Sarah Monette

365 Days for Life

Today marks the end of 9 Days For Life, a novena launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. As every year, tens of thousands gathered in Washington DC on Friday, despite the forecasted snowstorm, to walk peacefully and show their support for the life of the unborn. Most state capitols got flooded by hundreds of pro-lifers, reminding their legislators about the trauma of millions of their constituents affected directly or indirectly by abortion over the past decades.

Those activities are extremely important as they hopefully awake us from a complacent slumber and (re)open our eyes to the loss of so many lives and to suffering of so many women and men; yet we need to remember that as Christians we have a duty to be for life 365 days a year, and when we say “life,” we mean all stages of it, as we commit to identify and fight against any threat to its dignity. Perhaps it would be useful to look at the prayer intentions the 9 Days For Life team assigned to each day of the novena, and once again take them to heart as we look for ways of bringing the Gospel of Life to life:

Day 1: For the conversion of all hearts and the end to abortion.

Day 2: May those near the end of their lives receive medical care that respects their dignity and protects their lives.

Day 3: May those who long for a child of their own be filled with trust in God’s loving plan.

Day 4: May children awaiting adoption be welcomed into loving families.

Day 5: For an end to the use of the death penalty in our country.

Day 6: May all people reject pornography and discover the true meaning of love through an encounter and relationship with Christ.

Day 7: May each person suffering from the loss of a child through abortion find hope & healing in Christ.

Day 8: For an end to all domestic violence.

Day 9: May we see and live the truth that every life is a good and perfect gift, and that our lives—all our lives—are worth living.

Rejoice, o Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

Words wear out. Even the deep ones, like love, or Christmas, or God. It takes a poet to awake us from the slumber of those oft-repeated phrases and re-open our eyes to the breath-taking beauty of the mysteries hidden behind them. That is why last Wednesday, instead of explaining once again the theological concepts of Incarnation and Redemption to the participants of our Advent Vigil of Prayer, I decided to use poetry, the 6th century Byzantine hymn called the Akathist to the God-bearing Mary. Written by St. Romanos Melodos, the Akathist tells the story of the coming of the Son of God from Annunciation to the Flee to Egypt. For those of you who didn’t have a chance to hear it chanted then, here is a short passage, the words of the Angel Gabriel addressing the Virgin:

Rejoice, o hidden Sense of the ineffable plan,
Rejoice, o Belief in silence that must be!
Rejoice, o Forecast of the marvels of Christ,
Rejoice, o Fountainhead of truths concerning him!

Rejoice, celestial Ladder by whom God came down,
Rejoice, o Bridge leading earthly ones to heaven!
Rejoice, o Wonder ever-thrilling to the angels,
Rejoice, o Wound ever-hurting to the demons!

Rejoice, o you who gave birth to light ineffably,
Rejoice, o you who told no one how it was done!
Rejoice, o you who surpass the wisdom of the wise,
Rejoice, o you who enlighten the faithful minds!

Rejoice, o Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

This, followed by many other astonishing imageries (Rejoice, o Gardener of the Gardener of life!, or, Rejoice, o Sea who drowned the symbolic Pharaoh!), took our little congregation on a theological rollercoaster ride that lasted 45 minutes, all chanting! The most rewarding compliment I heard from the participants, though, was that it did not feel like 45 minutes: the quality of true poetry and of true prayer is that one loses the sense of time, contemplating the Timeless One.

I wish you for this Advent that you may find your own way of losing the sense of time while contemplating the beauty of the One who so loved the world that he sent us his only Son!

The Lord is My Shepherd

The litmus test of whether I keep the right perspective on my pastoral duties is the bi-monthly Skype call to my parents in Poland. My Dominican assignments have always felt super busy, and being the new pastor at St. Catherine is not different: learning about the ways finances work, facilities are maintained, liturgies are organized, along with meeting with individuals in charge of our ministries, couples who want to get married, parishioners going through hard times, etc. – these all make me a truly happy, yet quite busy, priest. Now, my parents’ attention span is 1-2 minutes. Having our Skype chats every other week for the past 6 years has taught me that if I don’t manage to squeeze the list of extremely important pastoral issues I currently work on into a 1-2 minute summary, my dad would start drifting away with his veggie garden stories and my mom would follow with updating me on my sister’s kids’ school stuff. Frustrating, but how helpful! If I can’t tell them in one minute what it really is that I am doing and why it’s so important, perhaps I myself don’t really know?

The readings today are a good reminder for me as the pastor as well as for all who actively cultivate our parish life. All things that we do, projects we come up with, programs and committees – diverse as they are – should stem out of this one conviction, one fundamental experience: the Lord is our shepherd. We worry about declining church attendance? The Lord is our shepherd. The budget is not done on time? The Lord is our shepherd. We need more adult education programs, student ministry events, social justice projects? The Lord is our shepherd.

Does that mean we shouldn’t do anything? Of course not. We will know what to do and will be capable of carrying it out precisely because we first have experienced that – as the readings today tell us – that we are like sheep in need of a shepherd, that the shepherd has come and taught us “many things”, moreover, that he has made us one through his blood, removing the source of division. It is in response to that gift that we are capable of living out the richness of Christian discipleship, in our individual lives as well as in our community.

“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. That is the clearest summary of all our whats and whys.