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Praying Together

I’d like to share with you a reflection by Sister Elizabeth Hillmann on our community prayer. (This reflection dates from our time in Gainesville, Florida. Sister Elizabeth and I are both in Chicago now.)

The Divine Office in its entirety is meant to sanctify the whole day — morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night — which is why it is also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. (In the Cenacle we usually pray together morning and evening.)


Stained glass window

Sometimes when we are praying the Office together here in Gainesville, I feel that I am singing with a vast host of people from all the ages since these psalms were written.

I am amazed at their trust in God. They were able to open their hearts and speak to God about all the feelings they were experiencing — their joys and sorrow, their questions, their pride, their hatreds, their depressions, their despairs, their self-righteousness, their exultations, their love and longing for God. It seems to me that they knew that God knew the secrets of their hearts, and so they did not pretend to only pious feelings and thoughts.

Night PrayerThese are not the prayers of “rugged individualists.” These are common prayers, prayers of solidarity with the human condition, prayers in which together we acknowledge the Presence of the Mysterious One in all aspects of personal and communal life. These are the prayers that Jesus sang and said — not just alone, but in common in the synagogue, in the temple, and at home. What a gift to be praying with Jesus!

And sometimes when we are praying, I feel a nothingness like dry bones. A time for trust! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to prayer as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

 - Sister Elizabeth Hillmann

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night.

Psalm 92:1-2

When Jesus was raised from the dead, he still had the marks of violence on his body: the wounds from his crucifixion. Strangely enough, his disciples learned about forgiveness from this Christ who was risen with visible wounds. They saw his wounds, recognized him, and became aware that Jesus does not seek revenge. In fact, he had returned to these same friends, the very people who had run off and left him when he was most in danger. They learned that if they were to be found in Christ, they too were to take no revenge; instead, like Jesus they were to forgive.

London Street after Raid, c. 1941

Early Christians took to heart the belief that there is no room in God’s love for revenge or for violence, and therefore no room either in the body of Christ that is the community of believers for violence of any sort. One of the ways in which this was evident was that they tended to avoid military service. This was partly, but not entirely, due to the Roman army’s participation in idolatry. It was also because of the conviction that Christians must not kill or harm another person.

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), in On Idolatry, concludes that making war has been impermissible for Christians ever since Jesus disarmed Peter, and by so doing, “unbelted every soldier” (see Mt 26:51ff; Lk 22:49ff; and for Peter identified as the swordsman, see John 18:10-11).  Although by the late second century there appear to have been Christians in the Roman army, we do not know how prevalent this was; and before the time of Constantine we know of no Christian writing that argues the legitimacy of killing in any circumstance at all. (See Ronald J. Sider, The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.)

Hiroshima after Dropping of Atomic Bomb

In the century following the conversion of Constantine, Augustine of Hippo became an early advocate of what is called “just war” theory. (For the principles required for a war to be “just,” “What Is a Just War?”)  The question that arises today, however, is whether it is really possible to wage a war that is just. Cardinal Walter Kasper ponders the question in his book,  Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.

Because of the development of modern weapon systems, especially atomic weapons with their tremendous destructive force, a new situation has arisen. The question is whether the conditions of a justified war can be met at all with these weapons. Without being able in this context to explore the difficult and complex individual questions that are relevant, one must say at any rate that a total war, involving the destruction of entire cities or wide regions and their population, must be unconditionally condemned and proscribed.

And he adds:

Because the goal must be, not war, not even the so-called just war, but peace, people are talking today more appropriately about a just peace rather than about a just war. A just peace can be built neither with bayonets nor with panzers. Peace is the work of justice (Opus iustitiae pax, cf. Isa 32: 17…). In this sense, one seeks today to develop not an ethics of war, but an ethics of peace, whose goal is to do everything to make war impossible, not only in particular cases, but structurally impossible.

Yes, we need to embrace an “ethics of peace,” one that views peace as the absence of violence, of course, but more, as a condition of merciful justice for all people. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

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The WWII photos are in the public domain.


It was 150 years ago today that Saint Therese Couderc had a profound experience of what it means to give Hands offeringoneself entirely to God and of the joy that flows from that self-giving. Today also marks the closing of the Cenacle year commemorating her reflection on that experience.

In honor of the day, I would like to share with you several biblical passages using the word our Mother Therese heard (“se livrer” in French), because our call to surrender ourselves—to give ourselves—is a call to be in union with the self-giving of Christ.  It is a call that flows from love.

Green swirl

Galatians 2:19-20

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Je suis crucifié avec le Christ ; et ce n’est plus moi qui vis, mais le Christ qui vit en moi. Ma vie présente dans la chair, je la vis dans la foi au Fils de Dieu qui m’a aimé et s’est livré pour moi.

Green swirl

Galatians 1:3-5

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

A vous grâce et paix de par Dieu notre Père et le Seigneur Jésus Christ, qui s’est livré pour nos péchés afin de nous arracher à ce monde actuel et mauvais, selon la volonté de Dieu notre Père, à qui soit la gloire dans les siècles des siècles ! Amen.

Green swirl

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Oui, cherchez à imiter Dieu, comme des enfants bien-aimés, et suivez la voie de l’amour, à l’exemple du Christ qui vous a aimés et s’est livré pour nous, s’offrant à Dieu en sacrifice d’agréable odeur.

Green swirl

Titus 2:14

He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

… qui s’est livré pour nous afin de nous racheter de toute iniquité et de purifier un peuple qui lui appartienne en propre, zélé pour le bien.

Green swirl

. . . And it is always done for love of us.

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(The English is from the New Revised Standard Version, and the French is from the Jerusalem Bible.)

Bowing with the Moon

Moon over Chicago


I took this picture the other night from the roof of our Cenacle here in Chicago. (Click on the thumbnail image below to see the full panorama.)

Moon over Chicago


In honor of the moon and the beauty of God’s creation, I’d like to share with you this poem by the fourteenth-century Persian poet, Hafiz.



I bow to God in gratitude,
And I find the moon is also busy
Doing the same.

I bow to God in great happiniess,
And I learn from where the suns
And the children
And my heart
All borrow their Light.

I bow to the Friend in deep reverence
And discover a marvelous secret carried in the air:

This whole Universe is just as blessed
And divinely crazed as I,
And just as lost in this Wonderful Holy Dance.

My dear,
After such a long, long journey,
God has made another soul

Now all Hafiz wants to do
Is open a beautiful Tavern
Where this Sacred Wine
Of God’s Truth, Knowledge and Love
Is forever and ever
Freely offered to you.

O bow to God in gratitude,
And some day
You will see how
The moon is also busy doing the same.


— From I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy (Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky)

The Spirit Prays in Us

On this Feast of Pentecost, here are two quotations on the presence of the Holy Spirit when we pray, the first from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

(Romans 8:26)

And the second, from Karl Rahner, on the beauty and dignity of our prayer:

The Spirit is a helper in our prayer… Because [the Spirit] helps, our prayer is a piece of the melody that rushes through the heavens, an aroma of incense that sweetly rises to the eternal altars of heaven before the triune God.  The Spirit of God prays in us.  That is the holiest consolation in our prayer.  The Spirit of God prays in us.  That is the most exalted dignity of our prayer.

Karl Rahner, The Need and the Blessing of Prayer,
trans. by Bruce W. Gillette (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1997).

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