We Remember

November 2, 2021
All Souls Day

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, that familiar pastoral which, for millennia, has comforted our griefs and fears.

The Lord is my shepherd; 
I shall not want.
You make me lie down in green pastures 
and lead me beside still waters.
You revive my soul
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.

Psalm 23: 1-3

But even for us who believe, it’s a somber day.

Because we just don’t know, do we? We believe. We hope. We trust. But we just don’t know

  • how life can seem to end so finally
  • why love’s cord seems to break, or at least to tangle
  • where they go when they leave us
  • when we will see them again

That’s why I think that, in many ways, All Souls Day is for us, the living. The act of corporate remembrance lets us hold up before one another these profound “unanswerables” while saying, “Still, I believe; I hope; I love.”

We give one another strength on All Souls Day to choose eternal life in a world that often casts only a deadly shadow. 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4

Today, we participate in a treasured spiritual exercise for us – those who remain:

We remember.

By our holy remembering:

  • We bless in our departed beloveds what – in life – we might have taken for granted.
  • We cherish their goodness and acknowledge their weaknesses.
  • We consider that our love and longing for them is but a pale reflection of God’s own.
  • We release our dear family and friends into that Immense Love.

As part of the great Communion of Saints, we release even those who have no one holding on to them. By our prayer for them, we attest our love to a heavenly family we have yet to meet.

Our dear Catherine McAuley said this, even in a time when she was faced with constant loss and bereavement:

Shall we all meet in Heaven?
Oh what joy even to think of it!

Venerable Catherine McAuley

On All Souls Day, we do think of it – and are consoled by a quiet, indescribable joy.

You spread a table before me
despite anything that troubles me;
you have anointed my head with oil;
Indeed, my cup is running over.
Surely this goodness and mercy follows us always
and we will dwell in your house for ever.

Psalm 23: 5-6

Poetry: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) – O Shepherd of Souls

O Shepherd of souls
and O, First Voice
through whom all creation was summoned,
now to you,
to you may it give pleasure and dignity
to liberate us
from our miseries and languishing.

Music: Stand in the Light – Jordan Smith 

As we remember all our faithful departed today, we pray that we may all stand in the Light.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, June 18, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, the familiar hymn of confidence, gratitude, and hope.

You, Lord, are my shepherd; 
I shall not be in want.
You make me lie down in green pastures 
and lead me beside still waters.
You revive my soul 
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Praying this psalm, we are enfolded into the arms of a loving God.

This beautiful image, which is beloved to us even in our highly urbanized society, certainly held even greater meaning to the early Christians. They understood, from experience, the utter self-donation of a shepherd to his flock. The shepherd needs the sheep in order to live, just as they need the shepherd. Their lives were critically interdependent.

In a sense, the shepherd became one with the sheep. From sunrise to sunset, and even through the night, he led them to food, water, and rest. He protected them as they slept, by laying his own body across the sheep gate.

In our own time, a more familiar image might be that of a horse-whisperer, someone who through natural sensitivity and studious training, is able to understand and communicate with animals. Rather than “breaking” a horse, as seen in old westerns, the horse-whisperer leads them to trust by listening and responding to them through body-language.

As we pray with the image of the Good Shepherd today, we might imagine Jesus as our “Soul-Whisperer”. Jesus stands beside us in the vast, open loneliness of life, which sometimes tries to “break” us. But we are never alone. He is listening. As he opens our life before us, let us trust and follow him. He has made our welfare his own by becoming one of us.

Poetry: I Am the Door of the Sheepfold – Malcolm Guite

Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,
Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,
Not like the well-oiled openings that swung
So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,

Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face
From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,
Not like the one that no man may assail,
The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil
That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.

Not one you made but one you have become:
Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam
To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach
Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,
You lay your body down across the breach,
Yourself the door that opens into home.

Music: The Lonely Shepherd – Leo Rojas

Psalm 23: Darkness to Light

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Monday, March 22, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with our revered Psalm 23. This powerful prayer of confidence and hope fits well with today’s readings.

In the passage from Daniel, the innocent Susanna never wavers in her trust:

O eternal God, you know what is hidden
and are aware of all things before they come to be:
you know that they have testified falsely against me. 
Here I am about to die,
though I have done none of the things
with which these wicked men have charged me.”
The Lord heard her prayer.

Daniel 13: 42-44

In our Gospel, the woman – though not innocent – stills finds refuge in Jesus’s mercy.

So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

John 8: 9-11

Like these two women, we may find ourselves in a dark valley at times. Whether we are innocent or guilty in arriving there, God abides with us in mercy. 

The key is to acknowledge our situation and to reach out to that Mercy. In that way, even though we encounter difficulty, as said in Psalm 23, we live in Light and not in shadow:

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

Psalm 23: 5-6

Poetry: Light by Rabindranath Tagore

Light, my light, the world-filling light, 
the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life; 
the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; 
the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light. 
Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, 
and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling, 
and gladness without measure.
 The heaven’s river has drowned its banks 
and the flood of joy is abroad.

Psalm 23: The Shepherd

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

February 22, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this Feast of St. Peter we pray with Psalm 23 – the Good Shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    In verdant pastures I am given repose;
Beside restful waters the Lord leads me;
    refreshing my soul.

Psalm 23

The history and devotion intrinsic to this feast can inspire us to pray especially today for our dear Pope Francis who carries Peter’s grace and burden in our time. He carries, in Primacy, the charge reflected in our first reading:

Tend the flock of God in your midst,
overseeing not by constraint but willingly,
as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.
Do not lord it over those assigned to you,
but be examples to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd is revealed,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Pope Francis faces resistances just as Peter did. There are always forces within a community who pull its energy in contradictory directions. When rooted in love and reverent dialogue, that counteraction can generate growth. But when born of selfishness and obstinance, such opposition poisons the whole Body.

Francis needs our prayer. The Church needs our prayer. According to Teresa of Avila, Saint and Doctor of the Church, that prayer should be scriptural:

All the troubles of the Church,
all the evils in the world,
flow from this source:
that human beings do not
by clear and sound knowledge
and serious consideration
penetrate into the truths
of Sacred Scripture.

St. Teresa of Avila

Today, Psalm 23 inspires our prayer for our Pope:

Even in the dark valley
    may you fear no evil; for you are at God’s side
Whose rod and staff
    give you courage.
May God spread graces before you
    in the sight of your troubles;
and anoint your head with oil;
    your cup overflowing.
May goodness and kindness follow you
    all the days of your life;
May you dwell in the LORD’s sanctuary
    for all your days.

Poetry: When I was a boy … (Da ich ein Knabe war …) – Friedrich Hölderlin

Pope Francis’s favorite poet is said to be the German writer Friedrich Hölderlin. Perhaps Francis, composer of the lyrical Laudato Sí and Fratelli Tutti, loves this rhapsodic poem.

When I was a boy
Often a god would save me
From the shouts and blows of men;
I played safely and well
With the flowers of the fields
And the winds of heaven
Played with me.

As you make happy
The hearts of plants
When they extend to you
Their delicate tendrils,
So you make my heart happy,
Father Sun, and like Endymion
I was your favorite,
Holy Moon!

All true and neighborly gods!
If only you knew
How much I loved you then!
True, at that time, I didn’t
Know your names, and you
Never bothered to name me, like men
Who only pretend to know one another.

Yet I know you better
Than I’ve ever known anyone,
I understood the silence of the upper air,
But I’ve never understood the words of men.
I was raised by the sounds
Of the rustling grove
And learned to love
Among the flowers.
I grew up in the arms of the gods.

Music: Psalm 23 with Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze

Psalm 23: Awake to the Feast

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

December 2, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23. On this first Wednesday of Advent, our psalm is set between two eloquent readings about the full satisfaction of our soul’s hungers.

Isaiah blesses us with his metaphor for Heaven’s abundance, when our souls will be filled to a divine capacity of grace.

In a world already redeemed, Isaiah’s vision has been fulfilled. We live our lives already seated at the banquet he describes.

But do we realize it? Do we partake every moment in the outpouring of grace given us by our Baptism into Christ?

Unaware, many of us sit at the table starving.

In our Gospel, Jesus sees the deeper hungers of the fatigued crowd. His miracle feeds their bodies but, more importantly, awakens their souls to see him as the fulfillment of God’s promise. Isaiah’s prophecy is accomplished in Jesus:

On that day it will be said:
Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Isaiah 26:9-10

As we read Psalm 23 today, let’s allow its consoling verses to become our prayer of trust and gratitude for God’s “already presence” in our lives. Like the crowd awakened by Jesus’s miracle, let us open our eyes to the infinite grace spread before us, though wrapped sometimes in the mundane circumstances of our lives.

Poetry: Joy Harjo – Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Music: Psalm 23 – Stuart Townend

Psalm 23: God Abides

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

from November 11, 2018:
As I write today, I think of the humble servant Catherine McAuley

who died on this date in 1841. 
On this Veterans’ Day, I think of all who have died in war.
I think of our Sister-veterans,
Sister Bernard Mary Buggelein and Sister Dorothy Hillenbrand
who served in WWII and now rest in our community cemetery.
All of their lives have been called into the great embrace of our Eternal God.
May all our lives inspire one another to humble service and praise.

November 11,2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, that confident string of affirmations that God abides with us in all of life’s seasons, even the winter of death.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

Psalm 23

I pray with the psalm from two perspectives today. 

  1. November 11th is the anniversary of Catherine McAuley’s death, the beloved Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.
  2. November 11th is observed in many countries commemorating the end of World War I:
  • Armistice Day (New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia)
  • Remembrance Day (United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations including Australia and Canada)
  • Veterans Day called Armistice Day until 1954, when it was rededicated to honor American military (Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force) veterans. (United States)

In all instances, we are reminded that, whether in peace or in war, our lives end in death, a sobering admission for our prayer today.

Most of us don’t choose to spend a lot of time thinking about our own death. Our human tendency is to think of death as loss rather than as the gain many saints, especially Paul, suggest to us, as in today’s first reading:

But when the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 4-7

However, despite a natural tendency to deny it,
the reality of death becomes more intrusive as one grows older.

The vaulting English poet William Wordsworth struggled with the intrusion throughout his life. When commenting on his masterpiece, Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, Wordsworth wrote:

Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood
than to admit the notion of death
as a state applicable to my own being.

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s Ode, even for those unfamiliar with it, offers beautiful lines we might recognize immediately:

  • our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
  • trailing clouds of glory do we come from God
  • Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
  • though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass

Over many readings, this magnificent poem has always offered me both new insights and old comforts about life, death, nature, hope, peace and God – very much like Psalm 23. To prayerfully read one, then the other, is like a long, lovely hike into the heart of God.

Since I suggest it for our prayer today, I looked for a summary for those unfamiliar with it. Sparks Notes offers this:

It remains a powerful poetic meditation on death, the loss of childhood innocence, and the way we tend to get further away from ourselves – our true roots and our beliefs – as we grow older. But it is not merely elegiac: indeed, it becomes celebratory as Wordsworth comes to realise that the advancing years can still provide opportunities to catch some glimmers of that first encounter with nature as a child.

The complete poem is in a second post today, to give it all the prominence it deserves. I hope it blesses you as it does me.

Psalm 23: Light through the Dark

 The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed(All Souls)

November 2, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we commemorate the Holy Souls, a remembrance inextricably tied to yesterday’s celebration of All Saints. It is as if yesterday we prayed in the moon’s full light. Today, we pray on its shadow side.

We pray with Psalm 23, a psalm we have prayed scores of times at the funeral Masses of beloved family and friends. 

Just last month, we prayed it with a lighter tone, focusing on the sunlit field and restful waters.

Today, on this tender feast, we pray this psalm in its grey tones, with a lingering sense of bereavement and perhaps some uncertainty about afterlife’s mysteries.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; 
May the angels lead you into paradise;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, 
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. 
and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, 
May choirs of angels receive you 
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere 
and with Lazarus, once poor,
æternam habeas requiem.
may you have eternal rest.

The popular theology – or more clearly “devotionalism”- surrounding All Souls Day has always challenged me. There is a discomfort with the concept of purgatory, and a time of temporal punishment for faithful but imperfect souls. I have always felt that there is enough suffering in this life to redeem us from the sinfulness we struggle with.

Our modern ideas of purgatory and hell still limp under concepts left over from the Middle Ages – fire, brimstone, and devils with pitch forks. My memory still shivers with images from my grade school choir when, at every funeral Mass, we sang the heavy tones of the Dies Irae with a priest clothed in black vestments.

Post-Vatican II theology has infused hope into that devotional gloom. It has refocused us on the truth informing our understanding of death so beautifully described in our reading from Wisdom:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.

Wisdom 3:1-3

So what might be a reflective understanding of the core theology underlying this important day? The truth is that any theology is imperfect, and we do our best to imagine what is beyond our imagination.

But here are some ideas or beliefs that help my prayer:

  • our souls endure beyond physical death since they are the Breath of God
  • Christ has already paid the price of our sins and redeemed us on the Cross
  • still, we never lose our free will either in life or in death
  • we are free to choose for God or against God
  • some choose total alienation (popularly conceptualized as “hell”)
  • some choose union, but their choices are fragmented and weak at times, casting shadows over our wholeness or holiness 
  • those weak fragmentations may be healed in us even after death (purgatory) until the fullness of God’s Grace “dawns” on us and within us
  • that healing can be fostered by our prayer for one another throughout the Communion of Saints

All Souls Day is the celebration of that prayer and that healing
for those who have gone before us.
Today, we embrace all those beloved souls in our prayer,
and join the prayer of the whole Church for them.

Poetry: Comfort by Christine Robinson

I am a child of God
  I have everything I need.
This beautiful earth feeds my body.
  You feed my soul.

You guide me in the ways of Life,
  for You are Life.
And though I will walk through dark places, and eventually to death,
  I need never be afraid.

For You are with me always,
  In You I can find comfort.
With Your help, I can face whatever comes.
My joy overflows.
Your goodness and blessing will be with me
  Every day of my life -- and forever.

Music: Bach: Cantata No. 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt 

Psalm 23: The Banquet

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 11, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, a familiar, comforting and beloved prayer.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23: 1-3

The psalm comes between readings that assure us of a waiting and sumptuous banquet to which we gain entrance by both mercy and grace.  

Isaiah describes the feast in the future tense:

On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

Isaiah 25: 9

But Paul reminds us of the truth we often forget. The banquet is NOW!

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:20

In our Gospel, Jesus invites his guests to that feast with both an immediacy and a demand. The celebration of abundance is open to all. But we must at least make the effort to don a wedding garment – that reverent, grateful attitude which gives glory to the Source of our abundance. 

The edge of the white choir mantle is visible below the veils.

In ancient times – when I first came to religious life 🙂 – we would add a special garment to our habit to celebrate a great feast. The white choir mantle was a symbol of our awareness of a particularly sacred moment.

Miraculously, it is that reverent awareness that opens our eyes to the plentitude in our midst. It releases us to the freedom of a hope already realized, but hidden from those whose hearts refuse to be dressed in grace.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

Our readings invite us to live as not only invited and but saved people, completely convinced of God’s eternal welcome and protection.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23:6

What would the world be like if we lived out this conviction? 

How might the reproaches fear, competition, domination, selfishness,
and hoarding be removed from our midst?

How might the rush of generosity, forgiveness, and mercy
flow out of our confident hearts to wash the earth in God’s restful waters?

Poem: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Music: Abundant Life – written by Ruth Duck, sung by Marty Haugen

We cannot own the sunlit sky, 
the moon, the wild-flowers growing, 
For we are part of all that is 
within life’s river flowing.

With open hands receive and share 
the gifts of God’s creation, 
That all may have abundant life 
in every earthly nation.

When bodies shiver in the night 
and weary wait for morning,
When children have no bread but tears, 
and war horns sound their warning. 

God calls humanity to awake, 
to join in common labor,
That all may have abundant life, 
oneness with their neighbor.

God calls humanity to join as partners
in creating a future free
from want or fear.
Life’s goodness celebrating, 

that new world beckons from afar,
Invites our shared endeavor 
that all might have abundant life 
and peace endure forever.

Psalm 23: Ahh!

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 19, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the iconic Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. Let’s savor it today as we nestle into God’s merciful embrace.

(I liked praying with this transliteration by Christine Robinson.)

I am a child of God
I have everything I need.
This beautiful earth feeds my body.
You feed my soul.
You guide me in the ways of Life,
for You are Life.
And though I will walk through dark places, 
and eventually to death,
I need never be afraid.
For You are with me always,
   In You I can find comfort.
With Your help, I can face whatever comes.
   My joy overflows.
Your goodness and blessing will be with me
   Every day of my life -- and forever.

Poetry: Let Your God Love You – Edwina Gateley

Be silent.
Be still.
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Let your God—
Love you.

Music: Shepherd Me, O God – Marty Haugen