Our Golden Calf

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 26, 2020

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calf

Today, in Mercy, God sends Moses down to straighten out his “depraved people” because, despite all God’s  goodness to them, they have preferred “the golden calf”.

In the deprivations of this pandemic time, when all of us are doing a lot of soul-searching, we are discovering quite a few golden calves still running around in our times.


One of them jumped out at me last night when I read this headline:

Texas’ lieutenant governor suggests grandparents
are willing to die for US economy


I woke up this morning still appalled by the statement.  But upon reflection, I realized that Mr. Patrick may have unwittingly done us a great service if we ruthlessly unpack his cavalier remarks.

How have we gotten to a world where such a statement can be uttered and even approved by some? How can we so blatantly ignore basic moral principles such as the sanctity of every life, and that the ends never justify the means? Well, let’s take a look at Moses’ “depraved” community. They seem to have reached a similar moral deprivation.

I think the key lies with the golden calf.  The idol is a symbol of the Israelite community’s economy, what they really deem most important, what they really worship when they think God isn’t looking. When they look upon its golden reflection, they see themselves mirrored back the way they want to be – rich, powerful, and dominant. Lt. Governor Patrick’s statement should make us consider how we have become hypnotized by the same idolatries.

Let’s face it.  We live in a culture that has normalized war, capital punishment, abortion, illegal detention, corporate hijacking of natural resources, unchecked pollution, and commercialization of deadly substances like tobacco. Why are we surprised that we’re ready to sacrifice the elderly to preserve the sheen on our “golden calf”?

We have created a world where we welcome information sources that tell us lies just so we can be falsely convinced and dangerously indifferent. It’s really hard to discern a moral path amidst today’s political complexities. So let’s just build that golden calf whose mesmerizing patina permits us to remain morally comatose!


I hope we allow this man’s callous commentary to continue to stab our consciences:

Somebody’s beloved can die
not only so that my beloved can live,
but can also have an undamaged economy.


What “economy”, for God’s sake? Does he mean the one where over 40 million Americans and nearly 800 million worldwide face daily hunger? Or where 80 million Americans have inadequate or no health insurance? Or does he mean the extractive economy which causes two-thirds of the world population to live on less than $10 per day?

I’m pretty sure he means instead the economy of the “ golden calf” where 

  • half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%
  • top 10% of adults hold 85%
  • while the bottom 90% eke out existence on  the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth

I’m not willing to die to shore up that economy, are you? But I’m sure willing to fight to change it.

So, at least, thanks for inspiring me, Lt. Governor Patrick and God help you!

Music: If There’s a God in Heaven – Elton John – (a song that could reflect how the ancient Israelites struggled with their tortuous journey. (Lyrics below)

Torn from their families
Mothers go hungry
To feed their children
But children go hungry
There’s so many big men
They’re out making millions
When poverty’s profits
Just blame the children
If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for
If He can’t hear the children
Then he must see the war
But it seems to me
That he leads his lambs
To the slaughter house
And not the promised land
Dying for causes
They don’t understand
We’ve been taking their futures
Right out of their handsThey need the handouts
To hold back the tears
There’s so many crying
But so few that hear

If there’s a God in heaven

Well, what’s he waiting for

If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for

 

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

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

A Second Chance

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

March 4, 2020

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Jonah3_1another chance

Today, in Mercy, one line from our readings hit me like a lightening bolt:

The word of the LORD
came to Jonah
a second time.

Yes, it’s the truth! God will keep coming back again and again to encourage us to hear his true message for our lives.


Our Gospel gives us a hint about how resistant we sometimes are to this deep listening:

This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.


 

What is the sign of Jonah anyway?

res and life


To put it simply, it is the witness of the Resurrection – that overarching event that changed everything for believers. For just as Jonah was able to return from certain death in the whale’s belly, so Christ conquered death and rose to new life, promising us the same power.

This is the central, life-changing belief for Christians. It should make a difference in how we live.


By our Lenten repentance, we can be like Jonah, grasping the second chance God always gives us to respond to our life circumstances with faith, hope, and love.

I would bet there is something in your life right now that is calling you to such a response. Someplace in your life, you may be caught in a bit of a “whale’s belly 🐳” about some issue, am I right?

God makes us ask ourselves questions most often when He intends to resolve them. He gives us needs that He alone can satisfy, and awakens capacities that He means to fulfill. Any perplexity is liable to be a spiritual gestation, leading to a new birth and a mystical regeneration.” ― Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

Today’s readings remind us that we already have the glorious sign of the Resurrection to inspire us to leap from that dark “belly” into God’s hope for us!

Music:  a fun song “In the Belly of  Whale” – The Newsboys

Lent: The Wound

Friday after Ash Wednesday

February 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah cuts his listeners no slack — and we too are his listeners.

Is58_7_10

In this powerful passage, the prophet shatters the pretenses of those who make a show of religion. Speaking with God’s voice, Isaiah lambastes those who fast and pray but practice no works of justice and mercy.

“Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.”

These “fake fasters” are left wondering why God doesn’t answer their prayers. The prophet tells them that God isn’t fooled by their pretenses:

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Isaiah says that God’s not into sackcloth and ashes. God’s into good works of mercy and justice. These are the actions that change our hearts, opening us to deeper relationship with God.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.


Listen, dear friends. It can’t be clearer than that.

priscilla-du-preez-FOsina4f7qM-unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In a world full of prosperity gospels, false piety and pretend religion – used to justify all kinds of injustice – we may get mixed up sometimes about what pleases God.

Let’s really open our hearts to Isaiah’s message and try to rid our own lives of any pretense about these things.

Let’s confront such hypocrisy when we see it used to subtly oppress rather than to lift up others.


Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.

Perhaps we might spend sometime today thinking about that “wound” we need healed. Might there be some harbored prejudice, indifference, fear, or ignorance that distances us from others who are different, vulnerable, or in need?

Isaiah cautions that until that wound is healed, we will never hear God’s true answer to our prayers.

Music:  Respond – Collin Campbell (Lyrics below)

 

Oh how long will you cry out
And never truly seek my face
You come to me with heavy hearts
But you ignore what makes mine break

I see your thoughts, I hear your words
And I have watched you as you’ve prayed
I’ve told you my desires
But you don’t follow all the way

Children, I’m crying out
Break the chains
Let the oppressed go free
Empty yourselves to those in need
Be my hands Be my feet
What you do unto them You do unto Me

Every day you lift your voice
And await my swift response
But I see only what’s inside
And it’s (what i see on the inside) an offering I don’t want

Children, I’m crying out
Break the chains
Let the oppressed go free
Empty yourselves to those in need
Be my hands Be my feet
What you do unto them You do unto Me

Then your Salvation will come like the dawn
And my glory will be your shield
When you call on My name I will not turn away
I am Your God And I am here
And your light it will shine from the dark
You will be like a free flowing stream
And when you call on My name I will not turn away
I am your God And I am here

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

Creeping Up to Lent?

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

February 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we are creeping up to Lent’s doorstep.

Doorstep

Are you beginning to consider your Lenten rituals? Our readings today might help orient us.

They leave this question hanging in the air: Who do I really want to be in my life?

Mk9_34 first last

James says that if we are someone who loves the world, we will find ourselves at enmity with God. James defines “the world” as a place in discord, conflicted by covetousness, envy, frustration, and death-dealing.

James is directly addressing damaging squabbles within the Church itself. Infighting has caused fractures within his believing community. Failures in mutual charity and sincere prayer have generated “wars” among the members.

Why would anybody choose to contribute to such a negative environment? 

James pins it on one thing: jealousy. We are jealous to be, have, control, and possess more than others. We are tempted by power, riches and esteem. We want our opinions to be honored, our needs to be met above and before others.


The reality exists today as well, as we know too well.

  • We see it in the Church from factions who want to bend the Gospel to their own agenda.
  • We see it within and between nations who raise the advantage of some over the welfare of others.
  • We see it in families, businesses, and social circles where individuals volley for position, influence, or control over others.

These conflicts pour out in criticism, judgements, biases, shunning, and all kinds of failures in compassion, respect, and honesty. They blind us to our common creaturehood in God, and to its demand for an equity of love, mercy, and justice.

Otherwise, 

  • How could we ever kill or enslave one another, either by aggression or neglect?
  • How could we separate parents from their children and put babies in cages?
  • How could we participate in a global economic tyranny that leaves some without land, homes, health care, or hope?
  • How could we use other human beings – or their vital resources – only for our own pleasure, power or enrichment?

Most of us do not outrightly choose these sinful behaviors. But we must ask ourselves to what degree we are complicit in them by our failures in just judgement, advocacy, political responsibility, globally sustainable choices, — just plain care and reverence for all human beings, all Creation.


The approach of Lent is a great time to revisit the question James hangs in the air for us:

  • Who do I really want to be in my life? 
  • Do I need to make changes to do that? 
  • How can I prepare for a Lent that helps me make those Grace-filled changes?

We are grown-ups now, and our Lenten repentances demand more than those we learned in grade school. Fasting from candy won’t cut it anymore. 

  • How about we fast from cable news that feeds our biases?
  • Or actually do something for our parish besides critique the Sunday sermon?
  • Maybe give up some of our polluting behaviors requiring plastic and other non-recyclables?
  • How about including a outsider in something where they are otherwise ignored?
  • Or providing for someone’s need who would hesitate to ask for your attention?

I think James would approve of choices like that because he says:

God bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
So submit yourselves to God.

Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Music: When It’s All Been Said and Done – Robin Mark

No Shadow of Turning

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, James continues with his spiritual encouragements. 

For one thing, he makes it clear that God doesn’t tempt us. Some of us make the mistake of thinking that, saying things like, “God is testing me.”

James, outlining a perfect way to examine one’s conscience, says this:

No one experiencing temptation should say,
“I am being tempted by God”;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil,
and God himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire conceives and brings forth sin,
and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.


 

I don’t really like to talk about sins; I’d probably much rather commit them!!!! So if we have some little labyrinths of temptation and sinful habits ensnaring us, we should listen to James. He encourages us to examine and check our own concupiscent  desires as they are the seeds of our spiritual undoing. 

In my experience, these desires are usually disguised, pretending to be beneficial for us at first sight. But underneath, they are rooted in selfishness and excess, deviating us from our center in God. Just think how some of the famous ones have masqueraded into our lives: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Greed, Wrath (Vengeful Anger).


In the second part of this passage, James takes the tone up a notch. He reminds us that, once centered on God, we realize that only good things come from God.

All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.

I particularly love that last phrase, rendered in our hymn today like this:
James1_17 no shadow

It’s beautiful to see how James, as a real spiritual leader, is so aware of his flock’s human struggles. No doubt, he shares them. What a blessing that his wise and loving guidance has come down through the ages to us!

Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness- Chris Rice

Regret

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read one of the saddest lines in Scripture.

2Sam18_32

You have followed the story in these daily passages. Absalom rebels, designing to usurp his father’s throne. A massive battle rises between them. David, as commander-in-chief, remains behind, but gives instructions to his generals to spare Absalom’s life. Joab ignores the command, killing Absalom in a moment of vulnerability.

David is devastated.

david mourns
David Mourning Absalom’s Death – Jean Colombe

I think there is no more wrenching human emotion than regret. When I ministered for nearly a decade as hospice chaplain, and later in the emergency room, I saw so much regret.

People who had waited too long to say “I’m sorry”, “I forgive you”, “Let’s start over”, “Thank you for all you did for me”, “I love you”…..

Instead, these people stood at lifeless bedsides saying things like, “I should have”, “I wish…”, “If only…”


Life is complex and sometimes difficult. We get hurt, and we hurt others — sometimes so hurt that we walk away from relationship, or stay but wall ourselves off.

We might think that what is missing in such times is love. But I think it is more likely truth. In times of painful conflict, if we can hear and speak our truth to ourselves and one another, we open the path to healing.



If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth.
Listen to the secret sound,
the real sound, which is inside you.
~ Kabir


That healing may demand adjustments, agreements, even a willingness to step apart in mutual respect. But if the changes emerge from shared truth, restoration and wholeness are possible.

David and Absalom never found that path because they were so absorbed in their own self-interests. Theirs was the perfect formula for regret – that fruitless stump that perpetually sticks in the heart.

I remember a trauma surgeon leaving the hospital late one night after an unsuccessful effort to save a young boy who had been shot. The doctor carried the loss so heavily as he walked into the night saying to me, “I’m just going to go home and hug my kids.”

As we pray over David and Absalom today, let us examine our lives for the fractures that are still healable and act on them. Let us “hug” the life we have. Regret is a useless substitute.

When David Heard – Eric Whitaker ( The piece builds. Be patient. Lyrics below)

When David heard that Absalom was slain,
he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept,
and thus he said;

My son, my son,
O Absalom my son,
would God I had died for thee!

When David heard that Absalom was slain,
he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept,
and thus he said;

My son, my son.

It’s All About the Temple

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we begin with a reading from the prophet Malachi, a hurler of fire and brimstone in the 4th-5th century before Christ. It’s an interesting choice and begs the question of how it relates to this Feast when a little baby comes to be blessed in the Temple.

Presentation of Our Lord
Presentation of Our Lord – Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Wikipedia.org_ not for commercial use)

Ah, perhaps that’s the hinge – the Temple, both actual and symbolic.

Malachi writes at a time when the second Temple has been restored. In other words, God is about giving the people a second chance to behave according to the Covenant. But they’re not doing such a good job — especially those in charge, the priests:

A son honors his father,
and a servant fears his master;
If, then, I am a father,
where is the honor due to me?
And if I am a master,
where is the fear due to me?
So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests,
who disdain my name.
Malachi 1:6

A Little Extra Music: Handel – But Who May Abide (You know you have time to listen just before the Super Bowl!)

Through a series of prophetic oracles, Malachi admonishes the people to repent before it is too late because no unrepentant soul will withstand the judgement.

Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.


In the passage from Hebrews, Paul presents the perfect priest, Jesus Christ. In taking flesh, Christ’s Body becomes the new Temple of our redemption. We stand before judgement already saved by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.


In our Gospel, two aged and venerable prophets wait in the Temple for the Promised One. Their long years of prayer have already proven them faithful. Now, Simeon’s and Anna’s long and complete fidelity is rewarded by seeing their Savior. They know Him because they have already created a place for him in the Temple of their hearts. Now, they will meet their judgement in total peace. As Simeon’s prays:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

It’s a beautiful, total-hearted prayer!  Don’t we all hope to be able to offer it one day?

( I wrote an earlier reflection about dear Anna.  You might like to see it again here:

Music: Nunc Dimittis – Taizé (Latin and English text below)

Nunc dimittis servum tuum,
Now dismiss your servant
Domine, Domine,
Lord, Lord,
Secundum verbum tuum in pace.
according to your word in peace
Domine.
Lord.