Choices

Friday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

January 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, if this first reading doesn’t smack you right between the eyes, check your political pulse, dear Friends!

David has become King, called to lead his people with a largeness of heart for their good…. but…

power

 

Power tends to corrupt, and the corruption is hard to resist even for the likes of David. With no checks and balances on him, David commandeers anything he desires – nations, goods, women, human lives! He is convinced that he can do anything he wants to do. His choices lurch him into a spinning culture of death, evil, and selfishness.

This passage from 2 Samuel is threaded with the very same lines woven into this morning’s newspapers: plotting, manipulation, lying, obstruction, projection, irresponsibility, crudeness, disrespect….

Aren’t we just so sick and tired of it all!?

Over the coming days, we will see how David’s corruption affects him – and it’s quite a drama! But for our prayer today, what can we learn?


Perhaps the Gospel offers us a key.

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Jesus talks about “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He uses the symbols of a healthy harvest and a tiny mustard seed. He teaches his listeners that when the things of God are planted deep in us, we too yield a life-giving harvest. We become large-hearted, God-hearted.

Through the gift of free will, God gives us power. We can choose between good and evil, self and others, life and death. In today’s passage, David makes some huge, selfish mistakes in his choices.

Throughout history and even today, people make the same good and bad choices. When leaders make such choices, the whole world feels the impact.

Today, I might want to check how I’m doing, not only in my personal choices, but in my advocacy for a moral and just world for all people.

Music:  A Pure Heart – Rusty Nelson

Who’s Boss?

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 30, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David has received a wake up call from God, delivered by the prophet Nathan:

Go and tell David my servant, Thus says the LORD:
Is it you who would build me a house to dwell in?
 
2 Samuel 7:5

As a follow up to David’s big idea of building a house for God, God says,”Wait a minute! I don’t think so!” Gently, but ever so clearly, God reminds David of a phrase very popular on social media today:

boss

It seems David has gotten a little full of himself. He likes being King. He decides to use his power and position to do something nice for God. But God uses the occasion to remind David that all that David has comes from God. David is not God’s King, he is God’s servant. David can’t do anything for God except to offer thanks, praise and worship.

Ps119 lamp

This huge spiritual insight turns David’s heart to see himself truly as God sees him. His subsequent prayer is full of humility and gratitude as David asks God for continued blessing on David’s House.

The lesson for me today is this: God is God. I am nothing without God. Everything I have and am comes from the Divine Goodness.

Meister Eckhart echoes here:

If the only prayer we say
in our entire lives is

“Thank You”,
it is enough.

Music: Thank You, God – mantra video composed by Michelle Sherliza

God Gets Tough

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

January 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we ride with Paul on the road to Damascus, there to be struck with him by a Godly Light.

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The Conversion of St. Paul — Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Have you ever been knocked off your “high horse” by the sudden realization of something to which you had been totally blind? It’s shocking, isn’t it? 

We might react by castigating ourselves with remarks like:

  • How could I have missed that?
  • Wow, I was really stupid, or foolish, or naïve, or prejudiced, or misled, or … or what?

God, in a kind of ironic twist, strikes Paul blind in order to cure him of his real blindness: the right he claimed to persecute others for a faith he didn’t understand.

Sometimes God has to be pretty tough with us to wake us up to the truth of our souls. John Donne, the pre-eminent English metaphysical poet, prayed for that kind of Divine Toughness in his poem Batter my heart, three-personed God.

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Since I have blogged twice previously about this feast,


Links available here:

Click here for 1/24/2019 Reflection

Click here for 4/19/2018 Reflection


I thought my readers might like to pray with Donne’s poem, read by Tom O’Bedlam

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Here also is a musical interpretation of the poem.
The University of South Florida Chamber Singers perform Richard Nance’s “Batter my heart” under the direction of Dr. James Bass 

Fill the World with Love

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

January 24, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David spares Saul’s life even though Saul is in murderous pursuit of him. (Here is a video for kids featuring the moment. But I thought it was pretty cool. Maybe you will too.)

Is David noble or naïve? Is he magnanimous or stupid? As I pray this morning, I ask myself what it is that God might be saying to me through this passage.

Two things rise up:

  1. Above all else, David is motivated by a deep respect for God’s Will and Presence in his life.

David said to his men,
“The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master,
the LORD’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him,
for he is the LORD’s anointed.”

    2.  David engages Saul directly and respectfully in the hope of reaching a resolution of    their issues.

When David finished saying these things to Saul, Saul answered,
“Is that your voice, my son David?”
And Saul wept aloud.

Reverence and honesty rooted in sincere love and respect for one another! What a world we would live in if each of us practiced these things unfailingly!


In our Gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to live in the world in just such a way – to bring healing and wholeness in the Name of Christ, for the sake of Love.

Our Alleluia Verse today captures the essence of Christ’s call to them —- and to us:

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
and entrusting to us the message of that reconciliation.


Music: To Fill the World with Love sung by Richard Harris
(Lyrics below, but you will no doubt recall them from the fabulous film “Goodbye Mr. Chips”.)

In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through

In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only You can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?

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.

nose
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.

tangled netJPG

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.

Church_of_Gregory_of_Armenia_of_Saint_Basil's_Cathedral_1
 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?

elephant

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