Want a Sign? Wake Up!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings talk about the “sign of Jonah”? What is that really, and how does it speak to me?

The passage from the Book of Jonah describes a remarkable event. Jonah, finally coughed up from the belly of a whale, marches part way through Nineveh announcing its impending destruction.

What if somebody did that in your neighborhood ? Would you ignore them, call the police, or maybe move? Not the Ninevites. They LISTENED! They recognized Jonah’s message as a last ditch chance to get their act together! Talk about conversion! Even the king ripped his robes and sat in ashes!

Ps51_miserere

When those questioning Jesus ask for a sign that they should repent and change, Jesus has had it with them. He basically says “No sign; learn a lesson from Jonah.“ In so many words, he tells them “I am your Jonah. I am your last ditch chance at conversion.”

Is there a message for us? Are we as bad off as the Ninevites or the dense crowds missing Jesus’s point? Are there realities in our lives that need conversion of heart?

Often, when asking ourselves such a question, we look to the sins we commit through our weakness and selfishness. We confess, own up, seek forgiveness for the things we have done.

But sometimes we are blind to our sins of omission – the things we haven’t done that we should have – the forgiveness withheld, the support never offered, the gratitude unexpressed, the half-hearted work for which we claim full payment, the family and community where we take but seldom give, the times we let ourselves and others be less than their best selves.

I don’t think Jesus wants us to sit in the ashes over these things, but rather to be honest with ourselves and shape up. Through prayer and reflection, we need to ask for the grace to hear Jonah’s voice in our lives.

Music: I Repent – Steve Green

Let the Light In

Saturday, March 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah tells us how to spiritually balance our lives.

Reading the passage, I thought of my Dad. He was a magnificent, though largely uncredentialed, handyman. One of many important lessons he taught me was how to “true up” a panel of wet wallpaper before pressing it into place. This was particularly necessary if the wallpaper had a vertical pattern or stripe. Failure here led to visitors sitting askew on the living room couch, trying to balance themselves out! 😂

Isaiah says we have to be as careful in our spiritual lives. He says we have to take certain measures to “true up” our souls with the heritage of grace God plans for us. He tells us to remove these imbalances:

oppression
false accusation
malicious speech

Wow! Can’t our world really use that advice?!

Isaiah further says to: 

bestow your bread on the hungry
satisfy the afflicted; THEN …. and ONLY THEN…

Is58_8 light rise

In our Gospel, Jesus calls a man whose career was about all about “balances” – Matthew, the tax collector. Jesus takes Matthew from a world of impersonalized requirements to a world of eternal abundance, calling him to align with the divine scale of mercy.

3_9mirror

Are there places in our lives where we are measuring with the wrong scale; failing to true up the lines with God’s meridian? Lent is about checking it out and making the adjustments we need to make in order to let the Light in.

 

Music:  There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – Frederick Faber

Choose Life

Thursday, March 7, 2019

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Dt30_19 Life

Today, in Mercy, our first reading gives us Moses’ compelling speech to the newly covenanted Israelites: 

3_7mirror
Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom…
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live.

We might ask ourselves, “Who wouldn’t choose life over death, for Heaven’s sake?”

Really? Well then ask yourself these questions:

Do I ever ignore health warnings, cancel doctor’s appointments, eat unhealthy food, smoke, drink and drive, drive and text, skip daily medicine, fail to exercise and get enough sleep … Should I go on?🧐

But even deeper than these external choices are the choices we make for the life of our souls. 

  • Do we pray daily, take quiet time to hear God in our lives?
  • Do we recognize any toxic relationships or habits in our lives and work to remove them?
  • Do we challenge our negative attitudes and try to grow beyond them?
  • Do we call ourselves to generosity, forgiveness, gratitude, hope and other life-giving attitudes?

God has given us the gift of life. But it is up to us to LIVE our lives in the fullness of their possibility.

Music: Choose Life ~ Big Tent Revival (Lyrics below)

A choice is set before you now
living or dying, blessing or cursing
You know, the time has come around
to turn from your fighting
and rest in his mercy

Choose life, that you might live
the life that He gives
He gives you forever
Choose life, the way that is true
from the one who chose you
your father in Heaven
Choose life
Trust the Lord with all your heart
all of your soul and all of your being

Hold on, listen and obey
surrender your life into His keeping
And the weight you’re under
will be lifted away
And the world will wonder
what happened here today
then you’ll stand right here and say

Power of the Keys

Friday, February 22, 2019

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Peter_keys

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate  the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle. It seems both fitting and painfully ironic that this feast should coincide with the Pope’s Summit on Protection of Minors in the Church. When He handed the “keys” to Peter, could Christ ever have foreseen that his beloved church would descend to this shame?

Factions in the Catholic Church argue over where to place the blame for this horror. Some point to the entitlements of clericalism. Some point to more liberal stances on sexuality. The most vocal factions use their voices to blame others rather than look to their own faults. 

But today’s Gospel suggests that none of these explanations goes to the root of the crisis.

What Christ handed Peter was POWER. Our Gospel says that this power was to be used to map the journey to heaven for the rest of us – appropriately “binding” and “loosening” the guidelines of that journey.

That’s a lot of power!

Unfortunately, the famous quote of John Dalberg-Acton, a 19th century Catholic writer, too often proves true. He said:

Power tends to corrupt.
And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What was it that Jesus saw in Peter to give him hope for Peter’s incorruptibility?

  • Peter, who abandoned his livelihood in full devotion to the call. 
  • Peter, who tried to protect his beloved Lord from the wrath of the Pharisees
  • Peter who, defending Jesus in the Garden, cut off the ear of Malchus
  • Peter, who recognized and begged forgiveness for his weakness
  • Peter, who chose an inverted crucifixion because he deemed himself unworthy to die as his master did.

Power fueled by this kind of single-hearted devotion and humility is the true “Power of the Keys”. It suffers no shadow of greed, self-importance, domination, or lust. It is always “power for” not “power over” others.

Until our church structures foster this kind of mutual, non-exclusionary power in our leaders AND members, we have little hope of transformation.

Let us pray for true insight and courage for those gathered in Rome.

Music: (Maybe the Cardinals could sing this song in their hearts on the way to their meetings? Maybe we could sing it too sometimes?)

Lay It Down – Moxie Gibson

The Ark of Your Hearts

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021919.cfm

duck
Sent to me this morning by my beautiful niece in Atlanta where they are having rain

Today, in Mercy, and for the next few days we have the story of Noah. It’s both a terrifying and delightful story. 

It is frightening to think of the earth inundated by flood, all Creation wiped out because of the Creator’s disappointment! 

But it is delightful to think of these thousands of animal couples, holding hands, paws, fins or tentacles and skipping into Noah’s big boat.

In this passage, the writer imbues God with the same emotions and responses we have when our project fails mightily. We crumple it up, press delete, throw it in the garbage disposal, or smash it on the ground. In Genesis, God decides to “erase by flood”.

Despite the woeful drama, the story is filled with hope. God has not completely given up. He just wants to start over again.

Throughout the voluminous rest of scripture, God starts over with us innumerable times. Think of the Prodigal Son, the Adulterous Woman, Joseph and his Brothers.  Forgiveness and new beginnings are the story of our relationship with a God Who loves us too much to let us fail.

So, if your faith life is a little stormy just now, take refuge in the “ark of your heart” – your trust, hope and faith in God. Pray for fairer weather and believe that God will send it. Ask for the eyes to recognize it when it comes.

Music: Eye of the Storm ~ Ryan Stevenson (a little bit country, but the message works)

My Brother’s Keeper

Monday, February 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Genesis tells the story of the first murder. Driven by jealousy and resentment, Cain takes the life of his own brother, Abel. Cain then denies any responsibility for the crime with the now oft-repeated line:

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Gen 2_4 Cain

God’s outrage is the answer to Cain’s question. God bans Cain from the soil which had been his livelihood, because that same soil now cries out with Abel’s blood.

The account is appalling and traumatic. We have gotten so used to hearing it that we may be immune to the abomination. Brother turned against brother. God’s gift of life and hope taken irrevocably in a moment of selfish anger. All of First Creation must have fallen on its knees in sadness and shock at this primal crime.

Friends, as you pray today, pick up the newspaper. See Cain’s crime repeated over and over again as humanity becomes more and more desensitized to its horror. We have even devolved to the point that some murders are “legal” under the pseudonyms of war, abortion, genocide, and capital punishment. Our culture is rife with the abuse of life in so many forms that we have become hardened to its reality just to protect our souls.

When Jesus meets such hardness of heart in our Gospel, he refuses to give them a sign of his power. He just walks away.

Let us pray that God will not walk away from our desensitized generation – that he will give us a sign of grace to open our eyes.

Music: Kyrie Eleison Lord, have mercy) ~ Michael Hoppè
(Visuals appear to be filmed at Normandy, soil filled with the blood of those who died on D-Day)

P.S. I am sending a second reflection later today that has been heavily on my mind. I hope some of you find a spiritual benefit in it.

… the children, for God’s sake

Friday, December 28, 2018

Feast of the Holy Innocents

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Jer 31_15 Ramah

Today, in Mercy, we are lifted to Light by John’s sacred words in our first reading:

Beloved:
This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

Simply hearing it, we long to abide in that whole and healing Light.

But then we read our Gospel, among the saddest accounts in all of Scripture – the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Their needless deaths come at the hands of a power-crazed and fearful man.  So hungry for his own aggrandizement, he tries to assure it by killing a generation of children.

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it, that anyone could be so hardened by evil? It sounds impossible that good people would execute this order of a mad man! It sounds impossible that human beings could be so blind to the sanctity of another’s life!

Dear friends, we must confront our own blindness. We must look into the eyes of our 21st century children – the border children, the children of Yemen, Syria, … the children of war, violence, drugs and poverty.

We must hear the cry of God, their Mother, and choose legislators and leaders who will honor life; who will shape global policies and relationships recognizing the common life we share in God – who will make true pro-life choices regarding gun control, arms sales, and an economy of endless war.

Our attitudes, our advocacy and our votes will either condemn or exonerate us when that Great Light ultimately reveals our hearts. When a society’s children become the victims of its indefensible corruption, we must say “Enough!”

Music: The Mediaeval Baebes – Coventry Carol

The “Coventry Carol” is an English Christmas Carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was traditionally performed in Coventry, England as part of a mystery play called “The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors”. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Matthew’s Gospel. The carol itself refers to the massacre of the Holy Innocents in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children.(Information from Wikipedia)

Prepare Ye

Saturday, December 15, 2018

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Mk 1_Prepare copy

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel places us with Jesus, as he descends the mountain after the Transfiguration.

He speaks about two great prophets – Elijah and John the Baptist:

  • Elijah – the fiery reformer who “turned back hearts” to the day of the Lord
  • John – who cried out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

These prophets open the door to our final approach to Christmas – our last few days to heed their advice and ready our hearts for the awesome, yet humble, coming of Christ.

  • Is there anything in my heart that needs to be turned back to God — any energy, dedication or insight that has shifted from God’s Way to my own selfish way?
  • Is there anything I must prepare so that my life is ready to receive Christ?

These are the questions Elijah and John offer us today..

Music: Prepare the Way, O Zion – Fernando Ortega (Lyrics below)

Prepare the way O Zion
Your Christ is drawing near
Let every hill and valley
A level way appear
Greet One who comes in glory
Foretold in sacred story

Chorus:
O blest is Christ that came
In God’s most holy name
Christ brings God’s rule O Zion
He comes from heaven above
His rule is peace and freedom
And justice truth and love
Lift high your praise resounding
For grace and joy abounding

Fling wide your gates, O Zion
Your Savior’s rule embrace
And tidings of salvation
Proclaim in every place
All lands will bow rejoicing
Their adoration voicing

The Fiery Wine Press

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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Rev 14_19 furyJPG

Today, in Mercy, we are struck with Revelation’s images of the end time!

  • a crowned Christ wielding a sharp sickle
  • angels commanding the final harvest of the earth

and perhaps the most powerful

  • the earth’s vintage thrown into the great winepress of God’s fury!

This author could write! We can almost imagine the scene, filmed with all the pyro-technics of today’s computer age.

But besides the amazing imagery, what does the passage say to our hearts?

In Biblical symbolism, the winepress almost always stands for judgment. The passage reminds us that we all will be judged.  The divine winepress will compress the sinful gaps that plague our human existence.  In the end time, there will be no “other” — no judgmental spaces separating us from one another.  We will all be one, like wine mingled.

We will be judged on how we lived that oneness in this life, on where we have stood in the gap between the:

  • rich and poor
  • well and sick
  • citizen and refugee
  • abled and disabled
  • powerful and vulnerable

Do we live in ignorance or indifference to those who suffer on the other side of the human scale? Have we been impervious to the imbalances of justice and charity in this world?

And how do we respond? The passage suggests that we do some weeding of our spiritual gardens before the harvest of our souls. The intention of this fiery writer is to tell us that we still have a little time.

Music:  The Day Is Surely Drawing Near – written by the prolific 16th century Lutheran hymnist Bartholomaüs Ringwaldt. This piece is a majestic instrumental rendering, but if you would like to see the words, they are below. 

1 The day is surely drawing near
When Jesus, God’s anointed,
In all His power shall appear
As judge whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth,
And flames on flames shall ravage earth
As Scripture long has warned us.

2 The final trumpet then shall sound
And all the earth be shaken,
And all who rest beneath the ground
Shall from their sleep awaken.
But all who live will in that hour,
By God’s almighty, boundless pow’r,
Be changed at His commanding.

3 The books are opened then to all,
A record truly telling
What each has done, both great and small,
When he on earth was dwelling,
And ev’ry heart be clearly seen,
And all be known as they have been
In thoughts and words and actions.

4 Then woe to those who scorned the Lord
And sought but carnal pleasures,
Who here despised His precious Word
And loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand
And at the judge’s stern command
To Satan be delivered.

5 My Savior paid the debt I owe
And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation!

6 May Christ our intercessor be
And through His blood and merit
Read from His book that we are free
With all who life inherit.
Then we shall see Him face to face,
With all His saints in that blest place
Which He has purchased for us. 

7 O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
In fear and tribulation.
O hear and grant our fervent plea;
Come, mighty judge, and make us free
From death and ev’ry evil.

Come Down into God’s Arms

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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Today in Mercy, the author of Revelation says some pretty tough stuff in the name of God!

To the Church at Sardis:
You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

To the Church at Laodicea:
Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.

As most of us know from experience, it’s never really easy to accept negative feedback.  But, couched in gentle, encouraging tones, it can be accepted and acted on. John of Patmos, author of Revelation, missed that lesson in coaching techniques! 

How effective his words were with the under-performing churches is a matter left to history.

zaccheus

But in our Gospel, Jesus’s inclusive, forgiving words to Zaccheus proved very effective.  Jesus doesn’t even address any shortcomings (not to make a pun) in Zaccheus.

He just says, “Come down from your tree.  I’m coming to your house for dinner.” In other words, I’m coming into your life — now what’s your response?

Zaccheus is radically changed by Jesus’s lavish mercy. He responds,

“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”

Today, we pray to have a simple, trusting faith. Sometimes, like Zaccheus, we get ourselves “up a tree”, all twisted and stretching to find God in our lives. And all the time, God has been walking straight down the path of our heart, smiling at our efforts, planning to stay with us tonight, tomorrow and forever.

Music: Zaccheus – Medical Mission Sisters