Tradition a Saving Grace for Parish Associate

By LaREAU, Renee M. | National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Tradition a Saving Grace for Parish Associate


LaREAU, Renee M., National Catholic Reporter


After Sept. 11, she finds comfort in familiar rites

I work in a suburban parish of about 2,500 families. On Sept. 11 I arrived at my office after lunch, dazed by the news of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. I spent most of that afternoon, as many of us did, in front of the television.

As the afternoon proceeded, the phone started to ring. "Are we having anything tonight?" "What are we going to do?" parishioners asked. A portion of our staff met and decided we needed to have some sort of prayer service, maybe a Mass. We tossed out a couple of ideas. There was an ecumenical prayer service at 6:30 that our parish had been invited to, but we knew that the church hosting the service was too small to hold all of our people. We scheduled a Mass for 8 p.m. Then out came the Sacramentary, out came the Book of Blessings. We struggled to choose appropriate music. We found servers, a lector, people to distribute Communion.

At eight, people filled the church, some with kids struggling to stay awake, some with their spouses, some from our catechumenate. I've never heard singing like I heard that night. I was so thankful we had a ritual, a rubric to follow, something to fall back on when we couldn't think clearly. I was so appreciative of the words of the prophet Micah: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks ..." I was, on that night, grateful to work for the church.

Ordinarily I'm not a very pious person. I shy away from traditional displays of religiosity. They don't impress me. Usually. But this has not been an ordinary couple of weeks. Since the events of Sept. 11, displays of piety and religiosity, once expendable, are now comforting. I consider them displays of faith unearthed, signs of hope. I relish the sight of a wooden sign I see on my way to work, spray-painted in blue, plain and simple, the word, "pray." A couple of weekends ago, I drove along Interstate 70 on a Sunday evening, listening to the memorial Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, singing and saying the responses along with the people as I listened to the National Public Radio broadcast, feeling intimately connected, blinking back tears so I could keep my eyes on the road. I thought to myself, thank God for our traditions.

I felt the same thanksgiving for tradition when we planned the evening Mass at our parish on Sept. 11. Thank God there is a special Mass in the Sacramentary for times of war and civil disturbance, a prayer in the Book of Blessings for victims of crime and violence. Thank God for some of the songs I've sung since grade school: "Be Not Afraid," "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace." Thank God for traditions. Though I felt solace in praying with my faith community on the night of Sept. 11, the feelings of fear and helplessness have been overwhelming. Why do they hate us so much? Is my family in danger? Are my friends in New York City safe? What on earth am I supposed to do with myself now? Where have I heard of Osama bin Laden before?

My introduction to Osama bin Laden came almost two years ago when I toured the Middle East during graduate school. Our massive tour group visited Galilee, Jerusalem, and Judea, at the height of the pre-millennium tension and during the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and Syria for the land in the Golan Heights region. One evening I watched BBC on my hotel television and saw the protests and slayings. Osama bin Laden was named as a suspect. This was the first time I heard of him. The news cameras shifted to then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, warning Americans not to travel to the Middle East unless "absolutely necessary." She also encouraged Americans to "stay away from large groups." I tensed up and thought of our two blimpy white tour buses, guided by a Palestinian bus driver and a Jewish-American tour guide. I almost wished I hadn't seen the newscast. But this fear was fleeting, and our tour guide assured us that "No American Christian tourist has ever been harmed in the Holy Land. …

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