Psalm 24: Vanity, Vanity

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Thursday, September 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 24 which encourages us to be sinless, pure of heart, and humble. And that’s hard!

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.


Do you remember the song “You’re So Vain”? Here is a reminder.

The song expresses a common understanding of the word “vanity”:

excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievement


We all know people who seem to think they’re hot stuff. Maybe we’re even one of them! But I think that often a person behaving vainly really is quite unsure of himself.

The apparent vanity is a veneer to hide the emptiness inside. It is a veiled fear that, rather than being “all that”, one is really “not enough”.

The word vanity comes from the Latin root vanus which means empty – not “empty” with a readiness to be filled. Instead it connotes an emptiness that rattles with accumulated pretenses and falsehoods. It is a place of loud but lonely echoes.


Paul addresses this kind of emptiness when he writes to the Corinthians. He tells them not to get caught up in the contest of human vanity because we already are sufficient in God’s love and grace. Everything important is already ours in Christ, in God.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas,
or the world or life or death,
or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.


Psalm 24 assures us that to participate in this blessing, to be embraced by God’s favor only this is sufficient:

Who can stand in God’s holy place?
The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who have not given their soul to useless things,
to what is vain.
They will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from their saving God.


Poetry: Vanity by George Herbert

The fleet astronomer can bore 
And thread the spheres with his quick-piercing mind: 
He views their stations, walks from door to door, 
         Surveys, as if he had designed 
To make a purchase there; he sees their dances, 
                   And knoweth long before 
Both their full-eyes aspècts, and secret glances. 
         
         The nimble diver with his side 
Cuts through the working waves, that he may fetch 
His dearly-earnèd pearl, which God did hide 
         On purpose from the venturous wretch; 
That he might save his life, and also hers 
                   Who with excessive pride 
Her own destruction and his danger wears. 
         
         The subtle chymic can divest 
And strip the creature naked, till he find 
The callow principles within their nest: 
         There he imparts to them his mind, 
Admitted to their bed-chamber, before 
                   They appear trim and dressed 
To ordinary suitors at the door. 
         
       What hath not man sought out and found, 
But his dear God? who yet his glorious law 
Embosoms in us, mellowing the ground 
         With showers and frosts, with love and awe, 
So that we need not say, “Where’s this command?” 
                   Poor man, thou searchest round 
To find out death, but missest life at hand.

Song: As We Seek Your Face – Divine Hymns

That Fish Was Sooo…..

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 27, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, in our readings:

  • Sirach assures us that the prayer of the humble reaches the ear of God
  • Paul readies himself for death
  • Jesus gives us one of his most memorable parables. 

The thread running through all of these? Humility- that beautiful virtue which allows us to be who we truly are before God and humanity.

Oh my goodness friends, how many times have we been with “the Pharisees”, such as Jesus describes, at a meeting or dinner? They are so unsure and unaware of their true value in God, that they begin to create an illusion to protect their fear.

We know the statements (or attitudes) by heart. Sometimes, they’re harmless; sometimes not. We may be guilty of a few of them ourselves:

fish

But there are other statements, such as the Pharisee’s, that can certainly make us question a person’s self- perception: 

  • There has never been a better leader, CEO, deal-maker, neighbor, human being
  • I am smarter than the generals, the lawyers, the financiers, the scientists
  • Nobody does things better than me
  • I am the smartest person of all time

Certainly, it’s angering, but more than that, it’s sad. It’s really sad to miss the whole point of one’s true greatness: that we are beloved and redeemed by God – just like every Creature! That we are called, in that belovedness , to serve God in our sisters and brothers. Knowing this inalienable truth is the source of all humility, courage, joy, and perseverance in faith. It is the whole reason we were created. What a tragedy to, like the Pharisee, miss the whole point!

Let us pray with Paul and the humble tax collector today. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner – a redeemed, grateful, and joyful sinner.”

Music: Miserere Mei – Gregorio Allegri 

You’re Invited – (and so is everyone else)

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 1, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings share the common theme of humility, instructing us that the virtue is essential to our salvation.

Lk14_11 humbled

Humility, of course, gets a bad rap in our dominating, “me” culture. We tend to think of humiliation, servitude, inelegance rather than the actual root of the word: humus -“of the earth”.

I was fascinated last week by a small fracas arising from the unconsidered remarks of one of our Phillies baseball players. The team has been running hot and cold – with a little bit too much cold for some fans. The famous Philly “boos” have been flying. Frustrated with these, outfielder Sean Rodriguez referred to the disgruntled fans as “entitled”. 

angry

Uh oh! They didn’t like that. We prefer to think of ourselves as “deserving “, right?

Humility is that virtue which helps us realize that we are not “entitled” or “deserving” of anything over and above other human beings. It roots us in the respect for each other that refuses to rank the worth of other human beings. 

The social leverage that comes from wealth, power, and influence can beguile us. We become lost in a maze of stereotypes, rankings and prejudices which are the foundation of social injustice.

 

We hear among ourselves justifying phrases for our entitlement like:

  • well, I earned what I have
  • at least I paid for it
  • “they” need to work if they want to have …(food, healthcare, housing…)
  • it’s their own fault for … (dropping out of school, taking drugs, ….)
  • that’s just the way it is in “those” countries. The people are …(lazy, stupid, violent …)
  • “they” don’t need what I need. “They” are used to being … (poor, disabled, sick …)

And probably the most dangerous of all the phrases:

  • it’s not my problem
  • I’m not the one exiling, bombing, blocking, trafficking, enslaving “them”

Today’s readings enjoin us: it is my problem. My attitude, choices, vote, conversation, and lifestyle matter at the banquet of life we are all meant to share.

My intention to humbly join and rejoice with all Creation, to take a seat beside and never above my sister and brother – this is my “entitlement” to the one banquet that matters.

When you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Music:  A Place at the Table – Lori True and Shirley Elena Murray

Seesaws

Saturday, November 3, 2018

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Lk14_11 seesaw

Today, in Mercy, Jesus gives us one of the many “seesaw“ choices of the Gospel:

  • with Me or against Me
  • sheep or goats
  • God or money 
  • being first or last
  • being humble or exalted

These phrases are both hard and kind. They’re hard because they leave us no middle ground. It’s either-or, not both-and. I don’t know about you but I like both-and. I like to have my cake and eat it too. But it doesn’t work, does it?

The phrases are kind because, if we trust them, they make our choices clear.

Today’s Gospel tells us the secret to true spiritual greatness – humility. In worldly terms, that’s a contradiction. Just observe the pompous, dishonest posturing of some of our politicians to see how the world rejects humility as a path to greatness!

But Jesus turns the world upside-down. In Christ’s world, the seesaws go backward. They dip to power by service; to love by sacrifice; to wealth by compassion. They are rides in contradiction to the world.

Our spiritual life is the constant challenge of balancing these seesaws toward God and God’s beloved poor, wounded, and marginalized. That’s how Jesus rode them. That’s how He’s asking us to do it.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad

Bust Out Those Talents!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

        Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090118.cfm

Mt25_18 talent

Today, in Mercy, Paul encourages us to consider our calling to discipleship. He makes it clear that we are humble recipients of God’s generosity. We owe everything that we are, and every gift that we have, to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must use these gifts for the building up of God’s Presence in all Creation. The parable condemns the one who buries his talent rather than shares and increases it.

True humility can free us of these obstacles. Recognizing that it is “due to God’s grace that we are in Christ Jesus”, we shift our focus from self-concern to concern for God’s Creation. We invest our talents in the works of Mercy so that the God’s riches flourish in us and in those whom we love and serve. This is the community of faith to which we are called to be vigorous contributors of our talents, no matter how humble they may seem to us.

Enjoy this lovely instrumental selection as you consider the many gifts God has given you.

Music: Due Tramonti (Two Sunsets) ~ Ludovico Einaudi