To this Seeds of Hope, I have attached Mission Prayerline, a short mission story and prayer intention. Please page down to see it.
Scripture Reading for Today: John 20:19-31 (read it here)
How Jesus’ disciples responded to the devastating experience of Jesus’ death was not an inspiring picture of courage and heroism.
When on Easter morning Mary Magdalene burst into the room where the disciples were with the exciting news that “I have seen the Lord,” and that Jesus was once again up and about and undeniably alive, none of the apostles moved and no one bolted out of his chair or organized a team to look for Jesus.
Rather, they double locked the doors behind them.
On the evening of that same Easter day, the disciples were still behind a locked door “for fear of the Jews.” It is hard to believe that such a bunch of fearful chickens that fled at the first sign of trouble would be a threat to anybody.
After all, earlier that same day, fear of arrest did not prevent two of them from going to Jesus’ tomb; and Thomas had gone out, possibly visiting some bars around the city trying to forget.
I keep asking myself: what or whom were the disciples afraid of running into if they went out?
The only explanation I can find is that the disciples were afraid of running into Jesus himself. All of them had reason to pretend not to see Jesus in case they met him on the street.
The last time they had spoken to Jesus, they were full of confidence in themselves and swore that they would be faithful to him no matter what. But all of them fled Gethsemane like frightened rabbits and abandoned him in his most dire hour of need.
Another reason for the disciples locking themselves inside a room and not wanting to meet and talk to anyone, was that they were ashamed of what they had done and of what their lack of courage and faithfulness revealed about them as people.
They were afraid of seeing on the face of every passerby, disapproval of their denial of Jesus. They were ashamed that people would identify them not as Jesus’ friends, but as Jesus’ eager betrayers.
In brief, the disciples locked the door, telling themselves they were “keeping the Jews out,” when, really, they were keeping themselves locked in.
The disciples barricaded in a little room at the end of a dark alley are emblematic of so much of our lives. Anxiety over some aspects of our past or present paralyzes us with fear and makes us lock the door of our hearts.
In the life of every one of us, there are things we have done that, if known, would make us feel ashamed. Most of us also have “skeletons in the closets” of our hearts—little rooms into which we throw our lack of courage, betrayals, excesses, dishonesty, and bad choices that, if known, would destroy the well-manicured image of ourselves we want to project to our families and friends.
We are terrified at the thought that someone will mistakenly open the door of the messy closets of some chapters of our lives, and what we want to keep hidden from view will tumble out for all to see.
But on that “first day of the week” Jesus entered the room and the disciples’ hearts still locked up in shame and fear, and immediately eliminated the disciples’ anxiety by repeating to them the greeting, “Peace be with you.” Immediately Jesus dispelled any thoughts the disciples may have had that he was mad at them for their lack of courage or bore a grudge for their denial of ever having known him.
But Jesus never even said a word about their past betrayals. He did not even need to say, “I forgive you.” Instead, Jesus created a whole new situation by breathing on them the sweetness of the Holy Spirit—the life-giving breath that purifies, energizes, and makes all things new.
In other words, Jesus told his disciples to unlock the closets of their frightened lives and get out of the isolation they had created for themselves, because the skeletons of their former lives had been forever put away by his mercy and forgiveness.
And now, they were to live in the joy and the peace of the Holy Spirit; now they were to go out into the world with the mission of announcing forgiveness to the world.
Jesus also wants us to spread similar mercy to those around us. Such is the ministry given to us. And all of us—male and female, lay and clergy, young and old—have been ordained for the ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, mercy, and liberation.
Whether we realize it or not, we are in the business of loosing or binding sins. We either make real the forgiveness of Christ to each other, or we tie up each other more tightly in the bonds of guilt.
Today we ask ourselves how much loosing of sins we offer to our families; how much we offer affirmation and forgiveness to each other in our attitudes and casual words; and how much compassion or criticism, innuendo, or true mercy we dispense around us.
As we look at our lives, today, we ask ourselves how much we are a liberating influence in the community; how much resentment we nurse; and how many old injuries we tally up for a chance of some pay-back on a day to come.
Let us just remember this: when we lock ourselves into un-forgiveness and un-grace, we are putting ourselves in shackles. Un-grace makes us the prisoners, as well as those we refuse to forgive. Un-forgiveness is a fearful bondage because it takes the zest out of life and creates sourness. Un-forgiveness chains us to the past and poisons the springs of spontaneous joy within us. There are none so sick as those who are trapped in un-grace and un-forgiveness.
In the Eucharist, the risen Christ stands in the middle of our locked-up lives. He shows us the wounds in his hands and side and announces that that he can eliminate the skeletons in the closet of our past life and grant us true and lasting peace.
Let us not chicken out in the task of being liberated liberators and gracious forgivers, for Jesus is a gracious forgiver to us.
Let us rejoice in the Risen Lord.
Inspired by Mary, let us also hear the risen Lord’s word of peace, feel his breath touch us, and allow ourselves to be filled with new life and confidence.
The Woman Who Saved Hundreds of Children from Genocide
As a woman of faith, mother, teacher, and activist, Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse seems like so many of us. But when she was faced with a horrifically evil situation, she responded with rare and extraordinary heroism.
In 1993, Barankitse was raising seven children in her homeland of Burundi, a small African country that borders Rwanda. A lifelong Catholic, she worked as the secretary to her bishop in the diocese of Ruyigi.
Between working and caring for her family, Barankitse’s days were full, but her family’s peace was shattered when long-simmering ethnic tension erupted into a vicious, bloody massacre.
The Rwandan genocide is infamous around the world for how quickly it erupted, the brutality of the attacks, and the sheer scale of the violence.
In the space of only three months, up to 1 million people of Tutsi heritage were cruelly slaughtered with rifles and machetes, and up to half a million women were sexually assaulted.
In an especially nightmarish twist, it was often the Tutsis’ own neighbors, the Hutus—people they considered friends—who hurt and killed them.
The situation was somewhat reversed in Burundi, although no less horrific. Tutsis were the majority there, especially as Tutsi refugees from Rwanda poured over their borders. So, the Tutsis in Burundi were hunting down local Hutus in retaliation for the situation in Rwanda.
That’s what happened one day when Barankitse was at the bishop’s house.
On October 24, 1993, a mob of armed Tutsis descended on the bishop’s house, where local Hutu families had taken refuge.
Barankitse managed to hide the Hutu children, but the mob found their parents and killed them, one by one, while Barankitse was forced to watch. They beat and tortured her, trying to find out where the children were, but she refused to tell them.
She tried to protect all the people, but they killed 72 people in front of her.
Only one thing could sustain Barankitse through such horror: her Catholic faith.
That day changed Barankitse’s life forever. Twenty-five Hutu children had stayed hidden and survived the massacre, but they were left orphaned. Who would care for them? Barankitse could not leave them abandoned. She hid the children in a nearby school and looked after them.
More and more children came to Barankitse, looking for a home after their parents were killed in the ongoing attacks. Soon it became her life’s work to build a safe harbor for all the children left behind. Some days she struggled to even feed the children, but she had faith God would care for them.
And care for them He did. As more children came, she decided to start Maison Shalom, the House of Peace.
Her house was open to children of all ethnic origins, Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa. This was an act of radical courage in a time and place when ethnic origin could be a death sentence. The children called Barankitse “Oma,” meaning “grandmother” in German.
Maison Shalom greatly surpassed its origins as a shelter for orphans, becoming an immense force for good in the whole community, with Barankitse at the helm. It also began to create libraries, schools, a microfinance bank, and a restaurant. In other words, it was set up to give the children the opportunity to grow up in a strong community.
Education, in particular, is Barankitse’s passion — perhaps because she worked as a schoolteacher before becoming the bishop’s secretary. She made education a cornerstone of the philosophy at Maison Shalom, and not just an academic education, but education in virtue. She cited as inspiration these words from Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Maison Shalom continued to grow, meeting a profound need in the local community. For years, right after the genocide, it was one of the few places in Burundi where Hutus and Tutsis cohabited in harmony.
Since it opened, over 20,000 young people have benefited from Maison Shalom. The organization grew to a grand scale: At one point it employed more than 270 people, including nurses, psychologists, and educators for the children.
As she continues her mission, Barankitse is confident in God’s providence, knowing that all she does comes from Him.
Building hope and strengthening the community have been her life’s work. With God, we can transform this world into paradise,” she said. “This is the sublime vocation—to love, to have compassion, and to distribute happiness.
Let us have compassion, to distribute happiness and build a world we can live as brothers and sisters.
Help us find a new way, Almighty God and Father, to turn from the curse of war and the human sin that causes war.
Help us find a way that separates us from the pride that turns its back on you; from unbelief that will not bow to you; from self-righteousness that will not compromise; from selfishness that glories in the oppression of others; from the lust for property or power that drives humanity to kill; from trusting in the weapons of war and mistrusting the councils of peace; from hearing, believing, and speaking lies about other nations and religions; from ground-less suspicions and fears that stand in the way of reconciliation; from words and deeds that encourage discord, prejudice, and hatred; and from everything that prevents the human family from fulfilling your promise of peace.
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Que la palabra de Cristo habite y se sienta a gusto en ustedes (Col. 3:16)
Let us make this a blessed day.
Keep Jesus in your mind and heart and share him with all you meet.
Fr. Michael Brizio, IMC
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