One of the best parts of being on vacation for Catholic nerds is having the luxury of going to daily mass. Sure, vacation could be defined as sleeping in, laying on a beach, reading through summer book lists or hiking Machu Picchu, but as a working stiff most of the year, I rarely get the wonderfully stripped-down liturgy and five-minute homilies daily mass provides. By the summer, I find myself craving it and indulge a few times.
I’m usually rewarded for this early morning effort with a booster shot of peace – a pleasant vacation bonus – except when the Prayers of the Faithful cross over into politics, which is what happened a couple weeks ago.
In that moment, when someone prayed, “For President Trump and his administration,” the peace that surpasses understanding was replaced with judgment and God forgive me (really, please, God forgive me), I almost choked on the “Lord hear our prayer” response.
Now, I believe strongly in the power of group intercession, dozens of strangers gathered together seriously holding the intention of someone else’s concern in their minds and hearts, so I’m always thrilled when a priest opens up the intercessions with a simple, “For whom and what else should we pray?” I’m a HUGE fan of Let My People Pray.
But I’m also one of those Catholics who still believe in a firm white line separating church and state, so I develop a tic when patriotic songs replace worship songs in mass and when prayers for politicians go beyond the generic “Please bless and guide the world’s leaders.” At least some of this insistence on keeping God out of politics and politics away from God is because I’ve traveled to parts of the world where church and state mix and I’ve seen the terrifying result for those who don’t share the state religion. It is the last thing we should want in this country.
Naturally, not everyone agrees with me in regard to a liturgy free of politics. People of good will – and here I mean people at daily mass, not the trolls on social media or the flame throwers on talk radio – can believe the president is under attack and needs a little prayer power thrown his way. And maybe that’s what the person who prayed for him at mass was thinking. I don’t know, because I didn’t see who offered the prayer nor ask her why.
All I know is that – shamefully for someone who wants to live as Christ did – I immediately decided she was worthy of disdain due to her prayer for Trump. Shame. On. Me. Thankfully, my second thought was: I need to hold her hand.
In the Catholic liturgy, right before communion and long after the Prayers of the Faithful, the congregation prays aloud the only prayer Jesus ever commanded his followers to pray: The Lord’s Prayer, commonly called The Our Father. In some countries and congregations, the faithful hold hands during that prayer, but in many dioceses – mine included – the practice has been actively discouraged, even though there’s no official teaching prohibiting such behavior. The reasoning has been that some people have felt forced to join hands with strangers when they would rather not.
I completely understand that reasoning, but have always been grateful for the prayer renegades who reach out to hold my hand anyway. And two weeks ago, with the prayer for Trump, I couldn’t help but thinking that holding hands and sharing a prayer with someone I disagree with politically might help mend a fence. You cannot hate someone when you’re cradling their hand in yours, especially when you’re beseeching the Almighty to forgive you your trespasses and lead you not into temptation – like the temptation to judge, to condemn, to not-love-your-neighbor.
The woman wasn’t next to me, so I couldn’t offer my hand and perhaps she would have rejected the offer anyway. But the young girl next to me – wearing a chapel veil (yes, I judged that, too) – reached for me, smiling a tiny “I just woke up and my mom dragged me here” smile as she took my hand. The minute we linked up and prayed together, I felt my attitude shift back toward where it should have been. It was healing.
As Saint Paul wrote in Corinthians, we are all part of the body of Christ – even if some of the body voted for Bernie, some for Donald and some for Hillary. We’ve just been forgetting, since the 2016 election, that we’re all in this together, that we’re all God’s family. It’s a lot harder to forget that when you’re holding hands.