Pepper and Salt

February 24, 2022
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, both James and Jesus pepper us with some fire and brimstone.

James is preaching against the sin of exploitation, especially as it relates to economic justice, the sanctity of work, and reverence for the worker.

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries…
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

James 5: 1;4

James, in his time, is condemning a sin that has endured throughout history. In a 2020 address, Pope Francis confronted the same evil:

The pandemic has exposed and aggravated social problems, above all that of inequality…These symptoms of inequality reveal a social illness; it is a virus that comes from a sick economy. And we must say it simply: the economy is sick. It has become ill. It is the fruit of unequal economic growth — this is the illness: the fruit of unequal economic growth — that disregards fundamental human values. In today’s world, a few wealthy people possess more than all the rest of humanity. I will repeat this so that it makes us think: a few wealthy people, a small group, possess more than all the rest of humanity. This is pure statistics. This is an injustice that cries out to heaven!

General Audience, August 26, 2020

James and Francis – speaking the same message for different times.


In our Gospel, Jesus teaches that the rewards of a well-lived life are measured in mutuality and generosity, not dollars:


In concluding his above referenced address, Pope Francis, like Jesus, focused on children:

Let us think about the children. Read the statistics: how many children today are dying of hunger because of broken distribution of riches, because of a sick economic system; and how many children today do not have the right to education for the same reason. May this image of children in want due to hunger and the lack of education help us understand that after this pandemic crisis we must learn and do better.


Jesus too measured a soul’s health by its effect on children:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42

These readings teach hard lessons, lessons which society still seems unable to learn. Let’s ask for the grace to see our own role in helping to realize the sacred balance of goods that Jesus, James, and Francis call for.

Let us not tire in advocating for social Justice because, as our Gospel warns:

Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good,
but if salt becomes insipid,
with what will you restore its flavor?

Mark 9:49

Poetry and Music: Salt of the Earth – The Rolling Stones
In this song, Mick Jagger writes an anthem to the working class. But in a twice-repeated stanza, the singer professes a distance from this very group, perhaps loosing touch because of his own material success:

And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grey and black and white
They don’t look real to meIn fact, they look so strange

The song uses a quote that refers to a passage in the Bible where Jesus encourages people to give the best of themselves:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned ? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13

Tell It Like It Is

February 23, 2022
Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, James continues to “tell it like it is”.

Come now, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town,
spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”–
you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.

James 4: 13

James offers that hard truth to his listeners, Jewish Christians dispersed outside of Israel. It’s an insight many of us might not like hearing, because we thrive on making plans for future growth and improvement.

When a current situation is looking a little dim, we like to think that “there is always tomorrow”. James says, “Maybe not! Make sure you humbly do all that you can TODAY.”


James reminds me of my Nana.

My great-grandmother was born in Ireland in 1869. She was no-nonsense Irish, probably because of the no-nonsense times during which she grew up. She was highly religious and stringently moral, and she worked to insure that the family benefitted from all the lessons she had learned in her challenging life.


Her accent was as thick as porridge, but after a while I, a perspicacious little toddler, began imitating it. I listened intently to her oft-repeated phrases and folded them into my own conversations. One such phrase made an indelible impression on me to the point that I can hear it even now in her soft, rolling brogue.

When one of the family retired for the night, it was common to say, ” Good night. God bless you.” Sometimes we added, ” I’ll see you in the morning” and if we did, Nana invariably responded:

if God spares us!


I think that is exactly what James is saying in his no-nonsense epistles.

We depend on God’s goodness and mercy for everything. We need to remember and acknowledge that truth, and to live in hopeful gratitude.

… you should say,
“If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.”
But instead you are boasting in your arrogance.
All such boasting is evil.
So for one who knows the right thing to do
and does not do it, it is a sin.

I think that most of us aren’t really arrogant. We just forget. We get confused. We let our lives slip off their center on God. And then we might start to think that we are the center of everything! Big mistake!


Our Responsorial Psalm for today reinforces these truths. I love the way Pastor Christine Robinson has interpreted Psalm 49:

Here is my wisdom—Listen to my song!
I am surrounded by those who put their trust
in possessions and money
I am not taken in.

What is precious in life can’t be had in the marketplace
What is important about us is not what we acquire,
but what we do to add love, goodness, and
beauty to the world.

It’s the size of our hearts, not the size of our houses,
It’s our understanding, not our fame.
What we own is taken from the earth and from others.
It returns to them when we die.

But love, wisdom, and beauty,
they strengthen the fabric of creation.
They accrue to God, enlarge our very souls.
These are our true legacy and our ongoing life.


Music: Who Am I? – Casting Crowns

Living the Cross

February 17, 2022
Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, two disciples 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.

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward those who are 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 popped up on Facebook a while ago:


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 your campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!”


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

James Tissot: 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.


Prose: from St. Oscar Romero

It is no honor for the Church 
to be on good terms with the powerful.
The honor of the Church consists in this,
that the poor feel at home in her,
that she fulfils her mission on earth,
that she challenges everyone,
the rich as well,
to repent and work out their salvation,
but starting from the world of the poor,
for they, they alone are the ones who are blessed.

Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick

The Greatest Sin

February 15, 2022
Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish 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.

James 1:13-15

Sin is an uncomfortable topic, and it’s an elusive one. Most of us aren’t outright blatant sinners. I think most of our sins are quiet indifferences, failures to love, unacknowledged greeds, self-imposed blindnesses to our responsibilities toward one another. These generate excuses that allow us to gossip, judge, blame, ignore, hurt and even use others both in our immediate world and in the larger global community.

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, diverting us from our center in God.

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 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.

James :17

I particularly love that last phrase, rendered in our hymn today like this:

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!


Prose: from Carl Jung

The worst sin is unconsciousness,
but it is indulged in with the greatest piety
even by those who should serve humankind
as teachers and examples.


Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness – sung by Chris Rice

Joyful Calculation

February 14, 2022
Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Lent is just a little over two weeks away. We will spend the intervening time in good company with daily insights from James, Peter and Mark. Today we begin the Epistle of James.

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

Here is the golden advice James gives us today:

  • Be joyful in trials.
  • 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.

When we think about our own faith, where does it fall on the scale of sincerity, on the spectrum joy, justice, and faithful perseverance?


Poetry: On Joy and Sorrow – Kahlil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises 
was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, 
the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine 
the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, 
the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart 
and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow 
that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, 
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for 
that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” 
and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, 
and when one sits alone with you at your board, 
remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales 
between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty 
are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you 
to weigh his gold and his silver, 
needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Music: Count It All Joy

Creeping Up to Lent?

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

February 25, 2020

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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)