The Monday evening speech by President Bush was commendable in many ways. It is appropriate that he urges calm deliberation, the setting aside of inflamed passions, and so forth. But the centerpiece of his argument--that we need a comprehensive solution to the many problems posed by immigration policy or we will end up with no solutions at all--is less than convincing. Immigration policy, such as it is, has been cobbled together over the decades and has proven itself to be a field where the law of unintended consequences works overtime.
In the forthcoming First Things, Mary Ann Glendon offers a comprehensive reflection (not a comprehensive solution), including a respectful consideration of the points being pressed by the U.S. and Mexican bishops. The bishops largely overlook the necessity of respect for law, which for millions of Americans is at the heart of their unhappiness with illegal immigration. That concern is not addressed by proposals that we retroactively legalize illegality.
To be sure, there are anti-immigrant xenophobes and bigots. And there are the people living in border states who justly complain about criminality and other burdens imposed by illegal immigration. Many other Americans, however, are humiliated and outraged that this great sovereign nation has not the will or the means to effectively control its own border. It strikes them as profoundly wrong that the law is flouted on a grand scale, and they are not impressed by reforms that do little more than fudge the flouting and advise everybody to get used to it.
The editorial page of the New York Times had a predictably slashing attack on Bush's speech, concluding with the claim that he is now "the Minuteman in chief." The central issue, the editors say, is citizenship. Wrong on both counts, it seems to me. The beefing up of border control, even with a few thousand from the National Guard, is not that different from what the president said he was going to do two years ago. And citizenship is hardly the central issue. President Vicente Fox of Mexico has frankly said that most of those entering the U.S. do not want to become citizens; they are looking for economic opportunity, and nobody should blame them for that. (See my essay on Noah Pickus' helpful book on immigration policy in the March First Things.)
I don't have an answer, never mind a comprehensive answer, to the question of immigration policy. It seems likely, however, that we are not going to have a calm and deliberate discussion of what the policy should be as long as 500,000 (some say 700,000) people are crossing the border illegally each year. Law and order does not guarantee justice, but it is certain there will be no justice without law and order. Once people are assured that the border is under reasonable control, there will be ample time and, I expect, a popular disposition to consider more deliberately what should be done about the 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants already here, including a careful consideration of the interesting proposals set forth by the president last Monday evening.
With, it seems, increasing frequency I come across lay people who are daily praying The Liturgy of the Hours. That is required for priests and members of religious communities. The daily office, as it is called, varies according to the traditions of some religious orders and in most communities is prayed in common or, as it is said, in choir. It is an encouraging thing that lay people, and especially younger lay people, are taking up this spiritual discipline. And even more encouraging when they are able to pray the office with others, as in the family. I count it among the great blessings of my life that, in our little community on 19th Street, we pray at least Evening Prayer together every day.
Survey research regularly turns up the finding that Catholic clergy pray much more than Protestant clergy, and sometimes folks wonder why that should be the case. The answer is not hard to find: The daily office is required. When traveling around the country, I often ask priests and bishops how many priests do they think, based on their experience, pray the office daily. The usual answer is about two-thirds. Of course that is a completely unscientific estimate, but one does feel sorry for the estimated one third who don't. Because they are failing in their obligation, of course, but, most important, they are denying themselves and the Church a disciplined life of prayer.
At the core of the office are the psalms. An older priest told me he had stopped saying the office many years ago because he couldn't stomach the imprecatory psalms, sometimes called the violent psalms or psalms of animosity. That is obviously among the failures of his theological formation. The saints had no hesitation in asking the Lord to smite the evildoers hip and thigh--always in the hope of their repentance, of course, unless they have by their own free will precluded that possibility.
More commonly, one hears that the praying of the office has become routine, as in rote. This is usually from people who are affectively greedy, rummaging through what Yeats called the rag and bone shop of the heart to see how their praying is affecting their own sensibilities. Prayer is liturgy, meaning the work of the people of God. One does one's duty when it is not pleasurable, in the hope that it will happen, as it does at times happen, that one's duty becomes one's delight.
The disciples' request, "Teach us to pray," is our prayer until we draw our last breath. And always there is the wise counsel of saints beyond numbering: Pray as you can, not as you can't. None of us prays or believes or loves as we wish we could. Pray, believe, love as you can, not as you can't. And, by God's grace, we can more and more.
A few years ago the English edition of Magnificat (click here) was launched and it has caught on in a big way. It is a handsome little book sent monthly to subscribers and contains a simplified version of the daily office. I'm told that there are now more than 200 thousand subscribers, and there should be 2 million. It can be carried conveniently in pocket or purse and provides a framework for a disciplined prayer life, keeping in mind that an undisciplined prayer life is almost no prayer life at all.
The basic prayers for Catholics, but not only for Catholics, are in the Handbook of Prayers. It contains all the standards, in both English and Latin, and is put out by the Opus Dei folk at Scepter Publishers. Unfortunately, their website requires that you wade through mountains of other literature in order to get to this gem. It might be faster to write Scepter Publishers at P.O. Box 211, 8W 38th St. Suite 802, New York, N.Y. 10018.
It really is the case that there is nothing more important that we do in the course of a day than that we pray. At Mass, in the daily office, with the rosary, we pray--for the Church, for the world, for our friends, for our enemies, for the poor, the persecuted, for the unborn babies and their mothers. There is no end of needed prayer in the lacrimae rerum that veils this vale of tears. Then too, we pray for ourselves, and, most importantly, we pray to the glory of God.
A student at Columbia told me a couple of weeks ago that his life had been a shambles, to the point of being terrified by serious thoughts of suicide. He dragged himself back to Mass. A friend loaned him her copy of Magnificat. He started to pray. "I wish I could say everything has changed," he said. "But everything is changing." Exactly. Pray as you can, not as you can't. And discover that you can, more and more.
In addition to which:
Many contemporary church buildings, Catholic and Protestant, are really auditoriums designed for entertainment and the celebration of our amazing selves. It has not always been so, and a change for the better does not necessarily mean going back to whatever "traditional" design one may prefer. These are the questions engaged in a lively article by architectural critic Catesby Leigh in "Sacred Spaces and Other Places." It is among the scintillating articles in the May issue of First Things. Isn't it time for you to subscribe to First Things?