We need God who is all loving and all merciful

Recently we experienced a startling thunder and heavy rain storm in Sioux Falls. When I left the Bishop’s House for an early morning walk after it had passed, the flowering plants and shrubs were hanging low, burdened by the impact of the storm. When I returned not too long later they were showing resilience and raising their shoots toward the sun. Later in the day they were back to their previous uplifting stature and beauty.

I have often marveled at the resilience of God’s creation, observing trees bending in the very strong South Dakota winds and the burdens of ice and snow. There was an ice storm a few years ago which resulted in the loss of power for nearly three days. One seeming casualty was a large tree near the Mothers’ Garden at the Cathedral which was so impacted that it was suggested that it be cut down. We decided to let it stand at least for the next season. Today it is taller and fuller than ever. Perhaps God created nature as He did to offer us hopeful example.

In no way am I suggesting that man, who has a soul and free will, are like trees or flowers. We can choose how we respond to the storms of our lives, and there are so many: illness, loss, economic uncertainty, drought, flooding, terror, accidents and the list could go on. We cannot avoid personal storms both unexpected and those caused by poor choices. They are ramifications of our fallen human nature which the evil one seeks to exploit and uses to discourage us and therefore weaken our relationship with God. It can seem like we are living in a continuing Holy Saturday, that heavy time between the horror and heaviness of the cross and the glory and joy of the Resurrection.

In recent days there has been much attention focused on mental illness. Many of those who commit crimes and disrupt lives like school shootings, drug related violence and abuse in its many forms are suffering from mental diseases. Studies continue to be undertaken, including by a committee of our state legislature, to discover the physical and social causes or conditions and what can be done medically and by law to both help those in need and to protect innocent and vulnerable victims; and rightly so.

In truth there is one helpful antidote to help address these real and heavy realities of life which our secular culture including some in government, media and business seek to discourage, even banish. That is faith in God, a spiritual rootedness that offers perspective and hope which results in the resilience to cope because it recognizes that God alone is the creator of all things including each of us. One remedy to deal with the storms of personal lives is to accept that we cannot do it alone; we need God who is all loving and all merciful. There are many personal testimonies that document the strength that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that even in the midst of hurt we can endure as Jesus did. Prayer every day and even throughout the day even if brief in whatever its form is both preventative and restorative ‘spiritual medicine’.

The Blessed Mother, the model of discipleship, offers us an inspiring example. After following her son during his passion which included condemnation, flogging, and the burdensome carrying of the cross, she with a heavy heart and personal anguish remained resolutely at the foot of the cross watching her son suffer and then die. She enveloped him in her loving arms when he was taken down from the cross in preparation for his entombment. We honor her with among the many titles but in a very personal way as the Sorrowful Mother, as Our Lady of Hope. She assured us that it is okay to grieve. And she also demonstrated for us that the strength to endure comes with trusting in God: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me as God wills’.

For most of us in the midst of personal storms that is a hard commitment to sustain. I wonder whether I would have the steel of faith as did she, knowing that my challenges pale in comparison. She experienced the real Holy Saturday as she waited with the Apostles in the upper room and witnessed what trusting in God results in. With the resiliency of faith, she saw her son again after the resurrection. She received the ultimate reward for her faithfulness at the Assumption. From the cross Jesus gave her to us as our mother. In that role she today invites us to come to her in our sorrowful moments, as she carries our pleas for relief and mercy to her son.

Recently I was given a prayer card directed to Mary, Mother of Mental Peace. I have not been able with certainty to discover its origin. I have been told that it was probably written by a hospital chaplain, who surely from the nature of his ministry was Christ’s instrument during much sorrowing and fear. I do not know if it has been officially approved by the Church. However it has a beautiful and soothing message which seems appropriate for personal use in times of trial which often are not quickly resolved. Slightly edited it is printed here.

Like those flowering shrubs, with faith in God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit we can, while being a bit worn down by the mental and physical burdens that come to us all, raise our heads toward the Son knowing that God the Father created us and loves his creation, that God the Son became one with us and sacrificed himself for our redemption and remains our friend, and that God the Holy Spirit is always with us as our counselor, companion and protector, if we allow him into our hearts.

O Sorrowful Mother, Our Lady of Mental Peace, Our Lady of Hope, pray for us.

O Lady of Mental Peace,
Mother of Tranquility and
Mother of Hope,
look upon me in this time
of disquiet and weakness.
Still my restless spirit,
teach my searching heart to know
that God’s love for me
is unchanging and that (my) suffering
(can) draw me closer to Him.
Let your gentle peace and His —
which the world cannot give —
be always with me, that I may
be sanctified: and then:
I beseech (you)
for the grace to bring this
peace to others.
Jesus, My Savior, I give myself
entirely to (you) through Mary.
Our Lady of Mental Peace,
pray for me!

Bishop Swain's Column, July 2018