To pray is one thing.
To pray for journalists?
There’s an act of faith.
I wasn’t in the main room at the Hollenbeck-Bayley Conference Center on Monday when Kenith Britt asked Springfield Rotarians to bow their heads for that prayer.
And the smart-alec in me wants to say that saved us both from a lightning strike.
But that would be too flip.
Britt, who is the president of Catholic Central High School, composed the prayer because he knew I was in line speak at the weekly Rotary meeting.
I wish I’d been in the room when he began and saw the disappointment in his eyes when I returned to the room just as he was returning to his seat.
Gladly, that didn’t stop me from hearing his prayer, at least in my mind.
Britt is an able writer. And in reading the folded, slightly rumpled typed copy he retrieved from his pocket, it was easy to hear his voice.
Its rhythms were prayerful. Its tone was thoughtful. Its message was meaningful.
“Lord, You are truth,” he began. “And you have called journalists to an important task — to tell the truth.”
“But to do that, they must find it,” he continued. “And as they pursue it, it comes in many parts.”
That’s true for everyone, of course, something I was struck by two years ago at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill., where an exhibit allows the visitor to stand in place and watch as the images of a series of speakers tell President Lincoln what he should do about emancipation.
It brought to mind our current times when everyone seems to believe the decisions facing our government are obvious — but none agree on what the obvious thing is.
“One group tells them one thing,” Brit continued, “another, just the opposite, another something else.”
His next sentence made me smile.
“Give (journalists) the wisdom and understanding and skill to know which parts are true,” he said, “and then to put the right parts together in the right order.”
The second part of that plea would seem much simpler, of course, but that’s not always so. Presenting things in an understandable way is, in some ways, more difficult than understanding them in the first place. It’s sometimes hard to predict what people will read into the written word.
What came next struck me as being true of citizens as well as journalists: “As they do their jobs, they are often manipulated, misled, managed and maligned. May they not be discouraged. Gift them with patience, guide them with common sense, guard them from pessimism.”
To that, I’d only add: Grant them the grace of alliteration and parallel construction Mr. Britt uses in his prayers, a grace that continued with his prayer.
“May they be sensitive instead of sensationalistic; reflect reason, not ridicule; be balanced not bitter.”
He continued asking that we “describe not distort … educate and even entertain … but never … entice.”
“Finally, father,” he said, “may each journalist be reminded that with great power of the pen comes great responsibility. May they exercise it in a way that pleases you.”
As I finished reading the prayer, a scene from “The Untouchables” came to mind.
In it, Elliott Ness, played by Kevin Costner, asks the Irish cop Jim Malone, played by Sean Connery, and the Italian cop George Stone, played by Andy Garcia, are sitting around the table smoking cigars and having a drink after their first successful strike against Al Capone.
Ness asks Malone about something he has in his hand.
“Ah, I’m among the heathen,” Malone laughs. “This is my call box key, and that … is my St. Jude medallion.”
“Saint who?” Ness asks.
“Santo Jude,” says Stone in Italian. “The patron saint of lost causes.”
“And policeman,” adds Malone.
Although belief in patron saints was foreign to me even in my more faithful days, on Monday I wanted to add journalists to the list of those under St. Jude’s care.
Which, I guess, Ken, is a journalist’s way of thanking someone not only for their thoughts and prayers in this instance but their thoughtfulness and prayerfulness on behalf of a group at least some consider a lost cause.