Walking our faith: We are all together in the dark (column)
June 4, 2016
In 1993, my last year on Wall Street, I worked on the 98th floor of Two World Trade Center. I was in my office when the truck bomb went off in the basement of One World Trade Center.
We were told to stay in our offices until the firefighters were able to evacuate us via the stairwell. We would be walking down ninety-eight flights.
It was 7 p.m. by the time they reached us. As we walked down the dark stairwell together, we held onto the shoulder of the person in front of us. To keep our spirits up, we told jokes and discussed where we would go for dinner and drinks when we got out.
I've been thinking about prayer a lot lately. I've just finished reading Anne Lamott's excellent, "Help, Thanks, Wow." Next, I'm going to read Cynthia Bourgeault's "Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening." I'm interested in learning more about prayer as a form of communion with God, and eventually, I hope to write a book about prayer. (If you have suggestions for books on prayer, please send them!)
Two weeks ago, Father Wojciech asked our congregations of St. Mary's in Breckenridge and Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne, to meet for nine days, at 6 p.m. each evening at our churches to say a novena to Saint Charbel for Father Michael Glenn, who continues to recover from brain cancer in Dallas, Texas.
Despite my thirty years in the Catholic Church, I had never said a novena. This would be my first experience in communal prayer and my first experience in going to church every day. I am now embarrassed to admit this, but I had also reached a point where I thought my daily Bible readings, prayer-time with God, and going to Mass a couple times a month was more than enough to make me a "good Christian."
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Each evening's 45-minute novena consisted of reciting prayers, a reading from the writings of Saint Charbel, praying the rosary together, and then adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The readings and rosary were said by two different volunteers each night. I was struck by Saint Charbel's writings, the striking imagery he used to convey insight, so I volunteered to read on three different evenings.
Here's a sample of Saint Charbel's beautiful wisdom:
"In the world, man is moving from the shore of darkness and nonexistence to the shore of eternal light, and he passes through the seas of this world in a ship…Hang on to the Lord's ship and help your brothers to hang on with you: At every port you reach, invite people to join you in your journey so you may share the arrival with them and Captain and about the shore of light. But rest assured that it is not what you say that will make people embark on the Lord's ship, but rather it is your love for each other and your love for the Captain and your trust and your belief in Him, and the joy on your faces."
Over the first few evenings of the novena, my spirits were high. I sat up front with the others in our group and looked forward to my night to read.
During those evenings, I thought of the congregants at Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne, who were at the same moment, saying the same prayers for Father Michael, all of our voices joined together in one prayer. How powerful, how lovely our voices must sound to God! I hoped that by some miracle, Father Michael could sense this cloud of witnesses working together on his behalf, offering the gift of our praises to God. I hope he was comforted, as well.
But by the final evenings of our novena, I had become overwhelmed by external events that left me physically and emotionally exhausted. I made it to church both nights, but I arrived five minutes late, sat in the back of church, held my rosary, closed my eyes, and mumbled my prayers. I was disappointed in myself.
This morning I planned to write about the novena as an example of communal prayer to help both those we pray for and those who pray. On the evenings I sat alone in the back of the church, the prayers of my community lifted me in their wake.
But this novena also gave me another profound gift. I realized the more I spent time in God's presence the more real He became to me.
The strong faith of my fellow churchgoers, their dedication to God, their love for our priests, and our Church, showed me the way.
I now understand why we should gather often: during weekday Mass on Tuesday or Thursday, or adoration and prayer together with the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday evenings. Whether home alone in prayer, or in God's home, we are strengthened as we spend more time in the presence of God.
I grow in my walk with God through the encouragement and example of others. For me, that will always be my mother. And in Breckenridge, it's Barbara, who lets me know she's noticed when I've skipped Mass for a couple weeks; or encourages me, yet again, to attend a weekday Mass.
The gift I received from our nine days of novena is twofold: When we pray for others, we are blessed, too! Second, I understand I need more of God's real presence, and my community of faith, in my life.
Which brings me back to my experience in the World Trade Center many years ago. When we face difficulties alone, the darkness can be disorienting and frightening. But when we are together in the dark, holding the shoulder of the one in front of us, we can get home safely.
As we journey together, I want to share another bit of wisdom from Saint Charbel:
"Every man, during his journey through this world to the other, is called to follow this way. And as in every journey in this world, a man must take along provision and weapons in his journey to the other world. The only provision for this journey is love, and the only weapon is love. This love can only be encompassing of all human beings, can expect nothing in return, can know no boundaries, and be only unconditional. That is how God loves you, so love each other with the same love, with God's love."
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