Be Careful What You Ask For

Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot

January 17, 2020

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www-St-Takla-org--b3h-50-israel-demands-a-king
1 Samuel 8:19 – Israel demands a king. J. Winter – from “The Bible and its Story” book, authored by Charles Horne, 1909

Today, in Mercy, our first reading startles us with how foolish the Israelites are about their leaders. Oh, wait a minute, why are we so surprised? Don’t we see the same dynamics all around us?

Israel is desperate for a “strong man” who will mimic the tyrants leading their enemies. They say a king will “rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” They begin to envision a nation of their own design, not God’s.

They believe that having an absolute leader will make them strong. They are indifferent to Samuel’s warnings that such a choice will usurp their freedom, and lead to their devastation and enslavement.

lossy-page1-441px-Olivetan_Master_-_Leaf_from_an_Antiphonary-_Historiated_Initial_P_with_the_Prophet_Samuel;_Ar_-_1999.131_-_Cleveland_Museum_of_Art.tif
This leaf is distinguished by a large initial P depicting Samuel, the last and one of the greatest of Israel’s judges. It introduces the text Preparte corda vestra domino et servite (“Prepare your hearts for the Lord and serve”). In the lower margin are the arms of the Visconti family, rulers of Milan, featuring an eagle (left) and a coiled serpent (right). At bottom center is the emblem of the Olivetan Order, a reformed branch of the Benedictines founded in 1319 known as the “white monks.” The Olivetan monastery in Milan was founded in 1400 and it appears that this leaf belonged to a set of choral books presented to the monastery by one of the Visconti, perhaps about 1439–47. The so-called Olivetan Master takes his name from a luxuriously illustrated psalter made for the order’s monastery in Milan, where he was undoubtedly a monk

God tells Samuel that, in rejecting the choice for responsible, spiritually-grounded, and mutually sustained leadership, the people are rejecting God and God’s plan for them.

In a nutshell, Israel’s problem is this: they have forgotten who and whose they are. For the sake of expected political dominance, they are willing to sacrifice their identity as a people formed and led by God.


Centuries later, in today’s Gospel, Jesus comes among these dispirited people. Their choice hasn’t worked. They are still a politically dominated nation. Their religious practice has lost its vigor, denigrating into lifeless rules and practices. A corrupt religious class manipulates them.

Jesus, ignoring their religiously manufactured limitations on the Spirit, cures a paralytic. The scribes are scandalized. But Jesus confronts their equivocation:

Jesus said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God …

What would the world be like if we left ourselves so open to grace and mercy that God could work through us for the good of all Creation? Can we even imagine such freedom and trust? Can we even imagine the marriage of our faith and politics to the point that we all live for the common good?

Ps89 name_justice

Music: Come, Holy Spirit – Bright City

Mercy says, “Of course…”

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 16, 2020

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( Our Gospel today nearly repeats a passage in Luke about which I wrote last year. Being a little lazy tonight, and wanting to watch Jeopardy- GOAT, I am offering that earlier reflection to you again. Besides, I liked it.  I hope you do, dear Friends.)

Mk1_41-of-course
This is the Greek word for “Of course!”

Today, in Mercy, Jesus shows us how to live a merciful life – through loving, generous, joyfully responsive service.

A pitiable leper interrupts Jesus on his journey to ask for help. People like this man were scorned, feared, and isolated. Their leprosy impoverished them, making them annoying beggars. Their cries usually met with indifference at best and banishment at worst.

But when this leper poses his proposal to Jesus – “If you want to, you can heal me.” — Jesus gives the spontaneous answer of a true, merciful heart: “Of course I want to!”

There is no annoyance, no suggestion that other concerns are more important. There is just the confirmation that – Yes- this is the purpose of my life: to heal, love, show mercy toward whatever suffering is in my power to touch. There is just the clear message that “You, too, poor broken leper, are Beloved of God.”

What an example and call Jesus gives us today! We are commissioned to continue this merciful touch of Christ along the path of our own lives. When circumstances offer us the opportunity to be Mercy for another, may we too respond with enthusiasm, “Of course I want to!” May we have the eyes to see through any “leprosy” to find the Beloved of God.

Music: Compassion Hymn – Kristyn and Keith Getty

Can You Hear Me Now?

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read about God’s call of Samuel, Hannah’s son.

New things are about to happen in Israel. The People have lived under the questionable leadership of a series of Judges. But now, threats from inside and outside loom. So God chooses to move in a new way among the community.

1Sam speak Lord

Samuel is going to be God’s bridge to that new way. In today’s reading and subsequent verses, he hears God’s call, listens, receives a vision, and prophesies to Eli.


In our reading from Mark, Jesus is the Divine Bridge to a new reality. Early now in his ministry, his call is blossoming in his heart, as he realizes that he must go all over Israel preaching and healing.

When Simon told Jesus the local villagers were looking for him, Jesus told them,

“Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons

throughout the whole of Galilee.”

Jesus continues his healing and enlightening mission through all who call themselves Christian. He calls each of us in different ways to be a “Bridge” with him to the Reign of God.

How are you hearing and listening to your particular call every day? Maybe, like Samuel, by the time God calls us three times, we may understand!😉

Music: Since I mentioned “bridge”, I can’t help including one of my favorite songs, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s not really a religious song, but their popular song actually was inspired by a great Gospel song,  Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep and its one freely interpreted verse very near the end: “I’ll be your bridge over deep water/If you trust in my name.’ 

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

 

Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep (Lyrics below, but they are VERY liberally interpreted by these wonderful Gospel singers.)

Lord, I’m singing . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Can’t you hear me singing, Mary? (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
I want you to know, Martha don’t have to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Oh, listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep, (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (group)
Lord, and if I could tonight, (solo)
If I could, (group)
I want to tell you I surely would right now. (solo)
Surely would, (group)
I would stand on the rock. (solo)
Stand on the rock, (group)
Right on the rock where Moses stood. (solo)
Moses stood, (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus say, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. group)
He said Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep .(group)
Oh, Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. group)

Exult in God’s Power

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 14, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings demonstrate God’s power to change human lives.

hannah
The Travail of Hannah

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel completes the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother. Hannah, one of the two wives of Elkanah, was childless. In today’s passage, Hannah takes her grief to the Temple and places it before the Lord. God hears her prayer and she conceives her son.

When the story is summarized, as I have just done, it seems like a cookie-cutter miracle story. A skeptic might wonder, had she waited long enough, would Hannah have conceived – Temple or not.

That’s because the summary has drained out all the human angst, emotional roller-coastering, denial, and frustration that finally brought Hannah to God’s arms. It could have taken her so many others places. Unrelieved pain often does. It takes some into unresolved anger, depression, addiction, even suicide.

The miracle of this story is Hannah’s faith and the power of God’s love in her. It just so happens that there was also Samuel.

1Sam2_1 exult


Mark, in these early chapters of his Gospel, presents Jesus as the personification of that Divine Power. Both Christ’s “astonishing “ teaching and his stunning authority over evil convince us of this power.

With Jesus, the believer’s reality is transformed by faith and grace. Divine life blossoms even in formerly barren circumstances. Wholeness emerges even from that which had seemed fragmented.

This is the miracle: there is Divine Life inside that we had not seen until we looked, by faith, with the God’s eyes.

Music: Everyday Miracles – Sarah Grove

The Sacred Ordinary

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It was a scrawny excuse for a plant, relegated to an after-holiday sale at Home Depot.  Nothing distinguished it except that it was the only green promise on a frozen, white January day.

I bought that Christmas cactus well over ten years ago with at least some small hope that it might someday yield the magnificent flower from which it draws its lofty name. No such thing!  For ten years, it remained just green and alive, but otherwise unremarkable.

Then one day in its eleventh year, I noticed a deep red spot at its tip.  Hopeless as I had become about the disappointing plant, I assumed someone had dropped a little spaghetti sauce over its perch in our kitchen.  But to my delight the next morning, that “sauce” had blossomed into a luxurious flower — a soft, pink symbol of the sacred power of life hidden within the ordinary.

Cactus

Life is like that cactus.  If we are young, or when we once were, we often expect life to blossom quickly with some extraordinary design for our existence.  More often than not, the years teach us that our great promise wears ordinary clothes and that we will find our deep happiness within the mundane routine of life.

shells

We sometimes pass by the moments of our lives as if they were abandoned shells on a beach.  And yet, if coaxed open by the gentle attention of hope, each moment contains its own precious pearl, sometimes realized only after we have lost the opportunity to cherish it.

There are times in life when our jobs, our relationships, our dreams for our children, our dreams for ourselves take on the tone of those grey, abandoned shells.  We get so caught up in our ordinary lives that we lose the capacity to see their inherent power and extraordinarybeauty.

As we begin the long season of “Ordinary Time”, may we be blessed by our “Sacred Ordinary”.  Through the grace of attentive love and patient hope, may we find in our daily lives a Light to inspire and delight us.  May we discover the Love that gave us life and waits to blossom every day in our hope – that wants to make everything better

Music: These Ordinary Days – Jars of Clay

Follow Me

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we re-enter Ordinary Time. (I’ll be posting a second reflection today on the topic of “ordinary time”.)

Today we begin a journey with Mark the Evangelist which carries us all the way to Lent. This journey will allow us to walk right beside Jesus as he preaches, cures, and calls people to full life in God.

Somewhere on Peter’s missionary journeys after Christ’s Ascension, he encountered Mark and took him as travel companion and interpreter. Mark then wrote down Peter’s sermons, thus composing the Gospel according to Mark (According to the historian Eusebius: Eccl. Hist. 15–16). So, in a very real sense, when we pray with Mark, we are also praying with Peter and with Peter’s memories of life with Jesus.

Today’s Gospel is a great example of that first-hand experience — the call of the first disciples.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
esus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.


I like to think of Peter talking to young Mark about this moment in his life.  He states it so simply. One can almost hear Peter say, ”It started so ordinarily.  We were just cleaning our nets, when He came out of nowhere and picked us!”

What Peter doesn’t say, but what might be inferred from the story, is that he and his brother Andrew were READY for the call. It didn’t take them a moment to drop those nets and follow. 

And, oh my, what a journey Peter made from that first moment to where he sat telling Mark the story decades later somewhere in Asia Minor.

Maybe other fishermen along that coastline might have scoffed or been bewildered at an invitation to become “Fishers of Men”. But Jesus knew the right ones to call.  He knew the hearts that would respond to the extraordinary clothed in the ordinary.

Mk1_17 follow

As we follow Mark’s Gospel over these next weeks, let’s look for the call it carries to us in our “ordinary time”.  Let’s be ready when Jesus asks us to tag along with him. We might, like Peter, be surprised at the graces waiting for us when we drop the “nets” entwining us and just follow!

Music: Follow Me – Casting Crowns

In this song, we hear Jesus invite several people to follow him: the disciples, the woman caught in adultery, the Good Thief … even us.

The Glorious Baptism of Jesus

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
January 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus makes a remarkable debut! 

Picture the scene. It is a beautiful morning in the Judean Valley where the Jordan Riven runs fresh and sparkling. Most scholars place the Baptism of Jesus sometime in January, which means the weather would have been relatively cool. But perhaps, like our own weather, an unusually warm day may have snuck in.

Rustic, fiery preacher John is baptizing in the Jordan River. Crowds have come to hear what he has to say. Some are convinced and dive into the cool water under his hand.

Others rim the hillside, not so sure John isn’t one of the many who have glorious visions but few facts.

Then, out from the pines on the far side of the river, comes Jesus, flanked by some of the Twelve. While his companions chat away to Jesus, his eyes are focused on John. In an instant, Jesus realizes that this is the moment for his revelation. In that same instant, all Creation realizes the same thing.

As Jesus walks slowly toward John, the birds and little animals speak to him, “My Lord and my God…”.  Wind whistling through the trees becomes an Oratorio praising him. All the surrounding colors deepen, breaking forth in unimaginable light.

John is stunned by the cosmic change he senses but cannot describe. Heart trembling, he looks into Jesus’s eyes and catches a glimpse of heaven. “I need to be baptized by you”, John says,”and yet you are coming to me?

Jesus smiles at his cousin, replying, 

“Let it be so now;
it is proper for us to do this
to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then John consented.

Perhaps those in the crowd, schooled in the ancient scriptures, heard Isaiah’s voice in the charged atmosphere:

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Matthew tells us:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.

the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie
The Baptism Of Jesus is a painting by Jeff Haynie For purchase, see:https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie.html

Can you see him light-heartedly splashing John as he shakes his dark curls free of the chilly water? Can you see his transfigured face as he hears his Father speak Love over him?

At that moment heaven was opened,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said,

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

What a beautiful moment in time! Don’t we wish we might have been there in the blessed and awe-struck crowd? We can. Let your prayer of imagination take you there.

Music: The Baptism of Jesus

He Must Increase

Saturday after Epiphany

January 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks a lot about sin. But I think he’s talking about more than the itemized laundry list of mistakes we sometimes reckon as sin.

Catholic-Sin300

It all seemed so simple when we were in grade school, didn’t it?
Well, dealing with sinfulness in the world
is a lot more than milk bottles!



John is describing the drenching atmosphere of darkness that falls over a soul turned in on its own gratification. Pope Francis’s quote referenced yesterday captures this atmosphere:

“Jesus, at the Last Supper, does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world, but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite.” The Holy Father emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.

John likens this atmosphere to idol worship:

Children, be on your guard against idols.

Most of us are beyond worshipping golden calves, but we may still be allowing ourselves to be distracted from the centrality of God in our lives.

calf

What are some potential idols that could desensitize our souls to the ravages of evil? Greed, lust, and narcissism rise to the top of the list. Caught in the grasp of these idols, human beings become oblivious to astounding evils such as war, slavery, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, corporate dishonesty, technological dehumanization, and all the other rampant abuses befuddled human beings foist on one another. 

When you see the effects of such evils reported on the evening news, do you sometimes ask yourselves, “How could a person do such things to another human being?” 

What we are seeing is evidence of souls who have died to God’s Presence within their hearts. They are indifferent to the effect of their choices on anyone but themselves.

Jesus came to open our eyes and to free us from the bonds of such sin. As the Presence of God grows in us, so does our awareness of all that is dissonant with that Presence.


We pray with John the Baptist today that we may grow in God and diminish in any selfishness that blinds us to the difference between good and evil in our lives.

Pope Francis tweeted today:

In worship, we learn to reject what should not be worshiped: the god of money, the god of consumerism, the god of pleasure, the god of success, the god of self.


Music:  I Must Decrease – Andrew and Saskia Smith ( Words below.)

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

I must decrease, He must increase.
I must decrease, He must increase.

The whole earth is His footstool. Who am I?
Shall the thing formed say to its Maker,
“Why hast thou made me thus?”
I must decrease, He must increase.

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.

The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.
The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.
Oh yes, Lord, I exist to worship You.

Holy Victory

Friday after Epiphany

January 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings both challenge and affirm our faith:

John tells us:

Beloved:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

What does John mean by saying our faith makes us “victor over the world”? 

1Jn5_5

Certain scripture passages, and many theologians throughout history, use the term “the world” to refer to a secularized human system which denies or devalues God and spirituality. They set this concept of “the world” in opposition to a life lived from deep faith.

“Pope Francis, in a recent homily, spoke of the spirit of the world, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit. “Jesus, at the Last Supper,” he recalled, “does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world,” because Christian life is in the world, “but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite. He emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.
(Alessandro Di Bussolo, Vatican News)

For some, though, a simplistic definition of “world” and “spirit” has led to a dichotomy in which these realities are isolated from, and do not inform each other. Such thinking may lead us to identify “world” with the “evil” generated by sin or spiritual emptiness.

Evolving theology has confronted this dichotomous perception to help us understand that we come to know God through the sacred reality of the created world we live in.

Thomas Berry says this:
“… we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.”
(Thomas Berry, “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work)

Such Creation-based spirituality allows us to acknowledge and respond to God’s invitation to transform “the world” by our oneness with Christ, who is the Fullness of Creation.

“Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.”
(Elizabeth A. Johnson – Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love)

Pope Francis, in paragraph 11 of Laudato Si’ writes:

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

As we consider all these aspects today in our prayer, let us ask for an understanding of God based in deep love and hope for our cosmic truth.

Music: Adoro Te Devote

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.

 

1Jn4_15
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😉