Memorial of Saint Bernard

Friday, August 20, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, chosen today to complement our first reading which is a rare lectionary passage from the Book of Ruth. In it, we meet Naomi who is, at one point, widowed and alone. 

The fatherless and the widow the Lord sustains,
    but the way of the wicked is thwarted.

Psalm 146:9
Ruth Carries Her Gleanings – James Tissot

The Book of Ruth is familiar to many of us because some of its charming story and verses seem a lovely fit for weddings and anniversaries. But in some ways, that isolated use tends to trivialize the powerful messages embedded in this short volume.


If we have a limited view of the Book of Ruth, Psalm 146 can help us widen it. The psalm points to elements central to a hopeful and just community, to a community in right relationship with God. This too is a core message of Ruth.


It is a community strengthened by compassion, loyalty, inclusivity, trust, hope and grateful praise. Each character, at some point in the story’s unfolding, exhibits some aspect of God’s merciful nature and steadfast attachment to us. They put flesh on the psalm’s Antiphons:

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! 
For their hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, 
the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps promises for ever;
who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
food to those who hunger
and sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind!
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down
and loves the righteous.
The Lord cares for the stranger
and sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked. 
The Lord shall reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
Hallelujah!

Ruth was the great-grandmother of David and blood ancestor of Jesus. Her story, and the tender mercy it declares, foretells the character of the Beloved Community Christ will establish.


The heart of that community – our community – is aptly described in today’s Gospel. When the Pharisees ask Jesus what is most important, he replies:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

Ruth already knew what was most important.
May we learn it deeply from her story.


Poem: Ruth and Naomi by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), an African American abolitionist and poet. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she had a long and prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at twenty and her first novel, the widely praised Iola Leroy, at age 67. 

"Turn my daughters, full of woe,
Is my heart so sad and lone? 
Leave me children — I would go 
To my loved and distant home. 

From my bosom death has torn 
Husband, children, all my stay, 
Left me not a single one, 
For my life's declining day 

Want and woe surround my way, 
Grief and famine where I tread; 
In my native land they say
"God is giving Jacob bread.”

Naomi ceased, her daughters wept, 
Their yearning hearts were filled; 
Falling upon her withered neck, 
Their grief in tears distill'd. 

Like rain upon a blighted tree, 
The tears of Orpah fell 
Kissing the pale and quivering lip, 
She breathed her sad farewell. 

But Ruth stood up, on her brow 
There lay a heavenly calm; 
And from her lips came, soft and low 
Words like a holy charm. 

"I will not leave thee, on thy brow 
Are lines of sorrow, age and care; 
Thy form is bent, thy step is slow, 
Thy bosom stricken, lone and sear. 

Oh! when thy heart and home were glad, 
I freely shared thy joyous lot; 
And now that heart is lone and sad, 
Cease to entreat — I'll leave thee not. 

Oh! if a lofty palace proud 
Thy future home shall be; 
Where sycophants around thee crowd, 
I'll share that home with thee. 

And if on earth the humblest spot, 
Thy future home shall prove; 
I'll bring into thy lonely lot 
The wealth of woman's love. 

Go where thou wilt, my steps are there, 
Our path in life is one; 
Thou hast no lot I will not share, 
'Till life itself be done. 

My country and my home for thee, 
I freely, willingly resign, 
Thy people shall my people be, 
Thy God he shall be mine. 

Then, mother dear, entreat me not 
To turn from following thee; 
My heart is nerved to share thy lot, 
Whatever that may be.”

Music: Ruth’s Song – Marty and Misha Goetz

(Verse 1)
All my life, I have wondered
Wondered where I might belong
Feeling lost, like a stranger
Wandering far all on my own
(Verse 2)
Without a home. Without a people
Without a hope, without a prayer
Without a way, that I could follow
Then I turned, and you were there
(Chorus)
Where you go, I will go
Where you stay, I will stay forever
Where you lead, I will follow
So I can know the one you know
(Verse 3)
Under his wings, you found a shelter
You have no fear, you have no shame
And when you call, he seems to answer
He even seems to know your name
(Chorus)
(Bridge)
Then somehow should I find his favor
I won’t look back on all I’ve known
Your people then will be my people
And Your God my God alone
(Chorus)
Where you go, I will go
And you know I will never leave you
Not even death, will ever part us
Now that I know the one you know
I will go now, where you go

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, a lilting song of praise, remembrance, hope, trust, gratitude, and joy.

Praying with this inclusive translation, I let my life story unfold in the Presence of the Beloved, turning each petal over and over in the Light of God’s incomprehensible grace and mercy. No words … just the grateful turning. And I listened…listened to the silence.

Psalm 146

Alleluia
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I live.

Happy are they who look to God for their help! 
For their hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps promises for ever;

who gives justice when we are oppressed,
food when we hunger
freedom when we are entrapped.

The Lord breaks through our blindness
The Lord lifts us up wthe we have been bowed.
and loves our desire for good.

I remember how the Lord cares for us
when we are brokenhearted,
but frustrates the way of the faithless. 
I know the Lord shall reign for ever.
Alleluia!

Poetry: “I Happened To Be Standing” by Mary Oliver

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t pursuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Music: Praise You – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Lord I come to you today,
With a simple prayer to pray.
In everything I do,
Let my life O Lord praise you.

Praise you, praise you, praise you
Let my life, praise you
Praise you, praise you, praise you
Let my life, O lord praise you

Lord you formed me out of clay,
And for your glory I was made.
Use this vessel as you choose.
Let my life O Lord praise you

Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

June 4, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, a song of uninhibited delight and thanksgiving to God.

Coming after our reading from Tobit, we see just what such utter delight looks like.

That “angelic fish gall” re-lit the world for Tobit in a way he had never imagined before!


Sometimes we too have to experience a profound blindness before we really begin to see rightly. Let’s be honest: haven’t we all been blind a few times in our lives.

  • Blessings unrecognized
  • Friendships taken for granted
  • Kindnesses overlooked
  • People misjudged 
  • Needs ignored
  • Expectations unsurrendered 
  • Biases unexamined
  • Opportunities bypassed
  • Perhaps even responsibilities shirked

Praying with Psalm 146, we might take note of those whom the Lord favors:

the oppressed, the hungry. captives, those who are bowed down; 
the just, strangers, orphans and widows

These favored of God share a common trait – a vulnerability learned through suffering.


None of us seeks suffering in our lives. But we all will encounter it personally at least to some degree. Further, all in the community of faith are called to share the sufferings of others by our works of mercy.

In both instances, can we allow suffering to let us see the world differently, to lift the scales of any blindness in our hearts? Because here is the beautiful mystery: the God of Mercy is with us in our lights and shadows — and is always Light.

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
    I will praise the LORD all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God while I live. 

Psalm 146:1

Poetry: God Pours Light – Hafiz

God
pours light
into every cup,
quenching darkness.
The proudly pious
stuff their cups with parchment
and critique the taste of ink
while God pours light
and the trees lift their limbs
without worry of redemption,
every blossom a chalice.
May I seduce those withered souls
with words that wet their parched lips
as light
pours like rain
into every empty cup
set adrift on the Infinite Ocean.


Music: Amazing Grace – Leo Rojas

Psalm 146: Praise God with Your Life!

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

November 12, 2020

from A Book of Psalms by Stephen Mitchell

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, a call to praise God. The call is supported by the particular verses of today’s reading. We should praise God, the psalmist says, because God:

  • secures justice for the oppressed
  • gives food to the hungry
  • sets captives free
  • gives sight to the blind
  • raises up the humble
  • loves the just
  • protects strangers
  • sustains fatherless and the widow
  • thwarts the way of the wicked

Reading this elaborate hymn of praise makes one think the Lord was pretty busy in ancient Israel. Were all these good things happening for otherwise unfortunate people?

For me, this psalm, rather than being a retrospective list of God’s generous accomplishments, is a call to realize the way God wants things to be. Within that call is another deeper call – to become an agent for God’s Will for good. In other words, God acts through us to make God’s mercy real in the world through the ways the psalm describes.


The loving will of God is always turning the world toward good. But sometimes our lack of faith inhibits our insight into that holy turning. Sometimes we see only the surface of life and get caught in its tangles.

Prayer is the ointment that releases our inner vision to find God in all things, either calling us to foster good or to thwart evil, as our psalm describes. As we cooperate with this call, God’s everlasting creative action opens before us and we see the world, and our role in it, with new eyes.

Spoken Psalm::

Psalm 146: Abundance

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 30, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, the first of five final concluding praise Psalms in the Psalter. This is one of six Psalms involving preaching to self, where the evocative phrase “O my soul” is used. (Psalms 42, 43, 103, 104, 116 and 146)

Do you ever talk to your soul like that? You know, “Wake up”. “Don’t be afraid!”, “Stop thinking about yourself.”, “Get over it”. These prayers come out of our scarcity, and our longing for fullness, security and peace. We recognize there is something so much more infinite to love than the malaise we are entangled in.

As we pray the Psalms of Praise, particularly these five, we are invited to live out of our abundance rather than our scarcity. That “abundance attitude” is rooted in God’s infinite mercy and generosity, God Who is always creating fullness of life for God’s creatures:

The Maker of heaven and earth,
the seas and all that is in them,
Who keeps faith forever …

(146:6)

Psalm 146 recommends that, when we slip into attitudes of scarcity, we need to talk to ourselves – not that worrisome mumbling that constantly replays our troubles and annoyances. Instead, we should counsel ourselves to remember and trust in God’s faithfulness to us, asking to be big-hearted:

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God while I live.


So today, Psalm 146 tells us to change our mental tapes if we have to. If there is a strain of worry, ingratitude, unholy self-reliance or any other negativity plaguing our prayer, let’s eject it.

Let’s replace it with the sacred conversation that begins and ends with:
Thank You”
“I trust You”
“My souls praises You”,
“I am at peace in You.”
“How could I ever thank You enough for loving me!

“Poetry: Prayers for the Protection and Opening of the Heart – Ya’akov Hakohen, translated by Peter Cole Ya’akov Hakohen belonged to a circle of Jewish mystics that was active in mid-thirteenth-century Castile and Provence.

                                  i 
May the Name send its hidden radiance
       to open the gates of deliverance
to His servants—and shine in their hearts,
which now are shut in silent darkness.

May the great King be moved
       to act in perfection and righteousness—
to open the gates of wisdom for us
and waken the love of old, the love of ancient days.

                                                    ii

By the power of the hidden Name I-am-that-I-am,
and by the dew of Desire and Blessing, the dead will live again...

                                                   iii

I-Am is the power of your Name in concealment,
and one who knows its mystery dwells in eternity’s instant.

Over the world, it pours forth abundance and favor,
and on it all worlds hang, like grapes in a cluster.

Send the dew of blessing, the dew of grace;
renew my dispensation, and grant me length of days.

Bring light to my eyes with your teaching, and let not the husks
       that surround your hosts obstruct me.
May Heaven and Adam’s children judge me with mercy.

Sustain me with their strength and fortune—
but do not leave me in need of the gifts of men.

Music: Praise the Lord, My Soul – John Foley, SJ

1… Praise the lord, my soul,
Let fire and rain give praise to Him,
Give praise to Him who is merciful, slow to judge;
Bless the lord, O my soul!

2…Bless the Lord, my soul,
Let all I am give praise to Him,
And not forget he is kind, He forgives our sins;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

3… Merciful and kind,
He knows that man is made of dust,
And like the flowers that flourish he soon must die;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

4…Glory to our God,
Let all that is give praise to Him,
Give praise all you creatures who live His love,
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
Bless the Lord, O my soul!