Sister Briege McKenna is a member of the Order of Saint Clare, a Congregation of consecrated contemplative Sisters. She is based in Palm Harbor, Florida, and exercises a world-wide Retreat ministry.
Sister Briege entered the Order at the age of 15, and in her early years in the convent suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. She experienced a remarkable instantaneous cure, and soon afterwards discovered that she herself had received the gift of healing.
In her book, “Miracles Do Happen”, she recalls a simple but defining moment during a short vacation in Ireland. People knew about her gift, and kept bringing friends and relatives to her for healing. She was concerned about this, and wondered if she might be wrong in allowing herself to become a center of attention.
She was praying quietly in church one day, asking for guidance to know if she should stop responding to peoples’ requests when away from her ministry. While she was praying, an old man came in and knelt on the opposite side of the church. When he saw her in her nun’s habit he came to her and asked her to pray for him, because he had fallen from his bicycle and his wrist was badly swollen.
Briege prayed with him, and he thanked her, telling her he would offer a decade of the Rosary for her. He went to a statue of Our Lady, and she heard him praying the Rosary. In the middle of the decade he stopped, and shouted across to Briege: “Sister, my wrist is better. The swelling is all gone. That was a powerful prayer. Would you write it out for me”
Briege recorded the incident because she took it as an answer from heaven telling her that she was there to help people. I also found it amusing that the man thought the power was in the words, and if he had them written on a piece of paper he would have the “power” of heaven in his hands whenever he needed to use it.
We are very conscious of power and words since November 27th, when the new text of the English Mass came into force. Prior to that we had used a certain formula of English words in the Mass for about 40 years. Then, with due notice, those words were declared obsolete, and replaced by other words. The new words, we were told, are closer to the original Latin, though it is highly unlikely that Latin was the language spoken at the Last Supper.
I have no problem if high officials of the Church assert their authority and decree new Mass texts. I have difficulty however understanding why the previous texts are now forbidden, unless they contain some hidden errors which were never revealed.
It can hardly be that the Creator, whom last year we addressed in the Gloria as, “Almighty God and Father”, now insists on being addressed, “O God, almighty Father”. It seems like a distinction without a difference, hardly worth the time and energy that went in to re-writing the texts.
I remember a Christmas Mass I celebrated in the mountains of Chile, where the people expressed their faith in solemn religious dances rather than in words. It brought home to me how wordy is our liturgy as the people patiently waited for all the Mass texts and readings to end, so that they could honor their Creator not with their lips but with their whole-hearted expression of joy in their sacred dance.
We are people of the word, prone to think like the bicycle man that the power of our lips gives us power over God. We would do well to remember the words of the Lord: “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, ‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me’”(Mark 7,6) Like Sister Briege, pray to be in tune with the Lord, so that you will honor him not with mere words, but with a humble grateful heart and the fullness of your good deeds.