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December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

credit: today.com

Let’s say you had a meeting and it was crunch time. Looking over the attendees, you realize there’s a baby sitting in one of the chairs in a suit and tie. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day! 

Look at you. You can’t even hold your own head up, man! You’re drooling, babbling on about nothing, and your contribution at the last meeting was nothing but a big pile of poop. Get ahold of yourself! 

You notice the baby’s round belly under his pocket protector and bib.

You’re letting yourself go around the middle, there, pal. You really should do some crunches!

You wouldn’t expect a baby to know how to crunch numbers. Heck, they can’t even crunch granola yet! And surely a baby’s too young to hit the gym.

Different rules apply to people depending on the situation, and we don’t all develop at the same pace. Some may think that, just because they haven’t had an experience, that experience isn’t valid.

People who call others “snowflake” or “overly sensitive” are actually, let me see if I can find the technical term here in my thesaurus.. Oh yes. Insensitive clods!

Mercy. Let me re-phrase that. 

Such people don’t seem to have been born with a compassion compass, that thing inside that says, I may not understand what you’ve been through, but I can see that you’ve been profoundly affected by it.

Then again, if I label them insensitive clods, I’m the one being insensitive. 

Perhaps a better way to frame it is that they’re newborns in terms of the expression of empathy. Their mercy-muscles haven’t formed fully yet. One day they may be in a new situation and it’ll be crunch time for them. Here’s hoping the people in that room will show them some compassion.

Do you feel broken by recent events? I hear you. It’s hard to live in the here and now when here is untenable and now is rife with violence, greed and anger. Perspective helps, so let’s go back to the Sermon on the Mount. You know what Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” etcetera. Notice what he didn’t say? “…for they will inherit the earth — in twenty minutes!” Nope. All of those rewards Jesus talks about? Those are things that will happen in heaven, in the hereafter — “next life” stuff.

So how do you make it through this life when real justice will only occur in the next? Think long-term. Even the king of the fruit flies only lives 24 hours. Sure, he can buzz as loud as he likes, even assemble a fruit fly army…in the end, he is a nothing in a sea of nothingness. He is a grain of sand. He is a mote, a distraction, a flicker, an afterthought. This life is brief. The next life is eternal. Why waste time on negativity, selfishness or anger when there is so much joy to look forward to?

I’m not asking you to ignore life or to ignore the inequalities and injustice that surround us. Just the opposite. Keep working on it. Don’t give up because of “this world” distractions. Those are just fruit flies. Swat them away. Keep plugging away at justice, mercy, love and hope. Because that’s what will matter in the next life. And next life stuff is awesome. I want to be there for it. Don’t you?

The reality is that we are all going to make mistakes.  It is what human beings do.

Can you think of any other better way to do it?  In kindness acting in His Name and with His Love?

–SueBE

The world is spiraling out of control. We are not evolving, but de-evolving. Every day things become more vicious, more divisive, more hopeless.

Here’s where you’re expecting me to say, “Have hope! God is with us!” I am not going to say that.

I’m growing increasingly tired of hearing, “hope and pray that things will improve.” I’m not sure that’s enough. It feels to me as if God is pushing our buttons lately, with a very intentional agenda in mind: What will it take?

What will it take for you to call your senator? What will it take for us to understand that we are all human beings and need to take care of one another? What will it take to stop blaming and start working on solutions? What will it take for us to wake up?

It is all very well and good to hope and pray. In fact, prayer can be powerful action. But there is more to be done, and it starts with making our actions congruent with our beliefs. Do you claim to be a Christian yet don’t care about (or actively work against) the welfare of the poor, the immigrant, those standing on the margins (like the LGBTQ community)? You might want to re-evaluate. Do you hate liberals? Conservatives? Hating is not a Christian value. Spewing that hatred, whether online or at a “rally” is not a Christian activity.

Which is not to say that Christians have a corner on morality; we don’t. And part of God’s wake-up call to us is recognizing that we, in our diversity of faith traditions, are more alike than different, that Sharia law doesn’t hurt me any more than someone keeping kosher does — just follow your own beliefs and be considerate of others’ beliefs. Religion isn’t the enemy; it’s people who misconstrue and misinterpret religion, who forget that God is love — above all else.

I firmly believe that Jesus was a radical. He didn’t come to soothe anybody’s spirits; he came to shake things up. And that’s what God is doing now. God is shaking and shaking us, trying to make us declare exactly who and what we are and what we believe is right and just.

So…are you ready to stand up? If not, what will it take?

There’s an old children’s rhyme (quoted famously in “Singing in the Rain”) that goes like this: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” It’s a bit of doggerel that keeps popping into my mind as I reflect further on the subject of forgiveness. For aren’t we all a little like Moses in this way?

We are quick to excuse, expunge, understand and let slide our own sins because they are ours. We know our own motivation. We think ourselves to be, at heart, good people. We cut ourselves slack. We suppose our toes — or our sins, in this case — are roses. But we suppose erroneously. All sins stink.

Imagine extending the kind of compassion we show ourselves to others! Instead of mentally berating the mother who is shrieking at her children at Walmart, perhaps we could recall the last time our own tone was harsh — understandably so, because of the day we were having! What has that mother’s day been like? Or among our own families: Do we not sometimes take for granted that our families will love us no matter what? And does this assumption sometimes carry with it the further assumption that we need not try as hard with our own kin as we do, say, with outsiders? Again, we suppose erroneously. Our families deserve our first fruits, not our leftover scraps.

I’m not advocating beating yourself up for every error you make. Rather, loosen the purse strings on your bag of mercy in the same way you would for yourself. You remember that you are only human. You know you get tired, frustrated, out of sorts. But you forget that other people do, too. You want your own opinions to be accepted and understood, but you’d rather others not express opinions counter to your own. If your own toeses need a little compassion, so do everybody else’s — whether or not they smell much like roses.

I am feeling my way around the subject of forgiveness because it seems to be a prominent need in my life. But it’s prominent for all of us. Forgiveness is not only a gift we give others, it is a gift for ourselves, a letting go of pain and anger that can drag us down and make us stink just as bad as the person who sinned against us. For the health of our own toeses — as well as the toeses of others — maybe we should remember: We are all sinners, and we all smell. Mercy, grace and compassion are just what we need to cover up the stench.

chuchill

Looking at some of my old yearbooks, I’m struck by something — the number of times someone has written, “Thank you for listening.” One of my eighth grade friends called me her psychiatrist. Several high school friends note with embarrassment some of the topics they’ve obsessed over, but say they feel better having been heard. I guess that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be heard? To be thought of as special and worthy and listenable?

Pope Francis, in an interview about The Year of Mercy in the Catholic church, talks about “the apostolate of the ear,” the ministry of listening to others and giving them needed reassurance that they have been heard. This is a ministry that anyone can be a part of; it is not limited to clergy. When we give people space to pour out their feelings — even if we don’t agree with them, even if we think they are wrong — we help them. We might even help others, too, by helping to obviate anger and frustration that might boil over in ways that are destructive to the community.

This practice benefits the listener, too. In opening our ears, we are opening our hearts (even if it’s only a crack), and allowing ourselves to be changed by what we hear. It is the start of compassion, which feeds into the infinitely powerful grace of mercy. Maybe what the world needs now is “love, sweet love,” but what people seem to need most is empathy.

So I’m putting the call out to all of you introverts out there: Join me in the apostolate of the ear. Let’s face it, we don’t much like talking anyway, so why not provide a service that costs us nothing and might save someone’s life? Unheard frustrations, anger and sadness can roil up into a hurricane — they can even lead to war. But once heard, those wounds — like the words that describe them — are exposed to air and can finally heal.

It’s easy to get started. Just open your ears.

just-mercyAre you a stone thrower or a stone catcher?  You may not have heard of a stone catcher before but I think we are all familiar with the concept of a stone thrower. These are the people that Christ was talking to when the crowd planned to stone the adulteress woman.  “Let he who is without sin among you throw the first stone.”

I learned about stone catchers this week reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer who started the Equal Justice Initiative. The group started out defending those on Alabama’s death row who didn’t have legal counsel. Soon they worked nationwide, trying to stop the killing of men, women and children simply because they are poor and uneducated. Or mentally ill. Or handicapped. Wrongfully convicted or unjustly sentenced.

Society and the justice system pitched stones at these people, burying them beyond hope or light.

Stevenson is a stone catcher.  He didn’t coin the term himself.  He learned it from an older woman he had seen in the court room. He thought she was related to one of the defendants. When they spoke, she told him that, no, her grandson was one of the murder victims. Seeing his killers sent to prison “forever,” didn’t give her a sense of vindication.  It only made her sadder.

rock-1533825_1920Finally she realized that she was to spend her days at the courthouse.  She was there to listen to those no one else could hear – the mothers, grandmothers and daughters.  She was there to hold them up when they could no longer stand.  She was there to catch the stones thrown at them and those they loved.

A stone catcher.  Someone who catches the stones thrown by the merciless.  Someone who catches the stones thrown by the unjust.  Someone who catches the stones thrown by those in power simply because they can.

What an amazingly powerful image.

Christ was a stone catcher.  He listened to the widow.   He sat among the fallen.  He saw and he heard and he healed.

Catch or throw.  Throw or catch.  Which would Christ have you and I do today?

–SueBE

This week, a comment on one of my past posts really grabbed me by the throat. It was from a nouveau ami français, Michel Fauquet, who explained that the French word for “mercy,” misericord, derives from the Latin for “heart dare.” Well, knock me flat.

Mercy is often considered something for soft-hearted folks. Wasn’t “no mercy” part of the evil Cobra Kai bylaws? (That’s a “Karate Kid” reference, by the way.) To show mercy is to show humanity, and, ultimately, humanity is pretty soft and squishy. Right? Nope.

Mercy takes strength. It is a dare of the heart, and not an easy one, either. It may be the greatest dare we ever receive. Do you dare have mercy for those on the margins, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who make different choices than you might? Do you dare to open your heart and listen to views that oppose your own? Do you dare to be potentially changed by what you hear?

The following reflection is a part of my own constant struggle with mercy:

Let my heart rule my hand.
Let mercy pervade, seeping
as water onto paper,
blearing lines, bleeding letters,
softening words into
mounds and crosses,
untended graves for
faint, forgotten faults.
Smoothed like creases on linen;
a note written in a foreign hand,
indecipherable, and, in any case,
unread.

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