Feb 24 2021

Faith is a constant

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent is from Mary Geisz, director of sponsor experience at Unbound.

Oh, to have the faith of Abraham! In the first reading for this Second Sunday of Lent, we revisit the familiar story of Abraham responding to God’s call to sacrifice his son. God put Abraham to the test and Abraham passed with flying colors, setting kind of a high bar for the rest of us.

This story is a difficult one for any parent to hear. We’ve likely all heard a parent say they’d sacrifice their own life to protect their child’s. I don’t recall ever hearing someone verbalize that they could do what Abraham was willing to do. Still, though the notion of sacrificing his beloved son must have been repugnant to Abraham, he only needed three words to respond: “Here I am!”

As the distressing and heart-wrenching global events roll from 2020 into 2021, I’ve heard folks attest to leaning on prayer and faith more purposefully, while others confess to feeling as though their faith is being tested. So many ask, “Why is this happening?” So many wonder, as surely Abraham must have, what is God’s plan?

The season of Lent helps remind us to be more prayerful in coping with life’s trials. In my own attempts at this, re-reading the letters from my Unbound sponsored friends in Kenya and the Philippines have spoken loudly. Faith is a constant. So is hope. And love. Every single letter begins or ends with prayerful words and wishes for blessings from God. The multiple global crises are undoubtedly felt far more severely for them, yet their faith remains undaunted, and it resonates.

I don’t expect to reach the bar set by Abraham, but the faith journey is a worthwhile one, indeed.

Please pray

Loving God, as we journey through Lent in preparation for the celebration of Easter, help us pray so that we may keep our faith strong and grow in closeness to You. And help us to remember to heed your words: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:2-10).

Feb 17 2021

Lent is our ‘Come to Jesus moment’

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the First Sunday of Lent is from Unbound preacher Father David Noone.

“Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)

I was visiting a historic cemetery adjacent to a church where I preached recently on behalf of Unbound. As I stood at one gravesite, a vehicle pulled up alongside me. The driver rolled down the window and identified himself as a descendant of the man whose grave I happened to be looking at. We talked a bit and the conversation turned to his own life and the difficulty of his struggle with COVID-19, personally and as a family man and member of his community. “I’m very close,” he admitted, “to having a ‘Come to Jesus moment.’”

The origin of that expression likely goes back to the kind of dramatic moment of conversion represented by an “altar call,” but today it’s often used in a more informal sense to describe any moment of realization and truth that requires a reassessment of priorities.

Sometimes, when a new Unbound sponsor is filling out a form, I’ll ask what led him or her to decide to offer their support for a child, youth or elder in need. Often, it seems to be the result of a sudden, intuitive perception, a moment of realization or an opportunity to express a deeply felt need to make a significant difference in another person’s or family’s life. I truly believe that to one degree or another, every sponsor who fills out a form does so as the result of a “Come to Jesus Moment” that I’m privileged to witness.

We have words in our language that seem alike and are often used interchangeably. For example, “remorse” and “repentance.” Both suggest that we’ve done something wrong and we won’t do it again. But, on this first Sunday of Lent, the repentance Jesus is calling us to involves a deeper inner change. Lent challenges us to discern if there is some more significant change we are being called to.

Let the discernment begin.

Please pray

Father, as we begin another Lent that one word, “repent,” says it all. Hearing it, help us to accept its challenge. Or, as another prayer puts it, “give us the courage to change what needs to be changed.” Amen.

Feb 10 2021

Sharing stories that transform

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Outreach Call Representative Bridget Barry.

I grew up with three younger brothers and, once in a blue moon, we’d fight. (By once in a blue moon, I mean several times a week.) The one place my parents absolutely hated for us to fight was at Mass. But, often at some point during the homily, one sibling would start antagonizing another, and some quiet chaos would ensue.

Eventually, my parents found a way to disincentivize the fighting during Mass. If you couldn’t behave you had to stay for the next Mass with my dad while the rest of the family went to get donuts. One particularly rambunctious brother would sometimes be at three or four Masses a weekend.

Now we’re almost all grown-up (the rambunctious brother recently got married), and our parents no longer have to figure out ways to get us to behave during Mass. We laugh about the tears my brother shed when he missed a donut, but it’s still a part of our family story and something that families across the globe can relate to.

Right now, it’s hard to have safe in-person conversations where you can share stories and meet folks with their own stories of parents doing their best to raise their kids. But through letters and eLetters, Unbound is still providing a way for sponsors and their sponsored friends and families to have these conversations.

Though the process of growing together has shifted in some ways, it’s still happening. Families sharing their funny, stressful and memorable moments continues to transform lives, helping to build bridges across geography and generations.

Please pray

Lord, please bless families as they adjust to new and challenging circumstances. Give them patience with each other and an ability to find humor and grace in the daily ebbs and flows of life. Bless the grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers and mentors who help form the parents of tomorrow. Bless the conversations that help all parties grow closer to each other and remember their own unique stories in the process. Amen.

A Guatemalan woman praying.
Feb 3 2021

We aren’t helpless

A Guatemalan woman praying.
Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

Father Jim O’Toole was a longtime preacher for Unbound. He passed away last year. Father Jim loved the people of Guatemala and he often visited that country. In a 2007 homily, he shared a story from one of those trips.

“In San Lucas Toliman, I went over to the church one day,” he said. “There was a very young couple holding their baby, and they said, ‘Father, please pray. Our baby is very sick.’ I anointed the baby with oil. I sprinkled the baby with holy water. I prayed. I did everything I could.

“A few moments later I saw that couple kneeling in front of the altar, and the papa was holding that baby up to God as high as he could, praying that God would send a cure.”

Watching the innocent and vulnerable suffer is hard. Some people turn away from it. Others are content to feel helpless in the face of it. And some act.

Father Jim was passionate about helping people understand that we are instruments of God’s love and mercy in the world. He often referenced the “sheep and goats” parable from Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus said that what we do for the least powerful and most marginalized of our sisters and brothers, we do for him. Father Jim saw Unbound sponsorship as a way to serve Christ by serving others.

We don’t know the rest of the story of that young couple and their baby in Guatemala. We do know that with the choices provided through Unbound sponsorship, many families in poverty are able to access essential health care. That is an incredible blessing.

Please pray

Loving God, grace us with awareness and resolve, that we may be agents of your love and healing in our world today. Give us the courage not to divert our eyes from suffering and injustice but be moved to act in the face of it. May we trust always in your help and may those in need be able to trust in ours. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Father John Graden
Jan 27 2021

Remembering one of Unbound’s first preachers, Father John Graden

Father John Graden

Father John Graden

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

Spiritual teacher and Doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Let us be what we are, and be that well, so that we may bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork we are.”

Rarely has anyone been better at being who they were than Father John Graden, OSFS, a member of the religious community that bears the name of the great saint. Father John was a wise, loving, gentle, funny and generous servant of God. He was also one of Unbound’s first preachers and a cherished member of our community.

Father John passed away on Jan. 20. We will miss him greatly, but we are also filled with gratitude for the nearly 30 years he partnered with us in serving children, elders and families in need. He was the second priest to join the Unbound preaching team and the first to actually visit a parish. And, until he was sidelined along with the rest of our preachers in March, he’d planned to keep going once the pandemic was over.

Because Father John was willing to share his magnificent gift of preaching with Unbound, 29,630 sponsors joined our community and the lives of countless individuals and families were made better.

We can’t help but think that the Master Craftsman is pleased.

Please pray

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Jan 20 2021

Celebrating a prophet of peace

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

In his 1967 book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

Dr. King understood the illogic of violence and he worked tirelessly to counteract it by modeling peace. But he also knew that peace doesn’t just happen. It’s a byproduct of justice. When the God-given dignity of each person is honored, relationships are restored and made right.

The Unbound community honors Dr. King and all those who inspire us to be a tranquil presence in the lives of individuals and families working to raise themselves up from poverty. Like him, we are committed to driving out darkness with light and the violence of injustice by uplifting human dignity.

Please pray

God of light, help us carry your healing mercy into the darkest corners of our world. May we be agents of peace and messengers of hope, and may the warmth of our love be a source of comfort for all who need us. On this day when we honor Martin Luther King Jr., we thank you for the gift of prophets and ask that we may have the wisdom to recognize them when they cross our path. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Jan 13 2021

Drawing strength from one another

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

The past week has been unsettling for the people of the United States and the world. Violence in our nation’s capital that led to loss of life, destruction of property and a violation of the very seat of our democracy brought us face to face with the reality that our institutions are only as strong as our common commitment to sustain them. It’s a truth known well by friends in many other nations around the world, and they look to us now with compassion and concern.

We ask that you join with us in prayer for the U.S. and all nations, that we may continue to grow into a worldwide community of compassion, respectful of differences but united by our dedication to uphold one another’s essential, God-given dignity.

The challenges we face are great and they defy simplistic answers. But, as we often do, we draw courage and inspiration from the Unbound community, where the virtues of faith, hope and love often help conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With God’s grace and one another’s care, we shall prevail.

Please pray

Loving God, you who make all things new again, bless us at this time of uncertainty and division. Help us to embrace our common virtues and beliefs rather than obsess over that which separates us. May our love for you lead us to embrace your presence in every human being, and may love overcome the fears that keep us from living in freedom and joy. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Jan 6 2021

Vulnerable and heroic

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

We just bid farewell to a year that few of us will miss, one filled with loss, fear, frustration, anger and the anxiety of not knowing what life will look like going forward.

Perhaps the great lesson of 2020 was that we are not as in control of our world as we once thought we were. We’ve learned that no matter what we do, we are susceptible not just to the visible threats in life, but also to those unseen, like microbes.

The families in the Unbound program have taught us that to be human is to be vulnerable, to be wise is to come to terms with vulnerability, and to be heroic is to keep moving forward no matter how much our vulnerabilities make us want not to.

In 2021, Unbound will keep moving forward, following the lead of the families who knew long before we did that while control is an illusion, hope when married to effort does not disappoint.

Please pray

God of the journey, guide us. We still wander through the desert, yet we dream of the promised land and trust that you will bring us home. As we walk, help us to be loving companions, shouldering each other’s burdens and picking each other up when we fall. In all we do, may faith nourish us and hope propel us forward. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Dec 30 2020

The wisdom to seek God’s face

Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, our weekly ePrayers have included a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This final reflection for The Epiphany of the Lord is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

The mysterious travelers who came to visit the Christ Child are referred to simply as “magi” in Matthew’s Gospel. Magi were priests of ancient Persia. They practiced a form of astrology, which accounts for their recognition of a star as foretelling the newborn king.

While the Magi are sometimes called the “Three Kings,” I prefer to think of them as the “Three Wise Men,” (Though, truth be told, Scripture never says there were only three or that they were all men!) It’s the “wise” part that I like.

Wisdom is one of the traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it’s among the most valuable things a human being can possess. It allows us to see beyond the confusion of the moment to recognize what’s truly important. In an age when choices often come faster than our ability to discern them, wisdom is priceless.

The Magi were wise because they were seekers. They recognized within the signs of the times a call to the presence of God, and they yearned for that presence. They left their homeland, which is to say they left the familiar and comfortable for the unknown. They disregarded the boundaries of nation, class and religion in a quest for that which they most prized, a glimpse of the face of God. All the while, they trusted that the one who called them forth would guide them to their destination.

In my work at Unbound, I get to hear from people all over the country who are helping a child or elderly person overcome extreme poverty with support and encouragement each month. These sponsors are also seekers. Like the Magi, they follow a star that leads not to wealth and privilege, but to humility and simplicity. And, like the Magi, they make a gift of material resources in exchange for an encounter with Christ in the person of a child or elder whose life they’ve helped make better.

As we prepare to leave the Christmas season and enter Ordinary Time, it’s good to remember that the Star of Bethlehem didn’t suddenly disappear. It’s still there. It still shines, though the clouds of our lives sometimes hide it from us. In 2021, let’s help one another seek that star. Let’s help one another catch a glimpse, now and then, of the magnificent face of God.

Please pray

Loving God, help us to recognize your presence in all we meet. Give us the wisdom to reverence you by serving our sisters and brothers. In all we do, may love for you be our strength and our guiding star. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Dec 23 2020

Loving, trusting and caring for each other

Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family is from Unbound preacher Father David Noone.

Have you heard of the “Urban Dictionary?” It’s a crowdsourced dictionary that seeks public help in defining words. I often use it to get a different slant on the meaning of a word. With that in mind, I looked up “family” in that dictionary and found it defined as “a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be) who genuinely love, trust, care about and look out for each other.”

That’s not a bad definition and it certainly describes the family we call the “Holy Family,” Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

My sense of “family” has grown because the number of people I care about and who care about me has grown. At first, “family” was simply blood relatives, then classmates (grade school, high school and seminary) were included, then parishioners came along and, in time, “family” began to include even people of different faiths or no faith, which was not true in my earlier years.

As the years went on, staff and patients I got to know as a chaplain in hospitals here and overseas became “family.” And, when a group of us helped build and continue to support a school in Haiti, the people who live in that small rural village, as well as the students and staff of that school, became a part of my family.

My experience in Haiti and my retirement from parish ministry led me to Unbound and again my sense of family was expanded. As I started to travel for Unbound, I saw “family” in the staff and parishioners in any number of parishes who seem to “genuinely, love, trust, care about and look out for each other.”

I know, however, that my sense of family needs to become still larger.

The New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, speaks about an experience he had in Penn Station in New York City while waiting to catch a train. As he stood there looking at the crowd of people standing around him, he suddenly didn’t see them as different from him by race, ethnicity, language, religion, politics, etc. He saw them, he said, the same way he saw himself, as simply “souls,” all members of the same human family.

I’m not there yet but I’d like to experience what David Brooks experienced while standing on the platform of a train station. And, the fact he experienced “family” as including all of us gives me the hope that I might be able to as well.

Please pray

Lord, as we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, help us to enlarge our sense of family to include all those you see as family, which certainly includes those who have gone before us, those who live with us now, and those who are yet to come. Amen.