Mission: Eternal

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 7, 2020

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Southover, St John the Baptist Church
Barnabas, Paul and Mark window St. Patrick’s Church, Sussex, England

Today, in Mercy, and for much of this and next week, we travel with Paul on his first missionary journey. Acts 13 and 14 make for some interesting historical reading, revealing how the early Church took form, how leadership emerged, and how various congregations sparked the spread of the Gospel.


These passages also offer at least two important thoughts to enrich our faith and spiritual life:

  1. They recount a compact synthesis of Salvation History, the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel and, through Jesus Christ, to us. It is a truly marvelous story. Praying with it can make us amazed and grateful that we are now a living part of its continuing grace.
  1. They clearly establish the Christian life as a missionary life – one meant to receive but also to share the Good News of the Gospel.

John13_16 wash

In our Gospel, Jesus, by washing the feet of his companions, clearly demonstrates the key characteristic of a true missionary disciple — sacrificial love rendered in humble service.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

Jesus commissions his disciples to imitate his love. He promises to be present with them as they minister in his name:

Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever receives the one I send receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

Jesus wasn’t just talking to a little dinner party gathered long ago. He was talking to us. For our time and place in history, we are the ones commissioned for Love. 


Our service of the Gospel may take us on exciting journeys like Paul. Or we may be missionaries of prayer and charity, like Thérèse of Lisieux who, though she never left her cloister, was declared Patroness of the Missions by Pope Pius XI.


therese
O Jesus, my Love, my Life … I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach Your Name and to plant Your glorious Cross on infidel soil. But O my Beloved, one mission alone would not be sufficient for me. I would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.” (Thérèse of Lisieux – Story of a Soul) 


In our prayer today, perhaps we might ask Paul, Barnabas, Thérèse or another of our favorite saints to help us see more clearly our own call to carry the mission in our lives.

Music: Here I Am, Lord – St. Louis Jesuits

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

It’s All About the Temple

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we begin with a reading from the prophet Malachi, a hurler of fire and brimstone in the 4th-5th century before Christ. It’s an interesting choice and begs the question of how it relates to this Feast when a little baby comes to be blessed in the Temple.

Presentation of Our Lord
Presentation of Our Lord – Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Wikipedia.org_ not for commercial use)

Ah, perhaps that’s the hinge – the Temple, both actual and symbolic.

Malachi writes at a time when the second Temple has been restored. In other words, God is about giving the people a second chance to behave according to the Covenant. But they’re not doing such a good job — especially those in charge, the priests:

A son honors his father,
and a servant fears his master;
If, then, I am a father,
where is the honor due to me?
And if I am a master,
where is the fear due to me?
So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests,
who disdain my name.
Malachi 1:6

A Little Extra Music: Handel – But Who May Abide (You know you have time to listen just before the Super Bowl!)

Through a series of prophetic oracles, Malachi admonishes the people to repent before it is too late because no unrepentant soul will withstand the judgement.

Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.


In the passage from Hebrews, Paul presents the perfect priest, Jesus Christ. In taking flesh, Christ’s Body becomes the new Temple of our redemption. We stand before judgement already saved by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.


In our Gospel, two aged and venerable prophets wait in the Temple for the Promised One. Their long years of prayer have already proven them faithful. Now, Simeon’s and Anna’s long and complete fidelity is rewarded by seeing their Savior. They know Him because they have already created a place for him in the Temple of their hearts. Now, they will meet their judgement in total peace. As Simeon’s prays:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

It’s a beautiful, total-hearted prayer!  Don’t we all hope to be able to offer it one day?

( I wrote an earlier reflection about dear Anna.  You might like to see it again here:

Music: Nunc Dimittis – Taizé (Latin and English text below)

Nunc dimittis servum tuum,
Now dismiss your servant
Domine, Domine,
Lord, Lord,
Secundum verbum tuum in pace.
according to your word in peace
Domine.
Lord.

Paid for in Advance!

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 8, 2019

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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