Shared Work – Pastor’s Reflection (September 4, 2016)
These days invite us to consider work, and perhaps we do so from a variety of angles. Some of us are grateful for the work we have, and some of us are longing to have any kind of work at all. Work fulfills many of us profoundly, and others it oppresses in equal measure. For many, work is something to resume at this time; others have come to summer’s end without letting up and their frustration simmers.
Perhaps we take note more slowly of work we share. Some things rate as group tasks. For example, presidential elections are a common work of the whole national electorate. In general people feel obliged to ponder the options and come to some kind of decision, even if they do not actually vote. For most of us this discernment includes talking to our friends and trading thoughts back and forth. Everyone engages this endeavor in some way, unless they avoid every means of public communication.
Moments like this elicit a desire to be part of them. Fourth of July fireworks offer a great visual and sonic spectacle, but they also put us in touch with the gift of being a resident of the United States, and so people drive, walk, and sail to be part of them, or they make sure to bring a national moment into their living room via TV.
The time for a very solemn shared work approaches. It will be our task to remember those who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In remembering them, we also recall the horror that overtook them and deplore the attacks on innocent life that have followed in its wake. This is to stand for the sanctity of lives, and for the holiness of life; shared life at work, at play, and at worship. We assert the godliness of ordinary life; in building things, in raising children, and in making love. The fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 falls on a Sunday, and so we are positioned to participate as a community in this city’s, and this nations, shared task of commemoration.
We will commemorate these fallen at the 10 AM High Mass at St. Catherine’s. After Mass, there will be procession to the Altar of the Holy Souls for prayers. Since this altar is a “purgatorial” altar, it invites us to remember that for God all souls live and that Christ’s redemptive purpose is never frustrated except by explicit rejection. Terrorism never has success against God.
May we, in this liturgy, disabuse ourselves about the capacity of violence either to change our minds or to make us afraid. May we harken again to the clarity and absolute power of the Cross of Christ.
As God’s providence would have it the feast of the Cross follows 9/11 by three days. On Wednesday, September 14 we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and its companion, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows follows the next day. The Passion of the Lord and the Compassion of the Sorrowful Mother together speak volumes about God’s regard for those who suffer and those who walk with them.
How privileged is our parish to have so close at hand the mysteries of passion and compassion. The patients at Sloan Kettering, New York Presbyterian, and the Hospital for Special Surgery, as well as the residents of Mary Manning Walsh Home have the help of doctors, nurses, and scientists who undertake the shared work of restoring health. They have the support of family and friends who want them back to normal. But, at some point, the sick and the elderly and those who care for them must face together the limits of human health and life with dignity and clarity. Even with all our advances we have not escaped suffering, and suffering with.
Perhaps this experience can strengthen our faith as we pray about the world’s great sufferings of late. Human violence and natural disaster have handed out a great deal of pain to innocent people. So September 14 and 15 offer us a chance for solidarity with those suffering close at hand and far away.
Here is an invitation to our parish to take on another shared work, one of prayer. We would like offer a night of prayer with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as an intercession for those we know who suffer, and those we do not know, especially victims of terror. These latter would include:
those trapped in Syrian towns and cities.
those caught in the domain of Isis.
those made to flee their homelands by violence.
those lives disrupted physically or emotionally by terrorists.
This night of prayer will take place at St. Catherine of Siena Church, in the heart of the hospital neighborhood. It will begin with a Sung Mass for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross at 6:30 PM followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament through the night until the 7 AM Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Common prayer will punctuate the silence in various ways. But nothing is so lovely as the shared silence of common intercession. You can pray for your loved ones and for the world and know fellow travelers around you are doing the same.
Some may be moved to spend the whole night in prayer, others may come for an hour before or after work, but the deepest beauty of the prayer lies in the shared enterprise of it. In the end our witness to faith, and against violence, is that for Christians, suffering incites not the scattering of fear but the communion of charity.
Blessings to you at summer’s end.