Prayer for Our Nation In Transition

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Our priest, Fr. Thomas Gallagher OFM, wrote the following prayer for us to recite antiphonally on Sundays.(Each side of the congregation takes turns reading a section. Then we read the last two lines together.) I find it very soothing and inspiring, so with his permission I have copied it for you.

Blessed Are They

BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT:

     the marginalized,

     the sinner,

     the person who does not fit in,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN LOSSES:

     of love, of freedom, of dignity,

     of home–the refugee,

     of identity–the exile

for they will be comforted.

BLESSED ARE THE MEEK:

     the unseen, unappreciated worker,

     the physically, emotionally, spiritually abused,

     the one who is bullied,

for they will inherit the land.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS:

     the one who teaches through deeds of compassion,

     the one who stands in solidarity with the marginalized,

     the peaceful protester,

for they will be satisfied.

BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL:

     the one who opens doors, hearts, minds,

     the one who forgives,

     the person of hospitality,

for they will be shown mercy.

BLESSED ARE THE CLEAN OF HEART:

     the one who holds no grudges,

     the visionary,

     the one who welcomes the least one,

for they will see God.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS:

     those who strive to create a space for others to be at home,

     those with the vision to see from another perspective,

     those who accept forgiveness,

for they will be called children of God.

BLESSED ARE THOSE PERSECUTED FOR THE SAKE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS:

     those who remain faithful to love despite opposition,

     those who hold space for others to become themselves,

     those whose witness speaks truth to power,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.

YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

Honoring Reverend King Jr.

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There is deep dissonance in the United States between the celebration today of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and this week’s inauguration of our President-elect. King preached the power of non-violence, hope, compassion, truth and unity. Our President-elect promotes himself  by denigrating others. He seems to admire bullies and uses violent words to attack anyone who disagrees with him.

Many people remain unaware that King was an adamant opponent of the war in Viet Nam, and many speculate that it was this stand that most troubled the military establishment. At any rate, he truly believed the Gospel, and it was his faith in Christ that gave him the strength to speak truth to power even as it cost him his life.

I honor him today by refusing to succumb to despair in the face of open hostility and contempt for many of the values I hold dear. I don’t know what I may be asked to do in the years ahead to combat the ugliness now dancing in the open. But, as we sang in church yesterday, “Here am I Lord, I come to do Your will.” That seems to me to be the best way to honor Reverend King.

Hospitality

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I used to think that hospitality involved dinner parties, such was my limited understanding of the concept. So I thought that I didn’t show hospitality since I didn’t like dinner parties. Then a couple of months ago a fellow parishioner told me what a hospitable presence I was at church. Normally I would have brushed off this comment thinking about hospitable in the old way. But I decided that she was observing something I was oblivious to.

I actually resorted to the dictionary(we know I am a retired English professor after all) to find out the broader definition of the word. I learned that it had a much broader meaning, suggesting a welcoming attitude, especially to the stranger. It turns out that the woman at church was accurately describing my outgoing behavior at church where my husband is the head greeter and usher at our Mass.

We came to Catholicism from a large Protestant church where we were expected to greet one another and get to know one another. We even wore name tags to facilitate the fellowship. I didn’t realize that Catholics in New England often didn’t know the names of the people around them. So naturally I kept introducing myself to whoever sat down near me. By and large people were very glad to connect; they just weren’t used to it. So I was being hospitable without realizing it!

In the photo above, my beloved cousin Susan is welcoming me into her dollhouse play set. She is introducing me to the little stove and how it “cooks”.  I do the same on Sundays, welcoming new attendees and showing them around our sanctuary. May we all greet the newcomer, stranger or foreigner with such tender hospitality as Susan is showing me.

 

Ordinary Time

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In the Catholic church, the season of Christmas has just ended and we enter into “ordinary time.” On Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, singing the last of the Christmas songs until next year. Now we are back to regular vestments, the creche is put away, the poinsettias have all gone to homes, and we settle into the rhythm of the liturgical year between now and the beginning of Lent on March 1.

Although in the Church “ordinary time” refers to the numbering of weeks, I prefer to ponder the more general use of the word. I think “ordinary” is underrated. Most of our life is “ordinary”: working, cooking, eating, cleaning, caring for children and elders,visiting, praying, and sleeping. Ordinary life is full and rich, how we spend most of our days. It isn’t particularly exciting, and I think that is what makes it precious. We aren’t meant to be jubilant, ecstatic, thrilled and dazzled most of the time, despite advertising’s depictions of life. I don’t sing as I do laundry, nor does my family grin with abundant gratitude over spaghetti. Instead, there is a steady, often predictable movement in family life.

I breathe a sigh of relief when the Church enters into “ordinary time” again. No special prayers, no special music, just the calming hour of prayer and the Eucharist, surrounded by “regular” people who faithfully gather on another Sunday.

The Rosary and Me

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When I was a teenager and my parents were loudly arguing in the room below me, I used to tune my bedside radio to a station in San Francisco, 600 miles away. Late at night, I would hear a very repetitive prayer go–it seemed–on and on. It was very soothing, though I really had no idea of what it was. I would fall asleep to its calming words.  I was unchurched and really didn’t even think to ask anyone about what I was hearing.

Fast forward 30 years and I was praying in a place in Portland, Oregon called The Grotto. It is a lovely sanctuary open to all. I found the quiet very grounding. One day I heard a group of mainly Philippine women saying that same repetitive prayer while holding strings of beads. Then the woman in front of me turned around, handed me one, a lovely amber string of these beads and said, “I am supposed to give this to you.” She handed it back to me and went back to prayer.

By then I was Christian, but I had heard horror stories about Catholic prayer practices which supposedly prayed TO Mary, as if she were God. But it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The sequence of prayers included a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and five repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It was, as far as I could tell, theologically sound.

Fast forward another 20 years and my next door neighbor, newly widowed, asked if I would join her once a week to pray the Rosary with her. So I printed out the prayers, picked up my amber beads and went to her house that Tuesday. We meet each Tuesday morning and pray the prayers. I still get flummoxed occasionally, worrying that I am counting wrong, which definitely interrupts the contemplative nature of the prayer! But when I can drop down into the repetition, it has the same calming effect on me that it had 55 years ago.

Now when I get to Mass early (God’s sense of humor leading me to Catholicism over my Protestant friends’ dismay) I see others quietly holding the beads and moving their lips silently. I feel grateful remembering how important those beads were so many years ago.

If you want to learn more go to http://www.rosary-center.org. (As always, I respect many traditions, and I have no interest in proselytizing; I’m just sharing my perspective.)

Communion

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This is the first day of the new liturgical year and the first day of the season called Advent in the church. It is seen by some as the time to anticipate the birth of Jesus. But, since in my faith Jesus has already been born, it is instead a time to look for Him in the people and situations around us. He has said that whatsoever we do to the least of these we do to Him.

After reading some very disheartened writings from people over the last two weeks, many trying to figure out what they should do with the state of the nation, I pondered an appropriate answer. It came to me as I reflected on the “small” things that people had done for me throughout my life and what enormous impacts they had. And in most of the cases, they never knew. I hope as I write about these occurrences during Advent, people may both remember similar instances in their own lives and also gain appreciation for the power we each have to make a difference in the world.

Grace lived next door to me from when I was three until I was eight. My mother was usually overwhelmed taking care of the younger kids, and I was on my own much of the time. Grace welcomed me into her house any time I wandered over. She gave me Ritz crackers once, and I told her how wonderful they were. We didn’t have snacks at home. Grace kept them in an upper cabinet and got them down each time I came over.

One afternoon, Grace told me she had moved the crackers. She had put them sideways in a lower drawer in the kitchen. I asked her why she had done that, and she replied, “So you can reach them.” That “small” gesture soothed my heart and gave me a sense of being cared for that I can still recall sixty years later.

Here’s to every such person in a child’s life.

Compassion For One Another

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Yesterday in church we had a healing Mass where you could go forward for anointing and prayer for healing. You were invited to bring illness, addiction, despair, affliction and burdens for others to be prayed over. At first only a few went forward. As time passed, however, more and more parishioners got in line. In the end, I imagine 75% of the 300 or so people went to be prayed for and anointed.

It is humbling to realize how many around us are in pain and in need of a healing touch. Once, when I was in college waiting for the MTA train in Harvard Square, I was feeling very sad. I was thinking that everyone around me looked happy and I felt very alone in my pain. Then, unbelievably, the girl next to me jumped in front of the train as it pulled into the station. I ran up the down stairs, back into the light, into the arms of the people I had just left. I simply had no idea that other people might be in despair around me. Since that day, I have never been so presumptuous about how other people are doing.

Still, yesterday’s service was a visceral reminder that most of us are burdened. We need to remember that whenever we interact with another person. Some hide with their pain; some lash out, but we are mostly just trying to move through our lives. No one really “has it all together.”