For the last several days, we’ve been hearing a lot about the demonstrations being staged in lower Manhattan and around the country: Occupy (Fill in the Blank) – Occupy Wall Street, Los Angeles, Washington…thousands of people taking to the streets to express their frustration over the economy and anger at Wall Street. It remains to be seen how far the protests will go, or how long they’ll last. It’s unclear if they’ll even have any impact.
But the protests have reminded me of another demonstration — one that was very different from what we’re seeing on Evening News.
It happened 50 years ago last weekend, October 7th 1961, in the Polo Field at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. By one estimate, the crowd that day numbered 550,000 people. And like the people gathered on Wall Street these days, they were doing something countercultural, even radical, by demonstrating something almost unthinkable today.
They were there to pray.
And they came armed with a powerful weapon: the rosary.
At the time, the rosary rally in San Francisco was the largest gathering of Catholics ever in North America. A decade later, not even Woodstock would draw that big a crowd. It attracted politicians and dignitaries, including the city’s mayor and the governor of California, Pat Brown, the father of the current governor, Jerry Brown. It was the lead story on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, and generated front- page coverage for days.
Could you imagine anything like that today?
The man behind it all was Fr. Patrick Peyton, a soft-spoken Irishman who coined the famous phrase “The family that prays together stays together.” Fr. Peyton believed so fiercely in the power of prayer, and the power of the rosary, that he staged events like that all over the world — in Nairobi, in Madrid, in Bombay. In 1953, a rosary rally in Manila drew a million people.
Today, nearly two decades after his death, Fr. Peyton has been declared a “Servant of God” and is a candidate for sainthood. You look back on the impact he had, and you can understand why. I have no doubt he helped save many, many souls.
And he did it by reminding the world of what matters.
The gospel today concludes with Jesus telling the Pharisees to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” A lot of us know that saying translated as “render unto Caesar.” I think we all know too well what we “render unto Caesar,” what we repay to him. I don’t think anyone disputes that Caesar gets its due.
But I have to ask: what about God?
How many of us take the time to repay “to God what belongs to God”?
Do we even bother?
In the responsorial psalm, we just sang, “Give the Lord glory and honor.”
Well, here, in these beads, is our chance.
I know, a lot of people think the rosary is boring. I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have started to say the rosary and she ends up digging her elbow into me because I’ve fallen asleep.
I’m not a poster child for this devotion.
But I will tell you this: it has changed my life.
When I wandered away from the practice of my faith, it was my wife praying the rosary that pulled me back.
When I have found myself frightened or anxious or uncertain, it’s the rosary that has helped me find focus.
When I’ve felt alone or worried, it’s the rosary that has given me peace.
This weekend, we invite you to rediscover what the rosary has to offer. October is the month of the rosary, and as has become our custom during this month, on Sunday afternoon, we will pray a “Living Rosary” in the plaza outside our front door. What you’ll experience is something remarkable.
You’ll hear the rosary prayed in different languages, in different voices. You’ll have a chance to bear witness to our faith, to all those who travel up and down Ascan Avenue.
And with the Living Rosary, there is this: every one of us represents one of the beads. That means that we become what we pray. We give ourselves as living prayers to God, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
And, most importantly: we have a chance to give “to God what belongs to God.” To give thanks. To offer in some small way our lives, our hearts, our hopes for His greater glory.
Paul’s opening of his letter to the Thessalonians that we heard a few moments ago said, “We give thanks to God always for all of you…calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.”
In so many ways, that captures beautifully what praying the rosary is about. A work of faith. A labor of love. Endurance in hope.
So this weekend, take 20 minutes and take a leap of faith. Make yourself a prayer. Pray that rosary with us. We only need 60 people. Imagine if we had 600.
It won’t be as massive as the rosary rallies of Fr. Peyton, and it won’t make headlines like the people occupying Wall Street. But like those protestors, you will be doing something defiantly, proudly and deliberately countercultural. To a disbelieving world, you will say: “No. I do believe.” The first words of the rosary are the creed: we believe. And it all flows from those words. The rosary is a devotion that professes belief and from that, trust — all through the intercession of that most blessed among women, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” the one who is “full of grace.”
This is a chance to say not only that we believe, but that we believe in the power of prayer.
Call it Occupy Forest Hills – or at least, Occupy the Plaza outside our church.
I can’t promise that it will change the world, or even change your life.
But I can promise you this: you will experience, as Paul put it, a work of faith and a labor of love and endurance in hope.