Novena for Peace: 81 Days of Prayer for Peace, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation — Coinciding with Season of Creation

August 2, 2016

By Mark Gordon, Cross-posted from The Dorothy Option:  Radically Catholic in the Age of Pope Francis

Copyright Mark Gordon

Every summer for the past 19 years, the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City has prayed a “novena of novenas” for justice, peace, and the care of creation. I recently stumbled upon their novena while looking for prayer resources online. This discovery got me thinking: if we all agree that the United States is on the wrong track; that injustice, racism, and violence still permeate our society; that today we are as far from the Beloved Community as we were when Dr. Martin Luther King first invoked that Josiah Royce phrase; that the racial divide is deepening; and that the presidential choices facing Americans today are deeply disappointing; then we really should be praying more. And praying specifically for justice, peace, and racial reconciliation.

So, I’ve taken the idea of the Romero Catholic Worker novena and written a new novena, the Novena for Peace, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation in the United States. (Thanks to Bob Waldrip and the Romero Catholic Worker for letting me borrow their idea.) We’re going to begin praying on August 20 and continue through Election Day, November 8, which also happens to be the birthday of our patron, Dorothy Day (and my own!).

It will be 81 days of prayer and action in nine cycles, with themes like the following (NOTE:  This period also overlaps with the Season of Creation, being promoted by GCCM. See http://seasonofcreation.org)

  • August 20-28: For an End to the Injustice of Poverty
  • August 29-September 6: For an End to the Injustice of Exploitation
  • September 7-15: For an End to the Injustice of Exclusion
  • September 16-24: For an End to War and Terrorism
  • September 25-October 3: For an End to Violence Against the Vulnerable
  • October 4-12: For an End to Violence in American Society
  • October 13-21: For Racial Reconciliation in the United States
  • October 22-30: For Racial Reconciliation in our Churches
  • October 31-November 8: For the Building of the Beloved Community

Each novena includes general and particular intentions, introductory prayers, readings, a reflection, a Marian prayer, a closing prayer, a prescribed work of mercy, and thumbnail sketches of two or more “models” of the faith, chosen for that novena’s general intention. Please visit the site, and while you’re there click on the link to our Facebook page, where you can join us for daily updates and reminders.

I don’t believe it’s an accident that the 2016 presidential election coincides with the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  As Dr. King said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

Join us as we pray for miracles in 2016.  The first week’s Novena is included below

August 20-28: For an End to the Injustice of Poverty

General Intentions: For an end to the injustice of poverty. For the conversion of the rich and powerful. For a just and equitable distribution of the world’s goods.

Particular Intentions: For those people known to us who are experiencing poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. For healing of our own attitudes toward the poor and destitute. For those who work tirelessly on behalf of the poor, both in our own communities and around the world.

Introductory Prayers

Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise. Let us pray together in peace ✚ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Invitatory Psalm (Psalm 67)

O God, be gracious and bless us / and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth / and all nations learn your saving help.

Let the nations be glad and exult / for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples, / you guide the nations on earth.

The earth has yielded its fruit / for God, our God, has blessed us.
May God still give us his blessing / till the ends of the earth revere him.

Magnificat

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.
From this day all generations shall call me blessed.
The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy,
the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

Glory Be

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

First Reading: Letter of James 5:1-8

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Second Reading: Blessed Frederic Ozanam, Founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

If we do not know how to love God as the saints loved him, that is something for which we can be blamed. The same is true if our weakness is suggested as a reason for our being excused, since it seems that in order to love we must be able to see, and we see God only through faith, and our faith is so weak! But we see people, the poor, with human sight, we have them in front of us, we can touch their wounds with our hands and make out the marks of the crown of thorns on their foreheads. So, we cannot not believe, and we should fall at their feet and say with the Apostle, “You are my Lord and my God!” You are our masters, and we will be your servants. You are for us the sacred images of that God whom we do not see, and being unable to love Him in any other way, we love him in your people …

The problem which divides people today is not a political problem, it is a social one. It is a matter of knowing which will get the upper hand, the spirit of selfishness or the spirit of sacrifice; whenther society will go for ever increasing enjoyment and profit, or for everyone devoting themselves to the general good, and above all to the defense of the weakest.

Third Reading: Pope Francis, from Evangelii Gaudium, #48, 53-54

We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.

Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

Reflection

The Church’s “preferential option for the poor” isn’t about God loving this individual person over that one. No, the option for the poor is about providing a counterweight to the inordinate prestige and privilege that our fallen world accords to the wealthy and powerful. It is a call to justice, which in the biblical tradition implies the restoration of balance and equity in the relationships between individuals and among social classes. The option for the poor reminds the wealthy that the goods they possess are not ends in themselves, but means for promoting the common good, including the amelioration of poverty. And since both wealth and poverty are relative terms, the option for the poor is a demand that each of us, whatever our net worth, be of service to those in need.

Structurally, the poor share an intimate identity with Christ that demands our special solicitude, service, and love. It can be hard work. The poor are not always victims of ot
hers; often they are victims of their own undisciplined appetites. The poor, like the rest of us, are not generally noble. Many wouldn’t give you the shirt off their backs, but they might take yours. Still, we are called to love and serve them, not because they are lovable, but because they are our brothers and sisters, and because in their suffering – even self-inflicted – they are Christ. Jesus does not say, “I was legal, and you clothed me,” or “I was sober, and you fed me,” or “I thanked you profusely when you gave me something to drink.”

Our responsibility to the poor is defined not by whether they make us comfortable, whether we see the logic of it, but by their need. After all, “God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5). We were loved unconditionally before we “deserved” it, and we are called to do the same.

Mother of Perpetual Help

Mother of Perpetual Help, refuge of sinners and friend of the poor, today we face so many difficulties. Help us to reach out and help those in need. Help us understand that our lives belong to others as much as they belong to us. Mary, Model of Christian love, we know we cannot heal every ill or solve every problem. But with God’s grace, we intend to do what we can. May we be true witnesses to the world that love for one another really matters. May our daily actions proclaim how fully our lives are modeled after yours, Mother of Perpetual Help.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, you came to announce Good News to the poor. You promised a place in your Kingdom to those who serve you through the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the naked. Give us the vision to see destitution in our nation and in our world. Give us the courage to demand economic justice, the strength to reform institutions and change laws, the humility to serve the poor with our own hands, and the hope that one day the water of your justice will gush forth into the wilderness of poverty like streams in the desert. 

✚ May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to eternal life. Amen.

Work of Mercy

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James, 2:16-17

In reparation for the injustice of poverty, perform one of these corporal works of mercy: volunteer to serve meals at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen; bring a bag of groceries to a food pantry; collect the unused clothing in your home and donate it to a clothing closet; offer your home as emergency shelter for a homeless family.

Models

Dorothy Day was an early advocate for women’s rights who wrote for radical leftist newspapers in the early years of the 20th Century. She was a bohemian, a friend and drinking companion of artists and writers like Eugene O’Neill. But when she looked into her heart, she found it empty. By the grace and providence of God, she found our Lord and was baptized into the Catholic Church. She went on to found the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin and others in 1933. Dorothy’s writings and witness have inspired generations of Catholics and others to embrace voluntary poverty, identify with the poor, and serve the most destitute. The cause for her canonization is proceeding.  Learn more about Dorothy here. An online archive of her columns in the Catholic Worker newspaper can be found here.

Blessed Frederic Ozanam was a 20 year-old student at the Sorbonne during the unrest in Paris known as the June Rebellion of 1832 (depicted in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables). In a debate the following academic year, Ozanam was challenged over the Catholic Church’s supposed interest in the poor. “What is your church doing now?” his opponents demanded. “What is she doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you!” Frederic and his companions had to concede that the Church had in fact become indifferent to the poor. And so, with the help of a Vincentian nun, Blessed Rosalie Rendu, they went into the slums of Paris to seek and serve the needy. Along the way, they founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a lay apostolate that today serves the poor in over 180 countries. Learn more about Frederic here.