Alleluia: Prepare God’s Way

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
June 23, 2022 ( usually 6/24)

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the feast of John the Baptist! What a life! What a man!

Alleluia, alleluia.
You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.


From a little baby leaping in his mother’s womb to the grown man ferociously in love with God, John the Baptist is holy fire in the flesh.

I’ve had a real love for him since my early religious life. Mother Mary Bernard, Mother General in the early 60s, had great devotion to John. She chose June 24th both to receive me and my companions into the community, and to celebrate our First Profession.

I remember Mother talking to us during a retreat leading up to one of these events. She spoke at length about John, emphasizing one particular verse he uttered:

Mother said that coming to understand this verse was what a holy, joyful, and complete life was all about.


Here is a reflection I wrote about John a few years ago.

The Sharp Edge

John the Baptist by Caravaggio

In John the Baptist, we celebrate the greatest of the prophets, a man whom history has now sanctified in Scripture, statue, painting, and song.

But what might it have been like to know him in time?

Prophets generally make us uncomfortable. Like John, they shake up their family’s routine, sometimes rendering their parents speechless and their neighbors astounded. They might dress oddly, rant a bit, and follow a strange diet. They hang out in inhospitable places. Prophets are the oddities on the edge of our striving for comfort. Someone like John the Baptist would not be the most popular member of your country club.

And yet John the Baptist’s call is one given, in its own particular measure, to every disciple of Christ: 

  • Go to the sharp edge of your existence. That is where you will find the Divine Presence. 
  • Go by way of the inner desert, continually learning the aridity of all that is not God. 
  • Shed the trappings that separate you from the Holy – be they the adoration of wealth, power, or vanity. 
  • Then speak the Truth you have become.

The poet Mary Oliver put it simply this way:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Where will we find the prophets today? At the borders of everything. But they will be building bridges, not walls. They will be inviting the rest of us out of the quagmire of our comfort zones to come see Christ rising on the bright distance of our courage. Today’s prophets, like John, will be pointing away from themselves to the place where Christ waits with His counter-cultural Gospel – among those who are poor, weakened by the world, among the marginalized who live at life’s sharp edge where Grace is most accessible because it is all there is.

The wonderful Baptist, robed in his camel hair, eating locusts, shouting and throwing people into the Jordan! The greatest of the prophets calls down the hills of time to us today: “Behold One is coming after me. Prepare your hearts! Do not miss Him!”

Poetry: John the Baptist –  Kelly Chripczuk

He didn’t see it, but felt it
through the darkness
of his mother’s womb,
the flame that baptized
drawn close enough
to singe his foot,
which caused him to leap.
The wild fire caught
and grew, ruining him
for a life of conformity.
So he moved to the wilderness
somewhere near the river’s edge
where others were drawn
by the smoldering flame.
He doused them each with water,
warning them one-by-one
of the fire to come.
Later, when he leapt
from this world to the next,
leaving his head behind,
he was greeted by the fellowship
of the flame – Isaiah
with his charred black lips,
Miriam who danced
like a flickering wick,
and the others, too many now to name
together they glowed like
so many embers,
lighting the long, dark night.

Visit Kelly’s wonderful website ” The Contemplative Life” at:

https://thiscontemplativelife.org


Music: BWV30 Cantata for Nativity of St John the Baptist – Karl Richter conducting

First Part

  1. Aria (S, A, T, B)

Joyful be, O ransomed throng,
Joyful be in Zion’s dwellings.
Thy well-being hath henceforth
Found a sure and solid means
Thee with bliss and health to shower.

  1. Recit. (B)

We have our rest,
The burden of the law
Has been removed.
Nought shall from this repose distract us,
Which our belovéd fathers oft
Had sought with yearning and with hope.
Come forth,
Be joyful all, whoever can,
And raise to pay their God due honor
A song of praise,
And all the heav’nly choir,
Yea, sing in glad accord!

  1. Aria (B)

All praise be to God, all praise for his name’s sake,
Who faithfully keepeth his promise and vow!
His faithful servant hath been born now,
Who long had for this been elected,
That he the Lord his way prepare.

  1. Recit. (A)

The herald comes and sounds the king’s approach,
He calls; so tarry not
And get ye up,
And with a lively pace
Rush to this voice’s call!
It shows the way, it shows the light
By which we on those blessed pastures
At last may surely gaze with wonder.

  1. Aria (A)

Come, ye sorely tempted sinners,
Haste and run, O Adam’s children,
This your Savior calls and cries!
Come forth, ye like sheep that wander,
Rise ye up from sin-filled slumber,
For now is the hour of grace!

  1. Chorale (S, A, T, B)

There a voice of one is crying
In the desert far and wide,
Leading mankind to conversion:
For the Lord the way prepare,
Make for God a level path,
All the world should henceforth rise,
Every valley shall be lifted,
That the mountains may be humbled.

Second Part

  1. Recit. (B)

If thou dost then, my hope, intend
That law which thou didst make
With our forefathers to maintain
And in thy gracious might o’er us to reign,
Then will I set with utmost care
On this my purpose:
Thee, faithful God, at thy command
In holiness and godly fear to live.

  1. Aria (B)

I will detest now
And all avoid
Which thee, my God, doth cause offense.

I will thee not cause sadness,
Instead sincerely love thee,
For thou to me so gracious art.

  1. Recit. (S)

And even though the fickle heart
In human weakness is innate,
Yet here and now let this be said:
So oft the rosy morning dawns,
So long one day the next one lets ensue,
So long will I both strong and firm
Through thine own Spirit live,
My God, entirely for thine honor.
And now shall both my heart and voice
According to thy covenant
With well deservéd praise extol thee.

  1. Aria (S)

Haste, ye hours, come to me,
Bring me soon into those pastures!

I would with the holy throng
To my God an altar raise,
In the tents of Kedar offered,(1)
Where I’ll give eternal thanks.

  1. Recit. (T)

Forbear, the loveliest of days
Can no more far and distant be,
When thou from every toil
Of imperfection’s earthly burdens,
Which thee, my heart, doth now enthrall,
Wilt come to have thy perfect freedom.
Thy hope will come at last,
When thou with all the ransomed spirits,
In that perfected state,
From death here of the body wilt be freed,
And there thee no more woe will torment.

  1. Aria (S, A, T, B)

Joyful be, O hallowed throng,
Joyful be in Zion’s pastures!

Of thy joyful majesty,
Of thy full contentment’s bliss
Shall all time no end e’er witness.

A Joyful Hint

December 12, 2021
Gaudete Sunday

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Advent’s joyful midway pause.

Advent was originally, like Lent, a time of fasting. Midway in the fast, the Church took a break from its rigors and rejoiced prematurely for the coming Christmas. 


I remember going, as a grade schooler, with my mother to buy two candy bars on the Saturday before Gaudete (because most stores were closed on Sunday back then!) After Sunday Mass, we would hold a sort of “sweetness ceremony”, delighting in our choices. Mom’s was always a Milky Way. My choice ran with the fads, sticking for a few years on Rollos – remember them?


The Church has its own “sweet ceremony” on Gaudate Sunday. Pink vestments worn for the liturgy indicate joy, as do the uplifting readings.

In our first reading, Zephania tells us that “the Lord will rejoice over us with gladness!”

 Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
        Sing joyfully, O Israel!
    Be glad and exult with all your heart,
        O daughter Jerusalem!

Zephania 3:14

In a reassuring blessing, Paul tells us, “Don’t worry. Be happy!”

Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding 
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 4-7

Even serious John the Baptist seems to tingle with expectation of the coming Savior. He’s just a little more taciturn in his proclamations.

John answered them all, saying, 
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Luke 3: 16-17

In our terribly commercialized holiday world, let’s stop and remember the true cause of our hope and celebration.

What gives your heart real joy as we approach the holy celebration of Christmas?

What is the sacred delight you long for in your heart and soul?

Let’s make a deeper effort this week, which will require so much bustle of us, to settle our hearts on God – remembering that God’s sweet presence with us is what this whole season is about. 


Poetry: The Flower by George Herbert

How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and clean 
Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring; 
         To which, besides their own demean, 
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring. 
                      Grief melts away 
                      Like snow in May, 
         As if there were no such cold thing. 

         Who would have thought my shriveled heart 
Could have recovered greenness? It was gone 
         Quite underground; as flowers depart 
To see their mother-root, when they have blown, 
                      Where they together 
                      All the hard weather, 
         Dead to the world, keep house unknown. 

         These are thy wonders, Lord of power, 
Killing and quickening, bringing down to hell 
         And up to heaven in an hour; 
Making a chiming of a passing-bell. 
                      We say amiss 
                      This or that is: 
         Thy word is all, if we could spell. 

         Oh that I once past changing were, 
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither! 
         Many a spring I shoot up fair, 
Offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither; 
                      Nor doth my flower 
                      Want a spring shower, 
         My sins and I joining together. 

         But while I grow in a straight line, 
Still upwards bent, as if heaven were mine own, 
         Thy anger comes, and I decline: 
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone 
                      Where all things burn, 
                      When thou dost turn, 
         And the least frown of thine is shown? 

         And now in age I bud again, 
After so many deaths I live and write; 
         I once more smell the dew and rain, 
And relish versing. Oh, my only light, 
                      It cannot be 
                      That I am he 
         On whom thy tempests fell all night. 

         These are thy wonders, Lord of love, 
To make us see we are but flowers that glide; 
         Which when we once can find and prove, 
Thou hast a garden for us where to bide; 
                      Who would be more, 
                      Swelling through store, 
         Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.


Music: Gaudete in Domino sung by the Schola of St. Meinrad Abbey (Latin and English lyrics below)

Gaudete in Domino semper
iterum dico gaudete.
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus.
Dominus prope est.
Nihil solliciti sitis
sed in omni oratione et obsecratione
cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum.
Et pax Dei quae exsuperat omnem sensum custodiat corda vestra et intellegentias vestras in Christo Iesu [Domino nostro].

Rejoice in the Lord always:
and again I say, rejoice.
Let your moderation be known unto all men.
The Lord is at hand.
Be careful for nothing;
but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus [our Lord].

Wake (Me) Up, Lord!

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 80 which calls upon God to “rouse” – to wake up, to look toward us from heaven, and to take care of us. Perhaps the psalm calls us to wake too????

O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
    look down from heaven, and see;
Take care of this vine,
    and protect what your right hand has planted
    the we whom you yourself made strong.

Psalm 80: 2-3;15-16

Our Gospel places us with Jesus, as he descends the mountain after the Transfiguration.

He speaks about two great prophets – Elijah and John the Baptist:

  • Elijah – the fiery reformer who “turned back hearts” to the day of the Lord
  • John – who cried out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

These prophets open the door to our final approach to Christmas – our last few days to heed their advice and ready our hearts for the awesome, yet humble, coming of Christ.

  • Is there anything in my heart that needs to be turned back to God — any energy, dedication or insight that has shifted from God’s Way to my own selfish way?
  • Is there anything I must prepare so that my life is ready to receive Christ?

These are the questions Elijah and John offer us today.. Praying Psalm 80, we might ask that God care for us and show us the way to the Christmas Light.


Poetry: The God We Hardly Knew – Saint Oscar Romero

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.

The self-sufficient, the proud, those who,
because they have everything,
look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God – for them there will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry, those who need
someone to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.


Music: Prepare the Way, O Zion – Fernando Ortega (Lyrics below)

Prepare the way O Zion
Your Christ is drawing near
Let every hill and valley
A level way appear
Greet One who comes in glory
Foretold in sacred story

Chorus:
O blest is Christ that came
In God’s most holy name
Christ brings God’s rule O Zion
He comes from heaven above
His rule is peace and freedom
And justice truth and love
Lift high your praise resounding
For grace and joy abounding

Fling wide your gates, O Zion
Your Savior’s rule embrace
And tidings of salvation
Proclaim in every place
All lands will bow rejoicing
Their adoration voicing

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

June 24, 2021

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

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

Thinking 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 with 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, 55 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: “Utqueant laxis” or “Hymnus in Ioannem” is a Latin hymn in honor of John the Baptist written in Horatian Sapphics and traditionally attributed to Paulus Diaconus, the eighth-century Lombard historian. It is famous for its part in the history of musical notation, in particular solmization (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do). The hymn is sung to a Gregorian chant, and introduces the original do-re-mi music

1. O for your spirit, holy John, to chasten
Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen;
So by your children might your deeds of wonder
Meetly be chanted.

2. Lo! a swift herald, from the skies descending,
Bears to your father promise of your greatness;
How he shall name you, what your future story,
Duly revealing.

3. Scarcely believing message so transcendent,
Him for a season power of speech forsaketh,
Till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth,
Voice to the voiceless.

4. You, in your mother’s womb all darkly cradled,
Knew your great Monarch, biding in His chamber,
Whence the two parents, through their offspring’s merits,
Mysteries uttered.

5. Praise to the Father, to the Son begotten,
And to the Spirit, equal power possessing,
One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages,
Ever resounding. Amen.

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 139: God of Our Secrets

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

June 24; 2020

Psalm 139 (stained glass window by Ted Felen)

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on the great feast of John the Baptist, we pray with Psalm 139, the prayer of awed gratitude.

June 24th is a pivotal date in my life. It became so in 1966 on the day I was first professed as a Sister of Mercy. Our then Mother General, who chose our Profession date, had deep devotion to John, and often spoke to us wide-eyed novices about his holiness.


In one such lecture, she solemnly pronounced the core of his sanctity – how he considered himself in relation to his cousin Jesus:

He must increase and I must decrease. 

Mother Bernard told us that this was the key to the spiritual life: let God grow in you as self recedes.


It was a beautiful lesson but a hard one to swallow. We were a gaggle of 20-somethings fired up to find our adulthoods. We were all about growing – making our statement in the world! 

Learning to discover, rely on, and magnify the hidden omnipresence of God within would – at least for some of us – takes a lifetime, just as it probably should.


Psalm 139 is a prayer that can lead us to God’s powerful secrets in our hearts, ready to be unfolded as the years pass. These treasures include:

  • that we are made of earth and stars and must find vigor in harmony with them
  • that we are woven of both the dances and the dyings of our mothers, fathers, and ancestors – each a mysterious blessing
  • that as we live our lives, it is God living within us
  • that God knows, loves, and redeems everything about us

June 24, 1966 came clothed in noontime sun and trumpet blasts all those years ago – shouting youth, hope, and a good deal of ambition.

The date’s passing iterations have gently mellowed the song God sings to me. Now it goes something like this:


Autumn Colors – Zamfir

Today, the date’s rising carries the sustained melody of a gentle pan flute. Within its breathy music, I cherish the gift of years, how intimately accompanied and tenderly cared for I have been … even from my mother’s womb until now.

May each of us today – in whatever season and sound of the journey – pray with our hidden, ever-present God who cherishes our being.


Called to Become
From Edwina Gateley, There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996, 2013)

You are called to become
A perfect creation.
No one is called to become
Who you are called to be.
It does not matter
How short or tall
Or thick-set or slow
You may be.
It does not matter
Whether you sparkle with life
Or are as silent as a still pool.
Whether you sing your song aloud
Or weep alone in darkness.
It does not matter
Whether you feel loved and admired
Or unloved and alone
For you are called to become
A perfect creation.
No one's shadow
Should cloud your becoming.
No one's light
Should dispel your spark.
For the Lord delights in you.
Jealously looks upon you
And encourages with gentle joy
Every movement of the Spirit
Within you.
Unique and loved you stand.
Beautiful or stunted in your growth
But never without hope and life.
For you are called to become
A perfect creation.
This becoming may be
Gentle or harsh.
Subtle or violent.
But it never ceases.
Never pauses or hesitates.
Only is—
Creative force—
Calling you
Calling you to become
A perfect creation.

Music: If I Take the Wings of Morning – John Rutter

Eulogy

Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 7, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Sirach gives us a beautiful eulogy for King David.

A eulogy sets a particular frame of remembrance around a person’s life. Like Sirach today, that frame tries to capture the positive accomplishments of the person who has died. We set aside any mistakes and negativity. Or we acknowledge them as Sirach has done for David by invoking God’s forgiveness:

The LORD forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever.


To tell the truth, I’ve attended a few funerals where I wondered what the speaker might come up with in a positive regard. You know, you need more than a sentence or two for a decent eulogy! Despite my wondering, every tribute has provided an enriching lesson on the sacred beauty of a human life.

Sir47_1 eulogy

There are times when I leave such a life celebration thinking, “Gosh, I never realized that about him!” or “Wow, there are so many things we don’t understand about someone’s life!” 

If only we could treat every living person with the same honor their eulogies inspire!


In our Gospel, we read the sad and violent story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. It’s a passage filled with the best and the worst of the human heart. One would wonder what kind of eulogy could have eventually been crafted for the likes of Herod, Herodias, and Salome.

But for John the Baptist, Jesus had given him the perfect epitaph even before John died.

I say to you, among those born of women
there is no one greater than John;

In the verse, Jesus also reveals what it takes to earn greatest accolade in God’s eyes:

… yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God
is greater than John.

Luke 7:28


When Jesus spoke that verse, John had not yet died. If Jesus said anything about John after his death, the words are not recorded. All we have is this poignant response from Matthew:

Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it.
Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.
As soon as Jesus heard the news,
he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.
But the crowds heard where he was headed
and followed on foot from many towns.
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat,
and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14: 12-14


As we pray today with the legacies of David and the Baptist, we might consider what we’d want to see engraved on our own tombstones. I’ve told my friends I’d like to see this:

She was kind.

Still working on it!😉

What about you?

Music: Lay Me Down – in this song, two icons of country music, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson sing their own kind of eulogy. (Lyrics below)

Lay Me Down
I raised my head and set myself
In the eye of the storm, in the belly of a whale
My spirit stood on solid ground
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When I was a child, I cried
Until my needs were satisfied
My needs have grown up, pound for pound
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When they lay me down someday
My soul will rise, then fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
This life isn’t fair, it seems
It’s filled with tears and broken dreams
There are no tears where I am bound
And I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When they lay me down some day
My soul will rise, then fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay down
When they lay me down some day
My soul will rise and fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When I was a child, I cried

Welcome, Christ, Our Light!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2020

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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

Click here for readings

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.