Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Wow! Job is as distraught as anybody I’ve ever seen! He is sorry he was ever born, that’s how terrible his circumstances are.
Hopefully, none of us has ever been at such a “Job Point”. But we’ve had our own small brinks where we’ve stood and yelled into the silence, “Why?”
Why my family?
Why someone so good?
Why like this?
All these “whys” are fragments of the essential question of the Book of Job: How can a good God allow evil to exist? The question even has its own name: theodicy – defined as the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.
Philosophers and theologians have proposed an array of explanations. But these fall short of satisfying us when we are the ones at the brink.
When we try to balance the concepts of evil with God’s goodness, we are wrestling with a mystery, not a problem. Problems, like unsolved math equations, have answers – even though we may not have found them yet.
Mysteries do not have finite answers. Sacred mysteries engage our faith to grow deeper in relationship with God, Who shares our life and suffering beyond our human understanding.
As we pray with Job today, let us pray for the courage to trust and engage our incomprehensible God.
Poetry: Mystery – Rumi
God writes mysteries on our hearts where they wait silently for discovery.
Alleluia, alleluia. My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we jump into several weeks of readings from:
Paul’s letters – a little of Thessalonians and a lot of Corinthians
a little of Matthew’s Gospel and a lot of Luke’s
Still centering on our daily Alleluia Verse, as we have been since after Eastertide, we open our prayer to the experience of these early communities as they deepened in their Christian story.
Thessalonika was one of the first cities where Paul worked to form a Christian community. That church suffered persecution but showed “endurance and faith”. Paul obviously has great affection for these steadfast believers, an affection which reflects God’s own love for them.
We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Matthew’s Gospel shows us Jesus in an opposite situation from Paul. Jesus is speaking out to a faithless group – Pharisees and scribes who pervert religion with meaningless superficialities which make it harder for people to reach God.
Rather than gratitude and blessing, Jesus preaches woe to those who so subvert the faith journey of their community.
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?
One would think it should be easy to tell the difference between true faith and manipulative “religion“. But apparently, it’s not so easy. In every age, including our own, we see people caught up in the distortions of religion which disrespect human rights and freedom.
When we see religion used as a pretext for violence, exclusion, political advancement or economic domination, those “woes” should start ringing in our head.
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated on it.
This advice from Jesus could be a little confusing, but in essence it calls us to be sincere and direct in our approach to God and to our sisters and brothers. It is a teaching offered more clearly in an earlier Matthean passage, the Sermon on the Mount:
But I tell you do not swear at all, either by heaven since that is God’s throne, or by earth, since that is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean ‘yes’, ‘No’ if you mean ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.
Poetry: Poetics of Faith – Denise Levertov
‘Straight to the point’ can ricochet, unconvincing. Circumlocution, analogy, parable’s ambiguities, provide context, stepping-stones.
Most of the time. And then
the lightning power amidst these indirections, of plain unheralded miracle! For example, as if forgetting to prepare them, He simply walks on water towards them, casually – and impetuous Peter, empowered, jumps from the boat and rushes On wave-tip to meet Him – a few steps, anyway – (till it occurs to him, ‘I can’t, this is preposterous’ and Jesus has to grab him, tumble his weight back over the gunwale). Sustaining those light and swift steps was more than Peter could manage. Still, years later, his toes and insteps, just before sleep, would remember their passage.
Music: Roberto Cacciapaglia – Angel Falls
just some lovely instrumental music to accompany your thoughts as you pray.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we inch closer to Holy Week, we meet both a very troubled Jeremiah and Jesus.
Jeremiah, the Old Testament mirror of Jesus’s sufferings, bewails the treachery even of his friends:
I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
That’s really raw, because you can get through almost anything in the company of true friends.
Jesus came as a Friend and hoped to find Friends of God by his ministry. And he did find many. But not all.
It takes some work to be a true friend of Jesus. Some didn’t have the courage, or generosity, or passion, or hopeful imagination to reach past their self-protective boundaries – to step into eternal life even as they walked the time-bound earth.
In today’s Gospel this band of resisters project their fears and doubts to the crowds around them. The evil sparks inflame the ready tinder of human selfishness. The mob turns on Jesus, spiritual misers scoffing at the generous challenge to believe.
Jesus pleads with them to realize what they are doing:
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
But Jesus and Jeremiah, though troubled, are grounded in God. Our Responsorial Psalm captures what might have been their silent prayer:
Poetry: The following transliteration of Psalm 18, composed by Christine Robinson, might help us to be with Jesus in his moment, and in our own moments of fear, anxiety, or doubt.
I open my heart to you, O God for you are my strength, my fortress, the rock on whom I build my life. I have been lost in my fears and my angers caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious I cried to you in my anguish. You have brought me to an open space. You saved me because you took delight in me. I try to be good, to be just, to be generous to walk in your ways. I fail, but you are my lamp. You make my darkness bright With your help, I continue to scale the walls and break down the barriers that fragment me. I would be whole, and happy, and wise and know your love Always.
February 1, 2022 Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
You have followed the story in these daily passages. Absalom rebels, designing to usurp his father’s throne. A massive battle rises between them. David, as commander-in-chief, remains behind, but gives instructions to his generals to spare Absalom’s life. Joab ignores the command, killing Absalom in a moment of vulnerability.
David is devastated.
I think there is no more wrenching human emotion than regret. When I ministered for nearly a decade as hospice chaplain, and later in the emergency room, I saw so much regret.
People who had waited too long to say “I’m sorry”, “I forgive you”, “Let’s start over”, “Thank you for all you did for me”, “I love you”…..
Instead, these people stood at lifeless bedsides saying things like, “I should have”, “I wish…”, “If only…”
Life is complex and sometimes difficult. We get hurt, and we hurt others — sometimes so hurt that we walk away from relationship, or stay but wall ourselves off.
We might think that what is missing in such times is love. But I think it is more likely truth. In times of painful conflict, if we can hear and speak our truth to ourselves and one another, we open the path to healing.
If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.
That healing may demand adjustments, agreements, even a willingness to step apart in mutual respect. But if the changes emerge from shared truth, restoration and wholeness are possible.
David and Absalom never found that path because they were so absorbed in their own self-interests. Theirs was the perfect formula for regret – that fruitless stump that perpetually sticks in the heart.
Poetry: How Clear, How Lovely Bright – A.E. Houseman
How clear, how lovely bright, How beautiful to sight Those beams of morning play; How heaven laughs out with glee Where, like a bird set free, Up from the eastern sea Soars the delightful day. To-day I shall be strong, No more shall yield to wrong, Shall squander life no more; Days lost, I know not how, I shall retrieve them now; Now I shall keep the vow I never kept before.
Ensanguining the skies How heavily it dies Into the west away; Past touch and sight and sound Not further to be found, How hopeless under ground Falls the remorseful day
I remember a trauma surgeon leaving the hospital late one night after an unsuccessful effort to save a young boy who had been shot.
The doctor carried the loss so heavily as he walked into the night barely whispering to me, “I’m just going to go home and hug my kids.”
As we pray over David and Absalom today, let us examine our lives for the fractures that are still healable and act on them. Let us “hug” the life we have within and all around us. Regret is a lethal substitute.
When David Heard – Eric Whitaker ( The piece builds. Be patient. Lyrics below)
When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said;
My son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!
When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said;
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33 which
“proclaims the LORD as the one
in whom the righteous may place their trust and hope.”
James L. Mays: Psalms (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching)
Upright is the word of the LORD, and all his works are trustworthy. God loves justice and right; of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those in awe, upon those who hope for God’s kindness, To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.
Psalm 33: 4-5; 18-19
This is a good psalm to be reminded of as we encounter readings from Isaiah and Mark which sound almost Lenten in tone. Our psalm reminds us that, despite adverse appearances, God abides with us and fosters our well-being.
Isaiah gives us the image of a broken Jesus, crushed by a “suffering that justifies many”.
Mark recounts the story of the two rather oblivious disciples asking to sit in glory beside Jesus. They do not realize that the path to this glory is through Gethsemane and Calvary.
Jesus asks these disciples the same question he asks us throughout our lives:
“Can you drink the cup that I will drink?”
Each of our sufferings and sacrifices may be small or large in life. But when they are united with Christ in faith and hope, they all are redemptive.
We will be asked, as Jesus was, to lay down our life in love.
It may be in the unselfish raising of a family, or the humble pastoring of a church community.
It may be in the long-term care of an elderly parent or neighbor.
It may be in a ministry of healing, teaching, or encouragement where another requires our labor, patience and mercy.
It may be as a public servant who actually serves, or as a private nurse who tenderly nurses.
It may be as a community member who builds life by respect, responsibility, and mutuality.
We will come to realize, as did the ambitious sons of Zebedee, that true discipleship is not flash and glam. It is the daily choice to quietly lift the cup we have been given, and raise it to the honor of God – in openness, trust, joy and delight that we are called to share in the life of Christ.
Poetry: Can you Drink the Cup – Scott Surrency, OFM.Cap
Can you drink the cup? Drink, not survey or analyze, ponder or scrutinize – from a distance. But drink – imbibe, ingest, take into you so that it becomes a piece of your inmost self. And not with cautious sips that barely moisten your lips, but with audacious drafts that spill down your chin and onto your chest. (Forget decorum – reserve would give offense.)
Can you drink the cup? The cup of rejection and opposition, betrayal and regret. Like vinegar and gall, pungent and tart, making you wince and recoil. But not only that – for the cup is deceptively deep – there are hopes and joys in there, too, like thrilling champagne with bubbles that tickle your nose on New Year’s Eve, and fleeting moments of almost – almost – sheer ecstasy that last as long as an eye-blink, or a champagne bubble, but mysteriously satisfy and sustain.
Can you drink the cup? Yes, you — with your insecurities, visible and invisible. You with the doubts that nibble around the edges and the ones that devour in one great big gulp. You with your impetuous starts and youth-like bursts of love and devotion. You with your giving up too soon – or too late – and being tyrannically hard on yourself. You with your Yes, but’s and I’m sorry’s – again. Yes, you – but with my grace.
Can you drink the cup?
Can I drink the cup?
Music: The Cup of Salvation ~Shane & Shane (Lyrics below.)
I love the Lord for He heard my voice And answered my cry for mercy Because He listened to me I will call upon Him as long as I live
What shall I render to the Giver of life and who all things are made What shall I render to the One who paints the oceans blue Jesus Christ
I will lift up a cup of salvation Call on the Name of the Lord How do I repay the life that You gave I’ll call on the Name of the Lord Lift up a cup, You have already poured
What kind of rendering is found in this taking Found in this drinking of love Love so abundant He meets me in depravity With one thing to give
You have delivered my soul from death My eyes from tears My feet from stumbling And I will walk before the Lord In the land of the living
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97 which is built on two themes:
God reigns over all the earth
those who acknowledge God’s power have abundant reason to rejoice
This is good news for the people to whom Joel is preaching! Joel’s community has been devastated by locusts and drought. They are surrounded by adversaries. Life is just not easy for them. They have felt abandoned by God.
But Joel tells them that indeed God is annoyed, but still is always on the side of the faithful.
The LORD roars from Zion, and from Jerusalem raises his voice; The heavens and the earth quake, but the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the children of Israel. Then shall you know that I, the LORD, am your God, dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain; Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall pass through her no more.
Psalm 97 reflects the same confident promise to all who suffer. Despite everything we are to rejoice!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. The heavens proclaim God’s justice, and all peoples see God’s glory. R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just! Light dawns for the just; and gladness, for the upright of heart. Be glad in the LORD, you just, and give thanks to God’s holy name.
So we are encouraged to heed Joel’s advice – to stir up our hearts in faith, to look around at all the faith-filled promises of nature mentioned in our first reading. We can learn:
from the sun which both rises and sets
from the moon which turns its mood but never disappears
from snow and rain which cycle invisibly through the years
from the leaves which hold the secret of eternal life
God abides with us, even amidst the “droughts” and “locusts”. And if we are faithful, all will be well.
Poetry: There are many wonderful images in Joel 4. One is that of the “Valley of Decision”, an image that has lent itself to many applications in art and literature. Here is one such poem:
The Valley of Decision by John Oxenham
The World is in the Valley of Decision; It is standing at the parting of the ways; Will it climb the steps of God to realm elysian — Or fall on horror of still darker days?
Will it free itself of every shameful shackle? Will it claim the glorious freedom of the brave? Will it lose the soul of Life in this debacle, And sink into a mean dishonored grave?
All the world is in the Valley of Decision, And out of it there is but one sure road; Eyes unsealed can still foresee the mighty vision Of a world in travail turning unto God.
All the world is in the Valley of Decision. Who shall dare its future destiny foretell? Will it yield its soul unto the Heavenly Vision, Or sink despairing into its own hell?
The World is in the Valley of Decision; — It is standing at the parting of the ways; Will it climb the steps of God to realm elysian — — Or fall on horror of still darker days?
Will it free itself of every shameful shackle? — Will it claim the glorious freedom of the brave? Will it lose the soul of Life in this debacle, — And sink into a mean dishonored grave?
All the world is in the Valley of Decision, — And out of it there is but one sure road; Eyes unsealed can still foresee the mighty vision — Of a world in travail turning unto God.
All the world is in the Valley of Decision. — Who shall dare its future destiny foretell? Will it yield its soul unto the Heavenly Vision, — Or sink despairing into its own hell?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 9. It, together with Psalm 10, forms an acrostic which ultimately proclaims profound hope in God’s immutable justice, especially toward the poor and oppressed. But it takes us through a lot fire and brimstone to get there!
When we read the entire Psalm 9, we realize that the psalmist starts out in a lot of trouble:
Be gracious to me, LORD; see how my foes afflict me! You alone can raise me from the gates of death
Match that with Joel’s community which is in the midst of a terrible drought. Joel uses the situation to teach that we must withstand many evils in life — not just droughts — in order to keep faith with God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all who dwell in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; Yes, it is near, a day of darkness and of gloom, a day of clouds and somberness!
In the end however, Joel assures the community — as does the psalmist — that God is present even in treacherous circumstances and will finally bring “right-balance” or justice to all things.
The LORD sits enthroned forever; setting up a throne for judgment. God judges the world with justice; and governs the peoples with equity.
I think these readings are difficult to pray with, but it’s worth a try. How we respond to challenge in our personal circumstances – and even evil in the world at large – depends a lot on how we view God’s Presence in our lives. Both Joel and the psalmist ask us to hold fast to our confidence in God.
Praying with these readings may provoke questions like this for us: Do I believe God’s justice and mercy truly will prevail in Creation? And how will I help bring about this holy “equity”?
Poetry: Faith is the Pierless Bridge – Emily Dickinson
Faith is the Pierless Bridge Supporting what We see Unto the Scene that We do not Too slender for the eye It bears the Soul as bold As it were rocked in Steel With Arms of Steel at either side It joins behind the Veil To what, could We presume The Bridge would cease to be To Our far, vacillating Feet A first Necessity.
Music: Bridge Over Troubled Waters – Simon and Garfunkel
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Isaiah for our Responsorial Psalm:
God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, who has been my savior. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation.
This fountain of salvation is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I woke up before dawn today. Not really wanting to formally begin my day, I lingered on the pillows for my early morning prayer. Having always loved this feast, I began placing all my suffering loved ones into Jesus’s heart – one by one, asking for their strength and healing.
The list was long, because there are all kinds of suffering, and I love a lot of people – even ones I don’t know personally! Finally I said to Jesus, “You know, life is HARD!”
And in my spirit, I heard this answer, “I know. I lived it for the love of every one of you.”
That fountain of love and mercy continues to nourish our lives in the Eucharistic community of faith practicing the works of mercy. We are the threads which bind one other to God’s heart.
Paul knew this. That’s why he prayed this beautiful prayer for his beloved Ephesian community. Our second reading offers an example of Paul’s magnificent benedictions and doxologies. As he prays for the Ephesians, so he prays for us. These prayers are exalted, yet simple. They thrill the soul who prays them. They place us, in awe and thanksgiving, fully in the divinely generous, Sweet Heart of Christ.
Let’s pray for our beloveds today and for the world:
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Music: Two songs today:
Threads – by David Leonard
We beseech the Sacred Heart today that all who suffer any kind of fragmentation may find tenderness, wholeness, and comfort in him. (To hear the song, click on “Watch on YouTube” in the black clock below.)
This one is old school, but it still works for me:
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, a song of uninhibited delight and thanksgiving to God.
Coming after our reading from Tobit, we see just what such utter delight looks like.
That “angelic fish gall” re-lit the world for Tobit in a way he had never imagined before!
Sometimes we too have to experience a profound blindness before we really begin to see rightly. Let’s be honest: haven’t we all been blind a few times in our lives.
Friendships taken for granted
Perhaps even responsibilities shirked
Praying with Psalm 146, we might take note of those whom the Lord favors:
the oppressed, the hungry. captives, those who are bowed down; the just, strangers, orphans and widows
These favored of God share a common trait – a vulnerability learned through suffering.
None of us seeks suffering in our lives. But we all will encounter it personally at least to some degree. Further, all in the community of faith are called to share the sufferings of others by our works of mercy.
In both instances, can we allow suffering to let us see the world differently, to lift the scales of any blindness in our hearts? Because here is the beautiful mystery: the God of Mercy is with us in our lights and shadows — and is always Light.
Praise the LORD, O my soul; I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live.
Poetry: God Pours Light – Hafiz
God pours light into every cup, quenching darkness. The proudly pious stuff their cups with parchment and critique the taste of ink while God pours light and the trees lift their limbs without worry of redemption, every blossom a chalice. May I seduce those withered souls with words that wet their parched lips as light pours like rain into every empty cup set adrift on the Infinite Ocean.
Today, we might pray to St. Stephen for all throughout the world who suffer for their faith and their commitment to social justice.
Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety. You are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
We might pray as well for a conversion of heart for those who persecute, shun and disrespect others because of their own fears and insecurities. The psalmist chose to curse them with the literary chutzpah common in the psalms:
Do not let me be put to shame, for I have called to you, LORD. Put the wicked to shame; reduce them to silence in Sheol.
Strike dumb their lying lips, which speak arrogantly against the righteous in contempt and scorn.
Psalm 31: 18-19
But in our charity, let us pray for their enlightenment and repentance:
Love the LORD, all you who are faithful to him. The LORD protects the loyal, but repays the arrogant in full.
Poetry: Be Soft not Stony-Hearted – from Rumi
… may Jesus’s breath serve as your cure, make you, like Itself so blessed and pure. Don’t claim in spring on stone some verdure grows; be soft, like soil, to raise a lovely rose. For years you’ve been a stony-hearted man, Try being like the soil now if you can!
Music: Sancte Dei Pretiosi
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.
Sancte Dei, pretiose, Protomartyr Stephane, Qui virtute caritatis Circumfulsus undique, Dominum pro inimico Exorasti populo: 2. Et coronae qua nitescis Almus sacri nominis, Nos, qui tibi famulamur, Fac consortes fieri: Et expertes dirae mortis In die Judicii. 3. Gloria et honor Deo Qui te flora roseo Coronavit et locavit In throno sidereo : Salvet reos, solvens eos A mortis aculeo. Amen.