We are called to be a compelling sign of hope

In today’s liturgy the first reading is from the Letter of James and the Gospel reading is the account of Jesus blessing the little children.

Everyone knows the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” It means that children need an entire community of people providing for them and engaging them constructively for those children to grow into healthy and wholesome adults.

Today’s two readings, however, have made me wonder if it is not just children who need a village to support and walk with them. Don’t we all? Don’t we even as adults have this deep sense that we need others to be with us, for us, to truly know our own worth, that we need to be welcomed by others in order to truly welcome ourselves? Looking back on the changes in my life, it was the times that I didn’t feel a safety net of people who would hold, support, care about, anoint, pray and walk with me that I seemed to shrivel inside. Some place deep within my soul knew that I needed to be in communion with others in a vulnerable, honest, mutually responsible way to feel whole, to blossom, and to eventually, in my own turn, give life to others.

What would it be like if we really knew community?

In the beginning of the reading from James, he asks: Is anyone suffering? Is anyone undergoing hardships? Ill-treated or distressed? He directs them to connect with God in the community of faith. We might know the wisdom of the world in this regard as: Are you suffering? Stay at home, crawl in bed. Or try harder, be strong, you can do it. Are you in good spirits? Treat yourself. Buy something you like. Go to the bar. Are you sick? Go to the doctor. And if there is a difficult diagnosis call your friends afterwards and ask for prayers. In other words, we live very individual lives, trying to make it on our own, seeking out our own happiness, not expecting others to be with us.

A couple stories. I know two people who took considerable time off work just to be at the service of someone who was sick and needed assistance to and from the doctor as well as a hand to hold during the scary time of “not knowing” the outcome of their treatment.

Recently I read in The Wild Edge of Sorrow the author’s experience in the village of Dano in Burkina Faso in West Africa. He tells of the practice of the villagers to come together every night in the common area of the village just to share their day with each. There was food and beer, stories, tears, laughter, rejoicing. Children were present, and played together as they ran through the adults who were welcoming each other’s lives and hearts through the narration of the day’s experiences. There was a huge sense of connection in the safe space that was created by this daily ritual for vulnerability, compassion, and cheering one another on. While there, he met a young woman, about seventeen years old, who had an extensive burn scar on her face. She wasn’t self-conscious, but seemed happy and outgoing. When he inquired about what had happened to her, he was told that her mother had thrown boiling water on her in a fit of rage. But immediately after that the village came together and let this girl know that what her mother had done was wrong and had nothing to do with her, and that she was loved and cherished by the people of the village and would always be so.

Jesus was there for other people

In the Gospel, the apostles were indignant that mothers of little children of no real significance thought they had the right to encroach upon the very important time of Jesus. The mothers wanted Jesus “to touch them.” Jesus used touch to bless, heal, include. It was an act of intimacy, an assurance that the other was being seen and was known by him, by God. Jesus was indignant that the apostles were not opening the community to include these tiny members of God’s people. How embarrassed must the mothers have felt. Humiliated. Excluded.

Jesus and James call the Church to be a communion of faith where people are there for each other, a compelling sign of hope that ultimately we are one with each other and will be there for each other, and a witness to a way of life that is truly human and truly divine.

Image Credit: Charles Lock Eastlake, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: We have to keep faith in God

The Pillar today is publishing an interview that is very important. They reported:

We talked yesterday with Bishop Andriy Rabiy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church about what has happened, the history of the two countries, and what it means to have “hope” while your home is being invaded.

“People are trying to make sense of what is going on, they are overwhelmed, in shock, it is hard to think clearly,” Rabiy told us.

But the bishop was clear: Christians, Ukrainians, and especially Ukrainian Christians have a very particular mission right now:

“It’s not time to start ‘whining’ so to speak, it’s time for us to pull ourselves up. As spiritual people this is what we are supposed to show, hope: that God will provide, that everything is in His hands, and we believe in it.”

It’s an uncompromising message. But this is an uncompromising reality Ukraine is facing. 

Bringing the Ukrainian community together in prayer, the bishop explained, is an essential part of strengthening faith, and of understanding hope as a spiritual reality instead of an irrational optimism. 

“Speaking the words of the Gospel and praying the Psalms, this helps us to pray and to recall the history, how God worked in the past, how He has saved people — so why would we have a reason to doubt that this time he will save us? We believe in Him, but our hope and faith have to be really sincere — even as Jesus said, if it is the size of a mustard seed, the tiniest of all seeds, but we have to show something!”

“We do not lose hope for a glimmer of conscience on the part of those who hold in their hands the fortunes of the world. And we continue to pray and fast – as we shall do this coming Ash Wednesday – for peace in Ukraine and in the entire world,” Parolin added.

Read the whole interview here.

A Prayer to Pray Today for Ukraine





These and many other emotions could be filling our hearts these days. The invasion of Ukraine is threatening the cohesiveness of peoples and nations in a frightening way that affects all of us.

This morning I prayed for Ukraine with the blessing which the Lord gave to Aaron and his sons to speak over the people (Num. 6:23-27):

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

“A blessing or benediction is a prayer invoking God’s power and care upon some person, place, thing, or undertaking. The prayer of benediction acknowledges God as the source of all blessing” (CCC, glossary, page 868).

Praying this blessing was a small movement of the heart, to implore God’s mercy on this poor world of ours, the people of Ukraine, the suffering on all sides, the threat to the world order this situation will precipitate. We learn from the Scriptures, that the prayer of the people of God, no matter what form it takes—pleading, complaint, argument, desire, sorrow—“is always an intercession that awaits and prepares for the intervention of the Savior God, the Lord of history” (CCC, 2584). In this spirit, I’d like to share this prayer with you so that, pleading together, we might open up the way for the Sovereign of history and Lord of the nations to act in our world today.

In a quiet place, in a still point of your day (even for five minutes!), sink into God’s presence and slowly begin to hold these phrases in your prayer. Hold them gently, lifting them up to the Lord, and allowing the silence to enfold you. May your prayers rise like incense:

May the Lord bless us.
May the Lord keep us.
May the Lord bless us today.
May the Lord keep us today.

May the Lord bless us here and now.
May the Lord keep us here and now.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon us. For the mother in Ukraine who is overwhelmed, may the Lord make his face to shine upon her. For the children who are afraid, make your face to shine upon them. For the soldiers in danger, make your face to shine upon them.

For government leaders who are making crucial decisions that will affect millions of people across the globe, make your face to shine upon them.

In Russia, make your face to shine. O God, have mercy.

O God be gracious to us. Be gracious to us. Be gracious to us. Have mercy. Have mercy on us.

Give us peace. Give us peace. Give us your peace. Fill our souls with the peace of your countenance. Bless our weary and embattled hearts with peace. Bring your peace to hearts that would hurt, destroy, take. Peace, Lord. Have mercy.

Keep us as the apple of your eye. Hide us in the shadow of your wings (Ps 17:8).

Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance. Shepherd us and carry us forever. (Ps 28:9).

Father. Our Father. Thy kingdom come. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Thy will be done on earth by me… as it is in heaven.

Thy will be done on earth by (insert the name of those whom God inspires you to pray over)… as it is in heaven.

O God be gracious to us. Be gracious to us. Be gracious to us. Have mercy. Have mercy on us.


Image: luisspagniagua via Cathopic.

Prayer for Ukraine: O God, Rain Down Your Mercy

The long and interminable hours of the night can be devastating. Those who struggle for life itself through the long hours of the night or who are tossed about by worries, illness, longing for the safe return of loved ones, loneliness, these particularly are they who know the Psalmist’s cry wrenched from his heart in the wee hours of darkness: “As the watchman waits for the dawn, O Lord, my soul longs for thee! Longs for thee in the night, my night, our night! Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Living with insomnia, I have since my early twenties been one of these watchers in the night. Once I would have observed life at three in the morning as it played out beneath my window. In this season of my life, however, when I routinely rise throughout the night, I am picking up the Night Hours by Phyllis Tickle, uniting myself three times for just a few moments with an untold number of Christians and monastics across the globe who raise their hands and voices with urgency: “My soul longs for thee in the night.” I unite myself also to mothers by the bed of a sick child, workers on night shifts, cleaning agencies that work through the night, doctors and nurses and first responders, and now also to military spouses who fear for their loved ones recently mobilized to Europe for whom every day is still a night….

It was in the night that Ukraine feared they would receive the first incursion of Russia into their homeland. It was in that night, as on every night, that I rose and prayed alongside my unknown and anonymous night-watching companions. It was in that night that I prayed for women who feared for their lives, for soldiers training for war, for the mothers on both sides who knew their sons and husbands, fathers and brothers might never return to them…. For them I watched in the night.

And today we all read the headlines we have dreaded and hoped to never see. Our every day now has turned into the darkness of fear, and a feeling of dreaded powerlessness against the machine of war fills every hour.

Prayer seems such a small gesture in the face of all this. Could something so small have any import on the events of history, we could ask? Your prayers and mine, in the night, during the day, with every breath, calling out for God to rain down his mercy?

I say yes, and this is why:

Jesus commands us to pray for the whole world.

St John Chrysostom writes in his Homily on the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus teaches the apostles the Our Father: “Consider how Jesus Christ teaches us to be humble, by making us see that our virtue does not depend on our work alone but on grace from on high. He commands each of the faithful who prays to do so universally, for the whole world. For he did not say ‘thy will be done in me or in us,’ but ‘on earth,’ the whole earth, so that error may be banished from it, truth take root in it, all vice be destroyed on it, virtue flourish on it, and earth no longer differ from heaven” (CCC, no. 2825).

Through the act of prayer we become a space where love triumphs over evil.

Saint Edith Stein, Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, who suffered a martyr’s death at Auschwitz in 1942, assures us of the power of prayer and of offering one’s own life as proxy for another. Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D  in her article “Edith Stein and the Science of the Cross,” described how Edith Stein took seriously the Christian disciple’s responsibility to combat evil and to become a space where love triumphs over evil. She writes, “When Hitler came on the scene, [Edith Stein] became a Carmelite in order to pray for the evil ones — the Nazi oppressors — as well as for the innocent ones, the Jews and all souls everywhere suffering in World War II. Shortly before her death she said to a priest, ‘Who will do penance for the evil that the Germans are inflicting?’ On the way to her crucifixion, the gas chamber at Auschwitz, she spoke of her suffering as an offering ‘for the conversion of atheists, for her fellow Jews, for the Nazi persecutors, and for all who no longer had the love of God in their hearts.’”

Edith Stein believed that even a single person offering her life for another has more meaning and power than armies and tanks.

Simple gestures such as this witness to the initiative of God which shapes the paths and journeys of history and of our lives.

Most of us are not in high-level positions such that our political decisions could affect the direction of events. We are, however, in a higher position than the government to effectively address the powers of war released on the earth. Through prayer we hold our ground and create an inner space of commitment and solidarity, of faith and of hope that can change everything.

The words of Saint John Paul II almost twenty years ago are prophetic for today. To the members of the diplomatic core on January 13, 2003 he said, “I have been personally struck by the feeling of fear which often dwells in the hearts of our contemporaries. [He listed the unresolved problems in the world of that year, and then continued] Yet everything can change. It depends on each of us. Everyone can develop within himself his potential for faith, for honesty, for respect of others and for commitment to the service of others.”

“I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

Saint John Paul II

When John Paul II spoke of war he insisted that it is always a defeat for humanity, but with his characteristic call to us to not be afraid, a refrain which rang throughout the years of his pontificate, he stated again and again: “I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

We are tired and the world is tired, yet we hold on to hope.

Though we are afraid, our choice to trust keeps us steady as we hold onto our indomitable certainty that God alone is our unwavering hope. God alone is sovereign of history.

Don’t be surprised that hope and trembling alternate in your heart.

These are seriously concerning times. My heart trembles, particularly when I think of what this could mean for me and friends and loved ones and my sisters throughout Europe. It is then that I reach out to my anonymous brothers and sisters who are immediately in the path of destruction in the Ukraine. In spirit I put down my trembling anxieties for my own welfare in order to stand at the side of children who are terrified, comforting and holding them, giving courage to mothers who are overwhelmed as they fear for the safety of their sons and daughters and husbands and fathers. I shed a light on the path of those who flee, and pray at the side of the wounded and dying. I kneel in prayer to the Holy Spirit in the rooms where decisions are being discerned and discussed and debated. Only God knows the way. God alone will show the way for each one and for us all.

When each of us carries the cross that is now upon us for the sake of the other, then and only then will we find peace.

I firmly believe that when each of us like Jesus reaches out together for the other, extending ourselves beyond our own trembling hearts to embrace the heart of this ever hurting world, when each of us carries the cross that is now upon us for the sake of the other, laying down our life that others might live, then and only then will we find peace…. Peace in our own hearts. Peace in between nations. Peace in the world.

You are God’s divinely-loved-ones

In today’s liturgical readings, we are brought with the apostles Peter, James, and John up the mountain of the Transfiguration to witness the glory of God shining on the face of Christ.

The word that leaped from the page of my Missal this morning was the word “Beloved.” When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain before the three apostles Peter, James, and John, the Father’s voice is heard from the cloud saying: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Every child dreams about being the “beloved” of their father or mother.

Beloved implies a certain intensity of love that is warmer and more tender than the simple word “love.” For God to say, “This is my beloved Son” is stronger than saying, “This is my Son. I love him.” You might say that beloved is similar to “dearly loved one.” Beloved is personal: “my beloved Son.” It indicates belonging and affection.

I have meditated on this passage numberless times, and yet I have never been so touched by the word Beloved as I was this morning. Did the apostles even notice the word the Father used for his Son, for they were clearly frightened by what was happening before them? In the New Testament, the word beloved used in the account of the Transfiguration is ἀγαπητός or agapétos. Wondering how else this same word ἀγαπητός might be used in the New Testament I did a little research on Bible Hub.

The Greek word ἀγαπητός has two special applications: the Beloved which is the title of the Messiah who is beloved beyond all others by the God who sent him, and Christians who are beloved by God, Christ and one another.

And this is where it begins to get interesting.

I discovered that there are 61 occurrences of the word ἀγαπητός in the New Testament. Only seven of those occurrences refer directly to the words of the Father for his Son at the Baptism of the Lord and the Transfiguration, as we see in the Gospel today. The rest of the times we find these occurrences in the New Testament are in the letters attributed to Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude. They directly address their fellow Christians and talk about individuals in the community with the welcoming word “beloved.” A helpful translation for ἀγαπητός is “Divinely-loved ones” or “loved by God,” that is, someone who is personally experiencing God’s “agapē-love.”

Let us listen in on the way these first Christians addressed each other. Paul writes, “I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14), and a few verses later he calls Timothy, “my beloved and faith son in the Lord.” In the letter to the Ephesians, we are admonished to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). James addresses the readers of his letter, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers” (James 1:16). Peter and John also used the term beloved in direct address: “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you” (2 Pt 3:1), and “Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you but an old commandment that you had from the beginning” (1 Jn. 2:7).

In the manner in which the writers of these New Testament letters use the term ἀγαπητός, we get a sense of their warmth of heart, of their care for their fellow Christians, of their selflessness in serving them. It is obvious that they loved the Christians in these communities deeply and dearly, that they had warm friendships, that they esteemed one another, and that they were bound together by mutual love and therefore were beloved to one another.

Loving as God loves

Jesus made clear that we were to love as God loves, that we were to love others as Jesus himself has loved us. The Father speaks of his Son as his dearly loved and beloved one. The apostles followed suit even in using the same term in addressing their fellow Christians.

God loves us totally, unconditionally, selflessly. This is how God loved his Son, and it is how he loves us and those who are our fellow Christians. So the family members and fellow parishioners, friends and colleagues, those we agree with and those we do not, all are dear to us because they are dear to the Father. This wasn’t for the apostle-writers just some spiritualized form of address. There is in the New Testament letters a clear sense of living warmth and belonging, of loving deeply, of being bound together by mutual love, of tenderness and esteem. Consistently they address the Christian community as ἀγαπητός, beloved.

I’m taking away three things from all of this and I propose them to you:

  1. I too often see the word Beloved in direct address as a “throwaway” word, in a sense like Dear at the beginning of a letter. I will never hear the Scriptures again without being aware of the warmth, tenderness, the intensity of esteem and affection with which they are written. Hearing the Word of God in the key of ἀγαπητός helps me realize how much God loves me and how much I personally am loved by the writers of the New Testament as I read the Scriptures written to help me become more beloved of God.
  2. I want to practice looking beyond appearances and consider others as dearly loved, divinely loved, and treat them as the apostles did: with warmth, affection, and selfless attention.
  3. I am, and dear reader so are you, God’s beloved, his dearly loved one, his esteemed and dear favorite. My heart leaps with joy at being God’s beloved in Christ. Often we are urged to think about what it would be like to hear God say to us, “You are my Beloved Son.” How misleading! God effects within us the belonging that binds us together and makes us the beloved of his heart and beloved of one another. We need only open ourselves to the beauty of all God is accomplishing in us through his grace.

Image Credit: Carl Bloch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As many as touched Jesus’ cloak were healed

The Dawn from on high shall break upon us….

Today at Mass was proclaimed the Gospel passage that recounted how all the people scurried about the countryside to bring to Jesus any who were sick that they might at least touch the tassel of his cloak. (Mark 6:53-56)

I was led to bring to Jesus in spirit a loved one who is approaching death, to lay her down near him that she might touch the tassel of his cloak. Gently, I imagined myself lifting her hand towards Jesus, trusting that he would free her from her sorrows, the burdens of life she had carried, wounds that I was never privy to but which were a part of her struggle to live with joy the beautiful gift of her baptism, her marriage, her motherhood. Wounds she had carried in silence as she poured out her love on us. As Jesus took her hand, his mercy became my own. Her every gift and vulnerability has shaped me, blessed me, made me who I am. And for that I am grateful.

As many as touched Jesus’ cloak were healed. (Mark 6:56)

Who do you want to bring to Jesus today?

The splendor light of heaven’s glorious sunrise is about to break upon us in holy visitation,
all because the merciful heart of our God is so very tender. (Lk. 1:78 TPT)