Sponsored youth Rosemeri in Mexico (left) and her family share a message of support for the Unbound community in the COVID-19 pandemic. The sign reads, "Stay in good spirits!! From prayer to prayer, always together."
Apr 22 2020

Let us stand with one another

Sponsored youth Rosemeri in Mexico (left) and her family share a message of support for the Unbound community in the COVID-19 pandemic. The sign reads, "Stay in good spirits!! From prayer to prayer, always together."

Sponsored youth Rosemeri in Mexico (left) and her family share a message of support for the Unbound community in the COVID-19 pandemic. The sign reads, “Stay in good spirits!! From prayer to prayer, always together.”

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Unbound preacher Father John Anglin, OFM.

As churches around the world are closed because of the coronavirus, it’s important to remember that the Church is not just the building, but rather the people. We are the Body of Christ.

Unbound celebrates this great truth. The bonds of love unite sponsors and sponsored friends and their families, as well as Unbound employees and community members from around the world.

As an Unbound preacher, I see myself as not just promoting sponsorships, but, through that, as bringing together in spirit — and sometimes in person — people from around the world making real the awareness that we are, indeed, one body in Christ.

As an Unbound sponsor, I pray for my sponsored friends Anthony in Peru and Pedro in El Salvador. United in prayer, my solidarity with them deepens.

At this time, let us stand as one with the human family, with people who suffer from this virus and their families, with medical workers and with all who are on the front lines of fighting COVID-19.

We may not be gathering in churches right now, but let us still celebrate the faith and love that binds us together.

Please pray

Loving Creator, as we celebrate this glorious season of Easter, when we remember your Son’s triumph over the grave, help us to claim our own triumph over fear and despair. Help us remember that darkness has been defeated and that life shall once again be victorious. We place our trust in you, God of hope. Amen.

Apr 15 2020

Our lives are intertwined

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Unbound preacher Father Joseph Uecker, C.PP.S.

If we ever needed each other, it’s now. The coronavirus pandemic is such a powerful teacher. It’s bringing the obvious into focus.

For us old guys, especially us older guys with pre-existing conditions (diabetes, heart issues, cancer, some or all of the above), it’s humbling to realize just how much we need each other for the basics of life, like food. Having to depend on others when you’re feeling fit as a fiddle points out how intertwined our lives really are. I’m finding that the virus is like a huge magnifying glass, pointing out both the good in our human nature and our failings.

My guess is that our sponsored friends might say something like, “So what’s new? Are you just finding this out? Poverty is like the virus in this sense.”

As I write this, it was 40 years ago this day and about this hour that St. Oscar Romero was gunned down while celebrating the Eucharist. He was killed for his outspoken defense of the poor, because he stood in solidarity with his people, because he had, to use the phrase of Pope Francis, “the smell of the sheep.” It means he was a pastor who wasn’t afraid to be with God’s people.

In the Unbound community, we are all in the flock together. May our sponsorship magnify the good that is being done in partnership with our sisters and brothers, as well as what still needs to be done.

Please pray

Loving God, let us not be paralyzed by fear in this time of anxiety. Though we can’t physically be with our brothers and sisters in need, help us to be aware of the many ways we can still reach out to them. Keep us united in the Body of Christ. As we die with him in the suffering of our world, may we rise with him to new life in this Easter season. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Apr 8 2020

This day was given to us by God

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers have included a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This final reflection for Easter Sunday is from Director of Sponsor Experience Mary Geisz.

The responsorial psalm for the Easter Sunday liturgy says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” Since I was about 11 years old, that has been one of my favorite Scripture verses. When things got tough (as defined by an 11-year-old), I remember saying it, silently, over and over to myself when I prayed at night. What defines “tough” has evolved since then, but that psalm brings me as much hope now as it ever did.

As we prepare to celebrate the most important event of our Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we find ourselves in surreal times. We don’t have a reference point in terms of life experience for this pandemic. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we believe that no matter what happens, this day was given to us by God, and we are to do with it the best we can, modeling his words and actions.

The times bring out the best and the worst in people. It’s disheartening to hear about all the hoarding going on as fears rise. Yet it’s reassuring to absorb many more stories about the kindness and resourcefulness of people whose words and actions speak of the spirit of looking out for the greater good above self. And it’s been especially inspiring to see the responsiveness and collaboration of coworkers as they’ve transitioned to work from home in a very short time frame.

More than usual lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on the families Unbound serves in communities where we work around the world. They form support networks in which they encourage and are accountable to one another. In the midst of obstacles they face daily, I’ve witnessed gratitude and joy expressed as though it were part of their DNA. Being kind and resourceful is not new to them. It’s part of what sustains them. They are experts at living out what the psalm says.

They remind us that we live resurrection not just on Easter Sunday, but every day.

Please pray

Loving Father, Redeeming Son and Sanctifying Spirit, we thank you for the gift of faith that sustains us through our challenges. We pray for comfort and healing for all afflicted with illness and those caring for them during this frightening time. We also commend those who have died to your loving embrace and ask for comfort for their loved ones. Help us remember that each day is a gift from you, a gift with which we are to do all the good we can, and for which we are to rejoice and be glad. Amen.

Apr 1 2020

Love that brings resolve in an anxious time

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.

Our traditional gatherings are precious to us. They give us a sense of belonging and continuity. This is especially true of religious gatherings, and it’s common to members of all faiths.

Experiencing God in community both enriches and challenges the human soul. In a sense, our common worship is a moment out of time. It weaves together past and present and binds us in ways beyond understanding.

This is on my mind now because the gatherings that are so important to so many are denied them in the COVID-19 crisis. As I write this, places of worship in the U.S. and throughout the world have suspended religious services and other public gatherings, and it seems likely this will continue beyond Easter.

So, as we enter this Holy Week on Palm Sunday, we’ll be without our normal expressions of community prayer. That is to say, we’ll be without some of the gatherings and rituals that help define us as members of cherished faith traditions. We’re invited to connect, as best we can, through televised and streamed services, but there’s no getting around the fact that, this year, our experience of this most sacred time will be uniquely personal.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity in that. After all, Jesus’ experience of that first “Holy Week” was also uniquely — and profoundly — personal. If each of us can relate our own current anxieties to what Jesus went through, maybe it will help us enter more deeply into solidarity with his Passion. In so doing, we may also enter more deeply into solidarity with the Christ who dwells among, and within, the marginalized and suffering of the world today.

The great temptation of isolation is to feel existentially alone. Even Jesus, in his human nature, struggled against that in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew his “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” moment was coming, and I’m sure he dreaded it. But the important thing is that he came out of the garden with a greater resolve because of his love for the Father and his love for us.

That resolve led to Easter. And it will again. It will.

Please pray

God, your love for us is deep and mysterious. In this time of anxiety, bless us with the strength and the wisdom to place our trust in you. As your Son, Jesus, prayed for resolve in the garden, so may we have the resolve to endure our current trials. As he sacrificed his life out of love for us, may we dedicate our own sacrifices, big and small, to the care of our world, especially those most in need. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Mar 25 2020

Freed of what binds us

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 John Anglin, O.F.M.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. On the last Sunday before then, we’re presented with what I believe to be the greatest miracle that Jesus performed in his time here on earth, raising Lazarus from the dead. In John’s Gospel, it’s the seventh and final sign in a segment known as the Book of Signs.

It bears that title for a reason. Notice that it’s not called the book of miracles, although each of the signs was indeed miraculous. Jesus changes water into wine at Cana, he cures a blind man and performs several other wonderful miracles. Each sign, however, has a lesson for us.

After Lazarus came out of the tomb, wrapped in the burial cloths, Jesus says, “Untie him and let him go.”(John 11:44). Other translations use the word unbind instead of untie. These are the words that inspired the naming of Unbound.

Over the years, spiritual writers have seen great symbolism in these words. They remind us that we’re called to be unbound from sin, from injustice, etc. In Unbound, our sponsored friends are given the opportunity to rise above poverty and to rise beyond the fears and negative thoughts that hold them back. Those of us who are sponsors are also unbound from believing that we can’t make a difference, as well as, perhaps, being unbound from a limited worldview as we connect with someone from another country and culture.

My life has certainly been changed by my sponsored friends Anthony from Peru and Pedro, an elder from El Salvador. Last year, right after Easter, Pedro wrote to me and told me that he went to Mass every day of Lent and prayed for me. Wow! I consider him my spiritual sponsor.

As the season of Lent draws to a close, I’m grateful for the 75 years of life that God has given me and for continuing to unbind me from a variety of errors and limitations. I’m grateful that by his grace I’ve been able to unbind people from all sorts of difficulties. As we contemplate this wonderful story of Lazarus, let’s all continue unbinding and being unbound from all that keeps us from being the persons that God made us to be.

Please pray

Lord Jesus, you called your friend Lazarus back to life. You invited his family and friends to unbind him and set him free. We thank you for the ways that Unbound sets all of us free from the things that bind us up. Help us to continue this great work of sponsoring and giving assistance to those in need. Amen.

Mar 20 2020

Staying close in a time of social distancing

This is a special prayer reflection from the Unbound community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s offered as a supplement to our regular weekly reflection.

The cruel irony of the COVID-19 crisis is that in this time of uncertainty and fear, when we most need the support of family, friends and our faith communities, we’re asked to keep our distance from one another.

It’s good to remember that the Body of Christ is without limitations. Even when we feel most alone, we’re still one in the Spirit and one in the Lord. We’re united by our love for one another, which is a reflection of the love of God. Though we’ve never physically seen nor touched that love, it’s always there and always sustains us.

As they so often do, families in the Unbound community teach us. Many live in the most remote of locations, far from paved roads, inaccessible to all but the most resolute visitor. Others, like most of us now, are living in isolation in cities large and small. For many of them, this is not a temporary condition, but a lifelong reality. Yet they know what it means to reach out and be reached. They know how to live in gratitude for compassion. They know the love of others, whether it be a neighbor across the river or a sponsor in a country far away.

We may be isolated, but we are never alone. Let us hold that awareness in our hearts as we navigate through these anxious times.

Please pray

Compassionate God, we come to you with our fears in this time of global crisis. Calm us as you calmed the storm at sea. Help us to remember that in the seeming immensity of our troubles, you still hold each of us in the palm of your hand. You never forget us. You never abandon us.

Provide your healing touch to those who suffer. Bless, too, their caregivers and those charged with public safety. May all on the front lines of this pandemic be guided by wisdom, hope and resolve.

May we rise to the challenge of this moment with grace and courage. May this crisis bring out the best in us. May we be patient. May we be kind. And may our faith in you outweigh our uncertainty. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Mar 18 2020

Those who will not see

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 Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

A colleague of mine at Unbound recently shared about a staff formation trip he’d been on in Colombia. On the trip, our team there led him and other coworkers in activities to help them better understand challenges faced by families in our program.

My colleague was to spend the day with Marina, a woman who earned a meager income as a coffee vendor. They were to meet early in the morning at a local health clinic. When he arrived, he walked toward the door to enter the building, but his guides led him instead to a spot outside, where Marina had already been working for more than an hour.

My colleague then realized he’d made a false assumption and, because of that, had nearly missed the person he was looking for.

“She was invisible to me,” he said. “I’m used to the doors of institutions being open to me, and that’s what I was focused on. She was just part of the background. If someone like me, who’s accustomed to being with people living on the margins, can make that mistake, imagine how she’s seen by society.

The “blindness” my colleague experienced that day is of a type to which we’re all prone. Without realizing it, we form impressions based not on reality, but on preconceived notions and personal biases. As long as we recognize this for what it is and work to overcome it, it doesn’t have to be harmful. But when we’re obstinate in our blindness and refuse to see any truth that challenges our worldview, it can become malignant.

Such was the condition of the Pharisees in the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Jesus had healed a man born blind, but they refused to acknowledge the hand of God in the event. God, they rationalized, would never perform such a healing on the Sabbath, nor bestow such a gift on someone steeped in sin. For surely, if the man was blind from birth, he deserved it — just as they deserved their lives of privilege and comfort.

Presuming that the status quo reflects God’s will is harmful. It perpetuates unjust systems and places additional burdens on those, like the man born blind and Marina, the coffee vender, who struggle enough as it is. It brings more darkness into a world already in need of illumination.

The man born blind received more than just eyesight. Because he recognized Jesus as the true Light of the World, he showed himself to possess inner vision as well. The Pharisees, on the other hand, proved themselves to be truly blind because of their hardness of heart.

The irony wasn’t lost on Jesus, nor should it be lost on us.

Please pray

Light of the World, enlighten our minds with wisdom and enkindle our hearts with compassion. Let our moments of blindness be brief and instructive, so that we may never truly lose vision but, rather, gain insight as we seek to serve you in our brothers and sisters. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Mar 11 2020

Knowing a person’s story matters

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 Managing Editor Loretta Shea Kline.

This Sunday’s Gospel tells of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well and highlights the importance of knowing someone’s story.

Jesus surprises the woman, a Samaritan, by asking for a drink of water. The fact that she’s drawing water around noon, when the sun’s heat is strong and no one else from the village is around, suggests her low status in society. The woman is skeptical and questions how Jesus can ask her for a drink, “for Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” In their conversation, she begins to let her guard down only after Jesus recounts important details of her life.

Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”

The fact that Jesus knows her situation and still chooses to engage with her matters. The woman’s tone shifts from one of distrust and doubt to openness and the beginnings of belief. The conversation deepens, and Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah.

The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”

In the Unbound community, we know the stories of the people participating in our programs around the world. We listen and build relationships with those we serve. We see them for more than their circumstances of poverty. We see their inherent potential.

Please pray

God of hope, guide us this Lenten season and beyond to look closer, so that we may see the potential of marginalized people. Strengthen us to walk with those dismissed because of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, age, disability, poverty or other circumstances. Help us love, cherish and believe in them the way you love, cherish and believe in all your children. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Mar 4 2020

The glory that transforms

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 Unbound preacher Father Greg Schmitt, CSsR.

In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent, Matthew tells us Jesus went up a high mountain with three of his close friends. Luke tells us that Jesus went up the mountain to pray. The disciples witnessed Jesus’ face shine like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. God was certainly at work here. In fact, God’s voice refrains the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism: “THIS IS MY BELOVED SON.”

The glory that will transform us when we share fully in the resurrection of Jesus already resides at the core of our being, for we too are beloved sons and daughters. Even now, God’s glory within us transfigures our lives in small but significant ways.

We remember the character of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” who, after a lifetime of being a miserable miser, transforms into a generous, happy, warm human being.

Or we may recall:

  • The teenager who usually speaks with monosyllables and grunts, who one day acknowledges with real words and sentences, almost eloquently, how much he loves his parents and how much they mean to him.
  • The person who has been consumed with business and work, eating and sleeping and not much else, who turns to his wife one day and says, “I’d like to spend a lot more time with you. Let’s take a trip — just the two of us.”
  • The person whose whole reason to do anything has been his or her own convenience and benefit, taking very little account of the needs of others, who begins to dedicate hours of time, with no fanfare, to feed the hungry and visit the lonely.
  • Our own story.

Transfiguration may not be so far from us after all. One of the reasons that being an Unbound sponsor is so uplifting is that it transfigures something inside of us and inside of those we sponsor as well. Something bright is happening and the glow is contagious.

I keep hearing this from sponsors who volunteer to help me when I go out to preach for Unbound. And we don’t even have to climb a mountain to experience it!

Please pray

Father, you illuminated the face of your Son and made him dazzling before our eyes. Once again, you called him “beloved.” Teach us, your beloved children, to show forth your light into places of darkness and fear and want. Accompany us as we seek to accompany those you entrust to us through Unbound. Their faces reflect your light back to us and help us see our world with more clarity. We will be transfigured together. Amen.

Feb 26 2020

Sin and dignity

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 Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

There’s an old joke about a farmer who came home from church to find his wife, who was sick, eager to hear what the preacher’s sermon had been about. The farmer, a man of few words, said, “Sin.” Not satisfied, the wife asked what the preacher had to say about sin. The farmer replied, “He’s against it.”

The farmer’s summary could also serve to describe the readings for the First Sunday of Lent, which begin with Adam and Eve giving in to sin and end with Jesus resisting it. In between, we have St. Paul’s reflection on the symmetry of those events.

“For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)

When I was a kid, sin was a simple thing to understand. It was about breaking rules. If I did something my parents or teachers told me not to do (or didn’t do something I was supposed to do) that was a sin. It wasn’t always easy to stay on the straight and narrow, but at least I knew where the path was.

As I got older, I came to understand that sin isn’t so much about actions as about consequences. Today, I think of sin mostly as a violation of dignity — that is to say, an affront to the holiness of God and the integrity of what God has created. In particular, I think of sins against other people as a failure to respect that they were created in God’s image and likeness.

Human dignity is such an important concept for the Unbound community that the importance of recognizing it is infused into our core values. Unbound’s mission flows from the conviction that every human being is entitled to live in a manner consistent with their God-given dignity. We focus on helping people overcome poverty because it’s an obstacle to that goal.

As we enter Lent, it might be good for each of us to take a personal inventory of how we’re doing as defenders of human dignity. Do we give in to the temptation to see people as symbols and ideologies rather than individuals? Do we let such things as race, religion, gender, culture, language, politics and social status drive wedges between others and ourselves? Or, do we take Jesus at his word that what we do for even the most marginalized and powerless in the world we do for him?

Happily, we have a few weeks to ponder those questions.

Please pray

God, devoted companion, guide us as we enter into this sacred season. Grace us with prayerful resolve so that this might be a fruitful time for each of us, a time of true repentance, reflection and self-discipline. May these 40 days be for us a pilgrimage into your heart and into deeper solidarity with our sisters and brothers within the human family. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.