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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

Got Troubles? Try These!

Sunday, February  17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, hidden in our readings, are three challenges.

Where do we put our

faith

and

hope

How do we

love

?


In our Jeremiah reading, an unfortunate person has placed faith in an untrustworthy “friend”, and the results – typical of Jeremiah – are dire. But the prophet goes on to say that the one who puts trust and faith in the Lord will flourish like a tree near running water.

Jer17_7 tree

In the reading from Corinthians, Paul has some strong words about hope:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

That sentence is powerful! It can be a life-long meditation.

In other words, where is our hope focused? Do we hope for comfort, success, healing, peace only for this earthly life? If so, we are missing the point, Paul says. Our one true hope is to be united with God in eternal life and our choices should lead to that fulfillment.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how to love by placing before us the “least ones” whom he loves best. We too are to love and comfort those who are poor, hungry, bereaved and despised by the heartless.

Today’s readings invite us to look at our life. Is it blossoming with joy, grace and spiritual vitality? Or are we struggling with all the doubts, worries, dramas and depression that come from a self-absorbed life?

Maybe, like me, you sometimes look at a person carrying great difficulty in their lives and wonder at their joy. How can they maintain that trust and joy in the midst of their challenges? These readings offer an answer. They have put their faith and hope in the right place. They have learned to love like God.

Music: Faith, Hope and Love ~ David Ogden ( Lyrics below.)

Faith, hope, and love: let these remain among you.
Faith, hope, and love: the greatest of these is love.

The love of Christ has gathered us together; let us rejoice and be glad in him.
Let us fear and love the living God, and love each other from the depths of the heart.

When we are together, we should not be divided in mind;
Let there be an end to bitterness and quarrels, and in our midst be Christ our God.

In company with the blessed, may we see your face in glory,
pure and unbounded joy for ever and ever.

I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.
Faith, hope, and love, let these remain among you.
Faith, hope and love; the greatest of these is love.

Walk the Bridge

Sunday, February 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we begin our readings with God’s stern but magnificent commission to the prophet Jeremiah: 

… stand up and tell them
all that I command you.

What Jeremiah had to tell the Israelites was not good news. He prophesied that if they didn’t repent from their idolatry, Jerusalem would fall into the hands of foreign oppressors. Nobody wanted to hear it. They led Jeremiah a life, to the point that he is often referred to as “The Weeping Prophet”. Over the course of forty years and reign of five Judean kings, Jeremiah’s message continues until, in the end, it comes to fulfillment in the Babylonian Captivity.

How did Jeremiah sustain such confrontational preaching in the face of intractable resistance?

love is the bridgeJPG

Perhaps the answer lies in our second reading. He did it out of love.

Arthur Cundall, a British scripture scholar writes:

“God wanted a person
with a very gentle and tender heart
for this unrewarding ministry of condemnation.
Jeremiah’s subsequent career shows that
he had this quality in full measure.”

Jeremiah is a living example of the loving, humble, truth-seeking, hope-impelled soul described in 1 Corinthians, our second reading.

In Luke’s Gospel today, we see Jesus rejected in the same manner as Jeremiah. Jesus’s message asks his listeners for deep conversion of heart in order to be redeemed. Like the ancient Israelites, they don’t want to hear it. They cannot break through their comfortable existence to acknowledge its emptiness.

The message for us today? Is there an emptiness somewhere in our hearts that we have not yet given over to God? Are we filling it with “false gods”, rather than the loving virtues described in Corinthians?

We know where our “dead spaces” are, and we deeply intend them to come alive again. Today, let’s begin to walk the bridge from intention to practice.

Music:  Can’t help it. I love it.

This Ancient Love

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080818.cfm

Today, in Mercy,  our readings focus on the infinite mercy of God — the Lavish Mercy of God.

ancient love Jer 31_3

Jeremiah speaks God’s voice to the ancient Israelites, forgiving them, consoling them, encouraging them. He promises that, delivered from their captivity, they will rejoice and “come streaming into the Lord’s blessings”.

In our Gospel, even an outcast woman receives the mercy of Jesus. She received this for two reasons: her faith was both extraordinary and unrelenting for her daughter.

Both Israel and the Canaanite woman are in desolate situations. They are bereft of nearly everything but hope and faith. We may have felt like that sometimes. Certainly there are people throughout our world who feel like that today.

As we pray today, we can place any desolation we are carrying, and the desolation of suffering people across the world, into the open arms of God. God has and will always love us and, even though unseen, is guiding us to the fullness of life. May our faith be extraordinary and unrelenting.

Music: This Ancient Love ~ Carolyn McDade

The Work of God’s Hands

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080218.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jeremiah provides us with the memorable image of the potter and the clay.

If you have ever worked in ceramics or sculpting, you know how the artist becomes one with her work. A shapeless lump of earth takes on an identity within your hands. Ever so delicately, you work to find the potential beauty in the clay. We might begin over and over until we find the perfect dynamic between our hands and the malleable clay.

Jer18_5 potter

Just the right touch, the perfect pressure, and something new – never here before – emerges. The new creation, while existing itself, holds the Potter’s character. It embodies her effort and hope. It is a physical testimony to her dream.

In this scripture passage, God is telling Jeremiah that this is how it is with Israel (and in place of Israel, we can read our own names.) Through the circumstances and opportunities of our lives, God is shaping his dream – the Divine hope for a loving creature who reflects the beauty of God.

As we deepen in our spiritual life, we become more sensitive to God’s touch, more aware of God’s creative presence in our lives. God reworks us, offering us the perfection of grace over the course of our lifetimes. May we have the wisdom to yield to God’s intention in our lives – to make, as Mother Theresa says, “something beautiful for God”.

Music: Abba, Father ~ John Michael Talbot