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the pseudo-prayer

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 11, 2008

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Painful. And embarrassing too. We -- and by "we" I include Reuters and the Sisters of Loreto -- have been given a preview of the orations, liturgical and other, to be used during the papal visit to the U.S. By the dispensation of an inscrutable providence, the prayers specific to the occasion are of local manufacture, composed in the style favored by the USCCB. Worst of all is the orison to be offered by the Pope at Ground Zero:

O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness. Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope. We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred. God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.

Nota bene: This is not a prayer. Prayer is addressed to God, and this little speech (except in a purely formal sense) is not. It is serial posturing intended, like the successive poses of a fashion model on a catwalk, to show off the virtues of the manufacturer to their best advantage. Though grammatically camouflaged as an entreaty, this pseudo-prayer is performed not to be heard but to be overheard -- primarily by the viewing audience and the op-ed writers.

We're familiar with this gambit in more pedestrian circumstances. Think of the school principal who enters the third grade classroom and, in the hearing of the students, asks their teacher her hopes for the year. The schoolmarm picks up the cue and uses the pretext of her "answer" to drive home the points she wants her pupils to take in: "... I'm confident my students will all behave in class, Mrs. Overton, and do their homework neatly and return their insurance forms, signed by their parents, before next Friday at the latest." In the same way the Ground Zero oration is staged in order to be overheard. In fact, if it weren't such an overtly crass specimen of bishops conference salesmanship -- one notes the complete exclusion of Trinitarian language -- it would border on sacrilege.

Let's examine it posture by posture:

O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

"People of many faiths and traditions." Does God need to be told this? Is He to be wooed by the consideration that the "us" includes those who deny His existence or benevolence? Does it make sense to call God's attention to "incredible" (= not believable) violence?

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.

God does not need my lie, said St. Augustine. Neither does He need to be reminded of the date of the catastrophe, or coached as to the heroism of the "first-responders" or the innocence of the victims ("simply because their work or service brought them here ..."). He's got the point, OK?

We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Not to be confused, Lord God, with Shanksville, Tennessee, home of Darrell's Discount Auto Parts, whose Spring Super-Sale ends Tuesday.

Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

Well, are our hearts one with "theirs"? How do we know? What does it matter? Is it important that God hear that the prayer we are notionally addressing to Him embraces their suffering -- and not just their pain?

Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain.

This bit of Gettysburg Addresserie is, in context, theological nonsense. A human leader might encourage the living to take up the unfinished task of the slain, because from his point of view that task has desirable intra-historical purposes. But what could the notion of "lives lost in vain" mean for an all-knowing and all-powerful God who brings every life into existence for the purpose of eternal happiness with Him?

There's nothing wrong with giving voice to Catholic sympathy for the slain and injured, even in prolix circumstantial terms. This could be done perfectly well by reading a statement in which that sympathy was expressed straight-up. But combining a public address to God with a manifesto is a bad idea. A prayer is not the place to publish an op-ed.

I suppose it's too much to hope that Pope Benedict might omit this Ground Zero Sack Dance from the repertory when he shows up on the spot. It contains no direct assertion of heresy, and it has already been released and received media comment in anticipation of its utterance. Should the Pope have the chance to speak spontaneously on the subject, we can be confident that whatever he says will be superior to the script both in theological acuity and Christian sincerity. No pulpit Rotarian, Benedict can address the God he believes in.

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