Next week will mark the first anniversary of Our Lady of Peace as a church on the street. While parishioners are developing plans for a vigil, the rosary group will commemorate the beginning of the 54-Day Rosary, which has endured through seven cycles of novenas, on the first of August. Along the way, stalwart parishioners have survived the harshness of the seasons, but have encountered the ravages of time - sickness, death, disparity, and Satan. The faithful attribute their journey to the grace of God with the protection of the Blessed Mother, the patron of Our Lady of Peace.
On a daily basis. the church on the street lives the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. Rosary captain Jessica Bede reflected: "I loved that prayer as a child because we pray that he 'cast into hell, Satan and all those seeking the ruin of souls.' Often, I wonder why we have been allowed to continue, and then, I am forced to pray harder for my enemies. Along the way, I was instructed to refer to my enemies as those who just sin differently than I do. It makes it much easier to pray for them considering sin our common denominator rather than title, status, net worth, or good deeds."
Yesterday, on a hot Friday evening, a small group gathered early at the steps before the rosary began and spoke about the daily trials each individual is facing: Serious trials, not the typical chatter of women about the unavailability of things at the market, nor the dinner they were or were not invited to attend, but the trials of life, illness, family, spiritual equivocation and finances. The small group included seven of the original members of the Our Lady of Peace Rosary Group, its core in the darkest of times, and people who have shared intimate pain and suffering along with the closing of their church.
One person was compelled to come, having begun the rosary on a city bus on her mobile phone; yet, something drew her to the steps. There was a deacon, not a regular, but one who has prayed with the group on occasion, in attendance as well. The circle of parishioners were resolute in their prayers, and after they completed the evening prayers and petitions, they asked the deacon to bless them. Aware that church law does not allow the laity to bless each other, the deacon's visits to the church steps have always been a treat, like ice cream during the dog days of summer. Imagine a blessing after prayers as spiritual dessert.
The deacon graciously blessed the group. Then he said, in his prayers, he felt that Our Lady was compelling him to do something more. So he had brought with him blessed oils - St Joseph’s and St. Anthony's - to anoint them.
Those who joined on the phone for the rosary were disappointed that the blessing and anointing could not be sent via the phone line.
Those at the steps each knew why he was sent to them. They had each suffered, or were suffering even now, a serious illness, or a difficult diagnosis, or a miraculous recovery. It was one of the most palpable moments at the steps, as they stood in a circle, each one waiting for the moment of their anointing.
It was an affirmation that the laity are continuing to do right and prayerful things; an affirmation that the faithful are being challenged on a daily basis, as they venture into uncharted holiness. It was an affirmation that faith grows and is growing, provided we let it.
And, that even without a church roof, these are still the children of the Almighty who have worth.