Every day I read the news, I am confronted with terror, persecution, injustice, pandemic threats, and the death of the innocent at the hands of extremists who have chosen violence to advance their goals. I’m starting to feel apprehensive and angry and perhaps even a little guilty as I enjoy relative peace in my own life. I wonder if I would be ready to die for my love for Jesus, if the moment came. I torment myself with questions about what I should change in my lifestyle to live in solidarity with the suffering around the world. I think of my nieces and nephews and the world they will inherit.
There are leaders who are making decisions that will impact world history, people who are being sent to other countries in a military capacity, and people who are standing with the suffering and refugees as medical personnel, religious priests, brothers and sisters, and national organizations bringing relief and assistance. However, I am here just reading the news of what is unfolding. All I can do is worry…reach out in spirit in compassion…and pray.
Does prayer have any real power in a situation spiraling so out of control? Visiting a church can seem like such a small contribution to world peace in the face of the sacrifices of others or of the politically weighty decisions others make. Of course, part of us affirms absolutely that prayer is the most important thing we can do. But how deeply do we actually know why prayer is the most important contribution we can make to world peace—a contribution that each of us can make no matter where we are?
I look up from the news to the cross hanging in our chapel and reflect on the words of Caryll Houselander:
“If we judge by the newspapers, it would seem that Christianity is a failure. Famine, cruelty, suspicion, threats, fear, violence, crime. This after two thousand years of Christianity! Certainly it looks like a failure. What did it look like when Christ was in the tomb? Christ had claimed to be the life of the world—he was dead. He had promised his people a kingdom, he had been hanged outside the city. He had claimed to be king, he had been crowned with thorns. Only a handful of men had kept their faith in him and the handful had fled. One of them had even denied that he knew him, another had sold him for a contemptible fee. He was stripped naked, made mock of, he died with nothing of his own, even his grave was borrowed. Certainly it looked as if Christ was a failure.
At that time the faith of the whole world was kept alive by a few devoted women. Even the apostles doubted them when they told them (what they should have known) that Christ had kept his word. “But to their minds the story seemed madness and they could not believe it.”
Those women believed it because they had the faith which discovers through love. They had never wanted any earthly triumph for Christ, never expected it. They believed in Christ the poor man, the forsaken man, even the crucified man. If they could not have Christ with all his humiliations and stripes, they would not seek to comfort themselves with anything else. So they came, asking who would roll back the stone, to find it already removed and Christ alive, with the wounds our sin had inflicted on him blazing like stars in his risen body.
Today it is in the Catholic church that faith in the resurrection is kept alive. Christ in Our Midst: Wisdom from Caryll Houselander (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2013) 42–43.
In spirit, I reach out to hug the mothers of the sons and daughters who have perished as journalists and soldiers as I keep alive in my heart faith in the resurrection. In spirit, I hold in my arms the children who are starving and fleeing for their lives as they wait for food and help.. I send my guardian angel to be at the side of those who are sinking into anxious darkness at the evil they witness. I beg the gifts of Wisdom and Prudence for the statesmen who must make strategically important decisions without knowing clearly the outcome of choices. I feel for the brave men and women who have fought for freedom and are now seeing the work for which they risked both life and limb unraveling before their eyes. I pray for those who are fighting to defend their own cities and loved ones, and for the innocent civilians who find themselves caught in between opposing militant forces. I beg God for a change of heart in those who are perpetrating the violence. In spirit, I hold hands with the religious sisters who are losing convents and schools and hospitals, yet choose to stay in refugee camps with their people…. And I believe with them and for them in the resurrection.
A feeling of powerlessness is one of the most difficult feelings we can endure. We want to do something for the world so that today’s children will inherit a world of peace, flourishing with Christian values. In a culture and society where our own Christian values are basically being eroded away, the act of praying is no small thing. Each prayer actually shores up Christian values in our own culture. By recommitting to love and prayer we actually are contributing to the rebuilding of society wherever we live. It may seem like an isolated act as we kneel in our room or at the altar where we worship, but we are joined at that moment with every other person of any faith who is praying and pleading for help from on high.
Prayer is our work.
Prayer helps us calm ourselves so we can act with mindful compassion and reach out in love to others around us.
Prayer links us to those who need help somewhere in the world at that moment.
Prayer is the secret to the conversion of those who terrorize and persecute others.
Prayer is becoming Christ in his resurrection, a light in a world that is clouded with pain and sorrow.
Prayer is the way we comfort in spirit the brokenhearted.
Prayer is begging for mercy from a Father who is watching his sons and daughters suffer at the hands of each other.
May all of us together be today the people of the resurrection who keep alive the faith of the whole world. Amen.
Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP