While visiting New Orleans this past weekend, I walked into the St. Louis Cathedral at the end of Mass, just in time to hear Archbishop Aymond go into a discourse between communion and the final dismissal. It began, rather disoncertingly, with a historical reference to the allegedly “miraculous” Battle of New Orleans. But just as I was becoming thoroughly disgusted, the archbishop took an unexpected turn: today’s battle, he said, is not against the British but against racism and violence. He then proceeded to lead the congregation in the following prayer:
Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.
We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.
Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.
Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.
Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.
It turns out that this is part of a prayer campaign that the Archdiocese of New Orleans began during Lent of last year, as a response to increasing violence in the city and its environs. I must admit, the uncritical reference to the attribution of a military victory to divine intervention makes this Mennonite Catholic more than a little queasy, and I can’t help noticing the irony of using this as a starting point for such a powerful prayer for peace and life. We could (although I’d rather not) run around in circles debating the significance of this reference and whether it represents good contextualization or simply contradicts the spirit of the prayer. Despite these misgivings, however, this recontextualization of local history redeems it. Indeed, in the description of this “new battle” I can hear echoes of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (6:12):
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The “new Battle of New Orleans” is indeed, as Archbishop Aymond has written, all around us. It is the church’s true battle in every place and time.