Today, in Mercy,our readings offer copious lessons as well as an enthralling drama from the Book of Daniel.
We have heard the original story many times, and seen it repeated, down through the ages, in innumerable forms: a woman targeted by lecherous men, innocence betrayed by treachery, power exercised in destructive selfishness. When we see goodness vindicated in this story, we feel a certain victory for the ages! Am I right?
While the story’s surface addresses sexual assault and false condemnation, its heart is about power and truth. Susanna and Daniel embody these virtues. The two corrupt judges manifest their distortion.
In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims his identity as the Light of the World. He confronts the Pharisees because they “judge by appearances” rather than by truth. They use their power to oppress rather than to free.
Power and truth suffer terribly in today’s world. They are obscured by the same darknesses we see in the story of Susanna – conspiracy, secrecy, false accusation, dissimulation, malfeasance, and total disregard for human pain. Ultimately, it is always the innocent and poor who suffer most in such an atmosphere.
We pray today for Divine Light for every hidden darkness, for bravery like Daniel’s, for fidelity like Susanna’s, and for truthfulness to make us worthy of the Name of Christ.
Music: A mantra based on John 14 – The Spirit of Truth
Today, in Mercy, we begin with the powerful and moving story of Joseph – sweet, innocent son of of Jacob who was betrayed by his brothers. Jacob sends Joseph to work with his brothers, believing they love him. He was wrong.
Our Gospel then tells the story of the frustrated landowner who sent his son on mission to settle his accounts. though the landowner’s servants had been abused by the tenants, he believed his son would be respected. He was wrong.
Both these stories are prototypes of the Father sending Jesus to redeem us. The intention is the same. The hope is the same. Unfortunately, the result is the same.
In our Gospel, Jesus realizes that the Father’s hope for him will not be met with openness and acceptance. He sees the Pharisees milling around in hateful conversation.Referencing the parable, Jesus says:
“The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for the crowds regarded him as a prophet.
This morning, let’s pray for all those who send their beloveds out in hope to do good in the world:
for police officers, firefighters, first responders whose families send them out each day always fearing for their safety
for medical personnel who risk sickness in their care for others
for missionaries and justice workers who encounter threat and danger in helping others
for peacekeepers and military who work to end war and tyranny
for all of us when we reach out in justice and courage, hoping to be received with respect and mutuality
May the example of Christ inspire and sustain us to do our part for God’s continuing redemption of the world.
Today, in Mercy, our Gospel gives us the disturbing parable of the rich man, sometimes called Dives, and Lazarus, a very poor man.
The story is disturbing because
Lazarus suffers so desperately
Dives is impervious to that suffering
God won’t give Dives a break after his death
We fear being in either of these guys’ situations
Probably, like most people, we’d rather be rich than poor. But would we rather be generous with that wealth or selfish? Do we ever find ourselves thinking thoughts like this, deciding we’re not responsible for the gap between rich and poor:
“I worked hard for what I have. Let everybody else do the same!”
That wealth gap cannot be mended simply by giving a dollar to a corner beggar nor by donating our wornout clothes to Goodwill. This kind of re-balancing requires a conversion of heart which touches our economic, political and moral understanding.
I was struck this morning by this headline from The Economist, a British weekly magazine.
How can today’s Gospel inspire and encourage us in a global culture that infcreasingly marginalizes persons who are poor, resourceless, and politically oppressed?
May the story of Lazarus and Dives influence us to use the powers we have to make just and generous decisions.
We can vote for just, generous and moral leaders.
We can advocate for universally just policies.
We can donate to compassionate causes.
We can confront hateful speech and stereotyping.
We can speak and act for justice, peace, inclusivity and mercy.
We just have to be courageous before, like Dives, it is too late for us.
Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells the story of Mrs. Zebedee, who sought a prejudiced advantage for her two disciple sons.
Jesus said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Sounds a little like something ripped from today’s headlines, doesn’t it.
There is a natural inclination to advantage those we love. But when we do so to the unjust disadvantage of others, that’s a problem.
We know from experience that people use various points of leverage to gain advantage in life. We see people use money, power, political connections, and other influences to get a job, choose a school, land an important invitation, get a traffic ticket written off, etc., etc. Maybe, on occasion, we are one of those people.
Today’s Gospel teaches us a lesson. In gaining such advantage, we may, as Jesus says, “not know what we are asking for”. Can we actually DO the job, succeed in the school, … become a better person by what we have maniputively gained?
The Gospel also brings before us the “other people” who lost the right to what we unjustly claimed. How do they begin to see us? What do we lose in respect and mutuality within our community? How do we begin to see ourselves in relationship to justice, honesty, sincerity and truth?
Jesus hopes that we will love every person to the extent that we want her/his just advantage as much as we want our own? That is the “cup” He drinks through his Passion and Death.
Let us ponder Jesus’s question to us: Can you drink the cup that I will drink?
Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The very way the Church defines the Feast tells us a great deal about Joseph. Men are seldom described by their relationship to a woman.It is more often the other way around. Consider our lingering custom of wives assuming their husband’s surnames, for example.
But Joseph is known because of his connection to Mary. He is a steady force in the background of her life and the life of Jesus. Joseph is the kind, generous and faithful one who nurtures and protects them.
And he is the silent one. Not a single word was ever recorded from him. What we know of Joseph issues from his actions. For example, before he knew that Mary had conceived through the Holy Spirit:
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
This virtue of righteousness sums up the character of Joseph as we find him in scripture. Righteousness is complementary to justice.
Walter Brueggemann in his book, Journey to the Common Good, says this about the relationship between justice and righteousness:
“Justice in the Old Testament concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have access to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity…. Righteousness concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity.”
Joseph exercised such righteousness not only in responding to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. He took the risk of becoming a refugee family in order to save Jesus’s infant life. After the finding in the Temple, he stepped into the background in order to allow young Jesus to assume his teaching vocation. No doubt, during the silent years which then surround Joseph, he continued to live an active life doing good for his family and community, and quietly fostering the ministry of Jesus.
Despite the scarcity of recorded knowledge about Joseph, there is an ample devotional treasury describing him. It is captured in outline form in the Litany to St. Joseph, a prayer I learned to love because it was one of my father’s favorites. I sometimes say just a few lines, slowly, to let the holiness of Joseph call me deeper into my own spiritual life.
(Music is below the Litany.)
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us (after each line)
Renowned offspring of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Diligent protector of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most strong,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of artisans,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the wretched, Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Protector of Holy Church,
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
V. He made him the lord of His house:
R. And ruler of all His substance.
Let us pray.
O God, who in Your unspeakable providence chose blessed Joseph to be the spouse of Your own most holy Mother: grant, we ask, that we may deserve to have him for our intercessor in heaven, whom we reverence as our defender on earth. Amen.
Today, in Mercy, the voice of the Lord, in both Leviticus and Matthew, makes one thing abundantly clear: God lives in the “least ones”, and this is where we must love and serve God.
In our first reading, God tells the people to be holy – not by offering God sacrifice and praise, but like this:
Don’t make an empty vow.
Don’t hurt those already hurting.
Don’t make false judgments.
Don’t be prejudiced.
Don’t do nasty gossip.
Don’t ignore your neighbor’s need.
Don’t hate, take revenge on, or begrudge others.
In other words,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.
We are so accustomed to this passage that we may miss how startling it is! God asks nothing of us for himself! God asks only that we love God through our neighbor.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reiterates this command in the form of positive actions, adding how we will be judged by it. Jesus says:
Feed the hungry.
Hydrate the thirsty.
Welcome the stranger.
Clothe the naked.
Care for the sick.
Visit the imprisoned.
We are called to these works of mercy on many levels. Certainly the call is first to the physically suffering – the homeless, the refugee, the uncared for, the abused.
But we also know from our own experience that there are all kinds of hungers and thirsts in the human heart. There is a loneliness that persists even in a crowd. There is naked fear, depression and isolation even among those otherwise warmly dressed. There are sicknesses that come from selfishness and others that come from abandonment. There are prisons without bars.
We do not have to look far to find the “least ones” whom God wishes us to love and serve.
We do not have to look far to find God. We just have to look deep.
Music: The Circle of Mercy – Jeannette Goglia, RSM
Today, in Mercy, let this picture carry home the message of today’s Gospel for our time. Let us consider our moral and civic responsibilities to this child and the thousands like him throughout the world. Let us pray in the spirit of Jesus to understand what Mercy requires of us.
If you would like to help our Sister Anne Connolly working directly at our southern border with refugee families:
Gifts may be sent to:
Sisters of Mercy
(Please mark “Border Aid”)
c/o Sisters of Mercy-Border Aid
515 Montgomery Avenue Merion, PA.19066
Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about God’s transforming power and our human ability to tap into that power by our faith.
Hebrews 11 references several heroes, named and unnamed, whose faith and perseverance were so great that, “The world was not worthy of them.”
Mark’s Gospel tells the story of the Gerasene demoniac, a story with many layers of meaning and challenge. In it, Jesus demonstrates an astounding power that both amazes and frightens his audience.
We have the very detailed description of the demoniac, a wild, unnaturally strong and violent man. We have the Gerasene community which doesn’t know what else to do to control the disruptive forces of this wretched man. And we have an innocent, unsuspecting herd of pigs.
Jesus is unafraid of the forces erupting from this troubled man. He approaches the man’s suffering on a whole different level from the unsuccessful tactics of the community.Jesus speaks to the man’s soul which has been shattered into many howling fragments by the evil dwelling inside him. Jesus then casts out that evil in a demonstration that both awes and angers his observers.
Imagine how the pig farmers felt. Their livelihood lay drowning at the bottom of a precipice! The food supply, water integrity, employment opportunities all took a steep drop in that one moment of Christ’s command. In healing this broken man, who is representative of all suffering humanity, Jesus disrupted the comfortable systems which had allowed him to be isolated and chained at the edge of this society.
Jesus challenged this whole community to see the world from a different perspective – a spiritual one in which human life and wholeness is at the heart of all our societal systems. This man was more important than a herd of 2000 pigs!
These readings challenge us who live in a surface world “not worthy” of our faith.
There is incredible suffering throughout this world. It is not enough to simply pray that it is alleviated. It is surely not enough to “chain” it by our indifference and acceptance.
Global suffering will be addressed only by confronting our comfortable systems (our herd of pigs). Our legal, political, economic and social systems must cherish the integrity of the human person. Otherwise, they should be challenged, changed, and maybe even cast away.
Our small part is to learn, understand, choose, vote and speak out for this kind of wholeness – both in our immediate, personal experiences as well as through the social justice structures available to us. For example:
Today, in Mercy, we pray for the gift of hope for ourselves, and for all who desperately need it today. Hope is the steely confidence that no matter how dire our condition, God abides with us and is lifting us toward Light. Hoping, unlike wishing, changes us not our circumstances. That is its magic, its power and its mystery.
Some will remember December 7, 1941. Some will still feel its imprint on their families although they were born years later.
No doubt, every American adult will have some sense of the enormity of war, whether it be WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or all the other endless operations of war.
Let us pray together today for an end to war, and to all the immoral pursuits that lead to it. Even though it is difficult, let us hope and believe that humankind,through the grace of God, is capable of more.
Music:Where Have All the Flowers Gone – by the great Pete Seeger, prolific folk song writer and political activist.On this recording, Pete is an old man singing with his grandson.