2023 Day of Judaism and Christian Unity Week

Christian Unity Week

Christians have been joining together for an octave of ecumenical prayer (January 18-25) for 115 years. This observance seeks the fullness of unity in Jesus’ prayer:

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21, New American Bible)

This tradition of praying for peace and harmony, once referred to as the Church Unity Octave (eight days) and now called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was established in January 1908 by Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement in Graymoor, NY. Over the years, it has flourished into global observance by people of all denominations throughout the world.

The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute’s, “Brief History of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, 2020,” provides an excellent outline of the historical development of the prayer for unity. Refer also to my 30-minute interviews “Prayer for Christian Unity in the Context of Christian Unity Week” with Monsignor John A. Radano and “Christian Ecumenism and the Society of the Atonement” with Sister Lorilei Fuchs, SA, of blessed memory.

In the 1990s, the Bishops of Italy in partnership with leaders of the Jewish community promoted a “Day of Judaism” for January 17th on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Bishops of Poland, Austria and other European countries have adopted similar annual days of Christian-Jewish reflections with variations.

A liturgical day of remembrance, the “Day of Judaism” reminds all Christians to explore the roots of Christianity in its Jewish matrix and to value the enduring significance of Judaism and its Sacred Scriptures. This reflection on the Biblical heritage that we share with the Jewish people is an ideal way to inaugurate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The theme for the 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Do good; seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17) and this year’s texts for use each day was prepared by the Minnesota Council of Churches.

“The context from which these materials were first drafted is the aftermath of the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd and the trial of the police officer responsible for his death. As the Christian communities of Minnesota sought to respond to the anguish of these events they also recognised their own historical complicity in perpetuating divisions which have contributed to racial injustice. The Church is called to be the sign and instrument of the unity God desires for the whole of His creation (cf. Lumen gentium, 1) but the division between Christians weakens the Church’s effectiveness. Christians must repent of their divisions and work together in order to be a source of reconciliation and unity in the world.” (“Texts for 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” The Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity)

The suggestions for each day of the week of prayer are available on the website of the Friars of Atonement at https://www.atonementfriars.org/2023-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/.

May these days of interfaith and ecumenical prayer and reflection lead us to implement just deeds that effect peaceful relations throughout our world!

English Hymns in the Divine Office

The long tradition of common prayer in the monasteries of western Europe is based on the recitation of the 150 psalms at precise times of the day over the course of the week. The times for morning and early evening prayer drew upon the Jewish tradition for people to unite their intentions with the times when sacrifices were offered in the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed, this Jewish use of psalms and other prayers each day became “the sacrifice of the lips.” In this way the Pharisee tradition continued the practice of linking the time of prayer to the time of the Temple service.

In the Church the reference in Psalm 119:164 (“Seven times a day I praise you because your edicts are just”) became the ideal for the monks to decide the number of the “hours,” i.e., the times for daily prayer, in addition to the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Over the centuries the Church of the Roman rite introduced Latin hymns to introduce each of the “Hours.” After the Second Vatican Council the Hours may be celebrated in the vernacular language. Some hymns have been translated into English but a wide selection of more modern hymns in English allow for choices on the part of each community.

The Rev. Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) was a British Methodist minister who wrote many hymns. The one I’ve chosen is assigned to Vespers or Evening Prayer in the Catholic Divine Office but it would be appropriate for morning as well. Here are three stanzas of this prayer:

For the fruits of his creation,
Thanks be to God;
For the gifts of every nation,
Thanks be to God;
For the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while men are sleeping,
Future needs in earth’s safekeeping,
Thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labor,
God’s will be done;
In the help we give our neighbor,
God’s will is done;
In our world-wise task of caring
For the hungry and despairing,
In the harvests men are sharing,
God’s will is done.

For the harvests of his spirit,
Thanks be to God;
For the good all men inherit,
Thanks be to God;
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all, that love has found us,
Thanks be to God.

Human industry and ingenuity have enhanced the productivity of God’s creation, a responsibility in the human vocation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). Farmers use the machines of several inventors to increase the produce of areas that are cultivated. The phrase “Silent growth while men are sleeping” points to the parable of Mark 4:26-29:

26 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 And when the grain is ripe, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (New American Bible)

A century ago, scientists developed a type of wheat that could come to harvest within three months, the short growing season in western Canada. Rotation of crops has led to increased and varied productivity. For these contributions of human ingenuity we are grateful!  Are the products of the fields reaching those who are hungry? The work of farmers must be channeled to places of great need.

Gratitude to God in the first stanza is balanced by the emphasis on human labor in the second. Workers in the field or vineyard deserve a living wage. Justice for the worker is an expression of God’s will, already emphasized in the Torah, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Farmers realize the importance of good relations with their neighbors. An old farmer once told me of a situation of misunderstanding with his neighbor that had perdured for some time. While he was away a fire in his barn was extinguished by the neighbor. In gratitude, he overcame the problem that had caused tension. “We can choose our friends from afar but we must cultivate a true friendship with our neighbors.”

The poet’s focus moves to the human needs in far-off places – these involve the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy: “the hungry and despairing.” There are but one example in each category.

Lists of Jewish Sources

  1. Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
  2. Clothe the naked
  3. Visit the sick
  4. Bury the dead and comfort the mourners
  5. Redeem the captive
  6. Educate the orphan and shelter the homeless
  7. Provide dowries for poor maidens

Spiritual works of mercy complement the list of “corporal works” given in Matthew 25:31-46

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish sinners (see Matthew 18:15)
  4. Bear wrongs patiently (see Matthew 6:14)
  5. Forgive offenses
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead.

Share the abundance of the harvest with those who are less fortunate. Laws of Deut 15:7-11 exemplify care for the poor which offer guidance for modern communities.

The final stanza of Pratt Green’s poem draws attention to the benefits of the spiritual order.

“The good that all men inherit”-  private property is a right limited by the call to advance the common good, which should be a heritage shared by all.

Wonder is an act of appreciation for the beautiful surprises of life. “The wonders that astound us” provoke a sense of awe on the part of creatures living in the presence of God.

“The truths that still confound us” – we examine our conscience with regard to limitations that we in a society place on relationships, beginning with God and embracing neighbor as an equal to self and extending to the natural world at large.

“Love has found us” – the love of God transforms our lives even before we begin to realize the multitude of gifts that are signs of God’s loving presence.

Another hymn taken into the Divine Office that celebrates the human response to divine blessings is by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), a Nonconformist hymnwriter who was the pastor of the Independent Congregation, Mark Lane in London from 1702-1712.  Frail health dogged him for many years, but he produced texts that resonate well, even today for people with a poetic sense.

I sing the mighty power of God,
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command,
and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word,
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below,
but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be,
Thou, God art present there.

Seafarers and Their Families

Prayer printed after the Message of His Eminence Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson on the occasion of Sea Sunday, July 12, 2020.

Do we who enjoy the use of goods from distant lands think of the ways in which they come to our stores? How many hands are involved in the sea vessels that transport many of the things we purchase? People who have enjoyed a cruise have noted that many of the staff on the ships are on the sea for months at a time, living in crowded conditions and dependent of tips for a supplement to their wages, which they send to their families.

We may think that the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with our daily lives, but many people are truly in dire situations. The New York Times recently provided insight into what they are facing in “They Crossed Oceans to Lift Their Families Out of Poverty. Now, They Need Help.”

The Catholic Church and other faith communities have shown a great concern for sailors and those who work on ships. The Second Sunday of July is “Sea Sunday” throughout Catholic communities. This year Peter Cardinal Turkson, Prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, has addressed the situation of all those whose ordinary rhythm of months at sea and an annual visit to their homeland have faced unprecedented trials. His message and prayer are available on the Vatican website here.

One of the ancient titles for the Mother of Jesus is “Stella Maris, Star of the Sea.” The prayer printed after the address points to the many dangers that the poor face in their daily lives, especially in this time. Besides our prayers, are there ways we can help?

The Events of Jesus’ Passion and the Divine Office

Seven times a day I praise you because your edicts are just (Psalm 119:164)

In the Biblical tradition the number seven symbolizes completeness. Each day sacrifice of a year-old lamb (plus flour, oil and wine) was offered in morning and late afternoon for the forgiveness of sins. Christians followed the Jewish practice of praying at the time of these sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. In Egypt and the Holy Land hermits and monks prayed the Psalms and Canticles throughout the day. In Italy St. Benedict (480?-550) organized those texts into a weekly cycle. This Divine Office, called Opus Dei (the work of God) was spread over the entire day, in seven “Hours” for the community to gather in worship. This begins in the very early morning (Matins), followed by Lauds (Praise), then Prime (6 a.m.) followed by the “Little Hours” (Terce, Sext and None) at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Vespers came in the late afternoon and Compline was the night prayer. The Gospel texts for Lauds (Luke 1:68-79 by Zechariah), Vespers (1:46-55 by Mary) and Compline (2:29-32 by Simeon) are the Lucan hymns, with the Canticle of the Angels (2:14 expanded) on Sunday and feast days.

After the Second Vatican Council, there came a major change in the Divine Office of the Roman Rite. The Psalms are recited on a four week cycle and people may choose one of the “Little Hours” rather than all three. This is an acknowledgement that the diocesan clergy need not be held to the ideals of the monastic community.

Christian piety began early to develop a deep sense of devotion to the suffering and death of Jesus (see Galatians 2:19-21; 6:14; 1 Peter 2:21-25). Thus, Friday was a day of fast and abstinence from meat (see Mark 2:20). Every Sunday was “the Lord’s Day (Dies Dominica),” celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week.

The hymns for the “Little Hours” commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit at the third hour (9 a.m.; see Acts 2:15) and the time Jesus spent on the cross, when darkness covered the land from the sixth to the ninth hour (Mark 15:33 and parallels). Tradition-ally the special Liturgy on Good Friday begins at 3 p.m. In many places from noon to 3 p.m. the Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross are the subject of a communal meditation, with homilies and sacred music, the latter composed by renowned European musicians.

In addition to the Liturgy, Christians developed many practices to cultivate their devotion to the work of salvation accomplished by Jesus. Pilgrimage to the Holy Land began in the second century, with a focus on Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Repentance for sins led to forgiveness as God’s gift through the sacrifice of Jesus. The Way of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary were prayers of the laity to meditate on the events of Jesus’ life.

The Benedictine Pope St. Gregory I (Pope from 590-604) is credited with prayers that link the Seven Hours of the Divine Office with the stages of the Passion (see below).  Note the last line of verse one: The reference to Jews should be limited to the Priestly leaders and those who followed them, not to all Jews then alive, nor to Jews of later times (Vatican Council II, Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate of October 28, 1965). Another prayer from the same manuscript addresses Jesus through the five wounds of the crucifixion. Thus, did Christian unite the passing hours of each day with the “Hour” of Jesus in the Paschal Mystery of his death-and-resurrection.

The Death of Jesus

Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Anthony van Dyck / Public domain

The Gospel for the Passion (Palm) Sunday for Year A of the three year cycle of Sunday readings is from Matthew. The dramatic proclamation of the Passion Narrative evokes the profound realization in the congregation: our faith emphasizes that Jesus died for our sins and rose for us to be brought into right order with God the Father (see Romans 4:25; Corinthians 15:3-5).

In the Good Friday service, each Christian is invited to adore Jesus as the crucified Lord, again recalling that he died for our sins. The traditional chant during this ceremony was the “Reproaches,” often misinterpreted by the commentators to be an indictment of the Jews. Indeed, the choir sings the verses in biblical terms but the choir’s response to each verse concludes, “Have mercy on us.” See my and J.F. Henderson’s essay in The Liturgy of the Medieval Church (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005) p. 187-214.  The comment of Bishop William Durand (1230-1296) on the Palm Sunday liturgy shows the true Christian approach to the liturgical commemoration of the sufferings of Jesus:

We must rejoice concerning the fruit of his Passion, and suffer with him, because he suffered for us.  We rejoice, therefore, of the love which he showed for us on the cross, and we are sad because of our sins, which are so many, on account of which the Son of God had to suffer. (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum VI.37.11)

Extending the liturgical experience of divine forgiveness, various practices and devotions developed over the centuries to reinforce our sense of gratitude for the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death-and-resurrection. However, even here the anti-Jewish prejudices might be asserted. When in Copenhagen overnight in 2006, I was surprised to hear Angelus bells early in the next morning. I found the Sacred Heart church nearby and paid a visit. The Stations of the Cross were painted very nicely with a feature that I hope was never found elsewhere. In the corner of the first station, Jesus being condemned by Pontius Pilate, was a figure with a scroll. The words in Latin were visible: “Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros – His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matthew 27:25). A small version of the same person holding the scroll was incorporated into each of the next 13 stations. What a distortion of the pious purpose of this substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem!

I wish to draw attention to the recent commentary on Matthew’s Gospel by Father Brendan Byrne, S.J.  This quotation is taken from the Paulist Biblical Commentary (Paulist Press, 2018) p. 967:

No single verse in Matthew’s Gospel needs more careful consideration than the cry of “the whole people” in verse 25.  There is no need to labor the injury it has caused to Jewish people since the earliest times.  Where Matthew has previously referred to the “crowd(s)” (ochlos [oi] [27:15, 20, 24]), at this point he writes “the whole people” (pas ho laos), a term principally used in the Gospel (albeit mostly in scriptural quotations) of the nation (of Israel) as a whole (1:21; 2:6; 4:16, 23; 13:15; 15:18), though often in the stock phrases “scribes/elders of the people” (2:4; 21:23; 26:3, 47; 27:1).  It is by no means clear, however, that “people” (laos) in verse 25 refers to the nation as a whole, let alone Jewish people for all time.  Since Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem there has been a distinction between the crowds who accompanied him and the people of Jerusalem itself (see 21:8-11), Jerusalem that he has already characterized as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (23:37).  It is likely, then, that “people” here refers specifically to the populace of Jerusalem.

Likewise, the final phrase, “and on our children,” is to be interpreted strictly.  Along with Luke (23:27-31) and the author of the Fourth Gospel (11:47-48), Matthew sees the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and burning of the temple in 70 CE as divine punishment for the city’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah.  The generation that would be alive to suffer these events would be precisely the “children” of those who had accepted responsibility for Jesus’ blood some forty years before.  It is to this generation, then- and to no other beyond it- that the phrase “and on our children” refers.  The text provides no justification for a “blood guilt” passed on down subsequent generations within the whole of Judaism.

I thank him for this succinct and pertinent interpretation of the passage that has been the basis of accusations against the Jewish people of later times. Rather, we should recall the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The Church always held and continues to hold that Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death  because of the sins of all people, so that all might attain salvation” (Declaration of the Church’s Relations to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra aetate 4).

Prayer for Christian Unity

For more than a century Christians have fostered a week of prayer (January 18-25) for the peace and harmony that responds in an ever deepening way to the prayer of Jesus. “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21, New American Bible).

This year the texts for use each day were prepared by Christians of Malta. Appropriately they draw upon the experience of St. Paul whose voyage from Caesarea to Rome was interrupted by shipwreck near Malta. Fittingly, the document quotes the statement, “The natives showed us extraordinary hospitality” (Acts 28:2, New American Bible). The various dimensions of hospitality are explored during the meditations and prayers for each day.

The suggestions for each day of the week of prayer are available on the website of the Friars of Atonement at www.atonementfriars.org/2020-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/.

Many years ago, in collaboration with leaders of the Jewish community, the Bishops of Italy promoted a “Day of Judaism” for January 17th each year, with a theme rooted in the Sacred Scriptures. This has been followed, with variations by the Bishops of Poland, Austria and other European countries. Over the decades there has been an enriching exchange among scholars of the Jewish community with Christians. The “Day of Judaism” complements these important initiatives with educational themes that are intended to reach parishioners in the Catholic churches of these nations. May both types of experience be multiplied!  In the meantime Christians are challenged to deepen and broaden their search to explore the roots of Christianity in its Jewish matrix.

Third Sunday of Advent: Custody of the Senses

Saint Augustine of Hippo by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510)

Among the themes from the prophet Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11 in the Scripture readings for this Sunday is the ministry of healing as part of Messianic hope expressed in the ministry of Jesus. In my homily I touched on the ways that the Christian tradition has extended the work of Jesus throughout the ages and in virtually all parts of the world. Think of the hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and programs for people who are disabled as an extension of the healing hand of Jesus over the centuries. This present reflection develops another challenge of the Gospel for our time.

We very carefully strive to care physically for our five senses, especially sight and hearing. The Hebrew idiom protect “the pupil of the eye” (mistranslated by the phrase “the apple of the eye”) expresses how God protects his people from danger (see Zachariah 2:8, Revised Standard Version; 2:12 New American Bible).

The urgent moral and spiritual challenge to which I draw attention is to examine the way we use our senses, especially sight and hearing. These instruments of all that we learn should be guarded so that we avoid the near occasions of sin. I’m sure that parents are guiding their children in regard to the discipline that must be exercised so that their eyes and ears are not overwhelmed through exploitation by wicked merchants of immorality.  It seems that great advances in communication over recent years are being exploited much more rapidly than legal measures are enacted to preserve children from influences that attack our human dignity and that of the most vulnerable among us.  Parenthood has always been challenging, but now we need to be even more alert to dangers that may intrude surreptitiously into our homes or other places where children have access to the internet. May the Holy Family protect us!

As part of a beautiful prayer, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) placed the five senses in the context of the way God brought him to faith:

You were with me, but I was not with you…You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for
you.  I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burn for your peace. (Confessions, Book VII. 10.27)

The Book of Life (Exodus 32:33)

Robert W. Service circa 1905

Robert W. Service (1874-1958) was an Englishman who wandered widely and penned rollicking ballads of the Yukon gold rush days and poignant poems of the trenches of the First World War. He never claimed to be a poet. “I’m a rhymer,” he said, and yet his stories give evidence of a solid education and, at times, hints of his Christian faith

In May 1914 he described the beginning of each day as a clean page in the Book of Life. What we make of any given day will be seen on Judgment Day. The second stanza expresses the desire to re-write certain pages, and the third is a prayer for divine guidance so that his bearing reflects God’s image so that every day may be golden.

Another day of toil and strife,
Another page so white,
Within that fateful Log of Life
That I and all must write;
Another page without a stain
To make of as I may,
That done, I shall not see again
Until the Judgment Day.

Ah, could I, could I backward turn
The pages of that Book,
How often would I blench and burn!
How often loathe to look!
What pages would be meanly scrolled;
What smeared as if with mud;
A few, maybe, might gleam like gold,
Some scarlet seem as blood.

O Record grave, God guide my hand
And make me worthy be,
Since what I write to-day shall stand
To all eternity;
Aye, teach me, Lord of Life, I pray,
As I salute the sun,
To bear myself that every day
May be a Golden One.

Collected Poems of Robert Service (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921) p. 454

Yom Kippur and Christian Liturgy

During a discussion among medievalists on prayer, I mentioned the ember days in the Church’s liturgy. Middle-aged participants asked: “What are ember days?”

My friend Frank Henderson and I gave some attention to the topic in “Jews and Judaism in the Medieval Latin Liturgy” (see p. 191-92).

In the proceedings of a conference The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, edited by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra offers a wide-ranging study, “Whose Fast Is It? The Ember Day of September and Yom Kippur” (pp. 259-82 with charts of the Biblical readings in the Roman rite). He introduces his essay with a quotation from Pope St. Leo I (the Great), who reigned from A.D. 440-461:

Confidently encouraging you with fatherly counsels, dearly beloved, we preach the fast dedicated in the seventh month to the exercises of common devotion, sure that what was first the Jewish fast will become Christian by your observance. (Sermon 90:1)

Did this fast merely recall Zechariah’s mention of four times of fasting (7:5; 8:18-19), developing independently of contemporary Jewish practices in Rome?  Dr. Ben Ezra responds:

Particularly in light of Leo’s familiarity with contemporary Judaism and his references to the fast as part of the Jewish heritage of the church, the theory of a completely independent development of these Christian and Jewish readings seems highly unlikely. Competition with and influence from the Jewish Yom Kippur plausibly explains the dominance of Old Testament readings and the focus on repentance and propitiation.

Because detailed sources for Jewish practices in Rome in the fifth century are not available, Dr. Ben Ezra’s conclusion is tentative, but it seems that non-polemical contacts allowed for Christians in Rome to learn from and adapt the Jewish practices of fasting. In the modern period we can learn from each other, and Christians should learn from the Jewish background to Matthew 5:1-18 how prayer, fasting and alms-giving reinforce each other.

Hunger as a Challenge for All

A farmer at work in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

The specter of starvation must be a horror beyond the imagination of those who are assured of ample food each day. We cannot be ignorant of this dimension of the burdens caused by poverty in so many parts of the world. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services  describe the urgent needs of so many in various parts of the world. The current and ongoing challenge was presented by Pope Francis in his Message for the World Food Day 2018.

The prophet Amos presented an even graver situation for the people of ancient Israel:

Yes, days are coming, says the Lord God
When I will send famine upon the land:
Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water,
But for hearing the word of the Lord.
Then shall they wander from sea to sea
And rove from the north to the east
In search of the word of the Lord,
But they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)

The Sacred Scriptures provide spiritual nourishment in abundance for people of faith.  Besides the Word of God as the foundation of the Church’s prayer, the Divine Office in English translation offers poetry and prose that manifest the way God’s Word is integrated into the lives of the faithful. Besides the classical poems of Latin and Greek, we savor how the English language is a vehicle of prayer. On Wednesday evening of the First Week of the four week cycle instituted after the Second Vatican Council, the introductory hymn reads:

O Father, whose creating hand
Brings harvest from the fruitful land,
Your providence we gladly own,
And bring our hymns before your throne
To praise you for the living Bread
On which our lives are daily fed.

O Lord, who in the desert fed
The hungry thousands in their need,
Where want and famine still abound
Let your relieving love be found,
And in your name may we supply
Your hungry children when they cry.

O Spirit, your revealing light
Has led our questing souls aright;
Source of our science, you have taught
The marvels human minds have wrought,
So that the barren deserts yield
The bounty by your love revealed.

From the Christian perspective, the ultimate human vocation is to give adoration and praise to God the Father through the Son and in the unity effected by the Holy Spirit.  We “own” or acknowledge that divine providence is the continuation of the divine act of creation. For Christians the food that sustains our bodily life prepares us for the Bread of Life (see John 6:48-58), the medicine of immortality.

The miracles of Jesus multiplying loaves and fish provide an example for his followers to act in his Name to attend to the hungry, especially among children, in our time. Our feeble efforts are placed within the context of prayer because it is God’s mercy that brings a solution to people’s true needs.

The Holy Spirit guides both the prayers of petition and the deeds of the faithful. “Source of our science” reminds us of Hannah’s hymn (1 Samuel 2:3) where the phrase “Deus scientiarum Dominus (An all-knowing God is the LORD)” became the motto of the University of Ottawa. The unifying spirit of all Christian universities should be expressed in the ordering of all knowledge to the service of our neighbor as the expression of a theocentric vision. May the human quest for knowledge be guided by the divine gift of wisdom so that our choices may bring a yield that truly serves human needs while respecting the way in which all creation is in the service of God. “For the elements, in variable harmony among themselves, like the strings of the harp, produce new melody, while the flow of music steadily persists” (Wisdom of Solomon 19:18).

The hymn’s text written by the Methodist Donald Wynn Hughes (1911-1967), the Headmaster of Rydal School in Wales, evokes at the closing of a day the sentiments of prayer guiding a life of service. It is sung to music by Erik Routley (1917 – 1982).