Welcome, Christ, Our Light!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2020

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Is49_6 Light

Today, in Mercy, our readings invite us to witness the debut of Jesus Christ as he begins his public ministry.  The world has been waiting since the beginning of time and now… here He is!

Now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!

Remember when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia in 2015? The excitement? The preparation? The fanfare? What was that all about?

09222016_Pope_Francis_TC.2e16d0ba.fill-735x490
from phillyvoice.com

I think that, in one form or another, we all wanted to see and be touched by goodness. We wanted to see someone who confirmed that the world could be better than our current experience. We wanted to see the beauty of God in a human being.

The people of Jesus’s time wanted the same things. They longed for a wholeness that was beyond their grasp. They longed for healing that had continually eluded them. They longed to be renewed in faith, hope and love.

That deep longing is universal in every human life. Seeing the Pope on the Parkway won’t fill it. Even seeing Jesus one afternoon in Capernaum won’t do that. Our Alleluia Verse from John’s Gospel tells us the only way to such fulfillment:

The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted him,
he gave power to become children of God.

In our Gospel, we see John the Baptist’s full acceptance of Jesus into his life. After that moment in the Jordan River when the Spirit descended, John’s life changed. It became a life patterned on and completed in the reality of Jesus Christ, not only his expectation.

John changed because he saw and believed. Our Gospel today invites us to the same kind of witness and testimony in our lives:

John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.

May God give us the grace to see and respond to the reality of Christ in our own lives – in the poor, the sick, the persecuted, those longing to know God. Drawing on the beautiful Light of Christ, may we also be a testimony to God’s Merciful Presence in our world.

Music: He Shall Come Again in Glory – Philip Webb (Lyrics below)

This majestic modern hymn proclaims the hope of Christ’s second coming. Crafted for success; the arrangement captures the mystery and majesty of the text and delivers it adroitly to the choir loft with full; satisfying harmonies. Powerful! (from the East Coast Music website)

He who wept above the grave
Who stilled the raging of the wave
Meek to suffering, strong to save,
He shall come again in glory

He who sorrow’s pathway trod
He that every good bestowed
Son of Man, Son of God,
He shall come again in glory.

He who bled with scourgings sore,
He who scarlet meekly wore,
He who every sorrow bore,
He shall come again in glory.

Monarch of the smitten cheek,
Scorn of Jew and scorn of Greek,
Priest and King divinely meek,
He shall come again glory.

He who died to set us free,
He Who comes whom I shall see,
Jesus, only, only He,
He shall ever reign in glory.

The Glorious Baptism of Jesus

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
January 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus makes a remarkable debut! 

Picture the scene. It is a beautiful morning in the Judean Valley where the Jordan Riven runs fresh and sparkling. Most scholars place the Baptism of Jesus sometime in January, which means the weather would have been relatively cool. But perhaps, like our own weather, an unusually warm day may have snuck in.

Rustic, fiery preacher John is baptizing in the Jordan River. Crowds have come to hear what he has to say. Some are convinced and dive into the cool water under his hand.

Others rim the hillside, not so sure John isn’t one of the many who have glorious visions but few facts.

Then, out from the pines on the far side of the river, comes Jesus, flanked by some of the Twelve. While his companions chat away to Jesus, his eyes are focused on John. In an instant, Jesus realizes that this is the moment for his revelation. In that same instant, all Creation realizes the same thing.

As Jesus walks slowly toward John, the birds and little animals speak to him, “My Lord and my God…”.  Wind whistling through the trees becomes an Oratorio praising him. All the surrounding colors deepen, breaking forth in unimaginable light.

John is stunned by the cosmic change he senses but cannot describe. Heart trembling, he looks into Jesus’s eyes and catches a glimpse of heaven. “I need to be baptized by you”, John says,”and yet you are coming to me?

Jesus smiles at his cousin, replying, 

“Let it be so now;
it is proper for us to do this
to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then John consented.

Perhaps those in the crowd, schooled in the ancient scriptures, heard Isaiah’s voice in the charged atmosphere:

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Matthew tells us:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.

the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie
The Baptism Of Jesus is a painting by Jeff Haynie For purchase, see:https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynie.html

Can you see him light-heartedly splashing John as he shakes his dark curls free of the chilly water? Can you see his transfigured face as he hears his Father speak Love over him?

At that moment heaven was opened,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said,

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

What a beautiful moment in time! Don’t we wish we might have been there in the blessed and awe-struck crowd? We can. Let your prayer of imagination take you there.

Music: The Baptism of Jesus

He Must Increase

Saturday after Epiphany

January 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, John talks a lot about sin. But I think he’s talking about more than the itemized laundry list of mistakes we sometimes reckon as sin.

Catholic-Sin300

It all seemed so simple when we were in grade school, didn’t it?
Well, dealing with sinfulness in the world
is a lot more than milk bottles!



John is describing the drenching atmosphere of darkness that falls over a soul turned in on its own gratification. Pope Francis’s quote referenced yesterday captures this atmosphere:

“Jesus, at the Last Supper, does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world, but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite.” The Holy Father emphasized, that it is, “even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil”.

John likens this atmosphere to idol worship:

Children, be on your guard against idols.

Most of us are beyond worshipping golden calves, but we may still be allowing ourselves to be distracted from the centrality of God in our lives.

calf

What are some potential idols that could desensitize our souls to the ravages of evil? Greed, lust, and narcissism rise to the top of the list. Caught in the grasp of these idols, human beings become oblivious to astounding evils such as war, slavery, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, corporate dishonesty, technological dehumanization, and all the other rampant abuses befuddled human beings foist on one another. 

When you see the effects of such evils reported on the evening news, do you sometimes ask yourselves, “How could a person do such things to another human being?” 

What we are seeing is evidence of souls who have died to God’s Presence within their hearts. They are indifferent to the effect of their choices on anyone but themselves.

Jesus came to open our eyes and to free us from the bonds of such sin. As the Presence of God grows in us, so does our awareness of all that is dissonant with that Presence.


We pray with John the Baptist today that we may grow in God and diminish in any selfishness that blinds us to the difference between good and evil in our lives.

Pope Francis tweeted today:

In worship, we learn to reject what should not be worshiped: the god of money, the god of consumerism, the god of pleasure, the god of success, the god of self.


Music:  I Must Decrease – Andrew and Saskia Smith ( Words below.)

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

I must decrease, He must increase.
I must decrease, He must increase.

The whole earth is His footstool. Who am I?
Shall the thing formed say to its Maker,
“Why hast thou made me thus?”
I must decrease, He must increase.

God has a sovereign plan for our lives.
We won’t find it within ourselves.
But in seeking His will, His cross,
“Lose your life for My sake,” Jesus says.
Allowing ourselves to be poured out in service for Him,
first we decrease, He must increase.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.

The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.
The whole earth is Your footstool.
I am thine, Lord. I exist to worship You.

Lord, I exist to worship You.
Lord, I exist to worship You.
Oh yes, Lord, I exist to worship You.

What We Shall Be

Christmas Weekday

January 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, what thrilling words John uses to remind us of who we really are!

1 Jn3_2 children

God’s children by virtue of our creation in God’s image!


But then John ups the ante for us. We are even more than this, but we do not yet perceive or understand the “more”.

… what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like God,
for we shall see God as God is.

What we shall be! Oh, how we should treasure and stretch for that promise!


Sometimes, when I hear of the death of a young person, especially by war, negligence, or other violence, I mourn the loss of their promise — to those who love them and to the world. How can we ever crush a life that God has tenderly created, the way an artist breathes over her masterpiece!

mike-petrucci-f6Xv0xs9JWg-unsplash
Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

In today’s first reading, John reminds us that “sin” is this act of stunting life – in large and small ways, in ourselves and others. We fall into this sin because we do not see the God who is being revealed in the midst of our ordinary lives.

In our Gospel, we have John the Baptist finally seeing Christ for whom he had directed his entire life. Imagine what John felt as he saw Jesus cresting the nearby hillside. The One in whom John had placed all his love, faith and hope was walking toward him!

God is walking toward us too, in every moment of our lives. Occasionally, we have the courage and insight to look up and see God looking out from the eyes of our sisters and brothers – looking into us as we pass the mirror!

Let’s try to do that more often in 2020!

Music: We Shall Behold Him –  LaKisha Jones

Days of Elijah

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

December 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we think about John the Baptist. For several days in this middle part of Advent, our Gospel makes reference to John, the Precursor of the Messiah.

411px-Saint_John_The_Baptist_Preaching_In_The_Wilderness_by_Anton_Raphael
John the Baptist by Anton Raphael Mengs – looking a lot better than he probably really looked!!!!

Faithful Jews had an expectation that there would be a Messiah, and that a fiery Precursor would announce him. They identified this forerunner with the prophet Elijah, based on writings like today’s from Sirach:

How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD…

800px-Elijah,_a_prophet_and_a_miracle_worker
Elijah, a prophet and a miracle worker, Gračanica monastery

 

In our Gospel, Jesus indicates that John the Baptist is the new Elijah, preparing the way for Jesus’s ministry.

Scripture scholars can get pretty bundled up in trying to explicate the meanings around Elijah and his return. For the purpose of our prayer, I find it helpful to take another approach.

  • What is it in my life that prepares me to receive God in my heart?
  • What inspires me “prepare the way of the Lord” in the worlds that I touch?
  • Do I pay attention to God’s “announcements”, those quiet inklings that tell me God is trying to make something new in my life?

Jesus says that Elijah “has already come” but has been rejected by the people.

  • Are there habits and choices in my life that make it hard for God to get through to me?
  • Maybe God is sending an “Elijah”or “Baptist” my way today. Will I recognize that Precursor? Will I be open to the message?

Music: Days of Elijah – Robin Mark. 

The commentary in the Worship & Song Leader’s Edition contains a good summary of this hymn’s text: “This is a song of victory and of hope, of God’s triumph forever over death and of Christ’s eternal reign. It also calls believers to stand fast, even in the face of troubles, and to witness to the promised coming of Christ.”

 

Choose Your Kingdom

Second Sunday of Advent

December 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Our readings counterbalance each with other peace and urgency.

HicksJPG
A Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Isaiah, on the one hand, describes the Peaceable Kingdom where:

the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord
As water covers the sea.


Matthew, on the other hand, presents us with John the Baptist, who preached a fiery message. No doubt shocking in his camel hair tunic, a scrap of leather holding it in place, John railed at the pompous Pharisees for their deceitful, pretentious lives:

You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’

For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.

Mt3_10 ax

The message of this Second Sunday is clear for us. We may have lived a half-hearted faith at times in our lives and gotten away with it. Those times are over.

For the One is coming who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire”. 

“Fake” will not hold up against his mighty gaze.

So this Second Sunday is a time to test the sincerity of our faith as proven by our actions. It is a time to check what kind of fruit we bear for the world. As we pass through the circumstances of our lives, do we leave a trail of peace, wisdom, counsel,and all the other blessings Isaiah envisions?

We can do this only by uniting ourselves in prayer and actions to the One rising today from the Root of Jesse, the One to whom both Isaiah and John tied their souls in unquenchable hope.

Music: A song of peace (Charles Villiers Stanford, (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) an Irish composer, music teacher, and conductor.) Lyrics below

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

2  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

3  And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes,
neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

4  And with righteousness shall he judge the poor,
and reprove with equity the meek of the earth:
and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

5  And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

6  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.

9  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain:
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.

10  And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse,
which shall stand for an ensign unto the people;
and his rest shall be glorious.

The Deeper Melody of Wisdom

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus speaks to us like a frustrated parent.

All of us have seen fussy children, needing a nap, twisting around noisily from toy to toy, satisfied only to swipe the toy another child is playing with.

Jesus compares his resistant listeners to such children. They were not convinced by the austere preaching of John the Baptist. They are not moved by the loving freedom of Christ’s message. They find in both teachings only theories to toy with and toss aside. Because their hearts are hardened by distraction, they cannot find the heart in the truth offered to them.

Oh my goodness! Are we not living in the midst of such hardening distractions? So much in our culture invites us to “play” rather than to relate with our environment, with our lives. Advertising tempts us to get as much as possible out of everything, but to give nothing back. Media thrives by convincing us that we are the center of the universe.

We make a lot of noise when we feel threatened by the quiet truth of our common creaturehood and its inherent demand that we live in reverence for one another and for the God who created us.

John preached a message of repentance from such sinful self-absorption. He lost his head over it. Jesus preached the Word of transcendent love and mutual service. He was crucified for it. Each was seen as a threat to the manipulated Law that had become the refuge of their hardened listeners.

We see the pattern repeated down the long corridors of history, filling its passage with martyrs. We see it in our own day wherever someone tells the truth about the demands of the Gospel.

In our own Church, we see Pope Francis persecuted – even by some of his own bishops – for his call for compassion, mercy, and reverence for every person, for all Creation.

Indeed, we still live in the frenzied marketplace where 

“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.”

Ps107_wisdom well

Luke’s final cryptic verse may suggest our deliverance from such frenzy:

“But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Our hearts recognize the Wisdom figures in our world. They have heard the true melody of God in their lives. By steady reflection and good works, they have gone beyond the din of a sinfully distracting culture. The result is inner peace, joy, and salvation, like that of John and Jesus —- and Pope Francis.

May we have the courage to go deep into Christ’s Word to embrace this Truth.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – Keith and Kristyn Getty

A Passion Like Christ’s

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we commemorate the Passion of John the Baptist who, besides Mary, was the greatest saint embracing both the Old and the New Testaments.

When I was young, the memorial was simply referred to as “The Beheading of John the Baptist”. The term “passion” captures its meaning so much more clearly:

  • it inclines us to realize the similarities between John’s passion and death and that of Jesus.
  • it shifts the power of the event to John, who chose his fate by the courage of his witness, rather than to see Herod, the “beheader”, as the agent of the story.

John’s whole prophetic life was part of his “passion”. It inevitably led him to this ultimate confrontation with evil.

Walter Bruggemann, in his transformational book “The Prophetic Imagination” writes about prophets. He indicates that prophets emerge in the context of “totalism” – those paralyzing systems which attempt to control and dominate all freedom and possibility.

Totalism kills ideas, hope, freedom, choice, self-determination, and creativity for the sake of controlling reality for its own advantage. Totalism is the ultimate “abusive relationship “.

Brueggemann defines the prophet as one engaged in these three tasks:

  • the prophet is clear on the force and illegitimacy of the totalism.
  • the prophet pronounces the truth about the force of the totalism that contradicts the purpose of God.
  • the prophet articulates the alternative world that God has promised, and that God is actually creating within the chaos around us.

Every age requires prophets because every age is infected with “Herods” trying to thwart God’s reign of love, mercy, truth, freedom, and joy. In our own time, the poison of totalism is quite evident in those systems fueled by racism, militarism, financial duplicity, desecration of the earth, and the sad array of other ideologies that cripple humanity.

Today, as we pray with this great saint, may we be inspired to respond to our own prophetic call – to be prophetic signs of love, mutual reverence, joy, Gospel justice,and lavish mercy for our world.

Music: I think of this song by Simon and Garfunkel as the modern day song of John the Baptist.

https://youtu.be/XgbBLKet14E

The Baptist: A Life for God

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist 

June 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate one of the greatest figures of the Bible, John the Baptist. He prepared the way for the Lord.

John the Baptist
Icon of St. John the Baptist (16th c.) Dionysiou Monastery

When I think of John’s role in Salvation History, I am reminded of a captivating poem by Geoffrey Brown, author of Road of the Heart Cave:

The Heart Cave

I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
& sweep it clean; make it warm
with a fire on the hearth,
& candles in their niches,
the pictures on the walls
       glowing with a quiet light.
       I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
       & make the bed
with the quilt from home,
strew
the rushes on the floor
hang
lavender and sage
         from the corners.
         I must go down

                                           To the heart cave & be there
                                           when You come.


John the Baptist went down to the heart cave of our human perception of God.  He understood, in an inexpressible way, that God was about to do something astounding in human history.  God was about to become part of it!

John understood this with unquestioning faith, the way we understand heaven but cannot rationalize it. Understanding it, he knew that the world needed to turn itself toward God – to repent – in radical and ardent expectation.

This was his call and his message – this extraordinary man, dressed in his camel hair vestments, preaching at the desert’s edge.

We might pray to John today to be turned from anything that distracts us from God, to long for God’s presence in our hearts and in our world, to love deeply and make a welcome home for Christ within us.

( On this Feast, 53 years ago, my entrance companions and I professed our vows. I think of all of them with love today. May I humbly ask you, dear readers, to join me in prayer for us as we thank God for the gift of our lives in Mercy.)

Music: Apolytikion of the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist ( Dismissal Hymn of the Assembly for St. John the Baptist from the Greek Liturgy)

Be Light!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

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Jn5_35 light

Today, in Mercy, the Gospel gives us Jesus claiming his throne. He is setting his disciples straight before he is no longer with them. He drives home each of the pillars of his Messiahship, like so many stakes in the ground:

  • I have testimony greater than John’s.
  • The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.
  • The Father has testified on my behalf.
  • I came in the name of my Father.

Jesus is saying these things to his persecutors, but he says them for the benefit of his surrounding disciples. He wants them to remember these things to sustain them in the dark times to come.

In this passage, Jesus also pays a glorious compliment to John the Baptist:

He was a burning and shining lamp.

Now Jesus wants his followers, fired by their faith, to burn with an even greater light. He wants us to do the same, to burn with a flame steadied by Christ’s assurances, by the stunning testimony of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Music:  But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming – Handel

But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.