Psalm 90: Where the Bees Hum

Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

June 2,2020

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Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 90. As we re-enter Ordinary Time, I was so happy to see this beautiful psalm as the first in our new reflective approach!

Psalm 90

Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to Moses. Reading it, one can imagine him in his older years, considering his long relationship with God. As the story of his graced life unfolds in prayer, Moses prays too for the community with whom his years have been intwined.

Some of his same sentiments may fill our hearts as we pray for our own communities in the troubled times:

Relent, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Fill us at daybreak with your mercy,
that all our days we may sing for joy.


Sister Beatrice Brennan, RSCJ wrote an article entitled, Praying at 93”.  Sister reminded me of Moses when she wrote:

To live this long is an amazing grace. One of its unexpected joys is how alive one can feel spiritually as the slow dismantling of other human processes goes on.
The Bible speaks of “laughing in the latter day.” Prayer, for me, is like that at times. And always, a song of gratitude and joy.

I think Psalm 90 is that kind of prayer, one marinated in a long fidelity and trust. As Sister Beatrice goes on to say:

At a deeper, quieter level of consciousness runs an undefined awareness of God’s presence, similar, I think, to that union of old married couples who may rarely or never put love into words. It has become their life. So prayer becomes a steady underlying trust bearing me along.


Two poems that I hope will enrich your reflection:

IMG_3944

Now I Become Myself
Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before—”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
~ May Sarton


 

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A Long Faith
This is the way of love, perhaps
near the late summer,
when the fruit is full
and the air is still and warm,
when the passion of lovers
no longer rests against
the easy trigger
of adolescent spring,
but lumbers in the drowsy silence
where the bees hum—
where it is enough
to reach across the grass
and touch each other’s hand.
~ Renee Yann, RSM


Music: Psalm 90 – Marty Goetz

Where Are We, Anyway?

March 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we end the month of March in a very different place from where we began it.  On March 1st, I didn’t expect to be in midst of the Corona Desert did you?

Neither did the Israelites in today’s first reading expect to be in their particular desert. They had left the oppressions of Egypt with no certainties, but nonetheless with expectations. Now, after decades wandering the desert, those expectations turned into some typical complaints:

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!

They even go so far as to blame a coincidental snake infestation on God, demanding that Moses get God to fix it.

desert

What’s going on here with our wandering ancestors? I think that, in our current circumstances, it might be worthwhile to consider that question. Our Gospel reading points us toward an answer.

Jesus has invited his community to a journey too – a journey away from the oppressions of injustice, selfishness, and lovelessness; to a place where “law” is not used as an excuse for domination; to a new community where all Creation shares equally in the Bread of Life.

But the Pharisees don’t get it. They are lost in a desert of their own illusions, needs, and fears. They can’t see past the sandstorms of their own construction.

That’s why Jesus tells them:

I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.

…. because you just can’t trust enough, let go enough to see that the journey is so much deeper than your present concerns. It is a journey of the soul from oppression to freedom, from selfishness to love, from blindness to light.

Jesus invites us too, even as we negotiate our desert journeys, to release our hearts to a world beyond appearances.

You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.

Indeed, we must pay attention to the exigencies of our earthly journey, but today’s readings remind us that the true journey is infinitely deeper. That faith should inspire our hope, choices, and attitudes in what certainly seems like an awfully big desert.

Deserts can make us desperate, if we let them. Or they can shear us of everything that blocks our soul’s sight.

We may not see clearly beyond this momentary desert, but we are the children of an eternal and merciful God. May we trust our journey to that Immutable Loving Presence and allow ourselves to be made new.

Music: Everything is Holy Now – Peter Mayer

(Thanks to Sister Michele Gorman for sharing this beautiful song on Facebook)

Our Golden Calf

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 26, 2020

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calf

Today, in Mercy, God sends Moses down to straighten out his “depraved people” because, despite all God’s  goodness to them, they have preferred “the golden calf”.

In the deprivations of this pandemic time, when all of us are doing a lot of soul-searching, we are discovering quite a few golden calves still running around in our times.


One of them jumped out at me last night when I read this headline:

Texas’ lieutenant governor suggests grandparents
are willing to die for US economy


I woke up this morning still appalled by the statement.  But upon reflection, I realized that Mr. Patrick may have unwittingly done us a great service if we ruthlessly unpack his cavalier remarks.

How have we gotten to a world where such a statement can be uttered and even approved by some? How can we so blatantly ignore basic moral principles such as the sanctity of every life, and that the ends never justify the means? Well, let’s take a look at Moses’ “depraved” community. They seem to have reached a similar moral deprivation.

I think the key lies with the golden calf.  The idol is a symbol of the Israelite community’s economy, what they really deem most important, what they really worship when they think God isn’t looking. When they look upon its golden reflection, they see themselves mirrored back the way they want to be – rich, powerful, and dominant. Lt. Governor Patrick’s statement should make us consider how we have become hypnotized by the same idolatries.

Let’s face it.  We live in a culture that has normalized war, capital punishment, abortion, illegal detention, corporate hijacking of natural resources, unchecked pollution, and commercialization of deadly substances like tobacco. Why are we surprised that we’re ready to sacrifice the elderly to preserve the sheen on our “golden calf”?

We have created a world where we welcome information sources that tell us lies just so we can be falsely convinced and dangerously indifferent. It’s really hard to discern a moral path amidst today’s political complexities. So let’s just build that golden calf whose mesmerizing patina permits us to remain morally comatose!


I hope we allow this man’s callous commentary to continue to stab our consciences:

Somebody’s beloved can die
not only so that my beloved can live,
but can also have an undamaged economy.


What “economy”, for God’s sake? Does he mean the one where over 40 million Americans and nearly 800 million worldwide face daily hunger? Or where 80 million Americans have inadequate or no health insurance? Or does he mean the extractive economy which causes two-thirds of the world population to live on less than $10 per day?

I’m pretty sure he means instead the economy of the “ golden calf” where 

  • half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%
  • top 10% of adults hold 85%
  • while the bottom 90% eke out existence on  the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth

I’m not willing to die to shore up that economy, are you? But I’m sure willing to fight to change it.

So, at least, thanks for inspiring me, Lt. Governor Patrick and God help you!

Music: If There’s a God in Heaven – Elton John – (a song that could reflect how the ancient Israelites struggled with their tortuous journey. (Lyrics below)

Torn from their families
Mothers go hungry
To feed their children
But children go hungry
There’s so many big men
They’re out making millions
When poverty’s profits
Just blame the children
If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for
If He can’t hear the children
Then he must see the war
But it seems to me
That he leads his lambs
To the slaughter house
And not the promised land
Dying for causes
They don’t understand
We’ve been taking their futures
Right out of their handsThey need the handouts
To hold back the tears
There’s so many crying
But so few that hear

If there’s a God in heaven

Well, what’s he waiting for

If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for

 

A Legacy of Faith

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

March 18, 2020

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faith

Today, in Mercy, on this day between the feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph, it seems a very good day to thank God for our heritage of faith. Our readings today remind us how precious that heritage is.

Moses, after reiterating the history of God’s goodness to Israel, enjoins the People:

Take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

Jesus, too, acknowledges the importance of his religious heritage:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.

This day between St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s always takes me back to my grade school days – a time when my “faith family” gifted me with the seeds that now sustain my life.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
Beautiful St. Michael’s Church, 2nd and Jefferson, Philadelphia – built in 1846, now much as it look in the mid-1950s

I can still see our straight-from-Ireland pastor, old as the hills, standing in the pulpit to bless us with water from the Shrine at Knock. We school kids had waited all year for a chance to belt out the hymn “Great and Glorious Saint Patrick” to the accompaniment of a thundering organ. We held our breath at the final blessing, anxiously awaiting the word to go home. It was inevitably a school holiday but we were always innocently surprised to receive it!

Organ_and_Choir_Loft
St. Michael’s magnificent organ

Then, we gathered for 8 o’clock Mass again on the 19th to celebrate St. Joseph, patron of our beloved Sisters who taught us. If we had the means to give them feastday gifts, we were asked to give canned goods. That request never struck me as a kid, but as I grew up, I realized how dependent these Sisters were on those donations – how close to poverty they lived for the sake of transmitting the faith to us.

So I count these days of mid-March as Foundation of Faith Days. Perhaps today’s reading might incline you to think about your own faith story and who planted the early seeds in your heart. Let’s give these beloveds our grateful prayers of remembrance.

Music:  Faith of Our Fathers – another oldie that we loved to sing voce piena 

Be Careful of Love

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

March 7, 2020

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Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.


Today, in Mercy, Moses tells us this:

Be careful, then …

Be careful of what? Does he mean be careful like,”Don’t fall down the steps!”. Or does he mean be careful like, “Hold tenderly to love in your life.”?

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses goes on to say one of my favorite biblical phrases:

… today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you…

Since the 17th century, the word “peculiar” has taken on the meaning of “odd” or “unusual”.  But the original sense comes from the Latin peculiaris meaning “of private property”

Moses is reminding us that we belong to God and God to us in a covenant similar to, but far exceeding, the mutuality of a marriage.

So we should “be careful”, full of care, in appreciation for this infinite love.


 

chick

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to take this exquisite care of our precious relationship with God:

But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for God makes the sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
… Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate.

So, let’s be careful of love today when we find this precious God in our sisters and brothers and in all God’s Creation. Let us be compassionate.

Music:  Compassion Hymn – The Gettys 

Hard Oranges

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings remind me of hard oranges, difficult to squeeze juice from!

We have in this passage from Deuteronomy part of Joshua’s farewell speech before he dies. He has accomplished what Moses could not – Joshua has brought the people into the Promised Land. In these verses, he recounts God’s faithful presence to Israel through all the years of struggle.

The spiritual message of the segment is clear: God loves us specially and faithfully, and we should love God in the same way.

What makes the passage difficult are the enduring political and justice issues inherent in it. The Israelites gain this land by war and the displacement of resident people. They consider that success a sign of God’s favor.

Many passages in the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures, reflect a similar process. The community looks back over its successes and failures, interpreting them in the light of God’s faithfulness.

In our spiritual journey, we too are called to be reflective and grateful as we look back at our lives. But we are also called to a further essential step not clearly reflected in today’s reading.

We are called to change our hearts, to become merciful, to welcome strangers, to lay down the “sword” of conflict. Jesus calls us to a whole new understanding of God’s fidelity and favor.

This dichotomy comes to its full expression with Jesus. He was expected to be the regal and militant deliverer. Instead, he comes as a Lamb – meek and humble of heart – who dies for our sins.

As redeemed Christians, then, when we look at our lives for God’s Presence, we should find it in circumstances such as those Jesus gave us in the Beatitudes: humility, compassion, meekness, right relationship, mercy, holy sincerity, peace, courageous fidelity, Christian witness.

Music: Mass in B minor, Agnes Dei – Bach

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A Big Fail?

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read the last episode in Moses’ life – and it’s powerful.

Nobody likes great stories to end, but they do. Some of you may be old enough to remember the most watched series finale of all time: MASH. The final episode drew nearly 106 million viewers, most of whom had mixed emotions as they said, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (the episode title).

Moses may have had some mixed emotions too as God invited him to a much greater destination than the one Moses had focused on for forty years.

But perhaps after all that time, and all his interaction with God, Moses clearly understood that we have no real home here in this world. Here, we are only visitors. We were made for greater “mansions”.

When Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho”, God allowed Moses to look out over the long Promised Land.

Then, Deuteronomy tells us, God said:

“This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”

Wow! Was that the “Big Fail”???? After forty years, you don’t get the prize, Moses? I don’t think so.

I think when we’ve done the best we can to live a decent life, to honor God and care for others, God doesn’t say, “You don’t get the prize!” I think God says, “I have a greater prize ready for you – a Promised Land you had not even imagined! Cross over into my Kingdom.”

It may be for some of us, particularly as we age, that we regret some of the things we either did or failed to do in our lifetime. We may feel a little like Moses climbing Horeb. Oh my, what a surprise God, Who is Lavish Mercy, has for us at the top of the hill.

Music: Eye Has Not Seen – Marty Haugen

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In Every Age

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2019

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Dt32_7Jage to agePG

Today, in Mercy, our readings are peopled with individuals of all ages.

Deuteronomy gives us Moses at 120 years, when time forces him to admit:

“I am now one hundred and twenty years old
and am no longer able to move about freely;
besides, the LORD has told me that I shall not cross this Jordan.

We also have Joshua, vigorous and on the doorstep of his career:

Then Moses summoned Joshua and in the presence of all Israel
said to him, “Be brave and steadfast,
for you must bring this people into the land
which the LORD swore to their fathers he would give them.

The Gospel brings us Jesus near the untimely end of his young life, and the disciples growing into their apostolic maturity.

And then we have the picture of the humble little child who is “the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”.

Every one of them, young or old, is seeking God in the circumstances of their lives.

What about you, dear friends, how is the mystery of God unfolding in your life today?  As summer gently and slowly leans toward autumn, let the passing days teach us that each season brings its own graces.

Music: in Every Age – Janet Sullivan Whitaker

Let the Light In

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Deuteronomy. In today’s passage, Moses gives the first of three speeches to the community. These speeches are a sort of manifesto a family patriarch might give before he dies, framing the family history and code to direct coming generations.

Ps77 crack


Dad

 

The reading falls on a most appropriate day for me.
Today would be my Dad’s 104th birthday.
The occasion invites me to recount all the blessings
given to him, me, and our family.

 


When we, as people of faith, step back from our lives in reverence, we realize God’s immense goodness to us. Moses encourages his people to do just such stepping back:

Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?

We might ask ourselves the same thing. 

  • How has God been with me and my family through our lifetimes, and through the generations that preceded us?
  • In both our lights and darknesses, how has God continually called us to relationship?
  • How have we revealed God’s voice to one another by our love, honesty, support, patient accompaniment, generous correction and forgiveness?
  • How have these gifts to one another allowed us to become gifts to the larger world?
  • What am I passing on to the next generation of the fidelity and sacrifice which has blessed me?

When I think of my Dad, there are so many symbols that show how he answered those questions with his life. They aren’t big manifestos like those of Moses. Instead: 

  • a frayed prayer book that I watched him finger daily
  • an old receipt for my bicycle bought in incremental payments he could barely afford
  • his sincere distress one Assumption Day when he had forgotten to go to Mass
  • his steadfast attempt to work even when illness weakened him and his humble trust in God when that weakness appeared to triumph
  • a treasured conversation about his hope for heaven
  • the appreciation now, in my maturity, of his thousand quiet acts of faith and love

All of us might spend some time in gratitude for the legacy of faith and love we have received. No family is perfect, and the grace may come to us in clarity or in disguise. But it comes. 

There are fractures and tears in every family. There were some even in Moses’ “family” and Moses himself! And we cannot magically heal them all. But God asks us to remember that God abides with us even in any fragmentation. Just as the poet Leonard Cohen sings:

There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Click here to listen to Cohen’s moving song

If what we remember in our family history are weaknesses, how have they made us stronger? If what we remember are strengths, how have they made us more generous? In either case, how have we heard God’s voice in our story? How have we let the Light in?

As Moses tells his people:

This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,

and that there is no other.

Music: As for Me and My House – Promise Keepers

Failure Is An Option!

Memorial of Saint Dominic, Priest

August 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, on this Memorial of St. Domenic, our first reading gives us a lesson in failure. It is a situation we all face in life. If you haven’t, then you aren’t trying hard enough.

Numbers20_13_Failure

In our reading today, even the great Moses fails. But, you might ask, hasn’t he failed a number of times already? The smashed commandments, the golden calf, the complaints about manna? These were all human frustrations and inadequacies Moses would not have chosen.

Today’s failure is different. It is a failure in leadership. Any leadership role we hold, we hold in the name of God. We are parents, employers, teachers, pastors, religious leaders, supervisors, captains, managers…and so on. The cloak of responsibility covers each one of us at various times in our lives. Wearing it, we put on God’s trust in us to honor Him and those he has given us.

Dore_Rock
Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb, engraving by Gustave Doré from “La Sainte Bible”

When Moses and Aaron asked God to give the people water, God said, 

Take your staff and assemble the community,
you and your brother Aaron,
and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters.
From the rock you shall bring forth water for the congregation
and their livestock to drink.

Moses, caught in his own frustrations, did as God said but not before castigating the community and striking the rock twice.

So what?, you might say. 

Here’s the “What”. These acts betray Moses’ failure to trust God and to give God honor before the community. Perhaps unwittingly, Moses made it look like he was the one who summoned the water.

This reading calls us to always give God the glory. We are never really in charge of anything. We just do our best to make a path for life, goodness, love and wholeness.

If, through a leadership role, we are called to assist God in re-creating the world, let us do it with exquisite humility, trust, reverence, intentionality and praise.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad