Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 145 in which the psalmist, filled with gratitude and joy, makes a prodigious promise:
Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. Everyday! Forever and ever!
Such a promise requires all one’s attention, discipline and practice. We must learn to see all experience in God’s Light so that everything becomes a reason for praise.
Paul, guiding the Colossians to live that kind of life, tells them:
As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
God is gracious and merciful toward us as we pray for the psalmist’s prayer to be fulfilled in us and in our lives:
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom and speak of your might.
Poetry: from the Book of Hours – Rainer Maria Rilke
You are the future, the great sunrise red
above the broad plains of eternity.
You are the cock-crow when time’s night has fled,
You are the dew, the matins, and the maid,
the stranger and the mother, you are death.
You are the changeful shape that out of Fate
rears up in everlasting solitude,
the unlamented and the unacclaimed,
beyond describing as some savage wood.
You are the deep epitome of things
that keeps its being’s secret with locked lip,
and shows itself to others otherwise:
to the ship, a haven — to the land, a ship.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 100 which both invites and commands:
Come with joy into the Presence of the Lord.
To know and honor this Presence is the sole pursuit of the Christian life.
Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.
Augustine of Hippo
Our first reading from Colossians offers a beautiful hymn for our meditation as we pray to open ourselves to a deepening awareness of Jesus, present in our lives:
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.
Prose: Jesus Prayer – John Henry Newman
Dear Jesus, Help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others; The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine; It will be you shining on others through me.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 52, whose chosen verses today form an exquisite prayer – one that can be held like a diamond to the Light:
I, like a green olive tree in the house of God, Trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will thank you always for what you have done, and proclaim the goodness of your name before your faithful ones.
Psalm 52: 10-11
It is ironic that these tenderly beautiful verses close one of the most virulent curses of the Psalms! It’s better to let them stand alone for today’s prayer. Like that, they perfectly complement Paul’s gorgeous blessing poured over the Colossians in our first reading:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.
As this first day of September breaks over us, it is a good day to give thanks within these scriptural blessings:
for courage given and hope sustained
for storms weathered and favors received
for the resilience of new promises
and the polished incandescence of the long-kept vow
for fields turned over toward a season of rest
for sweaters shaken out and ready to warm
for the smell of a sharpened pencil, the endless possibilities of a fresh notebook,
and a new box of crayons ( to follow in a later post. I mistakenly send a fragment earlier today. I hope it wasn’t a distraction to you.)
Poetry: First Day of School – by Howard Nemerov (February 29, 1920 – July 5, 1991), an American poet. He was twice Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, from 1963 to 1964 and again from 1988 to 1990. For The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), he won the National Book Award for Poetry,Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,and Bollingen Prize.
My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.
Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible
Bow down before it, as in Joseph’s dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.
A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare’s Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler’s Law,
As from the whole, inseperably, the lives,
The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form
Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.
Music: September Morn – instrumental version of Neil Diamond’s song. The words don’t exactly work for our prayer, but the melody does 🙂
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 29 which describes the settling of peace over an ended storm.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters, the LORD, over vast waters. The voice of the LORD is mighty; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
This gift of peace invites the psalmist to give glory to the Lord, and to do so in a celebratory manner:
Give to the LORD the glory due his name; adore the LORD in holy attire.
Reading this little verse this morning, I was reminded of my novitiate days. What a profound joy and thrill it was for me to receive the habit of the Sisters of Mercy. I count myself fortunate to have entered just in time to wear the original habit – just for fourteen months before we adopted a modified style.
Each morning as we dressed, we said a specific prayer over each component of the habit. The prayers were beautiful and served to orient us to the duties and blessings of the day.
Psalm 29 reminds us to give thanks for our blessings – and our challenges – as we begin and end each day. But it specifically says that we should clothe ourselves in “holy attire” as we pray. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul describes such attire:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, Kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive any complaint you may have against another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful.
Poem: She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
May we walk, attired in the beauty of God’s Grace and peace.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Music: Because You Are Chosen – John Michael Talbot
Because you are chosen Called to be holy Because you are the Lord’s beloved You must clothe yourself with kindness With heartfelt mercy In the meekness of humility So bear you now with one another And forgive as the Lord’s forgiven you Over all these virtues Bind them all together In the Love of our Lord Jesus Over all these virtues Bind them all together In the Love of our Lord Jesus Over all these virtues Bind them all together In the Love of our Lord Jesus.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 47 which describes God as a King ascending to the throne amid shouts of joy.
God mounts the throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.
Psalm 47: 6-7
This description reminds me of a pageant like the recent inauguration, where fanfare horns announce the President’s arrival. For the psalmist, the horn might have been a shofar.
It’s a beautiful and triumphant way to imagine what God might be like. But that’s all it is – an image, a product of human imagination. Like the psalmist, we all engage in that creative effort – we picture God. We draw God out of the media stored in our own hearts and spirits.
The freedom we have to imagine God can be both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it has allowed us to create tender, triumphant, and splendid constructs of an otherwise unimaginable Love. As a curse, it has given us the power to distort God’s image for our own selfish ends.
It is an awesome power. Even the great Saint Augustine struggled with it:
What art Thou then, my God? Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most hidden and most present; most beautiful and most strong, standing firm and elusive, unchangeable and all-changing; never new, never old; ever working, ever at rest; gathering in and [yet] lacking nothing; supporting, filling, and sheltering; creating, nourishing, and maturing; seeking and [yet] having all things. And what have I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy? or what says anyone who speaks of Thee? And woe to the one who keeps silent about you, since many babble on and say nothing.
Praying with Psalm 47, I consider my own “photo album” of the Holy One. I talk with God about those pictures. I ask to know and love God more clearly, so that, made in God’s image, I may more honestly reflect it.
God has given us the ultimate self-portrait in the Person of Jesus who is:
Poetry: from Paul’s letter to the Philippians
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 145 in which the psalmist once again assures us that our God is
The psalm extends the promises of our first reading from Isaiah:
The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
We need promises like those of Isaiah and our psalmist, especially in times when we feel tested, alone, frightened, desperate, or abandoned. Even a taste of these radical emotions is hard to bear without some glimmer of promise.
Faith tells us that the Promise is already fulfilled in the Gift of Jesus Christ.
Advent is our annual liturgical practice in waiting … in the recommitment
to a faith that cannot yet see,
to a hope that waits yet believes,
to a trust that praises even in the predawn shadows.
Poetry: Paul’s great poem from Colossians 1: 15-23
Christ 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.i
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
whether those on earth or those in heaven.
Music: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (1867) – Walter Chalmers Smith. The original, beautiful final verses of this hymn have been lost in the English translation. Here they are, and worth their own meditation:
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light, Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight; But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart. All laud we would render; O help us to see ’Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee, And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart, Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.
Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI by his encyclical Quas Primas. The Pope was acutely aware of the secularization of society and culture. He wanted this feast and devotion to bring people a deep awareness that Christ is the center of all Creation.
The images, language and metaphors are ones that spoke to the people in the early 20th century. They may ring differently to us. Concepts of “king”, “empire”, “dominion”, “subjection” tend to engender negative connotations for many of us. (Unless, of course, we’re referring to the “King of Rock and Roll” – Elvis, of course. Orfor some younger among us, the “King of Pop” – Michael Jackson. Then we seem OK with it!)
Our readings today can direct us to a deeper understanding of the characteristics Pius sought to highlight, ones that may speak more clearly to us in our time.
Our first reading from Samuel presents the anointing of David as King of Israel. Anointed by those who were “his own bone and flesh”, David prefigured the Incarnate Christ who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, took our flesh to redeem us.
The magnificent passage from Colossians offers exultant praise to the Creator for
…delivering us from the power of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption …
And our Gospel gives us our precious Jesus on the Cross, teaching us the paradoxical truth of what his “Kingdom” really means – not oppressive dominion, but rather a sacrificial love that gives everything for the life of the beloved.
Many cannot recognize such “kingship”. They cannot see the holy power within Christ’s sacrifice. They are, as Pius XI recognized for his time, blinded by a secularized culture and a dispirited life.
Let us pray today with the “justly condemned”, but spiritually enlightened, man in our Gospel who asked his Crucified King,
when you come into Kingdom!”
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.
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.
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.
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