Recently, the community I live in experienced an extraordinary act of violence. On July 7, 2016, Dallas Police Officers came under attack during a peaceful protest in our down town area. In the hours following the ambush, I learned that one of the Police Officers killed was the husband and father of a family at my parish’s Catholic school. A moment which might have otherwise become distant tragedy, suddenly hit incredibly close to home.
Our parish family lived out teethe Spiritual Work of Mercy: Comfort the Afflicted when they received a call to action and responded to that call with overwhelming accord. The words of the prophet Isaiah took on a new meaning for me.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to the prisoners,
To announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God;
To comfort all who mourn;
to place on those who mourn in Zion
a diadem instead of ashes,
To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning,
a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61: 1-3)
Messengers of Good News:
In the days after the attack, I watched as so many individuals from across our city took up the role of the anointed one described in this passage from Isaiah. Men and women who took part in prayer vigils, who shared their condolences, and offered donations to the families affected by the tragedy. Following closely on every outlet accessible, I read and watched these stories unfold one by one as people found Christ within themselves and chose to be Christ to others.
At my parish we received an extraordinary call to action as the Visitation and Funeral Mass would be held in our sanctuary. A parish of great diversity, it is not uncommon to encounter a brother or sister in Christ of a different race, celebrating our faith in a different language; and yet one family, one community. Our parish, diverse and strong in belief, answered to the call to comfort the afflicted in a way we had never been called upon before.
When the phone calls, emails, texts, and Facebook posts went out seeking volunteers, the response was an immediate, “yes.” Over 200 parishoners came forward to be present as needed on the evening of the public Visitation. Standing in pairs, they directed cars in the parking lot, they lined the hallway leading into the sanctuary, they held tissues, and offered to pray with those in need. They listened as a staff member stood before them and simply asked “That they be Christ to those who enter our church this evening.” And they were.
As the time drew close for the Visitation to begin, the people came. Hundreds of them stood in line to pay their respect to the man in blue. They waited their turn to salute a hero. They comforted each other. They shared stories as they waited. And Christ was present. He was holding the door wide open for the afflicted of our community to come inside. To take refuge in his house. To come seeking and leave having found relief in their time of sorrow.
The Ordinary Call of Mercy– To Be the Light:
Although extraordinary, the invitation to comfort the afflicted that my parish received is not uncommon. Each of us are called to this work of mercy. It becomes clear in the light of great tragedy that there are people suffering their own heartbreaks every day. They are yearning for Christ to come to them in their sorrow. They feel alone. They feel abandoned. They feel darkness around them. And yet, we are called to go to them. We are called to seek them out. To find them in their sadness and bring them consolation. To be the light of Christ.
How do we know who they are? The suffering. The afflicted. The heartbroken. We listen. We listen as Christ nudges us to call an old friend. We listen as the Holy Spirit draws us near to the person at mass. We open our eyes to the quiet ways our loved ones describe misfortune. We open our hearts to the invitation to pray for those who have no one to pray for them. In prayer, he makes himself known and through prayer he leads to us where we are needed. We must only respond “yes” when that call comes.
As you find yourself in prayer today, I invite you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the people in your life who are hurting. Who are the afflicted in your life?. Ask that Christ illumine for you the ways in which you can comfort them. If nothing else, ask God to send his angels and his saints to be with those who have no one to pray for them.