Tomorrow begin the Minor Rogation Days: three days (the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday between the Sixth Sunday in Easter and Ascension Thursday) of prayer and fasting for God's mercy and protection, in preparation for the feast of the Ascension of Christ. Then comes Ascension itself, forty days after Easter; the next nine days are spent prayerfully preparing for the feast of Pentecost, which is the origin of the novena; then comes Pentecost, the birthday of the Church as we know it, ruled by the Holy Ghost in the Apostles.
This sequence has been somewhat disarranged by the more flexible calendar allowed by the Second Vatican Council. The Solemnity of the Ascension (which is a holy day of obligation) is frequently transferred to the following Sunday, so as not to inconvenience the faithful; in that case, while one can of course still pray a novena in preparation for Pentecost, its tie to the Virgin and the Apostles praying in the Cenacle, waiting for the Spirit, is weakened by the Ascension being observed a third of the way in, rather than setting the whole affair off.
"Of course we're not going to call it the 'Gather' book. What kind of lame title is that?"
However, I have the good fortune of being part of a parish that usually celebrates the Ascension on its Thursday date: the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, being grafted in from the Anglican Communion, preserves an older calendar -- one descending, not from Trent through Vatican II, but from the Mediaeval Sarum Use* through the Church of England. Our ritual, the fasting particularly, is still a lot more simplified and restrained than it would have been before the Roman-Anglican division; but it's perfectly possible to observe the minor rogations privately, and the pre-Pentecost novena -- which is what I chiefly want to talk about.
The disturbances in Baltimore a couple weeks ago have served to strengthen my pacifist convictions (which I had been questioning as I read the reports of increasingly horrific behavior on the part of ISIS). Every act of violence contains within itself the seed of an act of violence that will take retribution against it. Hatred breeds hatred, injustice breeds injustice, chaos breeds chaos. The quasi-military repression was a response to rioting; the rioting was a response to police brutality; police brutality was a response to crime; crime ... until eventually you reach Abel being killed by Cain, and realize that even they aren't the root of the problem.
But picking who's to blame, or who's at least more to blame, is a fruitless exercise. Not because everybody is equally guilty; that certainly isn't true. If we insist on finding a category of people to blame, rich white people is going to be it, for a multitude of reasons (the slave trade, colonialism, capitalism, Jersey Shore). And while the responses to American supremacy, both here and abroad, have been grossly unjust in many cases -- perhaps nowhere more so than in the evils perpetrated by the Islamic State -- I do think that they are, to an extent, a judgment on us for our sins: i.e., the consequences of our history in a world ruled by cause and effect. Treat people as property, as our ancestors did by the slave trade, and one day they will make havoc of your property; treat people as our rightful subjects, as our forefathers did by the practice of colonial subjugation and the hideous doctrine of Manifest Destiny, and one day they will apply that same heretical reasoning to you. Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
No, the reason the blame game is fruitless is that, while a man can certainly try to prophesy to a valley of dry bones, you can only convert people. I mean, you cannot convert categories, because categories do not have minds or hearts to appeal to. You can't rebuke Whitey, however just it would be to do so; you can only rebuke whiteys, and that must, necessarily, be done by interacting with them as individuals -- individuals who are members of a category, certainly, but that doesn't override their individuality.
And really, would you ever want it to?
Worse, you cannot force any individual to change -- with one exception.
The one person you can work directly upon is yourself. This can only be done in divine grace; or rather, it can absolutely be done outside of grace, and it'll turn you into the sort of self-righteous twat that people wish was a mere stupid racist.
Though their systems differed in many important ways, Gandhi and Jesus have one striking attribute in common: everyone loves Gandhi, until the time comes to actually do anything he suggested. His famous dictum, We must be the change we wish to see in the world, is thrown around on t-shirts and pintergrams, or whatever it is the kids are into these days, and I am sometimes perversely cynical enough to think that people like throwing it around merely to make themselves sound deep, rather than out of a disinterested love of sound ethics. No matter. It's true, even if its truth has been made to wear one of those ridiculous awards-show dresses that porn stars have more self-respect and modesty than to don.
The point is, if we want a just society and a just world, we must begin not by nagging others to change -- although the time for that does come, now and again -- but by choosing to do justly, ourselves, as often as we find such a choice before us. If we want peace, we must practice peace; if we are seized by conscience and want to be forgiven for the sins we have committed, we must forgive. We must choose to end in ourselves the cycle of violence, because someone else might or might not end it, but we can do so right the hell now, and if we don't do it it may not ever be done. That's the freaky thing about free will -- there is no surely predicting it.
Now, what that looks like in practice, I have to admit, I don't really know. I know a few things, like giving money** and food and clothes and stuff to homeless people; but I have no grand schemes that will solve everything from world hunger to getting the kids to listen up when their dad talks to them, come on, we've been over this every day of the week since you were five. Suggestions are welcome; and that's one of the things prayer is for: to get wisdom, to know what to do when the time does come that we can do something. It is a form of watchfulness, and if we aren't trained to watch, we're less likely to notice things.
It's for that reason that I would invite my readership to join me in praying a novena for peace as we advance toward Pentecost this year. The prayers are taken from those said by St John Paul II during his 1982 trip to Great Britain, and Pope Francis' pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year, translated and adapted slightly. (For my Protestant readers, if you want to pray along but don't feel comfortable asking the Blessed Virgin Mary for her intercession, I doubt God will mind if you leave that bit out.)
St John Paul II visiting and forgiving Ali Acga, who tried to assassinate him, in prison.
Come, Holy Spirit, send to us from heaven a ray of your light. Reprove us of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Guide us into all truth. Glorify Christ in us, receive of His, and shew it unto us. Bring all things to our remembrance, whatsoever He hath said unto us. Let not our hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
May God convert the violent. May God convert those who have projects of war. May God convert those who manufacture and sell arms, and may He strengthen the hearts and minds of those who work for peace and reward them with every blessing.
Mary, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace, we entrust to you our prayers for peace: peace in our hearts, peace in our homes and families, peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. Hail Mary, &c.
May 15th: For pardon for all our own sins against justice and peace.
May 16th: For a firm commitment to peace in our daily lives.
May 17th: For the forgiveness and reconciliation of those we dislike.
May 18th: For peace, hope, and happiness for all who have suffered on our account.
May 19th: For an end to racism, and national repentance and harmony.
May 20th: For the repentance and conversion of ISIS and of all religious militants.
May 21st: For relief, strength, and joy for all who suffer religious persecution.
May 22nd: For love and graciousness toward all who treat us unfairly.
May 23rd: For reconciliation and unity among Christians.
*Sarum was the Latin name of the English city of Salisbury, where the Sarum Use developed and from which it spread. This variant of the Roman Rite was used in England by Catholics right through the sixteenth century, even after Queen Elizabeth I banned its use by law in an attempt to suppress Catholicism; thereafter, the underground Catholic Church gradually transitioned to the Tridentine rite, which was formally instituted when the hierarchy was restored. For more info, check this out.
**A lot of people object to the notion of giving money to homeless people. There is no space here for me to go into a full reply for why I am personally fine with it, but I would point out the following things:
- A poor person is a person who has not got much money. They aren't a specialized breed that, on getting fifty cents, immediately runs off to buy all of the crack that crack can crack because crack crack crack crack. Are some of them druggies? Sure. So are lots of well-off people, because there's fuck else to do in the suburbs. Give them money, and they may misuse it; but at least you can be sure you won't.
- If I give someone something, it's a gift. What business is it of mine what they do with it afterwards?
- I'd rather be duped than turn someone away who's legitimately in need. Does that mean you have to give to every person who asks you? Not necessarily, though it might not be a bad thing if you did, according to this neat Roman-era sage from the eastern Mediterranean basin. Regardless, if you give to someone and they didn't really need it, what does that prove? That your compassion glands work, and therefore you're somehow the loser in that transaction?