“In-cre-í-ble,” called the cantor, in Spanish. A barely audible and somewhat confused response came from some members of the gathered assembly. “A-bun-dan-cia,” called the cantor. “¿A-bun-dan-cia?,” responded some of the assembly, almost questioningly. Perhaps it was because people were distracted by the parade of Asian drummers ascending the stage in their colorful costumes of blue, red, green, yellow and gold. Or maybe they were still working out what the spiraled and curved figures hanging from the ceiling were intended to represent. In any case, thus began, hesitatingly, the opening session of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress 2010.
Once it got going, however, as the drummers were drumming, and the dancers processed, lifting and swirling with flaming braziers in their hands, it was clear that something exciting was under way. I confess that, for a few moments, it seemed to me like the world’s biggest pep rally, what with all those drums, and the cheers that went up when they finished! We sang of being the “pueblo de Dios,” the people of God, and Cardinal Mahony opened the conference officially with the Sign of the Cross and a prayer.
A reading of Romans 8:35-39 reminded us that neither death, nor life, nor anything else can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The power of this reading was hindered somewhat, in my opinion, by the technique using two lectors to deliver the text in alternating phrases of English and Spanish. I speak both languages fluently, but still found the movement back and forth between the two in phrases and half sentences somewhat distracting. Our response to the reading was a song by Steve Angrisano, Falling Into You—a beautiful melody that made me want to sing (though the rhythm was very syncopated and a little difficult), with words that reminded me, at least, of Psalms 139 and 116.
Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC, Director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, delivered an inspiring reflection that set the stage for the conference. We were encouraged to make the weekend, and indeed all of life, a celebration of God’s incredible abundance—of love for creation, abundance in joy, abundance in sorrow, abundance in beauty, abundance in disadvantage. We were reminded of God’s presence in all of creation, at all times, and challenged to look for God, even in those places or situations where we least expect to find the divine presence, remembering that God’s love enfolds no matter the time, the place, or the circumstance, just as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans.
Given this message, maybe the pep rally atmosphere at the beginning of the opening rite was more appropriate than I had thought at the time. Perhaps I need that motivation to remind me of the presence and the love of God all around me, all day long. As I head out to another day, my challenge is to try to fall into God’s love, to let it wrap around me like a blanket, so I’m forced to be aware of it. It is not a tent to shelter me, where I shouldn’t get too close to its walls. It fabric is incredibly abundant—there’s enough to go around for everyone, if we allow ourselves to be wrapped in it.
Brother Aelred Senna, OSB
Saint John’s Abbey