“God answers prayers in three ways,” the little Italian friar told us during our parish retreat. “He says ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Not yet’.” He went on to tell us that in his prayers as a child, he asked God to let him have a beautiful wife. “The answer to that was No!” he laughed. He also prayed that he would have many children, and when he entered religious life, he imagined the answer to that prayer would also be “No,” but instead he was blessed with hundreds of children who called him Father. “I also prayed I would drive a Ferrari.” The church roared with laughter. “I’m still not sure the answer to that is no … maybe it’s ‘Not yet!’”
As much as I love to retell this story to help other see that God answer prayers in His own time, I hate having to learn the lesson again myself. When I pray, I want to see the results. I want to know it will be okay. Even if God’s time is not my time, I want some kind of reassurance that I’m not going to get “No” for an answer.
But that’s not what trusting God is about, is it? We have to pray and trust and let God decide how and when (and if) He will answer that prayer. And, of course, free will always comes into play, doesn’t it?
Lately, I have been struggling (though not as much as I ought to) with a spiritual funk. I have been allowing it to put a pall over every spiritual thing I do. My prayers are half-hearted, my dedication to my duties as a Lay Dominican is spotty, and I feel disconnected from God. Frankly, I feel just tired of the effort it takes to be a good Catholic.
I was thinking about how I am going to strive throughout Lent to revive my fervor for God, for the Faith, for the Church. I was thinking about how much easier it would be to just give up and do whatever struck me as fun in the moment. But in my heart of hearts, I know this would be wrong because I know that God is real, that Jesus is real, that He came for me and died for my sins. I know He is present in the Eucharist.
And so in spite of my spiritual morass, I stumble on. In spite of my disillusionment with some leaders in the Church, I stay. Because with every fiber of my being I know that’s Jesus on that altar at Mass, and I couldn’t walk away from Him.
I was thinking about this temptation to just walk away — to give up the hard stuff of living a Catholic life — when I thought of Captain America.
Yes, Captain America.
In every battle Cap faces, he never stops striving to do what’s right. He gets knocked down and then shoves himself back to his feet and looks his adversary in the eye and says, “I could do this all day.” Cap believes in what he’s fighting for, and so he is ready to fight on, even through exhaustion and pain.
But what came to mind is a scene near the climax of Avengers: End Game. (Spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t seen this movie for some reason.)
There comes a point in End Game when Cap, Iron Man, and Thor walk onto a battle field to face Thanos and his army. The rest of the Avengers are missing or dead. Thanos has laid waste to the area around the Avengers’ headquarters. The headquarters are actually bombed out and collapsed in the background. One of the men say, “This is a trap, you know,” and another says, “Yeah, I know. Let’s go.” The three of them try to beat this huge alien with super-strength, and one by one are knocked down. Iron Man is unconscious, Thor has been knocked out and lies in rubble. Cap goes in to fight, and Thanos breaks his shield, then sends Cap careening across the field and onto a pile of rubble.
Cap is bloody and injured and exhausted. His shield, thought to be unbreakable, is a fraction of what it was. And yet Cap pushes himself to his feet, tightens the straps on his shield to secure it, and faces Thanos again. In this moment, the cameras pull back, and you see Thanos to one side and Cap to the other. No one else remains standing. You can see that Cap is alone, small, and, compared to the Titan Thanos, weak. But he grits his teeth and prepares to battle because it’s the right thing to do. And as he prepares to do battle, the reinforcements come in literally out of nowhere.
Honestly, this is what our faith life is sometimes. We’re beaten down by life, tired of fighting spiritual battles. We’re exhausted. And here is where the devil creeps in, whispering It would be so much easier to just give it up and do what you want. Who needs all these rules and all of this swimming upstream?
When that temptation hits us, that’s when we need to push ourselves back to our feet, tighten the straps on our shield, look Satan in the eye, and say, “I could do this all day.” That’s when a quick prayer for strength will help us get on with our spiritual battle. A Guardian Angel Prayer. A Memorare. A Glory Be. Even just a quick “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Or my favorite prayer in times of deep trouble: “Help!”
Reinforcements await us! The angels and saints will pray for us, do battle for and with us. The Holy Spirit will come to give us strength, even if it’s just enough to get through what’s right in front of us. And not only that, our friends and family are our reinforcements, too! They will pray for and with us, providing us with strength that comes seemingly out of nowhere.
Oh! I almost forgot about the Italian friar! That week, a parishioner who owned an exotic car dealership arranged for him to take a Ferrari out for a test drive. So it was a “Not yet” answer, after all. Those reinforcements don’t always come when we think we need them, but they will come when we do need them. God does not leave us as orphans, but cares for us. We should never be afraid to cast our cares upon Him and trust that He will send the reinforcements when they are needed most.
Copyright 2020 Christine Johnson