Recently in a philosophy class at St. John’s University, a student asked a question that caused me to be silent for a few seconds. Usually I love to receive questions and often find that they stimulate me to explore new areas of philosophy, and the dialogue that develops between me and the questioner can provide an educational experience for me, for the questioner and for the other students in the class.
I had been stressing the importance of human freedom and emphasizing that when we make life-changing human decisions, we hold our life in our hands. As I spoke, I thought of the wonderful scene in Robert Bolt’s play about Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons.” More’s daughter is visiting her father in the Tower of London. She begs him to sign the document that claims Henry the Eighth is the supreme ruler of the Church in England. If More signs the document, he will probably be released from the Tower.
Thomas’ conscience will not allow him to sign. He tries to explain to his daughter why he will not sign. If he were to sign, he would be denying his faith-commitment. In speaking about freedom, I was claiming that our free decisions make us who we are. The more important the decisions, the more they shape and form us. Obviously reflecting on what I was
saying, a student asked, “Do you think the world is getting better or worse?”
Though I love to have students ask questions, this question stopped me in my tracks. My first thoughts were about evidence that the world is getting better, but quickly I thought that my evidence might be matched by other evidence that the world is not getting better.
The student interrupted my reflections with another question: “How can the world get better?” I said, “That’s up to you and to me.” I am still thinking about my response. Claiming that we can change the world might seem to reveal enormous pride. How can any individual change the world? The life commitments we make can have a great impact on ourselves and others. Every unselfish commitment that is made contributes to making the future better.
As I have continued to think about my response to the student’s second question, I have been thinking about what we might refer to as small acts of kindness, acts that don’t seem very important, certainly not earth-shaking. I have come to believe that there really are no small acts of love. Every genuine act of love, every sincere act of forgiveness, every free turning away from temptation is a product of our freedom cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
The Holy Spirit is not only loving but is Infinite Love. Perhaps millions of what we sometimes call small acts of love are happening every day. In God’s very mysterious providence, none of those acts go to waste. Somehow God inspires them and in some way weaves them into God’s loving plan.
Several of what I once called small acts of love have come to my mind. One involves my mother. Every morning of my mother’s life when she was well, she went to daily Mass. As she aged, she was confined more and more to our home. Often as I greeted her in the morning, I noticed that she had been saying her rosary. I am certain that she prayed for many intentions, and I suspect I was among those intentions.
Who knows how much my mother’s prayers have influenced my life? Who knows how much through her prayers she contributed to making the world a better place? I could multiply examples of what we might erroneously call small acts of
love. When a prayer is said, the power of God, the power of Infinite Love is unleashed.
Our faith tells us that some good is accomplished every time a prayer is uttered. There are no prayers that are not heard; there are no prayers that are not answered; there are no prayers that are not responded to by God’s “Yes.”
For the last few months, I have been using a mantra when I am tempted to think that all the news is bad news. The mantra is the following: “We can be disappointed, but we should never be discouraged.”
The battle has been won by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the victory continues through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. As I am typing this column, I am thinking of all the men and women who are in monasteries and convents around the world, sending up literally thousands of prayers to God.
I am also thinking of all the Masses being celebrated around the world, Masses in which all of are remembered. Whenever I think of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the world, I have to be optimistic.
Father Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.