Under Mary’s Protection

January 1, 2021
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

( I was invited to offer a reflection for my community for the celebration of New Year’s. I wanted to share it with our larger community here.)


Over the threshold of midnight, we step into the New Year 2021.

And, oh, how we have longed for it

  • run toward it 
  • run away from what the old year pressed on us 
  • from what we heard unceasingly referred to as “these unsettling times”

Dear friends the phrase puts it mildly, doesn’t it?


Every one of us- to some degree- has felt the

  • loss 
  • sadness 
  • fear 
  • anxiety 
  • loneliness

We have been tested in our faith

  • our hope 
  • our love 
  • and, surely, our courage

Some have walked through the middle of hell
and some only on the edge.
But we have all felt its fire.

We are a world truly brought to its knees as we clothe ourselves in 2021’s first morning.


We come to our prayer to do as our reading from Numbers encourages us, emboldens us to do – to seek a blessing for the New Year:

May the Lord bless us and keep us 
shine the face of mercy on us 
be gracious to us 
look upon us kindly 
give us peace

But how will we find such a blessing, my friends, when we know that its hope is hidden in the unrelenting circumstances of our lives?


Let’s consider our Gospel today.
Just as Christ lay shining 
but in the damp hay of a dark manger…
Just as the word of his coming was announced 
but by rude shepherds who carried the angelic words,
so the blessing will come to us….clothed in the ordinariness of what we already know.

And it is this:

The power of God is always hidden 
in the flesh of our daily lives.


Let us turn to Mary today to remind ourselves of this mystery.

Before the Annunciation, when young Mary imagined the Messiah’s coming, do you think she pictured a godforsaken manger and a birth in a barn?

Do you think she imagined herself receiving ponderable angelic words through the mouths of illiterate shepherds?

Our inscrutable God comes to us
in ways we never imagine … yes, dear friends, even through pandemic suffering,
and the painful graces
it breaks open in our hearts.

Mary, whom we celebrate and invoke today, shows us how to take the next step into a new year —a year that will not perceptibly change in its challenges for some time to come.

It, too, will be filled with what looks like mangers and shepherds rather than the heavenly palaces and angels we might desire.

But Mary shows us that faith finds God by surrender to the grace of our ordinary lives.

Today, what we pray for one another through Mary’s intercession, is the grace to find the blessing in this mystery.

We pray to be encouraging witnesses for one another of:

  • faith even in darkness
  • resilience and courage during extraordinary challenge
  • hope in the face of discouragement
  • perseverance when we languish
  • loving service despite fear
  • Mercy pouring over pain

When we do these things, we become the blessing that we seek.

When we, like Mary, keep these things in our heart, we allow Christ to be born again even in our “unsettling” times.


Maria de Mercede, fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1472)

The most ancient prayer to Mary is the Sub Tuum Praesidium, dating from the 2nd century. It seems a perfect way to close our reflection today, and to open our hearts to hope for the New Year:

Under your protection,
we take our refuge, 
O Holy Mother of God:
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us from all evil,
O pure and blessed one.
Amen.

A truly blessed and joyful New Year to you all, Beloveds.


Music: Sub Tuum Praesidium in Latin (see above for English)

If Not Now, When?

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

December 16, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Numbers gives us this beautiful verse:

NM24_16 star

(I leave just that with you, to pray with if you wish, because I am cheating a bit tonight. I want to run ahead to prepare for the O Antiphons. So I am sending a second reflection to encourage you to run there with me.)

Music for today’s passage: 

If Not Now, Then When – Tracy Chapman – a song perhaps reflective of our impatience with God to perform the miracles that we might want. (Lyrics below)

If not now then when?
If not today then
Why make your promises ?
A love declared for days to come
Is as good as none.

You can wait ’til morning comes.
You can wait for the new day.
You can wait and lose this heart.
You can wait and soon be sorry.

Now love’s the only thing that’s free.
We must take it where it’s found.
Pretty soon it may be costly.

If not now what then?
We all must live our lives
Always feeling
Always thinking
The moment has arrived!

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

Enduring Journey

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the first of a few readings from the Book of Numbers. Numbers is basically about two themes: journeying and maturing as a community of faith.

roots

 

Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible, part of the five which comprise the Pentateuch, or Hebrew Torah. We can think of these books as a kind of Jewish “Roots”, for those who are familiar with the Alex Haley classic.

 

In the Pentateuch, both Jews and Christian find the foundational bedrock of their faith story. Today’s chapter focuses on two realities of faith and community: leadership and fidelity.

The People are having trouble staying committed to the journey. They are tired, hungry and walking around in circles. They are hungry for something besides manna, the way we become hungry for more than our dailyness.

Numbers11_4 complain

Like most frustrated groups, they start busting on their leader – Moses. Moses, unwilling to carry their burdens alone, starts busting on God. Watch any TV drama for a similar plot/theme. As a matter of fact, let’s examine our lives for it.

Enduring commitment is hard, especially when it is tested. When our commitment seems meaningless, or ignored, or misinterpreted, or otherwise futile, what do we do? How do we re-examine and re-define the fundamental relationship of faith which informs that commitment.

This re-examination and deeper re-commitment is what the Israelites experience through their desert journey, until they are ready to pass into the Promised Land as God’s People.

It is what we experience as a person of faith and as a faith community. Commitment is never static. In life’s test chamber, it either grows or diminishes. Praying with these passages from the Sacred Scripture may help us to grow deeper in our faith and trust. They may help us find the center if we feel a little hungry and lost in the desert too.

Music: Guide Me, Thou, O Great Redeemer

This hymn is the English version of a melody written by the Welshman John Hughes in 1909. The text was composed in 1745 by William Williams, considered Wales’ most famous hymnist. As a writer of poetry and prose,he is also considered today as one of the great literary figures of Wales. For an interesting history of the hymn, click here.