Before and during Election Day, I had the privilege of praying before the Blessed Sacrament with several hundred faithful at area parishes that had hosted holy hours. Months of pandemic, protests and politics had driven us to our knees, literally.
One pastor even kept his church open for several hours after the polls had closed. As he led us in a midnight Benediction, time seemed suspended, and a gentle stillness blanketed the dozen adorers who had stayed to the last.
The same silence and solemnity were apparent at my various stops on this impromptu pilgrimage. The intent gazes, the occasional sighs, the firmly held rosary beads — all spoke of burdened hearts seeking their Maker in an hour of corporate need, the kind that transcends our individual concerns, and makes us realize we really are part of something bigger than our circle of social media contacts.
And in my brief exchanges with those who attended these holy hours, I discovered that few were actually praying for one or the other presidential candidate to win. Although they had their preferences, of course, most of them echoed the same sentiments: a longing for peace, for unity and (dare we to hope?) for the sanctification of our society, so that human life would be cherished, and God’s laws would at last be “(written) upon our hearts” (Jer 31:33), not hammered out in bitter partisan debate.
No one in the pews had a petition to sign, a banner to wave, a rally to promote. Instead, they had faith: a belief in a reality beyond that mediated by the 24/7 news cycle, and the trusting humility to approach the One in whom creation itself exists.
Flesh of every color gathered at these holy hours; some faces were lined with long experience, others still untouched by time. Priests, religious, laity bent their heads and lifted their voices in unison.
To the eye clouded by unbelief, such holy hours — especially for a presidential election — might seem absurd. Even many Catholics wonder if God has any interest in the politics of a given nation, or in the arc of human history, or (closer to home for most of us) in the countless mundane events that make up our daily lives.
But those with whom I knelt weren’t looking for a political win. Instead, they sought to exercise their “citizenship … in heaven” (Phil 3:20), and as one young woman said, to “(build) the kingdom of God while here on earth.”
“I was moved to just come and offer myself,” she told me. “We can pray and we can hope and we can look for unity regardless of the outcome of this election.”
In a quiet but fervent tone, she added, “Our country and our church (are) in dire need of unity — and the Holy Spirit can bring that.”
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