Creeping Up to Lent?

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

February 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we are creeping up to Lent’s doorstep.

Doorstep

Are you beginning to consider your Lenten rituals? Our readings today might help orient us.

They leave this question hanging in the air: Who do I really want to be in my life?

Mk9_34 first last

James says that if we are someone who loves the world, we will find ourselves at enmity with God. James defines “the world” as a place in discord, conflicted by covetousness, envy, frustration, and death-dealing.

James is directly addressing damaging squabbles within the Church itself. Infighting has caused fractures within his believing community. Failures in mutual charity and sincere prayer have generated “wars” among the members.

Why would anybody choose to contribute to such a negative environment? 

James pins it on one thing: jealousy. We are jealous to be, have, control, and possess more than others. We are tempted by power, riches and esteem. We want our opinions to be honored, our needs to be met above and before others.


The reality exists today as well, as we know too well.

  • We see it in the Church from factions who want to bend the Gospel to their own agenda.
  • We see it within and between nations who raise the advantage of some over the welfare of others.
  • We see it in families, businesses, and social circles where individuals volley for position, influence, or control over others.

These conflicts pour out in criticism, judgements, biases, shunning, and all kinds of failures in compassion, respect, and honesty. They blind us to our common creaturehood in God, and to its demand for an equity of love, mercy, and justice.

Otherwise, 

  • How could we ever kill or enslave one another, either by aggression or neglect?
  • How could we separate parents from their children and put babies in cages?
  • How could we participate in a global economic tyranny that leaves some without land, homes, health care, or hope?
  • How could we use other human beings – or their vital resources – only for our own pleasure, power or enrichment?

Most of us do not outrightly choose these sinful behaviors. But we must ask ourselves to what degree we are complicit in them by our failures in just judgement, advocacy, political responsibility, globally sustainable choices, — just plain care and reverence for all human beings, all Creation.


The approach of Lent is a great time to revisit the question James hangs in the air for us:

  • Who do I really want to be in my life? 
  • Do I need to make changes to do that? 
  • How can I prepare for a Lent that helps me make those Grace-filled changes?

We are grown-ups now, and our Lenten repentances demand more than those we learned in grade school. Fasting from candy won’t cut it anymore. 

  • How about we fast from cable news that feeds our biases?
  • Or actually do something for our parish besides critique the Sunday sermon?
  • Maybe give up some of our polluting behaviors requiring plastic and other non-recyclables?
  • How about including a outsider in something where they are otherwise ignored?
  • Or providing for someone’s need who would hesitate to ask for your attention?

I think James would approve of choices like that because he says:

God bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
So submit yourselves to God.

Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Music: When It’s All Been Said and Done – Robin Mark

Help My Unbelief!

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

February 24, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the deep undercurrent of our readings is about the power and difficulties of faith.

James talks about how our faith can be choked by the weeds of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition”. These chokers make us “boast and be false to the truth”. They fill us with a “pretend wisdom” that is not from the Holy Spirit.

Praying with this passage, I asked myself why we allow these ugly constraints to grasp our souls when the alternative James describes is so beautiful:

… the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.


The Gospel helped me with an answer.

Unconditional faith is scary. It requires us to give control over to God. It asks us to let go of fear and to trust God’s Spirit within us. It needs us to empty our hearts of pretense and self-protection in order to make room for God’s transforming Mercy and Love.

This kind of faith will change us. It will make us “foolish” and insecure in worldly terms. It will cause us to live from a Wisdom the world misunderstands and mocks.

It’s hard to live that kind of faith. The dad in today’s Gospel admits it. He wants to have a faith that invites Christ’s power into his life. But he’s afraid. What if God wants something different for him and his son? What happens if he gives control over to God?

This yearning father confesses his ambivalence in a plea for Christ’s assistance:

Mk9_24 unbelief

We all find ourselves within that plea sometimes in our lives. It’s a faith of “if”, “maybe”, and “but” – all of which are hardly faith at all. Unconditional faith is “Yes”, no matter what. It is the place where Faith and Love merge.

Our faithful “Yes”, as the e.e.cummings poem might describe it:

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds



Music:
  When we live this “Yes Faith”, God’s love, God’s heart lives in us. This song by Michael Hedges, based on another poem by e.e.cummings, can be a prayer for us. We may be unused to calling God “my dear”, “my darling”. But a loving name for God can be helpful to our prayer. Substitute what works for you. Don’t be hesitant about being in love with God❤️

I Carry Your Heart – Michael Hedges (Lyrics below)

I carry your heart with me
I carry it in my heart
I am never without it
Anywhere i go you go, my dear
And whatever is done by only me
Is your doing, my darling.

I fear no fate
For you are my fate, my sweet
I want no world
For beautiful you are my world, my true
And it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
And whatever a sun will always sing is you

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
Here is the root of the root
And the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky
Of a tree called life;
Which grows higher than the soul can hope
Or mind can hide
And this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart
I carry it in my heart

What Profit?

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 21, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, James actually made me chuckle out loud! In today’s celebrated passage about faith and works, James – ever direct and uncompromising – really takes it home. Get this verse:

Do you want proof, you ignoramus,
that faith without works is useless?

OK, James! Tell us what you really think!😂

Well, here’s what he really thinks:

For just as a body without a spirit is dead,
so also faith without works is dead.


 

whole world

In our Gospel, Jesus says that living a life of good works is hard. He did it through the Cross and says we must follow his example:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.

The Gospel Jesus is talking about, and the “works” James refers to,  are summarized like this:



Corporal Works of Mercy

feed the hungry.
give water to the thirsty.
clothe the naked.
shelter the homeless.
visit the sick.
visit the imprisoned, ransom the captive.
bury the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy

instruct the ignorant.
counsel the doubtful.
admonish the sinners.
bear patiently those who wrong us.
forgive offenses.
comfort the afflicted.
pray for the living and the dead.


If we live by these, we will find the Cross – but we will also find the Crown.

Music: Lose My Soul – TobyMac, a multi-award winning Christian hip-hop singer. The music is a departure for me, but I thought the song was really good (maybe of use to some of my readers who are teachers.) I hope you agree.

Be Impartial, or Not?

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, two Apostles of Jesus are our teachers. James advises us on what to do. Beloved Peter, as so often is the case, shows us what not to do.

James tells us to show no partiality. He makes clear that he is talking about impartiality toward those who are materially poor. It’s a maxim that Jesus gave us time and again in the Gospel.

James2_1 partiality

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward the poor, he actually has a preferential love for them. So Jesus was partial to the poor, right? Hmm!

Yes, I think that’s right. In order to balance our human inclination to the richest, best, strongest, etc., Jesus teaches us to go all out in the other direction.

It’s like this great cartoon that’s popped up on Facebook recently:

equity


Our Gospel picks up the theme.

Because of his great love for the poor and his passion for mercy, Jesus tells his followers that suffering is coming. Peter doesn’t like hearing that. Can you see Peter take Jesus aside and say, “Listen, Jesus, negative talk is going to hurt you campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!


behind me satan

Jesus responds to Peter definitively: “Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wow! That must have stung! But that’s how important it was to Jesus that his followers understood his mission: to preach Mercy to the poor, sick, and broken by sharing and transforming their experience.

Jesus wants us to understand that too.

 


Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick

Like Trees Walking

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are around the theme of our spiritual senses.

James1_22 doers

James tells us to listen, look, see, and act on the Word planted within our hearts. Once again, he gives us great images to help our understanding.

mirror

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror.
He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets
what he looked like.

 


 

horse

 

If anyone thinks he is religious
and does not bridle his tongue

but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.

 

 


 

In our Gospel, once again our dear, earthy Jesus heals someone in a deeply human way. Jesus takes the blind man aside, holding his hand to lead him. As he did in a passage recently, Jesus spits on his fingers and massages the blind man’s eyes.

blind man

The man tries to work with Jesus, exclaiming that he sees “people like trees walking”. 

I’ve always loved that line because it makes me feel like I’m right there, listening to the man’s amazement!

As we pray this morning, we might wonder what Jesus said back to that overwhelmed man as they sat together. What might he say to us as he lifts one of our many blindnesses from our hearts?

Music:  I See Men As Trees Walking – Johnny Cash (lyrics below)

No Shadow of Turning

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, James continues with his spiritual encouragements. 

For one thing, he makes it clear that God doesn’t tempt us. Some of us make the mistake of thinking that, saying things like, “God is testing me.”

James, outlining a perfect way to examine one’s conscience, says this:

No one experiencing temptation should say,
“I am being tempted by God”;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil,
and God himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire conceives and brings forth sin,
and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.


 

I don’t really like to talk about sins; I’d probably much rather commit them!!!! So if we have some little labyrinths of temptation and sinful habits ensnaring us, we should listen to James. He encourages us to examine and check our own concupiscent  desires as they are the seeds of our spiritual undoing. 

In my experience, these desires are usually disguised, pretending to be beneficial for us at first sight. But underneath, they are rooted in selfishness and excess, deviating us from our center in God. Just think how some of the famous ones have masqueraded into our lives: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Greed, Wrath (Vengeful Anger).


In the second part of this passage, James takes the tone up a notch. He reminds us that, once centered on God, we realize that only good things come from God.

All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.

I particularly love that last phrase, rendered in our hymn today like this:
James1_17 no shadow

It’s beautiful to see how James, as a real spiritual leader, is so aware of his flock’s human struggles. No doubt, he shares them. What a blessing that his wise and loving guidance has come down through the ages to us!

Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness- Chris Rice

Count It All Joy!

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, in this week and a half before Ash Wednesday, we begin the Epistle of James.

800px-Epistle_of_James_Chapter_1-2_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)
The Epistle of James- Chapter 1: Illustration provided to Wikimedia Commons by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing as part of a cooperation project. Sweet Publishing released these images, which are taken from now-out-of-print Read’n Grow Picture Bible Illustrations (Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

This letter is one of the very earliest of the New Testament. Scholars are mixed about exactly which “James” wrote it, but agree that it was one of several who were very close to Jesus – perhaps one of “the brothers of Jesus” mentioned in several New Testament passages:

  • Matthew 12:46-50
  • Mark 3:31
  • Luke 8:19
  • John 2:12
  • Acts 1:14
  • 1 Corinthians 9:5
  • and specifically “the Lord’s brother James” in Galatians 1:19

James writes in the style of Wisdom Literature, those Old Testament books that give advice, proverbs, and insights for living a holy life. His immediate audience was a community of dispersed Christian Jews whose world was filled with increasing upheaval and persecution.

When I read the following description I thought how germane James’s letter could be for our world today. His themes echo the teachings of Pope Francis for our chaotic time:


The epistle is renowned for exhortions on fighting poverty and caring for the poor in practical ways (1:26–27; 2:1-4; 2:14-19; 5:1-6), standing up for the oppressed (2:1-4; 5:1-6) and not being “like the world” in the way one responds to evil in the world (1:26-27; 2:11; 3:13-18; 4:1-10). Worldly wisdom is rejected and people are exhorted to embrace heavenly wisdom, which includes peacemaking and pursuing righteousness and justice (3:13-18).
(Jim Reiher, “Violent Language – a clue to the Historical Occasion of James.”Evangelical Quarterly. Vol. LXXXV No. 3. July 2013)


  • Be joyful in trials. (Wait! What!)
  • Let trials increase your perseverance not discourage you.
  • Doing this is a sign of wisdom.
  • When your wisdom is depleted, ask God for more with an open and trusting heart.
  • Honor all people, high or low in circumstances
  • Don’t be fooled by riches. They fade away.

In our Gospel, Jesus is frustrated with the Pharisees who insincerely demand a magical sign from him. They demonstrate none of the spiritual wisdom and openness to grace that James describes.

scale

When we think about our own faith, where does it fall on the scale of sincerity, on the spectrum of counter-culturalism?

Music: Count It All Joy – Scripture Memory Songs

Gaudete! Rejoice!

Third Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2019

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Gaudete 2019

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Introit of today’s Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Our readings, too, counsel us to rejoice, and to do so with patience and honesty before God.


REJOICE:
Those whom the LORD has ransomed
…. will meet with joy and gladness (Isaiah 35:10)


BE PATIENT:
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:8)


SPEAK HONESTLY WITH GOD:
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2)


As we pray with these verses, we might ask, similarly to John the Baptist:

  • Is the coming of the Lord really at hand?
  • Is our long wait to be complete in God really over?
  • Hasn’t this gone on for 2000 years with no Second Coming? 

Well, it all depends on how we look at it.

time

 

With our feet and our experiences firmly planted in a time-bound world, it is hard for us to enter God’s timeless view of our salvation.

 

With God there is no waiting. We already live in the fullness of God’s eternal life.

Our time-bound life is our chance to open ourselves to that Fullness by allowing our experiences to fashion us in the image of Christ.

Every moment, every encounter, every experience carries the invitation to this Complete Love. Continually answering this invitation brings us into an ever deeper transparency with God.

transparent

 

When we see and live our lives this way, joy captures us. Circumstances may not always leave us happy or satisfied (I mean, look at John, he was imprisoned). But they cannot claim our joy, because we see patiently through time’s veil to the eternity already within us.

This sacred insight is the gift of our Baptism in Christ.

Today, we draw closer to the celebration of his presence with us in history by his birth on Christmas. But the deeper celebration is Christ’s continual rebirth in our lives of joy, patience and honest relationship with God.

Music: Patience People – John Foley, SJ (Lyrics below)

Patience, people, till the Lord is come.
See the farmer await the yield of the soil.
He watches it in winter and in spring rain.

Patience, people,
for the Lord is coming. Patience, people, till the Lord is come.
You have seen the purpose of the Lord.
You know of His compassion and His mercy.

Patience, people,
for the Lord is coming. Patience, people, till the Lord is come.
Steady your hearts for the Lord is close at hand.
And do not grumble, one against the other.
Patience, people, for the Lord is coming.

Mrs. Zebedee, Again

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

July 25, 2019

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( I am republishing last year’s post for this feast. I think it is worth another read. But to make up for my little bit of laziness, I will send another post today with a few profound quotes from Henri Nouwen’s book Can You Drink the Cup? – Ave Maria Press; 10th Anniversary edition (October 1, 2012))


Today, in Mercy, we learn a lesson in humble leadership, thanks to “Mrs. Zebedee”. Our Gospel recounts the story of the mother of James and John interceding for her sons with Jesus. Like many overprotective mothers, she intervenes in their adult lives. She wants to make sure they get the best deal for their investment with Jesus.

Veronese-Le-Christ-rencontrant-la-femme-et-les-fils-de-zebedee_-_Grenoble
Veronese-Le-Christ-Rencontrant La Femme Et Les Fils de Zebedee By Paolo Veronese

Unfortunately, “Mrs. Zebedee” has missed the whole point of Christian discipleship. Her boys have decided to follow a man who says things like this:

  • The last shall be first and the first, last.
  • Unless you lay down your life, you cannot follow me.
  • Whoever takes the lowly position of a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The seats at Christ’s right and left, which she requests for her sons, will bring them rewards only through humility and sacrificial service.

Jesus is gentle with “Mrs. Zebedee”. He understands how hard it is for any of us to comprehend the hidden glory of a deeply Christian life. We are surrounded by a world that screams the opposite to us:

  • Me first!
  • Stand your ground!
  • Good guys finish last!

Mk 10_38 cup

So Jesus turns to James and John. One can imagine the bemused look on his face. He knows the hearts of these two men. He knows they have already given themselves to him. So he asks them for a confession of faith, “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?”

Their humble, faith-filled answer no doubt stuns their mother. She is left in wonder at the holy men her sons have become. Perhaps it is the beginning of her own deep conversion to Christ.

As we pray with this passage on the feast of St. James the Apostle, where do find ourselves in this scene? How immediate, sincere, and complete is our response to Jesus’ question: “Can you drink the cup….?”

Music: Can You Drink the Cup? (Be patient. The song has a slightly delayed start. You may have to click the white arrowhead in the orange circle- upper left. Lyrics below.😀)

Can You Drink The Cup?

Lyrics by Pamela Martin, Music by Craig Courtney
Copyright 2001, Beckenhorst Press, Inc.

Can you dring the cup,
embrace it in your hands?
Can you look inside
and face what it demands?
In the wine you see
reflections of your soul.
No one else can drink
this cup that you must hold.

Can you drink the cup?
Then you must lift it high
though this cup of joy
holds pain and sacrifice.
When you lift your cup,
raise it unafraid.
Lift it up, this cup
of life, and celebrate.

Can you drink the cup
until there is no more?
When the wine is gone,
Christ Himself will pour.
Though you drink it all
the cup is never dry,
God keeps filling it
with everlasting life.