Psalm 89: Hopeful Complaining

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 28, 2020

I realized that I have never written a reflection on this Sunday’s readings. Here is a link to a wonderful weekly reflection by a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet from the National Catholic Reporter.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 89, as we did last week, but this time with earlier verses.

Psalm 89 is long and complex. It is significant to an overall understanding of the Book of Psalms because within 89 the entire cycle of Israel’s prayer life is reflected.


How we pray depends on how we see God. In our lives, as in Israel’s, external circumstances can shape that perception of God. 

How we feel physically, mentally; how we love and are loved; whether we are afraid or secure; how we succeed or fail – these and so many other realities put a face on God for us.


Psalm 89 reflects a time of oppression and confusion in Israel’s life. They had been flying high when David built the Temple. Its presence confirmed for them the truth of God’s promise to Abraham. But now, the Temple lay in ruins and the people enslaved in a foreign land. What did all that say about God and God’s Promise? What had happened to the loving face of God?

Contrary to expectation, the psalmist does not begin to pray from a position of lament or complaint. Instead, Psalm 89 begins by remembering and blessing “the good times”.

The promises of the LORD I will sing forever,
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.

For you have said, “My kindness is established forever;”
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.


Woman at the Well by Angelika Kauffman

It’s like Israel is sitting down beside God and saying, “You know, times are rough right now. But You’ve always been good to me, and I won’t forget that no matter what. So show me where You are taking me in these present circumstances.”

Reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well.

What a great way to begin a sorrowful prayer! Such an attitude opens our heart to God’s ever-present Mercy which will come to us — disguised even in our sorrow.


The saints among us never give up on God – and we are all called to be saints. Psalm 89 helps us understand how God is with us and we can be with God even when our specific “prayers” seemed ignored or rejected.

For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
Blessed the people who know the joyful shout;
in the light of your Face, O LORD, they walk.


Poetry: A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For me, the poem voices Longfellow’s philosophy for dealing with adversity which is primarily self-reliance and bravado. I think prayer is a good deal more effective!😃

“A Psalm of Life” became a popular and oft-quoted poem, such that Longfellow biographer Charles Calhoun noted it had risen beyond being a poem and into a cultural artifact…
Calhoun also notes that “A Psalm of Life” has become one of the most frequently memorized and most ridiculed of English poems, with an ending reflecting “Victorian cheeriness at its worst”. Modern critics have dismissed its “sugar-coated pill” promoting a false sense of security…
Nevertheless, Longfellow scholar Robert L. Gale referred to “A Psalm of Life” as “the most popular poem ever written in English”.
Wikipedia
And, besides, I like it.🤓 Hope you all do.

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A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not in mournful numbers  
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers  
And things are not what they seem.
 
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art to dust returnest  
Was not spoken of the soul.
 
Not enjoyment and not sorrow  
Is our destined end or way;
But to act that each to-morrow 
Find us farther than to-day.
 
Art is long and Time is fleeting  
And our hearts though stout and brave  
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
 
In the world's broad field of battle  
In the bivouac of Life  
Be not like dumb driven cattle! 
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future howe'er pleasant! 
Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act, — act in the living Present! 
Heart within and God o'erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime  
And departing leave behind us 
Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints that perhaps another  
Sailing o'er life's solemn main
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother  
Seeing shall take heart again.
 
Let us then be up and doing  
With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
 

Music: Show Me Your Face – Don Potter

Heart Temple

Memorial of Saint Scholastica

February 10, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read about the massive celebration to dedicate Solomon’s Temple. It would have been a ceremony akin to the parades we view in movies like Ben Hur.

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This video gives us a good understanding of the magnificence of the building.


Praying with the passage today, core questions repeat themselves to me:

  • Can God be in a building?
  • Is there a legitimate spiritual purpose to the cathedrals, large or small, that we build?

For me, the answer is a fluid one. Certainly, beautiful churches inspire our faith and serve as a central symbol for the unity of believers.

But throughout history, these buildings have also symbolized individual and national power, pride and greed.

A recent initiative of Pope Francis converted a 19th century palace behind the Vatican into a homeless shelter. The Pope directed this rather than the site’s upgrade to a luxurious hotel. 

The building is described as having “carved wooden ceilings, frescoed walls and tiled floors — evidence of its aristocratic origins.” Sharing a meal with its first residents, Pope Francis said, “Beauty heals”.

Such healing is the real purpose of all such buildings – that their beauty heal hearts, communities, and nations. Where the purpose is lost, excess eviscerates the healing beauty.


At points in the Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Temple – instructing his disciples that God’s Presence now dwells in the world through him. Today’s Gospel shows us how this Presence manifests itself – through the power of compassion and justice for the poor:

Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.

Where God is present there is always healing. May it be so in our churches and in our hearts.

Music: Dwelling Place – John Foley

It’s All About the Temple

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Home

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about being at home with God.

home

In our passage from 2 Samuel, a highly anthropomorphized God informs David that He is sick of living in a tent while being carried to and fro. God goes on to recount for David all that God has done for him, demonstrating that David can fully trust God. 

God wants a home. In other words, it’s time to make a permanent commitment and “move in together” into each other’s hearts.


 

sowerIn today’s Gospel, we find the familiar story of the Sower and the Seed. While the story doesn’t specifically mention “home”, Jesus indicates that only those “at home” with God’s Word will understand the true meaning of the parables.

You may have had the joy of visiting friends who greet you with the invitation, “Make yourself at home”. These friends will have done everything they can to make that possible – clean house, fresh bed linens, your brand of coffee, your favorite meals. They want you to be completely comfortable for your stay.

Well, God wants to stay forever within us. And God wants us to stay forever in God. That mutuality of homecoming is the whole purpose of our lives.

We know how to create this sacred hospitality for our friends. Let today’s reading remind us to do this for God as well by:

  • “learning” God within the Sacred Word of scripture
  • joy and awe at God’s desire to be with us
  • attention to those tendernesses that invite and welcome God
  • continual gratitude for God’s Presence
  • delighting God by our acts of love and hospitality

Music: Welcome to My Heart – Dean Martin
(Even though the song was not directed toward God, it works for me. I hope it does for you too.)

A Transformed Heart

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

November 22, 2019

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Saint_Cecilia
Poster of fresco after John Dryden’s poem “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day

(Following in a second post will be John Dryden’s A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687)

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia who is the patron of musicians. A Christian martyr of the 2nd century, she is one of seven women in addition to the Blessed Virgin mentioned by name in the Canon of the Mass. Her deep spirituality led to a sacred intimacy with God which gave her the faith and courage to endure martyrdom.

Both readings today speak about the Temple. After the victory of Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish people restore their Temple with exuberant celebration, recognizing it as a symbol of God’s Presence with them.

In today’s Gospel. Jesus also “restores” the Temple by driving out the merchants who have diverted the Temple’s purpose as representative of God’s Presence.

Our bodies too are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians tells us:

Do you not know
that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

Through our Baptism into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are called to be transformed by this Indwelling. As in any relationship, this transformation is accomplished through transparency, communication, listening and acting on behalf of the Beloved.

Geoffrey Brown, a deeply spiritual poet, offers us this imaginative image of waiting for and welcoming, as Cecilia did, the transformative Presence of God in our lives:

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And sweep it clean, make it warm, with fire on the hearth
And candles in their niches
The pictures on the walls glowing with quiet lights

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And make the bed with the quilt from home
Strew rushes on the floor
And hang lavender and sage from the corners

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And be there when you come.

Music:  Marc-Antoine Charpentier – Caecilia Virgo et Martyr

 

For more on Charpentier’s magnificent works, click here

Charpentier’s Histoires Sacrées, or sacred histories, are in reality, dramatic religious scenes taken from the bible or the lives of the saints and set to music.

Cæcilia, virgo et martyr octo vocibus dates from around 1677. This tells the story of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians, and an early Christian martyr. Cecilia’s husband and brother are executed for converting to Christianity, with Cecilia following shortly afterwards. Perhaps the highpoint of this piece is the final Guay – Nolite flere fideles where firstly the angels claim that Cecilia has been ‘crowned by them’, before the rest of the chorus sing ‘Come, then, let us sing and exult in Cecilia’s victory.’ Quite wonderful in the way it incorporates Cecilia’s position among musicians. (Stuart Sillitoe)

Do Your Best. Leave the Rest.

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

Friday, September 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a name some of us know only by the writing on the side of the charity pick-up truck. But there’s a reason that name was chosen.

St. Vincent de Paul
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Saint Vincent establishing Daughters of Charity by Jean-François Faure (Toulouse Cathedral [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D)
Vincent was a French priest, recognized for his deep compassion, generosity, and love for poor persons. He founded two religious orders dedicated to these values: the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) for priests and brothers, and (with the assistance of St. Louise de Marillac) the Daughters of Charity for women religious. He and the men and women who followed him have blessed the world with immeasurable Christian charity.

Vincent encountered many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his ministry pursuits. But he continued on. He wrote this in one of his letters:

Let us allow God to act;
God brings things to completion
when we least expect it.


Vincent’s advice is not very different from the encouragement Haggai offers the Israelites in today’s reading. They have taken up the task of rebuilding the Temple. But it’s hard, and it looks like their results will pale when compared to the glory of the First Temple. Some of their elders remember that glory and they are crestfallen at the currents efforts. Discouragement begins to overwhelm them.

Haggai2_5JPG

But Haggai refocuses the community, reminding them that this is God’s work, not theirs.

And take courage, all you people of the land,
says the LORD, and work!
For I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.
This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of Egypt,
And my spirit continues in your midst 
do not fear!

In striking poetic symbolism, God then promises to fill the house with glory!

As good people, we try throughout our lives to do things right and well for God. Sometimes our efforts disappoint ourselves and others. We get discouraged. We think the work belongs to us and that we have done it poorly.

Today’s passage is for us. As Haggai speaks in God’s voice: Take courage and work. Leave the rest in God’s accompanying hands.

Music: In God’s Safe Hand – Skjulte Skatter

Haggai Impeaches Israel

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 26, 2010

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Today, in Mercy – and tomorrow – we will hear from Haggai, one of the twelve minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. These dozen writers are referred to as “minor” because of the length of their writings, not their value.

So Haggai, even though many of us have never heard of him, has something important to say for Judeo-Christian tradition and for each of us who read him. Let’s see what that might be.

Hag1_9JPG

Haggai is prophesying during the Persian period of Jewish history, around the middle of the 6th century, BC. The Jewish people had been back home from the Babylonian captivity for almost 20 years. When they first returned they were passionate about rebuilding the Temple. But as the decades passed, and opposition from their non-Jewish neighbors increased, their commitment waned.

The building of worship places has always been an activity with fans on both sides of the aisle. Some argue that God needs a spot where the Divine Presence can be recognized and revered. Others believe that the effort and resources expended in such building could better be used in human services for God’s poor and needy people. Haggai’s community had people in both camps. (Sound familiar?)

Haggai offers a turning point for their arguments. He tells the people they are a mess. The absence of a central symbol for their faith has weakened and scattered them to their own selfish pursuits. He tells them to look at themselves:

Consider your ways!
You have sown much, but have brought in little;
you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.

The Temple, while it is important, isn’t the most important part of Haggai’s prophecy. He tells the people they have lost their souls. The lack of a central, shared faith has caused them to forget who they are. They will remember only when they remember God’s centrality in their lives.

Haggai appeals to the people to restore a public life which gives honor to God. For their time and circumstance, such a return is symbolized by the rebuilding of the Temple which had been destroyed at the time of their enslavement by Babylon.

We humans often forget what’s important. We chip away at, and ultimately destroy, what makes us who we are by little acts of faithlessness, deceit, covetousness and envy. These small treacheries grow into big ones redeemable only by an impeachment of the soul and the renewal of a common moral purpose.

If the message strikes you as extremely germane to current day realities, I’m glad.

Music: Come Back to Me – by Gregory Norbet, sung by John Michael Talbot

Law or Love?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings bring to mind the role of religion in our spiritual life.

take up mat 2

The dictionary defines religion as a particular system of faith and worship. The origin of the word “religion” is from the Latin “religare”: to bind.

In the magnificent passage from Ezekiel, we are given a metaphorical description of grace flowing from the Temple, the locus of faith for Israel. Ezekiel is led by a radiant vision to this source of abundant life symbolized by water. Slowly and incrementally, this abundance deepens for Ezekiel, until he is swimming in its grace. 

Ezekiel’s vision demonstrates what happens in us when religion, ritual and law enhance grace. The beauty, power and architectural symmetry of the Temple symbolize the great benefits of religious practice.

Our Gospel, on the other hand, shows us a Pharisaical religion built on empty practice and bereft of heart. When Jesus cures on the Sabbath, he moves beyond these skeletal boundaries to mercy, which is the reason for all religious practices.

take up mat
Jesus Cures on the Sabbath

Jesus shows us that when religion – and its ensuing ritual and law – bind grace, it needs to be set aside. His whole life was predicated on a faith which generated mercy, not sacrifice. The alleviation of suffering and need always supersede observance – even on the Sabbath.

When we see any so-called faith or religion which places law over mercy, we see an empty temple where the river of grace has run dry. Our culture is filled with fake holiness that measures, condemns and ostracizes others. We see religion distorted into political bullying. We see it redefined as an excuse for excessive wealth. We even see it used as legitimization for nationalism, violence, racism, and war.

Today’s readings tell us to be on guard. The forces which twist religion are very subtle and pervasive in our culture. They dress themselves in impressive words and practices, just like the Pharisees did, but their costumes hide an ugly hate and fear.

To the fearful and weak, these forces preach power – but it is a power over not for others.

Jesus has shown us what faithful practice looks like: mercy and love. It is vulnerable, courageous, inclusive, and humble. It sees the suffering of others and responds. It waters the Temple of our hearts to make them verdant with hope, joy and generosity.

Music: Come to the Water – John Foley, SJ and Matt Maher

We Are God’s Temple

Friday, November 9, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110918.cfm

psalm46 stream

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.  It’s a big deal feast and, as a young religious, I never really understood why. I thought to myself, “It’s a building, right? Why are we celebrating a building.” As I matured, I learned. 

Perhaps some of you are familiar with Ken Follett’s book “The Pillars of the Earth”. Or perhaps others of you have visited the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. You may have been, as I was, overwhelmed at the sheer enormity and span of these cathedral-building endeavors which reflect our desire to enshrine God.

What is it in us, as human beings, that will move us to give lifetimes and centuries to capturing God? What is it in us that will try to concretize our awe at the Almighty?

It was just such an inner drive that motivated the builders of the Lateran, the oldest and highest ranking of the four major basilicas in Rome.  This “temple of stones” was understood by its builders to represent the living Church – you and me, who together are built up by Christ into his own Body.

What kind of  temple are we, sisters and brothers – we who are all too aware now of the cracks in our structure? 

We are, as Ezekiel visions and the psalmist confirms in today’s readings, a temple fed by the life waters of God.

Our Gospel shows that Jesus knew and believed this. He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem of its weaknesses. He then compared it to his own body, which is the true dwelling place of grace among us. He asked us to imitate him in the way we treasure and live our lives in this world because we too are Temples of God’s Grace.

A living fountain of grace flows through this living temple. God is in our midst as we build, and rebuild, the Church – brick by human brick.

May this feast renew our hope for our Church, cause us to call upon God for deeper courage, and witness to all the enduring power of faith.

Music:  We Are God’s People – Fred Bock

This is a recently written hymn with an old time kind of sound. 

English hymn text writer, Bryan Jeffery Leech, took the primary theme from Johannes Brahms’ 1st Symphony, 4th movement and wrote lyrics which have become a hymn standard. We Are God’s People is a majestic statement befitting Brahm’s regal theme. Allan Robert Petker has created an anthem setting and has intertwined many of the other themes that Brahms utilized in his 1st symphony.