Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., who spent many years as a Soviet prisoner, described his experience in his book He Leadeth Me. He describes the feeling of helpless when he was imprisoned by Soviet troops who invaded the portion of Poland where he was stationed:
The sense of hopelessness we all experience in such circumstances really arises from our tendency to inject too much of self into the picture. Doing so, we can easily be overwhelmed by personal feelings of inadequacy or sheer physical powerlessness, by the realization of one man’s seeming insignificance in a corrupt world. We tend to concentrate on ourselves, we tend to think of what we can or cannot do, and we forget about God and his will and his providence. Yet God never forgets each individual’s significance, his dignity and worth, and the role each has been asked to play in the workings of his providence. To him, each individual is equally important at all times. He cares. But he also expects each man to accept, as from his hands, the daily situations he sends him and to act as he would have him act and gives him the grace to act.
Dear Jesus, where we are, with whom we find ourselves, what we are doing, enable us to act with love and take advantage of the time, talents, and graces that you have provided us.
“Yes, there are wicked men among my people who spread their nets; like fowlers they set snares, but it is men they catch. Like a cage full of birds so are their houses full of loot; they have grown rich and powerful because of it, fat and sleek. Yes, in wickedness they go to any length, they have no respect for rights for orphans’ rights, to support them; they do not uphold the cause of the poor. And must I not punish them for such things—it is Yahweh who speaks—or from such a nation exact my vengeance.”–Jeremiah 5:26-29
The warning from Jeremiah puts us all on notice: “And must I not . . . from such a nation exact my vengeance.” It is the whole nation that suffers God’s punishment because of the division between very rich and very poor. This is the division that has caused devastating civil wars and “death squads” in many South and Central American countries.
Dear Lord, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, you warned of the danger that the rich face for ignoring the poor. And Jeremiah warns us all that we face destruction of the country we love if we ignore income equality. Help us all to act of of love to save our country by helping those in most need. And we pray that our leaders enact laws that ensure that those most able to do so share their good fortune with the less fortunate.
Father Thomas McKenna, C.M., writes about St. Vincent de Paul:
“Most often on the distributing side of the table, he was uncomfortable, delicate, and even at times embarrassed by his giving. The scholars are not sure he actually said these words, but they surely are in his spirit. He’s reputed to have said:
You will find that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the bowl of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give bread and soup. This the rich can do . . . . You are the servant of the poor. . . . It is for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them. “
Having been on the receiving end of charity, I know how uncomfortable it can be for the recipient. It is only in accepting the spirit of the giver that one can accept the gift as a gift of love.
Dear Jesus, help us to be as tender in our giving to our brothers and sisters as you are in your giving yourself to us.
It is not you who shapes God; it is God who shapes you. If then you are God’s handiwork, await the hand of the Artist who does all things in due season. Offer the pottery of your heart, soft and tractable, and keep well the form in which the Artist has fashioned you. Let your clay be moist, lest you grow hard and lose the imprint of the Potter’s fingers.
—St. Irenaeus (2nd century bishop)
It is in love that God shapes us–if we are open to him. And in turn we can shape those around us in love–particularly those in our families.
Dear God, help me to respond to your loving shaping so that we may be attentive to your loving presence in our lives and lovingly shape those close to us.
After Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, he and his disciples retired to either Magadan or Dalmanutha, depending on which gospel you read. No one knows where the places are or whether they are even specific places or just a description of a place (e.g. a wooded place).
Reading the gospels reminds me that I have a call. But upon reflection, I often have the feeling of being lost–like being between two unknown places, Magadan and Dalmanutha. Where am I? Where am I going? What is my call?
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone—Thomas Merton
Jesus, help me to trust you through the hard times that may come. Let me be led by the light of your love. Let your holy saints be my inspiration to follow you without concern for what happens to me.
In his homily for the first Sunday of Advent, Fr. Joe Pelligrino uses his experience of comforting those in hospitals to make a profound analogy between the atmosphere in a critical care waiting room and the time of Advent. In the critical care waiting room. . .
Family members and friends can’t do enough for each other. No one is proud. No one stands on ceremony or protocol. Petty disputes and hurts are nowhere to be found. Perhaps there are several patients whose family and friends are waiting in that room. These complete strangers feel bound in their shared hope for their loved ones. Class and race melt away. Each person in that room is a parent or spouse or child or close friend of the suffering one first. He or she is a white, black or Asian, a blue collar or white collar worker second. Everyone in the waiting room pulls for each other. If one family receives good news, there is hope and joy for all. If another family hears sad news, everyone in the room feels their grief.
In the critical care waiting room, the world changes. Vanity and pretense vanish. The entire universe is focused on the doctor’s next report. All eyes continually glance at the door. The critical care waiting room is a place of hoping. It is a place of anticipating, a place of expecting. It is a place of Advent.
This is Advent for us–waiting for the news we hope for but also concerned with what we may dread:
A time for us to renew our concern for the most fundamental values of our lives.
A time for us to face the fact of mortality–of those we love and our own.
A time to reflect on how our lives are bound up with those we love and how we are called to be attentive to their needs.
A time even to become aware of how we are called to be attentive to the needs of all we meet–just as those in the waiting room realize they are not alone in their concerns.
Dear Lord Jesus, help me to use this time of waiting for your birth to become more like you. You have come before me and you will come again. But for now enable me to sense your daily presence in my life and to be your presence for those around me. Help me to make Advent a time to change my life forever.
Pope Francis reminds us that what we do speaks louder than what we say: “We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.” There are many who need someone to see themselves as loved. We can fill their need just as you fill our need.
Dear Lord, please help me to be more aware of the needs and feelings of others than of my own. Help me respond to them as you would have me do.
Pope Francis in his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel warns against the temptation to “accomplish” something instead of encountering others:
Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it. (46)
Jesus calls us to remain open, receptive to those whom he loves. He calls us to pay the most attention to his friends who have the fewest paying attention to them. “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.” (48)
These “poor” are those who are poor in worldly goods and often also those who are poor in spiritual goods. Pope Francis encourages us to pay attention to those who do not have the emotional and spiritual support that the need to understand their lives and their connection to God:
If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. (49)
If we act with love to support those who need support, we show them Jesus’ love and make them conscious of the meaningfulness of their lives and God’s love for them.
Dear Jesus, help me be aware of those who need a kind word and a listening ear. Help me to listen to them because you listen to me and I have listened to you.
Often I am so wrapped up in my concerns and plans that I forget that I am just one of the members of the Body of Christ. Although I sometimes remember to care for others, I do not keep constant attention to Jesus’ calling.
Fr. Joe Pellegrino in his Easter homily reminds us of our calling to those who are struggling with life’s challenges:
There are many poor people in the United States. Many of them are single mothers or single fathers. They wonder how they can care for their children with such limited incomes. When they experience members of the community reaching out to them, making sure their children are treated the same as all the other children, helping them when they need emergency baby sitting, etc, these people don’t just have immediate problems solved, they experience Jesus Christ present in their neighbors, friends and sometimes, in total strangers. Then they realize that there are no strangers in the Body of Christ.
We are Catholic when we are so united to Jesus Christ that His death and His life radiate through every action of our lives. You see, we are not Catholic for ourselves. We are Catholic for others.
Dear Jesus, help me to remember that everyone I meet is dear to you and that I can bring them closer to you (or take them farther from you) with how I treat them. Help me to move beyond my personal concerns and enable me to be open to the concerns of all those I meet.
In his homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Fr. Joe Pellegrino ask why the woman at the well is changed so quickly by Jesus’ talk with her. Here are some of his observations:
He told her that He knew she had been immoral and was continuing her sinful ways.
This caused the woman to change her life. Why? It doesn’t make sense that a Samaritan woman would be so impressed with the accusations of a Jewish man. There must be more to this. Jesus’ tone must have conveyed His concern for her. She must have felt that she was being addressed as a person, not as an object of scorn by Jews or even by men in general. Jesus’ tone must have said to her, “My dear woman, you can be better than this.” He speaks to her heart and her heart turns to Him.
You can be better than this. Recently that phrase has been bouncing inside my head, not just as something I say to others, but as something I say to myself. I can be better than this.
He makes us want to be better than we are. His overpowering love gives us the courage to change our lives and to embrace His Life. The blood that poured from his wounds on the cross has ignited our bodies with the fire of his Love.
“You can be better than this,” He says to us in the tender, warm voice of Love.
And we will be better.
Dear Jesus, I know that I frequently fail to do the best I can. I ask for your help to continually try to do better, to become more like you, to love without any expectation of return, to help those who cannot help me, to be your light to a dark world.