That Little White Book

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

March 20, 2020

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Wednesday-20-March-1963-tf79df128030699e87a485b4eb093700302fe62c25f3a5cfc651f117a49786663k-lq

Today, in Mercy, I’m going to tell you a story. But first …

In our first reading, the passionate prophet Hosea offers us this quintessential Lenten advice:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD

In our Gospel, Jesus is giving advice too. A sincere scribe seeks out Jesus’ wisdom:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the greatest of all the commandments?”

Jesus instructs the scribe:

The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

Then Jesus goes on to tell him the second greatest commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Assessing the scribe’s sincerity, Jesus promises him:

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”


Praying with these passages on this particular date took me back to March 20, 1963, Wednesday of the 3rd week of Lent that year. I was almost 18 years old and, while not wise as a scribe, I too sought answers to guide my faith.

One place I found that  wisdom was at the desk of a wonderful Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Giovanni. Like many high school girls back then, I hung around Sister’s homeroom after school. Her good humor, gentle interest, and kind encouragement nourished all of us still slightly silly but ever-so-earnest young women.

On that particular afternoon, an unusual white book sat on Sister’s desk. Its gold letters attracted me and I asked what it was. Sister said it was her community’s centenary book and that, if I wanted, I could borrow it to read.

That little book changed my life. Well, I guess what it actually did was to capture many loose threads running through my mind and heart, and to tie them into a conviction.

I had been toying with a religious vocation ever since third grade. I did love God with my whole heart, just like the young scribe in today’s Gospel. And I loved the nuns and I always wanted to be like them. But actually becoming like them was another story. 

That little white book gave me the courage and will to make that commitment. Here’s what it said:

The Sisters of Mercy,
in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,
take a fourth vow of service of the poor, sick, and ignorant.

That was it! That short sentence opened my understanding to see that loving God had to be demonstrated in love of neighbor. The two great commandments are always interdependent.

So I decided to “take my words”, as Hosea encourages, and to ask God if He would have me as a Sister of Mercy.
follow

Less than a week after reading that book, I signed up to become a Sister of Mercy. And I have continued to become one every day for almost 60 years. Because just as Jesus said to the scribe, I believe I am “not far from the Kingdom of Heaven”. But I’m not there yet. Everyday is a chance to grow deeper into the glorious gift that was opened to me back in March 1963.

novices'_dining_room

As you pray with these passages today, take a long view of God’s continuing call in your life. You may have been called to marriage and parenthood, priesthood, a generous single life, a profession which allowed you to serve others. 

In each individual call, we are invited to love God with all our hearts and to love others as God loves them. Let’s pray for one another’s continuing deepening in our particular call.

Music: The Call – written by Vaughn Williams from the poetry of George Herbert
(Lyrics below)

 

the call

A Legacy of Faith

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

March 18, 2020

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faith

Today, in Mercy, on this day between the feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph, it seems a very good day to thank God for our heritage of faith. Our readings today remind us how precious that heritage is.

Moses, after reiterating the history of God’s goodness to Israel, enjoins the People:

Take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

Jesus, too, acknowledges the importance of his religious heritage:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.

This day between St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s always takes me back to my grade school days – a time when my “faith family” gifted me with the seeds that now sustain my life.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
Beautiful St. Michael’s Church, 2nd and Jefferson, Philadelphia – built in 1846, now much as it look in the mid-1950s

I can still see our straight-from-Ireland pastor, old as the hills, standing in the pulpit to bless us with water from the Shrine at Knock. We school kids had waited all year for a chance to belt out the hymn “Great and Glorious Saint Patrick” to the accompaniment of a thundering organ. We held our breath at the final blessing, anxiously awaiting the word to go home. It was inevitably a school holiday but we were always innocently surprised to receive it!

Organ_and_Choir_Loft
St. Michael’s magnificent organ

Then, we gathered for 8 o’clock Mass again on the 19th to celebrate St. Joseph, patron of our beloved Sisters who taught us. If we had the means to give them feastday gifts, we were asked to give canned goods. That request never struck me as a kid, but as I grew up, I realized how dependent these Sisters were on those donations – how close to poverty they lived for the sake of transmitting the faith to us.

So I count these days of mid-March as Foundation of Faith Days. Perhaps today’s reading might incline you to think about your own faith story and who planted the early seeds in your heart. Let’s give these beloveds our grateful prayers of remembrance.

Music:  Faith of Our Fathers – another oldie that we loved to sing voce piena 

Beyond Measure

Friday of the First Week of Lent

March 6, 2020

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ps130 iniquities

Today, in Mercy, our readings could confuse us with their threads of legalistic logic. We see several examples of “if-then” admonitions that can make us picture God as an accountant measuring every choice we make.

  • If the wicked man turns, … then he shall surely live
  • If the virtuous man turns, … then none of his good deeds shall be remembered.
  • If you, O Lord, Mark iniquities … then who can stand.
  • If you go to the altar unreconciled … then leave and be reconciled.

measure

Sometimes, we can get obsessive about the “if-then” aspects of religion. And IF we do, THEN we probably miss the whole point. Because folded in today’s “if-then” seesaws is the truth of these passages: that the Lord does NOT sit miserly in Heaven to mark our iniquities.

The Lord measures the righteousness of love.


“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.—Jeremiah 9:23-24


Today’s Responsorial Psalm offers us a beautiful prayer for this morning as we pray in the embrace of God’s Lavish Mercy:

I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the LORD
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
Let Israel wait for the LORD.
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.

Let’s wait for the Lord today to see where God’s Grace invites us to the righteousness of Love.

Music: Everlasting Love – Mark Hendrickson & Family (Lyrics below)

Chorus
With an everlasting love
I love you I love you
With an everlasting love
a love that’ll never end
a love that’ll never end
I love you.

Till the stars lose their way
In the heavens up above
And the oceans all run dry
Till the clouds in the sky
Keep the rain all to themselves
Even longer I’ll love you
This I promise I’ll love you
My word I give it’s true
I love you

Till the morning sun ceases to arise
And the moon forgets to shine
Until heaven’s blue is erased from the sky
Even longer I’ll love you
This I promise I’ll love you
My word I give it’s true
I love you

A Second Chance

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

March 4, 2020

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Jonah3_1another chance

Today, in Mercy, one line from our readings hit me like a lightening bolt:

The word of the LORD
came to Jonah
a second time.

Yes, it’s the truth! God will keep coming back again and again to encourage us to hear his true message for our lives.


Our Gospel gives us a hint about how resistant we sometimes are to this deep listening:

This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.


 

What is the sign of Jonah anyway?

res and life


To put it simply, it is the witness of the Resurrection – that overarching event that changed everything for believers. For just as Jonah was able to return from certain death in the whale’s belly, so Christ conquered death and rose to new life, promising us the same power.

This is the central, life-changing belief for Christians. It should make a difference in how we live.


By our Lenten repentance, we can be like Jonah, grasping the second chance God always gives us to respond to our life circumstances with faith, hope, and love.

I would bet there is something in your life right now that is calling you to such a response. Someplace in your life, you may be caught in a bit of a “whale’s belly 🐳” about some issue, am I right?

God makes us ask ourselves questions most often when He intends to resolve them. He gives us needs that He alone can satisfy, and awakens capacities that He means to fulfill. Any perplexity is liable to be a spiritual gestation, leading to a new birth and a mystical regeneration.” ― Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

Today’s readings remind us that we already have the glorious sign of the Resurrection to inspire us to leap from that dark “belly” into God’s hope for us!

Music:  a fun song “In the Belly of  Whale” – The Newsboys

The Word Will Not Be Void

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

March 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as I pray with today’s readings, I ask myself two questions:

      • “What has God’s Word accomplished in me?”
      • “What does God’s Word yet want to accomplish in me?”

If you’re like me, you’re always thinking about what you haven’t done, still must do, wish you had done. 

STOP

Let’s STOP and praise our gracious God for the good accomplished through our lives. I know every one of you reading this blog is an amazingly good person. God has already done beautiful things through you. Thank God. Give God the glory.

Lyrics:

How can I say thanks
For the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved,
Yet You gave to prove Your love for me;
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude.
All that I am and ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory,
To God be the glory,
To God be the glory
For the things He has done.

With His blood He has saved me,
With His power He has raised me;
To God be the glory
For the things He has done.

Just let me live my life,
Let it pleasing, Lord to Thee,
And if I gain any praise,
Let it go to Calvary.


And then ask to go on, to open up your heart, to see God’s next desire for your precious life.

waterfal

For my young readers, give your dynamism to God’s imagination for you. There are great and holy things around every corner! Trust! Ride the grace-filled wave! Do not be afraid! Be a waterfall for God’s Word.

 


wellJPGFor some of us, as we get older, we do not have the physical energy to DO all that we once did. But oh, my dears, we can now BE more wonderful for God because of the long accumulation of his generous grace. Be a Well for God’s Word! Sink into grace! Do not be afraid!

 


For thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.


How amazing that promise is! Trust it! Let the Word transform you every day of your life.

Let’s consciously pray for one another today as today’s Gospel encourages us:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Music:  So Will I – Hillsong

Leap … and Be Held

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

February 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah continues his advice begun in yesterday’s reading. When he finishes the list of things we should and should not do, Isaiah tells us how God will respond:

Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
God will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up ~

Oh, who can resist these glorious Isaiahan lines. It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? To imagine it offers us great encouragement as we lumber through Lent and out of the doldrums of February.

deer

How fitting that this should be our reading on “Leap Day”, a 24-hour period that many of us consider an extra gift.


Here’s a thought I wrote several years ago that I hope you will find beneficial:

Mitch Albom, the author who wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie”, wrote another book entitled “Just One More Day”.

It is an appropriate title to think about in this week in Leap Year when we will actually have “just one more day” than normal.

How often have we wished that phrase, perhaps near the end of a great vacation, or before an important project is due? Or maybe as Mitch Albom uses it: to have just one more day with someone who has passed from our lives.

With God, we always have one more day. God is Infinite Possibility and Eternal Generosity. Saturday – February 29 – is a good day to stretch our faith and ask what God would have us do with “just one more day” to witness to Divine Abundance in our lives.

Leap2020

Will it be one more day to love, to work, to be thankful, to be competitive, to take advantage or to give it?  The way we use that “one more day” will tell us a lot about how we are using all our days. Maybe we could consider a question that one of our older Sisters is famous for: “Wouldn’t it be sad to come to the last day of our lives – (no more days) —  and realize that we had missed the whole point?”


May all your “leaps” take you to blessed places, dear Friends.
Let go. Take the leap into God’s way, as Isaiah counsels. And just be held.

Music: Just Be Held – Casting Crown 

Creeping Up to Lent?

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

February 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we are creeping up to Lent’s doorstep.

Doorstep

Are you beginning to consider your Lenten rituals? Our readings today might help orient us.

They leave this question hanging in the air: Who do I really want to be in my life?

Mk9_34 first last

James says that if we are someone who loves the world, we will find ourselves at enmity with God. James defines “the world” as a place in discord, conflicted by covetousness, envy, frustration, and death-dealing.

James is directly addressing damaging squabbles within the Church itself. Infighting has caused fractures within his believing community. Failures in mutual charity and sincere prayer have generated “wars” among the members.

Why would anybody choose to contribute to such a negative environment? 

James pins it on one thing: jealousy. We are jealous to be, have, control, and possess more than others. We are tempted by power, riches and esteem. We want our opinions to be honored, our needs to be met above and before others.


The reality exists today as well, as we know too well.

  • We see it in the Church from factions who want to bend the Gospel to their own agenda.
  • We see it within and between nations who raise the advantage of some over the welfare of others.
  • We see it in families, businesses, and social circles where individuals volley for position, influence, or control over others.

These conflicts pour out in criticism, judgements, biases, shunning, and all kinds of failures in compassion, respect, and honesty. They blind us to our common creaturehood in God, and to its demand for an equity of love, mercy, and justice.

Otherwise, 

  • How could we ever kill or enslave one another, either by aggression or neglect?
  • How could we separate parents from their children and put babies in cages?
  • How could we participate in a global economic tyranny that leaves some without land, homes, health care, or hope?
  • How could we use other human beings – or their vital resources – only for our own pleasure, power or enrichment?

Most of us do not outrightly choose these sinful behaviors. But we must ask ourselves to what degree we are complicit in them by our failures in just judgement, advocacy, political responsibility, globally sustainable choices, — just plain care and reverence for all human beings, all Creation.


The approach of Lent is a great time to revisit the question James hangs in the air for us:

  • Who do I really want to be in my life? 
  • Do I need to make changes to do that? 
  • How can I prepare for a Lent that helps me make those Grace-filled changes?

We are grown-ups now, and our Lenten repentances demand more than those we learned in grade school. Fasting from candy won’t cut it anymore. 

  • How about we fast from cable news that feeds our biases?
  • Or actually do something for our parish besides critique the Sunday sermon?
  • Maybe give up some of our polluting behaviors requiring plastic and other non-recyclables?
  • How about including a outsider in something where they are otherwise ignored?
  • Or providing for someone’s need who would hesitate to ask for your attention?

I think James would approve of choices like that because he says:

God bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
So submit yourselves to God.

Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Music: When It’s All Been Said and Done – Robin Mark

Who Are You?

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle
February 22, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our reading is about God naming us.

Rembrandt_The_Apostle_Peter
The Apostle Peter – Rembrandt

We celebrate wonderful Saint Peter – so fully human, so fully holy, so fully in love with God! Today, as we pray with Peter’s naming, may we deepen in understanding our own naming by God.


I wrote about Peter like this on another of his feasts:

When Jesus asks Peter what he believes, Peter says,
“YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.”
An ordinary man responding with a clear and extraordinary faith.

Caesarea

 

One June morning, about forty years ago, I sat in a sun-filled field in the Golan Heights of Israel at a spot called Caesarea Philippi. Thirty other pilgrims composed the group as we heard today’s Gospel being read. Listening, I watched the rising sun grow brilliant on the majestic rock face in the near distance.

I thought how Peter might have watched his day’s sun playing against the same powerful cliffs as Jesus spoke his name:

Jesus said to him,
You are Peter (which means “Rock”),

and upon this Rock
I will build my Church.


dome
A few years later, I stood at the center of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Looking up, I saw these words emblazoned around the awesome rotunda dome:

 

 


Tu es Petrus,
et super hanc petram
aedificabo ecclesiam.


On that lazy afternoon two-thousand years ago, Peter could never have imagined what God already saw for him. Yet, Peter responded – with his whole life. This is what makes a Saint.


Jesus calls us to be saints too. He lovingly speaks our name into a sacred future we cannot even imagine. But if, like Peter, we trust and believe, God does the rest.

Below the music is a powerful poem by John Poch. It captures the transformation of Peter’s humanness into God’s hope for him.



There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand.
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the heart of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid
 –Prov. 30:18, 19

I
Contagious as a yawn, denial poured
over me like a soft fall fog, a girl
on a carnation strewn parade float, waving
at everyone and no one, boring and bored.
There actually was a robed commotion parading.
I turned and turned away and turned. A swirl
of wind pulled back my hood, a fire of coal
brightened my face, and those around me whispered:
You’re one of them, aren’t you? You smell like fish.
And wine, someone else joked. That’s brutal. That’s cold,
I said, and then they knew me by my speech.
They let me stay and we told jokes like fisher-
men and houseboys. We gossiped till the cock crowed,
his head a small volcano raised to mock stone.

II
Who could believe a woman’s word, perfumed
in death? I did. I ran and was outrun
before I reached the empty tomb. I stepped
inside an empty shining shell of a room,
sans pearl. I walked back home alone and wept
again. At dinner. His face shone like the sun.
I went out into the night. I was a sailor
and my father’s nets were calling. It was high tide,
I brought the others. Nothing, the emptiness
of business, the hypnotic waves of failure.
But a voice from shore, a familiar fire, and the nets
were full. I wouldn’t be outswum, denied
this time. The coal-fire before me, the netted fish
behind. I’m carried where I will not wish.

What Profit?

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 21, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, James actually made me chuckle out loud! In today’s celebrated passage about faith and works, James – ever direct and uncompromising – really takes it home. Get this verse:

Do you want proof, you ignoramus,
that faith without works is useless?

OK, James! Tell us what you really think!😂

Well, here’s what he really thinks:

For just as a body without a spirit is dead,
so also faith without works is dead.


 

whole world

In our Gospel, Jesus says that living a life of good works is hard. He did it through the Cross and says we must follow his example:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.

The Gospel Jesus is talking about, and the “works” James refers to,  are summarized like this:



Corporal Works of Mercy

feed the hungry.
give water to the thirsty.
clothe the naked.
shelter the homeless.
visit the sick.
visit the imprisoned, ransom the captive.
bury the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy

instruct the ignorant.
counsel the doubtful.
admonish the sinners.
bear patiently those who wrong us.
forgive offenses.
comfort the afflicted.
pray for the living and the dead.


If we live by these, we will find the Cross – but we will also find the Crown.

Music: Lose My Soul – TobyMac, a multi-award winning Christian hip-hop singer. The music is a departure for me, but I thought the song was really good (maybe of use to some of my readers who are teachers.) I hope you agree.

Eulogy

Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 7, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Sirach gives us a beautiful eulogy for King David.

A eulogy sets a particular frame of remembrance around a person’s life. Like Sirach today, that frame tries to capture the positive accomplishments of the person who has died. We set aside any mistakes and negativity. Or we acknowledge them as Sirach has done for David by invoking God’s forgiveness:

The LORD forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever.


To tell the truth, I’ve attended a few funerals where I wondered what the speaker might come up with in a positive regard. You know, you need more than a sentence or two for a decent eulogy! Despite my wondering, every tribute has provided an enriching lesson on the sacred beauty of a human life.

Sir47_1 eulogy

There are times when I leave such a life celebration thinking, “Gosh, I never realized that about him!” or “Wow, there are so many things we don’t understand about someone’s life!” 

If only we could treat every living person with the same honor their eulogies inspire!


In our Gospel, we read the sad and violent story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. It’s a passage filled with the best and the worst of the human heart. One would wonder what kind of eulogy could have eventually been crafted for the likes of Herod, Herodias, and Salome.

But for John the Baptist, Jesus had given him the perfect epitaph even before John died.

I say to you, among those born of women
there is no one greater than John;

In the verse, Jesus also reveals what it takes to earn greatest accolade in God’s eyes:

… yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God
is greater than John.

Luke 7:28


When Jesus spoke that verse, John had not yet died. If Jesus said anything about John after his death, the words are not recorded. All we have is this poignant response from Matthew:

Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it.
Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.
As soon as Jesus heard the news,
he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.
But the crowds heard where he was headed
and followed on foot from many towns.
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat,
and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14: 12-14


As we pray today with the legacies of David and the Baptist, we might consider what we’d want to see engraved on our own tombstones. I’ve told my friends I’d like to see this:

She was kind.

Still working on it!😉

What about you?

Music: Lay Me Down – in this song, two icons of country music, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson sing their own kind of eulogy. (Lyrics below)

Lay Me Down
I raised my head and set myself
In the eye of the storm, in the belly of a whale
My spirit stood on solid ground
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When I was a child, I cried
Until my needs were satisfied
My needs have grown up, pound for pound
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When they lay me down someday
My soul will rise, then fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
This life isn’t fair, it seems
It’s filled with tears and broken dreams
There are no tears where I am bound
And I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When they lay me down some day
My soul will rise, then fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay down
When they lay me down some day
My soul will rise and fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When I was a child, I cried