Our 14-year-old dog Abbey died last month. The day after she passed away my 4-year-old daughter Mandy was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought that we could, so she dictated these words:
Will you please take care of my dog? Abbey died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much.
I ‘m happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.
I hope you will play with her. She likes to swim and play with balls.
I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog.
I really miss her.
We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey & Mandy, addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Mandy pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office.
A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.
Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, ‘To Mandy’ in an unfamiliar hand. Mandy opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies.’ Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Mandy and this note:
Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help and I recognized her right away.
Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog.
Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in so I’m sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.
Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you.
I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.
By the way, I’m easy to find. I am wherever there is love.
In Him alone is our hope
In Him alone is our strength
In Him alone are we justified
In Him alone are we saved
What have we to offer
That does not fade or wither
Can the world ever satisfy
The emptiness in our hearts
In vain we deny
When will you cease running
In search of hollow meaning
Let His love feed the hunger
In your soul till it overflows
With joy you yearn to know
In Him alone is our hope
Unto Him I pour out my heart
He alone will save me
With His love and mercy.
Speaking in Australia, an Iraqi prelate discussed his plans to open a Catholic university in October.
The university will be located in Erbil, a city of 1.5 million that is capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, an Australian diocesan newspaper reported.
The founding of the university, said Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, is “a way of fighting back against Daesh [the Islamic State] and saying we [Christians] are not going to go away.”
The university “will embrace our Christian and Yazidi young men and women who were forcefully displaced from their areas and homes in the Plain of Nienveh in Mosul,” he added. “The university will also open its doors wide for Muslims who would learn side by side with Christians and Yazedis with an aim to shape a new and promising future for Iraq and the region.”
The New York Times has published a lengthy story on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“The front line against ISIS in Northern Iraq is marked by an earthen berm that runs for hundreds of miles over the Nineveh Plain,” the paper reported. “A string of Christian towns now stands empty, and the Kurdish forces occupy what, for thousands of years, was Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac land … Even if ISIS is defeated, the fate of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq remains bleak.”
The article’s analysis includes criticisms of both the Bush and Obama administrations:
In 2007, when Al Qaeda was kidnapping and killing priests in Mosul, Nina Shea, who was then a U.S. commissioner for religious freedom, says she approached the secretary of state at the time, Condoleezza Rice, who told her the United States didn’t intervene in ‘‘sectarian’’ issues …
More recently, the White House has been criticized for eschewing the term ‘‘Christian’’ altogether … When ISIS massacred Egyptian Copts in Libya this winter, the State Department came under fire for referring to the victims merely as ‘‘Egyptian citizens.’’ Daniel Philpott, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, says, ‘‘When ISIS is no longer said to have religious motivations nor the minorities it attacks to have religious identities, the Obama administration’s caution about religion becomes excessive.’’
A 16-year-old Coptic Christian was detained in Alexandria, Egypt, on July 13 after he distributed bags of dates to Muslims who were about to conclude their Ramadan fast, according to an Egyptian media report.
The bags included a slip of paper with an evangelizing message and a link to a Christian website.
Two of his friends were also detained after visiting him in the police station, and all were released after posting bail, according to the report, which appeared in the online newspaper Mada Masr.
The 16-year-old faces up to five years of imprisonment on charges of “defamation of religions and being in pursuit of a modern recourse to evangelism aimed at drawing in Muslims,” according to World Watch Monitor, which reports on the persecution of Christians.
If we could foresee the hardships that lay ahead of us on our paths of service in the kingdom of God, we’d come up with good excuses not to do it. (Hey, we do that already, just by imagining possible hardships! No wonder there are so many of us who do so little ministry or volunteer services or fighting against injustices.)
As we see in (Acts 20: 17-27), St. Paul knew that going to Jerusalem would mean “chains and hardships.” So why did he go? Wouldn’t he be just as useful to the Lord if he stayed where he was accepted and appreciated?
Back in 1996, during prayer as I was praising God for the Good News Evangelization School that we were holding in my parish, I felt God ask me, “Are you willing to suffer to become a better minister for my kingdom?” I wrestled with him over that question until he reminded me: “I’m safe. Trust me.” And thus began a series of chains and hardships that have not yet ended. And I am very grateful for them all, thanks be to the Holy Spirit for continually helping me learn from them and by sharing what I’ve learned.
St. Paul trusted God, even while he knew that he was not safe from those who would imprison him and eventually kill him for preaching the truth. What makes a person willing to say yes to God’s calling when it’s a certainty that it won’t always be easy and fun, when being safe in God does not mean being safe from persecution and hardships?
Paul answered this question. He said, “I put no value on my life. I only value finishing the service that the Lord Jesus has assigned to me.” Jesus also answered it in John 17:1-11: “I have given you glory, Father, by accomplishing the work you gave me to do.”
Which matters more: your life (your comfort, your security, your freedom from problems) or God’s work, which he gave you to accomplish and which no one else can do the way you can do it? — work that you were specifically designed to do, work that will be more fulfilling than anything other activities.
We all have our assignments. You are in the middle of a very important one right now. Recognize the worth of what you’re doing; notice how it glorifies God, how it makes a difference for his kingdom. If you don’t see the difference yet, well, notice the difference it’s made in you as it’s helped to shape you more into the image of Christ. Realize the value of your hardships: how they’re increasing your holiness, your compassion, and your ability to help others.
My sufferings, as distressing as they have been sometimes, have greatly enhanced the ministry I do now. They account for many of the insights that I share with you in these daily Good News Reflections.
Don’t focus on the hardships; keep your eyes on the goal — the finish line, heaven — and on the Lord for whom you’re doing this. If we quit, we forfeit our souls to the world, where we are not safe at all. Only in God are we truly safe. He kisses our nail wounds and raises us above the trials into his warm embrace and cozy lap, where we are always safely loved.