Moses’ Psalm: Light and Dark

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 17, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with Deuteronomy 32, the Psalm of Moses. Today’s verses describe an angry God who decides to take vengeance a faithless people. 

To pray with these verses is not easy. Taken in isolation, they paint a God who contradicts our larger experience of mercy and tenderness. But the Psalm, like the jarring first reading from Ezekiel, has a lesson for us.

Ezekiel from Biblical Images by James Padgett

In that reading, Ezekiel suffers the sudden death of his beloved wife. The experience opens his prophetic spirit to more fully understand God’s relationship with Israel. He allows his life to be a witness for the people that God expects their repentance and faithfulness.

Like many Old Testament readings, these portray God by way of human analogy because that is the only context we have available to us. Therefore, the temptation when reading these passages might be to think of God solely in human terms playing tit-for-tat with us when we stray from the Law. But God is infinitely greater than any capacity we, or the scripture writers, have to describe Divinity.


The narrative provided by this prophetic book is not one of comfort; its merciless accusations and its violent imagery do not make it an easy scroll to swallow (Ezek 2:8–3:3). While much of Ezekiel’s language, imagery, and reasoning will appear foreign to modern readers, his narrative would have been clearly intelligible to his contemporaries—even though presumably it would have been hard to accept. The exile, according to this narrative, is both inevitable and deserved; it is portrayed as God’s judgement for the constant and complete failure of God’s people.

At the same time, it is not God’s last word. While resisting both optimism and despair, Ezekiel offers a narrative that sheds light on his present and arrives at an original, if peculiar, imagination of hope, founded solely on theological conviction.

Janina M. Hiebel – Hope in Exile: In Conversation with Ezekiel

So then, what might we take from today’s dark readings? For me, it is this:

God is always Light.
It is we who get caught in darkness.


God does speak to us in our circumstances, as God did to Ezekiel and Moses. By faithful prayer and sincere desire, we can deepen in our love and understanding of God through every experience of our lives, even the painful ones. When we live with that kind of faith and hope, our lives witness to God’s fidelity and love.


Poetry: two offerings today

Motto – Bertold Brecht

In the dark times 
Will there also be singing? 
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

Light – Alice Jones

The morning when I first notice
the leaves starting to color,
early orange, and back-lit,
I think how rapture doesn't
vanish, merely fades into
the background, waits for those
moment between moments.

I think this and the door pens,
the street takes on its glistening
look, Bay fog lifting, patches of sun
on sycamore -- yellow sea.
I am in again, and swimming.

Music: Lavender Shadows – Michael Hoppé

Worlds Falling Apart

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 4, 2020

Click here for today’s readings

Today, in Mercy, worlds are splitting apart, but the Word of God comes to heal them.

In our first reading, we share in the experience of the prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel and his wife lived during the Babylonian Captivity on banks of the Chenab River which is in modern day Iraq. He lived during the siege of Jerusalem in 589 BC. In Ezekiel’s day the northern kingdom had been conquered and destroyed 150 years earlier.

In other words, Ezekiel, like his contemporary Jeremiah, had his heart torn apart along with the homeland they cherished as God’s promise to them. 

dry bones
The Valley of the Dry Bones – artist unknown

In today’s reading, which comes immediately after his vision of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel prophesies a message of hope and restoration to a fragmented and devastated nation.


In our Gospel, Jesus is the new Ezekiel. He stands in the midst of the bigger “nation” of all God’s Creation which has been fragmented by the failure to love. Like Ezekiel, Jesus offers a message of hope and restoration to sinners.

In this Gospel, Jesus himself is the “Temple” about to destroyed. The prophecy of its destruction is unwittingly delivered by the high priest Caiaphas:

Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year,
said to the Pharisees and Sanhedrin,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

Within Christ’s new law of love, these “children of God” go far beyond the Jewish nation. They are you and me, and every other creature with whom we share this time and universe. The fragmentations which separate and alienate us are dissolved in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


holy week

Holy Week will begin tomorrow when all believers will intensify their desire to join Christ in his final journey to Resurrection, to understand our own lives anew in the power of Paschal Grace.

This is a somber and surreal time for all of us, and we will miss our ability to join one another in our beloved Holy Week Services. But there are some helpful alternatives. I’ve listed some of my favorites below. Click on any of these three links below to explore.

Resources for observing Holy Week at home from Liturgical Press

The Holy Week services at the Vatican will also be available on line. This link explains how to join them in prayer.

EWTN television station also has a full schedule of Holy Week prayer opportunities.

Music:  Make Us One – featuring James Lorne’s. Written by Sally DeFord
(Lyrics below)

Lyrics

How shall we stand amid uncertainty?
Where is our comfort in travail?
How shall we walk amid infirmity,
When feeble limbs are worn and frail?
And as we pass through mortal sorrow,
How shall our hearts abide the day?
Where is the strength the soul may borrow?
Teach us thy way.

Chorus:
Make us one, that our burdens may be light
Make us one as we seek eternal life
Unite our hands to serve thy children well
Unite us in obedience to thy will.
Make us one! teach us, Lord, to be
Of one faith, of one heart
One in thee.
Then shall our souls be filled with charity,
Then shall all hate and anger cease
And though we strive amid adversity,
Yet shall we find thy perfect peace
So shall we stand despite our weakness,
So shall our strength be strength enough
We bring our hearts to thee in meekness;
Lord, wilt thou bind them in thy love?

(Repeat chorus)

Take from me this heart of stone,
And make it flesh even as thine own
Take from me unfeeling pride;
Teach me compassion; cast my fear aside.
Give us one heart, give us one mind
Lord, make us thine
Oh, make us thine!
(Repeat chorus)

Fount of Love and Mercy

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Clcik here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart, a day of deep devotion and gratitude for God’s lavish mercy to us.

All of our readings today suggest the image of a good shepherd caring for his sheep. This metaphor, perhaps more meaningful for the agrarian society in which these scriptures were written, still retains for us the imagery of tenderness, attentive responsibility, strength, protection, and vigilant presence.

Ez34_15 shepherd

Our first reading comes from Ezekiel whose ministry occurred in Babylon during the second captivity there. God calls Ezekiel to prophesy against Israel’s leaders who have forgotten their defenseless sheep, who have fed themselves instead of their flock. Today’s particular verses have God speaking, taking over the shepherding duties, because the human “shepherds” (kings and priests) have so badly failed their sheep. 

The Lord makes clear who will be the beneficiaries of his tenderness:

The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As I prayed with this passage, I was struck by the awareness of how some things never change. The parallels to our Church and society are painfully evident. Immorally self-indulgent “pastors” and self-serving, indifferent leaders still plague their “flocks”. The poor and weak are still abandoned by those they had depended on.

Our reading from Romans and Matthew raise before us the model of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who both renders us infinite compassion, and teaches us how to dispense it as his disciples. We are invited to become one with the sacred, compassionate Heart of Jesus, being healed ourselves to become healers.

Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord,
and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.

Our world aches for this healing. Let us pray together today for God to inspire and energize us to be Mercy for our world.

Music: Sweet Heart of Jesus – sung by the Irish soprano Maureen Hegarty

(I know this hymn is tinged with a bit of the old, sentimental spirituality. Still, I have loved it from my long-ago youth and it touches me deeply. I hope it will touch you as well.❤️ Lyrics below.)

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Fount of love and mercy,
Today we come,
thy blessings to implore;
Oh touch our hearts, so
cold and so ungrateful,
And make them Lord,
Thine own for evermore.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
We implore
Oh, make us love Thee
more and more.

Sweet Heart of Jesus!
Make us know and love thee.
Unfold to us
the treasures of thy grace.
That so our hearts, from
things of earth uplifted,
May long alone
to gaze upon Thy face.

Law or Love?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings bring to mind the role of religion in our spiritual life.

take up mat 2

The dictionary defines religion as a particular system of faith and worship. The origin of the word “religion” is from the Latin “religare”: to bind.

In the magnificent passage from Ezekiel, we are given a metaphorical description of grace flowing from the Temple, the locus of faith for Israel. Ezekiel is led by a radiant vision to this source of abundant life symbolized by water. Slowly and incrementally, this abundance deepens for Ezekiel, until he is swimming in its grace. 

Ezekiel’s vision demonstrates what happens in us when religion, ritual and law enhance grace. The beauty, power and architectural symmetry of the Temple symbolize the great benefits of religious practice.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, shows us a Pharisaical religion built on empty practice and bereft of heart. When Jesus cures on the Sabbath, he moves beyond these skeletal boundaries to mercy, which is the reason for all religious practices.

take up mat
Jesus Cures on the Sabbath

Jesus shows us that when religion – and its ensuing ritual and law – bind grace, it needs to be set aside. His whole life was predicated on a faith which generated mercy, not sacrifice. The alleviation of suffering and need always supersede observance – even on the Sabbath.

When we see any so-called faith or religion which places law over mercy, we see an empty temple where the river of grace has run dry. Our culture is filled with fake holiness that measures, condemns and ostracizes others. We see religion distorted into political bullying. We see it redefined as an excuse for excessive wealth. We even see it used as legitimization for nationalism, violence, racism, and war.

Today’s readings tell us to be on guard. The forces which twist religion are very subtle and pervasive in our culture. They dress themselves in impressive words and practices, just like the Pharisees did, but their costumes hide an ugly hate and fear.

To the fearful and weak, these forces preach power – but it is a power over not for others.

Jesus has shown us what faithful practice looks like: mercy and love. It is vulnerable, courageous, inclusive, and humble. It sees the suffering of others and responds. It waters the Temple of our hearts to make them verdant with hope, joy and generosity.

Music: Come to the Water – John Foley, SJ and Matt Maher

Receive the Word

Friday, August 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings focus on the covenant between God and God’s People. 

1 Thess2 Word

Ezekiel recounts the infidelity of Israel which is met with the infinite fidelity of God. In our Gospel, Jesus parries with the Pharisees as they test him with questions about fidelity in marriage. Both readings reference “the word” which comes to us carrying truth and revelation. Today’s Alleluia Verse directs us to receive the Word of God with openness.

How will the Word of God come to us today? Will it be a single message, mysteriously hidden somewhere in the voluminous activities and distractions of the day?

No, instead it will be hidden in plain sight in ALL those activities and distractions. The Word of God is the abiding presence of Love which sustains our lives at every moment. It is the language that only a faithful heart can hear, a language throbbing in all Creation. We learn this language by silence, prayer and loving service of others.

May we be open to receive the Word of God as it comes to us, clothed in the lights and shadows of this day.

Music: Your Word ~ Hillsong Worship

The Scripture of Our Lives

Monday, August 13, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081318.cfm

Ez1 boing

Today, in Mercy,  in our first reading, Ezekiel signals that something really important has happened. He does this by means of a prophetic word formula – repeated and patterned phrases found throughout the Bible. 

One pattern that we’re accustomed to is, “Amen, Amen, I say to you..” Jesus used it to say, “Listen up! Important info to follow!”

Another pattern is the specific setting of time and place to mark an event as pivotal. One such beloved phrase: “It came to pass in those days, that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Ezekiel’s formulaic phrase is a marker in his spiritual life: 

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile,
The word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel…

If we look back over our own lives, we will remember moments when God clearly entered our experience. We may not have realized it until long after. We may be surprised to remember a point in time as the opportunity God took to embrace us. But through reflective prayer, we begin to see that God is with us, even in our darkest moments, bringing the revelation of God’s infinite Love and Mercy.

What if we filled in the blanks in Ezekiel’s formula with our own life markers? What if we thanked God for each of them, dark or light – asking for the grace to understand their revelation?

Each of our lives is its own scripture, telling the story of God’s love and presence. Spend time with yours today.

Music: God of All My Days ~ Casting Crowns