(Thanks)Giving

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

November 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in our reading from Daniel, King Belshazzar sees “the handwriting on the wall”. We all know how that feels! It’s a feeling that tells us to pay attention to our lives.

As Thanksgiving comes closer, I hope this reflection will help us all pay attention to what is most precious in our lives, and to give thanks.


TY families

Thanksgiving is a most heart-warming time. While culture seems to have eroded Christmas into a holiday of “presents”, Thanksgiving remains a time of “presence” – a day simply to gather family and friends in fellowship and love.  It is a day full of remembering, ritual, hope and encouragement.  It is a time when we are brought back to our true selves by the people who know us best and share our memories.

No matter how many years pass, on Thanksgiving morning we can remember our mother’s kitchen – the early morning bustle of chopping, peeling and mixing; the aroma of roasting turkey rising steadily through the day. For some, the memory is of the gathering of cousins for a football game, or the community of aunts for the pie-baking marathon. Always, it is a memory of togetherness and comfortable acceptance.

For me, a precious memory rests with the turkey heart. Both Dad and I loved this rare treat. But, alas, the turkey has only one heart! So we created a ritual of “alternative years” where I got the heart one year, Dad the next. Somehow, every year, Dad said he had had it last year – until I grew old enough to recognize his generous ploy. Then, as the years passed, I grew up. I realized it was my turn – and my joy – to always say that I “had the heart last year, Dad.”

Often, for this feast, we emphasize the aspect of “thanks”, because we are so blessed and have so much to be grateful for. But perhaps a more powerful part of the celebration is “giving”. This blessed day is a time to renew ourselves in giving – and forgiving.  Our giving may be expressed in many forms:

  • I love you
  • I thank you
  • I am proud of you
  • I will help you
  • I understand, or perhaps just something like this:

I had the heart last year.

Such words bless us, dear family and friends, beyond the years. May you and your loved ones hear them from one another on this Thanksgiving Day.

Music: Thanksgiving Song – Mary Chapin Carpenter

Let the Light In

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Deuteronomy. In today’s passage, Moses gives the first of three speeches to the community. These speeches are a sort of manifesto a family patriarch might give before he dies, framing the family history and code to direct coming generations.

Ps77 crack


Dad

 

The reading falls on a most appropriate day for me.
Today would be my Dad’s 104th birthday.
The occasion invites me to recount all the blessings
given to him, me, and our family.

 


When we, as people of faith, step back from our lives in reverence, we realize God’s immense goodness to us. Moses encourages his people to do just such stepping back:

Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?

We might ask ourselves the same thing. 

  • How has God been with me and my family through our lifetimes, and through the generations that preceded us?
  • In both our lights and darknesses, how has God continually called us to relationship?
  • How have we revealed God’s voice to one another by our love, honesty, support, patient accompaniment, generous correction and forgiveness?
  • How have these gifts to one another allowed us to become gifts to the larger world?
  • What am I passing on to the next generation of the fidelity and sacrifice which has blessed me?

When I think of my Dad, there are so many symbols that show how he answered those questions with his life. They aren’t big manifestos like those of Moses. Instead: 

  • a frayed prayer book that I watched him finger daily
  • an old receipt for my bicycle bought in incremental payments he could barely afford
  • his sincere distress one Assumption Day when he had forgotten to go to Mass
  • his steadfast attempt to work even when illness weakened him and his humble trust in God when that weakness appeared to triumph
  • a treasured conversation about his hope for heaven
  • the appreciation now, in my maturity, of his thousand quiet acts of faith and love

All of us might spend some time in gratitude for the legacy of faith and love we have received. No family is perfect, and the grace may come to us in clarity or in disguise. But it comes. 

There are fractures and tears in every family. There were some even in Moses’ “family” and Moses himself! And we cannot magically heal them all. But God asks us to remember that God abides with us even in any fragmentation. Just as the poet Leonard Cohen sings:

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Click here to listen to Cohen’s moving song

If what we remember in our family history are weaknesses, how have they made us stronger? If what we remember are strengths, how have they made us more generous? In either case, how have we heard God’s voice in our story? How have we let the Light in?

As Moses tells his people:

This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,

and that there is no other.

Music: As for Me and My House – Promise Keepers

Honor Those Who Bore You Life

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

July 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Exodus reading coincides perfectly with today’s Memorial Feast for Anne and Joachim, grandparents of Jesus.

Exodus20_5

In the passage, we have one of many Old Testament formulations of the Ten Commandments. We learned these codes as children, and perhaps have always interpreted them as laws which, when broken, marked us as sinners.

While this is one approach, a more mature and life-giving one is offered by the Biblical scholar Terence E. Fretheim:

The focus (of these directives) is on
protecting the health of the community,

to which end the individual plays such an important role.
Exodus: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching

The command to honor one’s father and mother clearly demonstrates this approach. It is a command not only for children to be docile and obedient. Rather it denotes a life-long responsibility to care for parents and other  nurturers of our lives. The command also suggests the responsibility of these nurturers to live honorably so that their children may respond to their example with equal honor.

Today is a day to pray for our own families and for all families, for the young and the elderly, and for those walking the tenuous bridge in between.  It is a day to assess how well we carry our responsibilities to honor, obey, bless and foster life for one another.

It is a day to be deeply grateful for the love of family which we are blessed to experience; a day to pray for healing for those not equally blessed. Let us pray for families distressed by the necessity to migrate, and further burdened by nations’ failures to keep the commandment of neighborly love.

Like Mary, may we embrace the elders in our lives who love and need us, be these parents, mentors, community members, or neighbors. Scripture promises us that, in doing so, we shall have “mercy bestowed on us down to the thousandth generation.”

Music: Love Remains – Hillary Scott

That Family Reunion!

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read about a family reunion of biblical proportions!  After many years, Joseph – long-thought dead- is reunited with his grieving father, deceitful half-siblings, and beloved younger brother. Wow!

For better or worse, “Family” is a powerful force in every one of our lives. It both nurtures and siphons us; both exalts and critiques us; frees us and binds us.

Genesis46_30 family reunion

In many ways, family makes us who we are – by blood and genes – but more importantly by the hope and promise it places in us.  This was the case with Joseph, the great hope of his father Jacob and the misunderstood threat to his jealous brothers.

Today’s reading shows us a family who has made it through their devastating conflicts, not by their own effort, but by the abiding promise of God.

So many fractured families wish they could tell the same story of redeeming wholeness! What were the openings in this family’s brokenness that allowed God to enter and heal?

As so often in our human story, God comes dressed in ordinary clothes.  God wears the garments of our grief, repentance, forgiveness, hope and longing. He is disguised in our memories, cherished or painful. He peeks through our unresolved regrets, and dances in our acts of kindness, patience, and understanding.

We reach through to touch this God of Hope by our smallest mercy, our offered reconciling word, our tendered apology for a slight grown bigger with the years. And sometimes, we must simply let go of that which is unreconcilable, of those human hurts that can’t be healed because of time’s passage or unreachable hearts.

We let this God of Promise live in our families by honestly loving one another, supporting one another, thanking one another, and anticipating one another’s needs.

Being a strong family takes courage and sacrifice – something Joseph’s brothers were lucky to learn, however late. Let us pray in hope and thanksgiving for our own families – and for all families —  that God may give us that kind of self-sacrificing courage. Let us pray especially for young families, in today’s very inhospitable world, that they may grow strong in God’s and each other’s love.

Music: Family Prayer Song – The Promise Keepers

They Are ALL Our Own

This was a day of blessed, evident love, spiritual pleading and mutual anxiety for my dear family.  God was so good to us in blessing our dear Oliver with a successful open heart surgery. Thank you all for your prayers and generous thoughts.

Reflecting on all of this later in the day, this prayer poem came to me.

I share it for those who might wish to consider it in their own prayer


Oh, how we love our children,
Daughters, sons,
Grans, great-grands and God’s.
They bring us life, renewed,
And joy unparalleled.

They promise us that God
Is still about the work
Of hopeful Creation.

These dear children,
They are a promise,
A hope, a joy, a gift
A treasure that reminds us
Of God’s innocent and
Loving eyes.

How we must reverence them,
Our own, and those far
From our own, because,
Oh, my dear sisters, brothers,
They are all our own.

181228-bixby-border-tease_b4yvg2
Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Gómez Alonzo died in federal custody after they fled to the US from Guatemala.

A Mother’s Prayer


A Prayer for My Son

Heritage of Faith

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Acts tells of Paul’s preaching in the synagogue at Antioch. Paul, himself steeped in the love and practice of his Jewish faith, comes before more faithful Jews to invite them to a transformed faith in Jesus, the Messiah they had been awaiting. That was no easy assignment!

Ps89_2_family of God

But Paul, learned and erudite, traces the entire hereditary line of the Jewish faith, through the House of David, and leading to Jesus Christ. It’s a rich and beautiful homily that redefines the meaning and reach of God’s Family.

In our Gospel, Jesus too describes what it means to belong to God’s family. He says that whoever receives him, and lovingly serves like him, is one with him and with the Father.

These readings give the inspiration to consider and pray on many points. Perhaps these three may be helpful:

Through what human means and heritage has our faith been handed down to us? Who are the parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and godparents of our cherished faith? Let’s pray with them today and remember their loving example.


What family of faith has been gifted to us through our community, church and graced friendships over our lifetime? Who are these with whom we share the DNA of our spirit, who have bolstered our faith throughout the journey? Let us pray in gratitude for the gift of these people in our life.


What about us? For whom are we a “faith family”? How do we give the gift of faith, love and service in that family?


Music: I Knew My Father Knew – Sally deFord and James Loynes

Happy Easter

The Gift and Practice of Family

Easter

A blessed and happy Easter and passover to all of you!

Easter and Passover, because they are feasts of life, are family celebrations. It is a time to reconnect and gather with those who share our life story, with the tribe we were born into.

Each Pasch, we join our family with a renewed heart, setting aside any small or large fractures of the intervening year.

Easter Rosemarie
Dear Friends at a Long-Ago Easter

This freshness of spirit may be symbolized in a brand new Easter outfit or the spring cleaning of the house.

When I was young, Easter bonnets we’re still the thing, and maybe a new pair of Mary Janes. My little brother wore his first bow tie at Easter, although he wasn’t too happy about it as I recall. 🤗

Though we may have missed their deeper meaning, the house abounded in symbols of the Resurrection: jubilantly-dyed eggs, little chocolate bunnies, rainbowed jelly beans in a sea of papery grass, and elegant lilies.

 

Most importantly, the family shared a meal, often built of contributed elements from each participant. We waited expectantly for Aunt Peg’s pineapple filling and Mom’s chocolate pie. On occasion, Uncle Joe contributed a wondrous ham that had “fallen off the truck” as he made his rounds in North Philly. ( I learned only later in life that a few of our delicious meals were centered on heisted ham.)

This Easter and Passover offer us an invitation to reconnect with our families which we have been given either by nature or by grace. Not all families are bound by blood. They are are tied through the heart by mutual love, hope, vision, surmounted suffering, shared experience, and a host of other fragments that we shape into life’s mosaic.

Our families are the people we have laughed and cried with, the people we turn to when we’re afraid. They’re the ones who pray for us, look out for us, and yell (softly) at us when we are really stupid. They’re the ones who, no matter how long since we have spoken, we pick up a conversation right in the middle. They’re the ones who bring us flowers, ricotta pie, and a rotisserie chicken when we feel punk.  They are beyond blood and genes.

May we reach out in renewed love and appreciation to those who have been “family” to us. May we be grateful and generous with those who look to us for life. May the gift and practice of family rise up in us this Easter morning!

Music: Couldn’t Resist

The Holy Family

December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family

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Today, in Mercy, our prayer is turned to the Holy Family, that unique configuration of love which nurtured the developing life of Jesus. Can you imagine how tenderly the Father shaped this triad, this nesting place of love for God’s own Word?

We look to the Holy Family so that we might be strengthened in the virtues that will help us build our own families: sacrificial love, reverence, courage, unfailing support, committed presence, shared faith, gentle honesty, unconditional acceptance.

“Family” is the primordial place where we learn who we are. The lessons it teaches us about ourselves – for better or worse — remain with us forever. 

Not everyone is blessed by their family. Family can ground us in confidence or undermine us with self-doubt. It can free us from fear or cripple us with reservation. It can release either possibility or perpetual hesitation within us.

Some families are so dysfunctional that we spend the rest of our lives trying to recover from them. But some, like the Holy Family, allow God’s dream to be nurtured in us and to spread to new families, both of blood and spirit.

The challenge today is to thank God for whatever type of family bore us. Lessons can be learned from both lights and shadows. Let us spend time this morning looking  at our own families with love, gratitude, forgiveness, understanding. Where there are wounds to be healed, let us face them. Where there are belated thanks to be offered, let us give them. Where there are negligence and oversights to confess, let us use them as bridges to a new devotion.

For some, it may seem too late to heal or bless our family. Time may have swallowed some of our possibilities. But it is never too late to deepen relationships through prayer, both for and to our ancestors.

May this feast strengthen us for the families who need us today.

Music: God Bless My Family ~ Anne Hampton Calloway

GOD BLESS MY FAMILY
Words and music – By Ann Hampton Callaway

1. It’s Christmas time
Outside the snow is falling
Like a million stars
Like a million dreams
All dressed up in white
I’m writing Christmas cards
A joy that’s tinged with sadness
As I think of friends
Some are here and some are gone
But our love goes on and on
Like the snow tonight

CHORUS
And oh, what a family
My life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky
We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ry day
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved
Shine out in me
God bless my family

2. As years go by
The carols we sang as children
Gather memories
What was just a song
Now feels like a pray’r
Welcoming us home
To fathers, mothers
Sisters, brothers ev’rywhere
Some we’ve lost and some we’ve found
As love circles us around
In the songs we share

CHORUS

So fly, angels of my heart
We’ll never be apart
Tonight I say a pray’r
For loved ones ev’rywhere

CHORUS/CODA

You’re a part of my family
That life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky

We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ryday
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved

Shine out in me
God bless my family
You’ll always live in me
God bless my family