A family that prays together

Author: Josh Noem ’98, ’05MDiv

I have an ongoing email exchange with a doctor in Pittsburgh whom I’ve never met. Every once in a while, out of the blue, I receive a thank-you note from Kurt Weiss ’97.

“Just wanted to say thanks for the daily Gospel and reflections. I am a surgeon who looks after adults and children with cancer, and my days can get pretty lively pretty fast. It’s wonderful to start the day off with the Lord.”

Photo by Matt Cashore

I can’t fathom Kurt’s day — its pace or the content — but I’m encouraged by the reminder that we are both members of the Notre Dame family of faith, doing what we can to build God’s kingdom in our own corners of the world. One of the bonds that connects us is the website I’ve edited since 2012, FaithND.

Every morning, FaithND sends an email to more than 60,000 readers. They contain the day’s Gospel reading and a short reflection from Notre Dame students, alumni, faculty or staff members.

As editor, I get a front-row seat to witness the Spirit at work in the Notre Dame family, and it’s an incredible privilege. When a reader in Kenya responds to a reflection, I see the Spirit who created the world and re-created it in Jesus’ resurrection calling together small faith groups in Nairobi. When a widower comments on the Gospel, I see the Spirit who descended upon Jesus at his baptism (and on us at ours) supporting him in his grief. When the principal of a Catholic grade school reacts to the story of the saint of the day, I see the Spirit who erupted in flame and zeal among the disciples at Pentecost forming faithful children.

This is the same Spirit who helps a surgeon in Pittsburgh get through what might be the most difficult day his patients and their families could ever imagine. “I am operating at the children’s hospital today and will read the daily reflection before I start,” Kurt writes. “It’s so, so helpful!”

The Gospels record how God joined and changed the human story, and daily contact with that Word is bound to transform us. Every day, someone from this community of faith ponders the life and mission of Jesus together, and we hear how one among us is striving to be faithful to him. These stories — both from the Gospel and from the Notre Dame writers — feed us.

Our grappling with the Word reminds me of the Old Testament figure Jacob. As that story goes, an angel appeared to Jacob one night and wrestled with him until dawn. When the angel couldn’t subdue Jacob, he struck him in his hip socket, dislocating it. Angels can be sore losers.

Even though he was injured, Jacob refused to let go until the angel gave him a blessing. The angel asked Jacob his name, then said, “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”

The same thing happens to us when we contend with God’s Word every day. It’s powerful and beyond us, but if we cling to it and refuse to let go, it will impart a blessing. Even if we sometimes walk away limping, the encounter gives us a new identity. We move through our day as different people because this encounter works both ways: we break open God’s Word, and God’s Word breaks us open.

Somehow that breaking feeds us. This is the mystery of God’s love — it doesn’t just put the pieces back together. It changes us entirely so that we feed others.

The Gospel nourishes Kurt in the morning just as tangibly as a bowl of oatmeal. Without it, he’d be diminished by the demands of his day. His job gives him a front-row seat to witness suffering, but it doesn’t wear him down because of this mystery of breaking.

The Spirit feeds us with God’s Word, which is bread from heaven. When we break it open, and allow it to break us open, it takes on flesh upon which others feed.

Josh Noem is editor of the faith.nd.edu website, where you can make a Grotto prayer request, discover service and learning opportunities, and sign up for the Daily Gospel Reflection, which comes from the Notre Dame Alumni Association with no solicitations or obligations. You can also read the reflection Kurt Weiss wrote for the site in 2015 or explore others in the FaithND archive.