For the last six months, after the blessing of our evening meal, my three-year-old, with eyes scrunched closed and hands folded reverently, has added an earnest prayer: “For mommy seahorses and baby seahorses and mommy horses and baby horses. Amen.” We have no idea why these animals in particular are dear to her, but her fidelity to this prayer and her sincerity while praying would make the coldest heart melt with affection. Following her example, her big sister adds a few more animals and “the world and the solar system” to the list, and I have, of late, taken to adding a quick prayer for our nation and the upcoming election.
But as I reflect upon the readings for today’s Mass, I am once again reminded that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little ones such as these. For it occurs to me that my daughters’ prayers are most likely those of praise for the glories of all things equine and all of creation more than they are any specific petitions on their behalf. From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise. Meanwhile, mine reflects an underlying anxiety about the future of our nation and a silent request that God not abandon it.
In today’s Gospel, when asked about paying Roman taxes, Jesus replies to the Pharisees, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” (Mt 22:21). These days, it is hard not to give an inordinate amount of time, energy, thought, and prayer into the matters of the civil state. Even when I attempt to turn attention elsewhere, a simple walk through the neighborhood becomes a reminder that election day nears. A conversation among friends quickly turns to political chatter. While Jesus never suggests shirking our civic duties, he is also clear that we must give to God what is God’s.
Yet how can we possibly begin to do that? His domain is hardly relegated to the private sector. Isaiah says as much in today’s reading: “The Lord, through his anointed, will subdue nations and make kings serve him . . . It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other” (Is 45:4, 6). What a comfort to my political anxieties, but how do we give back the east and the west to the God who made them?
The excerpts from today’s Psalm 96 show us the way: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all you lands. Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the Lord made the heavens.”
How humbling to realize that, while I have been praying for the gods of one nation which are things of nought, my young children have been praising the Lord of the ocean depths and the far-reaching galaxies. One of the gifts of motherhood, I have realized, is simply living with those people to whom the kingdom of God belongs. Though it is I who have received and known many more years of God’s greatness and glory, it is their faithfulness in praise which puts me to shame and inspires me to greater holiness. To be clear, our Lord welcomes all prayer and listens to our requests, but it is in children that we often witness that for which we were created: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” St. Ignatius sets forth that tenet as the principle and foundation of his Spiritual Exercises.
Praise is the way to holiness—for ourselves, our families, and our nation.
As our nation faces uncertainties in the coming weeks and months, I’ll be playing that glorious hymn, “Oh God Beyond All Praising” on repeat: Then hear, O gracious Savior, accept the love we bring, that we who know your favor may serve you as our king; and whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill, we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still: to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways, and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.