Finding a stage to offer ‘God’s drama’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 1999

&uot;The stage of God’s drama for so many years now.&uot; That is how the Most. Rev. William Cardinal Keeler described St. Mary Basilica … the more than 150 year old former cathedral that is Mississippi’s only church to receive the basilica title.

Cardinal Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore, was speaking to the more than 700 people gathered for Saturday’s dedication Mass at St. Mary. As he stood in the sanctuary of the grand church, light streaming through stained glass windows and the heady scent of incense in the air, Cardinal Keeler talked of faith and history, personal and public.

And he drew an interesting comparison for those who were listening closely.

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Before praising the parishioners of St. Mary on the much-deserved pride in the basilica, Cardinal Keeler talked of the role faith plays in creating a spiritual place.

Using Pope John Paul II as his example, Cardinal Keeler told of a visit to Baltimore, where the pope celebrated Mass at a stadium – hardly a place to inspire meaningful worship.

&uot;The instant he made the sign of the cross, the stadium became an open-air cathedral,&uot; Cardinal Keeler said as he described the effect the pope’s presence had on the crowd.

The power of that presence is a mystery to so many of us – Catholic or non-Catholic. But to Cardinal Keeler, it’s as simple as faith.

&uot;He is able to find strength to project to others a sense of God’s presence, of God’s power,&uot; Cardinal Keeler said of the pope.

Cardinal Keeler went on to describe the events of that visit to Baltimore – from the pope’s public appearances to his simple lunch at a soup kitchen – and the tiring demands of the schedule. And he told how Pope John Paul II managed to find his strength: &uot;in prayer.&uot;

&uot;When he saw the open door to the chapel (at Cardinal Keeler’s church) he went in and knelt down in prayer for five minutes,&uot; the cardinal said.

We can only imagine what the pope prayed about that day: A silent prayer, offered most likely for the needs of the people he had seen that day; offered in thanks for the opportunities and blessings he had experienced that day; offered humbly by a man who sees his role in life as one of service to a greater purpose, a greater good.

Maybe he prayed for strength to continue his role in &uot;God’s drama&uot; – the same drama that has been played out for so many years at St. Mary Basilica.

As Cardinal Keeler told his story of the pope’s prayer, my thoughts wandered to the hundreds of thousands of prayers offered up from the pews at St. Mary over the years.

I thought first of &uot;God’s drama&uot; played out in those occasions that mark our lives, from baptisms to weddings to funerals; of the Christmas services and Easter vigils whose pageantry is matched only by their deeper meaning; and of the generations of families whose lives are intertwined with St. Mary.

But &uot;God’s drama&uot; isn’t reserved for grand occasions and architecturally significant basilicas. It is played out daily by the faithful congregation members who attend morning and afternoon Mass, the former shopkeepers and grandmothers whose prayers are often as much for others as for themselves.

Or in the prayers of a visitor who finds a few moments of peace and solace in the empty church, alone with his thoughts and his prayers.

Or even in the heart of a busy soccer mom, rushing to the next practice who pauses – if even for a moment – to notice the breathtaking beauty of a sunset across the Mississippi River.

Odd, isn’t it. No matter whether the prayer is offered by the pope or a Natchez grandmother, it’s the same one at heart.

And no matter whether it’s a grand basilica or a humble wooden pew, &uot;God’s drama&uot; will have its proper stage.