“They showed us unusual kindness” 


“They showed us unusual kindness”  (cf. Acts 28:2)

Message by Diocesan Ecumenical Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta in collaboration with Christians Together in Malta for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 18-25 January 2020

See the Maltese version …

It is my heartfelt pleasure to address our English-speaking Christian friends from a variety of Churches in Malta and Gozo. This year’s celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes a very special significance because of the role played by Christians in our Islands in the preparation for the material used world-wide as we pray to overcome past divisions and prejudice. The theme “They showed us unusual kindness” (cf. Acts 28:2) is deeply related to the Christian heritage and experience of the Maltese Islands. The narratives of Paul’s shipwreck and the hospitality shown by Publius and our forefathers have a special meaning to us.

I invite you to follow this digital link which enables you to pray by means of the hymn written by Joe C. Aquilina, in light of this year’s theme:

http://thechurchinmalta.org/en/posts/325/ecumenical-commission

This booklet is meant to accompany non-Maltese speakers in their personal and community prayer during the Week of Prayer. I hope it will be useful as we meditate God’s word and offer our intercessions and our prayers of repentance.

May the Lord bless you and shower you with his choicest blessings!

Fr Hector Scerri
President, Diocesan Ecumenical Commission
Chairperson, Christians Together in Malta

6th January 2020


Biblical Text

Acts 27:18 – 28:10

We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.’

When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’ After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship. After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.

In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They bestowed many honours on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.

New Revised Standard Version


Prayers of Repentance

Forgive us, Lord, for past mistakes, mistrust and misdeeds between Christians from different Churches and traditions. Lord, have mercy!

Forgive us, Lord, for remaining in the darkness rather than seeking the path of Light; for you, O Lord, are the only true Light. Lord, have mercy!

Forgive us, Lord, for our lack of faith and for our failure to be people of expectant hope and authentic charity. Lord, have mercy!

Forgive us, Lord, for having caused pain, hardship and anguish to others. Lord, have mercy!

Forgive us, Lord, for isolating ourselves and remaining indifferent, instead of showing hospitality to all, especially strangers and refugees. Lord, have mercy!

Prayers of Petition

Gracious God, heal the painful memories of the past which have wounded our churches and continue to keep us apart.
Hear our prayer for Reconciliation.

Gracious God, teach us to fix our course on Christ, the True Light.
Hear our prayer for Enlightenment.

Gracious God, strengthen our confidence in your providence when we feel overwhelmed by the storms of life.
Hear our prayer for Hope.

Gracious God, transform our many separations into harmony and our mistrust into mutual acceptance.
Hear our prayer for Trust.

Gracious God, give us the courage to speak the truth with justice in love.
Hear our prayer for Strength.

Gracious God, dismantle the barriers, visible and invisible, that prevent us from welcoming our sisters and brothers who are in peril or in need.
Hear our prayer for Hospitality.

Gracious God, change our hearts and the hearts of our Christian communities, that we may be agents of your healing.
Hear our prayer for Conversion.

Gracious God, open our eyes to see the whole
of creation as your gift, and our hands to share its fruit in
solidarity.
Hear our prayer for Generosity.

Reflections for each of the Eight Days
18-25 January 2020

Saturday 18 January

Reconciliation: Throwing the cargo overboard

“We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard and on
the third day with their own hands they threw the
ship’s tackle overboard… Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss’.”

Reflection
As Christians from different Churches and Traditions, we have unfortunately, over the centuries, accumulated abundant baggage consisting of mutual distrust, bitterness and suspicion. We thank the Lord for the birth and the growth of the ecumenical movement over the past century. Our encounter with Christians from other traditions and our common prayer for Christian unity encourage us to seek mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and acceptance. We must not allow the baggage of our past to hinder us from drawing closer to one another. It is the Lord’s will that we let go, in order to let God!

Sunday 19 January
Enlightenment: Seeking and showing forth Christ’s light

Acts 27:20 “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”

Reflection
Christ is our light and our guide. Without the light and guidance of Christ, we become disorientated. When Christians lose sight of Christ, they grow fearful and divided from one another. Moreover, many people of good will outside the Church are unable to see the light of Christ because in our Christian division we reflect Christ’s light less clearly or, at times, block it out completely. As we seek the light of Christ, we are drawn closer to one another, and so mirror this light more clearly, becoming truly a sign of Christ, the light of the world.

Monday 20 January
Hope: Paul’s message

Acts 27:22,34 “I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship… none of you will lose a hair from your heads…”

Reflection
As Christians belonging to churches and traditions that are not fully reconciled to one another, we are often discouraged by the lack of progress towards visible unity. Indeed, some have given up all hope and see this unity as an unattainable ideal. Others do not even see unity as a necessary part of their Christian faith. As we pray for this gift of visible unity, let us do so with steadfast faith, enduring patience and expectant hope, trusting in God’s loving providence. Unity is the Lord’s prayer for the Church and he is accompanying us on this journey. We will not be lost.

Tuesday 21 January
Trust: Do not be afraid, believe

Acts 27:23-26 “For the last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So, keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.” Psalm 56 Luke 12:22-34

Reflection
In the midst of the tempest Paul’s encouragement and hope contradicted the fear and despair of his fellow travellers. Our common call to be disciples of Jesus Christ entails being a sign of contradiction. In a world riven with anxieties, we are called to stand as witnesses to hope by placing our trust in God’s loving providence. Christian experience shows us that God writes straight on crooked lines, and we know, against all odds, we will not drown or be lost. Because God’s steadfast love endures for ever.

Wednesday 22 January
Strength: Breaking bread for the journey

Acts 27:33-36 “Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore, I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’ After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.”

Reflection
Paul’s invitation to eat is an exhortation to those in the boat to strengthen themselves for what lies ahead. This taking of bread marks a change of attitude, as those in the boat move from despair to courage. In a similar way the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper provides us with food for the journey and re-orientates us to life in God. We are made strong. The breaking of the bread – at the core of Christian community life and worship – builds us up as we commit ourselves to Christian service. We long for the day when all Christians will be able to share at the same table of the Lord’s Supper and draw strength from one bread and one cup.

Thursday 23 January
Hospitality: Show unusual kindness

Acts 28:1-2, 7 “After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it… Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.”

Reflection
After the traumas and conflicts of the storm at sea, the practical care offered by the islanders is experienced as an unusual kindness by those washed up on the shores. Such kindness demonstrates our common humanity. The Gospel teaches us that when we care for those in distress, we are showing love to Christ himself (cf. Matthew 25:40). Furthermore, when we show loving kindness to the weak and dispossessed, we are attuning our hearts to the heart of God in which the poor have a special place. Welcoming outsiders, whether they be people of other cultures or beliefs, immigrants or refugees, is both to love Christ himself, and to love as God loves. As Christians, we are called to step out in faith and reach out with God’s all-embracing love, even to those we find difficult to love.

Friday 24 January
Conversion: Changing our hearts and minds

Acts 28:3-6 “Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.”

Reflection
The locals realized that their judgment of Paul as a murderer was wrong, so they changed their minds. The extraordinary event with the viper enables the islanders to see things in a new way, a way which might prepare them to hear the message of Christ through Paul. In our search for Christian unity and reconciliation we are often challenged to rethink how we perceive other traditions and cultures. This demands an ongoing conversion to Christ in which the churches learn to overcome their perception of the other as a threat. As a result, our pejorative views of others will be cast away, and we will be drawn closer to unity.
You are invited to the Ecumenical Service at St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Valletta, at 6.30pm, this evening.

Saturday 25 January
Generosity: Receiving and giving

Acts 28:8-10 “The father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They bestowed many honours on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed”.

Reflection
This story is full of giving and receiving: Paul received unusual kindness from the islanders; Paul gives healing to the father of Publius and others; having lost everything in the storm, the 276 receive abundant provisions as they set sail. As Christians we are called to unusual kindness. But in order to give we must first learn to receive – from Christ and from others. More often than we realize, we are recipients of acts of kindness from people who are different from us. These acts also point towards the generosity and healing of our Lord. We who have been healed by the Lord are responsible for passing on that which we have received.

Prayerful Reflections
composed by members of
Christians Together in Malta

1.

Dear God, your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105)
If we do not follow you, we are led astray.
People from other nations and religions come to us.
Refugees in great need come to us.
Your healing grace also shines upon them.
Do not allow us to abandon them to the darkness of their misery; give us the power and wisdom to share your divine light with our neighbours, to accompany and strengthen us on our journey through life.

Pastor Dagmar Balser (Evangelical Lutheran Church)

2.

Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from you.
Lord, spur us on to generous living.
Because of your grace, may we see others as you see them and not let differences hinder our generosity.
Rather, may our lives overflow with your sacrificial love as we seek to be your hands and feet in this needy and broken world.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Pastor Earl Pinkston (Baptist)

3.

Our Father in Heaven, omnipresent and all-encompassing fill us with Thy grace, kindness and love, so that we believe in Thee, that we shall not be afraid at the moment of temptation, and do not renounce our faith and retain our strength, which is emanating from Thee. Give us the strength to reject the demonic power and do not believe the illusions sent to us by the unclean. May we remain in inseverable
connection with Thee all our eternal days, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Subdeacon Aleksander Kuryshev (Ortodoss Russu)

 

 

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