The Sacred Legacy of MLK

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we memorialize the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our readings speak about leadership and its continuing call to renew the world in the image of its Creator.

In our first reading, Samuel relays God’s displeasure to Saul who, though a conquering hero, has failed in humility and obedience before the Lord. 

In the story, God has given a clear direction to Saul to obliterate Israel’s centuries-old enemy, the Amalekites. Instead Saul, after executing the masses, keeps the enemy king alive as a war trophy. He appropriates the cattle as personal spoil. He also sets up a shrine to commemorate the victory as his own.

God is not happy. When we profess to lead in God’s name we must act as God directs us. In order to understand God’s direction, we must cultivate an honest, just and merciful heart.


Martin Luther King was such a leader. By his faithful obedience to God’s inspiration, Martin, at the ultimate cost, turned the tides of history toward justice and freedom.

But the tides still need turning, because there will always be those who seek “war trophies”, and personal spoil, and domination for themselves. Our times are tortured by such selfish and failed leadership, just as all of history has been from ancient Israel until 1968 and until now.

Today, as we pray with this great prophet and leader, we ask that selfless, merciful and faith-impelled souls continue to hear the call to justice in our day. May Martin’s witness strengthen and inspire us.


Music: Precious Lord, Take My Hand – Mahalia Jackson (Lyrics below)

Per Dr. King’s request, his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, though not as part of the morning funeral service but later that day at a second open-air service at Morehouse College.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on through the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

When my way grows dreary
Precious Lord, lead me near
When my life is almost gone
At the river I will stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

Pants on Fire?

Thursday after Epiphany

January 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks about liars. He made me really think.

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Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

When I was a kid going to weekly Saturday night confession (yes, remember a lot of us did that😇), I really had to scrape to get a decent pile of sins. I mean, honestly, how much evil can one eight-year-old generate in a week?

But lying was always a good fallback to report on. You know the deal: I told my teacher that I forgot my homework when I really hadn’t done it. I told Petey Nicolo I could beat him up when I knew I couldn’t. I told Chickie Schmidt I could ride a big bike like hers when I had actually just fallen on my face off a smaller one. I told Sister I wasn’t smoking in the girls’ room when my very own cousin Joanie threw me under the bus!

As you can see, I was your normal childhood compulsive liar – pretending to be and do lots of things I only wished I could be or do. But that’s just part of growing up. Like most people, I got over it when I began to realize the power and necessity of growing confidently into one’s true self.

People depend on us to be who we really are, to be the real deal. The value of our work and contributions to the world hinges on this. The depth and endurance of our relationships rest on such transparency and authenticity. Even our ability to love ourselves is rooted in honest self-awareness.

 

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So how do we deepen in that kind of truthfulness, especially in this culture that so abuses it? John tells us that love is the way:

Beloved, we love God because
God first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,”
but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Friends, we live in a culture drowning in lies. Some have come to believe that unless one lies, one cannot compete. Businesses lie to sell untested or worthless commodities. Manufacturers veil the danger of their drugs, tobacco and vaping products. Politicians lie to condemn their opponents. Leaders lie to justify war. And criminals lie to excuse their crimes.

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These liars may never even consider that their tangled lives are related to the scriptures. But every one of these deceptions is fueled by a failure in reverence and love for our sisters and brothers, by a failure in courage to be responsible for one another.

We lie because we think our truth is not enough. John tells us differently. Our awesome Truth is that we all are God’s children!

Our reading closes today with these words, so critical to the rebuilding of a truthful world:

In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Let’s pray for one another’s courage, dear Friends, to be and demand the Truth that Love requires.

Music: True Heart – Oak Ridge Boys

Often, I use a popular song for prayer, allowing its words to speak to God for me.
You might like to try it with this song. No doubt intended as a human love song, it can be a divine love song too – and it’s sure a good wake up prayer😉

Get By with a Little Help from…

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

January 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we lay aside our holiday experiences and dress once again in our ordinary dailyness. It is time to begin again, in this new year, the faithful living of our lives.

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 copyright: Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko

The Church encourages us with the celebration of two great friends, Basil and Gregory. These men are particularly venerated, with St. John Chrysostom, in the Eastern Churches, whose character they highly impacted. These tremendously influential ministers supported and inspired one another to do great things for God in a time when the faith was sorely tested.

To learn more about these great saints called the Three Hierarchs, click here.


The friendship and legacy of these iconic saints reminds us that we need one another’s support and example to stay strong in our own faith. In our first reading, John tells us the same thing.

We live in a world not unlike that of Basil, Gregory, and Chrysostom. Conflicting, and often deceitful, forces twist the faith to distort its original truth. In our world, these false perceptions are used as excuses for all kinds of evils: war, nationalism, prejudicial exclusion, and racial and economic domination.

But John the Evangelist says this in our first reading:

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.

Today’s Gospel shows us that even John the Baptist had to juggle thorny religious questions in order to stay focused on the core truth of Christ. The Baptist keeps this focus by his singular faith and humility:

… there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

So today, inspired by these great saints, let us take up the call to be true humble followers of Jesus, making our faith evident by our choices for mercy, justice and love in a conflicted world.

Music: Hymn of the Cherubim- Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom 

Don’t Let Him Just Pass By!

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading sets the stage for the story of the Maccabees, a story whose drama we read about just last Sunday. 

Today’s passage reveals the political maneuvering by which King Antiochus Epiphanes sought to coöpt and dominate the Jewish people. The intricacies of the Maccabean Revolt are complex, but for our purposes, we look to the unwavering Jewish faithfulness to their covenant with God.

Throughout this week, we will see the story unfold in stark, dramatic tones. In between those tones, we find the prophetic witness of Eleazar, a martyred mother and her seven martyred sons, and the leadership of Mattathias and his offspring.

All of these witnesses called the Jewish people to see that a reality other than their domination was possible. As Brueggemann says:

“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish,
and evoke a consciousness and perception
alternative to the consciousness and perception
of the dominant culture around us.”
~ Prophetic Imagination 


Such witness was the whole point of Christ’s ministry on earth. It is the whole point of our continuing participation in the Paschal Mystery.

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We may or may not be called to the intense witness of the Maccabee story. But we are called to see, and to help others see, Jesus present in our world and all around us. He will be disguised in a thousand different ways – the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the elderly, the young, the vulnerable. But also your next door neighbor, your mother-in-law, your most challenging student and your bossy supervisor.

Today’s Gospel encourages us to listen under appearances, and – like the blind man – to hear his continual approach to our hearts, to ask Him to let us see the amazing Truth all around us and to respond to it with the expectation of being transformed!

Music:  Oh It Is Jesus Passing By – Soweto Choir – Lyrics below

(Click here to learn more about Soweto Choir)

oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it is Jesus in my soul
for I have touched a hem of his garment,
and his blood has made me whole.
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.
I’ve tried
oh seems like nothing did me any good
then I heard Jesus, he was passing by
and I decided to give him a try
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.

Who Will Stand in the End?

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings carry the full flavor of the “end times” warnings, those repeated annually as we move closer to Advent ( which is only two weeks away!)

Malachi is very direct:

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
 when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble…

Wow! Really? Our reaction might range from “Good! Go get ‘em, God!” to “Oh, dear God, I hope it’s not me!!!”.

But Paul resets us on the right track. He says something like this:

Listen! You must imitate your teachers in Christ.
Live with integrity, justice and generous mercy.
Navigate the world with these as your compass.
Then you will welcome the end times.


Lk21_19 perseverance

In our world, we see the opposing forces of good and evil clearly pulling against one another. In our decisions and attitudes, we are confronted with the choice between sin and selflessness.

The “elephant in the room” this week for many of us is the impeachment hearings. How do we view this event as people of Gospel faith? How do we respond?

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While some of us believe strongly in separation of Church and State, still we acknowledge that our FAITH is exercised in a political world. We pursue our full conversion in Christ through “polity“:  our just and compassionate interactions with all Creation.

Right in front of us this week, we have seen  amazing displays of courage and morality standing against venal self-interests. How does what we see align with our own living of justice and mercy?

Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how“. If this isn’t the same challenge tackled in the Gospel, I don’t know what is! Jesus said that the poor and disenfranchised should be the first to “get” – through peace, love and mercy. Making that happen is our Christian call.

However, it is likely impossible to communicate God’s vision for the world in the language of politics.  Walter Brueggemann says this:

The prophet’s task is to imagine the world as though Yahweh, the God of Israel and the creator of heaven and earth, were a real character and a lively agent in the life of the world.  I believe that such a claim, then and now, has to be articulated poetically in order not to be co-opted by political absolutism or theological orthodoxy.
~Walter Brueggemann 

Our readings today give us this poetic vision and challenge. Read them with great longing to hear God’s voice for our times. The world so sorely needs the answer that will grow in our souls.

Music:  Let Justice Roll

Haggai Impeaches Israel

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 26, 2010

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Today, in Mercy – and tomorrow – we will hear from Haggai, one of the twelve minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. These dozen writers are referred to as “minor” because of the length of their writings, not their value.

So Haggai, even though many of us have never heard of him, has something important to say for Judeo-Christian tradition and for each of us who read him. Let’s see what that might be.

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Haggai is prophesying during the Persian period of Jewish history, around the middle of the 6th century, BC. The Jewish people had been back home from the Babylonian captivity for almost 20 years. When they first returned they were passionate about rebuilding the Temple. But as the decades passed, and opposition from their non-Jewish neighbors increased, their commitment waned.

The building of worship places has always been an activity with fans on both sides of the aisle. Some argue that God needs a spot where the Divine Presence can be recognized and revered. Others believe that the effort and resources expended in such building could better be used in human services for God’s poor and needy people. Haggai’s community had people in both camps. (Sound familiar?)

Haggai offers a turning point for their arguments. He tells the people they are a mess. The absence of a central symbol for their faith has weakened and scattered them to their own selfish pursuits. He tells them to look at themselves:

Consider your ways!
You have sown much, but have brought in little;
you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.

The Temple, while it is important, isn’t the most important part of Haggai’s prophecy. He tells the people they have lost their souls. The lack of a central, shared faith has caused them to forget who they are. They will remember only when they remember God’s centrality in their lives.

Haggai appeals to the people to restore a public life which gives honor to God. For their time and circumstance, such a return is symbolized by the rebuilding of the Temple which had been destroyed at the time of their enslavement by Babylon.

We humans often forget what’s important. We chip away at, and ultimately destroy, what makes us who we are by little acts of faithlessness, deceit, covetousness and envy. These small treacheries grow into big ones redeemable only by an impeachment of the soul and the renewal of a common moral purpose.

If the message strikes you as extremely germane to current day realities, I’m glad.

Music: Come Back to Me – by Gregory Norbet, sung by John Michael Talbot

A Plank in the Eye

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Friday, September 13, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, Paul, seeing himself as he really is, gives thanks and praise for his unmerited salvation.

Paul says this:

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

God has also granted me the gift of unmerited salvation. You too, my friends. But everybody’s story is a little different. So I thought a bit today about what I might fill in for those bolded words above. (And you can be sure I’m not going to tell you!😂) You might want to do the same in your prayer today.

In our Gospel, Jesus confronts those who think they are, not beneath, but above redemption and salvation. It’s beautiful: he nails the nitpickers who see the flaws in everyone but themselves.

How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

IMG_0799Luke6_41 beam

It’s always been one of my favorite passages. But do you know why? It’s because the beam in my own eye probably has prevented me from seeing that the passage is about me!🥺

Music: Only Takes a Moment – Cory Asbury

All That Is Withered

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

September 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus share a similar situation.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome. Visited by Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae, Paul seizes the chance to write to these Christians whom he has never seen in person. Paul tells the Colossians that his singular intention is to preach the truth of the Gospel so that they, and all the world, may be transformed in Christ.

to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

That “mystery” is the nature of God as Love, only fleetingly accessible before its full revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Luke6_10 withered hand

Jesus too, in today’s Gospel, is in a sort of prison. The prison consists of the entrenched resistance of people like the Pharisees. They are so entangled in the deceitful and self- serving interpretation of Law that they are blind to the revelation before them. They wait to pounce on Jesus if, contrary to the laws of the Sabbath, he heals a man’s withered hand.

Jesus tries logic in today’s account:

Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Unable to resist the logic, the Pharisees retreat to anger. They begin to plot the removal of this Truth they cannot counter. The saddest part of these resistances is that they estrange the resisters from their own good, from their own freedom, from their own salvation.

In our world, we see so many places closed off to the Mystery of Love.  We see people imprisoning themselves in their own resistance and hate while they plot to build barriers against others. We see it in our geo-political world, in our Church, in our workplaces, in ourselves.

It takes courage to recognize and turn from such self-destructive fixations. We must be alert and brave to cooperate with our own transformation in grace.

This is why Paul writes of …

the great struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

This is why God continues to offer grace in the gift of Jesus Christ, healing all that is “withered” in us when we lift it up in faith.

Music: God Will Make a Way – Dan Moen

Let the Light In

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Deuteronomy. In today’s passage, Moses gives the first of three speeches to the community. These speeches are a sort of manifesto a family patriarch might give before he dies, framing the family history and code to direct coming generations.

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Dad

 

The reading falls on a most appropriate day for me.
Today would be my Dad’s 104th birthday.
The occasion invites me to recount all the blessings
given to him, me, and our family.

 


When we, as people of faith, step back from our lives in reverence, we realize God’s immense goodness to us. Moses encourages his people to do just such stepping back:

Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?

We might ask ourselves the same thing. 

  • How has God been with me and my family through our lifetimes, and through the generations that preceded us?
  • In both our lights and darknesses, how has God continually called us to relationship?
  • How have we revealed God’s voice to one another by our love, honesty, support, patient accompaniment, generous correction and forgiveness?
  • How have these gifts to one another allowed us to become gifts to the larger world?
  • What am I passing on to the next generation of the fidelity and sacrifice which has blessed me?

When I think of my Dad, there are so many symbols that show how he answered those questions with his life. They aren’t big manifestos like those of Moses. Instead: 

  • a frayed prayer book that I watched him finger daily
  • an old receipt for my bicycle bought in incremental payments he could barely afford
  • his sincere distress one Assumption Day when he had forgotten to go to Mass
  • his steadfast attempt to work even when illness weakened him and his humble trust in God when that weakness appeared to triumph
  • a treasured conversation about his hope for heaven
  • the appreciation now, in my maturity, of his thousand quiet acts of faith and love

All of us might spend some time in gratitude for the legacy of faith and love we have received. No family is perfect, and the grace may come to us in clarity or in disguise. But it comes. 

There are fractures and tears in every family. There were some even in Moses’ “family” and Moses himself! And we cannot magically heal them all. But God asks us to remember that God abides with us even in any fragmentation. Just as the poet Leonard Cohen sings:

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Click here to listen to Cohen’s moving song

If what we remember in our family history are weaknesses, how have they made us stronger? If what we remember are strengths, how have they made us more generous? In either case, how have we heard God’s voice in our story? How have we let the Light in?

As Moses tells his people:

This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,

and that there is no other.

Music: As for Me and My House – Promise Keepers

Twisted Blessing

 Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we move on to the next great Genesis drama – the story of Jacob and Esau.

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We remember the circumstances. Isaac, grown old and blind, wants to pass the inherited Promise to his firstborn and favorite son – swarthy, earthy Esau (a definite Robert Mitchum role😀) Rebekah, inclined to her son Jacob, helps him disguise himself as Esau to steal the birthright blessing.

Their deceptive success is one of the greatest Biblical examples of how God turns our lives upside down – imparting grace and blessing, even in the disguise of life’s adverse experiences. The story, ripe with Biblical theology and human psychology, is just plain fun to read. See which character you most sympathize with in the drama- and maybe ask yourself why!

But beyond the reading, we might pray with an awareness of God’s unexpected, even amazing, interventions in our own lives. We might ask for that steadfast faith which reveres all circumstances as an unfolding dialogue with this Giver of Grace. As we consider Jacob’s call and promise, we might thank God for our own Baptismal call, and renew our own promise of enduring faith.

Music: Hymn of Promise – Debra Nesgoda