• Fr. Paul MacNeil

Habit 2: Prayer (7 Habits of Effective Catholics

Once upon a time, a man was caught in a flood, and as the waters were rising up to his roof, a boat came by. "I have faith in the Lord Jesus, and He will save me," the man said. The waters kept rising. A second, larger boat came by. "I have faith in the Lord Jesus, and He will save me!" said the man. Ok. Finally, the waters were all around him, and a helicopter dropped its ladder for him. "I have faith in the Lord Jesus and He will save me," the man shouted up to the helicopter. Finally, the man perished in the flood, and upon meeting Jesus, he said "what gives. I prayed that you would save me, and I had faith that you would save me, yet here I am. I was hoping for a few more years!" And Jesus replied, "I send you 2 boats and a helicopter, why didn't you get in?

Today I'd like to talk about four things that will surprise you about prayer.

  1. That sometimes it works. I once had a woman come to my office, early in my priesthood, asking for the anointing of the sick. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was fighting it valiantly, but was going for some further tests to see if she was cancer free at that point. She was naturally afraid. Now there is part of the anoint of the sick where I lay my hands on the person's forehead, and when I do that, I always pray for healing. But this time, I prayed even harder. I made it intentional, I even squinted my eyes and prayed hard that God's healing hand would come upon her and bless her and heal her. Then, at that very moment, she fainted. "oops" I thought to myself. "I may need to call 911." But she came too, and when she did, she honestly said to me, these exact words... "what did you do? I felt it. I felt some kind of power go through me." Now, I'm a pretty practical man, not superstition at all, but that surprised me. And yes, the results came back that she was cancer free. If there was a bell to ring in heaven I'm sure Jesus himself was ringing it.

  2. That God can change his mind. Today's first reading is God changing his mind, he even says it in the scripture "And God changed his mind."

  3. That prayer can change us. I'm reminded of the girl who prayed the rosary every day not to be a nun (someone told her she would make a great nun and she started to feel "tempted" to do it." Well, she entered the convent and is still there today as far as I know. Sometimes God will take our most basic prayers and not change His mind but change ours.

  4. We are surprised how close God is. Our prayers, everything we need, is already answered by God. Sometimes we worry about that, that God won't have mercy on us, that we are so sinful, we have to jump up and down and pray harder and longer and louder. But that's not the way it works. God has already had mercy on you through the grace of the cross, all we have to do is accept it.

This last point is the most important point. Here's a beautiful passage from Deuteronomy Ch. 30 to illustrate it:

11 “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."

I conclude with a story, that I use sometimes for funeral services, as a message of encouragement. This was sent to me a few years ago, so I'm not sure who wrote it, but it's not originally from me:

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.” The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

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