Sounding the Fist: A painting and poem while sorting through the rubble

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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.

 

 

From Hurricanes and Earthquakes…Rescue us, O God

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Rescue us, O God…Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC 2017

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: The Fourth Sorrow 2017

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.

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Mary: The Fourth Sorrow 2017 Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC

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.

 

 

“Jesus, chase me down”

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Gospel Mt 11:28-30

Jesus said:
“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.”
Jesus, chase me down, when I am too tired to rest, when fear swirls around my heart, when I am lost from my narrow interpretation of my own life, when relationships crumble and life seems so heavy, when I carry all the unnecessary things that load up, when my own heart seems hardened, when joy eludes me, when life has not turned out the way I had hoped, when fear rips my dreams apart and throws the remains in the corner of my soul, when I do not know where else to turn and in the turning you do not seem to be there, when you can see the lost look in my eyes, when I am young or old and I am not sure where I turn next, when the world seems so bitter in its divides, when the Church seems so tight and narrow and lives from its fear, when people burdened by their own hardships lash out against everyone else who could help them, when people want things they cannot possesses, when everyone thinks that life should be about peace and hope and no one wants to do the interior work of sorting out their own hearts and motives, when people turn on those they love, when the violence of poverty strips us of worth, when songs don’t sing and poems don’t rhyme, when clergy don’t pray and people don’t love, when there is everything but love, when egos lash out, when divisiveness is the norm, when violence lives on our streets, when I don’t know where to turn for consolation and love or to be held tight and upright, then I know I am with everyone of my generation and the generations before me, simply human and in need, then I know you are there for me so that I can fall into your heart, for you have done your work Jesus in your meek and open heart, when you invite me and us to rest a bit, a lot, when you are there closer to me than I am to my own life and motives and gifts, when I finally give up squirming in your lap, then mercy washes over me, Jesus, you chase me down.  

Lent 2016: “Mercy shall bud forth”

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“Mercy shall bud forth” Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC 2016

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.

Ash Wednesday 2016: “Longing For Mercy”

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Ash Wednesday: “Longing for Mercy” Finger Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC 2016

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

(Ash Wednesday)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark 5:1-20 “Unclean spirit, come out of that man.”

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“Unclean spirit, come out of that man” Sketch: Ronald Raab, CSC

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

 

Feast Day of Saint Andre Bessette 2016

"With the smallest brush" Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC

“With the smallest brush”
Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC

“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)

 Loving Father,

 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.

 Gracious Father,

 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.

 Amen

 

Saint Andre Bessette, pray for us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary, Mother of God: A Yearlong Resolve Toward Mercy

"Silent Night" Conte sketch: Ronald Raab, CSC

“Silent Night”
Conte sketch: Ronald Raab, CSC

Mary, Mother of God

January 1, 2016

Pope Francis asks us to live out the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy in this year of 2016. I invite you to make resolutions in this New Year around the themes of mercy.

What if we all resolved every day to make our lives more merciful? What if we offered our neighbor a second chance? What about visiting our overcrowded prisons? What about feeding hungry people? What if we stopped blaming people for the poverty in which people are steeped? What if we helped educate people about our faith? What if we welcomed people next to us in the pews of our churches rather than being angry that they took our spot in the parking lot? What if we reached out to a mother struggling to console her crying child? What if we forgave our fathers who psychologically and emotionally abused us? What if we stopped the grinding noise of shame in our own hearts?

Mercy is not about getting our act together so that God will forgive us. Mercy is not cleaning up our routines before we pray so that God will give us another chance. Mercy is not about getting our lives free from sin so that God will love us again. Mercy is not about not sinning so that we can be restored into the teaching of the Church. Mercy is none of these things. We do not save ourselves. Only God saves God’s people.

Mercy is coming to God absolutely vulnerable, broken and open, so that God may make a home within our sin. Mercy is about God reaching down to us in order to heal us so that we can walk beside people who are hurting, hungry, and thirsty or who are in prison. Mercy is God’s love made real within our hearts and in our actions toward people. We need God’s mercy so that we can look into the eyes of people without flinching, until we see the beauty of God’s love within others, until we recognize our selves in the eyes of the poor.

How about we all make an effort to begin our prayer each day asking for mercy in our world? Perhaps it will change our postures toward earthly peace, war, violence, guns, robberies, rapes and our ignorance about what people really face each day. How about if you started each day asking God for his merciful love?

So many people do not think that they are worthy of God’s love. So many people carry regrets, sin and shame with them for their entire lives. Perhaps this is the year to stop believing that you are unlovable in God’s eyes. Perhaps this is the year that you redefine or expand your image of God. Perhaps this is the year of love. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.