Today begins a special period of prayer, the “Novena of Novenas.” This was started several years ago by Bob Waldrop, the late founder of the St. Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City. Bob died on August 30, 2019.
I never met Bob in person although we had been friends on Facebook for around ten years. I first discovered him online in the early 00s. I was exploring my Catholic faith and seeing what was online (I am revert) and in the course of looking into various theories of Catholic living ran across his site on “Champagne Living on a Beer Budget.” This intrigued me, given my recent sobriety. I quickly learned that it had nothing to do with the drinking, brewing or fermenting of alcoholic beverages, but rather was an omnibus guide to frugal, simple living. I believe that it was from Bob’s numerous sites that I started learning that Catholicism wasn’t just about the sacramental and liturgical life. There is an entire system of thought rooted in Scripture, interpreted and implemented by saints, popes and laity, that brings into the political and economic sphere the teachings of Holy Mother Church. Soon afterwards I discovered Distributism, Subsidiarity and Solidarity; Personalism and Communitarianism. I’m lousy at applying many of them, but I try. Much later, monarchism and Tradition. (Bob was by no stretch of the imagination a monarchist. I think he was Traditional Latin Mass-friendly, but he was a Liturgical Music Director at a parish that only offered the Mass in the Ordinary Form. But his YouTube Channel does offer videos of chant and other pre-1962 hymns.)
I became entranced by Bob’s sites. I bookmarked them all including subpages in a browser folder entitled “Bobternet,” as his sites were massive (albeit disorganized, which he admitted) and contained copious amounts of information about a plethora of subjects, I figured he was a subset of the Internet and hence gave it that name. (He thought it hilarious when I told him years later on Facebook.)
Bob was a Catholic Worker, with “‘‘hair on fire’ rants on politics, economics, food, permaculture, sustainability, peak oil, climate instability, cooperatives, local foods, and etc.,” that afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted. He lived the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. He was truly a disciple of Servant of God Dorothy Day and her colleague Peter Maurin (co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933). He believed in Jesus with a passion and adhered to the Church’s orthodox teachings. One might think that with his stance on social issues he would be a “cafeteria Catholic” and pick and choose what he preferred amongst the teachings, but his sites on the Church’s social justice teachings, from politics and economics, to war, the pro-life movement, poverty and human suffering, migrants and such, exuded orthodoxy with supporting documentation from Scripture, the Saints, Popes and the Catechism. This makes people uncomfortable, particularly those who prefer a quiet and tidy Christianity of Sunday Mass or ‘worship service’ followed by secular activities. “Just let me worship and pray once in a while, and please don’t remind me of my obligations to serve others.” Bob’s faith was an active Catholic Christianity.
Well, one of the things that he introduced was this thing called the “Novena of Novenas.” Nine consecutive individual Novenas, thus stretching across 81 days. He began them annually on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Saturday immediately after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.) This year it begins today, and ends on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in September. (I don’t think they always end on another important liturgical event, but I think it is way cool when they do as to me, it signifies a God-incidence.)
I will borrow (copy/paste) from Bob’s work on the Novena’s particulars, but I have included links directly to his sites so you can access the complete information (just be aware that when you do go there, dates are incorrect as he died during the last one, and no one is in charge of maintaining or updating his sites. All of the links are to the Internet Archive’s version of his sites. I will address that issue at the end of this post, so do not be concerned about the links.) One thing: I have never prayed this before, and so I do not know if the intentions change every year. I am going with the last one from 2019, as that was Bob’s last and he died during it.
OK, here we go (Bob’s writing is italicized. When I interrupt, it’ll be back to non-italicized font.)
“A Novena of Novenas
for Justice, Peace, & Creation
This “novena of novenas” is 81 days of intercessory prayer, reflection, and orthopraxis (“right action”) for peace among nations, justice for all people, and the care of Creation. We start on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, — June 20, 2020 and end on September 8, 2020. Our novena dates wander around from year to year, since we always begin on the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a movable feast, the date of which is dependent upon the date of Easter. (It’s the Saturday after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, which is the Friday after the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.)“
“A novena is 9 days of prayer, and recalls the 9 days that the Apostles spent praying in the “Upper Room” between the Ascension and Pentecost. This call to prayer consists of nine consecutive novenas -81 days!
Each novena has a general intention, the prayers, thoughts for the Journey, and an act of caring for Creation.“
All right, Paulcoholic here, and you might be wondering what this all has to do with the typical focus of Sober Cat, which is sobriety. Quite some time ago I changed the subtitle of this blog to “Catholicism, Recovery, Sobriety, Conversion, Prayer, Fasting, Repentance, Penance.” Mainly because I wanted to gradually expand beyond writing about “how to maintain sobriety and recovery by means of Catholic spirituality etc., etc., etc.,” And Bob’s stuff is within the realm of the subtitle. Also, and this is important: if you are reading this blog, then there’s a good chance you are or were an alcoholic or addict, or you know and love one. Recovery, to me, isn’t just about staying clean and sober. I firmly believe that once we establish our sobriety from booze and drugs, we continue that work, only extending outward from ourselves and to our neighbors. It does mean in part that we reach out to others we know or suspect are trapped by addictions, but it also means that we recognize the inherent sickness of the world around us and the fact that human society today, everywhere, is addicted to something. Just look around. There are power struggles everywhere leading to violence, intolerance and injustice. People make demands rather than appeals. We are addicted to materialism and the acquisition of more goods. Many people, including myself at times and perhaps you, root our identity in what we do for a living, how much money we earn and what we spend it on. Too many secular distractions abound that take us away from God. The Church is under attack from without and within. Face up to it: humanity today is sick and in dire need of a massive makeover that can only come from embracing the Gospel. “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.” (Words of Jesus in the Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, “Divine Mercy in My Soul,” paragraph 300.) Peace is not found in perpetuating injustices, in acquiring more material goods, using up the natural resources of our planet with little regard for future generations. Peace is not found in aborting future generations! Peace will not happen unless justice is established and in Catholic social teachings, justice means that everyone receives what is their due based upon the individual’s intrinsic dignity of being made in the images and likeness of God and in being His adopted children through Christ. All human life is sacred and unique, from womb to tomb, and was not put on this Earth to be exploited, enslaved, or oppressed for narrow political and economic goals. A Mercy-based culture.
And so we have the essential themes of the Novena of Novenas. Each one focuses on separate issues. But, back to Bob:
“Each novena is dedicated to one of the titles of Mary and one or more of the saints of justice and peace, whose prayers of intercession we invoke for our various intentions. It’s like calling up a friend and saying, “Please pray for me.” The “Works of Justice and Peace” of the first seven Novenas are from the statement of mission of the…Saint Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.
Each of the 81 days we will also pray the Novena to St. John Chrysostom on behalf of the conversion of the United States Catholic Bishops, so that they will come to a better understanding of the necessity of authenticity in leadership. We think the orthodoxy (“right teaching”) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a certain way of living. That’s known as “orthopraxis” — or right action..”
Me, again. Yes, the Bishops of the United States (and perhaps in your country, as well) are in need of conversion. Too many lack the courage and fortitude to be true shepherds of the Church in these times of Spiritual Warfare. The bishops should lead us towards a ‘certain way of living,’ but when they don’t the Holy Spirit raises up the laity to compensate for when the Bishops lack. The Spirit did that when He brought Dorothy Day into the Catholic Church, just in time for her to meet Peter Maurin and establish the Catholic Worker. The work of the Movement was seen by some to have been a major reason for the failure of Communism to gain traction in the United States in the 1930s. It seems we have come full circle. In the 2020s we are back to battling the forces of Marxism; forces we thought were defeated when the USSR collapsed. It wasn’t, it just metastasized. Oh, Bob wants to speak again:
“The spirit of this novena may be found in these words of Saint Oscar Romero. . . “It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that can sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no conflicts.”
“What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses; proclaims to the people God’s wonders to be believed and venerated, and accuses of sin those who oppose God’s reign, so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws – out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity. This is the hard service of the word.”
“But God’s Spirit goes with the prophet, with the preacher, for he is Christ, who keeps on proclaiming his reign to the people of all times.”
At this point you may be asking, “OK, Paulcoholic. Enough already. Where’s the actual, you know, NOVENA? Helllooooo?”
Bob’s got you covered. Here he goes:
Begin each novena prayer with a time of quiet prayer. You may find it helpful to pray some repetitions of the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner), a decade of the Rosary, the Chaplet of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, or a time of spiritual reading or lectio divina that will prepare your mind and your heart for the prayer to come. This could be a time for a daily examen, where you consider your actions of the day and how they relate to God’s call in your life.
All right. That’s it. You know about Bob Waldrop, you’ve been introduced to a whole muncha buncha things to think about; I am not now going to load you down with the actual First Novena itself. “What?!?!?!” you scream in horror. “After all this…”
“Hang on.” I interrupt. “That will be in the next post, almost immediately after this one. This blogpost is long enough, dontcha think?. But if you can’t wait a few minutes or so before I post the intentions and prayers of the First of the Nine, here’s a link to the whole kitten kaboodle:” The Novena of Novenas for Justice, Peace and Creation
(Update! The First Novena is now up: A Novena of Novenas for Justice, Peace, & Creation I: to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
NOTE: all of the links that I gave for Bob’s sites are to their last versions that have been scooped up by the Internet’s “Wayback Machine,” also known as Internet Archive. This is because his domains are going dark or becoming security risks from lack of updates, or are being coopted by squatters. So the only reliable place to get what Bob taught and shared is in the Wayback Machine. Thankfully, all links are self-contained, so that if you click on something in one site that links to another page of his, it remains within the Archive even if the link is to a different site of Bob’s.
Since his death, his work in helping the poor, the marginalized, and all those considered “expendable” by society is being carried out by other groups since, as far as I can find out, the Romero House has since shut down. (I was informed last Autumn by someone who knew him very well that the House’s operations were transferred to the Dorothy Day Center in Oklahoma City. The Romero House itself was on the verge of being condemned. My information may be dated, but the Romero website’s domain name has been abandoned and subsequently taken over by a website squatter hawking goods. This person, who is as unique an individual as Bob was, and who is a dedicated Catholic Worker, wrote a nice obituary on her blog. Please go here: GOD’s Garden Gnome Gone Home.) Perhaps if she reads this she can post an update on the Romero House and legacy, in the comments.Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics" and "The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts" (Thank you!!)