Catholicism is among us all, this week



How can one dwell on anything other than issues of Catholicism this week? The cardinals of the church gathered in Rome at the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope and this Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day commemorating one of the great saints of the church. If everybody is slightly Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, then maybe all of us are all slightly Catholic this week, too.

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times featured a refreshing and positive report about the Catholic Church in Nigeria. Because the general church has received so much negative press in recent years it was heartening to see this national newspaper acknowledge the positive, self-giving stance of the church. In much of Africa, the reporter observed, governmental services are still very primitive or non-existent, and the church is the only real agency of efficiency and magnanimity, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the sick. I tip my hat to this ongoing, seldom-noted work of the church, Protestant or Catholic, in so many places in the world.

Partygoers will throng to Savannah this week for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and accompanying city-wide party. Not many people will give much thought to St. Patrick, however, which is too bad.

One of the most enduring legacies attributed to St. Patrick, even though there is no clear proof of authorship, is a prayer commonly known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It is too long to reproduce in its entirety in this column, but the most famous part was re-written as a hymn by Cecil Alexander in 1889 and is used in the English Hymnal, the Irish Hymnal and the 1982 hymnal of the Episcopal Church (USA). You can find the entire prayer at many places on the Internet. I highly recommend using it as a guide to your prayer this week and perhaps through Easter. Here is an excerpt from the Breastplate:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Finally, much of the world watched with great anticipation to hear the announcement of the election of the next pope. One can’t help but wonder how much the drama is heightened by its secrecy, not to mention the splendor of the room in which the vote is taken. We love nothing more than a good mystery, and except for those who are voting, nobody will ever know what eventually leads certain cardinals to coalesce behind one particular candidate. One wonders if this process will ever be open to greater transparency. One thing is certain: this new leader — like every church leader — can only be effective if he receives enthusiastic support and prayers from the people.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.