The Readings for the 13th Friday, Tempus per Annum
– Memorial of Junipero Serra
Learn the meaning of the saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”Matthew 9:13 (NABRE)
THE JESUS PSALTER has become my favorite devotion. There are many editions of it online and off although the first one I found was this one. I have an as-yet incomplete series of posts on this prayer which begins with this introduction. Arising from Mediaeval devotions to the Holy Name of Jesus, it flourished in England during the anti-Church persecutions under Henry and his family and became one of the main pillars of English Catholic Piety. It’s not very popular now, although it should be: a devotion that supported a generation of Martyrs is perfect for us now. It centers around multiple repetitions of Our Lord Name, together with a series of 15 petitions. Most of them begin with “give me the grace”: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, give me the grace to call for help to Thee. …give me the grace to fix my mind on Thee, …to fly evil company… persevere in virtue… to love Thee.”
We ask our Lord constantly for the grace we need to follow him. We should do this more and more in these latter days. Without that grace, how else do you go from being a Tax Collector to being a disciple?
In The Miracle Worker (1962) you can watch Anne Sullivan teach Hellen Keller. Hellen is deaf, dumb, blind… she has no words, no language. We know now enough about brain science to realize that having no words at all means there are no synapses in her brain to connect concepts with things. The world without words literally does not exist. Anne Sullivan has to physically form the words in Hellen’s hands whilst somehow also planting them in her brain. The internal dialogue is not there. But through patience (and a lot of pain) Anne and Hellen together bring it to be. And then, in the most moving scene, suddenly Hellen knows. “She KNOWS!” cries Anne Sullivan. “She Knows!”
That’s how Our Lord called Matthew. The tax collector had no words or concepts, and no synapses ready to connect them. Then, in one moment – Follow Me – he knows.
This is called grace.
And this is the actual meaning of what Our Lord says. Learn the meaning of I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The line in Hosea 6:6 actually uses the word for lovingkindness or grace, Hesed. “I desire Hesed.” The whole verse is a parallel construction:
I desire hesed not sacrifice
knowledge of God, not Olah.
Sacrifice and Olah are things that go up: smoke rising, incense, etc, sent by us upwards to God. Hesed and Knowledge (Da’at) of God are things that come down from heaven to us. Hesed is grace.
We need the grace mentioned in the Jesus Psalter at every turn. Some of the prayers, “help me”, “strengthen me”, “make me constant” are all variations on the prayer for Mercy (that is, Hesed, grace). We need the thing that pours down on us like water, freely and without measure.
I desire grace (a gift from God) not sacrifice: in other words there’s nothing you can do to win God’s love. God’s love is given freely (while we were yet sinners).
You are already infinitely loved.
Do you continue to struggle like Hellen Keller because you have no synapses, no words, no concepts to connect, or will you let God spell the words out on your fingers.
And follow him?