Prayer and Gratitude for Good Government
This week our nation celebrates Thanksgiving, an occasion for everyone to take stock of the blessings bestowed on us collectively as Americans. We have just passed a turbulent election and despite the tensions and the concerns that run high through many communities and families today we can give thanks once again for a peaceful transition of elective offices, especially of the presidency. Catholic churches always and everywhere remember and pray for good leaders and good government. The Prayers of the Faithful at Mass are some of the most ancient prayers of the Church. The text used for the most solemn form of these prayers is the following.
Let us pray for those in public office, / that our God and Lord / may direct their minds and hearts according to his will / for the true peace and freedom of all. (A pause for silent prayer) Almighty and ever-living God, / in whose hand lies every human heart / and the rights of peoples, / look with favor, we pray, / on those who govern with authority over us, / that throughout the whole world, / the prosperity of peoples, / the assurance of peace, / and freedom of religion / may through your gift be made secure. / Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Church now prepares to bring president-elect Donald Trump to the liturgy in order to pray that he be guided by the Holy Spirit as he leads the nation. But prayers, both communal and private, are not always ones of petition. There is time also to give thanks for prayers answered. Recently members of Saint Mary’s College – faculty, staff, and alumni – have taken the time to offer words of gratitude for the gift of President Obama’s leadership over the past eight years. The following testimonials are offered for reflection this week as we gather together with friends and loved ones on Thursday.
In gratitude for the dignity of the presidency of Barack Obama
I give thanks [for] President Obama, for the calm and drama-free way in which he has shown leadership through numerous national and international upheavals, including rescuing the country from the brink of economic meltdown; for his compassion and concern for the health of its citizens, demonstrated by the expansion of the availability of insurance; and lastly for the sterling example of dignity and grace he and his family have provided the nation in the face of a multitude of personal attacks and slurs.
Many have questioned what the legacy of President Obama will be now that his successor has promised to erase many of the hard won achievements of the last eight years. But the legacy that cannot be erased is the one experienced by my sons. For eight years The President of the United States was theirs. They listened when he spoke even through they couldn’t understand all the words. They pointed at pictures of him and joyfully shouted “President Obama”. To them he represents all that is good in the hope and promise of the United States of America. It was an honor to call him Mr. President for the last eight years.
I give thanks for President Obama’s political heroism. In response to the demand that he order an increased show of military force in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack last November, the president said “But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may…. And so I think it is very important for us right now — particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard — not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”
During Barack Obama’s presidency, I have been heartened by a genuine concern for the least and marginalized. At times, maybe this was not apparent for some or there was suspicion about where he placed the focus of his administration. Yet, I think what he said in Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in 2015 is something he truly believes, “You [Pope Francis] call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the ‘least of these’ at the center of our concerns. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity –- because we are all made in the image of God.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about grace, and how I have been witnessing it manifest in different parts of my life, particularly as an American. How does one define grace? I rely on the wonder “The Google”: “simple elegance or refinement of movement”; “(in Christian belief) unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and bestowal of blessings”.
When I think of our President Barack Obama, I think of grace.
I remember back to the night when he was first elected. I was a teacher, serving military dependents in Germany. I watched a live stream broadcast of the results long into the night and into morning. I went to school the next morning with something like an hour of sleep, elated, the sweetness of some bubbly still on my lips from a lonely but hopeful toast I made to the dawn, both literal and figurative. In every obstacle up to his election, this brilliant, beautiful, Black man made me proud in his demonstration of grace and fortitude.
In the days after, when his body was burned in effigy by protestors against his election, he pushed on, did the work, with grace. When his birth and citizenship were questioned, he handled the detractors with grace. When every major change that he sought to implement to benefit the American people was aggressively challenged and blocked, he continued to work with grace. He kissed babes, connected with the youth through Twitter, danced with elders, shook the White House from its history of barriers to Black people[i], held his anger so deeply that he needed an anger translator (“Luther, Obama’s Anger Translator” of Key & Peele renown). All and everything done with with grace. Simple elegance, yes. I think salvation and blessings in that definition fit, too.
[i] (literally not allowing a formal Black guest on its grounds until Sojourner Truth’s visit under President Lincoln and Frederick Douglas under President Rutherford B. Hayes, though Booker T. Washington was the first to be invited to a formal dinner by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. He never invited another Black person to the White House after that)
From the first moment of Barack Obama’s presidency, the ‘birthers’ challenged his legitimacy; others challenged his leadership and determined to make him a one term president. These challenges were followed by an uncommon obstruction to every one of his policy proposals, both domestic and foreign. President Obama responded to all of this with maturity and equanimity. His response to this indecorous and unbecoming behavior was the political equivalent of the Gospel injunction “Turn the other cheek.” Dignity is the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect. The presidency of Barack Obama has writ this very large.
In a time when congress would not budge in any way to look at the problems of having so many undocumented people, and refusing to act to alleviate their situation and caused them great stress, anxiety about their future in the United States, Obama chose to act and open a way for the Dreamer’s to go forth with their education with the hope of being one day accepted as full citizens and gave them hope.
Photo credits: Wikipedia; Wikimedia Commons; and flickr: U. S. Embassy New Delhi