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April 11, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 12

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Genevieve McQuade

believe as you pray

4th Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016

Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 100:1-3, 5
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
John 10:27-30

O ur gospel passage this week is short yet extraordinary. It is very existential. Come with me on a flight of thought today.

John’s gospel proclaims that the Father and Jesus are one. No one can take us, his sheep, out of Jesus’ hand, and therefore not from the Father’s either, since the Father and the Son are not two but One.

Think about it. It’s like being enfolded like being in an embrace of God. In the hand of God, we are protected and pervaded by God’s love.

What is most important in your life? You’d likely say your relationships with family and friends. We want to be connected with them.

Yet, isn’t relationship more crucial with God who is more precious than anything or anyone? Although hidden and mysterious, God is near in his touch and within you as his temple of the Holy Spirit and wants your heart as his dwelling place. You are embedded in his sacred heart, too.

In personal prayer, we can pray in so many ways. We can adore, praise, trust, petition, repent, yield, give thanks, and more, within his indescribable love for everyone.

What is our life, our very existence, about? We exist in time and space in which we move and have our being. It’s a given we don’t think about much, but why not? Isn’t it like living each day as though it were a divine passageway of God’s love towards an eternity beyond time and space?

Why ought we acknowledge being surrounded by the hand of God and being aware of this gift of existence? One explanation is found in our reading from Acts: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”

We exist to be one with God, to be holy. We exist to be in profound relationship with Jesus through his Holy Spirit and in the Father’s love. We exist surrounded by the love of God even in our dark times. We exist to take joy in living the gospel truths. We exist to be a light to the world, transparently revealing God’s light.

We exist to spread this good news. All this comes about through relationship with and surrender to God through prayer, sacraments, spiritual community, and deliberation of the living Word in scripture.

Then someday, we will be taken out of time and space into eternity. As Revelation describes it, there we shall never perish. We will be among those who have survived the time of great distress. We won’t hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike us.

The Revelation reading continues: for the “Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd us and lead us to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.”

Someday, we will fully experience the visible, obvious, and dynamic way in which we are connected to the complete and everlasting Oneness, the embrace of God. You are beloved in his hand.

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in light of faith

The Power of Love

The picture of the “Praying Hands” is undoubtedly the most popular work credited to print artist and painter, Albrecht Durer, but few people are familiar with the story behind the painting. It is a story worth telling because once we understand the noble sacrifice freely offered by the person whose hands inspired the work, we can better appreciate the reality that prayer changes the one who prays.

Durer was one of 18 children born in fifteenth century Germany. Albrecht and one of his brothers dreamed of becoming artists, but the family could only afford to send one of the sons to study art. As the result of a coin toss, Albrecht won the opportunity to study art in Nuremberg. However, the brothers agreed that once Albrecht completed his studies, he would use the money from the sale of his art work to finance his brother’s dream. Four years later after Albrecht had completed his studies, he returned home to help his brother, but it was too late. During the four years that he was away, his brother had labored in a gold mine, where he had sustained several broken fingers. Pointing to his arthritic hands, the brother explained, with tears in his eyes, that his hands had become too crippled and work-worn to paint.

If the story had ended there it would indeed be a tragedy, but one day while Durer observed his brother in prayer, he was touched by the sight of his twisted hands and decided to paint his hands folded in prayer as a gesture of love and gratitude for his brother’s noble sacrifice. The work when first completed was entitled “Apostles Hands” but through the centuries it has become known simply as “The Praying Hands.”

Although the brother’s dream was never realized in the way he had hoped when he was young, his generosity was rewarded in a most unexpected way. Rather than becoming an artist, his hands have become a work of art, one that has lasted through the centuries. The brother never achieved the fame that was awarded Albrecht. In fact we don’t even know the name of the one who had sacrificed so much. And yet, while many famed paintings by Albrecht Durer hang in art galleries and museums throughout the world, the print of “The Praying Hands” is both profound and ordinary enough to have achieved a place of honor in homes and offices everywhere. It has been replicated as bookends, subjects for needlepoint and stand alone figurines.

I suspect its popularity is due to the fact that more than a work of art, the likeness of “The Praying Hands” serves as an invitation to ponder the transcendent. We can’t know if those hands were offering a prayer of praise and adoration, or if they were pleading or giving thanks. But the fact that they were pointed upward invites all who gaze upon them to look beyond life’s passing realities and recognize the importance of a loving relationship with God. Knowing the story behind this particular work of art, reminds us how God can transform disappointments, suffering, and even lost dreams into a reality we could never have imagined.

Durer’s hands folded in prayer remind us that despite our best efforts, human effort alone is insufficient. Life happens. Things don’t always work out the way we plan, and there are limits as to what any one person can accomplish. But when we offer our meager efforts to God, even when our work is less than perfect, God can do amazing things. Every time we unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ, we experience the Paschal Mystery, not just as a mystery of faith but as a lived experience. When our seeming failures rise from the ashes as a benediction for others, we experience the Resurrection in real time and in a very personal way. Each time we look beyond the crucible and celebrate the presence of God in our midst, we proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In his book “Christian Contemplative Living,” Thomas Santa, C.S.S.R. posits that conversion is more a change of attitude than it is a change of action. He goes on to explain that once we know in our deepest center that we are loved, it is an attitude of being loved that empowers us to change our behavior.

The recent murder of five nuns who were killed by the terrorists is one such example. Yes, their death was a tragedy, but when we view their dying through a transcendent lens, we can celebrate their martyrdom, knowing that while they are enjoying the fullness of glory with God, their blood is seeding the Church for generations to come.

These faith-filled nuns could go to their death because they knew God loved them. Their ministry was one of caring for the elderly in the nursing home where they worked, a ministry that allowed them to return the love that had been theirs. Not unlike Albrecht Durer’s brother, who remained faithful despite the turn his life had taken, the peace and love these nuns had was rooted in their relationship with God, a relationship that not even a group of terrorists could take from them.

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