“We are the ones…sent to be…”

Day Nine of our Novena of Grace:  for those of you on-line praying with us, we are thankful that you have joined our community prayer.  The last morning Eucharist with Fr. Mike and Kathleen, sharing a dialogue with us, with each other and with God was palpable.  No words could describe a Novena we need to end but for participants so hard to leave this place, this touch, these words, this embrace of friendship in God.

Fr. Mike reconnected us with the spirit of Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Loyola’s best friend whom he missioned to the Far East, never to return and be seen in this lifetime.  Francis Xavier preached the gift of mercy.  He is our patron and though we do not speak about him, we carry his spirit and we preach the gospel for our time; as he did and as Jesus before him.  We are all on this sacred and courageous journey of the heart–at our crossroads where God connects with us, right here at 43rd and Powell.  Each day we have prayed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we have prayed into blessings with vowed crosses and hands of mercy; we have prayed into the healing faces of one another and have seen how precious we are in God’s sight.

“Be what you see; become what you are.”  Kathleen reiterated Fr. Mike’s prayer with the Lamb of God that as the Body of Christ we become “Islands of Mercy,” “Faces and Hands of Mercy.”  We have come to the Table of the Lord and left our desires of the heart in His hands.  We are ones he looks at; we are the ones sent, the ones to take notice, the ones who actually see our brother and sister in need.

That Novena holy card picture of Pope Francis embracing the uplifted boy–Fr. Mike gave us the background to that Easter Sunday resurrection symbol.  Dominic was the boy’s name.  Like him, we have been lifted up, face to face.  As Francis holds him, we were lifted in prayer for God to hold us.  Like Dominic, we have such comforting joy in our faces.

Kathleen talked about how privileged she was to experience our vulnerability:  in our prayers, petitions, our expressions, our silence.  She talked of peace, real “resurrection peace.”  Her memory of a Vigil Easter Mass by Fr. Roberto brought tears as parishioners exchanged peace on this “night like no other.”

Fr. Mike and Kathleen have read all your prayers, carried them, and now send us like Ignatius did to Francis Xavier:  to become Faces and Hands of Mercy.

 

“Islands of Mercy in a Sea of Indifference” Do you see yourself?

For eight days, we have been asking for God’s mercy, misericordia, and now we meet God asking for our own mercy–we who have been going to rites, experiencing sacredness of prayer, now being invited to leave our sacrality to meet Jesus where he lives.  Kathleen, in a humorous anecdote with the words of a little boy, boldly states that Jesus “lives down the street from me.”   Yes, he is close, kingdom close.  That misunderstood mission of our Messiah “replaces retribution with forgiveness, indifference with love, shame with compassion, exclusion with inclusion, and judgement with mercy.”  When we are part of that kingdom, we can hear our merciful Friend say, “You are precious, you are a child of God; you are my sister. you are my brother.”  Because Jesus saw people this way, virtually everyone, he challenged the way culture dictated how we perceive each other.  He wanted us to see.  And this sight depends on how we are graced with the eyes of Jesus, to see as he did with eyes of compassion and mercy.

We have cries, echoed by all of humanity.  Our world cries for Mercy.  Kathleen quoted Pope Francis who asks us to be “Islands of Mercy in a Sea of Indifference.”  She exhorts us to take this mercy into the streets, the grocery store, the coffee shop, our workplaces, our school, to our family, neighbors, friends and even (especially) our enemies.

To know God is to be merciful.  And Kathleen used a classroom immersion experience with homelessness at Jesuit High as an example of how we take our faith beyond theory into practice, into “courage,” a work of the heart.  Please listen to her telling the frustrating story of how she tries to give a totally absorbed saxophone panhandler her dollar!  (One aspect of grace is that it is beyond expectation, a real surprise…and her story illuminates that!)

Do your eyes see the face of the Lord asking for mercy?  Do your eyes see the face of Jesus in those needing service, asking for heart?  Do your eyes see?  Francis asks us to be “islands of mercy.”  Jesus says:  “Blessed are your eyes.”  All sacredness points us to life.

 

“As you would with a good friend….”

Some revelations are more confessional; and Fr. Mike began his presentation on Moses’ standing his ground on behalf of his people before a very angry God with an admission of his own past anger issues.  And how he has worked through them with good management strategies, akin to how Moses took some quiet breaths, stilled time, absorbent listening in waiting for God’s wrath to end.  Moses reminds God that these are the people he has saved and led and called his own.  He connects with and persuades God’s heart by having him remember:  the call, the promise, the possibility.  Fr. Mike said that Moses spoke to God as one friend would talk to another friend.  Moses practiced misericordia, mercy toward the Lord.  And God relents.  And beyond that, He recommits love and care to his people.  In the end, God also practices misericordia,a mercy that allows for second chances, conversion, ongoing conversations.  St. Ignatius directed his retreatants to use this kind of dialogic prayer; he called it a colloquy in which a person talks  and listens to God as a friend, a close friend speaking from the heart.  Fr. Mike invites us to use the gifts of our imagination (God’s built-in communication channel!) to have him present next to you.  And then to speak from your heart; and to listen.  The Lord will never forget us.  He is with us always.

When Fr. Mike raised the consecrated broken bread and cup before us today, I could see this priest standing before his people, like Moses, and the blessed symbols saying to us:  These are my people.  I love them.  I am with them always.  

There is a Last Supper, a last prayer, a last petition…but all is created new and ongoing in God’s eyes.  As Fr. Mike holds up Christ in the bread and wine and looks out through moistened eyes at God’s People, we become what we see.

“I could feel the heart of our community…”

On Day 6 of our Novena of Grace, Kathleen, her touch keenly on our pulse, reiterated scriptural longing out of desert experiences that expressed our own dire prayers launched to a hopefully listening and responding God.  Forsaking those who may be experiencing the gratefulness of consolation, Kathleen shepherded the question held by so many:   Lord, where are you and why can we not feel your presence?  Suffering held over time does not complain, it tells a story.  Kathleen related her Maryknoll dreams and the apparent fulfillment that took her to LaPaz, Bolivia.  The dream turned into a nightmare, and a crushed return to her home in trauma, grief and bereavement.  (You may listen to her tell this story on the audio portion.)  She told of her own desert experience and feeling so distant from the God directing her to serve.  Did God forget her?  Kathleen enfolded the Novena community’s bewilderment:  Has God forgotten the parents who hold up their children in prayer?  Or the children holding up their parents in prayer? Her heart articulated the grieving experiences of our community in a litany of pressing petitions;  depth of words coming to the surface of our thoughts and requiring the immediacy of attention right here, right now.  When she talked, it was like she was dialing 911 for God!   Listen to her last story with how God came to her in hands and faces of mercy…with wine and hot chocolate…and the embracing words:  Be still and know that I am with you.  She got it, right here, right now.

Who knows your name?  Does God know your name?  Are you a light for others to know their true selves?  Are you, in tenderness, faces and hands of mercy?

Midpoint of the Novena: How are you doing?

Fr. Mike, speaking also for Kathleen, connected with us at the very beginning of his presentation by saying “We would love to hear from you!  What does your internal barometer say?  Where is God stirring?  Or not stirring?  How does your heart feel?” Some of us may be moved by prayer toward consolation.  Others may still be waiting for that special prayer to be answered, that word to end the frustration along with desolation.  Does God recognize me so He can listen to me?  Fr. Mike turned to the man in the Temple who for thirty-eight years (say it again, “thirty-eight years”) waited for healing to no avail.  His heart had grown disheartened, distant, disillusioned and depressed.  We revisit what Kathleen talked about yesterday:  misericordia.  But this man, according to Fr. Mike, needed mercy for himself.  On one particular day, this man was noticed by a Galilean who asked “Do you want to be well?”  The ill man started again with his excuses but who could blame him?  This man did not need the pool of stirring waters.  Jesus just said to the man one word:  “Rise.”  The man stands, picks up his mat and walks!  When he surrendered to Jesus, the healing began.  Fr. Mike had us all close our eyes and imagine Jesus, the Face of God’s Mercy, to take notice, to gaze into our eyes.  Can you do this?  Can you surrender to Jesus?  Can you hear his word for you today?

“Rise!  Do not be afraid!  Your son is healed!”

“All shall be well!  Your prayer is answered.”

“Pick up your mat and be on your way.”

What words do you hear?

Misericordia: Understanding how God responds to our hearts

Kathleen unfolded the day’s scriptures (John 4:43-54) beginning with a quote from Richard Rohr:  We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.  She then proceeded right to the gospel expressing amazement at Jesus’ reactions to his fellow Galileans who seemed to just want more signs and wonders.  It seemed Jesus expected more, a new way of being, a following on his path.  Could it be he was calling them (and now us) to be “faces and hands of mercy?”  Kathleen took us back to her academic days in theology, and said she really did not come to understand the  concept “mercy” until she went to Chile right after the Pinochet dictatorship had ended.

It was in Spanish and in that darkened earth of violent acts leaving so many victims that she came to understand “misericordia,” mercy:  how God sees and how in our following we also see, a “sight” that has an energy of self-gift, of forgiveness and of healing.  Kathleen’s Christ is Other but when she talks, he seems so close, he seems one of us.  He seems our very heart.  We feel so loved!

Precious prayer transform us into faces and hands of mercy.

Faces and hands of our Novena

Our Novena image is displayed in the church with the vow crosses that blessers hold together with those bringing forth prayers and need for mercy, consolation, healing, and strength.

francis and crosses
Novena presenters Kathleen Myers and Mike Bayard, SJ, share a moment at the start of another day.
mike and kathleen
Kathleen and Novena coordinator Katie Hennessy smile from behind-the-scenes.

katie and kathleen

More than the eye can see

Using as a backdrop the scriptures of Samuel passing up all of Jesse’s sons to select his youngest, the most unpromising, David; and John’s gospel of Jesus and the blind man, Fr. Mike shared his early experience of being met in Omaha by a Jesuit priest.  His new superior was blind.  And he took Fr. Mike on a tour of Omaha pointing out all the landmarks and sights.  Of course, Fr. Mike was amazed at his knowledge and sensibility emanating from this man blind from a youthful injury.  But Fr. Mike was really taken aback when his blind tour guide told him “You took the wrong turn back there.”    Fr. Mike learned that this man had “more than the eye can see.”  He certainly was a “man of light.”  In the gospel of John, Jesus sees with the heart and so notices the man blind from birth; and heals him on the Sabbath.  The face of mercy sees beyond appearances to the heart; daresay to the heart of the matter.  Seeing in this light, always more than meets the eye, unlocks possibility and lives are forever changed.  Jesus meets us at our crossroads here.  Look into his eyes; hold your heart out to him.  Be touched by hands and faces of Mercy.  Your prayer be blessed.

What our hearts hold preciously

Yesterday, Fr. Mike Bayard had us return to God, to the one sitting right next to us who calls to our heart.  Today, Kathleen Myers eloquently voiced what we hold so dearly in our hearts that takes “courage” (acts of the heart) to share with our God so desirous to unfold mercy.  She read a litany of deep cares that seemed to come from our own arteries all the while gently tapping her heart, ostensibly awakening it to be ready for the needed mercy of  our nearing God.

Faces and Hands of Mercy begins with 24 Hours to the Lord

Our 2016 Novena of Grace has begun with the scriptural words and song from Hosea:

Come back to me with all your heart.  Don’t let fear keep us apart.

Fr. Mike Bayard, S.J. in his first reflection asks us to visualize Jesus befriending us in a love that unites our whole heart, mind and soul.  All are welcome to come to St. Ignatius Church today for our 24 hour Prayer of Mercy requested by Pope Francis. We are united together as a People of God in this language which is always one of prayer, and in depth, adoration.