During my first visit to see our oldest son in his new home in Phoenix, in March 2020, a pandemic broke out. I’ll never forget the tensions on the airplane as passengers, just learning of canceled events at their destinations, wiped down seats and trays with sanitizing cloths, while on the ground toilet paper disappeared from grocery shelves.
Upon landing, our conversations turned serious quickly as we adjusted our itinerary, opting for outdoor activities. Restaurants were eerily empty and quick stops packed as people flocked for provisions.
Recently, my husband and I returned, only to learn, midway through, of a surprise attack in Israel, followed by a declaration of war. Once again, we were alert in Arizona.
Mass at St. Joan of Arc Church the evening of Oct. 7 did bring some solace. When I was there in 2020, I’d had to walk away from receiving Communion due to a long homily and not wanting to miss my flight home. We’d be denied the Eucharist for many months after. I welcomed that second chance, and was heartened to remember it was a special day for our faith tradition, the Feast of the Holy Rosary.
This visit, we delighted in sharing in our son’s life in the Southwest. But as before, our conversations turned from lighthearted laughter to more solemn sentiments as we sifted through the conflict in the Middle East.
My immediate concern was, and still is, for friends who’d recently arrived in Bethlehem on pilgrimage, only to be caught in a war zone. I was grateful to hear that Holy Cross Church in West Fargo organized perpetual prayer in their Adoration chapel for their safe return. As of this writing, some have arrived home, with the rest expected back over the weekend.
But the atrocities in the Middle East have been shattering, and we in the United States cannot ignore this centuries-old clash, as my recently-returned friends have reminded me. We are all intricately involved as a human family, and we will be called to respond in some way.
In the face of such a big and complicated situation, how we should do so will be challenging, but I’m trying to start with something reasonable: turning over the unknowns to God. Focusing on the divine can help re-center our souls.
Saint Teresa Margaret, an Italian Carmelite nun who died in 1770 at age 22, once wisely wrote that “External occupations merely serve as a further means of raising the mind to God,” offering, “It is enough to keep the outer doors closed, for then the heart and soul have no other place to go than into their center, where God is to be found.”
As the chaos in Jerusalem continues—and it seems unlikely to end anytime soon—we need frequent reminders that God will not let the horrors of war go unchecked forever. For in even the worst of situations, as St. Teresa said, “God is present and always working for our greater good.”
Thanks be to God.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 16, 2023.]