Words Transform Us

This is the seventh and last part of our seven part Lenten Reflection series with the theme Lenten Tears of Conversion: A Season of Transformation. Listening to Pope Francis’ call at the US—Mexico border to “weep over injustice” and soften our hearts, members and friends of the community, including Columban Fathers, co-workers, interns, volunteers, and short-term missionaries, reflect on how God’s mercy has entered their heart and transformed them. This reflection is from Ruth Coyne, our former Ignatian Volunteer.

Pope Francis suggests that tears can be an important element for growth in compassion and a lens for helping us to see the need for justice in the world. This transformation is not vague or sentimental or fleeting, instead it leads to new freedom. Events can change our lives, words transform us.

Each of us may recall words that transformed us. Sometimes that change seems to be immediate and dramatic. We’ve all been inspired by Saints who have experienced substantial transformations: St. Paul, knocked from his horse, forced to respond to Christ's words, "Saul, why do you persecute me?", St. Augustine, turning from his wanton and worldly ways, or St. Ignatius of Loyola, wounded and with time to reflect upon his life as a macho nobleman.  

Most stories of profound change are less dramatic, and tell of transformation that took time to flower. Pope Francis has frequently referred to tears as an important dimension of transformation:

  • In April 2013, Pope Francis said during a mass at his residence, "Sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus" (April 14, 2013).
  • On his visit to the Philippines in January, 2015, he said, "Only when the heart is able to ask a question and weep can we understand something."
  • On his recent visit to the U.S.-Mexico border he reminded us to, "Weep over injustice."

The words that changed my life happened when I was in college at a Catholic university. I was young, an undergraduate student studying Political Science, carrying twenty-one credit-hours, working part-time in the university library. I was troubled about something.

In both my close and extended families some people held grudges, or refused to speak to one another. I think there's an explanation, a story of immigrants and hard times, expectations and hope. On this particular day, I don’t know what I was looking for, but I walked down stone steps and explained my situation to the priest who was the campus minister.

What did the priest say to me that made such a difference? After I explained my situation as best I could, the priest said, "Pray for him." I drew in my breath. Immediately, the priest added the saving words, "Not for what it will do for him...but for what it will do for you." 

In our brief encounter a part of me was given new life. It didn't feel like it at the time though.  All seemed bleak. I was in tears.

That very day, I reluctantly began to pray, and I prayed every day, three or four words spit out through clenched teeth. It got easier. There was no magic, no miracle, and no immediate change. The openness hewn by prayer made room in me.

My formal studies, along with prayer, led me to a deepened awareness of the needs of other people. I had not known I needed that, and yet my prayer was answered seven-fold.

Weekly Reflections on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.