The Hem of His Garment

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I would like to share a homily about today’s Gospel that I prepared for the Catholic Health Association in 2015. Even though it is a little long, I hope you find it fruitful for your prayer.


It is a soft, summer morning in Capernaum and Jesus is in the height of his ministry.  Large crowds follow him wherever he goes, crowds hungry with hope; crowds fired by his counter-cultural words and miraculous deeds. This morning, Jesus prepares to speak to them, to translate into language they can comprehend the Eternal Life that lives in his heart.  His back is to the gentle, sunlit sea. The hubbub softens to a murmur, finally stilled by the lapping waves.

But before Jesus can begin, a distressed man bursts through the gathered crowd.  His robes fly about him as he runs to Jesus and falls at his feet.  This man is important, so important that we all have known his name for two thousand years.  This is Jairus who lives nearby and organizes the worship in the synagogue.  Now breathless and swallowing sobs, Jairus pleads with Jesus: Please! My daughter! You can give her life!

Every loving father has been Jairus at least once in his life.  We know these fathers. We are these fathers. They are the ones who burst into emergency rooms with a seizing infant in their arms. They are the ones who stare blankly at the pronouncement of a stillborn child. They are the old men in war-ravaged countries who kneel at the sides of their fallen sons and desecrated daughters. They are all the men throughout history rendered helpless by the forces of unbridled power, greed and death.

The merciful heart of Jesus understands this man and his desperate urgency.  Without even a word, Jesus gets up and accompanies Jairus to the place of his pleading.

But there is another urgency pushing forward from the crowds:  a woman, apparently of low importance for we have never known her name.   She is a woman whom the ages have defined by her affliction.  She is “The Woman with the Hemorrhage”.  Without the status of Jairus, she approaches Jesus as such a woman must. She crawls behind him at his heels, reaching through the milling masses to even scrape the hem of his garment.

This is a troubled woman, a stigmatized woman. Her life has been spent, literally, in embarrassment, isolation, fatigue and, no doubt, abuse.  For twelve years – coincidentally the life span of Jairus’ s daughter – her vitality has bled out of her.  Her face is gaunt; her eyes sunken.  Her soul’s light is all but extinguished.  She is a woman who knows a particular kind of scorn.

We know these women.  We are these women.  They are the ones filled with remorse for an aborted baby.  They are the ones who miscarry their longed-for child. They are the women whose beautiful young sons are profiled, stereotyped and hunted on the violent streets. They are the mothers of “The Disappeared”. They are the women who suffer disproportionately from war, poverty, hunger and violence.  They are trafficked women, prostituted women, women victimized by the long saga of domination and dehumanization.

Mk 5_28 copy

It is just such a broken woman who stretches her fingers through the Galilean dust in a last reckless reach for healing. She finds only the hem of his robe. Touching it, she is transformed, like a parched meadow in the spring rain.  Her whole being reaches up to receive the holy restoration.  She knows herself to be healed.  And it is enough; it is everything.  She retreats into the resignation of her otherwise lonely life.

But Jesus wants more for us than just the practical miracles we beg for. We ask for one healing; Jesus wants our eternal salvation. We ask for one blessing; Jesus wants our entire lives to be filled with grace. We ask for one prayer to be answered; Jesus wants our life to become a prayer.

Jesus feels the electrical touch of her hope. He feels the secret healing she has extracted from him.  He turns to seek her.  Can you see their eyes meet?  Yes, the bleeding has been stemmed, but he sees the deeper wounds that scar her soul. His look of immense mercy invites her to tell him “the whole truth”.  By her touch, she has commandeered a physical healing.  But by his gracious turning toward her, her entire being is renewed.  In this sacred glance, her history has been healed.  Her future has been pulled from darkness into light.  Her capacity to love has been rekindled.  She now and forever will remember herself as a child of God.

Jairus waits, no doubt impatiently, at the edge of this miracle, anxious for such power to touch his daughter’s life.  He fears they have lingered too long with the woman.  His servants arrive, confirming his fears. He receives the dreaded report, “Your daughter has died.”

Jesus now pushes Jairus to the gauntlet of pure faith. In the face of this devastating news, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Is this not an almost impossible command?  Like Jairus, we all know what it is to worry for our children:

  • Fathers of color teach their sons behaviors to protect them from profiling.
  • Immigrant parents fear their children will be ripped from them in a pre-dawn raid.
  • Famine-ravaged mothers watch their children disappear into hunger.
  • In hospitals and doctor’s offices, devastated parents summon the courage to accompany their critically ill child.

And Jesus says, “ Don’t be afraid. Have faith.”! What can he possibly mean?

Perhaps it is this simple.  In Jairus’s home, Jesus takes the dead girl’s hand.  He says, “Talitha, koumi – Little girl, arise.” His call to her heart tells her there is no darkness, devastation or death from which God cannot draw us into life.  This is the truth Jesus brings to the little girl and to us.  But it is a truth that, in our fear and need, we cannot always see.

For the moment, this girl lives. But at some time in history she, like all of us, will die.  So the miracle is not the restoration of her life.  The miracle is that her eyes, and her parents’ eyes, are opened to the power of God over death.  Despite all appearances, God’s life endures eternally.

This is the revelation of this Gospel passage. If we live by faith, we live beyond cure into healing.  If we live by faith, even death can bring life.  If we live by faith, we are free to release all worry into the abundant mercy of God who grants us healing even beyond our asking or desire.

Man or woman, old or young, at some time in our lives each one of us has been Jairus. Each one of us has been one or the other of these two women.  Within their stories of woundedness and deep faith, our stories shelter.  Jairus and the afflicted women – unnamed like so many women throughout time – believed there was a way to new life.  They reached for it.  They begged for it.  What is it in us that cries out for such healing?  What is it in us that, without the touch of Jesus, teeters on the verge of death?

Simply by believing, these three Gospel figures became new beings. Simply by believing, their orientation changed from darkness to light. By their example, let us lift up those wounded and deadened places in our hearts and world before the loving gaze of Jesus.

To what suffering in our souls is God whispering the encouragement, “Talitha, koum”?  What is the “whole truth” Jesus is inviting us to confide? Let us arise and respond to him in the full energy of our faith. Let us gaze with boundless confidence into the eyes of God’s mercy.

Music: Talitha Koumi – adapted from Michael Card

Get Back in the Game!

Friday, February 1, 2019

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hebres10_36endurance

Today, in Mercy, Paul reminds his listeners of all the sufferings they endured when they first embraced the Christian faith. He goes on to encourage them to persevere, even in the midst of ongoing challenges:

… do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.

It’s a speech with all the overtones of a great pep talk. At first it reminded me of our old coach Miss Weed (seriously), back in the days when I played basketball. She never gave up; never gave in.

cast

During one game, I called time out because I was pretty sure I had just broken my finger blocking a shot. Miss Weed unsympathetically told me, “No time outs! No broken bones! Get back in and finish the game!” Later, waiting to get my hand casted at the clinic, I reflected on what I had learned.

Maybe that’s the way Paul’s community felt as they read this passage. “Time out, Coach! This Christian stuff is tough!”

But Paul had an amazing caveat that Miss Weed didn’t have. Paul held up before his audience the promise of eternal life. Things comparable to broken fingers pale in that Light!

So today, let’s get back in the game with all our hearts – living our life in Christ with gusto and joy. Often it is not easy. But always look to the Light. And …

… do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.

Music: We’ve Got This Hope – Ellie Holcomb (Lyrics below)

We’ve got this hope
We’ve got a future
We’ve got the power of the resurrection living within
We’ve got this hope
We got a promise
That we are held up and protected in the palm of His hand
And even when our hearts are breaking
Even when our souls are shaking

Oh, we’ve got this hope

Even when the tears are falling
Even when the night is calling

Oh, we’ve got this hope

And we’re not alone
Our God is with us
We can approach the throne with confidence
Cause He made a way
When troubles comes
He’ll be our fortress
We know that those who place their hope in Him will not be ashamed

And even when our hearts are breaking
Even when our souls are shaking

Oh, we’ve got this hope

Even when the tears are falling
Even when the night is calling

Oh, we’ve got this hope

Our hope is grounded in an empty grave
Our hope is founded on the promise that He made

What! Jesus Insensitive?

Tuesday,  January 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel describes a scene that has always nettled me a bit.

mk3_35 mother_brothers

Jesus is teaching a group inside his small house in Capernaum. He has moved there as he begins his public ministry. Word of his preaching and miracles has created a hubbub all around him, to the point that he can’t get a chance to eat or to rest.

Just a few lines earlier in the Gospel, Mark describes how concerned Jesus’s relatives are about his well-being. Mark 3:21 goes so far as to say:

“When his relatives heard ( how besieged he was) they set out to seize him,
for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’.”

In today’s passage Jesus’s “mother, brothers and sisters” arrive at his home, prevented from entering by the large crowd. They stand outside asking for him. When Jesus hears this, he delivers the nettling remark:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?”

It seems so insensitive, doesn’t it? These people have loved Jesus, played with him, grown up with him! And his mother! My goodness, we all know to listen to, respect, and welcome our mothers!

Praying with this passage though may reveal another dimension in our understanding of Jesus. What Jesus may be saying is this:

All of you, my followers, are closer to me than even the most precious human ties. My  family is now the all-encompassing family of my Father. My path is now the Father’s will, not my human family’s hopes and expectations.

Jesus is, at once, acknowledging to his family, his followers and, no doubt, himself that the Father is about to use his life in ways that will transform, awe and shock the world.

He is telling his disciples to be prepared for the same thing if they truly follow him.

I have always imagined Jesus, in the unrecorded memory of this passage, taking Mary aside afterward, gently explaining his purpose. I see her hand on his maturing lightly-whiskered cheek, tears both of pride and fear in her eyes, and a perfect mutual understanding in their smiles.

Music: Perfect Love – Mary’s Song

Jesus, Humble Priest

Monday, January 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Hebrews describes Jesus as the perfect high priest.  Through the Father’s call, Jesus took on our imperfect nature and transformed it by his life, death and Resurrection. In the Eucharist, Jesus left us a living memorial of this transformation so that we might participate in its saving mystery.

heb5_10 priest

Paul’s “perfected priest” is patient because his own weakness humbles him. He does not take honor upon himself, but receives it humbly from God.

Jesus, the model of this priesthood, 

… in the days when he was in the Flesh,
… offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.

The perfection of Christ’s priesthood was accomplished through suffering and obedience. This is how Jesus teaches us to live in reverence and humble service.

As I read and pray with this scriptural understanding of priesthood, I pray for our Church. The catastrophic scandals involving our priests and leaders have deeply shaken the faith of many Catholics, including my own.

Many of us are frustrated by the continued refusal of our Church to open itself to new models of priestly service which are grounded in mutuality, inclusivity and simplicity.

The accretions of institutionalization, hierarchical camouflage, and sexist rationale have mitigated the Church’s credibility to touch the lives of ordinary people, especially our emerging adults.

In our Gospel, Jesus talks about an old cloak that needs a patch to make it whole again. He talks about new wine that must be captured and preserved in new wine skins. For me, he is talking about our Church which must be continually renewed and transformed. 

May our present suffering and confusion be transformed by our humble obedience to God’s call – just as the high priest of our first reading was perfected.

Let us pray today for our good Pope, bishops, theologians and spiritual leaders – and for the whole People of God – that we may hear and respond.

Music: Even Death on a Cross ~ Jason Silver

The Path through Suffering

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we again read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. They had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.

Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?

The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties but through them.

Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.

Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

Seek Ye Comfort

Tuesday,  December 11, 2018

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Is 40_1 comfort ye

Today, in Mercy, we once again hear that powerful passage from Isaiah, “Comfort Ye, My People”.

Our Gospel gives us the gentle parable of the Good Shepherd who finds and comforts  his lost sheep.

As we listen to today’s tender music, let us slowly name in our prayer those who most need God’s comfort.

We may pray for ourselves, for someone we love, for those we know by name, or for those dear to God though nameless to us – all who suffer throughout the world.

Music: Comfort My People -Created by: Michelle Sherliza, OP; Music by: Monica Brown

May Their Memories Be A Blessing

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110118.cfm

Today, in Mercy, on this Solemnity of All Saints, let us pray especially for our recent saints and martyrs – victims of hate, violence and irresponsible policy. Let us know them to be now in the arms of Love, a Love Whom we beg to heal us who remain, impelling us to true justice and mercy.

All Saints_namesJPG

As we pray, let us reflect on the following hymn for the Holy Innocents, resolving to protect sacred life in ALL its manifold ages and expressions.

1.Salvete, flores Martyrum,
In lucis ipso lumine
Quos sevus ensis messuit,
Ceu turbo nascentes rosas.

2.Vos prima Christi victima,
Grex immolatorum tener,
Aram sub ipsam simplices
Palma et coronis luditis.

3.Qui natus es de Virgine
Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Cum Patre, cumque Spiritu,
In sempiterna secula.

1. Flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Smitten by the tyrant foe
On life’s threshold – as the gale
Strews the roses ere they blow.

2. First to bleed for God, sweet lambs!
 In innocence you died!
Rising with your wreath and palms
At the very altar-side!

3. Honor, glory, virtue, merit,
Be to Thee, O Living God,
With Creator, and the Spirit
While eternal ages run. – Amen.

Music: Salvete, Flores Martyrum -Tomás Luis de Victoria · Lluis Vich

What Do You Want Me To Do for You?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102818.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel presents the blind man, Bartimeus. He is an otherwise unknown character in scripture. Yet this short passage suggests so much about him.

Mk 10_51 Bartimeus

It is stated that he was the son of Timeus, apparently someone of note in the community – otherwise, why mention his name? And yet this notable man’s blind son is left to begging on the side of the road. Had disability driven father and son apart? Was Dad unable to accept a son with a physical challenge?

The passage also reveals that Bartimeus knew about Jesus. Perhaps while begging in the public square, he talked and listened. He daydreamed about what he planned to do if he should ever have a chance to meet Jesus!

His cronies in the marketplace were not very supportive. They told him to shut up, even as he pathetically cried for Jesus’s mercy. Still, Bartimues persisted and Jesus heard him.

When he comes to Jesus, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” It has always struck me as a strange question. The man is obviously blind, stumbling through the crowd on some disciple’s arm. Why did Jesus bother to ask what Bartimeus wanted?

This might be the lesson hidden in this Gospel. We need to name and claim our needs before God can reach through and transform them. If we don’t even know we’re “blind”, how can we know we’re cured? If we don’t present our needs to God, how can we believe that it is God Who has healed us?

The freshly cured Bartimeus, eyes wide open in grace, now follows along the path with Jesus. All the “shut-uppers” are silenced. Perhaps, Timeus weeps off in a doorway to see the power of his son’s faith and Jesus’s love.

How might our lives be changed if we had that kind of faith… that kind of love?

Music: Don’t Pass Me By – Fred Hammond (lyrics below)

There was a blind man on the road side, and he heard a commotion
It was Jesus passing by with a crowd and it stirred his emotions
He’d been displaced his whole life, should he even try

Don’t bother Jesus (they say you have nothing)
You have nothing to offer (stay in your place)
Right then he knew(he had to choose)
He had nothing to lose

So he cried Jesus (Jesus), I need you,  please don’t pass me by
He cried out Jesus, I’m not ashamed(to tell you) I need you in my life
(I need you in my life)

I’m not much different from that man, and this is the honest truth
Could this sinful one, with this messed up life, could I ever serve you
people and things clutter my mind, should I even try

Don’t bother Jesus (they say you have nothing)
You have nothing to offer (stay in your place)
Right then he knew (he had to choose)
He had nothing to lose

So I cry Jesus(Jesus), I need you
Please don’t pass me by
I’m crying out Jesus, I’m not ashamed to tell you I need you in my life

As the deer (as the deer panted)
Thirsty for the water yeah(thirsty for the water)
My soul desires and longs to be(to be with you)

Jesus, I need you, please don’t pass me by
I don’t mean to waste your time but I can’t listen to the crowd,
Situations in my life telling me to keep it down
But I need you

I know I’m broken, but you can heal me, Jesus, Jesus I’m calling you
(I might not be worth much)might not be worth much, but I’m still willing
Jesus, Jesus, I’m calling you
Songwriters: Fred Hammond / Kim Rutherford / Tommie Walker

The Cup Already Poured

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102118.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings from Isaiah and Mark sound almost Lenten in tone. 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.

Mk 10_38 cup

Jesus asks them the same question he asks us throughout our lives:

“Can you drink the cup that I will drink?”

We know that there are sacrificial cups of many sizes and shapes among us. Just this past week, with the canonization of St. Oscar Romero, we were reminded of the immense sacrifices of Romero and the Salvador people to practice their faith in dignity.

Each of our sufferings and sacrifices may seem so much smaller by comparison. But when they are united with Christ in faith and hope, they too are redemptive.

We will be asked, as Jesus was, to lay down our life. 

  • 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.

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

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

Why?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

                  Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100218.cfm

Today, in 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.

Job Why

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?”  

  1. Why me? 
  2. Why my family? 
  3. Why someone so good? 
  4. Why now? 
  5. 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. 

On this Feast of the Guardian Angels, whom we ask to be at our side through good and evil, we pray for ever-deepening faith that all will be made whole for Creation in the Infinity of God.

Music: Untouchable ~ Mars Lasar