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Last evening the Hanover Saint express made its way to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Bear to be with activist and author Sister Helen Prejean.  She captivated the congregation with the story of her journey from a privileged girl raised in the comfortable suburbs of New Orleans to the world’s best known advocate for ending the death penalty, while living and working in one of the most challenged neighborhoods in the very city she was shielded from as a child.  She held our hearts in her hands as she invited us to walk with her, accompanying death row prisoners to their execution.

Of the deepest struggles she experienced, none was more difficult than learning to offer comfort and companionship to those on both sides of a crime: the perpetrators and the families of victims.

In the darkest moment of her struggle Sr. Prejean turned to the Cross (a crucifix for Catholics).  While praying and meditating she noticed something for the first time: that Christ’s arms are spread wide in two directions.  She suddenly realized those arms were reaching out to – and for – the criminals being executed on either side of him.

Her revelation was this: Jesus spreads his arms wide to comfort all who suffer; those who have been pronounced “guilty” as much as any.  More importantly, Christ puts himself in the middle, at the dead center of earthly suffering.  Through Christ – on the cross – she received her answer: to be like Christ is to put oneself at the center of suffering, reaching out with arms full of love and grace open to those on all sides.

How many of the world’s conflicts are created and sustained because we worship a one-armed Christ: believing the compassion of Christ extends in only one direction (usually ours)?  And how much pain and grief has been relieved when followers of Christ have placed themselves in the middle of earthly suffering with arms open and filled with compassion?

Peace,
Andy
www.hanoverchurch.org
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