Servant Songs on Capitol Hill

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

2nd and C Street, S.E. — “I want to officially welcome you home,” Fr. William Byrne, pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, said to members of Congress and their staff at an ecumenical, bipartisan prayer service this morning. “Whether you realize it or not, you are at the parish of Saint Peter’s when you are at your desk” on the Hill, he said, welcoming all.

The parish, whose motto is “To be a tangible manifestation of Christ in the community,” is just steps away from the Capitol. When the House is in session, congressmen join those worshiping at daily morning and afternoon weekday Masses. 

It was a truly ecumenical gathering: Not only were John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi — both Catholics — there, but Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, and Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, both read during the prayer service, as well as a host of Protestants, from James Clyburn to James Lankford (Okla.).

Congress struck a humble note this morning as Representative Clyburn prayed that “we walk by faith and not by sight,” asking God to “order our steps and clothe our thoughts.”

The service posed all sorts of challenges, as readings and reflections focused on the call to serve. Fr. Patrick J. Conroy, a Jesuit priest, who serves as chaplain of the House reflected in particular on a reading from Genesis, where Abraham bathes and feeds three strangers who show up at his door, to drive home that they are in Congress as servants.#more#

And as stewards. The “great gift of America to the world” is a “new way of government” nourished by “the help and the grace of God,” Fr. Conroy reminded members of Congress this morning. Three days after the Department of Health and Human Services coercive abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate went into effect for businesses with plan years that begin in January — leaving the Evangelical-run arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby in defiance of Obamacare’s narrow view of religious freedom — I wonder how many members heard it as an alarm.

Before singing that “God shed his grace on thee” and for brotherhood, a prayer that perhaps was most especially relevant today, given recent days, members recited a prayer written by St. Ignatius Loyola:

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not ask for reward,

save that of knowing that I do your will.

All too often in politics, religion is used as cover or mere flourish (keeping religion but a “safe harbor,” rather than the stuff of an integrated life, as the treasurer of Hobby Lobby describes in explaining why he and his family are fighting the HHS mandate). Here, if the words were heeded, if the petitions were honest. . . it’s not a bad way to start a session of Congress, praying together, on a campaign much longer than we typically have the patience to be diligent to.

Both Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.) and Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) contributed to the reading of Psalm 62: “My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress.” It’s worth a prayer that the members of the 113th Congress don’t forget it.