Bless the Lord

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
Ps. 103:1-4

At Mass this morning, Pope Francis recommended praying this daily because it teaches us what we must say to the Lord when we ask for a grace. He also spoke about courage before the Lord and tenacity.

I know this because I have the Pope App on my phone. Each day, when I sit down to pray, I check the app to see what points he made in his homily. I have been deeply moved on more than one occasion when his words encouraged me in exactly the way I needed on that occasion.

Most memorable to me was a homily in which Pope Francis said unity is not uniformity, but diversity with harmony. Today, in celebratingthe Feast of the Patrons of Rome, Ss. Peter and Paul, he said something similar. He said we need to be “united in our differences: there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit.” I find remarks such as these to be comforting.

I usually reveal this with caution, because in this part of the country, the following pronouncement is tantamount to painting a bull’s eye on your forehead, but I am not a conservative. God calls me to take the gospels quite literally, which means I can’t do the mental gymnastics that conservatives do quite naturally. Because this attitude is found not only in the political arena, but also in the Church itself, I often feel like an outsider — attending Mass for the grace of the sacrament, not because I experience a sense of community among those who applaud a priest whose homilies are political in a way that on occasion troubles me deeply.

When Pope Francis speaks about diversity and differences as part of the Church’s charism, as part of our identity, he’s drawing on a heritage that goes back to the time of the early Church. St. Paul wrote to both the Romans and the Corinthians about the body with its many parts. “We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body”(Rom. 12:4-5).

And, in I Corinthians, St. Paul elaborates on this: “For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts…. If the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ that would not keep it from being a part of the body. If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell? As it is, however, God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be. There would not be a body if it were all only one part! As it is, there are many parts but one body” (I Cor. 12:14,16-20).

Since Pope Francis has begun to speak of this diversity as positive, I no longer feel as alienated from the Church as I did just a few months ago. The Church does not have to accept the either-or paradigm that is the political arena. The Church has room for all of us at the table. Ah! How sweet it is to have this affirmed!

That is among the four answered prayers which I have been remembering this week. Remembrance is such an important part of the spiritual life. We remember how God has worked in our lives and this strengthens us when we’re going through a difficult passage.

The first answered prayer for which I have been giving thanks is my daughter Sara’s marriage to Brodie. I knew when Sara was growing up how difficult our family life was for her. Sara needed a large, loving extended family. I don’t mean to imply that we had no family; we simple weren’t a close family, one which shared holidays and vacations. Sara needed that, and so for years I prayed she would marry into a family that could provide what she needed. When I went to Oregon for her wedding, and met Brodie’s family, I knew that God was answering my prayer. There was the family Sara had needed her whole life.

The second answered prayer for which I am giving thanks is my daughter Katie’s decision to join the Catholic Church. I left the Church when I was young, made a detour through evangelical Christianity and Zen Buddhism before returning to the Church 20 years ago with a deep love of Scripture and an appreciation of meditation (what Catholics often call centering prayer). I knew that I could not suddenly spring the Catholic Church on my girls; I could only invite them to join me. Katie, I sensed, had a spiritual nature and would be nurtured by the life of the Church, but I knew I could only pray and wait. That I did, right up to the day she received the sacraments for the first time. What a blessed Easter that was!

Pope Francis, as I have already shared, is also an answer to prayer, but the fourth which has moved me to the point of tears occurred just last week. When I was 12, my mother — a seamstress — made vacation outfits for a family from the neighboring community. One of the girls in that family, was my age and we became friends. For nearly 35 years, I considered her to be my best friend, a sister with whom I shared nearly my whole life. Then, a little over 10 years ago, we had a disagreement that escalated until our friendship was strained to the breaking point.

I had always know that possibility existed. During adolescence, she felt she had outgrown me at one stage and we were out of touch for a couple years. Too, when you lose a parent while growing up, as I did, all relationshipships feel tenuous, and you’ll do just about anything to maintain those that are important. I had gotten into the habit of not standing up for myself out of fear of losing the only person in my life with whom I had a shared history, the only person who had known my mother, celebrated holidays with me and my children, supported my various attempts at building a life out of the shattered pieces of early traumas. That wasn’t healthy, and as with most unhealthy relationships, a time came when that dysfunctional pattern ceased to work.

I grieved deeply, and kept the lines of communication open. As did she. We exchanged birthday greetings, Christmas cards, the occasional gift. However, when we made an effort to get together, the meetings had none of the naturalness that marked our friendship for so many decades. I prayed for a true reconcilliation, though. Day after day, year after year, not beginning to know whether a reconcilliation was even possible, I prayed. And then, earlier this year, she asked me to assist with a project — and the collaboration worked. She asked if she could visit and I agreed. Last week, we got together, and it was a graced experience. We made plans so that we would have something to do in case conversation was strained, but we discovered we had much to say to each other. And I was so grateful for that time together.

Today, when I read the news release about the pope’s homily at Mass and his admonition to be tenacious, I found myself smiling. Yes, we need to be tenacious in prayer. I think when we’re tenacious in prayer, we are doubly graced when those prayers are answered. Not only do we know that God has heard us and said “Yes,” but the experience is so profound, that we are given a gift to remember when the going gets tough.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

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