More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Thanksgiving Interfaith Prayer Service

Sr. Chris Koellhoffer, IHM
November 24, 2014

SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 12:18-21

Jesus...went away from the place; and large crowds followed him.  He healed all the sick and gave them orders not to tell others about him.  He did this so as to make come true what God had said through the prophet Isaiah:

"Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
The one I love, with whom I am pleased.
I will send my Spirit upon him,
And he will announce judgment to the nations.
He will not argue or shout,
Or make loud speeches in the streets.
He will not break off a bent reed,
Nor put out a flickering lamp.
He will persist until he causes justice to triumph,
And on him all peoples will put their hope."


My sisters and brothers:  Good afternoon.

As we begin our time of reflection, I invite all of us gathered here into a moment of stillness.  In this quiet, we hold in our prayer the bent reed and the flickering lamp—all those who, right at this moment, are struggling to put food on the table; who are shivering in the cold of our neighborhoods; who are wondering how they’ll ever scrape together enough money for medicine and rent. 

We also call into this circle of prayer the memory of so many people of faith who have given their lives over to walking with our most vulnerable neighbors.  I call especially on the life and witness of Allan Schaetzle, God’s servant, taken from us too soon.  We remember that Allan was with Sister Adrian Barrett from the early days of outreach to our suffering sisters and brothers.  Today as we miss Allan’s presence, we also give thanks for his life, and for the many whose faithful, generous spirits mark them forever as friends of the poor and companions of the vulnerable. 

A few weeks ago at a Thanksgiving press conference, Sister Ann Walsh, IHM shared a powerful story of three sentences that echo the countless stories we listen to each day: “I used to work.  I lost my job.  Now I’m homeless.”  It’s a story whose refrain we hear over and over.  Today we also hear the stories of those who once contributed to feeding the hungry and who now are  themselves in need of assistance.

Some years ago, I met a homeless man, Robert, who used to beg on the street.  He was a Vietnam vet who had seen up close all the horrors of war.  After he came home suffering from PTSD, he quickly lost his job, his home, and then his family.  One day when we were having breakfast together, Robert looked at me and said, “You know, lots of people give me money.  Some people give me food and other things.  But almost no one ever looks me in the eye.”

I believe what Robert was longing for is what we all long and wait for: a great and common tenderness.  There’s just not enough tenderness, not enough compassion for all that is fragile and wounded and broken among us. The cry of the poor, the oppressed, the dismissed, the rejected, is essentially a cry for recognition, presence, and communion.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen says that to be tender is one of the most important ways to care for our world.  Life is so full of pain, sadness, and crying human need that we may often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immsense suffering we see.  We can and must offer tenderness.  To be tender, to console, does not take away the pain but rather says to those who suffer, “You are not alone.  I am with you.  Don’t be afraid.”

Don’t be afraid, for God’s servant is marked by tenderness.  Don’t be afraid, for God’s servant will not break off a reed that is damaged and bent.  Don’t be afraid, for God’s servant will protect the flickering lamp on the edge of despair and insure that the light does not go out. 

This is why our God calls us not only to give food to those who hunger, but to look into their eyes, to invite them to our table, to sit down and eat with them.  To become their friend, to receive their gifts and their love, to reveal to them their beauty and value.

Our faith traditions challenge us to be disturbed and haunted and enraged by the systems and structures of a world that excludes and alienates.  Our faith traditions calls us to learn from those who are struggling to navigate a broken economic system with dignity.  When we look into the eyes of our neighbors in need, our neighbors expose what is unjust in our society; they point to the places of social sin, the shadows where power and comfort and security are hoarded by a few.  They challenge us to solidarity and action for the sake of a more just, inclusive world.

Today, this Cathedral is filled with the faces of so many people of faith and good will.  You give your lives over to the service of God’s most vulnerable people.  What a grace to see Isaiah’s words come alive here anew, in this gathering of the people of God:

Who will not break off a bent reed, nor put out a flickering lamp.
Who will persist until justice triumphs.
Who will hear the cry of the poor, and work towards a great and common tenderness.

May God’s dream come to fullness in this time and place in the words of a prayer from Nicaragua:

May it come soon to the hungry,
to the weeping,
to those who thirst for your justice,
to those who have waited centuries for a truly human life.

Grant us the patience to smooth the wayon which your kingdom comes to us.

Grant us hope that we may not weary in proclaiming and working for it,

despite so many conflicts, threats and shortcomings

Grant us a clear vision that in the hour of our history,

we may see the horizon and know the way

on which your kingdom comes to us.

(Bread of Tomorrow, edited by Janey Morley.  Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p.55).


May it be so!  Amen!