Lent: Discerning the Golden Calves

March 31, 2022
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we are challenged to assess our true and deepest values.

Our first reading describes a moment when God and Moses are having a nice chat. Suddenly, God makes Moses aware of the fact that his people have gone haywire:

The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’

Exodus 32: 7-8

It might seem crazy to us that people would worship a metal statue. But let’s take a look at what that golden calf represents. The idol is a symbol of the Israelite community’s “economy”, what they really deem most important, what they really worship when they think God isn’t looking. When they look upon the idol’s golden reflection, they see themselves mirrored back the way they want to be – rich, powerful, and dominant.

In our society, those desires may not reside in a golden calf – but maybe in a shiny car, a flashy gemstone, a corner office, an elite club membership, an ivy league degree, etc. Does this mean that such things are necessarily wrong! Not really. It means that when these things become our gods, captivating our attention and worship, then we have really lost our soul.

When we begin to believe that such idols make us who we are,
we disconnect from God Who actually makes us who we are.

Further, we disconnect from the human community
which is meant to mirror God’s face to us.

As our Psalm reminds us:
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
            and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
            for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
            who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
            terrible things at the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:19-22

In our Gospel today, Jesus confronts a group of Pharisees and others who have their own sort of “golden calf”. They have turned their religion into a tool to gain power and dominate others. They are no longer open to God and to the message Jesus offers them. They see their fellow humans as “things” to be used for their own advancement:

But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
and you do not have his word remaining in you,
because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
You search the Scriptures,
because you think you have eternal life through them;
even they testify on my behalf.
But you do not want to come to me to have life.

John 5:37-40

There are serious warnings in our readings today. Perhaps some of them might speak to us personally. And for certain, they speak to us as a society. May we hear God’s voice in whatever way we need to.


Poetry: The Golden Calf – by John Newton

When Israel heard the fiery law,
From Sinai's top proclaimed;
Their hearts seemed full of holy awe,
Their stubborn spirits tamed. 

Yet, as forgetting all they knew,
Ere forty days were past;
With blazing Sinai still in view,
A molten calf they cast. 

Yea, Aaron, God's anointed priest,
Who on the mount had been
He durst prepare the idol-beast,
And lead them on to sin. 

Lord, what is man! and what are we,
To recompense thee thus!
In their offence our own we see,
Their story points at us. 

From Sinai we have heard thee speak,
And from mount Calv'ry too;
And yet to idols oft we seek,
While thou art in our view. 

Some golden calf, or golden dream,
Some fancied creature-good,
Presumes to share the heart with him,
Who bought the whole with blood. 

Lord, save us from our golden calves,
Our sin with grief we own;
We would no more be thine by halves,
But live to thee alone.

Music: Song of the Golden Calf from the opera Faust by Gounod.

The aria is delivered by Mephistopheles who is associated with the Faust legend of an ambitious scholar, based on the historical Johann Georg Faust. In the legend, Faust makes a deal with the Devil at the price of his soul, Mephistopheles acting as the Devil’s agent.

The calf of gold is still standing!
One adulates his power,
One adulates his power,
From one end of the world to the other end!
To celebrate the infamous idol,
Kings and the people mixed together,
To the somber sound of golden coins,
They dance a wild round
Around his pedestal
Around his pedestal
And Satan leads the dance, etc, etc.

The calf of gold is the victor over the gods!
In its derisory (absurd) glory,
In its derisory (absurd) glory,
The abject monster insults heaven!
It contemplates, oh weird frenzy!
At his feet the human race,
Hurling itself about, iron in hand,
In blood and in the mire,
Where gleams the burning metal,
Where gleams the burning metal,
And Satan leads the dance,etc.

Live in Truth

February 25, 2022
Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings instruct us on one of life’s most important realities: truthful relationship – with God, nature, other people, and ourselves.

James reminds us that the prophets spoke the truth at great personal cost.

Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.

James 5:10

Culture sometimes characterizes a “prophet” as one who can foresee the future, one who has a greater capacity than the normal person. And indeed there are great leaders who fit that understanding. They see things rightly and help us to realign our vision.


But, in an everyday sense, a prophet is simply someone who sees the truth and is unafraid to speak it. A prophet doesn’t pretend, deflect, lie, ignore, hide, distort or abuse Truth. The call to this kind of prophecy is one that we all share.

Such a call requires that we are honest, first and foremost, with God and with ourselves. It asks that we live a discerning and courageous life, reverently telling our truth as best we understand before God:

… let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,”
that you may not incur condemnation.

James 5:12

In our Gospel, we find the Pharisees trying trip up Jesus with their pretend concern for the Law. Instead, what they are really concerned about is that they could lose their hold on power if the people turn to Jesus and his teaching.


Jesus calls them “hard of heart” because they are not open to the Spirit. They hide in a labyrinth of minutiae rather than the clarity of Love and Truth.

Living in the Truth of God’s grace and mercy, we grow in our ability to be prophetic. It means that people know they will get the truth from us — not opinion or advice; not bluntness or unnecessary critique — but a discernment offered in love, reverence, and mutual hope.

Like the biblical prophets, and like Jesus himself, we will meet people who don’t want that kind of truth. They haven’t been able to espouse it in themselves, so they don’t want to hear it from us. We see this played out daily in a sham political world that continually creates its own version of reality to suit its selfish ends.

In such situations, James would offer us this encouragement:

You have heard of the perseverance of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

And our Alleluia Verse offers us a prayer for such times:

Your word, O Lord, is truth;
consecrate us in the truth.


So persevere.
Seek your truth in prayer.
Give it to the world generously
with compassion and mercy.

Poetry: A Legend of Truth – Rudyard Kipling
“A Friend of the Family”
From “Debits and Credits” (1919-1923)

Once on a time, the ancient legends tell,
Truth, rising from the bottom of her well,
Looked on the world, but, hearing how it lied,
Returned to her seclusion horrified.
There she abode, so conscious of her worth,
Not even Pilate’s Question called her forth,
Nor Galileo, kneeling to deny
The Laws that hold our Planet ‘neath the sky.
Meantime, her kindlier sister, whom men call
Fiction, did all her work and more than all,
With so much zeal, devotion, tact, and care,
That no one noticed Truth was otherwhere.

Then came a War when, bombed and gassed and mined,
Truth rose once more, perforce, to meet mankind,
And through the dust and glare and wreck of things,
Beheld a phantom on unbalanced wings,
Reeling and groping, dazed, dishevelled, dumb,
But semaphoring direr deeds to come.

Truth hailed and bade her stand; the quavering shade
Clung to her knees and babbled, “Sister, aid!
I am–I was–thy Deputy, and men
Besought me for my useful tongue or pen
To gloss their gentle deeds, and I complied,
And they, and thy demands, were satisfied.
But this–” she pointed o’er the blistered plain,
Where men as Gods and devils wrought amain–
“This is beyond me! Take thy work again.”

Tablets and pen transferred, she fled afar,
And Truth assumed the record of the War…
She saw, she heard, she read, she tried to tell
Facts beyond precedent and parallel–
Unfit to hint or breathe, much less to write,
But happening every minute, day and night.
She called for proof. It came. The dossiers grew.
She marked them, first, “Return. This can’t be true.”
Then, underneath the cold official word:
“This is not really half of what occurred.”

She faced herself at last, the story runs,
And telegraphed her sister: “Come at once.
Facts out of hand. Unable overtake
Without your aid. Come back for Truth’s own sake!
Co-equal rank and powers if you agree.
They need us both, but you far more than me


Music: Beautiful Truth – Angela Predhomme

The Greatest Sin

February 15, 2022
Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, James continues with his spiritual encouragements.

For one thing, he makes it clear that God doesn’t tempt us. Some of us make the mistake of thinking that, saying things like, “God is testing me.”

James, outlining a perfect way to examine one’s conscience, says this:

No one experiencing temptation should say,
“I am being tempted by God”;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil,
and God himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire conceives and brings forth sin,
and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.

James 1:13-15

Sin is an uncomfortable topic, and it’s an elusive one. Most of us aren’t outright blatant sinners. I think most of our sins are quiet indifferences, failures to love, unacknowledged greeds, self-imposed blindnesses to our responsibilities toward one another. These generate excuses that allow us to gossip, judge, blame, ignore, hurt and even use others both in our immediate world and in the larger global community.

In my experience, these desires are usually disguised, pretending to be beneficial for us at first sight. But underneath, they are rooted in selfishness and excess, diverting us from our center in God.

So if we have some little labyrinths of temptation and sinful habits ensnaring us, we should listen to James. He encourages us to examine and check our own concupiscent desires as they are the seeds of our spiritual undoing.


In the second part of this passage, James takes the tone up a notch. He reminds us that, once centered on God, we realize that only good things come from God.

All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.

James :17

I particularly love that last phrase, rendered in our hymn today like this:

It’s beautiful to see how James, as a real spiritual leader, is so aware of his flock’s human struggles. No doubt, he shares them. What a blessing that his wise and loving guidance has come down through the ages to us!


Prose: from Carl Jung

The worst sin is unconsciousness,
but it is indulged in with the greatest piety
even by those who should serve humankind
as teachers and examples.


Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness – sung by Chris Rice

Memorial of Saint Justin, Martyr

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 112, a hymn deeply rooted in the biblical concept of law and justice.

Blessed the one who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in God’s commands.
That person’s posterity shall be mighty upon the earth;
the upright generation shall be blessed.

Psalm 112:1-2

In our first reading, as Tobit and Anna share a familiar type of marital spat, we see that there are many perspectives from which one can approach the concept of justice. Anna knows her actions to be just from experience. Tobit analyzes the situation from judgement and law.

But in our Gospel, the wily Pharisees try to manipulate the law in order to ensnare Jesus:

Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.
You do not regard a person’s status
but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?

Mark 12:14

Jesus, who is the essence of Truth, is not trapped. After examining the coin which was given him:

Jesus said to them,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.
They were utterly amazed at him.”

Mark 12:15

Our psalm tells us that understanding God’s law is grounded in the transparency of our own truth:

The just one’s heart is firm, 
trusting in the LORD.
It is steadfast and fearless.
From its abundant confidence, 
such a heart lavishly gives to the poor;
with a generosity that shall endure forever,
standing firm to glorify God.

Psalm 112: 7-9

Our readings give us a lot to think about. And if nothing else, a delightful story from Tobit. 🤗


Poetry: Truth by Rumi

The truth was a mirror 
in the hands of God. 
It fell, 
and broke into pieces. 
Everybody took a piece of it, 
and they looked at it 
and thought they had the truth.


Music: The Voice of Truth – Casting Crowns

Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church

April 29, 2021

Catherine of Siena Writing – Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 89 which captures the spirit of Catherine of Siena, one of the Church’s greatest treasures.

The favors of the LORD I will sing forever;
    through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
    in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.

Psalm 89:2-3

The beauty of Catherine’s life and spirituality has blessed the world for nearly seven centuries. Still, it has never grown old because it was fully rooted in an eternal God.

Catherine’s sanctity was born of:
transcendent FAITH,
uncompromising TRUTH,
and overarching LOVE
for God
and God’s Creation.


She lived the Lord’s promise as we find it in Psalm 89:

My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with you,
    and through my name shall your spirit be exalted.
You shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
    my God, the Rock, my savior.

Psalm 89: 25-27

Here are a few of thoughts from Catherine’s extensive writings:

FAITH

The soul is in God and God is in the soul. 
God is closer to us than water is to a fish. 
Turn over the rudder in God's name, 
and sail with the wind heaven sends us.

TRUTH

Proclaim the truth 
and do not be silent through fear.
We've had enough exhortations to be silent. 
Cry out with a thousand tongues - 
I see the world is rotten because of silence.

LOVE

You know that every evil is founded in self-love, 
and that self-love is a cloud that takes away the light of reason, 
which reason holds in itself the light of faith, 
and one is not lost without the other.
Love transforms one 
into what one loves.

Poetry: My Nature Is Fire – Prayer of St. Catherine of Siena

In your nature, eternal Godhead,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, Boundless Love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love you created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.

O eternal Trinity, my sweet love!
You, Light, give us light.
You, Wisdom, give us wisdom.
You, Supreme Strength, strengthen us.
Today, eternal God,
let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth in truth,
with a free and simple heart.
God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us!
Amen.

Music: The Prayer – given by violinist SJCelestin and saxophonist Ketler Macome

Gospel Verse: Truth

Memorial of Saint Scholastica, Virgin

February 10, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we once again meet Psalm 104. Since we have had a very recent reflection on this psalm, we might instead like to reflect on our Gospel verse for today:

“Truth”, which would appear to be an evident reality, is in fact quite elusive. In his master work Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas writes extensively, and some might say exhaustively 🧐, in an effort to define truth.

For this reason truth is defined by
the conformity of intellect and thing;
and hence to know this conformity is to know truth.


Reflecting on the concept of Truth today, I remember Jesus’s self-description:

I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. 
No one comes to the Father except through Me.

John 14:6

By journeying through life with Jesus, we come to comprehend truth more clearly – both the truth around us and the truth within us. It is an unfolding which brings us ever closer to God’s complete imagination for us when we were created.

It is as if God’s fingerprint, first poured into on souls at our conception, becomes ever clearer in our lives. Let us pray each day to be consecrated in that Truth.

Poetry: truth by Gwendolyn Brooks
And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.

Music: Heaven’s Window – Peter Kater (Angels of Hope)

Psalm 119: The Truth

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 3, 2020

 

Today, in Mercy, we pray for a persevering faith. Sometimes, it is very late into our prayer that the unexpected answer comes to us. May we recognize it and welcome it out of the darkness. We pray especially for those who have endured long years of prayerful waiting: for those with chronic illnesses, for the elderly, for widows and widowers, for those who want to believe but can’t.

from 2016

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a return to Psalm 119. Set today between fascinating passages from both Jeremiah and Matthew, our psalm presents us with a particularly strong challenge:

Let my heart be perfect in your statutes,
that I be not put to shame.

In our first reading, the false prophet Hananiah tries to put Jeremiah to shame by preaching a rosy prophecy in contradiction to Jeremiah’s difficult but truthful “fire and brimstone” warnings. Hananiah eventually gets caught in his own lies.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter discovers another dimension of truth – that without faith, he cannot endure the storm


Psalm 119’s verses are a prayer to stay true to the Law, the Word, even in difficulty and storm. 

The psalmist recognizes our human propensity sometimes to create the world we want rather than face the one we have. We do it by lying to ourselves and others until, eventually, our alternative universe falls apart – just like Hananiah’s.

Because, like Peter, we focus on ourselves and our fears, we miss Jesus’s invitation to walk in faith over our life’s rough waters.


Our psalm today voices our prayer not to get twisted on life’s road, to have the courage to embrace the truth of ourselves, our environment, and our world. That truth is revealed when we love and live God’s Law by our justice and mercy toward all Creation.

From your ordinances I turn not away,
for you have instructed me.


Poetry: from Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,a
And that has made all the difference.

Music: Long and Winding Road – Beatles song sung by David Archuleta

Jeremiah’s Psalm

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 24, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Jeremiah’s Psalm. The verses come from chapter 31, part of what is referred to as the “Book of Comfort”. (Chapter 31-33)

In total, the Book of Jeremiah is full of woe. It was written as a message to the Jews in Babylonian exile, blaming their faithlessness for their current predicament. The prophet admonishes the people, calling them to return to the Lord and allow themselves to be made new according to God’s design.

Jeremiah is notable for its complementary tactics of confronting the people with their sorrows while comforting them with God’s mercy. 

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.


Jeremiah forces his listeners to acknowledge that their destruction is deserved. They have shifted their trust from God’s Promise to a political power that devolved into greed, militarism, and the illusion of self-sufficiency. Once that acknowledgement is accomplished, repentance and renewal are possible.

Our passage today describes that possibility:

The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.


Believing that scripture speaks to our experiences as well as to their own times, we may discover stark parallels between our world and that of Jeremiah. As we pray with this psalm, let’s ask to see where we have shifted from God’s hope for Creation. Where do we feel a sense of loss, confusion, desperation or anger? Where have we lost truth, compassion, and reverence for the life we share with all the human community?


As my small community watches the evening news, we audibly mourn the sorry state to which our world has come. We encourage one another to moral and political responsibility to change the forces that have led to this collapse.

This cycle of acknowledgement and grace-filled action can allow us to return, as did Jeremiah’s community, to God’s dream for Creation:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.


Poetry:  What Babylon Was Built About – Judson Crews (1917- 2010) American poet

Music: I Will Restore – Maranatha Music

What was lost in battle
What was taken unlawful
Where the enemy has planted his seed
And where health is ailing
And where strength is falling
I will restore to you all of this and more
I will restore to you all of this and more

I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more

I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more
I will restore to you all of this and more

Where your heart is breaking
And where dreams are forsaken
When it seems what was promised; will not be given to you
And where peace is confusion
And reality an illusion
I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more

Psalm 115: Not To Us

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 115. The first verse, not included in today’s passage, is perhaps the most familiar:

Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name give glory
because of your mercy and faithfulness.

This verse sets the tone for the whole psalm by establishing that it is only in humility that we will experience God’s faithful mercy.


The psalm sections offered today show how hard it is to keep humble attention on God in a world full of idols. While the psalmist mocked these idolatrous gods and their worshippers, his descriptions indicate the significant space they occupy in his own imagination.

There are lots of distracting “gods” in our world too. As a matter of fact, it is sometimes difficult to find the real God because our culture cloaks God in its own distorting devices. 

For example, we encounter ideologies which promote a “god” who:

  • loves America more than other nations
  • loves white people more than black and brown people
  • loves war as long as we are the victors
  • loves my prosperity over other people’s justice
  • tolerates, or even blesses, violence for the sake of superiority
  • isolates, stereotypes, and discriminates over who deserves blessings

Some of these idolatries work to convince us that we are more important to God if we are white, rich, male, heterosexual, healthy, armed, not too old, and American – because these deifications paint their “god” with those strokes.

The more we match up with this “god” – the molten image of a greedy, elitist, militaristic culture – the more we tend to take glory to ourselves. And the more others might legitimately question, “Where is their God?”.

This becomes all the more disorienting when influencers who benefit from such misguided idolatry and fundamentalism use them to promote themselves and their personal and political agendas.


Psalm 115 says, “Stop that!”.


Our Gospel shows us what God is really like — Jesus, who:

  • sought out those suffering
  • loved the poor and abandoned
  • was moved with pity for others’ pain
  • taught, proclaimed and healed in the name of God’s Mercy

Living in the light of this merciful God both humbles and exalts us so that we may wholeheartedly proclaim by our lives:

Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name give glory

because of your mercy and faithfulness.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis ; 
sed nomini tuo da gloriam,
super misericordia tua et veritate tua.


Poetry: Non Nobis Domine! – Rudyard Kipling
(Written for “The Pageant of Parliament,” 1934)

NON nobis Domine!—
    Not unto us, O Lord!
The Praise or Glory be
    Of any deed or word;
For in Thy Judgment lies
    To crown or bring to nought
All knowledge or device
    That Man has reached or wrought.
And we confess our blame—
    How all too high we hold
That noise which men call Fame,
    That dross which men call Gold.
For these we undergo
    Our hot and godless days,
But in our hearts we know
    Not unto us the Praise.
O Power by Whom we live—
    Creator, Judge, and Friend,
Upholdingly forgive
    Nor fail us at the end:
But grant us well to see
    In all our piteous ways—
Non nobis Domine!—
    Not unto us the Praise

Music: Non Nobis Domine

Psalm 31: Strife of Tongues

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31, just three of its twenty-five passionate verses in today’s liturgy. These three will echo in you, as will many others if you read the whole psalm. The images are so strong and yet comforting, the prayer so sincere.

  • In you, LORD, I take refuge.
  • Let me never be put to shame.
  • Incline your ear to me;
  • For you are my rock and my fortress.
  • I will rejoice and be glad in your mercy.
  • Let your face shine on your servant.
  • Save me in your mercy.
  • You hide your beloved in the shelter of your presence.
  • You heard my voice, my cry for mercy.

In my prayer, I focused on this line:

You hide your beloved in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of evil hearts;
You screen them within your abode
from the strife of tongues.


The strife of tongues”. What a phrase! And what a reality! Our divisive culture is drowning in it – in political, religious and civic contexts. It is often very hard for us to know whom to listen to and believe. But the psalmist helps us to understand a key characteristic of destructive speech – pride and boasting:

Love the LORD, all you his faithful ones!
The LORD keeps those who are constant,
but more than requites those who act proudly.


Today, I prayed for anyone caught in a persecution of words. Specifically, I prayed for Pope Francis and for the Archbishop of Washington, DC, Wilton Gregory. Both men have been victims of “the strife of tongues”.

In a publicized letter written to Donald Trump, Pope Francis was targeted by reactionary clergyman Carlo Viganò who dabbles in conspiracy theories and misinformation in order to undermine Francis’s ministry.

Archbishop Gregory described Donald Trump’s photo op at the Shrine of St. John Paul II as “reprehensible“, condemning the politicization of religion for “manipulative” purposes. As a result, the Archbishop, who is Black, has been racially and sexually slurred by, among others, a far-right hate group claiming to be “Catholic”.


As I prayed for these good priests, and for all others condemned for truthful and compassionate testimony, I asked God to enfold them in the verse from Psalm 31, part of which Jesus prayed on the cross:

Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, LORD, God of truth.

It is painful to witness this kind of sinful negativity in the Church, and the pain does enter into our prayer. Pope Francis points to a way to heal that pain:

Poetry: Our poem today is by a 19th century poet, Susan S. Button from her only book I could find which she published herself. She strikes me as an Emily Dickinson type without the same degree of literary accomplishment. There is very little information on her although she was notable enough in society to have a portrait by John Sartain (currently in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.)

The poem, although on a serious topic, still provided a level of delight about what happens to those who slander the innocent. I offer just a few verses of the long composition and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Slander

What is the slander’s tongue? An arrow strong,
And sharp, and fierce, empoisoning many a word,
Such as to devil’s only do belong,
When they, by Envy and by Malice stirred,
Do contemplate dark deeds, and souls do gird
For vilest crimes, and with their deadly bane,
The good man rob of fame — with lies absurd
Asunder rend kind Friendship’s gold-linked chain,
And break the three-fold, silken cord of Love amain.
——
For though Slander’s pliant bow was newly strung,
And thick and fast her feathered arrows flew,
And through the misty air their echoes rung,
The light around his head more lustrous grew;
For Innonence forth from her treasures drew
A golden shield, and clasped it o’er his heart,
While Truth held up a golden lamp and new!
While through its lucent flame flew on the dart
From Slander’s quiver, brighter light it did impart.

It trembled on the shield of Innocence—
The good man gazed, and by its blood-stained shade
He knew full well who formed it, and from whence
It came — he plucked it from the shield and bade
The innocent “tremble not, nor be afraid.”
With force redoubled Slander drew her bow
And furious all her cruel haste betrayed,
But soon was heard a horrid shriek of woe,
As her rebounding dart did to her forehead go.

~ Susan S. Button (1858)

Music: Herr, auf dich traue ich – Otto Nicolai (1810-1849j, one of the founders of the Vienna Philharmonic

Psalm 31:1-2

Herr, auf dich traue ich,
Laß mich nimmermehr zu Schanden werden,
Errette mich nach deiner Barmherzigkeit,
Und hilf mir aus.
Neige deine Ohren zu mir, und hilf mir;
Sei mir ein starker Hort,
Ein Hort, dahin ich immer fliehen möge,
Der du hast zugesaget mir zu helfen.
Lord, I trust in you,
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in your mercy And assist me.
Incline your ear to me and help me;
Be a strong refuge for me,
A refuge to which I may always flee,
Which you have promised to me for my aid.