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Both galleries above the chamber of the Massachusetts Senate were packed on March 21, making it difficult to view the proceedings. The news of a change in leadership drew the crowd, including me, craning my neck in a mostly futile effort to see below.
Senate President Robert Travaglini would be stepping down and Sen. Therese Murray would be elected to take his place, becoming the first woman in the commonwealth’s long history to lead either legislative branch.
The historic session, filled with speeches and formalities, opened with a prayer. Father Bryan K. Parrish, the pastor of St. Mary’s, serving the towns of Plymouth and Kingston within Sen. Murray’s district, climbed up to the podium and spoke the following words:
“O God, as you have revealed to us through the Hebrew Scriptures: ‘You have been our refuge through all generations. Before the mountains were begotten and the earth and the world were brought forth, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.’ Lord, You are the Creator of all, and have made creation in Your likeness; male and female You have created us!”
After asking for God’s blessing on “those entrusted with leadership and responsibility,” Father Parrish implored God to “Help us to appreciate the inestimable value of all human life, especially among those most vulnerable in our society: the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, the unborn, those with physical and emotional challenges, those suffering from disease and illness, those viewed by our culture as no longer necessary.”
“Help us to know, in mind and heart,” he continued, “the incomparable value of every human life: created good, created in Your image. Help us to promote a culture of life and love, of respect and peace.”
After urging God to provide the gathering of political leaders with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Father Parrish called on a special blessing for Sen. Murray. “May she follow your counsel in the Scriptures and, as did the women and men of old, ‘only do the right, love goodness and walk humbly with her God.’”
The moment was a powerful reminder that, notwithstanding the demand so often insisted upon nowadays to “separate Church and state,” the government ultimately does rest “upon His shoulders,” as is sung in Handel’s “Messiah.”
The cynic might respond that many in this gathering of our state’s secular hierarchy have acted through their public office in multiple ways contrary to God’s ways. Most endorse the destruction of human embryos and the redefinition of marriage for example. What power can a prayer have anyway in the presence of such wayward leadership?
The power comes from every prayer’s intended audience, seated not on Beacon Hill, but in a place even higher. The prayer raised in the Senate was directed to God, who, our faith tells us, always responds in ways that further our good. His ears are never deaf.
And His ways are mysterious. Only God has the ability to whisper the right words, at the right time, in the most secret chambers of a person’s soul, to invite change. Those who govern are just as subject to the subtle promptings of the divine as those they are appointed to lead.
It is for this reason that, ultimately, all government rests on God’s shoulders and, importantly, all can hope against hope for good governance even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. God is in charge.
The next two years of policymaking at the Statehouse in Boston will bring difficult times for those who take to heart the prayer heard in the Senate. But we must continue to pray and continue to work
The marriage issue remains at the forefront for this term. Sen. Murray’s promise to bring the marriage amendment to a legislative vote is welcome news and very heartening. She has also promised to join House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Gov. Deval Patrick to lobby hard for a defeat of the amendment at the constitutional convention, which must be called by May 9, so we cannot rest easy. Those legislators backing a vote to send the amendment to the ballot are under immense pressure to change their position and need our prayers and support as well.
With God’s help we have overcome tremendous obstacles to get where we are today on the marriage issue. At critical junctures of the process, when it seemed hopeless, God has gotten us through. So we can be confident that we will not be abandoned in this fundamental effort to protect marriage and family.
Other key issues expected to be debated at the Statehouse include financing for destructive research on human embryos, sexual education in the public schools, immigration, and the imposition of government control over church financial reporting.
Keep informed on the marriage amendment and the constitutional convention through VoteOnMarriage.org. If you have not done so already, also join MCC-Net, the e-mail legislative alert network of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. You can sign up online at www.macathconf.org. Most importantly, continue to pray that, in the words of Father Parrish, God will “guide [our public leaders] in the ways of truth and justice.”
Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy & Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.