(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Outstretching Arms and Hands

How we use our hands to serve other people

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RaabLast year, I concelebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist next to an elderly priest confined to a wheelchair.

As we prayed the Lord’s Prayer, he outstretched his hands and arms. His gesture caught my attention, my heart. His furrowed brow revealed his ache to express his heart to God. He lifted his trembling hands; smooth palms open to the sky. His eyes focused upward. I felt his prayer in his aging body. I could feel his entire life longing to praise God in this ordinary way.

His praise and longing washed against my soul. I stumble now to articulate what I experienced. Words fall short of what I saw in this priest. His humble posture, moving only his hands and arms, and his facial expressions, overwhelmed me in the moment. I saw his communion with God. I felt it rise from the wheelchair.

He had been a missionary for many years. I also saw in this priest’s face a desire to lift up his people from the past. He spent his life among people who ached for God and for justice. I could feel his history of lifting up those who have been bowed down by poverty, lack of education, those who survived with only the basics of life.

I am confident that people in poverty roused in him the joy of praising God. I could feel joy in his quest for God’s love and mercy. Everything of his past sprang from his open palms. The wars, the violence of unanswered prayers, the births and deaths of his people and his struggles to serve in unexpected ways, rayed up to the Father’s will. His outstretched arms proclaimed once again that the kingdom of heaven is found here on earth.

We all long to find God’s mercy in this simple posture during the Lord’s Prayer. As priests, we desire the freedom of open-handed prayer. We may never capture what this priest could offer God. We all ache to bring everything to such a moment in the Eucharist. I now pray with deeper intention. I am more ready to give God everything and to offer my life and my life’s work in such a moment of praise and thanks, even on the most ordinary of days.

We close another liturgical year in November. This solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe reminds us that in the end, everything belongs to Christ Jesus. This year, we proclaim Matthew 25:31-46 on this solemnity. The Gospel invites us to reflect upon our salvation in light of how we have lived upon the earth. The measurement God uses to welcome us to kingdom life is how we use our hands to serve other people while we live on earth.

We offer food to others because we know Jesus resides within the hungry. We offer drink to the person on a journey because we capture a glimpse of Jesus within the person’s thirst. We welcome the stranger since we know the stranger brings to us a vision of the person we really seek, Jesus himself. We offer our clothing to those who are cold because even nakedness reveals our Master, the one we follow. The ill man tells the story of Jesus if we can listen attentively, so we care intently upon those who cannot care for themselves. The prisoner reveals to us our confinement, our hesitancy to believe, love and live in freedom. So, we visit and listen and pray.

Our life work and our prayer reveal our way to heaven. How we use our hands forms our path to eternity. We learn from people how to serve their needs. Such service and encounters with people show us how to ache for God’s action in humanity. Our service and our people will show up in our prayers when we are old and in need of healing. God’s mercy is in our open-handed prayer. God’s action within us changes everything.

What we do for the least, we do for Christ. These actions of love are revealed in our prayer, especially in our vulnerability. These actions of love soften our souls with tenderness since we have known many people who have borne pain and sorrow. We are not in control. We cannot change people’s suffering. When we serve people and the least, the love of God forms us to wait for the Kingdom while still on earth. Our service and prayer wait for us to raise our arms and hands even in our aging and weakness. 

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as religious superior at Holy Cross House, a medical facility and retirement home for the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana. Learn more at www.ronaldraab.com.

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