Sacred Tears

November 18, 2021
Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50, “a prophetic imagining of God’s judgement on the Israelites”. (Wikipedia)

Our first reading from the Book of Maccabees introduces us to Mattathias, revered leader of the Jews in the city of Modein. He violently refuses the Greek Seleucid command to worship their gods, thus initiating the Maccabean Revolt. The wars lasted nearly a decade. Final victory is commemorated in the Feast of Hanukkah:

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee’s (Mattathias’s son)victory over the Seleucids. According to tradition, victorious Maccabees could find only a small jug of oil that had remained pure and uncontaminated by virtue of a seal, and although it contained only enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight days, by which time further oil could be procured. (Wikipedia)

Our first reading is really describing the beginning of civil and intercultural wars by which dedicated Jews sought to establish both their religion and their nation. Core to their motivation was the desire to be in relationship with their one God according to their own custom and law.


In our Gospel, Jesus has come as the full manifestation of that One God. He has invited the Jewish people to a new and complete relationship with God, but they have resisted.

Now, as he nears his final fate in Jerusalem, Jesus realizes that his dream for the People will not be fully realized. They will experience a destruction like the one once feared by Mattathias. The reality causes Jesus to weep.

Are the passages only about the Jews, their religion and their history?

For us, these passages are about choosing a faithful,
evolving relationship with God
– a relationship that will demand truth,
action and at times suffering
as we pursue ever deeper understanding
of God’s Presence in our lives.

Our world and its culture place many godless choices before us, choices that could make Jesus weep because of the suffering they cause others. These choices are not as easy to identify as they were in the time of Mattathias. They don’t come dressed as a pagan soldier ready to quash our resistance.

They come in the large subtleties of politics, economics, human rights, global relationships. These choices show themselves in the small exercise of our respect, care, and reverence for all Creation. But they do come to us in every moment and they demand our witness.

Jesus wants the new Kingdom to rise in us when we open our hearts to his Word. It is an ongoing and daily Resurrection. Let’s pray for the courage for it!


Poetry: The World Is Too Much with Us – William Wordsworth

Wordsworth wrote this poem during the Industrial Revolution when he felt the complexities of the world were inhibiting our appreciation of the sacredness of nature.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Music:  When Jesus Wept – William Billings

One of the most well-known of the early American canons, originally appeared in the New England Psalm Singer. It was written in 1770 by William Billings, a self-taught singing-school teacher and composer who served as choir leader at Old South Church in Boston.

(Lyrics below)

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
In Mercy flowed beyond all bound;
When Jesus groaned at rambling fear
Seized all the guilty world around.

Per a valued friend:

There is a statue in Oklahoma City called “Jesus Wept.”  It is on the grounds of St. Joseph Church in the city – which is right across from where the Oklahoma City Federal Building had been located.  The people of the parish wanted to erect the statue on their grounds because the memorial on the federal property couldn’t be religious.  It is a very moving statue.

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50 which enjoins us – from sunrise to sunset – to offer God a sacrifice of praise.


A sacrifice of praise!
It’s a phrase and concept
that pops up in scripture several times.
And it intrigues me.
What might that repeated phrase mean
for my life with God?

In our first reading, the Israelites took detailed steps to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Their efforts are summarized in this verse: 

We will do everything that the LORD has told us. 

But what is the difference between a “sacrifice of praise” and the ritualized blood sacrifice described in Exodus? 


I think of a “sacrifice of praise” as that moment in our spiritual lives when our focus shifts 

  • from “what we do to honor God” to “how God lives in us”
  • from practiced ritual to the awe of Sacred Presence
  • from my efforts to God’s fidelity
  • in other words…..
  • from me to God

At that moment, the “sacrifice” is of our natural self-absorption and self-involvement in order to free God’s presence and action through us.

It is a moment of recognition like that of John the Baptist who, busy as he had been establishing his ministry, on seeing Jesus said, “He must increase and I must decrease.


Our psalm tells us that God is faithfully responsive to such total awareness and commitment:

Offer to God praise as your sacrifice
     and fulfill your vows to the Most High;
Then call upon me in time of distress;
    I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.


Our psalm moves me to this prayer:

My intention, hope, and prayer, dear God, is

  • to praise You with my life
  • to act for You in all things
  • to be Mercy in the world as You would be

May these become a sacrifice of praise to You.


Poetry: St. John’s Eve –  Malcolm Guite

Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill
Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:
‘He must increase and I diminish still,
Until his sun illuminates my night.’
So John the Baptist pioneers our path,
Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,
Unlatches the last doorway into faith,And makes one inner space an everywhere.
Least of the new and greatest of the old,
Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,
He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold
The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”
So keep his fires burning through this night,
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.

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

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

May 25, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we return to “Ordinary Time”, we pray with Psalm 50.

Gather my faithful ones before Me,
    those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.
And the heavens proclaim the Lord’s justice;
    for God is the judge.

Psalm 50: 5-6

It’s been quite a journey, hasn’t it?

We left Ordinary Time in mid-February to walk the annual road of the Paschal Mystery. Throughout Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, we assiduously laid the pattern of Christ’s life over our own experience, praying to be stretched into its redemptive wholeness.


Now we enter a new time as new people. Our readings restart with a few weeks of:

  • advice from Sirach,
  • some stories from the delightful apocryphal Book of Tobit,
  • and the middle of Mark’s Gospel during the journey to Jerusalem

These passages invite us to return to a graced dailyness which realizes that nothing is ever really “ordinary”.


Psalm 50, particularly as it is interpreted here by Christine Robinson, inspires us to carry the grace of Pentecost to our ordinary tasks:

Spirit is everywhere
   In the eternal circle of sunrise and sunset
   In the beauty of the earth and in the power of her storms
   In the laws that are written in our hearts, and 
in the voice of conscience that marches us to goodness.

God is spirit. 
We may need ritual, but what God wants is 
Our hearts 
open in gratitude, or in a cry for help, or
   in willingness to treat our neighbors decently
  seek the truth
  live in love.

These ways bring us to God.

So, in our prayer today, let’s reignite this “ordinary time” with the insight of Abraham Heschel who wrote:

Our goal should be to live life
in radical amazement.
….get up in the morning and look at the world
in a way that takes nothing for granted.
Everything is phenomenal;
everything is incredible;
never treat life casually.
To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Poetry: Morning – Mary Oliver

Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stretching her black body from the pillow.
The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch her a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

Music: Spirit by Peter Kater

Psalm 50: Clean It Up!

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

March 2, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50 which Wikipedia describes as “a prophetic imagining of God’s judgement on the Israelites”.


It’s a rainy day here, after a foggy yesterday. A cheery psalm this morning would have been nice…. but, well it’s Lent.

Why do you recite my statutes,
    and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
    and cast my words behind you?

Psalm 50: 16-17

The psalm is a divine rebuke. It shouts, “Wake up! You’re missing the point!”

Psalm 50 calls us to examine the failures in love that we might bury under routine. It demands that we look under the surface of our daily practice for the depths of grace and transformation that we might be overlooking.


We can get pretty comfortable with our beliefs, our judgements, our attitudes, our habits. Left unexamined, these can deteriorate into prejudices and indifferences, into bigotry and self-righteousness, into betrayals of mercy.

Today’s Gospel gives us a perfect description of what happens to us when we fail to discern the “hardening of our spiritual arteries”. We get Pharisaical! Here’s what Jesus says about pharisees:

… they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’

Matthew 23:4-7

Let’s learn humble, contrite self-examination by sincerely praying Psalm 50:

Those who offer praise as a sacrifice glorify me;
    and to those who go the right way 
    I will show the salvation of God.

Psalm 50: 23

Our first reading from Isaiah sums it up:

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
    cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
    hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Isaiah 1:16-17

Poetry: God must give us a renewed mind (from Vale Millies) by Hadewijch. She was mystic of the 13th century
English version by Mother Columba Hart, Original Language Dutch

God must give us a renewed mind
     For nobler and freer love,
To make us so new in our life
     That Love may bless us
And renew, with new taste,
     Those to whom she can give new fulness;
Love is the new and powerful recompense
     Of those whose life renews itself for Love alone.
— Ay, vale, vale, millies — (farewell, farewell, a million times)
     That renewing of new Love
— Si dixero, non satis est — (If I can speak, it is not enough)
     Which renewal will newly experience.


Music: Psalm 50

Psalm 50: Love Bears Sacrifice

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 15, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50, set as a scene from a court proceeding. That seems rather appropriate after watching the impeachment proceedings, doesn’t it!

Psalm 50 is written to evoke the imagery of trial in which God calls all Creation as witnesses.

God the LORD has spoken and summoned the earth,
    from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Psalm 50: 1

God expresses displeasure to the people about two specific things.

  1. The substance of their sacrifices:

Offer praise as your sacrifice to God;
fulfill your vows to the Most High.
Then call on me on the day of distress;
I will rescue you, and you shall honor me.

Psalm 50: 15-16

2. Their blatant hypocrisy:

But to the wicked God says:
“Why do you recite my commandments
and profess my covenant with your mouth?
You hate discipline;
you cast my words behind you!

Psalm 50: 17-18

in judgement, God requires a conversion in the people:

Now understand this, you who forget God,
lest I start ripping apart and there be no rescuer.

Psalm 50:23

The psalm’s imagery was no doubt effective for its first listeners because they, like us, had witnessed many a court proceeding that was all about “law” but very little about justice. They recognized hypocrisy clothed in pretense, even in themselves.

God, on the other hand speaks clearly about truth and justice:

Those who offer praise as a sacrifice honor me;
I will let him whose way is steadfast
look upon the salvation of God.

Psalm 50: 24

Praise is the prayer of a humble, aware, truthful, and obedient spirit. Our Gospel verse instructs us that we learn how to offer a sacrifice of praise by living in the pattern of Jesus:

I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

Poetry: Praise Song for the Day by ELIZABETH ALEXANDER

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
hey would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Music: Total Praise – Richard Smallwood

I just love this hymn and this choir!

Lord, I will lift my eyes to the hills
Knowing my help is coming from You
Your peace You give me in time of the storm
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen

Psalm 50 Redux: Sacrifice of Praise

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 13, 2020

I have no past reflection on today’s readings since in 2016 they came on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and in 2018 on the Feast of St. Benedict – both of whom I chose to highlight on those days. So here is a reflection from the Creighton University archives:


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 50. Today’s passage is what I call the “empty words” section where God leaves no doubt about what does and does not please him.

Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?


We all know people who talk a good game about religion but they’re mean, selfish, and miserable to be around (present company excluded of course 🙄) And we all know people who actually distort religion to promote themselves while debasing and marginalizing others.

In Psalm 50, God says, “Cut it out!”. God doesn’t want burnt offerings or empty words. God wants “a sacrifice of praise”. So what exactly might that mean?


Walter Brueggemann, in talking about the similar Psalm 51, describes a sacrifice of praise like this:

It must be an intimate, yielding act of trustful submission of “spirit and heart,” not “sacrifice and burnt offerings”. The speaker (psalmist), now situated in glad praise, can imagine an intimacy and communion in which contact between God and self is available and in which the distinction between the two parties is clear and acknowledged—God in splendor, the self in “brokenness”.


When we pray from a humble understanding such as Bruggemann describes, our souls open to God’s love for us and for all Creation. We move from being the center of an insecure, self-absorbed universe to seeing ourselves in inextricable communion with all Life whose Center and Source is Love itself.

The one that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to the one who goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.


Poetry: one of mine today.

Praise
is the place
where I am lost
in You,
the exchange 
that
has only 
You speaking
without sound, with nothing
but my awed
silence.

Music: Alvin Slaughter – Sacrifice of Praise

Lord I lift a song of worship
For Your glory and Your grace
Let my heart reveal all my words fail to say
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
(Repeat)
On the mountains, in the valley
As I wait in my secret place
I will trust,trust in the name of the Lord
Now receive this sacrifice of praise
Now receive this sacrifice of praise
You're my shield You're my shelter
From the storm and from the rain
Cover me beneath the shadow of Your wings
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
Hallelujah hallelujah
Hallelujah to Your name
For all You've done
You are and evermore will be
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
Of praise
Of praise----

Psalm 50: God Doesn’t Do “Fake”

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2020

I don’t have a past reflection on today’s readings. But here is a good one from Joe Zaborowski at Creighton University.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50 which is set up like a court proceeding in which God is both prosecutor and judge of the Israelite community.

Hear, my people, and I will speak;
Israel, I will testify against you;
God, your God, am I.

Today’s section, one of two orations, explains God’s dissatisfaction with the display of sacrifices empty of any real commitment to God’s service. In other words, God tells the people that all their fiery and bloody rituals are fake and useless to him.

One might picture the high priests standing dumbfounded at this announcement. 


What! I worked hard on this sacrifice… made sure it was perfect. All the bells and whistles! And You’re still not satisfied??? What do You want from me then?


It reminds me of a married couple. One cooks a beautiful meal for the other but the love between them has faded. As they eat, there is no caring conversation and no joy in each other. They finish perfunctorily in a fog of empty words. They retreat to their separate distractions, waiting to repeat the charade the next day.

In Psalm 50, God says he doesn’t want to be loved like that.
So what does God want then?

Our reading from Amos today offers the thread of an answer which is woven through the rest of Psalm 50:

But if you would offer me burnt offerings,
then let justice surge like water,
and goodness like an unfailing stream.

God wants our sincere love expressed in goodness and actions for justice.

Just like that beautiful dinner, rituals have meaning only as celebrations of faithful and demonstrated love. Sounds like 1 Corinthians 13, doesn’t it?

The parallels to our own lives are obvious and don’t need my elucidation. Let’s just think about how God might answer us if we ask in prayer, “What is it that You really want from me?”.

Poetry: Rabindranath Tagore, from Gitanjali

I am only waiting for Love 
to give myself up at last into his hands.

That is why it is so late 
and why I have been guilty of such omissions.
They come with their laws and their codes to bind me fast; 
but I evade them ever, 

for I am only waiting for Love 
to give myself up at last into his hands.

People blame me and call me heedless; 
I doubt not they are right in their blame.
The market day is over 
and work is all done for the busy. 
Those who came to call me in vain 
have gone back in anger. 

I am only waiting for Love 
to give myself up at last into his hands.

Music: Proof of Your Love – King and Country

What Return Can I Make?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Click here for Readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings challenge us to consider what we might offer to God in return for all the good we have received.

Ps50_praise

When I was young, and on a stressful occasion still, I have been known to bargain with God.  It goes something like this:
“Dear God, please, if You will only do X, I promise to do Y.”

The process reminds me of a game my Uncle Joe played with me when I was a toddler. He would give me some pennies to buy candy from him that he had just purchased at the corner store. He intended to teach me simple math. But I also learned what is was like to have resources, to possess buying power.

The glitch in the process was this: none of the resources really belonged to me. Everything belonged to Uncle Joe who allowed me to use his resources to learn and grow.

When we think about what we can offer God, it’s sort of a similar model. We have nothing that doesn’t first and already belong to God. We can give God nothing to “buy” God’s love and grace. God gives these freely and without restriction.

All that we really have to offer God is our love, demonstrated by our charitable actions. That’s what Sirach is talking about today.

In our Gospel, Peter – ever a guileless and simple soul – wants to make sure Jesus knows how much Peter has given up for God. Jesus affirms Peter’s offering, but says that God’s generosity exceeds it a hundredfold.

We live in loving relationship with an infinitely generous God. Our only currency in this relationship is the return of love, praise and thanksgiving.

When I regress to my bargaining stance with God, I think God smiles at me the way Jesus probably smiled at Peter. The smile says, “I am already giving you everything you need. Let yourself rest in Me.”

Music: To God Be the Glory ~ Andrae Crouch