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A Prayer for the ElderlyMy God, you have revealed yourself through your Son, Jesus, to be a loving Father who cares for your children, your sons and daughters, in a loving way. I have always turned to you in good times and in bad and you have always been there to enfold me in your loving embrace.
I now turn to you, my loving Father, as I grow old. You are the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge. You know all my needs even before I put words to them. As I grow older, I find that I am beset with the weaknesses of age; I am, at times, troubled by this and feel afraid. I fear the pain that may come my way, the sting of loneliness, the agony of depression. And so I turn to you, my loving Father, and ask you to have compassion on my weakness. I do not ask you to protect me from the problems of old age; I ask only that you come and stand by me as I face them. Make me feel your presence in my life; strengthen me with your love. I ask this of you, my Father, through the intercession of your Son and my Brother. Amen
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERDOne of the most beautiful psalms in the Book of Psalms is the twenty-third: The Lord is my Shepherd. It is a tranquil psalm, a soothing psalm; it can create a certain calmness and peacefulness in the person who reads it or hears it read. It is almost always recited at a funeral Mass, for it has a peaceful and calming effect on the grieving. People pray it when they encounter difficult times.
The twenty-third psalm is popular because it speaks to us of a promise made to us by God. The shepherd in the psalm is, of course, God. Jesus, in the gospels, assumes the title of shepherd when he says, “I am the good shepherd.” For Christians, then, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. And God’s promise to us was not that he would protect us from the unfairness of life so that everything would go our way or that life would always be fair. No, it wasn’t that. But this is what it was: whenever the time comes for you to confront the unfairness of life be it loss, illness, rejection, hatred, misunderstanding, betrayal, the pain of everyday living, or even death, don’t be afraid because no matter how hard it is, you’ll have the strength to handle it, because I’ll be there with you. I’ll be at your side and I’ll give you the strength you need to get through.
The psalmist starts out, it would seem, living in a near perfect world of verdant pastures and restful waters. The Lord refreshes the soul of the psalmist and leads him in right paths. The psalmist rejoices in this perfect world of beauty and tranquility, of green pastures and still waters where he finds repose, for everything including his life is in perfect order.
But then a cloud appears in the perfect blue of the sky. We don’t know what it was, but it must have been something horrendous for the psalmist is suddenly cast from his perfect world of sunshine and verdant pastures and still waters and finds himself walking ‘in the valley of the shadow of death.” But it is here in the dark valley where he feels that the shepherd who bestowed such magnificent gifts upon him has now abandoned him, that he learns a great and wonderful truth about God: that God is not a God who guarantees happy endings to life’s problems but, rather, a God who will never abandon you but stand by you and give you the faith, courage, and strength to get through whatever life hurls at you.
The psalmist’s understanding of God is realistic and mature. He doesn’t ask us to close our eyes to the tragedies and calamities of our world; he tells us we will surely encounter them as we “walk in the dark valley.” But we need “fear no evil” for God, our Shepherd, is at our side “ with his rod and his staff that give us courage.” And it is here in the dark valley that the reality of God becomes more strikingly apparent then in the sunshine of verdant pastures and still waters.
Did the psalmist believe that God had abandoned him when he found himself in the dark valley? Perhaps he did, but he did not let himself get stuck there for he quickly recovered his confidence in God and says so in the second part of the psalm: “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” “ You anoint my head with oil.” Someone familiar with the Old Testament would know exactly what the psalmist is saying. To anoint with oil in the Old Testament as well as in the New, and even until today in the Church means to designate that person as someone special. The name “Christ” for example, means literally “the anointed one.”
“You anointed my head with oil” the psalmist says. As we read this line of the psalm what are we hearing him say? I think it would be something like this: “O God, when you came and found me in the dark valley suffering from a loss, or a cancer, or a wounded heart, or depression, or rejection, or some other evil, you came and stood beside me. And that alone gave me confidence. You showed me how to live in the dark valley of our dangerous and frightening world. You told me I was not alone as you took me by the hand and led me through the darkness back into the verdant pasture and still waters of your love. You made me feel special because you cared about me. You always know when I am in pain, when I am sad, when I am happy and the best part of all is, you care.
“My cup overflows.” In other words, “I thank you, Lord” the psalmist prays. I thank you, Lord because, “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life,” for I know when I am fearful and frightened and vulnerable making my way through the dark valley, you are there walking beside me, holding my hand, guiding my every step. And so, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”
In the twenty-third psalm we follow the psalmist as he describes his life’s story from the man who believes that God would guard him against the evils of life, to the man who begins to question that belief, to the man who finally comes to the realization that he is relating to a mature God, a God who really couldn’t protect him from the slings and arrows of an unfair world. And then, finally, he resolves to face and cope with that unfair world, that dark valley, knowing that his Shepherd, his Lord is standing with him, strengthening him, giving him the courage to face and conquer the unfairness.
There is truly a world out there full of threats and dangers and uncertainty. And it is our world. We could try to hide from it, but where would we go? It’s the only world we have. There is an awful lot of evil in our world, but God is there too. And God is there for us in the same way the psalmist found him there for him. And he will take your hand and tell you that you can survive the worst life may offer you because he is standing with you, offering you his strength and courage. And you can reply to his offer: I can survive, I can pass through the dark valley of this world, for you are at my side.
Passionist Priests and Brothers
Father John C. Ryan, C.P. (1920-2010)One of our beloved priests, Father John Chrysostom Ryan, C.P. died October 15th, 2010 at Glen Cove Hospital, Long Island. He was 89 years old. Father John was a member of the Jamaica Monastery for over 17 years. During his 62 years as a priest Fr John used his many talents to serve the Church in various capacities. He was Pastor, Superior of our Monasteries, Treasurer for our Province, Director of seminarians, Novice Master, Mission Preacher and Confessor. He was known for his kindness and humility.
Fr. John was the son of the late Henry Ryan and Jennie (Murrin) Ryan, the Uncle of Eileen Huettl, and the brother-in-law of Margaret Ryan of Mays Landing, New Jersey. Born in Union City, New Jersey, Father Ryan graduated from Saint Michael High School in 1938. He then attended Holy Cross Preparatory Seminary, Dunkirk, New York from 1938-1940. He professed vows as a Passionist in 1941. He received a B.A. in philosophy and an M.A. in theology. He was ordained a priest by Bishop James McNulty, bishop of Newark, New Jersey, at Saint Michael Monastery, Union City, New Jersey in 1948.
His priestly ministry brought him to Union City, N.J., Scranton, PA, West Springfield, MA, Brighton, MA, Riverdale, NY, and Jamaica, NY. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington, NJ with his fellow Passionists from New Jersey and near his family and friends. May he rest in peace.
Father John J. O'Brien, C.P. (1941-2010)The Passionists and the Church lost a very talented and loveable priest, Father John J. O’Brien, who died October 15, 2010 after suffering a fatal heart attack. A native New Yorker, Father John spent much of his priesthood in New England. A brilliant scholar, professor and author, Father John was best known as a kind, compassionate priest who had a great sense of humor and a special love for the poor. Most recently Fr. John served as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington, MA and as a professor of Theology at Anna Maria College in Worcester, MA and Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, MA. He is buried at Immaculate Conception Monastery Cemetery, Jamaica, New York.
Father John is survived by three sisters , Kathleen Henderson, of Rockville Centre, NY; Maureen Collins, of Bluffton, SC; and Ellen O’Connor, of Freeport, NY – one brother, Kevin O’Brien, of Savannah, GA, and three nephews, Ken, Tom, and John Henderson.
Fr. John was the eldest son of the late John O’Brien and Kathleen Castiner O’Brien. He attended Cathedral High School in Brooklyn, NY and entered the Passionist Seminary in 1961. He professed his vows as a Passionist in 1962 and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edgerton Clark in 1969. He earned a Master’s Degree from St. Michael’s Seminary in Union City, NJ, a second Master’s Degree in Liturgical Studies (1977) from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, and a Doctorate in Theology from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in 2002.
Father John was a retreat preacher at the Passionist retreat centers in North Palm Beach, FL and West Hartford, CT from 1970 to 1978. After serving as a member of the itinerant preaching band, he was named pastor of St. Gabriel’s Parish in Brighton, MA in 1980. He served as formation director for Passionist students at the pre-novitiate and theologate levels from 1983 to 1990. He then ministered in Massachusetts, at Calvary Passionist Retreat Center in Shrewsbury, St. Malachy’s Parish in Burlington, Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington, and as a professor of Theology at Anna Maria College in Worcester and Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston.
Fr. John authored a number of publications in theology and in 2005 published a book on the renowned Catholic labor activist, Monsignor George Higgins, entitled George G. Higgins and the Quest for Worker Justice (Sheed & Ward). He was also an active member of a number of professional societies, including the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Catholic Historical Society, Pax Christi, the International Merton Society and Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice.
The Curious World of the Last Stop
On the wall of the F station at 179th Street in Jamaica, Queens, spelled out in white and blue mosaic tile, is the legend Monastery and Retreat House, accompanied by an arrow pointing down Hillside Avenue...
A Passionist's Prayer From The HeartAs the Rector of the Passionist Monastery of the Immaculate Conception in Jamaica, the mission work our priests do here in Jamaica and around the world has always been close to my heart. I attended Immaculate Conception school, served Mass as an altar boy and found inspiration in the wonderful Passionist priests and brothers- so much so that I decided to join the Passionist Community and serve the spiritual needs of all those who turn to the Passionists for prayer and guidance.