Just when I was going into a meeting that would determine the future of Western Civilization, or at least the future of my career, I got a call on my cell phone from my youngest daughter.
“What could she possibly want?” I wondered, as I was about to enter negotiations to save something or other.
Chrissy was calling from college at Steubenville, Ohio, and I knew it must be something urgent. She probably needed a check to pay her rent or some quick cash for groceries. Or worse, she probably bounced a check and had to use my credit card to charge her textbooks.
When I considered the possibilities, they all involved money. I reached that conclusion based on a statistical analysis of the emergency calls I’ve gotten from my four daughters over the years. Predictably, their most common plea has been: “Dad, I need money!”
But, surprise! That’s not why she called, so I guess even fathers can be wrong when they’re convinced they’re right.
“Dad,” she said, “my friend’s mother fell down the stairs, and she’s in intensive care. Can you pray for her?”
“Sure, Chris, sure,” I said. “I’ll light a candle when I go to Mass later.”
“Could you light one for me, too? I have a test in anatomy, and it’s gonna be hard.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “A candle and extra prayers for you. Call me when you get out of the test.”
I suppose exchanges like that aren’t common in the real world, where behavior is inspired by TV sitcoms. Children don’t ask for prayers, and parents don’t make commitments to pray. Don’t get me wrong, we’re far from sainthood. We pray because we’re desperate people in need of serious spiritual assistance about every 12 hours or so – based on a statistical analysis of the number of family crises we confront. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit.
Later that day, after I saved the world by attending a very boring meeting, I lit candles in front of statues of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart and said prayers for Chrissy’s intentions, along with several others I picked up during the day, the week, the year.
When I finished, it occurred to me how blessed I was that my daughter understood the importance of prayer.
I was blessed because she believed we can ask God for help and God will respond. So few young people have that understanding. From my experience, they seldom appreciate the value of prayer unless it has been taught to them by their parents, or more often nowadays, by their grandparents.
That same day, my second daughter called my wife and asked us to pray for a student in her class whose mother died suddenly.
Our oldest daughter often asks us to pray, too – that she finds a husband. I’m not entirely clear on how God answers those requests, but I’m sure there are a lot of them. Yes, everyone has his or her own particular needs, and thank goodness God is there to respond to them all.
That’s a lesson we have to teach our children. Sometimes I get upset when I consider my deficiencies as a parent, but then there are those rare occasions when I realize that maybe, just maybe, we did some things right.
I still remember those Sunday nights driving home from my parents’ house after dinner with our four young daughters in the back seat, praying the rosary as a family.
It took some effort to get them focused, but when we went around the car and asked everyone what they wanted to pray for, they all had an intention or two: a grandparent with cancer, a sick friend at school, peace, the Blessed Mother’s intentions, a homeless person they had seen.
They learned the importance of praying for something other than their own wants and needs.
We always encouraged them to talk directly to God as often as possible and to have conscious contact with him. I’m convinced if they learn to pray as children, the practice will stay with them the rest of their lives.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.