I did something last week I have never done before.
I prayed the Hail Mary!
Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. So it begins.
The Hail Mary is a prayer (and I know it is also slang for a certain kind of pass in football). It is prayed by millions—yea, billions—of people worldwide. It constitutes the larger portion of the Rosary, that devotional practice using a string of beads to guide a series of prayers.
I had never prayed this prayer before. It is mainly a Catholic prayer and widely eschewed by most Protestants. But I was at the bedside of a Catholic woman, my sister-in-law Rana Moody. She was dying; and in fact, she died five days later.
But as a friend, a relative, and a minister I sat beside her bed, held her hand, and did what I know to do: I spoke to her, believing her unresponsive body could still hear what was spoken; I read Psalm 23, knowing it to be treasured by Christians (and Jews) of all kinds; I prayed the Our Father, or what Protestants generally call The Lord’s Prayer (and what I refer to as The Prayer of Jesus).
Then, I recited the Hail Mary.
I did so because it is a prayer Rana knew and loved, as did others in the room. And I did so because it contains a wonderful phrase in its second stanza:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the time of our death.
It is those words, “pray for us … at the time of our death” that appeal to me.
Other things put me off: asking the dead to pray for us, even though I believe firmly that the dead gathered around the throne of God are part of the great company of saints with whom we have fellowship. Some people testify to powerful encounters with some in this company, and I try to honor their witness.
And referring to Mary as “mother of God” pushes me in the wrong direction. Even as I confess my belief in God as Trinity (Father creator, Son redeemer, and Spirit comforter) I wince when Mary is called “mother of God” rather than “mother of Jesus.” I know the Christian community engaged in a mighty tussle over this idea and phrase many centuries ago.
Praying this prayer at the bedside of the wife of my brother created, in a sense, a full circle in my journey with Christ. David and Rana were married on December 29, 1970, at St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church in Edwardsville, Illinois. I was the best man (and have the pictures to prove it—such as they were in those days!).
It was the first time I had ever been in a Catholic sanctuary.
Since then, I have:
read more Catholic authors than I can count (such as Augustine, Thomas Merton, Raymond Brown, Hans Kung, and John Allen);
studied Catholic theology at the graduate school of theology at Notre Dame University;
taught at two Catholic schools (La Roche University and Duquesne University, both in Pittsburgh);
interviewed numerous Catholic leaders (Bargil Pixner, Joseph Kurtz, and Dominic McManus, for instance, plus two recent converts: Lauren DeWitt and Tory Baucum);
visited many Catholic schools (St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary, Catholic University, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Aquinas Institute, and Steubenville University (to name a few);
joined a retreat at the famous Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky;
preached a sermon at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Kentucky; and
attended mass many times.
I count many Roman Catholics as dear friends and mentors in our common faith: here I give a shout out to Martin Linebach, Lois Decker, Dominic Martina, and David Shea, plus a long string of young preachers I met through the festivals of the Academy of Preachers. And, of course, the children and grandchildren of Rana Bode Moody.
It has been quite the journey. A rich and rewarding journey. I thank God for it and am the better for it. Beginning with that wedding in 1970 and including that bedside prayer last week.
“We don’t know what God wants us to pray for,” Paul wrote to the Romans many years ago. “But the Holy Spirit prays for us ….and the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying…” This is what happened in me and through me last week in Edwardsville, Illinois. Thanks be to God.