In 2011, we celebrated our 35th Anniversary. A special Eucharistic liturgy in August honored six very special friends of the House of Prayer with a Living Stone Award. The idea of "living stones' comes from Scripture: 1 Peter 2:4, "You are all living stones being built into an edifice of the Spirit." Father Terrence Moran was the priest celebrant and homilist for the Mass and his homily is included here.
Living Stone Honorees: Front Row: Ruth Payer, Sr. Marina O'Donnell, RSM, Patricia Flynn; Back Row: Victor Santimit, Brendan Flynn, Gerard McKenna
Co-directors, Sisters Theresina Flannery, Eileen Smith, Mary Jo Kearns with Honoree, Sister Marina O'Donnell
Fr. Terrence Moran, priest celebrant; Eileen Smith, RSM, Mary Jo Kearns, RSM and Diane Hathaway played the music. In front, Jerry McKenna and Victor Santimit, two of the honorees. In the second pew, Sr. Catherine Darcy, member of Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Leadership Team
Homily for the 35th Anniversary of Mount St. Mary House of Prayer - Fr. Terrence Moran - August 21, 2011
Our gospel today is a scripture passage that is one of the most familiar. The line “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” is emblazoned in huge gold letters around the immense dome of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. My catechism book as a child has a most impressive illustration of St. Peter’s Basilica on a massive rock foundation surrounded by all the forces of evil attacking it. But their stones and arrows bounced off the façade like bullets off the mighty chest of Superman – to use another image from my childhood. As if so often the case, these popular images pretty much misunderstand completely the point Jesus is trying to make. Jesus does not say that the church is an impregnable fortress that the gates of hell will not overcome. Jesus says it is the gates of hell that will not stand against the onslaught of the Church. And so as Church we are not huddled behind the barricades protecting ourselves. As Church we are on the move, prying open every hellish door that imprisons the human person in any way.
And so as a Church we need to have the courage of Jesus and to ask the question, “Who do people say that we are?” How would the world answer if we were to ask, as former NYC Mayor Ed Koch always used to ask, “How’m I doin?” And we should not be satisfied until we are worthy of the answer – you are the people who break down the doors that imprison and oppress – you are bringers of joy, of peace, of healing, of liberation.
On the 35th anniversary of Mount St. Mary House of Prayer perhaps we should entertain that question for a moment, “Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is?” For me that question was answered recently in a very telling way. A few weeks ago a distraught man, an immigrant, wandered into the House of Prayer. He had been in Panera’s across Rt. 22 and he asked someone there – do you know a place where you can go when you are really upset and need to feel close to God? And the people in Panera’s pointed across the street to Mount St. Mary House of Prayer. Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? It’s a place you can go when you are an immigrant and you are really upset and need to feel close to God. What a wonderful answer to our question and what a precious identity.
If you were to ask Sisters Theresina, Mary Jo and Eileen “Who do you say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is?” I don’t have the slightest doubt that their answer would be “It’s a house of Mercy.” From its beginnings 35 years ago to the present, they and the others who have worked here, have seen this place as an expression of the tradition of Mercy begun by Catherine McAuley in 1827. As many of you know the early Mercys were given the nickname “the walking nuns” – precisely because of their faithfulness to the vision of today’s gospel – they did not barricade themselves behind cloister walls but rather actively scoured the dank allies of Dublin, opening vistas of infinite hope into lives that were constrained by poverty and despair. “Who do you say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? A house of mercy – a wonderful answer and a cherished heritage.
In 1969, a few years when the house of prayer was still just a dream in the hearts and minds of a few Sisters of Mercy, the American poet Marge Piercy wrote a poem called “The death of the small commune.” She reflects on the phenomenon of the 1960’s of groups of people getting together and forming communities with great enthusiasm for changing the world and falling apart in short order. Part of the poem says:
What we wanted to build
but we could not agree long enough
to build the second wall;
could not love long enough
to move the heavy stone on stone;
not listen with patience to make a good plan.
We could not agree.
Nothing remains but a shallow hole;
nothing remains but a whole in everything.
Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? It’s all of you. What we celebrate today is the remarkable fact that for 35 years –people did agree long enough to build the second wall – and some of you here did just that; people who loved long enough to move the heavy stone on stone; people who had the patience to sit through thousands of hours of meetings to make a good plan; people who have sold thousands of calendar raffle tickets.
When Catherine McAuley went to start a house of Mercy in Limerick in 1838 the pastor asked her what her title should be as the founder and superior of the Sisters of Mercy – something like “Very Reverend Mother,” perhaps? “Friend Catherine” was what she said she wanted to be called. Like Jesus, Catherine did not want a community of superiors and inferiors but rather a community of friends where the gifts of each are esteemed and celebrated. And this is what Mount St. Mary House of Prayer has been for 35 years a community of friends with Jesus, the friend, at its center. At the end of the liturgy we will honor a few of these living stones, a few outstanding members of this community of friends. And these six people would be the first to tell you that even as they have given in abundance to Mount St. Mary House of Prayer, in overwhelming abundance have they received. Who do you say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? A place of abundance given and abundance received.
In the words of Marge Piercy’s poem, Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is a way station for a journey to a new world. No one lives there – our homes are elsewhere – We leave here with renewed energy for the mission of building the new world, the reign of God. So as an anniversary gift to Mount St. Mary House of Prayer I challenge each of us for 35 days to do something to build the new world; one conscious act for 35 days. So today go home today and tell your spouse or your children or your parents how much you love them; and tomorrow call a friend you have been out of touch with; and the next day be the first to say words of forgiveness and healing in a strained relationship; and the day after learn to say hello in the language of a new immigrant who lives near you or works with you.
For 35 years Mount St. Mary House of Prayer has been shooting forth living stones on to Route 22. Who do people say Mount St. Mary House of Prayer is? It’s you – a living stone.
It’s your house become a place of prayer.
It’s our world become a home of tenderness and peace.