I’m wondering if Ben E. King had a hand in writing today’s Mass propers.
I say that, because I noticed that the Collect (i.e., the opening prayer) had a definite “Stand By Me” vibe going on.
‘O God, by whose grace, though sinners, we are made just and, though pitiable, made blessed, stand, we pray, by your works, stand by your gifts, that those justified by faith may not lack the courage of perseverance.’
I’ll grant you: the prayer is horribly written – a syntactic nightmare. But there’s more than a little grace and comfort in the words we heard spoken by our celebrant.
Stand by your works.
Stand by your gifts.
What a cool thing to contemplate – that God may actually have something invested in us, something worth tending to. Something worth paying attention to.
For most of my life, I’ve taken those sorts of connections pretty much for granted. I knew a father’s love, and a mother’s love, from the day I was born. I knew the love of siblings and friends and extended family. I’ve always known, in short, that there was someone (in fact, many ‘someones’) willing to stand by me.
Only lately, though, have I come to appreciate just how profound a gift it is to enjoy such deep and blessed connections. Fresh off my Kairos Weekend in the prison, I am still haunted by the words I heard from two men I met there – the memories they shared of growing up in situations that were anything but nurturing.
One recounted how he’d been born to a mother and father whose primary bond was that neither had an interest in parenting him. Raised by foster parents, he had attended 13 different schools by the time he graduated.
Another shared the sordid details of his early years – how his drug- and alcohol-addicted mother had shuffled him and his brother from dive to dive, hustling to make ends meet, beating him when the day didn’t go well, often subjecting him to sexual abuse at the hands of her transient lovers.
Remarkably, neither man seemed embittered by the circumstances of his life. Each had learned, somewhere along the way, to forgive…and to be forgiven. Each had grown, too, in the confidence that he was not alone. That the Lord was standing by him, even when all those around him had failed in their duty to love.
So you could say both men were – as today’s opening prayer at Mass entreats – ‘justified by faith,’ and their faith had given them the courage to persevere.
In reflecting on their stories, I realize that I too have reason to rejoice in God, who stands by me – whether or not I happen to be paying attention.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.