Saturday, August 22, 2015


I was sitting in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament this morning at 5:45 with a question. Not a question, really, but more like an “issue.” In a few hours our church will be the site of a funeral of a 53 year-old alumnus, whose mother was a secretary for our abbot for years, and whose brothers also graduated from our school. He was found dead in bed the other day.So there was that mysterious tragedy to start with. 

But the more overwhelming tragedy was the recent  spate of murders in our city. (You can look up the depressing list yourself if you want). The most recent one happened around the corner from where I was born, the one before that was on a street where my cousins used to live. 

As I sat in the abbey church this morning I envisioned X’s on a map of Newark marking the locations of our dozens of murders so far this year. Our monastery is located just to the east of the center of those X’s. I felt surrounded.

The issue was “So what?” What was I supposed to be feeling, thinking, praying for as I sat there before the Blessed Sacrament in the midst of all those X’s?

I prayed for the families of the victims, and for the victims themselves. (I realize now that I forgot to pray for the killers; I’ll do that at mass later this morning). I looked in the day’s scriptures but found no help there. That was okay -- God doesn't always just hand us answers.

Before I knew it, it was time to repose the Eucharist in the tabernacle and start our 45-
minute Morning Prayer. I prayed the psalms and listened to the readings on this feast of the Queenship of Mary -- still no response to the murders. All the praises of God and honoring of the "Queen of heaven and earth" seemed pretty irrelevant.

The sky was starting to glow with a gray overcast as the prayers went on. I smiled ruefully when I realized that we only had one psalm and one canticle left. Oh well, that’s the way it happens sometimes; there won't be any word from the Lord this morning. 

We were singing the final canticle, the “Benedictus” (Lk 1:68-79). The words of the verses kept getting swallowed up by the empty recesses of the church, until there were only four lines left. Then suddenly there it was -- the Word I had been listening for all morning:

“Because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the Daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

In the last sung words of Morning Praise the Lord seemed to be reassuring me, “I know that you and your brothers are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of all those X’s this morning. But don’t be afraid, don’t give up. Just keep living your lives faithfully and I'll guide you all into the path of peace. Trust me."

"Sun Shining on Clinker Brick Wall" - Nancy Bardach 
As we began the final petitions, the rising sun broke through the clouds and slanted across the cloister garden to make the red bricks of the monastery glow brightly. I could only glimpse a small sliver of this scene through an open stained-glass window, but it was enough to remind me that in God’s tender mercy, Christ, the “Daybreak from on high,” was indeed visiting us as promised.

Right here, smack in the middle of all those X’s.
Sunrise at Newark Airport

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