Every branch and leaf and fruit
Reveals an aspect of His perfection-
The cypress give hint of His majesty,
The rose gives tidings of His beauty.
Whenever Beauty looks,
Love is also there;
Whenever beauty shows a rosy cheek
Love lights Her fire from that flame.
When beauty dwells in the dark folds of night
Love comes and finds a heart
entangled in tresses.
Beauty and Love are as body and soul.
Beauty is the mine; Love is the diamond.
They have been together
since the beginning of time-
Side by side, step by step.
I swear, since seeing Your face,
the whole world is fantasy.
The garden is bewildered as to what is leaf
or blossom. The distracted birds
can’t distinguish the birdseed from the snare.
A house of love with no limits,
a presence more beautiful than Venus or the moon,
a beauty whose image fills the mirror of the heart.