They—were honored participants in the weekday Mass that concluded their extended retreat experience. We—were noontime Mass regulars, privileged listeners. They, after the homily, were invited to share the verse that had guided their retreat experience. Verses, I suspect, that revealed much about where they were, had been, or wanted to be in their spiritual journey.
Verse…. Silence. ….Verse…. Verses were recited by the retreatants from memory, from the heart, in random, well-mannered order, as if some invisible choir master were tapping on the shoulder the next voluntary sharer. Between verses, was space for silent reflection, Respect for the heartfelt verse-sharing just past, Respect for the next anticipated verse.
(Although the retreatants did not include the Scripture references in what they said, I have included the references for our inspiration.)
“The Lord is my Shepherd…” (Psalm 23:1)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
"Yes, Lord…I believe that You are ….the Son of God….." (John 11:27)
“Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
“… the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:38)
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16)
"…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
“…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
“…where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)
“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
"He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
“Simon…do you love Me?” …“Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.” (John 21:15-17)
The last verse was shared. Silence took over momentarily… Then Mass continued…..
In retrospect, throughout the very powerful sacred listening experience, what struck me more than the particular verse chosen was the authentic, deliberate way each verse was spoken, sometimes in words, punctuated by emotional voices and shed tears. Some verses shared in conversational-level volume; others, slightly louder than a whisper. Truly, I felt as if I were eavesdropping on a prayer from their hearts, straight to the Heart of God.
Moved by the heartfelt recitations, by the authenticity of the recitations, I imagined, if I had been asked to join them in naming a guiding Scripture quote, which one I would have chosen.
I considered a favorite of my father’s---one that I’ve passed on to our children: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) I considered as well, my husband’s favorite: "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29)
As much as I, too, had taken to heart those verses, at that point in my relationship with the Lord, I did have my favorite:
“Mary.”…”Rabbouni.” (John 20:16)
For many reasons, I love that two-word exchange, both for itself and also because those two words encapsulate for me many other verses, affirming, for example:
“At his leaving, my soul sank. I sought him, but I did not find him…” (Song of Songs 5:6)
"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9)
“I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know Me.” (John 10:14)
“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)
Jesus speaking about a good shepherd--alluding to Himself--said, “…He calls his own sheep by name…” (John 10:3)
Also, hearing those two words reminds me of the context in which they were spoken (John 20: 13-15), reminding me that Jesus is Lord; that we can be so distracted or self-absorbed; so blinded by emotions like grief; that we can be looking for the Lord, lamenting His absence, and miss seeing that He is right beside us.
Because of the impact of the sharings that I was privy to hearing, not only did I immediately think of the verse I would quote if I had been asked, but I determined to keep a special quote in my heart. (For a while, I even kept one physically in a locket that I constantly wore.) Over the years, my favorite Scripture verse has changed, just as I have changed, also.
Now, at the start of a new liturgical year, which coincides with the first Sunday of Advent, it occurs to me to use the occasion to prayerfully consider what Scripture verse to adopt as my own. In much the same way that we make New Year resolutions, at the start of the secular New Year, it occurs to me, that it is altogether prudent and appropriate to select a guiding quote for the New Liturgical Year, and it very well may be that we change the verse more than once before the end of the year, not because we give up on the verse, but because we keep moving on and other verses speak to us.
In addition to recalling a favorite verse, or prayerfully reading the Bible on our own in search of a verse that especially speaks to us this year, we have the blessing each time we attend Mass of hearing two or more readings which the Church provides during the Liturgy of the Word—readings which might contain a special verse for our guidance. (As Catholics we are triply blessed in that the Church provides a different set of readings (Cycles A, B, and C), offering us three times as many readings over three years as we would have heard during Sunday Mass if the Church had only one set. The Jubilee Year of Mercy happens to be a Cycle C year, meaning that most Gospel readings will be taken from St. Luke.)
It is good, I think, to have a litany of Scripture verses ready to talk to ourselves—to keep our minds and hearts on God; to stay joyful and hopeful, and to combat temptation, just as Jesus modeled for us, particularly in regard to fighting evil when He answered satan’s (purposely not capitalized to detract celebrity importance) evil intents in the desert, by quoting from Scripture. (Matthew 4: 1-11)
Having a repertoire of verses reminds us that we need God’s Word in a multiplicity of life’s circumstances. It is not necessary to choose one and only one verse for all times. But it is good to keep adding verses to those we ponder. In reviewing those verses, it is interesting to see where we are in our walk with God, as well as where we have been and where we would like to be. True, we are not called as are ordained deacons, priests or bishops to have a particular Scripture-based motto for our ministry, but, still, what a wonderful thing for ourselves and for those we serve if we know and they know what Scripture verse serves as our guiding Word on our spiritual journey back to the Father.
In recognition of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we might want to consider embracing mercy-related verses to guide our spiritual growth-response to the Lord’s Mercy. Truly, every Word of Scripture is a manifestation of God’s Merciful Heart to His creatures. We might have a favorite miracle that speaks to us of God’s Mercy, or we might have a Word from Jesus’ Passion that most inspires us to trust in the Lord’s Mercy and to dispense that Mercy, for example: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Here, for our consideration, are a few verses that contain the words “mercy” or “merciful”:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118: 1)
“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” (Psalm 145: 8)
“For Your mercy is greater than the heavens; Your faithfulness, to the skies.” (Psalm 108: 5)
“The Lord is just in all His ways, merciful in all His works.” (Psalm 145: 17)
“Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)
“But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” (Luke 18:13)
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”(Luke 6:36-37)
And, surely, let us not omit from our consideration the words that Mary, Mother of Mercy spoke, “His mercy is from age to age to those who fear Him.” (Luke 1:50)
So, now it’s your turn to share your guiding verse, if you would care to do so, in the “Comments” section. What verse have you selected to guide your walk with God in this Jubilee Year of Mercy? The nice thing about sharing is that God might use your guiding verse to inspire us to consider embracing that verse for our walk, too!
Happy Liturgical New Year!!! Here’s my Scriptural New Year’s “wish.” May the Lord bring it to pass for us and those we love—and even (especially?) for those we find it hard—even in this year of mercy—to love as He would have us love.
“The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)