I’ve spent a fair bit of time in St. Patrick’s Cathedral over the years. But it was only in recent days that I searched the look on the face of archdiocesan patron saint Patrick there. Stately. Certainly, saintly, this herald of the Triune God. Those may have been my thoughts, if I had them previously. But now all I can see is that he seems to be grieving.
When I was there on Friday, I noticed a modest but beautiful bouquet of purple flowers below him. Mums, I believe. The kind you’d pick up at any bodega around town. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a modest offering for Ireland alongside a prayer in the wake of the referendum repealing their constitutional amendment protecting innocent human life. I also wonder if the slender flowers were of the widow’s mite variety or if they were a commentary on fruitfulness as there’s something so barren about the Emerald Isle’s abortion move. There’s something so counter to what the flourishing Irish flowerings of some of the best traditions around St. Patrick’s Day in the United States evoke, bringing faith and family to the forefront.
I know, of course, that some will quickly counter that I’m living in the past. The Bells of St. Mary’s isn’t exactly being watched on Catholic college campuses on St. Patrick’s Day. And even I felt a deep sorrow as I prayed in the cathedral last Friday just before the vote, thinking: we really should have had an all-night prayer vigil for our brothers and sisters in Ireland, for the homeland of so many New Yorkers who built this very cathedral not so very long ago. It’s hard, of course, not to think, too, of the witness of Catholics in public life here at home and specifically around abortion. There’s room for penance and reparation. I was reminded of one of the very first big events during Pope Francis’s reign: a celebration of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae – “The Gospel of Life,” which included a significant prayer component. We can and must do more to convert hearts and minds, as we say, but also for our own deeper conversion.
Just last week I co-hosted a forum in D.C. after the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast which included an archbishop, speakers who were adopted, who have adopted, who have been and are foster parents, one who has lived in foster care, who work for public policy and activist groups and who are living witnesses to going to the peripheries and embracing life. We talked with urgency about the priority of foster care and adoption as pro-life priorities and as critical bridge building opportunities for lifesaving. People need to be overwhelmed with this reality, not the caustic miserable way our abortion politics typically plays our – both here and across the pond.
Back at St. Patrick’s after the noon Mass just yesterday, those flowers actually didn’t highlight the statue of the cathedral’s namesake so much as his “breastplate” prayer on a stand below:
Christ be with me
Christ within me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ beneath and
Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left.
Christ with me waking,
walking and sleeping.
Christ in every heart
thinking of me.
Christ in every tongue
speaking to me,
Christ in every eye
that sees me,
Christ in every ear
that hears me.
The prayer had me thinking of Pope Paul VI, who like John Paul II before him, Pope Francis plans to canonize (at a Mass at the Vatican this fall). Mary Rice Hasson from the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Mary Eberstadt and others were talking about his Humanae Vitae and the “#MeToo Moment” just this week at a conference in Washington. What came to mind was a sermon of his that pops up annually in the Office of Readings. Paul VI talked about the importance of “proclaiming Christ” in everything, in all of life.
Not to preach the Gospel would be my undoing, for Christ himself sent me as his apostle and witness. The more remote, the more difficult the assignment, the more my love of God spurs me on. I am bound to proclaim that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of him we come to know the God we cannot see. He is the firstborn of all creation; in him all things find their being. Man’s teacher and redeemer, he was born for us, died for us, and for us he rose from the dead.
All things, all history converges in Christ. A man of sorrow and hope, he knows us and loves us. As our friend he stays by us throughout our lives; at the end of time he will come to be our judge; but we also know that he will be the complete fulfillment of our lives and our great happiness for all eternity.
I can never cease to speak of Christ for he is our truth and our light; he is the way, the truth and the life. He is our bread, our source of living water who allays our hunger and satisfies our thirst. He is our shepherd, our leader, our ideal, our comforter and our brother.
He is like us but more perfectly human, simple, poor, humble, and yet, while burdened with work, he is more patient. He spoke on our behalf; he worked miracles; and he founded a new kingdom: in it the poor are happy; peace is the foundation of a life in common; where the pure of heart and those who mourn are uplifted and comforted; the hungry find justice; sinners are forgiven; and all discover that they are brothers.
The image I present to you is the image of Jesus Christ. As Christians you share his name; he has already made most of you his own. So once again I repeat his name to you Christians and I proclaim to all men: Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, Lord of the new universe, the great hidden key to human history and the part we play in it. He is the mediator — the bridge, if you will — between heaven and earth. Above all he is the Son of man, more perfect than any man, being also the Son of God, eternal and infinite. He is the son of Mary his mother on earth, more blessed than any woman. She is also our mother in the spiritual communion of the mystical body.
Remember: |it| is Jesus Christ I preach day in and day out. His name I would see echo and re-echo for all time even to the ends of the earth.
Christians need to be living and breathing this in everything we do.
One last thing, also inspired by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in a way. One of the priest’s assigned there, Fr. Donald Haggerty, is author of a recent powerfully needed book on Conversion, specifically the kind of ongoing conversion that is what the Christian life is really about. At point, Fr. Haggerty writes:
God has eyes already for the future and knows what he wants to grant each life after a conversion. But this will mean that nothing is ever conclusive in his giving to us, nothing final and complete, until we have finished our days. And it may be that God, with his eyes already on what he intends to accomplish in love for our soul and the use he wants to make of us, will seem to reverse the course and direction that he had earlier set our soul upon. We cannot really prepare for such surprises. But we can know in faith that the whole of a life is contained within a single gaze of God. And although that gaze is imponderable and likely to make us anxious at times, it is wise to remember often the kindness of those eyes.
We need to look to others with those eyes – with the eyes of loving mothers and fathers who take in foster children with radical generosity and hospitality, which is, of course what God has done for us, as the greatest of tradition of Ireland and beyond would attest.
Some years ago, I was at a lunch with our late friend and colleague here Kate O’Beirne and some others with a politician of some note. He was all excited about Ireland embracing a flat tax. “But they are post-Christian,” she quickly responding, sharing none of his enthusiasm, and only sorrow about the land of her ancestors. Ireland has had a barren springtime this year that begs us to examine our own ways, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians. Are we radical witnesses of Christian love – on our knees in prayer in sorrow for our sinful and sinfully indifferent ways or are we practical atheists, bearing false witness in the way we live our lives?
Christ, envelope us for transformative conversion. Have mercy on us, to the ends of the earth — and Ireland these days in a particular way. That’s got to be a prayer especially for those of us who have blood or love lines that come from there.