Begin …

Monday, January 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in this week after the Epiphany, we continue with John’s inspirational readings. They are intended to deepen us in love, truth and simplicity.

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And we also have several Gospels this week that take us with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.

Today’s Gospel opens with a tinge of sadness. Jesus has just heard that John had been arrested. Reality dawns on them both that theirs will be no easy missionary journey. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these cousins could have teamed up, gone about preaching unhindered by the fears and bullying of the powerful?

But a free and easy story is not the one God chose to tell us, because our own stories are not always free and easy. Some, yes, more so than others. But all people suffer in some way and we all need a God who understands and shares that suffering.

So, “hearing that John had been arrested”, Jesus bravely begins. He goes to the Capernaum lakeshore where the common people gather to refresh themselves. He will find them hungry, confused, sinful, questioning, bereft, and battered. And he will begin by feeding and soothing them.

Where would Jesus begin with you? If you sat along that seashore in those first days, what would you lay before his tender mercy? Perhaps the need does not belong precisely to you, but to someone you love, someone who needs love in a harsh world.

Picture yourself there this morning. The sun begins to warm the salty edges of the sea. The crowd is large but quiet, as if they think themselves in church. Jesus looks out over all the gathered. But for one moment, his eyes meet yours, and that moment is enough to begin.

Music: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore

Fired by Love

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061318.cfm

Ps 25 6_13_18

Today, in Mercy, when reading the passage about Elijah and the prophets of Baal, I was reminded of the Irving Berlin song, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”. In the reading, Elijah tests and even taunts Baal’s 450 prophets in a contest to prove whose God is true. Of course, Elijah wins in a stunning blast of fire. It is a religious exercise of “eradicate and supplant”.

The Gospel reading carries a similar theme.  Jesus’ followers seem to conclude that, because he is teaching something new, he is nullifying the customary Hebrew teachings. But Jesus says that, to the contrary, He is here to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it.

Religion, like any entrenched practice, tends over time to suffer the ill effects of institutionalization. Our rituals and devotions may become lifeless; our scriptures become rote. The power of our sacraments may be carelessly invoked and distractedly attended. A chasm grows between what we profess and what we live. We may become frozen. Sometimes, it might seem best to set the whole thing aflame and start all over again, like Elijah.

But Jesus challenges to us to go deeper than “practice”. Mere practice can easily become empty. Jesus shows us in his life what a fulfilled faith looks like. It is a faith expressed in service, sacrifice and inclusive mercy. It is a faith that, when brought to the pulpit and altar, carries the lives of those we love and serve. It is a faith, like the Psalmist’s, that listens for God’s direction deep in the experiences of life. It is a faith, not in contradiction to Law, but beyond it. It is a faith fired – transformed – by Love.

Music: Living Spirit, Holy Fire ~ David Haas

Radical Benediction

Monday, June 11, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061118.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we begin several weeks of readings from Matthew’s Gospel. In today’s passage, Jesus starts out by turning the world upside-down!

Blessed 6_11_18

In the earlier chapters of his Gospel, Matthew has set the tone for the announcement of Jesus’ message – a new reign of grace and glory. The crowds gather in great anticipation. Most are overwhelmed and beleaguered by life under Roman occupation. Many hope for a political Messiah who will deliver them from their current circumstances, returning to them the material control of their lives. 

Instead, Jesus announces that:

“The kingdom of God can only be received by empty hands. Jesus warns against
(a) worldly self-sufficiency: you trust yourself and your own resources and don’t need God
(b) religious self-sufficiency: you trust your religious attitude and moral life and don’t need Jesus.”
~ Michael H. Crosby, Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World

We are so used to hearing the Beatitudes that they may have become tamed for us — lovely consolations to the downtrodden that things will eventually be OK. On the contrary, the Sermon on the Mount proclaims a shocking message to those gathered with Jesus — AND to us. The radical blessedness of life is to be found within our ordinary joys and sorrows, embraced humbly, faithfully and joyfully.  It is to be found in right-relationship with all Creation, not in any kind of dominance by one over another – political, economic, or personal.

The poor in spirit, the meek, the bereaved, the justice-seekers, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted: Jesus says these people are blessed – even FORTUNATE – because there are no barriers between them and the fullness of God. Power, prestige and possessions block us, perhaps even cripple us, from our shared immersion in God’s ever-present love and grace.

It is likely that many who gathered on that Galilean Hill didn’t want to hear Jesus’ astonishing message. Their myopic vision of prosperity was turned upside down. They were challenged to an unexpected, comfort-shattering, radical blessedness. Would they accept the challenge? Will we?

Music:  Blessings ~ Laura Story

An Eternal Weight of Glory

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061018.cfm

Today, in Mercy,  is a powerful Sunday!

woke 6_10_18

In our readings, we encounter one of the more perplexing Gospel passages. Jesus, in the thick of controversy with the scribes and Pharisees, goes home to seek some respite. But the crowds follow, harassing him with questions and demands for signs. His friends and family are increasingly concerned for him, as the animosity to his challenging message rises. Some even think he is unhinged to jeopardize himself by confronting the evils and blindnesses of his society. His mother and brothers arrive, concerned for him. When Jesus learns this, he delivers what may seem a hard-hearted comment, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” — they are the ones who do the will of God.

With this question, Jesus is not disowning his family and those who love him. He is stating clearly that, rather than deter him from his redemptive work, they need to open their minds to the deeper purpose of his life. To use a contemporary phrase rooted in the socially conscious African-American community – they need to be “woke” people. 

How hard it must have been for them! How hard to love a prophet, to fear for their safety in times when truth and justice are assailed!

Walter Brueggemann, in my all-time favorite book Prophetic Imagination, says this:

“In both his teaching and his very presence, Jesus of Nazareth presented the ultimate criticism of the royal consciousness (or self-serving power of the dominant state). He has, in fact, dismantled the dominant culture and nullified its claims. The way of his ultimate criticism is his decisive solidarity with marginal people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity. The only solidarity worth affirming is solidarity characterized by the same helplessness they know and experience.” 

In today’s second reading, Paul is experiencing the same kind of vulnerability as Jesus. Paul says that he is not discouraged for:

“ … although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.”

As Christians, we are called to live prophetic lives in imitation of Jesus. We are called to foster that kind of witness in others, to work together for that “eternal weight of glory”.

The prophet Dorothy Day puts it this way:

“As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way.”

On this powerful Sunday, the message is this: we need to be “woke” people!

Music: Wake Up My Heart ~ The Afters

Corpus Christi

Sunday, June 3, 2018 ~ Corpus Christi

Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060318.cfm

Pange 6_3_18

 

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. We just called it “Corpus Christi” when we were young. And I still do. Many of us, of a “certain age”, will remember the extravagant processions through our childhood neighborhoods, the garmented priest carrying the monstrance. Little children and adults accompanied the journeying Christ who blessed our neighbors, families, businesses and playgrounds.

Certainly, our neighborhoods today could use such a blessing. But the practice has become outdated in most parishes. Instead, it is we – the People of God and living Body of Christ – who must carry Christ’s Presence to our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and commonplaces. How will you be Corpus Christi for the world today?

Music: Pange Lingua written by St. Thomas Aquinas

Let Your “Yes” Be “Yes!”

Friday, May 25, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052518.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we once again are faced with “tough talk” readings. James is simply that kind of preacher. And, in the Gospel, Jesus takes on the gnarly topic of adultery. So it’s not going to be sweet inspiration today!

What both readings have in common is the quintessential call to integrity at the core of committed Christian life. Our word, given in compassion and mercy, should be our bond. Our loving care for ourselves and all Creation should be trustworthy and persevering. For a person of faith, “fake news” and “alternative facts” are simply code for the deceitful avoidance of our duty to love one another.

We should not allow deceit, indifference, pretense or abuse to ever adulterate our efforts to love. Respect for ourselves and for other human beings requires that we say “Yes” and “No” honestly. Our reverence for God demands that we offer the same loving veracity to God.

The covenant of marriage, or of religious profession, places this obligation in a particularly bright light. When we give ourselves in commitment to another, and receive their commitment in return, we imitate the Blessed Trinity who exist in the unity of selfless, creative love. This “Yes”or “I do” is tied to our very identity as a person capable of living in the mutuality of love as God does.

James and Jesus tell us today to take every care to treasure and protect such precious commitments by the deep integrity of our hearts.

Holy Trinity Icon by Andrej Rublëv, an Eastern Orthodox monk, considered to be one of the greatest medieval Russian painters of Orthodox icons and frescos.

Music: Russian Orthodox Chant ~ Srtensky Monastery Choir

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VyREJRz8wNI

What About the Other Guy?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we walk with the Risen Jesus and his dearest disciples along the seashore.  Jesus has just cooked breakfast for the fellas.  He then tells Peter that he is to take Jesus’ place as “shepherd of the lambs and sheep”. Jesus tells Peter that he is to follow in the way of Jesus.  That’s a pretty profound command! Peter knows full well what happened to Jesus.

And dear, earthy, impulsive Peter, turns aside distractedly and notices John.  Peter says, “What about him?” You can almost see Jesus take hold of Peter’s face, turn his eyes directly into Jesus’ own eyes and say, ”Pay attention.  I’m talking to YOU – not him.”

We can love Peter because we’ve all been like him numerous times in our lives.  God is calling, or giving us a message and we distract ourselves from its power by worrying about things that are unimportant or none of our business. We start asking a million questions when there is only one answer: respond with trust.

Jesus’ final words to Peter are ones we might ponder: ”You follow me.”  The implication is that, if we do, then God will take care of the other guy – and everything else.

John 21_21

Music: Follow Me  by Casting Crowns

In this song, you will hear echoes of Jesus’ call to many people throughout the Gospel: the first disciples, the woman taken in adultery, the good thief and, perhaps, even to us.

Do You Love Me?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Readings http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051818.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus extracts a pledge from Peter with the question, “Do you love me?” This is a brave question on Jesus’ part. What if Peter’s answer is half-hearted?  But the full-spirited Peter does not disappoint. “Of course, I love You,” he avows. But then, Jesus ups the ante with some “prove it” clauses: “Feed my lambs and my sheep.”

This passage always reminds me of a wonderful scene from Fiddler on the Roof.

 

What about us? Do we really love Jesus? Pope Gregory the Great says this:

The proof of love is in the works.
Where love exists, it works great things.
But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.

Music: If You Love Me ~ Cyprian Consiglio, OSB

We Are God’s Gifts

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, in John 17, we are folded into the prayer of Jesus as He talks to the Father about us. We are the humble, silent listeners to a Divine Conversation. Jesus prays that we may be part of His unity with the Father. He calls us His gifts and asks to keep us with Him in eternal life. He asks to live within us through the gift of the Father’s love. These are awesome prayers that may be too much for us to comprehend.

But picture this: a loving parent embracing a frightened or injured child. The parent looks up to heaven, asking God to keep this child safe; to never let them be lost; to fill them with love, joy and life. The praying parent promises to always protect and guide their cherished child like a precious gift and to hold them securely in times of trouble.

This is the way Jesus prays for us. Awesome, indeed!

John17_24

Music: He Will Hold Me Fast ~ Keith and Kristyn Getty

A Thimbleful of Metaphors

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051218.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us two thoughts about communication. In the passage from Acts, Paul’s senior disciples Priscilla and Aquila need to work with a new young preacher Apollos to make sure he communicates the Word perfectly.

In the Gospel, John indicates that he has been communicating by metaphor, but that the post-Resurrection experience of the Holy Spirit will be clearer than metaphors.

Indeed, John’s writing is full of metaphor to the point that it can seem overwhelming – trying to press an infinite message into the thimble of our human minds. We need to read his Gospel not as we would read a newspaper, but as we would read a poem. This will open our minds to the suggested layers of meaning too big for human words. For example, Jesus was not really a shepherd. But the metaphor of “Good Shepherd” allows us to experience, in just two words, all Christ’s tender and protective love for His followers.

When reading John’s Gospel, it is good to savor it in thimblefuls, like a rich dessert.  Let its metaphorical sweetness sink in.

John16_25

Song: Word of God Speak – Mercy Me