So, I hit the 10 o’clock Mass yesterday at Blessed Sacrament on West 71st in Manhattan. There were about 500 people there. Many were young couples with small children. The rest of the congregation was a mini-demographic portrait of the big city: the young sat with the old and the old mixed in with the middle-aged. The communion line featured several different races from several different nations and prayers were recited in multiple languages.
A baby was baptized as Mass began. A little boy in the pew in front of me kept poking his older sister, stopping whenever his mother shot him a stern look. Across the aisle, a young Marine held a girl’s hand as everyone recited the “Our Father” and then shook hands with the strangers around them in a universal offering of peace.
At the Offertory, the faithful prayed for the living and the dead, for an end to war and hunger and relief from poverty and violence, all eyes toward the altar:
“This is my prayer, O God of all the nations
A prayer for peace for lands afar and mine,
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine…
O hear my prayer thou God of all the nations,
A prayer of peace, for their land and for mine.”
The doors to the beautiful old church, built in 1919, were open to the unseasonable warmth of a brilliant December morning and a soft breeze came off the quiet street, causing candles at the rear of the church to gutter a bit in the wind.
I watched the flames flicker and for some unknown reason I thought about the language of fear that dominates our politics now and wondered what it was doing to the light and hope so many see and have always seen in this country so many pray for and look to for direction and protection.
Fear is hugely contagious. Used skillfully by politicians looking to manipulate voters it can become toxic and capable of infecting more than just a few. That’s what we have now. In Iowa. In New Hampshire. In South Carolina. In our country.
We have A Clockwork Orange parade of candidates seeking to capitalize on the legitimate worry many have about where the world is headed. In the days since a matched and married pair of Islamic terrorists in San Bernardino shattered our slight sense of security people like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have acted as if the so-called ISIS is a reincarnation of The Wehrmacht.
Field General Cruz called for carpet bombing Syrian strongholds, lighting up the desert sand in a loud march to victory. Pfc. Marco Rubio stepped right up and quickly proved he was not a history major when he said, “We are at war with a radical jihadist group, more capable than any terrorist group and any armed insurgency this nation has ever confronted.”
He actually said this on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. And he said it 71 years after another December when American forces faced the death rattle of the German army at the Battle of the Bulge and suffered 89,500 casualties in that one fierce fight to finally free Europe from Hitler.
Wow! Who are these guys? And why do they insist on serving us a constant take-out diet of ready-to-eat fear? A buffet that a lot of people devour.
No wonder much of the country’s mood is a mix of anger, fear, frustration, crushed hopes, and diminished dreams. Seven years ago a lot of people lost jobs, incomes, houses, health care, a lot of their net worth, and even more of their optimism and belief that a combination of hard work and living by the law would mean a better future for them and their families. Didn’t work out that way for many of them. And what do most of those running to succeed Barack Obama offer: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
So now Mass was over and those in the church filed slowly out on to the sidewalk, to the warmth and sun of a splendid Sunday. The little kids were gleeful. The parents were smiling. The older people seemed amused and happy to be surrounded by so much joy and faith.
I stood there on the steps of a nearly century-old church watching all of this and thought: We, us, you and me sure do deserve better than what these public people have been offering, a mix of fear and duplicity that charts a truly negative direction for a country deserving of prayer and hope.