A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a parishioner after Mass, outside of church. We had been talking for a while, and just about everyone had already left. As I said goodbye to my friend and walked back towards my office inside the Parish Center, I noticed an older gentleman, probably in his early 80’s, waving his hand at me to get my attention.
I waited a few moments, as he caught up to me. After asking me a question about an upcoming parish event, he mentioned that he planned to attend, but that he would be alone. His eyes got a little misty and he said that all of his children, and now, also, his wife, had fallen away from the church. “They’re good, decent people,” he said, “but they just don’t believe anymore.”
The question of belief had been on my mind lately, so I was able to tell him that in my close to 20 years of parish ministry, I have seen quite a few conversions or re-versions to Catholicism. While each person and his or her journey was unique, there was one thing they all had in common. In every instance, there was always someone, somewhere, who was praying for them. Always. Every single time. Without exception.
I reassured my older friend that he was doing exactly what he needed to do for his loved ones, lifting them up in prayer to God, even if he struggled to think it was making any difference, even if it seemed like all his efforts were going unheard and unanswered.
The truth is we don’t know how the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of the people we pray for, and sometimes we may go for a long period of time not seeing any change, having to have faith that God is working somehow, someway. But it’s also true that if we can persevere long enough, God will answer our prayers in some way, simply out of love and concern for the pray-er if nothing else, loving and responding to both the pray-er and the prayee.
A couple of weeks from now, we will celebrate the Week Of Prayer for Christian Unity. First observed in 1908, the Octave of Christian Unity runs between the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair on January 18 and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, on January 25. The Octave, so called because of its 8 days, was begun by Epispocal minister, Fr. Paul Watson, as a small, local attempt to pray for reconciliation between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. In 1916, after Fr. Paul and co-founder St. Lurana White became Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the universal church. As the decades have rolled by, this week has grown in stature and is now joined by all Christians who wish to echo and pray for the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer to his Father, “that all may be one.”
It was the closeness of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, combined with the conversation with my older friend that led me to reflect once again on the question of belief. What do we, as Catholics, believe? What, in a nutshell, are our non-negotiable beliefs, especially those beliefs we share with most other Christians? The answer is already given to us in the Apostles Creed.
With this in mind, I created a simple Rosary Novena called Believe. This novena takes each of the “I Believe” professions we say in the Apostles Creed as a daily meditation and ends with the prayer taught by the Angel of Peace to the children in Fatima. I hope this novena will help in praying for healing between different denominations. I hope it will add to the prayers and works offered during the Week of Christian Unity. Most especially, I hope it will help my church friend and all those like him, who are remaining faithful in prayer, persistently asking God to bring their loved ones back into the fold.