Paid for in Advance!

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 8, 2019

Click here for readings

already paid

Today, in Mercy, our readings are about spiritual wealth, stewardship and Godly generosity.

Paul starts us off by proclaiming that the wealth/riches of salvation belong to ALL humanity. He presents himself as a unique “steward “ of those riches to the Gentiles.

Our Gospel gives us a second interpretation of “stewardship” in the parable the wily steward. This fella’ gets called on the carpet for squandering his employer’s resources. Pink slip time! 

So the steward calls in some of the debtors and reduces their debt by the amount of his own commission. By doing this, he hopes to make some friends to support him in his impending unemployment.

Talbots

Many years ago, there was a Talbot’s outlet in the Franklin Mills Mall in Northeast Philly (I know. Heaven, right?) You could get an amazing deal on the clearance items. But you got an even better deal if you went to a certain cashier for your checkout.

He was a tall, flamboyant and loudly funny guy. If a price tag was missing on an item, you got it virtually for free. He would make outlandish comments like, “Oh, honey, this isn’t your color so let’s discount it 50%.” If you bought two of the same item, he might announce,”Two for one today”, charging for only one. He was a living example of the Biblical steward! Over time, he developed a devoted buying community – those who had learned the secret of why people waited in his long line!

In today’s parable, Jesus isn’t advocating that we cheat our employers. The parable isn’t really about that at all. It is about the way he wants his disciples to be profligate in preaching the mercy of God.

Remember that this parable comes in between two blockbusters about Mercy- the Prodigal Son and Lazarus and the Rich Man. In a way, you might say Jesus is on a tear about the unbounded generosity of God in forgiveness and hope for us. He makes clear that the wealth of Divine Love is delivered to us by our unbounded Christian love for one another.

So today, maybe we can think about the Talbot’s guy. We have been abundantly blessed by God’s love for us. Let’s pay it forward over and over today… and every day. Let’s generously share the infinite discount of Mercy.

Music: Jesus Paid It All – Elvira M. Hall (1865) This rendition of the hymn by Kristian Stanfill (born 1983) is so interesting. Offered here with modern instrumentation, the words date back to the era of the US Civil War. Past and present meld in the ever eternal love God has for us.

Climb the Tree! Ignore the Haters!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 3, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are all rooted in Mercy. The beautifully literate Book of Wisdom delights us with its poetry and heartfelt understanding of God’s “imperishable “ love for us. Think about it! The passage, written very near the time of Christ, is intended to assure us that God’s mercy will save and embrace us.

In our second reading, Paul assures the Thessalonians that this mercy has indeed been given to them in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ they are, as we are, called to be Mercy in the world in Christ’s name.

But Paul adds a little warning. Apparently there are some conspiracy theorists floating around trying to scare people about the final coming. (Oh, Lord — ever present!) They are even forging Paul’s name to spread their crazy havoc.

Religion will always have distorters who pull out and exaggerate certain threads of doctrine, often opposed to the core message of Mercy. They do this to gain control over others and to advance themselves. Every sacred religion, from Catholicism to Islam, has been manhandled by opportunists who use it to advance their own agendas.

But Paul says to cling to the truth: our ever-merciful God loves us, no matter our deficiencies, and welcomes our repentance.

Zaccheus, whom we meet in today’s Gospel, did not succumb to the distorters who branded him an irredeemable sinner. He opened his heart to Jesus in sincerity and enthusiasm. He changed his life because he believed in the full truth of the Gospel: Christ came for us sinners.

zccheusJPG
Notice how Zaccheus in hidden in the tree. Are there ways in which we re hiding form the full truth and love of Christ?

Like Zaccheus, a man “deficient” in height, maybe we need to “climb a tree” of prayer and repentance today to take a full-hearted look at the power of God passing through our lives. May we never let the opportunity for Mercy – either to receive or to give it – pass us by.

Music:  Zaccheus – Medical Mission Sisters (Oldie but goodie — love the dedicated nuns! How much good they have done in a suffering world!)

That Fish Was Sooo…..

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 27, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, in our readings:

  • Sirach assures us that the prayer of the humble reaches the ear of God
  • Paul readies himself for death
  • Jesus gives us one of his most memorable parables. 

The thread running through all of these? Humility- that beautiful virtue which allows us to be who we truly are before God and humanity.

Oh my goodness friends, how many times have we been with “the Pharisees”, such as Jesus describes, at a meeting or dinner? They are so unsure and unaware of their true value in God, that they begin to create an illusion to protect their fear.

We know the statements (or attitudes) by heart. Sometimes, they’re harmless; sometimes not. We may be guilty of a few of them ourselves:

fish

But there are other statements, such as the Pharisee’s, that can certainly make us question a person’s self- perception: 

  • There has never been a better leader, CEO, deal-maker, neighbor, human being
  • I am smarter than the generals, the lawyers, the financiers, the scientists
  • Nobody does things better than me
  • I am the smartest person of all time

Certainly, it’s angering, but more than that, it’s sad. It’s really sad to miss the whole point of one’s true greatness: that we are beloved and redeemed by God – just like every Creature! That we are called, in that belovedness , to serve God in our sisters and brothers. Knowing this inalienable truth is the source of all humility, courage, joy, and perseverance in faith. It is the whole reason we were created. What a tragedy to, like the Pharisee, miss the whole point!

Let us pray with Paul and the humble tax collector today. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner – a redeemed, grateful, and joyful sinner.”

Music: Miserere Mei – Gregorio Allegri 

God Alone

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the great Saint Teresa of Avila. 

Teresa prayer

Teresa was a Spanish noblewoman who became a Carmelite nun, mystic, religious reformer, author, theologian, and one of the 36 Doctors of the Church.

(Until 1970, no woman had been named a Doctor in the Church, but since then four women have been designated: Saints Teresa of Àvila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of the Child Jesus, and Hildegard of Bingen)

png-divider-lines--1400

Our reading today from Romans is a good one for Teresa’s feast. In it, Paul expresses his complete trust in and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By this, Paul means more than the written words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He means the entire gift of the Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection, continuing among us in the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Teresa understood and lived this same trust and devotion. She said:

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.

Like Paul, Teresa was not ashamed to proclaim and live the Gospel. May these two strong and amazing saints help us to do the same.

Music: Christ Has No Body Now But Yours – David Ogden

Grace and Peace

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 14, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we begin about a month of readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will also continue with Luke’s Gospel all the way up to Advent.

To help me in praying with Romans, I am using a book by Scott W. Hahn, Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology at Steubenville University. In his introduction, Hahn says this:

Hahn_Romans

Today’s reading offered me these elements to ponder and pray with:

  • Paul calls himself a “slave” of Jesus Christ
  • He invokes his call as an Apostle
  • He sets himself in the company of the prophets
  • He appeals to Jews who revere David
  • but proclaims Christ, through his Resurrection, as Messiah beyond human lineage
  • He proclaims his mission to the Gentiles
  • to bring about “the obedience of faith”

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve read or heard this passage maybe fifty times in my lifetime, and it has meant little or nothing to me. At best, it has sounded like a formal introduction such as those we hear from government “whereas” type decrees.

But I took Dr. Hahn’s advice, studying the passage, and reading it slowly and prayerfully. Here’s what I received:

  • Paul’s Apostolic call, to which he willingly enslaved his heart, was to preach the Good News of our redemption in Jesus Christ – to preach it to Jews, Romans, Gentiles, and all people.
  • It is an awesomely incredible message that can be received only through the gift of faith.
  • It is a message rooted in the scripture stories we love, and where we look to find a reflection of our own stories.
  • Learning from these realities will help us come to a faith which expresses itself in action and gives glory to God in our own time.

Luke gives us one such story today. Jesus reminds the crowd of two familiar passages – that of Jonah and the “Queen of the South” (the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10). He indicates that the people in these stories believed without a sign.

Jesus tells the people gathered around him  to learn from this. The crowd demands a sign, but Jesus says the sign is right in front of you – it is only your open heart that is lacking.

In his introduction, Paul prays for such open hearts in the Romans:

Rm1_grace_peace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

By that same grace, may we receive faith’s blessing as well.

Music: Grace and Peace – Fernando Ortega

A Grateful Spirit

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 13, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, two significant themes in our readings are gift-giving and gratitude.

In our first reading Naaman, a pretty hot-shot Syrian commander, is a leper. He takes the advice of a captured Israel slave girl who encourages Naaman to seek a cure from Elisa the prophet.

As Naaman approaches, Elisha sends word  to rinse in the Jordan. Naaman, who is obviously accustomed to personalized subservience, is not happy with Elisha’s absentee advice. Angry, Naaman sets out for home. But his servants encourage him to cool down and to act on Elisha’s instructions. 

Naaman receives the cure and he promises, half-heartedly, to from henceforth worship Yahweh. He then asks what he can pay for the gift of the cure. Elisha responds that there is no payment .

Notice: Naaman never says “Thank you”. Instead, he wants to pay, to owe nothing for the immense gift he has received. He doesn’t want to be beholden, even to God.

Elisha, in so many words, tells Naaman: What I was blessed to convey to you comes from God. The power is God’s. I am the instrument. You can’t buy or own it. I can’t sell it. It’s God’s – freely given.

2Tim2_9JPG

Paul repeats the theme to Timothy: the Word of God is not chained. God’s power, grace, and healing are given freely. We cannot earn them buy, them, control them, or ever thank God enough for them. But we should try.

In our Gospel, only one cured leper – a Samaritan – has the sense and humility to try to thank Jesus. Born of his faith, that gratitude saves him.

God is Infinite Gift. God’s love pours over us spontaneously and continually to bring us to wholeness. God can’t help loving us and hoping for our completeness in grace.

May we be delivered from any speck of entitlement, indifference, arrogance, or ingratitude in the face of such Goodness!

Music:  Thank You, Lord – Don Moen

Flee Toward Justice

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings will challenge us in ways we might rather not hear.

In our first reading, feisty Amos lambastes the Israelites for their sumptuous lifestyle which is indifferent to the plight of those who are poor. He calls them “complacent”, “at ease” in their prosperous, privileged existence, a condition that has numbed them to the harrowing inequities from which others suffer.

In our second reading, Paul gives a final, impassioned charge to his dear protégé Timothy. He tells him not just to avoid, but to flee such complacency and the greedy materialism which feeds it. He outlines the elements of a Christian life, enjoining Timothy to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness”.


Paul gives Timothy the key to true Christian life:

Keep the commandment without stain or reproach …

…. “the commandment” being to love God above all, and love neighbor as self.


Dives
Dives and Lazarus by Bonifazio di Pitati The National Gallery – London

Our Gospel is, perhaps painfully, familiar to all of us – the story of Lazarus and Dives. It is a parable which puts the economic divide under the crystalline light of the Gospel, challenging us as to where we fit in it.

Most of us like comfort. We would rather be “haves” than “have nots”. But we struggle within our comfortable lives to discern our responsibility for others. We’re certainly not intentionally hard-hearted, “lying on ivory couches” and “drinking wine from bowls” while modern day Lazarus languishes right beside us.

We do try, in many ways, to respond to the call for charity and service. But don’t we still measure ourselves after hearing this Gospel? Don’t we still worry about any “Lazarus” unnoticed at our door?

Amos, Paul, and Jesus are charging us – just as they charged their immediate listeners – to live a life based in Biblical and Gospel justice. Justice seeks fullness of life for all the community. Jesus teaches us that “the community” is all Creation, and that how we treat the community is how we treat him.

Every day we might remind ourselves that, however hard we try, it is never enough. We must keep on peeling away any indifference or blindness we have to the injustices of our culture and times, our economic and political systems. And we too must flee them, running toward justice, righteousness, and mercy.

We must ask ourselves this hard question:

Does my “wealth”
– however large or small,
material or immaterial-
nourish the community or only consume it?

Music: Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus – Ralph Vaughn Williams’s beautiful interpretation of the folk song “Dives and Lazarus”.

If you might be interested in the original song – a great example of folk art: Sung here by Maddy Prior (Lyrics below)

as it fell out upon one day
rich Diverus he made a feast
and he invited all his friends
and gentry of the best
then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ door
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
do bestow upon the poor
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my door
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
nor bestow upon the poor

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ wall
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
or with hunger starve I shall
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my wall
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
but with hunger starve you shall

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ gate
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
for Jesus Christ His sake
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my gate
no meat, no drink I’ll give to you
for Jesus Christ His sake

then Diverus sent out his serving men
to whip poor Lazarus away
they had no power to whip one whip
and they threw their whips away
then Diverus sent out his hungry dogs
to worry poor Lazarus away
but they had no power to bite one bite
and they licked his sores away

as it fell out upon one day
poor Lazarus sickened and died
there came two angels out of Heaven
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Lazarus
come along with me
there’s a place for you in Heaven
sitting on an angel’s knee

as it fell out all on one day
Diverus sickened and died
there came two serpents out of Hell
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Diverus
come along with me
there is a place for you in Hell
sitting on a serpent’s knee

Diverus lifted up his eyes
and he saw poor Lazarus blessed
a drop of water brother Lazarus
for to quench my flaming thirst
if I had as many years to live
as there are blades of grass
I would make it in my will secure
that the Devil should have no power
Hell is dark, Hell is deep
Hell is full of mice
it’s a pity that any poor sinful soul
should be barred from our saviour Christ

All That Is Withered

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

September 9, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus share a similar situation.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome. Visited by Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae, Paul seizes the chance to write to these Christians whom he has never seen in person. Paul tells the Colossians that his singular intention is to preach the truth of the Gospel so that they, and all the world, may be transformed in Christ.

to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

That “mystery” is the nature of God as Love, only fleetingly accessible before its full revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Luke6_10 withered hand

Jesus too, in today’s Gospel, is in a sort of prison. The prison consists of the entrenched resistance of people like the Pharisees. They are so entangled in the deceitful and self- serving interpretation of Law that they are blind to the revelation before them. They wait to pounce on Jesus if, contrary to the laws of the Sabbath, he heals a man’s withered hand.

Jesus tries logic in today’s account:

Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Unable to resist the logic, the Pharisees retreat to anger. They begin to plot the removal of this Truth they cannot counter. The saddest part of these resistances is that they estrange the resisters from their own good, from their own freedom, from their own salvation.

In our world, we see so many places closed off to the Mystery of Love.  We see people imprisoning themselves in their own resistance and hate while they plot to build barriers against others. We see it in our geo-political world, in our Church, in our workplaces, in ourselves.

It takes courage to recognize and turn from such self-destructive fixations. We must be alert and brave to cooperate with our own transformation in grace.

This is why Paul writes of …

the great struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

This is why God continues to offer grace in the gift of Jesus Christ, healing all that is “withered” in us when we lift it up in faith.

Music: God Will Make a Way – Dan Moen

The Challenge of Peter & Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the great Apostles Peter and Paul, first architects of the Christian faith.

Peter and Paul

From our 21st century perspective, we may be tempted today to celebrate the totality of their accomplishments – the scriptures ascribed to them, the theology traced to them, the cathedrals named for them.

But there is a deeper message given to us in today’s readings, one that challenges our practice of faith. We can access that message by asking an obvious question:

Why were Peter and Paul, simple religious leaders, persecuted, imprisoned, harassed, and eventually executed? What was the terrible threat these unarmed preachers presented to political power?

The answer:

It was their testimony to the transformative Gospel message of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of Mercy and Justice.

But Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom constituted a serious challenge to the Romans who ruled Israel during his lifetime. The cheering crowds who greeted him, especially during his entry into Jerusalem, as well as his confrontation with the moneychangers in the Temple, constituted such a threat to the unjust power of empire that the rulers crucified Jesus in order to silence him. – Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Peter and Paul, and every committed Christian after them, bears the same holy threat to ensuing cultures of domination, violence and greed.

As Jesus, Peter, Paul and so many others down through Pope Francis show us, faith and politics always work hand in hand. The work of faith is to build a world where every person can live, and find their way to God, in dignity and peace. It is to witness to an alternative to any power that feeds on the freedom, joy and peace of another person – especially those who are poor, sick and vulnerable.

May Peter and Paul inspire us to continue the daunting task of such an apostolic faith.

Music:  They Who Do Justice – David Haas

They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
Those who walk blamelessly and live their lives doing justice,
who keep the truth in their heart, and slander not with their tongue!
Who harm not another, nor take up reproach to their neighbor,
who hate the site of the wicked, but honor the people of God!
Who show no condition in sharing the gifts of their treasure,
who live not off the poor: they shall stand firm forever!

Character. Remember it?

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 19, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Jesus and Paul offer us lessons in character, something sorely needed in today’s world.

Ps112 characterJPG

Sometimes I think I’m just getting old, but I feel like our culture has abandoned the pursuit of “character”. 

Who are the models held up for our children? Overpaid, spoiled sports icons? Fat cat, indifferent politicians? Grossly sexualized entertainers? Self-indulgent religious and civic officials?

What are the messages our kids receive through our media? Unless you are the richest, the strongest, the flashiest, the cleverest, etc., you fail?

What about us adults? We are bombarded with these messages too. What do we begin to believe about ourselves and who we should be in the world?

Today our readings tell us this: Be upright, gracious, merciful and just. Be generous, humble and brave without needing to be recognized for it. Be honest, sincere, and wise. Wow! Are you kidding me?

As we continue to nourish our character, as we help our children build theirs, there are many blocks to choose from. We can turn every experience, act and choice either to light or to darkness, either to self or to God.

As we pray these readings today, let us ask for the grace to see ourselves clearly with God’s eyes- always true and always merciful. Let us ask for the courage and character to be someone God delights to see.

Music: Sanctify Me, O God – Rexband