Christians are called to celebrate the generous offerings of Mary Stewart

Father John A. Kiley

Occasionally, in anthologies of popular prayers, one might come across a series of petitions entitled “Mary Stewart’s Prayer,” or, correctly, “Mary Stewart’s Collect.” The collect was written as a personal daily prayer at Longmont, Colorado, in 1904, where, just out of college, Mary Stewart was entering on her first job as principal of the local high school. The prayer is a series of practical petitions that would make daily interactions among people both authentic and respectful. Consider her reflections:
“Mary Stewart’s Collect:” “Keep us, O God, from all pettiness. Let us be large in thought, in word and in deed. Let us be done with faultfinding and leave off self-seeking. May we put away all pretense and meet each other face to face, without self-pity and without prejudice. May we never be hasty in judgment, and always be generous. Let us always take time for all things, and make us grow calm, serene and gentle. Teach us to put into action our better impulses, to be straightforward and unafraid. Grant that we may realize that it is the little things of life that create differences, that in the big things of life, we are one. And, O Lord God, let us not forget to be kind.”
The Collect found its way around the world especially wherever women worked and convened together. The earliest copies however were signed as Mary Stuart, used until 1910 as a pen name, which led many to attribute its authorship to Mary Stuart, the unfortunate but devout Catholic Queen of Scots, who, it was alleged, wrote the prayer “while in prison sometime between the years 1568 and 1586.” The actual Mary Stewart was born in Ohio, but at an early age moved to Georgetown, Colorado, where she lived until she entered the University of Colorado at Boulder. She graduated from this university with a B.A. degree and in 1927 received the honorary degree of Master of Literature. From 1928 until January, 1942, she served as assistant director of education in the Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior. Mary Stewart died in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 1, 1943.
Miss Stewart’s words certainly captured in practical objectives and in functional goals the lofty aspirations found in the writings of the Beloved Apostle. The second Scripture reading and the Gospel at Mass this coming Sunday are taken from St. John’s writings and they both highlight — to put it mildly — the importance of sensible and sensitive love in daily life. The Epistle reads: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (1Jn 1:7-8) The Gospel passage heartily concurs, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…This I command you: love one another.” (Jn 15:9-10,17)
The Christian community has just renewed in its beliefs and experienced in its recent liturgies the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ honesty and dignity throughout his trials, Christ’s courage and perseverance during his crucifixion and the Savior’s gentle instructions and pointed revelations to his hesitant disciples after the Resurrection are all human, some even earthy, manifestations of love at work. Christ’s composure when challenged, his endurance when abused, and his sympathy when later met with disbelief are certainly basic, practical manifestations of love, love for enemies as well as love for frail associates. Holy Week revealed love in action, beliefs in practice, dignity in humanity.
Miss Stewart’s prayerful petitions might not recall the drama found in the Gospel accounts of our Savior’s Passion and Death. But neither do the daily lives of most believers. The honesty, generosity and serenity for which she petitioned God are often quietly generated through self-composure, mutual respect and practical charity. Thinking first of others, their strengths, their needs and restraining one’s own impulses, one’s preferences, one’s inclinations, are pragmatic but nonetheless genuine manifestations of love. Love between spouses, respect between parent and child, honesty among friends, patience with co-workers, thoughtfulness toward the needy, and benevolence toward strangers are all handy expressions of the practical love recommended by Miss Stewart and demanded by the Gospel of Christ.
Few Christians will be called to suffer physical or even emotional martyrdom in witness to the Gospel. But all Christians are called to the daily generous self-giving celebrated by Miss Stewart.