A Warning Sign

Thursday, March 21, 2019

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generous impulse

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel gives us the disturbing parable of the rich man, sometimes called Dives, and Lazarus, a very poor man.

The story is disturbing because 

  • Lazarus suffers so desperately 
  • Dives is impervious to that suffering 
  • God won’t give Dives a break after his death
  • We fear being in either of these guys’ situations 

Probably, like most people, we’d rather be rich than poor. But would we rather be generous with that wealth or selfish? Do we ever find ourselves thinking thoughts like this, deciding we’re not responsible for the gap between rich and poor:

“I worked hard for what I have. Let everybody else do the same!”

That wealth gap cannot be mended simply by giving a dollar to a corner beggar nor by donating our wornout clothes to Goodwill. This kind of re-balancing requires a conversion of heart which touches our economic, political and moral understanding.

I was struck this morning by this headline from The Economist, a British weekly magazine.

economist

How can today’s Gospel inspire and encourage us in a global culture that infcreasingly marginalizes persons who are poor, resourceless, and politically oppressed?

May the story of Lazarus and Dives influence us to use the powers we have to make just and generous decisions.

  • We can vote for just, generous and moral leaders. 
  • We can advocate for universally just policies. 
  • We can donate to compassionate causes. 
  • We can confront hateful speech and stereotyping. 
  • We can speak and act for justice, peace, inclusivity and mercy.

We just have to be courageous before, like Dives, it is too late for us.

Music:  Act Justly

To Life!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our passage from Hebrews is a strong encouragement for its readers to stay faithful to the hope that has been given us through our call.

eph1_17 call
from today’s Responsorial Psalm

Paul traces the evolution of that call by reminding his readers of Abraham who trusted God’s promise and patiently waited for its fulfillment. Paul says that God not only promised Abraham, God swore an oath to bless and multiply Abraham’s life.

This promise and oath of God’s faithful covenant is the root of our Christian hope, and the “anchor” of our life.

Green Rope

On this day, when the Church prays for the protection of unborn children, let us be conscious that the “right to life” extends beyond the womb, from “cradle to grave”.

Let us pray to honor and reverence all life and all Creation – those who are troubled, poor, sick, different from us, homeless and seeking refuge. Let us pray for political and economic systems that protect both unborn and born children, resident and refugee, privileged and marginalized … nourishing their right to life, freedom and the happiness of well-being.

Beloveds, let us give thanks for the life and faith we have been given, and let us share it generously.

Music: You Are Life ~ Hillsong Worship

A Faith that Delights God

Monday, September 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus, in amazement, praises the faith of the centurion. What was it about this man’s faith that could astound even God?  How would my faith make Jesus feel?

faith

We are taught that faith is a gift. We can’t earn it or acquire it on our own. We can though – once we have been given it – exercise it, polish it, cherish it and share it in order to make it stronger.

What is faith exactly?

Well, first off, we get faith mixed up with a lot of things that it is not. 

Faith is not the same as religion or religious denomination. Faith transcends Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism or Islam. These are the only frameworks in which we sometimes practice our faith.

 Faith isn’t devotions, or prayers, or the formulas we pull out when we are in trouble. It is not the Prayer to St. Anthony when we can’t find our car keys. It is not the novena we say to receive a special favor. These are only practices which allow us to express our faith in human terms.

And most importantly, faith is not an ideology by which we exceptionalize and elevate ourselves, suggesting that others are less because of their choice of religious practice.

If we take a clue from today’s Gospel, we could describe faith like this:

  • It is the unshakable understanding that all Creation belongs to God, including every aspect of my life.
  • It is the trust that God wills our good in all things. 
  • It is the sure confidence that God abides with us in all circumstances.
  • It is the giving of my heart to this abiding God in a relationship of mutual love.
  • It is a life that bespeaks these confidences.

The centurion must have had this kind of faith and it delighted Jesus. Let’s pray for a faith that can do that for God!

Music: Be Still – David Kauffman

Abide With Me

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus continues his closing instructions on living a good life. Our responsorial psalm captures the whole gist of these several admonitions.

Jn 15_4 Abide

What Jesus is saying is, “Stick with Me, and I will show you the way.” It is the Divine Mother’s invitation to her child. “Come, cradle in my arms. I will protect and guide you.”

As wonderful as Christ’s invitation is, it is hard to accept. Most of us think we can do everything ourselves. Many of us find it tiresome to plumb the Gospel to find its truth. We think we already know the way to happiness: money, prestige, and power.

It often takes a lifetime to teach us how wrong we are. But a test comes into most lives which casts us back into the arms of God. We may eventually learn that joy comes from living Gospel truths, loving as God loves, and abiding faithfully with Him.

It takes courage and spiritual insight to accept Christ’s invitation to abide in Him, especially when we feel invincible. May we grow in that courage, early and late in our lives – in good times and bad.

Music: Abide With Me

Don’t Worry; Be God-like

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062318.cfm

lilies of the field

Today, in Mercy, Jesus once again blows all our human instincts to smithereens! He says don’t worry about what you’ll eat or wear. Seek God’s Kingdom and all your needs will be filled. Really?

We may be tempted to picture a hippie type, bird-watching and sun-bathing in a field of of flowers – all agog with the Kingdom, but not too swift with the world!

But that’s probably not what Jesus envisioned. After all, Jesus himself worked hard to secure the necessities his family needed in Nazareth. He worked hard at his ministry throughout the Holy Land, and cared deeply about the success of his message.

What He didn’t do was worry. 

Worry is what happens when we think it all depends on us. It’s what happens when it’s all about us. Worry is a windowless, doorless room where we run around aimlessly. Even God has a hard time getting in to reason with us.

To break out of that room, Jesus says seek God’s way of looking at things. Work hard and do your best – but make sure it’s for important stuff like love, honor, mercy, justice, charity, and peace. Make sure it’s not for “mammon” stuff like greed, selfishness, domination, prejudice and a host of other sins that love to worry us.

If we can make these distinctions in our life, we will have a freedom like the beautiful lilies and the unfettered sparrows. It will be an amazing liberty that the evil-hearted cannot understand or compromise.

Music: Consider the Lilies of the Field (Words below)

Consider the lilies of the field,
How they grow, how they grow.
Consider the birds in the sky,
How they fly, how they fly.

He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the birds in the sky.
And He will feed those who trust Him,
And guide them with His eye.

Consider the sheep of His fold,
How they follow where He leads.
Though the path may wind across the mountains,
He knows the meadows where they feed.

He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the birds in the sky,
And He will feed those who trust Him,
And guide them with His eye.

Consider the sweet, tender children
Who must suffer on this earth.
The pains of all of them He carried
From the day of His birth.

He clothes the lilies of the field,
He feeds the lambs in His fold,
And He will heal those who trust Him,
And make their hearts as gold.

He clothes the lilies of the field,
He feeds the lambs in His fold,
And He will heal those who trust Him,
And make their hearts as gold.

What Matters

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062018.cfm

Mt6_6

Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us how to pray and do good. He says that it is our deep-hearted intention that matters in these things. It is there, in the hidden heart, that God dwells with us and reads our love for its sincerity.

God is not impressed with any bling in our words or actions. Not impressed with the big, loud, or wow of what we do. God knows whether we truly love, and it is that which touches Him.

Let the words of Jesus today take you to that inner heart-room where God knows and loves you like no one else can. In that precious quiet, enter the silence of prayer. Listen to God with the soul’s ear that needs no sound. Speak to God with the humble love that needs no words.

Music:  Yo Yo Ma playing Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet

On This Father’s Day

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061718.cfm

2 Cor 5_7 faith

Today, in Mercy, our Sunday readings are filled with the hope of new life, spoken out of the abyss of suffering.

Both Ezekiel’s and Paul’s communities were suffering under exile or persecution. In both cases, a powerful state has dehumanized and enslaved them – rendering them as “other”, unworthy of fraternal compassion.

These suffering communities hunger for the encouragement of their prophets, Ezekiel and Paul.

They long for Ezekiel’s majestic cedar, born from a single, hopeful branch – a life-giving tree where all can dwell in fullness and joy. It is a precursor of heaven, where they will be free and restored to honor.

They draw hope from Paul’s example of courage, believing with him that there is a new day coming where they will be known as precious and worthy in God’s sight.

What might these readings suggest to us, as we celebrate Father’s Day today?

As we contemplate the gift of fatherhood from the perspective of our own experience, let us be mindful of fathers and families experiencing exile and persecution similar to Ezekiel’s and Paul’s communities.

migrant fathers

The Bible tells us stories of our ancestors in faith, but it is also a living Word – speaking to our current experiences. Just this week, we have heard some in power positions use the Bible to justify the infliction of pain and hardship on other human beings. God must weep at such sinful arrogance!

Let us, instead, be inspired by these Scriptures to open our hearts in mercy. Let us pray for suffering migrant communities throughout the world, forced from their homes by war, crime, and greed. Let us pray for children torn from their families by blind, inhumane policies. 

Today, let us pray especially for these refugee fathers as their hopes are crushed and their families broken. And, where we can, let us do more than pray. Let us act for justice and mercy. Let us, at the very least, not rally behind a power that subverts the preciousness of human life and family.

Music: One Day When We All Get To Heaven written by Eliza Hewitt (1851-1920).

The Tangled Web

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061618.cfm

Why do we lie? It gets us so mixed up!

I vividly remember a quotation painted along the chalkboard border of my 6th grade classroom. It is from Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion:

“O what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive.”

Perhaps the quote impressed me so much because I was entangled in a juvenile drama over smoking in the girls’ bathroom. Some supposed friend had reported two of us to the principal, a tiny nun who kept an unused  (but nonetheless threatening) cat-o-nine tails in her desk drawer. When confronted, what was there to do but lie?

Mt 5_37 yes_no

But, oh the complexity of it! Would my partner in crime tell the same story? Would any slight discrepancy render us convicted? Would she instead take the part of the informant? Would my smoker parents be brought in as investigators of the behavior they had inspired? Where would the whole quagmire end!

Wouldn’t it have been so much simpler to just tell the truth? So why do we lie? Why do we swear to what is not true? Why do we boast of things we cannot claim? This is the same challenge Jesus puts to his followers in our Gospel passage.

In my young case, as in many others, we lie because our behavior has fractured us from the image of who we are expected to be. We want to be respected, loved, powerful and right. These are conditions that should be earned by the integrity of our behavior. But when our actions cheat, we often lie, pretend, avoid, distract or otherwise compromise the truth.

Our world is full of this kind of lying. Our politics are crippled with it; our leaders unashamedly expert at it. Our culture is so poisoned with a lack integrity, that it seeps into our own relationships and choices almost unnoticed. Lying becomes normalized.

And the situation is not new. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is warning his disciples to avoid just such corruption.

A remedy? Here’s what Jesus says:

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the Evil One.”

It sounds simple enough. But it requires the hard work of prayerful self-examination, loving mutual correction, forgiveness (even of ourselves), and a good old “firm purpose of amendment”. (Remember that one from the Act of Contrition?)

It was a heck of a lesson I was taught in sixth grade – and, like most great lessons – it wasn’t in any textbook! I only hope I learned it somewhat well.

Music: Tell the Truth ~ Eric Clapton (Get ready to jam! Lyrics below.)

Tell the truth.
Tell me who’s been fooling you?
Tell the truth.
Who’s been fooling who?

There you sit there, looking so cool
While the whole show is passing you by.
You better come to terms with your fellow men soon, cause
The whole world is shaking now. Can’t you feel it?
A new dawn is breaking now. Can’t you see it?

Tell the truth.
Tell me who’s been fooling you?
Tell the truth.
Who’s been fooling who?

It doesn’t matter just who you are,
Or where you’re going or been.
Open your eyes and look into your heart.

The whole world is shaking now. Can’t you feel it?
A new dawn is breaking now. Can’t you see it?
I said see it, yeah, can’t you see it?
Can’t you see it, yeah, can’t you see it?
I can see it, yeah.

Tell the truth.
Tell me who’s been fooling you?
Tell the truth.
Who’s been fooling who?

Hear what I say, ’cause every word is true.
You know I wouldn’t tell you no lies.
Your time’s coming, gonna be soon, boy.
It doesn’t matter just who you are,
Or where you’re going or been.
Open your eyes and look into your heart.

Songwriters: Bobby Whitlock / Eric Patrick Clapton / Robert S. WhitlockTell the Truth lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Music Sales Corporation

Whispers of God

Friday, June 15, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061518.cfm

Whisper 6_15_18

Today, in Mercy, our first reading continues to follow the journey of Elijah, one wild and crazy guy – with a holy obsession for God.  Elijah is so frustrated with the hard-heartedness of the Israelites, that he whines constantly to God about it. God calls Elijah to Mt. Horeb (the same place where He first chatted with Moses) to talk the situation over. Elijah tries to find God’s voice there in a howling wind, an earthquake and a huge fire. No dice!

Elijah is so like us in this! Don’t we call on God in our troubled times, asking Him to fix things in a flash and glam? It is one of the ways we try to deal with the presence of evil in the world. We would love the security of a “Superman” God Who dramatically intervenes to reverse reality according to our comfort.

But how rare are such miracles! Instead, God abides quietly and steadily in the unfolding of our life, both in sorrow and joy. God whispers the directions to eternal life, deep under the noise of our human challenges – even evil, even death.

God’s word did come to Elijah eventually, not in the fiery demonstration he expected. It came in the gentle breeze of mercy, patience, fidelity and hope which most truly reflects the omnipotent nature of God.

Divinity is so quietly vibrant in all life. We must become equally quiet in our prayer and awareness to hear God’s whispers for us.

Music:  The Whispers of God ~ Marilyn Baker

Fired by Love

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061318.cfm

Ps 25 6_13_18

Today, in Mercy, when reading the passage about Elijah and the prophets of Baal, I was reminded of the Irving Berlin song, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”. In the reading, Elijah tests and even taunts Baal’s 450 prophets in a contest to prove whose God is true. Of course, Elijah wins in a stunning blast of fire. It is a religious exercise of “eradicate and supplant”.

The Gospel reading carries a similar theme.  Jesus’ followers seem to conclude that, because he is teaching something new, he is nullifying the customary Hebrew teachings. But Jesus says that, to the contrary, He is here to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it.

Religion, like any entrenched practice, tends over time to suffer the ill effects of institutionalization. Our rituals and devotions may become lifeless; our scriptures become rote. The power of our sacraments may be carelessly invoked and distractedly attended. A chasm grows between what we profess and what we live. We may become frozen. Sometimes, it might seem best to set the whole thing aflame and start all over again, like Elijah.

But Jesus challenges to us to go deeper than “practice”. Mere practice can easily become empty. Jesus shows us in his life what a fulfilled faith looks like. It is a faith expressed in service, sacrifice and inclusive mercy. It is a faith that, when brought to the pulpit and altar, carries the lives of those we love and serve. It is a faith, like the Psalmist’s, that listens for God’s direction deep in the experiences of life. It is a faith, not in contradiction to Law, but beyond it. It is a faith fired – transformed – by Love.

Music: Living Spirit, Holy Fire ~ David Haas