Prayers for the nation and the world

These days bring us a variety of opportunities to prayer — something which the world definitely needs right now (although it, and we, need it all the time). On Saturday (January 17), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ask us to begin Nine Days of Prayer for Life in preparation for the sad annual remembrance of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court, which made legal abortion the law of the land. The USCCB Novena is not a complicated one (you can find it at www.9daysforlife.com); it combines prayer with corporal works of mercy, asking God to help us turn away from abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and domestic violence.

The next day, Sunday, January 18, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins. This annual observance began in 1908 in Graymoor, N.Y. and has been prayed by Catholics, Protestants and other Christians together since 1968, leading up to the January 25 feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This year the theme of the week is “Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink’”
(Jn 4:7). 

Prayer resources on the theme were developed by Protestants and Catholics working together in Brazil (you can obtain a prayer guide for the eight days at http://geii.org/week_of_prayer_for_christian_unity/prayer_worship/daily_scripture_and_prayer_guide.html). 

On Monday we have the annual Martin Luther King holiday. After the tumult of the last few months in the United States (from which we may have been distracted due to the violence in Paris), it brings us a good day to pray, reflect and recommit ourselves to true justice and fraternal love in this country.

Last year, when the World Cup was about to begin in Brazil, Pope Francis sent a video message to the players and the fans. He said in it, “When we play on a team we must first think of the good of the group, and not of ourselves. In order to win, we must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, of intolerance and of the instrumentalization of the human person.”

What he said is applicable to the three prayer foci mentioned about — if we can (with God’s grace) overcome within ourselves the negative attitudes the Holy Father listed, then we would be far along the path to racial justice, Christian unity and a much deeper respect for human life.

Last January the pope spoke to a Finnish ecumenical group which came to the Vatican to honor St. Henry, patron saint of Finland. He noted, “In our day, ecumenism and relationships between Christians are changing significantly. This is due above all to the fact that we profess our faith within a society and a culture increasingly less concerned with God and all that involves the transcendental dimension of life. We see this especially in Europe, but not only here.”

Last week’s terrorist attacks in France made us learn a lot more about that country, which had been known as the “eldest daughter of the Church.” It had that nickname due to the long history of Catholicism in that land; however, in part due to disgust at the bad example of Catholics (especially some of the clergy), from before the time of the French Revolution there has been a strong anticlerical tradition in that country. During the Reign of Terror many Catholics made the ultimate sacrifice, united with Christ, as they were martyred for the faith. Since then the Church has been in decline, although with occasional revivals, thanks to the great witnesses to the faith who have lived in that country, such as St. John Vianney and St. Therese of Lisieux, as well as the Blessed Mother’s own apparitions in Lourdes (1858), La Salette (1846), and Paris (to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830). Nonetheless, the rate of Sunday Mass attendance in France is abysmally low.

Into that milieu many Moslems have immigrated into France, often coming (although not always) from former French colonies. This has led to a backlash in the country, especially amongst people on the far right (some of whom wrap themselves in the flag of the Catholicism, although often the Church’s leaders are repulsed by these politicians). 

Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, the magazine which the terrorists attacked, was known for its cartoons mocking Islam, Catholicism and the right wing of French politics, making for strange bedfellows of the aggrieved by its publications (yet only extremist Moslems physically attacked the magazine, killing a moderate Moslem policeman in the process, while another moderate Moslem, a worker at the kosher supermarket, saved the lives of several Jews later in the week).

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, said, “A cartoon, however distasteful, cannot be put on the same level as murder. Freedom of the press, whatever the cost, is the sign of a mature society.”

Pope Francis, the day after the attack on the magazine, condemned all forms of terrorism during his morning Mass, but also mentioned “state terrorism,” after having mentioned the type of “isolated” terrorism which had occurred the previous day. He spoke about the “cruelty” which can come out of the human heart and called upon all people to reject it.

Some secularists say that all religion is to blame for the violence last week in Paris, as well as the continuing violence in Nigeria (where many more people were killed by Boko Haram terrorists last week than were killed in Paris — a Catholic asked BBC radio, “Where is the march [in solidarity] for us?”), Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc. 

However, people of various religions, working together, are part of the solution, not the problem. In a message to Christians in the Holy Land on December 21, Pope Francis said, “Your efforts to cooperate with people of other religions, with Jews and Muslims, is another sign of the Kingdom of God. The more difficult the situation, the more interreligious dialogue becomes necessary. There is no other way. Dialogue, grounded in an attitude of openness, in truth and love, is also the best antidote to the temptation to religious fundamentalism, which is a threat for followers of every religion. At the same time, dialogue is a service to justice and a necessary condition for the peace which all so ardently desire.”

May our own prayers, works of mercy and dialogue also contribute to justice and peace in this country and around the world.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts