Our nation has many stories from the myths about Paul Bunyan to the biographies of Presidents. Its overarching story is one of justice, peace, liberty, dignity. It’s from our stories that we create our present and our future. Are we a more truthful people, because we’ve heard the story of George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree”? Are we a more courageous people, because we’ve seen the valor of soldiers on D-Day? Are we a more just society, because we see the evils of racism and prejudice? Are we becoming more united as we hear President Biden’s plea for unity? Our national story sewn into the fabric of flags, carved into the stone of monuments, and recorded in speeches shapes us. May the plot of our national story reach its climax in a world of justice, peace, unity. And may there never be “The End” to our nation’s role as a main character in a world where the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Mercy is God’s nature. God’s merciful love holds nothing back. As the psalmist says, “His mercy endures forever.” A wave of mercy is poured out over all humanity. As Saint Faustina quotes God in her diary, “I am Love and Mercy itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My Mercy. . .. The soul that trusts in My Mercy is most fortunate, because I myself take care of it” (Diary 1273). The Hebrew word that we might translate as “mercy” is hesed, which is also translated as “lovingkindness.” (Yes, that’s one word.)
Perhaps we are fearful today, or we may feel misery. So how can we change our fear and misery to trust in God’s mercy? We can start with the ABC’s of mercy: Ask for God’s mercy. Be merciful. Completely trust in Jesus. We can ask God’s mercy to inspire us to lead more prayerful lives. We can be more merciful ourselves, as we root out anger and jealousy while performing acts of lovingkindness. We can help our social, political, and religious systems become agents of mercy. Above all, we can trust that we are in God’s hands.
Let us practice mercy. As Shakespeare wrote, “The quality of mercy is not strained. / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:/ It blesses him that gives and him that takes.” May the mercy of God be upon our newly elected leaders, and may our country be twice blessed as it extends mercy.
Pope Francis wrote a Prayer for Peace in 2014. As the nation looks to Inauguration Day, let us pray for a peaceful transition with the Pope’s prayer:
Lord God of Peace, hear our prayer! We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried. But our efforts have been in vain. Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts. Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.
God of Love, you created us, and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister. Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that our way of life will always be that of Shalom, Peace, Salaam! Amen.
The week for Church Unity begins today and ends on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25. This special week of prayer for unity among all denominations began in 1908. This year’s theme is “Abide in My Love” (John 15). Can there be any greater source of unity than to remember that people of all religions abide in God’s love? The work of ecumenism has deepened understanding significantly, yet more needs to be done. When the divisions and tensions in our country and our world seem insurmountable, people of faith must lead in giving an example of unity. Jay Weatherill wrote, “You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” Let us pray for greater unity stemming from the courage to face important religious questions.
The events of the past weeks prove that “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” (Martin Luther King, Jr). We Sisters of Notre Dame throughout the nation divided the hours on Friday, January 15 so that a community of Sisters would be praying continuously during the day. This event was initiated by our Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Committee. This committee is very active and keeps all of us informed for prayer, communications with political leaders, and involvement.
Today’s First Reading to the Hebrews tells of the Son of God who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses.” Such empathy is often found with saints who have worked with children, such as Saint John Bosco. Similarly, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame had a great love for poor and neglected children. The annals of the Sisters of Notre Dame relate a time when Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring was playing organ in the country church in Landeck, Ohio. She noticed a little girl shivering from the cold. Sister invited her to sit beside her on the organ bench, where she spread her habit over the girl’s legs. The incident occurred several years after our foundress decided to teach and house hungry orphans in Germany. The whole life of Sister Maria Aloysia seemed to be one of empathy. May we Sisters continue in her footsteps and in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who always sympathizes with us.
The lectionary this month gives us passages from the Letter to the Hebrews. Its authorship, audience, and even its inclusion in the New Testament canon are uncertain. What is certain is that the author teaches that Jesus is the One who can take us to God. He writes, “Let us draw near…in full assurance of faith.” The Letter wants to get us to the Genuine, the Truth, to God Himself. Such a relationship is unmerited; consequently, the author tells of the covenant taking down barriers to God. How? A perfect Priest. A perfect Sacrifice. We have the Perfect Priest and Sacrifice in Jesus Christ. The thesis of the Letter to the Hebrews is that Jesus gave access to God. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
When I petition God for a favor, I sometimes pray, “If you wish, you can _____.” Then I hear or imagine God saying, “I do will it.” And I feel confident that my petition will be answered. Maybe it will happen exactly as requested; if not, I am still confident of an answer. Unlike the leper, I don’t hear or imagine God warning me not to disclose the favor. Usually I wouldn’t think to “publicize the whole matter” (Mark 1:45). There’s a time to proclaim answered prayer, but there’s a time just to keep it between God and me.
“Silence grows me and frees me,” writes Joan Chittister in Radical Spirit. “It enables me to become the ear of God on earth. . .” (p. 162). So often we remind ourselves that we are the hands and feet of Christ, but it is a bit surprising to talk about becoming the ear of God on earth. With our hands we make sandwiches for a food pantry, and with our feet we go to a Habitat site. Our hands and feet do the work of God to meet the needs of his children.
But what do our ears do? Listening to God’s small voice, we may discover our weaknesses, we may hear a different interpretation of Scripture, we may focus on a call to do more or be more. In this way silence grows and frees me. In the deep silence of listening, we may hear what enters God’s ear. We may hear the moans of suffering that God attends to. We may catch sounds that delight the Creator. We may catch the whispers of children, the agony of the grieving, the shouts of injustice. When we hear what God hears, we become the ear of God on earth.
Today let your hands and feet do the work of God that you heard by being God’s ear.
Vinita Hampton Wright is the author of The Soul Tells a Story. In her book Wright says, “Faith figures into creative work at every step. You say yes to the work, trusting that you are in some way called to it.” She goes on to say that the creative person has faith that there is a reason for the creative project, whatever it may be. It is this faith in the call to be creative that enhances one’s spiritual life. Whether the creativity produces a decorated birthday cake, a song, an essay, a lesson plan via zoom, an art piece in wood or clay, or a clean room arranged in a different way, it is you saying yes to the work to which you are called. And if the cake flops, the song isn’t a hit, the essay remains unpublished, and the artistic pieces doesn’t meet your satisfaction, your faith will be stronger in the effort. And that’s accomplishment.