When visiting in other countries, it is polite and helpful to learn a few basic words and phrases in the local language. Yes and no, hello and farewell, please and thank-you, I would like…, what is the cost of…?, where is the bathroom? — these are just the bare beginning of what can be useful in another place.
Among the very first things we teach children who are learning to speak and to interact with their world is the importance of saying “please” and “thank-you.” If children ask for something without first saying “please,” we ask them, “What do you say when you want something?” and we won’t give them what they want until they say the “magic word.” And right after they get what they asked for, we ask them, “Now what do you say?” And of course, we expect the appropriate answer.
Please, then thank-you. This is the way we were taught to interact with each other as soon as we started to speak. So it is no surprise that this is how we relate to God. We ask for what we want, and then thank God for having received it. Yet, like small children, how frequently we forget the thank-you part when it comes to God! All of us fail from time to time in our expression of gratitude to God for the many signs of care and love we are given by the Lord. Perhaps we can be helped by looking at our relationship with God a bit differently than how we relate to one another.
With each other we ask before we thank; with God, we need to thank before we ask. We do this every time we celebrate Eucharist. Indeed, the very word Eucharist in the original Greek ευχαριστία means “thanksgiving.” So every Mass is Thanksgiving! And this model for our relationship with God and all God has done is rooted in this dynamic – we thank, then we ask.
In many African-American congregations, it is customary for the priest at Mass to ask of an elder or council of elders permission to begin worship or to preach to the assembly. It is a wonderful reminder that the leader of the prayer is first a servant of the community whose authority comes from the people to whom he is responsible. A form of that conversation between priest and congregation takes place at every Mass, right at the very beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. Before we sing the great Sanctus and kneel down for the extended prayer, there is a quick but crucial back-and-forth between the priest and congregation called the “Preface Dialogue.” This is the familiar and very brief three-part, six-line conversation that concludes with the priest saying, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which the people respond “It is right and just.” This little dialogue is, in fact, the very first section of the whole Eucharistic Prayer! Imagine, the highest form of prayer offered by the People of God begins with a conversation about what we are about to do.
Think of it as a kind of permission being asked by the priest. “Let us give thanks” is almost a kind of question. “Are we ready to give thanks?” It’s as if to say, hang on to your seats because we are about to do something awesome and eternal and powerful – are you all ready? The response of the people, “It is right and just,” is like saying, “Alright, let’s go! Let’s do this! It is the best and most right and proper thing we can imagine!”
But what if someone were to be hesitant, not so sure about whether they were ready to give thanks, or even worse – certain that they were in fact not very grateful at all? Would we really be having Eucharist then? What if that less-than-grateful person were you? Can your own ungratefulness become a heavyweight or obstacle to others as they stand before the God whose gracious goodness they are ready to praise?
Perhaps we are only accustomed to expressing gratitude only when everything seems to be going our way. I am healthy and have good friends, a comfortable home, regular meals, satisfying work, loving family, and some social status – thank you, Lord. But can I be grateful to God when I am ill, lonely, poorly sheltered, hungry, underemployed, orphaned, or marginalized? Again we turn to the Eucharistic prayers where, after the Preface proclaims the greatness of God in all that has been done for us and joins our prayers to the prayers of the entire cosmos, we plunge immediately into the sacred words which remind us that the Table of Plenty is also the Altar of Sacrifice. God’s generous abundance is revealed precisely by drawing into the eternal and ongoing mystery of the Paschal Mystery – a mystery of a God who suffers with us so as to draw our own suffering into the Divine Heart whose love is as deep as eternity.
Within this embrace, we are most closely united to each other and to God. We discover anew that the cause of our gratitude, our thanksgiving, our ευχαριστία is found precisely in our capacity to empty ourselves – or, more accurately, to invite God to empty us – into a compassionate sharing in the sufferings of others. This loving surrender to the mystery of God revealed in another, especially in others who are “not like us,” gives us reason to proclaim that Thanksgiving is always right and just!
On behalf of the US Franciscans, we wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve been a news junkie since the fourth grade, reading the daily newspaper Chicago’s American every afternoon after school, first because I liked the comics but later because I found other “comics” elsewhere in the paper. Later I learned that those other “comics” were actually political cartoons. This section of the paper was the editorial page, which I devoured. Some addictions actually do start when you are young.
I also started reading the Bible in the fourth grade, when Sister suggested we start with the Gospel according to Matthew. Sure, the Christmas story part was pretty familiar, but the stories about John the Baptist and Jesus in the desert seemed a little weird and hard to understand. Yet the stunning jolt in chapter five still gives me pause today as it did in 1967: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” From that time on I’ve been fascinated, indeed grasped by, the audacity of the preacher from Galilee.
The turmoil of the mid-1960s met the bold clarity of Jesus in the mind and heart of the little kid who ended up becoming the friar writing this now. Politics and religion, the two things Mom said we should never talk about in polite company, are still entwined passions. It’s amazing I still have friends.
A couple years before this personal epiphany, Time Magazine wrote the following tribute upon the retirement of one of the most famous Protestant theologians of the twentieth century, Karl Barth:
“Barth recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians to ‘take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’ Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church—in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him—either East or West. He should make it his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there peace on earth is implicit.’” (Time Magazine, May 31, 1963)
At that time the world was consumed by the danger of a polarized world, the East-West conflict between the Soviet Communist bloc and the United States. The hope that East and West could “live without a clash” seemed remote at best, if not impossible. Today we live in a world that is polarized again, although the fault lines are not as clear, and many wonder whether and how we can move forward in our Church and civil society “without a clash.” Perhaps it is still possible to disagree without necessarily questioning one’s intelligence, religious faith, or patriotism.
The word “politics” has taken on such a foul association with corruption and power that we forget the classical meaning from Greek and medieval Christian philosophy that considered politics as the means by which people seek out a common sense of meaning and make plans to attain the common good. As religious people, we believe God has given us in Jesus a clear sense of meaning and purpose, not just for ourselves but indeed for all people everywhere. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Beatitudes are an essential foundation to that vision and that the Christian vocation demands we propose that way of life in the public forum. Millennia of the faithful witness of saints and martyrs attest it is possible.
Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “The longest distance is the path from the head to the heart.” It means that we need to be as aware of our emotions as we are about our ideas. Lately, it seems that many of us are moved neither from the head nor the heart, but from the gut – where reside anger and fear. In the United States, we are in the heat of another voting cycle. Though many people simply tune out, that is not an option for a serious Christian. Too many of us lurch instinctively from urges deep in the bowels, not thinking before speaking and hurting others. It seems critical thinking skills are as necessary as they are sparse.
In the next few weeks we are once again being called to our hearts — not to some mushy and sentimental place, but the origin of our deepest desires. Instead of asking ourselves what we are afraid of (the gut tells us that), or what ideas we find convincing (the head), we need to be clear about what we love. If our love leads us anywhere else besides the Gospel, then before we cast a ballot we should pray for the blessings of the Beatitudes
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Lead all souls into heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.
The Lincoln Highway was the first roadway to cross the United States. Dedicated in October 1913, it ran between Times Square in New York City and Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Originally over 3,300 miles long, subsequent deviations eventually led it to span Atlantic City, N.J., in the east and Astoria, Oregon, in the west. Later most of the road became designated as US Route 30, and some parts of the route became Interstate 80. Much like the fabled Route 66, which was officially removed from the US highway system in 1985, a drive along the Lincoln Highway is to be impaled through layers of US history like being drilled through rings of a tree trunk.
On a recent driving vacation, I picked up Route 30 in Canton, Ohio, and headed east into Pennsylvania, abandoning the immense flatness of the Midwest and into the Allegheny Mountains through which European coastal folk labored before coming upon the plains that could only be called great. The straight flat eastbound road suddenly becomes winding and often slow, grasses are replaced with slender trees redolent of sweet cool pine, and little historical surprises leap from around corners – small old churches, clapboard or deep red brick; town squares with gabled county seats surrounded by law offices and bail bondsmen; abandoned rail crossings whose adjacent former terminals turned into brewpubs or flea markets; villages-become-towns built where the turn in the stream follows the edge of the mountain, and old couches on porches outnumber wheel-less rusting cars on the lawns.
Historical markers abound. (In Settler-X-town) “Here was where Settler-X, tired of the journey west, met a bride and settled to build a forge and raise a family. Having prospered with the railroads, Settler-X-town came upon its decline with the advent of the Interstate Highway system.” Or something like that. But just east of Pittsburgh a surprisingly new and deliberate marker leaps out, a reminder that history is not just from the 1700s and tri-corner hats. “Flight 93 National Memorial.” Yep. That flight 93.
A hard right turn off Route 30 in rural western Pennsylvania near Shanksville is a path quite different from Ground Zero in Manhattan and the Pentagon near D.C. The events of 9-11 were not only urban and proximate, they were also rural and remote. No subway takes you near there; you seek it out just for its own sake, or you stumble upon it. But there is nothing like it, near it. One goes there to be there, and only there, and not because it is close to a zillion other things to check out while you are there anyway.
We know the story (there was a movie) about flight UA93 from Newark to San Francisco: how it was hijacked westbound near the Pennsylvania/Ohio state line about a half hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York; how it banked radically east after passing Cleveland and dropped off radar; how some passengers, learning of the New York attacks, rushed the cockpit to subdue the hijackers and ditch the plane so that another unknown target might be spared; how the plane crashed in the remoteness of the mountains of southeastern Pennsylvania, instantly killing all aboard.
In Manhattan, sirens and traffic compete for one’s ear while entering the sanctuary of the site made holy by the death of thousands when the stricken World Trade Center collapsed – among whom was a beloved Franciscan brother, fire department chaplain Friar Mychal Judge OFM. But in Shanksville, there is no such competition for attention. Acres of wildflowers have overtaken the broad field not skitted along haphazardly but pierced deeply by a plummeting jet that dove straight into the rolling hills. Birds chirp and play, butterflies dance in the wind, breezes bend the grasses, even the few human whispers seem to float away. Nature has its way when left undisturbed.
Yet, it was disturbed. Nature was deeply disturbed.
Yes, the natural mountains had long been disturbed by the coal strip-mining that had denuded the landscape, prompting the government to mandate years ago the beginning of its restoration by the filling of its open sores, hoping that nature would restore what had been broken. Much is on its way. Perhaps a million years will complete the healing. And in this place, we seek not only the healing of nature abused by human greed but also the healing of seemingly everything abused by whatever is dark in the human soul.
These kinds of memorial sites can tend toward the macabre. Where exactly did this or that truly happen? What are the details? Which direction did the plane bank? Where did it hit? Where were the bodies? But there is also something ancient in wanting to remember details like this – the tea was thrown into this harbor; the battle was fought on this field; Saint Francis rebuilt this chapel; Jesus died on the cross on this hill.
And on this leisurely summer vacation drive, I am standing at this same place. Not then, but now.
The line of flight from the sky into the dark soft earth is marked by a cut in the new concrete walls that wrap the hills edging the valley of martyrdom. The “impact site” left behind the jet that hurdled at 536 mph nearly perpendicularly into the earth has long been cleared of debris, the largest of which measured only a few square feet. The original site had been marked only by the clear imprint of a jet plane as if a ghost had blasted an image upon crops or a wild field. Now, there is merely a field wildly reoccupied by grasses, flowers, and butterflies.
And a rock. A boulder, actually, a 17-ton boulder placed at the site where instant death of global importance happened in the middle of nowhere. The final site of one of the most complicated pieces of human design is marked by a simple rock. Busses of tourists disembark seeking one thing, and only one thing – Have you seen the rock? Nobody can leave until they have seen it. “There it is, Honey! Out there! See it? OK, now we can go back…” This boulder is an altar, the place where heaven and earth come together, where the mystery of God and the human mystery of self-sacrifice meet in an eternal silent embrace.
Instinctively I fingered at the rosary in my pocket as if it had called out to me for its grasp. What to do here but to pray the rhythmic and anonymous beads clutched nearly out of sight of passers-by? The challenge of which mysteries to pray here (Glorious) gave way to the stunning audacity of the prayer at the end of each mystery:
O my Jesus – Yes, all I can do is to sigh and call upon you, Jesus.
Forgive us our sins – Yes, I, too, am a sinner and I add to the sinfulness of the world.
Lead all souls into Heaven – Yes, I truly want all people to know your loving mercy.
Especially those most in need of Thy mercy – Wait a minute!
You mean, those? Lord, you cannot mean the terrorists on that plane? Can they be the ones most in need of Thy mercy? Am I actually right now praying for those guys, at this place? Is this what you mean by praying for our enemies? If I am praying for these guys, who else am I praying for, who might be most in need of Thy mercy? Racists? Abusers? Nazis? Yes, these, and more.
The most devotional of prayers, the rosary, challenges us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. One cannot clutch beads without bringing into prayer precisely those who we are least inclined to pray for. Reviewing the highway and pathways of our lives will reveal to us precisely those whom we need to lift into prayer, hoping and longing for the day when all will be reconciled with the God who brought everything into being.
The Rule of St. Francis, and the Declaration of Independence
Twenty-five years ago I was blessed by an unrepeatable adventure in Franciscan life: to help grow the new Franciscan presence at the United Nations by developing interest among Franciscan Friars around the world. What was at that time a budding dream, Franciscans International, has since become a well-respected presence among non-governmental organizations at the United Nations. But in those early years, there was concern that the initiative, which had a decidedly North American and Western European beginning, needed to embrace the worldwide Franciscan movement more deliberately. I had been ordained only two years prior; but my previous work in the planning phase, plus a Master’s degree and thesis on the topic, led to my being asked to take on this next phase.
The next three years were the most thrilling of my vocation! Almost everywhere I went, friars were intrigued and excited about the idea of advocating for the poor, for peace, and for the care of our creation within the halls of the one place where literally the whole world was somehow present. Of course, for me that meant a lot of travel – sometimes months at a time living out of a simple suitcase (which I still use!) crossing two or three continents at a time. Over the three-year assignment, I worked in 28 countries, always staying with friars who frequently lived among some truly poor people. The courageous example of the friars, especially those living close to people who struggled with the immediate effects of war and extreme poverty, is among the most deeply impressive things I have ever witnessed.
And with all that travel came the frequent experience of borders. National borders. The world was much different then – the Soviet Union had just left Central Europe, there was no Euro, Britain still possessed Hong Kong, and the US had no embassy in Vietnam. So I’ve crossed many different kinds of borders. Some crossings were as easy as barely waking up in the train crossing from Italy into Switzerland, groggily flashing a passport to a bored agent. Some were frightening, like the barbed wire and landmines still crossing the farm fields separating Austria and Slovakia, the swaying golden wheat completely uninterested in passports and visas. Stepping into Vietnam — only twenty years after the US left Saigon, nineteen years after I graduated high school, and still without US diplomatic relations – was singularly other-worldly. Crossing briefly into North Korea (yes, that North Korea) involved a trip to and through the DMZ, which is the most heavily fortified territory in the world; stepping into the “Truce Village of Panmunjom” where a small rectangular building straddled both sides of the border; walking around a simple wooden conference table where, on the “other side” a phalanx of uniformed soldiers beyond the windows snapped photos of our every move.
There were other borders as well, not defined by treaty or marked by war, but nonetheless just as real. There was a train track that separated the apartments of Mumbai (then, Bombay) from one of its largest slums, a slum where thousands lived in huts among pathways defined by open sewers. Airport customs lines entering countries of brown-skinned people had two kinds of lines: one for fellow brown-skinned people, whose baggage was searched beyond humiliation; and one for white businessmen (like me) who were whisked through with barely a glance. Basilicas have sacristies open to friar-priests but not to the laity. Old Jerusalem has streets set aside for Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Orthodox, and Catholics – and neighborhoods in cities like Chicago or Cleveland (or Mostar during the Balkan war) have streets that, if crossed, get you marked for gunfire.
So, I know borders.
Yet there is something about a border that is simultaneously forbidding and inviting. You know you are not from the other side, but you just wonder what might be there. Saint Francis of Assisi had this fluid relationship with borders. Unwilling to be confined to monastic walls, he sent his brothers in small groups wherever the Spirit would lead them – often with mixed results. Crossing the Alps from Italian to German-speaking lands got some friars in trouble with locals who thought they were heretics. Though their first foray into Islam led to martyrdom, yet later for Francis, it was an introduction to a most unusual friendship with a sultan during the Crusades. Indeed, the entire “world was his cloister” where the Order had extended from Italy and France to the British Isles, Slavic countries, Germania, the north African coast, and Palestine by the time Francis died.
Saint Francis also knew the other borders that were unofficial but ever so real. He was a rich kid who chose poverty; he came from an established family and chose to be a wanderer. He fed lepers and welcomed women into his new movement. He built a bridge between the mayor and the bishop, and he wouldn’t let his disabilities impede composing the first lyrical poem in the Italian Renaissance.
So, Saint Francis knew borders.
Maybe that is why he included for his friars this description in his Rule of Life from 1223: “As pilgrims and strangers in this world, let (the brothers) go seeking alms with confidence, and they should not be ashamed because, for our sakes, the Lord made Himself poor in this world.” The call to be pilgrims and strangers in this world led to Franciscan Friars accompanying Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to what he thought to be a new world. My first mentor in the Order, a long-time missionary in the Philippines, said to me while I was a much younger friar student, “Where is home for a friar? Everywhere, and nowhere.” Indeed.
For the next week in the United States, we will be celebrating Independence Day. As we prepare for the cookouts, the travel and the parades for the Fourth this year, borders (namely, our own national ones) are very much on the minds of just about anyone who has a TV or a smartphone. In addition to the official territorial borders, let’s also remember the many unofficial but deeply real personal, economic, cultural, racial, religious, and sexual borders as well. On this day when we celebrate one of our foundational documents as a nation, it is worth reading the whole Declaration of Independence.
Perhaps the lines we learned in eighth-grade civics class are still deep inside our heads: “When in the course of human events…” “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Etc. But the better part of the document lists the various explicit grievances that gave rise to the founding fathers taking this extraordinary step to which they would “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Would you be surprised to know that two of the references were to their status as immigrants? One of the grievances against the king was his “Obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners.” And in another place, “We have reminded them (our British brethren) of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here.” Yep, there it is. In the Declaration of Independence.
Until I take my last breath I will be grateful for the brotherhood that entrusted me with a unique mission to the world while I was still young and untested. Likewise, I am grateful to have been born in a country whose passport was, and so far still is, respected in every corner of the known world. International travel opens new horizons, challenges one’s view of one’s own country, and leads to a renewed and wiser love of one’s home. My country assured my safe passage literally around the world; my brotherhood let me embrace my wanderlust so that I could cross the unofficial human borders as well. The passport let me see the world, the brotherhood helped me to love it. Reasonable people exercising their best prudential judgment can disagree about particularities of immigration law. But no one who goes by the name Christian, let alone Franciscan, can allow themselves to be led to find an enemy in every face that looks at borders and longs for what is on the other side – especially when our side is life and peace, and their side is death and despair.
On this, our Christian tradition and true patriotism are not opposed at all.
Evil was visited upon me and almost everyone I loved fifteen years ago today, Saturday noon on Dec. 7, 2002. A much-beloved friend, mentor, pastor, housemate and brother was murdered with a handgun wielded by an angry young student friar whose life was unraveling. The arson of the rectory could conceal the crime for barely more than a day before (former) Friar Dan confessed to shooting Friar Willy in the chest and setting the fire.
My own life is measured by that moment like B.C. and A.D. splits the calendar. “In an instant, in the blink of an eye.” (1 Cor. 15:52) Everything, truly everything looks different before that and after that.
Each year at this time of year, the events of 2002 unfold in current time. It starts at the Feast of Christ the King when Dan, a student friar in formation, first learned of his upcoming transfer from our amazing and challenging ministry in urban Cleveland at St. Stanislaus Church. The faithful at St. Stanislaus were deeply committed to their Church and in love with the Franciscans who had served there more than a century. Although the need for the transfer had begun months before, when it was clear that Dan’s awkwardness and temper had been disturbing to school families and others he had encountered, the end of November and early December were really hard on everyone — uniquely hard on Dan, to be sure, and soon for all of us.
It is still hard on lots of us. Perhaps in prison, Dan thinks about these days and weeks in the same way. Perhaps not. But what happened, happened.
Just before lunch on the last day of a friar meeting in Wisconsin, the news burst forth frantically with a breathless phone call from Cleveland. That urgent and tear-filled phone call brought me right back to Ohio: “The rectory is on fire. We can’t find Friar Willy. Please get back home as soon as you can!” There was a fire at the rectory — the massive 1913 friary adjacent an even more massive historic Gothic church in the heart of a working-class community. Announcements about the fire interrupted CYO basketball in the neighborhood, news crews were on the spot, and Bishop Pilla canceled his appointments to be with the community. Friar Willy wasn’t answering his cell phone, and there were rumors of a body being found.
While in the airport in Milwaukee ready to board the next flight to Cleveland, a phone call from the bishop confirmed it: “The fire is out, I am in the rectory, and this place you had called home is destroyed. Be ready for that. And there is more – there is a body, and it is Friar Willy. I am standing right here. I am so sorry.”
Each detail of each moment of those days is etched in my memory in a way no other event before or since. Fifteen years is like yesterday. “There are also many other things…” (Jn 21:25)
One clarifying moment turned the whole thing around. The next morning, Sunday, I opened the church in the very early hours after not sleeping at all. The walk through the dark, cold, wet, and scorched rectory on a frigid December morning was a walk through a dead place. The dim lights in the tranquil space revealed an early visitor who came to pray and who asked a simple loving question. “How are you? We are so worried about you.”
That night I hadn’t slept at all, tossing around my bed in my room on the guest floor of the convent as I remained stuck in the awareness: I have nothing. Everything I own has been burned in the fire, I even had to ask parishioners to buy me new clean underclothes to wear for the weekend Masses. Willy is gone. My ministry as it had been, is gone. Everyone I love is hurt and changed. So I told her this, and said, “I have nothing.”
And from the compassionate and tender heart of this angel came these transformative three words: “You have us.”
Yes. I had the People of God with me. I had my family, the Friars, my friends, the Church. And I had Jesus. So I had everything.
That’s when I became a Franciscan.
Oh, I had made my vows years before and been faithful to my promises. But at that moment I was suddenly aware of what St. Francis meant when he called his brothers to live sine proprio, without anything of one’s own. From that time on I became deeply aware of the cloud of grace and prayer surrounding all of us from all over the world. It didn’t change the situation at all, but it assured me that I was not alone. Christ was with us in our suffering – he cried with us, he held us, he walked with us, and over time he revealed the strength of his cross and resurrection: strength that is revealed in brokenness, strength given to those who suffer, the strength of hope to those tempted to despair. And that presence spoke with the Great Lakes accent of the people of a hard-working city that still won’t give up.
Later I learned that Dan was mostly angry with me, and likely the bullet that took Willy’s life had been meant for me had I been home to take it. So I live without fear, having dodged a probable bullet, though I sometimes wonder what that final moment was like for my good friend Friar Willy. As he breathed his last, knowing he was close to the end, was he mad? Confused? Sad? When my own time comes to cross that threshold, this is the first thing I want to ask God. Until then I have to believe that Willy forgave Dan and that somehow in the divine communication he sees everything clearly. Dan’s heart, my heart, our hearts.
That second Sunday in Advent fifteen years ago we were given an unexpected Lent. The cross was imposed upon the wreath. We were challenged to light the brightest light from within our darkest darkness. Fifteen years and two assignments later I am a pastor again, closer to family and old friends. St. Stanislaus in Cleveland has lost the Franciscans (another, different pain) but is still a beacon of hope in a community that hasn’t lost its fight. They know tough.
And I know hope. It is the conviction that somehow the future is already held by God, even though we cannot see its contours or beyond its horizon. Because on the weekend of evil, I was also visited by immeasurable grace. Because I have experienced Easter after Good Friday. Because I have seen the “Light of the world.” (Mt. 5:14) I pray for Dan, whom I have forgiven though I doubt I can advocate his parole. I pray for an end to violence. I struggle to understand the allure of handguns, knowing first hand what easy access can do to a man and to a community. And I pray that the Prince of Peace will reign over the hearts of all – starting with mine.