The din of breakfast time in a house full of little ones required that I practically yell to my husband to be heard over requests for more milk: “I just feel so sad for our country. I feel sad that so many people are suffering. I’m sad about how devastated God must feel.”
Before he could respond, my sweet, sensitive 5-year-old hugged my legs. “It’s okay to feel sad, Mom. But, why are you sad for our country?”
And so our dialogue began. I gently told him about the injustices being faced by our Black brothers and sisters. I reminded him that God made each of us in His image, and that we are each deeply loved by Jesus. I reminded him that racism is a sin, and that Jesus conquered our sins by His death on the Cross. We love Jesus and honor His sacrifice by turning away from sin. And then I told him that we have work to do: as Catholics, we get to be like Jesus by fighting against racism. As believers, we are called to make the world more loving and just.
So together, we enter this mission of Christ. Our baptism calls us and sends us out, equipping us to live as members of the Body of Christ. The Catechism calls us “members of each other, (CCC no. 1267)” and as such, we have a responsibility to live that way.
Using the life and love of Jesus as the guiding principal of our faith, we are invited to acknowledge the suffering of those around us. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now this is the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is unity as the Body of Christ: a people not positioned as ‘left’ or ‘right,’ for only the unborn or for only Black lives, but positioned at the foot of the Cross. Our Church, informed by the Gospels, calls us together to this work to uphold the dignity of the person, letting Jesus show us the way.
Jesus was moved with compassion.
At the death of Lazarus, he wept. At the woman’s desperation for healing, he allowed himself to be touched by her. He entered into the woman at the well’s loneliness and shame and met her with mercy. Jesus showed up heart first, revealing how we might accompany each other.
As a white woman, I cannot know the suffering of the Black community. I can, however, emulate Jesus by allowing myself to hear and see hurt and be moved deeply by it. Instead of rationalizing, self-aggrandizing, or refusing to acknowledge the pain of another’s story, I open my eyes to see the brokenhearted—even when it challenges me, even when it hurts. Like Jesus, I weep for the loss of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others. I allow myself to feel and enter into the pain. I lean in until it makes me want to do something.
Jesus stood with the vulnerable.
God made flesh dwelled among us and was moved with compassion for his people. Seeing the suffering of Martha and Mary, he raised Lazarus from the dead. At the ailing and fear of the bleeding woman, he extended healing and peace. He saw the shame of the woman at the well and revealed himself as God to her, declaring her worthy of His life-giving water. In these examples and countless others, Jesus reveals himself as unapologetically for and with the least of these. As Catholics, we are called to this mission.
In response to the just anger of our Black brothers and sisters, we stand in solidarity with all who experience the sin and effects of racism . Moved by this pain, we cry out to our Father for healing and peace. Using our voices, votes, and dollars, we stand for and with the Black communities and all affected by the sin of racism, declaring the value of each life and the dignity of each person.
I am tempted to avoid this work. Showing up heart first the way Jesus did requires a vulnerability and humility I often lack. I become disproportionately concerned about being comfortable and being right. I am tempted to keep my head down, refusing to be moved and challenged by new voices and stories. Yet, I am called to look up. When I pridefully insulate myself from the pain of a hurting person or community by my refusal to enter in, openhearted, I deny the dignity of their personhood by not validating their experience. By guarding my hardened heart, I fail my baptismal calling. Jesus concerned himself more with loving the low in spirit than the repercussions of caring. He entered in, listened, and loved each person—especially the marginalized.
So today I seek to live like Jesus. I choose to sit in sorrow for the pain of my Black brothers and sisters. I lift up my voice in prayer, confident that God sees and cares deeply about justice, unity, and life. I choose to look to the mission of Jesus to remember my own. Join me.
In the past few months, most of us have had to confront loss. Some of those losses have been very visible and salient, costing us our jobs, loved ones, and financial security. Others have been less tangible, and yet still impact large parts of our lives: important events have been placed on hold or canceled, relationships have been strained due to distance, and the feeling of having things to look forward to has dissipated. In the aftermath of stay-at-home orders and the pandemic, those of us with these less visible losses might find ourselves minimizing the pain or disappointment we feel. We might compare our smaller losses with those who have undoubtedly encountered more suffering than we have. We may feel that compared to others who have lost jobs, loved ones, homes, or security, we have no right to feel sadness, anger, or disappointment. We might even be preventing ourselves from experiencing grief.
Grief is something natural to our human journey. Like other emotions and emotional processes that we experience as human beings, grief provides us with information to our minds and bodies so that we can survive. In the face of loss, grief serves the purpose of communicating to us that we have encountered a lack of something that was formerly present and available to us. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, job, role on a team or in a workforce, friendship, feeling of security, or a sense of hope, grief helps communicate to us what is most important in our lives. In other words, grief helps inform us regarding what we set our hearts on and what brings us joy and safety. Grief not only touches the realm of the emotions and the psyche; it also is essential to our faith tradition. In Scripture, the words of grief are especially echoed in the psalms:
“My tears have been my bread day and night,
as they ask me every day, “Where is your God?”
Those times I recall
as I pour out my soul,
When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One,
to the house of God,
Amid loud cries of thanksgiving,
with the multitude keeping festival.
Why are you downcast, my soul;
why do you groan within me?
Wait for God, for I shall again praise him,
my savior and my God.” (Psalm 42: 4-6)
We even see Jesus grieve several places in the Gospels, such as at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), and even at the suffering he was to experience to carry out our salvation (Luke 22:44). In Catholic funerals, we name and acknowledge the reality of grief in our prayers during our liturgical rites—an important part of believing in and living with Paschal hope.
Grief is not just an emotional process for death or large losses. While it is important to keep a clear perspective about the magnitude of the losses we experience in comparison to the suffering of others, grieving the less tangible and visible losses we experience is an important step to healing and cultivating our mental and emotional health. Additionally, ensuring that we allow ourselves to experience grief, even in response to comparatively smaller losses, can help us grow in holiness. Experiencing grief can help us to find new meaning in our faith, deepen our relationship with God and others, and continue to grow in knowledge of ourselves before God.
So, how are we to allow ourselves to grieve the smaller losses we have experienced in recent months? What are some ways to grieve the rescheduled or canceled graduations, weddings, and festivals, or the lack of opportunity to do the things we enjoy or to spend time with people whom we love?
Emotional Processing vs. Emotional Bypassing
Instead of dismissing ourselves or invalidating the emotions we are experiencing (also known as emotional bypassing), we can allow ourselves to grieve more fully by feeling our emotions and asking questions about what we feel, otherwise known as emotional processing. For example, instead of dismissing how we feel by thinking, “It could be worse!”, it is more helpful to our healing to ask questions such as “What is my sadness and anger telling me about what I love or what’s important to me?” In acknowledging our pain and asking ourselves questions about how we feel, we can grow in self-knowledge and self-understanding about the way in which God has created us. We can also engage in processing with a trusted friend, mentor, or mental health professional.
Allowing Physical Release
Grief, like other emotions and emotional processes, makes itself known in our bodies. Physical pain, muscle aches, clenched jaws, and a racing heartbeat can all be caused by grief, stress, and anxiety. It is important to process these emotions physically so that they do not remain stuck in our bodies. Breathwork, exercise, crying, and movement allows us to feel grief and allow it to process through our body. Journaling, since it requires movement of the hands, is also a helpful tool for engaging grief through our bodies.
Authenticity in Prayer
We are the beloved children of God; God looks upon us with love, care, and concern with whatever we bring to prayer. Talking to God honestly about our disappointment, sadness, or anger brings us closer in relationship with God. In prayer, God is not judging us for what we do or do not say. For this reason, we can be totally authentic with God in prayer. We might feel like we should have a different emotional response to our losses from what we are experiencing, but God’s love is unconditional and infinite: we don’t have to worry about appearing perfect before God.
Grieving the large and small losses of the last few months is not only important, it is human. How can we enter more deeply into our grief to find healing? What in our lives do we need to grieve?
“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.”
Today’s Gospel challenged my understanding of what it means to be compassionate. When Jesus learned that a loved one was ill, He responded in a peculiar manner. He didn’t rush to the sick one’s side or hurry to comfort His beloved’s family. Rather, He waited two days.
Why did He wait two days? I sure wouldn’t have done that. If He knew all along that He would raise Lazarus, why would He prolong the wounded agony of Mary and Martha? How could Jesus desert those He loved in their moment of need? It seems almost like a test, a cruel and unnecessary test.
Yet I suspect Jesus had a different intention. By waiting two extra days He was not punishing or testing Mary and Martha but inviting them to examine their own brokenness. The idea of resting in brokenness, rather than avoiding it, has been a particularly challenging concept for me. I first encountered it in Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, in which Stevenson says “We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”
It seems that Jesus chose the former. When He finally arrived in Bethany and witnessed the woundedness of those He loved, He “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” Then, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that Jesus wept helps me reclaim my own brokenness and affirms that truly embodying compassion requires entering into the chaos of woundedness, both my own and that of the “other” person.
Prayer: God of grace, help me rest in my woundedness. When I feel most alone and deserted, remind me of Jesus’ constant refrain “Do not be afraid.” Help me remember that Jesus Himself, the almighty Son of God, wept for the pain of His community. Let me never forget that one of Jesus’ greatest miracles of raising Lazarus from the dead was precipitated by His solidarity in suffering with those He loved dearly. Amen.
Focus on: Social Justice
How have you been wounded by the, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, “sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism?” How can you – and your surrounding communities – enter into this brokenness and encounter healing compassion?
Service Inspiration: My mother, Sue, understands part of my volunteer experience, but struggles with other components. However, I recently babysat for a colleague’s children, a two-and-a-half year old and a six-month old. When I left, I was exhausted. I realized later that I watched two boys the same age difference as my brother and I, but only for a few hours. My mom did it for years, and then became my teacher and homeschooled us. She served as an enormous role model, never asking for thanks or recognition, silently taking on her children’s struggles. She is an inspiration and reminder of Jesus here on Earth.
*This Lenten reflection was originally published on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog and was posted with permission.
Greg Hamilton attended Saint Michael’s College in the grace-filled Green Mountain State of Vermont and is currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Washington D.C. at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Most days, Greg finds a way to involve his favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in his routine.
We’ve heard the story of Martha and Mary welcoming Jesus into their home. Martha is busy tending to hospitality needs while Mary listens to Jesus. Martha complains to Jesus requesting Mary’s help. Instead, Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:38-42)
As a young girl, I found the story of Martha and Mary difficult to understand. Growing up in a family valuing hard work, I often associated myself with Martha’s work ethic. I couldn’t figure out why Jesus would value inaction rather than work. Proverbs 12:24 says, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the lazy will be put to forced labor.” But then I realized I had the point of the story wrong.
Jesus’ response has nothing to do with working hard. It has everything to do with listening to his message. We can then see in ourselves what Jesus points out in Martha – we can be easily distracted and worried by tasks we need to accomplish in this world. Through Martha’s story, Jesus reminds us that there is one thing that is important: following Jesus’ message and his individual calling for each of us.
In John 11:17-27, Martha meets Jesus as soon as she learns he is coming after hearing Lazarus has died. Immediately we see a change in this narrative of Martha. She purposefully goes to Jesus and when he asks her about his belief in him she responds, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Next, Martha has the opportunity to serve Jesus six days after the Passover (John 12:1-8). She does so humbly and quietly. We come to understand Martha’s role is a different calling than Mary’s, much like in our own lives when those around us may not be called to the same occupations, tasks, talents, and other circumstances. Martha has chosen to serve with love instead of with bitterness and arrogance.
Martha’s story gives us hope. Even though we can fall into the trap of trying to complete tasks on our own without God, there is opportunity for us to try again. When Jesus speaks to Martha, he is not unkind. His response is a loving one. As sinners we can only strive to learn and grow from our mistakes to make the next opportunity filled with Christ.
Known as the patron saint of cooks, homemakers, and servants, St. Martha reminds us to thank those in our lives who serve us. This can be our parents or those who cook for us, those who work in public service, or even the waiter or waitress at our next restaurant meal. As a way to celebrate St. Martha’s feast day with our families this July 29th, we can pray to serve Jesus better:
Saint Martha, pray for us that we might serve Jesus better. Help us to overcome our distractions and worries to listen to his words and be present to him this day. Amen.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
As a fun activity to celebrate St. Martha’s feast day, I found this no-bake pumpkin pie recipe from Quebec named after St. Martha in my family cookbook, Cooking with the Saints: An Illustrated Treasury of Authentic Recipes Old and Modern
Tarte a la Citrouille Sainte-Marthe
¾ c. (200g) sugar
1 ½ c. (375g) pumpkin puree
½ c. (125ml) milk
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. gelatin (1 ½ envelopes)
1 pre-baked piecrust
If you have used sweetened pumpkin puree, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by half.
Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until fluffy, add half the sugar and continue beating until smooth. Set aside.
In another bowl beat the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until the mixture thickens and becomes pale. Add the pumpkin puree, milk, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Continue beating until mixture is smooth.
Transfer mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook it for 7-8 minutes until it thickens.
Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cold water and let it soak for 5 minutes. Add gelatin to the contents of the double boiler and stir until it is dissolved.
Let the pumpkin mixture cool to room temperature, then carefully fold in the beaten egg whites with a spatula.
Pour into the pre-baked piecrust and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm and set.
Poor Thomas! One remark by my namesake and he’s forever branded as “Doubting Thomas.” The Church doesn’t honor him each July 3rd for this, however, but for what is absolutely one of the most explicit Professions of Faith uttered in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (see John 20: 24-29, c.f. Luke 7:1-10) In those five words, Thomas boldly expresses his revived belief in his resurrected Master and testifies to His divinity, ready to once again follow Christ and evangelize the world about Him. While this redeeming witness is indeed memorable, it is important to not lose sight of another of Thomas’ statements as recorded in John’s gospel, which shows us more about his personality and in turn, our own faith in Christ, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
This other mention of Thomas occurs when Jesus decides to travel to the village of Bethany in Judea to raise Lazarus, thus coming dangerously close to Jerusalem (see John 10:22-39, c.f. Mark 10:32-34). Remembering how the Jews there had earlier tried to stone Jesus, the disciples must have felt apprehensive about undertaking such a risky journey (see John 11:8). Thomas, however, seeing Jesus’ determination, exhorts them saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Brave words for a doubter! Pope Benedict XVI even characterized Thomas’ sincere resolve to follow his Master as something which is “truly exemplary and offers us a valuable lesson: it reveals his total readiness to stand by Jesus, to the point of identifying his own destiny with that of Jesus and of desiring to share with him the supreme trial of death” (September 27, 2006 General Audience).
This is the very definition of the Christian life! A life with Jesus is to be with Him through times of joy, peace, hope, success, and prosperity, as well as uncertainty, loss, sorrow, ridicule, and persecution. This is “no sugarplum” as Benedict describes it in Jesus of Nazareth (pg. 67), but without Christ what can one hope for to carry him or her through the trials of life? What would be the point in continuing on?
In his final five words recorded in the Bible, Thomas redeems himself after doubting Christ by exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”. The wounds he touched confirm, undoubtedly, the Identity of Christ, the truth of His Message, and the authenticity of God’s infinite Love, not just for Thomas, but all believers! St. Augustine comments on this: Thomas “saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other” (In ev. Jo. 121, 5).
It is important to remember that Saint Thomas, like all the apostles, was personally chosen by Christ in spite of their weaknesses and lack of understanding. But Christ did not pick worthless men! Rather, their failings are a reminder that holiness is a gift from God and not a human creation, given to us, who have our own weaknesses, so God can transform them into the loving image of Christ and mature our faith. Jesus also permitted Thomas to doubt after the resurrection but did not abandon him in those doubts, instead allowing him to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection and thus verify the whole Christian message (see 1 Corinthians 15:14). Finally, we are called to not give in to our doubts regarding God, our dignity and worth, or even hard Church teachings no matter how unpopular they may seem! By looking to Saint Thomas as a model (and by praying to him for guidance), may we find comfort in our insecurities, hope in the future, and the encouragement to persevere through the difficulties of life on the way to our final rendezvous with our Lord and our God.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.