The Catholic Thing
The Power Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 04 November 2013

I could have the power.

If I had faith, true faith, I could work miracles. But I don’t, so I can’t. Thank heavens for that, because there’s no telling what I’d do.

But then that’s false, isn’t it, since if I had that kind of faith I wouldn’t pull any shenanigans: no petitioning God to strike down Al Qaeda and the Taliban where they stand. Let alone pleading with the saints for a Bugatti Veyron in my driveway.

This is one case where power doesn’t corrupt and absolute power saves the world.

I might through prayer be able to heal the sick or move a mountain (although why I’d want to move a mountain and where I’d put it are questions I can’t answer), but there are surely things even a person of true faith cannot accomplish – no matter how perfectly he or she prays.

In the case of mountain moving, Jesus was stating a fact, describing an aspect of His divine capabilities. But that hardly means even the holiest saint could accomplish the same. Jesus could pick up Mount Tabor and plunk it down in Death Valley, but why would he? For show? Hardly.

The power of prayer alone is insufficient to bring another person to faith in Christ. Prayer isn’t a club to use for conking somebody, Alley Oop style, and dragging her into the Church. My prayer can’t stand in the place of her assent – or her resistance.

In this regard I admire the wisdom of the Protestant satirist Jonathan Swift: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” But the power of prayer helps – especially if the person for whom you are praying knows you are doing so.

It may lead her to think that, after all, God, if He exists, must have the power to answer prayers. In other words, it disposes her mind towards God.

“How do we obtain this power?,” Pope Francis asked rhetorically last month during an Angelus address. “We obtain it from God in prayer. Prayer is the breath of faith: in a relationship of faith, of love, one can’t omit dialogue, and prayer is the dialogue of the soul with God.”

To pray is to acknowledge the ground of being. To pray every day is to always be remembering who’s in charge here.

And when you have something to pray for, you pray. Usually you pray for something that appears to be outside your own power to achieve. Nobody prays, “O, Lord, let there be milk in the fridge!” No, you go to the store and buy a half-gallon yourself. You pray for the healing of a sick friend. You pray to be delivered from your own selfishness and sin.

Everybody has some or another intention to put before our triune God.  And there are times in our lives when conflict, illness, imminent death – fill in your own need – make our prayers take on a self-interested intensity that, frankly, is not especially Christian.

I prayed for my older, soldier son, when was in Iraq for a yearlong deployment. I think it is fitting that I prayed for him. Yet from the first I realized I must also offer prayers for every other soldier, marine, sailor, or airman stationed there, in Afghanistan, and wherever America’s armed forces are serving around this troubled globe. I’d pray for world peace, but I don’t want to waste my time (or God’s) hoping for what any sensible Christian knows we will not see until the Lord returns.

I’ve had the sort of education that leads me to say things in prayer such as, “O, Jesus, place your aegis over my son . . .” The word aegis derives from the Greek word for goatskin and originally referred to the shield of Zeus (or his daughter, the bright-eyed Athena), which offered protection from harm to anyone who carried it. Heck, I’d have settled for Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, except that, like the aegis, it doesn’t really exist.

But I prayed every day (it was programmed into my computer’s calendar and popped up each morning) that the words of our Lord from Luke 10:19 be an aegis for my soldier: “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” This is the aegis of a more modern, utterly real definition:  “patronage, backing, or sponsorship especially when afforded by a notable or authoritative organization, group, or individual.”

I laugh at myself when, during Mass, I’ll think: Our Notable or Authoritative Individual, hallowed be Thy name. There are times when my “rapier” wit is completely inappropriate. At least I’m at Mass.

But appeals to a Higher Authority (think of the prayer folks say in AA, adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer) are often made by people without “faith.” An atheist witnessing some impending disaster won’t stand mute, he’ll say “Oh, God, no!” He goes there because he has nowhere else to go.

The paradox of the power of prayer is in its reminder that in seeking something big, we must become nearly nothing. Because it is not the saint who heals, but God through the saint, whose humility makes it possible, makes a mere man a conduit for God’s love and power.

As for that Bugatti, it is a beautiful automobile, an almost miraculous 1000-horsepower marriage of engineering and art, but its wheelbase is too wide to pass through the strait gate.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His book, The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Manfred, November 04, 2013
"You have seen Hell where poor souls go who have no one to pray for them."

The Mother of God

Fatima, Portugal

July 13, 1917
written by Jack,CT, November 04, 2013
Simply Beatiful!
If this site" needed a Article or work to
show it's Soul this work captured it.

I was always told by my Father who if alive would
be close to a century that we need to pray for
others and NOT THINGS!
I have always prayed for God's will even if it meant
my prayer not answered.I wish i could count how many
times i have felt ignored' by Jesus to find out years
later that my daily prayer was answered and perfectly!

As we just celebrated all Saints/Souls day I think
how to me the most important daily prayers for me
are for all the "Poor Souls" as I am after all a
day closer to being one-
written by Jack,CT, November 04, 2013
adden: "Let us give pleasureto Jesus,let us save souls
for him by our sacrifices"
-St Therese, Our Little
written by Matt, November 04, 2013
A very enjoyable essay, Brad, but a car's wheelbase is its length from axle to axle, not its width.
written by Brad Miner, November 04, 2013
Matt: Thanks. I should have known that.
written by Ted seeber, November 04, 2013
Whenever I think of faith moving mountains, I do not think of prayer. I think of the engineers who built Kansai International Airport in Japan.

Faith is not for magic tricks. Faith is courage and strength.
written by Fr. Kloster, November 04, 2013
Good article, but I did find the absence of the use of the generic pronoun "he" distracting. I'm old school. A wonderful Jesuit taught me Latin. He spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew fluently. He also taught me that "inclusive language" is redundant. There is nothing more inclusive than using masculine generic pronouns. There is nothing more exclusive than being a slave to saying things like "he and she." Remember that Jesus incarnate was not a man joined to His Divinity by accident.
written by Henry, November 04, 2013
The petitioning we do in the Lord's Prayer especially but not only at Mass seems to be enough. Beyond that the multiple petitions in some parishes at Mass are way over the top to the point of belittling or weakening the concept of prayer itself. Thanks for this piece as you so nicely alluded to this reality.
written by Howard Kainz, November 04, 2013
On faith moving mountains: "A 4th century Orthodox saint, Venerable Mark the Anchorite of Athens, is reputed to have moved a mountain into the sea. And in the Egyptian
Coptic Orthodox hagiography, Saint Simon the Tanner in the 10th century, taunted by a challenge from the Muslim Caliph Al Muizz, is said to have moved the Mokattam Mountain as testimony."
to the superiority of Christianity over Islam.
written by Brad Miner, November 04, 2013
@Fr. Kloster: You read me wrongly. My use of "she" wasn't "inclusive." I had a certain she in mind. -ABM
written by Fr. Kloster, November 04, 2013
@Mr. Miner Thank you for the clarification. In reading the article several times, there was never a female introduced as the subject. I was confused by the syntax since the feminine pronoun was used as a generic pronoun. You knew about whom you were referring, but a reader would not necessarily know.

I did enjoy your wit throughout the piece.

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