Lay Hold of Eternal Life

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Friday, September 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Korean Martyrs. Their astounding faith stood against excruciating suffering but did not waver.

Korean_martyrs
Vatican [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
A brief, inspiring story of the Korean Church is available here.


Today’s readings carry a common theme of resources, both material and spiritual, and how we use them.

Paul tells Timothy:

we brought nothing into the world,
just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.

Still…

the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it
have strayed from the faith

and have pierced themselves with many pains.

Our Psalm tells us that those who are poor in spirit realize that they possess nothing, that all they have is a gift from God. This realization is the source of their blessing.

Luke’s Gospel lists several women who supported Jesus’s ministry out of their resources. They, and no doubt the men depending them, had been touched and changed by Jesus.

1 Tim6_12 call

Each of our readings reminds us that deepened relationship with God releases in us those God given gifts of our Creation – the gifts of which Paul reminds Timothy:

But you, beloved of God,
… pursue righteousness, devotion,

faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
when you made the noble profession of faith

in the presence of many witnesses.

By the inspiration of the Korean Martyrs, may we hear and respond.

Music: a real foot tapper today – Hear the Call of the Kingdom – Kristyn Getty

Only Son of a Widowed Mother

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the Church a job description for bishops. I’m not even going to, as they say, “go there”. Just read it. Just pray over your own thoughts.

The Gospel story of the widow of Nain is where my prayer rests today. Reading it, I remember standing by a large walkway window at the Louisville Airport on a sweltering July day in 2005.

Down on the heat-softened tarmac, a small bevy of soldiers stood at attention. Slowly, a flag-draped casket was lowered into their waiting arms. Just to the side, a huddled family, waited as well. Two children clung to either side of their young mother. An older couple stood behind her, hands gentled on her shoulders.

At the window, several other travelers gathered in silence. A few teenage boys removed their inverted baseball caps when they noticed a distinguished older gentleman stand tall and hold a salute.

No one who witnessed that brief ceremony will ever forget it. The grief, reverence and astonishment at life’s fragility emblazoned the moment on every witnessing heart.

nain

When Jesus passed the gates of Nain on that ancient morning, he had a like experience. He saw this “only son of a widowed mother”. Once again, shaken to his roots with compassion –splancha, he pulled heaven down to heal heart-breaking loss.

How I wished Jesus were flying out of Louisville that day in 2005! But then I realized He was there. The miracle was hidden, but still real. The Divine Compassion flowed through me, through the reverent gathering beside me, through the soldiers’ honoring arms, through the long prayerful memory we would all forever share.

That young man from Nain was raised from the dead… for a while. He, like all of us, eventually died. The miracle was not about him and his life. The miracle was the visible sign of God’s infinite compassion for us – God’s “feeling-with-us” in all our experiences. That compassion, whether miraculously visible or not, is always with us.

It just took a different form that day in Louisville.

military funeral

Music:  I was reminded of this consoling country song for today’s prayer. Like much country music, it hits the heart where it matters, even if the theology is a little frayed.

God Only Cries – written by Tim Johnson, sung here by Diamond Rio
Lyrics below

On an icy road one night
A young man loses his life
They marked the shoulder with a cross
An’ his family gathers round
On a piece of Hallowed ground
Their hearts are heavy with their loss
As the tears fall from their eyes
There’s one who’ll always sympathise

God only cries for the living
‘Cause it’s the living that are left to carry on
An’ all the angels up in Heaven
They’re not grieving because they’re gone
There’s a smile on their faces
‘Cause they’re in a better place than…
They’ve ever known.

God only cries for the living
‘Cause it’s the living that are so far from home

It still makes me sad
When I think of my Grand-dad
I miss him each and every day
But I know the time will come
When my own grandson
Wonders why I went away
Maybe we’re not meant to understand
Till we meet up in the Promised Land

Say But the Word

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Monday, September 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, both our readings today offer us pivotal lessons about what nourishes true leadership: faith, humility, generosity, and inclusivity.

Many of us have been blessed, especially in our young lives, with the gift of wise and loving mentors. Certainly our parents, families and teachers are among the first and most critical.

A little later, our circle of mentors widens. We look for great coaches, wise employers, guiding trainers, caring councilors, trusted friends.

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are biblical examples of such mentorship. In them, the author is guiding young ministers in the art and science of loving, Christ-like leadership.

Key to such leadership in today’s reading is a steadfast commitment to prayer which covers, blesses and includes all people.

In our Gospel, the centurion demonstrates that he is a leader who values these virtues.

The Jews urging Jesus to visit the centurion say that he deserves Christ’s attention because “he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.

 My guess is that Jesus wasn’t impelled by this argument, but solely by his splancha – his merciful gut response to the man’s plea.

When the centurion enters the story, his humility is immediately evident: 

Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.

The miracle healing, of course, is granted but that is not the most important part of the story.

!Tim2_5 bridgeJPG

This civil leader’s acknowledgement of Christ’s sovereignty is an act of faith which serves as a model for all of us – to the extent that millennia later we echo his prayer as we prepare to receive Christ in communion.

His is a faith that places Christ at the center of all Creation, commanding the flow of grace and mercy to all creatures. That faith allows the centurion to care even for a suffering servant. It allowed him to support the worship even of a dominated people.

Timothy and Titus have shown that kind of faith. They are the next generation who will carry Christ’s legacy passed to them by Paul. He wants them to understand that humility, largeness of heart, kindness and steadfastness open the way for God’s life-giving will for all people.

Whether, in our current life state, we are leader, or protégé, or both, how do these readings help us to make a clearer way for God in the world? That’s what real leadership is all about. And, as Paul says, we learn it in prayer.

Video: a representation of Luke’s version of this Gospel story:

Faith of Centurion

By your Holy Cross, O Lord…

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Saturday, September 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we turn our hearts to the mystery of the Holy Cross.

Let’s face it. Most of us would prefer a life without ANY suffering. So how does the Cross help us understand that we will never have that kind of life?

The mystery of suffering is integral to all life and transformation. The ability to live and deepen with that mystery doesn’t happen in the mind. It happens in the soul.

The desert Israelites in our first reading don’t get it. They think an angry God is fed up with their complaining and so sends snakes to bite them and cause them suffering.

Not really.

Indeed, snakes have bitten them. But a loving God tells them: Hold up a symbol of my love. It will strengthen you to pass through your suffering because I am always in relationship with you.

cross_mcauley
The deep love of the Holy Cross was the sacred gift of Catherine McAuley to her Mercy Family. Let us listen to her counsel.

Paul, in the powerful passage from Philippians, takes us much deeper into the heart of this mystery. He tells us how Jesus put on human suffering to show us how suffering is transformed by the love it attempts to overcome.

Paul says that by becoming obedient – by listening – to the deep mystery of suffering and death in his life, Jesus shows us how to hear the whisper within it … the whisper of eternal life that can only be found when we pass through that awesome mystery in transcendent and enduring faith.

John suggests to us that, in some way that we cannot here understand, the mystery of suffering reveals something of the nature of God. It is an overwhelming, incomprehensible revelation that the Father could convey to us only in the visible gift of Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him. 

Praying with these deep considerations, we are invited to enter “the mind of Jesus”. May we wholeheartedly respond with today’s Alleluia verse:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.

Music: Philippians Canticle- John Michael Talbot (Lyrics below)

And if there be therefore any consolation
And if there be therefore any comfort in his love
And if there be therefore any fellowship in spirit
If any tender mercies and compassion

We will fulfill His joy
And we will be like-minded
We will fulfill His joy
We can dwell in one accord
And nothing will be done
Through striving or vainglory
We will esteem all others better than ourselves

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Though in the form of God
He required no reputation
Though in the form of God
He required nothing but to serve
And in the form of God
He required only to be human
And worthy to receive
Required only to give

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love
In all humility
We will offer up our love

A Plank in the Eye

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Friday, September 13, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, Paul, seeing himself as he really is, gives thanks and praise for his unmerited salvation.

Paul says this:

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

God has also granted me the gift of unmerited salvation. You too, my friends. But everybody’s story is a little different. So I thought a bit today about what I might fill in for those bolded words above. (And you can be sure I’m not going to tell you!😂) You might want to do the same in your prayer today.

In our Gospel, Jesus confronts those who think they are, not beneath, but above redemption and salvation. It’s beautiful: he nails the nitpickers who see the flaws in everyone but themselves.

How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

IMG_0799Luke6_41 beam

It’s always been one of my favorite passages. But do you know why? It’s because the beam in my own eye probably has prevented me from seeing that the passage is about me!🥺

Music: Only Takes a Moment – Cory Asbury

God’s Guts

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have one of the most beautiful yet demanding readings in the Bible – Colossians 3:12-17.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.


I remember our beloved Mother Mary Bernard recommending this passage to us when we were only novices – so unripe in our pursuit of spirituality. Since that treasured recommendation, I have prayed with this passage thousands of times. It never fails to reveal something new, deeper, and challenging.

A particularly pregnant verse is this:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion…

Gosh, the way it’s translated there makes it sound like a Valentine, doesn’t it?  


But take a look at the Douay-Rheims Version, the translation popular before the Jerusalem Bible of the 1960s:

Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved,
the bowels of mercy…

The Greek word for “mercy” here is σπλάγχνα splagchnon or splancha. And it means “guts” – bowels. So there goes our Valentine! You wouldn’t want to get that picture on a greeting card!


What Paul is preaching is not a lovey-dovey sweet religiosity. He wants mercy, and all the accompanying virtues, to grab our guts and never let go until we love as radically as Jesus loves.

We all know what “splancha” feels like: 

  • It’s the way your heart twists with adrenaline when a truck runs the red light just hair in front of you.
  • It’s the way your stomach tosses when it’s your turn for your first public speaking foray.
  • It’s the way your throat catches when you have to speak the words of a beloved’s death.
  • It’s the tears that well up unbidden when you kiss your sleeping child.

Splancha is the place where we are tied to other human beings so deeply that it is visible only to God.

Jms Keenan copy

It is the place where our soul’s umbilical cord is knit with God’s womb, that sacred place where we are recreated again and again in the Holy Spirit by our acts of mercy and love for one another.

God wants us to have “splancha love” for every one of God’s Creatures. God wants us to make that love real in our acts of mercy and justice. Paul is telling us how to do it today.

Music: How He Loves Us – sung by Kim Walker Smith with Jesus Culture

This song was composed by John Mark McMillan. This beautiful video about his composition is a real witness story. I encourage you to take the time to watch it.

Walk in Him

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2019

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Today in Mercy, Beloveds, our first reading allowed the reflection to almost write itself. Savor the sweet words. They are all we need today.

Col2_6 Walk

Walk in Him.

Trust in Him.

Hope in Him.

Delight in Him.

Risk in Him.

Act in Him.

Love in Him.

Rest in Him.

Believe in Him.

Walk in Him. (Hold hands.)

Music: Just a Closer Walk with Thee – anonymous composition from the 1800s, sung here by the great Patsy Cline and the inimitable Willie Nelson
Lyrics below

1 I am weak but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Refrain:
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

2 Thro’ this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee. [Refrain]

3 When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore. [Refrain]

All That Is Withered

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

September 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus share a similar situation.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome. Visited by Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae, Paul seizes the chance to write to these Christians whom he has never seen in person. Paul tells the Colossians that his singular intention is to preach the truth of the Gospel so that they, and all the world, may be transformed in Christ.

to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

That “mystery” is the nature of God as Love, only fleetingly accessible before its full revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Luke6_10 withered hand

Jesus too, in today’s Gospel, is in a sort of prison. The prison consists of the entrenched resistance of people like the Pharisees. They are so entangled in the deceitful and self- serving interpretation of Law that they are blind to the revelation before them. They wait to pounce on Jesus if, contrary to the laws of the Sabbath, he heals a man’s withered hand.

Jesus tries logic in today’s account:

Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Unable to resist the logic, the Pharisees retreat to anger. They begin to plot the removal of this Truth they cannot counter. The saddest part of these resistances is that they estrange the resisters from their own good, from their own freedom, from their own salvation.

In our world, we see so many places closed off to the Mystery of Love.  We see people imprisoning themselves in their own resistance and hate while they plot to build barriers against others. We see it in our geo-political world, in our Church, in our workplaces, in ourselves.

It takes courage to recognize and turn from such self-destructive fixations. We must be alert and brave to cooperate with our own transformation in grace.

This is why Paul writes of …

the great struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

This is why God continues to offer grace in the gift of Jesus Christ, healing all that is “withered” in us when we lift it up in faith.

Music: God Will Make a Way – Dan Moen

The Wisdom of God

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Church links three readings which, at first glance, seem unrelated.

  • Our first reading from Wisdom reminds us of God’s infinite wisdom, incomprehensible to our human minds.
  • Paul, in his letter to Philemon, begs for the loving inclusion of Onesimus, an enslaved person, into the Colossian community.
  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus  makes the harsh pronouncement:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

How might we interpret these disparate passages to find a message of wholeness for our prayer?

Wis9_13 gods mind

Let’s start with Jesus. In no uncertain terms, he challenges his disciples to move out of their small worlds into God’s big world. That Godly world is not defined by family, nor by any condition other than our common Creaturehood in God … not by:

word gram

Jesus says the sacred community is defined only by shared and irrevocable commitment to the Gospel of love and mercy.

Paul knows and loves Onesimus, the slave, as a brother in this community. In his letter, Paul encourages Philemon to do the same.

Sometimes as human beings, filled with all kinds of insecurities, we tend to build enclaves that make us feel safe. We like to be with “our kind”. We invent borders to filter out those whose differences we don’t understand. We allow fear to grow out of that lack of understanding. Within the enclosure of our self-protectionism, we eventually forget that we are all one, equal, precious, beautiful and beloved by God.

Such toxic attitudes are the soil for slavery, war, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy,   human trafficking, destructive nationalism, and all the other sacrileges committed by humans against the human family.

Wisdom reminds us that only God can open the tight circle of our fears, judgments and isolations – only God whose infinite love encompasses all. Jesus tells us that we find that love only by lifting up the cross and following him.

Wisdom tells us to put it in God’s hands, and to respond to God’s challenge in the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Who can know your way of thinking, O God
… except you give us wisdom

 and send your Holy Spirit from on high
 thus stretching the hearts of those on earth

Today I pray, may God do this for me, and for all our tight, convoluted and troubled world.

Music: Who Has Known (an Advent hymn, but perfect I think for today’s readings)

God is a Sliding Board!

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Paul references some pretty mean-spirited Colossians:

You once were alienated and hostile in mind
because of evil deeds.

Whoa! Where did these meanies come from amid all the blessed populace?
They must have been nice to be around!

All of us have been in the presence of such off-kilter people. They seem all twisted in their own negativity and judgmentalism. There is no joy in them, no warmth, no kindness. Unhappily, we may even have such a person at times.

Paul is clear on the cure for such ill-temper:

  • Reconciliation through a persevering faith
  • Stability in hope, grounded the Gospel

If you have ever used a GPS device while driving, you have probably had the same experience as I have. At least five annoying times per journey, the gal is my dashboard shouts:

Recalculating route!

Paul says that with our reconciliation through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, there is no need to recalculate. As our Responsorial Psalm tells us:

I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.

Once again in our Gospel, the Pharisees try to distract from the clarity of Jesus’ message. They worry about the tiniest grains rather than the Radiant Truth in their midst. They keep trying to recalculate a route through their circuitous laws rather than opening their hearts to the Way.

It’s easy to get infected with such running around in circles. The bigness of God can be scary. We sometimes make up useless curves to avoid God’s awesomeness.

Jn14_6slide

Indeed, God is a sliding board with no handrails! But, Paul assures us that we are riding it in Christ’s arms.

Music: I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life – Bob Hurd