Sounding the Fist
A silent bell rang out this week in Mexico
Summoning the attention of exhausted emergency teams.
Brown, bloody fists steady in the air shouted out quiet
On behalf of a child’s whisper or a tapping on a desktop
Where the young students were buried alive.
The dirty, callused fist rising in the air
Captured attention of loved ones faster than the seismograph.
Parents held the familiar voices of their children silently
Praying that the uneven plates in their hearts might be healed from the shifting
When the earthquake piled up rubble around the children.
No matter our skin color or what buries our voices
The raising up of our fists challenges, inspires and evokes change.
We open up our memories when civil rights were young
When black fists lifted up uneducated people in poverty
Aching for a better life from under the debris of racism and rubble of hate.
We all grieve the voices silenced by lynching and gunfire in schools.
We are reminded this week of tender fists that rose up
Women who searched for equal pay and rightful voice and a chance to vote.
The fist in the air draws us toward silence where fear speaks so loudly.
The human fist also a megaphone of hope when words get caught in our throats
Freeing voices squelched by racism and misogyny and sheer hatred.
The manicured fist rising in rainbow colors from Stonewall
To the historic flooding from Katrina where black fists carried white flags
Where the pain of acceptance and human dignity
Washed up against blindness and apathy.
Courageous voices speak up when fists challenge injustice and bloodshed.
Silence was the loudest word cracking open darkness this week
On behalf of children’s whispers that rose to the surface to loving ears
Or tapping from students buried sitting in desks
Learning of the colorful fear of racism, violence and hope
Just waiting to lift up their fists in class because they already knew the answers.
Litany text: Ronald Raab, CSC
Response: Rescue us, O God
From hurricanes and earthquakes…
From horrific storms and flooding…
From the devastation of land and homes…
From torrential downpours and rising seas…
From the loss of electricity and shelter…
From thrashing wind and uprooted trees…
From the slaughter of animals and wild life…
From the destruction of homes and personal property…
From the obliteration of clothing and memorabilia…
For the human survivors of tornadoes and storm surges…
For grieving family members of those buried alive…
For the elderly who wait for a word of hope…
For children who sit in darkness and in hunger…
For the new orphans who scream in shock and disbelief…
For students who wait for the rebuilding of schools…
For the elderly who died in the stifling heat…
For people swirling in grief on completely destroyed islands…
In gratitude for heroic rescuers who pulled children from wreckage…
In gratitude for medical teams and kindhearted helpers…
In gratitude for fundraisers and every coin of concern…
In gratitude for a call to silence to hear the children buried alive…
In gratitude for bottled water and every crumb of food…
In gratitude for soldiers and healthcare workers…
In gratitude for new attitudes toward people of every race…
In gratitude for shelters and emergency housing…
In gratitude for makeshift beds and warm blankets…
In gratitude for a new reliance on strangers and family members…
In gratitude for a deeper and more sincere relationship with God…
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
Luke 23: 27-30 As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.
Standing next to suffering
One of the images I use in prayer as an adult comes from my childhood. The image seems odd and even a bit crass. I remember being sick many times with stomach flu. My mother would always wake up in the nighttime and come to the bathroom and hold my forehead while I was vomiting. As I look back on my young days, that gesture stands out to me as one of the most comforting and consoling. That human, maternal touch while I felt so vulnerable and helpless still comforts me in times when I feel out of control and not sure what to do next in life.
This simple gesture from my mother speaks to me about Mary’s role in Jesus’ suffering and death. Mary stood next to Jesus’ suffering and she could not control the outcome or take his pain away. Mary could not fix her son’s destiny and change the pattern of grace in Jesus’ life. Her role was to simply stand among the threats on Jesus’ life and among those who would eventually put him to death. Mary could only reach out to his hurting body and touch his human wounds.
At the end of my sophomore year in college, I was asked to become an orderly at Holy Cross House, our retirement center and infirmary next to the seminary. I began my junior year learning my new role as an orderly for our priests and brothers who were very ill and close to death. It became my turn to make sure I held the foreheads of these men when they were sick, to change their diapers and bathe them in a shower chair.
Sue was the head nurse at the time. She ran the infirmary with great care, intention and compassion. Her reputation had filtered down to the seminarians and even those of us who were just starting our many years of formation. I reported for my first day wearing my new scrubs. I was totally out of my element and my naïveté was obvious to every one. Sue welcomed me as if I had been working with the sick all my life.
On that first Saturday afternoon, Sue invited me into the room of one of our priests who had been in bed for over twelve years. He was a victim of a hit-and-run accident. He was struck by a car while riding his bicycle along the main road into campus of the University of Notre Dame. He was wearing his long, all-black religious habit that made him invisible in the darkness. The authorities never found the driver of the car.
The daily staff schedule of Holy Cross House revolved around the care of Fr. John. Every two hours a staff member fed, turned and comforted the silent priest. Even though he had been in bed for twelve years, he had never had bedsores. He did have drop foot, the muscles in his legs and feet collapsed. He had ground his teeth down to the gums from his anxiety. He could not speak or move. His eyes could not focus on the people who cared for him.
At 2:00pm, Sue introduced me to Fr. John. We spoke to him as we would speak to any person because even the doctors were not sure if he could understand our voices. She taught me how to change his diapers, bathe him and how to oil and powder his body. Then she took a feeding tube and asked me if I would help her feed him by inserting the rubber tube into the hole in his abdomen. I felt squeamish and unsure. I told her no, that I could not help her do that.
Sue reassured me, “That’s alright, we will try again next Saturday when you are working again.” So the next Saturday came quickly. At 2:00pm, Sue took me again into Fr. John’s room. We changed his diaper, bathed him, changed his sheets, oiled and powered his body. She then took the rubber feeding tube into her hands and looked at me. “Will you help me feed Fr. John?” I looked at the tube and the hole in his abdomen and quickly responded to Sue, “No, I am not ready.”
So Sue said again, “Do not worry, we will try again next week when you come back to work with us.” The next Saturday came along quickly, we entered Fr. John’s room one more time at 2:00pm. We bathed him, changed his diapers and his bed sheets. We oiled and powered his body. We fluffed his pillows. We prepared him for the next few hours of his life. Sue then took the long, rubber tube into her hands and asked me once again to help her feed him. The thought of feeding him almost made me sick to my stomach. I said, “No”.
Sue came over to me, took my hands into her hands. She came close to my body and looked me in the eyes. She whispered to me, “Ron, you must remember just one thing. Fr. John is your brother.”
I felt the grace of those words whisk through my body. I realized my spiritual connection to this helpless man. I felt the beginning of my call to stand next to suffering. I picked up the rubber tube and we feed Fr. John together for the first time. I will never forget the patience and dedication of Sue. She waited for me to finally understand that feeding him was not just about the tube and the food. I had to come to realize, that if I was going to enter into this religious community even as a young member, I needed to know that Fr. John and all of the ill men in that building were my brothers. I needed to be in relationship with them, to care for them even when they were old and very ill. I needed to learn to stand along side of their suffering. I also prayed for the day that someone would stand by me when I was old and ill and in need.
Nurse Sue stood by the suffering of so many of our priests and brothers. She also stood next to my youth and naïveté. Sue will forever model for me how to stand next to suffering, to wait patiently for the ways healing may happen among patients and caregivers. Sue modeled for me the central mystery of my vocation, to bring hope among people who are in pain and isolated, among those who carry the cross of suffering.
Gospel Mt 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Mercy shall bud forth…
Out of darkness, light shall shine.
Out of pain, healing shall mend the heart.
Out of sin, forgiveness will offer hope.
Out of abuse, love shall lead the way.
Out of hatred, kindness will embrace us.
Out of poverty, abundance breaks through.
Out of violence, peace will console us.
Out of death, life will rise forth.
Out of the earth, spring will blossom again.
Click here for a short article on Pope Francis’ Lenten message for this Year of Mercy
I painted this piece with my fingers last week. The painting expresses my own desire for the love and compassion of Jesus as well as the desire that I experience from so many people with whom I minister. So many people wait to be loved just as they are, to be anointed with mercy and given another chance to live fully in human skin. Lent invites us to explore love in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Here is a litany of prayer based on the Sunday Lenten scriptures:
Litany for Lent 2016 Cycle C
The Year of Mercy
Text: Ronald Raab, CSC
Response: Have mercy on me, Jesus, have mercy
When you invite me to pray with all my heart
When you show me how to fast from harmful ways
When you model for me how to give to others
When you call me to repentance and belief in you
When you challenge me to reform my life
(First Sunday of Lent)
When sin leads me into the lonely desert
When doubt shows me my nakedness
When addiction wraps me in lust and misfortune
When power takes over my soul and future
When greed fills my days and my nights
(Second Sunday of Lent)
When I live in darkness and mistrust
When I cannot lift my head to see your face
When I want to remain only in the past
When I cannot envision your glory and love
When I am overcome with sleep and depression
(Third Sunday of Lent C)
When I feed on only violence and hardship
When I bear hopelessness and destruction
When I destroy new life because of my cynicism and apathy
When I bear only weeds and division in my life
When l transplant my life into negativity and sadness
(Third Sunday Cycle A) OPTION
When you tell me all that I have ever done
When you look me in the eyes and receive me as I am
When you understand the truth of me
When you show me how to live differently
When you reveal love and satisfaction to me
(Fourth Sunday of Lent C)
When I squander my life and my soul
When I run far from you in the day and in the night
When I mistrust my life and my family
When I can no longer be trust with your grace and care for me
When I hesitate to come home to your mercy and forgiveness
(Fourth Sunday of Lent Cycle A) OPTION
When I am blind to your real presence and your mercy
When I am blind to those who love and care for me
When I am blind to the love you offer my heart
When I am blind to the path you have for my future
When I am blind to the miracles of new life and forgiveness
(Fifth Sunday of Lent Cycle C)
When I do not feel worthy of your love
When I am confused about my past and my future
When I doubt that you care for me and protect me
When I cannot forgive myself and other people
When I am first to condemn myself and even my friends
(Fifth Sunday of Lent Cycle A) OPTION
When I am cast down from sin and shame
When I see only death and resistance for my future
When I am dead and putrid in my guilt and ignorance
When I do not trust your presence for me
When I cannot imagine the new life that awaits me
(Palm Sunday of Lent Cycle C)
When I am accused of wrongdoing and injustice
When I cannot die to self and live in your love
When I am confused about my journey to you
When I would rather live in comfort and put my trust in you
When I truly desire your love and mercy
(For any Sunday or any use during the Year of Mercy)
When I cannot trust that you care for me
When I feel unworthy of your love for me
When I cannot forgive my past or trust my decisions
When I cannot look up from my path of self-righteousness
When I have lost my way and cannot find you
When I cannot find my place within the Church
When I hide the truth of my life and misuse my gifts
When I cannot trust others who believe in you
When I hold back my voice and talents
When I hesitate to live in the love you have for me
When I fear your judgment of my life and sin
When I give up on your mercy and question your presence
When I am too tired to care for my own life
When I am dejected by others and intimidated by you
When I give up on my talents and future
When I hold you responsible for war and violence
When I blame you for my ill health and financial misfortune
When I do not trust your care for my family
When I am not certain you exist in my uncomfortable life
When I do not know if you really exist in our violent world
When I cannot find you in my sickness and lack of breath
When I ache for your tender care in my fever and tiredness
When I am tired by the journey and exhausted from starting over
When I search in the decay of my attitude and the crumbling of my faith
When I wait alone in the nighttime of my death
When I yearn for the Shepherd of my soul
When I seek the Light living in my own darkness
When I am hungry for the Bread of Life
When I finally understand my connection to the Vine of Life
When I wait for the revival of my life in the Holy Spirit
When the dust settles from my search for you
When I tire of running after everything but you
When I am exhausted from my fear that I hold in my body
When the path opens up for my life in you
When we finally see each other face to face
When I feel I have to pull myself up with my own bootstraps
When I think I have to save my own life
When I am certain I am not good enough
When I blame myself for how my life has turned out
When I hold on to fear and grasp only sorrow
Response: Invite me into your healing mercy, O God
When I am shackled with guilt and shame…
When I am weary from my grief…
When I am overwhelmed about my past decisions…
When I do not have the energy to face my life…
When the demons of depression settle in my heart…
When my sad eyes reveal my hidden secrets…
When my face reveals my hardships…
When doubt plagues my prayer this morning…
When I want to give up on my relationships…
When I feel I do not matter…
When I cannot find the light of faith…
When I isolate my life and quite my voice…
When fear overrides my day and my night…
When hardship pulls me down into darkness…
When I do not know where to turn…
When I think I am always right…
When regret forms my opinions about others…
Gracious and merciful God, you invite me into your healing love. I know that no evil shall ever be my true identity. You invite me into your love, you change my disgruntled heart and you provide light in my dark thoughts and perverse actions. Guard me from all evil this day and allow me to live among those you heal for your service in the world. Help me live with hope in all I do and all I hope to become. I ask this in your healing mercy in the name of Christ the Lord. Amen
Spent class time finger painting today to counter our cold, snowy day.
“It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the best painting” Brother Andre
I painted this piece with a small brush and my fingers. Saint Andre told us that the smallest gesture done in love really matters. He had no power or authority in the Church, yet he worked so many miracles and healed so many people. He was the smallest of brushes and God used him to paint a wonderfully beautiful life. Saint Andre was the first religious in the Congregation of Holy Cross to be canonized in 2010. READ “MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE” FROM 2011)
Help us become your instruments of mercy.
Help us model our lives after the care and humility of Saint Andre Bessette.
He was illiterate and yet showed people how to live the Holy Word of God.
He was orphaned and yet welcomed people as brothers and sisters.
He was at first turned down for religious life and yet became our first saint.
He was frail in body and yet strong in his faith and courageous in his belief.
His local community marginalized him and yet he met nearly six hundred people a day.
He believed in Saint Joseph and his faith healed hundreds of people.
He rubbed the sick with oil and prayed for them during his sleepless nights.
He lived so simply and yet hundreds gathered to be with him in prayer.
He encouraged people to pray and confess their sins and realize God’s love.
He lived a full life until ninety-one even though his doctors thought he would die young.
He was patient for the building of Saint Joseph Oratory and he gave everything to God.
Saint Andre still baffles many in our religious community who are known for education because in simplicity he found God.
He educates us still by living a simple, prayerful life in service for others.
Saint Andre was not understood in his earthly life and may never be fully understood in his miracles and sainthood.
In this Year of Mercy, help us all claim our place on this earth to receive the love you have for us. Help us live for others and to die for our others who most need us.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Source of Mercy, who live forever and ever.
Saint Andre Bessette, pray for us.