Memorial of Saint Augustine

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, the scripture which inspired “Joy to the World”.

Psalm 98 describes God’s redemption of Israel and the jubilation that will ensue. In other words, it is a song of “rejoicing in the future tense”. When the community sang it for their great occasions, they had not yet seen the Savior. But their profound faith allowed them to celebrate in spirit what they believed would be accomplished – as the psalm’s concluding verse asserts:

In righteousness shall God judge the world
and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98:8

We too are called to let our lives sing to the Lord in hope and confidence because we know that what we believe is true. That kind of faith in action is called “witness”. And we, my dears, in ALL circumstances of our lives, are charged to be WITNESSES!


  • Like the seas who sing in either still or storm
  • Like rivers who clap in ebb or the neap
  • Like the mountains who sing in all seasons


Let the sea and what fills it resound,
    the world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    the mountains shout with them for joy.

Psalm 98:7-8
  • Like our hearts that believe even through life’s intermingled joys and sorrows

This is your life,
joys and sorrow mingled,
one succeeding the other.

Catherine McAuley: Letter to Frances Warde (May 28, 1841)

Poetry: Flickering Mind – Denise Levertov

Lord, not you
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away -- and back,
circling.
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
darts
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
anywhere,
everywhere it can turn.  Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow.
You the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?

Music: Let Your Heart Sing – Young Oceans

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33 in which the psalmist is clearly awestruck by both the power and the mercy of God. It is a prayer of radical awareness that God is Creator and we are creature.

According to Walter Brueggemann,
Psalm 33 describes Yahweh
as the settled sovereign, securely in control,
who need only speak
to have the command fulfilled.

The psalm has two divisions. In part one, the community is called to praise God because God deserves it.

Rejoice, you righteous, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.

Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
on the ten-stringed lyre offer praise.

Sing to God a new song;
skillfully play with joyful chant.

For the LORD’s word is upright;
and works are trustworthy.

Psalm 33: 1-4

In part two, that praise is articulated by recounting God’s caring intervention in the community’s experience.

From heaven the LORD looks down
and observes the children of Adam,

From that dwelling place surveying
all who dwell on earth.

The One who fashioned together their hearts
and who knows all their works.

Psalm 33: 13-15

Psalm 33 can be summarized in this way:

Because Yahweh rules with righteousness, justice, and unfailing love,
we must worship Yahweh with songs and praise
and by rejecting all false sources of salvation.

Lynn Jost, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies – Tabor College, Kansas

Praying Psalm 33 reminds me that one can never demand mercy. We cannot require the other to hold us in continual compassion. We can only hope and be grateful.

Mercy is the gift of a heart moved beyond itself by love and tenderness. Such outpouring is the very nature of God in whose image we are created.

Thus for God, and for us, to be unmerciful is to be unnatural. In Psalm 33, we pray not only to receive mercy, but to become mercy.


Psalm 33 closes with a plea for our hearts to be deepened in their affinity to God, to mirror God by our patience, joy, hope, and mercy.

Our soul waits for the LORD,
Who is our help and shield.

For in God our hearts rejoice;
in God’s holy name we trust.

May your mercy, LORD, be upon us;
as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33: 20-22

Poetry: To Live in the Mercy of God BY DENISE LEVERTOV

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
               before ribs of shelter
                                           open!
To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.
And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
                      Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.
To float, upheld,
                as salt water
                would hold you,
                                        once you dared.
                  .
To live in the mercy of God.
To feel vibrate the enraptured
waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
                              to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
                                                   O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
                              To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
                              Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
                              Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
                      flung on resistance.

Music: As you listen to David Arkenstone’s instrumental, you may want to remember Shakespeare’s famous description of mercy. See below the music.

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 34 once again. With its two accompanying readings, the psalm hits me right between the eyes with this awareness:

Those of us trying to live in God’s presence, the world isn’t going to help us. We will be in contradiction to many, if not most, popular values. Our choices may be questioned, if not ridiculed. Our values may be explained away. Our integrity may be challenged. 

What’s it like to live a faith-based life in today’s culture? The image that comes to my mind is that of trying to play soccer with a square ball! 

Paul felt the dissonance:

But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
So I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ …


Jesus put the contradiction in a nutshell for us:

No one can serve two masters.
You will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.


So we need to figure out our “mammon” and vanquish it. We need to make the choice that Paul, the psalmist, and Jesus made. Let’s pray on it today.


Poetry: Contraband – Denise Levertov

The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason.
That’s why the taste of it
drove us from Eden. That fruit
was meant to be dried and milled to a fine powder
for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.
God had probably planned to tell us later
about this new pleasure.
                                   We stuffed our mouths full of it,
gorged on but and if and how and again
but, knowing no better.
It’s toxic in large quantities; fumes
swirled in our heads and around us
to form a dense cloud that hardened to steel,
a wall between us and God, Who was Paradise.
Not that God is unreasonable – but reason
in such excess was tyranny
and locked us into its own limits, a polished cell
reflecting our own faces. God lives
on the other side of that mirror,
but through the slit where the barrier doesn’t
quite touch ground, manages still
to squeeze in – as filtered light,
splinters of fire, a strain of music heard
then lost, then heard again.


Music: I Choose You Now – Rend Collective

Psalm 37: The Problem of Evil

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2021


from today’s first reading

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37 which some interpret as a response to the problem of evil. The Hebrew scriptures often express this problem as a question: why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer? 

The valiant one whose steps are guided by the LORD,
who will delight in his way,
May stumble, but he will never fall,
for the LORD holds his hand.

Psalm 37: 23-24

I think many of us see the evil in the world and are saddened, stunned, and confused by it. We share the disillusionment posed in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s classic book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”.

I don’t know about you, but I even have gotten angry with God over the question. When I ministered as hospice chaplain, there were many nights I spent in tearful, protesting astonishment at God’s so-called “Will”.

I have a dear and abundantly faithful friend who swears she will tell God off when she gets to heaven. Ever been like her?😉

Over the years I’ve come to understand that, well actually, we just don’t understand. I have also come to trust that God mysteriously abides with us in our suffering, drawing us ever deeper into that ineffable mystery.

Psalm 37 encourages that trust, and its ensuant behavior, within our own lives:

Trust in the LORD and do good,
    that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
    and he will grant you your heart’s requests.
Commit to the LORD your way;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
    bright as the noonday shall be your vindication. 

Psalm 37: 3-6

Psalm 37 acknowledges that, though we trust, our trust is often tested by what we see in the world.

The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
    who is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
    the Lord delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in God.

Psalm 37: 39-40

Perhaps for our prayer today, we would like to test our hearts against this trust, given the circumstances and awarenesses of our own lives. Where is it that we “take refuge” when “bad things happen”?


Poetry: “Talking to Grief” by Denise Levertov

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

Music: You Want It Darker – by Leonard Cohen who was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death and romantic relationships. Many will be familiar with his highly popularized and beautifully haunting song


Cohen invokes in the song what seem to be phrases from the story of the “binding of Isaac” in Genesis 22, when God commanded Abraham to slaughter his beloved son, Isaac. The Hebrew word Hineni, which means “Here I am,” is repeated thrice in the “You Want It Darker” song and in Genesis 22 (vs. 1, 7, 11). …

“Hineni” resonates with obedient readiness. It is what a faithful Jew says to God when summoned and called, even in the face of the “valley of the shadow of death.” But Cohen is not so willing to embrace this word in the face of such deep darkness. Indeed, he “wants out” if thus is how the Dealer deals. He will not simply submit without protest against death, without shouting out from within the dark mystery that enfolds humanity.

Dr. Tom Neal – Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology, Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, LA

Psalm 144: War and Peace

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 144, a royal psalm of David in which he celebrates victory and its ensuing peace.

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.

Psalm 144:1

While, at first blush, the psalm seems to extol war as a means to achieve power, its message is really quite the opposite. 

It is only through reliance on God and faithfulness to God’s law that we find right-balance and peace – in our world, our community, and ourselves 

My mercy and my fortress,
my stronghold, my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I trust …

Psalm 144:2

Historically, our world religions have had a vexing relationship with war, often espousing it to advance questionable agendas. Only now is the Catholic Church beginning to re-evaluate what is referred to as the “Just War Theory”.

For a good explanation of this theory, click on the link below


However, in Fratelli Titti, Pope Francis declares:

War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses, and even resorting to the manipulation of information. In recent decades, every single war has been ostensibly “justified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain “rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy” have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even “preventive” attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”. We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war!

As we pray with this psalm today, we might echo its last verse and pray a prayer like this for all people, for our fratelli tutti…:

May there be no breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcry in our streets.
Blessed the people so fortunate;
blessed the people whose God is the LORD.

Psalm 144:14-15

Poem: Misnomer by Denise Levertov

They speak of the art of war,
but the arts 
draw their light from the soul’s well, 
and warfare 
dries up the soul and draws its power 
from a dark and burning wasteland. 
When Leonardo 
set his genius to devising 
machines of destruction he was not 
acting in the service of art, 
he was suspending 
the life of art 
over an abyss, 
as if one were to hold 
a living child out of an airplane window 
at thirty thousand feet.

Music: Where Have All the Flowers Gone

Psalm 33:Love’s Design

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 28, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33, a song of praise calling the people to rejoice in God’s justice and kindness.

In its attitude of trust and freedom, the Psalm might remind us of Robert Browning’s verse:

God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.

But neither in the psalmist’s time, nor in Browning’s, was everything really “all right” with the world. Things are never really “all right” with the world. There is always war, crime, hunger, disease, natural disasters, and a slew of other troubles brewing somewhere.

So how can the psalmist or any other preacher invite us to trust, believe, and rejoice like this?

Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.


Keywords in this verse give us a clue: those who are just and upright will see the pattern of God’s mercy which lies deeper than the troubles of this world. They will trust and be comforted by God’s transcendent faithfulness to us in all things. Their faith and joy in the face of suffering will confound the faithless.


Calling us to the full meaning of Christ’s sacrificial love, Paul reiterates this mysteriously contradictory truth in our first reading :

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

For Christians, the Cross is the ultimate symbol of this profound wisdom and strength. It is a mystery too deep for our understanding, but by faith we may slowly become immersed in its Truth.


The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 18

As we pray with Psalm 33 today, let us be aware of the cause of our joy – a holy joy deeply rooted in God, trusting God’s Will for our salvation in the pattern of Jesus Christ.


For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all God’s works are trustworthy.
The LORD loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.


Poetry: Primary Wonder – Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Music: Your Cross Changes Everything – Matt Redman

Psalm 34: Praying with Angels

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this special feast, we pray with Psalm 34.  

David sings. Sheep listens.

This psalm has the most delightful introduction:

Of David, when he feigned madness before the King, who drove him out and he went away.

The Psalm refers to a time when young David was fleeing from Saul who was jealous of David’s impending takeover as king. David seeks harbor with King Achish, but later realizes that was a mistake. Fearing the King, David pretends for be insane in order to be dismissed as harmless.


Serious as the situation is, picturing it makes me smile. Have you ever wanted to get away from someone who had hijacked you into a one-sided conversation? You might pretend you had an appointment, or medical necessity, or anything just to get away.


Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison by Pieter de Hooch

Peter, in our first reading, doesn’t need pretense to escape the wrathful imprisonment of King Herod. All he needs is the angel which God has sent him.

Thus, Psalm 34 is a most appropriate choice for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is the first psalm in which an angel is mentioned and here, as in Acts, she is a rescuer.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear the LORD, and delivers them.

Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the one who takes refuge in God.


I’ll be honest, I neglect my angels. I believe in them. I trust them. But basically I forget about them unless I’m scared out of my mind about something. In those situations, I call out loudly to them to make sure their “encampment” around me is still intact!

I think it would be a lot better to get to know our angels, and let them get to know us. Inviting them to accompany us in prayer might be a good way to start. And, of course, remember that prayer so many of our parents taught us. We never grow too “mature” to whisper it at night. Maybe even Peter said something like it in that dark prison long ago.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this night be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.
Amen


St. Peter And The Angel
 - Denise Levertov

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained--

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening--
out!
     And along a long street's
majestic emptiness under the moon:

one hand on the angel's shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed...

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel's feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy. 

Music:  Gloria in Excelcis Deo – J.S. Bach
(I thought one of the angels’ greatest hits, first recorded over the hills of Bethlehem, might be appropriate today)