My mother always assured us that our father prayed. We saw him make the sign of the cross at the table and recite with us the prayer before meals. We knew that he went to Mass on Sunday, almost always alone, since he had his own schedule and would assure us that he would “make the 7 at St. Paul’s.” I was certain that he sat as close as possible to the exit door on the gospel side!
On the other hand, my mother came from a solidly Catholic family, whose father was a seminarian before meeting his future wife Catherine and becoming the parent of ten. So Mother assumed the exclusive and permanent job of being our prayer leader and our faith teacher.
Except once. Just once.
I remember that occasion very vividly. I was 7, Bob was 6, Barbara was 2, and David had not been born yet. The toddler, Barbara, had contracted whooping cough and was in imminent danger of death. It was a hot summer day. Dad was called from the textile plant he managed and quickly came home in a white shirt and dark blue tie, I remember. He looked up at the second floor balcony of our Spanish style home where Mother stood outside Barbara’s room in which the doctor was attending to her. Dad got the signal that his baby’s condition was critical. He put his hands on the shoulders of his two little sons and said, “Let’s kneel and ask God to make her well.” We said the Lord’s Prayer, the three of us — that one time — never to be forgotten. Dad ended it with, “Please, dear God, make my daughter well.”
I suspect that the good doctor is more to be credited than divine intervention, but, whatever the truth may have been, my sister got well soon after and grew up to be happily married and the mother of six.
True stories, like the one I just shared with you, or like the one about the man Jairus and his desperately ill young daughter, bear witness to a truth that most people hold in their heart-of-hearts: that God, despite all appearances and contrary evidence, is actively and lovingly present to the human condition and listens to the prayer of every person, whether spoken or silent.
It’s so important to profess that over & over throughout our lives because it can so easily be ignored or forgotten. Where is God when a bloody war rages? Where is God in the conflicts that tear our families apart? Where is God in the deadly drug scene? Where is God in AIDS or cancer? “I turned to you, Lord, and you did not answer me” is also very common human testimony.
My faith is that God cannot be capricious or partial. God cannot be indifferent or insensitive or uncaring. I believe that God always hears our prayer and that God wants us to recognize that we are always being created, minute by minute, and always being saved from what could destroy us. I am convinced that ultimately prayer is simply recognizing that fact of our lives, that on-going relationship with our creator.
So, how God answers or when God answers we cannot always know and often do not. It is not a score card of wins & losses that maintains our faith; it is, rather, the firm conviction that we live our lives, in good times and in bad, in the Mystery of Mysteries that we call God.
You’ve heard me say this before: a high school classmate of mine lost his 19-year-old daughter in a freak accident in New York City. At her jam-packed funeral, he said, “In this, too, we know that God is good and merciful and asks of us only faith and love.” Of all the homilies and talks I have heard on the topic, those words stand out as the truest and most important of all.
Who would dare limit the power of God, especially in the troubles of ours lives?