July 18, 2008

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

When, where and why may we use the name of God?

Shirley Vogler MeisterWhen my husband, Paul, and I attended our great-nephew Jonathon’s high school graduation in Illinois, we were edified to hear some of the students and adults acknowledge God in their statements during the ceremonies.

We were surprised that prayer was allowed because most of what we have read or heard states that public schools cannot do this. To Freeburg High School’s credit, they do.

Jonathon and his sister, Allison, who attends the same school, previously had a good Christian education at Zion Lutheran School in Belleville, Ill., the city where Paul and I were blessed with Catholic educations. That and the Catholic education we provided for our daughters at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis prepared all of us well for adulthood.

It is sad to realize that in most public schools prayer is not openly allowed and the sense of God’s presence is not encouraged. Yet there is no doubt that most people believe in “a higher presence” no matter what faith they profess. Catholics—most Christians, in fact—believe in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Most people—of whatever faith—believe that we are not God. Not even through the Eucharist can we be God. However, we can reflect God’s love in everything we do.

If I shared the names for God for all the faith traditions in the world, they would fill this column. My point is that everyone should respect the faith of everyone else as long as the spiritual practices are meant to acknowledge and praise God and enhance life in sacred ways.

From this simplistic statement, I go a step farther: I believe all expressions of faith and positive prayer in good faith are beautiful—even something as simple as “God bless you.” Yet I might be reprimanded if I were to say even that at some public functions.

Perhaps most of us know the story attributed to various high schools in various states. I briefly share it here without names.

At this particular high school, administrators and students were told beforehand that they could not say a prayer or credit God in their speeches. At one point, someone went to the podium to speak. Instead, he sneezed and every graduate stood and shouted, “God bless you!” Of course, this was planned to make a point.

Don’t we have the right to break some rules sometimes if we are not crude or unruly and do not break the Ten Commandments or precepts of our Church?

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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