Two Pictures of Prayer

Greetings! I’m very new to the experience of doing full-time ministry, and am still transitioning from the student’s role of chiefly receiving and learning from others. That might be reflected in today’s post, which is two short stories about my being inspired and moved by the faithful prayer of the people around me, those in our small Teach Bhrìde community and in Clonard Parish generally.

The first takes place on Monday night– which has been established in our weekly cycle as my night to plan the dinner menu. I had gone home early to start getting supper ready, imagining that Mary and Ben would follow close behind. I was somewhat depending on it, since Mary was to be my assistant in the kitchen, and working alone I didn’t think I could get supper on the table quick enough for us to make it back to the Church in time to set up for an informational meeting for parents which we were asked to facilitate that night. Light pangs of anxiety started to drift into my mind as I continued chopping vegetables and mixing a lemon butter sauce, and Mary and Ben were still not around.

Then Joy read to me the following text message from Mary: “Whoever is supposed to be here for Adoration left Our Lord alone. Ben and I will stay with him till someone comes. Maybe start eating without us?” This quickly dissolved my mild frustration that my dinner plans weren’t going to turn out just right and replaced it with a peaceful delight. Delight in knowing that if our pleasant community dinner didn’t end up working out tonight, it was because Mary and Ben were only placing priority on that highest purpose of our being here–spending time in the presence of God. And not only for their own sake, but for His. Christ must not be left alone.

In a way it might seem ridiculous. Our Lord is God the Creator, the Almighty, to whom nothing is added by any of us creations. He should be fine on His own, right? Yet when God is there on the altar, exposing Himself in the stark, unimpressive form of a round wafer, He makes himself vulnerable just as He did on the cross, so that those who love Him and believe strongly in the mystery of His real presence in the Eucharist take an obsessively protective, almost motherly stance toward that unassuming wafer. He mustn’t be left alone. It is only now as I reflect on this that I realize with a smile how appropriate it is that one of the people who modeled this affectionate and maternal expression of love for Christ is named Mary.

Second story. The next day, our morning schedule was as follows:

9:15AM: a meeting with the parish priests and Eanna the Vigil choir organist, taking place in a conference room at the back of the sacristy.

10AM: Daily Mass in the daytime chapel, which is connected to the Sacristy through a central lobby area that serves as the narthex to the day chapel.

Our meeting wound up running a little later than expected since Msgr. Dennis, in a typical gesture of hospitality, offered us all tea and cake at the tail end of it. The result of this was that we were leaving the sacristy right as the mass was beginning. I was somewhat astonished to find that I could not swing the door open all the way to get into the lobby area, since the entire gathering space was filled up with people attending the mass. Now, I’ve already been quite impressed by the dedication of Clonard Parish’s community to practicing the Faith through liturgy. Almost every day at morning mass, the chapel is somewhere near full to capacity. But on this day it had filled up entirely and the overflow was taking nearly all the available standing room in the lobby, and still more people continued to straggle in as Fr. James lead us through the gathering rites.

I began searching in my mind for possible explanations– Is this a holy day of obligation that I didn’t know about? The feast day of some popular Irish saint I’d never heard of? I forced myself to brush these questions aside and concentrate more on prayer, but the answer came to me after mass, when I was talking to one of the parishioners. Apparently, there had been a terrible accident in which one of the church member’s two-year old infant had been splashed in the face with acid, and the child was to undergo an operation for the burn that afternoon. What we saw that morning was a whole community coming together to lend help and support to that child and his family, and to do so through Eucharistic prayer.

I realize that this story is horribly tragic. However, I include it not to be morbid, but because I believe there is something beautiful and awe-inspiring in the way so many people together turned to God in response to such a trauma. Also, I hope that any who read this post will join your prayers with ours on behalf of this poor child, that God may heal his wounds and bless his spirit. I’ve been brought to reflect recently on the role prayer has in the Christian life, and I believe truly that such prayers as these unite us both with the those who suffer and also to God, enabling us to participate in His loving mercy in a way we could not otherwise.

Yours in Christ,

Cameron Cortens