David, God’s Servant

Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr

January 21, 2020

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Ps89_David

Today, in Mercy, we meet David, whose thrilling and passionate story unfolds and echoes throughout the rest of biblical history.

In today’s passage, David is called in from the fields to receive, quite unexpectedly, Samuel’s anointing:

David
Michaelangelo’s David

 

“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.

 

 
Now, the passage doesn’t indicate which field David was in. But maybe he was out in proverbial “left field”, the place from which many human beings are called to do important things, to respond in courageous ways.

 

Most of us, like David, are just living our ordinary daily lives –relatively oblivious to grace – when the life-changing moments come. Those moments may not be as momentous as David’s, but they are big deals for us. 

  • We get a college acceptance (or rejection) letter.
  • We get a job offer (or we get laid off).
  • We get elected to a position (or we don’t)

Someone asks us:

  • Want to go steady?
  • Will you marry me?
  • Have you ever considered religious life?

Young people, like young David, seem to meet a lot of these obvious directional points in their unfolding lives. But, in reality, we continue to meet them as we move to full maturity. Until the day we die, God is always calling to become deeper, more honest, more loving, more gracefully beautiful, more fully in God’s image.

Where have the pivotal calls and turning points come in your life? What are the junctures at which everything would have been different had you made another choice?What made young, innocent David ready when his first, and ensuing, calls came? 

Here’s why:
David had an exquisite love and constant relationship with God.
And God loved him back, just like God loves us.

Every critical point in our life’s journey is charged with the power of God’s love. That power comes disguised in routine circumstances, like a parent calling his shepherd son home for dinner. But if our hearts are tuned to God, we hear the call deep within those ordinary appearances and we receive the moment’s anointing.

May it be so, until we meet the Beloved Face to face.

Music: Anoint Me, Lord – written by Vickie Yohe, sung by Jonathan Matthews

Afraid? Who Me?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have a few references to fear — and to its perfect antidote, Love.

1Jn4 fear

John continues to instruct us in prose that stuns us with its sacred clarity:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.


In our Gospel, we meet some pretty fearful disciples. First of all, they are still spinning from the avalanche of loaves and fishes gushing forth from the perfect faith of Jesus. 

Jesus_walks_on_Water,_St_Botolph_without_Aldersgate
Jesus walks on Water, St Botolph without Aldersgate: Photo by Andrew R. Abbott Andrewrabbott [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Today, they are rowing a storm-tossed lake in the pitch of night. Enough to strike fear into even a crusty fisherman’s heart! But wait a minute! As if all these scary things are not enough, here comes a ghost across the threatening waves!

And how about Jesus in this passage? A little nonchalant, or what? 

About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,

they thought it was a ghost and cried out.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the waves.

Jesus, full of Love, and perfected in the Creator’s Presence, has no need or place for fear. He lives in the accomplished wholeness of God where, as Julian of Norwich says, “All manner of things shall be well.”


cocoon

I never really thought much about fearfulness in my life. I exist in great security. But when I read this line from Paula D’Arcy, I saw that there are all kinds of unrecognized fears inhibiting us:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,

if I were not dominated by fear?

Fears. What are some of yours that, like me, you may not have recognized:

  • Fear of failure, loss, death, dependence.
  • Fear of looking foolish, getting old, being sick, losing my comfort zone.
  • Fear of meaninglessness, unusefulness, of being held responsible?

Could we go on and on?

But what about the biggest fear – of being unloved, and maybe even unlovable.

Dear God, as we pray today,
help us to grow into your amazing love for us.
Help us there to cast out our fears
and to live in your perfect freedom and joy.

Music:  All Shall Be Well – Michelle Sherliza

What We Shall Be

Christmas Weekday

January 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, what thrilling words John uses to remind us of who we really are!

1 Jn3_2 children

God’s children by virtue of our creation in God’s image!


But then John ups the ante for us. We are even more than this, but we do not yet perceive or understand the “more”.

… what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like God,
for we shall see God as God is.

What we shall be! Oh, how we should treasure and stretch for that promise!


Sometimes, when I hear of the death of a young person, especially by war, negligence, or other violence, I mourn the loss of their promise — to those who love them and to the world. How can we ever crush a life that God has tenderly created, the way an artist breathes over her masterpiece!

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Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

In today’s first reading, John reminds us that “sin” is this act of stunting life – in large and small ways, in ourselves and others. We fall into this sin because we do not see the God who is being revealed in the midst of our ordinary lives.

In our Gospel, we have John the Baptist finally seeing Christ for whom he had directed his entire life. Imagine what John felt as he saw Jesus cresting the nearby hillside. The One in whom John had placed all his love, faith and hope was walking toward him!

God is walking toward us too, in every moment of our lives. Occasionally, we have the courage and insight to look up and see God looking out from the eyes of our sisters and brothers – looking into us as we pass the mirror!

Let’s try to do that more often in 2020!

Music: We Shall Behold Him –  LaKisha Jones

Get By with a Little Help from…

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

January 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we lay aside our holiday experiences and dress once again in our ordinary dailyness. It is time to begin again, in this new year, the faithful living of our lives.

Church_of_Gregory_of_Armenia_of_Saint_Basil's_Cathedral_1
 copyright: Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko

The Church encourages us with the celebration of two great friends, Basil and Gregory. These men are particularly venerated, with St. John Chrysostom, in the Eastern Churches, whose character they highly impacted. These tremendously influential ministers supported and inspired one another to do great things for God in a time when the faith was sorely tested.

To learn more about these great saints called the Three Hierarchs, click here.


The friendship and legacy of these iconic saints reminds us that we need one another’s support and example to stay strong in our own faith. In our first reading, John tells us the same thing.

We live in a world not unlike that of Basil, Gregory, and Chrysostom. Conflicting, and often deceitful, forces twist the faith to distort its original truth. In our world, these false perceptions are used as excuses for all kinds of evils: war, nationalism, prejudicial exclusion, and racial and economic domination.

But John the Evangelist says this in our first reading:

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.

Today’s Gospel shows us that even John the Baptist had to juggle thorny religious questions in order to stay focused on the core truth of Christ. The Baptist keeps this focus by his singular faith and humility:

… there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

So today, inspired by these great saints, let us take up the call to be true humble followers of Jesus, making our faith evident by our choices for mercy, justice and love in a conflicted world.

Music: Hymn of the Cherubim- Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom 

Waiting for God

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

December 30, 2019

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rembrant anna
Presentation in the Temple – Rembrandt van Rijn

Today, in Mercy, we meet the venerable prophetess Anna. Oh, what she has to teach us!

  • Perseverance: she had waited eight decades for the revelation

  • Unconditional Faith: throughout those decades, she prayed always believing
  • Pure Spirit: she believed that, like the pure in spirit, she would see God
  • Unquestioning Receptivity to the Holy: when the Savior appeared, not in glory nor a fiery chariot, she received his vulnerability without hesitation

  • Adoration: “She never left the temple,but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.”
  • Sacred Satisfaction: “And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God” because her faith and hope had been affirmed.

psalm_light

There is soooooo much in this reading for each one of us. Find yourself somewhere within it today as you pray. Perhaps:

  • Am I expecting God in every moment of my life?
  • If I have received the gift of “old age”, how has the long wait blessed and/or challenged me to keep hold of God’s hand?
  • If I am still “young”, how do I invite God into my unfolding journey?
  • Am I asking God to continually reveal Divinity in my daily life?
  • Am I purifying my heart of self-interest so that I can better perceive God’s Presence?
  • Can I welcome God no matter how the Divine Presence clothes itself?
  • Do I stay with my prayer, creating a deep temple in my spirit?
  • Can I find contentment and peace with how God chooses to be with me – even in suffering?

(In a second post, I will share a powerful reflective poem by Leddy Hammock & Sue Kelly – Prayer of Imagination for Anna, the Prophetess. I hope you love this piece as much as do.)

Music: While I Wait – Lincoln Brewster

 

Witness for Christ

Feast of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr

December 26, 2019

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stephenJPG

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Stephen, the first martyr for the Christian Faith. Martyrdom is a somber distance from the comforting angels and kindly stars of Christmas. But I think there’s a reason our liturgy places its hard reality here.

 The story surrounding Stephen’s death reveals his beautiful soul. These are some of words describing Stephen:

  • filled with grace and power
  • working great wonders and signs
  • speaking with wisdom and spirit
  • filled with the Holy Spirit

Why would anyone want to kill such a man!

It is a question which resounds down the centuries following Stephen.

Why is innocence persecuted?
Why is faith opposed?
Why is goodness crushed?
Why is freedom strangled?
Why is love for neighbor so frightening?

Our reading from Acts exposes an “infuriated” crowd, burning with anger at Stephen. Why? How had he injured them?


 

lock web

 

The human heart can become so fixed in its securities, can’t it? Sometimes we build walled worlds where we are always right, first, best, strongest, and smartest. Smarter than anybody!

These oppressive little worlds are places where for me to be right, you must be wrong. For me to be first, you must be at least second, if not last. For me to be strong, you must be weak. If we live in such a crippling world, a challenge to listen and change is earth-shattering to our fearful, manufactured security.

 

 


Christ came to free us all from needing such worlds. Omnipotent Mercy chose to be born in utter vulnerability and poverty. Christmas was our first lesson on how to live in a world secured only by Grace. Stephen’s story, following so close upon Christmas, drives home the consequences of such a faith-filled life.

Rather than right, first, best, strongest and smartest, the invitation of Christ is to be open, humble, generous, courageous, wise. Stephen’s debaters didn’t like that invitation. His faithful conviction was so true that they could offer no argument against it to defend their walled-in lives. So they killed him.


broken doll

All over our planet, we see innocent life crushed by war, trafficking, economic subjugation, prejudice, divisiveness, irrational hatred, and soulless indifference. We see both small and large tyrannies enacted on the global political stage, in business, in the Church, in schools and in families.

The witness of Stephen, first martyr, inspires us to live a life so open to the Holy Spirit that we may stand up strong and, like him, “see the glory of God and Jesus” even through the shadows of a sinful world.

Music: I Will Stand As a Witness for Christ – Sally DeFord

Let the Vision Inspire!

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, both Jesus and Isaiah offer us comforting visions.

Is11_1 stump of JesseJPG

Jesus talks about the innocence of children and the childlike. He blesses their ability to see things that our “adult” preoccupations often block from us.

I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.


Reading this, we might be reminded of verses from Clement Clarke Moore’s beloved poem, The Night Before Christmas:

sugar plums

 

 

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…

 

 

 


Jesus and Isaiah invite us to allow their hope-filled visions to dance in our heads. They call us to be in a state of innocent anticipation for the glorious Kingdom to reveal itself in our lives.

Read and relish Isaiah’s powerful description of the Lord of this Kingdom!

The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A Spirit of counsel and of strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Open your hearts to receive the revelation Jesus wants to give us:

Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,

and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

Unlike Clement Moore’s sugar plums, these holy promises are not about tomorrow. Even though we re-enact our waiting in the season of Advent, Christ is already born in us through our Baptism. We already live in the Kingdom described by Jesus and Isaiah.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? Hard to see it for all the worldly upset blocking our sight, for all the Culture of Death around us?

That’s where the sacred vision comes in. Even in the midst of frenetic contradiction, we are called to find, proclaim and practice the redeeming reign of God!

Go deep with Jesus and Isaiah today. Find the inner well your Baptism has planted in your soul. Ask for the grace of boundless, childlike faith. Then joyfully live your life knowing the Kingdom is already within you!

Music: There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem – Sovereign Grace Music 

Don’t Sleepwalk Your Life!

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

November 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a series of readings from the Book of Daniel. It is the only time throughout the Liturgical Year that we get a good dose of Daniel. And it is well placed, coming in this final week before Advent.

Daniel is apocalyptic literature, a genre which conveys the author’s perception of the end times through dreams, visions and prophecies. Like many of our readings of the past weeks, Daniel focuses us on God’s Final Coming into time by interpreting current circumstances in a spiritual light.

Today’s Gospel does the same thing, but in a little different way. 

Jesus tells the story of the poor widow who gave everything she had for the sake of the poor. This widow, in a sense, already lives in the “end times”, a time when our only “possessions” will be the good we have done in our lives.

Both these readings set us up to reflect on our lives and times as we approach Advent. This sacred season is the annual reenactment of Christ’s First Coming in order to prepare us for:

  • Christ’s daily revelation in our lives
  • Christ’s Final Coming at the end of time

Mt24_awake

All of Daniel’s complex visions and prophecies can feel a little confusing, but we can focus on this:

  • God is continually revealing Godself in the ordinary circumstances of time.
  • We can open ourselves to this revelation by our humble prayer and good works.
  • Staying awake like this in our hearts and souls will allow us to pass seamlessly into God’s Presence when the end times come.

Music: Be Thou My Vision

Jesus Wept

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

November 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Book of Maccabees introduces us to Mattathias, revered leader of the Jews in the city of Modein. He violently refuses the Greek Seleucid command to worship their gods, thus initiating the Maccabean Revolt. The wars lasted nearly a decade. Final victory is commemorated in the Feast of Hanukkah:

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee’s (Mattathias’s son)victory over the Seleucids. According to tradition, victorious Maccabees could find only a small jug of oil that had remained pure and uncontaminated by virtue of a seal, and although it contained only enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days, by which time further oil could be procured. (Wikipedia)

Our first reading is really describing the beginning of civil and intercultural wars by which dedicated Jews sought to establish both their religion and their nation. Core to their motivation was the desire to freely be in relationship with their one God according to their own custom and law.

In our Gospel, Jesus has come as the full manifestation of that One God. He has invited the Jewish people to a new and complete relationship with God, but they have resisted.

Lk19_41 weptJPG

Now, as he nears his final fate in Jerusalem, Jesus realizes that his dream for the People will not be fully realized. They will experience a destruction like the one once feared by Mattathias. The reality causes Jesus to weep.

Are the passages only  about the Jews, their religion and their history? Yes, and no.

For us, they are about choosing a faithful, evolving relationship with God – a relationship that will demand truth, action and at times suffering as we pursue deeper and deeper understanding of God’s Presence in our lives.

Our world and its culture place many godless choices before us, choices that could make Jesus weep because of the suffering they cause others. These choices are not as easy to identify as they were in the time of Mattathias. They don’t come dressed as a pagan soldier ready to kill our resistance.

They come in the large subtleties of politics, economics, human rights, global relationships. These choices show themselves in the small exercise of our respect, care, and reverence for all Creation. But they do come to us in every moment and they demand our witness.

Jesus wants the new Kingdom to rise in us when we open our hearts to his Word. It is an ongoing and daily Resurrection. Let’s pray for to courage for it!

Music:  When Jesus Wept – William Billings

One of the most well-known of the early American canons, originally appeared in the New England Psalm Singer. It was written in 1770 by William Billings, a self-taught singing-school teacher and composer who served as choir leader at Old South Church in Boston.

(Lyrics below)

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
In Mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus groaned at rambling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.

Per a valued friend:

There is a statue in Oklahoma City called “Jesus Wept.”  It is on the grounds of St. Joseph Church in the city – which is right across from where the Oklahoma City Federal Building had been located.  The people of the parish wanted to erect the statue on their grounds because the memorial on the federal property couldn’t be religious.  It is a very moving statue.

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