God Gets Tough

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

January 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we ride with Paul on the road to Damascus, there to be struck with him by a Godly Light.

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The Conversion of St. Paul — Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Have you ever been knocked off your “high horse” by the sudden realization of something to which you had been totally blind? It’s shocking, isn’t it? 

We might react by castigating ourselves with remarks like:

  • How could I have missed that?
  • Wow, I was really stupid, or foolish, or naïve, or prejudiced, or misled, or … or what?

God, in a kind of ironic twist, strikes Paul blind in order to cure him of his real blindness: the right he claimed to persecute others for a faith he didn’t understand.

Sometimes God has to be pretty tough with us to wake us up to the truth of our souls. John Donne, the pre-eminent English metaphysical poet, prayed for that kind of Divine Toughness in his poem Batter my heart, three-personed God.

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Since I have blogged twice previously about this feast,


Links available here:

Click here for 1/24/2019 Reflection

Click here for 4/19/2018 Reflection


I thought my readers might like to pray with Donne’s poem, read by Tom O’Bedlam

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Here also is a musical interpretation of the poem.
The University of South Florida Chamber Singers perform Richard Nance’s “Batter my heart” under the direction of Dr. James Bass 

Rachel Still Weeps

Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

December 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, John tells us a hard truth:

If we say, “We are without sin,”
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Rachel

As I read the Gospel account of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, John’s words pummel me, as do the images we view routinely on the evening news:

  • toddlers caged on the US-Mexico border
  • infants lying dead on Syrian and Kurdish hillsides
  • kindergarteners bulleted by AK47s
  • youngsters trafficked to the rich and powerful
  • children of color victimized by prejudice
  • acolytes defiled by their priests
  • students lunch-shamed for their poverty
  • kids bullied for their differences
  • hungry babies cut from assistance to fund military excess

In today’s world, so bereft of social justice and moral policy, we don’t have to read the Gospel to find the Holy Innocents. They are staring us, teary-eyed, right in our faces!

This morning’s is an uncomfortable prayer! What can I do to be sinless in the face of such injustice? What is morally required of me to shed complicity in these outrages?

Like many of you, I feel helpless and overwhelmed at times, just as Herod’s populace must have felt.

But then I remember that I do not live under a “Herod”, unless I passively allow myself to. I can advocate, protest, contribute and most of all VOTE. I can do everything in my power to assure that a moral and rational leadership holds the right to stand for me and for my responsibilities to my sisters and brothers.

Yes, today in our prayer, we may weep like Rachel. But then, let us finish weeping. Let us seek the ways that we can repent any complicit sinfulness. Let us acknowledge and repudiate the normalized culture of war and domination which we have accepted. Let us inform ourselves and act clearly and consistently for merciful justice – for innocent life in all its stages!

Music: Save the Children – Marvin Gaye

Who Will Stand in the End?

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings carry the full flavor of the “end times” warnings, those repeated annually as we move closer to Advent ( which is only two weeks away!)

Malachi is very direct:

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
 when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble…

Wow! Really? Our reaction might range from “Good! Go get ‘em, God!” to “Oh, dear God, I hope it’s not me!!!”.

But Paul resets us on the right track. He says something like this:

Listen! You must imitate your teachers in Christ.
Live with integrity, justice and generous mercy.
Navigate the world with these as your compass.
Then you will welcome the end times.


Lk21_19 perseverance

In our world, we see the opposing forces of good and evil clearly pulling against one another. In our decisions and attitudes, we are confronted with the choice between sin and selflessness.

The “elephant in the room” this week for many of us is the impeachment hearings. How do we view this event as people of Gospel faith? How do we respond?

elephant

While some of us believe strongly in separation of Church and State, still we acknowledge that our FAITH is exercised in a political world. We pursue our full conversion in Christ through “polity“:  our just and compassionate interactions with all Creation.

Right in front of us this week, we have seen  amazing displays of courage and morality standing against venal self-interests. How does what we see align with our own living of justice and mercy?

Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how“. If this isn’t the same challenge tackled in the Gospel, I don’t know what is! Jesus said that the poor and disenfranchised should be the first to “get” – through peace, love and mercy. Making that happen is our Christian call.

However, it is likely impossible to communicate God’s vision for the world in the language of politics.  Walter Brueggemann says this:

The prophet’s task is to imagine the world as though Yahweh, the God of Israel and the creator of heaven and earth, were a real character and a lively agent in the life of the world.  I believe that such a claim, then and now, has to be articulated poetically in order not to be co-opted by political absolutism or theological orthodoxy.
~Walter Brueggemann 

Our readings today give us this poetic vision and challenge. Read them with great longing to hear God’s voice for our times. The world so sorely needs the answer that will grow in our souls.

Music:  Let Justice Roll

Climb the Tree! Ignore the Haters!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all rooted in Mercy. The beautifully literate Book of Wisdom delights us with its poetry and heartfelt understanding of God’s “imperishable “ love for us. Think about it! The passage, written very near the time of Christ, is intended to assure us that God’s mercy will save and embrace us.

In our second reading, Paul assures the Thessalonians that this mercy has indeed been given to them in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ they are, as we are, called to be Mercy in the world in Christ’s name.

But Paul adds a little warning. Apparently there are some conspiracy theorists floating around trying to scare people about the final coming. (Oh, Lord — ever present!) They are even forging Paul’s name to spread their crazy havoc.

Religion will always have distorters who pull out and exaggerate certain threads of doctrine, often opposed to the core message of Mercy. They do this to gain control over others and to advance themselves. Every sacred religion, from Catholicism to Islam, has been manhandled by opportunists who use it to advance their own agendas.

But Paul says to cling to the truth: our ever-merciful God loves us, no matter our deficiencies, and welcomes our repentance.

Zaccheus, whom we meet in today’s Gospel, did not succumb to the distorters who branded him an irredeemable sinner. He opened his heart to Jesus in sincerity and enthusiasm. He changed his life because he believed in the full truth of the Gospel: Christ came for us sinners.

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Notice how Zaccheus in hidden in the tree. Are there ways in which we re hiding form the full truth and love of Christ?

Like Zaccheus, a man “deficient” in height, maybe we need to “climb a tree” of prayer and repentance today to take a full-hearted look at the power of God passing through our lives. May we never let the opportunity for Mercy – either to receive or to give it – pass us by.

Music:  Zaccheus – Medical Mission Sisters (Oldie but goodie — love the dedicated nuns! How much good they have done in a suffering world!)

Zap Time?

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

October 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel takes on some difficult themes.

lightening

Jesus gives a parable which, at first, appears to say, “Get your act together fast, or God might zap you.” From Jesus’s words, we can assume that some public disasters have recently occurred. The gathered crowd are unnerved by these events.

Jesus uses that nervousness to talk about repentance. He tells the people that tragedy can make us wake up to the fact that life is fragile and fleeting. That awareness should make us want to use our time on earth well, to give glory to God.

The repentance Jesus encourages is not just a contrition, or turning from sin. It is an opening of the soul’s eyes to see our lives and circumstances as God sees them.

Is God going to zap us if we don’t have that kind of repentance? No.

With the parable of the fruitless fig tree, Jesus assures us that God is with us, giving us every grace and opportunity to bear spiritual fruit. God is patient and nurturing. But, in every human life, there is a limit to the time we have to respond.

Music: Calm the Soul – Poor Clares Galway

Sinners Anonymous

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

October 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul sounds a lot like someone approaching the microphone at “Sinners Anonymous“:

I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh.
The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.
For I do not do the good I want,
but I do the evil I do not want.

Paul basically attests to the fact that for human beings, even him, will and actions often don’t synch up. Sure, we want to be good people, but as Nike says, do we:

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Paul’s says no. The only way we do the good we will to do is by the grace of Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel, Jesus affirms the slowness of the human spirit to act on the realities around us. In some translations, Jesus uses a phrase which caught on with the architects of Vatican II: the signs of the times.

In our Gospel, Jesus is telling his listeners and us that we need to be alert to the circumstances of our world. It both weeps and rejoices. Where it weeps, we must be a source of mercy and healing. Where it rejoices, we must foster and celebrate the Presence of the Spirit.

In the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), we read:

In every age, the church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task. In language intelligible to every generation, it should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask about the meaning of this present life and of the life to come, and how one is related to the other. We must be aware of and understand the aspirations, the yearnings, and the often dramatic features of the world in which we live.

Although written in the 1960s, these powerful words hold true today. We are the Church of which the document speaks. We are the ones whom Jesus calls to respond with authentic justice and mercy to the signs of the times. Read the newspaper in that light today. Watch the news in that light. Meet your brothers and sisters in that light today.

Music: The Times They Are A’changin’ – Bob Dylan whose songs in the 50s and 60sbecame anthems for the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied popular music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. (Wikipedia) (Ah, it was a good time to be young!)

The Swedish Academy awarded Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.

Don’t Blow Off the Holy Spirit!

Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs

Saturday, October 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our scripture readings are a little heavy. I had to dig to get my inspiration. But there are gems in these dense words!

It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.

This is a spiritually freeing passage. It assures us that God is with us through our faith, not through the perfection with which we keep laws and rules.

Our Gospel reinforces the message:

Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,
but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will not be forgiven

lk12_10HolySpirit

The passage is a little scary when first read, because we all hope we haven’t done anything to offend the Holy Spirit. But what Jesus is telling his listeners is this:

If a person criticizes or rejects my life and teaching, forgiveness is still possible when they come to their senses and repent. It’s like cutting the bad spot out of an otherwise good apple.

But if a person chooses to live a life which blasphemes (mocks, dismisses) the Spirit of life, love, mercy and peace, that person can never be forgiven — because they can never repent. They will be rotten to the core.

So the advice of Paul and Jesus boils down to this, I think. Befriend the Holy Spirit by your life of faithful choices. Listen to Her inspiration. Help others to do the same. And do not worry. when you make a few mistakes. God stands by the promise to be with us always.

Music: Spirit of the Living God- Divine Hymns

To See Ourselves As Others See Us

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy … Oh boy, Paul and Jesus stick it to hypocrites in today’s readings. And I’m like, “Yeah! Go get those rotten, lying hypocrites” – and I have a whole slew of people in mind!

Then, WHOA!  I see Paul’s no-nonsense warning:

For by the standard by which you judge another
you condemn yourself,

since you, the judge, do the very same things.

This is a definite “clean up your act” reading. And don’t deflect your own sinfulness on to the people around you!

Jesus takes the same advice to the Pharisees by throwing a couple of serious “woes” at them:

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  • Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
  • Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagoguesand greetings in marketplaces.
  • Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.

Oh wow! I don’t want to be like an unseen grave, do you?! Neither did one of the scholars who responded to Jesus, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too!

But Jesus is undeterred: 

Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.

Today’s readings offer us a clear message to take a good look at ourselves. Are we guilty of the very uglinesses that we condemn in others?


The Scottish poet Robert Burns got the picture in his poem
“To A Louse”

O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!


For fun, here is the Standard English Translation

Ha! Where are you going, you crawling wonder? Your impudence protects you sorely,
I can not say but you swagger rarely
Over gauze and lace,
Though faith! I fear you dine but sparingly On such a place

You ugly, creeping, blasted wonder, Detested, shunned by saint and sinner, How dare you set your foot upon her – Such fine a lady!
Go somewhere else and seek your dinner On some poor body
Off! in some beggar’s temples squat:

There you may creep, and sprawl, and scramble, With other kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Where horn nor bone never dare unsettle
Your thick plantations

Now hold you there! you are out of sight, Below the falderals, snug and tight;
No, faith you yet! you will not be right, Until you have got on it —
The very topmost, towering height Of misses bonnet.
My sooth! right bold you set your nose out, As plump and gray as any gooseberry:

O for some rank, mercurial resin,
Or deadly, red powder,
I would give you such a hearty dose of it, Would dress your breech!
I would not have been surprised to spy You on an old wife’s flannel cap:

Or maybe some small ragged boy,
On his undervest;
But Miss’s fine balloon bonnet! fye! How dare you do it.
O Jenny do not toss your head,
And set your beauties all abroad! You little know what cursed speed The blastie’s making!

Those winks and finger-ends, I dread, Are notice takiing!
O would some Power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us, And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us, And even devotion.

Music: Britt Nicole – Through Your Eyes (a chance to think about how our loving God sees us, and everyone else/)

Sound the Alarm!

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of two readings from the imaginative poet-prophet Joel. Joel lived at the time of a massive locust infestation in Israel. He compares that devastation to the conquest of an invading army which can be expected if the people do not repent.

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If you have the time, I suggest you read the whole brief book of Joel at one time. Doing so gives a clearer picture of the prophetic cadence Joel employs. It is repeated by most prophets and it goes like this:

  • Hey folks, things are a mess!
  • Guess what, they’re gonna’ get worse.
  • Besides that, it’s your own fault.
  • So wake up and repent.
  • But don’t worry because God still loves us.
  • God wants to and will make things better.
  • Motivate yourself by that hope.
  • And anyway, we’re all just waiting for that great and final day.
  • So praise God by your righteous life.

Oh, but gloriously literate Joel delivers this message with such passionate turns of phrase! Let yourself relish one of two of these startlers from today’s passage.

Listen for how they speak to your heart in the current circumstances of our world:

  • Gird yourself in sorrow
  • Spend the night in scratchy haircloth
  • The Day of the Lord comes as ruin from the Almighty
  • a day of darkness and of gloom,
  • a day of clouds and somberness
  • The enemy is numerous and mighty
  • Their like has never been seen before

You might say, “Gee, I’m not really feeling all that bad, and the sun’s out where I live!” 

Well, try reading the phrase as if you lived in Kurdish Syria, or war-torn Yemen. Hear the prophet’s warning as an immigrant fleeing your country, or a democracy-seeker in Hong Kong. Listen to this word of God as a person without a home, or food, or healthcare might hear it.

In many ways, things are a mess! What are we called to by today’s reading? What is the warning and the hope within it to impel us toward a more just and merciful life?

Music: Deep Within – David Haas

Eyes on the Prize

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Malachi (chronologically last of the Twelve minor prophets) lays it all out.  He is writing for the Jewish community after the Restoration of the Second Temple. It is a community whose faith and practice have become “institutionalized”, having lost much of the raw vigor and intention of its first charismatic restorers.

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I think we can all understand how that happens. It’s hard to maintain the passion of an early vision over the long years of its testing. This Jewish community has been visibly successful. They are home from captivity. The Temple has been rebuilt. Life is good. What’s the problem? So God tells them:

You have defied me in word, says the LORD,
yet you ask, “What have we spoken against you?”
You have said, “It is vain to serve God,
and what do we profit by keeping his command,
And going about in penitential dress
in awe of the LORD of hosts?

The community has forgotten the heart of their life! In the imposing shadow of their Temple achievement, they have lost the memory of the God it honors.


Rabbi Gunther W. Plaut says this:
Malachi describes a priesthood that is forgetful of its duties, a Temple that is underfunded because the people have lost interest in it, and a society in which Jewish men divorce their Jewish wives to marry out of the faith. The Prophet lived probably sometime after the year 500, perhaps as late as 450 (B.C.E.). It was an era of spiritual disillusionment, for the glorious age that earlier prophets had foreseen had not materialized. 

Click here to to link to the Rabbi’s blog. Good stuff.


It’s not a big leap to see ourselves foreshadowed in Malachi’s prophecy. We live on a devastated planet and a war-pocked world. We agonize over corrupted political, economic and justice systems. We worship in a scarred and struggling Church. We live in a culture that has forgotten. Indeed, in our materialistic world, it appears that:

… evildoers prosper,
and even tempt God with impunity.

But Malachi tells the faithful people that the day of their reconciliation is coming. He tells them to remain steadfast, to keep their eyes on the prize.

… you shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts,
my own special possession, on the day I arise.
And I will have compassion on you,
as a parent has compassion on a devoted child.

Our Gospel echoes this promise. If we but ask, God will give us the strength to remain merciful, faithful, and just – not to forget the heart of our life, not to be blind to it in our suffering brothers and sisters.

Music: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize– a folk song, a genre that carries a lot in common with prophetic poetry. This ballad became influential during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It is based on the traditional song, “Gospel Plow” also known as “Hold On” or “Keep Your Hand on the Plow”.

This version is written by Pete Seeger sung by The Boss, Bruce Springsteen 

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they was lost
Dungeon shook and the chains come off
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom’s name is mighty sweet
And soon we’re gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Only chain that a man can stand
Is that chain o’ hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I’m gonna board that big greyhound
Carry the love from town to town
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Now only thing I did was wrong
Stayin’ in the wilderness too long
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The only thing we did was right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Hold on, hold on

(Jamming interlude)

Ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there are paved with gold
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on