Watch and Pray: A Personal Reflection on the Words of Christ
Well, it may so be a vocation isn’t like that. It may so be a vocation is like a friend you might make. You don’t choose a friend. A friend would come to you. And you don’t turn him out, no matter what others would say. You’re only too thankful if you found him.”
— Jamie O’Neill, At Swim, Two Boys (New York: Scribner, 2001).
Even though O’Neill writes of how we might come to understand vocation, I have always thought the analogy speaks to how I came to know, join, and revere my parish, St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco.
I live in a city where there is no shortage of good liturgy. Call it an embarrassment of riches—there is an abundance of mass times or parishes masses that cater to specific communities and age groups and more. St. Dominic’s is no exception.
And yet I never “chose” St. Dominic’s. Deep in my heart, I’m not sure I would have. People love its Gothic style and flying buttresses; I find it vacuous and dark. And as someone who has grown to love Ignatian Spirituality, the Dominican way was different, though appealing. Still, St. Dominic’s came to me. And “I’m only too thankful” it did.
What did I find? Why didn’t I turn it out? What am I grateful for?
At St. Dominic’s I found a spiritual home. I have found one of the truest Christian communities I have ever known. And I have found the same invitation that Christ once gave to his to disciples: “watch and pray.” These are the primary reasons I anticipate opportunities for worship and formation, spiritual nourishment and more. I am so grateful for this “friend.”
A Spiritual Home
I grew up in a home that loves music. I took piano lessons for twelve years. My parents encouraged me at sixteen to work at a popular music venue because they knew I would love seeing a variety of musical acts. Are parents always right?! I believe one of the best nights of my life was seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live inMadison Square Garden. Suffice it to say, the liturgical music of St. Dominic’s drew me in.
From the organ at the high mass to the singular cantor and the Sunday Candlelight vigil, the parish offers a vibrant array of liturgical music. However, my ear bends toward the contemporary choir. Their songs are upbeat and fresh; their lyrics have invited me to become ever more familiar with the Word.
During hard times, it’s difficult for me to sing. And yet, I’m grateful the choir continues to sing when I cannot. It is a source of great comfort. And in the best of times, I aim to sing for others in that same spirit. St. Augustine said “he who sings, prays twice.” If that’s true, St. Dominic’s Church is a prayer powerhouse.
True Christian Community. James Joyce wrote, “Catholic means ‘here comes everybody.'” St. Dominic’s embodies his definition, and it’s a significant reason why I’m so grateful that it is my spiritual home.
The mass I attend attracts a large number of young adults; initially, they were the community that drew me back one week after another. But it was the strange, vibrant, disabled, feeble,
able-bodied, loud, annoying, prayerful and holy people I sat beside that taught me the most.
In “Compassion,” Henri Nouwen writes that “Community can never be the place where God’s obedient servanthood reveals itself if community is understood principally as something warm, soft, homey, comfortable or protective.” His words have stayed with me. True Christian community is not “my” club or “my” friends. It does not include only those who look, act or think like me. Quite the opposite—a true Christian community is a place where we come as we are—broken and sinful, sorrowful and indifferent, old and young, black and white. True Christian community is a place where we gather as brothers and sisters to become one.
I have found that St. Dominic’s. No wonder it is my spiritual home!
Watch and Pray: Scripture and Invitation
My favorite liturgical celebration of the year is Holy Thursday. St. Dominic’s concludes this solemn mass with the procession of the Eucharist out of tabernacle and the into a side chapel. There, the faithful gather to chant a Taize prayer “Stay with me.”
It echoes Jesus’ words to his disciples from the Garden at Gethsemane: stay with me, remain here with me. Watch and pray. However, I believe its message isn’t just for Holy Week, but in our daily lives as Christians. It is what I am called to do in my vocation as a teacher, as a neighbor, a coach and more. In light of the true Christian community I have found at St. Dominic’s, I have found the opportunity to put to that call into practice at Sunday Mass.
I try to watch the lectors and the choir so I can really listen to their words. Watching helps me pray. And praying helps me keep watch. But like so many things in life, it can be very hard to do both. Distractions abound.
Often, I end up watching the person in front or beside me. Sometimes, it’s the family of four young girls. I marvel and how the mother and father hand off responsibility and do what they can so that everyone is taking part in the mass. Last week, I couldn’t help but watch the woman sitting beside me whose nervous ticks kept her moving and talking. Another time, I watched incredulous as the hipster in front of me drank his Starbucks coffee during the consecration.
We come as we are, and Jesus’ words did not stand as an either/or proposition. He invited us to both watch and pray. And what I see at St. Dominic’s invites me to prayer. Those prayers have humbled me and helped me understand God’s love in new and surprising ways.
Last spring, I noticed that a street person had all of his personal belongings and his tent on the pew. It reminded me what I had just read in “Tattoos on the Heart” by Father Greg Boyle, SJ. Boyle writes, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” I was looking precisely at what the poor carry. They bring it with them on the streets and they bring it into the house of God.
I was awestruck. What I saw revealed a truth that Boyle knows by living and working with the poor. In my prayer that night, I wondered, Would I have understood this had I not been at St. Dominic’s? Did this man find a spiritual home at St. Dominic’s too? Did he find a Christian community here that was worth sharing in? Did he also watch and pray as he invited me to do?
In “Practice Makes Perfect: Growing Spiritually Through Sports Participation” Anthony M.J. Maranise writes, “Christianity is, in itself, a great call to friendship. When Jesus spoke to His Apostles and issued His great commandment to 'Love one another as I have loved you,' (John 13:34) it is clear that Christ was instructing the Apostles to love as they had experienced Jesus’ love.” I never thought I would have found the friend that I found in my parish—a friend that has helped me become a better Christian, one that has taught me to love as Jesus loved. It has become my spiritual home, a place where I have welcomed new and unsuspecting friends. I invite anyone who is searching for a spiritual home to “watch and pray.” Someone or something may find you. I hope you are only too grateful when this unexpected meeting happens for you.