Posted September 04, 2009 in MH Washington DC:
Praying for the American Government

by Cynthia Donnelly.

For 28 years, Madonna House has had a house in Washington D.C. about two blocks from the Capitol building where Congress meets to make the laws governing the United States.

Our house is what we call a prayer-listening house, and our mandate from the late Cardinal James Hickey, who invited us to come to Washington 28 years ago, is this: to pray for the president of the United States, the government, and the archbishop of Washington, and to respond to the spiritual needs of the people in the area.

The three staff in our house—Pat Probst, Maureen Ray, and I—spend our day doing pretty ordinary things. We get up in the morning, pray privately, and then pray lauds together. Then we have breakfast.

After that, we divide up the work of the house. Pat does the gardening and the laundry, Maureen does the cooking, and I do a lot of the other things. We also answer the phone and doorbell and respond to the needs of whoever comes to the door. Lots of people come asking for prayers.

At 5 o’clock, we gather for spiritual reading. Then we say the rosary, pray vespers, and have supper.

Depending on our schedule for the day, we attend Mass either in the morning, at noon, or in the evening. Our schedule is different every day.

How do we pray for the American government and its president? Let me tell you a little story.

This story is actually a meditation that I made about eleven or twelve years ago when I was making an Ignatian retreat. In one of the exercises of that retreat, a meditation called "The Two Standards," you are called upon to choose who will be your king.

St. Ignatius asks the retreatant to imagine standing on a hill looking down into a valley. In the valley are two armies: one is Christ’s and one is Satan’s.

I have a very vivid imagination. As I began this exercise, I immediately saw the valley. On one side was what looked like a futuristic city.

Everything was clean—there was no garbage on the streets—and everything was beautifully organized. The people were smartly dressed—the men in three-piece suits, everything worked, and people got along. There were no glitches and no mistakes. Everything looked fine, fine, fine.

I looked on the other side, and that part of the valley was an open field with a lot of rocks, and a bunch of people were milling around. They didn’t look like they knew what they were doing.

I decided to investigate. I went to the clean city first because that’s the one I liked, the one with everything well ordered and working the way it’s supposed to. I was surprised to discover that this was Satan’s camp.

Someone showed me around, and I saw that everything really was as I had seen it. Yes, I thought, this is what I would prefer.

Then I crossed to the other side to check out that other camp. I sort of knew who its chief was, and sure enough, there was Jesus sitting on a rock.

I asked, "Is this is your camp, Lord? He smiled and said, "Yes, this is my army."

I looked around and I saw people that seemed a lot like Pat, Maureen, and me. Then he said, "I am going to introduce you to my captain, and I will have her show you around."

I said "okay," and suddenly a thirteen-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome came up to me with a big smile. Jesus said to her, "Michelle, would you show Cynthia around, please?"

So Michelle showed me around, and by the end of the tour I could see that nothing was working. Everything was broken; everything was all hodge-podge.

Then Michelle brought me back to Jesus, and Jesus said, "Well, Cynthia ….?" I said, "How does it work here?" Michelle said, "We depend on Jesus, and sometimes we outsmart them."

For me, living in Washington is a lot like that. We are a very small community of three women. We live a very simple, ordinary, humble life. If you looked at the three of us, you wouldn’t think we’ve got much to give. It’s not that we’re dumb, but we are very ordinary people.

Even so, this task of praying for the government and the president of the United States has been entrusted to us.

Oftentimes when I go through my day, I think about that little meditation, and I realize that our most important work in Washington is to remember that God is in charge.

I want to talk a little bit about the Holy Father’s visit to Washington last year.

It was very interesting that he came when he did. People knew that he would be speaking at the United Nations, but we didn’t know that he would be coming to Washington. It was so unexpected—this coming to us in 2008, an election year. I wondered why he came.

His Mass at the National Stadium was not just for Washington. It was for the whole United States, and representatives from all the dioceses throughout the country attended it. So when he spoke to us, it was his first official moment with the people of the United States.

He told us three things in his homily. He said, "I am coming to the United States to confirm you in your faith. I am coming to proclaim Jesus Christ risen from the dead and living at the right hand of the Father in heaven. And I am coming to beg the Lord for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit."

Then at the end of the homily he said, "I beg you to let go of all your differences and be a people of evangelical hope for the United States of America."

As you know, the past year has been a tumultuous one in the United States, and it has been a difficult year for many. It continues to be so.

What to say about praying for the president of the United States—President Obama now, President Bush just before him—praying for the government, praying for the archbishop and the Church? I think my meditation about the two standards says it all.

So often, it looks like things aren’t working out the way we want, and so often we look around and say, "Can we ever win? Will the victory of Christ ever shine forth?"

The title of the pope’s journey to the United States was, "Christ Is Our Hope," and the Holy Father called us to be an evangelical presence of hope. Christ is our only hope.

In our house in Washington, that’s what we try to live. Some days we do it. Most days, I’m not so sure, because it’s not always easy to believe it ourselves.

But I have to choose to believe that Christ is my hope, my source of life, my refuge, the reason that I am. I have to choose to believe that he is directing all things, whether I can see this or not.

So that’s what we do. We are doing the same things so many people do: going to prayers, going to work, trying to get along with one another. Sometimes we get along and sometimes we don’t.

And we offer up our struggles and our difficulties and our frustrations and pains for God to use in the struggle. That’s all we can do.

Let me tell you another little story. August 15, The Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, is a big feast for Madonna House. I was by myself. Maureen was on vacation, and Pat was helping out in Combermere for the summer.

Because of certain circumstances, my duty of the moment for that day was to spend time with one of our friends. I didn’t get to Mass until late in the afternoon. I hadn’t had time to pick flowers or to decorate, so the house was very plain for the feast. There was no beauty anywhere. The whole day hadn’t been much of a feast for me.

I got home from Mass at about 7 o’clock, and I was just about to have a quiet little supper by myself. Then the doorbell rang.

I thought, "I’m not going to answer that. No, I’m not going to answer that, Lord."

Well, I finally did answer it and it was one of our friends who has known us for a very long time.

She came in, and I invited her to have supper with me. No, she said, she’d already had supper. "I just wanted to stop in for a moment because it’s Our Lady’s feast day, and I want to tell you something."

We chatted for a while about what was happening in her life, and then she said, "I’m going to get ready to go now." So I asked, "What do you want to tell me?"

She said, "I want to tell you how much I love coming to Madonna House because I need to see God once in a while, and when I come here, I see God in your eyes. I want you to know that that gives me hope."

I was speechless. After she left, I sat down and said, "Thank you, Lord."

I believe the Lord had sent our friend as his angel to tell me that all is well. Just keep doing what you are doing; all is well.

The three of us rejoice in being little. With everything that is spinning all around us, this is the truth: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and he lives in heaven at the right hand of the Father.

I believe that everything the Holy Father said to us during his Mass at National Stadium is happening in the United States, and because of this, I have a lot of hope.


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