So Close to the Brokenhearted

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 27, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from the Book of Wisdom clearly describes the machinations and motivations of an evil heart. We see fear, jealousy, control, and greed all strangling the described plotters.

Wisdom also shows us the characteristics of the good heart: justice, holy knowledge, purity, gentleness, patience, strength and perseverance.

The struggle between these two dimensions has defined human interactions ever since Eden.

Ps34 brokenhearted

Our Gospel tells us that these forces met their ultimate contest in the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. And the Victor has been revealed in the triumph of the Resurrection.

These beliefs are the foundation of our faith, bedrocks we can live by when life’s circumstances test our resolve and courage.


We face such a test right now. Some people ask if God is punishing us, or has God abandoned us. Some people wonder if there is really a God at all who could let this happen to his people.

Today’s readings might help us rebalance our faith and dig deeper into its mysteries – because faith is a relationship, not a handbook. No matter how hard we search, pat answers don’t exist … just the daily learning to which the Gospel invites us.

In the life of Jesus, the Father neither caused evil nor removed it. The Father simply remained one with Jesus – living, loving, suffering with him. God does that with us too.

So when we pray, do we pray for miracles? Sure we do! Some miracles would be really great right now. Even Jesus prayed for that kind of intervention in Gethsemane:

Father, if you will, take this cup from me.

But when that didn’t happen, Jesus stayed the faithful course, trusting that he was already safe in his Father, no matter what swirled around him.

We may want to pray our poignant Responsorial Psalm today, asking God to help us faithfully abide in its promise. Here is a beautiful translation by Steven Mitchell from his book, A Book of Psalms:Reflections Adapted from the Hebrew (Available on Amazon – C)lick here for Amazon

I will bless the Lord at all times;
my lips will sing out his praise.
I will thank him for the love he has shown me
and the clarity that gladdens my heart. 

Sing out with me and thank him;
be grateful for all his gifts.
Turn to him; let your soul feel his presence;
oh taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who trust him. 

You who desire true life
and wish to walk on God’s path:
Depart from evil; do good;
seek peace with all your soul. 

The Lord cares for the righteous
and watches over the merciful.
He is near when their hearts are broken;
when their spirits are crushed, he is with them.
And though they may undergo hardships,
he fills them with blessings in the end.

Music:  The Poor Man Cries – Marty Goetz (Lyrics below)

Lyrics

The Lord On High is very near
To all who call on Him
This poor man cries and He hears
And delivers him from all his fears

For the Lord is nigh to them that fear Him
The contrite will have light never dim
The righteous cry and He hears
And delivers them from all their fears
From all their fears

“Gad-lu l’Adonai ee’ti,
Oon’ ram’ma sh’mo yach-dau”
I will bless Him all my days
His praise shall continually be in my mouth
To the King I sing with pride

And the humble hear
And the sad, are glad in Him
His angels fly ’round those near
If you ever listen close you might hear
You just might hear
“Gad-lu l’Adonai ee’ti,
Oon’ ram’ma sh’mo yach-dau”
I will bless Him all my days

His praise shall continually be in my mouth
He brings good things so I know
He’s always here
Never denied I’m supplied by Him
For He has his eyes on those He holds dear
And He delivers them from all their fears
From all their fears
This Poor Man Cries, and He hears
And delivers him from all his fears, from all his fears

Rejected

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

March 13, 2020

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Mt21_42rejected

Today, in Mercy, there is a great sadness in our readings.

The poignant opening line from Genesis immediately strikes us:

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age

Joseph

We picture young Joseph in his beautiful rainbow coat and, under an olive tree’s shade, old Jacob(Israel) proudly, tenderly, watching him play.

As the story ensues to reveal the later betrayal of Joseph’s jealous brothers, we are left astounded. Such treachery, especially among brothers, sickens the heart.


Our Gospel picks up the sad theme because Joseph and his brothers are archetypes of Christ’s story with humankind.

800px-The_Wicked_Husbandman_(The_Parables_of_Our_Lord_and_Saviour_Jesus_Christ)_MET_DP835802
The Wicked Husbandman by John Everett Millais shows the owner’s murdered son

Jesus tells a parable in which he is actually the unnamed main character. He is the Son sent by a loving Father. He is the one rejected, beaten and killed by the treacherous tenants of his Father’s garden.

We know from our familiarity with Scripture that both these stories ultimately come to glorious conclusions. But today’s readings do not take us there. They leave us standing, mouths dropped open, at the dense meanness of the human heart, at the soul’s imperviousness to grace, at the profound sadness Jesus felt at this point in his ministry.

In our prayer today, let’s just be with Jesus, sharing his sadness for the meanness still hardening our world. Let us comfort him with our desire to be open to God’s Grace and Mercy.

Music:  Handel:Messiah – He was despised and rejected – Alfred Deller

What Profit?

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 21, 2020

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

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

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

Well, here’s what he really thinks:

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


 

whole world

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

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

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



Corporal Works of Mercy

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

Spiritual Works of Mercy

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


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

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

Regret

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read one of the saddest lines in Scripture.

2Sam18_32

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.

david mourns
David Mourning Absalom’s Death – Jean Colombe

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.
~ Kabir


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.

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 saying 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. Regret is a useless 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;

My son, my son.

Outrageous Grace

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have two highly dramatic passages. If there were an Oscar category for “Best Biblical Drama”, these stories would definitely be nominees!

In our ongoing “David Saga”, the troubled king flees Jerusalem because his own son Absalom is plotting to overthrow him. David, at this point in time, is humbled and not a little wearied by the theatrics of his life. His sins continue to haunt him and wreak a recompense. 


dirt thrower
Shimei curses David by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld

In today’s passage, we meet Shimei who has his own little miniseries going on in the Bible. Shimei is part of Saul’s family and holds David responsible for Saul’s demise. When meeting David in this passage, Shimei dangerously, and we might say stupidly, sets on him, throwing dirt and stones at the King. David prevents the troops from responding to the wildly outraged man. David even suggests that God may be trying to teach David something in the attack.


In our Gospel, we meet another wildly outraged man. This one is tormented by his inner demons, causing him also to put himself in dangerous situations. Jesus names this man’s tormentor and casts it out, giving the man control of himself again.


Have you ever been so offended, humiliated or injured that you felt outrage for yourself or another? Such fury chains us, making rationality and reconciliation close to impossible. Sometimes, it renders us impotent to name and address the deep source of our indignation. Instead, we lash out with stones of anger and hate – throwing the dirt of condemnation rather than seeking inner balance and healing.

dementor

Most of us have encountered large or small “dementors” in our life. (Thanks for the term AND the image, Harry Potter) 

 


But when I think of those who have endured unbelievable degrees of torment, I am amazed at their stories of faith and resolution: Anne Frank, Victor Frankel, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman …. Jesus Christ. How did they come through it whole and blessed?


 

Mk5_1_20demoniac

Maybe the possessed man in Mark’s Gospel was just lucky that day to run into Jesus. Or maybe he sought out Christ, trying to find stability in the midst of his derangement.

When we face our own imbalances can we stay still long enough to ask, as David did, “What is God teaching me in this. How can this lead me closer to God?” If we could, might we not be surprised to see our demons named, cast into the greater sea of God’s eternal wisdom, peace and love?

Music: Amazing Grace – Sean Clive

Witness for Christ

Feast of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr

December 26, 2019

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stephenJPG

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Stephen, the first martyr for the Christian Faith. Martyrdom is a somber distance from the comforting angels and kindly stars of Christmas. But I think there’s a reason our liturgy places its hard reality here.

 The story surrounding Stephen’s death reveals his beautiful soul. These are some of words describing Stephen:

  • filled with grace and power
  • working great wonders and signs
  • speaking with wisdom and spirit
  • filled with the Holy Spirit

Why would anyone want to kill such a man!

It is a question which resounds down the centuries following Stephen.

Why is innocence persecuted?
Why is faith opposed?
Why is goodness crushed?
Why is freedom strangled?
Why is love for neighbor so frightening?

Our reading from Acts exposes an “infuriated” crowd, burning with anger at Stephen. Why? How had he injured them?


 

lock web

 

The human heart can become so fixed in its securities, can’t it? Sometimes we build walled worlds where we are always right, first, best, strongest, and smartest. Smarter than anybody!

These oppressive little worlds are places where for me to be right, you must be wrong. For me to be first, you must be at least second, if not last. For me to be strong, you must be weak. If we live in such a crippling world, a challenge to listen and change is earth-shattering to our fearful, manufactured security.

 

 


Christ came to free us all from needing such worlds. Omnipotent Mercy chose to be born in utter vulnerability and poverty. Christmas was our first lesson on how to live in a world secured only by Grace. Stephen’s story, following so close upon Christmas, drives home the consequences of such a faith-filled life.

Rather than right, first, best, strongest and smartest, the invitation of Christ is to be open, humble, generous, courageous, wise. Stephen’s debaters didn’t like that invitation. His faithful conviction was so true that they could offer no argument against it to defend their walled-in lives. So they killed him.


broken doll

All over our planet, we see innocent life crushed by war, trafficking, economic subjugation, prejudice, divisiveness, irrational hatred, and soulless indifference. We see both small and large tyrannies enacted on the global political stage, in business, in the Church, in schools and in families.

The witness of Stephen, first martyr, inspires us to live a life so open to the Holy Spirit that we may stand up strong and, like him, “see the glory of God and Jesus” even through the shadows of a sinful world.

Music: I Will Stand As a Witness for Christ – Sally DeFord

Jesus Wept

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

November 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Book of Maccabees introduces us to Mattathias, revered leader of the Jews in the city of Modein. He violently refuses the Greek Seleucid command to worship their gods, thus initiating the Maccabean Revolt. The wars lasted nearly a decade. Final victory is commemorated in the Feast of Hanukkah:

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee’s (Mattathias’s son)victory over the Seleucids. According to tradition, victorious Maccabees could find only a small jug of oil that had remained pure and uncontaminated by virtue of a seal, and although it contained only enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days, by which time further oil could be procured. (Wikipedia)

Our first reading is really describing the beginning of civil and intercultural wars by which dedicated Jews sought to establish both their religion and their nation. Core to their motivation was the desire to freely be in relationship with their one God according to their own custom and law.

In our Gospel, Jesus has come as the full manifestation of that One God. He has invited the Jewish people to a new and complete relationship with God, but they have resisted.

Lk19_41 weptJPG

Now, as he nears his final fate in Jerusalem, Jesus realizes that his dream for the People will not be fully realized. They will experience a destruction like the one once feared by Mattathias. The reality causes Jesus to weep.

Are the passages only  about the Jews, their religion and their history? Yes, and no.

For us, they are about choosing a faithful, evolving relationship with God – a relationship that will demand truth, action and at times suffering as we pursue deeper and deeper understanding of God’s Presence in our lives.

Our world and its culture place many godless choices before us, choices that could make Jesus weep because of the suffering they cause others. These choices are not as easy to identify as they were in the time of Mattathias. They don’t come dressed as a pagan soldier ready to kill our resistance.

They come in the large subtleties of politics, economics, human rights, global relationships. These choices show themselves in the small exercise of our respect, care, and reverence for all Creation. But they do come to us in every moment and they demand our witness.

Jesus wants the new Kingdom to rise in us when we open our hearts to his Word. It is an ongoing and daily Resurrection. Let’s pray for to courage for it!

Music:  When Jesus Wept – William Billings

One of the most well-known of the early American canons, originally appeared in the New England Psalm Singer. It was written in 1770 by William Billings, a self-taught singing-school teacher and composer who served as choir leader at Old South Church in Boston.

(Lyrics below)

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
In Mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus groaned at rambling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.

Per a valued friend:

There is a statue in Oklahoma City called “Jesus Wept.”  It is on the grounds of St. Joseph Church in the city – which is right across from where the Oklahoma City Federal Building had been located.  The people of the parish wanted to erect the statue on their grounds because the memorial on the federal property couldn’t be religious.  It is a very moving statue.

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