Psalm 63: The Longing

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 30, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the magnificent Psalm 63 which captures the soul’s deep longing for God.

It is a longing that, once released in the heart, must be satisfied.


In our first reading, Jeremiah experiences it akin to an addiction, the power of it consuming his life:

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:9

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says not to resist the longing, but to let ourselves be consumed by it like a sacrificial offering:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 

Romans 12:1

Jesus, in our Gospel, is the One who surrenders himself fully to that holy longing. He calls us to imitate him:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.


These are profound readings calling us a place that words cannot describe, a place where the Cross intersects with the truth of our lives. May we have the grace to hear and believe.


Poetry: The Longing – Rumi

There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.

You feel it, don't you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.

Invite Love to quench you,
embrace the fire.

Remind those who tell you otherwise that 
Love
comes to you of its own accord, 
and the longing for it cannot be learned in any school.

Music: The Prayer – Montserrat Cabalé

Jeremiah: An Ancient Love

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 5, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a beautiful pastoral segment from Jeremiah. This Responsorial Psalm follows on the first reading, both passages affirming God’s everlasting love for us.

Jeremiah wrote at a time of great suffering and confusion for Israel. The Kingdom was falling apart, having been beset by overwhelming enemies. Near the end of Jeremiah’s life, the nation falls into the Babylonian Captivity. Much of the Book of Jeremiah prophesies, judges, and laments these troubles.

But today’s verses come from Chapters 30 – 33, part ofJeremiah often referred to as the “Book of Comfort” or “Little Book of Consolation.” These are the brighter and more hopeful chapters of an otherwise heavy set of writings.

Moreover, these three chapters speak to a significant shift in understanding God’s relationship with Israel. The original covenant with Abraham is stated in conditional terms- “You will be my People and I will be your God”. I hate to use the now sullied term, but it was sort of a “quid pro quo”.

The renewed covenant described in Jeremiah is an unconditional relationship sustained, despite Israel’s weaknesses, by a Divine and Everlasting Love, by the Good Shepherd:

As Israel comes forward to be given his rest,
the LORD appears to him from afar:
With age-old love I have loved you;
so I have kept my mercy toward you.


As we look over our lives past and present, we can pray in gratitude that we are embraced by the same Ancient and Everlasting Love.

Probably each of us has had a few personal little “Babylons”. We may even have had some of our personal “temples” destroyed. You know, those self-absorbed campaigns and petty addictions that distract us from the sacred essence of our life that:

We are God’s Love made flesh,
called to live in that Truth.


Video Poem: Three Poems from Rilke’s Book of Hours

Music: This Ancient Love – Carolyn McDade

Psalm 119: The Truth

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 3, 2020

 

Today, in Mercy, we pray for a persevering faith. Sometimes, it is very late into our prayer that the unexpected answer comes to us. May we recognize it and welcome it out of the darkness. We pray especially for those who have endured long years of prayerful waiting: for those with chronic illnesses, for the elderly, for widows and widowers, for those who want to believe but can’t.

from 2016

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a return to Psalm 119. Set today between fascinating passages from both Jeremiah and Matthew, our psalm presents us with a particularly strong challenge:

Let my heart be perfect in your statutes,
that I be not put to shame.

In our first reading, the false prophet Hananiah tries to put Jeremiah to shame by preaching a rosy prophecy in contradiction to Jeremiah’s difficult but truthful “fire and brimstone” warnings. Hananiah eventually gets caught in his own lies.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter discovers another dimension of truth – that without faith, he cannot endure the storm


Psalm 119’s verses are a prayer to stay true to the Law, the Word, even in difficulty and storm. 

The psalmist recognizes our human propensity sometimes to create the world we want rather than face the one we have. We do it by lying to ourselves and others until, eventually, our alternative universe falls apart – just like Hananiah’s.

Because, like Peter, we focus on ourselves and our fears, we miss Jesus’s invitation to walk in faith over our life’s rough waters.


Our psalm today voices our prayer not to get twisted on life’s road, to have the courage to embrace the truth of ourselves, our environment, and our world. That truth is revealed when we love and live God’s Law by our justice and mercy toward all Creation.

From your ordinances I turn not away,
for you have instructed me.


Poetry: from Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,a
And that has made all the difference.

Music: Long and Winding Road – Beatles song sung by David Archuleta

Psalm 69: Stuck!

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 1, 2020

Today, in Mercy, we pray for the light of God’s Word in our hearts. God speaks to us in all things. Sometimes, all we need to do is ask God, “What are You saying to me in this circumstance?” Then listen for Love. The answer is always wrapped in Love – and Love is not always easy.

Thought from 2016, Friday of the 17th Week

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 69.  In today’s accompanying readings, Jeremiah and John the Baptist are living out the meaning.of the psalm.

Each of these great prophets has been ensnared by the civic evil of their times, personified in Old Testament princes and New Testament Herod and Herodias. The power structure surrounding each prophet stood in direct contradiction to their witness to God’s Word. Those structures, when confronted with a sacred truth, tried to overwhelm the messenger, like quicksand swallows an innocent traveler.

Rescue me out of the mire; may I not sink!
may I be rescued from my foes,
and from the watery depths.
Let not the flood-waters overwhelm me,
nor the abyss swallow me up,
nor the pit close its mouth over me.


The psalm raises to our prayer the reality that such struggles continue in our time. We live in a wonderful but still sinful world where every person decides, everyday, where he or she will stand in the contest between good and evil.

The decision is sometimes very clear. At other times, the waters are so muddied with lies, propaganda, greed, fear, bias. and unexamined privilege that we feel mired in confusion or resistance.

But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 69 throws us a rescue line in today’s final verse:

See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds God spurns not.

The steady path to truth lies with those who seek God among the humble and poor. The humble are the ones through whom the Lord speaks. They are God’s own. Jeremiah and the Baptist understood this truth and preached it by their lives.

We might examine our lives today in the light of their witness and the message of this challenging psalm.


Poetry:  Beginners – Denise Levertov


‘From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea—‘


But we have only begun
to love the earth.
We have only begun
to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
—so much is in bud.
How can desire fail?
—we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision
how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.
Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet—
there is too much broken
that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.

Music:  The Cry of the Poor – John Foley, SJ

Psalm 69: Answer Me, O Lord

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

July 31, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69, a heart-felt lament whose verses are often paralleled with the sufferings of Jesus.

I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.

Psalm 69: 9

Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written,
“The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me”.

Roman 15: 3

Praying with Psalm 69 this morning, and in the light of both our first reading and Gospel, I am aware of how God’s prophets suffer to proclaim mercy, justice, and truth.

Jeremiah suffered in the hope and conviction that God imagined a future of justice for all God’s people. He stood in the midst of the Temple worshippers and condemned their pretense of righteousness.

Jesus stood at the center of his hometown synagogue to proclaim that the long hoped-for redemption had come. But like Jeremiah’s listeners, Jesus’s neighbors also turned on him.

In our own lifetimes, we see the persecution and hatred which is leveled at modern prophets who call the world to justice and mercy. Even within our own Church, we see how Pope Francis is vilified by those whose privileged excesses are threatened by his charity.


As I write this reflection, our country celebrates the life of one of its noblest prophets, the sainted John Lewis. In the image of all the great Justice Witnesses, John endured incredible suffering for the sake of people’s dignity and freedom. He was able to do so because, like Jeremiah and Jesus, he didn’t look inward at his wounds. He looked outward for the redemption of others … the prize of justice:

Never give up, never give in, never give out. 
Keep the faith, and keep your eyes on the prize. 
Together, we can redeem the soul of America.

John Lewis

Let us pray today that the voices of true prophets may be heard and heeded. In this age when technology and social media can quickly disseminate vitriol, hatred, and conspiracy, let us pray for discerning hearts and courageous wills.

But I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.

Psalm 69; 14

Poetry: Prophet by Carl Dennis

Prophet
You'll never be much of a prophet if, when the call comes
To preach to Nineveh, you flee on the ship for Tarshish
That Jonah fled on, afraid like him of the people's outrage
Were they to hear the edict that in thirty days
Their city in all its glory will be overthrown.

The sea storm that harried Jonah won't harry you.
No big fish will be waiting to swallow you whole
And keep you down in the dark till your mood
Shifts from fear to thankfulness and you want to serve.
No. You'll land safe at Tarshish and learn the language
And get a job in a countinghouse by the harbor
And marry and raise a family you can be proud of
In a neighborhood not too rowdy for comfort.

If you're going to be a prophet, you must listen the first time.
Setting off at sunrise, you can't be disheartened
If you arrive at Nineveh long past midnight,
On foot, your donkey having run off with your baggage.
You'll have to settle for a room in the cheapest hotel
And toss all night on the lice-ridden mattress
That Jonah is spared. In the space of three sentences
He jumps from his donkey, speaks out, and is heeded, while you,

Preaching next day in the rain on a noisy corner,
Are likely to be ignored, outshouted by old-clothes dealers
And fishwives, mocked by schoolboys for your accent.
And then it's a week in jail for disturbing the peace.
There you'll have time, as you sit in a dungeon
Darker than a whale's belly, to ask if the trip
Is a big mistake, the heavenly voice mere mood,

The mission a fancy. Jonah's biggest complaint
Is that God, when the people repent and ask forgiveness,
Is glad to forgive them and cancels the doomsday
Specified in the prophecy, leaving his prophet
To look like a fool. So God takes time to explain
How it's wrong to want a city like this one to burn,
How a prophet's supposed to redeem the future,
Not predict it. But you'll be left with the question
Why your city's been spared when nobody's different,

Nobody in the soup kitchen you open,
Though one or two of the hungriest
May be grateful enough for the soup to listen
When you talk about turning their lives around.
It will be hard to believe these are the saving remnant
Kin to the ten just men that would have sufficed
To save Gomorrah if Abraham could have found them.

You'll have to tell them frankly you can't explain
Why Nineveh is still standing though you hope to learn
At the feet of a prophet who for all you know
May be turning his donkey toward Nineveh even now.
[from Practical Gods (2001)

Music: Lord, in Your Great Love – Orchard Enterprises

Jeremiah’s Psalm

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 24, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Jeremiah’s Psalm. The verses come from chapter 31, part of what is referred to as the “Book of Comfort”. (Chapter 31-33)

In total, the Book of Jeremiah is full of woe. It was written as a message to the Jews in Babylonian exile, blaming their faithlessness for their current predicament. The prophet admonishes the people, calling them to return to the Lord and allow themselves to be made new according to God’s design.

Jeremiah is notable for its complementary tactics of confronting the people with their sorrows while comforting them with God’s mercy. 

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.


Jeremiah forces his listeners to acknowledge that their destruction is deserved. They have shifted their trust from God’s Promise to a political power that devolved into greed, militarism, and the illusion of self-sufficiency. Once that acknowledgement is accomplished, repentance and renewal are possible.

Our passage today describes that possibility:

The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.


Believing that scripture speaks to our experiences as well as to their own times, we may discover stark parallels between our world and that of Jeremiah. As we pray with this psalm, let’s ask to see where we have shifted from God’s hope for Creation. Where do we feel a sense of loss, confusion, desperation or anger? Where have we lost truth, compassion, and reverence for the life we share with all the human community?


As my small community watches the evening news, we audibly mourn the sorry state to which our world has come. We encourage one another to moral and political responsibility to change the forces that have led to this collapse.

This cycle of acknowledgement and grace-filled action can allow us to return, as did Jeremiah’s community, to God’s dream for Creation:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.


Poetry:  What Babylon Was Built About – Judson Crews (1917- 2010) American poet

Music: I Will Restore – Maranatha Music

What was lost in battle
What was taken unlawful
Where the enemy has planted his seed
And where health is ailing
And where strength is falling
I will restore to you all of this and more
I will restore to you all of this and more

I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more

I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more
I will restore to you all of this and more

Where your heart is breaking
And where dreams are forsaken
When it seems what was promised; will not be given to you
And where peace is confusion
And reality an illusion
I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more

A Love in Troubled Times

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, as we inch closer to Holy Week, we meet both a very troubled Jeremiah and Jesus.

V0034343 The prophet Jeremiah wailing alone on a hill. Engraving.
The Prophet Jeremiah Weeping Alone on a Hill (from the Wellcome Trust)

Jeremiah, the Old Testament mirror of Jesus’s sufferings, bewails the treachery even of his friends:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

That’s really raw, because you can get through almost anything in the company of true friends.


 

Jesus weeps
Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

Jesus came as a Friend and hoped to find Friends of God by his ministry. And he did find many. But not all.

It takes some work to be a true friend of Jesus. Some didn’t have the courage, or generosity, or passion, or hopeful imagination to reach past their self-protective boundaries – to step into eternal life even as they walked the time-bound earth.

In today’s Gospel this band of resisters project their fears and doubts to the crowds around them. The evil sparks light the ready tinder of human selfishness. The mob turns on Jesus, spiritual misers scoffing at the generous challenge to believe.

Jesus pleads with them to realize what they are doing:

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

But Jesus and Jeremiah, though troubled, are grounded in God. Our Responsorial Psalm captures what might have been their silent prayer:

Psalm18 distress

The following transliteration of Psalm 18, composed by Christine Robinson, might help us to be with Jesus in his moment, and in our own moments of fear, anxiety, or doubt.

I open my heart to you, O God
for you are my strength, my fortress,
the rock on whom I build my life.

I have been lost in my fears and my angers
caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious
I cried to you in my anguish.
You have brought me to an open space.
You saved me because you took delight in me.
I try to be good, to be just, to be generous
to walk in your ways.
I fail, but you are my lamp.
You make my darkness bright
With your help, I continue to scale the walls
and break down the barriers that fragment me.
I would be whole, and happy, and wise
and know your love
Always.

Music: Overcome – Psalm 18 by James Block

Hard-Hearted?

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 28, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, danger continues to escalate for Jesus.

Our first reading from Jeremiah foreshadows Jesus’s situation. Some powerful people didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah preached. And we can understand why: Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. It’s a message that was hard to swallow.

jeremiah

 

The core of Jeremiah’s teaching was this:
You people have to change. This is not the way God created the world to be.

But the people couldn’t listen. They had let the skewed reality of their lives become normal and needed. They couldn’t accept the world of mutual love and justice that God imagined for them.

 


Jesus meets the same kind of stonewalling.

In today’s passage, the hard-hearted rationalize their resistance:

“The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”

But their antagonism isn’t really about geography and lineage. It’s about blind comfort in a world balanced toward their advantage. It’s about the fear of grace-inspired change.

 

Lk8_generous heart
Isn’t it the truth that we’ll use almost any argument to resist what demands our conversion? I understand why these guys “each went to his own house”, as the Gospel says in closing. They took refuge from grace in the little pretense of their own control.

They didn’t have the courage to open their hearts to Jesus. Do we?

Music:  Spirit, Open My Heart –  Alfred V. Fedak

(P.S. For those who grew up with classic rock and roll, check out the second song below.)

Second Song:
While I was drawing today’s picture, I was listening to my 50s playlist. Please don’t think me irreverent, but I was struck how this song (written by Hank Williams and sung by Jerry Lee Lewis) could really be God singing to cold-hearted humanity. I also thought some of you might need a little rock and roll as much as I do right now 🙂 Lyrics below.

Cold Cold Heart
I tried so hard my dear to show that you’re my every dream.
Yet you’re afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme
A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart

Another love before my time made your heart sad and blue
And so my heart is paying now for things I didn’t do
In anger unkind words are said that make the teardrops start
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind, and melt your cold cold heart
You’ll never know how much it hurts to see you sit and cry
You know you need and want my love yet you’re afraid to try
Why do you run and hide from life, to try it just ain’t smart
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart
There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me
But now I know your heart is shackled to a memory
The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart

Turn and See

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

March 12, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us studies in dramatic contrasts.

the barren bush in a lava waste
vs.
the tree planted beside the waters

that turns its roots to the stream

Jere17_7barrentree



a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen

vs.
a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores

Gustave_Dore_Lazarus_and_the_Rich_Man
Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore (1891)

 

What are Jeremiah and Jesus teaching us with these unforgettable images?

Jeremiah summarizes his point in the very first verse:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

In his parable, Jesus has Abraham deliver the point:

You received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.


Praying with these passages, we might determine to make sure we don’t end up like the barren bush or the ultimately tormented rich person. 

But how can we do that?

I think the key lies in Jeremiah’s phrase, “one whose heart turns away from the LORD.” 

In his parable, Jesus shows us what that “turning” looks like. It is any blind indifference in us that allows us to ignore another’s suffering. 

Most of us don’t consciously choose that indifference. We simply fail to turn from our own comfort … plans, needs, agenda … to observe the pain or need around us.

So as we leave our prayer today, perhaps we can do so determined to turn from our self-interests … to see if there is a “Lazarus” right beside us whom we had failed to notice.

Music: Turn My Heart – Lynn DeShazo (Lyrics below)

Turn my heart O Lord
Like rivers of water
Turn my heart O Lord
By Your hand
‘Til my whole life flows
In the river of Your Spirit
And my name
Bring honor to the Lamb

Lord I surrender to
Your work in me
I rest my life within
Your loving hands

(Repeat chorus 3 times)

‘Til my name brings honor
‘Til my name brings honor
To the Lamb

The Lamb of God

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our hearts begin to break for Jesus. He is the good, sweet Lamb being led to slaughter. And he knows it. He knows that the hard hearts he had so hoped to soften are recalcitrant. He knows that the souls he has longed to open to Love have turned to hate. He knows that the energy he had wished to turn to generous service has instead turned inward, fearful and self- protective.

How his heart must have ached in these days before Calvary! Jeremiah gives us an insight in to the pain in today’s first reading. 

Jeremiah’s experience is a foreshadowing of Christ’s. As we pray with the passage, we might allow ourselves simply to share that pain as we look at our own grace-resistant world.

Jer.11_19 plot

Where do we find the opportunity to comfort Jesus today?

On a global basis, we see the persecution of innocence and vulnerability in our own world. We see corrupted laws used as an excuse to extinguish the human spirit. We see people coerced into the maze of power and political domination. We see the poor slaughtered on the altar of indifferent greed.

In our closer daily experience, we see people lost, isolated, infirm, bereaved, lonely and broken, even in small places. We may be tempted to leave their suffering for another caring touch. But we can do much to comfort by our listening, presence and honesty.

When we see these things, we see the Passion of Christ in our time. Let us listen to His suffering. Let us not pretend we care if we don’t act to comfort Him.

Music: Handel’s Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God