Bare Branches: Signs of Hope
At the track near my home, as I was walking along praying, I began looking at the beautiful signs of spring. There were little trees along the track that had flowers beginning to grow on them, and some of them had small green leaves. Most still had only bare branches, but there was the promise in the air of growth to come. When I looked at the little lavender (or white) flowers and the green leaves on a few of the branches, I thought, “These are signs of hope, Lord,” but the Lord, in His gentle Teacher’s manner, corrected me, “It is the bare branches that are signs of hope.” How can bare branches be signs of hope?
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24)
How can a Cross covered with the Blood of an Innocent Victim be a sign of hope? Yet, millions of Christians around the world have experienced the hope that comes through the Cross of Christ.
There are so many places throughout the world where innocent blood is being shed today. Among those places, there are none more tragic than the abortion facilities where the blood of unborn babies, killed in their mothers’ wombs, is being shed. Yet, in God’s mysterious ways, at many of those abortion facilities, hope is blossoming in hearts, through the power of His Holy Spirit.
40 Days for Life is a community-based movement of volunteers who pray, fast, and stand (or kneel or sit) in vigils in front of abortion facilities throughout the United States and in several other countries; and of those who (like myself), unable to be physically present at vigils, pray and offer sacrifices at home for the sake of the babies, parents, and the active volunteers. They offer the hope in their hearts for those women who, without hope of another alternative, go to have abortions. They pray, peacefully hold signs, and offer literature (and sometimes counseling) to those women (and men) who are open to their help. On the day I have begun this devotional (halfway through their campaign) their website at www.40daysforlife.com announces that 178 babies (that they know of) have been saved since this Lenten campaign began on Ash Wednesday. What joy, the fruit of their hopeful prayers and efforts! I would like to share a short account from Day 13:
From Corpus Christi, Texas- Outside the abortion center, 40 Days for Life participants were able to talk to a couple—but couldn’t convince them to turn away. As they walked in, the volunteers resumed their prayers.
A short time later they came out of the building. The young woman raised her hands in the air and said, “I didn’t do it!”
“They were so happy,” said one of the volunteers, “and they begged us to pray for them.”
“Prayers—and the vigil—work,” she said. “Amen!”
“A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, He can help me.”
[“Saved in Hope” (#32), 2007 encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI]
What about the women who don’t change their minds, who walk into the building and, tragically, have abortions? There are many more women who have abortions when they come to the facilities than there are women who change their minds. In the 40 Days for Life email for Day 22, Shawn Carney, co-founder of 40 Days for Life, writes:
When you pray at the abortion facility, you represent the last hope (in this world) for the baby scheduled to be aborted…
…but you also represent the first sign of mercy as the woman leaves the facility after the abortion .It’s a sad fact that many of the women arriving for abortion appointments today have already been there before. Many of these women have had one or more abortions previously. Many are still hurting. Others try to numb themselves to the pain. Whether they’re ready to admit it or not, they need the mercy and healing hand of Christ. (In Him it is not too late for changes: souls restored and hearts healed.)
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit
which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
When we pray from our hearts for those innocent babies, for their mothers and fathers, and for others who are wounded by abortion, we suffer with them in our hearts. If we endure in that journey of suffering, God assures us (through the Apostle Paul) that we will rejoice, for our hope will not be disappointed. Why? Because it is the fruit of God’s love, “which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Hope does not disappoint, because, in the long run, God does not disappoint those who come to Him with trust and are faithful in seeking to do His will.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season…In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)