Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 19, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68, some different verses for this second day:

Show forth, O God, your power,
    the power, O God, with which you took our part;
For your temple in Jerusalem
    let the kings bring you gifts.
You kingdoms of the earth, sing to God,
    chant praise to the Lord
    who rides on the heights of the ancient heavens.
Behold, God’s voice resounds, the voice of power:
    “Confess the power of God!”

Psalm 68 is a prayer that gives full voice to Israel’s gratitude for being God’s chosen people. And in that way, it is a challenging psalm to pray with today as modern Israel and Palestine descend into all out war which disproportionately affects the poor, elderly, women and children.

The contradiction of our psalm, placed against this war scenario, is deeply unsettling. Does God really want the nation of Israel to dominate a geography to the annihilation of other peoples?


What I remind myself of this morning is this: biblical Israel is not the same as the political state of Israel. After WWII, the political state was initiated as part of a partition plan in which both Palestine and Israel would be independent states. The plan didn’t work out, creating multiple ensuing conflicts. The current one is just the latest edition.


Biblical Israel, on the other hand, is not a physical territory but instead a relationship – the foundational heritage of all Abrahamic faiths. For Christians it is a heritage that led to our faith in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Although once rooted in a geography, that faith is now rooted in a universal love which reverences life for all people, particularly the poor, the orphaned, and the disenfranchised.


As I pray Psalm 68 today, I pray it with a woman named Arlette in my mind and heart. My friend Eileen McGovern introduced me to her friend, who wishes not to be named, with the following story. As we pray today, let this woman and all who suffer in war be with us.

I write for a friend who is voiceless. She lives in Bethlehem, Palestine.

I met her during a pilgrimage in October 2019, and we became friends. We have kept in touch and have grown to know and to respect one another. She is teaching me Arabic phrases. I am not a good student so we both laugh at my efforts. Or, we used to until the recent outbreak of violence.

She was born in 1948 when Palestine was a French protectorate. French is her first language, one of four. Yet she is voiceless. Who will hear her?

As a young school girl she pledged allegiance to the French flag and sang La Marseillaise when her home was a French protectorate. When Transjordan was created, as a teenager she sang the Jordanian anthem as she struggled to learn Arabic. At age 40 she became a Palestinian with the creation of the Israeli and Palestine states. She still lives in the West Bank. She has not moved, but politics again have upended her life.

She loves children. Before the Covid-19 pandemic she volunteered at a school for deaf children. At Christmas she runs a charity to give poor Christian children a gift card and food so that their families can celebrate the feast with the traditional chicken dinner, a luxury they cannot afford. During the previous intifada she used to gather Palestinian children into her home and give them chocolates and tell them stories so they would not throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

She is a woman of peace who has seen too much war. She is haunted by the memory of looking out her window to see a man standing outside her house disappear in a phosphorescent flash. This morning she told me of watching TV and seeing men desperately digging, some with their bare hands, in the rubble of a Palestinian home where the cries of an infant girl could be heard. The men did not have heavy equipment so I do not know if they were able to save her.

Now she asks: “Who am I? The Israelis do not want us here. They want me to leave the home of my birth, but I am a devout Christian who loves this land, a sacred land, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus’ birth. I do not want to leave, and where would I go? Who wants Palestinians? No one wants us. I want only to live in peace and to see people of all faiths be able to come to Jerusalem without fear. I live in fear, especially for my son who can be taken from me at any time by Israeli police. I pray, but I am afraid to hope again.”


Music: Desert – Rasha Nahas is a Palestinian artist. Below is her song “Desert” which I find both profound and disturbing. It can be interpreted as a personification poem describing the experience of the Palestinian people in the story of a single individual.

Here is a link to learn more about Rasha from America magazine:

Please just take it all away
I am nobody I could name
My self
I float upon
Pearls some songs
They’ve been buried for years

My self
I’m a desert torn
I was born on the mountain by the sea
The west rapes east
My west disease
I’m a little beast
Hiding up the street
In a little room
With a little bed
On the dusty floor
Lies human flesh

Time melts out my eyes
As my heart is bleeding quarter tones
and I sail on this song

The dead sea
used to be alive
She had a woman and a child
And she couldn’t live at home she said
She wandered lost
and she wandered west
to the place where the bible spoke of gods
All their temples and their floods
They hung her on a cross
She is a language no one dares to talk
Sweet bleeding palms and the breeze of death
They buried her
She’s a roaring breath

Time melts out her eyes
As her heart is bleeding
Quarter tones and she sails on this song

Sweet bleeding palms
And the cheering men
They buried me
I am a roaring breath

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

April 12, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 2 which poses an eternally recurring question:

Yesterday I read that it was the 21st anniversary of The Belfast Agreement. This is also known as the Good Friday Agreement, because it was reached on Good Friday, 10 April 1998. It was an agreement between the British and Irish governments, and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how Northern Ireland should be governed. The talks leading to the Agreement addressed issues which had caused conflict during previous decades. The aim was establish a new, “devolved government” for Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists would share power.


But at the same time I also read another current article:

For nearly a week, crowds of Protestant and Catholic youth have provoked one another through the gaps in the wall, video footage from journalists at the scene shows. Stemming from decades-old tensions referred to as “the troubles,” the reignited violence has been, in part, caused by Britain’s exit from the European Union.


On any given day, we could take these stories and substitute the names of other countries, each struggling through cycles of strife, attempts at peace, and recurrence of violence.

The psalmist’s question echoes and the answer, over the ages, remains the same.

Why do the nations rage? They rage from the abuse of power, money, and human dignity.


What is the antidote to this recurring rage? Our psalm tells us it is simple – not easy – but simple. We must take refuge in God, govern our lives by God’s desire for good for every person, every creature.

Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil. Let us not remain mired in theoretical discussions, but touch the wounded flesh of the victims. Let us look once more at all those civilians whose killing was considered “collateral damage”. Let us ask the victims themselves. Let us think of the refugees and displaced, those who suffered the effects of atomic radiation or chemical attacks, the mothers who lost their children, and the boys and girls maimed or deprived of their childhood. Let us hear the true stories of these victims of violence, look at reality through their eyes, and listen with an open heart to the stories they tell. In this way, we will be able to grasp the abyss of evil at the heart of war. Nor will it trouble us to be deemed naive for choosing peace.

Pope Francis: Fratelli Tutti #261

Poetry: Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Psalm 144: War and Peace

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 144, a royal psalm of David in which he celebrates victory and its ensuing peace.

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.

Psalm 144:1

While, at first blush, the psalm seems to extol war as a means to achieve power, its message is really quite the opposite. 

It is only through reliance on God and faithfulness to God’s law that we find right-balance and peace – in our world, our community, and ourselves 

My mercy and my fortress,
my stronghold, my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I trust …

Psalm 144:2

Historically, our world religions have had a vexing relationship with war, often espousing it to advance questionable agendas. Only now is the Catholic Church beginning to re-evaluate what is referred to as the “Just War Theory”.

For a good explanation of this theory, click on the link below


However, in Fratelli Titti, Pope Francis declares:

War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses, and even resorting to the manipulation of information. In recent decades, every single war has been ostensibly “justified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain “rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy” have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even “preventive” attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”. We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war!

As we pray with this psalm today, we might echo its last verse and pray a prayer like this for all people, for our fratelli tutti…:

May there be no breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcry in our streets.
Blessed the people so fortunate;
blessed the people whose God is the LORD.

Psalm 144:14-15

Poem: Misnomer by Denise Levertov

They speak of the art of war,
but the arts 
draw their light from the soul’s well, 
and warfare 
dries up the soul and draws its power 
from a dark and burning wasteland. 
When Leonardo 
set his genius to devising 
machines of destruction he was not 
acting in the service of art, 
he was suspending 
the life of art 
over an abyss, 
as if one were to hold 
a living child out of an airplane window 
at thirty thousand feet.

Music: Where Have All the Flowers Gone

Psalm 33: God’s Peace

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

October 16, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33 which has been described as “a song of praise” and a call to worship. But as I pray with it this morning, I think of the psalm as much more. Within it is a profound call to social justice grounded in faith.

Maybe my attitude is the result of a commercial I keep thinking about. You may have seen it – the one for an organization called Wounded Warriors. Every time I see it, my soul splits. There is deep compassion, admiration and respect for the veterans depicted. But there is also the raging question “WHY!”.

How can we still allow, tout, and support the systemic atrocity of war in any form? How can we see these young men and women, bodies maimed and lives fractured, and not be outraged that war even exists!


I think that, thousands of years ago, the writer of Psalm 33 may have entertained similar questions. The psalmist realizes that it is not by the superiority of the nation state that a people gains righteousness and mercy.

The LORD foils the plan of nations,
frustrates the designs of peoples.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever,
the designs of his heart through all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people chosen as his inheritance.

Psalm 33:10-12

It is instead by acknowledging God’s care for all peoples that a nation achieves the humility, understanding, and courage to help build universal peace.

From heaven the LORD looks down
and observes all the children of Adam,
From his dwelling place he surveys
all who dwell on earth.
The One who fashioned together their hearts
is the One who knows all their works.

Psalm 33:13-15

The challenge of global peace-making is daunting. We “children of Adam” have permitted ourselves to not only normalize, but to exalt war. Reversing the systems that depend on and lead to war will be a long, complex, and arduous pursuit.

But for God’s sake, and our own, we must do it!
Our soul waits for the LORD,
he is our help and shield.
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
May your mercy, LORD, be upon us;
as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33: 20-21

Reading: from
In Truth, Peace
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE WORLD DAY OF PEACE
1 JANUARY 2006

The theme chosen for this year’s reflection—In truth, peace — expresses the conviction that wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendour of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace. The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, promulgated forty years ago at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, stated that humankind will not succeed in ”building a truly more human world for everyone, everywhere on earth, unless all people are renewed in spirit and converted to the truth of peace”. 

But what do those words, ”the truth of peace”, really mean? To respond adequately to this question, we must realize that peace cannot be reduced to the simple absence of armed conflict, but needs to be understood as ”the fruit of an order which has been planted in human society by its divine Founder”, an order ”which must be brought about by humanity in its thirst for ever more perfect justice”. As the result of an order planned and willed by the love of God, peace has an intrinsic and invincible truth of its own, and corresponds ”to an irrepressible yearning and hope dwelling within us”.


Music: Let There Be Peace on Earth sung by the magnificent Wintley Phipps

Creeping Up to Lent?

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

February 25, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we are creeping up to Lent’s doorstep.

Doorstep

Are you beginning to consider your Lenten rituals? Our readings today might help orient us.

They leave this question hanging in the air: Who do I really want to be in my life?

Mk9_34 first last

James says that if we are someone who loves the world, we will find ourselves at enmity with God. James defines “the world” as a place in discord, conflicted by covetousness, envy, frustration, and death-dealing.

James is directly addressing damaging squabbles within the Church itself. Infighting has caused fractures within his believing community. Failures in mutual charity and sincere prayer have generated “wars” among the members.

Why would anybody choose to contribute to such a negative environment? 

James pins it on one thing: jealousy. We are jealous to be, have, control, and possess more than others. We are tempted by power, riches and esteem. We want our opinions to be honored, our needs to be met above and before others.


The reality exists today as well, as we know too well.

  • We see it in the Church from factions who want to bend the Gospel to their own agenda.
  • We see it within and between nations who raise the advantage of some over the welfare of others.
  • We see it in families, businesses, and social circles where individuals volley for position, influence, or control over others.

These conflicts pour out in criticism, judgements, biases, shunning, and all kinds of failures in compassion, respect, and honesty. They blind us to our common creaturehood in God, and to its demand for an equity of love, mercy, and justice.

Otherwise, 

  • How could we ever kill or enslave one another, either by aggression or neglect?
  • How could we separate parents from their children and put babies in cages?
  • How could we participate in a global economic tyranny that leaves some without land, homes, health care, or hope?
  • How could we use other human beings – or their vital resources – only for our own pleasure, power or enrichment?

Most of us do not outrightly choose these sinful behaviors. But we must ask ourselves to what degree we are complicit in them by our failures in just judgement, advocacy, political responsibility, globally sustainable choices, — just plain care and reverence for all human beings, all Creation.


The approach of Lent is a great time to revisit the question James hangs in the air for us:

  • Who do I really want to be in my life? 
  • Do I need to make changes to do that? 
  • How can I prepare for a Lent that helps me make those Grace-filled changes?

We are grown-ups now, and our Lenten repentances demand more than those we learned in grade school. Fasting from candy won’t cut it anymore. 

  • How about we fast from cable news that feeds our biases?
  • Or actually do something for our parish besides critique the Sunday sermon?
  • Maybe give up some of our polluting behaviors requiring plastic and other non-recyclables?
  • How about including a outsider in something where they are otherwise ignored?
  • Or providing for someone’s need who would hesitate to ask for your attention?

I think James would approve of choices like that because he says:

God bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
So submit yourselves to God.

Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Music: When It’s All Been Said and Done – Robin Mark

The Righteous Kingdom

Monday After Epiphany

January 6, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, John instructs us in the meaning of true righteousness. 

We human beings can get very confused about this term. Some have used it to imply that observable religious practice makes one superior, holier than others. We can all visualize the “righteous” preacher pouring fire and brimstone over the lowly congregation. The beautiful term “righteousness” has been disserved by this image.

In his first letter, John describes the root of true righteousness, that state of graceful balance within a Gospel-powered life:

Beloved:
We receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the early stages of his public ministry. He is slowly teaching the people how different his “power” and “righteousness” will be from the worldly power they might have expected.

Mt4_23 kingdom

Jesus’s “Kingdom” stands in stark contrast to the Roman Empire and the principles of domination, aggression and disregard for life which fed it. Jesus’s is a Kingdom built by uniting our differences, especially those of the poor and sick, into the oneness of God’s love.

Jesus went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,

curing every disease and illness among the people.
His fame spread to all of Syria,

and they brought to him
all who were sick with various diseases

and racked with pain,
those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics,
and he cured them.


Praying with these readings today brings me face to face “the elephant in the room”. In this Lavish Mercy community, we hope together for the growth of the Gospel Kingdom in a global community. But now that yet unrealized community stands at the brink of war because nations have so badly blurred the lines between the righteous Gospel Kingdom and the self-righteous Empire.

RSM statement
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas join with people across the world in condemning the Trump Administration’s drone strike assassination of Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, outside of Baghdad. Far from fostering peace in a troubled part of the world, this reckless decision will only escalate violence and increase suffering for millions of people. We call on our government to reject violence and militarism and instead to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. –Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas


It is difficult to look at the “elephant” without getting political, but I am trying hard to refrain from political opinion here. What I can say with confidence is that we as faith-impelled people cannot stay silent in the face of the world’s current situation. When our voice is heard – at the ballot box and through direct advocacy – may it reflect the fundamental Gospel imperatives for which Jesus lived and died.


These clippings from Pope Francis’s visit to Hiroshima helped me in my prayer today:

“How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of catastrophic war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?”

“May the abyss of pain endured here in Hiroshima remind us of boundaries that must never be crossed. A true peace can only be an unarmed peace.”

“In a single plea to God and to all men and women of good will, on behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us together cry out: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering,” 

“Indeed, if we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands.”

Pope Francis quoted Gaudium et Spes, which states that “peace is not merely the absence of war … but must be built of ceaselessly.” He added that the lessons of history show that peace is the fruit of justice, development, solidarity, care for our common home, and promotion of the common good.

“I am convinced that peace is no more than an empty word unless it is founded on truth, built up in justice, animated and perfected by charity, and attained in freedom.”

Music: Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber

No More War

Friday, December 7, 2018

Click here for readings

Dec 7 _2

Today, in Mercy, we pray for the gift of hope for ourselves, and for all who desperately need it today. Hope is the steely confidence that no matter how dire our condition, God abides with us and is lifting us toward Light. Hoping, unlike wishing, changes us not our circumstances. That is its magic, its power and its mystery.

Some will remember December 7, 1941. Some will still feel its imprint on their families although they were born years later.

No doubt, every American adult will have some sense of the enormity of war, whether it be WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or all the other endless operations of war.

Let us pray together today for an end to war, and to all the immoral pursuits that lead to it. Even though it is difficult, let us hope and believe that humankind,  through the grace of God, is capable of more.

Music:  Where Have All the Flowers Gone – by the great Pete Seeger, prolific folk song writer and political activist.  On this recording, Pete is an old man singing with his grandson.

In Memory

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial

Memorial Day

Today, in Mercy, we pray for all who have died as a result of war, especially our deceased servicemen and women.

May we, as a human family, realize the awful sinfulness of war. May we do all we can to help all people live in peace.

Music:  Below is a link to Michael Hoppé’s moving album Requiem.  I hope you are moved by listening to some or all of it, as we pray for world peace and justice.

The Road to Conversion

Friday, April 20, 2018:

Readings: Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 117:1-2; John 6:52-59

Today, in Mercy, we ride with Paul on the road to Damascus. His soul is struck by grace and he realizes his sinfulness – that he has failed to see the presence of God in all people. He turns from his persecution to actually become a Christian himself. Conversion!

One wonders what that same road might look like today – the countryside and its people devastated by the continuing Syrian War. War would be impossible if we truly could see the face of God in one another. Let’s pray today for a conversion of hearts in leaders, in all those who profit from war, and in ourselves. Let’s pray especially for the people devastated by war and the exercise of irresponsible power.