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Campus Ministry Prayer of the Week

The Vincentian priests and all who work in University Ministry and Mission pray for you daily. Each week, we will be sharing a prayer with our campus community.

Week of August 3

Rev. John Holliday, C.M., University Chaplain

The Gospel reading for the Mass of Tuesday, August 4, is the story of Jesus walking on the water from Chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel. After miraculously feeding 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and a few fish, Jesus takes some time for private prayer and reflection on a nearby mountain. 

During this time, the disciples row across the Sea of Galilee to meet Jesus on the other side. A violent storm breaks out and the disciples are terrified. They become even more frightened when they see Jesus approach them by walking on the water; they believe that they are seeing a ghost. 

Jesus reassures them that it is He who is approaching them, and says “Do not be afraid.” Peter, still not sure of what is happening, responds, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus does, and Peter steps out on the water for a few heroic seconds. However, seeing the raging wind and water surrounding him, Peter begins to sink and cries out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately, Jesus stretches out his hand to rescue Peter and says, “O, you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter is one of my favorite New Testament characters. He is often impulsive. He is quick to speak, even when he has not quite completely figured everything out. We usually focus on Peter’s “lack of faith” as he begins to sink into the sea. However, I often reflect that he actually got out of the boat!

Jesus invites us to “walk on water”—to get out of the safety of our own, often unsteady, boats in the middle of the storms swirling around us, to be his hand for those who are drowning. We certainly have many storms swirling around us during this very unusual summer: COVID-19, Tropical Storm Isaias, and protests in our cities calling out for justice and for real, meaningful work on racism in our nation. During this past weekend, some of our resident students moved in for a 14-day period of quarantine before they begin their first semester alone at a new college in a new city.

What does faith mean, and what are we being called to do during these challenging times? I came across this message on social mediaa few weeks ago, which I found helpful.

“Faith doesn’t always take you out of the problem,
Faith takes you through the problem.
Faith doesn’t always take away the pain,
Faith gives you the ability to handle the pain.
Faith doesn’t always take you out of the storm,
Faith calms you in the midst of the storm. Amen.”

In the meantime, we are still called to love one another. To stand up for justice. To reach out to the lost child and the struggling senior. To spend time with the broken and hurting. To defend those unjustly accused or bullied.

All of these are examples of “walking on water.” In doing them, your outreached hand becomes the hand of Jesus.

We just have to possess the faith not to doubt that Jesus has our hand in his, and the courage to leave the safety of our boats to venture out and walk on water.

Here is our prayer today: Grab us, O God, when we are sinking; pull us up when we fall. May we trust in your grace to “walk on water” in our efforts to help those who are sinking, despite the instability of our own boats. Never let us doubt that you have our hand when we seek to follow your son’s example of generosity and peace to our brother and sister wayfarers.

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Weekly Prayers

Letting God Love You

By Andrea Pinnavaia, Campus Minister for Liturgy and Faith Formation

Many of us are looking for ways to help others during this difficult time. Whether we are springing into action to help our health-care professionals on the frontlines, getting basic necessities and services to those most in need, or simply wearing a mask in public and maintaining social distancing, we are ultimately seeking to practice works of love. 

For the St. John’s community, these acts are driven by our charism. It is in our Vincentian DNA to love others, especially the poor and suffering. We strive to listen attentively to what God tries to tell us through the voices of the poor, the sick, and the marginalized, and allow ourselves continually to be changed by them, even when it is difficult or daunting. 

St. Louise de Marillac taught us: “Let us serve with hearts filled with the pure love of God, which enables us always to love the roses amidst the thorns.” Certainly, those in the medical field have been starkly living this out as they have come face-to-face with suffering and death. Others, too, live this in our own smaller, yet impactful, ways—perhaps by going to the grocery store for an elderly neighbor or being patient with those with whom we share a home, or calling relatives and friends who may need connection at this time—these are all acts of loving service. In all of their instruction, our Vincentian founders speak tirelessly about love, of God and of neighbor. We are called to share the love of God with others, especially the poor. 

If we are to do “what must be done,” we must also consider God’s love for each of us. For St. Vincent de Paul reminds us, “How can we give love to others, if we do not have it among us? … because if love is not on fire in us, if we do not love each other as Jesus Christ loved us, and if we do not act as He did, how can we hope to spread such love throughout the world? You cannot give what you do not have.”

When is the last time you considered how limitlessly God loves you?

Vincent himself spoke of our God, “who loves us unceasingly and as tenderly as if He were just beginning to love us.” Imagine a world in which each of us truly believed this, a world in which this God-love reigned in the hearts of all. 

Wellness experts agree that a helpful way to cope with the stress of this health crisis is through stretching, meditation, and prayer. I invite you for the next two minutes to take some deep breaths and pray with the following meditation video. The words are from a poem by Edwina Gateley called “Let Your God Love You.” The scene in the video is from a perfect summer day at dusk on the Salt Marsh Nature Trail in my neighborhood of Marine Park, Brooklyn; it is one of my favorite places to pray. Take a moment of retreat today with your God who, in the words of Ms. Gateley, “loves you with an enormous love.” May each of us know God’s love so we can witness it to the world in need of charity, justice, and healing.

Lead by Your Spirit 

By Cydni R. Joubert, Campus Minister for Retreats and Faith Formation

When I turn on the news, scroll on social media, or read countless headlines, my head sometimes begins to spin from all of the tragedies happening in our world. There are so many issues that require our attention—and have needed our attention for quite some time. 

What can we do? Trying to answer that question for myself, I turn to God when I can no longer quiet all of the thoughts running through my mind. He is the only one who seems to bring me peace. 

I offer you this prayer—and a reminder to look to God for direction, clarity, peace, and guidance.

God of All, 

You were here before the beginning of time and you will be here until the end. There is so much commotion, tragedy, sickness, and hurt in our world right now. 

But none of this is a surprise to you. I believe that you know and see all and are a God who listens. You are no stranger to hard times and how to overcome them. When Jesus Christ roamed this earth, he stopped to weep with those who were mourning and offered comfort to the brokenhearted. 

I pray that as we try to rebuild our world again—the world you created—that the Holy Spirit leads us. I pray that you keep watch in our boardrooms and at our kitchen tables—anywhere where those in leadership discuss our next steps. 

I pray that you help lead the administration at St. John’s in the direction you want them to go. I pray for our students who may be struggling. I pray that you bring peace and comfort to our distressed minds and hearts. I pray that you mourn with us over all that has been lost and give us strength and direction as we move forward. 

I thank you for ALL of the essential workers who continuously serve on the frontlines. I pray, God, that you just continue to be with us. 

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us. 
St. Louise de Marillac, pray for us. 
For all of the intentions that are held within our heart. Lord, pray for us. 

I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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By Dennis M. Gallagher, Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation, University Ministry 

How Are You?

During these past four months, the constant question of “how are you?” has not just been a greeting, but a check on our well-being and an opportunity to reflect on what is best for our society. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more aware of the fragility of human life, and how so many of us take our health, safety, acceptance, and support for granted. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks put into the forefront of my thinking and prayer the question of why is the unjust treatment of Black men and women repeatedly happening? Has our society just accepted that fear and misrepresentation of people of color will always be the norm?  

For a long time I have said to myself, no. But what have I done to stand up for systemic injustices to advocate for an equitable society? Mostly it has been through my vote for candidates whom I believe will legislate for what is best for the common good, and by speaking with my colleagues and friends.   

Now I am confronted to change, evaluate my privilege in society, and to use these revelations to enable an antiracist change promoting the values of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive society. Anti-racism, Black Lives Matter, societal privilege, protest, publish a reflection, confront my own implicit racism; these are my thoughts and prayers in discerning how to be a change agent for anti-racism. 

Rev. Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J., clearly points out in his May 29 reflection in thejesuitpost.org, “Being Black in America should not mean we walk in fear of death. But it does. It should not mean we have less access to breath. But it does.” What a poignant answer to the question, “how are you?”  

I ask myself how I should move forward, not as a white person who has empathy with the Black community, as that would be from my white privileged standpoint, but as a Christian, equal, hopeful, and willing to listen and act for an equitable world to finally happen.   

Fr. Saint-Jean has presented me with this challenge and reminds me in his prayer reflection,

“A Healing Beatitude.” 

“Blessed are you, who are willing to engage in a sincere conversation about race.

Blessed are you, who embrace your Black sisters and brothers in the fight for social justice.

Blessed are you, who are willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of healing our society.

Blessed are you, who ask your bishop (employer) about racial equity training and programming in your diocese.

Blessed are you, who pray to end racism as a pro-life issue.” Amen.

“Wake me up Lord, so that the evil of racism finds no home within me. Keep watch over my heart, Lord, and remove from me any barriers to your grace that may oppress and offend my brothers and sisters. Fill my spirit, Lord, so that I may give services of justice and peace. Clear my mind, Lord, and use it for your glory. And finally, remind us, Lord, that you said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Amen.   (USCCB)

Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., President and Editor in Chief of America Media, sums up my thoughts and feelings: “While it might seem that we are always talking about race, are we? Do we white people really talk honestly with each other, let alone with our black brothers and sisters? I do not mean posturing or moralizing, or tweeting or giving lectures or writing op-eds, but talking candidly about our lives—the kind of candor that hurts. For if we find it easy to talk about race, then we are probably not really talking about it, not in an honest way, for that kind of honesty often hurts.”

“Yet if we cannot speak honestly, then we cannot listen generously. And that, my friends—listening—is even more important. We need to listen to our African American fellow citizens, to all people of color. Our stories have much in common: universal experiences of sin and grace, life and death, triumph and tragedy. It is where our memories diverge, in those places where we tend to stop listening, that we need to listen most, for memory is the soul of conscience and conscience is the motive force for change.”

How are you? Perhaps I should ask, how are we?

Sources:

A Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/prayer-service-for-racial-healing.cfm

Matt Malone, S.J., America, July 2020. Copyright © 2020, p. 23.

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By Stephen DeBlasio, Director of Campus Ministry, Staten Island Campus

Connecting with God during Challenging Times

The last three-and-a-half months have been anything but normal: staying at home, watching the news, and hearing about the many people who have been affected by COVID-19. The sickness and death may have touched you personally. 

Life as we know it has changed. Most disturbing is the uncertainty of the coming months and the daunting question: will my life ever be the same?  

In the midst of this unexpected break, I watched in horror the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, and heard and remembered stories of countless other racially motivated deaths. Another question arose in my reflection. How do I deal with the racism that is in me of which I am not fully aware, and how do I support the antiracist cause?

After a few more weeks of my quarantine when I was able to acclimate myself to working from home, I began to think about what I was experiencing and reflect on where God was in my life. I realized that while it seemed as if God had abandoned me, in reality he was and is still very much with me. 

Reflecting on Psalm 139 always makes me aware of God’s great love for me. The uncertainty that I feel about the future is no different from the uncertainty that I sometimes felt before the pandemic. I really do not know for sure what God has in store for me; I just try to be aware of where He is leading me in my life. 

I am more rested for many reasons. I have had more time to care for myself, and spent more quality time with my wife and children as we reflect, walk, and read. Maybe there is a silver lining to this pandemic after all! I was drawn to the words from Sunday’s gospel.

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.”

Matthew 11 28-30

As we continue through the year, we need to rest in the Lord and realize that through Him our yoke will be easy and our burden light. 

I continue to trust in the Lord as I prepare for the fall semester and pray that I will be open to what the Lord has in store. As I think about racism and educate myself, I trust in the Lord and remember and reread the gospel. I try to follow Jesus’s message of concern for the “dignity of each person,” like St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. This message is the cornerstone of the Catholic teaching and a part of the mission of St. John’s.      


Let Me Not Look Away, Oh God, Let Me Not Look Away, Oh God
by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw  

“Let me not look away, O God, from any truth I should see.
Even if it is difficult, let me face the reality in which I live.
I do not want to live inside a cosseted dream, imagining I am the one who is always right, or believing only what I want to hear.
Help me to see the world through other eyes, to listen to voices
distant and different, to educate myself to the feelings
of those with whom I think I have nothing in common.
Break the shell of my indifference.
Draw me out of my prejudices and show me your wide variety.

Let me not look away. Amen.

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By Sr. Patricia Evanick, D.C. ’97GEd, Campus Ministry

I recently saw a post on social media that made me pause, I do not know who the author is, but I think it is worth reflecting on:
If you see someone falling behind, walk beside them.
If you see someone being ignored, include them.
Always remind people of their worth.
One small act could mean the world to them. 

As I reflect on these words—simple as they may seem—it provokes and challenges me to be and do more.

I need to work at building the Kingdom of God, by my word and work. I need to invite and include others by words and works.

In reflecting on this thought, I can imagine St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac practiced this and suggested to their followers to do the same. I think they would have challenged us to stand and act with all people.

St. Vincent and St. Louise both had a clarity of mission, and strong work ethics. They worked by word and action to change systems of injustice and to attend to all people and their needs.

St. Vincent shared with us:

“How happy we are to take on the mission of Jesus, proclaiming the good news to the poor. We should assist the poor in every way. We should assist them in their material needs, their spiritual needs, and we should assist them by ourselves and with the help of others. To do this is to preach the Gospel by word and work.”

“We must love our neighbors as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated the following on racial injustice:

We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess every human life is sacred. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.”

In a message addressed to his “Dear brothers and sisters in the United States,” a reference to the entire nation—and not just its 70 million Catholics, Pope Francis spoke of his great concern at the disturbing social unrest in the United States following the tragic death of George Floyd, which he attributed to the sin of racism:

We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

In the Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-27

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with your entire mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two great commandments."

My community, the Daughters of Charity, made a statement based on the recent racial unrest and violence:

We. Are. Outraged.

We. Are In Solidarity.

We. Are. Committed to Action.

As women given to God in community to service Christ in those who are poor, we pledge to confront racism within ourselves and where we encounter it.

We pledge to join others in building the kingdom of God.

https://daughtersofcharity.org/in-the-news/george-floyd/

Racism has infected our nation just as COVID-19 has. Unless and until we address it, people of color will continue to suffer and die, and our nation will never heal.

These times are asking us to stand up and speak up when we see racism. This is how we love our neighbors as ourselves. This is how we are just, and act like Jesus. This is how we begin the healing of racism.

This mission of empowering others through relationships is achieved by lifting others up, and by recognizing those who are forgotten or abandoned in our society—the poor and the vulnerable.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest, I felt these words gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own actions, or lack of actions in situations.

Is now not the time to stand with our brothers and sisters who by the color of their skin are vulnerable?

Is now not the time to lift others up? We need to do this by our words and work.

What are my hidden prejudices that I am “waking up” to?

Have I witnessed or heard racial actions/words and failed to act or speak? 

Wake Me Up Lord

From: For The Love of One Another (1989)

Wake me up Lord, so that the evil of racism
finds no home within me.
Keep watch over my heart Lord,
and remove from me any barriers to your grace,
that may oppress and offend my brothers and sisters.
Fill my spirit Lord, so that I may give
services of justice and peace.
Clear my mind Lord, and use it for your glory.
And finally, remind us Lord that you said,
"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God."
Amen.   

Back to the Basics

April 30, 1975, marked the end of the Vietnam War, but the hatred increased. Many soldiers were placed in re-education camp; one of them was Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

During his time in prison, he was worried about the people whom God had sent for him to guide. Who would celebrate Mass, perform the sacraments, and provide overall spiritual comfort?  Anxiety kept him awake at night as he tried to find ways to connect and continue to assist the people in his diocese.  

The more he tried, the more he fell deeper into his own ego, and the more he lost track of the bigger picture: God’s will. He began to think God had abandoned him. In solidarity, he recognized that the anxiety and worry could not change those things of which he had no control.  He, once again, came to the realization that God was in control and he found peace within himself. God never abandoned him, even during the darkest moment of his spiritual life. 

He let go of his anxiety and worry, and allowed God’s providence to guide him on a new mission. He later became the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for the Vatican.

We as a nation are currently grappling with issues concerning the pandemic, law enforcement, race relations, and the dignity of life. Every day we hear stories about how human dignity continues to be disrespected. Questions are being raised, such as: are we one family, as philosophers have described, or are we one Body in Christ, as the Theologians have described? When can we all worship together or gather to console one another when our loved one passes away? 

We do not have the answers. We are uncertain about many things in life, which leaves us feeling isolated and abandoned. Just like Archbishop Francis Xavier, we are troubled because of the unknown. Let us learn from him and come back to the core of our being, the core of our ultimate goal: to be one with God and with one another. Let us come to God for His guidance. As Jesus has said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

To end the reflection, I share a prayer by Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. 

The Lord Will Not Abandon Me

Infinitely good Lord,
you know my heart and my weaknesses.
Do not abandon me.
You are infinitely just
and ask nothing of me
that is beyond my strength.
My happiness knows no limit
when I contemplate your infinite righteousness
and put all things in your hands.
From experience, I know that on my path,
covered with innumerable obstacles,
in the night of trial without exit,
you, the infinite righteous One,
have never abandoned me.

At those moments when I nearly fainted
under the weight of evil,
you did not abandon me.
When I felt tempted to despair
and to give up everything,
when the storm raged without and within,
when the winds of calumny buffeted
against my good intentions and actions,
Lord, you did not abandon me.

It was at such moments
that the Holy Spirit taught me what I should do
and how I should speak.
At such moments, the Holy Spirit
poured courage and hope into my weakened soul
and comforted me.

The Lord will never abandon me
to my limitations! 

Source: Prayers of Hope, Words of Courage, pages 54-55

Contemplation and Racism
by Normand Gouin, Campus Minister for Music and Faith Formation

As a part of my daily spiritual practice, I devote time each morning to read, reflect upon, and pray with the daily meditations offered by Rev. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., and the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) located in Albuquerque, NM. In fact, I now rely on these insightful and probing reflections as a sort of daily spiritual nourishment, especially during this time of isolation and unrest.

Last week, Fr. Rohr, along with other contributors from the CAC, devoted each day’s meditations to the topic of Contemplation and Racism. Their offerings have had a profound impact on me as I examine my own responsibility regarding racial injustice and the pervasive, systemic inequality that exists for people of color in our society.

Similar to Fr. Rohr’s own personal reflection, I acknowledge that I would have never confronted my own white privilege and moved out of my comfort zone as a member of the dominant white culture if I had not been able to travel; to work for several years with predominantly black and Hispanic families as a social worker in rural Florida; to sit with students as they recounted their own experience of violence, oppression, and injustice; or to simply make a fool of myself in any number of social settings.

In one of last week’s meditations, Fr. Rohr reminds us that power and privilege never surrender without a fight. He writes, “If your entire life has been to live unquestioned in your position of power—a power that was culturally given to you, but you think you earned—there is no way you will give it up without major failure, suffering, humiliation, or defeat. As long as we really want to be on top and would take advantage of any privilege or shortcut to get us there, we will never experience true ‘liberty, equality, and fraternity.’” 

Fr. Rohr goes on to state, “If God operates as me, God operates as ‘thee’ too, and the playing field is utterly leveled forever.” Or, in the words of St. Vincent de Paul, we must love and serve our neighbor who is “the image of God and object of his love.”  

Like Jesus, when it comes to power and privilege, we then rush down instead of up. Again, as Fr. Rohr states, “In the act of letting go and choosing to become servants, true community can at last be possible.  The illusory state of privilege just gets in the way of neighboring and basic human friendship.”

Let us pray:

God of justice, 
In your wisdom you create all people in your image, without exception. 
Through your goodness, open our eyes to see the dignity, beauty, 
and worth of every human being. 
Open our minds to understand that all of your children 
are brothers and sisters in the same human family. 
Open our hearts to repent of racist attitudes, behaviors, 
and speech, which demeans others. 
Open our ears to hear the cries of those wounded by racial discrimination, 
and their passionate appeals for change. 
Strengthen our resolve to make amends for past injustices and to right the wrongs of history. 
And fill us with courage that we might seek to heal wounds, build bridges, 
forgive and be forgiven, and establish peace and equality for all in our communities. 
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

—from a Prayer for Racial Healing, Catholic Charities, USA

To subscribe to Fr. Rohr’s daily meditations, visit www.cac.org.

Reference: “Richard Rohr on White Privilege” by Rev. Romal J. Tune (January 19, 2016). 

Come, Holy Spirit: A Time to Listen, Pray, and Act
by Andrea Pinnavaia, Campus Minister for Liturgy and Faith Formation

As I considered what to share for the Prayer of the Week, my own prayer opened up to me the voice of the Holy Spirit:“Use this platform to amplify Black voices. Lift up the witness of your Black brothers and sisters in the Church.” 

Below you will find resources and links for your own prayer, reading, and learning. I invite you to spend time with them this week, and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart through these words. 

We have much work to do. May God guide and lead us to concrete action so that bias and hatred will no longer infect our hearts, minds, and oppressive systems; let them be replaced with a love that respects the dignity of each person.

The following was written by Alexis Finnell, Missionary at Christ in the City in Denver, CO, on May 28. It is shared here with Ms. Finnell’s permission:

Yesterday my heart was feeling very heavy about George Floyd. In prayer last night, I begged Jesus for the freedom to express righteous anger and holy sadness. I don’t really know what to say or do, but writing has always helped me to process things. I don’t frequently share what I’ve written widely, but I wanted to share this:

Another black man is dead.

A knee to the neck and the last words he can express are, “I. can’t. breathe.”

I bet Jesus thought of him.

A drop of blood-sweat in the garden for this man’s sin and another for the way his sin would be used as a weapon against him. A weapon used in an attempt to justify the lie that his life was not worth preserving.

I can imagine Jesus thought of him as He too struggled to say His last words, dying on the cross that slowly suffocated Him. As He couldn’t breathe, He said, “I thirst.”

And man does thirst. For our souls—while we’re weeping at the foot of this cross—and while we each decide in which individuals we’d prefer to meet His gaze.

It is hard to see Jesus’ face amidst fear, I admit. But why is this country so afraid of men of this race?

Since the day this nation was built on the backs of slaves, Jesus’ gaze has been loud in the brown faces of those who want to know where their place is. We belong at this table that is meant for every human person, but here human hands have grasped at seats which are now coveted and reserved.

And yet, despite this terrorizing sin, we have a Jesus who sees. And He descends into our misery and meets us in our suffering and where there is noise and outrage and pain—where there are excuses and justifications and shame—where the devil is stirring his chaos and trying to block our ears from hearing HIS name, Jesus says, “Look at me. Just look at me.”

Here is a selection of other Black Catholic voices:

Prayers and other resources:

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Kindness Must Be Contagious

by Dennis Gallagher, Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation

"The truth must be sought with all one's soul...Love is stronger than hate." —Marc Sangnier

For most of us, it is the 12th week of working from home and more than 100,000 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19. As a nation, we are hopeful that the number of deaths are declining, but we realize there is not just one “pandemic” we face. We need to seriously ask ourselves why—and take action.

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have asked us to practice “societal kindness” to protect our health and the health of others. We praise each other for our efforts of “kindness” freely given, instilling hope and yearning for our former version of normal. However, is the normal way of living the best we can offer to truly live out the best of our kindness?

For Christians, what is the essence of living out Christ’s mandate of kindness? The Hebrew word chesed, also known as hesed, means loving-kindness. Chesed invites us into a bilateral relationship with our loving God; to show loving-kindness in relationships between people toward God, as well as God’s love and mercy toward humanity. 

“The God revealed in the Bible loves us more than a mother (Isaiah 49:15), and, like a loving father worried about his son, paces the floor yearning for him to come home” (Hosea 11:1-4)  

“God would give the world for any one of us: ‘You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you’” (Isaiah 43:4) 

“This is the God who is thirsting for us, delighting in us, waiting for us. Prayer is where my desire for God meets God’s desire for me.” (Jerome Kodell, OSB)

St. Vincent de Paul exhorts us to turn our prayer into action. “We should assist the poor in every way and do it both by ourselves and by enlisting the help of others…to do this is to preach the gospel by word and by work.”  

The pandemic reminds us to appreciate the work of health-care professionals, first responders, and essential workers as our heroes of kindness. Kindness is a daily requirement as a Christian, not just during times of tragedies and pandemics.

Loving kindness is sharing the presence of God. When does the presence of God’s loving-kindness become an embodied commitment within our thoughts and actions? When do we take the steps to create and engage a lifestyle of justice and to develop “right relationships” with all peoples of color, cultures, and religious differences to make their needs our own? When do we humbly bring about justice by standing up for the needs of our brothers and sisters, whether one comes from privilege or not?  

“Justice will not be served until those less affected are as outraged as those affected.”—Ben  Franklin

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension but the presence of justice.”—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Systematic racism is also a pandemic. Here is an excerpt from the May 29 statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion. 

“Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice…As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”

It is time for all people to bring healing to those facing pandemics of COVID-19 and racism. COVID-19 reminds us of our physical and virtual presence, and calls us to connect with loved ones as we all pray for healing. Does our presence bring healing for those who are unjustly judged with violent assumptions because of their skin color? Can the simple act of listening and asking a question bring healing for the protection of all in our society? Healing comes when we genuinely care, share loving-kindness, and recognize the experience of others, being informed of others experiences and how the gaps of assumptions affect others. Empathy is not pity; it is sharing loving kindness. 

We need to stand together with those experiencing systemic injustice to allow all of our voices to be heard. Why can’t all of us bring to “justice health” the same hope and encouragement we have shared toward physical health? 

Nobody has it all together, but together we have it all. Together we realize black lives matter. Together we share kindness to heal against a virus of violence, oppression, and systemic injustice. Together we can share our loving presence in solidarity to heal, engage, and be instruments of justice and peace.

King & Country’s new song, “Together,” helps me engage the loving-kindness of God within me to become an agent of change. This refrain serves as a mantra to capture this spirit.

If you’re lookin’ for hope tonight, raise your hand.
If you’re feelin’ alone and don’t understand.
If you’re fightin’ in the fight of your life, then stand.
We’re gonna make it through this hand-in-hand.
And if we fall, we will fall together.
Together
When we rise, we will rise 
Together…

Source: Musixmatch

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Carried Hope

There have been many changes during this pandemic; we all could use a glimmer of hope. Here is a poem that always comes at the right time in my life—I hope it does the same for you.

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
you’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you,
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

Source:

May our faith continue to be strengthened during these times as we lean on your everlasting arms. In Jesus name, Amen.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV)

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Meg Rodriguez, Residence Minister for Catholic Formation and Leadership

On Thursday, May 21, we will celebrate Ascension Thursday. Forty days after Jesus resurrected from the dead, he ascended into heaven.

The Gospel for Ascension Thursday (Matthew 28:16-20) gives me peace and hope:   
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,'
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” 

“And behold, I am with you always.” (Mt 28:20) Meditating on the Ascension is somewhat challenging and comforting all at the same time during this pandemic. As Jesus left the apostles for heaven, they were shocked and upset. How could he leave? But before he ascends into heaven, he reminds the Twelve, who are probably not really sure what is happening, that He is always with them.

This feeling the apostles felt is similar to what we may be feeling these days: a combination of faith but also doubt. As we experience a series of emotions during this pandemic, I find myself shocked and upset that many things are no longer how they used to be. While the world in many ways has stopped moving, it has been an invitation for something different during this Easter season: an opportunity for us to truly practice being present among our families, friends—and even with ourselves.

While we physically cannot be with those dear to us, it is still possible to be in contact with them on what sometimes seems like a deeper level as we gaze more intentionally, through our computers and phone screens, at their faces. This quarantine has pushed us to adapt and begin to create our “new normal” in order to still be present.

For me, something that has been challenging while trying to create a healthy work/life balance has been working on my relationship with Jesus. Now, more than ever, I feel a certain ache in my heart to really go deeper with Him. I am just realizing that I need to work on creating a “new normal” in my relationship with Christ; it probably needs more intentionality and a bit more presence.

Similar to many of you, my family and I attend Mass online weekly, and sometimes even daily; not gathering as a community and receiving the Eucharist has been difficult. I find myself needing more time for reflection, especially on the gospel and what it means during this “new-normal.” As I was reflecting on this gospel, I paused after reading, “And behold, I am with you always.” These are some of the questions on which I have given thought: Do I believe Christ is with me always? Am I finding ways to be present to Him? How well do I know Jesus? How much do I trust Jesus? 

Now, a tougher line to live these days is the Great Commission from Jesus: “Go therefore and Make disciples of all nations.” (Mt28:19) Do I have what it takes to share Jesus? Will I allow the Holy Spirit to work through me?

There has been a recent quote floating around on the internet: “The church is not empty; the church has been deployed.” While many of our churches are empty, we are being called to truly “go out” and also remember in our journey that Christ is always with us no matter where we go or what experience we face, until we meet Him again in the Eucharist.  

The Ascension of our Lord binds heaven and earth together. During this pandemic, maybe we can find other moments where they meet, where we choose to see Christ in our midst, and decide to trust in Him more fully and in the gift of presence to strengthen our love for one another.

I am a collector of prayer cards. Recently a prayer card miraculously appeared in my notebook; it was a prayer from St. John Paul II. I have found comfort in this prayer and find it an appropriate tool to pray for what we need to be present for others, and most importantly to Christ:

An Offering of The Self

O Lord, may my soul be flooded with your light and know you more and more profoundly! Lord, give me so much love, love forever, serene and generous, that I will be united with you always!

Lord, let me serve you and serve you well, on the pathways that you wish to open to my existence here below. Amen.

May 9th is the Feast of St. Louise de Marillac, who founded the Daughters of Charity in 1633 with St. Vincent de Paul. They referred to the founding of the Daughters of Charity as “The Little Company.” 

People in Paris were suffering. St. Louise and St. Vincent responded by sending the first Daughters out in the streets to serve and attend to their needs. In 17th-century France, this was not the normal response, but it was much-needed—thus began the Daughters of Charity. 

As collaborators, and more importantly, as friends, St. Louise and St. Vincent changed the face of France and eventually the world. During their lifetime, St. Louise wrote more than 380 letters that we know of to her Daughters—the first Sisters—guiding, assuring, and comforting them with words of compassion and prayer.

Four centuries have passed; the work and spirit that began so long ago still burns within the Daughters of Charity and the entire Vincentian family around the world. There are more than 14,000 Daughters of Charity worldwide, serving and living in more than 90 countries. The Daughters make simple vows annually: service to the poor, poverty, chastity, and obedience, which allows them the freedom to go wherever there is a need.  

As we remember St. Louise and her commitment and compassion to her sisters, St. Vincent, and her Daughters, we ask for her guidance.

Loving God, we remember with joy your Daughter, Louise de Marillac. Instill in us the fire of her love, her commitment to service, and the tenderness of her care for the most abandoned. Draw us into your loving presence and spark in us the fire that burned in St. Louise. 

St. Louise knew Our Blessed Mother as her only mother. May we too reach out in prayer to Our Blessed Mother. Lead us to her loving embrace, especially during this time of pandemic as we pray for peace and safety in our world. May we also know Our Blessed Mother as our Mother and Guide during these times.

Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us.

Interfaith Students Offer Hope and Encouragement

In a March 20th interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa, Pope Francis speaks of the sorrow and pain that people worldwide are experiencing due to COVID-19. The only way to get through this situation, the pope said, is to come together “with penance, compassion, and hope.” We also need humility, as often we forget that life presents challenges. 

“We think they can only happen to someone else,” Pope Francis said. “But these times are dark for everyone.” 

What does everyone have in common during this pandemic? It goes beyond masks, gloves, and social distancing; these are our exterior faces. What are our common desires, thoughts, and feelings? We all want to be hopeful and receive encouragement. When we are feeling low, it helps when someone reaches out to us through a phone call conversation, a text message, or simply by looking us in the eyes as they maintain a proper social distance. This person is an agent of hope and encouragement.  

Through transcending our love outward, we are instruments of hope and encouragement to others; even though we cannot be physically close, by our mere presence we show others they are recognized and welcomed. Pope Francis exhorts us not to forget those who suffer—including those who quietly suffer internally.

All religions offer catechesis on how to be instruments of hope and encouragement as we build a community with God at its center. Joel Edouard, President of St. John’s University’s EDEN, shares his fellow students’ Christian message of hope and encouragement through this prayer.

Heavenly Father,

With so much happening in the world right now, it is easy to forget the things we deem as small. Thank you for waking us up this morning; that is a blessing. Thank you for giving us a place to lay our head; that is a blessing. Thank you for your constant love and comfort; that is a blessing.

As evil threatens to cast darkness in this time, we choose to see your light and acknowledge your blessings. Remind us that you are near, Father. Draw us closer to you in prayer, in worship, and in our word. Allow us to come to you freely, releasing our burdens and accepting your peace and love in exchange. We rebuke fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. I ask you to help us find joy and peace that surpasses all understanding in this storm. We thank you in advance for all of these things and more. 

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Nusrat Nasir, Community Service Chair for the St. John’s Muslim Students Association, offers us some comfort from the Qur’an and a few sayings from the last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him): 

‎فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا 

Fa Inna ma'al 'usri yusra 

Verily, with hardship comes ease.

Surah Ash-Sharh (The Relief) [94:6]

The pandemic has made us deal with a whirlwind of change. It has also been a period of transitioning and adapting to situations that are unknown to us, such as being isolated in our homes and not being able to connect with one another physically.

In this time, we need to remember Allah SWT is the best of planners and He recognizes our struggles. In this hardship, we need to remember Him, call out to Him in prayer, and have utmost faith in His mercifulness. 

May Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala grant all of us sabr (patience) and forgive us of our shortcomings. May He accept our duas during these trying times.

What will we offer?  Hope and encouragement, to give as well as receive.  These are key virtues that keep all of us within our diverse university community connected, and bonded toward a future.  Through hope and encouragement, let us come together with all that we have learned and with our positive desires to build into our “new normal reality,” a beautifully unified diverse community long beyond this pandemic. 

Rev. John J. Holliday, C.M., University Chaplain, offers a special blessing before final exams. 

Connect with our community through Campus Ministry’s Prayer of the Week. This reflection will be highlighted starting on May 6, along with the text for Fr. Holliday’s blessing. 

Joel Edouard
President, St. John’s EDEN

Nusrat Nasir
Community Service Chair, St. John’s Muslim Students Association

Dennis Gallagher
Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation, Campus Ministry

Rev. John J. Holliday, C.M.
University Chaplain

“You are my refuge.”
 Psalm 142, 6b

Easter is a time for rejoicing. We rejoice because Jesus has risen from death, darkness has been destroyed by the light of the resurrection, people no longer walk in the darkness of sin—and we can continue with many more reasons why we need to rejoice.  

However, the disciples still lived in loneliness and helplessness during that time. They lived in loneliness because their teacher was not there with them anymore. They felt helpless because they witnessed the death of their own teacher. David, a great king of the Israelites who was called by God to lead and build the kingdom of God, also shared similar experiences. 

Loneliness and helplessness are also the emotions that many of us are experiencing during this time.

Loneliness: we have been social distancing for more than a month and follow the same routine every day as many of us work from home. We have lost track of the time and date. We feel lonely because we have lost the basic human need for physical connection.  

That is also what David experienced. Being chased by the opponent and hiding on the mountain, he experienced that loneliness; he lost his physical connection with his family, whom at one point had praised him. Because of that loneliness, David cried out to God. He did not lose hope in the God who gave him life and chose him to be the king of His people. Being hopeful, he cried out to God with all of his complaints and distress, and he also recounted the goodness of God in his life.

Helplessness: Every day we turn on the television and listen to the news. We learn of the many lives being lost: some we know by face, some by name, and some we do not know at all. Many people struggle with COVID-19 symptoms and complications. Yet, we cannot do anything to help—not even a small act of visiting to provide comfort.  

We feel helpless. We feel small and weak; that is also what David experienced in his life. He felt small and weak when he compared himself to the king who sent the army after him. He felt helpless when he thought about the future of God’s people. At that moment, David knew there was one person who could help him and the people God had chosen—and that was God. He cried out to God for help.

My brothers and sisters, during this time in history, we may feel hopeless and helpless, but let us once again learn from David and cry out to God:

2 With my own voice I cry to the LORD;
with my own voice I beseech the LORD.
3 Before him I pour out my complaint,
tell of my distress in front of him.
4 When my spirit is faint within me, 
you know my path.
As I go along this path,
they have hidden a trap for me. 
5 I look to my right hand to see
that there is no one willing to acknowledge me.
My escape has perished;
no one cares for me.
6 I cry out to you, LORD,
I say, You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living. 
7 Listen to my cry for help,
for I am brought very low.
Rescue me from my pursuers,
for they are too strong for me.
8 Lead my soul from prison,
that I may give thanks to your name.
Then the righteous shall gather around me
because you have been good to me.

--Psalm 142 - 1 A maskil of David, when he was in the cave.  A prayer.

The Healing Power of Music

By Normand Gouin, Campus Minister for Music and Faith Formation

As someone who has dedicated his life to making music, I have experienced firsthand, most often in the context of communal prayer, the healing power of music.

In December of 2015, while serving as an Assistant Chaplain and the Director of Music at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, I was called upon to lead a prayer service after receiving the news that a first-year student had taken his life earlier that evening. The young man was a participant in one of the support groups offered by a colleague of mine in campus ministry. 

With only a few hours’ notice, the chapel was filled with more than 900 students in shock and overcome by grief. In shock myself, I sat at the piano and struggled to pull myself together as I led the community in singing a setting of Psalm 23. No words or melody seemed adequate to convey the pain and profound loss we were all experiencing. 

As I walked out of the chapel that evening, one of my colleagues approached me and said, “We really needed those songs tonight. You have no idea how much that prayer and music meant, and what it did to provide the consolation all of us so desperately need.” 

Moments like this make me realize that music can provide a means to navigate difficult emotions while opening up a pathway for healing—it is a way to bring people together as no other medium can. So many musicians around the world, both amateur and professional, are offering the gift of music as a sort of healing balm during this crisis. They share their songs to cheer on health-care workers on the frontline, to bring calm and healing to the grief-stricken, and to lift people’s spirits during these difficult and uncertain times.

Recently, I came across an article about a community in western Washington where neighbors are using their voices to share the healing power of music during this pandemic. “Porches are becoming stages in these communities,” a local reporter wrote.

Rachel Moss steps outside every day at 5 p.m. to sing for her neighbors and posts her performances on Facebook. She shared, “A lot of people are experiencing so much uncertainty—both from a health perspective and financially. I find that music can be a way to help calm some of those feelings and let people gain a few minutes of relief and joy. Whether it is the sound of opera music, or solo violin, this is all part of the healing experience.”

On March 31, Jon Bon Jovi was featured on the NBC Nightly News. The rocker spoke about the healing power of music during these troubled times. “I would like to give a shout-out to all of the nurses and doctors, the truck drivers and grocery store clerks, the policemen, the scientists, the teachers, and the moms and dads who are all on the frontlines tonight,” he said. “You are doing what you can.” 

Bon Jovi then performed his new song, “Do What You Can,” written about the coronavirus outbreak. He has since invited people to post their own lyrics to the song’s second verse as a way to express their own feelings and experiences. Click here to view Bon Jovi’s performance and hear his invitation.

As a way to support and connect with the student musicians who lead our worship at St. Thomas More Church, I recently invited them to embark on a venture, “With One Voice,” a virtual choir project where they send in videos of themselves performing their specific voice part or instrumental part to a piece I arranged, “It Is Well with My Soul.” The videos will be synced and edited to produce a final video performance. We hope to have the video posted in a few weeks. 

As all of us try to find ways to cope during this difficult period, I hope and pray that music can truly become a source of healing and comfort. I encourage everyone—especially in those moments when the isolation becomes stifling, when uncertainty and anxiety about the future becomes overwhelming, when our grief becomes unbearable, or when the news of a friend or family member who has recovered leads us to burst out with shouts of thanksgiving—to turn to that one song or playlist that can lift our spirits and give us the strength and encouragement we need to persevere. 

COVID-19 Challenges Us to Do Better

by Dennis M. Gallagher, Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged;
For the Lord your God will be with you
Wherever you may go.”  --Joshua 1:9

This pandemic has given many of us time for self-reflection; for myself, I have been focusing on how quickly my usual, well-planned life has changed over the past few weeks. COVID-19 crept in, and then boom—it has hit us all so hard. We will now work from home for the remainder of the spring semester as we attempt to keep our anxiety at bay. 

I was sick recently for a few days. Lying in bed for hours on end, I came to realize that our life will never be the same after this pandemic subsides. I have learned to take each day as it comes; God always provides us with the comfort, company, and peace of mind we need.

After a few days of dealing with fatigue, a fever, congestion, and cough—and being told I could not be tested for COVID-19 since my symptoms were too mild—I had to accept my 14-day quarantine in my 500-square-foot apartment by myself. Through this experience, God has invited me to live a more contemplative daily life. I now have a schedule that includes prayer, work, and virtual communication with loved ones and colleagues—which I then repeat every day. 

In January, I attended a retreat in a Benedictine monastery and appreciated their regular schedule of prayer and work; I see now it was God’s way of preparing me to deal with and get through our current situation.

In my heart and thoughts, St. Vincent de Paul speaks so clearly, “What must be done?” 

I think about what Jesus would do in this situation. He would say, “I am here to help keep the St. John’s community together. The prayers offered by you and other campus ministers will inspire them; I will show you the way.” When I accepted this revelation, I felt relief. In the spirit of Easter, my role is to reach out to the St. John’s community as much as possible and pray for the health of our students and colleagues. 

I am grateful for this new contemplative life, where my prayer is with me in each work project and Webex and Zoom conversation. During my morning and evening prayer, I make an effort to truly listen, as that is at the core of prayer—being still. I now pause at different times during the day and allow God to solely be in my thoughts and vision. The time is well spent; I look forward to that divine connection to prepare me for the next day.

Benedictine sister and author Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., in her book, The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, provides wisdom for me in this new experience of being home quarantined. Her advice helped me focus on our University’s Vincentian mission

“The truth is that we must pray for the strength to do what we are meant to do,” she writes. “We must pray for the courage to meet the challenges of life. We must pray for the endurance it will take to go on even when nothing changes. We must pray that the spirit of God is with us as we do what must be done, whether we succeed in the process or not.”

What must be done? Let us continue to support, encourage, and pray for our University community.  

A Guided Meditation You Can Pray for Those in the World by Joyce Rupp

Imagine you are standing in an open doorway. Take a deep breath and deliberately unite with the Holy One’s presence. Call to mind the inner qualities you bring with you into your labors. Extend your hands and arms outward beyond the door. As you do so, send forth your earnest love toward those who are a part of your life today. Imagine this love blessing them. Continue standing in the doorway. Now extend your love to the larger world. Face the east. Send your love to this part of the world. Do the same for the south, the west, and the north. Close by folding your hands over your heart and extending this same goodness to yourself.

Prayer:

Teacher and Healer,

You brought the gift of yourself to those who benefitted from your work.

You touched them with wellsprings of love.

Remind me each day to do the same.

Consecrate all I do today so my service to others brings a blessing.

I open the door of my heart to you.

I open the door.

(source: https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/bringing-service)

Tree of Life: Reflection for Good Friday 

painting of Jesus on the cross

By Caryll Houselander

This is the dead wood which at His touch is transformed to a living tree. At His touch, the hewn tree takes root again, and the roots thrust down into the earth, and the tree breaks into flower.

Already in Bethlehem, when the newborn child lay in the manger, a secret bud shone on the tree of life. Now it is going to break into flower forever, and that flower will sow the seeds of life that will never die, for Christ is the flower and the seed.

Because Christ has changed death to life, and suffering to redemption, the suffering of those who love Him will be a communion between them. All that hidden daily suffering that seems insignificant will be redeeming the world, it will be healing the wounds of the world. The acceptance of pain, of old age, of the fear of death, and of death will be our gift of Christ’s love to one another; our gift of Christ’s life to one another.

No man’s cross is laid upon him for himself alone, but for the healing of the whole world, for the mutual comforting and sweetening of sorrow, for the giving of joy and supernatural life to one another. For Christ receives our cross that we may receive His. Receiving this cross, the cross of the whole world made His, we receive Him. He gives us His hands to take hold of; His power to make it a redeeming thing, a blessed thing; His life to cause it to flower; His heart to enable us to rejoice in accepting our own and one another’s burdens.

Excerpted from

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

Caryll Houselander (1901–54) was an English Catholic laywoman, artist, and visionary best known for such works as A Rocking-Horse Catholic, The Reed of God, and The Way of the Cross.

Holy Thursday Reflection 

Christ washing the feet of the disciples

by Normand Gouin

Holy Thursday could easily be considered one of the most impactful days of the liturgical year.  As a spiritual writer and visionary, Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., states, “Holy Thursday gives us a glimpse into both the best and worst of what it is to be a feeling, living person. It sends us careening between great joy and great confusion.”

As I reflected on her words and the scripture, I imagined that this is what it must be like for a nurse serving in a maternity ward today in one of our local hospitals. One moment she is at the bedside of a woman about to give that final push and welcome a new life into the world, feeling joy as she sees the relief and happiness on her patient’s face as she is about to hold a precious, fragile, new life in her arms.  

Then, at the same time, keenly aware that she will be needed to assist her colleagues on another floor, comforting patients as they gasp for every breath due to COVID-19, and witnessing many lose their battle with the virus. An experience of both joy at the arrival of a new life and profound sorrow and grief in the face of death.  

What is one supposed to do? Which feelings prevail? How do we rejoice with the family welcoming a new member and mourn with those who have suffered a loss? 

Holy Thursday is like that for us: a day of gifts given and gifts taken away, an exercise in short-lived triumph and stultifying sadness. In many ways, it calls us to a new way of being in the world. 

“Holy Thursday, the first great day of the Triduum, is the crossover point between life and death for Jesus, and between death and life for us all,” said Sr. Chittister. “Vincent de Paul states, ‘We live in Jesus Christ through the death of Jesus Christ, and we must die in Jesus Christ through the life of Jesus Christ. Our life must be hidden in Jesus Christ and filled with Jesus Christ, and in order to die as Jesus Christ, we must live as Jesus Christ.’”

On Holy Thursday, we are presented with four things that change our lives; they stem out of Jesus’s promise to change the world. This leaves us all with important decisions to make.

  1. Jesus is broken and pours out his love for the salvation of the world. In the breaking of the bread, Jesus gives himself away for time to come. Jesus offers us the model for a new way of living and being.
     
  2. Jesus exemplifies servant leadership. As Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he gives us a new model for what it means to be in authority. It is an authority not for his own gain, but to serve and save the community, to free it to function.
     
  3. Jesus embraces suffering by following his Father’s will. By giving himself away, he models for us selfless love. 
     
  4. Jesus embodies mercy. Even after facing denial, betrayal, and taunts—he forgives. 

As we ponder what it means to be teetering on the precipice of joy and thanksgiving, of sorrow and grief, has there been a passage in us from old life to new—especially in the face of this current crisis? Will we become what we are meant to be? Will we become what Christ intends for us? What does following Jesus mean? Will we really follow Him, or simply go on watching from afar? How are we changed?

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived this year at the same time as Lent. Many of us planned to prepare for Holy Week and Easter in familiar ways: to pray more, to fast, to attend Mass more frequently, and to donate our time and talent to serve others. We planned to make small sacrifices. 

Lent has always been a season for doing without; this year, it is a much different spiritual experience than we expected. Severe restrictions on social gatherings separate us from one another and prevent worship in our churches. We have not been able to pray the rosary together, to worship the Blessed Sacrament, to participate in the Stations of the Cross, or to go to confession. Today would have been our Lenten Day of Reconciliation here at St. Thomas More Church, when the sacrament of Reconciliation is offered at various times throughout the day to our University community.

The small sacrifices that we planned to offer up during Lent seem trivial now in the face of the suffering and death that we witness in our city, nation, and world. We have been called to give up far more than planned. For many of us, a sense of fear and isolation replaces the anticipation for Easter that usually occurs during Holy Week.

We trust in God’s providential care, yet we struggle to comprehend our current situation. As Lent 2020 draws to a close, we are reminded that God’s plan is not our plan; His plan will bear much more fruit—even if we are unable to recognize it at the moment.

Pope Francis recently reflected that God is “calling us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of [God’s] judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with you, Lord, and others.”

As we begin Holy Week this year, we are still called to be people of prayer and service to one another. The psalm of today’s Mass reminds us to have courage: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”

University Ministry is offering two online prayer resources that will be helpful to you as we enter Holy Week and then move into the Easter season. The first is a virtual prayer page that will offer weekly reflections by campus ministers and an Instagram feed and video posts from Campus Ministry staff. 

The second is a Virtual Book of Prayer, where you can send us your prayer requests. The Vincentian priests here at St. John’s, and all who work in the Offices of Campus Ministry and University Mission, pray for you daily and include your specific prayer requests in our prayers.  

In our Vincentian tradition, we are called to serve one another, especially those on the margins who are most in need. We are challenged to be creative and inventive in finding ways to perform acts of charity during this Lent. I call your attention to the Emergency Fund for St. John’s Students and the St. John’s Law Student Emergency Fund, which have been established to assist our students.

Let us welcome Holy Week this year with new hearts that have been shaped by God’s will—even if it did not come exactly as planned. We ask God to help us become the places in our world where His presence and healing love are found.

Rev. John J. Holliday, C.M.
University Chaplain

In our nearly 150 year history, the Vincentian mission has continued to be the hallmark and splendor of St. John’s University. We are called ever more in these days to approach our circumstances with the spirit of collaboration, resourcefulness, and concern for others so characteristic of St. Vincent de Paul. Each of us is moved to reflection and reliance on God’s providential care, and so together, from the words of the song “Old St. John’s,” our alma mater, “from fervent hearts we breathe our prayer”:

God of love and compassion,
throughout all generations you have been our hope. 
In times of trouble, you have sent men and women 
to be instruments of your mercy.
You gave us St. Vincent de Paul, who preached that,
“Love is inventive, even to infinity.”
Help us to sense your love and care for us now
as the coronavirus disease threatens the human family.  

Let those who suffer know the depths of your infinite love.
Heal the sick and allow them to feel your presence 
in their suffering and uncertainty.
Enfold those who die in your embrace,
and strengthen and console those who grieve.  

Protect and defend all medical professionals and researchers
as they put their own lives at risk for the good of others.
Guide them as they must find creative approaches 
to stop the spread of this disease. 

Source of mercy,
we entrust to you the poor and the vulnerable, 
who we know suffer even more during times of crisis.
Lead us to be more innovative in finding them the resources they need 
and provide care to those who suffer discrimination during this pandemic.  

We, the St. John’s University community,
place all of our concerns into your hands. 
Be with us as we navigate through the many ways
that our lives have been altered in these days.
Help us to feel near to you and connected with one another,
even when we are unable to gather in our communities.
Give us the patience and ingenuity to meet these challenges. 

God of all goodness, 
through the intercession of St. Vincent de Paul, 
patron of hospitals and saint of charity, 
we ask that you heal our sickness, calm our fears, 
and in place of anxiety, send us your peace. 

Amen. 

The Vincentian priests and all who work in University Ministry and Mission pray for you daily. If there are any particular intentions you would like us to remember, please let us know in our virtual book of prayer. Near and far, let us be united in prayer for one another and our world. May God bless you and your loved ones, and may God bless St. John’s University.

Printable version of Community Prayer in a Time of Pandemic.

Interfaith Messages, Prayers, and Reflections

A virtual choir performance by members of St. John’s Music Ministry

As a way to stay engaged and connected during the COVID-19 crisis, members of the St. John’s Music Ministry program came together virtually in early April to produce a choir performance. 

They were provided a score of the piece, “It Is Well with My Soul,” arranged by Norm Gouin, Campus Minister for Music and Faith Formation. The musicians were asked to learn their specific voice parts and over several weeks met on Zoom for rehearsals and one-on-one coaching sessions. Fourteen students participated, singing their assigned part to a prerecorded musical track. The videos were compiled and edited to produce one complete video performance.  

It is our hope that this performance lifts people’s spirits and brings encouragement and comfort to all in the St. John’s University community as we continue to persevere during these stressful and uncertain times.

Since March, members of the St. John’s University community have been doing their best to continue their work and take care of the health and well-being of their families, friends—and themselves. It has been a challenge. I hope these weekly interfaith reflections from the various faith traditions of St. John’s University students and community helped increase appreciation of the diverse faiths of our fellow Johnnies.

During the fall semester, I look forward to meeting more students, faculty, administrators, and staff of many faiths, including those from the Buddhist tradition. Please spread the word about the work of Campus Ministry’s Interfaith Council, and how we promote and support interfaith cooperation on campus. Anyone from any faith is welcome to join and offer their support on the Interfaith Council.

This week, I would like to open our hearts to the wisdom and enlightenment of the Buddha.

“Little is known about the life of Buddha.

Historians believe he was born Prince Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th or 6th Century BC in Nepal. In his twenties, the prince experienced realities of the outside world that led him on a quest for enlightenment. He left the palace to search for it and eventually attained enlightenment.

It was then that he became Buddha. Until he died at the age of 80, Buddha taught many people how to achieve enlightenment. His doctrines eventually became what is known as Buddhism.”

Source: https://www.keepinspiring.me/buddha-quotes/

As you begin your summer recess or graduate with your degree to enter the world to live out your passions and hopes, here are some quotations from the Buddha that will inspire everyone on their life journey:

“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

“On life's journey, faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day, and right mindfulness is the protection by night.”

I hope you enjoy your summer.

Be well,

Dennis M. Gallagher
Interfaith Council, Campus Ministry

God, Creator of all things and of human intellect,
bless these students with orderly thinking,
curiosity for the work of your creation,
and a creative spirit in their studies.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, help them remain focused.
Give them eyes to see the connections between their study
and its value for life and service to others.
Energize them and get their brains working.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to give them flexibility of thought and expression,
good memory and calm nerves,
the ability to organize their thinking
and comprehend theories and facts,
that they may express them with flair and clarity.
May your Spirit help them
to overcome moments of discouragement
and to rejoice in their accomplishments.

God our Wisdom, in whom we move, live, and have our being,
bless your sons and daughters.
Bless them during their final exams and every part of their lives.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Source: Diocese of San Jose, April 27, 2005; https://dsjliturgy.blogspot.com/2005/04/blessing-of-brains.html)

Healing God,
You are the giver of life;
be with us during these days as we face this global epidemic. 
Heal those who are sick. Restore them to full health.
Heal our fears. Place peace in our hearts.
Heal the lonely. Give them companions to comfort them.
Heal those who have lost loved ones. Mend their broken hearts. 
Strengthen health-care personnel.
Strengthen those who must make difficult decisions.
Strengthen our resolve to heal this planet.
Strengthen each of us on this uncharted path.
Provident God, we place our trust in you, now and always. Amen. 

Sr. Paula Damiano, S.P. 
March 2020

Ramadan, a holy Islamic festival honoring the first revelations to the Prophet Muhammad through 30 days of reflection and fasting, occurs from sun-up to sun-down. It is a month dedicated entirely to Allah and to his blessings. Muslims seek Allah’s (God’s) blessings by chanting these special prayers so that one’s sin may be washed by His divine blessings.

Tomorrow, April 23, marks the beginning of Ramadan; it ends on May 23, which is the holiest time for our Muslim brothers and sisters. At St. John’s University, let us all pray to support our Muslim students as they successfully finish the academic year during their holiest month of the year. Praise be to God!

The Prayer for Breaking the Fast

One of the first prayers that Muslims recite is when they break their fast. The meal that breaks the fast is called Iftar and it begins by eating three dates; tradition holds that the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast with three dates and water. At Iftar, this prayer is recited out loud, after which the fasting members of a family break their fast. Fasting does not end unless this prayer is recited: “Allahuma inni laka sumtu wa bika aamantu wa ‘alayka tawakkaltu wa ‘ala rizq-ika aftarthu.” (Oh Allah! I fasted for You and I believe in You [and I put my trust in You] and I break my fast with your sustenance.)

Prayer for Forgiveness

Ramadan is a time when Muslims are told through the Qur'an that God absolves them of their sins if they engage in sincere worship and repentance. The following prayer is a good one to recite during Ramadan to ask for Allah’s forgiveness: “Allahumma inni as'aluka birahmatika al-lati wasi'at kulli shay'in an taghfira li.” (Oh Allah, I ask You by Your mercy which envelopes all things, that You forgive me.)

Prayer for the First 10 Days of Ramadan

Muslim scholars agree that Ramadan is such a holy month that any sort of prayer, whether it is a personal one from your heart or one from the Qur'an or other Islamic sacred texts, is received by Allah and the rewards for those prayers are numerous. However, the Prophet Muhammad did recommend Muslims to recite certain du'as at particular times during Ramadan. For example, during the first 10 days of the months, reciting the following prayer provides extra benefits:

"Rabbigh fir war hum wa anta khair ur rahimeen."

Oh my Lord and Sustainer please forgive me and be merciful to me. You are the best amongst those who show mercy.

Prayer for the Second 10 Days of Ramadan

This prayer, which is from the Qur'an, was recommended by the Prophet Muhammad to be recited as much as possible during the second 10 days of Ramadan for maximum rewards and forgiveness of sins: “Allahumma innaka afuwun tuhibbul afuwa faafu anna.” (Oh Allah, indeed you are the greatest pardoner and you like the act of pardoning. Hence, please forgive us.)

Prayer for the Third 10 Days of Ramadan

This particular prayer was recommended by the Prophet Muhammad to be recited during the last 10 days of Ramadan as much as possible. It beseeches God to forgive us, because God is indeed the best at forgiving humans for their mistakes: “Astaghfirullaha rabbi min kulli zambin wa atabu ilaih.” (I seek forgiveness of all my sins from Allah, who is my lord and sustainer, and I return back in repentance to him alone.)

Prayers of Zikr

Zikr are prayers recited repeatedly in the remembrance of God and are an integral part of all Muslims’ lives, especially important during Ramadan. A great way to connect with God while doing all of the mundane chores of daily life (e.g., driving, waiting in line, preparing the evening meal), is to repeatedly recite these short phrases:

Subhan'allah,” an expression used to express strong feelings of joy or relief and recall how everything Muslims have is thanks to Allah.

“Alhamdulillah,” or “Praise be to God!” is a Qur'anic exclamation with a similar meaning as “hallelujah” in the Jewish and Christian faiths.

“Astaghfirullah,” which means, “I seek forgiveness from God.”

“Allahu Akbar,” or “God is the Greatest.”

(Source: https://www.theholidayspot.com/ramadan/ramadan-prayers.htm)

Hello, interfaith community of St. John’s!

For our Jewish students and colleagues at St. John’s, today marks the beginning of Passover, an eight-day celebration marking the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Seder ceremonies emphasize the concept of freedom. The first two days and the last two days are observed as holy days. 

This Sunday, our Catholic and Christian students and colleagues celebrate Easter, the central feast celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is the culmination of the Triduum, a three-day liturgical season, which recalls the Passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels. 

What a special week for both religions to come together to wish our Jewish community, “Chag, Pesach Samech,” and to the Christian communities, Happy Easter!

Mutual respect and cooperation are key for all interfaith efforts to help others focus on our commonalities. Like this year, in April of 2017, Passover and the Christian Holy Week occurred within the same time period. Click here for a video story posted on NET-TV, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Catholic television station, for a heartwarming story of how people from both faiths came together to celebrate.

Peace and All Good to you all,

Dennis Gallagher
Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation
University Ministry

Hello to everyone from St. John’s interfaith community!

Ramakrishna Jayanti, which was celebrated on April 2, commemorates the birth of Sri Ramakrishna, a Hindu mystic whose movement redefined modern Hinduism. 

People of all faiths are experiencing anguish and uncertainty, and are doing their best to protect themselves from COVID-19. Let us support each other and encourage good public health practices, including social distancing and staying home, to flatten the curve. Please “Reply All” to this email to express your thoughts and encouragement for our St. John’s community.

During difficult times like now, people pray and hope for peace—not only where we live, but within our hearts and the hearts of those we love. Let us pray together with our Hindu neighbors:

Hindu Prayers for Peace

Oh God, lead us from the unreal to the Real.

Oh God, lead us from darkness to light.

Oh God, lead us from death to immortality.

Shanti, Shanti, Shanti unto all.

Oh Lord God almighty, may there be peace in celestial regions.

May there be peace on earth.

May the waters be appeasing.

May herbs be wholesome, and may trees and plants bring peace to all.

May all beneficent beings bring peace to us.

May thy Vedic Law propagate peace all through the world.

May all things be a source of peace to us.

And may thy peace itself, bestow peace on all, and may that peace come to me also.

Regards,
Dennis Gallagher
Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation
University Ministry

 

Coptic Orthodox Celebrate Easter Celebrated on April 19 

painting for Coptic Orthodox Easter

As western Christianity celebrates the octave of Easter, beginning the 50-day Easter season, St. John’s University’s Coptic Society and Coptic Orthodox students celebrate their Holy Week and Easter.

Coptic Easter falls on the Sunday following the full moon that comes after the vernal equinox. It is one of the two most important holy days for Egyptian Christians; (the other is Coptic Christmas on January 7). 

Coptic Easter signals the culmination of the 55-day period of Lent, commonly known as the Great Fast. All animal products (including milk, cheese, and butter) are prohibited.

On Easter eve or Holy Saturday, Coptic Christians begin their Easter Vigil, also known as The Great Vigil, which lasts until the dawn of Easter. It is preferable for those who are physically able to fast on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and break the fast upon the end of Mass.

The Easter Eve ceremony includes a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s ascension, also called the “resurrection play.” The gates of heaven are closed following Adam’s sin and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Lights are dimmed to symbolize the darkness that existed before the advent of Christ. The light that follows indicates that Christ has risen and has opened the gates of heaven, thus cleansing humanity from the original sin. Source:  https://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2015/04/06/Coptic-Easter-How-Egypt-celebrates-the-rising-of-Christ

On Sunday, April 19, the St. John’s University community will greet our Coptic Orthodox brothers and sisters with their Easter greeting, “Ekhrestos Anesti, Alisos Anesti” (Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen.).

Let us pray…

Hymn of Pascha (Easter)  

A music video of the “Trisagion Hymn” and the “Hymn of the Unwaning Light.” Christ is risen!

“Trisagion Hymn” 

Holy God,

Holy Mighty,

Holy Immortal 

Have mercy on us! (3x) 

“Hymn of the Unwaning Light” 

Come, receive ye light 

From the unwaning light, 

And glorify Christ 

Who is arisen from the dead.