In the struggle against suffering, there is one sword we should all take up
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
July is always a special time when I give particular thanks to God for the gifts of life, of baptism and of our country. Mom gave birth to me on the Fourth of July, so it has been a great joy since I was a kid to celebrate two birthdays on the same day.
Patriotic hymns evoke many happy memories and, at certain times and in certain places, can even bring tears to my eyes. Lately, the lyrics of one such song have become a prayer for me.
A couple of months ago, I spent a few days of recollection in the Smoky Mountains. Surrounded by so much beauty, my heart was lifted in grateful praise to Our Creator. But I was aware that, in contrast to the peaceful setting I was enjoying, elsewhere in the world, and even in our own country in cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore, there was no peace and much suffering. And as I prayed for God’s blessing and mercy for those in so many areas of strife and war, three words from the song “God Bless America” began to resonate in my heart —“stand beside her”— stand beside the patroness of our country and our diocese — stand by Mary.
As Mary stood by the cross of her Son, so she calls us to stand with her by the cross of all who suffer; for it is at the foot of the cross where all our sorrows encounter God’s love and mercy and Mary’s motherly care. At the foot of the cross with Mary, we realize what true freedom is and what it calls us to do.
At the foot of the cross, we learn the preciousness of every human life and discover that love of which there is no greater. It is this love that conquers evil — it is the love of the saints, of the martyrs and of all who change the world, not with the sword, but with something far greater. And it is Mary who shows us what that is.
In times of history when days have grown dark and evil has seemed invincible, the Church has especially called the faithful to pray the rosary. In northern Nigeria, where terrorism has brought so much suffering and death, one bishop is calling for the taking up of the sword. But this is no ordinary sword in the sense of the word.
In prayer, as Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme mourned for the many who were suffering and those who had lost their lives at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram, he saw a vision of Jesus offering him a sword. When the bishop reached for it, the sword turned into a rosary and he heard Jesus say three times, “Boko Haram is gone.” Since then, he has preached the rosary as the weapon that will triumph over the evil that plagues his land.
If you are struggling with a painful loss or suffering of body or soul, come and stand beside Mary and pray the rosary, for she understands your pain. Allow her faith and trust in God to increase your own with the certainty that the promises of the Lord will be fulfilled — that suffering, strife, war and evil do not have the last word. If you find it hard to forgive others, you need “a light from above” that Mary’s Son will give. Come, stand beside her at the foot of the cross and allow Mary to teach you how to forgive, and to remind you that it is by Christ’s wounds that we are healed.
As I pray for our country and for our suffering brothers and sisters throughout the world, the immortal words of President Lincoln from his second inaugural address come to mind: “Fondly do we hope and fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” In this same spirit in which he prayed —“with malice towards none and charity for all” — we can help “to bind up the nation’s wounds. …” as we love and care for one another. So I ask for you to take up the rosary daily and pray for the peace that comes through the cross of Christ.