The True Heart

Monday, April 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings offer copious lessons as well as an enthralling drama from the Book of Daniel.

John8_12Light

We have heard the original story many times, and seen it repeated, down through the ages, in innumerable forms: a woman targeted by lecherous men, innocence betrayed by treachery, power exercised in destructive selfishness. When we see goodness vindicated in this story, we feel a certain victory for the ages! Am I right?

While the story’s surface addresses sexual assault and false condemnation, its heart is about power and truth. Susanna and Daniel embody these virtues. The two corrupt judges manifest their distortion.

In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims his identity as the Light of the World. He confronts the Pharisees because they “judge by appearances” rather than by truth. They use their power to oppress rather than to free.

Power and truth suffer terribly in today’s world. They are obscured by the same darknesses we see in the story of Susanna – conspiracy, secrecy, false accusation, dissimulation, malfeasance, and total disregard for human pain. Ultimately, it is always the innocent and poor who suffer most in such an atmosphere.

We pray today for Divine Light for every hidden darkness, for bravery like Daniel’s, for fidelity like Susanna’s, and for truthfulness to make us worthy of the Name of Christ.

Music: A mantra based on John 14 – The Spirit of Truth

It’s the Law … hmmm!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about “law”.

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  • Deuteronomy talks about the Law of Moses as he received it from God.
  • Psalm 147 talks about God’s law as it is expressed in nature and human understanding.
  • In Matthew, Jesus talks about his New Law as a development, not a contradiction, of the Old Law.

All this talk of “law” seems coincidental, doesn’t it, in these days after the Mueller report and what is within, above and beyond “the law”. So many definitions and concepts of “law”!

So, as we pray these scriptures, we might ask ourselves, “What exactly is “law”, especially in terms of my spiritual life and development?”

St. Thomas Aquinas may be a good place to start. Here are his definitions, simplified:

oh boy

  • Eternal Law = God’s will and guidance which orders all creatures toward the good of the universe.
  • Natural Law = our self-ordering, by reason, toward this universal good.
  • Human Law = particular statutes instituted in accord with human reason for the good of civil society.
  • Divine Law = the revealed law of God as found in Scripture

Praying with these concepts is different from studying them.

If we pray with the concept of eternal law, we might offer praise for God’s unchanging Presence in our lives, assuring us that we are eternally loved.

If we pray with the concept of natural law, we might say of a prayer of supplication for the grace to be attuned to God in all our natural thoughts, words and actions.

If we pray with the concept of human law, we might pray in contrition for all the ways we humans mistake law for justice.

If we pray with the concept of divine law, we might offer thanks for God’s generous revelation which allows us to contemplate and grow in relationship with God.

We want our understanding and living of law to be rooted in the heart of God, according to these verse from John 6:

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

Let’s pray for that rootedness today.

Music: I Will Delight in the Law of the Lord – Maranatha

Skies Darken for Jesus

Friday, March 22, 2019

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Agnus Dei

Today, in Mercy, we begin with the powerful and moving story of Joseph – sweet, innocent son of of Jacob who was betrayed by his brothers. Jacob sends Joseph to work with his brothers, believing they love him. He was wrong.

Our Gospel then tells the story of the frustrated landowner who sent his son on mission to settle his accounts. though the landowner’s servants had been abused by the tenants, he believed his son would be respected. He was wrong.

Both these stories are prototypes of the Father sending Jesus to redeem us. The intention is the same. The hope is the same. Unfortunately, the result is the same.

In our Gospel, Jesus realizes that the Father’s hope for him will not be met with openness and acceptance. He sees the Pharisees milling around in hateful conversation.  Referencing the parable, Jesus says:

“The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for the crowds regarded him as a prophet.

This morning, let’s pray for all those who send their beloveds out in hope to do good in the world:

  • for police officers, firefighters, first responders whose families send them out each day always fearing for their safety
  • for medical personnel who risk sickness in their care for others
  • for missionaries and justice workers who encounter threat and danger in helping others
  • for peacekeepers and military who work to end war and tyranny
  • for all of us when we reach out in justice and courage, hoping to be received with respect and mutuality

May the example of Christ inspire and sustain us to do our part for God’s continuing redemption of the world.

Music: Agnis Dei – Michael Hoppè

Wait on the Lord

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we find so many singular, profound words in Sirach. Each word is like a deep pool that can be prayed into, like a diver becoming one with the water.

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Sirach is instructing his “son” on relationship with God. As we pray with the reading, we can focus on these words. We can ask for the grace to enrich our friendship with God by deepening in these virtues:

Justice —- Sincerity—- Steadfastness—-
Peacefulness —- Patience —- Trust —-
Mercy —- Hope —- Spiritual Insight—-
Compassion —- Forgiveness

In our Gospel, the disciples need a reminder about which virtues lead to true greatness. Like them, we all get off track sometimes about our own self-importance.

Jesus brings their focus back to truth by placing a little child in their midst. Let’s pray today for a graceful re-focusing of our hearts.

“If anyone wishes to be first,   
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, Jesus placed her in their midst,   

and putting his arms around her, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Music: Be Still – Mary McDonald – Sunday 7pm Choir

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.

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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.