Joys and Sorrows Mingled

Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a few weeks of readings from the minor prophets – Zechariah being today’s writer.  We also continue with Luke’s Gospel which will take us through to the season of Advent.

The combination of readings today brought to my mind a treasured and bittersweet quote from our beloved founder:

catherine_joys

Zechariah writes for a community with a foot in both worlds – joys and sorrows. They are freed from captivity but burdened with its harsh memory. They have committed in hope to the rebuilding of the temple, but they are filled with doubts about their ability to deliver. They have a plan for their restoration, but realize that God’s plan is beyond their imagination. They see a protected, walled-in future. God sees a “Jerusalem” without walls, circled only by the fire of God’s love.

Zechariah tells them to let go and fall into God’s Imagination, no matter how scary that might be for them:

People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.

In our Gospel, Jesus has begun to gently hint that the disciples’ future may not be as they would like to imagine. At this point in the Gospel story, joys are running pretty high- lots of miracles, crowds growing, the awesomeness of the Transfiguration still lighting up their dreams.

But Jesus drops a little reality, a little sorrow into the mix:

Pay attention to what I am telling you.
The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.

The disciples don’t fully comprehend the warning. It is too much for them to take. We understand, don’t we? Is there anything harder to swallow than sorrow, loss, the crash of a bright dream?

Remembering Zechariah ‘s words may strengthen us when the mix of sorrow seems too much for us:

But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst. …
Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.

Music: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet – Ultimate Tracks

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

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

Remembering Our Way Home…

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the world will remember the abomination of the 9/11 attacks when nearly 3000 innocent lives were sacrificed to hatred, vengeance, and cowardice.

Some will remember in anger; some in forgiveness. Some will remember in grief; some in triumph. Some will remember with a will to seek peace; some with a drive to wreak endless retribution. Some with unquenchable sorrow; some with a false and self-destructive pride.

Some, too jaded by the years of savagery since then, will remember the day with despair.

Some, too young to remember at all, will simply try to grow up in the fragmented world it has left them.

Tragically, some throughout the world are so devastated by their own sufferings that there is no energy to remember. Some have endured war and oppression for so long that there is no peace to remember.

We in the human family were not created to live like this. 

Col3_4 christ appears

Paul tells us that we …

… were raised with Christ, so seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Jesus tells us that when that glory comes, it will be these who appear with him..

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.

On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and on every day of our lives, we have a choice of how we will see the world, of how we will love or hate, embrace or exclude our sisters and brothers. Every day, we have choices to make about how we will allow, ignore, or stand against hate, division, oppression and indifference to human suffering.

We may think our power is small to change the world. But it is the only power we have or need. With those graced and intentional choices we…

… have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its Creator.

Today, as we remember, let us also be excruciatingly aware of those who continue to suffer … at the world’s hard borders, in the Bahamas, Syria, Yemen, Rakhine, and in every place where abusive domination and greedy indifference crushes innocent life.

Music: When We Go Home, We Go Together- Pure Heart Ensemble 

Journey through Exodus

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

July 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a three-week journey through the Book of Exodus. The word “journey” is used purposefully because the Book not only narrates a journey in history, it invites us to move with it into a deeper spiritual freedom within ourselves.

It also impresses me that these weeks of reading come to us during a time when the world witnesses oppressed peoples exiting their ravished homelands in search of a sustainable life. Our prayerful reading of these Exodus passages may bring us deeper understanding, compassion, and advocacy courage for these struggling sisters and brothers.

In today’s introduction to Exodus, the narrator provides a transition from the closing of Genesis to the new situation in Egypt. Many years have passed. Favored Joseph is long dead. A “new king”, never named perhaps from contempt of his evilness, “knows nothing” of Joseph. If we don’t care enough to “know” another, we can never care enough to respect and foster their life.

Ex1_10_oppress

This Pharaoh’s sole preoccupation is to preserve Egyptian dominance . He was a man driven by irrational fears. To allay those fears, he was willing to suppress the life of a people who had lived peacefully in Egypt for hundreds of years. 

The Pharaoh begins by objectifying the Israelites as potential enemies and terrorists.

He orders their containment and oppression, moving them to encampments. Ironically, these encampment cities had originally been built, at Joseph’s direction, to contain surplus grain before the famine so that Egypt would not starve!

Still, the Israelites thrive and grow. They are the children of God’s Promise. This growth further threatens Pharaoh, spinning him into more desperate and ineffective attempts to retain domination. His systemic oppression doesn’t work. His fears – and his projection of them on to the Egyptian populace – consume both him and his people.


As the oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized. … Once a situation of violence and oppression has been established, it engenders an entire way of life and behavior for those caught up in it—oppressor and oppressed alike. Both are submerged in the situation, and both bear the marks of oppression.
PAULO FREIRE, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, pp. 43-44)


Today’s readings offer us so much to consider in terms of a culture of domination versus one of right relationship. These balances and imbalances occur in exchanges as small as a word between two people, or as large as a policy between two nations. The parallels to our current world are painfully obvious. There may be parallels in our personal relationships as well that we might place into the power of prayer.

May we have eyes to see, a heart to care, and the courage to act – both personally and globally.

Music:  Hymn to Our Alien God – Maryknoll Father’s and Brothers

(Background music is the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” by William Whiting

A Women’s Feast?

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

May 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, when a newly-pregnant Mary travels to be with her shockingly pregnant older cousin, Elizabeth. Although a universal feast, it is certainly a feast for women to treasure.

Visitation
The Carmignano Visitation, a unique masterpiece by one of sixteenth-century Italy’s greatest painters, Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1557)

The Gospel is replete with the quiet but powerful understandings women share with one another:

  • the haste to support one another
  • the blessing and bolstering of each other’s faith
  • the shared joy to cause a baby’s leap in the womb
  • the desire for mercy and justice for the suffering
  • the “staying with” until need’s end

Of course, men too experience many of these holy sensibilities, but today most certainly invites women to celebrate the gifts of God within their bodies, minds and spirits.

Perhaps we might pray on these things while watching this movie clip of the imagined scene:


Music: Two selections for this wonderful Feastday:

Ave Maria (Schubert) sung in German, as Schubert wrote it, by the incomparable Marian Anderson


Magnificat (Bach) Imagine composing this powerful first movement based on only a single word: “Magnificat”

Finding Peace

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel offers us a profound message: what does it mean to live in the peace of God?

jn14_28 peace

So many things, from the monumental to the trivial, can make us unpeaceful. If we made a list, we might tire before we completed it! This lack of peace takes many forms in us – worry, anxiety, second guessing, distraction, self-doubt and myriad other forms of inner fragmentation.

For some of us, gaining inner peace is more difficult than for others. So much depends on the trust we have felt in our lives. For those who have felt betrayed by family, friends, or God, the journey to a peaceful heart can be a tortuous one.

But Jesus says we can do it because he showed us how.

Don’t you think he might have been confused and bewildered at times by what the Father was asking of him? Don’t you think he was disillusioned at times by the wavering faith of his disciples? Don’t you think he was frightened by the kind of death he faced?

So just how did Jesus grow to such a fullness of peace that he was able to bequeath it to us as our inheritance?

He said:

Not as the world gives peace do I give it to you.

The world gives peace by removing or dominating challenges. God gives peace by accompanying us through challenges.

Jesus came to the point, in his very human life, where he chose not to let his heart be troubled because he had found this accompaniment.

The willingness of Jesus to live, suffer, and die according to the Father’s Will gives us the pattern on which to build our peace.

Throughout the ages, many saints have found and lived this peace according to their own call from God. One of the many who inspire me is Julian of Norwich.  Julian was an English anchorite of the Middle Ages.  She wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language to be written by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love.

Julian was worried about the presence of sin in the world. It seems she wondered, like many of us might, why God didn’t just fix that!


“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”


This also is a lovely quote from Julian to pray with:

“From the time these things were first revealed I had often wanted to know what was our Lord’s meaning. It was more than fifteen years after that I was answered in my spirit’s understanding. ‘You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else — ever.”

Music: Meg Barnhouse’s modern interpretation of Julian’s writing, which Meg has obviously studied.

 

Bright with Love

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

May 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the inevitable shadow falls over the early Christian community. Stephen is martyred – the first, the proto-martyr of many, down through the centuries, who will die for their faith.

Acts8_2 Stephen

This slaughter of innocence happened at the feet, and at the approbation, of Saul – yet untouched by the glorious grace of Christ.

How the community must have mourned beloved Stephen who, as our hymn describes him, was “bright with Love”:

  • Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5)
  • Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8)
  • All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
  • Stephen, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God  (Acts 7:8)
  • Stephen, as they were stoning him, called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. ( Acts 7:55)
  • What a treasure of a man! What a devastation to see his young, gracious life crushed by rejection, suffering and pain!

It is so hard to lose our prophets and saints!

I still remember, with great awe, the funeral of our Sister Mary Joanna Regan – one of the graced treasures of the Sisters of Mercy. Our Beloved Community was raw with her loss – as was the larger community of her love and influence.

Joanna’s dear friend, Father John Comey, SJ – now also of beloved memory – preached the sermon at her funeral liturgy. This was his first sentence:

How can such a woman die?

Dear Readers, haven’t we all felt that way in the face of some great loss? Whenever human frailty seems to bend to the powers of death, hatred, or oppression, our souls are crushed. We are astounded that life and goodness seem to yield. So was the early Christian Church when Stephen seemed to fall to hateful hands.

Nevertheless, they believed that there is an eternal life in God beyond that apparent yielding.  They persisted in the ardent work of building up the reign of Christ.

Now those who had been scattered
continued preaching the word. … and
there was great joy in that city.

And the witness of Stephen impelled not only them, but twenty centuries of committed Christians who find their fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

Certainly our Church, with its many recent fractures and falls, needs a resilient, faithful community to lift it up and carry it forward. Let’s pray to St. Stephen today that we may be that community!

(English and Latin canticle today, plus lovely poem after them)

Music:  Sancte Dei, Pretiose  – sung by the Benedictine Monks of St. Michael’s de Laudes

Latin Version
Sancte Dei, pretiose,
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute caritatis
Circumfulsus undique,
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo
Et coronae qua nitescis
Almus sacri nominis,
Nos, qui tibi famulamur,
Fac consortes fieri :
Et expertes dirae mortis
In die Judicii.
Gloria et honor Deo
Qui te flora roseo
Coronavit et locavit
In throno sidereo :
Salvet reos, solvens eos
A mortis aculeo. Amen.

English Version
Saint of God, elect and precious,
Protomartyr Stephen, bright
With thy love of amplest measure,
Shining round thee like a light;
Who to God commendest, dying,
Them that did thee all despite.
Glitters now the crown above thee,
Figured in thy honored name:
O that we, who truly love thee.
May have portion in the same;
In the dreadful day of judgment
Fearing neither sin nor shame.
Laud to God, and might, and honor,
Who with flowers of rosy dye
Crowned thy forehead, and hath placed thee
In the starry throne on high:
He direct us, He protect us,
From death’s sting eternally.


Poem: St. Stephen by Malcolm Guite

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,
Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.
They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,
And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.
When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter
He had to pass through that Damascus gate
Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter
As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,
And showed him the same light you saw from heaven
And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;
Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’
But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
Each martyr after you adds to his story,
As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory

Holy Saturday

 Alternative Reading for Today: Walter Brueggemann

Holy Saturday

Today, in Mercy, we join Mary and the disciples as they deal with Christ’s death. No doubt, the range of emotions among them was as great as it would be among any group or family losing someone they dearly loved.

They had entered, with heart-wrenching drama, into a period of bereavement over the loss of Jesus. Doubt, hope, loss, fear, sadness and remembered joy vied for each of their hearts. They comforted one another and tried to understand each other’s handling of their terrible shared bereavement.

They did just what we all do as families, friends and communities when our beloved dies.

But ultimately, our particular bereavement belongs to us alone, woven from the many experiences we have had with the person who has died. These are personal and indescribable, as is the character of our pain and loss.

Do not be afraid of your bereavement.  It is a gift of love.

Holy Saturday, like bereavement, is a time of infrangible silence. No matter how many “whys” we throw heavenward, no answer comes. It is a time to test what Love has meant to us and, even as it seems to leave us, how it will live in us.

As we pray today with the bereaved Mother and disciples, let us fold all our bereavements into their love.  We already know the joyful end to the story, so let us pray today with honesty but also with unconquerable hope that we will live and love again.

Separately, I will send two poems today that I hope may help with your prayer.

Music:  Farewell – Michael Hoppé