Periodically I see an athlete making the sign of the cross and folding hands in prayer before executing a play. I don’t mind that people do such things but I always think that God is quite unlikely to choose sides in some type of ballgame. Likewise I have seen students retreat into a state of prayer when I was returning graded tests. I often felt compelled to note that a miracle wasn’t going to happen. The grade was not going to change simply because of a request to make it so. I may have been too harsh in my judgement in such situations because conceivably the individuals may simply have been asking God to calm their nervousness or to help them to accept their fates no matter the outcome.
Prayer is a beautiful thing but all too often we think of our requests to God as being like orders at a fast food restaurant. We ask for this or that. When our pleas appear to have been ignored our faith is tested and at times we begin to doubt that He even exists. There are miracles but most often they do not occur on a grand scale. It’s difficult to imagine a God Who would choose a side in a battle. We are all His children and as any parent knows He is not going to play favorites. Instead I believe that the true power of prayer is a quiet and individual thing. The act of meditating and focusing on a spiritual being does in fact slow down our heartbeat, assuage our fears, and bring us a sense of being in control. When we pray we feel that we are not alone and knowing that we have a companion even in our darkest moments is comforting.
I am not one for formal prayers. Instead I prefer to have conversations with God. I think of Him as a friend who is always available to hear my call. Nonetheless I love the prayer of St. Francis. For me it encompasses the essence of our humanity and the promise of God’s love for us. It outlines a difficult set of life goals but if we were all to follow its guidelines so many of the problems that we face as a people would be lessened.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
As a Christian I believe that God sent us Jesus to be our teacher. If we study His life with an open mind it becomes apparent that even in His godliness he possessed human characteristics much like ours. He became angry and frustrated by the money changers in the Temple. In his own prayer to His Father we hear a plea for guidance as we walk through the challenges of this world:
Our Father Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.
They kingdom come.
They will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the power and the glory
Forever and ever.
Notice that in both the prayer from St. Francis and the one attributed to Jesus the emphasis is not on asking for miracles or special powers but on believing that God is always near us and that He expects us to do our best to follow His way of love. There are no promises of grand rewards here on earth. Instead His assurance is that one day we will be with Him in a heavenly kingdom where all of our cares and woes will be gone. What this tells me is that when I pray I cannot forget to praise and thank God for my very existence. That is the true miracle. I am here living and breathing and making my way through a lifetime that God knows will be marked with difficulties, temptations, and moments that test my faith. I am not unlike His own Son.
As long as the sun rises each morning we have the opportunity to touch the hearts of those that we meet with love even when they hate and despise us. I think that Pope Francis is doing his best to show us how to live when he meets with both Kim Davis and a same sex married couple. It is not for any of us to judge or to hold back our love and appreciation for all of mankind. God has provided us with a fruitful planet on which to live. Its fertile soil and waters give us the food and drink that we need to survive. We must remember to care for this great gift. We will be tempted and we will fall. Even when everyone else has turned against us God will be there. All He asks from us is that we do our very best to be kind, compassionate, generous even to those who are hateful and selfish. For me prayer is about meeting with God as my counselor and asking Him to forgive my mistakes and to keep me strong when my challenges become almost too much to bear.
We have all seen those among us who appear to have a special relationship with their God. My mother was one of those. Few would have judged her had she lost faith or railed at the Lord for seeming to abandon her. So many of her loved ones died far too early. She had few earthly goods. She was afflicted with a terrible chronic illness. Somehow she never surrendered her intense connection with the Lord. On the very day of her death we all witnessed her faith. It literally lit up her face with a beatific glow. Her smile was not of this world. She believed that all of her prayers and the simple goodness of her life were soon to be rewarded for eternity. This is what we all need to remember when we turn our voices to God. He is not a candy machine ready to dispense His favors to a lucky few. His word is about how to live so that we honor everyone and everything that we encounter. It’s a difficult task but if we ask He will help us.