My Prayers for This Week

One of the responsibilities of my work is to prepare the Universal Prayer, or the Prayer of the Faithful, for the parish community.  Often, I compile intercessions from different resources, including the Roman Missal; other times I compose my own prayers based on the needs of the community.  This week, there are two prayers that I felt were important intentions:

For our President, that he may work for justice and protect the rights of every human being, and that our country may be a safe haven for all.

For those who were killed this week in Florida, and for all victims of gun violence, that we may promote unity in seeking to build a society marked by peace and eliminate tragedies caused by senseless gun violence.

This Monday, of course, is Presidents’ Day.  We need to pray for our elected officials, regardless of whether we voted for them or whether we agree with them or not.

Words escape me as I think about the tragedy that took place on Wednesday in Florida.  While prayer is not the only thing we can do, it should hold pride of place.  The shootings that take place in schools, churches, and other public areas are mind-boggling and evoke sadness and anger.  Why do they happen?  How do we prevent them from happening again?  How many more tragedies will it take for our elected officials to take real action?

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Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

As a Lenten discipline, I’m hoping to write a bit more.  Here is the first of such efforts.

During the season of Lent, Christians are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In the Gospel appointed for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18), Jesus admonishes his disciples, saying, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” Often, we make Lenten resolutions that are broken rather quickly and the point of the spiritual journey of Lent is lost.  If you fall down, get back up.  Don’t let a slip up throw you off course.  We’re not saints.  Some of these suggestions are things that can done with friends and family, and most, if not all of them can be done on your own.

Prayer: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” Attend daily Mass, even if it’s but once a week. Pray the Rosary during your commute. Read the Bible. Pray the Stations of the Cross.  Recite the Divine Office.  Go to confession. Spend ten minutes each day in quiet prayer and meditation.

Fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of universal fast, but we need not limit fasting to the minimum requirements. “When you fast, do not look gloomy.” I once read in a Lenten sermon, “Forget the bit about doing without sugar in your coffee. That isn’t an act of penitent self-denial: it merely spoils a decent cup of coffee!” Find the areas in your daily routine where you can strip down. Fast from something that is a vice in your life: perhaps it’s Facebook or Twitter, Netflix binging, or too much television. In its place, create a virtue: use the time that you would spend on your smartphone or in front of the computer to read a book or spend quality time with a friend or loved one, either in person or talking (not texting!) on the telephone.

Almsgiving: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.” Not all almsgiving has to be a financial sacrifice. There are countless opportunities for volunteer service. Consider volunteering with a charity or spend an afternoon at a soup kitchen. Prepare a home cooked meal for a homeless shelter. In your parish, volunteer for a ministry. If you want to make a financial offering, think about the poor, those in our country who have been displaced by a natural disaster, or immigrants and refugees in need of assistance.  Make a difference.

If we do just one thing in each category throughout the season of Lent, we will reap the benefits of this spiritual practice and grow in holiness. “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

When Tragedy Strikes at Home

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Patriots’ Day has always been a very memorable day for me. Observed as a civic holiday in Massachusetts, it commemorates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the start of the American Revolutionary War. As a child, there would be a routine to the day that would be repeated year after year.

My father and I would set our alarms for 4:30 a.m. and, by 5:00 a.m., we were on the road, driving to Lexington to watch the re-enactment of the battle there. I recall Paul Revere riding his horse to the Battle Green, calling out, “The British are coming!”, followed by the Red Coats marching into town. Shortly thereafter, the shot heard ’round the world indeed marked the start of the Revolution.

After the re-enactment, we would walk to a nearby church for a pancake breakfast. By 9:00 a.m., we were back home, where we rested and prepared for the next event of the day, heading into Downtown Boston to watch the thousands of runners participating in the Boston Marathon.

My mother was an avid runner and she ran the Boston Marathon twice in 1988 and in 1990. As we watched the race, she would point out certain marathon celebrities, among them, Johnny Kelley, a man who ran the Boston Marathon for more than fifty consecutive years (well into his 80s) and Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father/son duo, where the father would push his handicapped son in a wheelchair for the entire 26.2 miles.

The Boston Marathon now brings nostalgia for me, especially after my mother’s death in 2010. The tragic events that took place yesterday afternoon only added to my sadness, especially since I, as a native Bostonian, share a deep connection with the marathon.

After returning home from a lunch on the Hudson on a beautiful spring afternoon, I received a text from my youngest brother, Daniel, asking if I had heard about the explosion at the finish line of the marathon and to tell me that my father and younger brother, Tim, were but a short distance from the finish line at the time of the explosion. They were safe, unharmed, and were rushing to safety. At that point, the depth of the tragedy began to sink in. I was able to stream one of Boston’s local news stations and remained glued to the television throughout the day. When I retired around midnight, there were still very few facts: three were dead and about one hundred were injured. Who is responsible for this action and the motives behind it were not yet known.

Waking up this morning, I learned the sad news that an eight-year-old boy from the neighborhood where I grew up was one of the three who died yesterday. His father was running the marathon and he was at the finish line with his mother and siblings. One of the pictures of young Martin Richard struck me. It was taken after his First Communion. The background was all too familiar to me: the steps of St. Ann’s Church in Neponset, my home parish, where I received my First Communion and Confirmation, where I served as an altar boy, a lector, and, in high school, as Director of Music and Organist. If it wasn’t enough for this tragedy to happen in Boston, it strikes even closer to home knowing that one of the victims was an innocent, happy young boy “from the neighborhood”, a characteristic of so many of us who grew up there. While it may be described as “tough”, Dorchester is anything but that right now. The neighborhood is deeply grieving a young man whose future was horribly ended yesterday. In times of tragedy, neighbors open their homes to each other, because we’re all family.

As I write, we still don’t know who did this or why he/she/they did it. It is never easy to comprehend why people commit such graves acts of evil. It is even harder to grasp when we have neither the who nor the why.

However, Bostonians, indeed all Americans, will not succumb to this act of terrorism. We will grow stronger because of it. In a telegram to Boston’s archbishop, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, Pope Francis “prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good.” Bostonians will do just that.

The City of Boston is a sad place today. Amidst the sadness, however, there is both charity and love. Where charity and love abide, God is ever there.

Ubi caritas et amor, Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986)

Translation:
Where charity and love abide, God is ever there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.