“When all is said and done,” Pope Francis said recently, “only time and love have real value.”
And those real values become most precious to us when we find the time — and the love — to reach out and talk to God. Prayer is the way we communicate with him; prayer is the way we express our “time and love” for the gift of life he’s given us, however short or long, blessed or troubled that life might be.
When Pope Francis asked that Sept. 7 be a day of prayer and fasting, school children throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville — including those at St. Francis of Assisi School and Presentation Academy, whose pictures were in last week’s edition of The Record — followed the pope’s request. Parishes around the archdiocese did, too.
Prayer works wonders, some bumper stickers say, and while we don’t yet know how the whole Syrian mess might turn out, we do know that following last Saturday’s day of prayer and fasting, the principals involved in this face-to-face confrontation both blinked a bit and, for the time being, pulled their hands off the triggers.
If you’ve watched or read the news, you already know that Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid an attack by U.S. bombs and missiles if it would agree to give up its arsenal of chemical weapons. And it agreed to do so.
Russia, long an ally of Syria, offered to take the nerve gas and other chemical weapons — there’s said to be more than 1,000 tons of such weapons — off Syrian hands and destroy the gas and chemical bombs.
Politicians and statesmen are still talking about exactly how to accomplish this, but for the time being at least, the United States isn’t launching a new conflict.
It’s a good bet that Pope Francis’ idea helped.
We do know this much: talking to God regularly and frequently helps those who do the talking.
A friend who used to attend the old St. Peter Claver Church — and who has been mentioned here before — 90-year-old World War II veteran William Gilbert, has been praying for years to have the medals he won during the war replaced and sent to him before he crosses the Barre.
He was a steward with Admiral Chester Nimitz, the man many historians say was responsible for winning the war in the Pacific. Gilbert was on the admiral’s ship — and frequently at his side — during some of the most fearsome battles of the entire conflict. He won both the silver and bronze stars, he said, and during his somewhat meandering life, had managed to lose them.
So he asked the Veterans Administration to get copies of them, and recently during a happenstance street-corner meeting, he said the medals had arrived at his house not a week earlier.
“I’ve been praying for years,” the veteran said, “and my prayers were finally answered. Sometimes God works on his own time; you just got to be patient.”
“Prayer,” said Pope Francis, “gives one the strength and direction needed to be a courageous, loving apostle.” God hears the cries of those who suffer and the prayers of those whose concern comes from the heart.
Prayers from the heart have at times produced some of the world’s best literature and art. In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, for instance, is part of a journal of prayer written by a young, devoutly Catholic Flannery O’Connor.
She’d started the prayer journal in the winter of 1946 while she was attending the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She was worried — even frightened — that her career as a writer would not bear fruit and more importantly, would not be pleasing in God’s eyes.
“I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do,” she wrote (and prayed). “I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, ‘oh, God, please,’ and ‘I must,’ and ‘please, please.’ I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way.
“Let me henceforth ask You with resignation — that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind, realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.”
Some of us pray, no doubt, to let the spector of illness pass from our bodies or our households. And there are times when we chafe if God’s response does not seem quick or timely enough for our own peace of mind. But Pope Francis reminds us that prayer often is a test of patience, and he wrote recently that
“God’s patience is ‘comfortable and sweet like a summer’s night.’ ”
As for death, the omnipresent door through which we all must pass, the pope cautions us against fearing it.
“Death, who is eager, knocks daily,” the pope said. “I run from it, but it smiles at me inviting me to accept it.”