By Bishop Robert F. Morneau
“All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive
it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24).
St. Monica, the mother of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, was a prayerful
woman. She truly believed that what she asked of the Lord would be granted. In his Confessions,
Augustine tells of how he deceived his mother in leaving Africa to set sail for Italy.
He wrote: “And what she was praying for, O my God, with all those
tears was that You should not allow me to sail! But You saw deeper and granted the
essential of her prayer: You did not do what she was at that moment asking, that You
might do the thing she was always asking”
(The Confessions of St. Augustine).
Here we have a paradox that can be disturbing. Does intercessory prayer
work? We ask for healing of cancer, and a dear friend dies. We pray year after year
for peace, and wars continue. We implore our Lord for family unity, and alienation
divides parents and children.
Are our prayers effective or not? What should our expectations be as
we approach our providential Father in heaven?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, once again points the way. Her faith was deep
and firm. Her constant refrain was: “Be it done according to your will.” Yes,
ask that Grandmother’s cancer be arrested, if it is according to your will, Lord.
Yes, grace us with peace and family unity, but in your time, Lord. A radical trust
and faith should underlie our every petition.
Let us not limit our prayer life to asking the Lord to meet our needs.
As people of faith we are to praise God for God’s majesty and glory; we are to
thank God for all the gifts that flood our lives; we are to appeal to God for forgiveness.
When we turn to God with our needs we do so in light of a heart filled with praise,
thanksgiving and trust. We come to God aware of our own sinfulness and our need for
mercy. In the end, it is God’s will that should be the basis of all prayer.
God’s Will, Not Ours
Jesus said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed
them to the childlike” (Luke 10:21). This is the same Jesus who, in the garden
of Gethsemane, prayed, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me;
still, not my will but yours be done”
(Luke 22:42). The same dynamic that characterized the Virgin Mary’s submission
to God’s will is present here in her son. God’s will, not our specific
desire, reigns supreme.
Surely when St. Monica realized that her prayer requesting that Augustine
remain with her was not granted, she had to deal with discouragement. Quite possibly
she even developed serious doubt in a God who proclaims in Jesus that if we ask, we
will receive; if we knock, the door will be opened; if we seek, we will find.
Again, what is needed is a radical trust that divine providence is at
work and that, as Julian of Norwich says, “All will be well.”
Trusting in God
Every Sunday the community gathers in worship. We praise and thank God,
we ask forgiveness and petition the Lord regarding our needs and the needs of our world.
In the end we know that we are gifted with God’s love and mercy revealed in Jesus.
We are also given the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent of our prayer and ministry.
It is the Spirit who empowers us to rejoice when our prayers are “answered” in
the way we desire. It is the same Spirit who enables us to trust that God’s will
is being worked out even when Grandma is not healed, peace remains elusive and family
unity is still wanting.
Alan Paton, the South African writer who helped break the enslaving bonds
of apartheid, offers us this prayer: “Pardon, O gracious Lord and Father, whatsoever
is amiss in this my prayer, and let Thy will be done, for my will is blind and erring.” Paton
knew that God could do so much more than we could ask for or imagine. This humble attitude
is the key to all
Next: Beginning in January 2006, Every Day Catholic begins
a yearlong series that will explore key beliefs of the Catholic faith. Contributing
authors will be Thomas H. Groome, Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., Karen Sue Smith and
What is your favorite prayer? Why is it important to you?
How has your prayer life changed since your were a child?
By Judith Dunlap
Recently, I heard a child ask why God didn’t answer her prayers.
Her parent responded that he did, indeed, answer—that God had said no. I didn’t
like that response, but I could empathize with the parent’s obvious desire to
end the conversation. I remember how difficult it was when my own children’s
prayer requests weren’t met, at least by their standards. I remember my own questions
when, after months of daily prayer, my mother died. It wasn’t until I reread
the story of Jesus in Gethsemane that I found an answer to the question, “Does
God always answer prayer?”
The night before he died, Jesus finished his last meal with his friends
and went off to pray. When he was alone in the garden, he began to think about what
lay ahead. He knew he had powerful enemies and that he would certainly die. The Gospels
tell us that when Jesus went to pray he was greatly agitated. Luke writes that Jesus
was so upset he sweated blood. Like any human person, Jesus was afraid. He pleaded
with God three times to take away the bitter cup, each time telling God, “not
my will, but yours.”
God answered Jesus’ prayers. The man who entered the garden so
afraid that he sweated blood, stood up strong and confident, ready to face whatever
was to come. God did not remove Jesus’
pain, but he blessed him with all that he needed to face it.
When my children were old enough, I read them this story of Jesus. I
shared with them how I had felt when my mother died and how I had believed my prayers
weren’t answered. Then I told them how God had blessed me with faith and hope
and the love of family and friends who helped me get through my grief. I know from
experience that God does answer prayers. He never just says “No.”
Ask each family member to talk about a time when his or her prayers
were answered in an unexpected way.
The Sound of Music
By Frank Frost
From the time the camera, soaring over majestic mountains, finds a high meadow and
zooms in on Julie Andrews as she spins with her arms wide and launches into song, The
Sound of Music celebrates life, love, courage and family. It transcended generational
differences 40 years ago when it was first released, catapulting it to the top of the
movie charts for three years running. For a while it was the greatest box office hit
of all time. It still has the ability to bridge generations today.
A new 40th-anniversary DVD release offers not only the three-hour film in all its
digital wide-screen glory, but also several interesting documentaries looking back
at the experience behind the scenes, through the eyes of those who were part of it.
The plot is loosely based on the true story of Maria von Trapp and her family, the
Trapp Family Singers, who fled to America to escape the Nazi takeover of Austria before
World War II. (Maria von Trapp visited the shooting of the film in Salzburg. Her son
Johannes reveals that she could never come to terms with the fact that she had sold
the rights to her story and could no longer call the shots.)
A postulant in a cloistered monastery, Maria (Julie Andrews) is not a good fit for
the order, and is sent by the abbess to test her vocation by working as a governess
for the seven children of a wealthy widower, Baron von Trapp (Christopher Plummer).
Free-spirited, she’s not a good fit for the baron either. His regimented treatment
of his children brings out the rebel in her. While he is away for a month she infuses
the children with her zest for life.
This is dramatized by a simple song she teaches them, built on the building blocks
of the tonal scale, “Do, Re, Mi.” The resulting musical number flows seamlessly
through a montage of different locations (a stylistic innovation at the time) indicating
the passage of time and the gradual liberation of the children.
It’s also the liberation of Maria, who boldly stands up to the baron when he
returns. But then, frightened by the love that soon blossoms between her and the baron,
she flees back to the abbey and her vocation. There the wise abbess points out that
there are many vocations and many ways to find God. Maria and the baron marry, only
to have the story take a dark turn. They and the children must flee the country, eluding
the Nazis on their trail.
The romantic grandeur of an idealized life in The Sound of Music still appeals
to us today—maybe especially today. Its uplifting message is embodied in songs
now thoroughly embedded in our culture: joy in God’s gift of nature in “The
Sound of Music”; optimism that overcomes fear in “My Favorite Things”;
the courage to pursue one’s dreams in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
It’s a timeless coming-of-age story that also demands of the characters choices
of integrity and principle.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)
If a good friend hadn’t challenged him to turn his life over to
Christ, Francis Xavier might have spent his years teaching at a prestigious university
in Europe. But the compelling words of that friend, Ignatius of Loyola, touched something
deep in Francis. They spurred him to embrace a new life that took him to remote areas
of the world, where he experienced great success and joy preaching and living the Good
In 1534, Francis Xavier joined Ignatius and several other men in professing
vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as special apostolic service to the
Holy Father. They became the first members of the Society of Jesus.
Ordained a Jesuit in 1537, Francis sailed to the Far East several years
later on his first of many mission assignments. For 10 years he labored in India, Malaysia
and Japan. He spent his days visiting prisons and hospitals, teaching the faith and
baptizing. He had a special devotion to lepers, for whom he celebrated Mass each Sunday.
He showed his love for the people by living among the poor, celebrating their joys
and sharing in their deepest sorrows.
His successes were almost always among the poor and forgotten of society.
The only exception was in Japan, where he made inroads among the more educated.
Francis Xavier’s great dream—bringing Christianity to China—was
never realized. He was on his way to the mainland when he died on a nearby island only
a few miles short of his destination. His body was returned to India and is buried
in the Jesuit church there.
He was canonized in 1622 and, 300 years later, proclaimed a patron of
the foreign missions. His feast is December 3.
As a young boy growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Jim Sweeney was all
ears when missionaries came to his school to talk about their lives in some far-off,
forgotten land. “I always loved their stories, but I never had the guts to be
a missionary myself,” Mr. Sweeney, 74, told Every Day Catholic.
But for almost five decades he’s been doing the next best thing
as a member of the Daily Worldmissionnaires: praying and sacrificing for those heroic
men and women who continue to bring the gospel to the four corners of the world.
The group, affiliated with the St. Louis Archdiocese and the Society
for the Propagation of the Faith, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
The combination of prayer and sacrifice “is simple,” said
Mr. Sweeney. “Once you’re sold on it, it becomes a part of your life.” While
he makes daily prayer his first priority, he also takes seriously the sacrifice he
makes each day on behalf of the missions. It might be saying no to a drink at dinner
with friends, buying something on sale or just doing without. Whatever money he saves
goes into the mite box he keeps in the walk-in closet in his bedroom. Once a month,
a group leader collects the money saved by each Daily Worldmissionnaire and passes
it along to the Archdiocesan Mission Office.
Jim Sweeney figures he’s gone through up to 20 mite boxes over
the years. Now serving as president of the group (his sixth term), he has as much love
for the missions today as ever. “How many times did Jesus remind us to care for
our poor brothers and sisters? Whatever you give to the missions you get back a hundredfold.”