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

God’s Guts

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have one of the most beautiful yet demanding readings in the Bible – Colossians 3:12-17.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.


I remember our beloved Mother Mary Bernard recommending this passage to us when we were only novices – so unripe in our pursuit of spirituality. Since that treasured recommendation, I have prayed with this passage thousands of times. It never fails to reveal something new, deeper, and challenging.

A particularly pregnant verse is this:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion…

Gosh, the way it’s translated there makes it sound like a Valentine, doesn’t it?  


But take a look at the Douay-Rheims Version, the translation popular before the Jerusalem Bible of the 1960s:

Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved,
the bowels of mercy…

The Greek word for “mercy” here is σπλάγχνα splagchnon or splancha. And it means “guts” – bowels. So there goes our Valentine! You wouldn’t want to get that picture on a greeting card!


What Paul is preaching is not a lovey-dovey sweet religiosity. He wants mercy, and all the accompanying virtues, to grab our guts and never let go until we love as radically as Jesus loves.

We all know what “splancha” feels like: 

  • It’s the way your heart twists with adrenaline when a truck runs the red light just hair in front of you.
  • It’s the way your stomach tosses when it’s your turn for your first public speaking foray.
  • It’s the way your throat catches when you have to speak the words of a beloved’s death.
  • It’s the tears that well up unbidden when you kiss your sleeping child.

Splancha is the place where we are tied to other human beings so deeply that it is visible only to God.

Jms Keenan copy

It is the place where our soul’s umbilical cord is knit with God’s womb, that sacred place where we are recreated again and again in the Holy Spirit by our acts of mercy and love for one another.

God wants us to have “splancha love” for every one of God’s Creatures. God wants us to make that love real in our acts of mercy and justice. Paul is telling us how to do it today.

Music: How He Loves Us – sung by Kim Walker Smith with Jesus Culture

This song was composed by John Mark McMillan. This beautiful video about his composition is a real witness story. I encourage you to take the time to watch it.

Remembering Our Way Home…

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the world will remember the abomination of the 9/11 attacks when nearly 3000 innocent lives were sacrificed to hatred, vengeance, and cowardice.

Some will remember in anger; some in forgiveness. Some will remember in grief; some in triumph. Some will remember with a will to seek peace; some with a drive to wreak endless retribution. Some with unquenchable sorrow; some with a false and self-destructive pride.

Some, too jaded by the years of savagery since then, will remember the day with despair.

Some, too young to remember at all, will simply try to grow up in the fragmented world it has left them.

Tragically, some throughout the world are so devastated by their own sufferings that there is no energy to remember. Some have endured war and oppression for so long that there is no peace to remember.

We in the human family were not created to live like this. 

Col3_4 christ appears

Paul tells us that we …

… were raised with Christ, so seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Jesus tells us that when that glory comes, it will be these who appear with him..

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.

On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and on every day of our lives, we have a choice of how we will see the world, of how we will love or hate, embrace or exclude our sisters and brothers. Every day, we have choices to make about how we will allow, ignore, or stand against hate, division, oppression and indifference to human suffering.

We may think our power is small to change the world. But it is the only power we have or need. With those graced and intentional choices we…

… have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its Creator.

Today, as we remember, let us also be excruciatingly aware of those who continue to suffer … at the world’s hard borders, in the Bahamas, Syria, Yemen, Rakhine, and in every place where abusive domination and greedy indifference crushes innocent life.

Music: When We Go Home, We Go Together- Pure Heart Ensemble 

Walk in Him

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2019

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Today in Mercy, Beloveds, our first reading allowed the reflection to almost write itself. Savor the sweet words. They are all we need today.

Col2_6 Walk

Walk in Him.

Trust in Him.

Hope in Him.

Delight in Him.

Risk in Him.

Act in Him.

Love in Him.

Rest in Him.

Believe in Him.

Walk in Him. (Hold hands.)

Music: Just a Closer Walk with Thee – anonymous composition from the 1800s, sung here by the great Patsy Cline and the inimitable Willie Nelson
Lyrics below

1 I am weak but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Refrain:
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

2 Thro’ this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee. [Refrain]

3 When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore. [Refrain]

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

The Wisdom of God

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Church links three readings which, at first glance, seem unrelated.

  • Our first reading from Wisdom reminds us of God’s infinite wisdom, incomprehensible to our human minds.
  • Paul, in his letter to Philemon, begs for the loving inclusion of Onesimus, an enslaved person, into the Colossian community.
  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus  makes the harsh pronouncement:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

How might we interpret these disparate passages to find a message of wholeness for our prayer?

Wis9_13 gods mind

Let’s start with Jesus. In no uncertain terms, he challenges his disciples to move out of their small worlds into God’s big world. That Godly world is not defined by family, nor by any condition other than our common Creaturehood in God … not by:

word gram

Jesus says the sacred community is defined only by shared and irrevocable commitment to the Gospel of love and mercy.

Paul knows and loves Onesimus, the slave, as a brother in this community. In his letter, Paul encourages Philemon to do the same.

Sometimes as human beings, filled with all kinds of insecurities, we tend to build enclaves that make us feel safe. We like to be with “our kind”. We invent borders to filter out those whose differences we don’t understand. We allow fear to grow out of that lack of understanding. Within the enclosure of our self-protectionism, we eventually forget that we are all one, equal, precious, beautiful and beloved by God.

Such toxic attitudes are the soil for slavery, war, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy,   human trafficking, destructive nationalism, and all the other sacrileges committed by humans against the human family.

Wisdom reminds us that only God can open the tight circle of our fears, judgments and isolations – only God whose infinite love encompasses all. Jesus tells us that we find that love only by lifting up the cross and following him.

Wisdom tells us to put it in God’s hands, and to respond to God’s challenge in the preaching of Jesus Christ.

Who can know your way of thinking, O God
… except you give us wisdom

 and send your Holy Spirit from on high
 thus stretching the hearts of those on earth

Today I pray, may God do this for me, and for all our tight, convoluted and troubled world.

Music: Who Has Known (an Advent hymn, but perfect I think for today’s readings)

God is a Sliding Board!

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Paul references some pretty mean-spirited Colossians:

You once were alienated and hostile in mind
because of evil deeds.

Whoa! Where did these meanies come from amid all the blessed populace?
They must have been nice to be around!

All of us have been in the presence of such off-kilter people. They seem all twisted in their own negativity and judgmentalism. There is no joy in them, no warmth, no kindness. Unhappily, we may even have such a person at times.

Paul is clear on the cure for such ill-temper:

  • Reconciliation through a persevering faith
  • Stability in hope, grounded the Gospel

If you have ever used a GPS device while driving, you have probably had the same experience as I have. At least five annoying times per journey, the gal is my dashboard shouts:

Recalculating route!

Paul says that with our reconciliation through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, there is no need to recalculate. As our Responsorial Psalm tells us:

I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.

Once again in our Gospel, the Pharisees try to distract from the clarity of Jesus’ message. They worry about the tiniest grains rather than the Radiant Truth in their midst. They keep trying to recalculate a route through their circuitous laws rather than opening their hearts to the Way.

It’s easy to get infected with such running around in circles. The bigness of God can be scary. We sometimes make up useless curves to avoid God’s awesomeness.

Jn14_6slide

Indeed, God is a sliding board with no handrails! But, Paul assures us that we are riding it in Christ’s arms.

Music: I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life – Bob Hurd

All Things Hold Together

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings challenge us to see things differently- to see with God’s eyes.

Col1_15 image of God

Paul invites us first with the glorious Colossians Hymn. No words can enhance it. Let us savor it in itself:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the Body, the Church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the Blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.


 

wineskin
Ancient wineskins were not like the fancy botas we see today. They were formed from the entire skin of the animal. As the new wine fermented inside, the skin expanded with the fermentation. It ultimately stretched beyond further use. – thus the necessity for new skins for new wine.

 

Jesus, in our Gospel, tells us we must become new wineskins in order to hold the vibrant gift of new life in Christ. He says the old ways, stiffened by pharisaical pretensions, have lost the elasticity of grace. He warns us to avoid the accretions of showy religious practice which may bury and inhibit sincere faith.

 

 

 

 


 

Jesus is the new wine of love and mercy, and our hearts must become his new wineskins.

As we pray, this poetic musical piece may inspire us. … in Him, all things hold together …

Music: The Christ Hymn – Alana Levandoski

Big Prayers

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus and Paul teach us how to pray for one another.

I like to call it “gifting prayer” because it is, indeed, a generous offering we give to others.


Little Prayers

little prayers

I sometimes pray for simple things – that a family member wins the lottery, or it doesn’t rain on a friend’s wedding.

And I pray for consequential things – improved health for a neighbor, safety for travelers, deliverance from disaster.

These prayers are rooted in the wish for material improvement. But there is a deeper kind of prayer that we can offer.


The Big Prayer

Gifting Prayer is a wide halo of love and hope we generate
by our desire for someone else’s eternal good – for their holiness.

This kind of prayer is much bigger than the small prayers we say for others. 

Paul describes what such prayer should ask for – that our beloved:

  • be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
  • gain all spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • walk in a manner worthy of the Lord
  • be fully pleasing, in every good work 
  • bear fruit and grow in the knowledge of God,
  • be strengthened with all endurance and patience,
  • and give thanks, with joy, to the Father for the gift of faith

Now THAT’S a prayer!


Gospel Clues

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, gives us a clue about how to pray such a prayer. He says that it’s kind of like catching fish. The Gospel fishermen have labored all night with no results. Sometimes our prayer feels like that, doesn’t it?

Lk5_4 nets

Jesus says no matter. Keep on fishing – keep on praying. Shift perspective a little bit “to the other side of the boat” – to God’s way of seeing good for those we pray for.

Ask for God to do what God deems best. This attitude in prayer opens us to divine possibilities. It hopefully brings unimagined resolutions to those we pray for.

Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch…
…When they had done this, they caught so great a number of fish
that their nets were bursting.

Let God burst the tight net by which we might define our prayer. Let’s be amazed by all that God desires to give us beyond our small wishes.

Music: Trust His Heart – Babbie Mason

Don’t Take It for Granted

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we begin a little over a week of readings from Colossians. Paul loves this community in a way similar to the Thessalonians. The Colossians’ faith has been tested and has proven true.

But Paul wants to protect their faith because it is being newly tested by a round of heresies and social challenges.

The words of these scriptures want to protect and direct us too.

We, like the people in today’s Gospel, are familiar with Jesus. But familiarity can breed things not so obvious as contempt. It can breed indifference, ingratitude, unexamined expectations, taking our blessings for granted. (Examination of Conscience Alert!!)

col1_6

Both Colossians and Luke today encourage us to recognize the unparalleled gift of our faith – to protect, nurture, rejoice in and share it.

Just as in the whole world
the Gospel is bearing fruit and growing,

so also among you,
from the day you heard it
and came to know
the grace of God in truth.

Music: Bless Our God – John Foley (Lyrics below) Just a beautiful song — I love it!