Bishop preaches on prayer with studentsCape Girardeau MO
Bishop Edward M. Rice had Mass Sept. 10 with Catholic Campus Ministry students at Southeast Missouri State University. He talked about prayer and country music. His homily follows:
How often have people gathered in prayer only to have the prayer go unanswered or go in a total opposite direction? How often have maybe some of you prayed for the physical healing of a loved one or the spiritual healing of a friend and have had that prayer go unanswered? How often have we prayed for peace in our world only to see war, violence, and destruction increase?
The reality is people pray for things—often praying desperately and they do not receive that for which they prayed. And yet the Gospel says, “If two of you pray for anything, it shall be granted you by My Heavenly Father.”
Is this all make believe?
I have two thoughts to consider. Number one is what is called the “big lie.” The “big lie” goes something like this: say all the prayers they tell you to pray, live correctly, follow the rules they tell you to follow, go to Mass on Sunday, and nothing bad will ever happen to you and you will live happily ever after. Many people have lost their faith believing that “big lie.” And it is a “big lie” because Jesus never said that. In fact, Jesus taught just the opposite. Think of last week’s reading, “Take up your cross and follow in My footsteps.” Jesus told us we had to die to ourselves in order to live His life.
Now, it is human to want things and to pray for those things. We pray to be safe from difficulties, some sorrow, or some disappointment or loss. But the basic law of prayer is that, while we pray for what may be heavy on our hearts, God will give us what He knows we need.
That brings me to the second thought about prayer—God doesn’t rescue us from our human situations. Rather, He gives us the grace to accept what we cannot understand. Jesus himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane facing his own death, prayed that this would pass him. But He did not escape the cross; rather, He was given the strength to embrace the cross, and, in the end, to turn the cross into victory.
As I have gotten older, I’ve come to realize that maybe the greatest prayer that we can offer is “Thy will be done.”
‘Country music’ theology
Since I’ve come to southern Missouri, I find myself listening to more country music. Some songs are typical, about dogs, girlfriends, pickup trucks, and dirt on my boots. There is a nice one called, “Last Time for Everything.” The singer recalls a last dance in the high school gym or a last kiss. And as life moves forward, the last time you woke up to see if Santa left presents, or the last time you have breakfast at mama’s house. It’s rather sentimental. Some songs are insightful. Old Dominion has a song, “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart.” The song reminds us that we have no control in life: “You can’t keep the sunset from fading … cry when it hurts, laugh when it’s funny. You gotta love like there’s no such thing as a Broken heart.”
But, for whatever reason, one day not too long ago, while listening to an old Garth Brooks song, I got teary-eyed. Looking back on his life and the things he prayed for when he was younger, especially his girlfriend, and now as an adult, looking at his family with the woman he actually married and what he has in his life now, he sings these insightful words, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs. That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayer.”
So, maybe when life brings us to our knees and our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears, the best thing we can say is, “Thy will be done.” It is true, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”