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

Radical Joy

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Ignatius
by Francisco de Zubarán (1598–1664)

July 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Exodus tells us:

Exodus34_29 Radiant

Obviously, I haven’t met Moses personally. 😂 But I have met many wonderful human beings who have reflected a similar radiance.

It is a mirrored glory that comes from friendship with God. 

It glows in the innocence of children and the layered wisdom of the elderly. It blazes in those seeking social justice and in those silently, unwaveringly praying for it. It lights the hope of the living and the dying. It is that mysterious, unquenchable candle shining in both joy and sorrow. Its other holy names are Faith, Hope and Love.

 No one need tell us. We know when we are in the presence of such Light. It needs no words.

Rumi radiant

Today, let’s pray for the blessing of this Radiance all over our shadowed world. Let’s pray for it to shine within us.

Music: Radiant God – Hannah Ford

Unconditional Love

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we consider God’s unconditional love.

God and Moses and the People have been through it. The trail of complaints, the golden calf, the shattered tablets – these are relational dramas to the extreme! Exodus is definitely soap opera material! Does it feel a little bit like your life, or your family’s, or the families you read about in the news?

Ex34_9 Life

Life is indeed a drama! And our relationship with God is highlighted and shadowed with its twists and turns. For that reason, today’s passage offers us so much comfort and confidence. Even after all that has happened, God reveals himself to Moses like this:

The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,
continuing his kindness for a thousand generations.

Moses is so moved by this new knowledge of God’s unconditional love, that he welcomes God as part of their community:

If I find favor with you, O LORD,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people;
yet pardon our wickedness and sins,

and receive us as your own.

We are invited by this reading to open ourselves to that same unconditional love, to thank God for journeying with us through life’s convolutions. Stiff-necked at times, repentant at others, we are always God’s beloved.

As we negotiate the intricacies of our life today, we might trustingly say like Moses:

Lord, do come along in my company.

Music: Outrageous Grace – Godfrey Birtill

Idols!

Memorial of Saint Martha

July 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us a central question for our faith and spirituality: What do we really worship?

Ex32_19 calf

As we continue the Exodus story, Moses has been on the mountain receiving the Law from God. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, delegated leader Aaron is blowing his assignment. The Israelites tire of waiting for Moses. They want another god to lead them onward. Aaron comes up with idea of fashioning such a idol from all their molten jewelry.

When Moses descends the mountain with the newly-minted tablets in hand, he burns in anger at the scene, smashing the holy stones at his feet. More than a flared temper, this act symbolizes a fractured relationship with God.

The story suggests this for our prayer: we are in ever-deepening relationship with God through our own covenants – our creation, our baptism, our further professions of faith and commitment, our sacramental encounters. These are all living relationships, inviting us to new and deeper life in God.

Still, there may be times in our lives when our hearts lose focus on these covenants 

  • when we try to move somewhere without God’s companionship
  • when we substitute old baubles for moral or spiritual truth
  • when we return to weakening comforts rather than grow into a challenging grace
  • when we just get really mixed up about what is most important in our lives

The calf-worshippers had a big fail in this regard. Exodus tells the story of a merciful God trying to deal with their disloyalty and refashion them as God’s chosen people.

Our Gospel shows us Martha, also a little off target in terms of her spiritual priorities. While she is no where near idol worship, she still allows needless distractions to keep her from fully enjoying relationship with God.

Martha

Gentle, merciful Jesus turns her eyes toward him and she understands. Maybe that beautiful grace is what we want to pray for today.

Music:  You Alone – Sarah Hart

Our Story is God’s Story

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Exodus reading describes momentous events in Israel’s life.

tabletsJPG

God has just invited Moses and several others up the mountain for a Divine conflab.  Moses returns to the people to announce “all the words and ordinances of the Lord”.The People receive these words wholeheartedly:

“We will do everything that the LORD has told us.”

Thus, a community of persons is formed with God at its heart.

Moses then engages the community in a series of formal rituals to highlight the significance and permanence of this deeper step in relationship with God.


The passage contains multiple points for our prayerful consideration.

The community of Israel is not unlike our own faith communities, those that gather in specific religious houses, or those we share in the universal community of all Creation. We are Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs sharing a story of God in our particular religious traditions. We are also all children of the same God sharing that experience in our Common Home of Creation.

Just as with the ancient Israelites, God communicates and relates with us through the experiences of our lives. In our communities, that Divine Word is interpreted, codified, ritualized, and responded to. These actions create a story which is alive, deepening with each new generation, and still always rooted in the long history of promise and grace.

Today’s reading contains many elements of story and ritual which we can recognize in our own faith practice: written and announced word, altar or worship place, sacrifice or offering to God, acts of covenant, and celebratory meals.

Exodus24_3 sinai

These are the human ways in which we access relationship with God. These are the ways in which we keep our faith vital. We strengthen our faith by one another’s stories of love, mercy and hope. We commit to a shared law of love, not legalism – a heart-law which calls us to be life for one another, just as God is Life for us. In community, we reveal the face of God within ourselves.

For those of us who share the practice of a Eucharistic faith, the parallels in today’s reading call us to deeper awareness of how God becomes present in our lives.

May all of us – of whatever spirituality – who share life in God’s continuing Creation, obediently hear the command to cherish every human being as a revelation of God, as a critical and precious part of my own faith story – a part for whom I share the responsibility for life.

Music: Song of the Body of Christ – David Haas (Lyrics below)

Song of the Body of Christ
Refrain: We come to share our story. We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.
1. We come as your people. We come as your own.
United with each other, love finds a home.
2. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor.
We are called to feed the hungry at our door.
3. Bread of life and cup of promise, In this meal we all are one.
In our dying and our rising, may your kingdom come.
4. You will lead and we shall follow.
ou will be the breath of life; living water, we are thirsting for your light.

The Name

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 18, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, God reveals God’s Name to Moses.

Ex3_14

Names are so important, aren’t they? Parents among you will remember how you labored over a name for each of your unborn children. Names carry roots to our history and hopes for our future. They suggest a shape for us to grow into and a way for us to be in the world.

In relationships, the giving of our name is a gift and an invitation. It is the first step in a mutual journey that may stop at the end of the encounter, or grow and blossom for years to come.

When God gives God’s name to Moses, it is all these things plus a Promise to abide forever in relationship. God hands Moses the key to call on God’s faithfulness forever. And God risks the hope that Moses will respond with fidelity and courage.

In prayer, and in our acts of mercy over a lifetime, God ever more deeply reveals the Holy Name to us. God promises to abide through our life with us and asks us to abide with Him. God risks that we will love, reverence, and respond to that amazing invitation with each successive moment and into eternity.

Today, in prayer, let us just rest in the Names we love to call God. Let us listen to the Love with which God names us.

Music:  Names of God – Laurell Hubick