We Were Made for Heaven

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 23, 2019

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Lk20_36 eternal life

Today, in Mercy, Maccabees gives us a colorful account of the defeat, dismay and ultimate death of Antiochus IV, persecutor of the Jews. The account, like most of the Books of Maccabees, is primarily historical, not spiritual or theological. But threaded through the books, of course, is the underlying biblical orientation that God-Yahweh is present and active in all life’s circumstances.

Today’s passage has even pagan Antiochus considering how God/Fate has brought him to judgement- to “payback” time:

But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem,
when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver
that were in it, and for no cause
gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed.
I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me;
and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.


Our Gospel repeats an incident we prayed with just the Sunday before last, in which some Sadducees question Jesus about marriage laws and the afterlife. Their questioning reminds me of modern songwriter Eric Clapton’s musings in his song:

Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton

Jesus doesn’t sing to the Sadducees, as far as I know. Rather, he answers them this way:

Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.


So for us today, the questions and concerns of both Antiochus and the Sadducees might lead us to consider how we feel about the “afterlife”.

Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like? Will we see our beloveds once again? Will we see our “unbeloveds” too and what will that be like!! Do you calculate whether or not you’ll even make the cut through the Pearly Gates?

When I think about heaven these two promises of Jesus sustain, comfort and animate me. Maybe you’ll consider their power too as you pray today.

I have come that you may have life,
and have it to the full.
John 10:10


Eternal life is this, that they know you,
the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
John 17:3

Music: That You May Have Life – André Crouch
(Lyrics below)

(I come that you might have life more abundantly)
(I come that you might have life through eternity)
I didn’t come to condemn the world
nor to shame you for your wrong no no
but I came to mend your broken heart and give your heart a song
(I come to give you life more abundantly – more abundantly)
Your life without Christ
is like a star that will never never shine
It’s like a winding road that goes nowhere
Woah but Jesus said (I come) I come (to give you life) to give you life (more)
(I come) I come (to give you joy) to give you joy
(I come to give you life more abundantly ee ee ee ee more abundantly)
but Jesus said (I come to give you life more) oh I left my home in glory
(I come) I come (to give you joy) just to bring you joy
(I come) I love you I love you (to give you life) and I want to give you life
(more abundantly) more abundantly
Mmmm (ee ee ee ee) more abundantly (more abundantly)
People all over the world (all I want to do is give you life)
listen to the LORD speaking right now
(more abundantly ooh ooh ooh ooh) people all over the world
(all I want to do is give you joy more abundantly ooh ooh ooh ooh)
(all I want to do is give you life . . 

A Transformed Heart

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

November 22, 2019

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Saint_Cecilia
Poster of fresco after John Dryden’s poem “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day

(Following in a second post will be John Dryden’s A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687)

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia who is the patron of musicians. A Christian martyr of the 2nd century, she is one of seven women in addition to the Blessed Virgin mentioned by name in the Canon of the Mass. Her deep spirituality led to a sacred intimacy with God which gave her the faith and courage to endure martyrdom.

Both readings today speak about the Temple. After the victory of Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish people restore their Temple with exuberant celebration, recognizing it as a symbol of God’s Presence with them.

In today’s Gospel. Jesus also “restores” the Temple by driving out the merchants who have diverted the Temple’s purpose as representative of God’s Presence.

Our bodies too are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians tells us:

Do you not know
that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

Through our Baptism into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are called to be transformed by this Indwelling. As in any relationship, this transformation is accomplished through transparency, communication, listening and acting on behalf of the Beloved.

Geoffrey Brown, a deeply spiritual poet, offers us this imaginative image of waiting for and welcoming, as Cecilia did, the transformative Presence of God in our lives:

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And sweep it clean, make it warm, with fire on the hearth
And candles in their niches
The pictures on the walls glowing with quiet lights

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And make the bed with the quilt from home
Strew rushes on the floor
And hang lavender and sage from the corners

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And be there when you come.

Music:  Marc-Antoine Charpentier – Caecilia Virgo et Martyr

 

For more on Charpentier’s magnificent works, click here

Charpentier’s Histoires Sacrées, or sacred histories, are in reality, dramatic religious scenes taken from the bible or the lives of the saints and set to music.

Cæcilia, virgo et martyr octo vocibus dates from around 1677. This tells the story of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians, and an early Christian martyr. Cecilia’s husband and brother are executed for converting to Christianity, with Cecilia following shortly afterwards. Perhaps the highpoint of this piece is the final Guay – Nolite flere fideles where firstly the angels claim that Cecilia has been ‘crowned by them’, before the rest of the chorus sing ‘Come, then, let us sing and exult in Cecilia’s victory.’ Quite wonderful in the way it incorporates Cecilia’s position among musicians. (Stuart Sillitoe)

Jesus Wept

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

November 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Book of Maccabees introduces us to Mattathias, revered leader of the Jews in the city of Modein. He violently refuses the Greek Seleucid command to worship their gods, thus initiating the Maccabean Revolt. The wars lasted nearly a decade. Final victory is commemorated in the Feast of Hanukkah:

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee’s (Mattathias’s son)victory over the Seleucids. According to tradition, victorious Maccabees could find only a small jug of oil that had remained pure and uncontaminated by virtue of a seal, and although it contained only enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days, by which time further oil could be procured. (Wikipedia)

Our first reading is really describing the beginning of civil and intercultural wars by which dedicated Jews sought to establish both their religion and their nation. Core to their motivation was the desire to freely be in relationship with their one God according to their own custom and law.

In our Gospel, Jesus has come as the full manifestation of that One God. He has invited the Jewish people to a new and complete relationship with God, but they have resisted.

Lk19_41 weptJPG

Now, as he nears his final fate in Jerusalem, Jesus realizes that his dream for the People will not be fully realized. They will experience a destruction like the one once feared by Mattathias. The reality causes Jesus to weep.

Are the passages only  about the Jews, their religion and their history? Yes, and no.

For us, they are about choosing a faithful, evolving relationship with God – a relationship that will demand truth, action and at times suffering as we pursue deeper and deeper understanding of God’s Presence in our lives.

Our world and its culture place many godless choices before us, choices that could make Jesus weep because of the suffering they cause others. These choices are not as easy to identify as they were in the time of Mattathias. They don’t come dressed as a pagan soldier ready to kill our resistance.

They come in the large subtleties of politics, economics, human rights, global relationships. These choices show themselves in the small exercise of our respect, care, and reverence for all Creation. But they do come to us in every moment and they demand our witness.

Jesus wants the new Kingdom to rise in us when we open our hearts to his Word. It is an ongoing and daily Resurrection. Let’s pray for to courage for it!

Music:  When Jesus Wept – William Billings

One of the most well-known of the early American canons, originally appeared in the New England Psalm Singer. It was written in 1770 by William Billings, a self-taught singing-school teacher and composer who served as choir leader at Old South Church in Boston.

(Lyrics below)

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
In Mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus groaned at rambling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.

Per a valued friend:

There is a statue in Oklahoma City called “Jesus Wept.”  It is on the grounds of St. Joseph Church in the city – which is right across from where the Oklahoma City Federal Building had been located.  The people of the parish wanted to erect the statue on their grounds because the memorial on the federal property couldn’t be religious.  It is a very moving statue.

Breath and Life Eternal

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 20, 2019

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2Mc7_23

Today, in Mercy, our two readings are dramatically intense. 

Who can read the story of the Maccabean Martyrs without a mix of horror, empathy, and astonishment?

And don’t we all feel a pang of pity for the poor, fearful servant who hid his talent in a handkerchief much to the King’s displeasure?

The two stories, (one based in fact, the other a parable), paint a contrasting picture of courageous faith against fearful subservience. The difference between the actors lies in their capacity, or lack there of, to look beyond themselves toward eternal life.

Mother Maccabee bolsters her sons with her faith in a life beyond their current circumstances:

… the Creator of the universe
who shapes each man’s beginning,
as he brings about the origin of everything,
he, in his mercy,
will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves
for the sake of his law.

The poor soul in Jesus’s parable doesn’t have that faith and vision. His perception of God, represented by the King, is one of only harsh judgement. His fear causes him to bury not only his talent, but also his openness to the possibilities of grace and transformed relationship with God.

Jesus told his parable because indeed the Kingdom was at hand. He and his disciples were near Jerusalem where the Passion, Death and Resurrection events would begin.

He wants his followers to realize the challenging gift they have been given in their call to be his disciples. He wants them to see that it is now on them to magnify his message courageously and generously until he returns to perfect the Kingdom.

He wants us to understand that too.

Music:   Be Not Afraid – written by Bob Dufford, SJ, sung here by Cat Jahnke

Tiptoes of Faith

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about living in the big picture of God’s vision for us.

Lk19_3 forest_trees

Once again, we meet Zaccheus who, due to his short stature, was unable to get a glimpse of Jesus walking nearby. He wasn’t getting the whole picture but he wanted to!

Lots of times we miss Christ in our midst, don’t we? It may be because we’re “short” on time, patience, faith, attention, courage, peace, desire … you name it.

Zaccheus may have been physically short, but he was tall in will and intention to see Jesus. The trees became his tools not his obstacles.


In our first reading, Eleazar was a giant in the virtues necessary to “see beyond the trees” of his current circumstances. A more spiritually short-sighted person might have succumbed to the temptation to save himself at the cost of his faith and witness.

But Eleazar’s faith was long, both in years and in depth. He kept the eyes of his heart focused on that faith and was delivered beyond any short-sighted choices.

It’s hard sometimes to see the forest beyond the trees – to direct our choices, attitudes and actions by a vision we glimpse only on the tippy toes of faith and prayer.

Perhaps these two God-seekers can inspire us today by their courage, steadfastness and faith to always live within God’s long eternal vision for us.

Music:  Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – Hillsong

Don’t Let Him Just Pass By!

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading sets the stage for the story of the Maccabees, a story whose drama we read about just last Sunday. 

Today’s passage reveals the political maneuvering by which King Antiochus Epiphanes sought to coöpt and dominate the Jewish people. The intricacies of the Maccabean Revolt are complex, but for our purposes, we look to the unwavering Jewish faithfulness to their covenant with God.

Throughout this week, we will see the story unfold in stark, dramatic tones. In between those tones, we find the prophetic witness of Eleazar, a martyred mother and her seven martyred sons, and the leadership of Mattathias and his offspring.

All of these witnesses called the Jewish people to see that a reality other than their domination was possible. As Brueggemann says:

“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish,
and evoke a consciousness and perception
alternative to the consciousness and perception
of the dominant culture around us.”
~ Prophetic Imagination 


Such witness was the whole point of Christ’s ministry on earth. It is the whole point of our continuing participation in the Paschal Mystery.

Lk18_35 blindJPG

We may or may not be called to the intense witness of the Maccabee story. But we are called to see, and to help others see, Jesus present in our world and all around us. He will be disguised in a thousand different ways – the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the elderly, the young, the vulnerable. But also your next door neighbor, your mother-in-law, your most challenging student and your bossy supervisor.

Today’s Gospel encourages us to listen under appearances, and – like the blind man – to hear his continual approach to our hearts, to ask Him to let us see the amazing Truth all around us and to respond to it with the expectation of being transformed!

Music:  Oh It Is Jesus Passing By – Soweto Choir – Lyrics below

(Click here to learn more about Soweto Choir)

oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it is Jesus in my soul
for I have touched a hem of his garment,
and his blood has made me whole.
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.
I’ve tried
oh seems like nothing did me any good
then I heard Jesus, he was passing by
and I decided to give him a try
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.

Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, one theme threaded through our readings is that of “The Law”. “Law” is a frustratingly elastic word and concept which runs the gamut from tyranny to benevolent guidance depending on who administers it.

2thess3_5 scale

In both our first reading and our Gospel, we find people trying to curtail the freedom of others by invoking the Law. In 2 Maccabees, King Antiochus attempts to incorporate the Jewish people by fracturing their religious practice, that which identifies and unites them as Jews. On the surface, the story seems to be about eating pork, and one might wonder if that resistance is worth dying for.

But the real conflict is between tyrannical domination and spiritual freedom, between “Empire” and “Kingdom” – a struggle we have seen endlessly repeated through history and current events.

When “law” is interpreted to advantage some and suppress others, it is no longer law. The essence of law is always the wise administration of mercy balanced with justice. The understanding of such law grows from covenanted relationship with the Creator who wills the good and wholeness of all Creatures.

In today’s Gospel, some Sadducees (perhaps sincere, but more likely trying to trap Jesus) ask him to solve a hypothetical problem regarding marriage in the afterlife.

Jesus doesn’t bite. He explains to the questioners that eternal life transcends all their human perceptions of time, relationship and law. The earthly laws by which we either bind or free one another in this world evaporate in Heaven. Only Mercy and Justice order eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us that we are called to be examples of that eternal kingdom now. He knows how hard it is, and so he blesses us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,

who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement

and good hope through his grace,

encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed

and word.

May God’s law of love be deepened in is so that we – like the Maccabees, like Jesus – will have the courage and strength to live it in a sometimes hostile world.

Music: The Law of the Lord is Perfect