Something of a malaise can set in, even among good and faithful Christians, when confronted by seemingly intractable patterns of failure, defeat or illness. Whether this is felt in a very personal, even private way, or whether it unfolds in the public arena, national or global, the temptation to resignation is real and imminent. No more diabolical a temptation exists than the temptation to despair!
Although this toxic mindset is more often associated with aging persons, marinated and seasoned in life’s bitter disappointments – one might cite Qoheleth (“Vanity of Vanities!”), thought to have been well on in years and wise in years enough to know the ephemeral nature of all things earthly – it becomes particularly alarming when caught by young persons.
Lives barely begun disrupted by the demons of drug addiction, depression and teenage suicide cry out for the healing balm of God’s tenderness. The guilt that besets those who helplessly witness the downward spiral of self-destruction of a loved one is often unbearable and begs for mercy.
A lot of suffering plagues the world these days, as we are made aware each day of the scourges of violence at home and abroad. Whether in the form of domestic abuse, that even reaches into the destruction of unborn lives, or in sudden outbursts of terror like this week’s shooting rampage in our own capital or last month’s sarin gas attack in Syria, we are faced with reminders of a fallen, broken humanity in daily need of redemption. No wonder the Lord commands us to pray always lest we enter into temptation and join the legions of the hopeless.
The surprise of God’s grace is not always noticed or noticeable in the midst of so much tragedy. Yet it is real. Although too early to speak of a turnaround, the imminent threat of an escalation of horrors in the Middle East seems, at least for now, to have subsided.
We may not be able to prove how many destructive actions – personal or collective – the prayers of the millions gathered in peace with our Holy Father on that Saturday may have avoided. Yet, it is not the first time, nor perhaps the last, that we see what is possible when people come together to invoke God’s name in the face of the most desperate situations.
Who can forget the non-violent “People Power Revolution” (1983-1986) in the Philippines or how the 1979 (June 2-10) visit of Blessed John Paul II to his homeland, which started to change the face of almost a century of tyranny in Eastern Europe?
All of this in remarkably peaceful fashion. Only recently, we read reports that the dark age of abortion mills may be on the decline as clinics throughout the country are closing at record rates. Those prayers are working!
Scripture is filled with everyday instances of how the healing power of God’s love flowed from the prayer – in word and action – of Jesus. The same power was given to his Apostles and to his Church, of which Acts bears rich testimony. No reason to believe that even in our time – especially in our time – the blessing of the healing power of God in Word and Sacrament has ebbed, if we welcome it into our world.
Perhaps, after all, we are seeing what the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once observed: “Prayer does not exist in time. Time exists in prayer.”
Though not a professed Christian, his intuition of the Trinitarian rhythm of all prayer, caught up as it is in the eternal offering of the blessing of God’s intimate love life through the Son to the Father in the Spirit, is what we experience whenever we allow ourselves to be caught up in it. Prayer can still work miracles!