In the early 1990s a Chinese-born American citizen in Tennessee, a man named Vincent Tan, had a series of miraculous encounters with angels. As a scientist, he was tempted to be skeptical of what he was experiencing, but as a Christian, he was finally able to accept these spiritual encounters as a genuine event and a blessing from God, and he described his story in a widely-published interview. Early one morning in 1996, Vincent awakened at 4:30am with the strong feeling that he was supposed to be praying for someone, a person unknown to him. He began to do so, fell back asleep, and then awakened again at 7am and continued praying. Soon afterwards his telephone rang, and for some reason the answering machine didn’t pick up, nor did the caller ID function. Vincent picked up the phone and said “Hello,” just as a woman on the other end was saying “Hello.” It happened that neither had called the other; instead, their lines had become crossed, causing both phones to ring at the same moment. When the woman, whose name was Doris and who lived in Iowa, discovered she was speaking to Vincent Tan, she excitedly asked, “Are you the Vincent Tan who had the angelic encounters a few years ago?” Learning that he was, Doris explained that she and her mother, who lived with her and who was dying of cancer, had read the article about him, and her mother had ever since then been praying for the chance to talk with this man about his angelic encounters, and thus prepare herself for her coming death. Doris had suddenly awakened that morning with the sense that the Lord was about to answer her mother’s prayer, so she asked Vincent if he’d be willing to speak to the bedridden woman on speaker-phone. He agreed, and for the next forty-five minutes told her all about what had happened and how it had given him firm assurance about the love and mercy of God and the beauty of Heaven and the angels and saints who lived there. When Vincent was finished, the woman responded, “Praise the Lord. Amen.” There was a long period of silence; finally, Doris came back on the line and told Vincent her mother had just then passed away (Michael H. Brown, The God of Miracles, p. 64). This true story is an inspiring reminder that as a loving Father, God is eager to answer our prayers in a way that gives Him glory and helps us come closer to Him. As long as we pray in a spirit of persistence and trust, we are certain to be touched in a wondrous manner by divine grace.
Because we live in an “instant society” in which we’re taught to believe we should be able to receive whatever we want without having to wait, today’s readings are a needed reminder that persistence is an essential value if we are to come closer to God and find true and lasting happiness. As Jesus says, if an unjust judge finally did what was right because a woman wouldn’t give up her legal case, how much more will God hear and answer the cries of those who call out to Him without ceasing. Just as the Israelites overcame their enemies as long as Moses kept his arms lifted up in prayer, so God will bless and assist us so long as we persevere in worshipping Him. This, of course, requires an effort on our part; as St. Paul says to Timothy, we must remain faithful to what we have learned and believed, and be persistent in bearing witness to God’s truth; in this way we prove that our faith is real, and increase our capacity to receive the Lord’s blessings.
Once upon a time there was a small village in a remote land; though it was off the beaten path, it had almost all the necessary craftsmen: shoemakers, tailors, bakers, farmers, carpenters, and a blacksmith. Only one tradesman was missing: a watchmaker. Over the years the clocks in the town became so inaccurate and unreliable that most people stopped winding them. A few, however, would wind their clocks and keep them running every day, even though they no longer kept correct time; their neighbors made fun of them, but they persevered. Finally one day the news quickly spread that a master watchmaker had just moved into the village. All the people rushed to his house with their clocks, but most of the villagers learned to their dismay that he could only repair the clocks that had been kept running all along; the abandoned and ignored clocks had become too rusty to fix (Edward Hays, Prayer Notes to a Friend, p. 124).
If we rarely pray, or pray only on those occasions when we need something, we shouldn’t be surprised if our prayer doesn’t “work” very well; being faithful or regular in prayer will lead to the best possible results. We might use the analogy of exercise or physical activity: it’s much healthier to walk for half-an-hour every day than to spend that time lying on the couch and watching TV, and it’s better to do a little bit of exercise every day than to go for long periods without it, and then try to make it up all at once. So it is with prayer. Yes, we are commanded by God to worship Him here at Mass every weekend, and we need to do so for the good of our own souls—but in addition to this, we also need our own personal prayer time throughout the week, preferably every day, even if just for ten or fifteen minutes. This might involve praying the Rosary, either aloud or silently; reading the Bible, using either the Scriptures assigned to any given day, or passages chosen at random; praying the Divine Mercy chaplet or other favorite devotions; spending silent time in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament here in church; quickly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance whenever we’re suddenly confronted with a difficult encounter or important decision; using our imagination to picture and reflect upon one of the stories from the Gospels; or simply talking to God in everyday language about all our current activities, our worries, and our joys and sorrows. It’s good to be silent and still when praying, but it’s also quite acceptable to pray while driving or working or relaxing. It’s all right to ask God for favors and assistance, but we should also express our sorrow for our sins, our gratitude for blessings received, and our worship of our Creator.
Those who try to remain faithful in prayer discover that a gradual sorting-out process is taking place in their lives—namely, they come to have a greater appreciation for life’s simple beauties and pleasures, they discover that the problems of life don’t bother them as much as they used to, and they come to a deeper awareness of the Lord’s presence and His care for them. As long as we make this effort to use God’s grace in coming closer to Him, we can sure He will hear our prayers and hold them very close to His heart.
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