Psalm 37: Be Wholehearted

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

November 10, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37, a song of promise and encouragement to live a good life. Although I don’t usually choose to write a subjective reflection, a life-shaping memory keeps rising up from this psalm today.

I was nineteen years old, kneeling on an antique prie-dieu in front of the Superior General. She was about to rename me “Sister Something” for the rest of my life. You know, something like this picture – except that novice couldn’t sing quite as well as I did! 🙂

We postulants had been able to submit three suggestions, so I was expecting a name in honor of my mother or father, or my own baptismal name. How stunned was I when Mother intoned, “God bless you, Sister Mary Nathaniel”- a name I had heard maybe once in American Lit class! (You remember Hawthorne, right?)


But my shock is not the point of the story. Later, Mother took me aside and told me that she gave me the name because I reminded her of Nathaniel in the Gospel – the guileless one. Being guileless I guess, I told her I didn’t know what “guileless” meant. She said, “It means whole hearted. Be wholehearted, without pretense.”

The LORD watches over the lives of the wholehearted;
their inheritance lasts forever.
By the LORD are your steps made firm,
as the Lord blesses your way.


Psalm 37 gave me the gift of that word, and that memory, again today. I realized that it is still taking me a lifetime to live into Mother’s long-ago challenge. 

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 God will grant you your heart’s requests.


Even though, after Vatican II, I eventually returned to my baptismal name, my heart has remained “Nathaniel”. Like the disciple under the fig tree, I am still trying to weave a true and loving life out of life’s tangled threads – still trying to do so wholeheartedly and without guile.

Gratefully and humbly, I thank God for watching over me. But God is not the only one. Mother Bernard came once more this morning, borne on memory’s beloved wing, to bless me with renewed hope and challenge.

As we pray this psalm today, let us call on the memory of those who have blessed us by their confidence and hope in us. Let us call on the God who watches over our desire to be truly wholehearted disciples.

Poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (1927) – a writing I loved in my youth and have often passed on to those just beginning the glorious journey.

GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, 
and remember what peace there may be in silence. 
As far as possible, without surrender, 
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, 
even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. 
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, 
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; 
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, 
for the world is full of trickery. 
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; 
many persons strive for high ideals, 
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. 
Neither be cynical about love; 
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, 
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, 
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. 
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. 
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. 

You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be. 
And whatever your labors and aspirations, 
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. 

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, 
it is still a beautiful world. 
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Music: Tenderhearted – Jeanne Cotter

Psalm 145: Praise Under the Figs

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

August 24, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this Feast of St. Bartholomew, we pray with Psalm 145. And what a perfect choice!

Your friends make known, O Lord, 
the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

As our Gospel today indicates, many believe that Bartholomew is the same person as Nathaniel – in fact Nathaniel bar Talmai, (Talmai meaning “farmer”, or “son of the furrows”).

Praying with Psalm 145, I picture Nathaniel leaning back into his ancient fig tree, his fingers burrowing into the fertile earth around him. What might have been his deep thoughts as he dissolved into the fig tree’s generous shade?

Knowing Psalm 145 by heart, perhaps Nathaniel prayed it in his own very personal words:

Make me your loyal friend, O Lord.
I see your glory in all Creation.
Let me help others see that glory,
see themselves as a precious part of You.

Maybe Nathaniel had retreated to that tree because the noise around him didn’t hold an answer to his longing. He needed silence to remember that God will always find a way to bring our holy desires to fruition – just like the nearly sweet, unripe figs dancing just over Nathaniel’s pondering head:

The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

Psalm 145:17

Nathaniel found his truth, his answer that day. It walked right up to him in the form of his buddy Philip:

Philip found Nathanael and told him,
“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law,
and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

John 1:45

Nathaniel, perhaps his head and belly still full of figs, takes a little while to get the full picture. But when he does, he gets it completely, unreservedly, and forever:

Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel….

John1:49

You are the One we pray for in our psalms. 
You are the One we have waited for.


The beautiful thing for Nathaniel is that Jesus was waiting for him too.

Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.

John 1:48

We’re all under some kind of shadow at times, longing to hear the invitation of God. The story of Nathaniel assures us that the call will come through our hopeful prayer and deep desire for God’s glory.

Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.


Poetry:  Joy and Peace in Believing by William Cowper, an English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside.

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing on His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
E'en let the unknown to-morrow
Bring with it what it may!

It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too;
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,

Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

Music: Yet Will I Praise Thee – Kent Henry

How Do You Know Me?

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Apostle Bartholomew, thought by some to be the same man as our Gospel’s Nathaniel. This Nathaniel has been my prayer companion since 1964 when I received his name at my Religious Reception.

Tissot
Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree by James Tissot (1836-1902)

At first we were surface friends. I imagined what he might have been doing under the fig tree. I was a little shocked at his easy banter with Jesus. I thought about his skepticism, trying to discern how it could eventually yield his sanctity. I wondered if he ever achieved that vision of “angels of God ascending and descending ...”

But as the years passed, and I prayed beside him more often, we came to understand each other better. Nathaniel began to teach me about Jesus and, with that, Jesus began to teach me through Nathaniel.

It was all about being honest with God and opening my perspective to God’s vision.

You see, we are all under various “fig trees” at points in our lives, those small but confining perimeters of shadow which veil God. Sometimes the shadow consists of an event or experience that makes us says, “How can God possibly be in this?” Sometimes the shadow comes from all the obstacles we have placed in Light’s way. Sometimes it is simply the waning energy required by faith’s long journey.

Whatever its source, the shadow captures us in its incarcerating grasp, isolating us from the outrageous hope and possibility of God awaiting us in every circumstance.

Then a voice – our particular “Philip” – suggests we just step away from the umbra.  A person, a book, a memory, a prayerful insight – A GRACE – invites us to “Come and see” more deeply, to let go of all that we thought secured us, to yield to hope, trust, and an incredible new vision.

Jn1_51 NathanielJPG

It is an irreversible moment of unconditional love. It is the moment we make our own proclamation, not unlike Nathaniel’s:

Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.

Nathaniel’s guileless, faith-filled surrender to Jesus opens the way for his transformation. Jesus tells him, “You will see greater things…”. In other words,

God is so much bigger than you think at this moment.
Open your heart and soul to that Infinity!
Your life in Christ is all about going deeper,

(as the Angel invites us in our first reading from Revelation).

We don’t hear much about Nathaniel after that day. Like many of the other Apostles, he lived out his ministry beyond written records. But we can trust that this man “without duplicity” deepened in his honest dialogue with the God he met and embraced on that amazing Judean afternoon.

Music: Touch of Heaven- Hillsong Worship

What About That Fig Tree?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

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jn1_50 figjpg

Today, in Mercy,  we celebrate the Memorial of Saint John Neumann. 

John Neumann was born in Bohemia on March 20, 1811. Since he had a great desire to dedicate himself to the American missions, he came to the United States as a cleric and was ordained in New York in 1836 by Bishop Dubois.

In 1840, John Neumann entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). He labored in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1852, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia. There he worked hard for the establishment of parish schools and for the erection of many parishes for the numerous immigrants. Bishop Neumann died on January 5, 1860; he was beatified in 1963.
(catholicculture.org)


In our first reading today, John tells us bluntly:

Whoever does not love remains in death.

This kind of statement is what one might  both love and hate about John. We love it because it’s clear, unequivocal- tells us exactly what we need to do.

And we hate it because it’s clear and unequivocal – there’s no evading it, no back door. We must love – everybody- or we are as good as dead. Wow!

Was this the kind of either-or that Nathaniel struggled with under the fig tree? He sat there pondering some deep challenge or decision and Jesus saw him – and understood-from afar.

The miracle of that moment caused Nathaniel to believe. But Jesus says:

Hold up, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Your little wrestling under the fig tree was all about your own small world and vision. I invite you now to see the world with God’s eyes.

We all spend worrying time under the shadow our own little fig trees – most of the time worrying about ourselves – who hurt us, doesn’t like us, gets in our way, misunderstands or annoys us.

Today’s Gospel invites us to stop licking our wounds. It beckons us out of the shadows of our self-absorption to see what God might see today – the beauty, the needs, the challenges and possibilities of the world around us. We are invited to become lovers and healers like Jesus. As John has said, we are invited to leave any shadow of death and to live in love.

Music: Maybe Nathaniel sang a song like this in his heart as he came out from under his fig tree.

Love Like Jesus – Rhett Walker

Remember Your Fig Trees

Friday, August 24, 2018

Readings: Click here.

Jn 1_48 fig

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Apostle Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel. As with many of the Apostles, little is known of Bartholomew’s life outside of a few Gospel stories. John’s Gospel tells the wonderful story of Nathaniel’s call by Christ.

The encounter is a very personal one. Jesus and Nathaniel share a conversation that must have impressed the other listeners because it was remembered and recounted word for word in the Gospel.

One exchange, in particular, carries deep significance for Nathaniel. Jesus says that there is no duplicity, or pretense, in Nathaniel. There is a transparency in him shared even with God. Nathaniel wonders out loud , “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

What was going on with Nathaniel under that fig tree? A moment of intense prayer, questioning, decision, doubt, hope? Whatever it was, Jesus had shared it, even at a distance. When Nathaniel realizes this, his faith in Jesus and vocation to follow Him are confirmed. Nathaniel professes, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Where are the fig trees in your life story — those moments when, looking back, you realize that God was with you even though seeming distant?

What were the turning points in your faith, when you came out from under the shadow of a challenging experience, to the grateful amazement that God had accompanied you through it.

What are those pivotal, intimate moments when it was just you and God – those transparent moments that changed your life?

If you can’t recall any such moments, perhaps you are not giving yourself the time and space to let God reach you.

It might be time to seek out a “fig tree” – a place of spiritual solitude where you may speak honestly and directly to God about the most important things in your life. Open your heart, like Nathaniel, to hear what God already knows about you.

Music: The Memory of Trees – Enya (Some lyrical New Age music to listen to under your fig tree!)