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

 

Will You Anoint Him?

Monday, April 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we set out with Jesus on the path to Calvary, we might consider his companions who accompanied him.

John12_3 Mary

Closest to Christ’s heart on this journey is his Father. Today’s first reading gives us some insight into that profound divine sharing:

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

In other words, “Have courage, Son, I am with you.”

His disciples, women and men committed to the Gospel, also share the dramatic events of these days. Our Gospel today gives us Mary of Bethany, a leader and gatherer of the early Christian community. Her heart is broken at the now obvious prospect of Jesus’s death. In the name of their primal church, Mary offers Jesus the first sacrament of anointing.

In other words, “Have courage, Beloved Leader, we are with you.”

On this Monday morning of Holy Week, where are we in the community gathered around Jesus? How are we speaking to him, comforting him, loving him?

Jesus’s Passion is enfleshed in our time in the suffering of the poor, the refugee, the sick, the disenfranchised, those called “vermin” by the powerful. How am I with Jesus in his anguish today?

Music:  Two offerings today, one classical, one modern.

Timor et Tremor – from Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (Four Penitential Motets) by Francis Poulenc

 

Pour My Love on You –  Phillips, Craig & Dean

Song of Deliverance

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading tells us the captivating story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These young men were enslaved Hebrews in Babylon. Their Hebrew names – Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria – had been changed to the Babylonian forms we find in the story.

Dan_Abednego

When coerced by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship a false God, these three faithful men refused. They were thrown into a roaring furnace as capital punishment. But a fourth figure appeared in their midst and saved them from death.

The story assures us that God delivers those who are faithful.

In our Gospel, Jesus reiterates this assurance:

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

On a personal level, many of us can attest to God’s faithfulness which has delivered us from any number and forms of crises. But the core point of our readings today, so close to Passiontide, is to remind us of that quintessential deliverance given us on Calvary. We now live in an eternal, inextinguishable freedom of grace and love.

It is fitting that we share the jubilant prayer offered by the delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:
The Song of the Three Holy Youths – The Greek Orthodox Choir

The “Song of the Three Holy Youths” is part of the hymn called a canon sung during the Matins and other services in Orthodoxy. It can also be found in the Church of England Book of Common Prayer as the canticle called the Benedicite and is one of the traditional canticles that can follow the first scripture lesson in the Order of Morning Prayer. It is also an optional song for Matins in Lutheran liturgies, and either an abbreviated or full version of the Song is featured as the Old Testament Canticle in the Lauds liturgy for Sundays and Feasts in the Divine Office of the Catholic Church.

Also, can’t resist this classic, just for the beat!
Ford Leary Sings – From an old 1939 Vitaphone Jazz short “Larry Clinton & His Orchestra”

The True Heart

Monday, April 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings offer copious lessons as well as an enthralling drama from the Book of Daniel.

John8_12Light

We have heard the original story many times, and seen it repeated, down through the ages, in innumerable forms: a woman targeted by lecherous men, innocence betrayed by treachery, power exercised in destructive selfishness. When we see goodness vindicated in this story, we feel a certain victory for the ages! Am I right?

While the story’s surface addresses sexual assault and false condemnation, its heart is about power and truth. Susanna and Daniel embody these virtues. The two corrupt judges manifest their distortion.

In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims his identity as the Light of the World. He confronts the Pharisees because they “judge by appearances” rather than by truth. They use their power to oppress rather than to free.

Power and truth suffer terribly in today’s world. They are obscured by the same darknesses we see in the story of Susanna – conspiracy, secrecy, false accusation, dissimulation, malfeasance, and total disregard for human pain. Ultimately, it is always the innocent and poor who suffer most in such an atmosphere.

We pray today for Divine Light for every hidden darkness, for bravery like Daniel’s, for fidelity like Susanna’s, and for truthfulness to make us worthy of the Name of Christ.

Music: A mantra based on John 14 – The Spirit of Truth

Be Made New!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus writes new rules for life in the venerable Jerusalem dust.

Jn8_1_11JPG

Jesus enjoys an early morning walk from the Mount of Olives to the Temple. The weather, no doubt, was typically beautiful since others easily gathered and sat around Jesus to hear his teaching.

But the Pharisees, vigilant for an opportunity to condemn Jesus, executed a mean-hearted plot.

Dragging a woman “caught in the act of adultery” before the encircled men, they demanded Jesus’s judgment of the distraught woman.

Imagine the woman’s terror.  Her poverty and loneliness have already forced her into an ignoble commerce. Had she the chance, she surely would have chosen an easier life.

Now, her meager quarters have been broken into, her privacy invaded in the most intimate of circumstances.  Her adulterous accomplice has either turned her in, or absconded in cowardice. She is surrounded by brutal accusers, many of whom are likely her former customers.

But Jesus sees the woman, not her sin. He responds to her heart not her actions.  He also sees these evil, plotting men and responds to their veiled motivations.

Wouldn’t we love to know what Jesus scribbled in the Temple dirt as these blood-thirsty hypocrites hung over him?

Might it have been the names of those who also visited the woman on earlier nights?

Might it have been some of their hidden sins?

Challenged to cast the first stone if they were sinless, the plotters slowly slink away.  Jesus is left to forgive and heal this suffering woman.

Jesus tells her to go and sin no more, to -as the first reading says – “remember not the things of the past”. Jesus has made her into a new person by the power of his mercy.

May that renewing mercy touch us, and our world, where we sorely need it.

May it flow through our renewed hearts to everyone we encounter, no matter the circumstances.

Music:  Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd

The Lamb of God

Saturday, April 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our hearts begin to break for Jesus. He is the good, sweet Lamb being led to slaughter. And he knows it. He knows that the hard hearts he had so hoped to soften are recalcitrant. He knows that the souls he has longed to open to Love have turned to hate. He knows that the energy he had wished to turn to generous service has instead turned inward, fearful and self- protective.

How his heart must have ached in these days before Calvary! Jeremiah gives us an insight in to the pain in today’s first reading. 

Jeremiah’s experience is a foreshadowing of Christ’s. As we pray with the passage, we might allow ourselves simply to share that pain as we look at our own grace-resistant world.

Jer.11_19 plot

Where do we find the opportunity to comfort Jesus today?

On a global basis, we see the persecution of innocence and vulnerability in our own world. We see corrupted laws used as an excuse to extinguish the human spirit. We see people coerced into the maze of power and political domination. We see the poor slaughtered on the altar of indifferent greed.

In our closer daily experience, we see people lost, isolated, infirm, bereaved, lonely and broken, even in small places. We may be tempted to leave their suffering for another caring touch. But we can do much to comfort by our listening, presence and honesty.

When we see these things, we see the Passion of Christ in our time. Let us listen to His suffering. Let us not pretend we care if we don’t act to comfort Him.

Music: Handel’s Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God

 

 

 

 

When the Hour Comes…

Friday, April 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, John let’s us know how difficult things were for Jesus. Even very early in John’s Gospel, doubt, criticism, jealousy, and hatred swirl around Jesus. He realizes that people are trying to kill Him. All this because he does good and preaches love! How can that be?

Jn7_30 hourJPG

Jesus upset the apple cart, and many people didn’t like that. They preferred control over love, familiarity over faith. There were others who wanted a more violent shake-up, a political overthrow rather than a spiritual transformation. Basically, people wanted to remake Jesus’s message in their own design. And we’ve been doing the same thing ever since.

Eventually these opposing forces meet in the contradiction of the Cross – that place where Love seems to lose, and Life seems to die. But when Jesus’s hour comes – that timeless moment when Eternal Love and Life break open in the Resurrection – our faith in Christ will be confirmed.

We pray today for all those experiencing great trauma or testing in their lives. May their faith sustain, restore and surprise them.

We pray for ourselves that, like Jesus, when our “hour comes” we are ready because we have already deepened and steadied our hearts in prayer and fidelity.

Music: I Need Thee Every Hour – Annie Hawks (May 28, 1836 – January 3, 1918), an American poet and Gospel hymnist who wrote a number of hymns with her pastor, Robert Lowry.

In 1872, the hymn by which Hawks is most widely known, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, was written. It is said to have been translated into more foreign languages than any other modern hymn at the time of her death. Hawks stated:— “For myself, the hymn was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experiences, for it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, instead of under the stress of personal sorrow.”