A Second Chance

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

March 4, 2020

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Jonah3_1another chance

Today, in Mercy, one line from our readings hit me like a lightening bolt:

The word of the LORD
came to Jonah
a second time.

Yes, it’s the truth! God will keep coming back again and again to encourage us to hear his true message for our lives.


Our Gospel gives us a hint about how resistant we sometimes are to this deep listening:

This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.


 

What is the sign of Jonah anyway?

res and life


To put it simply, it is the witness of the Resurrection – that overarching event that changed everything for believers. For just as Jonah was able to return from certain death in the whale’s belly, so Christ conquered death and rose to new life, promising us the same power.

This is the central, life-changing belief for Christians. It should make a difference in how we live.


By our Lenten repentance, we can be like Jonah, grasping the second chance God always gives us to respond to our life circumstances with faith, hope, and love.

I would bet there is something in your life right now that is calling you to such a response. Someplace in your life, you may be caught in a bit of a “whale’s belly 🐳” about some issue, am I right?

God makes us ask ourselves questions most often when He intends to resolve them. He gives us needs that He alone can satisfy, and awakens capacities that He means to fulfill. Any perplexity is liable to be a spiritual gestation, leading to a new birth and a mystical regeneration.” ― Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

Today’s readings remind us that we already have the glorious sign of the Resurrection to inspire us to leap from that dark “belly” into God’s hope for us!

Music:  a fun song “In the Belly of  Whale” – The Newsboys

Grace and Peace

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin about a month of readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will also continue with Luke’s Gospel all the way up to Advent.

To help me in praying with Romans, I am using a book by Scott W. Hahn, Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology at Steubenville University. In his introduction, Hahn says this:

Hahn_Romans

Today’s reading offered me these elements to ponder and pray with:

  • Paul calls himself a “slave” of Jesus Christ
  • He invokes his call as an Apostle
  • He sets himself in the company of the prophets
  • He appeals to Jews who revere David
  • but proclaims Christ, through his Resurrection, as Messiah beyond human lineage
  • He proclaims his mission to the Gentiles
  • to bring about “the obedience of faith”

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve read or heard this passage maybe fifty times in my lifetime, and it has meant little or nothing to me. At best, it has sounded like a formal introduction such as those we hear from government “whereas” type decrees.

But I took Dr. Hahn’s advice, studying the passage, and reading it slowly and prayerfully. Here’s what I received:

  • Paul’s Apostolic call, to which he willingly enslaved his heart, was to preach the Good News of our redemption in Jesus Christ – to preach it to Jews, Romans, Gentiles, and all people.
  • It is an awesomely incredible message that can be received only through the gift of faith.
  • It is a message rooted in the scripture stories we love, and where we look to find a reflection of our own stories.
  • Learning from these realities will help us come to a faith which expresses itself in action and gives glory to God in our own time.

Luke gives us one such story today. Jesus reminds the crowd of two familiar passages – that of Jonah and the “Queen of the South” (the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10). He indicates that the people in these stories believed without a sign.

Jesus tells the people gathered around him  to learn from this. The crowd demands a sign, but Jesus says the sign is right in front of you – it is only your open heart that is lacking.

In his introduction, Paul prays for such open hearts in the Romans:

Rm1_grace_peace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

By that same grace, may we receive faith’s blessing as well.

Music: Grace and Peace – Fernando Ortega

Pray Always

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

October 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings suggest that there are many different ways to pray – to acknowledge and respond to God’s Presence in our lives, to deepen in relationship with God.

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Jonah has just finished his prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from the chaos. This prayer is transformative. Jonah is different – open to God’s call – after it. The Ninivites, after hearing only one day of Jonah’s preaching, respond by acts of fasting and mortification . Their king, when he hears of their actions, himself formalizes a drastic national atonement. The repentant prayer of the Ninivite Kingdom is also transformative. They turn from their evil ways and open their hearts to God’s sovereignty.

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ps130_1 lament

Our Responsorial Psalm 130, a treasured and classic song of lament, shows us the transformative power of this kind of prayer. The one praying from the depths of her heart:

  • names her suffering
  • weeps with God because of it
  • begs deliverance
  • in the begging, relinquishes the outcome to God
  • receives peace in the relinquishment
  • is transformed by that peace and offers praise

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Our Gospel offers us another classic example of types of prayer, that of contemplation and that of service. In the story, Mary is affirmed for her singular attention to the presence of Christ – her contemplative prayer. Martha, on the other hand, pays attention to Christ by her service. Some have interpreted Martha’s as a lesser form of prayer. However, Macrina Weirdekehr, in her new book “The Flowing Grace of Now”, gives us this powerful insight into Martha’s prayer:

“Mary’s listening annoys Martha, who is busy serving. Yet if the full truth be known, Martha was also sitting at the feet of the teacher. She is sitting at the feet of service. Later, after dinner was served, with Jesus gone and Mary retired for the evening, I envision Martha finally sitting down by herself, and listening to the experience of the evening. As she reviewed the evening and her lament in the midst of her service, perhaps she began to realize that all of this was part of the wisdom offered by the school of life. We learn by contemplating our daily struggles.”


(I so highly recommend this deeply beautiful book available from:

Click here to go to Ave Maria Press or

Click here to go to Amazon


Today, we might consider our many ways to talk with and be with God, to give time and awareness to this all-encompassing relationship in our lives.

Music: Lord, I Need You – Matt Maher 

 

Transparent Prayer

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Monday, October 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading is from the Book of Jonah, a drama with which we are all familiar.  Because of the fantastical nature of the tale, we may tend to read it simply on the level of allegory – the way we might read Aesop’s fables. But there is much spiritual depth to be found in this well-known story.

As I pray with the Jonah passages for these three days, I am using an article by Walter Bruggemann to inform my prayer.

You can access Bruggemann’s article here

Since today is the feast of the Holy Rosary, a prayer which has blessed the Church for centuries, Bruggemann’s consideration of Jonah’s prayer caught my attention:

The complexity of (Jonah’s) prayer is reflective of the complexity of all prayer.  Prayer purports to be single-minded in its communication with Yahweh.  Everyone who prays is complex, given to deception, distortion, and willfulness; our prayers are most often thick with mixed motives, distortions, and exhibits, even if only to the self.  There are “saints” who are more mature and more disciplined than this in their prayer.  But evidently Jonah is not among those mature, disciplined saints.  For that reason his compromising and manipulative maneuvers are highly visible in the prayer.  We may spot such maneuvers in his prayer and be driven to reflect on our own acts of seduction in prayer whereby we deceive ourselves, even if God is not deceived.

The Rosary, intended as a contemplation not a recitation, allows us the silence and time to sort out the complexities of our own prayer. It is a prayer not to be rushed. Praying it well requires us to lay aside our busy existence and excuses, and to place ourselves in the stillness of Divine Transparency.

rosary

The Rosary invites us to enter more deeply into the truth of Christ’s life, but also into our own. Seen in the light of Mary’s and Jesus’s lives, what is our own life teaching us?

So many of us have a Rosary in our drawer or purse that we haven’t touched for a while. Many of these beads were given to us by, or belonged to, someone who loved us – who wished us the blessings that come from its devotion. Perhaps we might like to rekindle our love for the Rosary today while remembering that beloved person. In the drawer beside my bed, my Dad’s well worn rosary is waiting for me.

Music: Ave Maria – Bach, sung by Jessye Norman

Want a Sign? Wake Up!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings talk about the “sign of Jonah”? What is that really, and how does it speak to me?

The passage from the Book of Jonah describes a remarkable event. Jonah, finally coughed up from the belly of a whale, marches part way through Nineveh announcing its impending destruction.

What if somebody did that in your neighborhood ? Would you ignore them, call the police, or maybe move? Not the Ninevites. They LISTENED! They recognized Jonah’s message as a last ditch chance to get their act together! Talk about conversion! Even the king ripped his robes and sat in ashes!

Ps51_miserere

When those questioning Jesus ask for a sign that they should repent and change, Jesus has had it with them. He basically says “No sign; learn a lesson from Jonah.“ In so many words, he tells them “I am your Jonah. I am your last ditch chance at conversion.”

Is there a message for us? Are we as bad off as the Ninevites or the dense crowds missing Jesus’s point? Are there realities in our lives that need conversion of heart?

Often, when asking ourselves such a question, we look to the sins we commit through our weakness and selfishness. We confess, own up, seek forgiveness for the things we have done.

But sometimes we are blind to our sins of omission – the things we haven’t done that we should have – the forgiveness withheld, the support never offered, the gratitude unexpressed, the half-hearted work for which we claim full payment, the family and community where we take but seldom give, the times we let ourselves and others be less than their best selves.

I don’t think Jesus wants us to sit in the ashes over these things, but rather to be honest with ourselves and shape up. Through prayer and reflection, we need to ask for the grace to hear Jonah’s voice in our lives.

Music: I Repent – Steve Green