Witness for the …

Sunday, February 10, 2019

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I bet I know the first word that popped into your mind when you read today’s headline:  PROSECUTION!

Agatha-Christies-Witness-for-the-Prosecution-set-for-BBC-One-remake-767x421

Today, in Mercy, our readings invite us to consider WITNESS — not for the prosecution, but for the RESURRECTION!

Is6_8 witness

In our first reading, we see Isaiah dramatically commissioned to WITNESS to the vision of faith in his heart. He responds wholeheartedly:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Our second reading, Paul describes how Christ appeared to him and commissioned him, “the least of the Apostles” to be his WITNESS. Paul, too, responds wholeheartedly:

He appeared to me.
Therefore, … so we preach and so you believed.

In our Gospel, Simon Peter, James and John are awed by the miraculous power of Jesus as their nets pull hundreds of fish from the otherwise unproductive sea. Jesus tells them that, by their WITNESS, they will attract hundreds of souls to his message. They also respond wholeheartedly:

When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.


For the Word of God to live,
WITNESS is everything.


Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, in her beautiful book, “Seven Sacred Pauses”, describes the level of WITNESS in the first disciples:

They were impelled to continue proclaiming the Gospel in the face of opposition. They were zealous in preaching because they felt passionate about being entrusted with the scared message.

Think of this often-heard philosophical conundrum:

If a tree falls in the forest,
and no one is there to hear it,
does it make a sound?

Logic tells us that it does. But what does it matter if no one hears it?

If the Resurrection happened, and no one bears witness to it, what does it matter? That is the importance of our call to WITNESS –   just like Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James, John, and two millennia of believers who carry on the sound of that tomb bursting open to eternal life.

How will we witness to our faith today – not by preachy words or empty opinions, but by our active passion for justice and mercy in the world, and in our own choices?

Music: I Will Stand as a Witness for Christ

The Word Will Teach Us

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our first reading describes the penetrating, all-seeing, all-discerning Word of God.  

heb4_2 word

Reading this, some of us may find it startling to think how well God knows us! The truth is God knows us fully, much better than we know ourselves.  And God loves us fully, again even better than we love ourselves.

God already knows and understands the secrets we are slow to share, the hurts we have buried, the angers we try to shackle. God knows the fears we will not face, the regrets we cannot abandon, the sadness we cannot forget, the hopes we hesitate to speak.

God knows and loves it all.

Being present to the Word of God can help us learn to love and accept ourselves as God does.  

This Word can come to us in reading and listening.  It can come in images, nature  and silence. God’s Word is not bound by print or sound.  It speaks to us in every circumstance of our lives.

Today, we pray to have a deep love of God’s Word given to us in Scripture, spiritual reading, music, poetry, the beauty of Creation, and the wonder of life.  The Holy Word sees and loves us completely.  In that complete Love, may we come to know ourselves and to be fully ourselves in God’s Presence.

( In a separate email, I have cited a favorite poem by dear Mary Oliver who died yesterday. She was a Master of the Word! The words she lifted for us became sacraments where we could discover the sacred.

Having read her poems so often and for so long, I feel I have lost a precious friend even though I have never laid eyes on her. This is a long poem, but well-worth your reflection perhaps on this stormy weekend.)

Music: Two Elegiac Melodies ~ Edvard Grieg 

Stand Up

Thursday, November 29, 2018

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human circle

Today in Mercy, our readings from Revelation and Luke are truly terrible, in the full meaning of that word: extremely distressing, causing terror.  They’re intended to be.

They describe and warn against times of destruction. Revelation describes the fall of Babylon. The Gospel relates the destruction of Jerusalem.

But neither reading is history. They are not offered so that we get the facts, the way a newspaper or encyclopedia reports a story.

These readings are given to us, and to the audiences they were originally written for, so that we might understand clearly this important reality: we live in two worlds, the material and the spiritual.

These worlds are intended by God to be united in one Creation, joined at the wedding feast of the Lamb. But we humans fail. We exalt and distort the power of the material world to the destruction of the spiritual. We split what God intended to be whole.

In other words, we build both global and personal kingdoms and governments that have no heart, have no soul.

If you think these readings describe only past civilizations, then look to the Mexican-US border. Look at the starving people of Yemen. Look at the devastation of the rainforest. Look at our drug-infested, gun-enthralled culture.

Jesus knew that his followers would battle these forces forever. He tells us that, in the midst of these destructive signs, we should

“ … stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.”

Jesus’s followers must stand as a sign of another way. We must raise our heads to say “No” to the heartless moral choices of our time. We cannot allow ourselves to be swept up in a culture of lies, political expediency, material greed, and dehumanization of whole peoples. We must break through the cabled propaganda we are fed to find God’s Word to us.

Our readings today ask us to take a good look at ourselves. How complicit are we in our own destruction by our failure to choose, speak, and act for Gospel justice in our world?

Music: No Outsiders – Rend Collective

Christ the King

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate The Solemnity of Christ the King.

Rev1_7JPG

For some, the lofty, politically-tinged title might obscure the rich devotion offered by this feast. The title “king” carries with it suggestions of exaggerated power, wealth and dominance not compatible with our Gospel perception of Jesus.

We may be more comfortable with images of Christ as infant, brother, shepherd, lamb, vine, gate, way, truth, life…

But what all these images point out is that our ability to comprehend the fullness of Christ is severely limited by our humanity. We usually choose a specific image based on our circumstances and spiritual needs.

Pope Pius XI promoted the concept of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, in response to growing international secularism and nationalism. His intent was not to compare Christ to the challenged world leaders of the time. It was to raise the perceptions of all people to the lessons of Divine Leadership: mercy, justice, inclusivity, and peace.

Oh, how we could benefit from the same understanding today! 

In this age with its culture of continual war, the human pain it causes, refugee crises, climate devastation, wealth distortion and indifference to the poor, how our hearts long for just, wise and loving leadership!

In his encyclical, Pius XI wrote:

Christ the King reigns “in the human hearts,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all humanity. He reigns, too, in our wills, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.”

— Quas primas, §7[4]

Let’s pray for these virtues for all who are charged with any form of power or leadership:

  • keen spiritual intellect
  • deep heart’s knowledge
  • uncompromising truth
  • obedience to grace
  • holy inspiration 
  • noble character
  • and surpassing charity for all Creation

May Christ the King truly live and reign among us. May we behold the “sweet light in His eyes”!

Music: We Shall Behold Him – offered in American Sign Language by Kayla Seymour; sung by Sandi Patty

Lady

Friday, November 16, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our first reading is from John’s very brief second epistle.

This is a fascinating passage. It is addressed to “Kyria”, Greek for “Lady”. The contents encourage this revered lady to keep herself and her household true to Christ.

Reading the passage, one wonders who “Kyria” is. At least three theories exist among scholars:

  • an actual religious leader 
  • a metaphor for the Church 
  • Mary, Mother of Jesus

The letter is beautifully personal in tone, so I like to think that Kyria was, indeed, an influential church leader and John’s beloved friend. So often, the names of early Christian women leaders are lost to history. Whether they were omitted in the original texts, or erased by subsequent misogynistic translators, we can only surmise. But the absence has served to support the misperception that women are of lesser consequence in the Church.

As we read 2 John, we can be aware of the major themes he entrusted to dear “Kyria”, whoever she might have been, to be transmitted to her household:

  • Truth is expressed through love, modeled to us in Jesus.
  • Obedience to God is expressed through service in His name.
  • Guard against any who distract you from these teachings.

Music: Kyria (Lady) is the feminine form of Kyrie , as in “Kyrie eleison” (Lord, have mercy).

So the music I thought of for today is the magnificent Kyrie Eleison from Charles Gounod’s Mass for St. Cecilia.

Wholehearted

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110418.cfm

Today, in Mercy, both Deuteronomy and Mark proclaim the call to love God wholeheartedly.

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In Mark, it is one of the scribes who initiates this proclamation by asking Jesus which is the first – most important – of the commandments. Unlike many of Jesus’ encounters with the scribes and Pharisees, this one does not seem hostile. The man, as one might expect of an expert in the Law, wants to know if Jesus continues the priorities of the Torah. 

He is pleased with Jesus’ answer. And Jesus is pleased with him. We can almost see Christ’s smile at the scribe’s sincere and lived response. 

This man sees through the Pharisaical confusions which have been heaped upon this most important law. He understands that love of God and neighbor mean infinitely more than burnt offerings and public sacrifices.

How do we reach this wholehearted love in our complex lives? We’re not busy with burnt offerings, but we are distracted by so many forces that lay claim to our attention and devotion. 

We love many worthy and unworthy things in our lives. We often confuse real love with one of its masquerading forms – “loves” that are self-serving rather than other-serving.

Today’s Alleluia verse is an answer to our, “How?”.

Whoever loves me
will keep my word, says the Lord;
and my father will love him
and we will come to him.

Real love is proved by action. It’s that simple. What do my actions say about where my heart is? Let me just flip back through my last 24 hours to see if God would have smiled at my choices, words, and actions. And let me change what I need to change for tomorrow.

Music: V’Ahavta- Marty Goetz

V’Ahavta is part of the Shema Yisrael (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל)- a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.

A Worthy Life

Friday, October 26, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, having blessed and reassured the Ephesian community of the power of their Baptism, Paul instructs them in how to live a Christian life. He says that their Baptism demands a life worthy of their call.

Eph 4_2 bear with

Do you feel called? In your daily life, do you recognize the demand to witness to a graced life in the face of a sometimes ungracious world?

Paul says that’s what it’s all about:

  • the humble, gentle, patient exercise of Christian love
  • the building of inclusive community through acts of peace
  • the embrace of one God Who claims all humanity as one people

Therefore, anything that suggests hate, aggression, pride or exclusion is not worthy of our Baptismal call.

I watched – or tried not to watch – a few political ads last night. I heard the vitriolic rhetoric before I could tap the mute button. I saw the news clip about the terrorizing of a particular party’s leaders. My heart keeps saying, “What has happened to us?”

And then I read Paul’s admonitions on Christian responsibility.

Even if our culture’s rampant hostility makes us sad and angry, we must respond to it with Christian courage and peace-building action. We must not become like those who stun us with their indifference to life, humanity, morality and truth. We must never make an appeal to religion as an excuse for loveless behavior.

In our Gospel, Jesus challenges his listeners in a similar way:

Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?

Our times will challenge our Christian character. Will we pass the test?

Music: one Bread, One Body – John Foley, SJ

Important Things

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we meet Martha and Mary. These sisters are the personification of the Benedictine motto: Ora et labora: Pray and work – the two essentials that we all struggle to balance in our lives.

Lk10_38 Martha

They, with their brother Lazarus, are dear friends of Jesus. The scriptures show us that Jesus felt comfortable at their home, and that they loved to have him stay with them.

As all of us do with our closest friends, Jesus understood the lights and shadows of their personalities – and they of his. He knew that Martha was the organizer, the one who planned and worried about the incidentals. Mary was deeply spiritual, but maybe had her head in the clouds a bit when it came to getting things done. 

Perhaps these personality differences caused some tensions between the sisters, as they might between us and our family members or close friends. Sometimes these little, unnoticed frictions can suddenly become chasms between us and those we love. 

How and why does it happen?

Jesus gives us the answer in this Gospel passage. He hears Martha’s simmering frustration. He calms her, as one might a child – “Martha, Martha…”. We can hear his gentle tone. Jesus tells her that worry and anxiety are signs that we are not spiritually free. He tells her that Mary has focused on the important thing.

This may sound repetitious, but just think about it a while:

It is so important to know what is important. 

It is so freeing to agree on what matters with those closest to us. Talking with each other in openness, respect, and unconditional love is the only path to that freedom.

Martha and Mary slipped off that path a bit in this situation. But with Jesus’ help, they righted their relationship. 

That’s the best way for us to do it too. Let Jesus show us what is most important through sharing our faith, and even our prayer, with those closest to us. Let him show us where our self-interests, need for control, fears and anxieties are blocking us from love and freedom.

It is the same way that we, like Mary, can strengthen our relationship with God. It is not sufficient for our prayer to consist of incidentals — pretty words and empty practices. 

We must sit open-hearted at the feet of Jesus and let him love us, let him change us. Even in the midst of our responsibilities and duties, we must balance “the better part”.

Music: a charming little song by Peg Angell which leaves me with same practical question I always have when reading this passage: who actually did get the dinner ready?😂

What Would I Ask For?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

          Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, what an interesting prayer we find in Proverbs! The speaker beseeches God to grant him two things before death:

  • to be surrounded by truth and
  • to be neither rich nor poor

A fascinating and radical request, don’t you think? And we get eavesdrop on it.

Prov30_7 truth

The supplicant fears riches because they may cause him to forget his need for God.
He fears poverty because it might cause him to steal and thus betray God’s law.
All he wants is a nice, even life with not too much drama. I get it, don’t you!

In our Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out, telling them to let go of drama too. If people don’t engage you, move on he says. He instructs them not to be caught up in material possessions, but to leave all behind that for the sake of the truth they will be preaching.

Both these readings are really about truth and freedom, two gifts that allow us to live in grace, hope and joy. They are about not being bound by our possessions, our pretenses, our success, or what people think of us. They are about being at peace with who we really are before God and others.

The Proverbs passage makes me wonder—  if someone were eavesdropping on our most radical prayer, what things they might they hear us asking for? What is it that would free us to be our truest selves before God?

Some quiet music to think about that question:

Anchoress ~ Kerani 

Fear or Faith?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

       Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082818.cfm

Mt 23_24 camael gnat

Today, in Mercy, Paul talks seriously with the community at Thessalonika. Some early Christians expected the final coming of Christ to happen imminently. They had become upset, and somewhat obsessed, with concerns and rumors about “the end times”. Reactions range from fear to panic to denial.

Paul basically tells the community to settle down – “Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” In other words, focus on the core teachings of your faith – love, service, and grateful, joyful worship – not on the imagined fears of some unenlightened shouters.

We see such misdirection manifested in fundamentalism, scrupulosity, exaggerated devotional practices, cultic behaviors, even superstitions – the kinds of attitudes Jesus condemns in today’s Gospel.  These conditions cause us to become judgmental, elitist and superficial. They distract us from attention to the heart of our faith – mutual love, unselfish service, merciful justice, Christlike inclusivity.

Even as I write this reflection, we have a Church — like Thessolonia — fraught with turmoil.  Many call it unprecedented, although any student of Church History knows it is not. Still. it is a time when we who love the Catholic faith must pray for light, courage and fidelity. Let us pray too for Pope Francis that he may rely on the Holy Spirit to help him act courageously and definitively, as Paul did, to right the Beloved Community.

As for each of us, the fullness of God needs a large soul – not one shrunken by its own pettiness, fears, and self-righteousness. As St. Augustine prayed:

Narrow is the mansion of my soul;
enlarge Thou it,
that Thou mayest enter in.

Music: A Heart Like Yours ~ CeCe Winans