Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 119, the longest and very familiar psalm which pleads for God to mercifully teach us:
In our readings, Paul asserts that without God’s Grace we can never attain these gifts. Jesus calls us to use these gifts and to practice a holy life by recognizing and responding justly to the challenges of our times.
Paul sounds a lot like someone approaching the microphone at “Sinners Anonymous”:
I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.
Paul basically attests to the fact that for human beings, even him, will and actions often don’t synch up. Sure, we want to be good people, but as Nike says, do we …
Paul’s says no. The only way we do the good we will to do is by the grace of Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel, Jesus affirms the slowness of the human spirit to act on the realities around us. In some translations, Jesus uses a phrase which caught on with the architects of Vatican II: the signs of the times.
Jesus tells his listeners and us that we need to be alert to the circumstances of our world. It both weeps and rejoices. Where it weeps, we must be a source of mercy and healing. Where it rejoices, we must foster and celebrate the Presence of the Spirit.
In the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), we read:
In every age, the church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task. In language intelligible to every generation, it should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask about the meaning of this present life and of the life to come, and how one is related to the other. We must be aware of and understand the aspirations, the yearnings, and the often dramatic features of the world in which we live.
Although written in the 1960s, these powerful words hold true today. We are the Church of which the document speaks. We are the ones whom Jesus calls to respond with authentic justice and mercy to the signs of the times.
Read the newspaper in that light today. Watch the news in that light. Meet your brothers and sisters in that light today.
Poetry: Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Perhaps more than anything else, Shelley wanted his message of reform and revolution spread, and the wind becomes the symbol for spreading the word of change through the poet-prophet figure. Some also believe that the poem was written in response to the loss of his son William in 1819 (born to Mary Shelley – author of “Frankenstein”). The ensuing pain influenced Shelley. The poem allegorizes the role of the poet as the voice of change and revolution. (Wikipedia)
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou, Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave, until Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) With living hues and odours plain and hill: Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion, Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed, Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean, Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread On the blue surface of thine aëry surge, Like the bright hair uplifted from the head Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge Of the horizon to the zenith’s height, The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge Of the dying year, to which this closing night Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre, Vaulted with all thy congregated might Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams The blue Mediterranean, where he lay, Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams, Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay, And saw in sleep old palaces and towers Quivering within the wave’s intenser day, All overgrown with azure moss and flowers So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear The sapless foliage of the ocean, know Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear, And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear; If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee; A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share The impulse of thy strength, only less free Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even I were as in my boyhood, and could be The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven, As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need. Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: What if my leaves are falling like its own! The tumult of thy mighty harmonies Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone, Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one! Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Music: The Times They Are A’changin’ – Bob Dylan
Dylan’s songs in the 50s and 60s became anthems for the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied popular music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. (Wikipedia)
Ah, it was a good time to be young! (me)
The Swedish Academy awarded Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
October 20, 2021 Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 124, a dramatic psalm stretched between early desperation and ultimate freedom.
In the psalmist’s prayer, Israel is called to realize that it has narrowly escaped from a mortal danger, never specified, but only alluded to in phrases such as:
would have swallowed us alive
fury was inflamed against us
waters have overwhelmed us
torrent swept over us
swept over by the raging waters
not leave us a prey to their teeth
This is some serious trouble! And because of this blessed escape, the community is called to a life of freely given service and praise.
In our readings, Paul and Jesus both instruct and challenge their listeners and us to a similar response for all the graces we have received – especially being rescued from sin in the life-saving waters of Baptism.
Paul wants us to understand that, through our Baptism, we are living in a whole new power for goodness and grace. The world may look the same as it did before we belonged to Christ, but it isn’t.
To use a phrase from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
If we see with the new eyes of grace, we will be able to respond to Jesus’s challenge:
Stay awake! For you do not know when the Son of Man will come.
Stay awake. See the world and life as they truly are – places where God awaits us in every moment. This is the amazing power we have received through our Baptism!
So let’s open our hearts to listen lovingly to the sound of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That freed and obedient heart is precious to God, and is the catalyst to a transformed life!
Poetry: Song for Autumn – Mary Oliver
In the deep fall don’t you imagine the leaves think how comfortable it will be to touch the earth instead of the nothingness of air and the endless freshets of wind? And don’t you think the trees themselves, especially those with mossy, warm caves, begin to think of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep inside their bodies? And don’t you hear the goldenrod whispering goodbye, the everlasting being crowned with the first tuffets of snow? The pond vanishes, and the white field over which the fox runs so quickly brings out its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its bellows. And at evening especially, the piled firewood shifts a little, longing to be on its way.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 105, a recounting of the marvelous works God has done from the Abrahamic covenant to the Exodus. Indeed, our psalm celebrates God”s faithfulness to Abraham and to all generations, even us!
God remembers forever the sacred covenant which God made binding for a thousand generations –
In our reading from Romans, Paul preaches about that Covenantal Promise. The text is a little deep, and I had to dig a bit to get my inspiration. But there are gems in these dense words!
It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
This is a spiritually freeing passage. It assures us that God is with us through our faith, not through the perfection with which we keep laws and rules.
Our Gospel reinforces the message:
Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven
The passage is a little scary when first read, because we all hope we haven’t done anything to offend the Holy Spirit. But I think what Jesus is telling his listeners is this:
If a person criticizes or rejects my life and teaching, forgiveness is still possible when they come to their senses and repent. It’s like cutting the bad spot out of an otherwise good apple.
But if a person chooses to live a life which blasphemes (mocks, dismisses) the Spirit of life, love, mercy and peace, that person can never be forgiven — because they can never repent. They will be rotten to the core.
So the advice of Paul and Jesus boils down to this. Befriend the Holy Spirit by your life of faithful choices. Listen to the Spirit’s inspiration. Help others to do the same. And do not worry when you make a few mistakes. God stands by the promise to be with us always.
Poetry: The Promise Written by Rumi Translated and read by Fatemeh Keshavarz
(Remember when reading that, for the Sufi mystic poets, everything was about God. Modern users often apply these poetic sentiments to human relationships, but they were not composed in that light.)
When pain arrives side by side with your love I promise not to flee When you ask me for my life I promise not to fight
I am holding a cup in my hand By God if you do not come Till the end of time I promise not to pour out the wine Nor to drink a sip
Your bright face is my day Your dark curls bring the night If you do not let me near you I promise not to go to sleep…nor rise
Your magnificence has made me a wonder Your charm has taught me the way of love I am the progeny of Abraham I’ll find my way through fire
Please, let me drink water from the jug This love is not a short-lived fancy It is the daily prayer, the year-after-year fast I live it, like an act of worship, till the end of my life
But then, a tree Blessed not with fruits of your bounty Will be dry wood for fire Even if it drinks the ocean
On the wings of the Friend, fly o my heart! Fly and look upward For high on the peak of presence Earthlings like you will not be let in
Others praise God at the time of affliction You stay awake day and night Steady, watchful like the wheel of the firmament
Time to stop speaking of the Friend Jealousy won’t let me scatter the perfume to the wind
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 130 which promises that, even when we are in the depths, God offers us “the fullness of redemption”.
Let Israel hope in the LORD, For with the LORD is mercy, and plenteous redemption.
For Paul in our first reading today, who is preaching a universal salvation in Jesus Christ, those “depths” are sin:
For there is no distinction; (between Jew and Gentile) all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
Paul then declares a core teaching of the New Covenant
They are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…
Paul is preaching to a community in which a few “boasters” have surfaced – people who felt they could reinterpret and codify the Gospel their own way – like the Pharisees and lawyers do with the Mosaic Law in our reading from Luke today .
Paul is correcting that falsehood. He uses a lot of words to explicate the Gospel’s core tenet of universal redemption by grace. But for me, they are “theology words” not “prayer words”.
What I choose to pray with is this awesome truth:
The people in today’s Gospel refused to recognize and accept that all-defining gift. If they had, everything about their lives would have been transformed. And worse yet, by their exalted positions as scholars and leaders, they used their power to block others from learning about and receiving this Transcendent Grace.
In every generation, there are “religionists” who decide what elements of doctrine satisfy their own needs and desires. They preach that fragmented and divisive catechism to advance their self-serving agendas. They design laws which inhibit rather than assist people in opening their spirits to God’s merciful fullness.
Our readings today call us rise from the depths of any such inhibitions:
to cherish the gift of our redemption in Christ
to meditate on and educate ourselves in a true understanding of that gift
to test ourselves for an honest and inclusive faith rooted in the righteousness of God
Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
Poetry: CONSUMED IN GRACE – Catherine of Siena From ‘Love Poems From God‘ by Daniel Ladinsky.
I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age. the cheeks of the sun were pale before Him, and the earth acted as a shy girl, like me. Divine light entered my heart from His love that did never fully wane, though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person’s faith can at time flicker, for what is the mind to do with something that becomes the mind’s ruin: a God that consumes us in His grace. I have seen what you want; it is there, a Beloved of infinite tenderness.
Music: Amazing Grace – written by John Newton, sung by Il Divo
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge. Not a word nor a discourse whose voice is not heard; Through all the earth their voice resounds, and to the ends of the world, their message.
The psalm captures the point of Paul’s declaration that the natural revelation of God’s power is accessible to all of us in the magnificence of Creation.
For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what God has made.
This natural gift inspires us to know and believe in God. In fact, Paul says we “have no excuse” for a lack of faith, calling those who fail to believe “fools”.
It’s a word Jesus uses in our Gospel to describe Pharisaical religion – a religion of appearances rather than loving practice.
The Lord said, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
In our first reading, 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.
Today’s readings leave me with two intentions:
to be more deeply aware of and grateful for God speaking to me in my natural surroundings
to examine my heart for the sincerity of my faith proven in practice
Poetry: God’s Word Is in All Creation – Hildegard of Bingen
No creature has meaning without the Word of God. God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant all creativity. This Word flashes out in every creature. This is how the spirit is in the flesh – the Word is indivisible from God.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98
God has made salvation known: in the sight of the nations revealing justice. God has remembered mercy and faithfulness toward God’s People.
Psalm 98: 2-3
Indeed God has made salvation known through the gift of Sacred Scripture. And I feel so enthused about the next month’s prayer because, also today, 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.)
Like the rest of Sacred Scripture, which has God for its transcendent author, Paul’s Letter to the Romans has a spiritual and theological depth that is literally inexhaustible.
Scott W. Hahn: Romans
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:
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 a hundred 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 life 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).
Jesus 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:
By that same grace, may we receive faith’s blessing as well.
Poetry: The Avowal – Denise Levertov
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding GRACE.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the magnificent Psalm 63 which captures the soul’s deep longing for God.
It is a longing that, once released in the heart, must be satisfied.
In our first reading, Jeremiah experiences it akin to an addiction, the power of it consuming his life:
I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says not to resist the longing, but to let ourselves be consumed by it like a sacrificial offering:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Jesus, in our Gospel, is the One who surrenders himself fully to that holy longing. He calls us to imitate him:
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
These are profound readings calling us a place that words cannot describe, a place where the Cross intersects with the truth of our lives. May we have the grace to hear and believe.
Poetry: The Longing – Rumi
There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don't you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Love to quench you,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
comes to you of its own accord,
and the longing for it cannot be learned in any school.
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.
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.
Today, in Mercy, Paul and Jesus seem to give us contradictory messages. Paul talks about love, and Jesus tells us what we must “hate” – a bit of a challenge to untangle the core message.
Here’s one way.
We don’t like Jesus telling us to hate anything, as in:
If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Come on, Jesus! You don’t mean that do you – my sweet mom, my precious kids???
No, the scholars say, Jesus doesn’t mean “hate” the way we interpret it in modern English. He is using the common, hyperbolic language of the ancient East which, in this circumstance, would mean “love less”.
So what is Jesus really saying?
We love many people and things in our lives. But we must love God, and God’s dream for all people, above and within all things.
And that’s not easy! Life is a maze of relationships and situations that can get us very confused about what is most important. That’s why Jesus uses such strong language to remind us that there is only one way through the maze: to love as God loves. This is the heartbeat of our life in God!
Paul says this too, indicating as well how to negotiate the maze by keeping Love’s commandments.
If we love with God’s love, of course we will love those we cherish. But we will love them selflessly, with an infinite generosity that always chooses their eternal good. And we will try always to love all Creatures in the same way. This is the kind of love Jesus taught us on the Cross. May God give us the courage to learn.
Music: Ubi Caritas performed by Stockholm University Choir (texts below)
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.
English Translation Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the World without end. Amen.