Column name: Family life
After my father passed away on Christmas Eve 10 years ago, we confronted the arduous task of going through everything he collected over the years because he was, in the words of my mother, a “junk collector.”
I, however, thought of him in more sentimental terms: He was the Amadeus Mozart of tag sales, flea markets and estate sales. He was a man who understood the value of old tools, scrap wood, vintage door knobs, hinges, clamps and pieces of twine – and when he died, we had to get rid of it all. We couldn’t give it away and we couldn’t sell it, because sometimes we didn’t even know what it was or what it did. In the end, we filled three dumpsters.
He also had the habit of hiding money around the house: $100 in the rafters, $50 behind the oil tank, a coffee can of change beneath his workbench. I imagine that living through the Great Depression gives you a different perspective on life and makes you realize everything that can go wrong. Quite simply, he wanted to be prepared.
What inspired me, however, was something I found in his bedroom. On his bureau was a five-day holy candle that he kept burning, probably to the chagrin of my mother since the smoke caused a black smudge on the ceiling. Nearby was a statue of the Blessed Mother, a crucifix and a notebook filled with names – hundreds of names that he had collected over the years. Only later did I realize they were people that he prayed for every day.
There were aunts and uncles who had passed away, old friends he knew from the East Side of Bridgeport, a neighbor’s child who had emotional problems and got in trouble with the law, his family members, my four daughters, buddies who were suffering illnesses like cancer and ALS, along with countless other people. He clearly believed in the power of prayer, and I’m sure it was something he learned after 25 years sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. You see, he spent the first half of his adult life as an active alcoholic until, through the grace of God, he found AA and started to attend meetings regularly with a priest who was in the program. In those rooms, he learned a few fundamental lessons – don’t drink, go to meetings, let go and let God, stay sober a day at a time … and never underestimate the value of prayer, especially unselfish prayers for others.
There are always people we meet during the day who need our prayers. Many of us pray for ourselves and our families, but prayer isn’t something that should be hoarded. It’s meant to be given freely to others, even complete strangers. Our prayers bring them much-needed graces and move them closer to Christ, especially when their suffering, pain and loneliness can lead to despair.
The litany of problems we hear during the day gives us many opportunities to say four powerful words, “I’ll pray for you” … to the woman whose son has cancer, the man who has to go for “tests,” the fellow who lost his job and can’t support his family and the mother whose daughter is having a troubled pregnancy and might miscarry.
I have a long prayer list now, too, and I keep copies of it in my prayer book and near a votive candle and statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The list has the usual suspects, including my grandchildren, my daughters and sons-in-law, my wife and our extended family, but also people I’ve encountered in my travels or from reading the news. They are people whose situations are so desperate that their only hope is prayer.
There’s a lot of pain in the world, and just as many occasions to bring the peace and healing power of Jesus to others. Once you open yourself to the possibility of doing God’s will in your daily life, opportunities will present themselves like never before.
Even if you don’t see a miraculous recovery because of your prayer, this much is certain: Something miraculous has occurred beyond your human vision. The graces that people receive from our prayers – each and every prayer – accomplish things through Christ that far exceed our limited understanding. Someday when you see your life from the Divine Healer’s perspective, you’ll realize all the good that you did when you weren’t even aware of the effect that a kind word, a smile, a prayer, a sympathetic ear and a little encouragement could have. And you’ll surely be rewarded far beyond your imagination.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.