Mar 24 2021

We were created for communion

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for Palm Sunday is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

The Garden of Gethsemane was, for Jesus, a dark and foreboding place. As soon as he began his public ministry, he was aware of his trajectory toward it, and he dreaded it because he knew what awaited him there.

It was in the garden that Jesus confronted the moment of aloneness. It was not just solitude that he felt and not mere loneliness. Nor was it the sweet ache of missing an absent loved one. Rather, it was a moment that no human being ever wants to go through, the feeling of supreme, terrifying abandonment.

Jesus dreaded such aloneness for the same reason any other human being would. We are made for community and it does violence to our nature when it’s taken from us. Our bodies and our minds can, if not nourished by communion with others, become prisons. We can’t bear the weight of such disconnection from the human family.

Separation from humanity also means a degree of separation from God, for more than any other source, it is through others that we come to know our Creator. Long before a child can speak or think rationally, it knows the love of God through its mother’s touch. For Jesus, who could say without hubris that “the Father and I are one,” to now be asked by that same Father to lay down his life was a torment beyond measure.

Jesus came through his experience in the garden with new resolve, and though more suffering awaited him, he picked up his cross and moved forward to Calvary and, ultimately, Easter. And so can we. That is the Gospel. That is the Good News.

Unbound sponsors make a financial contribution to help their sponsored friends lift themselves out of poverty. It’s deeply appreciated and vitally important. But just as important is the communion created between a sponsor and their sponsored friend. In the darkness of material poverty, where people can easily feel abandoned and uncared for, the light of knowing that someone has chosen them to help, personally and with intention, is an incredible gift.

That, too, is part of the Good News.

Please pray

Loving God, from the beginning you said that it is not good for us to be alone. Help us to recognize our own need for communion and to nurture it by reaching out to others. May we recognize your presence in each person we encounter, and may compassionate service be our path to joy. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Mar 17 2021

Planting is an act of faith

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is from Unbound preacher Father Greg Schmitt, CSsR.

Farmers and gardeners know that whenever they plant a seed into the ground they are committing an act of faith. They take a small, seemingly insignificant little seed that to all appearances seems lifeless, and place it in the ground, out of view. They water the ground and wait. Beyond that, the matter is mostly out of their hands.

Most of us do not fully understand how, but we expect something to happen. We expect that small seed to push a delicate green stem or stalk through the surface of the soil and to grow into a hardy plant, somehow predetermined by a sophisticated genetic code contained within the seed. This is one of the ordinary miracles of life that astound us every day if we are attuned to the wonders of nature.

Though Jesus has been speaking of his impending death for some time, in today’s Gospel he becomes aware that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus is accustomed to using images. He does so again, describing his own death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)

He sees his own death not only as a horrific ending but also as a fruitful beginning. With his ingenuity for explaining things, Jesus connects the dying grain of wheat, leading to new fruitfulness, with his own dying and rising. Nature itself seems to resonate with the greatest mystery of our life.

We, too, are like the grain of wheat. Will we plant ourselves in an act of faith? Or will we refuse to plant and simply rot away, producing nothing? “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for life eternal.” (John 12:25)

The German poet, Johann Goethe, wrote:
“And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
To die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.” (From “The Holy Longing”)

There are many ways to plant ourselves like a grain of wheat. Most of them are relational. They connect us to others. Unbound sponsorship is one of them. Our fruitfulness springs up in Guatemala, Uganda, Madagascar, the Philippines and many other places. We plant the seeds of our lives, water and await the miracle of God.

Please pray

Lord of creation, you have designed your earth and us to be fruitful. In your plan we are like the marvelous grains of wheat, sprouting and feeding a hungry world. Bless us and all those we are called to nourish. Teach us how to lose our life so that we may gain eternal life. Amen.

Mar 10 2021

Looking upon the whole person

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is from Unbound preacher Father John Anglin, OFM.

This Sunday offers us the choice of two sets of readings, and this reflection draws from both. In one set, the emphasis is on God’s mercy and love. So often when someone has done wrong we are ready to condemn and to write the person off. In Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, we are told that God sent His Son out of love. He tells us that when we come into the light, which is God shining through our good works, we live in God.

The other set of reading contains one of my favorite Gospel stories, the account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. The Pharisees see the man as a sinner because of his blindness and they condemn Jesus for healing him on the Sabbath. After a long back and forth they ask Jesus if he thinks they are blind. Jesus tells them, “If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you are saying ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” (Jn 9:41)

In the Unbound community, both messages speak to us. Unbound looks at the whole person. We look beyond one’s situation and limitations and try to see the person as God sees them, looking upon each one with mercy. We also are guided by the light which is God, the light that inspires everything about Unbound. Even more to the point is Unbound’s philosophy of seeing potential and not just poverty in our sponsored friends and their families.

The challenge for us is to ask God to help us to see, to heal our blindness so that we can see the potential, the goodness and the human dignity not only in our sponsored friends, but in everyone. I have witnessed this in awareness trips I have made with Unbound to El Salvador and Peru, where I not only saw what happens when people are told that we believe in them, but also what happens when they affirm their belief in us and love for us. That last part I found truly humbling.

Please pray

O God, you love us and you love all people. Help us to stretch beyond the limits of our love and to open our hearts to all, even those we find difficult to love. Give us the courage to admit that at times we cannot see, and heal the blindness of our hearts. Finally, Lord, at this most difficult time in our country and in our world lead us through the darkness to the wonderful light of your love. Amen.

Mar 3 2021

A difficult conversation at the well

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

For someone who never heard of Jesus or the Gospel, this story about his conversation with a Samaritan woman may seem like a simple anecdote about one stranger asking another for a favor in a public place. However, people who lived in biblical times would have noticed many details in the story that hint at a deeper level of meaning. They would have known that not only do women of that time not speak to strange men, but that Samaritans and Jews have nothing to do with one another. They would have understood it as a description of what is often called a difficult conversation.

There are many kinds of difficult conversations. Some deal with sad news, some are overtures to restore strained relationships, some are pleas for help and some are hospitable attempts to create new relationships. Because they can be awkward, people often avoid them or delay them. However, the more you participate in difficult conversations, the more you realize how important they are. As was the case with the Samaritan woman, they change us in many ways. More importantly, they are necessary for establishing God’s kingdom here on earth.

For the woman at the well, it was the most important conversation she ever had. It changed her understanding of herself and her attitude toward people she had always avoided. It also changed her understanding of God’s desire for all people to welcome and value one another. The awkward encounter between two people became an urgent invitation to a whole town to join the conversation, to see their lives in a new way and tell more people all about it.

The ministry of Unbound brings people together and fosters new relationships, sometimes through prayerful support at a distance and sometimes through actual visits. I recall meeting my sponsored friend for the first time. Previously we had exchanged letters and we both were excited about meeting in person. I can only imagine that the joy we both experienced that day was something like the joy of the Samaritan woman when she invited people from the town to experience what she had experienced.

Please pray

O God, may we always be open to understanding ourselves and others in new ways. May we not be afraid of conversations that challenge us. May we welcome the people we meet on the journey of discovering you and working to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.

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.