Monday, July 16, 2012

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;
  I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
  I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
  remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
  cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, correct oppression;
  defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
                Isaiah 1: 11, 16-17

Mark this, then, you who forget God,
   lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!
He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
   to him who orders his way aright
   I will show the salvation of God!
                  Psalm 50 [49]: 22-23

                    .                     .                       .                        .                        .                      .          

Somehow, until today, I had not connected the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Elijah's fantastic defeat of the prophets of Ba'al. But, of course, that was Mount Carmel. I owe the link to the Office of Readings for today: the readings for feast days are always rich and instructive. Occasionally, as was the case today, there is also overlap with the Mass readings. Psalm 50 [49] occurs in both (though only in abbreviated form in the Mass), weaving together Elijah's famous duel with the opening gambit of the book of Isaiah.

I must admit that I overlook, sometimes, the scolding and threatening verses in the Psalms and the prophets. My reading of the Lord's victory at Mount Carmel focuses on God's prevenient grace; God is a God who rushes to save, who waits for the prodigal son and runs out to meet him; God is a God who is 'abounding in steadfast love.' We are called not only to rely on God's love, however, but to display it, to share it, to live it constantly and fully, always and everywhere. That obligates us, as Isaiah reminds us, to the powerless and all those in need. It also demands that we forgive, as the Lord's prayer (and Matthew 18) show so clearly. Not only that, though. God's love draws us further up and further in, as CS Lewis described it, and the only way forward is in holiness: 'to [the one] who orders [her] way aright I will show the salvation of God.'

To do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God--so simple, all-inclusive, and difficult. It really does require our attention all the time: love, forgiveness, thanksgiving, humility and see where the Lord is leading, to respond to our neighbors (spouses, children, colleagues, students, teachers, friends) in love and humility, to forgive when it hurts, and to thank God anyway. Not an easy task, and one at which we are all bound to fail at one time or another. (Ok, so I admit I fail often.)

That's why we depend on grace: for the strength to carry on, and to raise us up when we have fallen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday in Ordinary Time

Have mercy on me, O God,
 according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
 and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence,
and blameless in thy judgment.

.                       .                      .                      .                       .                          .                           .

Anytime I read Psalm 51 (50LXX), I immediately hear it, and see myself in a very small room-cum-chapel so full of incense it looked like a smoky bar. I probably found more peace there, in that tiny room, than anywhere else on campus during the years I studied at the seminary. My Greek teacher, as it happen, was also a priest in the Orthodox church (OCA). Every morning, he would sing morning prayer with a handful of students to whom the practice appealed. And so it was that the child of a Roman Catholic first learned to cross herself from right to left, careful to press the first two fingers of the right hand against the thumb, to symbolize the Trinity.

Something happened there, in that chapel, that would forever alter me. As much as it was connected to the chant and the incense (I am a huge fan of the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei), it was shaped by my regular reflection on this Psalm. Each day, morning prayer began with this psalm--quite a different invitatory than those I find in my breviary. I found it humbling and refreshing to begin with two reminders: that I needed God, and that what God desired from me was to admit it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
   righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness with spring up from the ground,
  and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Yea, the Lord will give what is good,
  and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
  and make his footsteps a way.
                                     Psalm 85.10-13

                          .                     .                     .                      .                     .

This is one of my favorite images from the Psalms. The Psalms have been my refuge since my youth, truly. I have no idea how I might have survived adolescence without having recourse to the songs of exile and lament that often voiced my own anxiety and sense of not-belonging. Among my favorites, though, this Psalm is a relative late-comer and reflects a slightly different perspective on the Psalms. Different, I say, not more mature. It may well be that I have grown up (by God's grace) since I pleaded with God to 'have mercy on me, because I am lonely and weak...' (the Good News Bible's rendering of Psalm 25.16), but I know full well that I am as prone to stumbling as the next person.

My fondness for the image centers on the love that is integral to peace and justice in the Psalmist's description. I imagine faithfulness and righteousness gazing at one another in intimate love: something intrinsic to each draws it to another. The unity of God's love and righteousness draws from creation a faithfulness that displays recognition of its source and destiny. And it isn't just in the abstract, either. I cannot read the final verse without seeing John the Baptist making the way for Jesus. In Jesus steadfast love and faithfulness meet, the creation responds appropriately to the Creator.

For all my romantic portrayal of the scene, I could have done worse than to read the Gospels. In Jesus the Lord has given what is good: Himself. And the fruit of His coming still grows, by the grace of the Spirit. But that's another story.